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Monday, September 26, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 27183 [27153] rated (+30), 381 [376] unrated (+5).

Most of this week's list already appeared in last week's Streamnotes. Since then I saw Steven Colbert's show-long interview with Bruce Springsteen, checked out his new sampler, and decided I should go back and finally listen to the back catalog I had ignored -- one studio album (The Ghost of Tom Joad), a bunch of live albums, and today I've been slogging through the Tracks box set.

Also spent a lot of time last week combing through the old Recycled Goods files, in preparation of adding a bunch of records to my draft book, Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century: A Consumer Guide (if you haven't downloaded the 144-page first pass yet, go to the form here). After 2-3 weeks toil, I still have about 25% of the columns to process. From there the next large cache of writings is the Streamnotes archive -- about twice the size of Recycled Goods (821k words vs. 427k). While going through Recycled Goods, I decided it would be cleaner if I also stashed the reviews of older jazz into another book draft file, so I opened one called Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century, and it's currently up to 75 pages. I figure that's a much lower priority, and seriously doubt I'll ever make a serious effort to clean it up and flesh it out, but it's kind of nice to have around.

New records rated this week:

  • Jay Azzolina/Dino Govoni/Adam Nussbaum/Dave Zinno: Chance Meeting (2016, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mili Bermejo/Dan Greenspan: Arte Del Dúo (2016, Ediciones Pentagrama): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Clipping: Splendor & Misery (2016, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gonzalo Del Val Trio: Koiné (2015 [2016], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Dirty Snacks Ensemble: Tidy Universe (2014 [2016], Gotta Groove): [bc]: C+
  • Eska: Eska (2015, Naim Edge): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Gene Ess: Absurdist Theater (2016, SIMP): [cd]: C
  • Charles Gayle Trio: Christ Everlasting (2014 [2015], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • The Handsome Family: Unseen (2016, Loose Music): [r]: A-
  • Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band: The Broader Picture (2016, Enja/Yellowbird): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Sabir Mateen/Conny Bauer/Mark Tokar/Klaus Kugel: Collective Four (2015 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • Rale Micic: Night Music (2015 [2016], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: (Live) (2012 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Previte & the Visitors: Gone (2015 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife 2 (2016, Eardrum/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Shabaka and the Ancestors: Wisdom of Elders (2015 [2016], Brownswood): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tomasz Sroczynski Trio: Primal (2015 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Vince Staples: Prima Donna (2016, Def Jam, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Richard Sussman: The Evolution Suite (2015 [2016], Zoho): [cd]: B
  • Rik Wright's Fundamental Forces: Subtle Energy (2016, Hipsync): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pawel Wszolek Quintet: Faith (2016, ForTune): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Yells at Eels: In Quiet Waters (2013 [2015], ForTune): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Yoni & Geti: Testarossa (2016, Joyful Noise): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Bruce Springsteen: Chapter and Verse (1966-2012 [2016], Columbia): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 (1975 [2006], Columbia, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live 1975-85 (1975-85 [1986], Columbia, 3CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bruce Springsteen: In Concert/MTV Unplugged (1992 [1993], Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live in New York (2000 [2001], Columbia, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bruce Springsteen With the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin (2006 [2007], Columbia, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)

Grade changes:

  • MIA: AIM (2016, Interscope): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-
  • Young Thug: No My Name Is Jeffery (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Aguankó: Latin Jazz Christmas in Havana (Aguankó)
  • Beekman: Vol. 02 (Ropeadope)
  • Earprint (Endectomorph Music): October 21
  • Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You (Firehouse 12): October 28
  • John Lindberg BC3: Born in an Urban Ruin (Clean Feed)
  • Naked Wolf: Ahum (Clean Feed)
  • Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet: Damana Cornua Copiae (Clean Feed)
  • Steve Noble & Kristoffer Berre Alberts: Condest Second Yesterday (Clean Feed)
  • Parker Abbott Trio: Elevation (self-released): October 7
  • Punkt 3: Ordnung Herrscht (Clean Feed)
  • Elliott Sharp Aggregat: Dialectrical (Clean Feed)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: America's National Parks (Cuneiform, 2CD): October 14

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Weekend Roundup

I don't plan on watching Monday's first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I'm not someone still trying to figure out where I stand on those two, and I can't conceive of anything either might say that might make a difference to me -- although I do harbor a fear that Hillary might come off as so hawkish she makes Trump look sane (at least relatively, for the moment). Besides, if I did watch, I'd probably be preoccupied with trying to figure out how each nuance and tick affects other folks' views -- you know, the people who don't know enough to know any better. I'm still haunted by that 1984 debate where Walter Mondale ran circles around Ronald Reagan -- the most one-sided debate I ever saw, yet 32 years later the only thing other people remember about it was Reagan's quip about not holding his opponent's "youth and inexperience" against him. Reagan won in a landslide that year -- one of the stupidest decisions the American people ever made (and there's plenty of competition for that title).

Besides, I'll read plenty about it. And I'll probably tune in Steven Colbert's after-debate Late Show. Meanwhile, no comments on the political links below. The current 538 odds favor Clinton at 57.5%, popular vote 46.7-44.8%, the electoral college teetering on Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania -- those currently favor Clinton (62.7%, 63.0%, 68.2%) but Trump can win by tipping any one of those three (or Wisconsin or Michigan). The "chances" exaggerate much smaller percentage edges (D+ 2.2%, 2.7%, 3.1%), but all three (and the election) would remain Democratic if the votes were equal (on the other hand, Trump is less than 2.0% ahead in Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio).

Some scattered links this week:

  • Natalie Nougaryède: The devastation of Syria will be Obama's legacy: I don't agree with this piece, but want to quote a couple paragraphs as examples of the flawed thinking that surrounds this horrific and tragic war. First:

    There have long been two takes on Syria. One is the geopolitical realism line, which Barack Obama has chosen to follow largely because it fits with his reluctance to get involved in another war. The line is that US or western security interests are not at stake in an intractable, far-flung civil war that can more easily be contained than solved. The other is the moral imperative line that Power has repeatedly advocated within the administration. It refers to the doctrine of "responsibility to protect," according to which a state's sovereignty can be violated when a regime slaughters its own citizens.

    It's always a conundrum when you limit the options to two choices that are both flat-out wrong. The problem with "geopolitical realism" isn't that "western security interests are not at stake." It's that the US doesn't know what its true interests are, because the US has stumbled blindly through seventy years of blunders in the Middle East based on three faulty precepts: what seems like good opportunities for a few dozen multinational corporations, a set of heuristics that like "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and a growing conviction that the only way the US can act abroad is through military force (which has its own institutional interests, ranging from budget to political influence but mostly focused on preserving its air of omnipotence).

    There can be no doubt that "geopolitical realism" has contributed to the devastation of Syria, but that fault goes back way before the civil war started. The US missed an opportunity in 1951 to broker a peace treaty between Syria and Israel which would have settled the border and committed Syria to absorb a large number of Palestinian refugees. When that Syrian missive failed, a series of coups led to Assad seizing power, and turning to the Soviet Union for arms to defend against Israel (which after many border skirmishes snatched the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967). Through those long years the US came to reflexively think of Assad as an enemy (despite Syrian support for the US in the 1990 Gulf War against Iraq), so when the Arab Spring protests broke out, Obama didn't hesitate to offer his opinion that "Assad should go" -- implicitly aligning the US with Assad's jihadi opposition (more explicitly backed by US "allies" Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE -- monarchies set up by British imperialism and maintained by global business interests). By now "realists" are split on Syria, with some recognizing that nothing the US has done so far has worked in any tangible way to further "American interests," while others (blending into the delusional "neocons") see that same failure as undermining America's true interest, which is projecting power so demonstrably that the rest of the world is humbled into submission.

    One problem that "geopolitical realists" have is that they pride themselves on their unsentimental rejection of anything that smacks of idealism -- notably democracy, free speech, human rights, equality, economic justice -- so they unflinchingly embrace some of the world's most greedy and cruel regimes. However, this lack of principle makes it possible for "humanitarian interventionists" like Power -- the author's second group -- to shame them into acts of war (better described as "crimes against humanity"). It's hard to encapsulate everything that's wrong with Power's analysis in a single paragraph -- one could fill a whole book, which in Power's honor should be titled A Solution From Hell.

    The very phrase "responsibility to protect" is shot full with puzzling nuances, but at a practical level, the US Military is not designed to protect anyone. Its purpose is to intimidate, a bluff which is backed up by extraordinary killing power and the logistics to project that force anywhere. But once it's engaged, the army is hard-pressed even to protect itself. (A typical tactic is whenever an IED goes off they shoot indiscriminately in a full circle, just in case there are any innocent bystanders.) In short, they "protect" by killing, or as one Army officer put it, "we had to destroy the village in order to save it." As Rumsfeld put it, "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." At least in the short term, US intervention in Syria would kill more people and destroy more property. Given all the evidence we have in recent years, there is no way to paint this as "responsibility to protect."

    As for the longer term, it's also pretty clear that the US isn't any good at setting up stable, representative governments to move forward. Part of this is that the US, whether representing tangible (business) or ideological (neocon) interests, can't help but choose sides and favor some at the expense of others, who will inevitably view their losses as unjust. Part is that once you've invested blood and treasure to conquer a country, you inevitably feel like you're entitled to some reward -- not least gratitude from the people you "saved" (at least those still alive, living in the wreckage of your bombs and shells).

    The other paragraph I wanted to quote:

    A key problem with the ceasefire deal was the plan to set up a US-Russia "joint implementation centre" to coordinate strikes against Islamic State. This was meant as an incentive, as Putin had long sought to be accepted as a coalition partner alongside the United States. But if implemented, such a coalition could make the US complicit in Russian airstrikes, which have been designed to strengthen Assad. The US would endorse a Russian intervention premised on the notion that there are only two actors in Syria: Assad and the jihadis.

    The key problem with the "ceasefire deal" is that it didn't require all sides to stop firing. Carving out an exemption for the US and Russia to bomb IS not only gave the latter no reason to join in, it set up a debilitating round of excuses: almost immediately the US bombed Assad forces mistaking them for ISIS, then Russia bombed a UN convoy, perhaps thinking the same. (For more on this, see Patrick Cockburn: Russia and US Provide a Lesson in Propaganda Over Syrian Ceasefire.)

    Nougaryède then draws two conclusions. One is to blame Obama not so much for Syria as for letting Russia show up American power ("Putin is celebrated by populists around the world for having outmanoeuvred the US by pulling himself up to the ranks of a leader whose cooperation is almost begged for"). The other is to regurgitate Power's story of how Clinton (having belatedly realized that Bosnia "had become a cancer on our foreign policy and on his administration's leadership") "ordered targeted strikes on Serbian forces, which forced Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table" -- a fable of the magic of US intervention that never stood a chance in Syria.

  • David Hearst: Sisi is a dead man walking: Presents a pretty grim picture of Egypt under the post-coup leadership of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi:

    Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's rule has indeed become torture and suffering for Egypt.

    He has lurched from one promise to another, each one a glittering bauble dangled over a credulous and fearful nation. The first was the untold billions that Egypt would continue to get from the Gulf states who bankrolled his military coup. He boasted to his aides that their money was so plentiful it was "like rice," a judgment that now looks dated after the collapse in the price of oil and the Yemen war. He burnt his way through up to $50bn of their cash, loans and oil guarantees. [ . . . ]

    Now salvation comes, we are told, in the form of a $12bn IMF loan. For Egypt's currency market, its more life support than loan. In July, foreign reserves dropped to their lowest level in 16 months, Bloomberg reported, and constitute only three months of imports. There is no such thing as a free IMF loan. They are expected to demand a devaluation of the Egyptian pound, phasing out of subsidies, and the imposition of VAT, reforms much talked about, but never implemented. The only salaries Sisi has raised are those of the army, police and judges. As it is, spending on public wages, salaries, subsidies and servicing debts represent 80 percent of the budget. This leaves little room for cuts. The only option is to squeeze more out of those who cannot afford to pay. [ . . . ]

    The truth is that Sisi is failing despite the overwhelming financial and military support of the Gulf and the West. Confidence in him as a leader is imploding. His remaining weapons are paranoia and nationalist fear. The question then is not whether Sisi can fight on through the miasma of doubt which now surrounds him. Most people already know the answer to that. The real question is how long has he got.

    The article concludes with a list of possible successors, mostly by coup. Meanwhile, al-Sisi and Donald Trump have been saying nice things about one another. See Cristiano Lima: Trump praises Egypt's al-Sisi: 'He's a fantastic guy'. Trump's fondness for authoritarian leaders has often been noted -- most often Russia's popularly elected Vladimir Putin, but al-Sisi is a real dictator, one who seized power by force to end Egypt's brief experiment with democracy, who outlawed his opponents and killed "thousands of dissidents and protestors." Trump thinks he's "a fantastic guy," but what he really likes is: "He took control of Egypt. And he really took control of it." Pretty much what Trump wants to do to America.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Republican senators outraged by Wells Fargo's fraud want to eliminate the agency that uncovered it: More important this year than deciding who will be the next Commander in Chief is the more basic political decision whether we'll expose the country to ever more blatant forms of predatory business behavior, or whether we'll cling onto the modest levels of regulation that still provide some degree of protection for consumers and the environment.

    A funny thing happened in the United States Senate today, as a chorus of cross-party agreement broke out during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on revelations that Wells Fargo employees created hundreds of thousands of fraudulent bank accounts and credit cards in order to meet company targets for cross-selling new products to existing customers. The targets were extremely aggressive -- so aggressive that they couldn't actually be met -- so thousands of employees responded by faking it.

    Wells Fargo is paying $185 million in fines and fired more than 5,000 rank-and-file employees, but so far nothing has been done to personally punish the high-level executives who reap the rewards when the company performs well.

    Senators today weren't having it, with banker scourge Elizabeth Warren telling Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf that he ought to resign and face personal investigation. [ . . . ] But it featured a surprising level of bipartisan agreement, with committee chair Richard Shelby, a hard-right Alabama Republican, accusing Stumpf in his opening statement of personally fostering "a corporate culture that drove company 'team members' to fraudulently open millions of accounts using their customers' funds and personal information without their permission." [ . . . ]

    But even while Republicans are outraged by Wells Fargo's wrongdoing, all the Republican senators who spoke against the bank at today's hearing have gone on record at various times in calling for the full repeal of President Obama's financial regulation law -- which would mean eliminating the agency that uncovered the wrongdoing and levied the biggest fines.

    Several big things started happening in the 1980s. One is that major steps were taken to reduce regulation of many industries, which allowed some businesses to play fast and loose with their ethics. Another is that marginal tax rates on the wealthy were reduced, which gave business owners more incentive to make money any way they could. The result was, as I said many times at the time, that America's fastest growth industry became fraud. That didn't end late in the decade when the Savings & Loan banks blew up. At most, they took a little breather before the stock market bubble of the 1990s burst to reveal star companies like Enron as built on little but fraud. Then there was another bubble in the mid-2000s, which like the others burst to reveal even more fraudulent activity, this time infecting the entire financial sector. So now we have thirty-some years of experience showing that deregulation and tax breaks lead to nothing more than ever more destructive episodes of fraud -- as well as inequality, inequity, austerity, poverty, and hardship -- but the only remedy Republicans can imagine is more deregulation and more tax breaks. They're so pathetic you'd think Democrats would make an issue of this.

    For some more in-depth reading: Alana Semuels: Finance Is Ruining America. For example:

    But as GE Capital was making money, GE was laying off staff, outsourcing jobs, and shifting more costs onto employees. Welch laid off 100,000 in five years and cut research-and-development spending as a percentage of sales by half, according to Foroohar. GE closed an Indiana refrigerator plant and relocated some of the production of models to Mexico. It cut 2,500 jobs in a turbine division to save $1 billion. In 2007, it shuttered a 1.4 million-square-foot plant in Bridgeport that had once, in the heyday of American manufacturing, made clocks, fans, radios, washing machines, and vacuums, and employed thousands of people. In short, investors were getting wealthy, but working class-people weren't sharing the rewards. Instead, they were losing their jobs.

    "The stereotype of what finance is supposed to do is take the income of savers and channel that to productive investments," Marshall Steinbaum, an economist at the Roosevelt Institute, told me. "That's not what finance does now. A lot of finance goes in the opposite direction, where essentially they are taking money out of productive corporations and sending it back to investors."

  • Emma Green: Why Does the United States Give So Much Money to Israel? In one of his "lame duck" acts, Obama signed a Memorandum of Understanding stating that the US will give Israel $38 billion over the next ten years, "an increase of roughly 27 percent on the money pledged in the last agreement, which was signed in 2007." Most (or maybe all) of this is for arms, pretty much the last thing Israel actually needs. One plus is that all the money comes back to Americans arms merchants (under the old agreement Israel could spend about one-quarter of the grants on their own industry) so one could look at this as an American jobs program -- indeed, Obama's record-setting arms sales have been the only sort of jobs program Congress has allowed him. Not much analysis of why. Support for Israel is eroding, especially among young Democrats, and foreign aid for anyone has never been popular. Still, in Washington lining up to pay homage to Israel is still the safe choice -- heavily lobbied for, scarcely lobbied against.

    Also see Nathan Thrall: Obama & Palestine: The Last Chance, briefly reviewing how little Obama accomplished in two terms, or how easily Netanyahu has manage to deflect Obama's spineless ambivalence. Still, most of the article is about something minor Obama could still hope to pull off:

    This leaves only one option that isn't seen as unrealistic, unpalatable, or insignificant: to set down the guidelines or "parameters" of a peace agreement -- on the four core issues of borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem -- in a US-supported UN Security Council resolution. Once passed, with US support, these Security Council-endorsed parameters would become international law, binding, in theory, on all future presidents and peace brokers.

    Top US officials see a parameters resolution as Obama's only chance at a lasting, positive legacy, one that history might even one day show to have been more important to peace than the achievements of his predecessors. Once Kerry's efforts extinguished the administration's last hopes of an agreement on their watch, a parameters resolution became their brass ring; since then, Israel-Palestine policy has largely been at a standstill in Washington and capitals throughout Europe, hanging on the question of whether Obama will decide to grab it.

    If he doesn't grab it, and that's the bet I'd put my money on, all he'll have to show for eight years of trying to reconcile Israel and the Palestinians is a record-smashing arms deal -- munitions Israel has used for a series of murderous assaults on Gaza "on his watch."

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates: What O.J. Simpson Means to Me: I did my best to avoid the murder case news when it happened, viewing the grotesque public focus with celebrity as just another of those ways television perverts our sense of reality. I had followed the NFL back in his day, watched him emerge on television and in advertising, thinking him a little bland but likable enough, while not even curious about his personal life. I do remember that during the trial my mother -- not a racist but also not someone who felt any qualms about voting for George Wallace -- thought he couldn't possibly be guilty. I did get a refresher course in watching the FX drama series (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, although I bailed out midway through the documentary O.J.: Made in America). That the story has resurfaced in such a big way this year says something about the heightened consciousness now of how fallible the justice system remains -- not that it continues as it's always been, but old stories have a way of becoming new again. Coates has much on the complex racial dynamics surrounding Simpson, but the following stands out:

    How many black men had the LAPD arrested and convicted under a similarly lax application of standards? "If you can railroad O.J. Simpson with his millions of dollars and his dream team of legal experts," the activist Danny Bakewell told an assembled crowd in L.A. after the Fuhrman tapes were made public, "we know what you can do to the average African American and other decent citizens in this country."

    The claim was prophetic. Four years after Simpson was acquitted, an elite antigang unit of the LAPD's Rampart division was implicated in a campaign of terror that ranged from torture and planting evidence to drug theft and bank robbery -- "the worst corruption scandal in LAPD history," according to the Los Angeles Times. The city was forced to vacate more than 100 convictions and pay out $78 million in settlements.

    The Simpson jury, as it turned out, understood the LAPD all too well. And its conclusions about the department's inept handling of evidence were confirmed not long after the trial, when the city's crime lab was overhauled. "If your mission is to sweep the streets of bad people . . . and you can't prosecute them successfully because you're incompetent," Mike Williamson, a retired LAPD officer, remarked years later about the trial, "you've defeated your primary mission."

    Also see Rob Sheffield: What 'O.J.: Made in America' Says About America Right Now, where he notes, "The O.J. trial is a nightmare America has kept having about itself for decades." That may be giving America too much credit. Sheffield also wrote about American Crime Story.

  • Miscellaneous election links:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Streamnotes (September 2016)

Pick up text here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 27153 [27128] rated (+25), 376 [374] unrated (+2).

First, I screwed up last night and misnumbered my Weekend Roundup post, so for various technical reasons the link I tweeted last night needs to be removed. Since the half-life of tweets seems to be less than two hours, the old one should soon be forgotten.

Second, here again is the download link for my book-in-progress, Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century: A Consumer Guide. It is currently at what I call Stage One, which is to say that I've collected and sorted reviews from all of the 2004-11 Jazz Consumer Guide columns, but haven't done much further editing. Stage Two will add reviews for many more records: things I'm currently collecting from my Jazz Prospecting, Recycled Goods, and Rhapsody Streamnotes files. I currently have all of the JCG prospecting notes collected, and about one-third of Recycled Goods, so I'm at least a week away from starting to revise the draft. The PDF file is unchanged from last week, so no need to download it again, but if you haven't yet, please do.

I've made a couple of piddly decisions on formatting since then: to remove the bold from the parenthetical label/year, and to change the year notation from '## to -## -- the latter because I've started to use "smart quotes" and getting all that consistent is going to be difficult. I'm also considering making a fairly substantial change to the grading system. I thought it might be better to convert the letter grades (with their 3-star subdivision of B+) into a numeric scale (1-10). My first attempt at a conversion was: 10 = A+, 9 = A, 8 = A-, 7 = B+(***), 6 = B+(**), 5 = B+(*), 4 = B, 3 = B- or C+, 2 = C or C-, 1 = any D, 0 = any E.

Two problems there, one at the top of the scale, the other near the bottom. The former started when I initially applied my letter grade scale to my records list, A and A+ made sense only for records that had stood the test of time and many plays. However, after JCG started my working methodology changed so that I almost never managed the several dozen plays those older records had enjoyed. I basically stopped using those grades. For instance, the one and only A+ I've given to a jazz record released this century was James Carter's Chasin' the Gypsy, and that was released in 2000. (I'm pretty sure my most recent A+ was Lily Allen's It's Not Me, It's You in 2009, although it didn't get promoted until several years later.)

Actually, there's not much A+ jazz earlier either: I count 41 albums, one each (or more in parens, but some are redundant) for: Louis Armstrong (5), Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis (2), Duke Ellington (9), Ella Fitzgerald (3), Coleman Hawkins (2), Billie Holiday (2), Fletcher Henderson, Johnny Hodges (2), Louis Jordan, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Art Pepper, Don Pullen, Sonny Rollins (3), Roswell Rudd, Jimmy Rushing, Pharoah Sanders, Horace Silver, Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum. That's out of 14032 jazz albums rated, so 1/334 (0.2%). That's, well, even I have to admit that's pretty picky -- rarefied even -- especially if the concept is to grade on some sort of curve.

There are a good deal more A records, ten times as many (419, or 2.9% of the total), but they too are concentrated among older artists. From 2000 onward, I've given out 65 A grades (counting Carter's A+), an average of 4 per year (exactly, not counting 2016, which so far has 1). I don't have an easy way of counting the sample size there, but it's at least 5000 and probably closer to 7000 so we're looking at a number that will round off (probably up) to 1%. Seems to me like I could combine A and A+ at 10 and still have no more than 1% at that level -- less than 100 records covering two decades.

The other problem is at the bottom. Keeping the three subdivisions of B+, which I think is well justified by my recent practice, pegging A- at 8 pushes B down to 4, and forces me to combine lower grades. This is less important, but intuitively it seems to me that B should be 5, and that the distinction between B- and C+ is meaningful (not that the difference between 4 and 3, or 3 and 2, is really going to sway any of your buying decisions). Below that matters less, not least because I put so little effort into discerning qualitative distinctions between records I actively dislike.

In recent years my impression has been that each of the three B+ levels were fairly evenly distributed (possibly with a slight bulge in the middle, at **), with A- and B tapered off, and sub-B grades rare -- partly because I don't seek out records I'm unlikely to like, and partly because many of their publicists have given up on me. But I've never counted until now. I did three counts, first on the entire rated database (27526 albums), then on the jazz subset (14032), and finally on the post-2000 jazz subset (undercounted a bit at 8268), which breaks down thus: A+ 1 (0.01%), A 63 (0.76%), A- 883 (10.7%), B+(***) 1445 (19.0%), B+(**) 2122 (27.7%), B+(*) 1730 (22.6%), B 1064 (12.9%), B- 364 (4.4%), C+ 81 (0.97%), C 30 (0.36%) C- 15 (0.18%), D+ 2 (0.02%), D 2 (0.02%), plus 455 additional B+ albums (divided proportionately for the percentages; the overall B+ percentage is 69.56%). This actually looks rather like a pretty normal distribution, left-shifted by various factors biased in favor of selecting better records (ones I bought, sought out, or that savvy promoters sent my way) in an idiom that I broadly respect and enjoy. Or it may just be that the left-shift is to be expected, just because the skillset jazz demands is so exceptional.

Taking all this into account, a few days back I proposed to shift my grade scale a bit leftward, combining A/A+ at 10 (still just the top 1% of rated albums), moving A- to 9 (10%, so the top decile), the B+ tiers to 8-7-6 (all records that will repay your interest), B to 5, B- to 4, C+ to 3, C or C- to 2, all D to 1. Of course, the latter ranks will be underrepresented. The only real reason for flagging a bad album is to warn consumers who might otherwise be tempted, but most bad records never tempt anyone -- they come from people you don't know or care about, and quickly vanish without a trace.

So I wrote my proposal up and sent it around to various critics, most of whom didn't like it. For example, Robert Christgau wrote back: "I definitely think everything shd be a notch down, with perhaps a somewhat lenient view of what constitutes an A plus than in my system." So I should shift some A records to 10, leave the rest at 9, peg A- at 8, and let everything else fall accordingly, combining various lower grades I rarely use anyway. Splitting out more bins on the left would provide a more even distribution, but keeping 9 and 10 reserved for less than 1% also suggests a fetish for perfection that hardly anything can achieve. I'm not sure that's either useful or achievable.

A couple others mentioned the Spin guide as a familiar model, with the implication that A- should be pegged at 8 (or maybe split between 7-8). However, my copy defines 10 as "an unimpeachable masterpiece or a flawed album of crucial historical importance" and 7-9 as "well worth buying, sure to provide you with sustained pleasure," and they even have kind words for 4-6 if you're "deeply interested in the artist or genre." I'm not sure what I'd be curious to see a histogram of those grades: how does the distribution line up with my own data? My mapping would put A- through B+(**) into the 7-9 range, as various degrees of records I recommend (indeed, that I store separately from recent jazz graded lower), while the 4-6 range gets B- to B+(*) -- the latter are records that I respect and sometimes even admire but don't much feel like playing again (those usually go to the basement, but thus far I haven't discarded any).

Of course, if one started from scratch, one could devise an elegant distribution curve (say 4-7-10-13-16-16-13-10-7-4, or 2-5-9-14-20-20-14-9-5-2) and sort everything accordingly. But that assumes you can rank everything before slicing it into tranches, something that based on no small experience I find impossible. But more importantly for me, I need some way to mechanically transcribe the letter grades I have into numerical grades. So while I might get a more pleasing curve if I could move the uper half of my A- records from 8 to 9 and the upper third of my B+(***) albums from 7 to 8 and slide some slice starting at B+(*) down a notch, it would be hell for me to try to figure out how to split my existing levels. (It's going to be bad enough just to divvy up the unsorted B+ records.)

Sorry to run on like that. I imagine everyone's eyes glazed over, but mapping it all out like that is helping me think it through. I'll let you know when I reach a conclusion. Meanwhile, feedback always welcome.

Minor discrepancy in the rated count, which only includes one of the three Made to Break albums below. I wrote up the others while working on this post, but thought it made more sense to keep them grouped together. The Beatles stuff was in response to the belated CD release of the Hollywood Bowl album. I also played 1962-1966, which I had previously rated at A and found every bit as great. I hadn't previously rated 1967-1970, but knew everything on it. Even so, better than I expected. I also meant to get the third Anthology in, but had some problems with Napster that locked me out for a couple days. Finally got to it tonight and, well, it's not very good. Might as well add it too.

New records rated this week:

  • Paolo Angeli/Robert Burke/Mirko Guerrini/Jordan Murray/Stephen Magnusson/Stefano Tamborrino: Sardinian Liturgy (2015 [2016], Jazzhead): [r]: B+(*)
  • Carol Bach-y-Rita: Minha Casa/My House (2016, Arugula): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joshua Breakstone/The Cello Quartet: 88 (2016, Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Cookers: The Call of the Wild & Peaceful Heart (2016, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dinosaur: Together, as One (2016, Edition): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Deep Memory (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Craig Hartley: Books on Tape Vol. II: Standard Edition (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Hearts & Minds: Hearts & Minds (2014 [2016], Astral Spirits): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Honey Ear Trio: Swivel (2014 [2016], Little (i) Music): [cd]: A-
  • Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Big Wheel Live (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Joëlle Léandre/Théo Ceccaldi: Elastic (2015 [2016], Cipsela): [r]: B+(**)
  • Made to Break: Before the Code: Live (2014 [2016], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Made to Break: N N N (2014 [2016], Audiographic): [bc]: A-
  • Made to Break: Dispatch to the Sea (2014 [2016], Audiographic): [bc]: A-
  • Joe McPhee: Flowers (2009 [2016], Cipsela): [cd]: B+(*)
  • MIA: AIM (2016, Interscope): [r]: B+(***)
  • Michelson Morley: Strange Courage (2016, Babel): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Buoyancy (2016, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tony Moreno: Short Stories (2015 [2016], Mayimba Jazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Dominique Pifarély Quartet: Tracé Provisoire (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau: Nearness (2011 [2016], Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Catherine Russell: Harlem on My Mind (2016, Jazz Village): [r]: A-
  • Naomi Moon Siegel: Shoebox View (2015 [2016], self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Edward Simon: Latin American Songbook (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ferenc Snétberger: In Concert (2013 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Eric St-Laurent: Planet (2016, Katzenmusik): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Glauco Venier: Miniatures: Music for Piano and Percussion (2013 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Nate Wooley: Argonautica (2016, Firehouse 12): [bc]: B+(**)

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

  • The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1964-65 [2016], Universal/Apple): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • The Beatles: 1967-1970 (1967-70 [2010], Apple, 2CD): [r]: A
  • The Beatles: Anthology 1 (1958-94 [1995], Capitol, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Beatles: Anthology 2 (1965-95 [1996], Capitol, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Beatles: Anthology 3 (1968-70 [1996], Apple/Capitol, 2CD): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jay Azzolina/Dino Govoni/Adam Nussbaum/Dave Zinno: Chance Meeting (Whaling City Sound)
  • Mili Bermejo/Dan Greenspan: Arte Del Duo (self-released): October 7
  • Joshua Breakstone/The Cello Quartet: 88 (Capri): October 21
  • Dim Lighting: Your Miniature Motion (Off): advance
  • Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda: Duet (Long Song)
  • Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band: The Broader Picture (Enja/Yellowbird): advance, September 30
  • Rale Micic: Night Music (Whaling City Sound)
  • Moonbow: When the Sleeping Fish Turn Red and the Skies Start to Sing in C Major I Will Follow You to the End (ILK)
  • Richard Sussman: The Evolution Suite (Zoho)

Daily Log

My first grade count approximation took the entire graded database (27526 albums): A+ 170 (0.6%); A 1166 (4.2%); A- 5363 (19.4%); B+(***) 2968 (15.9%); B+(**) 3967 (19.5%); B+(*) 3302 (17.1%); B 4132 (15.0%); B- 1289 (4.6%); C+ 310 (1.1%); D* 33 (0.1%); E* 1 (0.0%). To get this I took 4255 albums simply graded B+ and divided them equally among the three bins (the total B+ slice is 52.9%).

My second approximation was to pick only the jazz albums (14032): A+ 43 (0.3%); A 376 (2.6%); A- 2369 (16.8%); B+(***) 1850 (17.0%); B+(**) 2534 (25.3%); B+(*) 2027 (19.0%); B 2016 (14.3%); B- 597 (4.2%); C+ 122 (0.86%); C 49 (0.34%); C- 21 (0.14%); D+ 5 (0.03%); D 3 (0.02%). The grade list also included 2020 B+ grades (all the various B+ grades add up to 60.1% of the total), which for share were distributed proportionately above. I suspect that if I were to restrict this to post-2000 releases both the A-list and the B-and-below shares would drop some, probably mostly on the A-end.

The post-2000 jazz curve above can be compared to one based on all jazz (14032 albums): A grades are down quite a bit (19.7-to-11.5%), B-and-lower drop much less (19.9-to-18.9%), with B+ gains making up the difference. The whole database, 27526 albums, increases the A grade share to 23.9% and B-and-lower to 20.8%.

Here's the list of post-2000 A/A+ records (never hurts to mention really good ones): Angles: Epileptical West (2010); Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001), Prayer for Peace (2010); Nik Bartsch's Ronin: REA (2006); Arthur Blythe: Focus (2002); Anthony Braxton: 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2005); James Carter: Chasin' the Gypsy (2000); Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (2006); Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (2014); Jon Faddis: Teranga (2006); Avram Fefer: Eliyahu (2011); The Fully Celebrated: Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (2009); Rick Halley: Children of the Blue Supermarket (2011); Craig Harris: Souls Within the Veil (2005); Michael Hashim: Green Up Time (2001); Benjamin Herman: Hypo Christmas Treefuzz (2010); Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic (2008); Jewels and Binoculars: Ships With Tatooed Sails (2007); Aly Keita: Kalo Yele (2016); Adam Lane: New Magical Kingdom (2006); Steve Lehman: Dialect Fluorescent (2011), Mise en Abime (2014); Mark Lomax: The State of Black America (2010); Allen Lowe: Blues and the Empirical Truth (2011); Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (2010); Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head (2013); MI3: Free Advice (2007); Nils Petter Molvaer: Solid Ether (2000), ER (2006); Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (2013); Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Shamokin!!! (2007), Slippery Rock! (2013); David Murray: Like a Kiss That Never Ends (2001), Gwotet (2004); Sacred Ground (2007); Paraphrase: Pre-Emptive Denial (2005); William Parker: Raining on the Moon (2002), . . . And William Danced (2002), Scrapbook (2003), Sound Unity (2005), Double Sunrise Over Neptune (2008), I Plan to Stay a Believer (2010); Powerhouse Sound: Oslo/Chicago Breaks (2007); Roberto Juan Rodriguez: El Danzon de Moises (2002); Sonny Rollins: This Is What I Do (2000); Roswell Rudd: Trombone for Lovers (2013); Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (2008); Bernardo Sassetti: Ascent (2005); Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (2014); Alexander von Schlippenbach: Monk's Casino (2005); Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (2015); Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (2014); Matthew Shipp: Harmony and Abyss (2004), Harmonic Disorder (2009); Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock: Symbiosis (2005); Sonic Liberation Front: Ashé a Go-Go (2004); Spaceways Inc.: Version Soul (2002); Triage: American Mythology (2004); Vandermark 5: Elements of Style . . . Exercise in Surprise (2004), Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4 (2006); Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (2014); David S. Ware: Corridors and Parallels (2001); World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006); Zu/Spaceways Inc.: Radiale (2004); Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (2014).

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Mostly writing this today because I have various tabs opened to possibly interesting articles, and it's only a matter of time before my antiquated browser crashes. Better, I think, to note them briefly than to lose them forever.

I wrote some on the campaign horserace a couple days ago (see Looks Like She Blew It), and nothing much has changed on that front -- TPM still has Trump ahead by 0.1%, but 538 shows Clinton with slightly better chance of winning (61.3%, up from 60.0%). So she may still pull this out, but if she does she'll still wind up with the lowest share of popular vote since 1992, when someone else named Clinton won.

Some scattered links this week:

  • David Dayen: How Democrats Can Overcome Their Self-Defeating Cynicism: By "pushing actual policies"? Dayen proposes adding a "public option" to Obamacare as a good place to start. That's actually fairly non-controversial, at least with mainstream Democrats. It was part of the original ACA, and was dropped mostly because the bill couldn't be passed without 60 votes in the Senate, and a couple of them were willing to wreck the whole thing to spare private insurance companies from competition. He notes that Sen. Jeff Merkley (Oregon) has a resolution backed by 27 other senators, and that Obama and Clinton favor it. As for "cynicism" the more apposite term Dayen uses is "defensive crouch" (although if you want an example of cynicism, there's the attempt to bundle gun control on top of the rather arbitrary, putatively anti-terror, "no fly list").

    In their defensive crouch, Democrats have forgotten to explain why they consider it important that "no family have the American dream ripped out from under them because they can't afford medical care," as Merkley said on the call. They forget to explain why health care ought to be a right for every American, not a privilege only available to those who can buy it at a high price.

    This was actually the logic of the Sanders campaign, and a reason for its unlikely success. Contrary to the political science pros, it was his ideas, and more to the point his willingness to say them, that animated his candidacy. It also pushed Clinton to outline a bolder agenda than she might have been comfortable with in Sanders's absence. When the Democratic primary pitted ideas against one another, rather than amplifying criticisms, it let Americans know what Democrats stand for.

    The bloodless technocracy that has ruled the Democratic Party has forgotten how to inspire the body politic. After riding a wave of enthusiasm to power in 2008, the last couple midterms and even Obama's 2012 campaign were nervy exercises in protecting the tentative gains Democrats had made -- and seemed half-embarrassed by. Democrats too often define themselves by who they oppose rather than their own principles. Not only is this self-defeating for a party that promises activist government, it makes governing itself harder down the road.

    Of course, it's not just the emergence of a bit of political backbone that's bringing the public option back into play. It's also that the insurance companies have been conspiring to prevent the competition that the ACA promised from eating into their profits -- most egregiously by trying to merge the four largest private health insurers into two companies (the first mergers I'm aware of the Obama administration actually opposing). Even short of that they're cutting back on plan availability, so many Americans will have no choices.

  • Eric Lichtblau: Hate Crimes Against American Muslims Most Since Post-9/11 Era: "up 78 percent over the course of 2015. Attacks on those perceived as Arab rose even more sharply. . . . That was the most since the record 481 documented hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks set off waves of crimes targeting Muslims and Middle Easterners, Mr. Levin said. The huge increase last year was also the biggest annual rise since 2001, he said." It's tempting to blame this on Trump, whose anti-Muslim positions are based on and seem to legitimize more blatant threats: "A number of experts in hate crimes said they were concerned that Mr. Trump's vitriol may have legitimized threatening or even violent conduct by a small fringe of his supporters. In a few cases, people accused of hate crimes against Muslims and others have even cited Mr. Trump." On the other hand, it's impossible to go to war against a people for fifteen years and not engender hatred -- something Bush and Obama have worked hard to cap because it so subverts their war aims, although Obama had a big disadvantage in that those most inclined to hate Muslims started off by hating him.

  • Derek Thompson: America's Monopoly Problem: As I noted above, the Obama administration has done a remarkably poor record of maintaining competitiveness within supposedly free markets, scarcely even bothering to use the rather antiquated antitrust laws that are still on the books. Those laws, dating to the 1880s, targeted absolute monopolies where a single company sought to gain complete control of a market. While such combines are still a threat, the bigger problem now is what we might call consensual monopoly blocks, where two or three large companies effectively divvy up a market, crowding out competitors and focusing more on growing their profit margins than cutting into one another's market share. The net effect looks like this:

    In the past few decades, however, the economy has come to resemble something more like a stagnant pool. Entrepreneurship, as measured by the rate of new-business formation, has declined in each decade since the 1970s, and adults under 35 (a/k/a Millennials) are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation on record.

    This decline in dynamism has coincided with the rise of extraordinarily large and profitable firms that look discomfortingly like the monopolies and oligopolies of the 19th century. American strip malls and yellow pages used to brim with new small businesses. But today, in a lot where several mom-and-pop shops might once have opened, Walmart spawns another superstore. In almost every sector of the economy -- including manufacturing, construction, retail, and the entire service sector -- the big companies are getting bigger. The share of all businesses that are new firms, meanwhile, has fallen by 50 percent since 1978. According to the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think tank dedicated to advancing the ideals of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, "markets are now more concentrated and less competitive than at any point since the Gilded Age."

    Even where there are entrepreneurs, as in high-tech, their typical business plans focus on building companies to the point where they be sold profitably to larger companies. For instance, have any of the biotech startups that were spun up in the 1990s not been sold off to pharmaceutical giants? Much of this is driven by financial firms, who can overpay for a startup knowing that it's worth more as part of a monopolistic conglommerate. Joseph Stiglitz cites monopoly rents as a major source of increasing inequality, and this is what he means. A big part of the reason inequality is spiraling out of control is that government, influenced (as you well know) by those profiting from monopoly rents, has abdicated its responsibility to ensure that markets are free, open, transparent, and therefore efficient. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this issue, so this piece is one you need to read.

  • Maggie Koerth-Baker: How the Oil and Gas Industry Awakened Oklahoma's Sleeping Fault Lines: The first recorded earthquake in Oklahoma occurred in 1882, before the first oil well was drilled in 1897. This piece has a map of the known fault lines crossing Oklahoma, and they are numerous, especially in the southeast corner of the state, home of what's left of the Ouchita Mountains (high point 2681 feet above sea level). Still, earthquakes remained rare until less than a decade ago, rising to more than 900 earthquakes (3.0 or stronger) in 2014 -- the most of any state in the nation. As another map shows, those earthquakes are located not where most of the faults are, but rather in the north-central part of the state: relatively flat prairie west of the Arkansas River, bisected by the Canadian River. This has been oil country since way before I was born -- indeed, the main tourist attractions in Ponca City are tours of the mansions of pioneering oil barons. The yields of those oil wells have long been declining -- a chart here shows that Oklahoma pumps up five barrels of wastewater for every barrel of oil (or equivalent natural gas, at this point 80% of Oklahoma's hydrocarbon production). That would have been uneconomical back when oil was cheap, but the high prices of the Bush years urged marginal producers to invest in injection wells -- there are now more than 4000 across the state -- as they seek to slurp up the last of their remaining oil. (By contrast, the water/fuel ratio in the newer fields of North Dakota is currently running just slightly above 1/1.) The injected wastewater, along with techniques like fracking, may help increase oil production, but it also lubricates often unseen faults, which then slip to produce earthquakes. The largest to date, a 5.8 centered between Pawnee and Ponca City, was felt as far away as Omaha and Austin. Here in Wichita, about 110 miles away, it woke us up as the house shook for nearly a minute. I've been following this story since it started to break -- oil geology is one of those subjects I read for pleasure -- and this is one of the better pieces on it. So now, in addition to anthropogenic climate change, the oil industry has brought us anthropogenic earthquakes. You'd think they'd be the least bit embarrassed, but even before they proved to be so ingenious at creating "natural" disasters, their sudden riches spawned many of America's most reactionary political entrepreneurs, from H.L. Hunt to the Kochs to Dick Cheney. The biggest mistake this country ever made was letting individuals own the nation's mineral resources.

  • Miscellaneous election links:

    • Charles V Bagli: A Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million in Tax Breaks: How to get ahead by starting there. Of course, Trump isn't the only businessman who taken advantage of "what he calls the pay-to-play culture of politics and a 'rigged' system of government." Pretty much everyone does it, a relationship so symbiotic neither side dares question it even though practically everyone else thinks it stinks to high hell. Long article with lots of details, mostly on New York real estate.

    • John Cassidy: Does Donald Trump Pay Any Income Taxes at All? Well, if he doesn't, that would be one reason he might have for withholding his tax returns. Cassidy quotes James Stewart: "No one should be surprised, though, if Donald J. Trump has paid far less -- perhaps even zero federal income tax in some years. Indeed, that's the expectation of numerous real estate and tax professionals I've interviewed in recent weeks." That just reflects the numerous loopholes that benefit real estate developers, just part of a crooked system. Also quotes David Cay Johnston, who "pointed out that Trump paid no income tax in 1978, 1979, 1992, and 1994" and "several times received a type of tax rebate that is restricted to property owners who report taxable income of less than half a million dollars."

      Also by Cassidy: Birtherism, Bombs, and Donald Trump's Weekend.

    • Russel Berman: Hillary Clinton Has a Lot of Money: She raised $143 million in August, and seems to have been more concerned with raking in contributions than with winning over voters. The good news there is that $81 million goes to the DNC and state parties. How successful she is as president depends on how successful the Democratic Party is in state and local elections, especially for Congress -- a point that neither her husband nor Obama learned as president. Still, she lost ground in the polls while catering to wealthy donors. We'll see if she can use their money to turn the election around.

    • Amy Davidson: Clinton's Sick Days: At least she got some help to make up for her down time -- from Obama, his wife, Biden, her husband. Still, Davidson's best line was parenthetical: "(Why, at this stage, her schedule includes so many travel-intensive fund-raisers, when she is suffering from a shortage not of funds but of voter rapport, is one of many side questions that her illness raised.)"

    • David A Graham: Just Why Does Hillary Clinton Want to Be President? First thought on seeing this is that it reminded me of the unhealthy obsession the press in 2000 had with Gore's supposed obsession with running for president, suggesting that if he failed he might as well kill himself because his whole life would have been wasted. In point of fact, after he lost he got a job as a venture capitalist, he got rid of his wife, he wrote a book that wasn't about himself, he made a movie about global warming, he won an Oscar for the movie, he won a Nobel Prize. If he was so obsessed with becoming president, why did he never run again? He's 68 now, but he's still a few months younger than Hillary Clinton. So I don't have much interest in psychological speculation about "what makes Hillary run?" -- I would, however, find a credible explanation for Trump interesting. Or maybe just amusing.

      Then there's Clare Foran: The Curse of Hillary Clinton's Ambition. Foran catches a lot of flying innuendo in her net, and seems willing to give credence to all of it. She quotes one "man" as saying, "This has been her entire life's work, it seems like, has been building up to this moment, so she doesn't have any shots left." Just like Gore in 2000, except she's even more of a crone. Foran adds, "But some voters also seem to distrust Clinton because they believe she wants to win at any cost." This is a journalist? She wouldn't have to search very hard to find Trump supporters who see that very same trait in their man and admire him for it.

    • Harry Enten: Why Clinton's Electoral Map Isn't as Good as Obama's: Had Obama and Romney received the same number of votes (basically, by moving 3.9% from D to R in every state), Obama would still have been elected president by the electoral college. The map this year looks to me to be much the same, but Enten argues that it has shifted in such a way that Trump has "a better shot of winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote (at 6.1 percent) than Clinton (1.5 percent)." Of course, there's a chart, showing that 11 of 14 battleground states have "moved right relative to the country" --Iowa and Nevada enough to switch sides. Part of this is that Clinton is leading Obama in some states she'll still lose (Enten mentions Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming). But I also suspect part of this is that they're comparing Clinton's current polls to Obama's actual votes, so they haven't yet factored in the intense battleground state "ground game."

    • Todd S Purdum: What's Really Ailing Hillary: "A long time ago, Clinton was far more transparent, emotional and open than she is today. Then the media began slamming her -- and didn't stop."

    • Matt Taibbi: Stop Whining About 'False Balance': Mostly this is a rant about the overwhelming banality (not to mention stupidity) of the mass media, arguing that those are worse problems than bias which knowledgeable people can see through anyway. Also points out:

      The irony is, the Clinton Foundation thing is a rare example of an important story that is getting anything like the requisite attention. The nexus of elite connections that sits behind tales like Bill Clinton taking $1.5 million in speaking fees from a Swiss bank (and foundation donor) while that same bank is seeking relief from Hillary Clinton's State Department is exactly the kind of thing that requires the scrutiny of reporters.

      Yeah, sort of, but those reporters are often so wrapped up in their preconceived notions they wind up shilling for campaign narratives that don't clarify anything.

    • Brian Mittendorf: Clinton charities 101: What do they actual do and where does their money go? Fair amount of detail here on the structure and organization of Clinton's various foundations/charities. Much less on the direct involvement of the Clintons: they put some money in at one end, but that's dwarfed by money raised from others; they put their name out, which is both used for raising money and for whatever "good works" the Foundation ultimately does. Clearly, they must benefit somehow, if only in good will. The benefits to other donors are unclear, which is perhaps inevitable, and certainly open to suspicion. I've never been a fan of foundations, which even at best seem like arbitrary penance for lives of avarice and shoddy providers of social goods, but given the inequities of the present I also doubt that any of this would be suspect but for Hillary running for president, once again making her the target of people much more greedy and careless than herself.

    • Heather Digby Parton: The general of gossip: Colin Powell's leaked emails depict a juvenile busybody rather than an elder statesman: how devious of him to talk Hillary into using that private email server!

      Colin Powell has a long history of being in the middle of scandals and wriggling out of any responsibility for them. From his involvement in the My Lai massacre, to Iran Contra, to personally blocking President Bill Clinton's promise to allow gays to serve openly in the military, to his infamous testimony before the UN that led to the Iraq war, Powell's fingerprints are on the wrong side of history and the truth time and again and he's always got some excuse as to why it wasn't his fault.

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

  • 'Hunting of Hillary' Author on Clinton Conspiracies and Conservative Attacks: Interview with Joe Conason, who has a new book on what Bill Clinton's been up to since leaving the White House: Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, following up on his 2001 book The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. He's a reliable fan, eager to point out all the good the Clintons have done, as well as how shabbily they've been treated by that vast right-wing conspiracy thing.

  • Patrick Cockburn: The US and Russia Have Less Influence in Syria Than They Think: True, no doubt, as it's often the case that in what you think of as a proxy war the tail winds up wagging the dog. Russia can bring Assad a cease fire but getting his forces to stick with it has never been easy. And the US doesn't even have the luxury of backing a significant force on the ground. Rather, they have multiple enemies, making it possible to inadvertently help one at the expense of the other. Cockburn offers a good example here: the US misidentified a target as ISIS and bombed it, killing at least 62 Syrian soldiers, after which ISIS was able to capture the territory the US had cleared out.

  • Atul Gawande: Overkill: On how "an avalanche of unnecessary medical care is harming patients physically and financially." This is an old story, something whole books have been written on -- Shannon Brownlee's 2007 book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer is probably the classic -- but the author adds his usual insights and nostrums. He could be more explicit that the core cause is the focus on profits that turns it all into such a tug of war.

  • Greg Grandin: The Free-Marketeers Take Over in Brazil -- and the US Applauds:

    The Obama administration was less confrontational than its predecessor, but no less ideological in its preference for Latin America's free-marketeers. . . . But with a new round of economic shock therapy being applied in Latin America, Washington is preparing for the inevitable "social explosions" the way it does best: According to the Washington Office on Latin America, the Pentagon has, since 2007, tripled its special-ops training in the region.

  • Fred Kaplan: China Won't Stop Kim Jong-un. The US Must Stand Up to Both of Them: "Sanctions won't work. We can't destroy his nukes. We can rattle a few sabers, however." Really, very disappointing piece. We should remind Kim that if the North invades the South, even having some sort of "nuclear umbrella," we'll come to South Korea's defense and annihilate North Korea. Really? You think he somehow doesn't understand that already? You think rattling sabers will make him less touchy? Less defensive? Less desperate? What should happen is that the US needs to focus less on muscling North Korea around and more on figuring out a sane posture which would allow both Koreas and the US to coexist without threats. Once the US is willing to live with North Korea -- to formally end the 1950 war, to normalize relations, to open trade, to proportionately dial back military readiness -- we can worry about getting China, Japan, the South, and everyone else to buy in.

  • Mike Konczal: These Policies Could Move America Toward a Universal Basic Income: Three "simple policies": children's allowance, $12-an-hour minimum wage, 12 weeks' paid medical leave and 2 weeks' paid annual leave.

  • Peter Van Buren: Class of 2017 -- So Sorry!: Subtitle: "Apologizing to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War."

    Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. You have a greater chance of being hit by lightning, but fear doesn't work that way. There's no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or "if you see something, say something" signs that encourage you to report thunderstorms. So I felt no need to apologize for lightning.

    But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was that she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most frightened country on Earth.

    Want the numbers? Some 40% of Americans believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was just after September 11, 2001 -- the highest percentage ever.

    But there is one difference between terrorism and lightning, which is that much terrorism can be prevented by eliminating the motivations. Both before and after 9/11 the US became a target by targeting the Middle East with injustice and violence.

    I read the introduction to Ira Katznelson's big book on the 1930s, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, where he makes the point that FDR's famous line "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" was aimed to preserve democracy, which at the time was under attack from fearmongers who insisted we needed a strongman to run the country, Il Duce in Italy and Der Führer in Germany. Fear continues to be a potent cloak for the right. For example, see Daniel Politi: Trump Tells Crowd "Bomb" Went Off in New York, Proceeds to Brag About Polls. Trump quote: "We better get very tough, folks. We better get very, very tough."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Looks Like She Blew It

Trump up 44.6% to Clinton's 44.5% in TPM's tracking poll together. Electoral college split 254-242 for Clinton, 42 "tossup" (need 270 to win). I tweeted:

Hillary Clinton trailing in TPM tracking poll today. Wasn't her campaign's whole premise inevitable victory? How'd she blow this? Trump?

I also replied to myself:

Maybe because she spent all last month schmoozing with the real "deplorables": rich donors and neocon warmongers?

Was tempted to add something to the effect that maybe Bernie Sanders could rescue her campaign. We saw him with Seth Myers last night and he made a totally coherent, credible pitch for Clinton, based not at all on personal characteristics but on real political issues and commitments made in the Democratic Party platform.

Still, my gut reaction was to swear off politics until November, then vote for Clinton so I could say "don't look at me" when Trump wins. The silver lining is that Clinton losing to Trump is pretty sure to destroy both major political parties, at least in the sense of discrediting their old controllers. Clinton's loss would be the end of her family control of the Democratic Party, creating a huge opening for new leaders to emerge, and those leaders would define themselves by how effective they are in opposing a certainly disastrous Trump regime.

As for the Republicans, the only thing that breathed life into the GOP these past eight years was rage against an administration that they scarcely bothered to understand, instead taking its very existence as some sort of personal affront. With Trump winning they will lose their drive. Rather, they'll be forced to backpeddle and make excuses for an administration that is virtually certain to make one stupid mistake after another, not least temporary "successes" because at this point all Republican agendas are based on defective ideology.

Sure, Trump winning will hurt lots of people -- in the long run I'd even say everyone -- and that's reason enough to vote against him. But if people can't see that now -- and it's really glaringly obvious, isn't it? -- then maybe they'll have to learn the hard way.

Laura retweeted this from Connor Kilpatrick:

Hillary Clinton: the safe bet. Good thing we didn't go with the socialist. Trump might've called him a "commie"!

On the other hand, Trump would have been hard pressed to charge that Sanders is crooked and a liar, which are the charges that are doing the real damage to Clinton -- even though, sure, she's a piker in both respects compared to Trump. Her own aura of culpability -- all those irresponsible innuendos about "shadows" and "questions raised" that major media never seem to get around to disposing of -- evidently makes it that much harder for her to challenge Trump on those same grounds. But Sanders suffers from no such taint, which would have made him a clear contrast to Trump.

I think that if there is any one thing that the American people overwhelmingly agree on -- much, much more than their "representative" politicians do (or more tellingly, are willing to do anything about) -- it's that Washington is a cesspool of corruption. Trump is tapping into that by claiming to be an outsider, a contrast that consummate insiders like the Clintons make easy, even for someone who freely admits to having bought influence (including from the Clintons -- recall the old joke that we know Iraq has WMD because we still have the receipts?) -- which should make him as big a part of the problem as the politicians (but, as with sex, we tend to go easier on those who buy than those who sell).

On the other hand, if Trump had to run against Sanders, sure he'd try to paint him as some far-out wild-eyed radical -- and no doubt Trump's more rabid supporters would add "Commie" to the charges, but red-baiting like that seems to have lost much of its punch (not least from overuse against Obama, although pre-Cold War it was also ineffective against FDR). That isn't to deny that such charges would resonate among the donor class: Trump would have a clear money advantage against Sanders that he doesn't have against Clinton. But turning the contest into a referendum on the 1% vs. the 99% won't necessarily work in the billionaire's favor. (And if Bloomberg entered, as he threatened, wouldn't that just have split the 1% vote?)

I got a response to my initial tweet from Robert Christgau:

Who said inevitable? Said better than the socialist Jew who lost big to HRC w/o one attack ad. Also, blow's your word not TPM's.

First point: "inevitable." Hillary Clinton locked up the Democratic Party donor money so early that no mainstream Democrat dared to run against her. OK, O'Malley, but he started on the assumption that she wouldn't run and tried to pass his lame campaign off as a fallback, in case, you know, she got sick and incapacitated, or got indicted, or ran afoul of those "2nd Amendment People." Sanders, on the other hand, had issues to run on, and wound up totally bypassing the party's donor network. But Biden, for instance, gave up a huge structural advantage -- the last four sitting VP's who ran (Nixon, Humphrey, Bush, Gore[1]) easily won their party's nomination -- rather than oppose Clinton. Maybe this inevitability wasn't explicit -- and, sure, it never extended to a guaranteed win over any Republican -- but before the Sanders campaign kicked in as a real possibility even I was pretty much reconciled to Hillary being the nominee. The clincher for me was reading that she expected to raise more than a billion dollars for the race. Not even the Kochs were promising that much.

I don't know what Bob's second sentence means -- seems like a victim of Twitter compression. I disagree that Sanders "lost big." Clinton won a solid 56% of the votes, a surprisingly lame showing given her initial advantages in recognition, money, and party organization, and over time she had to move notably toward Sanders' positions to stay competitive. As for attack ads, sure, neither candidate waged a scorched earth campaign, with Sanders being especially generous in waving off any concerns about her email controversy. Clearly, neither candidate wanted to split or weaken the party against the Republican nominee, but also both realized that the sort of gross slanders the Republicans use were unlikely to gain any traction among Democratic voters.

Still, I don't see any point about the general election one can draw from this. We don't know whether Sanders would have been buried under a full-throated "red smear" attack, but we do know that Clinton has suffered a great deal from endlessly repeated attacks on her honesty and integrity, and that those issues have made it harder for her to gain from Trump's same (in many ways more blatant) faults. Back during the primaries many Clinton supporters argued that she was more electable than Sanders -- that she had been "vetted," having withstood the very worst the Republicans could do to her -- whereas they feared that Sanders would be ground to dust like Henry Wallace in 1948. All Sanders supporters could counter with were actual polls showing him doing better against most Republicans (but especially Trump) than she would do. All I can say is that she's turned out to be more compromised and more vulnerable than any of us expected.

Sure, "blow" is my word, and true, she's only blown her lead (about 5-6 points at post-convention peak), not the whole race. Even today she might still win, and there's still way too much time left until votes are cast. She's sitting on a lot of money, which has yet to blanket the airwaves, and perhaps more importantly organize that "ground game." The election will ultimately hinge on how many people (and who) show up and vote. Obama excelled at that in 2012, while he let the Democrats flail in 2010 and 2014 -- an instance of selfishness at the top of the ticket that her husband practically invented.

But what's different this time is Americans' Distaste for Both Trump and Clinton Is Record-Breaking. Motivation to vote this year largely hinges on who you detest the most. As the chart shows, back in March/April Trump was significantly more disliked than Clinton (looks like about 54% vs. 37%, the two highest figures going back to 1980). In The race is tightening for a painfully simple reason, Matthew Yglesias notes that her favorable/unfavorable poll split is now 42-56% ("truly, freakishly bad" -- chart here). Sure, Trump's is even worse, 38-59% (chart here), but has been relatively steady while her ratings have dipped, and being the "hate" candidate he's uniquely positioned to take advantage of her disapproval.

Still, steering the campaign toward personal character issues isn't very smart when only 3% of the electorate view you less unfavorably. Of course, they're doing it because they realize how shady and shabby a candidate Trump is, but also because they don't understand how exposed Clinton appears to an electorate that is so sick of and disgusted by Washington's culture of corrupt insider favors. If they keep going down this path they're going to wind up reprising Edwin Edwards' winning campaign slogan when he ran for governor of Louisiana and was fortunate enough to draw KKK honcho David Duke as his opponent: "Elect the crook. It's important."

But there is an alternative, which is to refocus the campaign on left-right economic issues, and appeal to the vast majority's sense of economic justice (and pocketbooks). There's so much mud in the water people will believe whatever they want about character issues, but there's no way to spin Trump's policies into something that helps a popular majority. Still, more important than persuade the occasional Trump fan to switch sides is to convince everyone else that they have much more at stake than stroking Hillary's vanity.

FiveThirtyEight still gives Hillary a 60% chance of winning, wtih slim leads both in popular vote (46.5-44.3%) and electoral votes (289-249). They show Trump having gained the lead in four states that had previously been in the Democratic column: Florida (51.6%), North Carolina (54.6%), Ohio (57.6%), and Iowa (61.8%). Trump would have to hang on to those four, plus pick up Nevada (48.5%) and/or New Hampshire (36.1%) to win. Trump's next closest states are Colorado (34.5%), Pennsylvania (30.6%) and Wisconsin (30.4%). The actual percentage spreads are much closer, with Clinton leading by 3.7% in Wisconsin, 3.4% in Pennsylvania, 2.8% in Colorado, 2.8% in New Hampshire, and 0.3% in Nevada, whereas Trump leads by 0.2% in Florida, 0.7% in North Carolina, 1.3% in Ohio, and 2.2% in Iowa.

It's also worth noting that she runs worse in four-way polls (i.e., the real world) than head-to-head against Trump, which is to say that when restricted to an either-or choice, more people who dislike both see Trump as the lesser evil. Johnson is polling about 9%, and Stein 2.7% -- as Yglesias notes Stein is actually doing better than Nader did in 2000. Clinton has had a problem all year long in that even when she had a big lead she was never able to crack 50% nationwide.

[1] Before Biden, the only sitting VP since 1952 who didn't run for his party's nomination under the circumstances was Cheney, who took a rather perverse pride in his unelectability, and whose favorable ratings as the 2008 election approached were down around 9%, about half of Bush's. (In 1952 Truman VP Alben Barkley briefly ran, but withdrew due to considerations about his age [74] and failing health.) Sure, three of the four lost, but by very close margins. Offhand, I can't recall an open Democratic primary with less than five candidates. This year, the Republicans came up with sixteen -- evidently nearly every billionaire in the party felt entitled to field his own jockey, with Trump somehow gaining extra street cred for running himself. The Democratic Party may be at a disadvantage, but they're not that short of billionaires, but they all made a calculated decision not to cross the Clintons -- even though they saw eight years ago that she could be beat, and should have known that she'd be even more vulnerable this time.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 27128 [27090] rated (+38), 374 [369] unrated (+5).

Fairly ordinary week here. I've mostly been looking for recent jazz beyond what's come in the mail. I don't think there's any non-jazz this week (aside from a Haitian comp that has Jazz in the title). Wound up playing many of the downloads I had been sitting on, including ECM's Peter Erskine (really John Taylor) box, and grabbed some older records while failing to find newer ones. Most turned out to be fairly unremarkable, but I did turn up two A- records fronted by saxophonists I've long enjoyed, one retro and one avant.

I suppose the focus on jazz has been a side effect of starting a project to turn my old Jazz Consumer Guide columns into some sort of, well, I call it Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century: A Consumer Guide. I wrote 26 Jazz Consumer Guide columns for the Village Voice from April 2004 to May 2011 (archived here), self-published a 27th column in December 2011, and had a draft file open for a 28th. I managed to squeeze a little more than 1000 records into those columns, and I've collected all that writing in a Libre Office Writer file -- using default page and style formats it comes to 144 pages. Probably the best way to view it is as a PDF file, so I've set up a page you can use to download it (make sure you check the enable box -- my quick and dirty alternative to a captcha).

The page has a form which asks for some questions before you download. I thought it might be nice to keep a count of how many times the file has been downloaded, and to collect some basic information, but the latter is strictly voluntary. I'm not sure, even, that I'll use any collected email addresses, but they would make it possible to interact more in the future. At 144 pages, the book is far from realizing the ambitions of its title. But I still have a lot more writing I can slide into the manuscript: starting with the 7th column in December 2005 I kept two extra files with extensive working notes ("Prospects" and "Surplus"), covering everything I listened to but didn't include in JCG. After that I posted Jazz Prospecting and Streamnotes, so I've done a fairly good job of covering new jazz from 2004 to present. There are also reviews in Recycled Goods columns from 2003 through 2013, and a few other scattered reviews (in Static Multimedia and the Village Voice).

Thus far I've collected about half of the Prospects/Surplus files, some 330,000 words. Maybe half of that is redundant either with itself or with the published drafts, and what's left needs to be edited more compactly. Still, I expect that when I've done that -- what I call "stage two" -- the manuscript will more than double in size. Then on to "stage three" picking up the post-2011 drafts, which will almost certainly add a like amount.

I'm less sure about "stage four," which involves trying to fill in important albums I missed -- most obviously from 2000-04 but also later. Perhaps that's why I've been focusing more on jazz lately. It's beginning to seem like I may have something tangible to show for what in recent years has often felt like a colossal waste of time.

Not that I'm looking for sheer bulk, but any attempt to cover even just the highlights of jazz records since 2000 is bound to be massive: a quick check of my Music Database shows that I have listings for 9920 jazz albums where my earliest recording or release dats is 2000 or later. Some of those I haven't heard or rated -- about 10% of post-2000 artists (369/3773) -- so I could wind up expanding the current 144 pages by a factor of something like eight (to 1152 pages). I'm not sure I'm up for all that, but the hard part of the job has already been done.

Would appreciate any feedback on the book project.

New records rated this week:

  • Anthony Branker & Imagine: Beauty Within (2016, Origin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh: Ears Are Filled With Wonder (2015 [2016], Not Two): [r]: B
  • Burning Ghosts: Burning Ghosts (2015 [2016], Orenda): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ron Carter Quartet & Vitoria Maldonado: Brasil L.I.K.E. (2016, Summit): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Cheek: Saturday Songs (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • The Roger Chong Quartet: Funkalicious (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tim Davies Big Band: The Expensive Train Set (2013-15 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Paolo Fresu/Richard Gallliano/Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum II (2014 [2016], ACT): [r]: B+(**)
  • Generations Quartet: Flow (2015 [2016], Not Two): [r]: A-
  • Ricardo Grilli: 1954 (2016, Tone Rogue): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton/Harry Allen: Live! (2014 [2016], GAC): [r]: A-
  • Darrell Katz and OddSong: Jailhouse Doc With Holes in Her Socks (2015 [2016], JCA): [cd]: B
  • Sinikka Langeland: The Magical Forest (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Shawn Maxwell: Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow (2016, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Francisco Mela: Fe (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Naima: Bye (2015 [2016], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(*)
  • The Phil Norman Tentet: Then & Now: Classic Sounds & Variations of 12 Jazz Legends (2015 [2016], Summit): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mark Solborg & Herb Robertson: Tuesday Prayers (2016, ILK): [r]: B
  • Vinnie Sperrazza/Jacob Sacks/Masa Kamaguchi: Play Tadd Dameron (2015 [2016], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Jefry Stevens: Brass Tactics (2008 [2016], Konnex): [r]: B+(**)
  • Al Strong: Love Strong Volume 1 (2016, Al Strong Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The U.S. Army Blues: Swamp Romp: Voodoo Boogaloo (2008 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Peter Van Huffel/Alex Maksymiw: Kronix (2015 [2016], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Doug Webb Quartet: Sets the Standard (2016, VSOP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nate Wooley: Seven Storey Mountain V (2015 [2016], Pleasure of the Text): [r]: B+(*)
  • Denny Zeitlin: Early Wayne: Explorations of Classic Wayne Shorter Compositions (2014 [2016], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Harry Beckett: Still Happy (1974 [2016], My Only Desire, EP): [r]: B
  • Peter Erskine Trio/John Taylor/Palle Danielsson: As It Was (1992-97 [2016], ECM, 4CD): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Tanbou Toujou Lou: Merenge Kompa Kreyou Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore From Haiti (1960-1981) (1960-81 [2016], Ostinato): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Ray Anderson/Han Bennink/Christy Doran: A B D (1994-95 [2011], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Harry Beckett's Flugelhorn 4+3: All Four One (1991, Spotlite): [r]: B
  • Christy Doran: What a Band (1991 [1992], Hat Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra: Live at Birdland (1999 [2003], Stunt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Peter Erskine/Palle Danielsson/John Taylor: You Never Know (1992 [1993], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Peter Erskine/Palle Danielsson/John Taylor: Time Being (1993 [1994], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Peter Erskine/Palle Danielsson/John Taylor: As It Is (1995 [1996], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Peter Erskine/Palle Danielsson/John Taylor: Juni (1997 [1999], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Marco von Orelli 6: Close Ties on Hidden Lanes (2010 [2012], Hatology): [r]: B
  • Marco von Orelli 5: Alluring Prospect (2015, Hatology): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carol Bach-Y-Rita: Minha Casa/My House (2016, self-released): September 23
  • Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad Plays Jazz Arias (self-released): September 14
  • Gene Ess: Absurdist Theater (SIMP): September 26
  • Ricardo Grilli: 1954 (Tone Rogue): October 7
  • Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Deep Memory (Intakt): advance
  • Hearts & Minds (Astral Spirits)
  • Honey Ear Trio: Swivel (Little (i) Music)
  • Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Big Wheel Live (Intakt): advance
  • Joëlle Léandre/Theo Ceccaldi: Elastic (Cipsela)
  • Joe McPhee: Flowers (Cipsela)
  • Tony Moreno: Short Stories (Mayimba Jazz, 2CD): October 7
  • Eric St-Laurent: Planet (Katzenmusik): September 23
  • Rik Wright's Fundamental Forces: Subtle Energy (Hipsync): October 1

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Weekend Roundup

When I woke up this morning, I didn't have the slightest notion that today was the 15th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda hijackings that brought down the World Trade Center. It's not that I don't remember waking up in a Brooklyn apartment fifteen years ago, looking out the window to see blue skies with a toxic white streak across the middle, emanating from the still-standing towers. I looked down and watched tired people trekking east with the subway system shut down. We watched the towers fall on TV. We saw interviews with John Major and Shimon Peres about how Americans now know what terrorism feels like, barely containing their gloating. We went out for lunch in an Arab restaurant not yet covered in American flags. That was a bad day, but also one of the last days before we went to war. For make no mistake: Bin Laden may have wanted to provoke the US into an act of war, but Al-Qaeda didn't start the war. That was George W. Bush, with the nearly unanimous support of Congress, to the celebration of vast swathes of American media. They made a very rash and stupid decision back then, and much of the world has been suffering for it ever since. Indeed, Americans less than many other people, as was shown by my ability to wake up this morning without thinking of the date.

OK, so this is a typical day's news cycle in this election: Hillary Clinton commits a run-of-the-mill gaffe: Clinton Describes Half of Trump Supporters as 'Basket of Deplorables', by which she means "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it." Sort of true, but you're always on shaky ground when you start making generalizations about arbitrary groups of people, but that didn't stop her from making an appeal to the other half: "people who feel that government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures . . . Those are people who we have to understand and empathize with as well." Of course, coming from her that all sounds smug and condescending and, let's be realistic here, pretty hollow.

Of course, the Trump campaign tried to make what they could of this, partly because they don't have anything real to offer. Still, what did they focus on: well, putting people into baskets, of course. First, there was Pence Blasts Clinton: Trump Backers 'Are Not a Basket of Anything', then there's Trump Campaign Goes After Clinton for 'Basket of Deplorables' Remark. One thing for certain, you can't slip a metaphor past these guys. But they also have a point, which is that when you start dividing people into arbitrary groups and making gross generalizations about them you dehumanize and disrespect them -- and that is as true of the "other half" as it is of the "deplorables." (Contrast Trump's own description of his supporters: "millions of amazing, hard working people.")

Of course, in the Kabuki theater of American politics, every insult demands an apology, so whether she would or should not became the next anticipated story. Josh Marshall fired off This Is Critical: Hillary Can't Back Down, arguing:

Donald Trump has not only brought haters into the mainstream, he has normalized hate for a much broader swathe of the population who were perhaps already disaffected but had their grievances and latent prejudices held in check by social norms. . . . This election has become a battle to combat the moral and civic cancer Trump has [been] injecting into the body politic. (I know that sounds like florid language but it is the only fitting and valid way to describe it.) Backing down would make Clinton appear weak, accomplish nothing of value and confuse what is actually at stake in the election.

Clinton, of course, immediately apologized; see Clinton Regrets Saying 'Half' of Trump Backers Are in 'Basket of Deplorables', where she conceded, "Last night I was 'grossly generalistic,' and that's never a good idea. I regret saying 'half' -- that was wrong." In other words, she admitted to a math error, realizing (unlike Marshall) that it doesn't matter how many Trump supporters are racist, sexist, etc. -- a point she made clear enough by repeating "deplorable" a many times in the next paragraph, all directed squarely where they belong, at Donald Trump. She also said, "I also meant what I said last night about empathy, and the very real challenges we face as a country where so many people have been left out and left behind. As I said, many of Trump's supporters are hard-working Americans who just don't feel like the economy or our political system are working for them."

She still needs to find an effective way to communicate that, especially to people who are conditioned not to believe a single thing she says, who view her as deeply corrupt, part of a status quo system that is rigged against everyday people. Needless to say, these are problems that Bernie Sanders wouldn't be having.

PS: Just when Trump was enjoying this news cycle, this story pops up: Crazed Trumper Assaults Muslim Women in Brooklyn. I guess there are some Trump supporters who are . . . well, isn't "deplorable" a bit more polite than they deserve? Also note: Trump: Clinton Could 'Shoot Somebody' and Not Be Prosecuted. Trump previously said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" What's this obsession he has with shooting people?

Five-Thirty-Eight currently gives Clinton a 70.0% chance of winning, with a 3.5% edge in the popular vote and 310-227 in electoral votes. Iowa, which had a recent poll showing Trump leading, has inched back into Clinton's column, and she's less than a 60% favorite in North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. Meanwhile, the only red states where Trump is less than an 80% favorite are Arizona (65.7%), Georgia (73.0%), and Alaska (79.9%).

Some scattered links this week:

  • Chuck Collins: Long Live the Estate Tax: Wallace Stegner referred to the National Park Service as the nation's best idea. Collins argues that the estate tax (what Republicans like to call the "death tax") is a close second: "The estate tax is a fundamentally American notion, an absolutely democratic intervention against a drift toward plutocracy and extreme wealth imbalances." Of course, it would work better if it was stricter and stiffer -- if, for instance, the wealthy couldn't hide money in foundations. (Ever wonder why one-percenters down to the level of Bill Clinton have all those foundations? "For example, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson dodged over $2.3 billion in estate taxes using a complicated trust called a GRAT to transfer $8 billion in wealth to his heirs in 2013.") Reason enough to vote against him is that Trump has made abolishing the estate tax the centerpiece of his tax agenda. After all, he has billions, and three children who have proved unable to hold a job not on his payroll. How can you not feel for them?

  • John Judis: The US Treasury should be cheering the EU Case against Apple. It's not. The basic fact of the matter is that Apple cut a deal to run its European market operation out of Ireland, which claims several thousand jobs there, in exchange for Ireland capping Apple's tax liability to 2%, way below the going tax rate anywhere in Europe. In doing so Ireland violated EU regulations which prohibit special deals with individual companies like that, so the EU wants to collect the taxes Apple has thus far avoided paying. The Obama administration is backing the guys at Apple who contributed to their poilitical campaigns -- not necessarily "quid pro quo" but the sort of chummy alliances America's system of campaign finance breeds. However, we should be happy that Apple's scam is up, because for years now they've been cooking their books to make profits that should be taxed in the US vanish into their Irish tax haven. Judis doesn't mention this, but we should also similar regulations here in the US, to keep companies from auctioning their plants and to whichever state/local government gives them the sweetest tax deal. We run into this problem all the time here, and companies have gotten so spoiled that they never invest without first shaking down the local politicians. The most notorious case was Boeing, long the largest employer in Wichita but totally gone now that they've gotten more lucrative deals in Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina (after, by the way, shaking down Kansas for over a billion dollars, not counting the Feds building their main plant and an Air Force Base next door).

    Dean Baker has a different approach to the same problem: The Simple Way to Crack Down on Apple's Tax Games.

  • David E Sanger/William J Broad: Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons: US foreign policy is wrapped in a cloak of tone-deafness and hypocrisy as transparent yet as desperately clung to as the proverbial emperor's new clothes. By not disavowing first use of nuclear weapons, Obama is practicing exactly the same nuclear blackmail that American fears used as excuses for invading Iraq and sanctioning Iran and North Korea. America's foreign policy mandarins are incapable of seeing themselves as others see us.

    The United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of World War II in 1945 -- the only example in history of a first use, or any use, of nuclear weapons in warfare. Almost every president since Harry S. Truman has made it clear that nuclear weapons would be used only as a last resort, so the pledge would have largely ratified unwritten policy.

    Administration officials confirmed that the question of changing the policy on first use had come up repeatedly this summer as a way for Mr. Obama to show that his commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in American strategy -- and thus the risk of nuclear exchanges -- was more than rhetorical.

    But the arguments in front of the president himself were relatively brief, officials said, apparently because so many senior aides objected. Mr. [Ashton] Carter argued that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, could interpret a promise of no first use as a sign of American weakness, even though that was not the intent.

    Of course, Putin and Kim could just as well view "no first use" as a sign of sanity, one that encourages the notion that they might resolve their differences with the US through rational dialogue instead of macho posturing. But the "madman theory" has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy since Nixon, and no subsequent American emperor wants to be viewed as less crazed. It is, after all, a theory of self defense that has been proved to work against subway muggers. What further proof of its efficacy do you need?

    By the way, Obama is missing a nice political play here. If he made "no first use" official policy -- he should also end the current "launch under attack" policy and adopt some sort of checklist where key subordinates can veto a presidential decision to use nuclear arms -- Trump would throw a fit and vow to reverse Obama's policies, revealing himself as a dangerous maniac. Sounds like win-win to me.

  • Matt Taibbi: How Donald Trump Lost His Mojo: It's that teleprompter:

    The primary-season Donald Trump would never have been able to remember five things. Even more revealing is his rhetorical dismount: "But these examples," he shouts, "are only the tip of the Clinton-corruption iceberg!"

    The real Donald Trump does not speak in metaphors, let alone un-mixed ones. The man who once famously pronounced "I know words, I have the best words" scorched through the primaries using the vocabulary of a signing gorilla ("China - money - bad!").

    The funny thing is despite "losing his mojo" Trump's poll numbers have actually inched up. This is mostly because the "Clinton = corrupt" meme isn't something most people can dismiss out of hand -- unlike, say, his "what do you have to lose?" pitch to African-Americans, a people who through supporting politicians unlike Trump have escaped from slavery, Jim Crow laws, and ad hoc lynching. But it also helps that Trump set the bar so low all he has to do to "look presidential" is read from a teleprompter -- indeed, he's becoming almost Reaganesque.

  • Miscellaneous election links:

    • Katherine Krueger: NYT Scrambles to Rewrite Botched Story on Trump's Immigration Speech: Evidently the New York Times decided to get a jump on Trump's Phoenix "immigration speech" and report what they expected (or wanted) to hear: they "hailed Trump's address as 'an audacious attempt' to transform his image and reported that he shelved his proposal for a massive effort to deport immigrants who are in the country illegally." Of course, the actual speech baldly reiterated Trump's previous hard-line stands, suggesting that the rumors of a "softening" were nothing more than hype for the speech.

    • Annie Rees: In NYT's Hillary Clinton Coverage, An Obsession With 'Clouds' and 'Shadows': Not sure whether this is just blatant anti-Clinton prejudice or just really hackneyed writing -- Adam Nagourney, who made it to the round-of-four in Matt Taibbi's 2004 Wimblehack, was one of the writers called out here, as was Maureen Dowd. But casting every rumor as a "shadow" suggests an explanation as to why Clinton is continually dogged by "scandals" that never seem to afflict other politicians.

    • Paul Krugman: Hillary Clinton Gets Gored: Given a choice between reporting on a Trump scandal or a Clinton scandal, much of the press jumps at the latter, even though time and again there's been virtually nothing to it. Same for "lies." And as for innuendo, why tar Hillary as a self-seeking, egomaniacal greedhead when she's running against Donald Trump? Krugman's seen this kind of media bias before, in 2000:

      You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration -- an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.

      Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore -- whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate -- as slippery and dishonest.

      Of course, there are big differences between Bush and Trump, just not important ones. Bush at least worked hard to conceal his agenda, describing his conservatism as "compassionate" and disavowing any efforts at "nation building." Indeed, many of the programs he got passed were clever cons, like "no child left behind." On the other hand, Trump makes so little effort to gloss over the sheer meanness of his policy bullet points that many people can't imagine how awful life under him would be. He's like the Douglas Adams concept of the SEP ("someone else's problem," a thing so hideous the only way you can cope is to pretend it doesn't exist). Or the mantra of a guy I used to work with: "if you can't dazzle them with logic, baffle them with bullshit."

    • Paul Krugman cited this piece, adding:

      Matt Lauer may have done us all a favor with his catastrophically bad performance. By devoting so much time to emails and rushing through Clinton on ISIS, on one side, while letting Trump's Iraq lie slide by unchallenged, on the other, Lauer offered a demonstration of the prevailing double standard so graphic that it was hard to ignore. But it wasn't just Lauer: I think the accumulation of really bad examples, of failing to cover the Bondi bribe, of making an unsuccessful request for passports -- to rescue imprisoned journalists! -- a supposed scandal, even some of the botched initial reaction to the Lauer debacle, may have finally reached a critical mass.

      Maybe I'm just cynical, but I doubt that collective embarrassment has had any effect on how the media covers Trump and Clinton. More likely is that when Clinton surged so far ahead, they feared they might lose their horse race coverage so tried to even things up. Now that the race is more even they be having second thoughts. I mean, they can't be so stupid they want Trump to win?

    • Paul Waldman: Trump's history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one? Without reading the article, I'm tempted to say it's the same reason prostitutes are more likely to be busted than Johns. Or that we expect our politicians to be selfless public servants, while we expect our businessmen to be voracious wolves, whose greed is part of their charm. Still, markets for influence, like sex, only exist because there are both buyers and sellers. The article includes the usual list of Trump's scandalous behavior. It's hard to tell whether he's exceptionally vile or just par for the course, because we don't usually look that closely at how the rich got on top. Otherwise we might have second thoughts about what kind of people they are.

    • Michelle Goldberg: Why Isn't It a Bigger Deal That Trump Is Being Advised by Sadistic Pervert Roger Ailes? Well, there are so many "big deals" about Trump that they all sort of diminish proportionately, if not in some objective measure of import at least in our ability to get worked up about them. "Perhaps the involvement of a disgraced sexual sadist is low on the list of things that are wrong with the Trump campaign. That's not a reason to ignore it."

    • Jamelle Bouie: What Trump's Black Church Appearance Is Really About: "A leaked script reveals his intended audience: white Republicans."

    • Peter Beinart: Fear of a Female President: This makes me wonder how a more overtly racist Republican would have fared against Obama -- at least with Trump we can't say that prejudice isn't getting its chance:

      Why is this relevant to Hillary Clinton? It's relevant because the Americans who dislike her most are those who most fear emasculation. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, Americans who "completely agree" that society is becoming "too soft and feminine" were more than four times as likely to have a "very unfavorable" view of Clinton as those who "completely disagree." And the presidential-primary candidate whose supporters were most likely to believe that America is becoming feminized -- more likely by double digits than supporters of Ted Cruz -- was Donald Trump.

      The gender backlash against Clinton's candidacy may not defeat her. But neither is it likely to subside if she wins.

      Indeed, one might argue that America has become more overtly racist after two terms of a black president, and that a female president is likely to produce a similar backlash. I doubt that will be true in the long run. Right now it seems to mostly be the result of the right-wing media, which deliberately or not has encouraged blind partisan hatred among small numbers already so inclined. On the other hand, maybe having a candidate as repugnant as Trump will discredit such backlash.

    • Adam Davidson: Trump and the Truth: The Unemployment-Rate Hoax: "A few of Donald Trump's claims about the labor force might generously be considered gross exaggerations, but the unemployment numbers he cites appear to be wholesale inventions." The latest in a series that include Eyal Press: Immigration and Crime, and David Remnick's Introducing a New Series: Trump and the Truth.

    • Steve Chapman: The worst case for Republicans: Donald Trump wins: Well, sure. For example, when Barry Goldwater lost in 1964, Republicans could forget about him practically forever instead of having to live with his legacy, as the Democrats did with Lyndon Johnson's stupid war. But the people who nominated him didn't disappear: they kept coming back in other guises, supporting Reagan, Bush, some even Trump (e.g., Phyllis Schlafly, who died last week at 92). Orthodox conservatives, through their donor network, think tanks, and media outlets, thought they had the Republican Party in their pocket before Trump roused their sheepish followers to revolt. If Trump loses they figure they'll resume control, their own dysfunctional ideology still untested so not yet discredited. On the other hand, if Trump wins, he'll turn their dream agenda into a flaming disaster, either by rejecting it or by implementing it (hard to know which would be worse for them). On the other hand, one could write pretty much the same piece about the Democrats. If Clinton loses (to Trump no less!) the dynasty is finished, the enemy becomes crystal clear, and the Democrats sweep Congress in 2018, which frankly I find a lot more exciting than slogging through eight years of an ineffective, powerless Hillary Clinton as president saddled with Republicans in control of Congress, holding the whole country hostage.

    • Zaid Jilani/Alex Emmons/Naomi LaChance: Hillary Clinton's National Security Advisers Are a "Who's Who" of the Warfare State: Despite which, they are on average markedly saner than Trump adviser Gen. Michael Flynn.

    • Andrew Kaczynski/Christopher Massie: Trump Claims He Didn't Support Libya Intervention -- But He Did, on Video: Makes me wonder if there has ever been an instance when the hawks tried to lure the US into a foreign war that Trump didn't buy into? What makes Trump so representative of today's Republican Party is how readily he falls for any crazy scam the party's propagandists put out. He isn't any sort of leader because that would require independent, critical thought. He's a follower, and you never know who's yanking his chain, or where they're dragging him.

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

    • Patrick Cockburn: Turkey May Be Overplaying Its Hand with Syria Ground Offensive: One side-effect of the failed coup in Turkey is that it's allowed Erdogan to purge the army not only of plotters but of officers who might resist his designs on Syria. Hence, Turkey has escalated its interference with Syria, like the United States choosing to fight both Assad and Assad's enemies, although not necessarily the same anti-Assad forces the US is schizophrenically warring. As usual, Turkey's primary consideration is their own domestic Kurdish problem, which their warmaking is only likely to exacerbate. And as usual, the US is too caught up in weighing pluses and minuses to confront a nominal ally on the principle of the thing, or what blowback it's likely to cause.

    • Tom Engelhardt: A 9/11 Retrospective: Washington's 15-Year Air War: "Perhaps this September 11th, it's finally time for Americans to begin to focus on our endless air war in the Greater Middle East, our very own disastrous Fifteen Years' War. Otherwise, the first explosions from the Thirty Years' version of the same will be on the horizon before we know it in a world possibly more destabilized and terrorizing than we can at present imagine."

    • Robert Fares: The Price of Solar Is Declining to Unprecedented Lows: "Despite already low costs, the installed price of solar bell by 5 to 12 percent in 2015." Indeed, it's been doing that pretty regularly, as is clear from the chart (2010-15). Furthermore, there is no reason to think this trend won't continue for decades. The result will be that solar will take an ever larger chunk of the energy market, diminishing the demand for fossil fuels. Another consequence is that oil and coal companies will become even more desperate to exercise political power to hang on to their declining market shares and stock prices -- indeed, Trump's emphatic support for coal companies seems to be their final great white hope. Political influence may nudge the trend a bit up or down, but it won't change it. The article sees a "tipping point where [solar] becomes more economical than conventional forms of electricity generation."

    • Rebecca Gordon: Making Sense of Trump and His National Security State Critics: Background on many of those 50 prominent Republicans who signed a letter declaring Trump unfit to be president, by a writer who's been studying them and their friends for years, researching her book American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes.

    • Corey Robin: Phyllis Schlafly, 1924-2016: I suppose if I wanted to read anything on the late, "longtime conservative anti-feminist," I'd start with the author of The Reactionary Mind. Just not ready to yet.

    • Ron Unz: Did the US Plan a Nuclear First Strike Against Russia in the Early 1960s? Uh, yes, specifically in July 1961. James Galbraith, who has written about this before, adds a comment here that President Kennedy "would have never considered accepting the nuclear strike plan presented to him" and that Lyndon Johnson later held as "a first consideration . . . to prevent any situation from arising -- in Vietnam especially -- that might force the use of nuclear weapons." Of course, neither nor any subsequent US president has publicly disavowed first use of nuclear weapons -- evidently preferring to keep possible enemies wondering whether or not we're really insane.

    Thursday, September 08, 2016

    Daily Log

    Exported my Jazz book draft as a PDF. Also copied it to Dropbox. Wrote a letter which I sent to a few friends: John Chacona, Robert Christgau, Francis Davis, Mike Hull, Don Malcolm, Chris Monsen, Tim Niland, Arthur Protin, Garret Shelton, Jerry Stewart, Michael Tatum, Laura Tillem.

    Monday, September 05, 2016

    Enough Already

    I didn't get around to writing up a Weekend Roundup yesterday. I was working on something else (more below) and, as I tweeted last night, I've really gotten sick and tired of this election and its dominance of the news cycle. At least we had a fairly serious earthquake to distract us: about 100 miles south of Wichita, in near Pawnee OK, a town I've occasionally driven through, noting the red sandstone building in the center of town that is now ruined. We were woken with about a minute of ominous shaking, but aside from a few knick-knacks tumbling we were spared any damage. Oklahoma's state government responded to the 5.6 earthquake, the worst in the state's history, by ordering that 37 waste water injection wells be shut down (out of 4200 in the state).

    In case you haven't been following the story, up until around 2006 Oklahoma suffered an average of two small (3.0) earthquakes per year. Since then the numbers have increased astronomically, to over 900 (3.0 and higher) last year. These directly correlate with waste water injection -- not the same thing as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which also injects toxic fluids deep into the earth -- a practice which has increased dramatically over the last decade. (Probably due to Obama's coddling of the oil and gas industry, not something he gets credit for nor that he brags about, but his administration has reversed decades of declining oil production, mostly by increasing the yields of older, largely depleted oil patches like Oklahoma's.)

    No earthquake this morning (at least nothing above 4.0 -- I've arranged to get USGS notices whenever one strikes in Oklahoma or Kansas). Instead, when I got up today, my wife told me that Twitter was all abuzz about recent pieces claiming that Hillary Clinton was being done dirty by the New York Times -- notably, Paul Krugman: Hillary Clinton Gets Gored, and Josh Marshall: You Failed, Chumps. As it happens, I had already flagged two precursor pieces for Weekend Roundup: Katherine Krueger: NYT Scrambles to Rewrite Botched Story on Trump's Immigration Speech, and Annie Rees: In NYT's Hillary Clinton Coverage, An Obsession With 'Clouds' and 'Shadows'. As someone who's never been a fan of the New York Times, I don't find any of this surprising. It's inevitable that reporters will shade their limited view of the facts with prejudices, including desire to please the corporate hierarchy above them, and the editors who assign and select and (let's face it) edit their stories are one step closer to the moneyed power that runs their world. So with Trump flailing, of course they'll cut him slack on scandals that dwarf any hints of Clinton wrongdoing. And they certainly won't point out the more basic difference: that while Clinton stands accused of using her influence to help other people ("pay to play") the only person Trump has ever sought to help was himself.

    Still, I wouldn't get all that gloomy about the Times' double standards. The right has made hay for decades by attacking the biases of the "liberal media" -- the New York Times serving double duty, first as an icon of the former, then as a source of legitimacy and validation when they cower to the right (e.g., in their promotion of the Iraq War, or more recently in their adoption of the Clinton Cash book). In doing so they've stolen a page from the Earl Weaver management handbook: always argue with the umpires; even when you lose today it makes a bit more likely to give you the next call. In retrospect it was crsystal clear that the mainstream media spun story after story for Bush and against Gore in 2000. I think that's a tendency that is inherent in their trade, and you see it happening all over again for Trump and against Clinton. So I can't blame Krugman, Marshall, et al., for raising a stink -- Earl Weaver would do no less.

    But what I do blame Krugman, Marshall, et al., for is their earlier claims that Clinton has already "been vetted" -- that, unlike Bernie Sanders, she has already faced the worst smear campaigns the right can throw up, and has overcome them. Really? If she had really withstood them, she wouldn't be stuck with negative favorability ratings all year long, and she wouldn't be unable to crack 50% against Donald Trump in any nationwide poll. Moreover, she's not just facing the old Whitewater and Benghazi charges, which were whipped up from practically nothing. Her problem today is relatively new stuff, things a smart person running for president should have known better than. While I think her private email server is utter crap, the basic thrust of Peter Schweizer's lurid bestseller -- Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, published with the New York Times' blessing in May 2015 -- is basically true. Indeed, the Clintons themselves validated it when they released their tax returns, showing a $12 million annual income from a skill set consisting of little more than shaking hands and giving speeches.

    Sure, you can argue that the Clinton Foundation isn't doing anything different than, say, GW Bush's Foundation -- both are basically receptacles for delayed graft for the many favors both presidents showered on their backers -- but one difference is that Laura Bush isn't running for president (and Jeb, not that he ever came close, isn't obviously connected), so only the Clintons have set themselves up for selling graft futures. Maybe that wasn't the intent, but her decision to run made the Foundation inevitably look like a giant political slush fund, and she's never had the credibility to overcome that. That fact is, having set up the Foundation, she shouldn't have run. Too bad the 22nd Amendment didn't also bar the spouses and children of presidents from running. After all, wasn't a major point of the Revolution of 1776 to put an end to aristocratic rule?

    To give you an idea of how bad a candidate Hillary Clinton is, see Barry Blitt's Polls: If the Election Were Held Today . . . cartoon. I'm not denying that we're stuck with her. The alternative is Donald Trump, and he is clearly the greater evil in every respect I can reckon, including measures of personal character and integrity that I think are overrated. I wouldn't even say that she's the "lesser evil" -- I'd say she's objectively 'not bad" in a good many respects (admittedly a big one, war, is not one of those). I'll be pleased if she wins, and saddened if she doesn't. But one thing I don't need is another 90 days of wealth-squandering least-common-denominator campaigning to sway my mind. Like, I think, most sentient Americans, I'm settled. Now, please, shut up.

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 27090 [27056] rated (+34), 369 [370] unrated (-1).

    I've been having a lot of trouble thinking of things to listen to, although the list below is still pretty substantial. I finished looking up all the new jazz albums in Downbeat's Readers Poll ballot. Final tally is that I've listened to and rated 165 of 186 (88.71%) nominated albums, adding 53 albums since filling out the ballot. The remaining 21 by label: High Note/Savant: 7, CAM Jazz: 2, 1 each for 12 other labels (notably Anzic, ArtistShare, Cuneiform, Dark Key, Destiny, Fuzzy Music, Nessa -- at least those are the ones I've heard of). I should probably see whether Joe Fields is willing to turn service back on. The final grade tally: [A-] 18, [***] 31, [**] 47, [*] 41, [B] 16, [B-] 8, [C+] 1, [C] 1, [C-] 1. The grade curve bent slightly lower as I added more records, but last week's batch did reveal one more A- record, by Omar Sosa.

    Done with that, I scrounged around a few other lists. I checked out several Scandinavian jazz releases that Chris Monsen likes: Anna Högberg, Moskus, Hanna Paulsberg, Rønnings Jazzmaskin; also, less impressively, Monsen's non-jazz favorites: Bent Shapes, Cobalt, White Denim. I checked out a couple of well-regarded recent rap albums -- De La Soul, Young Thug -- the former is a favorite of my nephew, but I had trouble focusing on it. Also liked Britney Spears, recommended by Robert Christgau -- his other pick, Tegan and Sara's Love You to Death, was an A- here back in July.

    Still boycotting All Music Guide. For all its problems, that's taking a toll on my ability to find information necessary for reviewing records off streaming services. One thing I did use last week, for the first time in several years, was Spotify. Hard to search, and I rather hate the user interface, but I found two records there that had eluded me on Napster (Rhapsody): Anna Högberg: Attack and Waco Brothers: Going Down in History. Both came highly recommended, got two plays, and wound up high-B+. But by and large I'm not finding much there that's not already available on Napster, so I'm not convinced I need to pay up yet.

    That project I mentioned above: I've started assembling all of my old Jazz Consumer Guide columns into reference book form, using a wysiwyg word processor (Libre Office) instead of my usual hand-coded HTML. I've finished sorting the 27 columns (26 from the Village Voice), a little more than 1000 records from 2004-11, which with default formats runs 120 pages -- looks a lot like this index. A few decisions to date: I've decided to separate the individual artist and group records, and to pull the pre-2000 archival material out into an appendix at the end. I've changed the grade scale to 1-10, with A- at 8 (but I've generally nudged pick hits up to 9), so B is at 4 and the lower grades are mushed together.

    This is part of a broader project to collect my writings and recast them as a series of books -- this is the third I've opened, but the only one so far I've put much writing into. Working title is Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century: A Consumer Guide. Like the Jazz Consumer Guide, it mostly consists of nugget-sized reviews and one-liners. I expect to add a brief biographical intro to each artist/group, which will allow me to cut some redundancies out of the reviews. Then the much larger task will be to go through my thousands of other reviews -- the oldest prospect and surplus notes, Jazz Prospecting, Recycled Goods, and Rhapsody Streamnotes -- and pick out records worth mentioning and recast them into form. Then there's the question of what's missing and should be added. I'm thinking it would be nice for the project to span two decades, 2000-2019, although obviously I'm missing a few year fore and aft. Also not sure how much more work I want to put into this, so I may consider the option of recruiting a collaborator to finish it off. But it's pretty clear from looking at what I got so far that I've already put in most of the work, and that I can offer a wider-ranging survey of contemporary jazz than pretty much anyone.

    When I clean things up a bit, I figure the next step will be to post a PDF and solicit comments. More on that later.

    By the way, Michael Tatum's latest brilliant A Downloader's Diary is archived here. I'm pleased to provide an archive and indexing for all of his columns.

    New records rated this week:

    • The Bad Plus: It's Hard (2016, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
    • Shirantha Beddage: Momentum (2014 [2016], Factor): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Bent Shapes: Wolves of Want (2015 [2016], Slumberland): [r]: B+(**)
    • Seamus Blake: Superconductor (2015 [2016], 5Passion): [r]: B-
    • Seamus Blake/Chris Cheek: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (2015 [2016], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
    • Will Calhoun: Celebrating Elvin Jones (2016, Motéma): [r]: B
    • Cobalt: Slow Forever (2016, Profound Lore, 2CD): [r]: B
    • De La Soul: And the Anonymous Nobody (2016, AOI): [r]: B+(**)
    • Lajos Dudas Quartet: Brückenschlag (2015 [2016], Jazz Sick): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Mats Eilertsen: Rubicon (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
    • Anna Högberg: Attack (2016, Omlott): [sp]: B+(***)
    • Franklin Kiermyer: Closer to the Sun (2015 [2016], Mobility Music): [cd]: A-
    • Raymond MacDonald & Marilyn Crispell: Parallel Moments (2010 [2014], Babel): [bc]: B+(**)
    • Moskus: Ulv Ulv (2015 [2016], Hubro): [r]: B+(**)
    • Bob Mould: Patch the Sky (2016, Merge): [r]: B+(*)
    • Ray Obiedo: Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1 (2016, Rhythmus): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Opaluna: Opaluna (2016, Ridgeway): [cd]: B
    • Hanna Paulsberg Concept: Eastern Smiles (2015 [2016], Odin): [r]: A-
    • Rønnings Jazzmaskin: Jazzmaskin (2014 [2016], Losen): [r]: B+(***)
    • Arturo Sandoval: Live at Yoshi's (2015, ALFI): [r]: B+(*)
    • Little Johnny Rivero: Music in Me (2016, Truth Revolution): [r]: B+(***)
    • Sonic Liberation 8: Bombogenic (2015 [2016], High Two): [cd]: A-
    • Omar Sosa/Joo Kraus/Gustavo Ovalle: JOG (2015 [2016], Otá): [r]: A-
    • Britney Spears: Glory (2016, RCA): [r]: A-
    • Matthew Stevens: Woodwork (2014 [2015], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(*)
    • Dave Stryker: Eight Track II (2016, Strikezone): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Steve Turre: Colors for the Masters (2016, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
    • Waco Brothers: Going Down in History (2016, Bloodshot): [sp]: B+(***)
    • White Denim: Stiff (2016, Downtown): [r]: B+(*)
    • Anthony Wilson: Frogtown (2016, Goat Hill): [r]: B+(*)
    • Florian Wittenburg: Eagle Prayer (2014-15 [2016], NurNichtNur): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Lizz Wright: Freedom & Surrender (2015, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
    • Yellowjackets: Cohearence (2016, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
    • Young Thug: No My Name Is Jeffery (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
    • Brandee Younger: Wax & Wane (2016, Revive, EP): [r]: B+(*)

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

    • Born to Be Blue: Music From the Motion Picture ([2016], Rhino): [r]: B+(*)
    • Miles Ahead [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] ([2016], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
    • Revive Music Presents Supreme Sonacy, Vol. 1 (2015, Revive Music/Blue Note): [r]: B-

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Tim Davies Big Band: The Expensive Train Set (Origin): September 16
    • Craig Hartley: Books on Tape Vol. II: Standard Edition (self-released): October 7
    • Lionel Loueke/Eric Harland: Aziza (Dare2): advance, October 14
    • Shawn Maxwell: Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow (OA2): September 16
    • Al Strong: Love Strong Volume 1 (Al Strong Music)

    Saturday, September 03, 2016

    Daily Log

    Had an earthquake this morning, 5.6, centered 8 miles northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma. I get the USGS reports, and mailed this one out to various relatives and friends. Two of my aunts had farms near Stroud, Oklahoma (about midway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa), my mother lived thereabouts for part of the 1930s, and her mother died there in 1947. Aunt Edith moved to California shortly after I was born, but we visited Aunt Lola regularly during my childhood up to her death in 1966. It was originally a five hour drive, but dropped to about three hours after I-35 linked up to I-44. Lola and Melvin had two sons: Harold (and Louise) lived on a farm north of Stroud, and Duan (and Kathryn) lived in or near Bristow, about 20 miles to the east. I've gone down to visit them 2-3 times a year since I moved back to Kansas (Harold died in 2015), thus reacquainting myself with the northeastern quadrant of Oklahoma.

    My letter:

    OK, here's the USGS preliminary earthquake report. I remember Pawnee now. Drove through there a year or two ago when I took a backroads route from Duan's in Bristow up through Ponca City. Wanted to see the Frontier Woman statue, which we have many family pictures of, and some other sites. Pawnee struck me as one of those towns that was built long ago and left largely untouched by the last half-century, maybe longer. Before the highway was built, we used to drive to Aunt Lola's through Ponca City, Stillwater, and Cushing.

    Here the house shook for about a minute. Woke us up. Knocked some knick-knacks over but didn't do any damage (at least none we've seen yet). Seems to have been the largest earthquake of hundreds in Oklahoma in the last few years. I get these notices of everything over 4.0 from USGS. Most low-4s come from southwest, northwest of Enid. There were a couple earlier 5.0-5.3 earthquakes east of Oklahoma City. We've felt a few of them, but nothing like this one -- about 105 miles from Wichita, same from Independence (less precision because the roads are less direct), 75 miles from Bristow, 60 from Stroud.

    The earthquakes are pretty clearly the result of injection wells, which pump waste water from oil production back into the ground, lubricating buried fault lines. Oil floats above water, so your ideal oil well just barely penetrates a hard cap rock (salt is ideal) to suck the oil off the top of a buried reservoir. However, water gets trapped down there too, and the more oil you pump out, the more water gets pumped up too. Most oil wells in northern Oklahoma have been pumping for fifty years or more, so they're producing a lot of water, and that's filthy stuff that has to go somewhere, so they thought the safest option was to pump it back down into the earth. It's also the most profitable because the water pressure pushes the remaining oil (and even more water) to the wells.

    Fracking also injects water (and toxic chemicals) deep underground, but experts generally deny that fracking is the cause of at least these earthquakes. I imagine that's because the amount of water is much less, and it's injected into denser rock (usually shale for natural gas), but I don't know how much fracking occurs in Oklahoma -- depends a lot on the geology (Texas and Pennsylvania are where most of the scandals derive). There are a lot of injection wells in Kansas also, and they've produced small earthquakes especially in Harper County (southwest of Wichita, on the Oklahoma border) although I've seen them as close as Haysville (about 10 miles from here).

    Oklahoma is more complex geologically than Kansas. Not really sure why, but you can see from the complex scatter of hills in the east and south of the state. One likely explanation is that a hot spot passed under Oklahoma several hundred million years ago, raising the Ozarks. That hot spot headed east (or more accurately, North America slid west), raising a bulge in the Appalachias (the highest points are in North Carolina), and is currently sitting under the Azores in the eastern Atlantic. Still, until about ten years ago there were virtually no earthquakes in Oklahoma or Kansas. Over the last 3-4 years there have been hundreds over 2.0, close to a hundred over 4.0, and now one as high as 5.6.

    Looks like there was also a 5.6 earthquake off the coast of northern California today. Earthquakes that size are common along the San Andreas Fault. At that level they can produce significant local damage, and can be felt far away (I've seen reports that the Oklahoma earthquake was felt in Austin TX and Omaha NE). The difference between the two is mostly political. The Oklahoma earthquakes are directly traceable to the oil industry. I've often pointed out that the reason the lawn around the Oklahoma state capitol building is dotted with pumpjacks is to remind the legislators who really runs the state.

    I cut this just short of adding something even more political: that the biggest mistake the United States ever did was to give rights to oil to the property owners, setting off a free-for-all as they raced to pump oil reservoirs dry (Spindletop, the famous gusher near Beaumont TX in 1901, was pumped dry in less than ten years), while enabling some of the most reactionary right-wingers in the country's history to become extremely rich. (Of course, it was their sudden wealth that made them so reactionary.)

    Monday, August 29, 2016

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 27056 [27020] rated (+36), 370 [359] unrated (+11).

    Published Streamnotes last week, so most of the finds (4 of 5 pictured albums) are already known to you. I wrote there about catching up with the Downbeat Readers Poll albums ballot, and I've continued doing that -- only eleven more that I haven't looked up, so I'll probably finish this week, even if that means listening to Yellowjackets. Of course, that leaves 20 records I tried finding on Rhapsody (and often on Bandcamp) but failed. Of those, the ones I most miss are the HighNotes/Savants (JD Allen, Kenny Burrell, George Cables, Joey DeFrancesco, Tom Harrell, Jeremy Pelt, The Power Quintet) and Roscoe Mitchell's Celebrating Fred Anderson (Nessa). I'll publish a revised grade breakdown when I hit the bottom of the list. Needless to say, the curve has been edging down, with only the George Coleman and David Murray records (ones I picked off on the first day) joining the A-list.

    I got a letter from Oliver Weinding, who runs Babel Label and the Vortex Jazz Club in London, a while back, noting he's putting on a series of showcases for Intakt artists and mentioning my review of "the Lucas Niggli album" -- that would be Kalo-Yele, which I filed under the first name, Aly Keita, a balafon player from Côte D'Ivoire. That, by the way, is still my top-rated record this year. Don't know whether this will result in me getting any physical mail, but I'll point out that Babel's catalog is pretty much all on Bandcamp, and I think their material is well represented on Napster. I've long associated the label with guitarist Billy Jenkins, who I credit with five A- records and one full A: 1998's True Love Collection. I wanted to give you the Bandcamp link, but there doesn't seem to be one, and to top that it's out of print. Basically '60s cheese ("Mellow Yellow," "Everybody's Talking," "Feelin' Groovy," "Sunny," "Dancing in the Streets," with avant twists connecting it all together, including terrific work by Django Bates and Iain Ballamy. It's on my all-time list. Meanwhile, the Paul Dunmall record is here.

    I stopped using All Music Guide this week. Recently they added some JavaScript that broke on my browser, so whenever I went to a page they printed a message about something horrible happening then looped forever. I could still see their pages on a Chromebook I keep open on the desk nearby, but they decided to escalate their anti-Ad Blocker campaign and make their site unavailable unless users either allow ads, pay them money, or something else I don't understand (seems to be some kind of scam to sell your name to other advertisers). I'm not unsympathetic to people who'd like to make some money off their hard work, and I could probably afford to pay them something as much as I use their site, but I'm also retired, have no income to speak of, make all of my web work available gratis, and have contributed numerous corrections to their site, but mostly I don't like the way this has gone down. It does, however, mean that I have less access to information -- mostly using Discogs a lot, and should find a way to better use MusicBrainz, which is more dependably free, and which I contributed to for a while -- and that's bound to hurt my reviews (main frustrations to date: verifying dates and credits).

    More bad web news: I gather that Spin is shutting down its review section, starting by firing staff reviewers including Dan Weiss (check him out here). Back when I followed webzines better, Spin had one of the more reliable and adventurous review sections anywhere, including more hip-hop than any other non-specialist source. Supposedly Spin will limp on doing news and features, but even when I bought whole copies of their print magazine I rarely read anything but reviews -- I really don't know what else they have to offer. Weiss is so knowledgeable and so prolific I expect he'll land somewhere else, but those opportunities are vanishing -- and not just because people like me are too cheap to pay for professional work ("content-providers" get squeezed from both directions).

    Unpacking picked up this week with nearly everything I received actually scheduled for September or October release. But part of the reason for the uptick is that I went ahead and added six releases I received today -- I usually hold Monday's mail for the following week.

    PS: Just noticed Michael Tatum has a new Downloader's Diary.

    New records rated this week:

    • Lucian Ban Elevation: Songs From Afar (2014 [2016], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
    • Black Top: #Two (2014 [2015], Babel): [bc]: B+(***)
    • Brian Bromberg: Full Circle (2016, Artistry): [r]: B
    • Larry Coryell: Heavy Feel (2014 [2015], Wide Hive): [r]: B+(*)
    • Ian William Craig: Centres (2016, 130701): [r]: B
    • Elysia Crampton: Demon City (2016, Break World, EP): [r]: B+(***)
    • Kris Davis: Duopoly (2015 [2016], Pyroclastic): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Paul Dunmall/Matthew Bourne/Steve Davis/Dave Kane: Mandalas in the Sky (2013 [2015], Babel): [bc]: A-
    • David Gilmore: Energies of Change (2015 [2016], Evolutionary Music): [r]: B+(**)
    • Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet: Family First (2015, Beat Music Productions): [r]: B+(**)
    • Joel Harrison 5: Spirit House (2013 [2015], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(*)
    • Gilad Hekselman: Homes (2014 [2015], Jazz Village): [r]: B+(*)
    • Cory Henry: The Revival (2016, Ground Up): [r]: B-
    • Hiromi: Spark (2016, Telarc): [r]: B+(*)
    • Dylan Howe: Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie's Berlin (2014, Motorik): [r]: B+(**)
    • Lydia Loveless: Real (2016, Bloodshot): [r]: B
    • Romero Lubambo: Setembro: A Brazilian Under the Jazz Influence (2015, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
    • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Changes (2016, Hot Cup, EP): [cdr]: A-
    • Tom McCormick: South Beat (2016, Manatee): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Pat Metheny: The Unity Sessions (2014 [2016], Nonesuch, 2CD): [r]: B
    • Northern Winds and Voices: Inside/Outside (Sisällä/Ulkona) (2016, Edgetone): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Lina Nyberg: Aerials (2016, Hoob Jazz, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
    • Ralph Peterson/Zaccai Curtis/Luques Curtis: Triangular III (2016, Truth Revolution/Onyx Music): [r]: B+(**)
    • Enrico Pieranunzi: Proximity (2013 [2015], CAM Jazz): [r]: B+(**)
    • Enrico Pieranunzi with Simona Severini: My Songbook (2014 [2016], Via Veneto): [r]: B+(*)
    • John Pizzarelli: Midnight McCartney (2015, Concord): [r]: B
    • Gregory Porter: Take Me to the Alley (2016, Blue Note): [r]: B-
    • Herlin Riley: New Direction (2016, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
    • Jamison Ross: Jamison (2015, Concord): [r]: B
    • Luciana Souza: Speaking in Tongues (2015, Sunnyside): [r]: B
    • Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life: Nihil Novi (2016, Blue Note): [r]: B-
    • Marlene VerPlanck: The Mood I'm In (2015, Audiophile): [r]: B+(***)
    • Cuong Vu/Pat Metheny: Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (2016, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(*)

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

    • Close to the Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984 (1975-84 [2016], Cherry Red, 4CD): [r]: B+(*)
    • Shirley Horn: Live at the 4 Queens (1988 [2016], Resonance): [cd]: A-
    • Joi: Joi Sound System (1999-2007 [2015], RealWorld, 2CD): [r]: A-
    • Senegambia Rebel (2016, Voodoo Rebel): [dl]: A-
    • Sunburst: Ave Africa: The Complete Recordings 1973-1976 (1973-76 [2016], Strut, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Shirantha Beddage: Momentum (Factor): September 9
    • Ron Carter Quartet & Vitoria Maldonado: Brasil L.I.K.E. (Summit)
    • The Roger Chong Quartet: Funkalicious (self-released)
    • Lajos Dudas Quartet: Brückenschlag (Jazz Sick)
    • Shirley Horn: Live at the 4 Queens (1988, Resonance): September 16
    • Franklin Kiermyer: Closer to the Sun (Mobility Music)
    • Cameron Mizell: Negative Spaces (Destiny): October 7
    • The Phil Norman Tentet: Then & Now: Classic Sounds & Variations of 12 Jazz Legends (Summit)
    • Ray Obiedo: Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1 (Rhythmus): October 7
    • Oddsong: Jailhouse Doc With Holes in Her Socks (JCA): September 30
    • Opaluna: Opaluna (Ridgeway)
    • Little Johnny Rivero: Music in Me (Truth Revolution): September 29
    • Dave Stryker: Eight Track II (Strikezone): September 2
    • The U.S. Army Blues: Swamp Romp: Voodoo Boogaloo (self-released)

    Sunday, August 28, 2016

    Weekend Roundup

    Not very happy with all that follows, let alone all that I haven't gotten to, but it looks like there's enough to chew on for now. Latest odds at 538 show Clinton as having slipped to a 80.9% chance of winning as Georgia and Arizona have tilted back in Trump's favor. Clinton's big problem is that she's still unable to crack 50% of the popular vote -- seems like an awfully flawed, weak candidate given that all she has to beat is Trump, and he's pretty handily beating himself. I suspect the media deserves much of the blame for normalizing and legitimizing Trump, and also for tarring Clinton with an endless series of silly scandals -- the biggest eye-opener for me was to discover that GW Bush's Foundation, even with no prospects of future dynasty, has been raking in even more money than the Clinton Foundation. While I don't doubt the corruption inherent in the latter, I find it curious that no one ever mentions the former. Matt Taibbi attacked the media this year in a piece called The Summer of the Shill, lamenting especially the partisanship of news channels like Fox and MSNBC, where one airs nothing but Hillary "scandals" and the other little but Trump "gaffes." Still, it's not clear to me that the quality has dropped much since Taibbi wrote up his brilliant Wimblehack series in 2004 (cf. his book Spanking the Monkey), and at least there's more parity now. Still, I guess you have to make do with the candidates you got.

    Some scattered links this week:

    • Michelle Goldberg: Hillary Clinton's Alt-Right Speech Isolated and Destroyed Donald Trump: Trump's hiring of Steve Bannon has brought the "alt-right" brand to the mainstream media's attention, making it possible for centrists to draw a line between Trump and run-of-the-mill conservatives, neocons, and/or Republicans -- letting the latter off the hook if they can somehow see clear to cut themselves loose from Trump.

      But the killer in Hillary came out on Thursday, delivering a devastating indictment of Donald Trump's associations with the far-right fringe, one meant to permanently delegitimize him among decent people. "A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military," she said, daring Republican officials to disagree.

      With Trump already trailing badly in most polls, Clinton could have tried to yoke him to the Republican Party so he would drag it down with him. Instead, she sought to isolate and personally destroy him.

      Let me interject here that I would much prefer that she "yoke him," since I personally find mainstream Republican apparatchiks even more odious than fringe personalities like Trump, and since her ability to do anything positive as president depends on beating the Republicans down in both houses of Congress. Continuing:

      First came her campaign's Twitter video earlier today about Trump's white-supremacist admirers. Usually, a politician trying to link her opponent to the KKK would come dangerously close to the Godwin's Law line, but Clinton appears to have calculated that few Republicans would rally to their nominee's defense. Her speech, in Reno, further painted Trump as a creature from the fever swamps, one who has nothing to do with legitimate conservatism. It was able to briskly explain some of the crazier figures and theories Trump has associated with, without getting bogged down in obscure detail. Her list of Breitbart headlines, including "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy" and "Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement's Human Shield," tells you much of what you need to know about Trump's new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, the former head of the site.

      Given such a ripe target, Clinton's pitch can get yucky, as when she said (quoted in this article):

      Twenty years ago, when Bob Dole accepted the Republican nomination, he pointed to the exits and told any racists in the party to get out. . . . The week after 9/11, George W. Bush went to a mosque and declared for everyone to hear that Muslims "love America just as much as I do." . . . We need that kind of leadership again.

      Uh, no, we don't need or want that kind of leadership again, and if that were all Hillary has to offer we'd be having second thoughts about her, too. Goldberg obviously considers that a stinging rebuke to Trump (else why quote it?), and she admires the way Hillary strung so many of Trump's outrages together, without noticing that in doing so Hillary is making her move on high center ground, intent on establishing herself as the blandest, most conventional establishment candidate ever. That will probably work for her, and given her other handicaps that may be her safest route to the presidency. But in her self-conceit, she's also missing a golden opportunity to help her party and her people.

      For more, see: Lincoln Blades: Call the 'Alt-Right' Movement What It Is: Racist as Hell; Nancy LeTourneau: Quick Takes: Clinton's Speech in Reno.

    • Rochelle Gurstein: How Obama Helped Lay the Groundwork for Trump's Thuggery: "His refusal to prosecute torturers and his Wild West assassination of bin Laden show how moral complacency can all too easily degenerate into full-blown corruption." I would shift the focus a bit here: by failing to end America's involvement in the wars in the Middle East, and by failing to embrace a consistent doctrine of democracy and justice in the region, Obama has kept those wars and their side effects -- like Guantanamo and the plight of Syrian refugees -- central to American political discourse. So now we're forced to choose between Trump's incoherent bluster and Clinton's bumbling continuity. Still, it's flat-out wrong to say that Obama was the one responsible for laying this groundwork. He inherited that entire foundation from GW Bush, who actually was in a position where he could have ordered the military and CIA to stand down and seek justice for 9/11 through international law. He pointedly did not do that, leading to one disaster after another, many only becoming obvious after he left his mess to Obama.

    • Adam H Johnson: Pundits, Decrying the Horrors of War in Aleppo, Demand Expanded War: Nicholas Khristof, Joe Scarborough, presumably many others unnamed, but you know the types as America's punditocracy is rife with them:

      This is part of the broader problem of moral ADD afflicting our pundit class -- jumping from one outrage in urgent need of US bombs to the next, without much follow-through. Kristof, for example, was just as passionate about NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, writing several op-eds that called for bombing in equally moralistic terms. Yet as Libya descended into chaos, the country faded into the background for him. His last post on the subject? September 2011. The plight of Libyans was urgent for the Times columnist when it involved selling war to weary liberals, but once the smoke cleared, his bleeding heart dried up and he moved on to the next cause.

      OK, let's think about this for a moment. Civil Wars, such as Libya in 2011 and Syria from then to now, and you could throw in dozens more (including our own in 1861-65), occur when you have two (or more) groups fighting to seize power and to dominate the other. Civil Wars end two ways: one side "wins" exacting its toll on the others, the "losers" bearing grudges for generations, so in some sense those wars never really end -- they just become relatively quiescent; or both sides agree to share power somehow. The latter is vastly preferable -- in fact, arguably the only thing that works. (The Soviets, for instance, clearly "won" the Russian Civil War by 1922, but the repression they instituted crippled the country for generations. Franco clearly "won" the Spanish Civil War, but was troubled by Basque "terrorists" until his death, when the king he installed allowed democratic elections to move the country far to the left.)

      When outside nations intervene in civil wars, they invariably tilt the tables one way or another, allowing their favored groups to escalate the violence and making them less inclined to compromise. Intervention also resupplies the war, usually extending it, and may cause it to lap into neighboring countries and/or draw in others -- the US intervention in Vietnam's civil war extended the war by ten years, cost millions of lives, destroyed Cambodia and Laos, and led to Nixon's "madman" nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union; the Soviet Union's insertion of troops into Afghanistan to support a friendly coup led the US and Saudi Arabia to recruit and arm a jihadist insurgency that is still active more than 35 years later, having lapped into Pakistan and inspired acts of terror around the globe.

      One thing that has made recent civil wars in the Middle East especially destructive is that opposition groups have often been fractured and divisive. We saw this in Afghanistan, where following the Soviet withdrawal the jihadist groups continued to fight each other for over a decade, with the Northern Alliance still holding territory from the Taliban when the US invaded in 2001. Again, in Libya the NATO intervention degraded forces loyal to Ghadaffi but left the spoils to be fought over by numerous clans and schisms. Syria is even worse, with dozens of anti-Assad groups unable to unite into a coherent opposition, not least because foreign powers have chosen to intervent in often contradictory ways. For instance, the US is funneling weapons to so-called moderate groups to fight against Assad (weapons that are quickly resold to less friendly groups) while at the same time the US bombs ISIS, perhaps the most formidable of the anti-Assad groups. Turkey too is opposed to Assad, also to ISIS, and even more so to the anti-Assad, anti-ISIS Kurdish militia.

      Recent calls by Kristof and others mostly focus on "establishing a no-fly zone" over Syria -- a tactic which short and shallow memories recall as working so well in Iraq and Libya -- although the task is rather more complicated in Syria. For one thing, would the US also guard against anti-Assad forces flying over Syria (not just NATO allies but also Turkey, Jordan, and Israel). Moreover, Syria's air force is augmented by Russian planes and pilots, and those forces at least occasionally attack ISIS. I don't see how the US can negotiate this, but even if it works you're left with something like Libya but many times as much firepower left on the ground, with Assad weakened to where he cannot win but no other group strong enough to prevail except locally. A subsequent ground assault on ISIS might break it up, with splinters retreating into Iraq or going underground -- but the idea that an Islamic caliphate is needed to save the Muslim world isn't going away anytime soon.

      Seems like it would be easier to negotiate a truce, if not between the local warlords then between the foreign powers, and much better for all in the long run. I could even imagine a military intervention helping here, but only if it was done by a neutral party with the sole interest of disarming all parties, with preference or malice toward none (even ISIS, even Assad, even everyone) -- by disarming I'm not just talking about the big stuff like mortars and RPGs; I'm talking about total NRA nightmare. As areas are cleared of arms, another international group can move in and organize local elections and aid. Over time this would lead to a loose federalism, but most power would remain local and representative. Both the military and the international group would have to rigorously police themselves against corruption, and function with the scrutiny of a free press. No foreign power would have any claim to local property or privilege. All foreign powers have to agree to let Syria manage itself, except for three restrictions: no guns; corruption to be prosecuted in international courts; and prisoners have the right to appeal to insure no discrimination against minorities (needless to say, this also means no capital punishment).

      It should be obvious that the US cannot intervene like this -- it's simply not in the military or political culture to go into a country and not pursue some probably misguided sense of national interests (usually the military's own interest, above all in their own survival). One indication of the problem is that when the US had the opportunity to stand up governments in Afghanistan and Iraq -- two countries with distinct local ethnic and religious communities with longstanding grudges -- US politicians insisted on setting up very centralized governments that would inevitably run up against local dissent, and to arm those governments against the people they may or may not represent. That immediately labeled the natives put into nominal positions of power as Quislings and made the Americans foreign occupiers. That proved disastrous yet the US never wavered from that model: it simply kept training and arming more police and buying friends through calculated corruption, and that, too, never worked, no matter how much "hearts and minds" gibberish was added.

      The best choice for the ground disarmament force is probably the Chinese because they have no hidden agenda -- indeed, they would have to be well-paid mercenaries, barred from plunder -- supplemented by Arabic speakers (also hired from abroad so they have no clan ties). The ground force can be supplemented by US and Russian surveillance and air power which can be called in to pulverize any armed resistance to the ground troops. They would, of course, commit the occasional atrocity -- that is what they do, and why they should be feared. But they won't attack anyone who is not firing back, and should vanish as areas are disarmed.

      The international relief groups should be organized by the UN. Once they organize local governments, they should step back and function as resources for those governments. They may initially depend on ground forces for security, but as security is met the ground forces should move on and out of the country. Border control will probably be their last role, as, alas, the rest of the neighborhood is awash in guns and corruption.

      Americans need to realize that their true national interest is in a peaceful world where all people are respected and treated fairly. This isn't a new idea -- Franklin Roosevelt sketched it out in his "Four Freedoms" speech, and it was the basis for the United Nations, but it got lost in America's post-WWII pursuit of profit and empire. But for now the United States military is only good at one thing: killing. Better to focus that skill set on other people killing than to give the military missions it cannot possibly fulfill, like "winning hearts and minds" and projecting US power as anything other than the terror it is. Of course, better still to set an example and stop the killing altogether. Until we learn better the one thing the US shouldn't be doing is entering into wars. Of course, if we knew better we wouldn't be doing it anyway.

    • Paul Krugman: No, Donald Trump, America Isn't a Hellhole:

      Back when the Trump campaign was ostensibly about the loss of middle-class jobs, it was at least pretending to be about a real issue: Employment in manufacturing really is way down; real wages of blue-collar workers have fallen. You could say that Trumpism isn't the answer (it isn't), but not that the issue was a figment of the candidate's imagination.

      But when Mr. Trump portrays America's cities as hellholes of runaway crime and social collapse, what on earth is he talking about?

      Krugman answers "race" -- indeed, for Trump's followers, all it takes to constitute a hellhole is non-white skin and/or non-American accents. Krugman explains "Trump's racial 'outreach'" as meant "to reassure squeamish whites that he isn't as racist as he seems." I think it's more like he wants to reassure whites that blacks will welcome his draconian law enforcement fantasy once they see how much safer it makes them (the "good ones," anyhow). And besides, living in the hellholes of their own skin, what do they have left to lose?

      Still, it's a pretty ridiculous pitch, but even sympathetic white people tend to underestimate how much progress blacks have made over the last 50-70 years, and therefore how much they stand to lose if white supremacists like Trump regain power. (One is tempted to credit the civil rights acts of the 1960s for those gains, but to some extent they simply codified and consolidated gains made in the early postwar era.

    • Jim Newell: Why Is the Trumpish Right Inept at Hardball Politics? Case study is "making stuff up about their opponents' health," as in claims by Rudy Giuliani and other Trumpsters that Hillary Clinton is covering up a secret debilitating illness (presumably somewhere under a blanket of traitorous emails and Clinton foundation favors). Newell spends much too much time investigating a similar line of attack used by Sen. John McCain's primary opponent, Tea Party partisan Kelli Ward, and probably not enough on everything else -- after all, didn't "the big lie" work just fine for Goebbels (although I guess it was never really tested in a general election)?

      Conservative media has been the lifeblood of Ward's campaign, and with Trump's hiring of Steve Bannon, it is in direct operational control of the Republican presidential nominee's campaign. And so crappy attacks, workshopped inside the conservative tabloid media bubble, get greenlit even if they confuse 70 percent of the electorate. Trump was able to say a lot of stupid things and get away with them in the Republican primary, but the lesson from that shouldn't have been that the idea was replicable: He was in a 17-person field, against a group of mostly undefined opponents, depriving them of oxygen. And he could at least be funny. John McCain and Hillary Clinton have total name recognition and well-known histories. It doesn't convert anyone new to suggest, sans evidence, that they're near death. It just hastens the death of the campaigns suggesting it.

    • Ben Norton: No, they don't support Trump: Smeared left-wing writers debunk the myth: "Clinton-supporting neoconservative pundit James Kirchick published an article in the Daily Beast this week titled "Beware the Hillary Clinton-Loathing, Donald Trump-Loving Useful Idiots of the Left." Norton did some checking and none of the named writers, no matter how much they loathed Hillary, supported Trump. OK, one writer -- all fifteen are quoted here, making for entertaining reading -- somename I had never heard of named Christopher Ketcham, said he would vote for Trump, who he described as "an ignorant, vicious, narcissistic, racist, capitalist scumbag, and thus an accurate representative of the United States." There have always been a tiny number of leftists who hold a romantic idea of revolution erupting as conditions deteriorate unbearably. I think those people are out of touch, especially with the people they think their revolution would help, but they're also very marginal -- "idiots," perhaps, but not useful to anyone. I'm tempted to retort that the real "useful idiots" are the neocons supporting Hillary (like Kirchik, although he's small fry compared to Max Boot and the Kagans) as they actually represent a faction with real money and clout and they give her an air of legitimacy in a domain Republicans like to think they own, but for the most part they at least are making rational choices to advance their most cherished goals -- not so much that Hillary will plunge the country into more wars than Trump but that she will more reliably parrot the neocon line, which in turn legitimizes the neocons. Kirchik, on the other hand, is merely doing what he habitually does: slandering the left, which is still America's best hope for peace.

    • Mark Oppenheimer: 'Blood in the Water,' a Gripping Account of the Attica Prison Uprising: A review of Heather Ann Thompson's new book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Pantheon) -- easily the most definitive history of the famous prison revolt, the brutal assault on the prison ordered by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, and the long legal struggle that ensued. I'll also add that what made this picture so clear was the trove of documents and testimony elicited by defense lawyers, especially the late Elizabeth Fink. Also, that the one underlying theme from each step of the history -- the reason the revolt started, and the reason the state protracted the legal fight so long -- was the state's dogged refusal to grant or acknowledge even basic human rights to prisoners; in short, to see prisoners as people. Rather, the state felt free to punish prisoners virtually without limit. For more on this, including how little has changed, also see: Michael Winerip/Tom Robbins/Michael Schwirtz: Revisiting Attica Shows How New York State Failed to Fulfill Promises.

    • Scott Shane: Saudis and Extremism: 'Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters': The al-Saud clan made a deal with al-Wahhab back in the late 18th century where the latter would bless the Saudis' expansion from the Arabian Desert into the Holy Cities and the Wahhabis would control religious doctrine in the Kingdom. I'm not sure when the Saudis started proselytizing Wahhabism outside of Saudi Arabia: probably in the 1960s when they bankrolled a war with Egypt over Yemen and coincidentally adopted Egyptian Sayyid Qutb -- the subject of the first chapter of Lawrence Wright's 9/11 pre-history, The Looming Tower. [Shane dates this from 1964, when King Faisal ascended to the Saudi throne.] But the Saudis spent more in the 1970s and more still in the 1980s when the US decided that militant Islamist Jihadis would be useful against the Soviets in Afghanistan. And they've kept it up, even as virtually every Sunni terrorist you can think of traces religious doctrine back through the Saudi-Wahhabis to the medieval Salafists. As Shane explains, in the 1980s the US was completely complicit in this:

      Throughout the 1980s, Saudi Arabia and the United States worked together to finance the mujahedeen in this great Afghan war, which would revive the notion of noble armed jihad for Muslims worldwide. President Ronald Reagan famously welcomed to the Oval Office a delegation of bearded "Afghan freedom fighters" whose social and theological views were hardly distinguishable from those later embraced by the Taliban.

      In fact, the United States spent $50 million from 1986 to 1992 on what was called a "jihad literacy" project -- printing books for Afghan children and adults to encourage violence against non-Muslim "infidels" like Soviet troops. A first-grade language textbook for Pashto speakers, for example, according to a study by Dana Burde, an associate professor at New York University, used "Mujahid," or fighter of jihad, as the illustration: "My brother is a Mujahid. Afghan Muslims are Mujahedeen. I do jihad together with them. Doing jihad against infidels is our duty."

      The US government still loves the Saudis: they are big business, especially to the oil, defense, and banking sectors which have so much clout over American foreign policy. On the other hand, large segments of the American public are beginning to wonder about Saudi Arabia, especially since King Salman was crowned last year and immediately attacked Yemen (with America's tacit blessing). Those segments include the Islamophobes which have been a predictable result of 15 years of American wars targeting Muslims (or 25 or 35 years, pick your starting date), but they also include, well, me: it looks to me like Saudi Arabia is the real Islamic State ISIS wants to grow up to be, the differences mostly explained by ISIS having been created in a war zone with the US, NATO, Russia, and Iran joining the attack (despite all their various differences). As Shane notes, Saudi Arabia's cleric Saad bin Nasser al-Shethri has condemned ISIS as "more infidel than Jews and Christians," but, you know, he would say that -- doing so protects the Saudi's exclusive claim to rightful jihad, but it perpetuates the Salafi habit of declaring their enemies takfir (impure, false Muslims).

      I'm afraid that the instinctive American response to ISIS is tantamount to genocide -- and it's not just the Islamophobic right that insists that ISIS must be crushed and destroyed. On the other hand, the US has proved that we can live with an Islamic State, even one that insists on dismembering or even beheading subjects it deems to be criminals, one that joins in foreign wars just to assert its religious dogma (the Saudis like to describe their opponents in Yemen as proxies of Iran, but the real problem is that they're Shiites). Of course, it helps that the Saudis have huge oil reserves and a deep appetite for American arms, but even if ISIS can never become as lucrative as Saudi Arabia, that still suggests that the US should be willing to make some sort of accommodation to ISIS, especially one established by votes as opposed to arms.

      As it is, the US insistence on destroying ISIS makes it impossible to negotiate an end to the Syrian Civil War, as does other irrational American impulses, such as simultaneous opposition to Assad. On the other hand, uncritical support for Saudi Arabia creates and deepens regional conflicts, including Syria and Yemen, in ways that have and will continue to blow back on America. The fact is that American support for Saudi jihad was never just a shortsighted policy. It was from the beginning a schizophrenic assault on world piece, order, and justice.

      For more on the Saudi assault on Yemen, see: Daniel Larison: 'The Administration Must Stop Enabling This Madness' in Yemen, and Mohamad Bazzi: Why Is the United States Abetting Saudi War Crimes in Yemen? Note how US arms sales to Saudi Arabia have continued and even increased even though Clinton is no longer in the State Department:

      On August 9, the State Department approved the latest major US weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, mainly to replace tanks that the kingdom has lost in its war in Yemen against Houthi rebels and allies of the former president. The $1.15 billion deal highlights the Obama administration's deepening involvement in the Saudi-led war, which has escalated after four months of peace talks broke down on August 6. Since then, warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition have bombed a Yemeni school, a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, and a potato-chip factory, killing more than 40 civilians, including at least 10 children.

      Also note Trita Parsi's tweet: "Fun fact: When ISIS established its school system, it adopted official Saudi textbooks for its schools."

    • David Sirota/Andrew Perez: Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton's State Department: At some point I should look for a good article by a reputable investigative journalist to explain what the Clinton Foundation does and where all the money went -- looks like a big chunk went into the Clinton's own pockets (their personal income was $11.2 million last year; if memory serves about 2/3 of that came from the Foundation) which is a funny way to run a non-profit charitable institution. Actually, it looks more like a political slush fund, one that's even more free of regulation than Clinton's PAC. I wonder, for instance, whether having the ability to launder so much corporate and foreign money through the Foundation wasn't a big part of the reason virtually no other mainstream Democrats ran against Hillary for president this year.

      Sirota and Perez plumb the more obvious question, which is where the money came from and whether it maps to political favors, and they conclude that at least in the area of American arms sales to foreign countries -- something that the State Department, headed by Hillary from 2009-13, has to sign off on -- lots of things look suspicious. Clinton (and Obama) sure approved a lot of weapons deals. I suppose it's possible that Obama, like presidents going back to Truman and Eisenhower, saw foreign arms sales as a cheap, politically safe jobs program (and following the financial meltdown of 2008 Obama desperately needed one of those). Or maybe you can just chalk it up to Hillary's notorious hawkishness. None of those explanations are really very calming.

      Still, see, for instance, Kent Cooper: 16 Donors Gave $122 Million to George W. Bush Foundation, which notes among other things that Bush's Foundation raised $341 million in 2006-2011, a period that overlaps Bush's presidency. Maybe the Clintons weren't so unique in monetizing their political "service"?

      As for all those weapons sales, see: CJ Chivers: How Many Guns Did the US Lose Track of in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of Thousands. It's been absurd to listen to Trump claim that Obama and Clinton "founded ISIS," especially given that most of ISIS's guns were delivered to the region by the Bush administration. For example:

      One point is inarguable: Many of these weapons did not remain long in government possession after arriving in their respective countries. In one of many examples, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report found that 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 80,000 pistols bought by the United States for Iraq's security forces could not be accounted for -- more than one firearm for every member of the entire American military force in Iraq at any time during the war. Those documented lapses of accountability were before entire Iraqi divisions simply vanished from the battlefield, as four of them did after the Islamic State seized Mosul and Tikrit in 2014, according to a 2015 Army budget request to buy more firearms for the Iraqi forces to replace what was lost.

    • Sean Wilentz: Hillary's New Deal: How a Clinton Presidency Could Transform America: A distinguished historian -- I learned a lot from his The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln -- but less than reliable when it comes to putting recent political movements into historical perspective (e.g., The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008). A historian should be able to bring some perspective to a campaign, but Wilentz does little more than regurgitate campaign hype:

      Hillary Clinton has already indicated what she would pursue in her first 100 days in office: launching her infrastructure program; investing in renewable energy; tightening regulation of health-insurance and pharmaceutical companies; and expanding protection of voting rights. She has also said that she will nominate women for half of her Cabinet positions. And not far behind these initiatives are several others, including immigration reform and raising the minimum wage.

      Even without a unifying title, it is a sweeping agenda, the latest updating of Democratic reformism. Democratic politics at their most fruitful have always been more improvisational than programmatic, more empirical than doctrinaire, taking on an array of issues, old and new, bound by the politics of Hope pressing against the politics of Nostalgia. So it was with FDR and Truman, so it has been with Barack Obama, and so it would be with Hillary Clinton.

      Still, a historian should recall that FDR's remarkable first 100 days -- the since-unequaled model for that concept -- was accomplished mostly due to conditions Clinton, even if she scores a personal landslide, will not enjoy: Roosevelt had an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress (and for that matter a large percentage of surviving Republicans were progressives), and in throwing out Hoover and Mellon the voters had sent a clear message that the new administration should do something about desperate times. Clinton has yet to do anything significant to elect a Democratic Congress -- indeed, she seems preoccupied with capturing anti-Trump Republicans for her campaign only. Moreover, historians should recognize that the last two Democratic presidents -- Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for whom she represents nothing if no continuity -- delivered very few of their campaign promises, even when they had Democratic majorities before they squandered them away through inaction. Hillary may think she wants to do wonders as president, but unless Congress changes she won't be able to. Indeed, if the Republicans hold onto the Senate, she may have trouble even getting those women confirmed to cabinet posts.

      For a more serious example of a historian looking at present politics, see Corey Robin: Donald Trump is the least of the GOP's problems, where he argues that it's not just Trump's gaffes that are dragging the party and the conservative movement down: both are also "victims of their success." Robin argues that reactionary movements lose their "raison d'être" as they become successful. I'd argue that success leads to them overshooting their goals in ways that turn destabilizing and self-destructive. On the other hand, I don't really believe that there is some sort of left-right equilibrium that needs to be periodically recentered. Rather, I believe that there is a long-term liberalizing drift to American politics, which is occasionally perverted by the corruption of business groups. We are overdue for a course correction now, but it's only happening fitfully due to the Republican focus on rigging the system and the generous amnesia of Democrats.

    • Miscellaneous election tidbits:

    Thursday, August 25, 2016

    Streamnotes (August 2016)

    Pick up text here.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2016

    Daily Log

    Wichita Eagle had an article today lampooning Donald Trump's idea that Boeing would send aviation jobs to China. As I recall, that's already happened, as part of an offset deal that China dictated as a condition for their airlines buying Boeing airliners, but never mind that: Trump's specifically worried about the low-wage non-union Boeing jobs in South Carolina, massively subsidized by the state government down there. For many years Boeing was the largest employer in Wichita (largely because the Army built Boeing a huge base here during WWII to build B-17 and B-29 bombers, and later B-47s and B-52s). Boeing shut all that down a few years ago to move their jobs to sweatshop states like Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina, so as far as we're concerned those jobs might just as well have been sent to China. I sent this to the Eagle's Opinion Line:

    So Trump's concerned about Boeing sending South Carolina jobs to China? As far as Wichitans are concerned, those jobs already went to China.

    Monday, August 22, 2016

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 27020 [26996] rated (+24), 359 [357] unrated (+2).

    Spent much of last week trying to pull yesterday's Book Roundup post together, barely scratching up my quota (40) although I still have a dozen tabs open with more books, and those will lead to even more. Still, I imagine we'll have to wait for September/October to get a new batch. I didn't find any of this batch compelling enough to order, although I gave some thought to Barbara Ehrenreich's progeny -- Ben Ehrenreich (The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine) and Rosa Brooks (How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon), David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, Steve Fraser's The Limousine Liberal: How an Incendiary Image United the Right and Fractured America. I might have added new books by Thomas Piketty and Jeremy Scahill, but they mostly remind me that I still haven't read older (and probably more important) books by them (Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, both sitting patiently on my shelf).

    On the other hand, I've already discovered that I missed two books by James K. Galbraith: Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe (2016, Yale University Press), and Inequality: What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2016, Oxford University Press). I do intend to pick both of them up soon, and maybe also Joseph Stiglitz' The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe (2016, WW Norton). It's not so much that I feel a need to bone up on these subjects -- I think I understand the Euro issues pretty well (although I don't know much about the supposedly labrinthine EU bureaucracy), and I've been on record that increasing inequality is the main political problem of our time. Actually, I think I'll learn more about inequality from the Euro books, as it seems to me that Europe has, at least in terms of economic issues, been turned as far to the right by globalizing business interests (code name: neoliberalism) as the US, albeit without nearly as much focus on wrecking security nets as here -- although that's likely to change as inequality increases, and the code name there is austerity; Britain, for instance, avoided the Euro trap, but suffered a politically self-induced recession anyway).

    Rated count isn't anything to brag about, especially given that nearly half of it came from a deep dive into Barbara Dane's discography, and I didn't come up with anything I'd missed there nearly as good as her Anthology of American Folk Songs (1959) or her surprising new one, Throw It Away. Don Ewell and the Chambers Brothers were side trips from Dane. I also thought about taking a dive into Chucho Valdés after listening to somewhat less than half of his 2015 album, Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac), last week, but didn't get very far. I actually saw him live here shortly after we moved to Wichita -- the Village Vanguard album from the same period has long sat on my unrated shelf, and I'm sorry to say it doesn't quite live up to the memory, not that it isn't quite some show.

    The other new A- record this week is from Atmosphere, a Minnesota alt-rap duo I've been habitually giving high B+s to ever since their 1997-2002 A- streak (Overcast!, Lucy Ford, God Loves Ugly). I wrote it up after two spins, then was taken aback to find Dan Weiss panning it (4/10) in Spin, so much so that I replayed it from the second cut ("Ringo" -- Weiss calls it "terribly unfunny" and says it "might be the worst song they've ever made"). Still, the extra play only reinforced my initial impressions. (The album actually has mixed reviews -- 71/6 at etacritic, favorable reviews at AV Club and Exclaim, another pan at Pitchfork -- latter doesn't bother me at all.) Still not sure I didn't underestimate their 2014 album Southsiders, which Weiss likes and Christgau gave an A- to, but I gave them both basically the same shot. But that could also be said of their many in-between albums -- I've heard 10 overall, but have missed a couple along the way.

    Wasn't clear from Christgau's review of Mestre Cupijó, but it looks to me like the 2014 record is a compilation based on four 1973-78 LPs. Sounds to me closer to Colombia than to Brazil, but that's partly explained by geography, and possibly also by its vintage. I haven't heard The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz yet, or any of Christgau's other recent world music picks (although I do have a download of Senegambia Rebel awaiting my attention).

    It's getting harder to do basic research on downloaded/streamed albums here, which is to say it's getting harder to write reviews. Part of this is that AMG added some new JavaScript to their site that totally breaks it for me, so they're no longer usable as a reference site. I suppose one might blame this on me, as I'm still doing my writing work on a machine running Ubuntu 12.04, and the Firefox browser there is horribly buggy, crashing every 2-3 days. The longer I wait the harder it gets to upgrade -- at this point I almost have to rebuild the system from scratch, something I don't look forward to. I did, however, manage to upgrade my secondary system -- the one I use for music streaming -- from 14.04 to 16.04. Took all night, but I'm pleased to say nothing serious broke.

    Good chance I'll go ahead and post Streamnotes sometime this week rather than waiting for the tail end of August. Currently have 101 records in the draft file, including 16 A-. Perhaps a bit long on jazz since I've mostly been picking unserviced, previously unheard records off Downbeat's album ballot. Will be glad to see August gone, although here at least it's been pretty mild compared to past years (hint: grass is still green).

    New records rated this week:

    • Livio Almeida: Action and Reaction (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Atmosphere: Fishing Blues (2016, Rhymesayers Entertainment): [r]: A-
    • Barbara Dane with Tammy Hall: Throw It Away . . . (2016, Dreadnaught Music): [cd]: A-
    • Grace Kelly: Trying to Figure It Out (2016, Pazz Productions): [r]: B+(*)
    • Masabumi Kikuchi: Black Orpheus (2012 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
    • Zach Larmer Elektrik Band: Inner Circle (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Le Boeuf Brothers + Jack Quartet: Imaginist (2014 [2016], Panoramic/New Focus): [cd]: B-
    • Mack Avenue Superband: Live From the 2015 Detroit Jazz Festival (2015 [2016], Mack Avenue): [r]: B
    • Christian McBride Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (2014 [2015], Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
    • Nine Live: Sonus Inenarribilis: Nine Live Plays the Music of John Clark (2016, Mulatta): [cd]: B
    • Nils Økland: Kjølvatn (2012 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
    • Sundae + Mr. Goessl: Makes My Heart Sway (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Chucho Valdés: Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac) (2015, Jazz Village): [r]: B+(**)

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

    • Joe Castro: Lush Life: A Musical Journey (1954-66 [2015], Sunnyside, 6CD): [r]: B+(**)
    • Mestre Cupijó E Seu Ritmo: Siriá (1973-78 [2014], Analog Africa): [r]: A-

    Old music rated this week:

    • The Chambers Brothers: Time Has Come: The Best of the Chambers Brothers (1966-71 [1996], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
    • Barbara Dane: Trouble in Mind (1957 [2011], Stardust): [r]: B+(*)
    • Barbara Dane/Earl 'Fatha' Hines and His Orchestra: Livin' With the Blues (1959 [2013], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(**)
    • Barbara Dane: On My Way (1962 [2013], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(***)
    • Barbara Dane & Lightning Hopkins: Sometimes I Believe She Loves Me (1961-65 [1996], Arhoolie): [r]: B+(**)
    • Barbara Dane/The Chambers Brothers: Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers (1966, Folkways): [r]: B+(*)
    • Barbara Dane: FTA! Songs of the GI Resistance (1970, Paredon): [r]: B+(***)
    • Barbara Dane: I Hate the Capitalist System (1973, Paredon): [r]: B+(*)
    • Don Ewell: Denver Concert (1966 [2004], Storyville): [r]: B+(**)
    • Irakere: The Best of Irakere (1978-79 [1994], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
    • Chucho Valdés: Live at the Village Vanguard (1999 [2000], Blue Note): [cd]: A-

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Kris Davis: Duopoly (Pyroclastic, 2CD): September 30
    • Le Boeuf Brothers + Jack Quartet: Imaginist (Panoramic/New Focus): October 14
    • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Changes (Hot Cup, EP): advance, September 30
    • Tom McCormick: South Beat (Manatee): August 26
    • Northern Winds and Voices: Inside/Outside (Sisällä/Ulkona) (Edgetone)
    • Sonic Liberation 8: Bombogenic (High Two)
    • Florian Wittenburg: Eagle Prayer (NurNichtNur)

    Daily Log

    Spent Sunday cooking, coming up with a very tasty dinner. Mostly Chinese, menu:

    • Fried Mountain Trout with Ginger [Charmaine Solomon, Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking, p. 67]: couldn't find whole trout, so wound up substituting three slightly larger whole Bronzini -- a Greek "sea bass," probably farmed but pretty tasty.
    • Glazed Chicken Wings [Solomon, p. 26]: braised in a very rich sauce, reduced to a glaze.
    • Stir-Fried Bok Choy, [Irene Kuo, The Key to Chinese Cooking, p. 388]: used baby bok-choy.
    • Szechuan Eggplant, [Kuo, p. 402]: used Japanese eggplant, Chef Chow hot bean paste instead of hot oil.
    • Mushrooms in Hoisin Sauce [Kuo, p. 384]: recipe calls for oyster sauce, but substituted hoisin; used fresh shiitake mushrooms instead of straw/button.
    • Shrimp, Leek and Pine Nut Fried Rice [Barbara Tropp, The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, p. 408]
    • Pineapple Upside-Down Cake: meant to use my mother's recipe but couldn't find it, so I went with this one; used fresh instead of canned pineapple, omitted the maraschino cherries, added 1/2 cup chopped pecans to the base, and had to bake it much longer (is 325F really the right temp?); served with Edy's Slow Churned Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

    I wanted to make soft-shell crabs, but evidently missed the season. Wichita Fish used to keep them frozen, but they were out. Looking for the trout was another hassle: lots of red filets, but no full fish. Again, Wichita Fish used to keep them frozen, and I've often seen them at the best of the Dillons. Found the Bronzini at Whole Foods -- an awful store in oh so many ways. Didn't know what I was getting, but worked out pretty well. I've made the trout recipe close to ten times, including once in Idaho with fish we just caught. But as I was shopping I developed a fear that I'd have to pick out a totally different main dish.

    For dessert I first thought of ice cream, since Chinese meals are always dairy-defficient, then of pineapple, which is often served in Cantonese restaurants. I've been collating my mother's recipe cards, so it wasn't much of a leap to pineapple upside-down cake à la mode. It's been a long-time family staple, and was one of three cakes I made in my mother's kitchen the day after she died -- I figured we should have them after the funeral (we also bought some barbecue), plus I thought it would be good to use up some of her pantry, which was always stocked in case a dozen relatives dropped in unannounced at midnight. I've made it a couple times since, and will probably find the recipe in the other card box when I finally find it. (As she was losing her eyesight, she copied some recipes onto larger cards. That's actually a more useful box, as it omits the dozens of casseroles and jello salads she picked up from other family and friends but hardly ever cooked herself.)

    One plus was that I did hack together a preliminary index of the old recipe box. I can then use that to start a table of contents for a book of her recipes, my remembrances of her food, and a few further thoughts on the subject (probably a few of my own recipes -- maybe I'll sneak the new pineapple upside-down cake recipe in. One problem is that she never wrote down most of the dishes she made frequently. There is, for example, no chicken and dumplings (or biscuits or noodles -- I have the dumplings recipe because I had her write it down for me long ago), no brown beans and ham, no fried steak with mushroom gravy, no meatloaf, no roast beef, no cornbread, no sausage gravy, no green beans with bacon, for that matter virtually no meats (usually pan-fried with gravy made from the drippings) or vegetables (usually boiled -- most of them I grew up hating). I have most of the cakes (but not the one with the toasted oat topping -- I have my own version of that with ingredients she never dreamed of using, like Guinness Stout), but few pies and no cobblers.

    I've synthesized recipes for a few of those (like the meatloaf) or found other recipes that fill the bill (sometimes better, like this pineapple upside-down cake). I need to make a survey of the relatives to see what they have written down. And I'll need to do some experimenting -- e.g., I never much liked pies, so never got the hang of making crusts or the various fillings. Also, I'm inclined to provide recipes from scratch in many cases where she used mixes -- e.g., I can't every recall her making cornbread or brownies except from Jiffy boxes. (I haven't made a cake from a mix in my adult life, and I make really good brownies from scratch, but even I reach for the Bisquick box when I make chicken and biscuits.) Also, the Spanish rice and pork chops recipe I found -- a dish she made dozens of times -- calls for Minute Rice, which would be pretty embarrassing. Actually, my recollection is that she made the seasoned rice out of a box, browned the pork chops, and baked them together, sort of like a paella although she didn't know that concept. She made a lot of box recipes -- "shake and bake" chicken, that sort of thing. Maccaroni and cheese was probably a box. Pizza definitely was -- I personally made dozens of Chef Boyardee pizzas with ad hoc toppings, mostly hamburger, onion, green bell peppers, and topped with shredded Velveta; that was the main thing I cooked as a teenager.

    Work notes:

    • Mestre Cupijó E Seu Ritmo: Siriá (1973-78 [2014], Analog Africa): A- [rhapsody]

    Sunday, August 21, 2016

    Book Roundup

    Time for another collection of 40 short notes on recent books -- my modest attempt to keep track of what's being published primarily in the fields of politics, history, economics, and social science (not that other personal interests don't slip in occasionally). These are mostly gathered by trolling around Amazon, checking my "recommended" lists, following up on cross-references, reading (and occasionally quoting) the hype, blurbs, sometimes even reviews. Few of these books I have any in-depth knowledge of, so they hardly constitute reviews. Last batch of these came out on July 7, before that April 26.

    Christopher H Achen/Larry M Bartels: Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (2016, Princeton University Press): Political scientists argue against the conventional view that voters make rational political choices by pointing out how their views at least as much shaped by primordial identities, a hint of what's become obvious as the red-blue divide has gone beyond analysis and prescription to selective embrace of facts. Still, title suggests something more, like pointing out how these distortions have opened up opportunities for politicians to do things contrary to the positions they adopt when campaigning. Those things are mostly favors for special interests -- favors that wouldn't stand a chance if "representatives" were actually responsive to voter views.

    Mehrsa Baradaran: How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy (2015, Harvard University Press): "The United States has two separate banking systems today -- one serving the well-to-do and another exploiting everyone else." Actually, I doubt the "well-to-do" are served all that well either, but the "payday lenders" and "check cashing services" that people frozen out of the legit banking system deserve a harsher word than "exploiting." Baradaran advocates a "postal banking" system that would provide minimal cost banking services to everyone.

    Samuel Bowles: The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens (2016, Yale University Press): Lectures -- I imagine this poised against the Thaler/Sunstein notion of nudges which assumes that wise managers can concoct incentives that lead seemingly free economic actors to do good deeds, although he could be countering the older laissez-faire conceit that markets miraculously do good on their own. It was, after all, no coincidence that the new vogue for Friedman, etc., in the 1980s was accompanied by rejection of public interest and a coarsening of civil concern.

    Rosa Brooks: How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon (2016, Simon & Schuster): Law professor, New America Foundation fellow, married a Green Beret, was a "senior advisor at the U.S. State Department" and "a counselor to the US defense undersecretary for policy from 2009 to 2011," but also daughter of Barbara Ehrenreich, one of America's finest lefty journalists: I'm not sure how all that adds up (blurb suggests: "by turns a memoir, a work of journalism, a scholarly exploration into history, anthropology and law, and a rallying cry"), or whether. An excerpt I read pushes a Walmart analogy way beyond ridiculousness, especially in assuming that the military, like Walmart, produces tangible and desirable (albeit shoddy and ethically dubious) goods. The military has, for instance, become the only big government institution beloved by conservatives out to discredit all other big government. Part of this is that, as Brooks points out, it crowds out saner alternatives, yet that's not just successful lobbying from organized interest groups -- an important group of Pentagon boosters simply don't want sane.

    Noam Chomsky: Who Rules the World? (2016, Metropolitan Books): Another essay collection, so not wholly devoted to the title question -- probably just as well, as there's no good answer. Still likely to include his usual rigorous accounting of US misbehavior in the world (one chapter is "The US Is a Leading Terrorist State"). Other recent Chomsky titles I haven't noted before: How the World Works (paperback, 2011, Soft Skull Press); On Anarchism (paperback, 2013, New Press); Masters of Mankind: Essays and Lectures, 1969-2013 (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books); What d Kind of Creatures Are We? (2015, Columbia University Press); On Palestine (with Ilan Pappé, paperback, 2015, Haymarket Books); Because We Say So (paperback, 2015, City Lights); also several reprints of older books (mostly from Haymarket Books), and the DVD Requiem for the American Dream.

    Stephen S Cohen/J Bradford DeLong: Concrete Economics: The Hamilton Approach to Economic Growth and Policy (2016, Harvard Business Review Press): An argument that history is key to understanding how the American economy grew, and a compact history of government intervention in the American economy going all the way back to Alexander Hamilton.

    David Cole: Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law (2016, Basic Books): Points out a number of cases where Supreme Court rulings merely formalized changes in public opinion brought about by political activism -- sample cases include marriage equality and the individual right to bear arms, but it isn't hard to think of more cases, including the 1930s reversal on New Deal programs.

    David Daley: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy (2016, Liveright): Title evidently a technical term coined by a Nixon operative to boast about some of the "dirty tricks" used to tilt the 1972 presidential election his boss's way, but is generalized here to cover the story of how the recent deluge of GOP-leaning money has helped that party to gain political power way beyond what you'd expect in a representative democracy. Gerrymandering is one not-so-secret aspect of this. Lesser known is the REDMAP project -- especially how the Republicans targeted state legislatures -- that opened up so many opportunities to stack the deck.

    Charles Derber/Yale R Magrass: Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society (2016, University Press of Kansas): Not just schoolyard bullying, but we live in a society that increasingly lets the rich and powerful bully the poor and weak, that prizes wealth and power, treats their lack as a personal disgrace. These are all consequences of inequality, but they also correlate with the US stance as the world's superpower, the one nation that is free to tower over and bully all others. This is one book that seems to get all that: "The larger the inequalities of power in society, or among nations, or even across species, the more likely it is that both institutional and personal bullying can become commonplace."

    Dan DiMicco: American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness (2015, St. Martin's Press): Former CEO of Nucor, "the largest and most profitable U.S. steel company" although as far as I an tell they mostly melt down and recycle in non-unionized plants far from America's old Rust Belt. Recently DiMicco was named to Trump's economic advisory board, with the strategic word "Greatness" hinting this book might be a blueprint for Trump's agenda. Still, I doubt there's anything new here: there's still a good deal of manufacturing in America, and such companies can be profitable if you can keep the vulture capitalists who dominate Trump's board from bleeding them dry. The bigger problem is how to get more of the profits of business back into the paychecks of workers, and there DiMicco is more problem than solution.

    Tamara Draut: Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America (2016, Doubleday): Cover features the banner "FIGHT FOR $15 AND A UNION." The new working class isn't the old blue collar one, but "more female and racially diverse" employed in bottom end service jobs that don't pay enough to live on much less secure the old notion of middle class equality. A decade ago Draut wrote Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Something Can't Get Ahead, and they've only fallen further behind, which is why they're (finally) fighting back.

    Ben Ehrenreich: The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine (2016, Penguin Press): American journalist, son of Barbara Ehrenreich, has also written a pair of novels, details considerable time spent in Israel/Palestine observing the military occupation, and perhaps more importantly the people subject to that occupation.

    Rana Foroohar: Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business (2016, Crown Business): If I recall correctly, the title comes from Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign speech where he derided the 47% of Americans who owe no federal income tax as "takers" -- as parasites living off the better off classes (i.e., those without effective tax dodge scams). Still, another reading is possible: some businesses still make things, but others (notably Romney's Bain Capital) just take profits out of the economy through various financial shenanigans. Everyone knows that the latter have grown enormously over recent decades. What this book does is explore the effect of all this financial "taking" on the older practice of making things, which as everyone also knows has declined severely in America. Pretty sure the two are linked. Hope this book helps explain why.

    Robert H Frank: Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy (2016, Princeton University): Short book, argues that the rich tend to underestimate the role of luck in their success, or overestimate the role of merit -- flip sides of the same coin.

    Steve Fraser: The Limousine Liberal: How an Incendiary Image United the Right and Fractured America (2016, Basic Books): The term dates from the 1969 New York mayoralty election, about the same time the "hard hat" riots against antiwar protesters reinforced Nixon's idea that a conservative "silent majority" had been victimized by "liberal elites" -- a term that ultimately had more traction than "limousine liberal." Fraser recently wrote about how Americans lost their sense of class struggle in The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of Organized Wealth and Power, to which this adds a significant case study.

    Chas W Freeman Jr: America's Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East (paperback, 2016, Just World Books): Former US diplomat, was denied a job in the Obama administration because he was considered unacceptably equivocal about Israel. Shortly after that, he wrote America's Misadventures in the Middle East (paperback, 2010, Just World Books). Presumably this is all new material, succinct even, as it only runs 256 pages.

    Michael J Graetz/Linda Greenhouse: The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right (2016, Simon & Schuster): Of course, the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts moved even further to the right, but Nixon's appointment of Warren Burger to replace Earl Warren started the rightward shift. This book explains how and why. I'll add that this represented a reversion to form for the Supreme Court up to the New Deal. Maybe now we should recognize how fortunate we were to have grown up in an era when the Supreme Court took an active interest in expanding individual and civil rights.

    Karen J Greenberg: Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (2016, Crown): Having written a book on Guantanamo and edited one called Torture Papers, the author is in a position to sum up the marginal rationalizations used to trample two centuries of legal principle just to facilitate the security state's defense of its own power and secrets. While many of these examples were started by the Bush administration in its initial panic over 9/11, most have been continued under Obama, with some policies -- like extrajudicial killings -- greatly extended.

    Seymour M Hersh: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden (2016, Verso): Short book on how the US sent a team of Navy SEALs deep into Pakistan to assassinate the nominal leader of Al-Qaida. Hersh casts doubt on many of the stories the Obama administration spread about its exploit.

    Elizabeth Hinton: From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (2016, Harvard University Press): Author starts with Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, which includes a simultaneous "war on crime," a set of policing policies that Republicans (and Bill Clinton) kept building up while at the same time tearing down the welfare programs. It is probably no accident that Johnson's programs were launched while America was increasingly mired in war in Vietnam, and even less so that police became more militarized during the so-called War on Terror. In between you get the War on Drugs. The idea there was probably that in post-WWII America "war" is the magic word for unity and determination, but after Vietnam most Americans were tired of war, and anti-drug laws criminalized a wide swath of society, which gave increasingly well-financed police a wide license to pick and choose. The result is that "the land of the free" became the world's most pervasive prison state.

    David Cay Johnston: The Making of Donald Trump (2016, Melville House): Journalist, previously wrote a couple books on how the political system is rigged to favor the rich -- Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich -- and Cheat Everybody Else and Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill). Not an in-depth biography (288 pp), but probably as good as any quick primer on the Republican nominee. Other new books on Trump (aside from the jokes I mention under Trump's own book): Michael D'Antonio: The Truth About Trump (paperback, 2016, St Martin's Griffin -- reissue of 2015 book Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success; Michael Kranish/Marc Fisher: Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power (2016, Scribner); Marc Shapiro: Trump This! The Life and Times of Donald Trump, an Unauthorized Biography (paperback, 2016, Riverdale Avenue Books); Mark Singer: Trump and Me (2016, Mark Duggan Books); and, of course, GB Trudeau: Yuge! 30 Years of Doonsebury on Trump (paperback, 2016, Andrews McNeel).

    Mark Landler: Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power (2016, Random House): Journalist, interviewed over 100 "inside sources" to discover that Clinton was invariably hawkish as Secretary of State, while Obama usually started skeptical but often gave in to the hawks he surrounded himself with -- far be it from to seriously reject any orthodoxy. I doubt Landler further explores how often Obama's policies backfired, as he seems more entranced with his "team of rivals" collaboration story -- the common ground of those alter egos.

    Marc Lynch: The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East (2016, PublicAffairs): Wrote The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (2012), a more hopeful title but in case after case popular uprisings have given way to civil war, as the ancien regimes have violently clung to power, as jihadists have come to the fore, and as foreign governments (notably the US) have interfered to advance poorly understood interests.

    Benjamin Madley: An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 (2016, Yale University Press): There is evidence that the population of Native Americans was reduced by as much as 90% from pre-Columbian levels to the end of the 19th century, and it's not much of a stretch to call that genocide. This book deals with just one narrow front, in California where the native population dropped from about 150,000 to 30,000 in the years covered -- roughly the period of California's Gold Rush. On the same subject: Brendan C Lindsay: Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846-1873 (paperback, 2015, University of Nebraska Press). Related: John Mack Faragher: Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles (2016, WW Norton).

    George Monbiot: How Did We Get Into This Mess? Politics, Equality, Nature (2016, Verso): British journalist, has written about science (degree in Zoology), climate change, and all sorts of political matters, which gives him a broad view of the "mess" of our times. This one's an essay collection, columns written 2007-15, that illustrate his title rather than exploring it systematically. Still, I did track down the title piece, which indicts neoliberalism traced back to the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947.

    Peter Navarro: Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World (2015, Prometheus Books): Another Trump "economic adviser," the only one with any academic credentials, which as this book shows means zilch. Trump has a whole range of complaints about China ranging from currency manipulation to short-changing on patent rents. But Navarro sees something different: a mirror image of the US expanding its economic grasp into Asia under a cloak of the threat/promise of military power. The implication is that if the US ever backs down, China will pounce -- certainly not that China's military was built as a defense against intimidation from the world's sole superpower." Navarro previously co-wrote (with Greg Autry): Death by China: Confronting the Dragon -- A Global Call to Action (2011, Pearson Press). Chinese-American conflict has become a staple, both for business writers and empire strategists; e.g.: Thomas J Christensen: The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power (2015, WW Norton); Thomas Finger: The New Great Game: China and South and Central Asia in the Era of Reform (paperback, 2016, Stanford University Press); Aaron L Friedberg: A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (paperback, 2012, WW Norton); Lyle J Goldstein: Meeting China Halfway: How to Diffuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry (2015, Georgetown University Press); Robert Haddick: Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific (2014, Naval Institue Press); Bill Hayton: The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia (paperback, 2015, Yale University Press); Anja Manuel: This Brave New World: India, China and the United States (2016, Simon & Schuster); Liu Minglu: The China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era (2015, CN Times Books); Henry M Paulson Jr: Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower (2015, Twelve); Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (paperback, 2016, St Martin's Griffin); also, one I've mentioned before: Robert D Kaplan: Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (2014; paperback, 2015, Random House); and one I somehow didn't mention, Henry Kissinger: On China (2011; paperback, 2012, Penguin Books).

    Daniel Oppenheimer: Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century (2016, Simon & Schuster): Profiles that go "deep into the minds of six apostates -- Whitaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens." Reagan seems an odd choice for any book concerned with the mind, but the rest are far from original thinkers, more like notorious cranks, and can only be counted as reshaping the century in the sense that they allowed themselves be used as tools for the right-wing. Some blurb writers I respect liked this book, but it's hard to see why it should matter.

    Thomas Piketty: Why Save the Bankers?: And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis (2016, Houghton Mifflin): Author of the major work on economic inequality Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), picks these scattered essays from a monthly column published in France (2008-15).

    Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters: Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics (paperback, 2016, Anchor): Author previously co-wrote (with David Brock) The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine and The Benghazi Hoax: The Truth Behind the Right's Campaign to Politicize an American Tragedy. The PR outfits may have started out just trying to spin the truth, but they quickly found themselves creating whole untruths from scratch, and what worked for tobacco and climate denial was seized upon by the right-wing for their own political machinations.

    Yakov M Rabkin: What Is Modern Israel? (paperback, 2016, Pluto Press): Argues that Zionism is rooted not in anything Jewish but in Protestant Christianity's reading of Biblical prophecy, compounded by "Europeean ethnic nationalism, colonial expansion, and geopolitical interests." That doesn't quite explain why the idea came to be embraced by many Jews, both among those who settled in Israel and among those scattered elsewhere.

    Andrés Reséndez: The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Slavery in America (2016, Houghton Mifflin): Before Columbus imported slaves from Africa, he tried enslaving the natives he "discovered." The Spanish crown supposedly ended this practice in 1542, but by then slavery had already had a calamatous effect on decimating native populations, and the story didn't end there. Most likely an eye-opening, pathbreaking book.

    Jeremy Scahill: The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program (2016, Simon & Schuster): Previously wrote about early US use of drones for extrajudicial assassinations in 2013's Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. Since then drones have become ever more central to Obama's continuation of Bush's Global War on Terror, which makes this an important book.

    Jean Edward Smith: Bush (2016, Simon & Schuster): Big (832 pp) history of the eight years when GW Bush was pretty clearly the worst president the United States has ever had to suffer through, written to remind us of just that fact, all the more urgent since so many media hacks and even President Obama -- originally elected when the memory was clear in the minds of the electorate -- have let so much of his record slip from their minds.

    Jason Stahl: Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945 (2016, University of North Carolina Press): Surveys the history of right-wing financiers' efforts to stand up a faux academia to propagate their pet theories, and increasingly to fabricate their own facts, in hopes of dressing up their self-interested politics. But academia turned out to be too grand a vision, as they descended ever more into cranking out made-to-order political propaganda. And they've increasingly turned into a jobs program for conservative politicians, a security net for out-of-work ideologues.

    Robert Teitelman: Bloodsport: When Ruthless Dealmakers, Shrewd Ideologues, and Brawling Lawyers Toppled the Corporate Establishment (2016, PublicAffairs): During the 1970s there arose a mania for building companies by mergers and acquisitions, a practice which led to the growth of diversified conglomerates as well as big companies snuffing out their competitors. Not clear to me whether Wall Street led the way or jumped on the bandwagon, but this went hand-in-hand with the financialization of the American economy, a process which increased inequality in lots of ways. The ideologues come into play with their justification of the supreme importance of shareholder value, regardless of who gets hurt.

    Donald J Trump: Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America (paperback, 2016, Threshold Editions): Cover an orange smudge on an American flag against a not quite uncloudy blue sky, a vast improvement over Trump's scowl on the hardcover that came out last November as Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. Like the title swap, the juxtaposition between crippled and great is so confusing it's hard to tell which is the past and which is the future. Meanwhile, the short (170 pages gets you to "Acknowledgments") campaign prop is full of such simplistic pablum you could use it for a second grade reader -- if, that is, you don't mind turning our children into sociopaths. By the way, if you want more Trumped-up propaganda, check the usual suspects: Ann Coulter: In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! (2016, Sentinel); Dick Morris/Eileen McGann: Armageddon: How Trump Can Beat Hillary (2016, Humanix Books); Wayne Allyn Root: Angry White Male: How the Donald Trump Phenomenon Is Changing America -- and What We Can All Do to Save the Middle Class (2016, Skyhorse Publishing).

    Yanis Varoufakis: And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future (2016, Nation Books): Economist, became Finance Minister when the leftist Syriza party won in Greece, precipitating a crisis within the Eurozone resulting in Greece being forced to suffer punitive austerity and Varoufakis leaving the government in disgust. This appears to aim at something more general, but the author's unique experience offers a distinct starting point. Varoufakis has a similar previous book, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy (3rd ed, paperback, 2015, Zed Books).

    Dov Waxman: Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel (2016, Princeton University Press): There have always been segments of the Jewish population in the US that have been critical of Israel, but especially after the 1948 and 1967 wars Israel enjoyed deep support among American Jews. That has begun to shift, mostly along generational lines, as Israel has moved hard to the right politically, as its militarism and human rights abuses have proven ever more difficult to justify on security grounds. This book looks at that, and to do so fairly you have to look at the issues that underly these divisions.

    Edward O Wilson: Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life (2016, Liveright): Legendary biologist/entomologist (the study of bugs), has increasingly turned to writing about how much damage people have done to the natural world, and at 86 isn't done yet. He has a case, and his anger is justified. Still, the notion that the earth cares, much less is fighting back, is a fanciful conceit, flattering to the same people who scarcely comprehend what they are doing -- not so much to the earth as to ourselves.

    Richard D Wolff: Capitalism's Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown (paperback, 2016, Haymarket): Lefty economist, has been tracking economic crisis since 2009's Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It, and for that matter did something about it, being closely associated with the Occupy Movement. Short, topical pieces written over several years.

    Other recent books also noted:

    • Walter R Borneman: MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific (2016, Little Brown)

    • Todd G Buchholz: The Price of Prosperity: Why Rich Nations Fail and How to Renew Them (2016, Harper)

    • James Carville: We're Still Right, They're Still Wrong: The Democrats' Case for 2016 (2016, Blue Rider Press)

    • Diego Gambetta/Steffen Hertog: Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education (2016, Princeton University Press)

    • Fawaz A Gerges: A History of ISIS (2016, Princeton University Press)

    • William N Goetzmann: Money Changes Everything: How Finance Made Civilization Possible (2016, Princeton University Press)

    • Max Hastings: The Secret War: Spies, Ciphers, and Guerrillas, 1939-1945 (2016, Harper)

    • Marc Lamont Hill: Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond (2016, Atria)

    • Sean Jacobs/Jon Sooke, eds: Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy (paperback, 2015, Haymarket Books)

    • Garry Kasparov: Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped (2015, Public Affairs)

    • John Kay: Other People's Money: The Real Business of Finance (2015, Public Affairs)

    • Mervyn King: The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy (2016, WW Norton)

    • Robert F Worth: A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, From Tahrir Square to ISIS (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux)

    Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:

    • Thomas E Mann/Norman J Ornstein: It's Even Worse Than It Looks Was: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (2012; rev ed, paperback, 2016, Basic Books)

    • David Swanson: War Is a Lie (2010; second edition, paperback, 2016, Just World Books)

    Wednesday, August 17, 2016

    Daily Log

    Any chance I can recall enough films to fill out a #fav7films? Let's see:

    • Babette's Feast
    • Before Sunrise
    • Hairspray
    • Johnny Dangerously
    • Made in Heaven
    • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    • Stars and Bars

    I also see there's a #7FavTVShows:

    • The Avengers
    • Fargo
    • Homicide: Life on the Street
    • Justified
    • The Mentalist
    • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
    • The Rogues

    Monday, August 15, 2016

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 26996 [26901] rated (+95), 357 [420] unrated (-63).

    Early last week I got up and found my new jazz queue was practically empty -- at least didn't have anything I particularly wanted to listen to. I wound up playing something from the travel case for breakfast, then took a look at the Downbeat ballot albums list I had saved and started looking things up on Rhapsody. By the end of the day, I had two very solid A-list albums: new works by George Coleman and David Murray I wasn't aware existed. I kept looking up ballot albums for the rest of the week, but didn't find any more A-list. The tally so far: [A-] 2, [***] 4, [**] 4, [*] 7, [B] 2. That brings the percentage of the 186 ballot albums I've heard up from 60.21% to 70.43%. That also skews the grade curve down a bit, although it still centers on mid-B+ (was 26-35-20, now 30-39-27). That leaves 58 albums, the majority most likely not on Rhapsody.

    At some point I started wondering why, if the queue was empty, the unrated count was stuck around 440 even though it had been down around 400 before I took my June trip and fell behind. So I took a close look at the ratings database and found nearly sixty albums that I had done but hadn't written down the grade for. The actual newly rated count this week is close to the 36 albums listed below -- a pretty healthy weekly count, but way short of the humanly impossible 96 reported above. As I've explained before, the unrateds shot up over a decade ago when Wichita's local record stores went out of business and I bought boxloads of stuff I still haven't gotten to. The list also includes some LPs I didn't remember well enough to jot down when I first constructed the ratings list in the late 1990s -- of course, I wonder now how many of those I still have, since I sold off most of my vinyl in 1999. There are also a few promos from the mid-'00s that I didn't get to but didn't dispose of, but probably no more than a dozen promos from this decade -- I've been doing a pretty good job of getting through the new stuff even if I haven't made much progress with the old.

    At some point I should make a serious effort to knock down that backlog, even if it just means reclassifying things I no longer have (or cannot find). That would be one of those decluttering projects we talk about doing but I never seem to be able to find time for. Besides, even if the promo stream is drying up -- this month's dearth is partly seasonal but last week's haul is one of the lamest ever. (Two more records arrived today, but I'm pretty sure if I hadn't held last Monday's mail back I'd be empty below. As it is, I won't be empty next week, but might not see a rebound either.)

    I made phat thai last week, and finally jotted down the recipe I use -- been meaning to do that for some time, especially as I take various liberties with the cookbook (which, by the way, Michael Tatum recommended to me). Laura doesn't like bean sprouts, and I don't like cayenne, so I leave those things out (but I've found that a couple dried Chinese chili peppers don't hurt, as long as I pitch them before serving). Nice thing about the dish is that I can do all the prep, including soaking, and cook the thing in less than an hour. And with shrimp in the freezer, the only thing I have to worry about having fresh is the scallions.

    I've had a few recipes online for many years, but I've been pretty erratic about adding to them. In fact, I have two sets, one "old" (which dates to 2000) and "new" (which starts in 2007, using a newer look and feel). At one point I meant to convert all the "old" to "new" format, and develop the code to where everything is cross-indexed by ingredients, cuisine, and even dinner party (so one can tell which dishes went together, even how often I make them -- if I bothered to keep track). But I never finished that code, never converted all the "old" to "new," and have only sporadically added things, mostly when I wanted to pass a recipe on. This is actually one of those, and this time I added some new code to display a picture of the finished dish. Looks pretty good, I think.

    New records rated this week:

    • Greg Abate & Phil Woods with the Tim Ray Trio: Kindred Spirits: Live at Chan's (2014 [2016], Whaling City Sound, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
    • Karrin Allyson, Many a New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein (2015, Motéma): [r]: B
    • Peter Bernstein: Let Loose (2016, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
    • Jim Black Trio: The Constant (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Terri Lyne Carrington: The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul (2015, Concord): [r]: B+(**)
    • George Coleman: A Master Speaks (2015 [2016], Smoke Sessions): [r]: A-
    • Paquito D'Rivera: Jazz Meets the Classics (2012 [2014], Paquito/Sunnyside): [r]: B
    • Paquito D'Rivera & Quinteto Cimarron: Aires Tropicales (2012 [2015], Paquito/Sunnyside): [r]: B-
    • Paquito D'Rivera/Armando Manzanero: Paquito & Manzanero (2016, Paquito/Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
    • Oran Etkin, What's New? Reimagining Benny Goodman (2015, Motéma): [r]: B+(***)
    • Sullivan Fortner: Aria (2014 [2015], Impulse!): [r]: B+(***)
    • Wycliffe Gordon: Somebody New (2015, Blues Back): [r]: B+(**)
    • Stacey Kent: Tenderly (2015 [2016], Okeh): [r]: B+(***)
    • Kirk Knuffke: Lamplighter (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
    • Camila Meza: Traces (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: B
    • Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: Otis Was a Polar Bear (2016, Royal Potato Family): [r]: B+(**)
    • Murray, Allen & Carrington Power Trio: Perfection (2015 [2016], Motéma): [r]: A-
    • Quinsin Nachoff: Flux (2012 [2016], Mythology): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Aaron Neville: Apache (2016, Tell It): [r]: B+(**)
    • Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit: Ana (2015 [2016], PNL): [bc]: A-
    • Adam O'Farrill: Stranger Days (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
    • Arturo O'Farrill Sextet: Boss Level (2013 [2016], Zoho): [r]: B+(*)
    • Francisco Pais Lotus Project: Verde (2016, Product of Imagination): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Aaron Parks/Thomas Fonnesbaek/Karsten Bagge: Groovements (2014 [2016], Stunt): [r]: B+(**)
    • Sergio Pereira: Swingando (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Jim Rotondi: Dark Blue (2015 [2016], Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
    • Ches Smith: The Bell (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
    • Bill Stewart: Space Squid (2014 [2016], Pirouet): [r]: B+(*)
    • John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Basement Blues (2012-15 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Miroslav Vitous: Music of Weather Report (2010-11 [2012], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
    • Charenée Wade: Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (2015, Motéma): [r]: B+(***)

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

    • Don Cherry/John Tchicai/Irène Schweizer/Léon Francioli/Pierre Favre: Musical Monsters (1980 [2016], Intakt): [cd]: A-
    • Daunik Lazro/Joëlle Léandre/George Lewis: Enfances 8 Janv. 1984 (1984 [2016], Fou): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy (2007-14 [2015], PNL, 7CD): [bc]: B+(***)
    • Penny Penny: Shaka Bundu (1994 [2013], Awesome Tapes From Africa): [bc]: B+(**)
    • Pylon: Live (1983 [2016], Chunklet): [r]: B+(***)

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Quinsin Nachoff: Flux (Mythology): September 16
    • Nine Live: Sonus Inenarribilis: Nine Live Plays the Music of John Clark (Mulatta): October 7

    Sunday, August 14, 2016

    Weekend Roundup

    First a few loose ends left over from yesterday's Trump post:

    1. For more on populism, see Russell Arben Fox: Ten Theses on Our Populist Moment: He quotes Damon Linker's monumentally stupid claim that "Trump may be the purest populist to receive a major-party presidential nomination in the nation's history," but the Linker also argues that:

      Populism doesn't have a fixed agenda or aim toward any particular policy goal, like liberalism, progressivism, conservatism, libertarianism, or socialism. It's a style -- one that favors paranoia and conspiracy-theorizing, exaggeration of problems, demonization of political opponents (politicians but also private citizens), and most of all extravagant flattery of "the people" (which the populist equates with his own supporters, excluding everyone else).

      In other words, Linker has his own private definition of Populism. To most other people, what he's describing is the propaganda pitch of fascism to the masses (as opposed to the pitch made behind closed doors to the oligarchy). So it shouldn't be surprising that recent examples are mostly Republican ("From Newt Gingrich . . . to Sarah Palin . . . and Donald Trump") as the Republican conservative project is so similar in intent to the fascist project. Fox himself comes up with a more sensible definition ("whatever articulation of economic justice, community protection, and local democracy one comes up with"), but he's ambivalent about calling it Populism. I haven't researched this, but I suspect part of the problem is that Populism has always been a label to attack the movement -- the proper name back in the 1890s was the People's Party -- and it was chosen by high-handed snobs who despised the people even more than the dead-end thinking of isms. Even today, I suspect that most of the people who regard Trump as a Populist do so because they regard "the people" as too ignorant, too intemperate, too irrational even to look out for their own interest. Of course, many of those same people also decry true economic populism as well, hoping that by linking Trump and Sanders they can dispose of both.

    2. If you take one thing away from the Trump post, it should be that Trump's real problems are endemic to the Republican Party and its conservative ideologues and propagandists. Sure, Trump lacks the message discipline of a GW Bush and the ideological fervor of a Dick Cheney, but in the end he always retreats to the orthodox party line. And that's what doesn't work, and that's what you should really fear about him or any of the other party leaders.

    3. On the other hand, what the party leaders hate about Trump is his loose mouth. They understand that belief in their economic ideas and their foreign policy doctrine depends on strict repetition, on never allowing a morsel of doubt to creep into the discussion. If you ever stop and think about whether the free market optimally solves all economic equations or whether the world would descend into chaos if the US ever stopped projecting its global superpowerness, you might realize that those doctrines, upon which rests so much privilege and luxury for the fortunate few, are in fact remarkably flawed. Trump is so ignorant and so uninhibited that he simply can't be trusted to keep those cherished myths inviolate.

    4. One thing that the Trump debacle should impress upon people is that the idea that successful businessmen are really great problem solvers and managers, and especially that those are skills that can be transferred to politics and government, is sheer nonsense. Could be that some are, but circumstance and luck count for a lot, as does starting out with a fortune, as Trump did.

    Some scattered links this week:

    • Andrew Bacevich: The Decay of American Politics: "An Ode to Ike and Adlai," major party nominees of sixty years ago -- the author's "earliest recollection of national politics," somewhat more vaguely mine as well (I turned six just before the election). I'm not quite as nostalgic about this pair, but Eisenhower was a centrist who, like previous Republican nominees Thomas Dewey and Wendell Wilkie, had no desire much less delusions of rolling back the redefinition of what the federal government meant and did known as the New Deal. And Eisenhower was so respected that if in 1952 he had declared his party differently he might most likely would have been nominated by the Democrats. Stevenson was an eloquent, highly respected liberal, no less adored albeit by a narrower base. From his conservative perch, Bacevich underrates Stevenson, and Hillary Clinton as well, although as a long-time critic of American foreign policy and militarism he has no trouble marshalling his arguments against the latter:

      When it comes to foreign policy, Trump's preference for off-the-cuff utterances finds him committing astonishing gaffes with metronomic regularity. Spontaneity serves chiefly to expose his staggering ignorance.

      By comparison, the carefully scripted Clinton commits few missteps, as she recites with practiced ease the pabulum that passes for right thinking in establishment circles. But fluency does not necessarily connote soundness. Clinton, after all, adheres resolutely to the highly militarized "Washington playbook" that President Obama himself has disparaged -- a faith-based belief in American global primacy to be pursued regardless of how the world may be changing and heedless of costs. [ . . . ]

      So while a Trump presidency holds the prospect of the United States driving off a cliff, a Clinton presidency promises to be the equivalent of banging one's head against a brick wall without evident effect, wondering all the while why it hurts so much.

      Bacevich at least concedes that both candidates are representative of their parties, each having mastered what it takes to get nominated. And as such, he regards them less as flukes than as symptoms of some underlying shifts. He blames "the evil effects of money," and "the perverse impact of identity politics on policy." He doesn't unpack these points nearly well enough, so let me take a shot:

      • Money seems pretty obvious: he links to Lawrence Lessig's "brilliant and deeply disturbing TED talk. Of course, money has bought political influence in America for a long time -- Karl Rove's hero William McKinley would never have been elected president without the backing of wealthy patrons -- but Eisenhower was sought out by backers of both parties because he was already hugely popular, and because in the 1950s popular appeal was still worth more than money. That's changed over the years, utterly so in 2016. The Republican candidates were all selected by their billionaire backers -- Trump, of course, had an advantage there in being his own billionaire, which made him look a little less shady even though his own business history was plenty suspect. Clinton, on the other hand, cornered all the party's big money donors, so she would have ran unopposed had Sanders not come up with a novel way of financing a competitive campaign.

      • The matter of identity politics is somewhat subtler. In a sense it's always existed -- indeed, it seems to be the dominant factor in "third world" countries with weak democratic traditions, like Pakistan and post-Saddam Iraq. If you've read Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), you'll recall that most of his arguments about shifting political alignments were based on demographics. Early in the 20th century the Republican Party was preponderately northern and protestant, mostly white but most blacks who could voted Republican, while the Democratic Party represented a mix of northern Catholics and Jews along with southern whites. Economic factors occasionally appeared, but were often secondary: northern farmers shifted to the Democrats with Bryan, while labor more slowly shifted from R to D, especially with the New Deal. Phillips' scheme was for the Republicans to capture southern whites and northern Catholics -- Nixon started the former with his "southern strategy" and the latter came to be known as "Reagan Democrats." Still, I think Bacevich is getting at something more. Back in the 1950s America was, in self-concept if not quite reality, a homogeneous middle-class nation with a single mass market. Since then, America has become a good deal less homogeneous: immigration, which was suppressed in the 1920s, has greatly increased, as has inequality. But just as importantly, advertisers and media programmers have learned to target specific niche audiences, and politicos have followed their lead -- to the extent that even news and political opinion shows are now targeted to specific factions. In this atmosphere, identity has taken on increased significance.

        Still, political parties have to distinguish themselves somehow, and the main alternative to identity is class, something that became clearer when Franklin Roosevelt sided with the labor movement in the 1930s. Nixon and Reagan tried to counter this by pushing identity to the fore, which should have sharpened the class division of parties, but Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton went out of their way to screw over their labor supporters, and were able to get away with that as labor unions lost membership and clout, and as Republican hostility to non-whites, immigrants, gays, and anyone of a liberal disposition pushed those groups toward the Democrats. That the result appears to be "identity politics" mostly speaks to the fact that the sense of national unity that was forged during the New Deal and World War II has been fractured, most emphatically by economic inequality.

      Bacevich skips over here because he wants to move to say this:

      The essential point here is that, in the realm of national security, Hillary Clinton is utterly conventional. She subscribes to a worldview (and view of America's role in the world) that originated during the Cold War, reached its zenith in the 1990s when the United States proclaimed itself the planet's "sole superpower," and persists today remarkably unaffected by actual events. On the campaign trail, Clinton attests to her bona fides by routinely reaffirming her belief in American exceptionalism, paying fervent tribute to "the world's greatest military," swearing that she'll be "listening to our generals and admirals," and vowing to get tough on America's adversaries. These are, of course, the mandatory rituals of the contemporary Washington stump speech, amplified if anything by the perceived need for the first female candidate for president to emphasize her pugnacity.

      Bacevich then adds a third explanation: "the substitution of 'reality' for reality" -- the idea, facilitated by mass media and the PR industry, that well-managed perceptions count for more than what actually happens. Bacevich cites Daniel Boorstin's 1962 book The Image: A Guide to Pseydo-Events in America, written a mere decade after Americans started learning to see the world through the selective images beamed to their television screens. He could also have mentioned Joe McGinniss' The Selling of the President 1968 (1969), on Richard Nixon's PR campaign.

    • John Holbo: Is the Cato Institute a, Your Know, Libertarian Think-Tank? Article about libertarians bitching about the Libertarian Party ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. That's not a fight I care to get into, but I will say that, regardless of their stands on issues, Johnson and Weld were two of the more decent and respectable Republican governors of the last few decades. I have less sense of Johnson, but Weld did one commendable thing that I don't think any other politician of either party has done, which is to (admittedly only partially) free up a toll road. I'd like to see a national program established to convert toll roads and bridges to the (free) interstate highway system, and to outlaw the construction of new toll roads. As far as I know that's on no political agenda -- I'm not even sure libertarians would support it, but they should. But that aside, I linked to this piece to quote a comment from "derrida derider" which seems about right:

      When thinking of libertarians I always think of Lenin's aphorism about anarchists -- "fine people, but an ideology for children."

      Because the hook libertarianism always get stuck on is that we are social animals where every action we take affects someone else. So the JS Mill stuff that "you are free to do what you like so long as you don't hurt anyone else" in practice comes down to a choice of "you are free to do lots of stuff which will really hurt other people" or "you are free to anything I judge will not hurt me."

      The first is so obviously untenable that actually existing "libertarians" adopt the second -- that is, they are in fact conservatives engaged in JK Galbraith's conservative project throughout the ages -- to find a higher justification for selfishness. So it's no surprise to find that they are usually in the same political bed as conservatives.

      E.g., the Kochs may think they're for freedom in the abstract, but they're mostly for freedom for themselves, to make money at everyone else's expense. It was libertarians like the Kochs that led Mike Konczal to write We Already Tried Libertarianism -- It Was Called Feudalism.

    • David E Sanger/Maggie Haberman: 50 G.O.P. Officials Warn Donald Trump Would Put Nation's Security 'at Risk':

      Fifty of the nation's most senior Republican national security officials, many of them former top aides or cabinet members for President George W. Bush, have signed a letter declaring that Donald J. Trump "lacks the character, values and experience" to be president and "would put at risk our country's national security and well-being."

      Mr. Trump, the officials warn, "would be the most reckless president in American history."

      The letter says Mr. Trump would weaken the United States' moral authority and questions his knowledge of and belief in the Constitution. It says he has "demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding" of the nation's "vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values" on which American policy should be based. And it laments that "Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself."

      "None of us will vote for Donald Trump," the letter states, though it notes later that many Americans "have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us."

      You'd think this would be good news for Clinton, but what they're accusing Trump of not understanding is the unexamined foundation of every foreign policy disaster of recent decades. Trump half discerns this, but in the end he decides they're only doing this for spite and personal gain -- i.e., the reasons Trump himself would use:

      Late Monday, Mr. Trump struck back. The signatories of the letter, he said in a statement, were "the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place." He dismissed them as "nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power."

      Mr. Trump correctly identified many of the signatories as the architects of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. But he also blamed them for allowing Americans "to die in Benghazi" and for permitting "the rise of ISIS" -- referring to the 2012 attacks on the American mission in Libya and the spread of the Islamic State, both of which occurred during the Obama administration. At the time, most of Mr. Trump's Republican foreign policy critics were in think tanks, private consultancies or law firms, or signed on as advisers to the Republican hopefuls Mr. Trump beat in the primaries.

      If Trump was smarter he'd figure out a way to turn the tables and cast Hillary as the intemperate, dangerous warmonger and point to the hawks who are abandoning him and (in many cases) embracing her as further proof. It's not happening because he's fully absorbed the party line that all of America's problems abroad are because Obama is weak (or some kind of America-hating traitor), so he feels the need to continually reassert his own toughness, even though he's so shallow and erratic this comes across as recklessness. A good recent example is his refusal to concede that there are any conditions where he'd rule out the use of nuclear weapons.

      Meanwhile, many neocon hawks have moved past dissing Trump and on to supporting Clinton. In particular, see:

    • Some campaign-related links:

      • Sedgwick County Republican chairman: 'Hold your nose' and vote Trump: Catchy new slogan here in Wichita. Latest SurveyUSA poll shows Trump still leading in Kansas, 44-39%, close enough for 538 to give Clinton a 17.3% chance of winning Kansas. In related Wichita Eagle articles, Governor Sam Brownback reiterated his firm support for Trump (he does, after all, have a lot of experience holding his nose). Also Sen. Pat Roberts was named as a Trump adviser on agriculture (i.e., agribusiness, in whose pocket Roberts has spent much more time than he has in Kansas).

      • John Cassidy: Why Trump's Crazy Talk About Obama and ISIS Matters: More hectoring on "right-wing populist movements," charging that Trump is out to create a neo-fascist America First movement that will outlive his own scattershot candidacy. I agree with Steve M's critique, No, he's just parroting what he's heard from Fox and the GOP. But as I pointd out the other day, Trump not only hears Republican "dog whistles," he responds to them like a dog (apologies, of course, to anyone who thinks I just insulted their best friend).

      • Maureen Dowd: The Perfect GOP Nominee: Hillary Clinton, of course: "They already have a 1-percenter who will be totally fine in the Oval Office, someone they can trust to help Wall Street, boost the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cuddle with hedge funds, secure the trade deals beloved by corporate America, seek guidance from Henry Kissinger and hawk it up -- unleashing hell on Syria and heaven knows where else."

      • Lisa Lerer/Ken Thomas: What Have We Learned From Hillary Clinton's Tax Returns? She released them for 2015 last week, presumably to taunt Trump. Headline figure was that Bill and her reaped $10.6 million, which seems like quite a bit for run a foundation and get most of their money (some $6 million) from speaking fees. They've also released earlier tax returns, showing that they've made $139 million from 2007-2014 -- I suspect that's more than any other ex-president has owned, a remarkable reward (not that Clinton, as president, didn't make other people even more money). These figures put them in the lower rungs of the 1%, so one may wonder where their allegiances actually lie.

      • Ryan Lizza: What We Learned About Trump's Supporters This Week: The main thing is that Jonathan Rothwell, a researcher at Gallup, did a deep dive into their polling database to see whether Trump's base of support comes from economic distress caused by trade deals and immigration, and finds that it doesn't. He finds that Trump's supporters "are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and perhaps the contradiction there leads to economic anxiety. They're also socially isolated: it's easier to hold stereotyped views of immigrants if you don't know any. No real news here for anyone who's been paying attention.

      • Mark Joseph Stern: "Second Amendment People" Solutions: Argues "Trump's Clinton 'joke' was no coincidence. The GOP espouses a right to bear arms whose logical conclusion is political assassination."

      • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: The Real Scandal of Hillary Clinton's E-Mails: Well, to save you some scanning, it's that there is none, other than the cozy access donors have to politicians for decades now.

    Finally, a few links for further study (ran out of time to comment):

       Mar 2001