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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Bully Pulpit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old records rated this week:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Krauthammer also has a peculiar argument about 2003:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old records rated this week:

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

Grade changes:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Flaming Horseshit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (May 2015)

Pick up text from here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old records rated this week:

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

Grade changes:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Weekend Roundup

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

This week's scattered links:

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

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

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

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

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

    Some other relevant links:

  • Paul Krugman: Race, Class and Neglect:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Also see Jeff Madrick: The Cost of Child Poverty.

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

Also, a few links for further study:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hope they play some Ellington too.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 04, 2015

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old records rated this week:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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


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

Miscellaneous notes:

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Today in Kansas

Some items I pulled out of the Wichita Eagle today -- working off the hard copy, so I'll leave it to you to find online versions at their website. The common theme is corruption and/or stupidity in high places, which in these parts means Republicans. There's always some of this evident, but today's load is particularly pungent:

  • Uber hires former Brownback campaign manager: Front page article. Back story is that the KS legislature passed a bill this session to insist on more restrictive (i.e., expensive) standards of insurance for anyone who participates in Uber's ride sharing business than the standards that Uber has been pushing state legislatures to adopt. Uber declared that they would boycott Kansas if the bill became law. Governor Sam Brownback vetoed the bill -- I think that's the only bill he's vetoed this term, although there have been dozens that should have been blocked. Uber then announced they would expand their business in Kansas. Now we see who got the check.

  • Earthquake shakes Kansas, Oklahoma: Only measured 4.1, with center 9 miles northeast of Guthrie, OK, a little more than 60 miles south of the KS state line, a little more than 20 miles west of the major pipeline center of Cushing. Cause is almost certainly wastewater injection into oil wells, which is necessary because oil wells in the region are so depleted they pump out more water than oil. Since the practice started, the number of earthquakes ranging from 4.0 up to about 5.8 has increased from zero to a couple hundred per year.

  • Former U.S. Rep. Tiahrt takes job with D.C. lobbying firm: Tiahrt was a Boeing employee before he ran for Congress in 1994, and during his sixteen years in the House he was for all practial purposes a full-time Boeing lobbyist -- so identified with the company that G.W. Bush nicknamed him "Tanker Todd." He left to run for the Senate, losing the Republican primary to Jerry Moran, then tried to regain his old House seat, only to loose again (this time to the Kochs' guy). Meanwhile he's run his own consulting firm, notably advising Boeing on abandoning sixty years in Wichita for even more anti-labor states (first to go was his beloved tanker program). We always figured he'd wind up with a posh DC lobbying firm, and now it's happened.

  • Brownback to re-enact signing of abortion bill: The bill in question is "the nation's first ban on an abortion procedure that is used in the second trimester of pregnancy." Brownback signed the bill when it was passed, but he's so excited it he's going to travel to four corners of the state and re-enact his signing. Three of the locations are Catholic high schools (Pittsburg, Wichita, and Hays). The fourth is a Catholic church in Lenexa (near Kansas City). Catholics are a small minority in Kansas. Brownback converted to Catholicism as he became ever more bizarrely obsessed with anti-abortion ideology.

  • George W. Bush to visit Garden City on Tuesday: "to attend a private luncheon, according to several local officials." Garden City is about 200 miles west of Wichita. It is home to a number of feed lots and the main meatpacking center in west Kansas. The last time I drove through, I noted that there were no clouds in the sky, but there was a layer of white fog 4-8 feet above the ground, mostly the result of trucks that drive around town spraying perfume to counter the stench of cattle manure. The majority of the working population there is of Mexican descent, but it's unlikely that they will be lunching with Bush. More likely the local plant and yard owners, who are most likely to recall fondly Bush's "guest worker" program.

  • Brownback vs. the Topeka board of education? Well, it's Brownback (and the Republical state legislature) against every local school board, but this quotes the superintendant in Topeka.

  • Man to plead guilty in Jewish site shootings: The man is white supremacist Glenn Miller, who shot and killed three people at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement home in Overland Park. Miller, 74, is ill and unlikely to live much longer anyway. Reportedly, he's willing to plead guilty so he can make a racist speech in court: one final gesture to inspire the white race.

Seems like there was another story about the county commissioners and a real estate boondoggle -- maybe in the part of the paper we've already recycled.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24889 [24855] rated (+34), 404 [408] unrated (-4).

Another very frustrating week, leaving me very little to say here. The two A- compilations are marginal, but scratched particular itches. The Cleveland comp should be even better with the missing Pere Ubu and Rocket From the Tombs cuts restored (the latter was "Life Stinks," which later appeared on Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance -- a good candidate for my all-time top ten). Soul Jazz generally has excellent booklets, but I haven't seen this one. The three previous Next Stop Soweto comps got various shades of B+. They nibble around the edges of South African pop, but what made the difference here wasn't better songs so much as a trashier, more amusing (and more upbeat) vibe.

Lots of Christgauvians will go for the Low Cut Connie (see Jason Gubbels) but I fear that no one I know will like the Mowgli's. First thing I read about them talked about Beach Boys-Byrds L.A. pop, but they're closer in spirit and feel to the Fifth Dimension -- stuff that I thought was hopelessly square back in the day, but gives me hope today. Best jazz record this week is probably Kirk Knuffke (again, see Gubbels; also for the Mavis Staples EP, which has a couple of the week's best songs). Or maybe Ben Goldberg -- in both cases I'm working off Rhapsody, while letting my own queue of promo CDs age a bit.

I ordered a copy of Michaelangelo Matos' new book, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, expected to arrive on its release date, tomorrow. I don't have much time to read about music these days, but this is one combination of author and subject I couldn't miss.

New records rated this week:

  • Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (2015, ATO): [r]: B+(*)
  • Juan Pablo Balcazar: Reversible (2013 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pat Bianchi Trio: A Higher Standard (2015, 21-H): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers: Loved Wild Lost (2015, Little Sur): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Dees: The Dream I Dreamed (2014 [2015], Jazzed Media): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Hugo Fernandez: Cosmogram (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ben Goldberg: Orphic Machine (2015, BAG): [r]: B+(***)
  • José James: Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday (2015, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands (2015, Royal Potato Family): [r]: B+(***)
  • Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey (2015, Ardent Music/Contender): [r]: A-
  • Harold Mabern: Afro Blue (2015, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B
  • Donny McCaslin: Fast Future (2014 [2015], Greenleaf Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marcus Miller: Afrodeezia (2015, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (2015, Republic): [r]: A-
  • Peach Kelli Pop: Peach Kelli Pop III (2015, Burger, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pascal Niggenkemper: Look With Thine Ears: Solo (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Gloria Reuben: Perchance to Dream (2014 [2015], MCG Jazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Eve Risser: Des Pas Sur La Neige (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B
  • Mavis Staples: Your Good Fortune (2015, Anti, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sult: Svimmelhed (2014, Humbler/Conrad Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Boubacar Traoré: Mbalimaou (2014 [2015], Lusafrica): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Weltlinger: Koblenz (2012-13 [2015], Rectify): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ben Williams: Coming of Age (2014 [2015], Concord Jazz): [r]: B-
  • Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (2015, Big Dada): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (1975-85 [2015], Strut): [r]: A-
  • Punk 45: Burn Rubber City, Burn! Akron, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid West 1975-80 (1975-80 [2015], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Punk 45: Extermination Nights in the Sixth City: Cleveland, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid-West 1975-82 (1975-82 [2015], Soul Jazz): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Ben Goldberg: Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin (1996 [1998], Victo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Paul Motian: The Story of Maryam (1983 [1984], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Paul Motian Quintet: Jack of Clubs (1984 [1985], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Randy Brecker/Bobby Shew/Jan Hasenöhrl: Trumpet Summit Prague (Summit): May 12
  • Cuir: Chez Ackenbush (Fou)
  • Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway: Table of Changes (Intakt)
  • Dave Douglas: High Risk (Greenleaf Music): June 23
  • Claire Ritter: Soho Solo (Zoning): May 26
  • Harvie S/Sheryl Bailey: Plucky Strum (Whaling City Sound)
  • Katharina Weber/Fred Frith/Fredy Studer: It Rolls (Intakt)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Geology trumped the news twice this week: first with a volcanic eruption in Chile, then a massive earthquake in Nepal. Worth noting that bad things can still happen that can't be attributed to bad policies of the political right. Also in the news: anniversaries keep happening, including this week the 100th anniversary of one of Winston Churchill's most immediately obvious blunders, the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. Churchill got his first taste of battle at Omduran in the Sudan and found it totally exhilarating. Had he been present at Gallipoli he would have gotten a taste of what the Sudanese experienced. Also 100 years ago, the Ottomans started their genocide against the Armenians, ultimately killing up to 1.5 million of them. Turkey has refused to acknowledge what Taner Akcam termed A Shameful Act, which has the accidental benefit of letting Britain and Russia -- who tried to cultivate the Christian Armenians as a "fifth column" against the Ottomans -- off the hook.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Brendan James: Michele Bachmann: Thanks Obama for Bringing On the Apocalypse: As Bachmann explains:

    "Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon," she said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"

    Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving mankind into "the midnight hour."

    "We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said, urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."

    "Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."

    "These are wonderful times," she concluded.

    Now, I come from a long line of "Revelations scholars" -- I can still recall (and I was less than ten at the time) my grandfather asking me whether I thought Israel's founding was a sign that the rapture was near. My father, too, spent a lifetime studying "Revelations" -- mostly, as best I could figure out, to prove that his father had understood it all wrong. (My own theory was that the "book" was tacked onto the end just to discredit the whole Bible, as if the other "books" weren't proof enough of some sick hoax.) So I do have a little trouble treating the people who believe in the rapture as batshit crazy, but there is at least one difference between Bachmann and my forefathers: the latter didn't go around acting like it's going to happen any day now.

  • Paul Krugman: The Fiscal Future I: The Hyperbolic Case for Bigger Government: Turns out Clinton threw the baby out with the bath water when he declared that "the age of big government is over." Back in the 1990s some conservatives were arguing that the ideal size of government relative to GDP was set during the Coolidge administration and we should lock that into law. Others preferred to idealize the McKinley administration, and Grover Norquist just wanted to shrink the whole thing so small he could drown it in the bathtub. It's taken a while for someone like Brad DeLong to come along and argue that the opposite is the case: that government should grow even larger.

    So, how big should the government be? The answer, broadly speaking, is surely that government should do those things it does better than the private sector. But what are these things?

    The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public goods -- goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the private sector won't provide them. National defense, weather satellites, disease control, etc. And in the 19th century that was arguably what governments mainly did.

    Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more -- education, retirement, health care. You can make the case that there are some aspects of education that are a public good, but that's not really why we rely on the government to provide most education, and not at all why the government is so involved in retirement and health. Instead, experience shows that these are all areas where the government does a (much) better job than the private sector. And Brad argues that the changing structure of the economy will mean that we want more of these goods, hence bigger government.

    He also suggests -- or at least that's how I read him -- the common thread among these activities that makes the government a better provider than the market; namely, they all involve individuals making very-long-term decisions. Your decision to stay in school or go out and work will shape your lifetime career; your ability to afford medical treatment or food and rent at age 75 has a lot to do with decisions you made when that stage of life was decades ahead, and impossible to imagine.

    Now, the fact is that people make decisions like these badly. Bad choices in education are the norm where choice is free; voluntary, self-invested retirement savings are a disaster. Human beings just don't handle the very long run well -- call it hyperbolic discounting, call it bounded rationality, whatever, our brains are designed to cope with the ancestral savannah and not late-stage capitalist finance.

    When you say things like this, libertarians tend to retort that if people mess up on such decisions, it's their own fault. But the usual argument for free markets is that they lead to good results -- not that they would lead to good results if people were more virtuous than they are, so we should rely on them despite the bad results they yield in practice. And the truth is that paternalism in these areas has led to pretty good results -- mandatory K-12 education, Social Security, and Medicare make our lives more productive as well as more secure.

    I'm not wild about calling this stuff "paternalism" -- one of the things that has made government spending objectionable is how often it is subject to political propriety. (For instance, art is generally a public good, especially when it can be reproduced at zero marginal cost. It would be a good public investment to pay lots of artists to produce lots of art, but not such a good idea if every piece had to be approved by a local board of prudes.)

    I think there's also a macroeconomic argument. For a variety of reasons, it strikes me that the private sector economy has become increasingly incapable of sustaining full employment, and as such needs permanent, possibly increasing, stimulus. (It could be that the deficit is the result of increasing inequality, which depresses demand while producing a savings glut. And/or it could be due to technology which keeps reducing the number of work hours needed to produce a constant amount of goods and services. Most likely both.)

    Krugman followed up with The Fiscal Future II: Not Enough Debt?. This is more technical, so I won't bother quoting it here. The upshot is that you can grow government without having to pay for all of it through increased taxes.

  • Caitlin MacNeal: White House: Two Hostages Killed in US Counterterrorism Attack: Quotes the White House statement disclosing that the CIA had killed two Al-Qaida hostages with a drone strike "in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan" (evidently doesn't matter which side of the border was struck). Also that two US citizens involved with Al-Qaida were killed (but not targeted) in drone strikes "in the same region." Of the hostages, "No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy." Of the other two, well, stuff happens. The statement goes on: "The President . . . takes full responsibility for these operations." The statement doesn't explain how Obama intends to "take responsibility": Will he turn himself over to the ICC or local authorities to be tried? Will he change US policy to prevent any repeat of these tragedies? Or is he just enjoying one of those "the buck stops here" moments? What should be clear is that the CIA has no fucking idea who they're killing and maiming with their Hellfire missiles. Lacking such "intelligence" all they're doing is embarrassing themselves (and Obama and the nation) and aggravating and escalating animosities. Indeed, by going into their back yards to kill anonymous people with no hint of due process they're conceding the moral high ground as surely as Al-Qaida did on Sept. 11, 2001 when they launched attacks on American soil.

    For more on the drone strikes, see Spencer Ackerman: Inside Obama's drone panopticon: a secret machine with no accountability:

    Thanks to Obama's rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as "signature strikes" are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its "targeted killing" program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.

    The "signatures" at issue are indicators that intelligence analysts associate with terrorist behavior -- in practice, a gathering of men, teenaged to middle-aged, traveling in convoys or carrying weapons. In 2012, an unnamed senior official memorably quipped that the CIA considers "three guys doing jumping jacks" a signature of terrorist training.

    Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental. They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business -- only the real cost is shielded from the public.

    An apparatus of official secrecy, built over decades and zealously enforced by Obama, prevents meaningful open scrutiny of the strikes. No one outside the administration knows how many drone strikes are signature strikes. There is no requirement that the CIA or JSOC account for their strikes, nor to provide an estimate of how many people they kill, nor even how they define legally critical terms like "combatant," terrorist "affiliate" or "leader." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing an obstinate administration to compel disclosure of some of the most basic information there is about a program that has killed thousands of people. [ . . . ]

    Schiff's reaction condensed the root argument of the administration's drone advocates: it's this or nothing. The Obama administration considers the real alternatives to drone strikes to be the unpalatable options of grueling ground wars or passive acceptance of terrorism. Then it congratulates itself for picking the wise, ethical and responsible choice of killing people without knowing who they are. [ . . . ]

    No Obama official involved in drone strikes has ever been disciplined: not only are Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper entrenched in their jobs, David Barron, one of the lawyers who told Obama he could kill a US citizen without trial as a first resort, now has a federal judgeship.

    Beyond the question of when the US ought to launch drone strikes lie deeper geostrategic concerns. Obama's overwhelming focus on counter-terrorism, inherited and embraced from his predecessor, subordinated all other considerations for the drone battlefield of Yemen, which he described as a model for future efforts.

    The result is the total collapse of the US Yemeni proxy, a regional war Obama appears powerless to influence, the abandonment of US citizens trapped in Yemen and the likely expansion of al-Qaida's local affiliate. A generation of Yemeni civilians, meanwhile, is growing up afraid of the machines loitering overhead that might kill them without notice.

  • Sinéad O'Shea: Mediterranean migrant crisis: Why is no one talking about Eritrea?:

    Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean. Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this week were from the former Italian colony.

    So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters without Borders has called it the world's most dangerous country for journalists.

    Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance, creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone.

    Dissent is forbidden. It is thought there are more than 800 prisons dispersed across the country. Some take the form of shipping containers in the desert. Torture is widespread. [ . . . ]

    Eritreans are thus faced with a terrible choice. They must either live in misery or risk death by leaving. I met a number of people who were preparing to go. Despite a shoot-to-kill policy on the border, thousands still leave each month.

    Of course, one reason some of us don't talk much about bad countries is that we don't want the US to attack, invade, and "fix" them.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Christian Appy: From the Fall of Saigon to Our Fallen Empire: Appy has a new book out, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, which I've just started reading. This piece is written for the 40th anniversary of the "fall of Saigon" (or the end of Vietnam's American War). Subtitle: "How to Turn a Nightmare into a Fairy Tale."

    Oddly enough, however, we've since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the "fall," while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.

    The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war. We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression.

    The worst thing about the Vietnam War wasn't losing it, nor even not learning anything from the experience. It was the lies we told ourselves to keep from facing what actually happened, including how much responsibility the US bore for making the whole debacle far more horrendous than it was bound to be. We wouldn't, for instance, have wound up with any less of a loss had we allowed democratic elections in 1956, as agreed to in Geneva in 1954. Instead, we escalated again and again, unleashing new horrors for no practical gain. I've always thought the worst of those escalations was Nixon's "incursion" in Cambodia, which soon destabilized the neutral Prince Sihanouk and delivered the country to "the killing fields" of Pol Pot. Millions died because Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon couldn't face losing the war, and while they clearly cared nothing at all about the Vietnamese, the damage they did to their own country may have seemed relatively trivial -- 58,000 Americans dead, many billions of dollars wasted -- it went far deeper and lasted much longer. The war was founded on lies, even well before the fake "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," and in the end that lying became a way of life. Nixon himself must have set some record for mendacity, but it was Ronald Reagan who recast American politics on a basis of sheer narcissistic fantasy, and no American politician has ever looked at reality squarely again. The Vietnam War was the worst thing that ever happened to America, not because we lost it but because we were wrong in the first place and never learned better. That in turn led to the recapitulation in Iraq and Afghanistan: the main differences there were that the latter wars had less effect on everyday life so they generated less anti-war movement, while the undrafted army proved somewhat more resilient, allowing the propagandists more leeway to cover up the debacle. Appy himself concludes:

    The time may come, if it hasn't already, when many of us will forget, Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended to use against us; that he had a "sinister nexus" with the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay for itself; that it would be over in "weeks rather than months"; that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself, and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to pre-war levels of stability and security?

    The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I'm sure we'll think of something.

  • Ben Branstetter: 7 whistle-blowers facing more jail time than David Petraeus: OK, that's a low bar, given that Petraeus avoided all jail time, punished with two years of probation after pleading guilty to passing classified secrets to his mistress-hagiographer Paula Broadwell. But then his intent was never to help Americans understand that their government is doing in secret. It was just self-promotion, business-as-usual for the ambitious general. On the other hand, Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison -- nearly twice as long as Albert Speer was sentenced for running Nazi Germany's armaments industry.

  • Chris Wright: Always Historicize!: Chews on the old Leninist bone of what-is-to-be-done, the perennial of those who think of themselves as activists, as opposed to us normal folk who only occasionally get swept up in the tides of history. Wright starts with the pitiful state of the Left, concluding that to be unsurprising given that the Left is, by nature of its constituency, always starved of resources, and "one needs resources to get things done." Yet this does nothing to explain the few cases when everything suddenly lurches toward the Left. That happens not when the balance of resources shifts from Right to Left, but when the Establishment collapses in chaos, opening up opportunity for the Left to save the day, provided some combination of ideas and organization. Wright sort of understands this. He is skeptical of the notion that "radical social change is a matter mainly of will and competence . . . pushing back against reactionary institutions so as, hopefully, to reverse systemic trends." He argues, instead, that "the proper way for radicals to conceive of their activism, on a broad scale, is in terms of the speeding up of current historical trends, not their interruption or reversal."

    I suppose that all depends on what trends you're talking about, but the notion that historical trends are for the better hasn't been born out by history: I can think of a few that turned rotten after initial promise, and others that were rotten from the start. The trend Wright identifies is "the protracted collapse of corporate capitalism and the nation-state system itself." I'm not so sure of that myself -- not that I don't see some problems there, but they mostly come from overreach, something not all that far removed from panic. (The Right's massive attempt to corner the political system, which has much to do with the resource imbalance cited above, seems more rooted in fear than in greed, not that its sponsors can ever free themselves of the latter. Sometimes it looks like the Right is winning, but their successes rarely go beyond the most corruptible of institutions, and when they do seize power they often crash and burn.)

    I keep coming back to ideas and organization. While there are a lot of the former floating around, it's proven remarkably difficult to get them into common circulation -- the point, I would say, of Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, showing how a prison of constantly reiterated neoliberal ideology kept politicians from even considering alternatives after an economic collapse caused by precisely that thinking. That suggests to me that ideas have to be channelled through organization -- a role that unions filled during the industrial revolution but are unlikely to recover and repeat in the future. Figure that out and the Left won't look so lame. Don't and we run the risk that no one will be able to pick up the pieces after the Right fucks everything up.

Daily Log

I wrote the following in a letter to Christgau (who sent me the Wright link above) tonight:

I wrote something about this link in my post last night, although I'm not sure I followed it, nor that I agree with much of what I got. Marxists have always thought they had an inside track on understanding history, mostly because they look at larger-scale forces rather than chalking everything up to individuals, but they have a bad habit of falling into materialist determinism and the imposition of dialectics can cause all sorts of weird blips. I still believe most of what I learned there, but gravitate more toward Keynes -- in particular on the primacy of ideas, not that some Marxists haven't written insightfully on ideology.

One of my few relatively original insights is my belief that the New Left was wildly successful at everything except securing a power base: the core tenets of civil rights, anti-war, women's liberation, and ecological awareness have all become common culture for most Americans -- not that there hasn't been a concerted effort at undoing those gains, but the right-wing counterrevolution seems bigger (and scarier) than it is because it's so pointed at the levers of power. Old leftists like Tony Judt carp about the New Left being too individualist and it's true that's part of the makeup, part of the deep distrust of power -- all organizations were suspect, with the Democratic Party and the union aristocracy high on the list. Similarly, the 1950s sense of affluence tended to blunt sensitivity to economic issues -- not that poverty went unnoticed, but it was usually someone else's problem. Even now I don't think economic issues have much traction among people left-of-center culturally. Certainly more than in the 1960s, but still not a driving force. And I don't see any way that unions are going to make much of a comeback, so that leaves the political left-of-center with a huge organizational hole.

If the New Left won, that suggests that the counterrevolution is mostly panic and deceit. Indeed, it's easy to find examples to back that up, with the Obama period regularly achieving new levels of dementedness. One result of this is that people who are aware of the threat are increasingly satisfied with playing defense. I don't mind that myself, but personally I'd rather focus on articulating ideas that may be more useful under a much more favorable political mix, no matter how unlikely that seems.

I'm familiar with Alperovitz's work, especially on worker-owned enterprises, which I regard as a better solution than unions. This was the first reference I've seen to "solidarity economy," but the ideas are similar to the post-capitalist stuff I originally tried writing up nearly twenty years ago. But those are fairly blue sky ideas. I'm not as pessimistic as he is about the welfare state. It may have to advance in somewhat different forms, but what does exist should remain pretty defensible.

On health, I haven't had any acute problems, but my chronic allergies have been very bad, and I had a couple of minor reflux incidents last week that woke me up and kept me up with very little sleep, and I was very run down for several days after that. Nothing as debilitating as a bad case of bronchitis, but also nothing that's likely to run its course and get better.

A- records last week: Low Cut Connie, the Mowgli's, Next Stop Soweto 4, Punk 45 Cleveland. Last two are very marginal (and Rhapsody cheated me out of three Pere Ubu cuts), and I imagine a lot of people will hate the Mowgli's.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Downbeat Critics Poll 2015

Earlier this week I filled out my ballot for Downbeat's 2015 Critics Poll. I took my usual copious notes, but I'll just give you the highlights here -- follow the link for more details. The poll is very time-consuming: I've never finished it in a single day (took two this time, at least ten hours). The big problem is that they ask about fifty questions: mostly to identify the best (or most important or something like that) musicians by instrument (or some other category like composer or arranger), and for each question they have a second ballot slot for "rising star." They used to call the latter TDWR, an acronym for "talent deserving wider recognition," which makes much more sense to me. Even if I wanted to, I'm not sure what sense it would make to try to rank musicians. So all I can try to do is to mention a few people I think we should be aware of.

Sometimes those people are obvious -- until their deaths, Steve Lacy on soprano sax and Billy Bang on violin were automatic choices. Often they aren't, in some cases because there's so much competition -- piano, bass, and drums are the top tier; trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, and increasingly guitar the second -- and sometimes because there is so little (flute, baritone sax -- a special case here is an instrument mostly played by non-specialists, like soprano sax, electric bass, and electric keyboards). Still, in all cases, the picks I made were spur of the moment, subject to the limited information I could think of and whatever whims occurred to me. More often than not, I limited my picks to names listed on the ballot form. This was especially so in nebulous categories like "Jazz Artist" or things I don't keep good mental tabs on (like "Arranger," "Composer," and "Producer").

I have fewer qualms about ranking albums. It's all too true that it is often impossible to weigh the relative merits -- even on such a subjective basis as personal pleasure -- of any pair of albums. The only consistent criteria I can think of would be the order in which I'd buy albums. Of course, that is the most subjective scale of all, which makes it pretty arbitrary when anyone else looks at it. Such rank lists should be easy for me give that I've already spent much effort at constructing them -- e.g., see my 2014 EOY Jazz List. (I haven't assembled a 2015 Jazz List yet, but the list-in-progress can be sorted out from my 2015 List.) One complication is that Downbeat insists on skewing the eligibility list to run from April 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015 release dates instead of using the previous (2014) calendar year. I don't generally keep track of release dates below year granularity, so it would be a huge effort at this point to research 2014 release dates. (Actually, I can't even trust 2015 release dates: I already have several April releases in my 2015 file. So I can save myself some work by limiting my vote to Downbeat's ballot. The problem here is that Downbeat only lists 10-12 albums I consider A-list, out of 60-70 albums I grade that high. Writing in a name sometimes encourages Downbeat to include that name on future ballots, but writing in an album won't have any future effect. So I tried to apply my rank list (interpolating early 2015 releases in place of early 2014 releases) to their ballot, with the result that I voted for my number 1 and 24 2014 albums plus one 2015 album that will probably wind up close to number 20. I took the same approach to Historical Album, Blues Album, and Beyond Album (surprised that Wussy got nominated in the latter). The notes file provides the full breakdowns for the album votes. One reason I make a point of jotting down all of the records I haven't heard is that they give me a reference for future listening (although, frankly, they put a lot of albums on these lists I know better than to bother with).

Each category allowed me to split 10 points among three candidates. I followed their earlier convention of spliting those points 5-3-2 for the two three picks. Write-ins are italicized below. So, without further ado, my votes:

  • Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz (5), George Russell (3), Don Byas (2).
  • Jazz Artist: Anthony Braxton (5), William Parker (3), Ken Vandermark (2).
  • Rising Star -- Jazz Artist: Steve Lehman (5), Mary Halvorson (3), Craig Taborn (2).
  • Jazz Album of the Year (April 1, 2014-March 31, 2015): Steve Lehman Octet, Mis En Abime (Pi) (5); Charles McPherson, The Journey (Capri -15) (3); Bobby Avey, Authority Melts From Me (Whirlwind) (2).
  • Historical Album (April 1, 2014-March 31, 2015): Sun Ra, In the Orbit of Ra (Strut) (5); Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories (Resonance) (3); Charlie Haden/Jim Hall, Charlie Haden -- Jim Hall (Impulse!) (2).
  • Jazz Group: Microscopic Septet (5), Mostly Other People Do the Killing (3), Rova (2).
  • Rising Star Jazz Group: Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (5), Mostly Other People Do the Killing (3), Digital Primitives (2).
  • Big Band: Steven Bernstein Millennial Territory Orchestra (5), ICP Orchestra (3), Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble (2).
  • Rising Star Big Band: Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble (5), Ghost Train Orchestra (3), Howard Wiley and the Angola Project (2).
  • Trumpet: Dave Douglas (5), Wadada Leo Smith (3), Steven Bernstein (2).
  • Rising Star Trumpet: Peter Evans (5), Taylor Ho Bynum (3), Darren Johnston (2).
  • Trombone: Roswell Rudd (5), Steve Swell (3), Joe Fiedler (2).
  • Rising Star Trombone: Joe Fiedler (5), Samuel Blaser (3), Jacob Garchik (2).
  • Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome (5), Bob Wilber (3), Vinny Golia (2).
  • Rising Star Soprano Saxophone: Mike Ellis (5), Jason Robinson (3), Jasmine Lovell-Smith (2).
  • Alto Saxophone: Oliver Lake (5), François Carrier (3), Anthony Braxton (2).
  • Rising Star Alto Saxophone: Steve Lehman (5), Dave Rempis (3), Mike DiRubbo (2).
  • Tenor Saxophone: David Murray (5), Ivo Perelman (3), Ken Vandermark (2).
  • Rising Star Tenor Saxophone: Ellery Eskelin (5), Assif Tsahar (3), Rodrigo Amado (2)
  • Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson (5), Scott Robinson (3), Gebhard Ullmann (2).
  • Rising Star Baritone Saxophone: Gebhard Ullmann (5), Brian Landrus (3), Josh Sinton (2).
  • Clarinet: Ben Goldberg (5), Marty Ehrlich (3), Michael Moore (2).
  • Rising Star Clarinet: Avram Fefer (5), Rudi Mahall (3), Gebhard Ullmann (2).
  • Flute: Juhani Aaltonen (5), Henry Threadgill (3), Lew Tabackin (2).
  • Rising Star Flute: Kali Z. Fasteau (5), Idan Santhaus (3).
  • Piano: Irène Schweizer (5), Myra Melford (3), Marilyn Crispell (2).
  • Rising Star Piano: Kris Davis (5), Nik Bärtsch (3), Russ Lossing (2).
  • Electronic Keyboard: Matthew Shipp (5), Uri Caine (3), Craig Taborn (2).
  • Rising Star Electronic Keyboard: Nik Bärtsch (5), George Colligan (3), Rob Mazurek (2).
  • Organ: Gary Versace (5), John Medeski (3), Brian Charette (2).
  • Rising Star Organ: Alexander Hawkins (5), Vince Seneri (3), Wayne Peet (2).
  • Violin: Jason Kao Hwang (5), Jenny Scheinman (3), Carlos Zingaro (2).
  • Rising Star Violin: Szilard Mezei (5), Jesse Zubot (3), Aaron Weinstein (2).
  • Guitar: Marc Ribot (5), Bill Frisell (3), Marty Grosz (2).
  • Rising Star Guitar: Raoul Björkenheim (5), Samo Salamon (3), Anders Nilsson (2),
  • Bass: William Parker (5), Reggie Workman (3), Peter Washington (2).
  • Rising Star Bass: Adam Lane (5), Ken Filiano (3), Moppa Elliott (2).
  • Electric Bass: Steve Swallow (5), Bob Cranshaw (3), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (2).
  • Rising Star Electric Bass: Chris Morrissey (5), Stomu Takeishi (3), Nate McBride (2).
  • Drums: Andrew Cyrille (5), Gerry Hemingway (3), Lewis Nash (2).
  • Rising Star Drums: Tom Rainey (5), Tyshawn Sorey (3), Paal Nilssen-Love (2).
  • Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz (5), Kenny Wolleson (3), Warren Smith (2).
  • Rising Star Vibes: Mulatu Astatke (5), Kevin Norton (3), Bryan Carrott (2).
  • Percussion: Han Bennink (5), Adam Rudolph (3), Kahil El'Zabar (2).
  • Rising Star Percussion: Kevin Diehl (5), Lukas Ligeti (3), Ravish Momin (2).
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Bob Stewart (tuba) (5), Richard Galliano (accordion) (3), Rabih Abou Khalil (oud) (2).
  • Rising Star Miscellaneous Instrument: Colin Stetson (bass sax) (5), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) (3), Cooper-Moore (diddley-bow) (2).
  • Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole (5), James Blood Ulmer (3), Mose Allison (2).
  • Rising Star Male Vocalist: Jamie Davis (5), Mark Winkler (3), Ku-umba Frank Lacy (2).
  • Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan (5), Barbara Morrison (3), Marlene VerPlanck (2).
  • Rising Star Female Vocalist: Fay Victor (5), Catherine Russell (3), Lisa Sokolov (2).
  • Composer: Carla Bley (5), Wayne Shorter (3), John Zorn (2).
  • Rising Star Composer: Steve Lehman (5), Adam Lane (3), Anthony Branker (2).
  • Arranger: Steven Bernstein (5), Misha Mengelberg (3), Carla Bley (2).
  • Rising Star Arranger: David Weiss (5), Michael Bates (3), Marcus Shelby (2).
  • Record Label: Clean Feed (5), Intakt (3), No Business (2).
  • Producer: Joe Fields (5), John Zorn (3), Don Was (2).
  • Rising Star Producer: John Corbett (5), Taylor Ho Bynum (3), Leo Feigin (2).
  • Blues Artist or Group: Maria Muldaur (5), James Blood Ulmer (3), Duke Robillard (2).
  • Blues Album (April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015): Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin, Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc) (5); Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Big Legal Mess) (3); John Hiatt, Terms of My Surrender (New West) (2).
  • Beyond Artist of Group: The Roots (5), Merle Haggard (3), Aretha Franklin (2).
  • Beyond Album (April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015): Wussy, Attica! (Shake It) (5); Jason Derulo, Talk Dirty (Beluga Heights/Warner Bros.) (3); D'Angelo, Black Messiah (RCA) (2). This is limited to their ballot. For a more expansive list (just 2014) look here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24855 [24826] rated (+29), 408 [398] unrated (+10).

Third straight week at 29, so I guess that's the new 30. Wouldn't have hit that but for a lark decision to check out the early Charles Lloyd records on Rhapsody after the new one underwhelmed me. They, at least, were relatively short, but ultimately merged into a solid, indistinguishable mass -- aside from Keith Jarrett's outstanding rhythm work. Very little of Lloyd's post-1970 work is on Rhapsody, so it's hard to say anything definitive about his now obscure 1970s and 1980s records. In 1989 he joined ECM and patiently rebuilt his career, hitting a peak when he started working with another amazing pianist, Jason Moran. Make what you will that the new one marks his move from ECM to Blue Note, and that Moran is out, replaced by a pianist whose name I've already forgotten. On the other hand, Blue Note's pairing of Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas works as expected.

I spent a good deal of time this past week sorting through old shelves of jazz CDs. Currently the work area is still quite some mess, but I expect to make some progress this week. I had planned on keeping all of the Jazz CG-era B+(***) and A-list albums in a set of six modular shelf units, but it now looks like the number needed is eight. I have the extra two nearby, but their contents need to be moved elsewhere, and I'm cleaning out that elsewhere. The next space likely to be exhausted is the basement hell where the most unwanted items go to linger. Those I need to start to cull -- although the general high quality of jazz these days has led me to consign more than a few good records by obscure artists or interesting failures by better known musicians there. Could be a neverending struggle. For some reason the incoming mail picked up this week.

Not so many A-list records this week, although eight high-B+ records came close. Milo Miles put Ayelet Rose Gottlieb at the top of his 1st Quarter 2015: Jazz list and, if memory recalls, had previously touted Tal National. Michael Tatum is a big fan of the Skrillex/Diplo record. My own favorites among the three-stars are Sergi Sirvent's Unexpected piano trio and Oleg Frish's kitschy standards duets, although Hu Vibrational got the most spins (five, I think).

Incoming mail included unsolicited copies of all three albums by Damien Wilkins' New Zealand group, The Close Readers. Christgau reviewed their latest and I concurred in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I was tempted to check out the earlier titles -- they're here (via bandcamp) -- but let my mind wander elsewhere. Now I feel obligated to go back. As a down payment, we'll include the album cover and note the known grade in unpacking.

I need to get cracking on my Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. Expect a report later this week.

New records rated this week:

  • Perry Beekman: S'Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Gershwin (2015, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Oleg Frish: Duets With My American Idols (2014 [2015], Time Out Media): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ghost Train Orchestra: Hot Town (2013 [2015], Accurate): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Roadsides (2014, Arogole Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hu Vibrational: The Epic Botanical Beat Suite (2014 [2015], MOD Technologies): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Steve Johns: Family (2014 [2015], Strikezone): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tyler Kaneshiro & the Highlands: Amber of the Moment (2013 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd: Wild Man Dance (2013 [2015], Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (2013 [2015], Blue Note): [r]: A-
  • The Magic Words: The Day We Ran Away (Magic Words Demos) (2015, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Barney McClure: Show Me! (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Michael Oien: And Now (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Plunge: In for the Out (2014 [2015], Immersion): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Adam Shulman Sextet: Here/There (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Skrillex/Diplo: Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü (2015, Mad Decent/OWSLA): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tal National: Zoy Zoy (2015, Fat Cat): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Tropea: Gotcha Rhythm Right Here (2014 [2015], STP): [cd]: B-
  • Tyler, the Creator: Cherry Bomb (2015, Odd Future): [r]: B+(*)
  • Unexpected: Munchies (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B

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

  • Dion: Recorded Live at the Bitter End August 1971 (1971 [2015], Omnivore): [r]: B

Old records rated this week:

  • Charles Lloyd: Discovery! (1964, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd: Nirvana (1962-65 [1968], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Dream Weaver (1966, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey (1966 [1968], Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: The Flowering of the Original Charles Lloyd Quartet (1966 [1971], Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in Europe (1966 [1968], Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Love-In (1967, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Journey Within (1967, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union (1967 [1970], Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd: Soundtrack (1968 [1969], Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Gorka Benitez: Solo La Verdad Es Sexy (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound New Talent): [was B+] B+(***)
  • Eddie Gale: Afro-Fire (2004, Black Beauty): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Lafayette Gilchrist: The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (2004, Hyena/Shantytone): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • The Great Jazz Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come (2002-03 [2004], Eighty-Eights/Columbia): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd: Just Before Sunrise (1966-67 [1999], 32 Jazz, 2CD): reissue combines Dream Weaver and Love-In: [was B]: B+(**)
  • Paradigm Shift: Shifting Times (2004, Nagel Heyer): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Randy Sandke: Cliffhanger (1999 [2003], Nagel Heyer): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Ignasi Terraza Trio: IT's Coming (2004, TCB): [was B+]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Berkman: Old Friends and New Friends (Palmetto): May 5
  • The Dan Brubeck Quartet: Celebrating the Music and Lyrics of Dave & Iola Brubeck (Blue Forest, 2CD): April 28
  • The Close Readers: Group Hug (2011, Austin)
  • The Close Readers: New Spirit (2012, Austin)
  • The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (2014, Austin) [A-]
  • Wild Bill Davison: The Jazz Giants (1968, Delmark/Sackville)
  • Lorenzo Feliciati: Koi (Rare Noise): advance, May 26
  • Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (Pine Eagle)
  • Lauren Henderson: A La Madrugada (self-released): May 19
  • Heikki Koskinen/Teppo Hauta-Aho/Mikko Innanen: Kellari Trio (Edgetone)
  • Joe Locke: Love Is a Pendulum (Motéma): May 26
  • Phil Maturano: At Home Everywhere (self-released): May 19
  • Metallic Taste of Blood: Doctoring the Dead (Rare Noise): advance, May 26
  • Pascal Niggenkemper: Look With Thine Ears: Solo (Clean Feed)
  • Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (Clean Feed)
  • Eve Risser: Des Pas Sur La Neige (Clean Feed)
  • Elliott Sharp: Octal: Book Three (Clean Feed)
  • Eli Wallace/Jon Arkin/Karl Evangelista: Cabbages, Captain, & King (Edgetone)
  • Zubatto Syndicate: Zubatto Syndicate 2 (Boscology): advance, June 9

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Late start but I had the Civil War links, and added a couple more. Plus, for local color, let's start with Crowson's cartoon today:

By the way, babyfaced State Senator O'Donnell (R) happens to represent my district. You can read more about his bill in, well, The Guardian, or The Chicago Tribune. Jordan Weissmann looks at what welfare recipients actually spend money on here. One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is how this law is to be enforced. Will the state be assigning accountants to go over welfare recipients' books? Or will we expect movie ticket takers to rat out customers they suspect of being on welfare?

  • Gregory P Downs: The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox: When I was 10 years old the centennial of the Civil War seemed like such a big deal, whereas I hadn't noticed any 150th anniversaries until someone wrote that Lee's surrender at Appomattox should be a national holiday. Back in 1960 you could still practically taste the gunpowder residue. I knew, for instance, that my great-great-grandfathers had fought in that war -- on my father's side from Pennsylvania, a man who after the war homesteaded in western Kansas and named his first son Abraham Lincoln Hull; on my mother's side from Ohio, a man who then moved to northern Arkansas and became sheriff of Baxter County (in other words, one of those oft-villified "carpetbaggers"). Back then Kansas still identified with the North, and I saw enough of the South to reinforce my belief in civil rights, because by then the South had reconstituted its racist caste system as if their "war for independence" had won out. (Downs quotes Albion Tourgée saying that the South "surrendered at Appomattox, the North has been surrendering ever since.")

    Over the course of the Civil War's Centennial the tide of surrender had shifted with the passage of landmark civil rights acts. Fifty years later we're more inclined to memorialize the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march than the 150th of Lee's surrender. Not that we shouldn't worry about erosion of voting rights. But one thing we don't worry about over is that the South will secede again -- indeed, when various Texans spout off to that effect, the usual reaction is "good riddance." But celebration of Appomattox has always been something of a ruse. As Downs points out, the war didn't really end there, nor has the reunification of the country gone smoothly. Indeed, one of the great ironies of American history is that the party of Lincoln -- the party my great-greats fought for -- has lately been captured by the sons of the Confederacy (often, amusingly enough, in the guise of adopted sons with names like Jindal, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush).

    Meanwhile, Downs is more concerned with the problems the postwar occupation (aka reconstruction) ran into:

    Grant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war's end far too soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general's plea for "peace" and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony to plan the Army's occupation of the South.

    To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750 towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.

    And yet as late as 1869, President Grant's attorney general argued that some rebel states remained in the "grasp of war." When white Georgia politicians expelled every black member of the State Legislature and began a murderous campaign of intimidation, Congress and Grant extended military rule there until 1871.

    Meanwhile, Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents, terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that 50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the first quarter-century after emancipation. "It is a fatal mistake, nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace," a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. "We are in the very vortex of war."

    Downs has a book that sounds interesting: After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. It is inevitable that any such book written these days will reflect the manifest failures of the US occupation of Iraq. One recalls that in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, Bush's intellectuals studied up on the post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan -- held to be a model of enlightened reconstruction, although that conceit took a good deal of misreading both of history and of the current state of Bush politics to come to that cheery conclusion. But in all cases, the fiasco is the consequence both of poorly understood goals and corrupt practices.

    Also worth reading: Christopher Dickey: The Civil War's Dirty Secret: It Was Always About Slavery. A sequel could be written on how racism went from being a rationale for slavery to becoming a proxy. In any case, the two are so inextricably linked that the iconography for one, like the continuing cult of the Confederacy, supports the other. That's why if you don't like the one, you shouldn't make excuses for the other.

  • Mark Mazzetti/Helene Cooper: Sale of US Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab States: Even if we overlook Israel, the most intensely militarized nation in the world, the Middle East has long been a bonanza for arms dealers -- and not just for American ones, although the US remains by far the largest purveyor of lethal hardware. And to paraphrase Madeleine Albright, what's the point of having this magnificent military technology if you never use it? That's been a conundrum for many years, but more and more nominal US allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, even Egypt, are discovering targets they can safely attack: the ad hoc militias of destabilized neighbors like Yemen, Libya, and Syria. All they have to do is to pin a label like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Iran, and the US blesses them with further supplies. For example:

    Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year -- the most ever, and more than either France or Britain -- and has become the world's fourth-largest defense market, according to figures released last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks global military spending. The Emirates spent nearly $23 billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.

    Qatar, another gulf country with bulging coffers and a desire to assert its influence around the Middle East, is on a shopping spree. Last year, Qatar signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense systems. Now the tiny nation is hoping to make a large purchase of Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets. Qatari officials are expected to present the Obama administration with a wish list of advanced weapons before they come to Washington next month for meetings with other gulf nations.

    American defense firms are following the money. Boeing opened an office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office there this year. Lockheed created a division in 2013 devoted solely to foreign military sales, and the company's chief executive, Marillyn Hewson, has said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business -- with a goal of global arms sales' becoming 25 percent to 30 percent of its revenue -- in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon budget after the post-Sept. 11 boom. [ . . . ]

    Meanwhile, the deal to sell Predator drones to the Emirates is nearing final approval. The drones will be unarmed, but they will be equipped with lasers to allow them to better identify targets on the ground.

    If the sale goes through, it will be the first time that the drones will go to an American ally outside of NATO.

    There's very little here to keep these wars from spinning out of control. The US has allied itself with dictatorial oligarchs, and enabled them to suppress all manner of popular movements, including peaceful demonstrations for democracy. And when the most violent of those movements blowback against the US, that just reinforces the war mentality. Sure, some worry about putting US troops in harm's way, but we're pretty cavalier about getting Arabs to kill other Arabs, especially when Arabs are paying us for the gear -- think of all those "good jobs" proxy wars will create. Invading Iraq in 2003 was still a hard sell, but spinning up ISIS as an enemy was a breeze. Also see Richard Silverstein's comment on this article, War is America's Business.

  • Justin Logan: Iraq 2.0: The REAL Reason Hawks Oppose the Iran Deal:

    Let's be honest for a second: 90-plus percent of supporters of the Iran framework would have supported any framework the Obama administration produced (this author included). Close to 100 percent of the opponents of the framework would have opposed any framework it produced.

    What's going on here? Why are we having this kabuki debate about a deal whose battle lines were established before it even existed? At Brookings, Jeremy Shapiro suggests that "the Iranian nuclear program is not really what opponents and proponents of the recent deal are arguing about."

    Shapiro says the bigger question is about what to do regarding "Iran's challenge to U.S. leadership" in the countries surrounding Iran and whether to "integrate Iran into the regional order."

    One could put this more baldly: anti-agreement hawks want to preserve a state of belligerency (non-cooperation at the very least) between the US and Iran; agreement supporters want to defuse the state of belligerency, ultimately by normalizing relations between the two countries. One reason the hawks have is the profits from arms sales generated through the Middle East's growing set of proxy wars (see the Mazzetti/Cooper article above). It's also likely that oil profits would skyrocket if there was any disruption of Persian Gulf exports -- something which may matter more than usual given how invested US oil companies are in expensive sources (like shale and offshore oil). But there's also a more basic ideological reason: right-wingers believe in a world where conflict, like hierarchy, is inevitable and brutal, whereas left-wingers believe that conflicts can be resolved and people can cooperate to level up everyone's standard of living.

  • After torching Palestinian cafe and painting 'Revenge' on its door, 4 Israeli teens get community service; Before prayers finished Friday, Israeli military began firing teargas canisters and rubber-coated bullets; A 22-year-old Palestinian dies after imprisonment, then his cousin, 27, is killed at his funeral: 'Passover siege' in Hebron: Palestinians endure military lockdown so Israelis can enjoy holiday in occupied West Bank: more of Kate's remarkable compilations of Israeli news reports. Also see Alice Rothchild: The most massive child abuse int he world: "Not a single house has been rebuilt in Gaza since the end of the devastating war 9 months ago, UNRWA reports."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (April 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Music Week


Music: Current count 24826 [24797] rated (+29), 398 [404] unrated (-6).

Another sub-30 week, again just shy by one. Possible reason this week is that all those A- records took extra spins to verify, not to mention enjoy. (Except perhaps Heems, where I can't say my enjoyment was up to the grade, caught as the album is between sucking up to a jingoism that both of us know better than.) In fact, none of the A- records really blew me away: they're all huddled in the lower half of my 2015 list-in-progress (well, Marty Grosz and Old Time Musketry are just above the mid-point). So maybe I blew out my curve. Or maybe the stars just aligned.

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes this week -- probably tomorrow. The draft file has 112 records at present. Certainly doesn't need any more -- longer than most since I switched to flexible scheduling. Still, closer to four weeks than three -- another dimension in which I'm slipping, if only a bit. With this week's bumper crop, the A-list is up to 27 records about 15 weeks into the year: still well below where I expect it to wind up (2014 is up to 156, not that I expect to listen to as much this year), and still tilted heavily toward jazz (17-10, counting Nascimento in the non-jazz, although that's pretty borderline).

Thought I might try to drive out to EMP in Seattle this year, but I couldn't get organized in time. Instead, I'm suffering through one of the worst spring allergy funks I've had since moving to KS. My progress in cleaning up the office, sorting and shelving CDs, etc., has largely stalled -- albeit in a much better place than it was. The recent jazz sort has mostly been by grade, and I was a bit surprised to find that the shelves I allocated for recent B+(***) and higher jazz are well short of what I need.

I've decided to start donating some CDs to WSU's library, and will try to dump the first box off later this week. The recycle dumpster, which I largely filled with paper more than a week ago, should be emptied in the morning, so I can resume packing it. Still have vast quantities of music magazines I'll never do anything constructive with. Hate to just throw them away, but it doesn't look like I'll have any takers.

I've fallen way behind in many other projects -- notably a much needed update to Robert Christgau's website. Also failing to make any progress on my own larger writing projects. Hard even to read much when your eyes are bleary and you can hardly breathe. Probably hasn't helped my productivity that I've fallen into watching more TV than in ages -- even such obvious trainwrecks as American Crime (just completely dispicable), The Good Wife (a former good show gone bad -- half-dedicated to killing off Kalinda Sharma [at least Will Gardner went quick], half drowning Alicia in a political campaign we always thought she was too smart to get taken by, and ending it as badly as possible), and Empire (probably the worst season finale I've ever seen). At least still hoping that Justified will end in decent shape. (Finally finished the second season of Orange Is the New Black, and that finale was remarkably satisfying.)

Another week without tweet reviews. Just been hard hanging in there.

New records rated this week:

  • Albare: Only Human (2014 [2015], Alfi): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tim Berne's Snakeoil: You've Been Watching Me (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Jakob Bro: Gefion (2013 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra: The Symphonic Celtic Album (2011, Silva Screen): [cd]: C-
  • Ernest Dawkins Live the Spirit Residency Big Band: Memory in the Center: An Afro Opera: Homage to Nelson Mandela (2014 [2015], Dawk): [cd]: A-
  • Andrew Diruzza Quintet: Shapes and Analogies (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Fabiano Do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (2015, Now-Again): [r]: A-
  • Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: After All Is Said (2014 [2015], 482 Music): [r]: A-
  • Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Diga Diga Doo (2013-2014 [2015], Delmark): [cd]: A-
  • Heems: Eat Pray Thug (2015, Megaforce): [cd]: A-
  • Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (2015, Bordello): [r]: A-
  • The Kandinsky Effect: Somnambulist (2014 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: A-
  • Robert Kennedy Trio: Big Shoes (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ (2015, Merge): [r]: A-
  • Lalo Schifrin: Invocations: Jazz Meets the Symphony #7 (2010 [2011], Aleph): [cd]: B
  • Soulive: Rubber Soulive (2010, Royal Family): [cdr]: C+
  • Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015, Asthmatic Kitty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (2015, Wichita): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth by Day (2015, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings From London & Lagos 1954-66 (1954-66 [2015], Soundway, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (1983 [2015], Sackville/Delmark): [cd]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Big Satan: I Think They Liked It Honey (1996 [1997], Winter & Winter): [r]: B+(***)
  • Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe (1943-46 [1993], Charly): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage (1975-79 [2000], Strut/West End, 2CD): [cd]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Perry Beekman: S'Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Gershwin (self-released): June 5
  • Pat Bianchi Trio: A Higher Standard (21-H): June 5
  • Michael Dees: The Dream I Dreamed (Jazzed Media): May 12
  • Harris Eisenstadt: Golden State (Songlines)
  • Hugo Fernandez: Cosmogram (Origin): April 21
  • Oleg Frish: Duets With My American Idols (Time Out Media): May 19
  • Hu Vibrational: The Epic Botanical Beat Suite (MOD Technologies): May 19
  • Barney McClure: Show Me! (OA2): April 15
  • Adam Shulman Sextet: Here/There (OA2): April 15
  • Daniel Weltlinger: Koblenz (Rectify)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Weekend Roundup

The big, and for that matter good, news today is Chapa, the missing beaver, returns home to Riverside Park. That Hillary Clinton chose today to launch her 2016 presidential campaign just shows she doesn't have the sort of control over the news cycle she'd like. If you want to fret about Clinton, you can start with Bill Curry: Hillary Clinton just doesn't get it: She's already running a losing campaign. Still, for me, the most interesting line was:

On Friday, Clinton's campaign let slip its aim to raise $2.5 billion; maybe that's not the best way to say hello to a struggling middle class.

A couple months ago, the Koch's made news by threatening to raise just shy of $1 billion for their war on democracy in 2016. Suddenly, that doesn't look like such a daunting amount of money. And the fact is, Clinton is probably a good investment for her big-money donors -- at least compared to the sort of morons running for the Republican nomination. And while the middle class aren't likely to get much from Clinton, they're not where that $2.5 billion is coming from. Main thing they can hope for is less collateral damage in the partisan struggle between pro-growth money and the people who'd rather wreck the economy than see any of their spoils levelled down.

I've paid very little attention to the Republicans who aspire to be president. The "tea party" reaction did little more than double down on the dumbest, crudest platforms of the party, and now there is nothing left there. For example, one thing that has been popping up a lot is the idea of convening a constitutional convention to pass an amendment forbidding the federal government from running a deficit. They might as well poke their eyes out -- that's the level of self-mutilation such an amendment would produce. Clinton has nothing to offer, but at least she's not that stupid. Or take Iran: Clinton has frequently made her mark as a hawk, but she's not so delusional as to think we'd be better off rejecting negotiations with Iran that gave us every assurance we wanted.

I opposed Clinton in 2008 and I would do so again given any real chance of winning something tangible. But I don't see who else is going to raise the sort of money she can raise, and more and more it looks like that money will be needed to make it plain enough how necessary it is to beat the Republicans in 2016. I just hope to see some of that money trickle down the party ticket.

Some more scattered links this week:

  • Patrick Cockburn: A Young Prince May Cost Syria and Yemen Dear: Someone could write a very interesting book on the waxing and waning of Saudi outreach -- a broad term ranging from strategic investments to salafist proselytizing to armed intervention -- since the 1970s (with some pre-history back to WWI contacts with the British and FDR's WWII meeting with Kind Saud), how they viewed their mission, and how it did or didn't dovetail with US interests. It would be hard to get the nuances right. For instance, when Bill Casey would meet with King Fahd, neither was playing with a full deck, nor no matter how much they seemed to agree were their intents aligned. While it is clear that the US pressed the Saudis to pump a lot of money for arms into the Afghan muhajideen, was the salafist export part of the deal, or just part of the price? Lately, the Saudis seem to be taking charge: I doubt that Obama would be plotting his own intervention in Yemen, but he didn't hesitate in supporting the new Saudi king.

    Part of the explanation may lie with the domestic politics of Saudi Arabia. Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi visiting professor at LSE's Middle East Centre, says in the online magazine al-Monitor that Saudi King Salman's defence minister and head of the royal court, his son Mohammed bin Salman, aged about 30, wants to establish Saudi Arabia as absolutely dominant in the Arabian Peninsula. She adds caustically that he needs to earn a military title, "perhaps 'Destroyer of Shiite Rejectionists and their Persian Backers in Yemen,' to remain relevant among more experienced and aspiring siblings and disgruntled royal cousins." A successful military operation in Yemen would give him the credentials he needs.

    A popular war would help unite Saudi liberals and Islamists behind a national banner while dissidents could be pilloried as traitors. Victory in Yemen would compensate for the frustration of Saudi policy in Iraq and Syria where the Saudis have been outmanoeuvred by Iran. In addition, it would be a defiant gesture towards a US administration that they see as too accommodating towards Iran.

    Yemen is not the only country in which Saudi Arabia is taking a more vigorous role. Last week, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria suffered several defeats, the most important being the fall of the provincial capital Idlib, in northern Syria, to Jabhat al-Nusra which fought alongside two other hardline al-Qaeda-type movements, Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa. Al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, immediately announced the instruction of Shia law in the city. Sent to Syria in 2011 by Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to create al-Nusra, he split from Baghdadi when he tried to reabsorb al-Nusra in 2013. Ideologically, the two groups differ little and the US has launched air strikes against al-Nusra, though Turkey still treats it as if it represented moderates.

    One thing I'm always struck by is how viscerally divergent our views are of the Islamic State we know (in Saudi Arabia) and the one we don't know (ISIS). The two have much in common, including a great fondness for beheadings and an intolerance of non-Muslims. One difference is that ISIS proclaims its leader to be Caliph, but the Saudi royal family is similarly blessed by the Wahabbi ulema, and the Saudi possession of the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina confers great prestige. What sets the Saudis apart for US officials may be nothing more than the size of Saudi bank accounts. The old notion that advancing Saudi hegemony over the Muslim world in any way helps us looks ever more misguided.

  • Michelle Goldberg: Indiana Just Sentenced a Woman Convicted of Feticide to Twenty Years in Prison: More disturbing than Indiana's Religious Bigotry law:

    On Monday, 33-year-old Purvi Patel, an unmarried woman from a conservative Hindu family who bought abortion drugs online, was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the crimes of feticide and neglect of a dependent. It was not the first time that feticide laws, passed under the guise of protecting pregnant women from attack, have been turned against pregnant women themselves. Indiana, after all, was also the state that jailed Bei Bei Shuai, an immigrant who tried to commit suicide by poisoning herself while pregnant, and whose baby later died. But the Patel case is still a disturbing landmark. "Yes, the feticide laws in other states have been used to arrest and sometimes punish the pregnant women herself," says Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which advised Patel's defense. "This is the first time it's being used to punish what they say is an attempted self-abortion."

    The feticide law has an exception for "legal abortion" so I have to wonder about the quality of legal representation afforded these immigrant women. The great fear we always had about feticide laws was that prosecutors would abuse their authority. In some ways the suicide attempt bothers me more: if the woman was depressed enough to try to kill herself before, I don't see how locking her up in jail will improve her spirits.

  • Nicola Perugini/Neve Gordon: How Amnesty International Criminzliaes Palestinians for Their Inferior Weapons:

    Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International's recent report on 'rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict,' accuses Hamas and others of carrying out 'indiscriminate attacks' on Israel: 'When indiscriminate attacks kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.' [ . . . ]

    There is an implied contrast with Israel's superior technological capabilities, which the IDF claims allow it to carry out airstrikes with 'surgical precision.' But the figures tell a different story. At least 2100 Palestinians were killed during Israel's military campaign in Gaza last summer; around 1500 are believed to have been civilians (according to Amnesty some of them were killed by stray Palestinian rocket fire). On the Israeli side, 72 people were killed, 66 combatants and six civilians. These numbers point to a clear discrepancy. It is not only that Israel killed 300 times as many Palestinian civilians, but that the proportion of civilian deaths among Palestinians was much greater: 70 per cent of those killed by Israel were civilians, compared to 8 per cent of those killed by Palestinians. These figures clearly indicate that there is no correlation between precision bombing and distinguishing combatants from civilians. Hi-tech weapons systems can kill indiscriminately too.

    I don't have a problem declaring that Palestinian rockets shot into Israel constitute some kind of crime -- I am, after all, of the belief that all war under all circumstances is criminal -- so long as doing so doesn't distract from the proportionate responsibility for the violence, and the original responsibility for setting the conditions and context within which such violence occurs. The above statistics give you some idea of proportion -- which is to say that nearly all of the violence was launched by Israel against Gaza and its population. I might even quibble that the stats understate how disproportionate Israeli firepower was. As for responsibility for the context of war, that is totally due to Israel's occupation. One might even argue that Palestinian violence aimed at freeing Gaza from Israel's grip is justified, whereas Israeli violence to curb the revolt and prolong the occupation is not. I wouldn't go that far because I don't believe that the ends excuse the means, but those of you who view fighting for freedom as a noble cause should find it harder to condemn those who fight for Palestine.

    One can make other arguments, too. It occurs to me that the inaccuracy and extreme inefficiency of Palestinian rockets makes whoever fires them less culpable: who's to say that they're not mere "warning shots"? On the other hand, launching "precision munitions" clearly shows the intent to kill. Still, the real problem with the Amnesty International report, as with the Goldstone report on previous Israeli atrocities in Gaza, is that by criminalizing Palestinian rockets they suggest a false equivalence between both sides. There is in fact nothing equal about Israel and Gaza.

    By the way, Perugini and Gordon have a forthcoming book on how "human rights" arguments can be used to extend and expand Israeli occupation: The Human Right to Dominate.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Grégoire Chamayou: Manhunters, Inc.: An excerpt from Chamayou's book, A Theory of the Drone, offering a fairly lengthy history of drone development and applications. E.g.:

    In 2001, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had become convinced that "the techniques used by the Israelis against the Palestinians could quite simply be deployed on a larger scale." What he had in mind was Israel's programs of "targeted assassinations," the existence of which had recently been recognized by the Israeli leadership. As Eyal Weizman explains, the occupied territories had become "the world's largest laboratory for airborne thanatotactics," so it was not surprising that they would eventually be exported. [ . . . ]

    Within the United States, not all the high-ranking officers who were informed of these plans greeted them with enthusiasm. At the time, journalist Seymour Hersh noted that many feared that the proposed type of operation -- what one advisor to the Pentagon called "preemptive manhunting" -- had the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program, the sinister secret program of murder and torture that had once been unleashed in Vietnam.

    Chamayou goes on to talk about "hunting warfare" ("a competition between the hiders and the seekers"), "network-centric warfare," "nexus topography," "effects-based operations" ("targeting a single key node in a battlefield system has second, third, n-order effects"), and "prophylactic elimination." The jargon suggests that the campaign is endless, that there is no way to determine when the enemies list has been exhausted, let alone when it might become counterproductive.

  • Steve Fraser: Plutocracy the First Time Around: An excerpt from Fraser's new book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power.

  • Rivka Galchen: Weather Underground: About injection wells and the sudden surge in earthquakes in Oklahoma, not that you can get a straight answer from the state government. I always thought that the reason there are pumping oil wells on the state capitol grounds had less to do with making money than with reminding the legislators who they work for.

  • Seymour M Hersh: The Scene of the Crime: Hersh returns to Vietnam to see how the massacre at My Lai, which he first reported back in 1969, is remembered.

  • Mike Konczal: Liberal Punishment: Book review of Naomi Murakawa's The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (2014, Oxford University Press). Focuses on anti-crime initiatives by liberals connected to racial violence in the 1940s, 1960s, and prison revolts in the 1970s. No doubt that's part of the story, but conservatives have contributed too, only partly because they pushed liberals into a corner where they wound up competing to see who is the more draconian.

  • Jill Lepore: Richer and Poorer: A survey of recent literature on increasing inequality, including: Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster); Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (Little Brown); and Anthony Atkinson, Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard). Fraser's book is the one I rushed out to buy. One of my own theories that I'll test against Fraser is that the Cold War's celebration of capitalism was meant as much to cower the working class into submission and impotence. Another is that the evident acquiescence is concentrated in the media.

  • David Palumbo-Liu: Business of backlash: GOP cashes in on Koch/Adelson anti-BDS donations: Based on a report, "The Business of Backlash: The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and other Movements for Social Justice," by a group I'm not familiar with, the "International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network," this starts to identify a who's who of the secret funders who always seem to come down whenever some academic says something politically incorrect about Israel. I'm a bit surprised to see the non-Jewish Koch brothers listed alongside Sheldon Adelson and the usual suspects. Makes me wonder about extending BDS.

  • Richard Silverstein: South African Intelligence Cables Expose Mossad Africa Operations: Long and fascinating survey of Israeli spying in Africa, both in cooperation with Apartheid-era South Africa and beyond. A couple points that particularly struck me: one was about Mossad's use of El Al Airlines as a cover; another was the estimate that Mossad has 4,000 "sayanim" (voluntary spy assets) "in the UK alone" -- make me wonder whether certain people here in Wichita have Mossad handlers.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Year's Most Disgusting Book: "From Jailer to Jailed: My Journey From Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate and Police Commissioner, contractor hired to help train the Baghdad police, Bush nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security before all the dirty laundry came out and he wound up in jail, where he finally discovered that US prisons are run poorly, counterproductively even. Taibbi remains a stickler for hypocrisy, preferring the prison memoir of an unrepentant asshole like G. Gordon Liddy. Meanwhile, I can think of a few other candidates for "most disgusting book of the year" -- Mike Huckabee's God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy leaps to mind, but I'm sure there would be others if I took a bit of time to research the subject.

  • Tzvia Thier: My personal journey of transformation: An Israeli reexamines what she's been taught:

    It has been hard work to examine my own mind. Many questions that leave me wondering how could I have not thought about them. My solid identity has been shaken and then broken . . . I have been an eyewitness to the systematic oppression, humiliation, racism, cruelty and hatred by "my" people towards the "others" and what you see, you can no longer unsee . . .

Monday, April 06, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24797 [24768] rated (+29), 404 [399] unrated (+5).

Close enough to thirty, which is, after all, only an arbitrarily roundish number, I doubt I have any need to apologize. Or even note that the 29th record (Bradley Williams') was a double which got more plays than needed because it made for good ambiance while focusing on last night's Iran opus. Two new A- records, although if so inclined you might enjoy Leo Welch or Rae Sremmurd as much. Welch's 2014 debut, Sabgoula Voices, made a deeper impression, possibly because it came first. Christgau likes Sremm Life, but I didn't find the "party rap" as fun as advertised -- then again I didn't give it the second and third plays rap records often need. The other high B+ items are more certainly where they belong.

Two old-music A- records, too. I played the second Carter-Bradford first and had it at A-, then dialed it back when Flight for Four came in much clearer. The records show up now because I gather they've been reissued on one of Ace's labels (BGP?), but the digital copies correspond to the original Flying Dutchman LPs, so I credit them as such. If Ace -- one of the world's premier reissue companies -- wants to start sending me shit, I'll show them more respect. Rhapsody listed the Eddie Higgins album under Scott Hamilton. I always jump on unheard Hamilton, and he really shines on these standards.

Van Morrison's useless Duets got me to check up on Chris Farlowe, but I only found the one early compilation and doubt that it's as good as could be -- holes include his only UK hit single. He does have the only voice on the album that adds something to Morrison's, but evidently he didn't always have it.

I've finally made some significant progress at sorting out the many piles and baskets of CDs that made walking in my office area treacherous. I had the idea that I could put all of the Jazz CG A-/B+(***) CDs into seven of those cheap $20 CD cases -- six on a desk blocking the window behind me, one to my left for the most recent ones -- but I keep finding more such records. Plan B is to empty out two more cases that currently house especially interesting B+(**) records and fill them up with surplus B+(***). Anything graded lower goes into storage downstairs, unless it's by someone I keep in the upstairs shelves. Unless I slow down, I should make it through the rest in another week. After that, I'll be able to move around enough to install a new router and a long-planned network upgrade. The next huge mess will be sorting out the tools.

It's possible that I have enough storage now for all of the books and CDs, but I'm feeling increasing pressure to finally start weeding out the least useful items. I've never sold CDs -- I did sell off most of my vinyl when I moved from New Jersey in 1999 (a bad experience) -- so I'm inclined to start donating them (Wichita State University is interested). (I know I've threatened/promised to do this before, but this time seems likely to actually happen.) I figure I'll work on this gradually, in batches of 100 or so, and see how it feels. In deference to the efficiencies of the market, I'd consider running a private sale list if anyone wants to pick up something I'd otherwise give away. Let me know, and if there's enough interest I'll put something together.

One of the first things that should go is the hoard of music mags I've been saving up over the last fifteen years (I doubt if there's anything older than the 1999 move). One reason I kept these was that I was thinking of going back through them and extracting quotes for my long-planned music review website. It's pretty clear now that I'm never going to do that. (There may still be a site with a lot of my writing but not with that research investment.) There should be complete decade-or-longer sets of Jazz Times, Downbeat, and Cadence (except for the last year or two). Also large stacks of Wire and Blender, Signal to Noise and Mojo, and scattered other titles. I've organized everything from upstairs but that still leaves a row about eight feet long in the basement plus a large bin full of Cadence. Any (or all) of that is free to the first person who wants to haul it off. WSU isn't interested, although I may get them to post a notice for their students. (I may change my mind and keep Wire, although I stopped buying new ones several years ago.) Rolling Stone is already gone. Recycle bin is currently full of paper, but won't be picked up for another week.

I thought about driving to EMP this year, but couldn't get myself organized in time. Everyone tells me it's interesting, plus I have an ulterior motive, in that I want to track down some long estranged relatives in Washington. So I still want to make the trip sooner or later this year. Just not this week.

Did manage to knock out tweets on the new records this week. I also passed on a link to Old Time Musketry's Gather, which is on Bandcamp here. I imagine I'll do a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is currently close to 90 records.

New records rated this week:

  • Joey Bada$$: B4.DA.$$ (2015, Cinematic Music Group): I loathe the crass typographic quirks, but a blindfold test suggests he's not thoughtless nor dull [r]: B+(***)
  • Andrew Bishop: De Profundis (2015, Envoi): title from Josquin Des Prez (1440-1521), whose work is "reimagined" for free jazz sax trio [cd]: B+(***)
  • Will Butler: Policy (2015, Merge): Arcade Fire bassist's solo album, notably upbeat rockers tossed off with an ease few alt/indies match [r]: B+(**)
  • Chastity Belt: Time to Go Home (2015, Hardly Art): punk girl band from Walla Walla, conscious and pressurized but short on release [r]: B+(*)
  • Lila Downs: Balas y Chocolate (2015, RCA): Mexican pop singer with roots up north, upbeat norteno vibe stirring but ballads corny [r]: B+(*)
  • Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015, Cash Money/Motown): "so intelligent, so articulate, so (relatively) decent" -- yet has nothing to say [r]: B
  • Eliane Elias: Made in Brazil (2015, Concord): thinking, hoping, a trip home might warm those old bones, but "Sings Jobim" had its own heat [r]: B+(*)
  • Charles Evans: On Beauty (2014 [2015], More Is More): baritone saxophonist, with Dave Liebman on soprano mocking the title, piano and bass but no drums [cd]: B
  • Tobias Jesso, Jr.: Goon (2015, True Panther Sounds): piano-playing crooner-songwriter, splits difference between John Lennon and Billy Joel -- do we care? [r]: B+(**)
  • Oded Lev-Ari: Threading (2014 [2015], Anzic): pianist, loves lush strings, Anat Cohen's luscious clarinet; makes way for a couple singers [cd]: B+(**)
  • Laura Marling: Short Movie (2015, Ribbon Music): the best of those folkie-ish Brits; I should at last stop confusing her with Sharon Van Etten [r]: A-
  • Earl MacDonald: Re: Visions (2008 [2010], Death Defying): pianist-composer-arranger with a sharp big band rehearsing his "Works for Jazz Orchestra" [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen: Kind of New (2014 [2015], Whaling City Sound): the compositions are new, but the sound is recycled from a higher Miles [cd]: B
  • Van Morrison: Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue (2015, RCA): odd mix of relatively obscure songs and duetists, none up to the master [r]: B+(*)
  • Old Time Musketry: Drifter (2013 [2015], NCM East): accordion roots this in popular melodies, sax roughs up the textures and edges [cd]: A-
  • Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015, Domino): "Sgt. Pepper" without songs, Zappa sans jokes, everything toned down but the reverb [r]: B
  • Rae Sremmurd: Sremm Life (2015, Eardrum/Interscope): Atlanta rap duo, not teens but they play at it, promising fun but delivering somewhat less [r]: B+(***)
  • Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (2015, Columbia/Tan Cressida): Odd Future rapper, short album, beats dense and dull, murk its own reward [r]: B+(*)
  • Javier Vercher: Wish You Were Here (2014 [2015], Musikoz): tenor saxophonist, loud and clear over a first-rate guitar-piano-bass-drums rhythm section [cd]: B+(***)
  • Leo Welch: I Don't Prefer No Blues (2015, Big Legal Mess): primal bluesman lived 80 years before his debug "Sabgoula Voices"; one more for sequel [r]: B+(***)
  • Bradley Williams: Investigation (2014 [2015], 21st Century Entertainment, 2CD): big band pianist, one disc of originals recall swing, one with vocals updates cabaret [cd]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: Flight for Four (1969, Flying Dutchman): [r]: A-
  • John Carter/Bobby Bradford: Self Determination Music (1970, Flying Dutchman): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Farlowe: The R&B Years [Charly R&B Masters Vol. 5] (1962-67 [1994], Charly): [r]: B+(*)
  • Eddie Higgins Quartet: My Funny Valentine (2004 [2006], Venus): [r]: A-
  • Randy Weston/The Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco: Spirit: The Power of Music (1999 [2003], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Duke Ellington: The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971 [1991], Fantasy/OJC): [cd]: [was: B] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Albare: Only Human (Alfi): May 15
  • Beauty School: Residual Ugly (Humbler): cassette
  • Steve Coleman and the /Council of Balance: Synovial Joints (Pi): April 28
  • Ernest Dawkins Live the Spirit Residency Big Band: Memory in the Center: Homage to Nelson Mandela (Dawk)
  • Ghost Train Orchestra: Hot Town (Accurate): May 12
  • Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Diga Diga Doo (Delmark)
  • Oded Lev-Ari: Threading (Anzic): April 28
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (1983, Sackville/Delmark)
  • Brad Myers: Prime Numbers (Colloquy): June 5
  • Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit: Twenty-Two (Hot Tone Music); May 19
  • Plunge: In for the Out (Immersion): April 20
  • Gloria Reuben: Perchance to Dream (MCG Jazz): April 14
  • Sult: Svimmelhed (Humbler/Conrad Sound)
  • John Tropea: Gotcha Rhythm Right Here (STP): May 15


  • D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA)
  • Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s, Time-Life)

   Mar 2001