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Monday, November 28, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, November archive (final).

Tweet: Music Week: 43 albums, 7 A-list,

Music: Current count 39159 [39116] rated (+43), 33 [33] unrated (+0: 5 new, 28 old).

First half last week I spent thinking about cooking a little something for Thanksgiving dinner. We wound up with five people. I bought a pound of ground turkey and two of hamburger. I mixed the former with chopped spinach and feta cheese, and added a little butter and garlic powder to both. The idea was to cook them on the little-used gas grill, but it didn't heat up, so my fallback was frying pans indoors. They both came out very well done, but with a lot of tasty brown. Topped them with smoked gouda and havarti, and had bacon, red onion, and pickles to add. Sides were baked beans (topped with bacon), Russian potato salad (with olives, red onion, smoked salmon, and dill), and Spanish slaw (with carrots, red bell pepper, and golden raisins). Had spice cake for dessert, with store-bought butter pecan ice cream. I'm learning to settle for relatively simple dishes that don't kill me. Not quite as good as the birthday dinner, but fit the bill, and didn't leave us with a lot of leftovers.

Second half of the week felt like a void. I finally opened up a file for Speaking of Which, figuring I'd just copy down a few links for future reference -- sort of a placeholder, with few if any comments. But on Sunday I made the rounds, and often couldn't help but write something. Rarely as much as I could, but this sort of analysis is all but second nature these days.

One nice thing about the meal was that I got a chance to talk shop with my nephew. He's been using some kind of AI software to generate images. I had a fairly serious interest in AI back in the 1980s, but haven't followed it much since then. Still, I have some ideas about what it might be good for and where it might cause more trouble than it's worth, so it was good to compare my thoughts with his actual experience.

[PS: I added a link to yesterday's post, as part of Vox's "World to Come" series: AI experts are increasingly afraid of what they're creating. Just a thought, but if you got rid of patents and copyright for AI code, and required that all code be open source, that would slow down the pace of development, and make it harder to hide harmful applications. I also added a link to another No More Mister Nice Blog piece, about how Mike Pompeo rates the head of a teacher's union as "the most dangerous person on the planet."]

A couple notes on the 17th Annual Jazz Critics Poll: Francis Davis asked to be kept informed of the voting, so I've been forwarding mail to him. I also broached the possibility of including his name on the masthead, and he said he'd be honored. I have 26 ballots counted so far, with two more weeks until deadline. I haven't had much time to go back over possible voter lists, but I'll try to do that over the next few days. The most striking thing so far is that the vote is exceptionally scattered: three albums appear on six ballots each, so 23% of the total. This compares to 2021, when James Brandon Lewis appeared on 34% of the ballots, and to 2020, when Maria Schneider scored 36%. Still early days. As I recall, there were six other leaders last year before Lewis finally broke from the pack.

I've done the basic indexing for November Streamnotes, but still have the Music Weeks to compile. I've also fallen behind on the EOY Aggregate, but that's largely because the number of EOY lists doubled today. (Pro tip: I mostly use the lists collected by Album of the Year and Acclaimed Music Forums.) I want to settle on a jazz ballot by Friday. This is what my 2022 list currently looks like. No way will I have time to resample everything on it, so I'm stuck with my memory and spot checks. I did replay Omri Ziegele today, and dropped it a tiny bit -- probably the vocals, as almost everything else is marvelous.

The EOY file has traditionally included a "2%" list of records I haven't heard but think might be worth looking for. This year I've significantly expanded that list to include everything that's gotten Jazz Critics Poll votes, even if I'd put their odds of hitting A- at much less than 2%. I may thin them out later, or just revise the explanation.

A couple quick notes on the music. The Paul Smoker albums are actually remastered digital-only, so the label arguably should be to the reissue, if only there was one. In general, when I stream an album that matches an original release, I attribute it to the original label, instead of the reissue label. I have no qualms about that with streaming services, but it may be a bit unfair in this case.

I've also resurrected "Limited Sampling" this week. I really wanted to hear the Dick Hyman album, but could only find fragments. I expect there will be more of these in the next few weeks. In most cases so far, they're possibly good albums that Bandcamp only has a couple tracks from. However, in the future, I may start including records that are fully available but I hit reject on. Similarly, limited sampling could mean something I've only heard a YouTube or Soundcloud single from. I don't count these as graded albums, but they do show up as heard in the EOY aggregate, with +/- notes.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Arctic Monkeys: The Car (2022, Domino): [sp]: B-
  • Simon Belelty: Pee Wee (2020 [2022], Jojo): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Wolfert Brederode: Ruins and Remains (2021 [2022], ECM): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Sarah Elizabeth Charles: Blank Canvas (2022, Stretch/Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Chicago Plan [Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang]: For New Zealand (2019 [2022], Not Two): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Clarinet Trio: Transformations and Further Passages (2021 [2022], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Louis Cole: Quality Over Opinion (2022, Brainfeeder): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Hollie Cook: Happy Hour (2022, Merge): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Cooper-Moore & Stephen Gauci: Conversations Vol. 1 (2019 [2020], 577): [sp]: A-
  • Craig Davis: Tone Paintings: The Music of Dodo Marmarosa (MCG Jazz) **
  • Paul Dunmall Quintet: Yes Tomorrow (2021 [2022], Discus): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Chad Fowler/Ivo Perelman/Zoh Amba/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Steve Hirsh: Alien Skin (2022, Mahakala Music): [sp]: A-
  • Laszlo Gardony: Close Connection (2022, Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(**) [12-02]
  • Ben LaMar Gay: Certain Reveries (2022, International Anthem): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Milford Graves/Jason Moran: Live at Big Ears (2018-20 [2021], Yes): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen (2022, Blue Note): [sp]: B
  • Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Mingus (2022, Savant): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Aubrey Johnson & Randy Ingram: Play Favorites (2022, Sunnyside): [cd]: B
  • Angélique Kidjo/Ibrahim Maalouf: Queen of Sheba (2022, Mister Ibé): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Sam Kirmayer: In This Moment (2021 [2022], Cellar): [sp]: B
  • Lantana: Elemental (2020 [2022], Cipsela): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ramsey Lewis: The Beatles Songbook [The Saturday Salon Series: Volume One] (2020 [2022], Steele): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kirk Lightsey: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (2021 [2022], Cellar): [cd]: A-
  • Charles Lloyd: Trios: Sacred Thread (2020 [2022], Blue Note): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jasmine Myra: Horizons (2022, Gondwana): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Flora Purim: If You Will (2022, Strut): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Hal Smith's New Orleans Night Owls: Early Hours (2021-22 [2022], self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Hal Smith's Jazzologists: Black Cat on the Fence (2021, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Hal Smith's Jazzologists: I Scream, You Scream, Everybody Wants Ice Cream (2021, self-released): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Wil Swindler's Elevenet: Space Bugs: Live in Denver (2022, OA2): [cd]: B
  • The Dave Wilson Quartet: Stretching Supreme (2017-18 [2021], Dave Wilson Music): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse: World Recod (2022, Reprise): [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Elton Dean Quartet: On Italian Roads: Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979 (1979 [2022], British Progressive Jazz): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Bill Evans: Morning Glory: The 1973 Concert at the Teatro Gran Rex, Buenos Aires (1973 [2022], Resonance): [sp]: A-
  • Bill Evans: Inner Spirit: The 1979 Concert at the Teatro General San Martín, Buenos Aires (1979 [2022], Resonance): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Michel Petrucciani: Solo in Denmark (1990 [2022], Storyville): [sp]: B+(***)
  • John Sinclair Presents: Detroit Artists Workshop: Community, Jazz and Art in the Motor City 1965-1981 (1965-81 [2022], Strut/Art Yard): [bc]: A-

Old music:

  • Brian Charette: Music for Organ Sextette (2011, SteepleChase): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Jason Moran: Bangs (2016 [2017], Yes): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Paul Smoker Trio: QB (1984, Alvas): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Paul Smoker Trio: Mississippi River Rat (1984 [1985], Sound Aspects): [dl]: A-
  • Paul Smoker Trio: Alone (1986 [1988], Sound Aspects): [dl]: A-
  • Paul Smoker Trio: Come Rain or Come Shine (1988 [1989], Sound Aspects): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn: Lead Me On (1972, Decca): [dl]: B+(**)

Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

  • Dick Hyman: One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and the Austin High Gang (1992 [2022], Rivermont): [os]: ++/li>

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado: Refraction Solo (Trost) [10-28]
  • The Attic [Rodrigo Amado/Gonçalo Almeida/Onno Govaert]: Love Ghosts (NoBusiness)
  • The Chicago Plan [Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang]: For New Zealand (Not Two) [11-04]
  • The Clarinet Trio: Transformations and Further Passages (Leo) [11-01]
  • Satoko Fujii: Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams (Libra) [11-09]
  • Lantana: Elemental (Cipsela) [10-16]

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Early in the week, I thought: maybe I won't have to do one of these this week. Later, I thought: well, if either of two weekly pieces I've been linking to -- Connor Echols' "Diplomacy Watch" and Jeffrey St Clair's "Roaming Charges" -- appear, I should at least include them. But it looks like they had the good sense to take the week off, even if the world didn't. Still, I have a few more pieces in tabs that I figured I should note now rather than save for next week. Then a quick round of the usual sources, and I'm close to a typical week's work.

Ukraine: The war grinds on. Connor Echols skipped his usual "Diplomacy Watch" this week, but I'm not aware that he had much to write about.

  • Yehonatan Abramson/Dean Dulay/Anil Menon/Pauline Jones: [11-25] Why are Germans losing enthusiasm for helping Ukraine? It's not just about energy costs, our research finds. Germans have a deep cultural aversion toward military intervention."

  • Fred Kaplan: [11-21] Where Realpolitik Went Wrong: This is a devastating critique of several interviews John Mearsheimer has given about the Ukraine War. Just this week, I looked over the latest and decided it wasn't worth citing here. I've long given Mearsheimer credit for being one of the few foreign policy mandarins to recognize the corrosive effects of The Israel Lobby, but I've mostly followed his "realist" stance through his co-author, Stephen Walt, and found it lacking even if not nearly as bad as the neocon ideologues both usefully criticize. Still, Mearsheimer seems so committed to the inevitabilities of great power rivalry that he thinks the US should drop Ukraine to cultivate Russia as a potential ally for an inevitable war with China. That's not just dangerous and immoral, it's down right stupid.

  • Eric Levitz: [11-22] Should Ukraine Give Peace Talks a Chance? Raises six questions, which he doesn't have very good answers to:

    1. What are Ukraine's odds of making further territorial gains?
    2. How interested is Putin in peace?
    3. How large are the humanitarian costs of appeasing Putin?
    4. How can Ukraine's future security be preserved?
    5. How much more economic damage will Ukraine suffer from a prolonged war?
    6. How likely is Putin to respond to total defeat by deploying nuclear weapons?

    Come to think of it, the questions aren't very good either. The only tangible one is territory, but as long as neither side is able to dictate peace, it's hard to see much value in the possible exchanges of territory: Ukraine might still gain a bit, but nowhere near enough to satisfy their victory goals; similarly, Russia could mount a new offensive, but recent losses suggest they are already overextended. At this point, the only possible agreement on territory is to let the people who live there (or used to live there before the war) vote, and trust the vote to decide. The third point is poisoned by "appeasing," especially with no account of the human costs of continued war.

    The answer to number four is: when Russia no longer sees Ukraine and its alliances, which are significantly deeper now than they were before the March invasion, as a threat. That may require a "leap of faith" Putin is incapable of, but it certainly won't be achieved by integrating Ukraine into NATO. Nor does it seem likely that the US and its allies are going to be making any "leaps of faith" either. One paradox of the war is that it seems to validate the core assumptions of NATO (that Russia is a threat to neighboring parts of Europe) while at the same time proving that the logic of deterrence is itself destabilizing and perilous.

  • Nicolai Petro: [11-25] The tragedy of Crimea: "A history of the region's difficult relationship with Ukrainian rule before 2014 shows why Kyiv's attempt to retake it would be difficult. There are a few things here even I wasn't aware of, helping explain why Crimea revolted in 2014 even before Russia intervened.

  • Robert Wright: [11-23] What was Zelensky thinking? "Last week's false claim about a missile strike in Poland carries two important lessons." Unfortunately, the article cuts off before getting to the meat of the argument, but the two lessons are: "interests can differ among allies" and "the picture we're getting of this war isn't wholly unreliable." It may be possible to portray Zelensky's initial claim that missiles landing on Poland was a Russian escalation to directly attack a NATO member, and more generally that Zelensky's statements that no negotiation is possible until Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory (even Crimea) reveal him to be a fanatical warmonger. But it makes more sense to accept that, as Wright puts it, he "was just doing his job." That job entails not only rallying his troops to fight the Russians but also lobbying America and anyone else who'll listen to send him arms and support to carry on that fight. Sometimes that involves shameless flattery, as when he quoted Churchill to the UK Parliament, and sometimes the distortions aren't exactly true. Sometimes he feels the need to stand up as a tough guy, and sometimes he he stresses how vulnerable Ukraine is. And sometimes what he says in public isn't the same thing he's saying in private, although even there it probably depends on who he's saying it to. It's a difficult balancing act, and actually he's proven remarkably skillful at it, but you do need to keep several things in mind: his interests aren't necessarily the same as those of his countrymen, and neither are more than incidentally aligned with the US and/or NATO; because his interests aren't exactly the same, he's not really a proxy (although the US could probably guide him if it's somewhere he's willing to go -- one worries that the Americans don't really know where they want to go, which makes them that much easier to take them for a ride). One should always remember that the news coming out of Ukraine is mostly filtered through the war machine, selected to make Ukrainians appear heroic and sympathetic [see examples below], and thus to rally support for them and opposition to Russia. They've been pretty successful so far, but I worry the distortions will make it harder to actually settle the war.

    Example stories, these from the Washington Post (I'm not saying that these are untrue, but there aren't many counterexamples):

Jacqueline Alemany/Josh Dawsey/Carol D Leonnig: [11-23] Jan. 6 panel staffers angry at Cheney for focusing so much of report on Trump: "15 former and current staffers expressed concern that important findings unrelated to Trump will not become available to the American public."

Kate Aronoff: [11-18] Effective Altruism Is Bunk, Crypto Is Bad for the Planet, and Other Basic Truths of the FTX Crash: "The overarching lesson of sam Bankman-Fried's downfall is that the gauzy philosophical natterings of CEOs are just meant to distract us from their real goal: accumulating cash without interference."

Zack Beauchamp: [11-22] How the right's radical thinkers are coping with the midterms: "The New Right emerged to theorize Trumpism's rise. Can they explain its defeat?" They mostly seem to be doubling down on the idea that the "left" secretly controls many critical institutions in America, making it all but impossible to "save America" by through democratic processes. One even urges the American right to emulate the Taliban: "The Mujahideen fighters who brought the Soviets to their knees in Afghanistan were outmanned and outgunned. And yet they removed the godless occupiers from their land." This is wrong on more levels than I can count, but illustrates the growing paranoia and attendant recklessness of what passes for thought on the far right.

Geoffrey A Fowler: [11-23] It's not your imagination: Shopping on Amazon has gotten worse: "Everything on Amazon is becoming an ad."

Graham Gallagher: [11-25] Elite Conservatives Have Taken an Awfully Weird Turn.

Forrest Hylton: [11-25] A Historian in History: Staughton Lynd (1929-2022).

Eric Levitz: [11-25] One Worrying Sign for Democrats in the Midterm Results: "The gubernatorial elections in Georgia and Ohio suggest that a right-wing Republican could win moderate voters in 2024 merely by not being Trump." A big part of the problem is that Democrats tend to focus on the "MAGA fringe" and ignore the fundamental truth: that virtually all Republicans share the same set of far-right policy preferences.

Dylan Matthews: [11-22] How one man quietly stitched the American safety net over four decades: On Robert Greenstein, who founded the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in 1981. The safety net they came up with is a hodge-podge of often unclear and inadequate programs which nonetheless add up to significant help against poverty. This is part of a Vox Highlight series on The world to come, which also includes:

  • Kevin Carey: [11-21] The incredible shrinking future of college: This starts with a demographic decline in "college-aged" Americans, but isn't the more significant problem that we've given up on higher education as anything more than credentialism for job training? The notion that adults might wish to learn more for their own gratification, and that society might benefit from a more knowledgeable citizenry, has fallen by the wayside, and in some cases succumbed to deliberate political attack.

  • Kelsey Piper: [11-28] AI experts are increasingly afraid of what they're creating.

  • Yasmin Tayag: [11-22] Will America continue to turn away from vaccines?

  • Bryan Walsh: [11-21] Are 8 billion people too many -- or too few? I read Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb shortly after it came out in 1968, so this is a question that has long haunted me, even as history has shown the need for a more nuanced view. The alarm raised by Ehrlich, like that of Malthus in the early 19th century, faded not because population growth was throttled -- although countries that did so have seen their average wealth increase more than elsewhere -- but because it's been possible to find and utilize resources more efficiently. Still, no one (other than mad men and economists) think this trend can continue indefinitely. This continues to interest me because the Earth's carrying capacity depends a lot on social and economic organization, and because hitting resource limits can stress and even break those institutions. Many of the problems we've encountered over the last couple years -- climate disasters, supply chain issues, inflation, even the pandemic itself -- are tied to resource limits, even if only very loosely to population.

Mike McIntire: [11-26] At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking: "Armed Americans, often pushing a right-wing agenda, are increasingly using open-carry laws to intimidate opponents and shut down debate."

Ian Millhiser: [11-27] A Trump judge seized control of ICE, and the Supreme Court will decide whether to stop him: "Judge Drew Tipton's order in United States v. Texas is completely lawless. Thus far, the Supreme Court has given him a pass."

Prem Thakker: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin, Who Supports No Gun Control, Is Heartbroken Over Virginia Walmart Shoting; and Tori Otten: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin Blames Virginia Walmart Shooting on "Mental Health Crisis." So What's His Plan?.

Adam Weinstein: [11-23] Six reasons the Afghan government utterly collapsed during US withdrawal: "A new official watchdog report sheds light on what led to the Taliban's rapid takeover last year and implications for America's future foreign policy." The list:

  1. Kabul failed to recognize the U.S. would actually leave;
  2. the decision to exclude the Afghan government from US-Taliban talks undermined it;
  3. Kabul insisted that the Taliban be integrated into the Republic rather than create a new model altogether;
  4. the Taliban wouldn't compromise;
  5. former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani "governed through a highly selective, narrow circle of loyalists" (read: yes men) which destabilized the government;
  6. Kabul was afflicted by centralization, corruption, and a legitimacy crisis.

Given time I don't have, I could nitpick my way around these points. I suspect number 4 has less to do with inflexibility than with the fact that neither the US nor Ghani had any real popular support that needed to be recognized much less compromised with. The other points should be studied by Ukraine, lest they find themselves in a position where the US wants out and that could leave them high and dry. (That doesn't seem to be the case now, but see the Wright comment above.)

Li Zhou: [11-25] The high stakes and unique weirdness of the Georgia Senate runoff, briefly explained.

Found this on Twitter:

The Colorado shooter's dad on finding out his son murdered people: "They started telling me about the incident a shooting . . . And then I go on to find out it's a gay bar. I got scared, 'Shit, is he gay?' And he's not gay, so I said, phew . . . I am a conservative Republican."

For more, here's an article: Kelly McClure: [11-23] "I'm just glad he's not gay," says father of alleged Club Q shooter: article includes Twitter link. Also quotes the father as saying: "I praised him for violent behavior really early. I told him it works. It is instant and you'll get immediate results." It also notes that the shooter legally changed his name to distance himself from this asshole. Steve M. wrote two more pieces about this (more than the story needs, but they observe the political spin): [11-23] National Review: Don't politicize the Colorado Springs shooting. The rest of the right: Well, actually . . . and, more importantly, [11-24] Bad parents are the original stochastic terrorists [PS: He's been riffing on "stochastic terrorists" lately. For another example, see: [11-21] Republicans sound like stochastic terrorists even when they're (apparently) not trying to. The occasion here is Mike Pompeo declaring that "the most dangerous person in the world" is Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.]

Also note that Steve M. continues to have his finger on the pulse of elite Republican thinking: see [11-27] Maureen Dowd's brother recites the approved GOP establishment talking opoints. Notice what's not included. In particular, he points out:

If you ever ask yourself, "What does the GOP stand for?," the answer is "The GOP stands for GOP winning elections."

I've been saying for some time now that Richard Nixon was the godfather of the Republican Party, because he taught the party that winning is the only thing that matters, and no scruples should get in your way. The reason many prominent Republicans didn't like Trump when he was running in 2016 is because they didn't think he could win. But they voted for him anyway, and when he did win, he was not only forgiven; he was their hero. That should have lasted only until he lost in 2020, but thanks to the Big Lie, his popular support kept them in check until the 2022 loss gave them an excuse to brand him a loser -- which is really the only thing that they care about, and the one thing they think might work.

However, the polls haven't caught up, in large part because rank-and-file Republicans care much less about winning than about hating the Dems and being hated in turn, which Trump still has a knack for. See: That pro-DeSantis right-wing consent won't manufacture itself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Daily Log

Ian Millhiser tweeted:

I increasingly view myself as a conservative. I believe that the post-Great Society consensus in favor of liberal democracy, regulated markets, celebration of diversity, and a robust welfare state is the best form of society anyone has come up with, and should be preserved.

As a conservative, I believe that we must defend traditional American values -- such as generosity, pluralism, and fear of concentration of economic power -- against radical forces such as Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, or the Federalist Society, which do not share these values.

In a later comment, he added:

The Democrats have largely become the Burkean conservative party, and the GOP the party of people who are angry that mainstream American values do not align with their own.

I commented:

It's getting hard to name political views. First, the right attacked "liberal" so savagely most surrendered the term (and prepending "neo" didn't help anyone), then they discredted "conservative" by embracing it. But that's left it too tarnished to embrace, even ironically.

The right is stuck with "conservative" since even they see that all the other labels, including ones they invented like fascist and antisemite, are bad. And "reactionary" denies them agency, reducing their thoughts to "irritable mental gestures" (Trilling's term, never truer).

Another point is that beyond being linked to defending hierarchies, conservatism insists that the answer to current problems can be found in the even more hierarchical past. That simply isn't true, even if conserving seems like the easier argument.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, November archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 51 albums, 8 A-list,

Music: Current count 39116 [39065] rated (+51), 38 [46] unrated (-8: 10 new, 28 old).

On Thursday, I sent almost 200 invitations out to cast votes in the 17th Annual Jazz Critics Poll. Last year I wound up sending the invites out manually. I've been trying to think of a better method, and came up with two. The initial ballots I would send out using Thunderbird's Mail Merge option. For later notices and reminders, I figured I could use a GNU Mailman mailing list, using "mass subscription" to enroll people, and set up restrictions so only I can send further mail to the list. It took most of the day to figure out how to set those up, and a couple people got confused by the mail list, but it seems to be working fine now. As I'm writing this, I've gotten 46 acks back, and 10 ballots. Deadline will be end-of-day December 12. Results will be published at The Arts Fuse, and on my master website.

I'll possibly send out a few more invites this week. I haven't had much time to try to vet candidates this weekend, especially as I knocked out another Speaking of Which column. Some of this week's records are things I was pointed to by voters. I also found a Michaelangelo Matos ballot with eight records I hadn't heard, so I checked them out: liked all of the electronica, was less taken by two prog-ish pop groups (Au Suisse, Dungen).

Other news for me is that I've recently bought new keyboard, mouse, and speakers for the computer I'm typing this on. In each case the old pieces were failing: the mouse button was unreliable; the cap to one of the keyboard keys ('d') wore a hole in the middle, keeping the switch from engaging, and more keys were dropping out (especially shift states); and the right speaker was cracking up, so I had been listening to only one speaker for months (and wondering why the sound was so crap compared to the cheaper speakers on the other computer).

I went with a Logitech wireless (not Bluetooth) mouse, which is a huge improvement. I'm having more trouble adjusting to the keyboard, which is a bit disappointing give how much the Keychron Q3 cost: the brown switchers have more click than I'm used to, and the backlighting can be disorienting (presumably that and everything else is programmable, but I haven't looked up how to do that through Linux). But it's very sturdily built (weighs about 6 lbs), and the keys and mechanical switches are high quality, so I doubt they'll wear down like the Logitech keyboard did. I could wind up liking it once I get use to the feel. Speakers (Creative Labs Gigaworks T40) are pretty good, too, although I haven't used them much. (I use a second computer for streaming, but downloads land on this one, and I haven't been paying them much attention.)

Bonus is that I had to do some massive tidying up before I could install it all, which gave me lots of time to worry. That gives me a spot where I can organize the 2022 CDs I have in case I want to recheck any. Although I think the current grade sort on my jazz and non-jazz lists is good enough, I doubt that the A-list ranking is anywhere near right.

We have minimal plans for Thanksgiving, as it's always hard to round people up, and we have no particular place to go. I thought we might just grill some hamburgers and eggplant (topped with yogurt, a Turkish thing), and make baked beans, potato salad, slaw, and a spice cake. Should be warmer than last week was, and I can fob the grilling off on a guest, so that's always a treat for me.

New records reviewed this week:

  • A-Trak: 10 Seconds: Volume 1 (2022, Fool's Gold, EP): [sp]: B+(***)
  • A-Trak: 10 Seconds: Volume 2 (2022, Fool's Gold, EP): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Adult.: Becoming Undone (2022, Dais): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Franco Ambrosetti: Nora (2022, Enja): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Au Suisse: Au Suisse (2022, City Slang): [sp]: B+(*)
  • The Black Dog: Brutal Minimalism EP (2022, Dust Science, EP): [sp]: B+(***)
  • The Black Dog: Concrete Reasoning EP (2022, Dust Science, EP): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Patricia Brennan: More Touch (2022, Pyroclastic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Terri Lynne Carrington: New Standards Vol. 1 (2022, Candid): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Frank Catalano: Live at Birdland (2022, Ropeadope): [sp]: A-
  • Callista Clark: Real to Me: The Way I Feel (2022, Big Machine): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Duduka Da Fonseca & Quarteto Universal: Yes!!! (2022, Sunnyside): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Dungen: En Är För Mycket Och Tusen Aldrig Nog (2022, Mexican Summer): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Joe Fahey: Baker's Cousin (2022, Rough Fish): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Avram Fefer Quartet: Juba Lee (2022, Clean Feed): [cdr]: A-
  • Bill Frisell: Four (2022, Blue Note): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Kittin + the Hacker: Third Album (2022, Nobody's Bizzness): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Laufey: Everything I Know About Love (2022, AWAL): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Bill Laurance: Affinity (2022, Flint Music): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jeffrey Lewis: When That Really Old Cat Dies (2022, self-released, EP): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Dana Lyn: A Point on a Slow Curve (2022, In a Circle): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jim McNeely/Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Rituals (2015 [2022], Double Moon): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Abel Mireles: Amino (2022, Sunnyside): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Judy Niemack: What's Love (2021 [2022], Sunnyside): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Lina Nyberg Band: Anniverse (2022, Hoob): [sp]: B
  • The Ostara Project: The Ostara Project (2022, Cellar): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dierk Peters: Spring (2022, Sunnyside): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Zach Phillips: Goddaughters (2022, self-released): [cd]: A-
  • Piri & Tommy: Froge.mp3 (2022, Polydor): [sp]: A-
  • Plaid: Feorm Falorx (2022, Warp): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jana Pochop: The Astronaut (2022, self-released): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Pye Corner Audio: Let's Emerge! (2022, Sonic Cathedral): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Reverso: Harmonic Alchemy (2022, Outnote): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Emiliano Sampaio Jazz Symphonic Orchestra: We Have a Dream (2022, Alessa): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Chad Taylor Trio: The Reel (2022, Astral Spirits): [bc]: A-
  • Thumbscrew: Multicolored Midnight (2021 [2022], Cuneiform): [dl]: A-
  • Dan Weiss Trio: Dedication (2020 [2022], Cygnus): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lainey Wilson: Bell Bottom Country (2022, Broken Bow): [sp]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Roy Eldridge Quartet/Ella Fitzgerald Quintet: In Concert: Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, Denmark, May 21, 1959 (1959 [2022], SteepleChase): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook (1958 [2022], Verve): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Hal Galper: Ivory Forest Redux (1979 [2022], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964 (1963-64 [2022], Elemental, 2CD): [cd]: A- [12-02]
  • Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-1966 (1965-66 [2022], Elemental, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***) [12-02]
  • Elvin Jones: Revival: Live at Pookie's Pub (1967 [2022], Blue Note): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Dickie Landry/Lawrence Weiner: 'Having Been Built on Sand/With Another Base (Basis) in Fact (1978 [2022], Unseen Worlds): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Alhaji Waziri Oshomah: World Spirituality Classics 3: The Muslim Highlife of Alhaji Waziri Oshomah (1978-84 [2022], Luaka Bop): [sp]: A-
  • Esbjörn Svensson: Home.S. (2008 [2022], ACT): [cd]: B+(*)/li>
  • Mototeru Takagi/Kim Dae Hwan/Choi Sun Bae: Seishin-Seido (1995 [2022], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Hilliard Greene/Barry Altschul: We're Playing in Here? (2007 [2022], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Homeboy Sandman: Actual Factual Pterodactyl (2008, Boy Sand Industries): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Homeboy Sandman: Chimera EP (2012, Stones Throw, EP): [sp]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Simon Belelty: Pee Wee (Jojo) [10-21]
  • Sarah Elizabeth Charles: Blank Canvas (Stretch/Ropeadope) [11-11]
  • Aubrey Johnson & Randy Ingram: Play Favorites (Sunnyside) [11-04]
  • Kirk Lightsey: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (Cellar) [11-04]

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Spent most of last week working on Jazz Critics Poll, enough so that I would have skipped this week had it not been for several fairly huge stories: the WWIII scare in Poland, the House falling into a Republican cesspit, Trump's announcement that he'll be glad to take your money in exchange for pretending to make yet another run for President (by the way, it's his 5th run, not his 3rd), and the death of Staughton Lynd. Other things popped up almost randomly, but I skipped over much more than I flagged. While I continue to be interested in Democratic strategy, I did skip over the House leadership turnover. In particular, I don't care whether Nancy Pelosi was a political mastermind (the word "consequential" is getting a lot of play) or a neoliberal hack who repeatedly screwed us over.

Hopefully next week will be boring, with its holidays and such, and I'll be able to skip it.

Margaret Carlson: [11-17] Hey, Democrats. Don't Give Up On Ohio. I'd stress that Democrats shouldn't give up on anywhere, but losing in Ohio especially hurts, because the state used to be competitive, and I don't understand why Democrats haven't done better, especially since it was the swing state in the 2004 presidential election (and they put those funny voting machines in). Sure, the steel-and-rubber belt has been in decline (for which Democrats deserve some but far from all of the blame), and southeast Ohio closely resembles West Virginia (where Democrats have been hit hardest, for reasons not entirely clear to me). On the other hand, Columbus and Cincinnati have become much more Democratic. Whether Tim Ryan was a good or bad candidate is open for argument -- my wife dislikes him intensely, but even with his retrograde politics (like his opposition to student loan forgiveness), he missed a golden opportunity in running against JD Vance, an effete phony with his Ivy League airs, his hedge fund business, and a billionaire pulling his strings. Beyond Ohio (and West Virginia), Iowa is another state the Republicans have gamed so successfully I'm inclined to suspect that something crooked is going on.

Howard Dean, who coined the phrase "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party," became chair of the DNC in 2006, and immediately looked beyond his own wing to support Democrats running in all 50 states. The 2006 and 2008 elections, with Dean at the helm, were the most successful for the Party since the 1970s. After Obama won, Dean was sent packing, and Democrats had a disastrous election in 2010, much like they did in 1994 when Clinton turned the Partly leadership into his own private vassal state. Both Clinton and Obama managed to get reëlected, but the second time without any appreciable coattails, so they could pursue their pro-business strategies without concern for their traditional party bases. That was a fine strategy for their own fundraising, but left the base with bitter resentments -- some peeled off to try their luck with Trump (bad luck, of course), and many more found a way back through Bernie Sanders.

Rachel M Cohen: [11-17] Anti-abortion groups don't think they lost the midterms: Well, by delivering the House to the Republicans, they'll stave off any attempt by Democrats to add abortion rights to federal law. That will in turn allow Republican states and their court allies to continue running amuck, sowing chaos and terror. I'm not sure that's much of a long-term strategy, but they did dodge a serious loss, which is about the best they could hope for given how unpopular their stand is.

Conor Echols: [11-18] Diplomacy Watch: Grain deal extended as Putin signals interest in peace talks. In a week when hawks got excited by an opportunity to start WWIII, some news that suggests sanity may still be possible. Especially read the following article by Echols:

  • Connor Echols: [11-16] How a lightly-source AP story almost set off World War III: "A deadly explosion in Poland kicked off hours of near-gleeful speculation about whether NATO would join the fight against Russia." Probably more accurate to say that NATO has already joined the fight -- they are, after all, providing massive amounts of arms and other support to Ukrainians directly fighting Russian invaders -- so the question was less whether a couple errant missiles was a cassus belli (a cause that is never real unless one is already itching for war -- otherwise the US would have declared war against Israel after the 1967 Liberty sinking, a much more flagrant attack than the ones cited by US warmongers in 1898, 1917, and 1964, although still less than 1941) than a time for reflection about how far NATO wants to escalate the existing war, and what the risks of continuing it may be.

  • Connor Echols: [11-15] Biden wants $37B more for Ukraine, setting up lame-duck fight. I seriously doubt Republicans will balk on more war subsidies, but note Dave DeCamp: [11-17] House Republicans Introduce Resolution to Audit Ukraine Aid. The Republicans listed are from the Trumpian fringe, but when this kind of money's available, it's almost inevitable that some will get lost or stolen, and that could be weaponized against Biden.

  • Patrick Cockburn: [11-18] Why a Diplomatic Solution to the Ukraine War is Getting More and More Elusive.

  • Jen Kirby: [11-18] Can Ukraine's infrastructure survive the winter?

  • Branko Marcetic: [11-18] NATO expansion and the origins of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: This is essential background history, an important part of the context necessary to make any sense out of Putin's invasion. (Although I still prefer my 23 Theses, which goes deeper and broader.)

    As far as I'm concerned, the best way to understand NATO is as follows: European nations could surrender military autonomy to the US in exchange for a guarantee they probably didn't need (the UK and France were allowed to rebuild to keep their colonies, but that didn't work out very well); the US accepted effective control over Europe's armed forces to keep them from doing anything stupid (although that didn't always work out, e.g., between Greece and Turkey, and didn't keep the US from doing stupid things).

    During the Cold War era, several countries opted for neutrality and fared as well or better than NATO members (e.g., Austria, Finland). After the Cold War, the more effective guarantor of peace was the expansion of the EU, but NATO persisted as a captive market for US arms manufacturers, who lobbied to expand it.

    Part of the NATO sales pitch was an effort to build up Russia as an enemy threat, which in turn made NATO a threat to Russian economic interests, as well as to Russian notions of sovereignty -- Russia was never going to turn its military over to US command -- and prestige. This was exacerbated by the US and its allies imposing sanctions on Russia, and by efforts to flip traditional Russian allies (like Ukraine and Georgia).

    In all this, both sides can be faulted for arrogance, ignorance, and reckless disregard for people caught in the middle. Still, explaining how this war came about doesn't excuse it. Rather, it helps deliver a severe indictment of each side, not that either's mistakes in any way justify the other's.

  • Rajan Menon/Dan DePetris: [11-17] Deep breaths: Article 5 will never be a flip switch for war: "After yesterday's NATO crisis that wasn't, it's clear we need to get a grip on what the alliance's obligations are -- and what they aren't."

  • Ted Snider: [11-15] Is Ukraine dropping talk of an accelerated NATO bid? "Zelensky just issue a '10 point plan for peace' with the Russians at the G20. But one thing was missing from the conversation." Some time before the invasion, I posed the question as: will Ukraine be more secure as a member of NATO (given that NATO is by definition anti-Russia) or as a non-member? The point was moot at the time, because NATO would never agree to accept a member which would immediately engage the alliance in a pre-existing war. And it's probably moot now, because Ukraine has the advantages of NATO membership -- massive arms and political support and more -- without having to give up autonomy. As Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov put it: "We are trying to be like Israel -- more independent during the next years."

Dexter Filkins: [11-14] A dangerous game over Taiwan. Better for background than for strategic thinking, but then I doubt there is any good strategic thinking on the subject. E.g.: "Taiwan's defeat would dramatically weaken America's position in the Pacific, where US naval ships guard some of the world's busiest sea lanes." Guard them from what, pray tell? Most of the shipping in the area is to and from China. What I think should be obvious is that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be much more difficult to pull off than Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even if the US military remains disengaged, and more prone to catastrophic escalation. But China has never risked that kind of confrontation, and Taiwan is unlikely to try to provoke it. I'm not so sure about the China-haters in the US.

Also on China:

Samuel Gardner-Bird: [11-15] The unipolar moment is over. When will the US get it? "These former Global South leaders don't mince words when it comes to America's diminishing leadership and the 'rules base order.'" Unfortunate, this was just a Quincy Institute colloquium, but we've heard grumblings like this in more formal forums, like last week's COP27, and the Doha round of world trade talks.

Anand Giridharadas: [11-19] This Week, Billionaires Made a Strong Case for Abolishing Themselves. Starts with the obvious low-hanging fruit: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the already-abolished crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried, and Donald Trump (who also isn't much of a billionaire). It shouldn't be hard to find similar stories among the less storied. Much harder to find exceptions (and no, I wouldn't give George Soros an automatic bye). Giridharadas has a new book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. For a review, see:

Margaret Hartmann: [11-16] 7 Ways Trump's 2024 Announcement Was Totally Sad! "There was no way Trump's 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday night was going to beat 2015's iconic, racist spectacle, but the event failed to meet even significantly lowered expectations." First thing I noticed was that there was no escalator in Mar-A-Lago. Trump's entrance was shrouded by a crowd, so you could barely see him until he stepped up on the stage. Then he went into his bored teleprompted voice, with his laundry list of absurd claims about how America was perfect back when he was President. Not quite how I remember it. I tuned out after a few minutes of that, but here's Hartman's list:

  1. Multiple Trump family members skipped the event. [Most strategically Ivanka, who issued a press release saying she wouldn't be part of the 2024 campaign.]
  2. Cable news networks didn't carry the whole speech. [Even Fox cut away.]
  3. The pump-up music was from Les Mis. [As opposed to "Rockin' in the Free World" in 2016.]
  4. He made a lot of confusing flubs.
  5. Security wouldn't let people leave.
  6. Former Trump officials bashed him on-air. [The most carefully crafted line was "I think he's the only Republican who could lose."]
  7. The New York Post's coverage was savage.

More on Trump:

  • Jonathan Chait: [11-19] Trump Says He's 'Not Going to Partake' in Being Charged by Special Counsel: But "that is not how our legal system works."

  • George T Conway III: [11-15] Trump is out for vengeance -- and to protect himself from prosecution.

  • Shirin Ghaffary: [11-19] Elon Musk just let Trump back on Twitter. Sounds like a desperate ploy to gin up some traffic, but if Trump takes the bait, it will also be an easy way to kill Trump's competing network. Ghaffary also wrote: A comprehensive guide to how Elon Musk is changing Twitter.

  • Briahna Joy Gray: [11-18] Don't Write Him Off Yet. I think he's probably toast, but that's mostly because he's stuck in a rut moaning about how everyone is picking on him, while pretending everything he did as president was perfect -- when most of what he did was rote Republicanism, liberally seasoned with his trademark vanities and vulgarities (which his people love and others hate). Still, it's not inconceivable he could turn it around, but only if he's willing to step outside the system, admit some failures (while blaming them on other Republicans), and make the case that if you give him the chance again, he'll finally deliver on what he intended to do in his first campaign (before Pence, Christie, McConnell, Ryan, etc., buggered it all up). Sure, I don't think he's smart enough to do that, and he still has a massive credibility problem, and he's no longer someone people are willing to take a chance on just because they hate his opponent even more. But when he starts debating primary Republicans, they're going to give him a lot of ammunition to use, and he at least used to have an instinct for that. And by the way, no need to waste energy rooting for or against him, because every other Republican is as bad.

  • Eric Lipton/Maggie Haberman: [10-20] Trump Family's Newest Partners: Middle Eastern Governments: "The government of Oman is a partner in a real estate deal signed last week by the former president, intensifying questions about a potential conflict as he seeks the White House again."

  • Ruth Marcus: [11-19] Garland's appointment of a special counsel was cautious. But also bold.

  • Andrew Prokop: [11-18] Why special counsel Jack Smith might be different from Robert Mueller: I don't have any particular insight here, but it seems to me that the criminal investigations into Trump should be handled by someone with a degree of political independence. Interesting that Smith has experience at the Hague prosecuting war crimes, but that doesn't seem to be in his remit here.

  • Dana Milbank: [11-18] As Republicans take the House, the crazies take the wheel. For a bunch of pundits, Marjorie Taylor Greene has already become the face of the Republican House. I doubt that's realistic, but she certainly isn't shying away from the spotlight. For Milbank's predictable pan of the Trump announcement, see: [11-15] At Trump's angry announcement, the magic is gone. He even winds up quoting Marx about history repeating itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

William Hartung: [11-17] Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth. I've often thought that the federal government should take over the arms industries, less for efficiency than to factor out the profit motive. Back in WWII, it made sense to use existing companies to ramp up production, and with cost-plus-10% contracts, everyone wanted to get in on the act. The result was the famous "arsenal of democracy," which brought the wars to a successful conclusion in remarkable time.

After the war, most companies converted back to consumer products, but a few hoped to keep on the gravy train, and they started lobbying efforts to spread fear and promote massive spending on "defense" -- so much so that by 1960, Eisenhower warned that the "military-industrial complex" was becoming an autonomous force in American politics. Since then, the US has repeatedly been thrown into wars, each one adding to bottom line of the arms merchants. But as importantly, the arms merchants have taken over US foreign policy, creating a worldwide market for US arms, fueling other wars, including ones where it's impossible to discern real American interests.

It seems crass to suggest that the only reason for the expansion of NATO was to expand the US arms market to Eastern Europe, but it's hard to explain otherwise. It even seems doubtful that the current war in Ukraine would have erupted had it not been for the insult and injury caused by NATO expansion: insult because expansion depended on playing up the threat posed by Russia, and injury because NATO took business away from Russia, especially their own lucrative arms industry.

Also at the invaluable TomDispatch:

  • Tom Engelhardt: [11-20] Future Heat Wave? "When Will Climate Change Become the Crucial Issue in American Elections?" The glib answer is "too late to make any difference." Americans used to pride themselves for pragmatism, including a willingness to put pre-conceived ideas aside and settle on whatever works (Franklin Roosevelt is the best political example, although George Washington and Abraham Lincoln also fit). But as hard as it is to discard dysfunctional ideas, it's even harder to overcome politically influential interest groups. The result is that Americans regularly get blindsided by reality, and forced to learn things the hard way. Climate is likely to be worse than most, partly because it's a derivative as opposed to an immediate fact, but also because it's going to get worse elsewhere before it gets that bad here. (Micronesian islanders have been terrified for years now, and South Asians are getting there fast.) What's perhaps hardest to anticipate is how Americans will react as the world blames them for their hardships. (We got a hint of this at COP27.)

  • Andrew Bacevich: [11-15] The Unasked Questions of 2022: Scattered ruminations on the UK and US political systems, finding both misguided, but at least credits the Brits with their swift dispatch of Elizabeth Truss: "when faced with a crisis of their politics, their politicians dealt with it expeditiously, even ruthlessly." By contrast, the American system couldn't rid itself of the far more clueless and malign Donald Trump until his fixed four-year term expired. But the American malaise runs far deeper than Trump's Ubu Roi act. Bacevich, who prides himself on his conservatism, offers a useful (but far from complete) bullet list:

    • the pervasive dysfunction that grips Congress;
    • the seemingly terminal irresponsibility to which the Republican Party has succumbed;
    • the corrupting influence of money on politics, national and local;
    • a waning public confidence in the impartiality of the courts;
    • a "way of life" centered on rampant consumption with lip service paid to the rapid environmental deterioration of our world;
    • freedom defined as radical autonomy, shorn of any collective obligation;
    • grotesque economic inequality of a sort not seen since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century;
    • increasing levels of violence stoked by resentments related to race and class;
    • the invasively corrosive, ever-expanding impact of social media;
    • deep-seated disputes centering on the role of religion in American life;
    • a mindless penchant for military activism sustained by willful amnesia about war's actual costs and consequences;
    • a refusal to acknowledge that the era of American global primacy is ending;
    • and last (but by no means least), a loss of faith in the Constitution as the essential cornerstone of our political order.
  • Bacevich has a new book of old (2016-21) essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. No doubt I've read most of them when they came out. It is far easier to show how America's worldview is myopic and dysfunctional than it is to actually convince people to open their eyes and see the world as it really is. Democrats and Republicans all have deep but different delusions about American power -- I'd say at least two sets per party -- and they have to be addressed each in turn. For Bacevich, it often suffices to show that the policies rooted in those myths do not work, and often cause even more harm, so the sane (conservative) response is to back away, to learn to exercise more restraint. However, there's another approach that may help Democrats break their kneejerk embrace of omnipotent intervention, and that's to not just do less harm but to do some good.

  • Rajan Menon: [11-13] Fighting a War on the Wrong Planet: "What climate change should have taught us." Includes a section on the Ukraine War, which strikes me as far from complete, but underscores that the climate, therefore the rest of the world, has a stake in ending the war. Another section asks "What International Community?" As long as Great Power politics dominates, there can be no community.

Sabrina Malhi: [11-20] RSV, covid and flu push hospitals to the brink -- and it may get worse.

Branko Marcetic: [11-18] The Left Has a Lot to Celebrate After the Surprising Midterm Results: Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot to justify an article like this.

Matt McManus: [11-19] Why Conservative Intellectuals Are Anti-Intellectual: "The heart of the problem for conservatives is this: they fear too much intellectualism will lead people to question authority and hierarchy." Probably shouldn't waste too much time on this subject, but I hadn't noted before one quote, where J.S. Mill called conservatives the "stupid party."

Ian Millhiser: [11-19] The Federalist Society controls the federal judiciary, so why can't they stop whining?

Nicole Narea: [11-17] The GOP captures the House -- and is ready for revenge. Current numbers (Friday evening) are 218 R to 212 D, with 5 seats undecided (AK, 3 in CA, and 1 in CO, with R's currently leading in 3). But of course they're out for revenge. The only thing that motivates Republicans is quest for power, and the thing they like best about being in power is flouting it, especially to punish their enemies. So yeah, expect a non-stop shit-show from House Republicans. That should provide Democrats with plenty of talking points about how Republicans can't be trusted with any power in government. For more on Republicans, especially in the House:

David Price: [11-18] The Great COIN Con: Anthropologists' Lessons Learned After Two Decades of America's Failed Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan.

Clay Risen: [11-18] Staughton Lynd, Historian and Activist Turned Labor Lawyer, Dies at 92. Born 1929, his parents were famous sociologists, and he took their politics further left. He wrote a short book in 1968 called Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, which I read and loved enough I wrote a letter objecting to Eugene Genovese's savage pan of the book. Genovese replied and suggested I read some of his work. I did, which steered me toward Marxism. Eventually, I conceded Genovese's points, but always remained sympathetic to Lynd -- which he rewarded with a long lifetime of political activism, eventually leaving academia for a second career as a labor organizer and lawyer.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-18] Roaming Charges: The Upside-Down World. As usual, lots of stuff here. One thing I learned about was "Natrium nuclear reactors." I had never heard of "natrium" before, but it turns out it's just a registered brand name for a particular company products, more generically known as sodium-cooled fast reactors (which I had heard of -- they go some way toward solving the worst risks of conventional reactors, but I'm not sure they go far enough). One item here worth quoting at length: a list of things that have already happened in the Ukraine War that weren't anticipated by either side:

We've seen several of these unanticipated turning points already in Ukraine: the thwarted run on Kyiv, the butchery at Bucca, the annexation of the four oblasts, the sabotage of the Crimean bridge and Nordstream pipelines, Putin's nuclear threats, Zelensky's belligerence, the resistance to Putin's draft orders, the retreats from Kharkiv and Kherson, the attacks on Ukrainian civilian power plants, which have left upwards of 10 million people without electricity as winter sets in. This week we narrowly avoided another, when a grain facility in eastern Poland was struck by an errant Ukrainian missile, killing two people and threatening to detonate a chain of events that would have dangerously escalated the war, putting NATO on a direct nuclear collision course with Russia.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, November archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 63 albums, 6 A-list,

Music: Current count 39065 [39002] rated (+63), 46 [43] unrated (+3: 18 new, 28 old).

I've made a small bit of progress toward organizing the Jazz Critics Poll, but not nearly enough. I was pleased to receive unsolicited mail from one of the voters today, reminding me that people are interested in this happening. I've thus far failed to line up a sponsor, but I want to make my website the focal point, so not lining up sponsorship won't stop it from happening. I would appreciate any suggestions on how to make the presentation more appealing, and/or how to better get the word out when we announce the results.

I'm still planning on sending the voter invites out this week. Basic minimal qualifications for voting are that you need to have heard several hundred new jazz releases this year, and to have written about several dozen of them (broadcast journalists also count -- we have a number of them, although that's not a world I'm very familiar with; thus far I've heard 681 jazz releases, out of 1113 in my tracking file). Here's a list of voters from 2021. If you know someone else who should be voting, let me know.

This week's records started with a long trawl through the late Loretta Lynn's back catalogue. I had looked for her albums a while back and found very little, so it's likely that their addition to streaming services is recent and ongoing (availability starts to get patchy after 1977, and I'm still missing one duet album with Ernest Tubb and several with Conway Twitty -- who, like many country stars of the period, I know almost exclusively from compilations).

A couple of minor notes here: I complained last week about Jerry Lee Lewis albums failing to hit 30 minutes, but threw in the towel here: none of Lynn's 1960s and 1970s albums do (they mostly run 11 tracks). I only did the first (of three, I think) Greatest Hits LPs, partly because I used to own the LP, and partly because she was only beginning to find her unique voice when it came out, so it shows a different side of her compared to the later compilations. One thing I found interesting was that during breaks from this immersion in her work, I found myself recalling other country songs, mostly from George Jones and Merle Haggard. Must be some common bits of melody wafting through all three.

The Mingus record was due to a user question. He asked whether my having skipped the record meant some sort of disapproval. You can rest assured that omissions simply reflect ignorance. Had I been aware of the album (at least during the last 20 years) I would have listed it. Now I am aware, and have listed it.

The new stuff came late in the week, mostly promos that weren't due for release until early November, plus a couple of the August NoBusiness releases I just got this week. I've aded things to my jazz and non-jazz files, but haven't gotten around to rethinking the order (what's currently there is likely to change, possibly a lot). I see that AOTY is reporting the first 2022 Music Year End Lists (Decibel, Uncut). I haven't tracked them yet, but will soon begin to (the current Aggregate File has 80+ ratings (*) and mid-year lists (+), so is somewhat biased toward early-year releases, but the ranking there is: Wet Leg, Big Thief, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Rosalia, Beyoncé, Mitski, Black Country New Road, The Smile, Nilufer Yanya. I weigh the EOY lists more heavily (5 points for top picks, 4 for 2-5, 3 for 6-10, 2 for 11-20, 1 for all other mentions), so the current numbers will soon get swamped.

I just realized that one of the reasons I've been avoiding playing downloads (e.g., the new Thumbscrew album) is that the Klipsch speakers on the machine I collect them on are flaky, with one side turned down to squelch noise. I've just ordered a new pair of (slightly cheaper) Creative Labs speakers, so hopefully that will fix the problem. I had to replace the mouse last week, and I'm delighted with the new one, not least for eliminating the wire.

New records reviewed this week:

  • The Attic [Rodrigo Amado/Gonçalo Almeida/Onno Govaert]: Love Ghosts (2020 [2022], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-
  • Jakob Bro/Joe Lovano: Once Around the Room: A Tribute to Paul Motian (2021 [2022], ECM): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Armani Caesar: The Liz 2 (2022, Griselda): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Coco & Clair Clair: Sexy (2022, self-released): [sp]: B+(*)
  • George Colligan: King's Dream (2022, P.Ice): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Olli Hirvonen: Kielo (2022, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Homeboy Sandman: Still Champion (2022, self-released): [sp]: A-
  • Dan Israel: Seriously (2022, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Song Yi Jeon/Vinicius Gomes: Home (2020 [2022], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(***) [11-18]
  • Kirk Knuffke/Michael Bisio: For You I Don't Want to Go (2020 [2022], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-
  • Sarathy Korwar: Kalak (2022, The Leaf Label): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Dave Liebman: Trust and Honesty (2022, Newvelle): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Mama's Broke: Narrow Line (2022, Free Dirt): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Mama's Broke: Count the Wicked (2017, self-released): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Timothy Norton: Visions of Phaedrus (2021 [2022], Truth Revolution): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Houston Person: Reminiscing at Rudy's (2022, HighNote): [cd]: B+(***) [11-18]
  • Smino: Luv 4 Rent (2022, Zero Fatigue/Motown): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Sonido Solar: Eddie Palmieri Presents Sonido Solar (2022, Truth Revolution): [cd]: B+(**)
  • They Might Be Giants: Book (2021, Idlewild): [sp]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Yuji Takahashi/Sabu Toyozumi: The Quietly Clouds and a Wild Crane (1998 [2022], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Homeboy Sandman: Nourishment (Second Helpings) (2007, Boy Sand Industries): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: Loretta Lynn Sings (1963, Decca): [sp]: A-
  • Loretta Lynn: Before I'm Over You (1964, Decca): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Loretta Lynn: Songs From My Heart . . . (1965, Decca): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl (1965, Decca): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: Hymns (1965, Decca): [sp]: B
  • Loretta Lynn: I Like 'Em Country (1966, Decca): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: You Ain't Woman Enough (1966, Decca): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)B+(***)
  • Loretta Lynn: Who Says God Is Dead! (1968, Decca): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Loretta Lynn's Greatest Hits (1961-67 [1968], Decca): [r]: A-
  • Loretta Lynn: Fist City (1968, Decca): [sp]: A-
  • Loretta Lynn: Your Squaw Is on the Warpath Tonight (1969, Decca): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Here's Loretta Singing "Wings Upon Your Horns" (1969 [1970], Decca): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Loretta Lynn Writes 'Em and Sings 'Em (1965-69 [1970], Decca): [r]: B+(***)
  • Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner's Daughter (1970 [1971], Decca): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Loretta Lynn: I Wanna Be Free (1971, Decca): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: You're Lookin' at Country (1971, Decca): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: Alone With You (1961-64 [1972], Vocalion): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: One's on the Way (1972, Decca): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Loretta Lynn: Here I Am Again (1972, Decca): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Entertainer of the Year (1972, Decca): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Love Is the Foundation (1973, MCA): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty: Country Partners (1974, MCA): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Loretta Lynn: They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy (1974, MCA): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Back to the Country (1974, MCA): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty: Feelins' (1975, MCA): [sp]: B-
  • Loretta Lynn: When the Tingle Becomes a Chill (1976, MCA): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty: United Talent (1976, MCA): [sp]: B
  • Loretta Lynn: I Remember Patsy (1977, MCA): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Loretta Lynn: Out of My Head and Back in My Bed (1978, MCA): [sp]: B
  • Loretta Lynn: Making Love From Memory (1982, MCA): [sp]: B
  • Loretta Lynn: Lyin', Cheatin', Woman Chasin', Honky Tonkin', Whiskey Drinkin' You (1983, MCA): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Just a Woman (1985, MCA): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: Who Was That Stranger (1988, MCA): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Loretta Lynn: Still Country (2000, Audium): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Charles Mingus: Tonight at Noon (1957-61 [1964], Atlantic): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Dolly Parton/Loretta Lynn/Tammy Wynette: Honky Tonk Angels (1993, Columbia): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn: Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be (1965, Decca): [sp]: B
  • Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn: Singin' Again (1967, Decca): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn: Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man (1973, MCA): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn: Two's a Party (1981, MCA): [sp]: B
  • Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn: The Best of Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1971-88 [2000], MCA Nashville): [sp]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The Attic [Rodrigo Amado/Gonçalo Almeida/Onno Govaert]: Love Ghosts (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Hal Galper: Ivory Forest Redux (1979, Origin) [11-18]
  • Kirk Knuffke/Michael Bisio: For You I Don't Want to Go (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Zach Phillips: Goddaughters (self-released) [08-12]
  • Scenes: Variable Clouds: Live at the Earshot Jazz Festival (Origin) [11-18]
  • Cory Smythe: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Pyroclastic) [12-02]
  • Wil Swindler's Elevenet: Space Bugs: Live in Denver (OA2) [11-18]
  • Yuji Takahashi/Sabu Toyozumi: The Quietly Clousd and a Wild Crane (1998, NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Hilliard Greene/Barry Altschul: We're Playing in Here? (2007, NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Dan Weiss Trio: Dedication (Cygnus) [11-11]
  • Rodney Whitaker: Oasis (Origin) [11-18]

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

The following section was started on Wednesday, mostly finished by Thursday, although I've added occasional bits. This intro was written Sunday afternoon. The Arizona and Nevada Senate races were finally called for the Democrats, giving them 50 seats, plus a chance to pick up one more in the Georgia runoff, As I understand it, the extra seat will save them from some procedural hassles, so would be a big plus. Plus one seat still means that Manchin and Sinema can veto legislation, and perhaps most importantly any change to the filibuster rule, but it will take both of them instead of either/or. Still may not matter much if the House goes to the Republicans, as seems likely.

Democrats have bravely claimed their showing as some kind of win, at least a victory over expectations, which seem to have been set by a combination of Republican arrogance and Democratic self-doubt. I haven't dug into the results nearly as much as in previous years, so have very little to say about specific races. Some of the articles below are helpful (especially the interviews), but none are anywhere near definitive.

Still, I'm not very happy with this election. I've felt all along that Democrats should be able to do better. I'm particularly saddened at not picking up the Senate seat in Wisconsin -- I seriously doubt anyone has ever won three Senate terms by slimmer margins than Ron Johnson (although Russ Feingold was close on track with his first two wins, before Johnson beat him). Also in Ohio, which is a state I've always felt Democrats should be winning, and Iowa and Missouri, which should be more competitive. (North Carolina was actually a bit closer, but always seems to fall short, as do the big hopes centrist Democrats hold for Florida and Texas.)

In Kansas, Democratic governor Laura Kelly won a very close race against one of the most loathsome Republicans I've encountered in a long time, but didn't have enough coattails to carry an Attorney General race where Republicans nominated the wretched Kris Kobach, let alone her former Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, who ran for Treasurer. The State Supreme Court justices Republicans were keen to purge for ruling that abortion is a constitutional right were easily retained, and the House gerrymander failed to get rid of Kansas' one Democratic Representative. I also think it's significant that Sen. Jerry Moran, who is a reliable Republican foot-soldier but far from the worst, only barely managed 60% of the vote, despite outspending Democrat Mark Holland by 6.6-to-1 (felt more like 30-to-1, which was about what happened six years ago, when Moran again was capped at 60%). Despite its bloody-red reputation, Kansas reliably has a close to 40% Democratic base no matter now little they campaign. Shouldn't we be able to build on that?

Americans voted for a new Congress, many Governors, and lots of lower offices. I ventured last week and the week before that the relentless drumroll of media stories touting Republican polling gains, even in publications like Vox that supposedly lean left, amounted to gaslighting. As the actual votes got counted, the New York Times (as usual, one of the worst offenders) immediately spun by asking their pundits: How did Democrats escape a rout?. A better question is why did a party that had nothing to offer America except more corruption, a diminished economy, less equality, more injustice, more guns and violence, fewer rights and an increasingly tattered security, with such contempt for the people that they spent the last two years scheming ways to steal elections and sabotage popular efforts when they lost anyway: why did this Republican Party still managed to get anywhere close to half of the votes? I suspect that the real effect of the gaslighting was less, as I mentioned last week, to set up another round of election-stealing charges, than to simply legitimize a Party that deserves nothing less than total dismissal.

I opened this file Wednesday afternoon because I wanted to start with this tweet from Rick Perlstein:

Let's be real. When the opposition is organized around doing nothing to help human beings, runs lunatics, and abandons the basic pretense of commitment to democracy, and the result is a tie, this is a demonstration of the weakness of the Democratic Party, not its health.

I only half approve of this tweet. The slam on the Republicans is succinct but fundamentally right. What's missing is not just extra charges, of which there are many, but appreciation of how effective Republicans are at campaigning with such obvious faults. Without considering how Republicans tap into deep-seated psychic traits, it's impossible to tell whether a tie is a sign of Democratic weakness or heroism. One can argue either case, but let's start by nothing that unlike the midterm fiascos of 1994 and 2010, Democrats held their own this year. This was certainly not because Republicans got lazy and/or missed tricks. Their relentless demonization of Biden drove approval polls toward 40% over a year ago, and their media manipulation far exceeded anything in my memory. They had tons of money, which helped them select emotional hot buttons, forcing Democrats to back-peddle and depend on reason.

Yet still, voters resisted. Biden's argument that democracy was at stake may have seemed too abstract, but it became much more palpable when the Republican-packed Supreme Court stripped Americans of their constitutional right to reproductive choice. Granted, Democrats should have done a better job of illuminating the much broader threat that Republicans poised to our freedoms, to our well-being, to society as a whole. Or alternatively, they could have tried harder to get people to fear and loathe Republicans, as Republicans have done to liberals and ultimately all Democrats over the last 40-50 years. But that's an uphill battle, and isn't necessarily in their nature (or necessarily a good thing). The Democratic Party is diverse and divided, intent on representing and servicing everyone -- which puts it at a severe disadvantage when facing such a single-minded adversary.

Scanning further down in the Perlstein thread, I see he writes more [other comments in brackets; mine are TH]:

  • Writing a whole book about it. [TH: Good. Been thinking about my own. What's wrong with R's is easy part, although few have noted the toxic power lust going back to Nixon. Hard part is what D's can do, given the asymmetries in identity and approach. Also, per W Rogers, Ds are not "an organized political party."]
  • What have Dems done to create a more robust sense of party identity ("tribalism"), build their own media ecosystem, and degrade the strategic capacity of the oppositions? Every excuse is an indictment.
  • Learned helplessness. If we don't win, the planet and the society collapse.
  • [jeff scheiner: Don't overlook money and media though.] Thanks for the reminder. Democrats collect and spend absurdly large amounts of money with no coordinated strategic vision, and have created no media platforms to define the terms of battle.
  • [desertbunny: We need a mechanism to be able to sue for political malpractice.] That mechanism is called "grassroots participation in Democratic Party politics." Volunteer in your ward/county organization, etc. The only out is through.
  • [VHistory: I'm not so sure I'm as much of a pessimist. Remember, many voters inexplicably don't see the GOP that way. Fundamentally we're just a broken electorate. Plus, I think if Dems become more activist it'll help them. They survived because of the things they did for people.] This is optimism, not pessimism. It's a faith that it's possible to build a vision in which the Democrats won operational control of the country for generations, like under FDR, and the GOP functions as an oppositional rump.
  • [David Silva: But let's not overlook the raw emotional appeal of the GOP. The attractive power of a lynch mob.] Dems one had a raw emotional power, of helping you stick it to the boss. One of the wages of Clintonism was making that go away.
  • [john maccallum: Of course the Democratic Party is weak. No labor unions or big city political machines to offset GOP $$$, a need to placate monied interests to raise $$$, dispirited core groups by a reactionary corporate media run by the rich.] And . . . Democrats couldn't have done more to rebuild union power? Every excuse is an indictment.

A couple more comments from the thread:

  • John Sheehan: One party has a 24-hour a day propaganda arm pushing its lies our 365 days a year. The other party, the Democrats, don't have that advantage. You're acting like it's a level playing field. [TH: No, you need strategies that work better given the unevenness of the playing field. Some tilts, like the Senate, are impossible to change. Gerrymandering, money, media access, etc., are also uphill climbs.]
  • Vax-o-licius: The theory underlying this tweet is that with better messaging and strategy Dems could romp to overwhelming victory. There is no evidence this is the case. What the last 7 years have taught us is that there is a pretty large constituency in this country for GOP lunacy. You can ALWAYS criticize the Democrats' messaging and strategy -- and you should -- but it's important to keep in ind that through all the scandals, incompetence and corruption, through Jan 6 and the fine job Dems did exposing it, the % of people who approve of Trump has gone UP.
  • ZaxxonGalaxian: Should be a landslide every election against this GOP, but we have to contend with a signif part of the older white electorate brainwashed by Fox News, fundamentalist churches, and Facebook conspiracy theories. The youth + educated + minority vote doesn't way outnumber them yet.
  • LeftOfTheDial: We can't just blame the GOP. The Dems are constrained in what policies/messages they can offer as a compelling, progressive alternative to the GOP by a combination of neoliberal ideology and subservience to donors. The result: tepid incrementalsm and ties.
  • AXEL LYCAN: The Dems waste so much money and energy on the same old add-makers and media advisors that have lost them thousands of races since Obama even came into office.
  • Cute Username: I feel like there is a substantial amount of evidence that the American people are a bunch of jerks who don't care about that kind of thing. For instance, your own books.
  • Kenny Log-ins: The fact that you can't see, or refuse to recognize, that the issue is WHITE PEOPLE ENTRENCHING INTO WHITE SUPREMACY is . . . unsurprising. Nah must be the Dems fault. [TH: This accompanied by a chart showing white men breaking 63-35 R, white women 53-45 R. I don't doubt that racism is part of what's driving the R's, especially when it can be coded as crime or wokism, but is White Supremacy really a useful term for mostly inchoate prejudice? And how does condemning whites for racism help you win elections?]
  • Real Benisons: Rightist Rs promised the psychic income of cruelty/owning libs/racism to plenty of humans. Is democracy as such anywhere near as salient to voters as freedoms? Ds could seize high ground against Rs who've become hostile to freedom in many ways.

I don't think we can stress too muchthe role of the mainstream media in conditioning (and legitimating) expectations for the election. One piece you should read is from Steve M.'s invaluable No More Mister Nice Blog: [11-09] Democrats hold off the red wave -- and The New York Times. The bulk of the piece is a day-by-day roll call of articles predicting doom for the Democrats. Nore was the Times alone in drinking Republican Kool-Aid: he includes similar pieces from The New Yorker, CNN, Bloomberg, Politico, Axios, and Washington Post. Millions of Americans depend on these outlets for relief from the non-stop propaganda spewed out by Fox and kin, so when the "reality-based" world gets snowed, it's hard for most people not to think they might have some kind of point. In this case they were wrong.

M. also wrote an earlier [11-05] piece on one specific New Yorker writer: Benjamin Wallace-Wells is a well-worked ref:

This is how the media works: Right-wing outlets offer pure GOP cheerleading and relentless demonization of Democrats, while Republican spin doctors live rent-free in every "liberal" media journalist's head, and stories routinely bash Democrats as a result.

PS: Dean Baker has another example of how the New York Times spread misinformation in the runup to the election: [11/03] It's Five Days Before the Election and the NYT Has Another Bad News About the Economy Story that Contradicts Government Data.

Another tweet on party mentality, from Josh Marshall:

Dems went into the senate battle Tuesday tense/worried. Most GOPs put on paper that they were absolutely going to run the fucking table, get 55 seats. Both were looking at the same roughly tied polls. This remains an enduring feature of the collective mentality of both parties.

Not a propos of the election, but another tweet caught my eye:

Whether it's Democrats defriending their Facebook contacts for being Republicans or Republicans shooting and killing their neighbors for being Democrats, both sides have an intolerance problem.

True enough, but it's not the same intolerance problem.

Here are a few post-election links/comments that caught my eye:

Isaac Chotiner: [11-11] Nate Cohn explains why this year's midterms broke the mold: Interview with "The [New York] Times' polling guru." Chotiner also wrote: [11-10] The accurate election polls that no one believed.

Matthew Cooper: [11-11] Why Did Democrats Do So Well in the Midterms? I'd probably be more tempted to write a "Why did Democrats do so poorly" piece, since my default position is that Republicans are so bad, and that Democrats are objectively so much better, that if everyone gave the question serious thought the results would have been much more favorable. Still, this makes the case that some Democratic arguments -- especially on abortion and democracy -- resonated with enough voters to stay close even given the Republican snow job.

James Fallows: [11-09] The Political Press Needs a Time Out: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. How about if we waste less time trying." More examples of misleading analysis, especially from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Judd Legum has more: [11-10] Political media is broken.

Benjamin Hart: [11-12] Donald Trump's Gift to Democrats. Interview with Amy Walter, of Cook Political Report. Trump has been in the news literally every day since he left office, which has made him much harder to forgive than, say, GW Bush, who became a hermit after 2008, and was totally forgotten by 2010 (even though his administration could be blamed for virtually everything had gone wrong in Obama's first two years). No doubt Trump motivated more Democrats to vote than would have without his constant irritation, but he also motivated his followers, and gave them renewed confidence even if based on lies. Hart's title isn't meant that way, but Republican elites who have no problem with Trump as long as he's winning will point to this disappointment as proof that he's not worth the drama, and should be dumped ASAP. Godspeed, sure, but Trump is still able to do one thing no other Republican can: suck all the oxygen out of a room, so it becomes impossible to rationally debate issues. Given the irrationality of Republican stances on virtually all issues, his removal may not work out as well as they think.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske/Paul Kane: [11-12] Democrats surged to flip state legislatures, defying past GOP gains.

Ellen Ioanes: [11-13] Democrats kept the Senate. But Georgia is still important.

Robert Kuttner: [11-11] Did We Just Save Democracy? Maybe, sort of, aside from the fact that democracy wasn't in very good shape in the first place. Kuttner refers to a review of his book Going Big: FDR's Legacy, Biden's New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy: [11-07] Steps in the Left Direction.

Eric Levitz: [11-10] David Shor's (Premature) Autopsy of the 2020 Midterm Elections. Midterms basically turn on which party comes out to vote, and which stays home. So the interesting point Shor makes here is: Republicans were up by about 2% relative to Democrats. Still, Democrats did better in battleground states, and seem to have gotten lazy in states they thought they had locked up (e.g., New York, California).

Maurice Mitchell: [11-11] How the Democrats Won and Lost and 2022 Midterms. "Tuesday's results are a reprieve, but we still have mountains to move."

Will Norris: [11-10] The Beginning of the End of the Subminimum Wage: "D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to force restaurants to pay employees the full minimum wage. The rest of the nation is likely to follow."

Charles P Pierce: [11-10] No One Can Pretend that Wisconsin Is a Republic: Wisconsin has the most grotesque partisan gerrymandering of any state. It's so bad that when Democrats got 51 percent of the vote statewide, they only won 30 percent of the seats in the state legislature.

Nathan J Robinson: [11-09] The Majority of Americans Do Not Support Right-Wing Extremism.

Bill Scher: [11-09] America Does Care About Democracy and Abortion Rights. Some curious poll numbers here: 52 percent say the Republican Party is "too extreme," but 51% say the same about the Democratic Party (huh?); 56 percent believe Republicans want to pass a national abortion ban, but 53% believe Democrats want to put police funding (as recently as 2021, Democrats actually voted to increase police funding). Part of this can be blamed on Democrats having poor messaging skills, but there's some deep psychology here that Republicans have learned to exploit but which leaves Democrats awkwardly clueless.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-11] Roaming Charges: The Searh for Intelligent Life in American Politics: He's proudly outside of the two-party system ("I don't think a candidate I've actively supported has ever won elective office"), but that gives him some perspective: "The fact that Democrats are relieved at the narrowness of their loss and Republicans outraged by the thinness of their win speaks to the different psychologies of the two parties. One lives in fear, unsure (with reason) about its own beliefs. The other perpetually angry that not everyone bends to their will." This is followed by the illustration for "a blue surge is coming for Florida, sooner rather than later." On the other hand, he quotes Ted Cruz on why Democrats did better than expected: "Because for two years they have governed as liberals. They've governed as whacked out lefty nut jobs. You know what that did? That excited their base. That excited a bunch of young voters." Maybe they should do more of that? Many other subjects, as usual. E.g.: "I don't understand fleeing Twitter when you can watch one of the most grotesque people on the planet be shredded day after day in his very own safe space, in front of the people whose admiration he craves."

Paul Street: [11-11] Twelve Takes on the Mid-Terms: I had doubts about linking here (he uses the "F-word" much more than necessary, as in "Republi-fascists," and nicknames Joe Biden "Burn Pit"), but couldn't deny you the dig at David ("statistically illiterate moron") Brooks.

Tessa Stuart: [11-09] It Was a Huge Night for Abortion Rights -- Even in Kentucky.

And here are few more items (mostly) beyond the election:

Dean Baker: [11-11] The Crushing Health Care Cost Burden that Never Came: Dredges up the ominous 1990s warnings of billionaire Scrooge Peter Peterson to make a couple points. One is that the cost growth projected back then wasn't really in Social Security and Medicare but in a profit-hungry health care system, that Medicare was actually doing a better job of controlling than private heath insurance was. Another is that cost growth basically went flat after the Affordable Care Act kicked in around 2015 (aside from a blip up with the pandemic in 2020, and a slide down as the pandemic abated). None of this suggests that Medicare-for-All wouldn't fare even better than Obamacare, but it does show that we'd be in much worse shape had Democrats not passed the ACA. And had Trump managed to repeal ACA, today's gas prices would just be a rounding error (even if most of the extra costs were paid for in service quality).

Jonathan Chait: [11-01] Progressive America Needs a Glasnost: "Stop being afraid to speak out against the madness." What he seems to mean is that Progressives should purge their ranks of hysterics and fringe eccentrics, but he starts with the example of the unnamed staff at the New York Times who persuaded the editorial board to not give air to an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for martial law to crush Black Lives Matter protesters. The rejection didn't prevent Cotton from airing his noxious views, and may have given him a publicity boost. There's no really good solution to issues like this. Chait has a few more examples, which are mostly things the right rails against as "cancel culture" and "political correctness." I certainly see a need to handle those cases better, but they rarely bother me, at least where the people being chastised have little power of their own. And I still have a bad taste from 1992, when Bill Clinton went out of his way to attack a minor rapper dba Sister Souljah.

Kate Conger/Mike Isaac/Ryan Mac/Tiffany Hsu: [11-11] Two Weeks of Chaos: Inside Elon Musk's Takeover of Twitter. I'm not sure why you should care, but if you're curious this is the basic story. Also:

Kelly Denton-Borhaug: [11-10] What an American Addiction to War Means to Veterans. Author has a book: And Then Your Soul Is Gone: Moral Injury and US War-Culture. Last week was Veterans Day, the only American holiday date (aside from Christmas, New Year's Day, and the 4th of July) considered so sacrosanct that it hasn't been gerrymandered into a long weekend. The date was originally fixed at the end of what was then called the Great War, making it a celebration of peace, but as the "war to end all war" in fact spawned more wars (David Fromkin wound up writing a book on the postwar settlement called The Peace to End All Peace), the holiday got taken over as a tribute to the martyrs, and eventually a celebration of American militarism. Every year, it's a holiday that makes me sick to my stomach.

I remember back when I was drafted in 1969, the greatest fear I felt wasn't what the "enemy" might do to me -- my life wasn't worth much as the time, which is part of the reason they looked on me as ideal draft bait -- but what the Army would certainly do to me to try to turn me into a killer. (Not that I didn't know well enough what was going on in Vietnam. My next door neighbor was sent there and came back in small bits.) So when the author talks about "moral injury," I recognize something deeper than the better known PTSD that affects so many veterans. "War damages all who wage it" is fairly profound, but even there the net isn't cast wide enough. War damages the politicians who vote for it, the writers who cheer it on, and many bystanders, who matter how innocent they think they are. If I've learned one thing important in my 72 years, it's that.

Connor Echols: [11-11] Diplomacy Watch: Could US-Russia nuke negotiations help set the stage for talks? Not a lot to report, but there is a report that Biden and Putin will be talking about extending the START treaty that limits some nuclear weapons. As Churchill once said, "jaw jaw is better than war war." Echols also wrote: [11-07] New White House reports suggest diplomacy isn't a four-letter word after all.

Also on Ukraine:

John Hudson: [11-12] US intelligence report says key gulf ally meddled in American politics: "The United Arab Emirates steered US foreign policy in its favor through a series of legal and illegal exploits." Given that what happens in US politics has profound impacts on the rest of the world, I'm not surprised when foreign countries try to affect US elections -- especially given that the US has a long record of trying to influence foreign elections. So most of what this proves is that it's not just Russia (and Israel, which is much more aggressive, given their proxies -- speaking of which, see Michael Arria: [11-09] AIPAC spent over $4 million trying to stop Summer Lee but she's headed to Congress).

Paul Krugman: [11-08] Is Divided Government Good? Don't Take Elon's Word for It. Refers to a Musk tweet, endorsing Republicans for Congress to lean against the Democrat in the White House. But the US has had divided government -- a President from one party and control of one or both Congressional bodies by the other -- with startling regularity (from memory so I may be off a bit: 2/8 years Truman, 6/8 Eisenhower, 0/8 Kennedy/Johnson, 8/8 Nixon/Ford, 0/4 Carter, 6/8 Reagan, 4/4 Bush I, 6/8 Clinton, 2/8 Bush II, 6/8 Obama, 2/4 Trump). In some cases that can lead to constructive compromises (although offhand, the examples that come to mind involve R Presidents working with D Congresses, and most of them are dated (like under Eisenhower and Nixon). But mostly it leads to obstruction and sabotage, which was most explicit after 2010, and would probably be even worse now (as of this writing, the Senate has 50 Democrats + a chance for one more in Georgia, but the House is leaning Republican, and that would be enough to torpedo any legislative efforts, and to hold even essential spending hostage). That might be OK if, like most contemporary Republicans, you believe problems (like pandemic and climate change) to be scams, and government to be intrinsically incompetent if not downright evil. On the other hand, if you think that we are facing real problems (even ones Republicans campaigned hard on, like inflation and crime) you should want a functioning political system, which these days means Democrats in charge. The only plus I see to divided government over the next two years is that it will make it easier to blame Republicans for inaction and obstruction in 2024. Still, it means two more years wasted so arrogant twits like Musk can get off easy. One last thing to note here is that the argument works best in the mid-terms, when the presidency is already fixed. You never find people arguing for divided government during a presidential election, because they always want to win both. So why credit it as an idea at all?

Jill Lepore: [11-07] The case against the Twitter apology: "Our twenty-first century culture of performed remorse has become a sorry spectacle."

Anatol Lieven: [11-09] Grim outlook on global warming emerges from UN conference: "Necessary carbon reduction targets will not be met; the US and China will have to work together to prevent further damage." Not much news (as least that I noticed) from the UN's COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

Ian Millhiser: [11-11] The legal fight that could kill Biden's student debt relief plan, explained: "The program is almost certainly legal, but that fact is unlikely to persuade a judiciary dominated by his partisan foes." One of whom, a Trump judge in Texas, has already ruled against the program.

Timothy Noah: [11-10] Inflation Is Dwindling (Just Like I Said It Was). He further suggests "there's even a growing possibility we can avoid a recession." But won't that require the Fed to stop its interest rate hikes when prices stabilize, instead of waiting until they get the unemployment rate they seem to be looking for?

Jonathan Ofir: [11-11] Meet the new kingmakers of Israeli politics: "The racist, homophobic, ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism list was the big winner in Israel's most recent election. It is also a perfect reflection of where Israel is heading." This trajectory is hardly surprising, given that Israel has maintained domestic repression (an apartheid state) and militarism ever since 1948, with no interest in mitigating injustice or reconciling with worldwide norms. One can imagine the US, following 9/11, sinking ever deeper into the same mental rut -- indeed, that appears to have been the aspirations of the neocons who ran Bush's war machine and their apocalyptic allies in the fundamentalist churches -- but most Americans turned out to not have the stomach for perpetual war. Also:

Barnett R Rubin: [11-05] 14 months later: Five conclusions on Afghanistan withdrawal. During the Bush years, Rubin was one of the few experts on Afghanistan who could be counted on to offer sober analysis of the war there. Then, he went to work for Obama, and disappeared from pubic view. So good to hear from him again. The main conclusion is that US sanctions only serve to make a bad situation worse. The most interesting point is that China, Russia, and Iran haven't shown any desire to join with the Taliban in thumbimg noses at the US. I read this as suggesting an opportunity for a joint engagement, which could mitigate some of the Taliban's worst characteristics, and also reduce friction between the the US and its supposed nemeses.

Alex Shephard: [11-11] The Attempt to Annoint Ron DeSantis as Trump's Heir Will Fail. I'm not so sure. Trump's command over the GOP Establishment was almost completely based on his reputation as a winner, established in the 2016 election and reinforced by virtually nothing since -- not that he hasn't tried to keep up appearances, rather remarkably keeping much of his base in line after wrongfooting such supposedly savvy Washington insiders as McConnell, Graham, and McCarthy.

More on Trump:

Washington Post Editorial Board: [11-12] Here's how Congress can make the lame-duck session a mighty one: In recent years, when Democrats won governorships in North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans in those states (including the lame duck governors) moved quickly to pass laws to undermine established powers of their governors. That's seemed like bad taste, but but there are things that the old Democratic majorities can still do that would make the next two years more bearable. Most important is to get rid of the unnecessary law that requires Congress to vote on raising the federal debt limit -- something that Republicans have often used to try to extort concessions from Democratic administrations. They raise a few more issues. (I'm skeptical about "fight Russian aggression," especially given that money for arms for Ukraine has had overwhelming bipartisan support so far.) I doubt that much can (or should) be done, especially on measures that have floundered for two years (mostly due to the filibuster, which is especially unlikely to be changed in a lame duck session), but I'd be open to ideas. Related:

    Alex Thomas: [11-10] Democrats Have Two Months to Trump-Proof the Presidency: "With the party likely to cede the House -- if not the Senate -- to the GOP, meaningful steps to limit some of the executive branch's power must be taken during the lame-duck session." One problem here is that in a divided government, the only way to get many things done is through executive orders -- which you may not want to deny Biden just on the chance that Trump (or some equally malevolent Republican) might win in 2024.

David Yaffe-Bellany: [11-11] Embattled Crypto Exchange FTX Files for Bankruptcy: "The speed of FTX's downfall has left crypto insiders stunned." At one point, FTX was "valued" at $32 billion. Also:

Bonus tweet from Zachary D Carter:

There is no "good" version of crypto. It has been a fraudulent project from the jump, and anyone who failed to see that over the past decade should not be in the business of thinking and writing about American political economy.

We must do the best we can with an imperfect world, but we must also be able to distinguish between genuinely difficult moral trade-offs and simply lighting things on fire for money.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, November archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 58 albums, 5 A-list,

Music: Current count 39002 [38944] rated (+58), 43 [47] unrated (-4: 15 new, 28 old).

Rating count shot through the roof this week because I spent several days listening to the late Jerry Lee Lewis, and his Mercury albums rarely cracked 30 minutes, so they went fast. Nothing below impressed me as much as his best compilations and live albums, but I enjoyed almost every minute. There must be a solid A- Smash/Mercury best-of somewhere. (Christgau lists 1970's The Best of Jerry Lee Lewis at A- and 1985's Milestones at A, but those weren't available, and I didn't bother reconstructing them.)

Last time I looked, there was very little back catalog available from Loretta Lynn, but that seems to have changed recently, so she may be next week's focus. [PS: The first records are remarkable. I expected the country music norm of lots of filler around a famous single or two, but her voice is extraordinary, and the covers show it off.]

I spent a lot of time compiling my 2022 best jazz and best non-jazz files. I hadn't run any numbers before, so the big surprise was that I'm starting out with 73 non-jazz A-list new albums (which is a bit more than I usually wind up with) but only 49 jazz (which usually starts higher than non-jazz, but the numbers tend to even out as I scour EOY lists. On the other hand, B+(***) albums favor jazz 147 to 92, while lower grades are fairly even at 388 jazz, 376 non-jazz. In 2021, jazz divided at 77 A-list, 163 B+(***), and 455 lower; while non-jazz had 83 A-list, 122 B+(***), and 368 lower.

As best I recall, I used to get into November with a 2-to-1 jazz advantage overall, with somewhat reduced but still positive ratios in the upper grade tiers. The only thing I did differently this year was to track the metacritic file from early in the year, so I suppose that made me more aware of new non-jazz (especially hip-hop and country) records. The change in jazz grades suggests that I've shifted the line between B+(***) and A- down. I don't know about that. I could test this by going back to a few dozen B+(***) albums to get a sense of how many I had cut short. Probably a few, but I'd be surprised if they made up the deficit.

The thing that bothers me most about the lists is the ordering of the A-lists, especially for jazz. I have less sense of a top album, a top-five, a top-ten, etc., than ever before (e.g., I haven't played the Omri Ziegele album since I reviewed it, which is likely given that I streamed it, but I haven't played the top-rated CDs (Marta Sanchez, Andrew Cyrille, Rob Brown, Manel Fortiá) either, or anything else on the A-list. I'm sure that if I played them again, I'd like them again, but have absolutely no sense of how to order them. In such circumstances, what tends to happen is I add new records near the bottom of the list (this week's A- records are at 45 and 46), so early records wind up toward the top of the list. The non-jazz list is in slightly better shape, but I expect both will see a lot of reordering in the coming weeks. Plus additions, of course.

I arbitrarily nudged the Selo I Ludi grade up not due to any relistening but because I wanted to include it in the latecomer section of the EOY lists. Just seemed like the sort of record that belongs there. I'm not through reviewing the year's Streamnotes archives for possible additions. It's a slow, unpleasant process.

I should note that yesterday's Speaking of Which includes a long note on a piece by Brad Luen that Robert Christgau reprinted as a guest post last week. One more thing I want to stress is that it doesn't take a very high percentage of deaths (or other calamities) to produce a huge psychic toll. I'd say there is zero chance of all human beings being exterminated, and given that there is virtually zero chance of eradicating civilization (by which I mean our accumulated knowledge about the world). But there are a lot of bad things that can happen, and they reverberate through the living, often mutating into further bad things. One question I've been wondering about for at least 30 years is how close we are to the limits of Earth's carrying capacity. This isn't simply a question of population and resources, but varies considerably by organizational efficiency. The closer we are to the edge, the more fragile our world becomes. And if bad things create bad people -- which is suggested by the rise of neo-fascist parties around the world -- the risks of real systemic breakdown explode. These thoughts are the foundation for much of what I wrote yesterday.

I'm aiming to send out Jazz Critics Poll ballot requests by November 15. I've done some website setup, and should start assembling a mail list later this week. Sponsorship is still unsettled, but I'm not going to worry about that.

After I started writing this, I noticed that I still had unpacking to do. Next week for that.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Konrad Agnas/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Mattias Ståhl/Per Texas Johansson: All Slow Dream Gone (2022, Moserobie): [cd]: A-
  • Daniel Avery: Ultra Truth (2022, Phantasy Sound): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Brian Charette: Jackpot (2021 [2022], Cellar): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Shemekia Copeland: Done Come Too Far (2022, Alligator): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Trevor Dunn Trio-Convulsant Avec Folie à Quatre: Seances (2022, Pyroclastic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • R.A.P. Ferreira: 5 to the Eye With Stars (2022, Ruby Yacht, EP): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Joe Fiedler: Solo: The Howland Sessions (2022, Multiphonics): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Fred Again: Actual Life (January 1-September 9 2022) (2022, Atlantic): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Satoko Fujii: Hajimeru (2021, Libra, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Satoko Fujii: Bokyaku (2022, Libra): [bc]: B
  • Steve Gadd/Eddie Gomez/Ronnie Cuber: Center Stage (2022, Leopard): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Gato Libre: Sleeping Cat (2022, Libra): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Buddy Guy: The Blues Don't Lie (2022, RCA/Silvertone): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jupiter: The Wild East (2022, Moserobie): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kanda Bongo Man: Yolele! Live in Concert (2016 [2021], No Wahala Sounds): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Kanda Bongo Man: Kekete Bue (2022, No Wahala Sounds): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Mavi: Laughing So Hard, It Hurts (2022, United Masters): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Bill Orcutt: Music for Four Guitars (2022, Palilalia): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Phoenix: Alpha Zulu (2022, Glassnote): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Plains: I Walked With You a Ways (2022, Anti-): [sp]: A-
  • Rufus Reid Trio and the Sirius Quartet: Celebration (2022, Sunnyside): [sp]: B-
  • Antonio Sanchez: Shift (Bad Hombre Vol. II) (2022, Warner): [sp]: B
  • Josh Sinton's Predicate Quartet: Four Freedoms (2022, Form Is Possibility): [cd]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Crossroads Kenya: East African Benga and Rumba, 1980-1985 (1980-85 [2022], No Wahala Sounds): [sp]: A-
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer Keys of Jerry Lee Lewis (1956-60 [2022], Sun): [sp]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis (1958, Sun): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis: The Sun Years (1956-63 [2013], Legacy, 2CD): [sp]: A-
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Golden Cream of Country (1956-63 [1969], Sun)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: A Taste of Country (1956-63 [1970], Sun): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Songs for City Folks (1965, Smash): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Another Place, Another Time (1968, Smash): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis & Linda Gail Lewis: Together (1969, Smash): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 1 (1969, Smash): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 2 (1969, Smash): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye (1970, Mercury): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: There Must Be More to Love Than This (1971, Mercury): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Touching Home (1971, Mercury): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Would You Take Another Chance on Me? (1971, Mercury): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The "Killer" Rocks On (1972, Mercury): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano? (1972, Mercury): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough (1973, Mercury): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Southern Roots: Back Home in Memphis (1973, Mercury): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: I-40 Country (1974, Mercury): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Odd Man In (1975, Mercury): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Class (1976, Mercury): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Memories (1977, Mercury): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Keeps Rockin' (1977 [1978], Mercury): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, Elektra): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: When Two Worlds Collide (1980, Elektra): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Killer Country (1980, Elektra): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Young Blood (1995, Sire): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Last Man Standing (2006, Artists First): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Linda Gail Lewis: The Two Sides of Linda Gail Lewis (1969, Smash): [bc]: B+(*)

Grade (or other) changes:

  • Selo I Ludy Performance Band: Bunch One (2019, self-released): [r]: [was: B+(**)]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Laszlo Gardony: Close Connection (Sunnyside) [12-02]
  • Ramsey Lewis: The Beatles Songbook: The Saturday Salon Series: Volume One (Steele) [01-06]

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

I started this relatively early in the week, with the extended comment on the Brad Luen piece, followed by the Timothy Noah piece on economicism, which I had set aside. I wrote the intro Saturday afternoon. I decided some weeks ago that not just lust for power but the assumption that one deserves power and the other side must be denied power is central to the Republican understanding of the world. That makes Nixon (and not Reagan or Goldwater) the godfather of the modern Republican Party. I could add more detail on how and why, but the key elements are here. After the election, I need to decide whether to write this analysis up as a short book. A recent spate of books on the fundamental rot at the heart of the Party (see Heilbrun below) should cover that part adequately, but they tend to focus on the fringe and neglect the center.

The rest of the book would be harder to get straight. Democrats face two problems: how to get more votes than Republicans, and how to deal with an increasing array of serious problems (many directly caused by Republicans), and others also caused by deep assumptions that both parties share. I have some ideas there, but they're rough and far from ready.

Not a lot below on major foreign elections in Brazil and Israel (see St Clair for both, but I didn't comment much). I suppose I should point out that the rise of the racist and possibly genocidal Kahanist party in Israel is a problem for Democrats in the US, who have hitherto automatically supported whatever Israel does but will find a huge disconnect between their pro-democracy, pro-equality posture here and in Israel, while Republicans will have no trouble accepting the new government -- not least because many Republicans admire Israeli repression and militarism, and would like to implement the same here.

Two days before the 2022 US elections, the so-called "mid-terms": a term I hate, because it suggests that only presidential elections really matter, and this is just a referendum on the last, a chance for disgruntled people to express their "buyer's remorse" without much consequence. But of course, there are consequences, the obvious one the chance to divide government to undermine any possibility of the party holding the presidency to get things done. Of course, that can be a good thing (as in 2006 or 2018) or a bad thing (1994 and 2010 were the worst), depending on which party is sabotaged. (Note though that 1994 and 2010 set up successful second term campaigns for Clinton and Obama, perhaps a source of hope if Republicans win in 2022, although the second terms of Clinton and Obama were mixed blessings, leading to defeats four years later.)

I continue to believe that reports of a "Republican surge" -- the title of a David Brooks column I haven't read and won't link to -- are pure gaslighting, with the added ominous overtone of convincing the right that their losses are stolen, which will help justify whatever post-election schemes they've spent the last two years putting into place. When actual votes start getting counted Tuesday evening, we will start to be able to see through the media fog, and possibly get some measure of how effective (or not) the last two years of election denialism and vote rigging have been. Still, I don't expect the mainstream media to be quick to learn from its errors -- especially its inability to recognize phony campaign issues, or to properly spotlight the corruption of money in politics (least of all its own advertising windfall).

I'm not wild about Biden's characterization of this election as a test and defense of democracy. It's not that I dispute the point, but democracy in America has been crippled since well before Leonard Cohen wrote his hopeful song about it. The test of a democracy is not merely whether people get a chance to vote and have their ballots counted, but whether doing so produces a government that responds to and takes action on behalf of most people. Back in the 19th century, it's easy to find and quote elites bemoaning the prospect that extending suffrage would let the "mob" take over government and using it for popular causes (like those promised in the Preamble to the US Constitution). But as suffrage became more universal, elites had to fall back on treachery to convince the masses not to claim their rights. Money is a tool, both to buy propaganda and to train candidates, who inevitably spend more time chasing it than they devote to their constituents' needs and hopes. And the media, with its elite ownership, advertising funding, and crass competition for the passing attention of viewers, is the ecosystem in which this deception takes place.

It's often remarked that Republicans are better at playing the game of politics than Democrats. One theory is that Republicans simply care more about their policy goals than Democrats do -- if, indeed, Democrats, being hopelessly torn between their donors and their voters, actually have any (rather, their favorite trick is to try to work out compromises, like Obamacare, that ultimately satisfy neither camp). But Republicans are pretty careless about policy too: they mostly like wedge issues they can campaign on but don't have to do anything about once they're in power. A very good example is how much Reagan bashed Carter in 1980 over the plan to give the Panama Canal to Panama. After the election, he didn't lift a finger to rescind the transfer plan. Even when Bush I invaded Panama, no one suggested recovery of the Canal should be a war aim. Thomas Frank, in What's the Matter With Kansas?, went too far in chiding Republicans for never delivering on their promises to the religious right, but mostly because he riled up the suckers in the rank and file.

The single most important thing to understand about Republicans is that they are addicted to power, and will do anything, at least within their identity as the party of True Americans, to seize and protect it. That identity goes all the way back to the Civil War, when they rose to save their vision of a Free West and wound up having to destroy the Slave Power. That left them with a very WASP power base, against which the Democrats were derided as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." While "rebellion" originally referred to secessionists, the list of the others Republicans hated grew to include populists, progressives, labor unions, socialists, and communists, all the way up to the post-WWII Red Scare. Coming out of the McCarthy hysteria, Nixon made a few tweaks to Republican Party identity: following Kevin Phillips's The Emerging Republican Majority, Nixon welcomed white southerners and white suburban ethnics into the G.O.P., making them True Americans, giving up on the dwindling support of Blacks for the one-time Party of Lincoln.

Nixon is sometimes disparaged by conservative ideologues, who feel he never believed much in their principles (other than his own casual bigotry, which was almost universal among conservatives back then; even the rabid anti-communism he built his career on was something he was willing to compromise on). But he did obsessively believe in one thing: power, which was so important he was willing to do virtually anything to get and keep it. Republican contempt for democracy was all but inevitable given that they sought power by merging empowering the rich, boosting the military, and rallying (mostly religious) cultural reactionaries. Reagan was more successful at applying Nixon's strategy, partly because he avoided Nixon's deceitful smarminess, and partly because after McGovern, Carter gave up on unions as the backbone of the Democratic Party in favor of triangulating business interests -- a balancing act that proved difficult to pull off, although Clinton and Obama got some mileage out of it.

But as demographics and repeated doses of dysfunctional policy started to erode their credibility, Republicans have been stuck in a pattern of doubling down, a bluff that has kept their vote share close enough to win (sometimes without even a plurality). Trump's innovation here is that even when he has an indefensible record, he's always on the attack, and that's kept kept together a party that should have been banished for gross incompetence as well as indecency. Rational people, like myself, wonder how long they can keep this farce up. We'll get some idea after Tuesday.

Connor Echols: [11-04] Diplomacy Watch: Putin blinks, returns to Black Sea grain deal after just 4 days. I haven't put much effort into this regular section this week. The New York Times Updates headlines should give you a flavor:

  • Pentagon unveils new U.S. comand and more Ukraine aid
  • The Defense Department says it will support Ukraine for 'as long as it takes.'
  • Moscow is pouring new conscripts to the front line to try to halt Ukrainian advances.
  • Putin says 318,000 new soldiers have joined Russia's forces in his mobilization push.
  • G7 diplomats end their meeting in Germany with a plan to coordinate on rebuilding Ukraine's infrastructure.
  • China warns against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and Germany urges Beijing to do more to end the war. [Olaf Scholz visited Beijing.]
  • A top Biden aide assures Kyiv that the outcome of the U.S. midterm election won't impede military aid. [Jake Sullivan]
  • Amid a forest of Ukrainian flags, soldiers honor a fallen comrade with vodka.
  • With 4.5 million Ukrainians cut off from power, officials reiterate calls for energy conservation.
  • Southeast Asia is a case study in Russia's declining prospects as an arms exporter.
  • Here are 5 ways that sanctions are hitting Russia. [Finance, Trade, Technology, Energy, Elites]

The New York Times map page hasn't been updated since October 11, following Ukrainian ground gains in the two weeks before October 4, and widespread Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. The links I picked up are mostly on the lack of diplomacy:

Thomas Edsall: [11-02] 'Elites Are Making Choices That Are Not Good News': I was steered to this piece by Dean Baker, who agrees that "the basic point in the column is completely true," he adds that Edsall "hugely understates the extent to which the screwing of noncollege educated workers was the result of deliberate government policies." Sure, but why are we still litigating Clinton's stupid idea that the US can afford to lose blue collar jobs because cheaper trade will open up all those lucrative "symbolic manipulator" jobs his Labor Secretary Robert Reich touted? One can understand why workers who got shafted in that deal bear grudges against the Clintons, but who in their right mind thinks voting Republican is going to in any way fix their problem?

Shirin Ghaffary: [11-04] How Elon Musk is changing Twitter: Before the sale, Twitter was a middling company with a massive network of users, which gave it a huge market valuation, as investors figured capturing that many eyes could eventually be exploited to make a lot of money. But the business model didn't demand much from users, so few people felt burdened by signing up and joining in. Musk's purchase may or may not have political and/or cultural implications, which may or may not be ominous, but immediately what it means is that henceforward Twitter has to make enough money to pay off its new owner and the debt he has saddled the company with. So Musk is starting to do the same things that private equity firms do when they swallow up companies: asset stripping and cost reductions. The net effect will make Twitter a much nastier place to work, and very likely a much less satisfactory place for users -- who, we should remember, contribute virtually all of the content that attracts viewers in the first place.

The proposal for "making people pay for blue check marks" sounds like a tax at first, which is bad enough, but the fine print is considerably more alarming. The idea is that a premium program would "include other benefits like fewer ads and more visibility for your Twitter replies to other people's threads." The first part is relatively benign -- damn near everyone seems to be moving to a model of paying-to-avoid-ads -- but the latter is the first step toward a pay-to-play scheme. Eventually premium user's tweets will all be ads, because the model that pays the most -- although "ads" suggests that they're selling things; very often it will just be well-heeled people hiring megaphones to hector you. I expect they will eventually drive most users away, turning into a death spiral. Musk and his credits will lose a lot of money, and make an ugly mess in the process.

More on Twitter:

Jonathan Guyer: [11-02] Netanyahu and the far right have triumphed. Here's what it means for Israel. Interview with Daniel Levy. I've followed Israel's slide to the far-right for 25+ years, but even still I'm shocked by how viciously racist Netanyahu's coalition partners are -- way beyond bigots in any other part of the world. More on Israel:

Benjamin Hart: [11-01] Of Course Trump Is All In on Paul Pelosi Conspiracy Theories. This sort of kneejerk deflection is one way to avoid a self-examination that might reveal that you're some kind of monster, or at least a major asshole.

Jacob Heilbrunn: [10-30] How the Republican Fringe Became the Mainstream. Review of Robert Draper's new book, Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind, although it could easily be expanded to include Dana Milbank's The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party and David Corn's American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, or possibly others: now that the end-point is obvious, the debate is more about when the craziness started. I've been reading Corn, who looks back all the way back to McCarthy and the John Birch Society. One can even go further: Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan goes back to the DuPonts in the 1930s, and Heather Cox Richardson's To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party does a pretty good job of making Benjamin Harrison sound like a Bircher. But crazy is a dimension beyond promoting oligarchy with racism and demagoguery, something that runs deep in the Republican Party. The crazy really takes off with Obama's election in 2008, after which the chastised party pros fell behind the Fox-fanned Tea Party mania. John Amato and David Neiwert got it right in their short 2010 book: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane. After the party pros nominated Mitt Romney and lost again to Obama, the rank-and-file was ready for someone as crude and vicious as Trump. And after Trump eked out a win against Hillary Clinton, well, you don't need a book to explain how crazed the Republicans became.

It's gratifying that so many people have figured that much out. But the problem with focusing on how irrational Trump and his fans have become is that doing so often misses how bad Republican policy has become, and how little reporting gets done on how those policies harm the vast majority of Americans, and much of the world. Reagan and the Bushes were frontmen who were sent out to sugar-coat their administration's graft, while Romney and Ryan were forthright enough to come off as supervillains. With Trump, policy and performance are separated: he is a master at sucking up media attention, so no one bothers noticing what the goons in his administration actually do. With him, the transformation of the presidency to show business is complete, and that's mostly a bad thing, but hardly the worst. Similarly, his association with unsavory characters is bad, but nowhere near all of it.

By the way:

  • Robert Draper: [10-17] The Problem of Marjorie Taylor Greene. Long profile piece. I find her boring, but the press and the late night comics love her (or love to hate her, which for practical purposes is the same thing).

Ellen Ioanes: [11-05] An atmosphere of violence: Stochastic terror in American politics: Interview with Kurt Braddock, "about how rhetorical strategies can lead to violence."

Umair Irfan: [11-03] Your free pandemic health perks are on the way out: "The privatization of the Covid-19 response is well underway as federal funding runs out." I got a third Covid-19 booster shot last week. I had to go to Walgreens, and wait about 20 minutes until they squared away my insurance (which was Medicare + supplementals, good enough I almost never run into problems). I haven't been following this, but we're missing a big opportunity, not only to continue Covid-19 coverage but to start to build a universal foundation that can be incrementally extended toward universal health care. Most senior citizens are confused when people talk about Medicare-for-All, because they know that Medicare for them doesn't cover everything, and they have to get supplemental insurance to make up the gaps. So they think they still have private insurance, but have trouble understanding that it's so affordable because Medicare itself does all the heavy lifting. (Of course, like all private insurance, it gets ratcheted up every year, and unlike most they get to factor your age into the price, so "affordable" is a pretty relative term.) On the other hand, let's imagine a system where some things get covered automatically for everyone. That list could have started with the Covid-19 precautions and treatments, and be expanded going forward. Everything moved from individual/group policies to universal helps lower the cost of the policies, and can help manage overall costs, while getting us closer to the universal coverage we want and deserve.

Paul Krugman:

  • [10-31] The Truth About America's Economic Recovery. "Inflation is high, but a lot has gone right." I'm always wary of "truth" in titles, which implies not just that the author knows best but that you don't. Still a fairly balanced presentation of inflation, jobs, spending, etc.

  • [11-03] The G.O.P. Plot Against Medicare and Social Security: "let's note that the push to slash major benefit programs may be the ultimate exaple of an elite priority at odds with what ordinary Americans want." Such plots are as old as the bills they set to wreck, and they've never gotten any traction, so why worry now? I'd offer two reasons: the first is that such proposals reveal a moral bankruptcy that should warn you off everything else they want to do; second, they reveal profound ignorance about how the world works.

Brad Luen: [10-23] The Semipop Review of Catastrophic and Existential Risks: Starts by defining catastrophic risks ("things that could kill off a decent percentage of the world") and existential risks ("things that could result in the collapse of civilization"), then reviews a handful of books, opening with Will MacAskill's What We Owe the Future, then focusing on four such risks: AI (Martin Ford: Rule of the Robots, Nick Bostrom: Superintelligence), Climate Change (David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth), Bio-Risks (Michael T Osterholm/Mark Olshaker: Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs), and War (Bear F Braumoeller: Only the Dead, Bruce G Blair: The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, Fiona Hill/Clifford G Gaddy: Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin), before concluding with "The Intersection" -- the domino metaphor strikes me as more apt here, as various risks increase the likelihood of war, which in turn accelerates other risks. Luen is a professor of statistics and describes himself as "an unprincipled philosophical centrist."

The only one of these books I've read is the Wallace-Wells, which among the half-dozen similar tomes I've read (going back to McKibben's The End of Nature, which I read in the mid-1990s during a July trip to a very steamy Florida, which illustrated his points better than his prose did) is as good a place to start as any. I've read very little about AI: I had a serious interest in it back in the 1980s, about the time neural nets and fuzzy math were invented, but lost track after that, and these days most "practical applications" I see are better described as Artificial Stupidity. I wouldn't say that AI is "value-neutral," but like most things its usefulness or not is fundamentally a political question. But the rest of the risk, as well as items Luen didn't include (most obviously various resource limits, including water and air as well as minerals and productive land). Were I do redo this exercise, I would start with politics, and try to show that bad politics both increases risk and degrades one's ability to cope with disaster. (Bad politicians like to hide increasing risk by shifting it to individuals: see The Great Risk Shift, by Jacob S Hacker. Also by pretending it isn't real: see The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis.)

The thing I find most disturbing about the pandemic wasn't how vulnerable we were -- beyond the legitimate fear of a new disease, the economy collapsed as much from supply chain fragility as from politically-ordered lockdowns -- but how a sizable political bloc has grown determined to prevent governments from responding to any future pandemic (which we should now understand to be a certainty). It's easy enough to think of technical solutions to most problems -- not that it's technically easy to switch from a carbon-fueled train to a solar-driven train without slowing the former down (the two great bugbears of the climate change debate are the ideas that the crisis is in the future, and that the only acceptable solution is one that imposes no costs or changes to our way of life). But we lack the political will to make changes based on rational analysis, and even when the lessons are hard-earned, lots of people refuse to learn them. My touchstone here was Jane Jacobs' 2004 Dark Age Ahead, which foresaw increasing cognitive inability to deal with the problems inevitably produced by technological complexity. (Richard Florida reviews Jacobs' book from the perspective of 2016, late enough to claim she prophesied Trump, here: Even Late in Her Career, Jane Jacobs Made Predictions That Are Coming True Today.) I've read more books along these lines, and none of them make me very optimistic for this century -- not that I don't doubt that humanity and some measure of civilization will survive into the next century.

I should probably read the Braumoeller book, although at the moment I suspect some methodological problems. It's certainly one possible critique of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, but as I understand it -- I recall buying a copy but never got around to reading it -- the argument isn't just about the frequency of wars but also about the reasoning behind them. Up through WWII, most wars aimed at plunder, but that's become a much less popular rationale since, especially as the cost/benefit calculation has flipped, and the threat of nuclear annihilation looms. But I wouldn't be surprised if the frequency of war remains fairly steady: after all, I write about wars (and "lesser" but still violent conflicts) virtually every week.

By the way, I just bought a copy of Brian T Watson: Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time and the Future We'll Face, which greatly expands on the subject of Luen's review. It's notable that the first chapter is "Capitalism," which even more than politics is the rarely-examined (except by Marxists, who obsess over it) prime mover driving us into the future. I should also note that my latest Book Roundup has a long list of recent books on post-capitalism (aka "degrowth" or "post growth") thinking. Scant chance that any signifiant number of American politicians are going to even start talking about this -- Democrats have long seen growth as the magic elixir that allows them to be pro-business as well as helping everyone else; on the other hand, Republican economic scams often seem to be anti-growth, without giving us any degrowth benefits. Much more on war and the diminishing competency of politics there.

Ian Millhiser: [11-03] The nightmarish Supreme Court case that could gut Medicaid, explained: "Health and Hospital Corporation v. Talevski is the single greatest threat to America's social safety net since Paul Ryan."

Steven Lee Myers: [11-06] Russia Reactivates Its Trolls and Bots Ahead of Tuesday's Midterms: "Researchers have identified a series of Russian information operations to influence American elections and, perhaps, erode support for Ukraine." I wouldn't read much into this, but of course, that's what they do. I doubt it will have any effect, unless Democrats use it as some kind of excuse for losing (as Clinton's coterie did after 2016). More interesting is whether they can nudge Republicans into an anti-Ukraine stand, which is something they're tempted by. Also, note: [11-04] Twitter layoffs gutted election information teams days before midterms.

Timothy Noah: [10-25] May God Save Us From Economists: Economics "can be a useful tool for policymaking, but it's become the only tool. It's time for economics to back the hell off." As Noah points out: economists overvalue modeling; economists undervalue data; economists don't get societies; economists don't get irrationality; economists don't get people who aren't economists. Noah then looks at three domains: criminal justice; health care; and climate change. Central to this is the notion that every problem can be decided by a cost/benefit analysis (provided you can assume a value for human lives, which is kind of a problem; as with many math problems, the devil's not so much in the details as in the assumptions). Elizabeth Popp Berman's Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in US Public Policy is one of the books cited.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-04] Roaming Charges: History Ain't Changed: Starts with elections in Brazil and Israel.

Elections: No horse races, and no post-mortems, but a few quick links on the election:

Mike Davis: More pieces on the late leftist scholar Mike Davis:

A couple closing tweets. The first is from Bill Kristol, who 20 years ago I would have put near the top of a list of top-ten public enemies:

Hey, don't want to interrupt my Democratic friends when they're engaged in their favorite sports of The Gnashing of Teeth and The Tearing of Garments, but it looks as if the Democratic Party will have the best midterm performance by a party in the White House in two decades.

So I don't regard his opinion as anything more than a random blip, but there it is. The second one is from someone named Benedict Evans:

Suggesting Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter is like suggesting Linux as an alternative to Windows.

I started using Linux around 1998, and I never regretted it, so this makes me more (not less) inclined to switch. Still, while the two comparisons aren't analogous. It doesn't make much difference to me whether you are also running Linux, or are saddled with Windows or MacOS (or whatever they call it these days). On the other hand, with Twitter-like software it does matter whether the people I want to follow are on the same service I'm on. For social media, network effects are the basis of effective monopolies, which is what Twitter, Facebook, etc., are. Mastodon doesn't come remotely close, and for various technical reasons -- it's designed to prevent monopolization -- it likely never will be. On the other hand, I could see setting up a server and migrating a fairly close-knit group (like, say, the Expert Witness group currently at Facebook) -- which would probably work better than it does on Facebook. But I haven't looked into it enough to make any decisions.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, October archive (final).

Tweet: Music Week: 26 albums, 5 A-list,

Music: Current count 38944 [38918] rated (+26), 47 [43] unrated (+4: 19 new, 28 old).

Rated count the lowest in quite some time (3rd lowest in 2022, after a 0 and a 21), mostly because I spent two days cooking birthday dinner (if you're interested, there's a writeup in the notebook), and took a while after that to get back to work. I did catch up some while working on Speaking of Which, but had trouble thinking of things to search out.

I got a kind note from Don Malcolm suggesting I write more about the late Mike Davis, but I haven't read that much by him -- in particular, I don't have his Los Angeles books, and I have very little personal experience with the city or the area, so I've always wondered how much I'd get out of them. But I did manage to collect some links, including an interview from shortly before he died. One thing I was struck by was how often he was identified as a Marxist historian. As far as I can tell, that's not something he wrote much about (although he was often published by Verso Books, and one recent title there was Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx's Lost Theory). But I know from my own experience that once you get the key ideas from Marx and his followers, you can go anywhere and examine anything and find fresh insights. That's what Davis did -- and also what Barbara Ehrenreich did, although somewhat less obviously.

Best thing about my birthday was hearing from several friends and relatives I've been missing. I still have a lot of catching up to do.

I saw a newspaper article last week explaining that despite reports to the contrary, Jerry Lee Lewis was still alive. Next day, he died, at 86. I'll listen to some more albums in the next week, but for now here's my list (long on compilations and live albums). Although Rhino's Original Sun Greatest Hits is the A+, the one I return to most often is a later live album called Rockin' My Life Away.

I got zero response to my Jazz Critics Poll request last week, so I'm just going ahead. I'll set up the website framework and mailing list later this week, and should be ready to send out the ballot invites mid-November. I have one probable sponsor lined up, which is one more than I minimally need, so I expect it to go fairly smoothly.

I got my copy of Rick Lopez's magnificent The Sam Rivers Sessionography: A Work in Progress, so let's go ahead and put it in my book scroll. Lopez has been producing extraordinary sessionographies for 20+ years -- I first ran across him when I was writing my William Parker/Matthew Shipp Consumer Guide in 2003, where I raved about his "treasure troves of information, some of the finest scholarship available on the internet today." I should have gone farther and pointed out that this is what the Internet was built for, and what vulture capitalists have denied us with their relentless monetization. Few people are more worthy of your support (and, as I said, the book is gorgeous). By the way, you can find an excerpt at Perfect Sound Forever.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Arild Andersen Group: Affirmation (2021 [2022], ECM): [sp]: A-
  • Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell: One More, Please (2021 [2022], Intakt): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Bi Ba Doom: Graceful Collision (2022, Astral Spirits): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Buechi/Franz Hellmueller/Rafael Jerjen: Moon Trail (2021 [2022], Intakt): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Tito Carrillo: Urbanessence (2021 [2022], Origin): [sp]: B+(*)
  • The Claudettes: The Claudettes Go Out! (2022, Forty Below): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Zella Day: Sunday in Heaven (2022, Concord): [sp]: B+(*)
  • John Dikeman/Stefan Gonzalez/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Jonathan F Horne: Texas Butt Biters (2019 [2022], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Kaja Draksler/Susana Santos Silva: Grow (2021 [2022], Intakt): [sp]: B
  • Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork (2022, 4AD): [sp]: A-
  • Lincoln Goines: The Art of the Bass Choir (2020-21 [2022], Origin): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Eric Jacobson: Discover (2022, Origin): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Benjamin Lackner: Last Decade (2021 [2022], ECM): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Michael Marcus: Abstractions in Lime Caverns (2021 [2022], ESP-Disk): [cd]: B+(***)
  • John McCowen: Models of Duration (2020 [2022], Dinzu Artefacts/Astral Spirits): [bc]: B
  • Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth (2022, Out of Your Head): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Fruition (2021 [2022], ESP-Disk): [cd]: A-
  • Barre Phillips/György Kurtág Jr.: Face à Face (2020-21 [2022], ECM): [sp]: B
  • Tegan and Sara: Crybaby (2022, Mom + Pop): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Walking Cliché Sextet: Suite Chase Reflex (2019 [2021], self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Walking Cliché Sextet: Micro-Nap (2020-21 [2022], Endectomorph Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • RA Washington/Jah Nada: In Search of Our Father's Gardens (2021 [2022], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Brodie West Quintet: Meadow of Dreams (2020 [2022], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Chris Williams/Patrick Shiroishi: Sans Soleil II (2022, Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes (2014-21 [2022], In+Out): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Sun Ra & His Blue Universe Arkestra: Universe in Blue (1971 [2022], Cosmic Myth): [sp]: B+(**)

Old music:

  • Michael Marcus: Sunwheels (2000 [2001], Justin Time): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Michael Marcus Trio: Blue Reality (2001 [2002], Soul Note): [sp]: A-
  • Michael Marcus: Speaking' Out (2001-02 [2002], Drimala): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Michael Marcus: Stone Jump (2019-20 [2021], Not Two): [sp]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Agnas Flaten Ståhl Texas: All Slow Dream Gone (Moserobie) [10-28]
  • Dan Cavanagh and James Miley With John Hollenbeck: Another Life (S/N Alliance)
  • Avram Fefer Quartet: Juba Lee (Clean Feed) * [11-18]
  • Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964 (Elemental, 2CD) [12-02]
  • Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-1966 (Elemental, 2CD) [12-02]
  • Jupiter: The Wild East (Moserobie) [11-15]
  • Reverso: Harmonic Alchemy (Outnote) * [11-11]
  • Esbjörn Svensson: Home.S. (2008, ACT) [11-18]

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

I feel like this week's edition is a mess, and I have neither the time nor the will to try to clean it up. Arguments could certainly be structured better, but all I can offer at the moment are hot reactions. I'm really chagrined by the media's embrace of the idea that Republicans are increasingly likely to win Congress -- FiveThirtyEight has shifted its estimate significantly, giving Republicans a 49 in 100 chance of taking the Senate, and an 81 in 100 chance of wrecking the House -- not least because there is no rational basis for such a shift. If it happens, it wouldn't be the first time I've been disappointed by the American people. (After Nixon beat McGovern in 1972, I was so disgusted that I didn't bother voting again until 1996, when the opportunity again arose to vote against Bob Dole. And today I was reminded of 2004 as I just read that part in David Corn's American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy; my campaign letter is here; my immediate analysis of the Kerry loss is here, as are some later thoughts. One line I want to pull out here: "At this point it's impossible to project how bad [four more years of Bush] will be, but it is certain that this election has cost us four years of opportunity to work on problems that are bad and getting worse." Rereading this 18 years later, I'm surprised at how much more is still relevant.)

If Republicans do win, the reasons are purely emotional, the sort of anger that drives a guy to punch a wall. The only possible outcomes are a hole in the wall and a broken hand (quite possibly both). But whatever emotional satisfaction punching the wall gives you will be temporary: the anger will return, because Republicans are counting on it, and because that's all Republicans can do. Sure, they can exhort you to be God-fearing Christians, and they can punish you for what they perceive as your failures, but neither the heavenly carrot nor the earthly stick actually works, at least at a macro level, so you're only going to get angrier, and that seems to be all they need to get away with their grift.

One consolation I can offer is that if Republicans win Congress, it will be easier for Democrats to run on anger in 2024 (as Harry Truman did in 1948). If Democrats win, they will be judged harshly both for doing things and for not doing enough. As the US system makes presidential elections more important than congressional ones, a loss now for a win later may seem like a prudent strategy. But after so many wasted opportunities, it's just possible that time is running out.

The runoff election in Brazil is today. Very little on it below, as almost everything written this week is pure speculation. But if Lula wins, the world will be a slightly better place. And if Bolsonaro wins, the decline will continue -- especially given the latter's war on the Amazon, which once was the world's most valuable carbon sink. The difference in degree isn't just that Lula isn't as far to the left as Bolsonaro is to the right. It's also because it's a lot easier to break things than to build.

[PS: Election in Brazil has been called for Lula, but it looks closer than 2020 was for Biden over Trump.]

I gather that some nations impose a press blackout a few days before an election. The idea is to prevent some last minute sensational charge, especially a false one, from swaying an election. It's impossible to expect that, and given the degree of early voting, it may not have any effect anyway, but it would be nice to sit back and take a deep breath, and consider one's choices rationally. I've been trying to do something like that, although quite frankly my votes were locked in the day the Kansas primary winners were announced. The only thing that's changed since then is that my level of disgust over KS Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt has increased by roughly an order of magnitude, eclipsing even the well-established obnoxiousness of his running mate for Attorney General, Kris Kobach.

In past years, I would have followed competitive Senate races, and a few others, closely, but I've tried my best to blank them out of my mind. Still, enough poll-driven pseudo-news has leaked through that it's clear that Republicans are engaging in a massive gaslighting operation intended to convince people that a massive Red Wave is coming on November 8, which will no doubt be foundation for charges that any actual votes that Democrats might win will be viewed as fraudulent. (Of course, Republicans never complained when large Democratic polling leads in 2016 and 2020 evaporated. Trump claimed he actually won bigger margins.)

There's a lot of obvious bullshit in this gaslighting, but the substantial piece is the assertion that Americans are most concerned with Republican talking point issues -- inflation (most conveniently reduced to gas prices), "crime" (which, since Republicans won't take responsibility for guns as a contributing factor, is reduced in meaning to what Republicans have defined it as since the 1970s: racism), and "open borders" (which, come to think of it, also reduces to racism). Supposedly Americans concerned with these issues trust Republicans more, although it's hard to think of a single reason why. Maybe there is some polling favoring Republicans on inflation-fighting, but more general economic concerns usually favor Democrats, and for good reason: the last three Republican presidencies ended in recessions, and the fourth (Reagan's) started in one that got worse for two years before the Fed belatedly reduced interest rates and kicked off a recovery that, thanks to Reagan, was much more unequal than most.

The one thing from the Republican playbook you don't hear much these days is how the Democrats are weak on defense. This is a bit surprising given how Biden's approval polls plummeted with withdrawal and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, but Biden has managed to present as both firm and sane in Ukraine, and Republicans don't seem to have a viable sound bite response. Granted, Tom Cotton still wants to start a war with China, but even Lindsey Graham seems rudderless since McCain died, while a faction of Republicans seem to prefer their former campaign aide and fellow fascist, Vladimir Putin -- a strange wind that has kept any Democratic anti-war camp from forming.

State and local races, especially governor, will have a huge impact locally -- if Derek Schmidt wins, Kansas will jump right back into contention for the worst right-wing horror show in the nation, like was the case when Sam Brownback was governor -- but Congress is strictly a numbers game, with the Democrats needing a bit beyond a simple majority to legislate effectively. Without a working majority, the next two years will be painful but basically stuck in status quo: much-needed reforms will be impossible, major problems will be allowed to slide, simple things like budgets will be held hostage. Biden will attempt to compensate with executive orders, and the Republican-packed courts will do their best to swat them down. And the incessant squeals from the right-wing propaganda machine will drone on and on. But lots of even worse things will be stopped until Republicans get another chance to steal another presidential election. Indeed, the big story of 2022 may be how effective their election stealing efforts will be.

But, like so much else, we won't know that until the votes are counted (assuming that's still permitted).

One of the first things I wrote was a long comment under Ukraine, specifically under the Eric Levitz piece about the Progressive Caucus letter to Biden urging the administration to take seriously the need for negotiations. As the comment was pretty general, I thought it better to pull the comment up here (although I'll add some more specific words down there).

It seems to me like it should be easier for the Democratic left to define a position on the Ukraine War that offers practical steps toward peace with justice. I've been trying to do that since the beginning. And along the way I've been willing to put my pacifist principles aside to allow that Putin's escalation of a conflict that should have been resolved peacefully long ago was so egregious that Russia's forces deserved a good ass-kicking, which Ukraine has to some extent been able to inflict with massive arms and financial support from the US and Europe. And I can see continuing this counterattack until Putin is willing to negotiate rationally, but I don't see how that can happen unless the US and Ukraine makes it clear that they are ready to negotiate as well. And the US really has to be part of this, not to pressure Ukraine into making concessions for peace, but because the US holds most of the real trading chips (sanctions, deployment of NATO forces, etc.).

However, that also implies that a useful arbiter has to be someone else, and the USA's habitual either-you're-with-us-or-against-us mindset takes any independent stand to be treason. (China's great crime isn't that they want to take over the world, but that they refuse to knuckle under to an American hyperpower world order.) But that's easy for me to say, as I started out with a long critique of American power and hubris. The Democratic left has several disadvantages: while they understand the core issues of equality, freedom, and justice at home, they've never had to reckon with the effects of American power abroad (minor exception for some people my age, who started with Vietnam). Making this worse is that the Democratic Party has been flooded with people from the armed services: even if most ex-soldiers are right-wing jerks, a significant minority saw their tours as public service, and they've found an esteemed home in the only American political party that actually values service to the public. And finally, there's the Republicans, with their extraordinary ability to trigger Democrats, especially Progressives. That's a real shame, because foreign war rots the very fabric of society -- a lesson Democrats in particular should have learned from Vietnam, and should have stuck with them through the neverending War on Terror.

There's a real chance that Republicans will flip the script on Ukraine, attacking the war not because they want peace and prosperity but because they can blame its expense and effects (like high gas prices) on Biden and the Democrats, with their ideals of American-led world order, and their disdain for Putin (a real but much-maligned conservative hero).

I want to add one thing: There is a need for a peace movement during but mostly after the Ukraine War. The goal is not to dictate or advocate for a specific resolution of the war, but to define a political agenda to prevent a recurrence and/or similar wars in the future. As such, we start with a deep critique of war making, especially the belief that war is justified by national and/or imperial ambitions. This has relevance to Russia, to the US, to their allies, and to various factions within Ukraine. But it is Russia alone that inserted its forces in Ukraine, and despite my own pacifist instincts, I have no problem with Ukraine fighting back, or with other nations (including the US, despite a poor record in other countries) helping them resist and roll back Russia's aggression. I do, however, believe that such support can come with conditions, especially agreement from Ukraine to seek a ceasefire and negotiated withdrawal of alien forces, and to allow people who live in contested territories to determine, by fair vote, whether they should stay in Ukraine or join Russia. The principle is that there is no justification for annexing territory except by the express approval of the people who live there. During and after the war, we should work to establish a process for resolving this and similar conflicts in the future.

Negotiations should be resolved on the basis of what's right, not on who has the power to extort concessions from the other. What's right may not always be clear, but one measure is whether a measure can be voluntarily agreed to, or can only be forced. For instance, no nation would voluntarily sacrifice its sovereignty, so it is wrong to demand that it do so. Some examples that wouldn't be right: demanding reparations, war crimes trials, changes to laws regarding minorities (although it's fair to note human rights abuses), preventing trade or association with other countries (although each country has the right to refuse to trade with other countries; i.e., to implement sanctions). So while US aid to Ukraine should be conditioned on Ukraine negotiating on the basis of doing what's right, it shouldn't pressure Ukraine to surrender things that are within its rights. I would say, for instance, that the provision of water to peninsular Crimea is not something that should be expected of Ukraine, although it could be something that Ukraine chooses to offer for other considerations.

At present, whatever negotiations may be going on are in secret, with little opportunity for the public to assess their intentions or progress. Therefore, it's impossible for anyone else to assess, or to make anything more than the most general suggestions. On the other hand, after the current hot conflict is resolved, there will be much for a peace movement to do. We need to make the world understand that the US and Russia both did much to provoke this war, and that even if nothing the US did justified Russia's invasion, it is critical to eliminate such provocations in the future. It is further imperative to understand that much of the "defense doctrine" both powers have espoused is severely faulty: it simply doesn't work, or worse (the logic that supposedly prevents war in fact provokes war).

Vincent Bevins: [10-30] In Today's Election, the Survival of Brazil's Democracy Is at Stake.

Patrick Cockburn: [10-28] Rishi Sunak and Britain's Post-Brexit Fairy Tales. By the way, in case you're wondering what an Indian Hindu is doing leading the Conservative Party in England, see (hint: he's a near-billionaire):

Connor Echols: [10-28] Diplomacy Watch: The West doesn't know how to talk about Ukraine: That's largely because any time someone speaks the plain truth -- that the only way out of the quagmire is through negotiation, which will involve some give and take on both sides -- they get shot down. Echols starts with the example of Romanian Defense Minister Visile Dincu, who was forced to resign after acknowledging reality. Then there was a letter to Biden sent by the House Progressive Caucus, who were pressured to retract it within 24 hours.

Ezra Klein: [10-30] Do the Democrats Deserve Re-election? He should know better, but can't even bring himself to answer his own question. Instead, he offers a long list of complaints about tactics, without accounting for the numerous obstacles (beyond Joe Manchin) that Democrats have had to struggle with over the last two years, including his own intractably suspect publication. The obvious rejoinder to the title is "compared to what?" -- not a hypothetical question, given that the answers are clearly Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy. Klein is smart enough to know that they did no good when they were in power, and that they wouldn't have gotten any better with another chance. Indeed, one of Klein's complaints about Biden is: "Politics has not moved on from Trump." That's not going to happen by punishing Democrats for not delivering an arbitrary list of programs that the Republicans wouldn't even have considered. But instead of answering his own easy question, here's Klein promising: "Next week, I'll take a closer look at what Republicans are promising to do if they are given the power to do it." You know, I wrote about just that -- Rick Scott's Senate campaign manifesto -- back in March.

Eric Levitz:

  • [10-26] The Media Did Not Trick Voters Into Disliking Inflation: Seems like a strange point. Inflation is an economic dislocation that has both winners and losers, but you never hear about the winners: those who have the power to raise prices or wages (whichever they benefit from) have a good chance of coming out ahead, while everyone else loses. Arguably, more people are properly concerned about inflation because more people come out on the losing end, but the media does have much to do with that perception. It seems strange to ignore that.

  • [10-24] Return of the Hostage Takers: "Surveys consistently find that rising prices are far and away the public's top concern and that Republicans are widely seen as more credible inflation fighters than Democrats." Really? Why the fuck is that? As noted above, inflation has winners as well as losers. Republicans favor the rich, and Democrats, well, also favor the rich, but also care a bit about the poor. So, assuming that both profess opposition to inflation, and have their favored remedies, you'd expect each to help its preferred voters, at the expense of the others. Republican remedies fight inflation by cutting employment and services, and those have widespread effects -- even within the business sector, most businesses are hurt to protect banks. Give Republicans more power, and they will flaunt it, to try to force their way on budgetary issues, even at the risk of defaulting. That's what Levitz means by "hostage taking." Democrats would have been well advised to pass a law getting rid of the debt ceiling crises, but couldn't manage to squeeze that through in time.

More on inflation:

  • Paul Krugman: [10-27] Republicans Have No Inflation Plan: Even if they did, they wouldn't implement it, because as long as Biden (or any Democrat) is president, their sole goal is tanking the economy to make Democrats look bad. Contrast this to 2020, when Democrats enthusiastically supported a bold rescue plan, because Democrats care more about helping people than about making their opponents (even Trump) look bad. But if a Republican was president, Republicans still wouldn't have a plan for fighting inflation, because the two or three things they think they know about the economy are wrong. But also because short of implementing wage-and-price controls -- which Nixon did, badly, but no one of either party would consider now -- there isn't much a party can do about inflation: that job has been turned over to the Fed (along with the task they take more seriously, which is keeping the banks profitable). You might counter that Democrats don't have an inflation plan either, but they do have plans for reducing the pain caused by inflation. And you'll find that they are invariably opposed by Republicans.

Ian Millhiser:

Nicole Narea: [10-28] What we know about the violent attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband. More than I knew about threats to other members of Congress. Also a reminder that Pelosi's home had been vandalized in December 2020. But strangely: nothing on the rabid vilification of Pelosi in Republican campaign ads (see below). While it's possible to imagine political figures of all stripes as targets of violence, only one side prides itself on its guns and eagerness to use them. It's a big step from "voting to kill" to actually doing so, but we're seeing it more and more. [PS: Narea later wrote: [10-29] The attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband is the culmination of longtime GOP hate-mongering.]

Siona Peterous: [10-28] The backlash against Ron DeSantis's puzzling voter fraud arrests. What's so puzzling? The arrests were a PR stunt, and that's what DeSantis does. And they were meant not just to harass 20 voters in a state with 10+ million registered voters, but to send a message intimidating more voters (still a tiny percentage, but Bush's margin of victory in 2000 was officially 537 after the recount was stopped). Interview between Sean Ramaeswaram and Lawrence Mower.

Kelsey Piper: [10-27] The shrinking ozone hole shows that the world can actually solve an environmental crisis: True enough, but the big difference is that industry was willing to find substitutes for CFCs, because they could profit either way. But replacing fossil fuels is not just harder: it takes business from established companies and moves it to new ones (no matter how much oil companies diversify into renewables). As long as political systems are stacked in favor of profits, it will be all but impossible to transition from fossil fuels to non-carbon energy.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-28] Roaming Charges: Tales From the Democratic Crypt: After the funding appeal, starts with the aborted Progressive Caucus letter on Ukraine, which "like a v-2 rocket . . . had exploded in the Democrats' faces before most people had even heard the sound of its flight." More on that above. Further down, he quotes a tweet from National Review: "Remember Rumsfeld's rule: 'Sometimes you have to kill a chicken to frighten the monkeys." For context, the article linked to was titled "To Contain Xi, Defeat Putin in Ukraine." Every word screams insane, from the disgraced authority to the racist innuendo of the metaphors, all the way down to any possible meaning, let alone agenda. I would start by questioning why the US needs to "contain China" when it has few options for expanding, but would no doubt regard such intentions as threatening, then ask why defeating Russia in Ukraine should make much of an impression on China, then ask whether defeating Russia in Ukraine is even possible (and how calling Putin a chicken advances any such ambitions?). And never forget that Rumsfeld's first big mismanagement job was when Nixon tabbed him to wreck the Office of Economic Opportunity. He went on to spend his whole life failing up, probably due to his knack for sharing racist jokes with superiors -- at least until Bush scapegoated him in 2006. Much more here, including a picture of a book subtitled "The inside story of Liz Truss and her astonishing rise to power," marked down for clearance.

Michael D Swaine: [10-28] Biden's boilerplate defense strategy: it's all about China: "The NDS continues a long tradition of painting China as an aggressive nation working to weaken the US." Publication of the latest National Security Document kicked off a number of alarms. In particular, the obsession with China as a strategic rival and possible enemy, while no doubt good for the defense business, is liable to turn fantasies into reality. More pieces:

Karen Tumulty: [10-29] I'm sorry I said nice things about Glenn Youngkin: The worst journalist in America -- she won her title in Alex Pareene's Hack 30 (why isn't this still online?), but continued to "fail up," landing as deputy editorial page editor and columnist at the Washington Post -- admits that she fucked up again. Speaking of Youngkin, see Steve M. on Katherine Miller (Considering the Post-Trump Era in a Tucson Sports Bar): Slow Lerner.

Alissa Walker: [10-26] Mike Davis Was Right: A truck driver who developed as "an activist historian with an unapologetically Marxist bent," Davis wrote a couple dozen books, especially on his home town of Los Angeles (City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles; Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster; Setting the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties). The one I was most impressed by was Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World, which pretty thoroughly upturned everything I thought I knew about 19th century colonialism. A couple more examples illustrate his eye for odd but profound detail: Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (2007), and The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005, one he lived long enough to update as The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism).

Marcy Wheeler: [10-27] John Durham's Investigation Has Disclcosed Corruption: His Own: "The Barr-appointed special counsel was supposed to reveal 'the crime of the century.' All he revealed was his incompetence -- and worse."

Here's a tweet triptych from Steve M.:

  • The goal of right-wing news and opinion is not to inform. The goal is to create and reinforce the right set of allegiances and hatreds, and to ensure that the audience never questions those allegiances and hatreds.
  • The multiple right-wing propaganda messages about the Paul Pelosi attack are designed to ensure that no one in the audience wavers in their hatred for Nancy Pelosi and love for fellow righties. He wasn't a righty - he was a psycho-lefty! It was a gay tryst gone wrong!
  • Right-wing media's one job is to guarantee that the audience never questions the right's main premise: that right-wingers are good 100% of the time and liberals/lefties/RINOs are evil 100% of the time.

M. writes more about this: [10-30] If you don't like these deflections, the GOP has others:

When real-world events threaten to expose the GOP as a threat to American civilization, the party uses kettle logic -- multiple arguments, many of them incompatible with one another -- to rally both rabid and moderate party supporters, and to reassure fence-sitters that all evil lies elsewhere. Look at January 6: To the rabid base, the party's propagandists argued that the violence was justified, or was the work of Antifa or the FBI (or both), or that it was encouraged by Nancy Pelosi, who (they falsely claim) was personally and solely in charge of the Capitol Police. To voters in the middle, the response has been whataboutism: Remember when Antifa and Black Lives Matter burned down entire American cities? (Which didn't happen.) Why isn't there a select committee about that?

While a lot of people still fall for this "kettle logic," and another bunch of them use but don't need it -- the ones who are unfazed by the violent events like the assault on Pelosi, and therefore need no reassurance -- an increasing number of people recognize this spin as the bullshit it is, and tune it out almost automatically. One of the things this election will measure is how gullible people remain after 20-40 years of Republicans lying to them continuously.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Daily Log

Cooked birthday dinner, for seven (Jerry, Janice, Tim, Zhana, Russ, Laura, and myself), with a couple late arrivals (Gretchen, Mike) for cake (I sent them home with leftover plates). I wanted to figure out how I could do something decent without killing or crippling myself. I went with my mother's Arkansas-style comfort food, with a couple minor twists. I wanted things that didn't have a lot of prep, that could either be prepared ahead of time or could sit in pots on the stove and be warmed up as necessary.

Photographs on Facebook: coconut cake; dinner plate (cw from top: chicken & dumplings, green beans, mushrooms, cabbage, corn, broccoli salad, slaw, with pickles in the middle).

I did my preliminary shopping on Friday with a rare trip to Whole Foods, and shopped again on Monday afternoon, going to Dillons, then having to chase down missing ingredients at another Dillons, and at Yoder Meats (for some reason Dillons didn't have whole chickens). I started cooking Monday evening, and was hurting pretty bad when I took a break to watch some television, but I returned to do a bit more after midnight. I resumed Tuesday around noon, and finished about 15 minutes after the announced 6:00 dinner time. I was still fairly mobile, and the food was very good. The menu:

  • Chicken & dumplings: my mother's recipe, with meat from one boiled chicken and the dumplings scaled 1.5. The chicken from Yoder came in at just under 3 lbs -- I can't remember seeing one that small in Dillons, but they didn't have any in two stores. I cut it up and put it in the pot first thing Tuesday, boiled it for an hour, and let it cool, after which Jerry picked the meat out. I mixed the dumpling dough in the food processor, split it into two balls, rolled each out to about 1/8-inch, then cut them into 2-inch wide strips, 4-5 inches long. They'd need to cook 20 minutes, so I meant to time them to be ready at 6:00. That was the only critical timing, and I ran just a few minutes late. I added the chicken at the end, and let it heat up while dishing out everything else.

  • Green beans: This is what my mother always served with chicken & dumplings, preferably from home-grown Kentucky Wonder beans, seasoned with bacon and onion. First Dillons I went to only had half the beans I wanted, but I made up the deficit at the second Dillons. I snapped the ends while the chicken was cooking. I bought two kinds of thick bacon at Whole Foods: maple and apple-bourbon. I started with the latter, but it produced very little fat, so I chopped up a couple slices of the maple and added them. I chopped a couple onions in the food processor, and dished out a half-cup here, cooked them a bit, then added the green beans, tossed them to coat, then added chicken stock to almost cover, put a lid on, and let it simmer an hour. After that, I removed the lid, checked the seasoning, and let the stock gently reduce while I was working on the other dishes.

  • Cabbage: I bought a head of green cabbage, and split it in half. Monday evening, one half went into a Spanish cabbage salad: I shredded it, julienned two carrots, and thinly sliced a green bell pepper; added green raisins (much more than the 3 tbs called for); mixed up a vinaigrette (olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper), tossed the salad in it, and refrigerated. The other half I fried alongside the green beans: I shredded it more thickly (closer to 1/2-inch instead of 1/8-inch), tossed it in the same bacon-onion mix, added some chicken stock, and let it steam covered for 1/2-hour, then I turned the fire down and let the stock reduce.

  • Corn: I used Betty Fussell's smothered corn (maque choux) recipe, but started with frozen corn (a 12-oz bag measured out to 3 cups, vs. the 4 cups called for, so I scaled the recipe down approximately). I used a large saucepan, starting with butter, adding onion, an orange bell pepper (recipe called for green, but I thought the orange would be prettier), some scallions, and a little less than a cup of cream. I covered it, let it cook for 30 minutes, then uncovered and let it reduce a bit. Finally I added an egg mixed with 2 tbs cream. When I served it, I garnished it with smoked paprika and parsley.

  • Mushrooms: I was thinking ragout, but went with a "ragu" recipe that was essentially the same thing (especially since it didn't use tomato, unlike recipes I had found during research). I roughly chopped three packages (baby portabella, shiitake, and "gourmet mixed"), sauteed them with onion and garlic in olive oil, added a half cup of red wine, cooked that down, then added two cups of beef bone stock, cooked that down, then finished with 1/3-cup cream, let that thicken, and garnished with basil and parsley. All four of these were cooking at the same time, with the stock on a fifth burner waiting for the dumplings.

  • Broccoli salad: I made this late Monday night. I cut up two bunches of broccoli, separated into florets and stems, then blanched them (stems first), so they were semi-cooked. I fried some bacon, and mixed the bacon, broccoli, green raising, craisins (cranberries), and black walnuts. I mixed up some mayonnaise and balsamic vinegar, and mixed it all together, then refrigerated. So it was ready for Tuesday.

  • Quick pickles: I was thinking about doing some appetizers, but this was the only one I managed Monday night (next day I didn't have time for anything else). I sliced up four small cucumbers, and two shallots, and put them in a bowl, with some chopped dill. I mixed white vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seed, and a bay leaf, brought it to a boil so everything dissolved, then poured it over the vegetables. I let it cool, then refrigerated. This turned out to be the only dish we didn't have any leftovers of.

  • Coconut cake: For dessert, another of my mother's famous recipes. I made the cake Monday evening, in two round pans, and wrapped the cakes in plastic to stay fresh. Tuesday, after I had the chicken cooking but before I got into everything else, I tried to make the icing. The idea is to whip up egg whites (recipe calls for 2, but lately I've been using 3, adding the extra yolk to the cake), then make a sugar syrup, add a pinch of salt and some light corn syrup to it, then beat it into the whipped egg whites. If everything works right, you get a warm and glossy white frosting which has some body and is intensely sweet. But the syrup is tricky. I've found it nearly impossible to get the sugar in the recipe quantities to dissolve (4/3-cup sugar to 1/4-cup water), so I bump the water up to 1/3- or 1/2-cup (I don't remember what I used this time, but probably 1/3, as it only barely worked). The timing is also very tricky (and Mom's instruction of "makes a string" is way too subjective for me): too much and it recrystalizes too fast, but not enough and your icing is runny.

    I screwed it up three times. The first, I noticed some brown specks floating, and tried to pick them out, but when it finally boiled, the whole thing looked brown, so I threw that batch out. I surmised that I hadn't washed the wood fork I was using, so it still had bits of chocolate on it. I washed the fork, and tried making another batch in another saucepan (I thought a straighter side might hold the thermometer better), but that saucepan turned out to be too small, so when it started to boil it started to overflow. I stopped that, then poured what I had left (plus a couple extra tablespoons of sugar) into my first saucepan, and tried it again. On my third try, I got the syrup up to 242°F, which should have been about right, but when I mixed it with the egg whites, the icing looked too runny for me. (Maybe I needed to boil the syrup longer, or maybe there was something with the egg whites -- I decided to whip them in the large mixer bowl instead of the small one, so maybe them weren't as fully whipped?) In any case, I've found that you can thicken this icing up by adding powdered sugar. I probably wound up adding 1/2-cup (in 2-3 additions). It still wasn't really firm, but I figured it was workable, and spread it into and onto the two-layer cake. I then sprinkled shredded fresh coconut on top and on the sides (always a treacherous proposition).

    In the past, I've been known to buy a coconut, shell it, peel it, and grate it -- a lot of work -- but Whole Foods sells chunks of peeled coconut, and I can just run them through the food processor, reducing a couple hours to 5 minutes. (That was what occasioned my Friday shopping trip.) The cake came out a bit on the dry side -- probably would have been better if baked 2-3 minutes less -- but the icing tasted fine, and the presentation was much better than my usual.

Aside from the cake, my only complaint was the dumpling stock should have thickened up a bit. When I boil chicken for biscuits, I want to reduce the stock as much as possible, so I only barely cover the chicken, and boil the stock down after removing the chicken, and usually add a cornstarch slurry to thicken what's left. But when making chicken for dumplings, you need enough stock to boil the dumplings, so I started out with a very full pot, and didn't think about thickening it. Of course, it will thicken a bit if you have loose flour on the dumplings, and I had some (from rolling them out), but not very much. Hence, it came out soupy (nothing a slotted spoon couldn't fix). Could be that the unusually small chicken had left it less flavorful than usual.

Recipe called for hydrating the raisins in the broccoli salad, but I think I would have preferred them not. I'm less sure about the craisins (also hydrated). I had seen them in another recipe, and had them handy, so thought I'd try them. It's the dish I have the highest-percentage leftovers of, so I should reëvaluate it.

Other than that, it's hard to see how any of these could have been improved. The one thing on my shopping list that I couldn't find was parsley (very unusually; note that Dillons put extra cilantro out in its place), but I had some in the refrigerator that was still in pretty good shape, so even that wasn't a problem.

I contemplated a number of possible appetizers, especially things that could be done early without a lot of effort. I wanted to limit them to things that could be picked up and popped into one's mouth, so I excluded spreads and dips from the start, and anything that should be served hot.

Looking specifically for Southern appetizers, everyone recommended deviled eggs. I also found a recipe for button mushrooms stuffed with sausage and mozzarella, and all sorts of things that were wrapped in bacon, ranging from tiny hot dogs ("smokies") to goat-cheese-filled dates. I considered phyllo shells stuffed with brie and pecans, but only if I could find pre-formed shells (I couldn't). I picked up the ingredients needed, but ultimately didn't feel up to doing the extra work, and had little doubt that what I was serving would suffice. Still, I should use up those ingredients some time.

Gretchen Eick brought a card over. Inscription: "To the world's best chef & the man tied with his wife for smartest Kansas. Wishes for a truly good year to come -- m ay it be a healthy & happy one & free from war."

Monday, October 24, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, October archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 38 albums, 6 A-list,

Music: Current count 38918 [38880] rated (+38), 43 [41] unrated (+2: 15 new, 28 old).

I spent a lot of time working on my Book Roundup post, which got rushed out late Saturday. I suppose it wouldn't tip my hand severely if I linked to my Books: Next Draft file, which is where I've been organizing the column. The "Main" and "Secondary" sections should be empty after each post. "Draft" contains entries I've written a bit about: I may be planning to return and write more, or they simply didn't make the cut, but they may show up in a future "Main" section. Similarly, "Noted" missed the "Secondary" cut, but could be expanded into "Main" section entries later (or grouped under other "Main" section entries).

That left me Sunday to scratch together a Speaking of Which. Considering the late start and limited time, and the fact that I posted before midnight, I feel like I came up with quite a bit. I wrote half of the introduction to start, then finished it at the end. As we get closer to the election, I feel more like spelling out the obvious.

I have very little to add on the music, except that I found out about Mary McCaslin's death last week, which sent me back to pick up the ones I missed. The others are here. I played Swift and Jepsen today, in that order, while trying to write, so I wasn't hanging on every word (not that I ever am, but they got three plays each). Swift is higher on the list, and more likely to go up than down (unlike Jepsen, which tails off a bit toward the end -- maybe because I wound up listening to the longer version).

One more thing here, and it's important (at least to me): if you've voted in Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll in the past, and you would like to help out with my organization of this year's poll, send me an email to express your interest. I want to set up a mailing list, and need some people to test it out on before I send out the actual ballot invitations (around mid-November, with a mid-December deadline). I'll also explain some of the mechanics of how the poll works, and how I see using the website as a voter reference (e.g., I'd like to add a FAQ). I'd welcome comments and questions, but I'm not asking a lot: mostly just tolerate getting some test email. Also, as per recent years, if you want to nominate a voter, or nominate yourself, please let me know.

Need to get this up and out of the way early, so I can get on with cooking birthday dinner. Going with some favorite comfort foods this year, not least because I expect that will reduce wear and tear.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Claudia Acuña: Duo (2022, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Airport 77s: We Realize You Have a Choice (2022, Jem): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Akusmi: Fleeting Future (2022, Tonal Union): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz (2022, Agogo): [sp]: B
  • Bibio: Bib10 (2022, Warp): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Burial: Streetlands (2022, Hyperdub, EP): [bc]: B
  • Tommy Crane: We're All Improvisers Now (2020-21 [2022], Whirlwind): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Criolo: Sobre Viver (2022, Oloko): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jens Düppe: Ego_D (2022, Enja/Yellowbird): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Open Mike Eagle: Component System With the Auto Reverse (2022, Auto Reverse): [sp]: A-
  • Flohio: Out of Heart (2022, AWAL): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Darryl Harper: Chamber Made (2022, Stricker Street): [cd]: B+(*) [10-28]
  • Hickeys: Fragile Structure (2022, self-released): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jason Kao Hwang/J.A. Deane [Dino Duo]: Uncharted Faith (2021 [2022], Tone Science Music/Blue Coast Music): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Dieter Ilg: Dedication (2020 [2022], ACT): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Dieter Ilg: Ravel (2021 [2022], ACT): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time (2022, Interscope): [sp]: A-
  • Keith Kirchoff/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble: Christian Wolff: Exercises and Explorations (2021, Spoonhunt): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: Spirit to All (2022, Whirlwind): [sp]: A-
  • Louis Moutin/Jowee Omicil/François Moutin: M.O.M. (2022, Laborie Jazz): [cd]: B+(***) [10-25]
  • Carlos Niño & Friends: Extra Presence (2019 [2022], International Anthem): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Christopher Parker & the Band of Guardian Angels: Soul Food (2019 [2021], Mahakala Music): [sp]: B+(**)
  • John Patitucci Trio: Live in Italy (2022, Three Faces): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Photay With Carlos Nino: An Offering (2021 [2022], International Anthem): [sp]: B
  • Charlie Puth: Charlie (2022, Atlantic): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Kristjan Randalu/New Wind Jazz Orchestra: Sisu (2021 [2022], Whirlwind): [sp]: B
  • Daniel Rotem: Wise One: Celebrating the Music of John Coltrane (2020 [2022], self-relased): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Harvie S & Roni Ben-Hur With Sylvia Cuenca: Wondering (2022, Dot Time): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Angelica Sanchez Trio: Sparkle Beings (2022, Sunnyside): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jason Stein/Damon Smith/Adam Shead: Volumes & Surfaces (2021 [2022], Balance Point Acoustics): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Taylor Swift: Midnights (2022, Republic): [sp]: A-
  • Bilana Voutchkova/Susana Santos Silva: Bagra (2021 [2022], Relative Pitch): [sp]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (2010 [2022], Enja/Yellowbird): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron: Searching in Grenoble: The 1978 Solo Piano Concert (1978 [2022], Tompkins Square): [sp]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): [sp]: A-
  • Mary McCaslin: A Life and Time (1981, Flying Fish): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jowee Omicil: Let's Do This (2006, Jowee Juise): [sp]: B
  • Jowee Omicil: Let's Bash (2017, Jazz Village): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jim Ringer: Waitin' for the Hard Times to Go (1972, Folk-Legacy): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jim Ringer: The Band of Jesse James: Best of Jim Ringer (1973-81 [1996], Rounder): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Rocket From the Tombs: The Day the Earth Met the . . Rocket From the Tombs (1975 [2002], Smog Veil): [sp]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Claudia Acuña: Duo (Ropeadope) [09-23]
  • Patricia Brennan: More Touch (Pyroclastic) [11-18]
  • Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth (Out of Your Head) [10-28]
  • The Ostara Project: The Ostara Project (Cellar) [11-18]
  • Harvie S/Roni Ben-Hur/Sylvia Cuenca: Wondering (Dot Time) [10-14]
  • Sonido Solar: Eddie Palmieri Presents Sonido Solar (Truth Revolution) [10-28]

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

In this month's Q&A column, Robert Christgau was asked a dumb political question ("Were you always a pablum-puking liberal or did you have to be brainwashed?"), and took the occasion to comment on the November election:

I was raised in a born-again Christian family in Queens, Republicans though never true conservatives who like most Americans came to think the Vietnam War was a mistake. I started moving away from Christianity in my early teens, explicitly espousing atheism at 17. Influenced by several women I cared for, prominently including the two referred to in the Canada question below, I became a leftist in the '60s and would now label myself a "left Democrat" because I believe the word "progressive" has lost most of its mojo. I thank you for giving me an excuse to remind And It Don't Stop readers that there are crucial elections taking place November 8, perhaps as crucial as any we've known, and to urge them to vote as soon as possible as well as donate to favored candidates, as I have to over a dozen since March or so. Never since World War II has democracy been in so much peril.

Substitute Wichita for Queens, and note that I'm eight years younger -- which still adds up to 72 this week -- and the first two (or with minor edits three) sentences also describe me fairly well. I endorse the rest of the paragraph as well, although as always I have minor quibbles. I've been a careful observers of party politics since the 1960s, but never been an activist, or even a donor. (My wife has made the occasional contribution, and continues to pay for it with volumes of spam.) This year, we have yard signs for Laura Kelly, Chris Mann, and Lacey Cruse, but that's it.

While it's true that "never since World War II has democracy been in so much peril," the word "peril" implies that the real damage has yet to happen. The biggest threat to democracy in America is the influence of money, and that battle is so far gone Democrats hardly ever even talk about it any more. (Democrats dropped the ball when they found that Obama and the Clintons could raise even more money than the Republicans, but their riches didn't trickle down to the rank and file candidates, and came at the cost of policies that made the rich even richer while screwing everyone else.) And campaign donations, which candidates are obliged to spend most of their time pursuing, is just the tip of the money iceberg: the real advantage money has is in lobbying (the number of registered lobbyists is over 11,000, roughly 20 for each member of Congress). Then there is major media, which is divided between propaganda organs like Fox and "balanced" sources, which are also owned by the very rich. Again, the game has been so far lost that hardly anyone talks about it.

The only "threats" that do raise eyebrows are the Republican scams to gerrymander districts and suppress voting, but those, too, are mostly locked into place, and protected by a court system that has been overwhelmingly captured by Republican Party operatives. As for the courts, each week I cite articles by Ian Millhiser. The lifetime appointment of judges was one of several severe limits on democracy enshrined in the Constitution -- another is the hugely malapportioned Senate -- which have long been open to abuse, and lately targeted by Republicans. Still, Republicans are so rigid in their contempt for democracy, and relentless in their assault on it, that it's hard to keep up with them. The only real solution is to revolt in such numbers that all their tricks prove insufficient.

It's gotten to be a cliché to say that this election is the most important in our lives. A better word for it might be desperate, as what we are struggling against isn't just what Republicans might do in the next 2 years, but the cumulative weight of what they've taken away from us over the last 40+. The 6-3 Republican domination of the Supreme Court goes back to GHW Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas, who until GW Bush's nomination of Roberts and Alito was limited to an ominous and often bizarre minority of 2 (with Scalia, nominated by Reagan). Legislation that hurt unions and helped the rich goes back even further. That cumulative weight is ever harder to stop let alone reverse. And it also chews up time.

If Republicans win the House and/or the Senate this year, the immediate effect will be to derail any possibility of Democrats passing laws to protect and aid Americans. The resulting rancor will be unpleasant, and the inaction will hurt the most vulnerable -- which thanks to the Supreme Court and Republican mastery of most state legislatures now includes many more women, who are being denied access to reproductive care (one problem that a democratic majority in Congress could easily repair). But aside from its immediate effects, giving Republicans any measure of power to disrupt Congress will cost us opportunity, for a minimum of two years, to deal with problems that are festering while we do nothing. The most obvious is climate change, which would have been much easier to deal with 20-30 years ago, when the threat was clear to anyone willing to look at the evidence. But there is much more that we need to do sooner rather than later. Education, in particular, is always time sensitive.

I wish I could be more optimistic about Biden finding a path out of war, as the current path is potentially even worse than climate change. Every week I try to remind you all that the only way out of the Ukraine war is through negotiation, and that negotiation there shouldn't stop with the disputed territories but extend to a fundamental reëvaluation of how powerful countries behave beyond their own borders.

I spent all last week working on yesterday's Book Roundup, which touches on at least some of these issues. So I didn't get a start here until this morning. There is certainly a lot more I could have written about, but this will have to do for now.

AP: [10-20] Military suicides drop as leaders push new programs: No mention of exiting the war in Afghanistan. Strange no one thought of that as having any bearing, what with the "personal issues, including finances and marital stress."

David Atkins: [10-21] Republicans Cannot and Will Not Reduce Gasoline Prices: Gas prices is one of their big talking points, along with inflation more generally, and that old standby "crime." It really amazes me that Republicans think people are so gullible they'll think that Republicans can solve any of these "problems," but then there's little in their spiel that does not regard a massive suspension of disbelief. But at least it's possible to believe that most Republicans do want to see less crime (not that that's what they mean by the term, and not at the expense of their gun fetishism). Same for inflation, as long as you define the term the way they do: as escalating wages, not commodity prices. But Republicans are joined at the hip to the oil industry, and the only thing they want to see is more profits, and the only easy way to get them is through higher prices.

I don't want to get caught in the weeds of individual races, but here are some more general election pieces:

Jonathan Chait: [10-21] How Vaccine Skeptics Took Over the Republican Party: "A case study in the party's dysfunction." Always carping about something, in the early days of the pandemic, as the severity of Covid-19 was so great that hospitals were being overwhelmed, the knee-jerk response was to insist that businesses should decide for themselves what precautions (with the market in its usual role as judge and jury), but most held out hope that future vaccines would render the question moot. Then they started shifting to promoting quack treatments. And when the vaccines finally did become available, they trumpeted individual choice and allowed for "religious" exemptions. I can see a case for allowing people to decide whether or not to get vaccinated, but I've never understood why anti-vaxxers would campaign for others not to get vaccinated. Certainly self-interest argues otherwise. So what it seems to come down to is that certain people (Republicans, mostly) just like to spout off and make sure everyone hear them. And in doing so, they've tapped into the conspiratorial mindset that runs through the Republican Party, enough so to intimidate more sensible members of their cohort. Of course, to the rest of us, that just makes them look stupid, vain, arrogant, and malign -- traits they'd happily wear as a badge of honor. This is the same dynamic that has worked for the "stop the steal" campaign. Hard to say which proposition is more ridiculous, but both are thriving in the mental sewers of the Republican Party.

Conor Echols: [10-21] Diplomacy Watch: Could Lula be a force for peace in Ukraine? Probably not unless/until he gets elected, but Brazil is a big country, and someone needs to cajole both the US/Europe and Russia into negotiation. From what I gather, the general feeling in the Global South is that the Ukraine war is an internecine squabble within the Global North that has become a major headache for the rest of the world -- driving up prices of food and fuel, forcing nations to take sides, etc. -- and so perhaps Brazil and Mexico (where AMLO has made his own proposals) could combine with other more/less neutral countries (South Africa, India, perhaps China) to form an effective lobby for peace. They could, for instance, threaten to sanction all belligerents. That would raise some eyebrows.

Jonathan Guyer: [10-21] The secret history of America's tactical nukes. A lot of thought has gone into the idea that if you could scale nuclear bombs down enough, it would blur the difference between escalating to nuclear weapons, weakening inhibitions against their use. Some of those "thinkers" were Russian, but most were American.

Ellen Ioanes: [10-20] Why Liz Truss was UK prime minister for only six weeks: This makes me jealous for a political system that doesn't restrict change to fixed terms, although the UK system is still deeply flawed: allowing even a completely hapless Parliament five years before having to call new elections has created a peculiar dynamic: the dominant party (in this case the Tories) has incentives for infighting and self-destruction with no immediate risks. Meanwhile, new Prime Ministers are selected in a very limited partisan process which the overwhelming majority of UK citizens have no say in. If the US had such a system, it would be easy to imagine Trump (and maybe even GW Bush and/or Bill Clinton) getting purged mid-term, especially if their replacements weren't limited to even less popular VPs (Pence maybe, Cheney for sure). On the other hand, in the American system, embattled Presidents can fight back and actually strengthen their control (as both Trump and Clinton did after impeachment). By the way, after much speculation, Boris Johnson Drops Bid to Return as UK Prime Minister.

Jay Caspian Kang: [10-21] What would a nation of sports gamblers look like? I don't like gambling of any sort, but the more sports gambling becomes legit -- our Democratic governor's big "bipartisan" deal this year was to legalize it -- the more irritated I get. It's not so much that I worry about the integrity of professional sports (which have been ruined by money already), but that on a personal level, I've never been able to see why people would throw money away to prove that they aren't really that smart. (As compared to pure games of luck, sports betting lures in people who think themselves experts, but the odds are balanced so they still lose more often than not.) By the way, what really bothered me about the Kansas legalization wasn't that it allowed people to legally lose money that many were illegally losing before, but that the revenues are being earmarked to lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals west of State Line Blvd., in yet another massive giveaway to whichever billionaires own them now (last I knew the Chiefs belonged to HL Hunt, and the Royals to one of the Wal-Mart heirs.)

More gambling:

  • Kathryn Schulz: [10-17] What we've lost playing the lottery: "The games are a bonanza for the companies that states hire to adminster them. But what about the rest of us?" The rationale, which I accept, is that gambling should be legal, and should be run by the state, because the state can run a cleaner, more honest game than the Mafia, and with much less onerous side-effects. And the state can pick up some profits along the way, which it can then use for other worthwhile things, but preferably not so much that officials feel the need to market (promote) the practice (beyond the bare minimum necessary to prevent a black market). That shouldn't be too hard to grasp, but in practice gambling has become legal because operators with few better scruples than the Mafia have lobbied to pass laws, giving them various levels of monopolies and incentives to rake in as much profit as possible. I know a guy who signs his email with "lottery: n., a tax on stupidity." He's not wrong, even if you replace "lottery" with more skilled games, each seeking its own level of stupidity. In this light, the operators in this article are basically just tax farmers.

Ian Millhiser:

  • [10-20] America's Trumpiest court just declared an entire federal agency unconstitutional: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was established by the banking reform bill that followed the 2008 meltdown, which followed massive fraud, especially in home mortgages (but extending way beyond there, such as to derivatives that were designed to lose investor money). The fine print doesn't go so far as to say that federal law cannot prosecute fraud, but by underming the agency that fights fraud, that seems to be what they're aiming for.

  • [10-23] What the Constitution actually says about race, explained: "There's a glaring flaw in the Supreme court lawsuits attacking affirmative action."

More pieces on legal issues:

Indigo Olivier: [10-20] "Cannibal Capitalism" Is Eroding Society's Basic Structures: Interview with Nancy Fraser, author of Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System Is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet -- and What We Can Do About It. The best example I can think of capitalist cannibalism is private equity; see Jason Linkins: [10-15] The Industry Devouring the American Dream.

Areeba Shah: [10-19] Legal experts mock failed Durham probe: No other prosecutor "has ever posted such a dismal record": "One legal analyst noted Durham got 'two acquittals at trial in a system where the feds win 95% of their cases." Also: Ankush Khardori: [10-18] John Durham Almost Makes Ken Starr Look Good.

Alex Shephard: [10-20] The Spectacular Failure of Right-Wing Social Media Platforms: It's really just network effects: whoever gets in first with a service that appeals to virtually everyone gets a lock on the business, and can exploit that by collecting and selling data. There are a lot of right-wing jerks in America, but not enough to build their own niche ecosystem -- especially given that the insular echo chamber they crave is already available on mainstream platforms.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-21] Roaming Charges: Vincent, Duck! Soup!

Emily Stewart: [10-20] How airlines squeeze you for every penny. Deregulation promised cheaper tickets, and that worked for a while. But in a grossly unequal society, with limited supply and far-from-perfect information, they created a game for predatory companies.

Bob Woodward: [10-23] The Trump Tapes: 20 interviews that show why he is in unparalleled danger. "I have decided to take the unusual step of releasing [tapes of my 20 interviews with Trump]. I was struck by how Trump pounded in my ears in a way the printed page cannot capture." The interviews cover many topics, but Woodward concludes: "I believe the tapes show that Trump's greatest failure was his handling of the coronavirus." Early interviews reveal how incapable he was of comprehending the problem, and how he resisted attempt to nudge him into a responsible position. Less clear is how he got worse over time. After he recovered from his case, he intuited how to play the pandemic politically, while the nation as a whole suffered its darkest days. Even today, most Republicans are following his lead, and working to dismantle any possibility of public health officials responding to future crises.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Book Roundup

Blog link.

Last Book Roundup was on May 1, the second of a burst of two. This one should have a follow up relatively soon, although this one was so difficult to pull together that it's hard to imagine when the next one will be ready. This is not for lack of books I know about: my draft file has nearly 300 books noted (at least before adding the short note section below, but those are in theory still eligible for a longer write up). My rule of thumb is to publish a post when I get 40 books for the top section, but a smaller number might make more sense, especially given my tendency to tack on supplementary lists. We have a lot of Russia and China this time: Abelow, Brands, Gaeotti, Hoffman, Short. A special case of sublists is when I list previous books by authors (Levine, Lopez, Mead, Moyn, Scialabba; I don't count Chomsky here because I'm only listing new books by him and co-author Prashad).

Two sublists are things I haven't done before: Under Short, I give you a select list of other books on Putin, as well as a much more indiscriminate one of books I hadn't noted before. In theory, you could look them up, but that would be a pain. It would be nice to break the big file up into topical ones, and try to sort out the potentially useful titles from the rest, including some way to flag right-wing nonsense (to varying extents: Brands, Concha, Hegseth/Goodwin, Jones, Mandelbaum, Mead, as well as a number of sublist selections).

I also sorted the Leibovich sublist into two sets: one of books which (like Leibovich) offer useful reporting on Trump (especially in his last months in office), and a second one of self-serving memoirs, mostly of Trump associates. Normally, I would have lifted one of those items to the head of the list, but none seem worthy. On the other hand, a couple books that could have been developed as longer items got stuck on sublists (under Milbank, Corn is a book that I'm actually reading). I also left Shrecker under Bunch, as the two books seemed complementary. On the other hand, I did wind up breaking Haberman out of its original perch under Leibovich. And I wound up writing an entry for Hoffman's old (2011) book as an anchor for Khodorkovsky's new one. Hoffman's book is also relevant to the Short (Putin) list, but stands a bit apart.

As I've explained repeatedly, this is basically a research exercise, meant to gain a sense of the state of knowledge and understanding of the world, reflected in book form. With few exceptions, the descriptions are based on blurbs, samples, and sometimes reviews, mostly from digging through Amazon (as unpleasant as that often is). The only books below that I've read much from are: DeLong, Leibovich, Corn, and Smil. I've ordered copies of: Cooper, Levine, Milbank, Moyn. I've also read other books from: Bunch, Chemerinsky, Chomsky, Fischer, Hochschild, Hoffman, McKibben, Draper, Purdy, Gessen, Satter, Tomasky, and further down: Berry, Heinberg, Meier, and Rushkoff.

Benjamin Abelow: How the West Brought War to Ukraine: Understanding How US and NATO Policies Led to Crisis, War, and the Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe (paperback, Siland Press): A short (88 pp) summary, valid as far as it goes, but unlikely to shed much light on why the "provocations" led to such an egregious response from Putin. I would argue that although the US wanted to expand NATO to grow its arms market, and found that the easiest way to sell expansion was to fan old and new fears of Russian power, they never had the slightest desire to actually go to war with Russia, and it's strange that Putin could ever think so. On the other hand, while traditional economic ties and Russia's imperial legacy suggest why Russians like Putin think of Ukraine should be a subservient satellite, those attachments don't justify invasion and destruction, with its attendant risk to Russia's world standing. Several blurb writers, like Noam Chomsky, praise Abelow's telling of one part of the story that is widely ignored in the US, but there are other stories that need to be integrated. For more general books on Russian history, see Galeotti below. For books specifically on Putin, see Short. Here are a few more books on the Ukraine-Russia War, a few written since the 2022 invasion, a few more going back to 2014:

  • Paul D'Anieri: Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
  • Media Benjamin/Nicolas JS Davies: War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict (paperback, 2022, OR Books). [11-15]
  • Peter Conradi: Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War (2017; paperback, 2022, Oneworld): Included here because it describes in more detail how the Cold War was rekindled -- many points highlighted in Abelow's short book.
  • Yuri Felshtinsky/Michael Stanchev: Blowing Up Ukraine: The Return of Russian Terror and the Threat of World War III (2022, Gibson Square): Felshtinsky has a previous book, Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror (2007).
  • Valentine Green: Russia Ukraine, Putin Zelenskyy: Your Essential Uncensored Guide to the Russia-Ukraine History and War (2022, independent): 94 pp.
  • Mark Galeotti: Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine (2022, Osprey Publishing). [11-08]
  • Taras Kuzlo: Putin's War Against Ukraine: Revolution, Nationalism, and Crime (paperback, 2017, Create Space).
  • Fred Leplat/Chris Ford, eds: Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity (2022, Resistance Books).
  • William J O'Donnell: The Solution to Putin's War: The Lessons Learned Solving the Russian-US Cold War and Putin's Motivation and Psyche Provide a Durable Solution to Putin's War (paperback, 2022, independent): 76 pp.
  • Ilya Ponomarev/Gregg Stebben: Does Putin Have to Die? The Story of How Russia Becomes a Democracy After Losing to Ukraine (2022, Skyhorse): Seems over the top, but he was a Duma member 2007-16, the only one to vote against annexing Crimea, defected to Kyiv, where, as he put it, "I keep a machine gun by the door." [11-15]
  • Christopher M Smith: Ukraine's Revolt, Russia's Revenge (2022, Brookings Institution Press).
  • Marc Miles Vaughn: The History of Ukraine and Russia: The Tangled History That Led to Crisis (paperback, 2022, History Demystified): 164 pp.
  • Volodymyr Zelensky: A Message From Ukraine: Speeches, 2019-2022 (2022, Crown): 144 pp. [12-06]

Walt Bogdanich/Michael Forsythe: When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World's Most Powerful Consulting Firm (2022, Doubleday): Major consulting firm, their services are available anywhere a company wants to squeeze a little extra profit from their business, or rationalize and cover up their own misdeeds. A blurb from Joseph Stiglitz reads: "Every page made my blood boil as I read about McKinsey's flawed reasoning and vast profits made from ethically dubious work for governments, polluting companies and big pharma." Somewhere in my readings, I remember a piece of advice given to would-be managers: if they really want to scare their employees, just threaten them with bringing McKinsey in.

Kevin Boyle: The Shattering: America in the 1960s (2021, WW Norton): A "lively" history of the decade, expanding the decade a few years on either side, by a historian whose previous books were on civil rights and labor. I'm not sure how well this lives up to its title, a catchphrase that denotes some catastrophe that befell America, whereas I would argue that we started to find a new unity and vision that was then squelched and perverted by the political reaction of the 1970s (Nixon) and 1980s (Reagan), leaving Democrats too traumatized to even attempt to recover. I have no idea whether this book continues to ostracize the left movements of the extended 1960s, or hopes to find a way to move forward by sifting through the rubble.

Hal Brands/Michael Beckley: Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict With China (2022, WW Norton): The authors, professors and senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute, start from a belief common among American foreign policy mandarins: "The Sino-American contest is driven by clashing geopolitical interests and a stark ideological dispute over whether authoritarianism or democracy will dominate the 21st century." That's dangerous nonsense on several levels: neither country depends on propagating its political system abroad: the US likes to talk about democracy, but is more interested in business, demanding that its "allies" open themselves to global profiteering, and pay up monopoly rents. Conflicts with the US happen when countries decline to submit to American dictates on how they do business. China is the big one, because it's the largest economy, it has the most foreign trade, and it follows a go-along-to-get-along philosophy, making it easier to deal with than the US often is. But also note that US foreign policy is largely (and increasingly, or so it seems) defined by the marketing of US arms: "allies" are countries (democratic or not) that buy US arms, "enemies" are countries that buy from someone else like Russia and China (or build their own and try to compete, like Russia and China). The "danger" comes in mostly because arms races are destabilizing, regardless of who promotes them. Also note that within this mindset, other commodities can be viewed as security issues, including chips, oil, even food. Recent (and a few forthcoming) books on China (many more in previous reports):

  • Anne-Marie Brady: China as a Great Polar Power (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press).
  • Kerry Brown: Xi: A Study in Power (paperback, 2022, Icon Books).
  • Maria Adele Carrai/Jennifer Rudolph/Michael Szonyi, eds: The China Questions 2: Critical Insights Into US-China Relations (2022, Harvard University Press).
  • Lulu Yilun Chen: Influence Empire: Inside the Story of Tencent and China's Tech Ambition (2022, Hodder & Stoughton). [11-22]
  • Josh Chin/Liza Lin: Surveillance State: Inside China's Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control (2022, St Martin's Press).
  • Martin Chorzempa: The Cashless Revolution: China's Reinvention of Money and the End of America's Domination of Finance and Technology (2022, Public Affairs).
  • Carl T Delfeld: Power Rivals: America and China's Superpower Struggle (paperback, 2022, Economic Security Council).
  • Frank Dikötter: China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower (2022, Bloomsbury). Has written several earlier books on Chinese history: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (2013); The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976 (2016); Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 (2020). [11-15]
  • Ian Easton: The Final Struggle: Inside China's Global Strategy (paperback, 2022, Eastbridge Books).
  • Howard W French: Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power (2017, Knopf; paperback, 2018, Vintage): Africa specialist, previously wrote China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa (2014).
  • Aaron L Friedberg: Getting China Wrong (2022, Polity): Wrong wrong: "the democracies underestimated the resilience, resourcefulness, and ruthless of the Chinese Community Party."
  • Chin-Hao Huang: Power and Restraint in China's Rise (paperback, 2022, Columbia University Press).
  • Chris Miller: Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology (2022, Scribner).
  • Stephen Roach: Accidental Conflict: America, China, and the Clash of False Narratives (2022, Yale University Press). [11-29]
  • Kevin Rudd: The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping's China (2022, Public Affairs): Former Prime Minister of Australia.
  • Susan L Shirk: Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise (2022, Oxford University Press).
  • Desmond Shum: Red Roulette: An Insider's Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today's China (2021, Sribner).
  • Robert Spalding: War Without Rules: China's Playbook for Global Domination (2022, Sentinel): Former Brigadier General, previously wrote Stealth War: How China Took Over While America's Elite Slept (2019).
  • Katie Stallard: Dancing on Bones: History and Power in China, Russia and North Korea (2022, Oxford University Press): Wilson Center fellow's Cold War revanchism.
  • Stephen Vines: Defying the Dragon: Hong Kong and the World's Largest Dictatorship (2021, Hurst).

Will Bunch: After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics -- and How to Fix It (2022, William Morrow): Ever since WWII college has been sold as the ticket to success. Early on, we made an effort to promote opportunity by keeping the costs low, but as inequality increased, and the unions which protected blue collar workers were undermined, the powers that be realized that the penalties for not getting a higher education were such that they could charge more for access to privilege. One goal was to stifle political dissent (aka free thinking). Another was to restore the advantages of the wealthy. Of course, they couldn't fully revert to the elitism of the pre-WWII university system, but by shifting costs to students and suckering them into increasingly deep debt, they effectively closed the doors of the class system while maintaining a hint of openness. Granted, poor but truly exceptional students could still rise through the gauntlet but by then they were likely to be properly acculturated -- Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are good examples of this. Related:

  • Derek W Black: Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy (2020, Public Affairs).
  • Ellen Schrecker: The Lost Promise: American Universities in the 1960s (2021, University of Chicago Press): 616 pp. Higher education grew after WWII, first with the GI Bill, then with the growth of a prosperous middle class, which suggested that everyone should go to college, and encouraged learning for its own sake. That was the promise noted here, but as the Vietnam War radicalized a generation, the forces of reaction started clamping down, eventually foreclosing that promise and restoring the notion of higher education as a passport to elite status in an increasingly inequal world.

Erwin Chemerinsky: Worse Than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism (2022, Yale University Press): Author has a number of books on The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (2011), as well as the more positive We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century (2018). So you can guess what he thinks of the legal theory Antonin Scalia popularized as Originalism. My own take is that it's awfully convenient to have a theory that says the law should mean whatever you think the original authors must have intended. Of course, it's bullshit, but not uncommon among conservatives, who love to claim long pedigrees for whatever their current prejudices dictate. A second problem is how Originalism fights the notion that constitutional law should be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions.

Noam Chomsky/Vijay Prashad: The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (2022, New Press). Based on conversations, although the former's knowledge and understanding of American power is encyclopedic, and seemingly on instant recall. Prashad wrote one of the broader (and deeper) histories of the modern world: The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World. Related:

  • Noam Chomsky/Marv Waterstone: Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance (paperback, 2021, Haymarket Books).
  • Noam Chomsky/James Kelman: Between Thought and Expression Lies a Lifetime: Why Ideas Matter (paperback, 2021, PM Press).
  • Noam Chomsky: Notes on Resistance (paperback, 2022, Haymarket Books): Interviews with David Barsamian.
  • Vijay Prashad: Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning From Movements for Socialism (paperback, 2022, Haymarket Books).
  • Noam Chomsky's Little Book of Selected Quotes: On Society, Capitalism, and Democracy (paperback, 2021, Lumière): 107 pp.

Joe Concha: Come On, Man! The Truth About Joe Biden's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Presidency (2022, Broadside Books): Starts by railing about "open borders, record inflation, and skyrocketing crime." In what universe are those even things? "The withdrawal from Afghanistan left thirteen U.S. service members dead and hundreds of Americans stranded as Afghans fell from airplanes." The entry of the U.S. into Afghanistan (remember GW Bush?) left 2,426 American soldiers dead, and millions of Afghans displaced (or worse). Biden ended that, not on the best terms imaginable, but given the cards he was dealt. "Though Biden may seem like a doddering idiot, stumbling from one mistake to the next, his blunders always hew closely to progressive dreams for American policy." Like making sure all Americans have food to eat, and health care that doesn't bankrupt them? No: "Dreams like saving the planet by attacking Elon Musk and strengthening the middle class by making gas prices higher than Hunter Biden in a motel room."

Ryan Cooper: How Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Questions in Politics (2022, St Martin's Press): Good idea for a book, but I was thinking more literally: a compendium of dumb questions (like the title one), each followed by a smart answer. Rather, Part I at least is a discourse in the history of economics, with something called "neo-propertarianism" singled out for especially harsh rebuke. He seems to mean neo-liberalism, but without any noble intents or rationales, which brings it back to old-fashioned capitalism, another term he'd rather duck. I've only seen the TOC for Part II, which offers more topical chapters: labor, healthcare, "the social climate," inequality, "a new collective American freedom," and finally "How to Argue with Propertarians."

J Bradford DeLong: Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century (2022, Basic Books): An economist teaching at UC Berkeley, the author has published a modest blog as long as I can remember, generally echoing and reinforcing the liberal views of Paul Krugman, all the while working on this "magnum opus" on the biggest question of our time, which is what's changed during our time. His 20th century is a long one, from 1870 to 2010, his starting date reflecting an American (as opposed to a British) bias: the industrial revolution may date back a bit earlier in England, but it really takes off after the US Civil War. The end date seems arbitrary, but the decade since doesn't (yet) have a lot to show for itself. We've seen extraordinary technological advances in this period, for the first time generating material wealth way beyond population growth. DeLong pegs the break at 1870: before then new technology was converted into population growth, but not per capita wealth, and the endpoint following the debacle of neoliberalism in the 2008 recession. He doesn't insist that the end point is terminal, but does note that the progress of the long century has repeatedly been interrupted by backsliding into war and recession, obstacles largely triggered by reactionary politics -- something we have yet to overcome, and a mental problem that may be getting even worse.

Gary Dorrien: American Democratic Socialism: History, Politics, Religion, and Theory (2021, Yale University Press): Big book (752 pp), includes chapters on the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, also on later figures who extolled socialism without a party framework, and winds up with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but the first couple chapters start with the Christian formulation of a "social gospel" and with Jewish Universalism. Dorrien has written 18 books, six with Theology in the title, and one subtitled Political and Religious Roots of European Socialism. It's good to be reminded of this history, and that the impulse behind social justice has always acted as a counterweight to the more touted focus on individualism.

David Hackett Fischer: African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals (2022, Simon & Schuster): Notable historian, one I first encountered in his Historians' Fallacies (1970), although his main work was Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989), which meticulously traced cultural threads from England to America. Here he tries something similar, only with the much more deliberately obscured connections from Africa through people brought to America as slaves. It's remarkable that he's come up with so much material (960 pp). Also on early American history:

  • Mark R Anderson: Down the Warpath to the Cedars: Indians' First Battles in the Revolution (paperback, 2022, University of Oklahoma Press).
  • Joseph J Ellis: The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783 (2021, Liveright).
  • Woody Holton: Liberty Is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution (2021, Simon & Schuster): Major effort (800 pp) to broaden the history of America during the Revolution, by showing how "overlooked Americans" influenced the Founders.
  • Woody Holton: Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (paperback, 1999, University of North Carolina Press);
  • Woody Holton: Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (2007; paperback, 2008, Hill & Wang).

Francis Fukuyama: Liberalism and Its Discontents (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux). Intends a defense of "classical liberalism," which he traces back to late 17th century arguments "for the limitation of the powers of government through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction." To do that, he has to rescue his preferred doctrine from later "neoliberalism," but also from conventional "left-of-center" political interests: those who recognize that the more complex the world becomes, the more we need reasonable government regulation that limits the tendency of the rich and powerful to prey on the poor and weak. That doesn't leave him with much more than abstract principles to stand on, making it hard to convince people such hyper-individualism is in their interest.

  • Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the Last Man (1992, Free Press): Famous pinnacle of post-Cold War triumphalism, arguing that the endpoint of history is "capitalist liberal democracy."
  • Francis Fukuyama: Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (1995; paperback, 1996, Free Press).
  • Francis Fukuyama: Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap Between Latin America and the United States (2008; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press).

Mark Galeotti: A Short History of Russia: How the World's Largest Country Invented Itself, From the Pagans to Putin (2022, paperback, Hanover Square Press): One thing that's become painfully obvious in the last six months is that the Americans who direct or report on foreign policy understand very little about Russia in general and Putin in particular. They also seem to be blind to America's own contribution to the rewarming of the Cold War (see my Abelow comment above; I suppose I should reiterate my standard disclaimer here: nothing the US has done with Ukraine or NATO justifies Putin's invasion, and nothing Putin has done or can do will rectify the errors the US has committed). I don't know whether Galeotti is a good or bad observer of Russia, but in 2019 he published a short book called We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong, and the chapters there cover a lot of sensible ground. This book here boils Russian history, including Putin, probably up to the eve of the invasion, down to 240 pp, which probably isn't enough but is certainly more than most Americans know. He also has a book coming out in November on Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine, which was mostly written before the invasion but at least deals with it. There are a couple other competing histories of Russia, as well as more specialized tracts:

  • Antony Beevor: Russia: Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1921 (2022, Viking).
  • Kees Boterbloem: Russia as Empire: Past and Present (2020, Reaktion Books).
  • Rodric Braithwaite: Russia: Myths and Realities: The History of a Country With an Unpredictable Past (2022, Pegasus Books).
  • Orlando Figes: The Story of Russia (2022, Metropolitan Books).
  • Mark Galeotti: The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War (2022, Yale University Press).
  • Nancy Shields Kollmann: The Russian Empire 1450-1801 (2017, Oxford University Press).

Maggie Haberman: Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America (2022, Penguin): New York Times reporter assigned to Trump starting with his campaign, pictures a younger Trump on the cover because she goes back further to merge her reporting and observations with a background character study. As such, this appears to be one of the more definitive tomes in a ridiculously large shelf of writings on Trump. Coming so late may seem to diminish its immediate usefulness, but as one of the more comprehensive studies, its utility may grow, especially once we have the luxury of regarding Trump in hindsight. (I originally listed this with similar books under Leibovich below, but decided it merited its own note.)

Oona A Hathaway/Scott J Shapiro: The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2017; paperback, 2018, Simon & Schuster): A history of the 1928 Paris Peace Pact, which is isn't exactly recalled today as having "remade the world," and for that matter is hardly remembered at all (even as, using the name better known in the US, the Kellogg-Briand Pact). The book puts it in a much broader context, after a Part I on "Old World Order," in the first half of Part II ("Transformation") before it gets blown up by WWII, winding up with Part III ("New World Order"), where the first three chapters merit some pondering: "The End of Conquest," "War No Longer Makes Sense," and "Why Is There Still so Much Conflict?"

Peter Hegseth/David Goodwin: Battle for the Amerian Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation (2022, Broadside Books): Fox News host, reduces his co-author to a "with" credit, but Goodwin is the one with experience in what they call "classical Christian education," where they "assigned the classics, inspired love of God and country, and raised future citizens that changed the world." Much as they seek to brainwash children to follow their political prejudices, they fear their enemies are doing the same, and winning: "Today, after 16,000 hours of K-12 indoctrination, our kids come out of government schools hating America. They roll their eyes at religion and disdain our history." It's possible that public education has become more liberal, but in my day public schools were well stocked with teachers dedicated to installing conservative identities in pupils. My own radicalism was not taught to me but found on my own after I became aware of the hypocrisy and worse of the established powers. The authors might counter than even in the 1950s education was gripped by liberal ideals -- most dangerously with the notion that learning was good for its own sake -- which introduced the possibility of doubt. (They do, after all, declaim a "century of miseducation.") I was taught that America's wars were just and advanced freedom (most notably those against monarchy, slavery, and Nazism), which raised the question what the US was trying to do in Vietnam. I was taught that the founding principle of the Declaration of Independence was that "all men are created equal," yet even then it was a major struggle to secure basic civil rights for all. Despite occasional school prayers (and the rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance), I don't remember God being a major part of school, but I got plenty of that in church (which, finally, also backfired). What makes this book worrying is that it seems to be a blueprint for the right-wing political movement to impose ever more draconian and dim-witted restraints on what it is permissible to discuss in school: in effect, turning them into indoctrination camps like we were taught Communists ran. I'm concerned that these schemes will turn future generations into brainless automatons at a time when we more than ever need people skilled in critical thought, but that effect will be mitigated by rebellion. Perhaps even more so, I see this kind of schooling as a cruel punishment of children who are anxious to learn and find their way in the world, but are still awfully naive and gullible.

Adam Hochschild: American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis (2022, Mariner Books): Historian, has written several books about the emergence of conscience as dissent from imperialism, starting with King Leopold's Ghost about the depradation of the Congo, backtracking to the anti-slavery movement (Bury the Chains), then forward to dissent against World War I (To End All Wars). This moves to America and picks up toward the end of the "war to make the world safe for democracy," with its "lynchings, censorship, and the sadistic, sometimes fatal abuse of conscientious objectors in military prisons," through the first great Red Scare, the collapse of the American left, and the closing of immigration.

David E Hoffman: The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia (2002; paperback, 2011, Public Affairs): This book is rather dated now, but written two years after Putin's rise to power, it provides a portrait of the oligarchy he was given by Yeltsin's corrupt mismanagement of the transition from state control to "shock treatment" markets. The scheme adopted for distributing assets let those most able to raise quick crash -- often the same crooks who ran Russia's black markets -- to grab immense fortunes dirt cheap. Part one profiles six: Alexander Smolensky, Yuri Luzhkov, Anatoly Chubais, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky. After the many disasters that befell Russia in the 1990s, Putin had his hands full. His first move was to rally the military to take back Chechnya (which had effectively broken away in what's now called the First Chechen War). That gave him some popular support, but to consolidate power he needed to bring the oligarchs under control, which started with the prosecution of Khodorkovsky. I was reminded of this when I came across the following book. We should beware that some of Putin's loudest critics are oligarchs who fell out of favor (cf. Bill Browder). Of course, there are other oligarchs who saved their empires by remaining loyal to Putin.

  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky/Martin Sixsmith: The Russia Conundrum: How the West Fell for Putin's Power Gambit -- and How to Fix It (2022, St Martin's Press).

Alex Jones: The Great Reset: And the War for the World (2022, Skyhorse): TV crackpot, in the news recently for losing a libel case filed by the families of victims in a school shooting he claimed was fake news. Joe Rogan says "he's the most misunderstood guy on the planet." Roger Stone says he's "the most maligned patriot in the country." Tucker Carlson says "maybe Alex Jones is onto something." The best Donald Trump can come up with is Jones's "reputation is amazing."

Mark Leibovich: Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washigton and the Price of Submission (2022, Penguin Press): Journalist, has written profiles of the rich and famous in technology and football, as well as in Washington, which he depicted as a den of thieves in his book This Town (2013: "There are no Democrats and Republicans anymore in the nation's capital, just millionaires"). The rich have often demanded subservience, but few more so than Donald Trump. Leibovich chronicles the flattery and groveling of Republicans desperate to curry favor with Trump. I recall an early cabinet meeting where they went around the table, where everyone had to praise and thank Trump -- none more so than "chief of staff" Reince Priebus, who ultimately offered a blurb for this book: "It's a hundred times worse than you've been hearing." More recent (and some forthcoming) books on Trump:

  • Rachael Bade/Karoun Demirjian: Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress's Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump (2022, William Morrow).
  • Peter Baker/Susan Glasser: The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 (2022, Doubleday). [09-20]
  • David Enrich: Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and the Corruption of Justice (2022, Mariner Books).
  • Major Garrett/David Becker: The Big Truth: Upholding Democracy in the Age of "The Big Lie" (2022, Diversion Books).
  • Jonathan Lemire: The Big Lie: Election Chaos, Political Opportunism, and the State of American Politics After 2020 (2022, Flatiron Books): Politico reporter.
  • Tim Miller: Why We Did It: A Travelogue From the Republican Road to Hell (2022, Harper): Former Republican operative wakes up.

We also have more memoirs from the Trump administration and fellow travelers. None of these appears to merit its own section head:

  • Geoffrey Berman: Holding the Line: Inside the Nation's Preeminent US Attorney's Office and Its Battle With the Trump Justice Department (2022, Penguin): Former US Attorney for Southern District of New York under Trump.
  • Michael Cohen: Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the US Department of Justice Against His Critics (2022, Melville House): The former Trump fixer's second book, after Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J Trump (2020).
  • Kellyanne Conway: Here's the Deal: A Memoir (2022, Threshold Editions).
  • Michael Fanone/John Shiffman: Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop's Battle for America's Soul (2022, Atria Books).
  • Jared Kushner: Breaking History: A White House Memoir (2022, Broadside Books).
  • Paul Manafort: Political Prisoner: Persecuted, Prosecuted, but Not Silenced (2022, Skyhorse): The word conspicuously missing, not just in the subtitle but in the blurbs, is "pardoned."
  • Dick Morris: The Return: Trump's Big 2024 Comeback (2022, Humanix Books): Hack more associated with the Clintons, but always looking to grub for a job.
  • Peter Navarro: Taking Back Trump's America: Why We Lost the White House and How We'll Win It Back (2022, Bombardier Books): Trump White House advisor, nominally director of trade and manufacturing policy, notably hawkish on China.
  • Kristi Noem: Not My First Rodeo: Lessons From the Heartland (2022, Twelve): South Dakota governor.
  • Mike Pence: So Help Me God (2022, Simon & Schuster): 560 pp. Not out yet, so we don't know whether he'll dish up some dirt, or just regurgitate his homilies. [11-15]

Bruce E Levine: Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person's Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian -- Strategies, Tools, and Models (paperback, 2018, AK Press): "The capacity to comply with abusive authority is humanity's fatal flaw." Although this talks of tools and models for resistance, the intro focuses on why anti-authoritarians should be valued in the first place. As it is, much social effort has been directed at breaking such people, sometimes going to the point of declaring them mentally ill. Much of this resonates with my own life, where anti-authoritarianism was an unknown but defining trait of my teenage years. Strange to see someone writing about it now, but then authoritarians have never left us, and in some respects are making a comeback. Levine also wrote:

  • Bruce E Levine: A Profession Without a Reason: The Crisis of Contemporary Psychiatry Untangled and Solved by Spinoza, Freethinking, and Radical Enlightenment (paperback, 2022, AK Press): Questions the whole edifice of modern psychiatry, in the tradition of Thomas S Szasz: The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), a book I personally found useful in my struggle with the arbiters of mental illness.

Barry Lopez: Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World: Essays (2022, Random House). Nature writer (1945-2020), bibliography is about half fiction, though titles there tend to read like Desert Notes: Reflections in the Eye of a Raven, Crow and Weasel, and Lessons From the Wolverine. One title here is "Our Frail Planet in Cold, Clear View." Introduction by Rebecca Solnit. Selected nonfiction:

  • Barry Lopez: Of Wolves and Men (1978; paperback, 1979, Scribner).
  • Barry Lopez: Artic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (1986, Scribner; paperback, 2001, Vintage).
  • Barry Lopez: Crossing Open Ground (1988, Scribner; paperback, 1989, Vintage): Essays.
  • Barry Lopez: The Rediscovery of North America (1991, University of Kentucky Press; paperback, 1992, Vintage Books): 58 pp.
  • Barry Lopez: About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory (1998, Knopf; paperback, 1999, Vintage).
  • Barry Lopez: Horizon (2019, Random House; paperback, 2020, Vintage): Essays.

William MacAskill: What We Owe Each Other (2022, Basic Books): Oxford philosophy professor, cofounded the Centre for Effective Altruism ("which has raised over $1 billion for charities"), based on his working concept about how we should be living our lives. He's gotten a lot of press in the last couple months, which makes one naturally skeptical, although I am at least impressed that one of his rave reviews comes from Rutger Bregman, whose Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World is itself a powerful argument that we can make the world much better through practical steps. Still seem a stretch that, as one Amazon reviewer put it, "people might look back in millions of years and say this was the most important book ever written." Related:

  • William MacAskill: Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work That Matters, and Make Smarter Choices About Giving Back (2015, Avery; paperback, 2016, Penguin).
  • Tony Ord: The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity (2020; paperback, 2021, Hachette Books): Another Oxford philosopher working on effective altruism.
  • Benjamin Todd: 80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good (paperback, 2016, Create Space): As a MacAskill student at Oxford, founded the title non-profit. 80,000 is the average hours in a human career (40 per week × 50 weeks per year × 40 years).

Michael Mandelbaum: The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: Weak Power, Great Power, Superpower, Hyperpower (2022, Oxford University Press): Implies the hits just keep on coming, but his time divisions -- Weak 1765-1865, Great 1865-1945, Super 1945-1990, and Hyper 1990-2015 -- suggest he's not so sure about the Trump effect (probably too early for him to weigh in on Biden), and that's the least of his problems. During the so-called "weak" period, Americans successfully fought two wars of independence against Britain -- that was Madison's view of the War of 1812, and while the war results were mixed, it finally ended Britain's attempts to control American shipping -- and an expansionist war against Mexico, as well as minor scraps with Barbary pirates and the opening of the China trade, and it ended with a Civil War where the Union became the technically most advanced fighting force in the world. American power was always base on economic power, which exceeded Britain's by the end of the 19th century. With WWII the US economy reached 50% of worldwide GDP, and in its fight against Germany and Japan, the US built a network of bases that straddled the globe, less concerned with empire -- which the war had proven was no longer a viable principle for ordering the world -- than with protecting a vast expansion of corporate business interests. Still, it's sheer hubris to call American power in that period "super," and even more so "hyper." US economic power started to slip after its WWII apogee. By 1990, Europe had achieved parity with the US, and Japan was richer per capita, and China was starting its rapid rise. The Soviet Union collapsed less because the US outbid it in the arms race than because Eastern Europe wanted to join in the bounty of Western Europe. Since then, the US has not only become an ever-smaller slice of the world economy, its enormous arms advantages have proven to be useless and often counterproductive, although that doesn't seem to have sunk into the blinkered brains of the people who work the "hyperpower" grift. The Table of Contents doesn't seem too bad here, so this is probably a decent recounting of the history, but looking over his past book list, he strikes me as a hack or an idiot, and possibly both. QED: in 2011, he was co-author of That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, with Thomas Friedman (who is definitely both).

Bill McKibben: The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened (2022, Henry Holt): Seems like he's been writing the same book over and over since his critical book on climate change, The End of Nature (1989). I guess it was the one that convinced me some years later when I read it on a midsummer trip to Florida, although I never stopped hating the much-too-sharp "end of nature" dividing line, and always suspected him of being a sanctimonious scold. The twist here is that it's structured as a memoir, so we should get a glimpse of his class and educational background (Harvard), but at 240 pp I wouldn't expect much detail on the devolution of the American Dream. As for "graying," he's ten years younger than me, so he missed out on the 1950s, the decade when we really enjoyed burning cheap gasoline.

Walter Russell Mead: The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People (2022, Knopf): Big (672 pp) tract on the "special relationship" between Israel and the United States, and its supposed benefits for the Jewish people, with pretensions of "demolish[ing] the myths that both pro-Zionists and anti-Zionists have fostered over the years" -- always in favor of the prevailing security doctrines. Blurbs are all from reliable supporters of Israel, most firmly ensconced on the right. As Dan Senor puts it a bit too revealingly, "Walter shows that US support for Israel is ingrained in American political culture and critical to America's strategy for world order." I can imagine architects of American world order not binding themselves so helplessly to Israel, but none since James Baker (or maybe Dwight Eisenhower) have so much as entertained the thought. This book is intended to make it even harder to break the common bonds of colonialism and occupation. Mead has also written:

  • Walter Russell Mead: Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition (1987; paperback, 1988, Houghton Mifflin).
  • Walter Russell Mead: Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (2001, Knopf; paperback, 2002, Routledge).
  • Walter Russell Mead: Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk (2004, Knopf; paperback, 2005, Vintage).
  • Walter Russell Mead: God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (2007, Knopf; paperback, 2008, Vintage).

Dana Milbank: The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party (2022, Doubleday): Washington Post columnist, but (hopefully) not just recycling his recent columns, as the promise here is to offer some historical context, showing that today's Republicans are linear descendents of at least several decades of past Republicans, with Newt Gingrich a key transitional figure on the way to today's gallery of crazy. (I would have started with Nixon and Reagan, although I can see arguments for older and less successful figures, like Goldwater and McCarthy.) The mainstream press seems to be the last haven of reporters desperately trying to find rare voices of reason among Republicans. On the other hand, consider how similar is the title of Thomas Frank's 2008 book: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation. Related:

  • David Corn: American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy (2022, Twelve): Same theme, but goes back to the Goldwater nomination in 1964, drawing a line not from Goldwater to Trump but from the shared characteristics of both's supporters (or from McCarthy, with at least a dotted line back to the Know Nothings, the Anti-Masons, and the Salem witch trials). (I bought this after Milbank, but decided to read it first.)
  • Robert Draper: Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind (2022, Penguin): Author of one of the best books on George W Bush: Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W Bush (2007), and eventually followed it up with the near-definitive To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020). This starts with the 2020 election, which strikes me as a little late.
  • Nicole Hemmer: Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s (2022, Basic Books): This moves the pivot to Gingrich and/or the rise of Fox, in both cases focusing not on the platitudes used to disguise the Reagan-Bush right turn but on relentless villification of the enemy.
  • Nicole Hemmer: Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics (paperback, 2018, University of Pennsylvania Press).

Samuel Moyn: Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Author has a background of writing about human rights, which gives this book a peculiar frame of mind, asking whether war can be made humane (I'd say certainly not) as opposed to a different question, whether a war can have an effect which is on balance humanitarian (I'm doubtful but it's harder to be certain, because it's conditioned on an unknowable future). Americans have argue in favor of both, and especially since the end of the Cold War those arguments have come to dominate debate over whether to go to war: at least public debate, where advocates of war like to dress their motives (most often revenge or intimidation) with higher-minded arguments. Also by Moyn:

  • Samuel Moyn: A Holocaust Controversy: The Treblinka Affair in Postwar France (paperback, 2005, Brandeis University Press).
  • Samuel Moyn: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (2010; paperback, 2012, Belknap Press).
  • Samuel Moyn: Human Rights and the Uses of History (expanded 2nd edition, 2014; paperback, 2017, Verso).
  • Samuel Moyn: Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (2018; paperback, 2019, Belknap Press).

David Pepper: Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines (paperback, 2021, St Helena Press): Lawyer, has written several novels (political thrillers), examines how Republicans have taken over statehouses and used them as political forums for suppressing votes, gerrymandering, pushing their culture war agendas, and tripping over each other in competition to shower business interests with special favors. I would expect something on ALEC here: the Republican organization that crafts model laws for state legislature, leading to the systematic sweep of bad ideas across every state Republicans have seized power in. (A prime example of their work is the "stand your ground" laws promoting gun violence.)

  • Jacob Grumbach: Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics (2022, Princeton University Press): Practically the same title as Pepper's book, but with more both-sides-ism.
  • Ira Shapiro: The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America (2022, Rowman & Littlefield).

Jedediah Purdy: Two Cheers for Politics: Why Democracy Is Flawed, Frightening -- and Our Best Hope (2022, Basic Books): Serious thinker, was touted as a homeschooled genius from West Virginia in 1999 when his first book appeared (For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today -- as I recall, he was anti-irony), but even then had graduated from Harvard and would go on to Yale Law School, a post as an Appeals Court clerk, a fellow at the New America Foundation, then on to teaching law at Duke. Six books later, he sensibly writes: "Politics is not optional, even though we may wish it were." The basic reason is that if you don't stop them, people who seek to take over and use government for their own private interests will enjoy a free run to loot and pillage. On the other hand, people rarely perceive public interests clearly, due to flaws in the system and in the people who campaign in it. Seems likely to me that the 23 years since he first wrote have pushed him to the left, even if he remains a stick-in-the-mud.

  • Zach Gershberg/Sean Illing: The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion (2022, University of Chicago Press).

George Scialabba: How to Be Depressed (2020, University of Pennsylvania Press). Author made his reputation as a social critic with freelance book reviews, eventually collected in several volumes. This is sort of a memoir: a collection he's kept of notes from various psychiatrists who have attempted to treat his depression over the years (he was 72 when this came out), which as Barbara Ehrenreich points out, winds up being "a devastating critique of psychiatry." His other books:

  • George Scialabba: Divided Mind (2006, Arrowsmith Press).
  • George Scialabba: What Are Intellectuals Good For? (paperback, 2009, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: The Modern Predicament (paperback, 2011, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: For the Republic: Political Essays (paperback, 2013, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: Low Dishonest Decades: Essays & Reviews 1980-2015 (paperback, 2016, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: Slouching Toward Utopia: Essays & Reviews (paperback, 2018, Pressed Wafer).

Matthias Schmelzer/Andrea Vetter/Aaron Vansintjan: The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism (2022, Verso). Argues that "economic growth isn't working, and it cannot be made to work." Needs to be more specific. It's a common liberal convenience to see growth as the solution that benefits all, therefore saving us from having to tackle inequality. Of course, in a resource-limited world, growth cannot be infinite, which makes the inequality problem all the more pressing. As growth is so tightly bound up with capitalism, many sketches of a more equitable degrowth society go by "postcapitalism," a word this title points at.

  • Samuel Alexander/Brendan Gleeson: Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary (2018; paperback, 2019, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Samuel Alexander: Beyond Capitalist Realism: The Politics, Energetics, and Aesthetics of Degrowth (paperback, 2021, Simplicity Institute).
  • Lucio Baccaro/Mark Blyth/Jonas Pontusson, eds: Diminishing Returns: The New Politics of Growth and Stagnation (paperback, 2022, Oxford University Press).
  • Nathan Barlow/Livia Regen/Noémie Cadiou, eds: Degrowth & Strategy: How to Bring About Social-Ecological Transformation (paperback, 2022, Mayflybooks/Ephemera).
  • Giacomo D'Alisa/Federico Demaria/Giorgos Kallis: Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (paperback, 2014, Routledge).
  • Jason Hickel: Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (paperback, 2021, Windmill Books).
  • Tim Jackson: Post Growth: Life After Capitalism (paperback, 2021, Polity).
  • Giorgos Kallis: Degrowth [The Economy: Key Ideas] (paperback, 2018, Agenda Publishing).
  • Giorgos Kallis: In Defense of Degrowth: Opinions and Manifestos (paperback, 2018, Uneven Earth Press).
  • Giorgos Kallis: Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care (paperback, 2019, Stanford Briefs).
  • Giorgos Kallis/Susan Paulson/Giacomo D'Alisia/Federico Demaria: The Case for Degrowth (paperback, 2020, Polity).
  • Vincent Liegey/Anitra Nelson: Exploring Degrowth: A Critical Guide (paperback, 2020, Pluto Press).
  • Paul Mason: Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being (paperback, 2020, Penguin): Previously wrote Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2016).
  • Oli Mould: Seven Ethics Against Capitalism: Towards a Planetary Commons (paperback, 2021, Polity).
  • Anitra Nelson: Beyond Money: A Postcapitalist Strategy (paperback, 2022, Pluto Press).

Peter Shinkle: Uniting America: How FDR and Henry Stimson Brought Democrats and Republicans Together to Win World War II (2022, St Martin's Press): I generally accept the argument that Franklin Roosevelt thought American involvement in WWII was inevitable, and that he rather relished the leading the nation in that fight. That's likely why he chose to run for an unprecedented third term. True, he ran as an anti-war candidate in 1940, but so had Wilson in 1916. While Wilson quickly changed course in 1917, leaving a lot of ill-feeling even after winning the war, Roosevelt was patient, waiting for right moment, which was served up by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, followed immediately by declarations of war by Japan and Germany. Anti-war sentiment on both the right and left evaporated almost immediately. This book suggests another reason for such unity in entering the war: in 1940, Roosevelt laid the groundwork by inviting prominent Republicans to take over the War Department (Henry Stimson, Secretary of State under Hoover) and the Navy (Frank Knox, 1936 VP nominee). A chart early in the book shows that many more Republicans were given strategic positions even before Pearl Harbor. The bipartisan alliance survived the war, and even in the hyper-polarized present both parties can be counted on to line up behind wars like Afghanistan and Ukraine. (Iraq had a few dissenting Democrats, but every one of the 2004 presidential hopefuls rallied to the cause. The only 2008 exception was Obama, who closed ranks with the hawks after becoming president, and who kept one Republican Secretary of Defense, then later replaced him with another.) I have serious reservations against calling WWII "the good war" -- it was horrible any way you slice it, ultimately turning the US as genocidal as its opponents, leaving the "losers" destroyed and the "winners" insufferably conceited and soulless -- but FDR made it look so easy few appreciate what a remarkable job he did in running it. No later US president has come remotely close.

Philip Short: Putin (2022, Henry Holt): Weighing in at 864 pp, this is billed as "the first comprehensive, fully up-to-date biography of Vladimir Putin," but its July release means it's missing an all-important chapter on the decision to invade Ukraine in March and the still on-going war, with Putin challenged as never before by international sanctions, internal dissent, and military frustration. Author has previously published biographies of François Mitterand, Pol Pot, and Mao, as well as a book from 1982 called The Dragon and the Bear: Inside China & Russia Today. I've cited numerous books on Putin the past, most notably:

  • Catherine Belton: Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2022, Picador).
  • Karen Dawiska: Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (2014; paperback, 2015, Simon & Schuster).
  • Timothy Frye: Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia (2021; paperback, 2022, Princeton University Press): "Looking beyond Putin to understand how today's Russia actually works."
  • Mark Galeotti: We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong (paperback, 2019, Penguin Random House).
  • Masha Gessen: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012; paperback, 2013, Riverhead).
  • Steven Lee Myers: The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (2015, Knopf; paperback, 2016, Vintage Books)
  • David Satter: The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin (2016; paperback, 2017, Yale University Press).
  • Mikhail Zygar: All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (2016; paperback, 2017, PublicAffairs).

Some recent ones I had missed:

  • Heidi Blake: From Russia With Blood: The Kremlin's Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin's Secret War on the West (2019, Mulholland Books).
  • Eliot Borenstein: Plots Against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy After Socialism (paperback, 2019, Cornell University Press).
  • Anna Borshchevskaya: Putin's War in Syria: Russian Foreign Policy and the Price of America's Absence (2021, IB Tauris): "Washington's go-to expert on Russian involvement in the Middle East."
  • Michel Eltchaninoff: Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin (paperback, 2018, Hurst): Originally published in French in 2015.
  • Samuel A Greene/Graeme B Robertson: Putin vs the People: The Perilous Politics of a Divided Russia (2019; paperback, 2022, Yale University Press).
  • Amy Knight: Putin's Killers: The Kremlin and the Art of Political Assassination (2017, Thomas Dunne Books; paperback, 2019, Biteback).
  • David G Lewis: Russia's New Authoritarianism: Putin and the Politics of Order (2021, Edinburgh University Press).
  • Michael Millerman: Inside "Putin's Brain": The Political Philosophy of Alexander Dugin (paperback, 2022, independent): Nickname for Dugin, who got in the press recently when his daughter was killed by a car bomb, kind of like Karl Rove was referred to as "Bush's Brain," but not really (Rove actually was in a position to pull Bush's strings, like Steve Bannon would have been if they only worked); Dugin is more of a free pundit who thinks up arguments to flatter Putin -- Trump and the Republicans have dozens of acolytes to do that.
  • Anna Revell: Putin: Vladimir Putin's Holy Mother Russia: A Biography of the Most Powerful Man in Russia (paperback, 2017, independent).
  • Andrew S Weiss/Brian "Box" Brown: Accidental Czar: The Life and Lies of Vladimir Putin (2022, First Second): Graphic novel biography, all the better to present Putin as "a devious cartoon villain, constantly plotting and scheming to destroy his enemies around the globe and in Ukraine." [11-08].
  • Amber Snow, ed: On the Brink of War: Selected Speeches by Vladimir Putin (paperback, 2022, independent).
  • Vladimir Putin: First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President (paperback, 2000, Public Affairs): Not recent, but I hadn't noticed it before. Not the sort of subtitle a sane person might come up with.

Daniel Sjursen: A True History of the United States: Indigenous Genocide, Racialized Slavery, Hyper-Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism (paperback, 2021, Steerforth Press/Truth to Power): Author spent 18 years in US Army, taught history at West Point, retired a Major (long using that rank as part of his byline). I don't much like it when an author claims their book to be a true story, but in Sjursen's world of antiwar conservatism everything must be cut-and-dry. In any case, he has a lot of myth and rationalization to cut through, and does so in a sensible 688 pp. Seems like I've read a bunch of this online, and while truth may be elusive, he's rarely wrong.

Vaclav Smil: How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We're Going (2022, Viking): Bill Gates' favorite author, a Czech-born Canadian scientist with several dozen books, mostly relating to energy policy. The title tempted me to pick this up -- after all, good policy must be rooted in "how the world really works" -- but learned little I didn't already know, and found his imagination overly constrained by fossil fuels. (Perhaps this should have been expected, given that one of his titles from as recent as 2015 is Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century.) He has lots of books, but I'll only note a couple recent ones:

  • Vaclav Smil: Energy and Civilization: A History (paperback, 2018, The MIT Press).
  • Vaclav Smil: Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).

Michael Tomasky: The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity (2022, Doubleday): Political writer, edits Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, has a couple books, including one in 1996 announcing that the left is dead (Left for Dead), and one in 2019 that tried to salvage the center (If We Can Keep It), seems to have rediscovered the progressive sympathies he always claimed to have -- probably because the title has been presented as an ovearching concept for Biden's Build Back Better agenda. He has some suggestions, like critiquing economics that put self-interest over public needs, and recognizing that such traditional American ideals as freedom and democracy need to be grounded in a sense of shared equality, which has been all but killed by the neoliberal consensus.

Gaia Vince: Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World (2022, Flatiron Books): For the last 30-40 years, we have been divided into two camps: one recognized that people were changing the atmosphere in ways that would affect global climate, with far-ranging risks but couched in assurances that we could save ourselves through more/less easy reforms; the other denied that climate change this was happening, or denied that it would make much real difference, or trusted in God and/or capitalism to swiftly correct any problems that did occur. Perhaps we need a third approach, which admits we've failed to prevent climate change but takes seriously how to deal with the myriad problems it causes. One such problem is that as climate changes, some parts of the world will become uninhabitable, and others will become unsuitable for current uses. This will push many people to leave their current homes, and seek new abodes, and often new occupations. That's what this book is about: noting, for instance, that in 2018 1.2 million people in the US were displaced by extreme conditions, up to 1.7 million in 2020, as the US "averages a billion dollar disaster every eighteen days." Other parts of the world are in even more peril. ("In India alone, close to a billion people will be at risk.") There are other reasons why people move away from their homes, and that's been happening for some while, but it would be surprising if it didn't accelerate in coming years. How well we handle this change will say much about us as people, and about our future.

  • Gaia Vince: Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made (2014; paperback, 2015, Milkweed).
  • Gaia Vince: Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time (2020, Basic Books).

Brian T Watson: Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We'll Face (paperback, 2019, Anvilside Press): I could imagine writing a book like this, which starts with a long laundry list of systemic problems (Capitalism, Technology, Webworld, Politics, Media, Education, Human Nature, The Environment, Human Population, Transportation, Miscellaneous Forces) then winds up showing how any (let alone all) of them are unlikely to be solved (that chapter is called "Possible Reforms and Their Likelihood"). I'd shuffle the deck a bit -- in the 1990s, when I started thinking along these lines, I started with resources and environment, but back then I at least had some faith in reason to see a way through technical obstacles, but that idea has taken a beating ever since. So I see no more reason to be optimistic than the author, not that I would deny that the very act of looking into the abyss implies a certain unreasoned hope. Missing here is recognition of the unknown: e.g., no mention of pandemic a mere year before Covid-19 hit. While climate was most likely mentioned under Environment or Population, it's at least as much a headline as "Webworld." Another big topic is war: both as a cause of destruction and as a likely consequence, in both its conventional and annihilationist modes. Bibliography is just a list of mostly familiar books relevant to each chapter.

Additional books, with very brief (or in most cases no) comments. There is no count limit here per post (although I kept a lot of books back for lack of time to consider them; current count = 232). It's possible I will write a further entry on these at a later date.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (2020; paperback, 2021, WW Norton): Previous subtitle: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. List of "protagonists" runs from Idi Amin to Donald J Trump.