Latest Notebook Entries


Golden Oldies (4)

More tidbits from my online notebook, which starting in 2005 became an archive and expansion of my blog.

On February 15, 2005, I wrote about North Korea's newly developed nuclear weapons, and the American response:

North Korea's announcement that they possess nuclear weapons was met first by some incoherent bluster by Condoleezza Rice, then by a marginally more thoughtful U.S. threat: let's see if they can eat their nukes. This is hardly America's first attempt to win hearts and minds through empty stomachs. During the Korean War the U.S. bombed dams to ravage Korean farmland. The many years of crippling economic sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on North Korea ever since then have resulted in chronic malnutrition and starvation. Now the idea is to tighten up the sanctions even more. It's not really clear how that can be done, but if it can be done one net effect will be to punish a people even more for their misfortune in leaders. Another will be to remind the world of how callous and cruel the U.S. can be.

Following WWII the U.S. established a reputation as being a gracious victor, but the stalemate at the end of the Korean War left a sour taste in the mouth of American triumphalism. Since then the U.S. has responded to each occasion where its will was rejected with the petty vindictiveness of a sore loser: Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq. After the shooting stopped in Korea the U.S. proceded to punish North Korea with every weapon short of invasion. North Korea's response was to internalize the threat, developing a defensive posture that makes invasion a very risky proposition and a deterence capability that could devastate the South Korean city of Seoul, while occasionally making aggressive, grimacing gestures. More recently, North Korea has made overtures to normalize relations, especially with South Korea -- that seems like the one way to escape America's death grip isolation. But the obstacle to normalization is the U.S., especially the factions in control of the Bush Administration -- for whom North Korea is most useful as a threatening enemy: especially as a rationale for their "missile defense" boondoggle, although one also suspects that they find North Korea's threat useful for keeping Japan in line.

On February 4, 2005, I wrote a letter in response to an editorial in the Eagle by a "Social Security reformer" named Jim Clark (you may recall that Bush tried to redeem his "mandate" by wrecking Social Security, a quest which didn't go over too well):

The big problem with the Social Security reform facts that Jim Clark wants to get straight is that they aren't facts yet: all he's done is speculate about the future. For instance, he assumes that Americans in the future won't have the moral backbone to increase taxes if necessary in order to fund the Social Security needs of the old and infirm, even though ever since the founding of Social Security they have done whatever needed to be done. Moreover, he asserts that the federal government of the future will default on its borrowing of the excess taxes that workers have paid into Social Security since the last time the politicians "fixed" it. If this is true we have much more serious things to worry about than pensions in the latter half of the 21st century. The only way Social Security can go bankrupt is if the U.S. government goes bankrupt first. Given Bush's tax cuts and exorbitant spending on war and corporate welfare, the trade imbalance and the sinking dollar -- that's the real threat we need to take seriously.

From a post on May 29, 2005, on a couple Kansas politicians:

Todd Tiahrt, whose congressional district includes Wichita, was one of twenty Republicans to vote against undoing the ethic rule changes that Tom DeLay had tried to cover his sorry ass with. Tiahrt has spoken repeatedly in defense of DeLay -- he even went so far as to reiterate DeLay's threats against "activist judges" on the same day DeLay was apologizing for them. Note the careful wording above to avoid saying that Tiahrt represents Wichita. Tiahrt represents Boeing, but because he occupies the district congressional seat, nobody represents Wichita. I maintain that he's the worst congressman in the country, but on the evidence of this vote he still has nineteen competitors.

Senator Sam Brownback has taken over the District of Columbia committee in the Senate. His first act there was to make sure that gay marriages performed in Massachusetts won't be recognized as legal in D.C. While most of what Brownback does is obnoxious, please excuse me if I take this one personally. I have a niece, born and raised here in Wichita, who went to college in Boston, met a nice girl and got married there. They've recently moved to D.C., where my niece is studying law. Most people look at political issues as something rather abstract, failing to recognize the real people impacted. This is one case where I can fill in a real person, and in that context Brownback is nothing but a priggish homewrecker.

In early May, 2005, I noted that I succumbed to my wife's entreaties and started watching television with her, specifically the Jack Bauer terrorism fantasy 24. Since then TV has become a nightly ritual. I reckon you can date my mental rot from that date.

On May 27, 2015, I noted:

The Democrats caved in on Bush's activist judges. From day one the Bush administration has sought to exempt itself from the rule of law -- first attacking convenient international targets like the World Court and treaties restricting their ability to proliferate weapons of mass destruction, then moving on to the PATRIOT ACT while trying to pack the court system with political cronies. There's a word commonly used to describe people who try so hard to evade the rule of law: criminals. However, in their demagogic slander campaign against "activist judges" -- most of whom meet any reasonable definition of conservative -- they're moving beyond mere criminality. We need a fresher word for this, but anyone who can recall history as far back as the 1920s will know what I mean by the old-fashioned term: fascists.

On May 31, 2015, I published a piece in the Village Voice on jazz labels. The notebook adds a note on business models that I promised to return to some day:

My first draft for the introduction sketched out an unconventional economic theory. I discarded it (the draft, not the theory) after my editor didn't understand it, but I hope to go back to it someday. I regard businesses as important and vital, but I'm not an ideological capitalist. I'm struck by the arbitrariness and inefficiency of most businesses, and those same traits are in play here. But a couple of things make jazz labels different from most widgetmakers: one is that there's not a lot of money in the market, so there's not a lot to be gained by being greedy; another is that success is mostly a matter of survival -- it's more important not to lose a lot than to make a lot when you can; a third is that most of the capitalists are in awe of their labor; finally, in many cases the music is its own reward. By and large, this sort of capitalism has served recorded jazz well. Other businesses might learn something from their example.

Golden Oldies (3)

Continuing my slog through the online notebook, picking up in mid-2004, just in time for another presidential election -- I think this was the one that Matt Taibbi called "The Stupid Season," fully aware that what he was describing was a periodic ritual, not a one-shot fluke. On August 19, with the anti-Kerry "swift boaters" in full attack, I wrote:

It looks like the Bush campaign from here on out is going to be nothing but lies and slander and terrorism. They're trying to work their own base into a frenzy of paranoia, and they're trying to swamp the media with ruses to crowd out any serious evaluation of Bush, his record, and the real issues. Already we've seen a series of terrorism alerts where they try to spook us with little more than leaks and innuendos. We've even seen a flare-up in Iraq hard on the heels of the latest economic debacle -- is this an indication of how desperate they are to change the subject?

The election is still more than two months away. I seriously doubt that anything much is going to change between now and then, but as their policies continue to sink in their own quicksand, we can expect the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy to become ever shriller and ever more desperate. All a straight-thinking person can do from here on out is to batten down the hatches and stay the course.


One of the evening news shows has a daily segment called "Fallen Heroes" -- all someone has to do to get into that show is be a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. By that logic I've known several Vietnam War heroes: my nextdoor neighbor, drafted, marched through the jungle, where he sat down on a mine; a cousin, killed inside a tank when his own gun accidentally discharged (the official story; some people suspect he was fragged). It is said that these people made the supreme sacrifice for their country, but the plain fact is that the country wasted their lives for no good purpose. So I couldn't care less if Kerry did or didn't do anything conventionally heroic in Vietnam. The real heroes from that war were the ones who opposed it, as Kerry himself dramatized when he threw away his medals or ribbons or whatever they were.

I probably should have added something like "too bad he no longer has the courage to remind us how right he was in opposing that war, as opposed to how dumb he was in signing up for it in the first place." Maybe even: "in retrospect, he's managed to make both stances look like nothing more than opportune political stunts as he tried to gauge which way the wind was blowing." But then we're talking about a guy who voted against the Gulf War in 1990 and for the Iraq War in 2003 and came to regret both votes.

On September 3, 2004, I wrote a fairly long post on Chechen separatism and terrorism -- the occasion was an attack on a school in nearby Beslan, which killed more than 300 people.

On September 13, 2004, I found myself looking back on 9/11:

Three years after the terrible attacks of 11 September 2001 I find myself wondering whether anyone ever is so shocked by an unexpected event that they reconsider and change course. The horror that we felt that morning watching the World Trade Center burn and collapse was not just for the victims. Every bit as horrifying was the expectation of what would come: not what further attacks might come, but what the U.S. would do in reaction. To call what happened afterwards revenge would be to give it more purpose and sense than history demonstrates. All Osama bin Laden actually did on that day was to poke a giant and stir it into fitful action. He soon went into hiding and has been irrelevant ever since, but the U.S. reaction has continued to rail blindly against the world. In the three years since, the U.S. has laid waste to two countries, killing at least ten times as many people as died on that fateful day, perhaps twenty times, sacrificing another thousand Americans in the process. The U.S. burned up over $200 billion prosecuting those wars, now just hopeless sinkholes, festering pools of hate. And three years out we're nowhere near closure.

That no good would come of America's reaction was clear from the first day. The problem was no doubt made worse because the President was a deceitful cynic who saw a ready chance to cover himself with the glory of war, and because his administration was chock full of liars and crooks and ideological megalomaniacs. But the U.S. had long been cocked for this sort of reaction, much as, say, the world of 1914 plunged into World War following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. . . .

The attacks of 11 September 2001 should have been a moment for sober reflection, but it wasn't. The collapse of the Soviet Union should have been a time for healing, but it wasn't. Throughout history there have been few cases where victors have been gracious, and fewer still where nations have changed their ways without having been forced to by catastrophe. That anyone believes that Bush has a clue how to proceed from here tells us both that we're not very smart about ourselves and the world and that, disastrous as the War on Terror has been, we still haven't fallen hard enough yet. Kerry's nomination and campaign are scarcely more encouraging: he has a bad record for rushing into wars, but at least has some capacity for learning from his mistakes. Bush's supporters are blind to those mistakes, otherwise they'd recognize that he is the necessary sacrifice in order to start to set things right.

On October 29, 2004, I wrote a piece about the Boston Red Sox and their curse, on occasion of their first World Series victory since 1918. Also wrote this:

Noted the cover this week of The Economist: Ariel Sharon with an olive branch in his mouth. Evidently it's supposed to represent him as a dove, but it looks to me like he's just ate the West Bank.

On October 21, I sent a letter to virtually everyone in my address book, titled "Vote for John Kerry (It's Important)." It was the first time I ever done something like that (and it will probably be the last). You can read the letter with a postscript here. The letter concluded:

Bush has a big problem this year: reality. In less than four years Bush has taken us from relative peace and prosperity to a disastrous war and an economy which exposes the fundamental problems of a government which favors the rich at the expense of everyone else. A good part of this problem is systemic -- the decline of real wages for the workers who built America has been going on for thirty years, as the gulf between rich and poor has been broadening, concentrating power for the rich and reducing opportunity and a sense of fairness for everyone else. But much of the problem is due to the arrogance, ignorance and incompetence of the Bush administration. . . .

If Bush does somehow manage to win it will be a sad time for America. Not only would it expose us to four more years of depredations and mismanagement, it plainly broadcasts to us and the world that the citizens of the United States just don't get how far their country has decayed from the ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity, and justice that we grew up believing in. A victory for Bush would show us to be extraordinarily gullible, or downright vile.

As we now know, Bush did win that election -- a very close one, with some taint in Ohio -- but it wasn't long before the gullible came to regret their choice: only Nixon sunk faster and further after a successful re-election bid. Still, twelve years later few people seem to recall what was at stake in 2004. And even though the second Bush term merely brought the disasters seeded in his first term to fruition, it seems like most people have forgotten his party's responsibility for so many calamities.

After Kerry failed, I wrote a long postmortem, including this prediction (November 3, 2004):

The most likely [scenario] is that Bush will make such a mess of his second term that his now-blind followers will give up in disgust. But that's been given a pretty severe trial by his first term, and he's emerged stronger than ever. Historically mid-term congressional elections (the next one is in 2006) have ran against the President's party, but the Republicans managed to escape that effect in 2002, mostly by treating each race as a separate forum (mostly not on Bush). The Democrats do have the experience of massive volunteer efforts this year, which if duplicated could make an impact in 2006.

My mood darkened later that week when Bush celebrated by destroying the defiant Iraqi city of Falluja. From my November 9, 2004 post:

John Kerry campaigned using the slogan, "help is on the way." George W. Bush's first act now that he's got his mandate was to launch a major ground assault on Falluja in Iraq, following a few months of intensive aerial bombardment. This has evidently been planned quite a while, but they delayed launching it until the votes had been counted and the voters safely put back to sleep. A more revealing campaign slogan for Bush would be, "hell is on the way."

I'm not aware of Kerry commenting on the siege of Fallujah, although I have to admit that I haven't been paying a lot of attention to him, including his concession speech. Had Kerry won the election he presumably would have something to say, as the assault on Falluja would have made his task of coming up with a somewhat positive resolution even harder than it is. But all I know about Kerry's concession speech is that it was lauded as gracious, which probably means he didn't take the opportunity to scold the electorate by pointing out that "help is not on the way." That is, of course, the difference between a politician trying to make nice and a leader who realizes how much was at stake, and now how much has been lost, in this election. Kerry may be a dedicated public servant, and he may have laudable personal principles, but he's not a guy who's going to fight for once you're down.

From November 17, 2004, as Bush was reloading his administration for a second term:

Colin Powell's resignation as Secretary of State is good riddance, even if his successor is likely to be even less principled and even more inept. My home town paper's editorial page toasted Powell today under the heading "Moderate": "His moderate, multinational, pragmatic views were routinely rejected in the Bush team's squabbles on nuclear nonproliferation, Iraq, the Middle East and other major challenges abroad." If this was Powell's strategy, the editorial writer (Randy Scholfield) would have been right to conclude that "his tenure can only be described as a failure." Yes, it's been a failure, maybe even in Powell's own limited terms. But it hasn't been a failure because Powell's moderation was rejected by hotter heads; it's been a failure because of Powell's willingness to support the hawks. And there's damn little evidence that Powell isn't one of the hawks. His disagreements have at most been tactical.

Theodore Roosevelt's used to say "speak softly and carry a big stick." Powell alone among Bush's War Cabinet seems to have taken that as a maxim. But Roosevelt's intent was to camouflage a whole administration. If only Powell speaks softly, he loses his voice. The bigger question is why did the others speak so loudly. And the evident answer is that Bush's foreign policy has first and foremost been a matter of domestic politics. Bush's bully tactics are meant to show his base that he's their strong leader; and the world be damned -- it's not like their votes count. Powell's most famous self-description was as the "bully on the block," so how much space does that leave between Bush and Powell? Damn little, at least in the realm of intentions. I don't discount that Powell has a stronger grip on reality and the limits of American power, but let's face it: for Bush that's off-message. Powell did nothing effective to bring such concerns to bear on administration policy. Maybe this too is just an act. . . . .

As the second term cabinet turns over, the most notable trend is that the new cabinet members are almost all current White House staff (e.g., Alberto Gonzalez for John Ashcroft). This bespeaks an administration that will be even more closeted and close-minded than the last one. You voted for it, America. This is just Bush's way of saying: fuck you.

On November 25, 2004 I wrote about an event where a panel of speakers held forth on "are we safer now?" (meaning safer from terrorism). I introduced that piece by noting that a school in Wichita had recently been blown up, not by terrorists but by construction incompetence (probably a gas leak). I went on to generate a long list of non-terrorist things that actually make our lives more dangerous, then added this paragraph, which goes a bit deeper:

All this might not matter much if the world were a well balanced static system, but it isn't. We live in a world where resources are shrinking while demand expands. We live in a world where expertise is becoming rarefied, putting us at the mercy of experts who may or may not have our interests at heart. We live in a world where a clever few can exploit the ignorant many, but even the clever few have to compete so ruthlessly that they lose their grip -- they've constructed a world of hair triggers that surrender control and amplify panic. We live in a world where the "movers and shakers" move and shake so fast that they've become incapable of recognizing the unexpected. We live in a world which continues to cling to the ideology that the pursuit of private advantages serves the common good, even though there are few if any cases where this is true. And we live in a nation that has promoted its misconceptions to such staggering heights that some sort of horrible crash seems inevitable.

On January 21, 2015, I wrote about natural disasters, starting with a local ice storm, then moving on to California mudslides and the big tsunami in the Indian Ocean:

What this means is that as disasters mount up government has not merely become the insurer-of-last-resort, it's increasingly becoming the only insurer of note. This should give us pause, especially as the political geniuses of the Republican party have set out on a program to systematically bankrupt government. In doing so they run the risk of leaving us in the rubble. The Bush administration's response to the tsunami crisis is a good example of how this is going to work: a tiny pittance, maybe a bit more after the media shames them, plus whatever the charitably inclined might pitch in; meanwhile the government's contribution gets delivered through the military -- the only U.S. government agency functioning beyond U.S. borders these days -- and only after they work out the payola angles.

On February 23 I wrote a good deal about Boeing's outsourcing of their plant in Wichita where my father and brother had worked for many decades. I also wrote a little note on Hillary Clinton and her presidential prospects (nearly four years ahead of the 2008 election):

Found in the Wichita Eagle "Opinion Line" (a good source of wise cracks and insane rants): "What a complete joke that Hillary Clinton is, quoting the Bible in her speeches." One reason I note this is that she has been getting a lot of flack on a local mail list I subscribe to for her murky position on abortion rights and her hawkishness on Iraq and any other potential cruise missile target you'd care to name. Juan Cole reports that she's also managed to tick off the presumptive next Prime Minister of Iraq. Clearly she's launched her campaign, but I have to wonder what her prospects are with an increasingly polarized public where both ends of the spectrum can't stand her. Maybe that would have worked to her advantage in the '90s when few cared about issues and most distrusted those who did.

I remember listening to a radio interview with her back in '93 or '94 when she was asked what her reaction would be if her health care reform was rejected, and she said that would be a shame. That might have been savvy had she been sure of winning, but when her plan went down is was just aloof. It was worse than a shame -- it was tragic, not so much what her lousy plan lost as that she blew a huge amount of political capital on something that wouldn't have solved the problem in the first place, that substituted for a serious plan, and that by failing cut the Republicans loose to do all the damage they've done since 1994. That health plan was the same sort of too clever straddle-the-middle tactic she's building her campaign on. I'm hoping that someone will take her to task in the NY Democratic primary in 2006 and knock her out.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 27263 [27244] rated (+19), 412 [401] unrated (+11).

Rated count back way down again -- it was 15 two weeks ago, then jumped up to fairly normal 33 last week (not counting a bookkeeping windfall which made the posted total 46; September's weekly totals were 34, 38, 25, 30). Several obvious factors: good records get more spins than not-so-good ones, and that was especially true this week; I took a fair amount of time off for yardwork and cooking; and the machine I use to listen to Rhapsody has had some problems, so I've had it down for a couple days (hopefully a new power supply will help -- finally got it installed today and so far, so good).

Up to February 2005 in my trawl through the online notebook for lost reviews. I've started to find some of the Jazz Consumer Guide surplus (before I started posting them in meta-columns in December 2005), as well as quite a few reviews of older jazz albums. I'm saving the latter in a Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century book file, currently a bit over 260 pages long (recent PDF here). I haven't updated the Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century PDF recently (you can still download the 144-page first pass here).

New records rated this week:

  • Joey Alexander: Countdown (2016, Motema): [r]: B+(*)
  • JD Allen: Americana (2016, Savant): [cd]: A-
  • Bauer Baldych Duchnowski Konrad: Trans-Fuzja (2012 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Orrin Evans: #Knowingishalfthebattle (2016, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moving Still (2016, Pi): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Friends & Neighbors: What's Wrong? (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Robert Glasper Experiment: ArtScience (2016, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Luke Hendon: Silk & Steel (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dave Holland/Chris Potter/Lionel Loueke/Eric Harland: Aziza (2016, Dare2): [cdr]: A-
  • Manu Katché: Unstatic (2016, Anteprima): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Lindberg Raptor Trio: Western Edges (2012 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nicholas Payton: Textures (2016, Paytone): [r]: B-
  • Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (2015 [2016], HighNote): [cd]: A
  • Punkt 3: Ordnung Herrscht (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Ears (2016, Western Vinyl): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani: Sunergy (2015 [2016], RVNG Intl.): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: America's National Parks (2016, Cuneiform, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Black Bombaim: Titans (2012, Lovers & Lollypops): [r]: B+(***)
  • Black Bombaim/La La La Ressonance: Black Bombaim & La La La Ressonance (2013 [2014], PAD/Lovers & Lollypops): [r]: B+(**)
  • Black Bombaim: Far Out (2014, Lovers & Lollipops): [r]: A-

Added grades for old LPs:

  • The Freedom Sounds featuring Wayne Henderson: People Get Ready (1967, Atlantic): in twofer with Sonny Sharrock: Black Women ([2000], Collectables): B+

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Amendola vs. Blades: Greatest Hits (Sazi)
  • Martin Bejerano: Trio Miami (Figgland): November 4
  • Boi Akih: Liquid Songs (TryTone)
  • Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Basically Baker Vol. 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker (Patois, 2CD)
  • Oguz Buyukberber and Simon Nabatov: Wobbly Strata (TryTone)
  • Richie Cole: Plays Ballads & Love Songs (Mark Perna Music): October 21
  • The Core Trio: Live Featuring Matthew Shipp (Evil Rabbit)
  • The Delegation: Evergreen (Canceled World) (ESP-Disk, 2CD)
  • Earth Tongues: Ohio (Neither/Nor, 2CD)
  • Brent Gallaher: Moving Forward (V&B): January 6
  • Jason Hainsworth: Third Ward Stories (Origin): October 21
  • Nate Lepine Quartet: Vortices (Eyes & Ears)
  • Tom Marko: Inner Light (Summit)
  • Matt Mayhall: Tropes (Skirl)
  • John Moulder: Earthborn Tales of Soul and Spirit (Origin): October 21
  • Adam Schneit Band: Light Shines In (Fresh Sound New Talent): advance
  • Andrew Van Tassel: It's Where You Are (Tone Rogue): December 1
  • Anna Webber's Simple Trio: Binary (Skirl): October 25
  • Scott Whitfield: New Jazz Standards (Volume 2) (Summit)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Realizing I wasn't going to find much time, I started this early in the week, and added things when I noticed them without making much in the way of a systematic search. Since my last Weekend Roundup, much as happened, including a debate of the vice-president candidates (which failed to convince me that Tim Kaine was the smart choice), a second presidential debate (which further cemented Trump's decline), and major exposés of both candidates' dirty laundry (where Trump's smelled much fouler).

At the moment, FiveThirtyEight gives Hillary a 86.2% chance of winning based on a 6.5% popular vote advantage, with Arizona tilting slightly toward Hillary (51.0%), and progressively better odds in Iowa (62.1%), Ohio (64.8%), North Carolina (69.2%), Nevada (74.4%), Florida (74.5%), and New Hampshire (the state which for most of this election was the one that would secure an electoral college win for either candidate, now 83.7% for Hillary). Trump still looks to be solid elsewhere, although a third party candidate named Evan McMullin is polling well enough in Utah that he's given a chance of picking up the state's electoral votes (Trump's chances there are 92.7%, Clinton 4.6%, so that could leave McMullin with 2.7%). Trump's weakest leads are currently: Alaska (68.4%), Georgia (73.7%), Missouri (77.8%), South Dakota (81.2%), South Carolina (83.6%), Texas (86.1%), Indiana (86.2%), Kansas (87.3%), and Montana (87.4%).

I work out much of the logic under the Christgau link below, but to cut to the chase, I plan on voting for Hillary Clinton in November, and urge you to do so too. More importantly, I plan on voting for Democrats down ballot (even though the ones in Kansas running against Moran and Pompeo have less chance than Gary Johnson does), and hope for big gains for the Democrats in Congress and elsewhere -- in many ways that's even more important than the presidency. One thing I was especially struck by this past week was interviews with Moran and Pompeo where they casually referred to "the disaster of the Obama administration." Do these guys have any fucking idea what they're talking about? Or do they just mean Obama's been bad for them personally, like by cutting into their graft and perks? Sure, Obama has been disappointing, but mostly because he's been crippled by Republicans -- who clearly live in their own fantasy world these days.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Russell Berman: What Bill Clinton Meant When He Called Obamacare 'Crazy': Actually, there's nothing in his specific critique that couldn't be fixed by rejiggering the subsidy tables to help people with a bit more income than the current schedules allow -- but that also rewards the insurance companies for pushing premiums up. The other approach that is commonly talked about is trying to drive premiums back down by providing a non-profit "public option" to compete with the private insurers. What was really crazy about Obamacare was thinking that you could solve the problem of a growing number of uninsured people while keeping the profits of all the parts of the industry propped up, and that problem isn't going to be countered until you find a way to blunt or eliminate those profit-seeking opportunities. And the truth is that the private insurance racket, which could easily be obsoleted by a single-payer system, is just the tip of that iceberg. We may not be as far away from coming to that realization as many pundits think -- in large part because we have the examples of so many other countries that have figured that out and made health care a public service and a universal right.

    On the other hand, just because Obamacare is crazy doesn't mean it wasn't a big improvement over the previous system. And while is hasn't succeeded in making sure everyone is insured, it reversed a longstanding trend that was stripping health insurance from millions of Americans. The Republicans never had an answer to that problem, and while they conceivably could make good on their promise to repeal Obamacare, they have no clue how to fix it. Berman talks a bit about various tinkerings that might help a bit -- the sort of things that Hillary Clinton is likely to push for. Still, I take Bill's "crazy" comment as good news: mostly, it shows he's moved beyond his own even lousier 1990s health care scheme.

  • Robert Christgau: Confessions of a Hillary Supporter: 'It's Not Like We Can Breathe Easy': Returns to the Voice with a political screed, much of it rehashing Nader's role in Gore's fateful 2000 loss to Bush, as well as his still snippy attitude toward Sanders:

    I know, you can't stand [Trump] either. For you, Hillary is the hard part. . . . Hillary lacks daring as well as grace, and from Libya to Honduras, her instinct in foreign policy has always been to fetishize "democracy" in an obtusely formalistic way. But she has a long personal history of doing good for people, an unmatched grasp of policy, thousands of exploitable relationships, and a platform where Sanders taught her plenty about the expanding limits of what's progressive and what's politic.

  • Best part of the piece is his recounting past efforts to dive into the political weeds and call on voters. He urges you to do the same this year: "we don't just want to win -- we want to win so big across the board that Clinton will feel obliged to activate her platform and that Trump's racist, xenophobic chauvinism will seem a perilous tack even to the saner Republicans who are right now scheming to deliver the U.S. to Big Capital in 2020."

    I don't want to relitigate Nader in 2000, but I find it odd that Christgau singles out Lieberman as the reason he voted for Nader over Gore. I've never been a Lieberman fan, but I don't think I gave Gore's VP pick any thought at the time. It was only later, after Sharon came to power in Israel and put an end to the Oslo Peace Process, and after 9/11 and Bush launched his Crusade (aka Global War on Terror) that Lieberman transformed into a conspicuously monstrous hawk. I don't doubt that he had long harbored that stance, just as I don't doubt that he had always been in the pocket of the insurance industry, but it's not like Gore saw those things as problems. I suspected that Gore would have tilted against peace in Israel/Palestine, and I never doubted that he would have gone to war in Afghanistan and elsewhere (including Iraq) in response to 9/11. He may have done so less crudely and less carelessly than Bush did, but those were pretty low bars. It's tempting to look back on this history and think that Gore would have avoided the many mistakes that Bush committed, but the whole DLC pitch in the 1990s (which Gore was as much a part of as Clinton) was to cut into the Republican alignment with oligarchy by showing that the Democrats could be even better for business, and they picked up a lot of conservative baggage along the way. That was Gore in 2000, and while we certainly underestimated how bad Bush would turn out, that was a pretty good reason to back Nader in 2000.

    On the other hand, I now think that Nader made a major mistake running as a third party candidate in 2000 (and 2004). We would have been much better served had he ran in primaries as a Democrat. He wouldn't have come close to beating Gore, but he would have been able to mobilize a larger protest vote, and he would have drawn the discussion (and maybe the party platform) toward the left. But then we don't get to choose our options, just choose among them. What persuaded me to give up interest in third party efforts was the fact that even in 2000, even with no campaign visibility, Gore outpolled Nader in Kansas by a factor of ten: 37.2-3.4%. I realized then that the people we wanted to appeal to were stuck in the Democratic Party. Sometimes part of that appeal means you have to vote for a poor excuse for a Democrat.

    The Nation recently ran a pair of articles on Stein vs. Clinton: Kshama Sawant: Don't Waste Your Vote on the Corporate Agenda -- Vote for Jill Stein and the Greens, and Joshua Holland: Your Vote for Jill Stein Is a Wasted Vote. I don't care for the thinking behind either of these articles, but only one has a clue what "waste" means and it isn't Sawant. If you want your vote to be effective, you should vote either for or against one of the two leading candidates, and it really doesn't make any difference whether you're positive or negative, just so you can tell the difference. On the other hand, sure, vote for a third party candidate if the following is the case: you can't distinguish a difference you really care about, and both leading candidates are objectionable on something you really do care about.

    Sawant may well be right if the one issue you really care about is "the corporate agenda" -- assuming you can define that in terms where Trump and Clinton are interchangeable, which I'm not sure you can do. (For instance, Trump wants less regulation of corporations but Clinton sometimes wants more; Trump wants the rich to pay less in taxes but Clinton wants the rich to pay more; Clinton favors a higher minimum wage but Trump doesn't.) But personally, I don't see "the corporate agenda" (or its more conceptual proxy, "capitalism") as something to get bent out of shape about. I don't have a problem with corporations as long as they are well regulated and we have countervailing mechanisms to balance off problems like inequality. Clinton doesn't go as far in that direction as I'd like, and she's much to comfy in the company of billionaires, but Trump is a billionaire (one of the worst of the breed), and he clearly has no concern for the vast majority of Americans. I can think of several issues I am so deeply concerned about that I might base a decision on them: war is a big one, racism another, inequality all-pervasive, and environmental degradation. Trump is clearly unacceptable on all four accounts (as is the political party for which he stands). Clinton is clearly better on all of those except war, and she's probably more temperate and sensible there than Trump is. Perhaps if Stein ran a campaign specifically against war and empire I might find her candidacy more compelling, but "corporate agenda" doesn't do the trick.

    Sawant's other argument is that you can only build an alternative to "the corporate agenda" by staying outside of the Democratic Party. I don't see that working for three reasons: almost all of the people who might be sympathetic are already invested as Democrats (and more all the time are being driven to the Democrats by the Republicans); your separatism demonstrates a lack of solidarity, and possibly even an antipathy to the people you're supposedly trying to help; and you're denying that reform is possible within the Democratic Party, which given the existence of primaries and such would seem to be false.

    But let's throw one more argument into the mix. Voting is at best a rare and limited option, whereas there are other forms of political action that are more direct, more focused, and more viable for people who don't start with majority consensus: demonstrations, speeches, boycotts. In these cases what may matter more isn't having politicians to lead your side but having politicians willing to listen and open to persuasion, especially based on traditionally shared values. One instance that made this clear to me was when organizers who were opposed to Israeli apartheid and occupation came to Wichita and urged us to talk to our representative and senators. They pointed out how they gained a receptive audience from longtime Israel supporters like Ted Kennedy, but all we had to work with was Sam Brownback and Todd Tiahrt -- bible-thumping end-of-times Zionists who regard us less as constituents than as intractable enemies. So while it may not be possible to turn Clinton against American imperialism and militarism in principle, at least her administration will see a need to talk to us -- if she's our leader, we're her people, and that's not something I can imagine with Trump and the Republicans. (Also not something that seems likely with today's crop of third parties, which are almost anti-political and anti-social by design.)

    Some other more or less leftish opinions:

  • Fred Kaplan: How Does Obama Respond to Russia's Cyberattacks? The Obama administration has gone on record not only declaring that Russia is responsible for recent hacks apparently meant to influence US elections, but that the US will retaliate against Russia somehow. Perhaps I'm being dense, but I've never understood what constitutes cyberwarfare, let alone what the point of it is. I was hoping Kaplan, who has written a recent book on the subject, might enlighten me, but about all I've gathered from this article is that a picking a fight here is only likely to hurt everyone. As Kaplan writes:

    If the cyberconflict escalated, it would play into their strengths and our weaknesses. Again, our cyberoffensive powers are superior to theirs, as President Obama recently boasted; but our society is more vulnerable to even inferior cyberoffensives. We have bigger and better rocks to throw at other houses, but our house is made of glass that shatters more easily.

    What's implied here but rarely spelled out is that the US does everything we've accused Russia of doing, and probably does it better (or at least does it on a much more massive scale). I don't know, for instance, to what extent the US has tried to influence Russian elections, but clearly we have a long history of doing things like that, from the CIA operations in post-WWII Italy to keep the Communist Party out of power to the recent toppling of a pro-Putin government in Ukraine.

  • Daniel Politi: Kansas Terrorists Wanted Anti-Muslim Attack to End in "Bloodbath":

    They called themselves the "Crusaders" and had a clear purpose: launch an attack against Muslims that would lead to a "bloodbath." With any luck that would help spark a religious war. But their plans were thwarted as three Kansas men were arrested on Friday for planning an attack on a Garden City, Kansas apartment complex filled with Somali immigrants that is also home to a mosque. They planned to carry out the attack one day after the November election. . . .

    The complaint also notes that during one conversation Stein said that "the only fucking way this country's ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath and it will be a nasty, messy motherfucker. Unless a lot more people in this country wake up and smell the fucking coffee and decide they want this country back . . . we might be too late, if they do wake up . . . I think we can get it done. But it ain't going to be nothing nice about it." At one point Stein made it clear he was ready to kill babies: "When we go on operations there's no leaving anyone behind, even if it's a one-year old, I'm serious."

    Police say they found "close to a metric ton of ammunition in Allen's residence," which is what led authorities to believe the attack could be imminent. "These individuals had the desire, the means, the capability to carry out this act of domestic terrorism," an FBI official said.

    The article notes that "There has been an incredible increase in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment over the past few years." The article didn't note the Donald Trump campaign, nor America's seemingly endless war in Somalia. On the latter, see Mark Mazzetti/hjeffrey Gettleman/Eric Schmidt: In Somalia, U.S. Escalates a Shadow War:

    The Pentagon has acknowledged only a small fraction of these operations. But even the information released publicly shows a marked increase this year. The Pentagon has announced 13 ground raids and airstrikes thus far in 2016 -- including three operations in September -- up from five in 2015, according to data compiled by New America, a Washington think tank. The strikes have killed about 25 civilians and 200 people suspected of being militants, the group found.

    The strikes have had a mixed record. In March, an American airstrike killed more than 150 Shabab fighters at what military officials called a "graduation ceremony," one of the single deadliest American airstrikes in any country in recent years. But an airstrike last month killed more than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who were American allies against the Shabab.

  • Derek Thompson: No, Not Gary Johnson: It's unfortunate that the Libertarian candidate isn't as articulate about foreign policy and war someone like Ron Paul. For one thing, that might spare us some gaffes like "what is a leppo?" or "when he failed to name a single world leader in a televised town hall" (actually, he was asked for the name of a foreign leader he admired, which frankly would have stumped me -- my response would have been that it's inappropriate for US politicians to render judgment on foreign politicians, as indeed it was for Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte to defame Obama). Thompson concludes that Johnson "suffers from an Aleppo mindset, a proud lack of curiosity about foreign affairs lurking behind an attractively simplistic rejection of military interventions." It never occurred to Thompson that if you reject in principle the whole idea of military interventions, you really don't need to know a lot of detail about places hawks want to intervene in, or the trumped up causes they think they're advancing. Still, it would have been better to have smarter answers handy -- it's not like candidates can assume that pundits won't ask stupid questions.

    Thankfully, Thompson moves past his dedication to preserving the American empire to grill Johnson over issues where his muddle-headedness is more glaring, such as the role of government in the economy, increasing the contrast by comparing Johnson to Sanders:

    But on policy, the two could not be more opposite. Sanders, a democratic socialist, proposed to raise taxes by historic sums and spend hundreds of billions of dollars to nationalize health insurance and make college free. Johnson's plans are the complete reverse: He has proposed to eliminate the federal income tax code, unwind 100 years of anti-poverty and health-insurance programs, and shutter the Department of Education. His plan would almost certainly raise the cost of college for many middle-class teenagers and 20somethings who rely on federal loans and grants, and his repeal of Obamacare would immediately boot tens of thousands of them off their parents' health plans.

    Beyond his jovial demeanor and admirably passionate anti-interventionist position, Johnson puts a likable face on a deeply troubling economic policy. Scrapping the Federal Reserve while cutting federal spending by 40 percent, while eliminating federal income taxes and trying to institute a new consumption tax would have a predictable effect: It would take hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy, likely triggering a recession, while shifting the burden of paying for what's left of the federal government to the poor just as unemployment started to rise, all the while shutting off any possible monetary stimulus that could provide relief to the ailing economy.

    Thompson's numbers are probably understated -- certainly the number who would lose their insurance if Obamacare is repealed would be well into the millions, and the economic collapse is probably more like trillions. But these examples do help remind us how naïve and foolish libertarian economic theory is. Still, without their crackpot notions of economic freedom libertarians would just be liberals. On the other hand, if liberals gave up the war on drugs and their defense of empire, libertarians wouldn't have a prayer of siphoning off votes, as Johnson does this year.

    For a longer critique of Johnson, see Nick Tabor: Gary Johnson's Hard-Right Record.

  • Miscellaneous election links:

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

  • Dean Baker: Apologies for Donald Trump:

    The white working class is right to feel that those in power are not acting in their interests. Of course they are not acting in the interests of the African American or Hispanic working classes either. Unfortunately, unless mainstream politicians stop doing the bidding of the wealthy, the white working class will continue to look to political figures who blame non-whites for their problems, since that will be the only answer they see.

  • Robert L Borosage: Inequality Is Still the Defining Issue of Our Time: Title is clearly right, worth repeating at every opportunity. Another way to make the case is to point out that the entire purpose of conservativism is to defend and secure the privileges of the rich and make them richer.

  • Patrick Cockburn: Talk of a No-fly Zone Distracts from Realistic Solutions for Aleppo

  • Jonathan Cohn: The Future of America Is Being Written in This Tiny Office: Long piece on Hillary Clinton's "policy team."

    When it came to formulating her own ideas, Clinton wasn't starting from scratch, obviously. But since her last run for the White House, the Democratic Party had undergone a minor metamorphosis -- and in ways that didn't seem like a natural fit for Clinton, at least as she was perceived by most voters. The progressive wing was clearly ascendant, with groups like Occupy Wall Street and Fight For 15 harnessing populist anger at the financial system, and Black Lives Matter turning an unrelenting spotlight on racial injustice. Minority voters had come to represent a larger proportion of both the party and the population, giving Democrats an electoral-college advantage whose influence was still unclear when Obama ran for office. And there was another trend at work -- one that was less obvious, but no less important: In just a few years, the Democratic elite had quietly gone through a once-in-a-generation shift on economic thinking.

  • Thomas Geoghegan: 3 Ways Hillary Clinton Can Inspire Americans Without a College Degree: Lots of good ideas here, like "co-determination" (giving workers a vote on corporate boards). Third point lumps a bunch of good things into one:

    Third, unlike Trump, Hillary can promise to use the welfare state to make us more competitive. How? Consider what would happen if we expanded Social Security. If we get more workers over age 65 to retire, instead of hanging on because they lack a decent private pension, we could employ more middle-aged and young workers now sitting at home, or promote them sooner. We need the government to assume more of the private sector's "non-wage" labor costs. There are yet other examples where the welfare state could make us more competitive: Expand Medicare to workers between ages 55 and 65, so employers can stop avoiding payment for working people who have higher skills. Or have a fair federal system of worker compensation, instead of states' using it to bid against each other. Or have the federal government offer to take over state Medicaid in those states that promise to use the savings for public education and worker training. And isn't publicly funded childcare a way of ensuring that we use human capital more efficiently instead of trapping highly educated women at home?

  • Mark Mazzetti/Ben Hubbard: Rise of Saudi Prince Shatters Decades of Royal Tradition: The new power in Saudi Arabia is 31-year-old Prince bin Salman, seen here as extravagant and reckless, especially with his war in Yemen which has lately dragged the US into missile exchanges.

  • Richard Silverstein: Israel's Stern Gang Mailed Letter Bomb to White House, President Truman: In 1947, when LEHI was commanded by future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

  • Cass R Sunstein: Five Books to Change Liberals' Minds: Tries to pick out books that liberals can take seriously, as opposed to, say, the partisan paranoid crap published by Regnery. The books are:

    1. James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Conditions Have Failed
    2. Antonin Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation
    3. Casey Mulligan, Side Effects and Complications: The Economic Consequences of Health-Care Reform
    4. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
    5. Robert Ellickson, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes

    The Scalia book came out in 1997, when he still had a reputation as a serious (albeit flawed) thinker, as opposed to the partisan crank you remember him as. Scott and Ellickson would seem to be libertarians, perhaps even anarchists. Haidt's book is a respectful probe into how conservatives think (I bought a copy, but haven't read it.) Mulligan complains that Obamacare disincentivizes work, and as such is a drag on GDP. That makes sense but doesn't strike me as such a bad thing. Moreover, it's not like there aren't any countervaling incentives to work (though it doesn't help that so many jobs suck).

  • Matthew Yglesias: This is the best book to help you understand the wild 2016 campaign: The book is Democracy for Realists, by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, and it's a depressing slog if you've ever fancied the idea that rational arguments based on real interests might persuade voters to choose candidates and parties that actually advance those interests. One argument, for instance, is that party allegiance is based on some unknowably primordial force (probably identity), and that people pick up the views of their party rather than the other way around. Another is that fluctuations in voting results are due to factors beyond any party's control, ranging from economic performance to the shark attacks and football games. I'm not sure how much of this I buy, let alone care about. One of the problems with the social sciences is that every piece of insight they reveal about anonymous behavior becomes a lever for manipulation by some interest group. That's one reason why when I was majoring in sociology, I spent virtually all of my efforts trying to expose how research incorporates biases, and thereby to increase the doubt that findings could be usurped. That's also a reason why I quit sociology. Also why I have no interest in reading this particular book, or any of the other books on how voters think -- books that I'm sure both parties (if not necessarily both presidential candidates) have been diligently studying for whatever tricks they can find.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Daily Log

Jan Barnes (a fairly hard-core Trump supporter from Idaho) asked me what I thought of the election, so I wrote this:

Will be glad when the election is over. Too bad the framers of the 22nd Amendment (the one that limited presidents to two terms) didn't also prohibit spouses and children of previous presidents from running. That would have been consistent with the desire to prevent dynasties from being built, and saved us from Hillary (and more importantly from George W as well). Most of the problems I have with Hillary stem from her husband and things he did while in power during the 1990s. I could rattle off a long list, but there are two major themes: one is that his misdeeds were almost always supported by Republicans, most often at the expense of traditional Democratic Party constituencies (especially the working class), and the other is that he turned the Democratic Party into his own personal political machine (which clearly persists in that no mainstream Democrat dared to run against Hillary). He got away with all that because in 1993 the Republicans were so shocked to lose to him that they went crazy, which made him look like our sole protector, no matter how much he compromised with them. That's pretty much the story of this election as well. Hillary can't be expected to do much of anything to actually help out most of the people who will vote for her, nor do I think she will do anything significant to get out from the "War on Terror" that Bush started, but at least she isn't Donald Trump (or any of the other 15 Republican candidates, who may not be as personally obnoxious as Trump but who all subscribe to the same political principles and agenda, which in a nutshell is to let the rich and already too powerful run roughshod over everyone else).

Actually, aside from her husband and his network, I don't think Hillary is so bad. She is a very conventional thinker, too deferential to wealthy donors and the military, but not lacking in compassion and concern for those who are getting screwed over by the current system. I expect she will acknowledge and face up to real problems -- climate change is a clear example -- but will prefer to seek out compromises where no party really gets hurt. I expect that she will try to run a relatively honest administration (unlike Bush and Reagan, or Trump, who is probably the greediest individual to run for the office since Aaron Burr). And while her relationship to Bill has given her various advantages, I expect she will make a point of showing us that she's not any sort of figurehead for a third Bill Clinton term. She's campaigned in her own right, on her own credentials, and she's as well-prepared to become president as anyone in decades.

As for Trump, aside from his hideous personality, indeed a whole lifetime of stroking his own ego while grabbing everything he can get his hands on, he has nothing to offer but magic with occasional reference to standard-issue Republican schemes that have been proven time and again not to work for anyone but the ultra-rich (specifically, Trump himself -- for instance, he's made a big deal out of eliminating taxes on his estate and on passing anti-libel laws so rich people can sue anyone who criticizes them). One of the sad things about this election is that even if Trump gets beat badly it will be blamed on his bad character and not on the bad policies he espouses.

By the way, have you noticed how few American-born ancestors Trump, who's so famously anti-immigrant, actually has? One: his mother was born in Scotland, his father in the US, but his father's parents both immigrated to the US from Germany. Better known is that two of his three wives were foreign-born. I think five of the sixteen Republican candidates had at least one parent who was foreign-born (as was Cruz himself, though he claimed US citizenship). Not sure whether that's just some weird fluke or testimony to their political opportunism.

Anyhow, you asked. Laura's more down on Hillary and I am, and will probably vote for Jill Stein -- certainly not Trump.

By the way, that eggplant parmesan was really amazing. I had a very old, very hard wedge of parmesan reggiano -- took a lot of pounding to grate it -- and mixed it with some cotija (a similar cheese Mexican street vendors dredge grilled and buttered corn in) and some cheaper parmesan. Didn't make as much tomato sauce as the recipe called for, but what I had was very flavorful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Golden Oldies (2)

Continuing along as I dig through my old notebooks for jazz reviews. Here's my post from April 11, 2003, noting what turned out to be the high point of American triumphalism for the entire Iraq misadventure:

There was a period back in the Afghanistan war when the Northern Alliance started reeling off a quick series of victories -- not so much that they were defeating the Taliban in confrontations as that the Taliban was high-tailing it out of the cities, allowing Herat, Kabul, and Kandahar to fall in quick succession. The hawks then made haste to trumpet their victory and to dump on anyone who had doubted the US in this war. Back then, I referred to those few weeks as "the feel good days of the war." Well, we had something like that in Iraq, too, except that use of the plural now seems unwarranted. So mark it on your calendar, Wednesday, April 9, 2003, was the feel good day of the Iraq war. The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has proceeded apace, but there seems to be much less to feel good about. One big thing was the killing of the bigwig shia collaborators that the US started to promote, combined with the unwillingness of other shia bigwigs to collaborate. One of the problems with this is that it suggests that the US, as always, is looking for religious leaders to control the people -- which in turn threatens to roll back the one thing Saddam had going for his regime, which was that it was strongly secular. The fact is, you want to introduce something resembling liberal democracy in Iraq, you have to promote secularism. (Of course, given the contempt that Bush has for liberal democracy in the US, it's hard to believe that he really wants that.)

Bigger still is the whole looting thing, as well as mob reprisals against Baath leaders, which threaten to turn into the much predicted Iraqi-on-Iraqi warfare. The looting itself basically means that what infrastructure the US somehow managed not to destroy will be taken down by Iraqi mobs. The likelihood that those mobs are anything other than just isolated hoodlums is small, but collectively the damage that they inflict is likely to be huge. And given how unlikely it is that the US, its allies, and the rest of the world who were so blatantly disregarded in this whole affair, are to actually pay for anything resembling real reconstruction, this is just digging an ever deeper hole. While right now, given that their is still armed (if not necessarily organized) resistance to the US, it's hard to see how the US could keep order even if it wants to (which is to say the least a mixed proposition), but failure to do so is already setting the US up as responsible for the looting, and adding to the already huge responsibility that the US bears for the current and future misery of the Iraqi people. And when the US does start to enforce order, what is bound to happen? More dead Iraqis. And who's responsible for that? The US. If this had just happened out of the blue, I might be a bit sympathetic, but this is exactly what we had predicted as the inevitable given the US course of action.

So happy last Wednesday. That's very likely to be the last one for a long time now.

Also found this letter from April 15, 2003, also on the looting of Baghdad:

The more I read about how archaeologists and other scholars warned the US military about the very real risks that invasion and occupation posed to the libraries and museums of Iraq, the more clear it is why those warnings were ignored: they came from people who disapproved of the war. One of the major problems with this war was that it wasn't something, like Pearl Harbor or even 9/11, that happened and panicked the US into action; it was a program that was concocted inside the government and hard-sold to the public. And one of the most telling effects of the hard-sell is that the people who were selling it, so convinced were they that it was the right thing to do, put blinders on themselves to any argument, no matter how reasoned, not to proceed with their program. And since warnings about dire consequences were reasons not to do it, they were ignored. This is, I think, what happens when someone falls so in love with their ideas that they are unwilling to subject them to critical analysis. And when they crack the whip so hard to force their dreams on a world that turned out to be very skeptical. It is worth noting that this simplistic hard-sell approach to what are often very complex problems has become endemic in US political discourse, and that it has largely driven open, consensus-building discussions underground. It has also led to a preoccupation with winning arguments over solving problems, and the especially insidious tactic of winning arguments by "creating facts on the ground." The libraries and museums of Baghdad are the tragic results of this deterioration of political discourse, and by no means the only ones. The Bush Administration seems to have realized that the only way they could proceed with their war would be to discount or ignore its probable consequences, just as they realized that they would have to lie about why they wanted this war. And now that they've succeeded, it will take all of the arrogance and blindness they can summon to deny what they have wrought. Unless we can manage to break out of their psychology, we're bound for a lot more tragedy.

Earlier in April I pulled out a terrific quote from Gerald Colby's Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, pointing out that back in the 1950s Rockefeller advocated an accelerated arms race in an attempt to bankrupt the Soviet Union. Rockefeller certainly knew a thing or two about the advantages businessmen with deep pockets have, and this alone pretty much explains the next 35 years of the Cold War. I also posted a note comparing America's experiences in Vietnam and Iraq, where I wrote:

The biggest difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that in Vietnam we were defending a fraud, whereas now we're attacking a phantom. The latter, of course, is easier: it's much easier to demonize Saddam Hussein than it was to make Ngo Dinh Diem, trained and deployed and propped up by the CIA, look like a patriot. . . . What they do have in common is the inevitable resistance of people against foreign occupiers, and the contempt that U.S. leaders have both for dealing honestly with their own citizens and for the people of the other countries that they try to bully and, in fits of rage, to destroy.

Back in summer 2003 before it all turned to shit, someone "in the Bush administration" coined the saying, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men go to Tehran." Sen. Sam Brownback took the bait and introduced a bill to "destabilize" Iran. (Not that we didn't count him as a "real man" before -- you could tell from the way he treated women.) The Wichita Eagle explained: "Using the same philosophy that drove the war in Iraq, the Kansas senator is leading a drive for new leadership for its eastern neighbor." This prompted me to write a letter (June 23, 2003), again explaining the obvious:

Poor Senator Brownback. I hate to pick on someone so obviously suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, but his Iran Democracy Act is nothing more than a rerun of the same mistakes that we made with Iraq. When Congress voted to make regime change in Iraq national policy, they started us down the road to the still smoldering war there. That road was paved with lies and fantasies, and anyone who's taken the time to notice has been struck by the growing chasm between reality and the hawks' expectations. But obviously Brownback hasn't noticed anything: he's off stalking bigger, more dangerous game.

The basic fact is that over the last fifty years the U.S. has done nothing at all right by Iran. We say we want to promote democracy in Iran today, but in the early '50s the CIA overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh government, immediately resulting in U.S. oil companies getting control of most of Iran's oil. The U.S. then installed the megalomaniacal Shah Pahlevi, sold him arms, and trained his vicious security police; the Shah eventually became so unpopular that every segment of the Iranian people revolted against him, a tumultuous revolution that was in the end dominated by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Then the U.S. and its oil sheikh allies in the Persian Gulf encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran, a horrendously bloody eight-year war leaving perhaps a million Iranian casualties. So what in this history makes Brownback think that Iran needs any more U.S. help?

The only people in Iran likely to benefit from a deluge of American propaganda are the ayatollahs, who are certain to use this to reinforce the case that only they can protect Iran from evil foreigners and the misguided citizens who inadvertently provide aid and comfort to the enemy. But then that's the same line used by Sharon in Israel and by Bush here: sabre-rattling is, after all, a time-tested recipe for keeping despots in power despite their incompetence. Maybe Brownback feels his own career needs a little sabre-rattling as well? (After all, while Wichita's economy has been collapsing, he's spent most of his time railing against cloning.) But if by chance he really does want to do something to undermine the ayatollahs in Iran, here's what he should do: support international programs to promote women's rights in Iran and throughout the world, including birth control and abortion. That is, after all, where the ayatollahs are most vulnerable. Too bad the same thing can be said about Brownback.

From November 12, 1963:

Quote from John McCain: "We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight . . ." Come on! We lost the will to fight because we lost the fucking war. Throughout history, that's about the only thing that has ever stifled the will to fight. He goes on, ". . . because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting, and because we limited the tools at our disposal." Not sure what he thinks the "nature of the war" was, but the following clause suggests that we could have won if only we had used nuclear weapons. Was there anything else we didn't use in Vietnam? In Vietnam we destroyed villages in order to save them. Is McCain saying that our failure in Vietnam was that we didn't kill them all?

Vietnam was first and last a war about America's self-image as a world power. At first, it was about the US checking communist revolution and expansionism, which in the eyes of a great power was naturally attributed to the machinations of other great powers, e.g. the Soviet Union. In the end, it was about how the US might salvage, in the wake of defeat, its status as a world power, so that it might be able to check further communist revolutions and expansionism. In between, American politicians uttered a lot of hooey about freedom and helping the Vietnamese and so forth, but in cold hard fact that war was always about us.

The Iraq War, indeed the entire Global War on Terror, was about us too: specifically, America's self-conception of its superpowers. What bothered America's "leaders" about 9/11 had nothing to do with the death or destruction -- we willing suffer ten times as many gun deaths each year and far more damage in major hurricanes -- and everything to do with smacking down the impudence to test American power. After all, if we don't do so, today's loss will only be the first of many dominos to fall.

Tempted to quote the post from February 24, 2004, describing a Dick Cheney's fundraising appearance in Wichita, where he spent 30 minutes and raised $250k. The report noted that his security costs to the state of Kansas were $120k, not counting the disruptions from shutting down the airport and the main highway into town, nor his own travel costs and security detail. Sure makes it seem like public funding of elections would be more cost effective, not to mention that it would remove the aura of corruption that surrounds the entire process. Further down I reported:

U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, the village idiot of Goddard KS, managed to get an op-ed piece into the Eagle today. One line in particular dropped my jaw: "Tax relief, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, helped pull the economy out of the Clinton recession." Just try to tear that sentence apart: "tax relief" refers to Bush's tax cuts, which were proposed when the economy was booming and the rationale was to reduce the surplus. "Clinton's recession" must have been a diabolical scheme: what other politician has ever managed to create a recession that only started once his successor was ensconced in office? But have we really pulled out of that recession? One thing you can count on is that the moment Greenspan thinks that we're out of the recession woods is that he'll raise interest rates. But has that happened? Not that I've noticed.

I wish my subsequent analysis had been smarter, but I gave too much credit to the "logic" of tax cuts as stimulus and didn't yet fully realize that giving rich people more money to "invest" only increased their appetites for asset bubbles and other predatory practices. In hindsight, we now that's pretty much all that happened in the "boom years" under Bush. (OK, I suppose you could add deficit war spending and a huge run up in oil prices due to shortages caused by those wars, but the former mostly moved money abroad to be burned up, and the latter just enriched the oil barons, again mostly abroad.)

On March 21, 2004, I assessed the Iraq War a year after Bush launched it. As I noted, "Bush is still marching blithely into the unknown, and he's dragging us with him." I couldn't offer a comprehensive analysis, but did jot down a list of bullet points, including "It is clear now that the US/UK case for going to war against Iraq was founded on [little more than] arrogance and ignorance, and presented as [nothing more than] a blatant list of lies." (I'm tempted today to edit out the bracketed words.) Another point:

The US occupation of Iraq has been remarkably incompetent. Planning for the occupation was somewhere between non-existent and delusional. The initial chaos that allowed extensive looting shattered any prospect that the US might be powerful enough to conduct an orderly transformation of Iraq's political economy. For political reasons, the US also chose not to do the obvious thing, which was to keep existing Iraqi governmental agencies intact and rule through them. Abolishing the army and police forces fed the resistance, while belatedly forcing the US to reconstruct its own Iraqi army and police forces. The resistance itself soon attained a sufficient level of activity to force the US occupiers to hide behind their security barricades, disconnecting from the people they allegedly came to liberate. By failing to hold elections, the US never made an effort to establish a legitimate Iraqi political presence.

On March 12, 2004, I wrote a fair amount about the 1953 CIA coup in Iran -- the subject of Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror -- and concluded with this note on the leading Democratic candidate to challenge Bush in 2004 (although it would have been equally valid for virtually any possible Democratic nominee, especially the then-junior senator from New York):

The great worry that we have about Kerry as the next Democratic US President is that he is so wed to the past verities of US imperial foreign policy that he will -- like Clinton, Carter, Johnson, and Kennedy before him -- continue the same vicious policies, albeit just a shade less maniacally than G.W. Bush. That continuity has always happened because the rhetoric has always favored the tough guys -- the badass Republicans. (Reality is another thing: although Reagan based much of his 1980 campaign on attacking Carter for giving away the Canal Zone, when Bush finally did invade Panama he didn't make a move to reclaim the Canal Zone. Reagan's charges were merely that Carter was soft; Bush's non-action just shows us that Carter made a concession that realistically had to be made, and that no amount of obtuseness could reverse.) It seems obvious that Bush has finally proven just how bankrupt those policies are, but Kerry seems to feel that the real problem is not Bush's arrogance or ignorance, but his incompetence. After all, incompetence has long been the Achilles heel of Republican foreign policy, but if that's all you attack them for, you can never break out of their rhetorical straightjacket. It's clear that Kerry hasn't: instead of attacking the very idea of a "war on terrorism" he attacks Bush's bungling execution of it. Sure, there's lots to attack there, but if the very project is intrinsically flawed -- and it is -- no amount of competence can fix it. Only a new worldview can do that.

From April 24, 2004, following a note on Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which identifies Bush and Ashcroft as not that far removed from the religious conceits of the book's killers:

One of my more/less constant themes has been how we've become prisoners of our rhetoric. What I've tried to do above is to sketch out the conceptual model of how this has happened. We live in a world where we as individuals are profoundly powerless, even in the cases where we are mostly free to direct our own personal lives. Such freedom usually depends on the tacit accepteance of powerlessness: people are free to mind their own business, because it doesn't make any real difference to others, least of all the elites (who are at most relatively powerful, by virtue of their ability to manipulate symbols that are broadly acquiesced to -- religion, patriotism, material wealth, ideologies like capitalism, abstract concepts like freedom and democracy, tyranny and terrorism, mere character traits like toughness, resolve, fortitude). And such freedom is for most people quite satisfying, as is the sense of belonging to a well-ordered society. But some people are unsatisfied with the status quo: they want to test the limits of their freedom, they start to question the ordering of society. Most such people were driven to want to change the world by perceived wrongs done them. But some are driven more by an exaggerated sense of their own self-importance: Ron and Dan Lafferty, believing that they were chosen by God to do his work, are simple and pathetic examples.

Where George W. Bush differs from the Laffertys is not so much in his self-conception as in his support network. Bush is a rare example of a self-possessed activist, a fanatic, raised to a position of extraordinary political power. Yet his possession of that power -- one built on the wealth of his political backers, on the cadres of the Republican party, on the institutional power of the U.S. presidency, on the symbols of American military might -- in no way changes the fact that he dwells within the limits of his personal universe. He can't see beyond those limits, which leaves him mostly at the mercy of his own mental baggage -- a world haunted by a God who metes out violence, and by a Karl Rove who vouchsafes that it is politically safe. With his support network, and with our acquiescence (or more likely out powerlessness), his mental paroxysms have can have immense impact. Never in American history has such a dangerous person been put into such a dangerous position.

At present, Donald Trump is vying for precisely this claim. And while he strikes one as a far less devout person, the entitlement he feels by virtue of his class, wealth, and celebrity (not to mention race and sex) seems to elevate him beyond any shred of self-doubt -- a common trait of mad would-be emperors throughout history.

From April 15, 2004, in response to Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip (something flacks like Dennis Ross praised as a step toward peace):

But most importantly, Sharon's plan is unilateral: it in no way depends on agreement with any Palestinians; it doesn't acknowledge the Palestinians; it doesn't provide any framework for Palestine to go about the business of rebuilding and healing. The future status of Gaza is what? It is effectively separated from Israel, separated from the West Bank, separated from the Palestinian Authority, but in no way does it become an independent entity. In its assassinations of Sheikh Yassin and many others, Israel has shown that it has no qualms about firing at will. Will this in any way change? Without recognition and agreement, without a plan and process to turn Gaza into a viable, self-sustaining territory, Gaza will continue to be a security threat to Israel, and Israel will continue to treat Gaza as a mob-infested shooting gallery. All that Israel's removal of its outposts there does is to remove the weak spots in the containment and isolation, the strangulation, of Gaza. This is an eery reminder of the myth that Israel propagated to explain the refugee flight of 1947-49: that the Arabs had told the Palestinians to leave Israeli territory so that when the Arabs marched through an anihilated the Israelis, they wouldn't be caught in the crossfire. This is hard to conceive of, but the presence of Israeli settlers in Gaza has at least been one significant inhibition against Israel attacking Gaza with genocidal weapons.

In the months that followed, Israel made great sport out of flying at supersonic speeds over Gaza, rattling houses with sonic booms -- a practice they only gave up when nearby Israeli towns complained. In the years that followed, Israel launched one major military assault after another on Gaza, as well as hundreds of more limited bombing runs and cannon fire. Meanwhile, Gaza was bottled up, its borders frequently sealed, while the economy atrophied.

Found this forgotten item on May 13, 2004, reminding us that US confusion over and participation in Syria's civil war goes back well before Arab Spring:

The news got burried under the other scandals, but Bush picked another war this week, when the U.S. announced that it was unilaterally imposing a wide range of sanctions on Syria, including freezing Syrian assets held in U.S. banks. The reason given was inadequate vigilance by Syria in terms of preventing "foreign fighters" from infiltrating Iraq. (I still bet that more than 95% of the foreign fighters in Iraq come from the U.S./U.K.) But it is a clear escalation of the rhetoric of demonization that the U.S. lays in advance of hotter wars. There are prominent neocons who make no secret about their desire to take the war to Syria, so this is a victory for them. It also aids Sharon in that it is one more excuse (as if he needed any) to ignore the requirement that Israel withdraw from Syrian lands occupied since 1967. Cooperation between Bush and Israel over Syria was demonstrated most clearly when the U.S. applauded after Israel bombed Syria last summer, in alleged retalliation for a suicide bombing that had nothing whatsoever to do with Syria. . . .

Like all acts of war, sanctions are a failure of diplomacy. As the U.S. occupation of Iraq has soured, the U.S. finds itself driven to ever more desperate acts, and those acts can only serve to isolate, embitter, and impoverish us further.

I've run across several obituaries in the notebook so far, most memorably for my cousin Bob Burns and our friend Bob Ashley. On June 6, 2004, I wrote this one about people I didn't know personally:

A great man died yesterday: Steve Lacy pioneered and exemplified the avant-garde in jazz -- in particular, the notion that the new music doesn't evolve from the leading edge so much as it transcends all of the music that came before it. He was the first postmodernist in jazz, and he explored the music (Monk above all) and developed it in novel ways over 45 years of superb records. Ronald Reagan also died yesterday: he was a sack of shit who in his "what, me worry?" way destroyed far more than Lacy built. To describe Reagan as the intellectual forefather of George W. Bush is just sarcasm; for both ideas were nothing more than excuses for wielding power not just to vanquish the weak or to favor the strong but to bask in its own glory. Ideas, of course, did flower up around Reagan, as they do around Bush -- really bad ideas.

At the time my take on the Reagan administration was that they were responsible for [making] fraud the biggest growth industry in the U.S. By the end of Reagan's second term almost every department of the U.S. government was awash in corruption scandals: despite all of the talk, the administration's most evident real program was to steal everything in sight. But ultimately the talk did matter. At the time there was much talk about a "Reagan Revolution" -- oblivious to the fact that the only right-wing revolutions in memory led to the triumph of the Fascists and Nazis, to WWII and the Holocaust. Those are big boots to goosestep in, and it's taken a while to fill them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 27244 [27198] rated (+46), 401 [390] unrated (+11).

High rated count, partly inflated by finding some old grades in old notebooks that had never been registered in the database (see below). Still, most of the rated count comes from checking out a bunch of top-rated albums from this year, at least as tabulated by Album of the Year. Best album I found there was the new GOAT -- indeed, I'm not real sure Requiem isn't as good as 2014's A-listed Commune. As for the others, it's possible that more time might have put one or more of Savages, Angel Olsen, Kevin Morby, Future of the Left, or even Solange over the top.

Two A- records from Robert Christgau's Noisey column. I couldn't play the YouTube link for the Youssou N'Dour mystery album (or whatever it is -- not sure it's even a thing). Both are rather marginal finds, but distinctive in their narrow niches. I'm still undecided about Black Bombaim but will probably wind up saying the same thing about it.

Working fairly hard on the jazz book(s), although they're still in the very boring collection phase. (As I wrote that, I had a strange sense of deja vu, like I've tried to do this before.) I finished collecting reviews from Jazz Prospecting. Before moving on to Rhapsody Streamnotes, I thought I'd take a look at the old notebooks, and it's turned out that at least through 2004 there are quite a few reviews/notes there that didn't get worked into the various columns. (I hadn't broken out Jazz Prospecting Notes until JCG(7) in December 2005, so I was wondering whether I had bothered to write up anything on them later. I recall that at some point I started dumping the prospecting notes into the notebook, but those should be redundant with files I have already rummaged through.)

I'm collecting the post-2000 releases in a flat file which is currently 98625 lines long (8454 albums, although minus redundancies probably closer to 6000; 833903 words). I'm also formatting the pre-2000 album reviews/notes into book form, currently 210 pages. I'm rather surprised that the latter has grown so large, given that I picked up most of my 20th century jazz before I started writing so much. My guess has long been that the amount of work it would take to turn those writings into a fairly decent guide book would be prohibitive, but for now it certainly doesn't hurt to organize what I do have into something more accessible.

I haven't updated the 21st century book, and probably won't until I finish collecting Rhapsody Streamnotes, at which point I'll have collected virtually everything I've written on the subject. Then I figure I can go through the database and try to edit something coherent from all these widely scattered scraps. Scary what a huge job that's bound to be.

New records rated this week:

  • 75 Dollar Bill: Wooden Bag (2015, Other Music): [bc]: B+(***)
  • 75 Dollar Bill: Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (2013-15 [2016], Thin Wrist): [bc]: A-
  • Amber Arcades: Fading Lines (2016, Heavenly): [r]: B+(*)
  • Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Real Enemies (2016, New Amsterdam): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Bon Iver: 22, a Million (2016, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B+(*)
  • Neko Case/KD Lang/Laura Veirs: Case/Lang/Veirs (2016, Anti-): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nels Cline: Lovers (2013 [2016], Blue Note, 2CD): [r]: B-
  • Cymbals Eat Guitars: Pretty Years (2016, Sinderlyn): [r]: B
  • Damana (Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet): Cornua Copiae (2014 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Future of the Left: The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left (Prescriptions): [r]: B+(***)
  • GOAT: Requiem (2016, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch (2016, Sacred Bones): [r]: C+
  • Ital Tek: Hollowed (2016, Planet Mu): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nicolas Jaar: Sirens (2016, Other People): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kate Jackson: British Road Movies (2016, Hoo Ha): [r]: B+(*)
  • Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate (2016, Polydor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had a Dream That You Were Mine (2016, Glassnote): [r]: B
  • Jørgen Mathisen/Christian Meaas Svendsen/Andreas Wildhagen: Momentum (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Maxwell: blackSUMMERS'night (2016, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Anna Meredith: Varmints (2016, Moshi Moshi): [r]: B
  • Mudcrutch: 2 (2016, Reprise): [r]: B
  • Kevin Morby: Singing Saw (2016, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Mowgli's: Where'd Your Weekend Go? (2016, Photo Finish/Island): [r]: B
  • Naked Wolf: Ahum (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Steve Noble & Kristoffer Berre Alberts: Condest Second Yesterday (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Sean Noonan: Memorable Sticks (2015 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: B
  • Angel Olsen: My Woman (2016, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B+(***)
  • Huerco S: For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) (2016, Proibito): [r]: B+(**)
  • Savages: Adore Life (2016, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • SBTRKT: Save Yourself (2016, self-released, EP): [r]: B-
  • Elliott Sharp Aggregat: Dialectrical (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Solange: A Seat at the Table (2016, Saint/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Touché Amoré: Stage Four (2016, Epitaph): [r]: B+(*)
  • Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (2016, Secretly Canadian): [r]: B-
  • YG: Still Brazy (2016, Def Jam): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Vieux Kanté: The Young Man's Harp (2005 [2016], Sterns): [r]: A-

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Borah Bergman: The River of Sounds (2001, Boxholder): B+
  • Roy Campbell: It's Krunch Time (2001, Thirsty Ear): B
  • The Cosmosamatics (2001, Boxholder): B
  • The Cosmosamatics: The Cosmosamatics II (2001, Boxholder): B
  • Joel Futterman/William Parker/Jimmy Williams: Authenticity (1998 [1999], Kali): B-
  • Mat Maneri & Randy Peterson: Light Trigger (2000, No More): B-
  • Mat Maneri: Blue Decco (2000, Thirsty Ear): B+
  • Jemeel Moondoc & William Parker With Hamid Drake: New World Pygmies, Vol. 2 (2000 [2002], Eremite, 2CD): B+
  • The Music Ensemble: The Music Ensemble (1974-75 [2001], Roaratorio): B
  • The Nommonsemble: Life Cycle (2000 [2001], AUM Fidelity): B
  • Matthew Shipp: Symbol Systems (1995, No More): B
  • Alan Silva/Kidd Jordan/William Parker: Emancipation Suite #1 (1999 [2002], Boxholder): C+

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • JD Allen: Americana (Savant)
  • George Cables: The George Cables Songbook (HighNote)
  • Andrew Downing: Otterville (self-released): October 14
  • Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band: ¡Intenso! (Clavo)
  • Fond of Tigers: Uninhabit (Offsesson/Drip Audio)
  • Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz - Volume 3: Three Places in New England (Creative Nation Music): November 4
  • The Matthew Kaminski Quartet: Live at Churchill Grounds (Chicken Coup)
  • Brian Kastan: Roll the Dice on Life (Kastan): January 1
  • Mike LeDonne & the Groover Quartet: That Feelin' (Savant)
  • Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (HighNote)
  • Felix Peikli & Joe Doubleday: It's Showtime! (self-released): advance, October 4
  • Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: I Want That Sound! (Innova): October 28
  • Carol Robbins: Taylor Street (Jazzcats): January 6

Friday, October 07, 2016

Golden Oldies

Finished copying the Jazz Prospecting reviews into a work file that will eventually be folded into the Jazz Consumer Guide book(s). Next obvious step is to move on to Rhapsody Streamnotes -- a much larger task, with a fair amount of redundancy up through 2013 and new stuff thereafter. But instead I wondered whether I might find some old stuff in the Notebook, at least up to when I started collecting my Jazz Prospecting notes in the Jazz Consumer Guide directory. Indeed, I found a few things going back to 2001.

I also waded through a bunch of old writings, some of which I thought worth reprinting here. Like this letter I wrote to the Wichita Eagle back on December 30, 2001, in response to a "puff piece" called "Bush's rookie year a success."

Bush's rookie year a success? Well, he's certainly accomplished a lot: a war that is projected to be endless and that provides Israel and India an excuse to step up their own wars; an economy in the toilet, with rising unemployment; tax cuts to the rich, and bailouts to big business (although not enough to save his buddies at Enron); the end of the surplus that supposedly had been necessary to keep Social Security solvent; an assault on our legal system which has safeguarded our freedom for over 200 years; and not the least bit of attention to skyrocketing health care costs; and, of course, more damage to the environment. I'm just not sure how much Bush success we can really afford.

After quoting the letter, I added:

The list, of course, could have gone on and on, but in tallying it up so far I'm struck by how huge these calamities really are, and how hard it was less than a year ago to predict so much damage so soon. Equally amazing is how little attention people here seem to be paying.

From December 5, 2001 (I'm reading forward by months, but backwards within months, so please bear with this idiosyncrasy):

Old news, but it looks like the anthrax threat which so effectively pushed up US paranoia to grease the skids for Bush's Afghan adventure was done with US government-made anthrax. Without getting into the question of who mailed the anthrax, or why, one conclusion is obvious: the terror would not exist had the US military not developed the weapon. Which is to say that at least in this case terrorism could have been prevented by the simple, sensible policy of governments not developing terrorist weapons.

From December 4, 2001:

Israel's tactic of trying to "motivate" Arafat by bombing his habitual hangouts reminds me of nothing so much as one of those westerns where the sadistic outlaw shouts "dance!" as he shoots around the feet of some schlemiel. . . . Israel's targeting of Arafat comes on the heels of meetings between Sharon and the US government. Whereas the early post-9/11 hope was that the US would moderate Israel in the hopes of gaining much needed Islamic support against Al Qaeda, it now looks like the 9/11 glee evinced by the likes of Peres and Netanyahu has prevailed. Israel indeed has much to teach the US about terrorism: specifically, how terrorist threats provide cover and excuse for the most vicious and reactionary of political agendas.

From December 3, 2001, a point in time I later referred to as the "feel good" days of the American War in Afghanistan, from my comment on a New Yorker piece by Hendrik Hertzberg:

The campaign we're witnessing is the reflex of power provoked. But the methods do little more than remind us that the US's real power doesn't amount to much more than the ability to indiscriminately bomb and wreak havoc, to unleash terror at a pitch that Al Qaeda can only dream about.

In this, the US leadership has managed to reverse the plain truth of the 9/11 attacks, which is that the victims had no relationship to any plausible complaint about the US or how the US power has damaged any other part of the world, and that the terrorists had shown themselves to be utterly immoral in their slaughter of innocents. Hertzberg is right that no one disagrees with this judgment of the terrorists. Where he misses the boat is in not realizing that the same logic that lets the US leaders justify their bombing in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other quarters of the Islamic world, is the selfsame logic that leads terrorists, with their relatively crude weapons, to target US innocents. And while in the US people like Hertzberg are grinning over laundered news about US military success in Afghanistan, the even more hardened government/terrorist factions in Israel have viciously expanded their own power tryst.

Such views were pretty unusual at the time, but still right on the mark today. There are some earlier posts on 9/11 that I skipped over before I noticed the Bush letter. Also music, movies, and more than a few dinner notes.

On October 25, 2002 I lamented "feeling much more over the hill than seems to be the norm for [my age, 52]," and also bemoaned the sudden death of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone and the approaching elections, which would give Bush control of both houses of Congress:

The death of Paul Wellstone and his posse was sad enough, but what is especially sad is how quickly it submerges into our general nervousness over the impending elections. Bush and his administration have behaved so appallingly since their annointment by Antonin Scalia that one expects the Reichstag to catch fire any day now. Principled Democrat opposition is astonishingly hard to find -- I'm not even sure that Wellstone qualified, although it's easy to point to others with far fewer scruples. Yet the most thing that strikes me the strongest is how fragile our lives are, and how arbitrarily history wends around them.

From December 30, 2002, in the buildup to Bush's Iraq misadventure, I found myself arguing not just against "liberal hawks" but hardcore pro-war "leftists":

As for the comments, a special raspberry to Ellen Willis, who argues that the antiwar movement against the US/Vietnam war undermined the "radical democratic left" by turning into an "apolitical moral crusade." It sounds like her crowd won't make that mistake again; indeed, once they seize power their first task will be to purify American power from its present corruption and put it to good use righting the wrongs in the world.

If forced to choose between the leftists and the pacifists, I'd take the pacifists any day. For one thing they have principles that one can practice immediately and build on in everyday life, while the anti-pacifist left can only struggle for power, becoming what they first hated and losing their bearings.

On January 29, 2003, I wrote something about economic policy which I still mean to follow up on some day:

A less obvious approach would be for the government to make strategic investments in the private sector, where the strategy is to try to bring prices down. Such investments rarely happen in the private sector, since the private sector's investment strategy is to maximize profits, and that rarely involves cutting prices. Yet almost every real gain in living standards has come about not by people achieving enough income to buy expensive products but by the products getting cheap enough to be afforded by the masses. Just look around you: how many people would have VCRs if they still cost $1300? Personal computers if they still cost $5000? Further back you have to adjust for inflation, but consider that cars in the 1900's cost thousands of dollars, but Henry Ford cut the price of the Model T to less than $300. Just look around and you'll find many places where prices can conceivably be cut significantly, enough to vastly expand the market and add to people's real standard of living. (Of course, given that I'm surrounded by thousands of compact discs, one example is music; indeed, the very popularity of file sharing shows that the latent demand is there, if only the costs can be slashed -- which of course they can be.)

I contrasted this to more commonplace approaches from the left like stimulating demand by raising the wage floor, giving labor more clout to negotiate wages, and increasing government spending (to and beyond New Deal levels). Of course, I favor all of those things, but I'm offering this as something that's rarely discussed (and when it is, usually in negative terms like greater antitrust vigilance).

On January 23, 2003, I wrote a letter about the coming Iraq War (addressed to Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Getz).

I was unusually tempted to write you after your previous column on the Bush plan to invade Iraq, but didn't get around to it until after seeing your second column. So here it is: thanks for an exceptionally clear-headed and cant-free statement. I really can't see anything but woe coming out of this war, and I can't see any reason for Kansans to accept or support it. Even if every vile thing you hear about Saddam Hussein is true, I can't see Iraq as a threat to anything in my life -- unlike war, which casts a pall over the economy, sucking wealth out to be incinerated overseas. And as for helping those poor Iraqis overthrow their tyrant, God helps those who help themselves. But even short of that some sort of negotiated end to the sanctions would do far more good, and would no doubt be much more appreciated than occupation by an alien power.

But the thing that worries me most has nothing to do with the Iraqis: I'm worried about what war, even in victory, will do to us. An old Kansas named Dwight Eisenhower warned about the growing threat of a "military-industrial complex," but rather than heeding that warning John F. Kennedy concocted his "missile gap" and Lyndon Johnson plunged us hopeless into Vietnam. And while Johnson and his liberal ideologues may have thought that they were bringing American democracy to Vietnam, their methods so undermined them that they became lost, unable to fathom that it's impossible to save a village by destroying it. On the other hand, Nixon and his conservative realpolitiker saw that defeat in Vietnam was inevitable, but tragically escalated the war to remind the world to respect American power. Since then we've been in denial about what the war did not only to Vietnam and Cambodia (millions of dead) but what it did to America, which was to strip away the innocence of our good intentions and to cultivate a cynical, power-craving military/CIA establishment.

We had an opportunity to cut back with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the hawks were saved by Iraq, and propelled forward by Al Qaeda. While the rest of the world has steadfastly moved away from war as a solution to anything, Bush seems to be intoxicated with America's status as the world's sole superpower and the military prowess that dubious claim rests on. But that power is hollow: the power to destroy, but not to build, nor even to protect. And it's harder than ever to clothe that power with anything resembling good intentions. And this seems to be pretty clear to the whole world now, even if some politicians and media moguls opt to play along.

Back in the 1960s there was a slogan in the antiwar movement: "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came." At the time reeked with irony, a flashback to the pro-war parades that launched World War I. (Hardly a more distant past then than Vietnam is now -- my grandfather fought in WWI.) Hopefully this old slogan will lose its irony and become a plain statement of fact this time.

I won't bother to quote it here, but in January 2003 I wrote a post on who got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and who didn't, with what still reads to me like pretty solid analysis. Can't do that any more, but at the time I still knew a thing or two about the sport.

Next post down I referred to Sam Brownback as "our ultra-slimy Senator." From February 19, 2003, I see a post about a plan to keep increases in electric and gas rates secret so as to not tip the utilities' hands to the terrorists.

On March 18, 2003, I wrote the first of many pieces about the Bush War in Iraq as a bad fact and not just a bad idea. Long before I knew that when the time came I'd refer to the Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The post starts out:

Yesterday, March 17, 2003, is another date that will live in infamy. On this date, U.S. President George W. Bush rejected the efforts and council of the United Nations, and the expressed concerns of overwhelming numbers of people throughout the U.S. and all around the world, and committed the U.S. to attack, invade, and occupy Iraq, to prosecute or kill Iraq's government leaders, and to install a new government favorable to U.S. interests.

Nothing I wrote that day requires amendment, although I didn't manage to anticipate many of the subsequent debacles. At least, as this paragraph further down shows, I didn't underestimate the unexpected:

As I write this, we cannot even remotely predict how this war will play out, how many people will die or have their lives tragically transfigured, how much property will be destroyed, how much damage will be done to the environment, what the long-term effects of this war will be on the economy and civilization, both regionally and throughout the world. In lauching his war, Bush is marching blithely into the unknown, and dragging the world with him.

I wrote much more about Iraq in the following days, weeks, months, and years. I'll leave it to you to look that up. But throughout the entire notebook period I feel that I've been pretty consistent, and my key insights have been vindicated time and again. Most key is that the US made a colossal mistake in resorting to military force after 9/11, especially in attacking Afghanistan. Bush bears special blame because he was in the unique position of being able to stop the march to war after 9/11. Of course, he didn't, and arguably couldn't, not just because of the institutional inertia of the American war machine but because of his own peculiar personal and political history.

But also note that I wrote quite a lot about Israel/Palestine during the 18 months from 9/11 to Iraq. That was the peak period of the Israeli counter-intifada when Ariel Sharon destroyed what was left of the previous decade's "Oslo peace process," which had begun with much fanfare at Clinton's White House, but which Bush had no interest in salvaging -- indeed, Bush and Sharon shared a preference for "solving" conflicts by brute force, a corollary which only served to worsen each conflict.

Just for perspective, I'll also pull some music bits from the same period. For instance, on February 9, 2003, I wrote: "Closing in on 8000 records rated." The latest count is 27198, so since that point I've averaged about 1400 records per year, or 27 per week (which, yeah, seems like a pretty typical week). The thing that accelerated those numbers was, first, writing consumer guide columns which got some publicists to send me free music, and second, various streaming and downloading services (especially Rhapsody).

I found my first (21st century) Pazz & Jop ballot filed away on December 20, 2002 (after I had started writing for Michael Tatum at Static Multimedia):

  1. DJ Shadow: The Private Press (MCA) 14
  2. NERD: In Search of . . . (Virgin) 13
  3. Mekons: Oooh! (Out of Our Heads) (Quarterstick) 12
  4. Spaceways Inc.: Version Soul (Atavistic) 12
  5. Youssou N'Dour: Nothing's in Vain (Nonesuch) 10
  6. Cornershop: Handcream for a Generation (Beggars Banquet) 9
  7. Buck 65: Square (Warner Music Canada) 9
  8. Van Morrison: Down the Road (Universal) 8
  9. Spoon: Kill the Moonlight (Merge) 7
  10. Cee-Lo: Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (Arista) 6

As of January 6, 2003, my 2002 A-list was 62 albums long, growing to 77 when I stopped adding records to the file. By contrast, my 2001 A-list only had 35 albums by January 2, 2002 (eventually growing to 53), but I rather prefer my mock 2001 Pazz & Jop ballot -- what I would have sent in had I been invited (which I was not):

  1. The Coup: Party Music (75 Ark) 16
  2. Manu Chao: Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (Virgin) 16
  3. Lucinda Williams: Essence (Lost Highway) 11
  4. David Murray: Like a Kiss That Never Ends (Justin Time) 11
  5. Maria Muldaur: Richland Woman Blues (Stony Plain) 9
  6. Tricky: Blowback (Hollywood) 9
  7. Bob Dylan: Love and Theft (Columbia) 8
  8. Orlando Cachaito Lopez: Cachaito (World Circuit/Nonesuch) 7
  9. The Moldy Peaches: The Moldy Peaches (Rough Trade) 7
  10. Nils Petter Molvaer: Solid Ether (ECM) 6

Note that Molvaer eventually dropped to 13th, with Buck 65: Man Overboard (Metaforensics) slipping into 8th, The Highlife Allstars: Sankofa (Network) 9th, and Shakira: Laundry Service (Epic) 11th.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Daily Log

No Weekend Roundup Sunday. Still, I'd be remiss not to mention the late Shimon Peres. Some links:

Made sort of a Cuban-Mexican dinner the other night. Menu:

  • Fricasé de Pollo: chicken thighs, marinated in sour orange juice and browned, skinned, added to a sofrito (onions, green bell pepper, oregano, cumin) and braised in wine-chicken stock-marinade with small potatoes, green olives, raisins, and balsamic vinegar.
  • Congrí Oriental: small red beans, cooked, then added to a sofrito with thick bacon and fried pork loin, then cooked with long-grain rice.
  • Mexican Street Vendor Corn: minus the stick; ears cut into 2-3 chunks, boiled, then rolled in butter, creme fraiche, grated cotija cheese, and sprinkled with paprika and ancho chile powder.
  • Classic Ceviche: white fish (Chilean sea bass, halibut, orange roughy) cut into chunks and marinated with white onion in lime juice, then mixed with chunked tomatoes, green olives, and avocado, dressed with olive oil, orange juice, and cilantro.
  • Key Lime Pie: in a graham cracker crust, topped with whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar.

The first two recipes came from The Cuban Table; the corn from Gran Cocina Latina; the ceviche from a Rick Bayless recipe found on the net; the key lime pie from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. I juiced the limes I zested, but otherwise used bottled juice (including bottled key lime juice for the pie). I rarely bother with fresh squeezing citrus even though every recipe on earth calls for it.

All came out well, although we had a lot of leftovers and they didn't hold up especially well. I threw away my first pie because the sweetened condensed milk had turned brown and it wound up looking like a pumpkin pie. The second pie was just spectacular, the best I've ever had.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 27198 [27183] rated (+15), 390 [381] unrated (+9).

Low rated count. Best explanation I can offer is that I took big chunks from a couple days to work on a drainage project in the back yard, and also spent a day cooking for friends (Mexican recipes for ceviche and corn-on-the-cobb rolled in cotija, Cuban recipes for red beans & rice and a chicken fricasee, fried plantains, and key lime pie). But also many of the records below took a lot of time: the three Springsteen titles (leftover from last week) total seven discs, and at least five of the others got three or more plays (up to six). Actually, when I went to close the week out last night, I only had 14 new rated records -- added Danny Brown and John Lindberg today (two of those multiplay albums).

Or maybe I've just been bummed. Seems like everything is getting hard these days. Aside from the physical wear and tear, I had to deal with a server outage last week -- one of those things that periodically make me wonder whether it's worth the trouble to pay for the damn thing. Even more tedious, I've been collecting reviews from Recycled Goods for possible use in my book-in-progress, Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century: A Consumer Guide. Took me a couple seconds to concatenate 115 columns (427k words) and about three weeks to scroll through them and pick out the jazz reviews. I added the post-2000 records to a working file which currently has about 5000 reviews to add to the 21st century book. Still have Jazz Prospecting (110k words) and Rhapsody Streamnotes (641k words) to go, and I might as well do that before I start integrating all that material into the book.

Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to open a second book file, Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century: A (Haphazard and Woefully Incomplete) Consumer Guide, and stuffed most of my Recycled Goods pre-2000 jazz reviews into it (currently 136 pages). You can look at a PDF here. I haven't set up a download page for it. It's not even a real project at this point, just a repository.

I will say, though, that by the time I got through the Recycled Goods columns, I was wishing I had set up a similar file for other things, especially African music. The database shows I have 703 rated African (and Middle Eastern, mostly from North Africa) albums. That's a fair start toward a record guide, but barely. I figure Robert Christgau would be in a better position to do a Consumer Guide to African Music: his African Set List adds up to 613 albums, but it looks like I haven't updated the list links since sometime in 2003 (max artist id = 5394 (of 7331), max album id = 11171 (of 16849). A quick search for albums with higher artist ids or VA albums with higher album ids generated a list of 2185 albums, but the actual number that should be added to the set list is probably less than 200. (If anyone wants to sort them out, please let me know.)

Christgau's review of Drive-By Truckers is here. He also flagged the Handome Family's Unseen as a HM. For what little it's worth, I had Unseen as an A- last week.

New records rated this week:

  • Beekman: Vol. 02 (2015 [2016], Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (2016, Warp): [r]: A-<./li>
  • Dogbrain: Blue Dog (2016, Dogbrain Music, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Drive-By Truckers: American Band (2016, ATO): [r]: A-
  • Earprint: Earprint (2016, Endectomorph Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Five in Orbit: Tribulus Terrestris (2015 [2016], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You (2015 [2016], Firehouse 12): [cd]: B+(***)
  • John Lindberg BC3: Born in an Urban Ruin (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Minim Experiment: Dark Matter (2016, ForTune): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Moonbow: When the Sleeping Fish Turn Red and the Skies Start to Sing in C Major I Will Follow You to the End (2016, ILK): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Parker Abbott Trio: Elevation (2016, self-released): [cd]: B
  • John Scofield: Country for Old Men (2016, Impulse!): [r]: B+(*)
  • Silva/Rasmussen/Solberg: Free Electric Band (2014 [2016], ForTune): [bc]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Bruce Springsteen: The Promise (1977-78 [2010], Columbia, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bruce Springsteen: Tracks (1972-95 [1998], Columbia, 4CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bruce Springsteen: 18 Tracks (1972-99 [1999], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Stefan Aeby Trio: To the Light (Intakt)
  • Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann (Clean Feed)
  • Christiane Bopp/Jean-Luc Petit: L'Écorce et la Salive (Fou)
  • John Butcher & Ståle Liavik Solberg: So Beautiful, It Starts to Rain (Clean Feed)
  • Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moving Still (Pi): October 15
  • Friends & Neighbors: What's Wrong? (Clean Feed)
  • Luke Hendon: Silk & Steel (self-released)
  • John Lindberg Raptor Trio: Western Edges (Clean Feed)
  • Jacam Manricks: Chamber Jazz (self-released): October 28
  • Delfeayo Marsalis presents the Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Make America Great Again! (Troubadour Jass)
  • Jørgen Mathisen/Christian Meaas Svendsen/Andreas Wildhagen: Momentum (Clean Feed)
  • Mark Murphy: Slip Away (Mini Movie): October 25
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Warsaw Concert (Intakt)
  • Soul Basement feat. Jay Nemor: What We Leave Behind (ITI)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Music Week

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old music rated this week:

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

Grade changes:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Weekend Roundup

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

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

Some scattered links this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The other paragraph I wanted to quote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Miscellaneous election links:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Streamnotes (September 2016)

Pick up text here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old music rated this week:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Daily Log

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Weekend Roundup

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

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

Some scattered links this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Miscellaneous election links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Looks Like She Blew It

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

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

I also replied to myself:

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

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

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

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

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

Laura retweeted this from Connor Kilpatrick:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would appreciate any feedback on the book project.

New records rated this week:

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

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

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

Old music rated this week:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Weekend Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some scattered links this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Miscellaneous election links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Paul Krugman cited this piece, adding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, September 08, 2016

    Daily Log

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

    Monday, September 05, 2016

    Enough Already

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    New records rated this week:

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

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

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

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

    Saturday, September 03, 2016

    Daily Log

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

    My letter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, August 29, 2016

    Music Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    New records rated this week:

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

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

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

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

       Mar 2001