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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30736 [30692] rated (+44), 264 [271] unrated (-7).

Got so jammed up Monday I didn't get a word of this written on its appointed day, but I did manage to move the records from the scratch file and start on next week while I was falling behind. One task was to format Robert Christgau's latest XgauSez question and answer session, which came out in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Another was counting ballots for the 13th Annual Jazz Critics Poll (56 in at present, deadline Sunday, December 9, 7pm). I can't show you any of that, but I've also been counting EOY lists for my EOY Aggregate, which you can track the progress of. Although lists started to appear before Thanksgiving, there wasn't much until December 1 (or the Monday after).

It occurs to me I should probably nail down my Jazz ballot now, rather than wait for the end of the week. Of course, my real list remains subject to change. If the past is any guide, I'll probably find a new A- record within 2-3 days, and something to nudge into the ballot territory in 10-15 days.

New Music:

  1. Joakim Milder/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Mathias Landraeus/Filip Augustson/Fredrik Rundkvist: The Music of Anders Garstedt (Moserobie)
  2. Peter Kuhn Trio: Intention (FMR)
  3. Kira Kira: Bright Force (Libra)
  4. Rich Halley 3: The Literature (Pine Eagle)
  5. Rodrigo Amado: A History of Nothing (Trost)
  6. James Brandon Lewis/Chad Taylor: Radiant Imprints (OFF) **
  7. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse!) **
  8. Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg: Dirt . . . and More Dirt (Pi)
  9. Kevin Sun: Trio (Ectomorph Music)
  10. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Awase (ECM) **


  1. Martin Küchen & Landaeus Trio: Vinyl (2013-14, Moserobie)
  2. Alexander Von Schlippenbach/Aki Takase: Live at Café Amores (1995, NoBusiness)
  3. Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto (1977, Widow's Taste, 3CD)
  4. Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard (Palmetto)


  1. Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine: The Poetry of Jazz (Origin)


  1. Kevin Sun: Trio (Ectomorph Music)

Latin Jazz:

  1. David Virelles: Igbó Alákorin (The Singer's Groove) Vol I & II (Pi)

You may notice that the Reissues/Historical list doesn't match the EOY file. I decided to only include records that I have physical copies of -- partly to credit the few good publicist who actually still send me eligible records, and partly because some of the records on the current list (like the expanded Sonny Rollins Way Out West and the reduced Anthony Braxton Quartet (Willisau) 1991 Studio) are items I was already pretty familiar with. Also, note that only three Reissue/Historical albums will be counted. I went to four in case the judge decides that the Küchen album is too recent (although it is literally a reissue of recent vinyl releases).

[PS: I finally decided to treat Küchen/Landaeus as new and slot it at number 10, bumping Nik Bärtsch's Ronin from the top ten. So, turns out my blog-posted ballot didn't last 30 minutes before I had a change of heart/mind.]

I published Streamnotes (November 2018) last Friday, so most of this week's batch of newly rated records got written up there. I added one more jazz A- in the two days after Streamnotes (Flavio Zanuttini), and I've actually added one more in the two days between when I ended last week and as I'm writing now (Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet's Polka). My current division of A-lists is 53 Jazz vs. 47 Non-Jazz, so it's tilted a bit toward jazz over the last couple weeks.

I was hoping to get a couple of technical things set up so I could announce them this week, but didn't get around to doing the necessary work:

  • I plan on setting up an RSS feed, like I did for Robert Christgau's website. Same idea: manually manage a list of new/updated files (checking against a time-sorted list of files), and write a bit of code to format that list as RSS 2.0. This could just include the faux blog files -- that's certainly the piece that needs RSS exposure. Shouldn't take more than a couple hours to set up at this point.

  • I want to add a question-and-answer feature, like I did for Robert Christgau with XgauSez. It will take a couple hours to set up a special email account, add the captcha code, port the question form and the Q&A reader, and add some links. I'd also like to add some new features, like a keyword search.

  • I want to set up an email list (based on GNU Mailman) for people who would like to offer advice (technical but also user) on my various website projects (especially and, and a future music website, to be hosted at I've often found myself wishing I could tap into a pool of technical help, as well as to get comments on user design questions, especially as I undertake development projects, like the recent RSS feeds, and more importantly a redesign of the Christgau website. I expect this to be set up shortly after I post this, but it will (at least for the time being) be a private list, so if you want to join (to participate or maybe just to lurk) please send me email. Most likely I will subscribe you then, and you will receive email with an account password (which you can change). You can use your password to change your options (such as to elect to receive a daily digest instead of every email message as it's sent), or to unsubscribe. You may also at any time ask me to unsubscribe you.

So, one (mostly) down. The others shouldn't be too hard to get working in the next week. Also managed to get a stub set up over at Terminal Zone, so I can start hanging things there. Still, most of this coming week will go to tabulating ballots and collecting lists. I guess the latter qualifies as my favorite waste of time. At some point I need to stop and get onto other work, but for now, 'tis the season for it.

New records rated this week:

  • Juhani Aaltonen/Raoul Björkenheim: Awakening (2016 [2018], Eclipse): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tom Abbs & Frequency Response: Hawthorne (2018, Engine Studios): [r]: B+(***)
  • Anderson .Paak: Oxnard (2018, Aftermath/12 Tone Music): [r]: A-
  • Brom: Sunstroke (2017 [2018], Trost): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh: Sparrow Nights (2018, Trost): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Dustin Carlson: Air Ceremony (2017 [2018], Out of Your Head): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics (2018, Smalltown Supersound): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chicago Edge Ensemble: Insidious Anthem (2018, Trost): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Lando Chill: Black Ego (2018, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(*)
  • Zack Clarke: Mesophase (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Collective Order: Collective Order Vol. 3 (2018, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Francesco Cusa & the Assassins Meets Duccio Bertini: Black Poker (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Drone Trio [Evelyn Davis/Fred Frith/Phillip Greenlief]: Lantskap Logic (2013 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • James Francies: Flight (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B
  • Full Blast: Rio (2016 [2018], Trost): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Marquis Hill: Modern Flows Vol. 2 (2018, Black Unlimited Music Group): [r]: B
  • Khruangbin: Con Todo El Mundo (2018, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(*)
  • Frank Kimbrough: Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (2017 [2018], Sunnyside, 6CD): [r]: A-
  • Roy Kinsey: Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey (2018, Not Normal): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Simone Kopmajer: Spotlight on Jazz (2018, Lucky Mojo): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Andrew Lamb Trio: The Casbah of Love (2018, Birdwatcher): [r]: B+(**)
  • Low: Double Negative (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kirk Knuffke/Steven Herring: Witness (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B
  • Thomas Marriott: Romance Language (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joakim Milder/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Mathias Landraeus/Filip Augustson/Fredrik Rundkvist: The Music of Anders Garstedt (2016 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: A
  • Father John Misty: God's Favorite Customer (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: B
  • Fredrik Nordström: Needs (2018, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Miles Okazaki: Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonios Monk (2018, self-released, 6CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Caterina Palazzi/Sudoku Killer: Asperger (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charlie Porter: Charlie Porter (2018, Porter House): [r]: B+(*)
  • Quoan [Brian Walsh/Daniel Rosenboom/Sam Minaie/Mark Ferber]: Fine Dining (2017 [2018], Orenda): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Bruno Parrinha/Luís Lopes/Vasco Trillo: Lithos (2017 [2018], Creative Sources): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Renee Rosnes: Beloved of the Sky (2017 [2018], Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Scofield: Combo 66 (2018, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sleep: The Sciences (2018, Third Man): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marcus Strickland Twi-Life: People of the Sun (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B
  • Trio Heinz Herbert: Yes (2018, Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Way Ahead: Bells Ghosts and Other Saints (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mars Williams: Mars Williams Presents an Ayler Xmas (2017, Soul What): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Mars Williams: Mars Williams Presents an Ayler Xmas: Volume 2 (2018, Soul What): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Yoko Yamaoka: Diary 2005-2015: Yuko Yamaoka Plays the Music of Satoko Fujii (2018, Libra, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Flavio Zanuttini Opacipapa: Born Baby Born (2018, Clean Feed): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Boneshaker: Unusual Words (2012 [2014], Soul What): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Billie Holiday: Songs for Distingué Lovers (1957 [1958], Verve): [r]: A-
  • Terry Pollard: Terry Pollard (1955, Bethlehem): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sam Broverman: A Jewish Boy's Christmas (Brovermusic)
  • Scheen Jazzorchester/Eyolf Dale: Commuter Report (Losen)

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Any week since Trump became president, spend a day or two and you'll come up with a fairly long list of pieces worth citing, and the sense that you're still missing much of what is going on. For instance, my usual sources on Israel/Palestine have yet to catch up with this: Josef Federman: Israeli Police Recommend Indicting Netanyahu on Bribery Charges. Seems like that should be at least as big a story as Putin and Saudi crown prince high-five at G20 summit. But this is all I came up with for the week.

I probably should have written standalone pieces on GWH Bush and on Jill Lepore's These Truths, but wound up squeezing some notes here for future reference. Under Bush, I wondered how many articles I'd have to read -- critical as well as polite or even adulatory -- before someone would bring up what I regard as the critical juncture in his period as president: his invasion of Panama. I lost track, but in 20-30 pieces I looked at, none broached the topic. I had to search specifically before I came up with this one: Greg Grandin: How the Iraq War Began in Panama. When Bush became president, people still talked about a "Vietnam syndrome" which inhibited American politicians and their generals from starting foreign wars. Bush is generally credited as having "kicked the Vietnam syndrome," with two aggressive wars, first in Panama, then in Iraq. Bush and the media conspired to paint those wars as glorious successes, the glow from which enabled Clinton, Bush II, and Obama to launch many more wars: Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq (again), Syria, as well as dozens of more marginal operations. Woodrow Wilson once claimed to be fighting "a war to end all wars." Bush's legacy was more modest: a war to kindle many more wars.

Oddly enough, the story below that links up most directly to Bush's legacy of war is the one about the increasing rate of premature deaths (suicides and overdoses). That's what you get from decades of nearly continuous war since Bush invaded Panama in 1989. The other contributing factor has been increasing income inequality, which has followed a straight line ever since 1981, when the Reagan/Bush administration slashed taxes on the rich.

Recently, we've seen many naive people praise Bush for, basically, not being as flat-out awful as his Republican successors. They've done this without giving the least thought to how we got to where we are now. The least they could do is check out Kevin Phillips' 2004 book: American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.

Some scattered links this week:

Friday, November 30, 2018

Streamnotes (November 2018)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Thinking again about ripping out and replacing the floor drain in the basement.

Prices for tool rental at Home Depot (per day):

  • Makita HM0870C 11 LB Demolition Hammer, 11 lbs: $53. Retail $449.
  • Makita HM1203C 20 LB Demolition Hammer, 20.3 lbs: $60.
  • Makita HM1214C 27 LB Demolition Hammer, 27.1 lbs: $66. Retail $884.37.
  • Makita HM1307CB Small Breaker (35 LB): $69. Retail: $882.84
  • Makita HM1810 Breaker (70 LB), 71.3 lbs: $86. Retail $1499.
  • Hilti 3495262 PRO Breaker, 66 lbs: $102.
  • Makita 4114 Electric Concrete Saw 14": $53. Retail $649.99.

Some alternative hammers/breakers:

  • XtremepowerUS Heavy Duty Electric 2200 Watt Demolition Jac Hammer: $122.95

The guy in the store suggested using a 16lb sledge hammer. Home Depot has a Husky 16lb in stock for $44.98. Others can be ordered up to $68.39 (Nupla). Home Depot also has a 10lb Husy for $32.98. Amazon has 16lb sledge hammers from $40.99 (Jacson) to $64.63 (Urrea).

I've also been interested in a small circular saw. These mostly work with 4.5-inch blades:

  • Worx Worksaw 4.5" Compact Circular Saw WX429L: $53.82.
  • Rockwell RK3440K Versacut 4.0 Amp w/laser guide, 3-blade kit: $92.41.
  • Rockwell RK3441K 4.5" 5.0 Amps: $79.00.
  • Genesis GC5545SC 5.8 Amp 4.5" w/24T Carbide-Tipped Blade: $49.99.
  • Makita SH02R1 12V cordless 3.375" circular saw: $129.99.
  • Rotorazer Platinum Compact Circular Saw Set: $179.00.

There are similar saws intended for masonry work, which can probably cut concrete (but not very deep):

  • DeWalt DWC860W 4.375-inch Wet/Dry Masonry Saw: $136.87.
  • Alpha AWS-125 5" Stone Cutter: $223.02.
  • Skilsaw SPT79-00 15-Amp MEDUSAW Worm Drive Saw for Concrete, 7': $339.95. There's also a "walk behind" version for $535.97.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Daily Log

Stumbled across a link to a PDF of an early draft of my Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century, hosted by Zapdoc. I didn't put it there. Author is listed as Clementine Jones.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30692 [30635] rated (+57), 271 [293] unrated (-22).

Cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my nephew, his girlfriend, and a few scattered friends who didn't have other engagements. Figured I'd pick off a few French recipes I had missed on my birthday. I figured the roast bird could simply be a chicken, especially since I hadn't done any chicken on birthday. I repeated the potatoes (gratin dauphinois) and chopped chicken liver (but none of the other spreads). For new dishes, I had carrots (cooked with ginger and cardamom), green beans (with pancetta), tian (zucchini and tomato slices roasted on top of onion), and a salad (frisee aux lardons -- I had a nice-sized chunk of slab bacon left over, and mixed a little liver into the vinaigrette). For dessert, I made three pies: sweet potato, chocolate pecan, and key lime. Probably should have offered ice cream, but just whipped some cream. (In fact, had so much cream left over, I probably should have made ice cream.) Had a couple bake-it-yourself baguettes. Figured I needed them for the liver and croutons for the frisee, but turned out that butter on bread was popular. Had I realized that, I could have mixed up an herbed/spiced butter spread.

Thanksgiving probably cost me two days of listening, but I started the week strong, and finished it stronger. Still, that should have yielded something like 40 records. However, when I ran the numbers, the increase was less than the list, so I made a pass through the unrated albums list and a dozen more I had missed. And by the time I straightened that out, I had rated some more. In the end it seemed easier to get current than to respect yesterday's cutoff.

I've started collecting EOY lists. Thus far there's not a lot to go on: some long lists from UK record stores, UK pubs like Mojo and Uncut, a couple of metal-oriented lists, and Paste -- closer to what I expect from major US lists, although still pretty shy of hip-hop. I've retained some data from mid-year lists, which helps balance out the early skews. At the moment, the top five are Janelle Monáe, Courtney Barnett, Rolling Blackouts CF, Kamasi Washington, and Cardi B. Without the mid-year boost, Barnett would be leading Monáe, and Cardi B wouldn't be in the top 100.

I'm also tabulating Jazz Critics Poll ballots. Can't share any of that with you yet, but I have about 20 ballots counted at this point. That info is pushing me to check out lots of albums, although my priority this and next week will be to catch up with my own CD queue.

Meanwhile, I've done a preliminary sort on my own Best of 2018 lists, split for Jazz and Non-Jazz I'll keep adding to these well into the future.

Also, expect a Streamnotes by the end of the month. I guess that's like Friday. I have a pretty decent-sized draft file already.

New records rated this week:

  • Ambrose Akinmusire: Origami Harvest (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Big Bold Back Bone: Emerge (2015 [2018], Wide Ear): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Francesco Cafiso: We Play for Tips (2017 [2018], EFLAT/Incipit): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Chills: Snow Bound (2018, Fire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Church: Desperate Man (2018, EMI Nashville): [r]: A-
  • Roxy Coss: The Future Is Female (2018, Posi-Tone): [r]: B
  • Mário Costa: Oxy Patina (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger: Punkt. Vrt. Plastik (2016 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Open Mike Eagle: What Happens When I Try to Relax (2018, Auto Reverse, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Gil Evans Orchestra: Hidden Treasures Monday Nights: Volume One (2016-17 [2018], Bopper Spock Suns Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Marianne Faithfull: Negative Capability (2018, BMG): [r]: B+(***)
  • Alan Ferber Big Band: Jigsaw (2016 [2017], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Birgitta Flick Quartet: Color Studies (2018, Double Moon): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gabriela Friedli Trio: Areas (2015 [2018], Leo): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Friesen: My Faith, My Life (2017-18 [2018], Origin, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Claus Hřjensgĺrd/Emanuele Mariscalco/Nelide Bendello: Hřbama (2017 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Rocco John Iacovone/Jack DeSalvo/Mark Hagan/Phil Sirois/Tom Cabrera: Connoisseurs of Chaos IV (2018, Woodshedd): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Jentsch Group No Net: Topics in American History (2016 [2018], Blue Schist): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ingrid Laubrock: Contemporary Chaos Practices: Two Works for Orchestra With Soloists (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Robbie Lee & Mary Halvorson: Seed Triangular (2018, New Amsterdam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ravyn Lenae: Crush (2018, Atlantic, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • LFU: Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly (2015 [2018], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
  • Carol Liebowitz/Birgitta Flick: Malita-Malika (2017 [2018], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Maisha: There Is a Place (2018, Brownswood): [r]: B+(*)
  • Christian McBride: Christian McBride's New Jawn (2017 [2018], Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jorge Nila: Tenor Time (Tribute to the Tenor Masters) (2018 [2019], Ninjazz): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Evan Parker/Eddie Prevost: Tools of Imagination (2017 [2018], Fundacja Sluchaj): [bc]: B+(*)
  • William Parker: Flower in a Stained-Glass Window/The Blinking of the Ear (2018, Centering/AUM Fidelity, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hanna Paulsberg Concept & Magnus Broo: Daughter of the Sun (2018, Odin): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Ken Peplowski Big Band: Sunrise (2017 [2018], Arbors): [r]: B
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Mark Feldman/Jason Hwang: Strings 1 (2018, Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Hank Roberts/Ned Rothenberg: Strings 2 (2018, Leo): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rich Rosenthal/Jack DeSalvo/Tom Cabrera: Connoisseurs of Chaos (2018, Woodshedd): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Dave Sewelson: Music for a Free World (2017 [2018], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • Julian Siegel Quartet: Vista (2018, Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jay Thomas With the Oliver Groenewald Newnet: I Always Knew (2018, Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
  • The David Ullman Group: Sometime (2018, Little Sky): [cd]: B
  • Piet Verbist: Suite Réunion (2018, Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • David Virelles: Igbó Alákorin (The Singer's Groove) Vol I & II (2017 [2018], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Trevor Watts & RGG: RAFA (2018, Fundacja Sluchaj): [bc]: B+(***)

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

  • Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard (1997 [2018], Palmetto): [cd]: A-
  • Jazz at the Philharmonic [Oscar Peterson/Illinois Jacquet/Herb Ellis]: Blues in Chicago 1955 (Verve): [r]: A-
  • The Gene Krupa Quartet: Live 1966 (1966 [2018], Dot Time Legends): [r]: B+(*)
  • Thelonioous Monk: Mřnk (1963 [2018], Gearbox): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Louis Prima/Keely Smith With Sam Butera and the Witnesses: The Wildest Shoe at Tahoe (1957, Capitol): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger: Punkt. Vrt. Plastik (Intakt)
  • Jentsch Group No Net: Topics in American History (Blue Schist): November 30
  • Ingrid Laubrock: Contemporary Chaos Practices: Two Works for Orchestra With Soloists (Intakt)
  • Roberto Magris: World Gardens (JMood): December 1
  • Dave Sewelson: Music for a Free World (FMR)
  • Trio Heinz Herbert: Yes (Intakt)
  • Voicehandler: Light From Another Light (Humbler)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Seems like it's been a slow news week, probably because the holiday both cut into the political world's capacity for misdeeds and my (and others') attention span. I'm also preoccupied with music poll matters. Still, figured I should at least briefly go through the motions, if only to keep the record reasonably intact.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: House Democrats don't need a leader, they need someone to represent them on TV: I see two basic knocks on Pelosi as Speaker: one is the sense of failure with the 2010 and subsequent losses; another is that in many parts of the country Republicans have been able to use her (so-called radical agenda) to scare voters. (This was painfully clear in my own district, which voted solidly Republican, despite an exceptional Democratic candidate.) As far as I can tell, Pelosi is moderate-left by national standards, but her district in San Francisco could easily support someone further left. I suspect that most Democrats would prefer for her to step aside and let someone else (younger and more charismatic) take over, but as it is the only challengers are coming from the right -- not because the caucus wants to move right but because some winners in close districts pledged to vote against her. Yglesias finds a third knock against her: that she's not very effective on TV either representing her party or parrying against Trump. He suggests designating someone else to take the publicity role, limiting her to in-house strategizing (which she's arguably good at). I'm reminded here that in Britain they have an interesting system where the opposition party designates a "shadow cabinet" -- one member for each cabinet position, so there's always a recognized point person for whatever issues crop up. A big advantage there is that it would open up more prominent roles for more people. Might even be . . . more democratic. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • There's nothing "America First" about Trump's Saudi policy: Worth including not just the links but the linked-to titles in this quote:

      President Donald Trump must be giving thanks this morning for press coverage of his extraordinarily inappropriate statement on the murder of dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi [ Zack Beauchamp: Trump's Khashoggi statement is a green light for murder].

      Trump has secretive sources of income and murky financial ties to Saudi interests [ America deserves to know how much money Trump is getting from the Saudi government], and keeps touting entirely bogus statistics about the jobs impact of arms sales to Saudi Arabia [ Trump says selling weapons to Saudi Arabia will create a lot of jobs. That's not true.]. Nevertheless, much of the coverage of his statement simply takes at face value his assertions that his handling of this issue is driven by American interests -- rather than by his own self-interest or the interests of his donors in the defense contracting industry.

      Yglesias argues that "America has a strong interest in curtailing murder." I agree that America should have such an interest, but can't think of many examples of pre-Trump US governments doing anything like that. The US continued to support Pinochet when his agents gunned down a Chilean dissenter in the streets of Washington -- probably the most similar incident, but far from unique. The US has long and lavishly supported Israel's targeted assassination programs -- the model for America's even more extensive "drone warfare" program. More generally, the US supported "death squads" in Latin America and elsewhere, as well as providing intelligence, training, and weapons to "security forces" -- Indonesia's slaughter of 500,000 "communists" is one of the more striking examples. Then there are arms sales in support of aggressive wars, such as the one Saudi Arabia is waging in Yemen. Or you can point to the US refusal to support the International Criminal Court. You can argue that Trump is even worse than past US presidents in this regard -- both for his tasteless embrace of flagrant killers like Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and for his slavish devotion to "allies" like Saudi Arabia and Israel -- but he's mostly just following past practices (even if he seems to be enjoying them too much).

      The more interesting question is why has the murder of Khashoggi different? I don't have time to trot my theories out there, but even if anti-Islam bigotry is part of the equation, the basic realization that governments shouldn't go around killing their dissidents is one more people should embrace more consistently.

    • The time Nancy Pelosi saved Social Security: Credits Pelosi with blocking the privatization scheme GW Bush claimed as his mandate after winning the 2004 election. I never thought the scheme had a chance, because I knew they could never afford to bridge the gap between pay-as-you-go and funded schemes (even a far-from-adequately funded one). But sure, give Pelosi credit for her blanket rejection of all Republican schemes. A big problem that Democrats had all through the Reagan-Bush-Bush years has been their callow willingness to accept (and legitimize) conservative talking points, so it's good to point to examples where they didn't, and saved themselves. Also on Pelosi: Ella Nilsen: Why House progressives have Nancy Pelosi's back.

    • The 2016 election really was dominated by a controversy over emails. Does a good job of summing up the view that media and ultimately voter perception of the 2016 election was decisively dominated by the "email scandal" -- the Gallup Daily Tracking word cloud shows this graphically, but there are many other telling details. Why is a question that remains unanswered. Is it really just as simple as the endless repetition -- by the partisan right-wing media, echoed by mainstream media that covered propaganda as news -- or was there such underlying dislike and distrust of Clinton that let such a trivial mistake (at worst) signify some kind of deeply disturbing character flaw? And if so, why didn't Trump's own obvious character flaws disqualify him? One thing well established by polling is that both candidates were viewed negatively by most people, yet when forced to choose, a decisive number of Americans opted to rid themselves of Clinton to tip the election to the equally (or more, but not more deeply) disliked Trump.

    • The Beto O'Rourke 2020 buzz, explained: "hey, losing a high-profile Senate race was good enough for Abraham Lincoln.".

  • Arthur C Brooks: How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart: Head of American Enterprise Institute, pushing a Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other, blaming America's numerous woes on cultural factors. I think that may have some superficial validity, but only after taking a hard look at inequality, powerlessness, and perpetual war.

  • Matthew Choi: Trump hits back at Chief Justice Roberts, escalating an extraordinary exchange: Roberts is no hero for a judicial system and sense of justice that transcends party and respects all people, but he reminds us that many conservatives (and, by the way, most liberals) at least go through the motions of wanting to be seen in that light. Trump clearly sees no point in looking beyond political tags -- in part, no doubt, because his grasp of actual issues is so shallow, but but mostly because he's convinced that naked, blatant partisanship gives him an out from any charges of malfeasance (just blame "fake news" and your fans will rally behind you). Trump took the same tack in attacking Admiral Bill McRaven after McRaven had the temerity to note that Trump's ravings about the "fake news" media constitute a threat to American democracy. Trump's first thought was that he could dismiss McRaven by calling him a "Hillary supporter." Clearly, he relishes another presidential campaign against Clinton -- probably figuring she's the only Democrat he can still whip.

  • Aaron Gell: The Unbearable Rightness of Seth Abramson: On a blogger who has deeply investigated the whole Trump-Russia thing, publishing the book: Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America.

  • William D Hartung: America's Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost $5.9 Trillion: "Not to mention 240,000 civilian deaths and 21 million displaced. And yet a congressional commission is urging yet more money for a bloated Pentagon." Also: Murtaza Hussain: It's Time for America to Reckon With the Staggering Death Toll of the Post-9/11 Wars, which puts the death toll twice as high ("at least 480,000 people").

  • Rebecca Jennings: The death of small businesses in big cities, explained: Interview with Jeremiah Moss.

  • Jen Kirby: Theresa May and the EU have a Brexit deal. What's next?

  • Andrew Kragie: Trump's New Kavanaugh for the US Court of Appeals: Meet Neomi Rao.

  • Mark Landler: In Extraordinary Statement, Trump Stands With Saudis Despite Khashoggi Killing. Also: Karoun Demirjian: More Republicans challenge Trump on defense of Saudi crown prince.

  • Dara Lind: Trump's reportedly cutting a deal to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico.

  • Bill McKibben: How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet. Also: Robinson Meyer: A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday; and David Sirota: Big Oil v the planet is the fight of our lives. Democrats must choose a side.

  • Anna North: How Trump helped inspire a wave of strict new abortion laws.

  • Daniel Politi: US Agents Fire Tear Gas at Migrants Approaching the Border From Mexico.

  • Robert Reich: Break up Facebook (and while we're at it, Google, Apple and Amazon): The sheer size of these four companies, each built to dominate major niches on the internet, certainly suggests some sort of antitrust remedy. (I'm less concerned here with physical products -- still most of what Apple produces, but tightly interwoven with their network products, even more so for Google, Amazon, and we might as well include Microsoft in this list.) On the other hand, given how important network effects are to each of these businesses, they're more than a little like natural monopolies, which occur in markets that are never able to support healthy competition. The difference is that utilities and such are most efficient with common infrastructure shared by all customers, the winning vendor for services like Facebook (and Amazon) is inevitably the first one with the widest network. The problem with such monopolies is less the usual problem of restricting competition than abuse of power. Moreover, where product monopolies tend to abuse power by extorting high prices and/or delivering poor service, services like Facebook and Google make their profits by exploiting their user base (by capturing and reselling private information). It may not have been obvious before Facebook that there was a public interest in social media, and indeed one might never have developed had customers directly had to bear the full development costs, but by now it's pretty clear that: a) people want social media; b) that the market will be captured by a single vendor; and c) that the profit motive will lead that vendor to take advantage of and harm users. There is an obvious solution to problems like this, and it isn't antitrust (not that there aren't cases here for antitrust and/or other forms of regulation). The solution is to build publicly funded non-profit utilities to provide web services that are not subject to profit-seeking exploitation.

  • Dylan Scott: Bernie Sanders's new plan to bring down drug prices, briefly explained: Better than nothing, I suppose, but this still assumes the necessity of patents to incentivize profit-seeking companies to develop new drugs. The main thing it does is to provide some limits on how much drug companies can extort from customers and their insurers, and even then depends on generics based on patent licensing to introduce a bit of competition. A more immediately effective scheme would allow importation of drugs from a much wider range of countries, ideally including ones not beholden to US patent laws. (A compromise might be to allow a fixed import tax to be claimed by the patent holder.) Better still would be to eliminate patents altogether, and do research and development through publicly-funded "open source" institutions around the world.

  • Dylan Scott: The Mississippi Senate runoff, Dems' last chance for one more 2018 upset, explained: "Mike Espy could become the first black senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction." We, and for that matter, the long-suffering people of Mississippi, should be so lucky. Cindy Hyde-Smith tweet: "Did you know extremists like Cory Booker are campaigning for Mike Espy here in MS?" Isn't Booker the guy with all the big bank money behind him? Who's the real extremist here?

  • Somini Sengupta: The World Needs to Quit Coal. Why Is It So Hard?

  • Emily Stewart: Ivanka Trump's personal email excuse shows she only wants to seem competent some of the time: "She violated the rule by using a personal email but wants you to believe she didn't know better."

  • Kaitlyn Tiffany: Wouldn't it be better if self-checkout just died? A personal pet peeve. I, for one, pretty much never use the systems, for lots of reasons, which start with I don't like machines lecturing me. But then I guess I've never been good with authority figures, let alone fascism.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30635 [30591] rated (+44), 293 [300] unrated (-7).

Finished Weekend Roundup at a decent (for me) hour Sunday evening, figuring I'd knock this out on time too. However, the end-of-the-year crunch hit me hard over the weekend, so I have quite a bit of material to cover here. I'll try to be brief (and will probably postpone whatever I can).

First thing is that Francis Davis will be running his annual Jazz Critics Poll again this year, with NPR picking up the tab (such as it is) and bragging rights. I've been hosting the ballots and providing complete results since 2009, and will do that again. But the difference this year is that I'll be doing the ongoing tabulation, so I need to get set up early this year (like right now) instead of waiting for Francis to dump everything in my lap a day or two after the voting deadline (December 9). Francis always urges early submission of ballots, and I have three waiting in my mailbox at the moment. Sometime over the next couple days I'll set up my framework and start counting ballots. Good news for me is that it will spread the work out, but ultimately that will add up to quite a bit more work. It certainly ruins any hopes I had of driving off to see family in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

At this point I have very little idea of the contenders -- not even much sense of my own list. But at least I've cobbled together two very tentative lists: as has been my custom, one for Jazz and one for Non-Jazz. First thing I must say is that I was very surprised to see that both lists have the exact same number of new A-list records: 46. Usually what happens is that when I first put these lists together (Nov. 16 in 2017, Nov. 19 this year) I get about a 60-40 split in favor of jazz (ratio, but I usually have about 100 A-list records at this point, so close to literally). Then as I get a chance to look at non-jazz EOY lists, I catch up on the non-jazz side so the split usually winds up close to 50-50 (in 2014: 69-76; in 2015: 81-83; in 2016: 75-67 -- a slight trend line toward more jazz, which seemed to finally tilt in 2017: 84-61). So while I was expecting that trend to hold, I was also thinking the split might be even more extreme this year, as (my impression at least) I've actually been streaming more jazz than non-jazz this year. So coming up 46-46 is a big surprise to me.

Actually, my perception isn't that far off base. Jazz has a 13-4 A-list edge in Reissues/Historic, which I mention because it's hard to factor those records out of the following grade break-downs (obtained by subtracting Music Tracking: Jazz from All:

GradeTotalJazzNon-JazzJazz %
A 3 1 2 33.3%
A- 102 55 47 53.9%
*** 154 118 44 71.4%
** 215 160 55 74.4%
* 176 118 58 67.8%
B 83 54 29 65.0%
B- 18 11 7 61.1%
C+ 5 4 1 80.0%
C 2 2 0 100.0%
C- 1 1 0 100.0%
D+ 1 1 0 100.0%
Total 760 517 243 68.0%
U 31 31 0 100.0%

So, basically, I'm listening to twice as many jazz as non-jazz records, but I'm a lot pickier about the non-jazz I play. I figure that the jazz percentage (currently 68%) will drop a bit before the year is over, more like last year's 62%. I should also note that the total number of rated records is down this year, from 1185 in 2017 to 760 now (assuming 10 weeks left, a pace that would reach 940 albums).

The jazz grade curve above looks pretty reasonable to me, although compared to past years it looks like A- is down and B+(***) up. I'm on a pace to hit 57 A-list jazz records this year, vs. 81-75-84 over the last three years: the A-list share of all rated records is 6.0% this year, vs. 7.0% last year (or three). I can't explain that. Maybe I'm less patient, or crankier.

As for non-jazz, my most reliable scout this year remains Robert Christgau (although I suspect that statistical analysis might show he's been less reliable this year than before). It's now pretty easy to check up on his grades for 2018 releases. Adding in last week's picks (Homeboy Sandman & Edan, Open Mike Eagle), he has 60 A/A- records among 2018 releases (excluding a dozen-plus belated grades for 2017 releases). I've heard 58 of those (playing Open Mike Eagle now; can't find Chicago Farmer), and my grades break as follows: A: 1, A-: 24, B+(***): 16, B+(**): 8, B+(*): 7, B: 2. That's pretty good correlation: more than half (52.1%) of my non-jazz A-list were rated A/A- by Christgau. (Christgau has two jazz albums on his list: John Hassell [my A-] and MAST [my ***].)

I did an update of the CG database last week -- my first since mid-January. I hadn't been able to work on it for several months, thanks to a major server meltdown, which forced me to rebuild my local copy of the website based on the public copy. That shouldn't have been too hard, but my new machine was running later software revisions, and the public server was also out of sync with my old server. I had more than a hundred files that I needed to revise, and actually still don't have all of that work done. I've been getting by with partial updates, but hadn't been able to change the database until I resolved a character set incompatibility. I made a breakthrough on that a week ago, and it took me until Thursday to catch up and prepare a database update.

I also settled down and wrote up a script to provide a RSS 2.0 feed. If you use a RSS feed reader (most browsers have one built in), you can add this feed to the list you're monitoring, and get notices when new files (or major edits) appear on the website. The current one has titles, links, and dates, but doesn't have article descriptions yet. I'll add those as we go forward. I don't have much experience with RSS, so there are details that I'm unsure of. For instance, should we add links to external websites, given that most of Christgau's new writings appear elsewhere (e.g., Noisey), exclusively for an initial period. (While the embargo is in effect, the RSS will link you to a stub article which includes a link to the current article, so the inconvenience is an extra click.)

I'll promise here to get the rest of the programming changes done by the end of the year. Beyond that, I'm planning on doing a fairly major website redesign next year. The current website was launched in 2001, and we've been hearing complaints about its "antique" design at least since 2004. Most never bothered us, but we keep getting bit by software changes, especially by the now nearly universal adoption of UTF-8. We need to adopt UTF-8, and bring the older pages up to HTML5. We need to add a viewport declaration to work better with phones (and I need to learn what else "phone-first design" entails). We don't use cookies, and there is virtually no javascript to the site -- good things, I've always thought, but I'm starting to wonder. I'm not particularly keen on moving all the articles to the database, but the directory organization has morphed into a sprawling, nonsensical mess -- such that I have little idea where to put many new files. It may be a good idea to come up with a different browsing scheme. There are also maintenance issues, especially as we've seen that the current webmaster can be pretty lax about his duties.

Back in 2001 when I built the site, I had figured that I'd have to rebuild it around 2004-05. In fact, there are dozens of pages scattered around the site with ideas for development -- few that have actually been revisited since 2005. At some point in the next few weeks I'm going to set up a mail exchange and invite interested (and hopefully expert) people to act as a consulting forum on this and similar projects. (My own "ocston" website dates back to 1999, surviving an effort back in 2002 at a major rewrite, so I can be even more lax on my own work.) Maybe we can also provide a sounding board for others who want to work on similar or related projects. (E.g., Chuck Eddy one suggested reviving "Pazz N Jop Product Report," so I wrote a very preliminary spec here, then never did anything about it.) I was thinking I'd announce the forum this week, but didn't get that done. Soon, I promise.

I also hoped to get the RSS feed code backported to my site. (Back when I was using Serendipity for my blog, I had people who publicized my links from its RSS feed -- I know this because I've seen broken links from a year ago.) Also I plan on adding a Q&A feature similar to Christgau's Xgau Sez (a new batch of which came out today). I solved one technical issue last week, and hoped to announce that today, but "real soon now" is the best I can do.

Another thing I didn't get set up this week is the 2018 EOY Aggregate file. Actually all I need to do there is to clean up and repurpose this file, which I had set up for mid-year lists (based on last year's EOY Aggregate framework). I think what I will do there is to turn all of the mid-year list mentions into 1-point miscellaneous references (so that Janelle Monae drops from 52 to 22 points), then replace those as actual lists appear. EOY lists usually start appearing around Thanksgiving. In fact, here is the top 75 from Mojo.

As for this week's music, before I got swamped I was variously intrigued and outraged by Downbeat's Readers Poll. I made an effort to track down the top-ranked albums I hadn't heard of. I also spent the better part of a day trying to check out the late guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who came in second (for the second straight year) in reader Hall of Fame voting. (He lost to Wynton Marsalis last year, and to Ray Charles this year.) I knew the name, and had several of his records listed (but not heard) in my database, filed under rock. After sampling eight (of not much more than a dozen) albums, I have to say I have no idea what fans hear in his guitar. I suppose I could have dug deeper -- he did early work with pianist Gordon Beck, whose Experiments With Pops was a star-making turn for John McLaughlin, and he appeared on two 1975-76 Tony Williams albums I don't know -- but I was pretty sure his 12-CD box set (The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever) was de trop, especially since most of it was also redundant.

Midweek I mostly played Christgau picks. I think I get the appeal of Rich Krueger, but something about his sound turns me off (I called his previous album, Life Ain't That Long, the one Christgau prefers, "Springsteenian.") I wound up reviewing Lithics based on an "abridged version" on Napster and Bandcamp. I usually don't bother with partials (6/12 cuts), but figured that was the only chance I'd get. When I do, I usually hedge, but this seemed like the sort of thing they could keep doing for hours (recommended if you not only like Wire but need more). A couple B+(***) records tempted me for extra plays in case they got better. The one that came closest was by Carol Liebowitz. Several albums this week were recommended by Alfred Soto in an "we're almost there" pre-EOY list. Eric Church's Desperate Man is the only one I'd call a find, but that was after the cutoff (so next week).

One bit of good news at Napster is that the HighNote/Savant back catalogue is now available. I checked out a new archival Frank Morgan release, then found a couple of old ones I had missed. I previously pegged A Night in the Life: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3 at B+(***), so it's not a big surprise that Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 edge it. The other gem in Morgan's catalog is Twogether, a duo with John Hicks, released in 2010 after both died.

New records rated this week:

  • Ethan Ardelli: The Island of Form (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mandy Barnett: Strange Conversation (2018, Dame Productions/Thirty Tigers): [r]: A-
  • Pat Bianchi: In the Moment (2018, Savant): [r]: B
  • Magnus Broo Trio: Rules (2017 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bobby Broom & the Organi-sation: Soul Fingers (2018, MRi): [cd]: B
  • Rosanne Cash: She Remembers Everything (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Annie Chen Octet: Secret Treetop (2018, Shanghai Audio & Video): [cd]: B
  • Randy Halberstadt: Open Heart (2018, Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Clay Harper: Bleak Beauty (2018, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Christopher Hollyday: Telepathy (2018, Jazzbeat Productions): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Homeboy Sandman & Edan: Humble Pi (2018, Stones Throw, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Adam Hopkins: Crickets (2018, Out of Your Head): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jason Kao Hwang Burning Bridge: Blood (2018, True Sound): [cd]: A-
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Una Noche Con Rubén Blades (2014 [2018], Blue Engine): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rich Krueger: NOWThen (2018, Rockin'K Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lawful Citizen: Internal Combustion (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Carol Liebowitz/Birgitta Flick: Malita-Malika (2017 [2018], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lithics: Mating Surfaces (2018, Kill Rock Stars): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Roc Marciano: RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018, Marci): [r]: B+(***)
  • Rhett Miller: The Messenger (2018, ATO): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mr. Fingers: Cerebral Hemispheres (2018, Aleviated): [r]: B+(**)
  • Old Man Saxon: The Pursuit (2018, Pusher, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Pasin: Ornettiquette (2018, Planet Arts): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet: That's a Computer (2018, Outside In Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Paul Simon: In the Blue Light (2018, Legacy): [r]: B
  • Vince Staples: FM! (2018, Def Jam, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • David S. Ware Trio: The Balance (Vision Festival XV+) (2009-10 [2018], AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(***)
  • Way North: Fearless and Kind (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kenny Werner: The Space (2016 [2018], Pirouet): [cd]: B+(*)

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

  • Frank Morgan/George Cables: Montreal Memories (1989 [2018], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s (1971-79 [2018], Legacy, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Strummer: 001 (1981-2002, Ignition, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ben Webster: Valentine's Day 1964 Live! (1964 [2018], Dot Time): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mandy Barnett: The Original Nashville Cast Recordings of "Always . . . Patsy Cline": Live at the Ryman Auditorium (1995, Decca): [r]: B+(*)
  • Allan Holdsworth: I.O.U. (1982 [1985], Enigma): [r]: B
  • Allan Holdsworth With I.O.U.: Metal Fatigue (1985, Enigma): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth: Atavachron (1986, Enigma): [r]: C+
  • Allan Holdsworth: Sand (1987, Relativity): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth: Secrets (1989, Intima): [r]: C+
  • Allan Holdsworth: Wardenclyffe Tower (1992, Restless): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth: The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000, Gnarly Geezer): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth/Alan Pasqua/Jimmy Haslip/Chad Wackerman: Blues for Tony (2007 [2009], Moonjune, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Frank Morgan: City Nights: Live at the Jazz Standard (2003 [2004], High Note): [r]: A-
  • Frank Morgan: Raising the Standard: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 2 (2003 [2005], High Note): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carla Campopiano Trio: Chicago/Buenos Aires Connections (self-released): December 7
  • Dustin Carlson: Air Ceremony (Out of Your Head)
  • Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard (Palmetto): December 7
  • Simone Kopmajer: Spotlight on Jazz (Lucy Mojo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Mark Feldman/Jason Hwang: Strings 1 (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Hank Roberts/Ned Rothenberg: Strings 2 (Leo)
  • Yoko Yamaoka: Diary 2005-2015: Yuko Yamaoka Plays the Music of Satoko Fujii (Libra, 2CD)

Daiy Log

Miscellaneous Album Notes:

  • Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s (1971-79 [2018], Legacy, 2CD): B+(**)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Weekend Roundup

No intro this week. A few updates but really not much on the elections, let alone political futures for 2020. I barely managed to work in notice of Israel's latest round of punitive bombings in Gaza. I'm sure there's much more to it, but most of the links I did notice have to do with cease fire negotiations (not going well, I gather) as opposed to why it happened when. (I will note that this isn't the first time Israel launched a wave of terror right after an American election.) I think there was also a story about how last week was the first time the US defended Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Another thing I wanted to write about was the NY Times piece claiming that North Korea has "snookered" Trump and is still developing missiles. I gather this has been debunked in various places -- my wife is on top of this and other stories I haven't had time for -- but I didn't land on a link that made sense of it all. Also, I have no real opinions on possible leadership contests for the Democrats in the new Congress. I've been pretty critical of both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the past, and no doubt will again in the future. (Whenever I think of Schumer I'm reminded of a story about how he greeted our friend Liz Fink on the street with his customary "how am I doing?" -- to which she answered, "you're evil, man.") Still, politics is a dirty business, and no one can afford to get too bent out of shape over it. Whoever wins, we'll support them when we can, and oppose them when we must. That much never changes.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias pieces this week:

    • HQ2 is a perfect opportunity to massively upgrade the DC area's commuter rail.

    • What the Amazon tax breaks really mean.

    • New Pew poll: the public prefers congressional Democrats to Trump on most issues: Oddly enough, the two questions Trump leads are "Jobs and econ growth" (44-33) and "Trade policy" (40-38), with "Taxes" near even (38-39). Strongest Democratic advantages: "The environment" (55-19), "Ethics in government" (48-22), "Medicare" (51-26), "Health care" (51-28), and "Social Security" (48-26).

    • Trump's latest interview shows a president who's in way over his head: "but what else is new?"

      In some ways, the friendliest Donald Trump interviews are the most revealing. Given the opportunity to ramble and free-associate without any pushback whatsoever, you can see what channels his mind naturally follows.

      His latest interview with the Daily Caller shows a president who's fundamentally out to sea. The sycophantic interviewers can't get Trump to answer a policy question of any kind, no matter how much of a softball they lob at him. The only subjects he is actually interested in talking about are his deranged belief in his incredible popularity and how that popularity is not reflected in actual vote totals because he's the victim of a vast voter fraud conspiracy.

      Actually a fairly long piece with a lot of excerpts backing up the summary.

    • Trump's incompetence and authoritarianism are both scary: Takes exception to a David Brooks tweet about Trump ("It's the incompetence, not the authoritarianism we should be worried about"), nothing that "autocrats are often incompetent." Indeed, you could argue that authoritarianism is Trump's crutch against his own incompetence, much like how people who cannot speak in the listener's language think that more volume will do the trick. Brooks' tweet refers to Jonathan V Last: The Vaporware Presidency, which sums Trump's approach as: "Step 1: Propose something ridiculous. Step 2: Cause chaos but don't deliver it. Lather, rinse, repeat." Yglesias offers the example of promoting Thomas Homan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen (Secretary of Homeland Security):

      This is both stupid and authoritarian at the same time and for the same reason.

      Trump's primary interest is in putting people in place who will aggressively support Trump rather than people who know what they are doing. Consequently, he'd rather have a DHS head who suggests arresting local politicians for disagreeing with Trump than a DHS head who advises Trump to avoid doing illegal stuff.

      This is simultaneously a recipe for vaporware and for autocracy. Homan, at the end of the day, probably won't actually go around arresting liberal mayors -- it's just something that sounded good to say. But when you fill your Cabinet with people who make these kinds of suggestions and make it clear that's what you want to hear from your top lieutenants, sooner or later, someone goes and does it.

      Even more inevitable is that those who don't follow through with their stupid/authoritarian sound bites will be taunted for failure, giving rise to ever more shameless opportunists.

    • What the 2018 results tell us about 2020: "Realistically, not much." Actually, the main difference between presidential elections and "mid-terms" (a term I've always hated) is turnout: about 60% vs. 40%. The big change in 2018 was that turnout jumped to almost 50%. While Republicans have been very effective at getting their base out to vote, that bump (relative to past "mid-terms") skewed Democratic. In fact, at this point both parties have come to believe that their fates will mostly be decided by voter turnout (hence the R's efforts at voter suppression). The election also revealed two regional trends. The Southwest from Texas to California has shifted toward the Democrats, flipping Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada. You can chalk that up to demography, further polarized by Trump's anti-immigrant policies. Also, Trump's gains in the belt from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin and Iowa have mostly evaporated. There's no reason to think that either of those shifts will reverse in 2020. I can think of a half-dozen more points to add in moving from 2018 to 2020, but should hold them back for a longer essay. My point is that a lot happened in 2018 that bodes well for Democrats looking forward, and there's very little on the other side of the ledger. Of course, Democrats could blow it by nominating another candidate with massive credibility issues.

      For another piece on shifting political grounds, see: Stanley B Greenberg: Trump Is Beginning to Lose His Grip.

    • Jim Acosta vs. the Trump White House, explained:

      This particular weird incident with Acosta and the staffer might be no more remembered than a dozen other bizarre moments from that press conference. (Trump openly mocked losing House Republican candidates, misstated the tipping point states in the Electoral College, threatened politically motivated investigations of House Democrats, blamed "Obama's regime" for Russian annexation of Crimea, claimed to be unable to understand foreign journalists' accents, wildly mischaracterized both DACA and the Affordable Care Act, and said some stuff about China that was so incoherent, it's hard to even call it lying.)

      Also note this:

      But more broadly, to cast the press as the real "opposition party" in America -- as Trump has -- offers some meaningful tactical advantages. Trump, in an unusual way, won the 2016 presidential election without being popular. Not only did he win fewer votes than Hillary Clinton on Election Day, but his favorability rating was lower than that of the losing candidates from the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 presidential elections.

      The nonpartisan press can (and does) report facts that are unflattering to Trump. But a lack of unflattering facts or a failure by the public to appreciate their existence has never been the foundation of Trump's political success. And the press isn't going to do the work of an actual opposition party, which is to formulate a political alternative that an adequate number of people find to be sufficiently inspiring to go out and vote for.

      That's the job of the Democratic Party, an institution that's had considerable trouble attracting press attention to its own message and ideas ever since Trump exploded on the scene. And keeping the media focused on a self-referential feud between Trump and the media is a way to maintain his preferred approach of trying to suck up all the oxygen in the room.

      Meanwhile, what matters to Trump isn't any actual crushing of the media but simply driving the narrative in his core followers' heads that the media is at war with him. With that pretense in place, critical coverage and unflattering facts can be dismissed even as Trump selectively courts the press to inject his own preferred ideas into the mainstream.

      PS: Aaron Rupar: Trump-appointed judge orders White House to temporarily restore Acosta's credentials. "Even Fox News released a statement siding with CNN."

    • Republicans just lost a Senate seat in Arizona because Trump is an egomaniac.

    • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slams Amazon's imminent arrival in Queens. For a further critique, see: Alexia Fernández Campbell: The US economy doesn't need more Amazon jobs. It needs higher wages.

    • One chart that shows racism has everything and nothing to do with Republican election wins: The chart shows a fairly strong correlation between denial of racism and voting Republican. It's long been hard to get an accurate survey of racism in America because much of what amounts to racial prejudice is subconscious (or rarely conscious), and very few people admit to being racists, even those who often act and/or talk the part.

  • Michelle Alexander: The Newest Jim Crow: "Recent criminal justice reforms contain the seeds of a frightening system of 'e-carceration.'"

  • Zack Beauchamp: What's going on with Brexit, explained in under 500 words: Or, in under 30 words: Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated a "soft Brexit" deal that would retain UK access to Europe's common market and an "open border" in Ireland. Nobody likes it. Also see: John Cassidy: The Brexit Fantasy Goes Down in Tears; and Jane Mayer: New Evidence Emerges of Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica's Role in Brexit.

  • Tom Engelhardt: The Donald and the Fake News Media.

  • Kathy Gannon: After 17 years, many Afghans blame US for unending war.

  • Jeff Goodell: The President's Coal Warrior: All about EPA head (and former coal industry lobbyist) Andrew Wheeler, and his "highly effective campaign to sacrifice public health in favor of the fossil-fuel industry."

  • Glenn Greenwald: As the Obama DOJ Concluded, Prosecution of Julian Assange for Publishing Documents Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedom.

  • Michael Grunwald: How Everything Became the Culture War: I guess this is an important subject, but this could be treated better. One problem is the meticulously balanced centrism:

    At a time when Blue and Red America have split into two warring tribes inhabiting two separate realities, and "debate" has been redefined to evoke split-screen cable-news screamfests, this ferocious politicization of everything might seem obvious and unavoidable. . . . Democrats and Republicans are increasingly self-segregated and mutually disdainful, each camp deploying the furious language of victimhood to justify its fear and loathing of the gullible deplorables in the other.

    This is followed by a list of caricatures, evenly sorted between two camps, except that a strange asymmetry sets in: the terminology, not to mention the ominous overtones, comes almost exclusively from the right. For instance, there is nothing remotely like a Church of Global Warming Leftists. It's not that leftists cannot play culture war games, but the right uses them as proxies for policies never get aired out (like the promise to "repeal and replace" ACA with something "better and cheaper"). The reason culture war has increasingly swamped political discourse is that conservatives have little chance of convincing most Americans of the merits of their program, so they try to manipulate what they hope is a viable target base with appeals to their identity, and big lies and massive shots of fear and loathing. It's gotten much worse in the last couple years, but isn't that just Trump? I don't know whether he tries to turn everything into culture war because he has some shrewd insight into mass psychology or because he has no grasp of policy whatsoever -- he certainly never manages to say anything intelligible on whatever he's up to.

    I think it's safe to say Obama was never like that, even as he was subjected to repeated attempts to impugn his patriotism, his religion, his honesty, his dignity. It's true that not every Republican took that tack, but many did (not least Trump himself). I just ran across a meme in my Facebook feed today that is possibly the most offensive one I've seen: "The Obamas continue to linger, like the stench of human waste that fouls the air and assaults the nostrils." The comments just build on this.

  • Umair Irfan: Why the wildfire in Northern California was so severe: "Heat, wind, and drought -- and long-term climate trends -- conspired to create the deadly Camp Fire." Also: Brian Resnick: Northern California now has the worst air quality in the world, thanks to wildfire smoke; and Gabriel Thompson: As Toxic Smoke Blankets California, Who Has the Ability to Escape? Subhed ("while the wealthy can flee toward cleaner air, the poorest have no choice but to stay put") isn't exactly true on any count, not that the wealthy don't have more options. But the wealthy also need to note that they're the ones who own most of the property threatened by climate-driven disaster. Beachfront houses aren't owned by poor people, nor are most of the houses destroyed in California towns like Paradise and Malibu. Moreover, that "bad air" map covers a lot of wealthy towns, and air is about the only thing rich and poor still share alike. Maybe some ultra-rich folk hopped in their jets and went elsewhere, but most middling property owners are as stuck as everyone else.

  • Paul Krugman: Why Was Trump's Tax Cut a Fizzle? No surprises here. Just a review of the things Republicans say to get special favors for their donors, and how quickly they are forgotten.

    Last week's blue wave means that Donald Trump will go into the 2020 election with only one major legislative achievement: a big tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. Still, that tax cut was supposed to accomplish big things. Republicans thought it would give them a big electoral boost, and they predicted dramatic economic gains. What they got instead, however, was a big fizzle.

    The political payoff, of course, never arrived. And the economic results have been disappointing. True, we've had two quarters of fairly fast economic growth, but such growth spurts are fairly common -- there was a substantially bigger spurt in 2014, and hardly anyone noticed. And this growth was driven largely by consumer spending and, surprise, government spending, which wasn't what the tax cutters promised.

    Meanwhile, there's no sign of the vast investment boom the law's backers promised. Corporations have used the tax cut's proceeds largely to buy back their own stock rather than to add jobs and expand capacity.

    Also by Krugman: The Tax Cut and the Balance of Payments (Wonkish). Also: Jim Tankersley/Matt Phillips: Trump's Tax Cut Was Supposed to Change Corporate Behavior. Here's What Happened.

  • Caroline Orr: US joins Russia, North Korea in refusing to sign cybersecurity pact: This may not be the right deal -- one major plank is to protect "intellectual property" which often is meant to force an arbitrary division of the world into owners and renters -- but some sort of effort like this should be negotiated, and it needs to include Russia and the US, simply because those (along with China and Israel) are the nations with the worst track record of waging cyberwar. Take away the idea of cyberwar, and you could even start to crack down on everyday nuisance hacking, which would make all of our lives easier.

  • Sarah Smarsh: A Blue Wave in Kansas? Don't Be So Surprised: The only state which has elected three female governors, all Democrats (also a female three-term Senator, Republican Nancy Kassebaum).

  • Michael Robbins: Looking Busy: The Rise of Pointless Work: A review of David Graeber's latest book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

  • Matt Taibbi: Trump's Defense Spending Is Out of Control, and Poised to Get Worse:

  • Sabrina Tavernise: These Americans Are Done With Politics: "The Exhausted Majority needs a break."

    A deep new study of the American electorate, "Hidden Tribes," concludes that two out of three Americans are far more practical than that narrative suggests. Most do not see their lives through a political lens, and when they have political views the views are far less rigid than those of the highly politically engaged, ideologically orthodox tribes.

    The study, an effort to understand the forces that drive political polarization, surveyed a representative group of 8,000 Americans. The nonpartisan organization that did it, More in Common, paints a picture of a society that is far more disengaged -- and despairing over divisions -- than it is divided. At its heart is a vast and often overlooked political middle that feels forgotten in the vitriol, as if the country has gone on without it. It calls that group the Exhausted Majority, a group that represented two-thirds of the survey.

    "It feels very lonely out here," said Jamie McDaniel, a 36-year-old home health care worker in Topeka, Kan., one of several people in the study who was interviewed for this article. "Everybody is so right or left, and you're just kind of standing there in the middle saying, "What happened?'"

  • Rachel Withers: CIA reportedly concludes that Jamal Khashoggi was killed on the Saudi crown prince's orders. Also: Alex Ward: Trump doesn't want to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi. His new sanctions prove it. I don't doubt Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's culpability here, even with the CIA attesting to it, but I also don't think the US should be unilaterally sanctioning Saudi Arabia or its citizens, except perhaps through an international process, perhaps based on the World Court or the International Criminal Court. On the other hand, the US does need to rethink its relationship to Saudi Arabia. The US should cut off all arms sales and support as long as Saudi Arabia is engaged in its war of aggression against Yemen. The US should also stop catering to Saudi hostility against Iran and seek to negotiate deals that would allow Iran to enjoy normal, mutually beneficial relationships with the US and its various neighbors. But the idea that the US should act as judge and jury in deciding to punish other states and people is arrogant and unfair, a force of injustice and destabilization which ultimately does more harm than good.

    Speaking of Saudi Arabia and the mischief MBS is up to: David Hearst: Bin Salman 'tried to persuade Netanyahu to go to war in Gaza' say sources. Note that Israel in fact launched a series of attacks on Gaza starting on November 11; also see Alex Ward: Israel and Gaza just saw their worst violence in years. It could get worse.

  • Rachel Withers: Weekend midterms update: Democrats concede Florida and Georgia but complete their Orange County sweep: "Plus, where the rest of the outstanding races stand." For an earlier rundown, see: All the House seats Democrats have flipped in the 2018 elections. Withers also wrote: Trump skipped Arlington Cemetery on Veterans Day because he was "extremely busy"; and Trump attacks retired Navy SEAL Admiral Bill McRaven, suggests he should have gotten bin Laden sooner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30591 [30559] rated (+32), 300 [292] unrated (+8).

Once again, a long, slow slog through Weekend Roundup links pushed Music Week into Tuesday. I wrote a brief summary/introduction Monday evening, and was prepared to post then, but figured I'd roll this post into the same update. Then I found myself spending a few hours Tuesday afternoon adding links -- generally trying to limit myself to items posted by Sunday, but wound up adding a few new ones in the end.

For instance, since I already had a long list of Matthew Yglesias links, I added one called The 2018 electorate was older, whiter, and better educated than in 2016 that I ultimately decided was misleading: those are shifts that occur in every midterm election from the previous presidential election, because many fewer people vote in midterms. On the other hand, you get the exact opposite effect if you compare 2018 to 2014, 2010, etc. And that happened precisely because many more people voted in 2018 than in 2014, 2010, . . . in fact, you have to go back to 1966 to find a midterm election with higher voter participation (see Camila Domonoske: A Boatload of Ballots: Midterm Voter Turnout Hit 50-Year High). This year's turnout was 47.5%, down from 60.1% in 2016, but way up from 36.7% in 2014.

Still, I had to stop somewhere, so I left four Tuesday Yglesias links for next week: the most important is Democrats' blue wave was much larger than early takes suggested. Also especially interesting is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slams Amazon's imminent arrival in Queens. I'm not sure that the left much less Democrats in general have developed a coherent response to the repeated scamming of states and cities by big corporations like Amazon -- and the list goes on forever, ranging from the $4 billion Foxconn con in Wisconsin to the dozens of local outrages we fend with every year here in Wichita -- but this one has the makings of serious public exposure.

As for music, it's been a fairly typical week. Solid rate count, would have been higher except for a new 3-CD Art Pepper archive set, followed by an older (and even better) 4-CD set that I had only heard a sampler from at the time. Late last week I got Downbeat's December issue with their 83rd Annual Readers Poll results, so I started out by checking out leading albums I hadn't heard. I think I had only heard 5 of the top 10 new albums -- also (less surprising) 5 of the top 10 historical albums -- so I had some work to do there. Most of those were on last week's list (Chick Corea/Steve Gadd, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra/Wynton Marsalis, Joey Alexander, Kurt Elling, and further down Esperanza Spalding), although the only missing historical album I found was Jimi Hendrix's Both Sides of the Sky, which led me to the old one below.

First Rays of the New Rising Sun was the only non-jazz album on this week's list until Sunday, when ventured into a batch of country albums in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. I don't think the Pistol Annies album is as good as he says, but figure it's good enough, as are the others (Becky Warren, Mandy Barnett, and Robbie Fulks/Linda Gail Lewis -- the latter was an A- here some weeks ago).

I haven't done an update of the Christgau Consumer Guide database since late January: initially because it's takes enough work I tend to put it off, but then I suffered a one-two punch as first my local server than my public server crashed. When I pulled the data back from archive, I ran into a character set incompatibility that made it impractical to update the database (i.e., there was no point changing anything until the underlying problem was fixed). I floundered with it for a while, then put it off, working on other things instead. Finally I took another shot at it last week, and got to the root of the problem (a hidden flag in the server-side export utility that I hadn't run into before). Once I got a clean copy of the database, I started adding in more recent reviews. I'm up through September now, and will catch up in a couple days (maybe tonight).

I should be able to just update the database without reconciling the entire website. Since the server crash, I've been doing limited incremental updates every week (instead of waiting months, as was my previous custom). There are tradeoffs: I could wind up forgetting something, but I'm in the middle of a bunch of programming changes because a lot of functions have been dropped from PHP 7 (which is what I'm running locally, vs. PHP 5 on the public server). Until I get all of those things fixed (hundreds of changes) I don't dare do a full synch up. In the past I've always done database and website file updates at the same time, but they are independent enough I should be able to do each as needed. I guess we'll see.

New records rated this week:

  • Richie Cole: Cannonball (2018, RCP): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Andrew Cyrille: Lebroba (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Josephine Davies: Satori (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): [r]: A-
  • Josephine Davies' Satori: In the Corners of Clouds (2018, Whirlwind): [bc]: A-
  • John Escreet: Learn to Live (2018, Blue Room): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Hazeltine: The Time Is Now (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fredrik Kronkvist: Kronicles (2017 [2018], Connective): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Lightcap: Superette (2018, The Royal Potato Family): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Donny McCaslin: Blow. (2018, Motéma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings (2017-18 [2018], International Anthem): [r]: A-
  • John O'Gallagher Trio: Live in Brooklyn (2015 ]2016], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (2018, RCA Nashville): [r]: A-
  • Nikita Rafaelov: Spirit of Gaia (2016-17 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rudy Royston: Flatbed Buggy (2018, Greenleaf Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jerome Sabbagh/Greg Tuohey: No Filter (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • Yuhan Su: City Animals (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Subtone: Moose Blues (2018, Laika): [r]: B+(*)
  • Harry Vetro: Northern Ranger (2018, T.Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cuong Vu 4Tet: Change in the Air (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Becky Warren: Undesirable (2018, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Jeff Williams: Lifelike (2017 [2018[, Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau: Long Ago and Far Away (2007 [2018], Impulse): [r]: A-
  • Keith Jarrett: La Fenice (2006 [2018], ECM, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Art Pepper: The Art Pepper Quartet (1956 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto (1977 [2018], Widow's Taste, 3CD): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Jimi Hendrix: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1968-70 [1997], MCA): [r]: A-
  • Joakim Milder: Ways (1990-92 [1993], Dragon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Red Mitchell/Joakim Milder/Roger Kellaway: Live in Stockholm (1991 [1993], Dragon): [r]: B+(**)
  • Art Pepper: Blues for the Fisherman: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol VI (1980 [2011], Widow's Taste, 4CD): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The 14 Jazz Orchestra: The Future Ain't What It Used to Be (Dabon Music): January 1
  • Anguish: Anguish (RareNoise): November 30
  • Eraldo Bernocchi: Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It (RareNoise): advance, November 30
  • Magnus Broo Trio: Rules (Moserobie)
  • The Gil Evans Orchestra: Hidden Treasures Monday Nights: Volume One (Bopper Spock Suns Music): December 7
  • Adam Forkelid: Reminiscence (Moserobie)
  • David Friesen: My Faith, My Life (Origin, 2CD): November 16
  • Thomas Marriott: Romance Language (Origin): November 16
  • Joakim Milder/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Mathias Landraeus/Filip Augustson/Fredrik Rundkvist: The Music of Anders Garstedt (Moserobie)
  • Jay Thomas With the Oliver Groenewald Newnet: I Always Knew (Origin): November 16
  • Piet Verbist: Suite Réunion (Origin): November 16
  • Aida Bird Wolfe: Birdie (self-released): November 15


  • The Ex: 27 Passports (2018, Ex)
  • William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (2017, AUM Fidelity, 2CD)

Weekend Roundup

When I went to bed around 5AM after Tuesday's elections, the Democrats had won the House and beat Kris Kobach here in Kansas, but it seemed like a lot of close elections had broke bad. I heard Wednesday that a couple elections had flipped: Ned Lamont picked up the CT governorship, and more importantly, Scott Walker lost in Wisconsin. Tester pulled out his Senate seat in Montana. Nevada had looked promising on Tuesday, and firmed up, while Arizona got close, and even started to lean toward Democrat Krysten Sinema. Florida tightened up.

Still, could (should) have been better. Compared to 2014 and 2018, the Democrats did much better on several counts: they ran better candidates and contested more seats; and they did a better job of getting out their vote. Trump didn't get a popular opinion honeymoon after he took office. He was deeply offensive to most Democrats from the start, and everything he did prodded them to resist more fervently. That's what motivated people to run, to campaign, to organize, and ultimately to vote, and often to win -- although even some of the losses, like Beto O'Rourke in Texas, or Stacey Abrams in Georgia, were close enough they seemed like progress.

On the other hand, Trump and the Republicans haven't lost much ground. They've done a lot of things that in themselves are very unpopular -- the big corporate tax cut, for instance, and they dodged blame for ACA repeal only by failing to pass it -- but their base has held firm, they still have a lot of money, a strong captive media, and a very effective ground game. Of course, it helped that the economy hasn't capsized yet, that their reckless foreign policy hasn't led to major wars, that their corporate deregulation hasn't produced major disasters yet, and that only a few of their corrupt minions have been convicted or indicted. On the other hand, their global warming denialism is beginning to wear thin with major hurricanes and an unprecedentedly horrific fire season. Branch Rickey used to say that luck is the residue of design. Trump's political designs are so faulty that it's unlikely his luck will hold.

On the other hand, he did something in 2018 that Obama had failed to do in 2014 and 2010, which is that he campaigned relentlessly for his party in the months and weeks leading up to the election -- indeed, he never really stopped campaigning after 2016. He hasn't been all that effective, mostly because he isn't really very popular, but he did keep his base enthused, and (unlike in 2006, when everyone was sick and tired of Bush and Cheney) he got his base out to vote. It's going to take a lot of hard work to get enough people to realize how harmful Republicans are to most people's interests. And expect a lot of noise and distraction from Fox and friends along the way: the "caravan" story was as good an example of truly fake news as you can imagine. Hard to say whether how much it helped Republicans, but it sucked a lot of air from broadcast news during the last few weeks.

Democracy took a step forward last Tuesday. A small one. Hopefully the first of many.

Quick election results recap:

  • US Senate: Republicans gained two seats, for a 51-46 edge, with 3 undecided: Mississippi (runoff, R favored), Florida (R +13k), Arizona (D +33k [since I wrote this called for the Democrat]), so it will probably wind up 53-47 (counting Sanders and King with the Democrats). Only one-third of the Senate's seats are up for election each two years, and this year the Democrats were much more vulnerable (after exceptionally strong showings in 2006 and 2012). To put the net losses of 2-4 seats in perspective, Democrats won (counting AZ but not FL/MS) 24 seats to the Republicans' 10. Democrats won 57.4% of the Senate vote, vs. 41.0% for Republicans. This split was inflated because both of California's "top two" primary winners are Democrats. All four (counting FL) Republican pickups were in states Trump won -- 3 by 10+ points, 2 against Democrats who won in 2012 after Republicans nominated especially controversial "Tea Party" candidates. On the other hand, Democrats won 7 Senate seats (counting AZ) in states carried by Trump, plus defeated a Republican incumbent in a state Trump lost (NV).

  • US House of Representatives: Democrats gained 32 seats, with 10 still undecided, for a current 227-198 advantage. Democrats received 51.4% of the popular vote, vs. 46.7% for Republicans, for a margin of 4.7%.

  • Governors: Democrats gained 7, giving them 23; Republicans lost 6 (assuming FL and GA go Republican; the difference is that Republicans picked up previously independent Alaska). Popular vote favored Democrats 49.4-48.2%, as state races were less polarized than Congressional ones (e.g., Republicans won easily in MA, MD, and VT). Democrats gained: ME, MI, WI, IL, KS, NM, and NV. Republicans gained AK.

  • 538: What Went Down in the 2018 Midterms: Live blog until they got tired and signed off.

  • 538: The 2018 Midterms, in 4 Charts.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump voters stood by Trump in the midterms -- but there just aren't enough of them: Trump was elected president in 2016 with just 46% of the vote. Republicans got about the same 46% of the vote in the 2018 congressional elections, so a cursory analysis suggests that they held their own, while everyone else (including independent voters for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson) joined the Democrats. Probably not that simple: Republicans did better than 46% in 2016 congressional races, so they lost that edge this year. In particular, they lost ground in the Rust Belt and in the Latino Belt from Texas through Arizona and Nevada to California, while they hung on more effectively in a swath from Florida up to Idaho. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • The 2018 electorate was older, whiter, and better educated than in 2016: "Democrats hit some of their GOTV targets but missed others." OK, but isn't the relevant comparison 2014 to 2018? Turnout was up for a midterm (2018 and 2014), but down from the presidential election (2016). From 2016 to 2018, 18-39 turnout was -7,but from 2014 to 2018, it was +4. White was +2 vs. 2016, but -3 vs. 2014.

    • Matthew Whitaker's appointment is the latest Trump Tax the GOP is paying: "A nominee whose only qualification is his unfitness."

      Matthew Whitaker is, by any standard, a wildly unsuitable choice to serve as Attorney General of the United States.

      He's a small time crook who finished fourth in the Iowa GOP Senate primary back in 2014. He apparently got his job as Chief of Staff in the Justice Department because Trump liked his TV hits, experience that would at best qualify him to one the DOJ's chief spokesperson not to be chief of staff and certainly not to run the Justice Department. Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway's husband, a prominent Washington attorney, says Whitaker's appointment is illegal.

      The point, however, is that in a normal administration the question of legality would simply never arise here. The Justice Department is full of competent, professional, Senate-confirmed officials who would be more suitable than Whitaker on both substance and procedural grounds. It's commonplace in liberal circles to see Whitaker as an inappropriate selection in light of his previous comments about Robert Mueller's investigation, but the truth is the Mueller issue is his only conceivable qualification for the job. Trump's problem with the senior staff at the Justice Department is he has no way of knowing whether or not they share with Jeff Sessions and Ron Rosenstein a reluctance to fatally compromise the rule of law in pursuit of Trump's personal self-interest.

    • House Democrats must resist Trump's infrastructure trap.

    • House Democrats must resist Trump's infrastructure trap.

    • The tragedy of Amazon's HQ2 selections, explained: After announcing they'd like to auction off the location of a second headquarters site, they've evidently settled on two winners: one in Virginia's DC suburbs, the other in Long Island City, Queens, New York. Lots of problems.

    • Matt Whitaker suggested the attorney general might keep Robert Mueller's conclusions secret forever.

    • Debbie Stabenow reelected to the Senate.

    • Ned Lamont elected governor of Connecticut.

    • Trump's bizarre post-election press conference, explained.

      But shocking as it was in its way, it confirmed what we know about Trump. He is shameless, relentlessly dishonest, poorly informed about policy, disrespectful of the norms and principles of constitutional government, and fundamentally dangerous. He also continues to benefit from a benign economic situation and from a lack of crises abroad that make a serious impact on the typical American. For all of our sakes, we'd better hope that holds up because he does not appear to have the capacity to respond in a remotely appropriate way to any kind of adversity. . . .

      The price of this sort of conduct has already been high. An island destroyed, a wave of Trump-inspired bombings, a needless destabilization of relations with key allies, and a growing diminution of the standards of conduct that we accept for public officials. But for most Americans, day-to-day life has proceeded apace and that's put a floor under Trump's approval ratings that's been good enough to keep the whole Republican Party afloat given gerrymandering and a skewed Senate map. Losing the House would be a wake-up call for a normal president, but there is no waking up Trump -- only the hope that nothing goes too badly wrong while he lasts in office.

    • Tammy Baldwin reelected to US Senate: a progressive champion wins in Wisconsin.

    • Sherrod Brown reelected to US Senate: old-time labor liberalism triumphs over Ohio's rightward drift.

    • Why Stacey Abrams isn't conceding yet.

    • 4 winners and 2 losers from the 2018 midterm elections: Winners: "the favored quarter backlash"; Donald Trump; "the blue wall"; gerrymandering. Losers: Taylor Swift; "the live models." The explanation on Trump:

      And while losing the House is the death knell for the Republican Party's legislative agenda, Trump himself has rarely seemed to care that much about the GOP legislative agenda. Indeed, the death of the GOP legislative agenda could even be good news for Trump politically since much of that agenda was toxically unpopular. An expanded majority in the Senate, meanwhile, will let Trump do things he actually cares about, like replace Cabinet members and other executive branch officials who've displeased him, while continuing to keep the judicial confirmation conveyor belt that's so important to his base moving.

    • The lesson of the midterms: resistance works.

  • Radley Balko: Jeff Sessions, the doughty bigot:

    Jeff Sessions's final act as attorney general was perfectly on-brand. On the way out of office, he signed an order making it more difficult for the Justice Department to investigate and implement reform at police departments with patterns of abuse, questionable shootings, racism, and other constitutional violations. Sessions once called such investigations -- like those that turned up jaw-dropping abuses in places such as Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Chicago -- "one of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power." He has had only cursory criticism of the horrific abuses actually described in those reports (which he later conceded he sometimes didn't bother to read), which disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos. For Sessions, it is the federal government's investigation of such abuses that amounts to not just an unjustified "exercise of raw power," but a "most dangerous" one.

  • Bob Bauer: An Open-and-Shut Violation of Campaign-Finance Law.

  • Jonathan Blitzer: Jeff Sessions Is Out, but His Dark Vision for Immigration Policy Lives On.

  • James Carroll: Entering the Second Nuclear Age?: With his withdrawal from the INF treaty with Russia, and with big plans to renovate and rebuild America's nuclear arsenal, "Donald Trump welcomes the age of "usable" nuclear weapons." Also at TomDispatch:

    • Michael Klare: On the Road to World War III?.

    • William Hartung: The pentagon's Plan to Dominate the Economy:

      Industrial policy should not be a dirty word. The problem is: the Pentagon shouldn't be in charge of it. The goal of an effective industrial policy should be to create well-paying jobs, especially in sectors that meet pressing national needs like rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure and developing alternative energy technologies that can help address the urgent dangers posed by climate change.

    • Tom Engelhardt: Autocrats, Incorporation: Thoughts on Election Day 2018.

    • Arnold Isaacs: Misremembering Vietnam: Alt title: "Making America's Wars Great Again: The Pentagon Whitewashes a Troubling Past."

      The cliché that our armed forces are the best and mightiest in the world -- even if the U.S. military hasn't won any of its significant wars in the last 50 years -- resonates in President Trump's promise to make America great again. Many Americans, clearly including him, associate that slogan with military power. And we don't just want to be greater again in the future; we also want to have been greater in the past than we really were. To that end, we regularly forget some facts and invent others that will make our history more comfortable to remember.

    • Rory Fanning: Will the War Stories Ever End? Author of a book of his own war stories, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America (2014, Haymarket Books).

  • Maureen Dowd: Who's the Real American Psycho? A look back at Dick Cheney, occasioned by the screening of a new movie called Vice. As for the "psycho" question, such things take time and perspective. If you got sick eight years ago and got sick again now, you won't be able to make meaningful comparisons until (and if) you survive and recover. Between Trump ("a frothing maniac with a meat cleaver") and Cheney ("a professional assassin") the latter may still in theory be the more menacing, but the threat right now is so immediate and so open-ended that it's the one you have to deal with right now. Dowd, by the way, also recently wrote this clever piece on Saudi Arabia: Step Away From the Orb:

    Our Faustian deal was this: As long as the Saudis kept our oil prices low, bought our fighter jets, housed our fleets and drones and gave us cover in the region, they could keep their country proudly medieval.

    It was accepted wisdom that it was futile to press the Saudis on the feudal, the degradation of women and human rights atrocities, because it would just make them dig in their heels. Even Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, never made an impassioned Beijing-style speech about women in Saudi Arabia being obliterated under a black tarp.

  • Atul Gawande: Why Doctors Hate Their Computers: Fairly long piece on computerized medical records, which should be great to have but are a lot of work to maintain, and the slacker and sloppier you get about that, the less great they are. First point I take from this is that there is a lot of real work to be done to make the health care system work better beyond the obvious advantages of single-payer insurance -- something that tends to be forgotten in that argument. Gawande identifies several problems with the software, ranging from its impact on focus and communication to the increasing brittleness of sprawing code systems. One thing worth exploring is how open source might help, but you also have to look at how to finance development and support. Another dimension is the increasing use of AI. I believe that the only way to build trust in complex software is through open source, but what's needed can't be developed as a free hacker hobby.

  • Masha Gessen: After the White House Banned Jim Acosta, Should Other Journalists Boycott Its Press Briefings? Also: Margaret Sullivan: Words and walkouts aren't enough> CNN should sue Trump over revoking Acosta's press pass.

  • Adam Hochschild: A Hundred Years After the Armistice: Due to the world's fascination with round numbers, I'm reminded that our Nov. 11 Veterans Day originally started as Armistice Day, marking the end of what was then called the Great War but was soon eclipsed, now better known as World War I. A date that should remind all how precious peace is has since become a celebration of American militarism, as we thank the hapless soldiers and gloss over the politicians who put them in harm's way. One could write reams about that war, and indeed its centennary has brought dozens of new books out. Hochschild wrote one I read back in 2011: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, which focused on anti-war resisters in Britain (like Bertrand Russell -- as close to a hero as I ever had). The tag line on this piece is: "If you think the First World War began senselessly, consider how it ended." He recounts several stories of how allied generals (especially Americans, notably including white commanders of negro troops) continued to launch offensives after the armistice was agreed to up to the moment (11AM) it was to take effect, resulting in thousands of avoidable casualties. He also notes, in less depth, the insistence of French general Foch on making the armistice as punitive as possible, leaving a "toxic legacy" that lead to a second world war. Many more books have been written about the post-armistice Versailles Treaty, like Arno Mayer's massive Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking, but the best title to date is David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace. The excessively punitive Versailles Treaty is now widely acknowledge as a cause of WWII. (Arno Mayer has referred to the two World Wars as 30 Years War of the Twentieth Century.) More important in my mind is that Versailles failed to repudiate imperialism. In fact, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan extended their empires through war, especially whetting the appetites of the latter, while leaving Germany and others convinced that they needed to enlarge themselves to compete with the rich nations. By the way, Josh Marshall recommends The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End. Another interesting piece on the war: Patrick Chovanec: World War I Relived Day by Day.

  • Fred Kaplan: Could House Democrats Cancel the Pentagon's Blank Check? Perhaps, but it would take uncommon discipline, given that more than a few Democrats are deficit hawks and/or Pentagon Keynesians. Given narrow margins (and the absence of anything like the "Hastert Rule" for Democrats), Republicans could try to forge opportunistic alliances with either group. One thing for sure is that House Democrats won't be able to raise taxes, so there's very little they can do about deficits. On the other hand, spending bills originate in the House, so with a little discipline they can keep important programs funded and cut useless and even damaging ones. But, as I said, that's not something they've ever been much good at.

    Kaplan also wrote: Trump Retreats From the West: "The president's performance in Paris was a stunning abdication of global leadership." That sounds like good news to me -- not to deny that Trump did it pretty ugly. Maybe Trump was peeved at this: Macron denounces nationalism as a 'betrayal of patriotism' in rebuke to Trump at WWI remembrance. Then, Trump skipped a US cemetery visit abroad. The French army trolled him for avoiding the rain. But the fact is, Trump's "America First" fetish doesn't leave him much to offer the rest of the world -- where, as in everyday life, generosity is appreciated and peevishness scorned. On the other hand, for many years now US administrations have done little that actually helps either people abroad or at home that we'd all be better off if the US (especially its military) would back away. For more on Trump's Paris trip, see Jen Kirby: The controversies of Trump's Paris trip, explained.

  • Paul Krugman: What the Hell Happened to Brazil? (Wonkish): "How did an up-and-coming economy suffer such a severe slump?"

  • Robert Kuttner: The Crash That Failed: Review of the latest big book on the 2008 financial collapse, the "great recession" that followed, and various government efforts to clean up the mess: Adam Tooze's Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. Interesting sidelight of an illustration: William Powhida: Griftopia, based on Matt Taibbi's book.

  • Dara Lind: The asylum ban -- Trump's boldest immigration power grab yet -- explained.

  • Mark Mazzetti/Ronen Bergman/David D Kirkpatrick: Saudis Close to Crown Prince Discussed Killing Other Enemies a Year Before Khashoggi's Death.

  • Bill McKibben: A Very Grim Forecast: On Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report.

  • Yascha Mounk: Is More Democracy Always Better Democracy? Noted for future reference, no agreement implied. Author of a recent centrist manifesto: The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It. Reviews Frances McCall Rosenbluth: Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy From Itself (2018) -- arguing: "the most important ingredient of a functioning democracy . . . is strong political parties that can keep their rank-and-file members in check" -- and looks back to Marty Cohen/David Karol/Hans Noel/John Zaller: The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform (2008). Mounk's prime example of "too much democracy" was the 1972 nomination and loss of George McGovern, although for a token example Republican he cites Mark Sanford's primary loss to a Trump zealot (who last week lost Sanford's SC district). The main problem with Mounk's thesis is that organizations which lack effective democratic oversight almost inevitably wind up putting their leaders' elite interests ahead of their voters. At least with McGovern's Democratic Party reforms, the party was able to nominate a presidential candidate who reflected the majority view among rank-and-file Democrats to quit the Vietnam War. That sounds more to me like an example of democracy working -- especially more than 2016, when the party elites prevailed in picking a candidate who was even more unpopular. (Sure, Hillary Clinton polled better than McGovern, but consider her opponent.) As for the Republicans, you can fault their rank-and-file for favoring someone as odious as Donald Trump, but at least the limited democracy Republicans practice saved them from the party elites nominating Jeb Bush.

  • Rachel Withers: Trump responds to worst fires in California's history by threatening to withhold federal aid. Also on the fires: Robinson Meyer: The Worst Is Yet to Come for California's Wildfires; also Umair Irfan: California's wildfires are hardly "natural" -- humans made them worse at every step.

  • Benjamin Wittes: It's Probably Too Late to Stop Mueller: The morning after the election, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting AG, making it easier for Trump to terminate Robert Mueller's prosecution of Trump-Russia issues. Wittes takes stock:

    Eighteen months ago, I said, President Donald Trump had an opportunity to disrupt the Russia investigation: He had fired the FBI director and had rocked the Justice Department back on its heels. But Trump had dithered. He had broadcast his intentions too many times. And in the meantime, Mueller had moved decisively, securing important indictments and convictions, and making whatever preparations were necessary for hostile fire. And now Democrats were poised to take the House of Representatives. The window of opportunity was gone.

    In the 48 hours since Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, I have had occasion to wonder whether I was being overly optimistic a week ago. Whitaker is the kind of bad dream from which career Justice Department officials wake up at night in cold sweats. He's openly political. The president is confident in his loyalty and that he won't recuse himself from the investigation -- notwithstanding his public statements about it and his having chaired the campaign of one of the grand-jury witnesses. There are legal questions about his installation at the department's helm. And he's known as the White House's eyes and ears at Justice.

    By the way: Jerome Corsi says Mueller will soon indict him for perjury.

Finally, some more election-related links:

Daily Log

A while back my nephew Mike posted a menu:


Please enjoy a selection of Mike's Italian favorites. To be served in order of listing.


Eggplant caponata (cold), tomato & basil salad, figs with proscuitto

Fresh mozzarella in sliced bread, lightly battered and fried

Sautéd mixed greens with garlic, toasted endive with light anchovy sauce

Fresh spaghetti in lemon cream sauce

Shredded Savoy caggabe salad


Potato pasta balls in basil & pine nut sauce

Rolled beef slow cooked in tomato sauce over fresh fettuccini


Chicken and veal cutlets with prosciutto and sage, lightly breaded and fried


Chestnut pudding with roasted almond praline
Almond cake



11/05/2018 6 pm All Welcome

Haven't heard anything about how this came out, but it sounds very, very good. Main change I would make is that I wouldn't do chicken if I could get enough veal. I'd probably throw in a fish dish, or scampi, and cut back on the pasta. As I told him, I've never made fresh pasta (or for that matter, gnocchi). He tells me it's easy, and I suppose it isn't too bad if you stick to noodles and have a quality crank machine. Not sure how you'd make penne, especially after Mike quoted Hazan on how hideous the machines that extrude dough through nozzles are. (Just typed "penne maker" into Amazon and got a whole page of nothing but panini grills.) "Pasta shape machine" got me a couple of machines and attachments that might do the trick, but they're rather pricey: $269.99 for Philips HR2357/05 Noodle Pasta Maker; there's a cheaper Philips HR2372/05 for $146.34.

Jan Barnes posted on Facebook about her father and father-in-law as veterans. I added this comment:

Thought I should comment here just to slip Uncle Allen's picture into the thread. My father was drafted in 1945, but the war ended before they could ship him abroad. He hated his time in the Army, thought it was stupid and wasteful, and never identified as a veteran or had anything to do with veterans organizations. I find it sad that we've taken Armistice Day, the return to peace, and turned it into Veterans Day, celebrating a legacy of war. The US has engaged in war (sometimes "cold" but often much more) nearly every day of my life. That's something we should be ashamed of, not proud.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30559 [30524] rated (+35), 292 [293] unrated (-1).

October's Streamnotes came out last week. Four of the week's A- records made it into that column. Three of those had been pick hits in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness columns.

By the way, there is a new batch of XgauSez on Christgau's website.

More things I'd like to write about here, but absolutely no time to do so. I'm exhausted after Weekend Roundup once again took much too long to write, while once again I wound up not getting to scads of material worth reading. In particular, I wanted to say something about Downbeat's Readers Poll, which suggested some of the recent records this week. Also about my nephew's birthday dinner, which I'm afraid puts my own recent efforts to shame.

New records rated this week:

  • Eric Alexander: Song of No Regrets (2017, High Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joey Alexander: Joey. Monk. Live! (2017, Motéma): [r]: B
  • Joey Alexander: Eclipse (2017 [2018], Motéma): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Bottle Rockets: Bit Logic (2018, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (2017 [2018], Impakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards: Elements (2015-16 [2018], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • The Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band: Chinese Butterfly (2017 [2018], Stretch/Concord, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Dominique: Mask (2018, Orenda): [cd]: C
  • Kurt Elling: The Questions (2017 [2018], Okeh): [r]: B-
  • Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet: Time Like This (2018, Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy at the Apocalypse: Profiles of a Rushing Midnight (2018, Saustex): [r]: B+(*)
  • Idles: Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018, Partisan): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Handful of Keys (2016 [2017], Blue Engine): [r]: B+(**)
  • Maria Muldaur: Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty, Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker (2018, The Last Music Company): [r]: A-
  • Riton & Kah-Lo: Foreign Ororo (Riton Time): [r]: A-
  • Esperanza Spalding: 12 Little Spells (2018, Concord): [r]: B-
  • Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace (2018, Tropical Fuck Storm/Mistletone): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Colter Wall: Songs of the Plains (2018, Young Mary's): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Dexter Gordon Quartet: Espace Cardin 1977 (1977 [2018], Elemental Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Both Sides of the Sky (1968-70 [2018], Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • I'm Not Here to Hunt Rabbits ([2018], Piranha): [r]: A-
  • Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes: The Tour: Volume One (1976 [2016], High Note): [r]: A-
  • Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes: The Tour: Volume Two (1976 [2017], High Note): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • One for All: Too Soon to Tell (1997, Sharp Nine): [r]: B+(*)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume One (1977 [2000], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Two (1977 [2001], High Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Three (1977 [2001], High Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Four (1981 [2005], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Vaughan: After Hours (1961, Roulette): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Vaughan: The Best of Sarah Vaughan [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1954-66 [2004], Hip-O): [r]: B-
  • Sarah Vaughan: Live in Japan: Volume 1 (1973 [1991], Mainstream): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sarah Vaughan: Live in Japan: Volume 2 (1973 [1991], Mainstream): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of Emerging Species (Shhpuma)
  • Big Bold Back Bone: Emerge (Wide Ear)
  • Collective Order: Collective Order Vol. 3 (self-released): November 23
  • Julien Desprez/Luís Lopes: Boa Tarde (Shhpuma): cdr
  • LFU: Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly (Clean Feed)
  • Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Bruno Parrinha/Luís Lopes/Vasco Trillo: Lithos (Creative Sources)

Weekend Roundup

Last pre-election post. One measure of the impact of elections is that I've been writing about 50% more on politics since Trump and the Republicans won big in 2016, as compared to the previous four years under Obama. And it's not like I didn't have things to complain about with Obama -- although I wrote much more then about foreign affairs and wars, including a lot on Israel (which hasn't in any way changed for the better with Trump, but has been crowded out of consciousness). And the fact is, the ratio would be even greater if I had the time and patience to dig through everything that matters.

One thing I learned long ago is that elections don't fix problems, but if they go the wrong way they can make many of our lives worse off. You can't expect that the people you elect will do good things with their power -- in fact, power doesn't make anyone a better person -- but you can at least try to weed out the ones you know better than. I can't really blame people who thought they were doing us a favor in 2016 by retiring Hillary Clinton. I could have written a long book on why she should never have been considered for president, so I'm not surprised that many other people didn't like or trust her. Of course, that doesn't justify them voting for Trump. Elections are almost always about "lesser evils," and it helps to weigh them out carefully, even to lean a bit against your prejudices. While it was easy to see why people might think Hillary "crooked," you have to flat-out ignore tons of evidence to judge Hillary more crooked than Trump. Nor was that the only dimension: build a list of any trait you might think matters in a president, and if you're honest about the evidence, Trump will lose out to her. Electing him was a glaring lapse of judgment on the part of the American people.

Nor was it their first. My first election was 1972, when we had the change to elect one of the most fundamentally decent people who ever ran for high office, but by a large margin the American people preferred Dick Nixon. Given that Nixon was even less of an unknown than Reagan, the Bushes, or Trump, that's a pretty damning reflection on the American people. I've regularly been disappointed by elections. After my 1972 experience, I didn't vote again until 1996, when I was living in Massachusetts but couldn't ignore the opportunity to vote against Bob Dole (who was second only to Nixon among the villains I voted against in 1972 -- people forget what a rat bastard he was in his first couple of terms).

Still, worse than Trump's election in 2016 was the Republicans seizing complete control of Congress. Not only did this make Trump much more dangerous, it shows that voters haven't fully realized the monolithic threat that Republicans represent. I think a lot of the blame here belongs to Obama and the Clintons, who pursued their presidential campaigns with scant concern for the welfare of the rest of the party, largely by not leading the public to understand what Republicans were up to. In particular, Clinton focused her campaign on picking up Trump-averse Republicans in the suburbs with little concern for Trump-attracted working class Democrats. When the 2016 returns came in, Republicans who didn't particularly like Trump still voted for him due to party loyalty, as did independents who for various reasons (deplorable and sometimes not) happened to like Trump.

Even now, when I meet up with Democrats, they're more likely to want to talk about who they like for president in 2020 than winning Congress here and now. My answer is simple: whoever works hardest to put the party ahead of themselves, but no Democratic president is going to be worth a damn without a solid partisan base. I've never been a diehard Democrat, but Republicans have left us no other choice.

I wouldn't call these links recommendations, but here's a brief list of things I'm looking at to get a feel for the current elections:

Silver's piece above mentions a number of historical and current trends, and how they weigh on the elections. Obviously, one reason people are leery about predicting big Democratic gains is that Trump in particular and Republicans in general did better in 2016 than the polls suggested. That has people worried that Republicans are being systematically undercounted, and we won't know if that's the case until the votes are counted. Could just be a statistical fluke with no relationship to past or future elections. To the extent that any correction needed to be made, it's likely that pollsters have done that already. My own view is that Republicans have developed a very effective get-out-the-vote system, which Democrats (except for Obama, and then mostly for himself) never matched. (Clinton was especially lax in that regard.)

My own reservations about the Democrats' prospects are mostly due to respect for their "ground game" -- their ability to keep their base motivated, angry, hungry, and responsive to their taunts and jeers. The Democrats totally dropped the ball in 2010, and didn't fare much better in 2014. One thing you have to credit Republicans with is not letting up in 2018. And while Obama seemed aloof from his party, Trump has been totally committed to rallying his voters. Moreover, he does have a fairly robust economy to tout, and no big new wars to be mired in, and he was saved from blowing a huge hole in health care coverage. A lot of things he's done will eventually cost Americans dearly, but many of the effects are incremental. So he should be in pretty good shape, he's clearly trying hard, and his party machinery remains very efficient. Also, he's fortunate in having a playing field very tilted in his favor: the House is so thoroughly gerrymandered Republicans can lose the popular vote by 5-7% and still wind up with control, and the break on Senate seats favors the Republicans even more. The fact there is that even not counting California (where the top two open primary finishers are both Democrats, so there's no Republican on the ballot), the Democrats can win the popular vote by 10% or more without gaining a seat.

On the other hand, even though Trump has managed to hang on to virtually all of his supporters (and in many cases he's delighted them), he never has been very popular, and people who dislike him really detest him. By making the election so much a referendum on himself, he's drawing many young and disaffected people out to vote against Republicans, pretty much everywhere. Silver identifies two important points favoring the Democrats. One is that they've done a very strong job of raising money. Even more important (although the two aren't unrelated) the Democrats have recruited exceptionally strong candidates to contest virtually every election.

Some other briefly-noted stories on campaigns, polls, and some more general statements of principles:

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Journalists should stop repeating Trump's lies: Refers back to the author's Hack Gap piece, which should be required homework before voting in this election. Trump's claim that no other nation has "birthright citizenship" is a prime example of a lie that's been much repeated simply because Trump told it. Other Yglesias posts this week:

    • What's at stake in Tuesday's elections: Nice, concise statement of the implications of various outcomes. The one that's missing is the question of whether Trump, presented with a Democratic Congress, might veer off in a direction of bipartisan compromises, which could steer the Republicans out of the dead-end the party's far-right has trapped them in. As long as he's had Republican control of Congress, he's had no reason to reach across the aisle, and this has let the far-right effectively veto any attempts at compromise. But if there's no way a strict party vote can deliver him any results, he would likely find the Democrats more agreeable than the far-right. And one thing that is fairly certain is that, win or lose, Trump has gained strength as the party's leader. He has, after all, really pulled out all the stops to promote the party. Of course, he could just as well hold firm and run his 2020 campaign against the Democrat-obstructionists. Indeed, his base may prefer that stance, and he may prefer it. But there is middle ground he could gain if he actually did something constructive (infrastructure is a likely place to start). So he could emerge stronger after a defeat than a win.

    • What Democrats can learn from Larry Hogan: Also Charlie Baker, who looks to be "cruising to reelection in Massachusetts." Hogan and Baker are Republican governors in otherwise solidly Democratic states -- states that Democrats would start with if they really were looking to push a far-left agenda. I'm not sure what lessons Democrats should draw from this, but one for Republicans seems pretty obvious: that Republicans can win and even thrive in solid Democratic states by running candidates that are moderate, judicious, and not sociopathic. There's an element of luck to this, but also a deep-seated distrust of Democratic politicians, not least among the party rank-and-file. Massachusetts, for instance, has had many more Republican governors over the last 30 years than Democrats, but note that the latest Democrat, Deval Patrick, elected with impeccable progressive credentials, wound up so tightly enmeshed in business interests that he wound up as one of the villains in Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal! (eclipsed only by Andrew Cuomo among governors, Rahm Emmanuel among mayors, and the Clintons nationwide). It strikes me that there's a double standard here: people expect more from Democrats; when Democrats are elected, they get swamped in everyday administration tasks (which mostly means working with business lobbies); they can't figure out how to get their platforms implemented; people are disappointed and grow increasingly cynical. The best one can hope for in a Republican is quiet competence, and in the rare cases when a Republican can do that without embarrassment, he or she gets a free pass.

    • The cynical politics of John Bolton's "Troika of Tyranny": the subject of what was effectively a campaign speech delivered in Miami, a fairly transparent attempt to galvanize Cuban support for Republicans in Florida "even as President Donald Trump's closing argument in the 2018 midterms is demagogic fear-mongering about would-be asylum-seekers from Central America." Pre-Trump, Republicans distinguished between "good" and "bad" refugees from Latin America: the "good" ones fled from communism in Cuba, the "bad" ones from capitalism and US-allied "death squads" from elsewhere. Trump has managed to muddle this a bit, as his racist, xenophobic base tends to group all immigrants and all Latin Americans together -- a point that threatens the Cuban-Republican alliance. Still, not clear to me this works even as cynical politics. Obama's opening to Cuba actually played pretty well to Cuban-Americans, who saw opportunities as Cuba itself was becoming more business-friendly. Moreover, Trump's militant stands against Venezuela and Nicaragua do more to prop up the left-ish governments there than to undermine them. Nor is it likely that Bolton can parlay his strategy into visas for right-wingers to immigrate to the US, as happened with Cuba. And as policy, of course, this is plain bad. Also see: Alex Ward: John Bolton just gave an "Axis of Evil" speech about Latin America.

    • Ted Cruz and the Zodiac Killer, explained.

  • Jill Lepore: Reigns of Terror in America: A brief history lesson on what's new and not after last week's terrorizing shootings and would-be bombings. Mostly what's not:

    On Friday, May 9, 1958, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, in Atlanta, delivered a sermon called "Can This Be America?" Crosses had been burned and men had been lynched, but Rothschild was mainly talking about the bombs: bundled sticks of dynamite tied with coiled fuses. In the late nineteen-fifties, terrorists had set off, or tried to, dozens of bombs -- at black churches, at white schools that had begun to admit black children, at a concert hall where Louis Armstrong was playing, at the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. One out of every ten attacks had been directed at Jews, at synagogues and community centers in Charlotte, in Nashville, in Jacksonville, in Birmingham. In March, 1958, about twenty sticks of dynamite, wrapped in paper yarmulkes, had exploded in an Orthodox synagogue in Miami. The blast sounded like a plane crash. . . .

    America's latest reign of terror began not with Trump's election but with Obama's, the Brown v. Board of the Presidency. "Impeach Obama," yard signs read. "He's Unconstitutional." In 2011, Trump began demanding that Obama prove his citizenship. "I feel I've accomplished something really, really important," Trump told the press, when, that spring, the White House offered up the President's birth certificate.

    I'm still working my way through Lepore's big book, These Truths: A History of the United States -- currently 575 pages in (roughly 1956), 217 to go before the notes -- and even though I've been over this terrain many times before, I'm still picking up new (or poorly understood) pieces of information. For instance, she puts some emphasis on the development of print and broadcast media, of journalism and advertising and political consultants, and the effects of each on our democracy.

  • Mike Konczal/Nell Abernathy: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom: notably economic freedoms: "Freedom From Poverty"; "Freedom for Workers"; "Freedom From Corporate Power."

  • PR Lockhart: Georgia, 2018's most prominent voting rights battleground, explained. The governor's race there will largely be determined by who goes to the polls and who doesn't. The Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, is currently Georgia's Secretary of State, which gives him a direct hand in managing voter access, and he's been using his position to tilt the election his way. Same sorts of things are happening elsewhere, but Georgia has an especially long history of voter suppression, and Kemp is actively adding to that legacy. For the latest, also note: Emily Stewart: Brian Kemp's office opens investigation into Georgia Democratic Party days ahead of the election.

  • Gregory Magarian: Don't Call Him "Justice": A few more words on Brett Kavanaugh, whose new position on the Supreme Court only promises to debase the word "justice" even further.

  • David Roberts: The caravan "invasion" and America's epistemic crisis: Yglesias linked to this above, but I wanted to show the title, and the piece is worth examining closer. Especially the term "epistemic crisis" -- a blast from my past, applicable to all sorts of gross misunderstandings, including how the right-wing mythmongers take tiny germs of fact and reason and spin them into lurid fears and fantasies. Not to deny that sometimes they totally make shit up (like the ISIS jihadis alleged to have joined "the caravan"), but "the caravan" is basically a dramatization of a fairly common process, where the poor, threatened, and/or ambitious of poor countries like Guatemala seek a better life in a richer country like the US. One might think that an influx of poor people to a rich country might drag the latter down, or that the continued impoverty of immigrants might make them more prone to crime, but there is hardly any evidence of that.

    The thing I find most curious about "the caravan" is that it is so public -- more than anything else, it reminds me of civil rights marches, which makes it very different from past migration routes (more like the slave era "underground railroad": quiet and stealthy). Civil rights marches challenged relatively friendly federal powers to intervene and limit unfriendly local powers. Nothing like that applies here, with Trump's administration more likely to be provoked to harsher measures than to accept the migrants. Given the timing and publicity, a much more rational explanation would be that "the caravan" is a publicity stunt designed to promote and legitimize Trump's rabid anti-immigrant political platform. I'm surprised I haven't seen any investigation into such an obvious suspicion. Maybe it's that the liberal press assumes that everyone secretly wants to move here, so it doesn't occur to them to ask: why these people? and why now? Roberts sticks to the safe ground of "epistemic crisis":

    Trump does not view himself as president of the whole country. He views himself as president of his white nationalist party -- their leader in a war on liberals. He has all the tools of a head of state with which to prosecute that war. Currently, he is restrained only by the lingering professionalism of public servants and a few thin threads of institutional inertia.

    The caravan story, a lurid xenophobic fantasia that has now resulted in thousands of troops deployed on US soil, shows that those threads are snapping. The epistemic crisis Trump has accelerated is now morphing into a full-fledged crisis of democracy.

    Other "caravan" links:

  • Emily Stewart: Trump said there was a middle-class tax cut coming before the election. There's no way that's happening. "Instead of running on the tax bill they already passed, Republicans are trying to convince voters with a new (nonexistent) one."

  • Kenneth P Vogel/Scott Shane/Patrick Kingsley: How Vilification of George Soros Moved From the Fringes to the Mainstream.

  • Alex Ward: The US will impose new sanctions on Iran next week: "The goal is to change Iran's behavior. It's unclear if that will happen." There's hardly any evidence that sanctions do anything other than to lock in and harden existing stances. If the goal was to "change Iran's behavior," the key element would be laying out a path for that changed behavior to be validated, but the sanctions described are all stick, no carrot, and they're being imposed by a Trump regime that has already shown no consideration for Iran's steady compliance with the previous agreement. Moreover, the politics behind the new sanctions are almost totally being driven by Israel and Saudi Arabia. One obvious Saudi goal (shared by US oil companies and other major oil exporters, including Russia) is to keep Iranian oil off the world market -- an interest that will remain regardless of Iran's "behavior." It's a shame that Trump cannot conceive of the US having any broader interests (like peaceful coexistence) than the price of oil and the market for arms. Also see:

Friday, November 02, 2018

Daily Log

Bunches of little things to note over the last couple days.

I bought a new cell phone, a Samsung S9. I've only barely started to set it up. Also got a tablet, an Alcatel 3T 8-inch, which was almost free with a (cheaper) change to our monthly plan. Set them both up on local wi-fi (although the tablet only detected the slower wi-fi band, and seems very slow for web access). Much learning curve, I'm sure, on both.

One of the first things I tried was to access my website, which turned out to be down. First crash for the new server. H&D got it up and running fast, but no idea what caused the problem. I've been getting an email warning practically hourly from the server about rpcbind taking too long to run, so that's been one way to verify the server's up. I asked H&D to look into that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Streamnotes (October 2018)

Pick up text here.

Music Week

Music: current count 30524 [30499] rated (+25), 293 [287] unrated (+6).

Despite the late posting, cutoff was Monday afternoon (including Monday's incoming mail). Count is low mostly because I took time off to shop for and cook Birthday Dinner last week. Went with French, mostly dishes from the South country, definitely nothing gourmet or nouvelle cuisine-ish. Made a terrific cassoulet with duck, an even better veal marengo, a slightly inferior boeuf bourguinon, my usual ratatouille, and a simply divine gratin dauphinois, as well as a few spreadables (chicken liver, duck rillettes, salmon rillettes, herbed cheese, tapenade), and a pretty yummy flourless chocolate cake. Took three solid days: one shopping, two cooking. More extensive notes in the notebook.

During that time, I listened to golden oldies, including all of Rhino's The R&B Box. Before (and slightly after) I got stuck in Will Friedland's The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums, playing things he liked that I hadn't heard, and other things by artists listed that I thought might be worthwhile (mostly Frank Sinatra's Capitols). When I first picked up the book at the library, I had heard 19 of 57 listed albums (33.3%). Now I've raised that to 51 (89.4%), unable to find albums by Bobby Troup (Sings Johnny Mercer), Lena Horne (At the Waldorf Astoria), Barb Jungr (Every Grain of Sand), Carmen McRae (As Time Goes By), Jimmy Scott (Lost and Found), and Jo Stafford (Sings American Folk Songs). I don't have time to figure out a grade spread, but safe to say we don't agree on very many of these.

One thing I like to do when I'm doing these dives into old music is to knock off U-rated albums in my database, but I had trouble locating (much less finding time for) unrated boxes of Sinatra and Mel Tormé. (I also have an unrated Bing Crosby box somewhere. In fact, I should spend some time with Crosby, but as it happened I had heard Friedland's two Crosby selections, so I skipped over him.) Maybe someday I'll write my own vocals list. It should be very different, as only 13 albums on Friedland's list did A- or better for me.

Streamnotes due October 31. Need to get cracking on that. I should also note that Robert Christgau's new essay collection, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 came out last week.

New records rated this week:

  • Danny Bacher: Still Happy (2018, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop: Abundance (2013-16 [2018], Anzic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Colin Edwin & Lorenzo Feliciati: Twinscapes Vol. 2: A Modern Approach to the Dancefloor (2018, RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Fat Tony: 10,000 Hours (2018, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Marie Goudy 12tet featuring Jocelyn Barth: The Bitter Suite (2018, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Robyn: Honey (2018, Konichawa/Interscope): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Robyn: Robyn Is Here (1995 [1997], RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Robyn: My Truth (1999, RCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Robyn: Body Talk, Pt. 3 (2010, Konichiwa, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: Songs for Young Lovers (1954, Capitol, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: Swing Easy! (1954, Capitol, EP): [r]: A
  • Frank Sinatra: In the Wee Small Hours (1954-55 [1955], Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Frank Sinatra: Close to You (1957, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Frank Sinatra: Come Fly With Me (1957 [1958], Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Frank Sinatra: Come Dance With Me! (1958 [1959], Capitol): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: No One Cares (1959, Capitol): [r]: B-
  • Frank Sinatra: Nice 'n' Easy (1960, Capitol): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: Sinatra's Swingin' Session (1960 [1961], Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Mr. Tophat Feat. Robyn: Trust Me (2016 [2017], Smalltown Supersound, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mel Tormé With the Marty Paich Dek-Tette: Lulu's Back in Town (1956, Bethlehem): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mel Tormé With the Marty Paich Dek-Tette: Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire (1956, Bethlehem): [r]: A-
  • Mel Tormé: Tormé (1958 [1959], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mel Tormé: I Dig the Duke/I Dig the Count (1961, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mel Tormé: Compact Jazz: Mel Tormé (1958-61 [1987], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mel Tormé: The Best of Mel Tormé [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1958-61 [2005], UME): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards: Elements (FMR)
  • Annie Chen Octet: Secret Treetop (Shanghai Audio & Video): November 9
  • Coyote Poets of the Universe: Strange Lullaby (Square Shaped, 2CD)
  • Jake Ehrenreich: A Treasury of Jewish Christmas Songs (self-released)
  • Christopher Hollyday: Telepathy (Jazzbeat Productions)
  • Adam Hopkins: Crickets (Out of Your Head)
  • Jason Kao Hwang Burning Bridge: Blood (True Sound)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Una Noche Con Rubén Blades (Blue Engine)
  • Lawful Citizen: Internal Combustion (self-released): November 9
  • Carol Liebowitz/Birgitta Flick: Malita-Malika (Leo)
  • Jack Mouse Group: Intimate Adversary (Tall Grass): January 1
  • Jorge Nila: Tenor Time (Tribute to the Tenor Masters) (Ninjazz): January 4
  • Chris Pasin: Ornettiquette (Piano Arts)
  • The David Ullman Group: Sometime (Little Sky)
  • David Virelles: Igbó Alákorin (The Singer's Groove) Vol I & II (Pi)
  • Way North: Fearless and Kind (self-released): November 2
  • Kenny Werner: The Space (Pirouet): November 2

Weekend Roundup

I haven't written much about the elections this year. Partly, I don't care for the horserace-style reporting, or the focus on polls as a proxy for actual news. FiveThirtyEight currently forecasts that the Democrats have a "1 in 6" chance of gaining control of the Senate, and a "6 in 7" chance of winning the House. The main difference there is that Democrats have a huge structural disadvantage in the Senate: only one third of the seats are up, and Republicans have a large margin among the carryover seats; most of the seats that are contested this year are Democratic, so the Democrats have many more opportunities to lose than to win; and the Senate isn't anywhere near close to uniformly representative of the general population. The House itself has been severely rigged against the Democrats, so much so that in recent years Democrats have won the national popular vote for the House yet Republicans won most of the seats (same as with the 2016 presidential election). Despite those odds, it seems likely that the Democrats will get a larger share of the nationwide Senate vote than the House vote. I'm not sure what the best thinking is on this, but it seems likely to me that the Democrats will have to win the nationwide House vote by 4% or more just to break even. The break-even point in the Senate is probably more like +10%, so a Democratic wave of +6-7% will give you those forecast odds.

Of course, one reason for not obsessing over the polls and odds is that Republicans have tended to do better than expected pretty much every election since the Democratic gains in 2006-08. I don't really understand why this has been the case, aside from the hard work Republicans have done to intimidate and suppress voters (but I doubt that's all there is to it). Early this year, I thought a bit about writing up a little book on political eras and strategy, but never got past the obvious era divisions: 1800, 1860, 1932, 1980; 2020 would be about right, especially since Trump has more in common with the dead-end presidents (Adams, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter) than the era-shifters (Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and, ugh, Reagan). Maybe I'll return to that after the election, with some more data to crunch.

Of course, the real meat of such a book would be a dissection of the Republican political machine: how it works, why it works, who pulls the levers, and why do so many otherwise decent people fall for it. (I don't see much value delving into the so-called deplorables, although two of them snapped and made the biggest news this week -- more on that below.) This should be easier now than it was just weeks or months ago, as Republican campaign pitches have become even more fraudulent and inflammatory as the day of reckoning approaches. Still, I'm not sure I'm up to this task. It's so easy to caricature Trump that most of his critics have failed to notice how completely, and even more surprisingly how deftly, he has merged his party and himself into a single, homogeneous force.

On the other hand, the Democrats are still very much the party of Will Rogers, when he famously proclaimed: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." Despite the recent polarization of political parties -- mostly accomplished by Republican efforts to detach Southern and suburban racists from their previous Democratic Party nests -- Democrats still range over virtually the entire spectrum of American political thought, at least those who generally accept that we live in a complex open society, one that accepts and respects differences within a framework of equal rights and countervailing powers. This contrasts starkly with the Republican Party, which has been captured by a few hundred billionaires, who have bankrolled a media empire which expertly exploits the fears and prejudices of an often-adequate segment of voters to support their agenda of enriching and aggrandizing their class, with scant regard for the consequences.

We see the consequences of unchecked Republican power every day, at least since the last general election delivered the presidency to Donald Trump, and allowed the confirmation of two more extreme right-wing Supreme Court Justices and many more lesser judges -- indeed, my Weekend Roundups for the last two years, including the one below, barely scratch that surface. But for all the talk of polarization, the practical situation today is not a stark choice between two dogmatic and opposed political extremes, but between one such party, and another that reflects the often flawed but still idealistic American tradition of progressive equality, an open and free society, and a mixed but fair economy: the traits of a democracy, because they are ideals that nearly all of us can believe in and agree on.

So despite the billions of dollars being spent to persuade you, the choice is ultimately stark and simple. Either you vote for a party that has proven itself determined to make America a cruder, harsher, less welcoming, less fair, more arrogant, more violent, and more rigidly hierarchical place, or you vote for Democrats, who may or may not be good people, who may or may not have good ideas, but who at least are open to discussing real problems and realistic solutions to those problems, who recognize that a wide range of people have interests, and who seek to balance them in ways that are practical and broadly beneficial. Republicans only seek to consolidate their power, and that means stripping away anything that gives you the option of standing up to them: pretty much everything from casting a ballot to joining a union. On the other hand, voting for Democrats may not guarantee democracy, but it will at least slow and possibly start to reverse the descent into totalitarianism the Republicans have plotted out.

This choice sounds so obvious I'm almost embarrassed to have to bring it up, but so many people are prey to Republican pitches that the races remain close and uncertain. Nor am I worried here just about the polls. I see evidence of how gullible otherwise upstanding people can be every time I look at Facebook. The main reason I bother with Facebook is to keep tabs on my family and close friends. While I have little cause for concern among the latter, my family offers a pretty fair cross-section of, well, white America. So every day now I see disturbing right-wing memes -- most common ones this week were efforts to paint alleged pipe-bomber Cesar Sayoc as a closet Democrat (one also argued that he isn't white). A couple weeks ago it was mostly misleading memes defending Brett Kavanaugh. It's very rare to find these accompanied by even a cursory personal argument. Rather, they seem to be just token gesture of political allegiance.

Probably the most important stories of the week were two acts of not-quite-random violence: one (mailed pipe bombs to a number of prominent Democratic Party politicians and supporters) seems to be a simple case of a Trump supporter acting on violent fantasies fanned by the president's reckless rhetoric; the other (a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh) erupts from a much older strain of anti-semitism, one that was much more fashionable back in the 1930s when Trump's father was attending pro-Nazi rallies in New York. Republicans, including Trump, were quick to condemn these acts of violence (although, as noted above, there has been a bizarre strain of denialism with regard to the pipe-bomber).

I have no doubt that these are the isolated acts of profoundly disturbed individuals. Of course, that's what politicians always say when their supporters get carried away and cross the bounds of law and decency. Still, I think there are cases where political figures set up an environment where it becomes almost inevitable that someone will act criminally. Two fairly convincing examples of this are the murders of Yitzhak Rabin in Israel (called for by prominent rabbis) and of George Tiller here in Wichita (killed on the second assassination attempt after years of being demonized by anti-abortion activists). I don't think either of this week's acts rises to that standard, but the fact is that violence against blacks, Jews, and others vilified by right-wing propagandists spiked shortly after Obama was elected president, and Trump deliberately tapped into that anger during and after the 2016 election. Indeed, right-wing rage has been a feature of American politics at least since it was summoned up by GW Bush in response to the 9/11 attacks, deliberately to put America onto a permanent war footing, something that seventeen years of further war has only increased. That random Americans have increasingly attempted to impose their political will through guns and bombs is no coincidence, given that their government has done just that -- and virtually nothing else but that -- for most of our lives.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The hack gap: how and why conservative nonsense dominates American politics: This at least starts to explain why, for instance, when Hillary Clinton referred to half of Trump's supporters as "a basket of deplorables" the comment was repeated ad nauseum along with the horrified reactions from both halves of the Trump party, but when Trump says "Anybody who votes for a Democrat now is crazy" hardly anyone ever hears of it:

    The reason is something I've dubbed "the hack gap" over the years, and it's one of the most fundamental asymmetries shaping American politics. While conservatives obsess over the (accurate) observation that the average straight news reporter has policy views that are closer to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, the hack gap fundamentally does more to structure political discourse.

    The hack gap explains why Clinton's email server received more television news coverage than all policy issues combined in the 2016 election. It explains why Republicans can hope to get away with dishonest spin about preexisting conditions. It's why Democrats are terrified that Elizabeth Warren's past statements about Native American heritage could be general election poison in 2020, and it's why an internecine debate about civility has been roiling progressive circles for nearly two years even while the president of the United States openly praises assaulting journalists. . . .

    Since there are exactly two significant political parties in the United States, it's natural to think of them as essentially mirror images of each other.

    But they're not, and one critical difference is that the Republican Party benefits from the operation of mass-market propaganda broadcasts that completely abjure the principles of journalism.

    Back in the 19th century, most newspapers in America were highly partisan, but around 1900 they gave way to mainstream papers which strived to establish clear facts that could inform all readers. As broadcast media developed, it was licensed by the government and required to serve the public interest and provide equal time on matters of controversy. This pretty much ended when Reagan's FCC got rid of the equal time rule. Right-wingers were quick to buy up newly unregulated media and turn them into pure propaganda outlets. The left might have wanted to follow suit, but none (by definition) could afford to buy up the formerly "free press," while liberals and centrists were generally content to stick with the mainstream media, even as its fact-bias tilted to the right to encompass the "reality" of the propagandists. This continuous rebalancing has had the effect of allowing the right to define much of the terrain of what counts as news. A prime example of this has been the nearly continuous mainstream press reporting on an endless series of Clinton "scandals" -- even when the reporting shows the charges to be false, the act of taking them seriously feeds the fears and doubts of many uncommitted voters, in some cases (like 2016) tilting elections:

    And yet elections are swung, almost by definition, not by the majority of people who correctly see the scope of the differences and pick a side but by the minority of people for whom the important divisions in US partisan politics aren't decisive. Consequently, the issues that matter most electorally are the ones that matter least to partisans. Things like email protocol compliance that neither liberals nor conservatives care about even slightly can be a powerful electoral tool because the decisive voters are the ones who don't care about the epic ideological clash of left and right.

    But journalists take their cues about what's important from partisan media outlets and partisan social media.

    Thus, the frenzies of partisan attention around "deplorables" and "lock her up" served to focus on controversies that, while not objectively significant. are perhaps particularly resonant to people who don't have firm ideological convictions.

    Meanwhile, similar policy-neutral issues like Trump's insecure cellphone, his preposterous claim to be too busy to visit the troops, or even his apparent track record of tax fraud don't get progressives worked into a lather in the same way.

    This is a natural tactical advantage that, moreover, serves a particular strategic advantage given the Republican Party's devotion to plutocratic principles on taxation and health insurance that have only a very meager constituency among the mass public.

    Yglesias cites some interesting research on the effect of Fox News and other cogs in the right-wing propaganda machine, showing that the margin of nearly all Republican victories "since the 1980s" can be chalked up to this "hack gap." One effect of this is that by being able to stay extreme and still win, Republicans have never had to adjust their policy mix to gain moderate voters. Indeed, they probably realize that extreme negative attitudes are, if anything, more effective in motivating their "base," although that also leads to them taking ever greater liberties with the truth.

    Other Yglesias pieces from the last two weeks:

    • The case for amnesty.

    • Democratic priorities for 2021: what's most important? Given all the people who are likely running for president in 2020, what do they hope to accomplish?

      In my view, the most important things to tackle right now are climate change, the state of American democracy, and the millions of long-term resident undocumented immigrants in the country.

    • Democrats need to learn to name villains rather than vaguely decrying "division": Yglesias doesn't get very specific either, but that's because what he says about Republicans fits damn near every one of them:

      But there is also a very specific thing happening in the current American political environment that is driving the elevated level of concern. And that thing is not just a nameless force of "division."

      It's a deliberate political strategy enacted by the Republican Party, its allies in partisan media, and its donors to foster a political debate that is centered on divisive questions of personal identity rather than on potentially unifying themes of concrete material interests. It's a strategy whose downside is that it tends to push American society to the breaking point, but whose upside is that it facilitates the enacting of policies that serve the concrete material interests of a wealthy minority rather than those of the majority.

      That's what's going on, and it's time to say so.

      Here in Kansas, Kris Kobach is running for governor, and his adds try to turn him into a normal "family man," while attacking his opponent, Democrat Laura Kelly, as "far left." I don't know the guy personally, so I merely suspect, based on his public behavior and manifest ignorance of law, that the former is a bald-faced lie. The charge against Kelly is no less than rabid McCarthy-ite slander: not that it would bother me if it were true, but she's about as staidly conservative as any non-Republican in Kansas can be. Meanwhile, Ron Estes' ads for the House stress how hard he's is fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare -- something there's no evidence of in his voting record. No mention of the real hard work he does in Washington, carrying water for the Kochs, Boeing, and the hometown Petroleum Club.

      Biden is right, of course, that the upshot of that divisiveness is deplorable and bad for the country. It would be much healthier for American society to have a calmer, kinder, more rational political dialogue more focused on addressing the concrete problems of the majority of the country. But while society overall would be healthier with that kind of politics, Donald Trump personally would not be better off. Nor would the hyper-wealthy individuals who benefit personally from the Republican Party's relentless advocacy of unpopular regressive tax schemes.

      The American people were not crying out for the Trump administration to legalize a pesticide that damages children's brains and then follow it up with a ruling to let power plants poison children's brains, but the people who own the pesticide factories and power plants are sure glad that we're screaming about a caravan of migrants hundreds of miles away rather than the plutocrats next door.

      Combating this strategy of demagoguery and nonsense is difficult, but the first step is to correctly identify it rather than spouting vague pieties about togetherness.

    • An extended discussion of the US-Saudi alliance shows Trump still has no idea what he's talking about.

    • After playing nice for one afternoon, Trump wakes to blame the media for bombings.

    • Trump's middle-class tax cut is a fairy tale that distracts from the real midterm stakes:

      There is a kind of entertaining randomness to the things Trump says and does. The president decides it would be smart to start pretending that he's working on a middle-class tax cut, so he just blurts it out with no preparation. Everyone else in the Republican Party politics knows that when Trump starts lying about something, their job is to start covering for him.

      But because Trump is disorganized, and most people aren't as shameless as Trump is, it usually takes a few days for the ducks to get in a row. The ensuing chaos is kind of funny.

      But there's actually nothing funny about tricking millions of people about matters with substantial concrete consequences for them and their families. And that's what's happening here. Trump is lying about taxes -- and about health care and many other things -- because he will benefit personally in concrete ways if the electorate is misinformed about the real stakes in the election.

    • Ebola was incredibly important to TV news until Republicans decided it shouldn't be.

    • California's Proposition 10, explained: This has to do with rent control. Yglesias once wrote a book called The Rent Is Too Damn High, so this is something he cares a lot about -- certainly a lot more than I do, although I sure remember the pain of getting price gouged by greedy landlords. Yglesias mostly wants to see more building, which would put pressure to bring prices down.

    • To defend journalism, we need to defend the truth and not just journalists:

      Trump is a bigot and a demagogue, but he is first and foremost a scammer.

      When Trump fans wanted to learn the secrets of his business success, he bilked them out of money for classes at his fake university. When Trump fans wanted to invest in his publicly traded company, they lost all their money while he tunneled funds out of the enterprise and into his pockets.

      He riles up social division by lying about minority groups to set up the premise that he's the champion of the majority, and then lies to the majority about what he's doing for them.

      He can't get away with it if people know the truth, so he attacks -- rhetorically, and at times even physically -- people whose job it is is to tell the truth. To push back, we in journalism can't just push back on the attacks. We need to push back on the underlying lies more clearly and more vigorously than we have.

    • Reconsidering the US-Saudi relationship: Argues that a US-Saudi alliance made sense during the Cold War, and that hostility between the Saudis and Iran makes sense now (the sanctions keep Iran from putting its oil on the market and depressing the price of Saudi oil), but points out that while the Saudis benefit from keeping the US and Iran at loggerheads, the US doesn't get much out of it. That Trump has fallen for the Saudi bait just shows how little he understands anything about the region (and more generally about the world).

    • The biggest lie Trump tells is that he's kept his promises: Well, obviously, "a raft of populist pledges have been left on the cutting room floor," starting with "great health care . . . much less expensive and much better." Also the idea of Mexico paying for "the wall." Here's a longer laundry list:

      There's a lot more where that came from:

      • As a candidate, Trump promised to raise taxes on the rich; as president, he promised tax changes that at a minimum wouldn't benefit the rich.
      • Trump promised to break up America's largest banks by reinstated old Glass-Steagall regulations that prevented financial conglomerates from operating in multiple lines of business.
      • Trump promised price controls on prescription drugs.
      • Trump promised to "take the oil" from Iraq to reduce the financial burden of US military policy.
      • Trump promised many times that he would release his tax returns and promised to put his wealth into a blind trust.
      • Trump vowed rollback of climate change regulations but said he was committed to upholding clean air and clean water goals.
      • Trump promised a $1 trillion infrastructure package.

      The larger betrayal is that Trump portrayed himself as a self-financed candidate (which wasn't true) who was willing to take stances on domestic and economic issues that his donor-backed opponents wouldn't. In terms of position-taking, that was true.

      I see less grounds for faulting Trump on this score. For one thing, I never heard or felt him as a populist -- so half of the above, as well as such vague and impossible promises as better/cheaper health care, never registered as campaign promises. A pretty good indication of my expectations was how sick-to-my-stomach I was on election night. What Trump's done since taking office is very consistent with what I expected that night. In fact, I would say that he's been much more successful at fulfilling his campaign promises than Obama was after taking office in 2009, or Clinton in 1993. This is especially striking given that both Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 had strong Democratic majorities in Congress, which they pissed away in bipartisan gestures. Trump had much less to work with, and had to awkwardly merge his agenda into that of the harder right Congressional Republicans, but he's gotten quite a bit through Congress, and gone way beyond his mandate with his executive orders. Moreover, things that he hasn't fully delivered, like his wall, wrecking universal health care, and resetting international trade regulations, he's made a good show of showing he still cares for those issues. Of course, he lies a lot about what he's doing, and what his acts will actually accomplish. And nearly everything he's done and wants to do will eventually blow back and hurt the nation and most of its people. But as politicians go, you can't fault him for delivering. You have to focus on what those deliveries mean, because history will show that Trump's much worse than a liar and a blowhard.

    • How to make the economy great again: raise pay.

    • The Great Recession was awful. And we don't have a plan to stop the next one. A couple of interesting charts here, comparing actual to potential output, as estimated over time since the 2008 recession started. Not only did the recession cause a lot of immediate pain, it's clear now that it has reduced future prospects well past when we technically recovered from the recession.

    • Progressives have nothing to learn from "nationalist" backlash politics: "Nativism is the social democracy of fools." Cites an op-ed by Jefferson Cowie: Reclaiming Patriotism for the Left.

    • Proportional representation could save America: Maybe, but it won't happen, mostly because no one with the power to make changes to make it easier for independents and third parties to share power will see any advantage in doing so. I once wondered why after 2008 no one in the Democratic Party lifted a finger to restrict or limit the role of money in elections, but the obvious reason was that even though a vast majority of rank-and-file Democrats (and probably a thinner majority of Republican voters) favored such limits, the actual Democrats (and Republicans) in power were by definition proven winners at raising money, making them the only people with good self-interested reasons for continuing the present system.

  • Jon Lee Anderson: Jair Bolsonaro's Victory Echoes Donald Trump's, With Key Differences: For the worse, he means. Actually, he's sounding more like Pinochet, or Franco, or you-know-who:

    Bolsonaro himself has promised retribution against his political foes, swearing that he will see Lula "rot" in prison and will eventually put Haddad behind bars, too. He has also pledged to go after the land-reform activists of the M.S.T. -- the Movimento Sem Terra -- the Landless Worker's Movement, whom he has referred to as "terrorists."

    In a speech last week, Bolsonaro called Brazil's leftists "red outlaws" and said that they needed to leave the country or else go to jail. "These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland," he said. "It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history." Later, referring to his supporters, he said, "We are the majority. We are the true Brazil. Together with this Brazilian people, we will make a new nation."

    Also see: Greg Grandin: Brazil's Bolsonaro Has Supercharged Right-Wing Cultural Politics; also Vijay Prashad: Bolsonaro of Brazil: Slayer of the Amazon; and Noam Chomsky: I just visited Lula, the world's most prominent political prisoner. A "soft coup" in Brazil's election will have global consequences..

  • Peter Beinart: The Special Kind of Hate That Drove Pittsburgh Shooter -- and Trump. In many respects the shooter is a classic anti-semite, but he specifically singled out the Pittsburgh synagogue for its support for immigrants, including Muslims. For more on this, see: Masha Gessen: Why the Tree of Life shooter was fixated on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Also of interest: Abigail Hauslohner/Abby Ohlheiser: Some neo-Nazis lament the Pittsburgh massacre: It derails their efforts to be mainstream.

  • Tara Isabella Burton: The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting comes amid a years-long rise in anti-Semitism; also: Why extremists keep attacking places of worship; also German Lopez: Trump's responses to mass shootings are a giant lie by omission, and The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting is another example of America's gun problem, to which I'd add "war problem."

  • John Cassidy: Donald Trump Launches Operation Midterms Diversion: Who wants to talk about pipe bombs sent to political enemies and mass shootings in synagogues (or in grocery stores) when you can send troops to the Mexican border to brace against the migrant hordes? Cassidy also wrote: The Dangerously Thin Line Between Political Incitement and Political Violence, Why Donald Trump Can't Stop Attacking the Media Over the Pipe-Bomb Packages, and American Democracy Is Malfunctioning in Tragic Fashion.

  • Michael D'Antonio: Cesar Sayocs can be found almost anywhere in America. Presidents should take heed:

    Trump campaigned using taunts and suggestions that all the Cesar Sayocs could have heard as calls to violent action. When a protester interrupted a rally, Trump announced that he would "like to punch him in the face" and waxed sentimental about the days when protesters would be "carried out on stretchers."

    He referenced a "Second Amendment" response to Hillary Clinton's possible election and offered to pay the legal bills for those who assault his protesters. . . .

    As president, Trump never pivoted from his destructive campaign mode to become a leader of all the American people. Just weeks ago, he praised fellow Republican Greg Gianforte for assaulting a reporter who had asked him a question. "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of . . . He was my guy," said Trump.

    The President's encouragement of violence, combined with rhetoric about the press being "enemies of the people" and political opponents being un-American, are green lights for those who are vulnerable to suggestion. Worse, when you think about the President's impact on fevered minds, is his penchant for conspiracy theories. With no evidence, he recently suggested terrorists were among immigrants now marching toward the United States.

    Previously, Trump has said that the hurricane death toll in Puerto Rico was inflated to hurt him politically, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, climate change is a "hoax" and millions of people voted illegally in 2016. Keep in mind, this is the President of the United States we're talking about, and though they are favored on the fringes of the internet, none of these ideas is supported by facts.

    Taken together, Trump's paranoid rants encourage people to believe that almost anything can be true. Can't find actual facts to support your belief that some conspiracy is afoot? Well, the absence of facts proves that the media is in on the game. An election doesn't go your way? As the President says, the system is "rigged."

    Consider Trump's paranoid blather from the perspective of a man who may already feel alienated, angry and afraid. You hear the President of the United States repeatedly assert that the dishonest press is hiding the real truth. He implies that his enemies are out to hurt him and he needs the help of ordinary citizens. Add the way that Trump encourages violence and seems to thrill at the prospect, and is it any wonder that someone would act? The real wonder is why it doesn't happen more often.

    I wouldn't have committed to that last sentence, but the rest of the quote is pretty spot on. I can think of lots of reasons why this doesn't happen more often. For starters, few people (even few Trump voters) take politics as personally as Sayoc and Trump do. Even among those who do, and are as disaffected as Sayoc, hardly any are ready to throw their lives away to indulge Trump's whims. It might even occur to them that if Trump really wanted to order hits on his "enemies," he'd be much more able to foot the bill himself. (He'd probably even have contacts with Russians willing to do the job.) But Trump himself doesn't do things like that: he's not that deranged, or maybe he just has a rational fear that it might blow up on him (cf. Mohammad Bin Salman, or for that matter Vladimir Putin). I think it's pretty clear that Trump attacks the media because he's afraid not of satire (the former meaning of "fake news") or opinion, but of the corruption, deceit, and dysfunction that media might eventually get around to reporting (if they ever tire of his tweets and gaffes). By turning his supporters against the media, he hopes to create doubt should they ever get serious about the damage he's causing.

    A second point that should be stressed is that you don't have to be president to incite someone like Sayoc to violence. Indeed, incited violence most often reflects a loss or lack of power. It is, after all, a tactic of desperation (a point Gilles Kepel made about 9/11 in an afterword to his essential book Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam). I fully expect we'll see an uptick in right-wing violence only after Trump leaves office -- much like the one following the Republican loss in 2008, but probably much worse given the personal animus Trump has been spouting. (Of course, Republicans who argued last week that Trump is being unfairly blamed because no one blamed Obama for a Charleston church massacre that occurred "on his watch" will spare Trump any responsibility.)

    For more on Sayoc, see: Dan Paquette/Lori Rozsa/Matt Zapotosky: 'He felt that somebody was finally talking to him': How the package-bomb suspect found inspiration in Trump.

  • Madison Dapcevich: EPA Announces It Will Discontinue Science Panel That Reviews Air Pollution Safety.

  • Garrett Epps: The Citizenship Clause Means What It Says: Adding to the last-minute campaign confusion, Trump's talking about using his executive powers to override the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. Also see: Aziz Huq: Trump's birthright citizenship proposal, explained by a law professor.

  • J Lester Feder: Bernie Sanders Is Partnering With a Greek Progressive to Build a New Leftist Movement: The guy who didn't get his name in the headline is Yanis Varoufakis, who left his post as an economic professor in Texas to become Greece's finance minister under the Syriza government, and left that post when Syriza caved in to the EU's austerity demands. Since then he's written several books: And the Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future, and Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism. The article sees this as a response to Steve Bannon's efforts to forge an international alliance of far-right parties, normally separated by their respective nationalisms. Reminds me more of the pre-Bolshevik Internationale, but maybe we shouldn't talk about that? But globalism is so clearly dominated by capital that resistance and constructive alternatives emerging from anywhere help us all.

  • Umair Irfan: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke might face a criminal investigation: Although they're going to have to come up with something more substantial than "He also compared Martin Luther King Jr. to Robert E. Lee" (the subhed -- why even mention that?).

  • German Lopez: The Kentucky Kroger shooting may have been a racist attack: I don't see much need for "may" here, even if the white shooter's "whites don't kill whites" quote is just hearsay.

  • Robinson Meyer: The Trump Administration Flunked Its Math Homework: On automobile mileage standards.

  • Dana Milbank: The latest lesson in Trumponomics 101:

    Tuesday morning brought a textbook illustration of Trumponomics.

    Under this economic theory -- defined roughly as "when it's sunny, credit me; when it rains, blame them" -- President Trump has been claiming sole responsibility for a bull market that began nearly eight years before his presidency.

    But this month, wild swings in the market threaten to erase the year's gains, and on Tuesday, Trump offered an explanation: The Democrats did it! The market "is now taking a little pause -- people want to see what happens with the Midterms," he tweeted. "If you want your Stocks to go down, I strongly suggest voting Democrat."

    Most attribute the swoon to higher tariffs set off by Trump's trade war and higher interest rates aggravated by Trump's tax cut. But Trumponomics holds otherwise. . . .

    When you start from a place of intellectual dishonesty, there is no telling where you'll end up. That is the very foundation of Trumponomics.

    For something a little deeper on Trumponomics, see: Matt Taibbi: Three Colliding Problems Leading to a New Economic Disaster.

  • Bruce Murphy: Wisconsin's $4.1 billion Foxconn boondoggle: "The total Foxconn subsidy hit $4.1 billion, a stunning $1,774 per household in Wisconsin." Article also notes that $4.1 billion is about $315,000 per job promised.

  • Andrew Prokop: The incredibly shoddy plot to smear Robert Mueller, explained. Read this if you're curious. Significant subheds here are "This was an embarrassingly thin scam" and "If this was just trolling, then it sort of worked." All I want to add that I thought Seth Meyers' take on this story was especially disgusting, but I could say that for all of his "looks like . . ." bits.

  • Catherine Rampell: Republicans are mischaracterizing nearly all their major policies. Why?

    Republicans have mischaracterized just about every major policy on their agenda. The question is why. If they genuinely believe their policies are correct, why not defend them on the merits? . . .

    [Long list of examples, most of which you already know]

    You might wonder if maybe Republican politicians are mischaracterizing so many of their own positions because they don't fully understand them. But given that Republican leaders have occasionally blurted out their true motives -- on taxes, immigration and, yes, even health care -- this explanation seems a little too charitable.

    Republican politicians aren't too dumb to know what their policies do. But clearly they think the rest of us are.

  • Brian Resnick: Super Typhoon Yutu, the strongest storm of the year, just hit US territories: That would be islands in the West Pacific, Tinian and Saipan, with sustained winds of 180 mph, gusting to 219 mph, a 20 foot storm surge, waves cresting at 52 feet. Just my impression, but this year has been an especially fierce one for tropical cyclones in the Pacific, including two that improbably hit Hawaii. Any year when you get to 'Y' is pretty huge.

  • David Roberts: Why conservatives keep gaslighting the nation about climate change: I've run across the term several times recently, and sort of thought I knew what it meant, but decided to look it up to be sure:

    Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

    I guess that makes it the word of the week. As the article points out, the tactics have changed as climate change has become more and more undeniable, but the goal -- not doing anything about it that might impact the bottom line of the carbon extraction companies -- has held steady (although maybe they'll come around to spend money on "adaptation," given the equation: "nationalism + graft = that's the right-wing sweet spot").

  • Alex Ward: Saudi Arabia admits Khashoggi's murder was "premeditated". Ward also wrote The US is sending 5,000 troops to the border. Here's what they can and can't do. Ward cites Dara Lind, explaining:

    It is completely legal for anyone on US soil to seek asylum, regardless of whether or not they have papers. People who present themselves for asylum at a port of entry -- an official border crossing -- break no US law.

    Ward also wrote: Trump may soon kill a US-Russia arms control deal. It might be a good idea. Uh, no, it's not. Even if you buy the argument that Russia has been "cheating" -- during a period when the US expanded NATO all the way to Russia's border -- the solution is more arms control, not less, and certainly not a new round of arms race. Tempting, of course, to blame this on John Bolton, who's built his entire career on promoting nuclear arms races. By the way, Fred Kaplan has argued Trump Is Rewarding Putin for His Bad Behavior by Pulling Out of a Key Missile Treaty.

  • Paul Woodward: Loneliness in America: Could have filed this under any of the shooters above (specifically refers to Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers), but obviously this is more more widespread, with much more complex consequences.

Also, saved for future study:

PS: Although I started this back on Saturday, in anticipation of posting late Sunday evening. Actually got the introduction written on Sunday, but the miscellaneous links just dragged on and on and on -- finally cut them off on Wednesday, October 31. After which I still had a Music Week post due on the intervening Monday, and a Streamnotes wrap up by the end of the month (i.e., today). Of course, it's my prerogative to backdate if I wish. But while I didn't make an effort to pick up late stories, inevitably a few snuck in here. So pretend I just had a long weekend. Feels like one.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Daily Log

Started this, but found it was chewing up too much time for too little value:

I was going to say that I've never seen any of these things accompanied by a coherent personal argument, but I found one today (from a cousin-in-law):

Please quit using the word IMMIGRANT to describe people trying to force their way into our country illegally. It is an insult to my mother and the millions of other law abiding CITIZENS who studied hard and followed all the rules of our country to become legitimate Immigrants. They learned English and swore to uphold our country and its laws and to support themselves and be productive citizens. We aren't "afraid" of immigrants, we aren't "racists," we simply can distinguish right from wrong which makes us rational adults.

Some things I would disagree with here, and some I'm simply unclear on. America has lots of immigrants who aren't naturalized citizens but have all the necessary documentation (e.g., "green cards") so aren't "illegal" (an unfairly charged term that most often refers to someone who simply didn't have the foresight to negotiate the proper bureaucracy). Before 1924, such paperwork didn't even exist, so none of my ancestors ever had visas or work permits, and few were officially naturalized (although I know that a great-great-grandfather from Sweden was). I should also point out that the much-reported "caravan" of refugees from Central America haven't done anything illegal (at least in the US). They actually have a legal right to present themselves to US border officials and apply for refugee (or other immigrant) status.

Another fragment I gave up on:

I mentioned above how obnoxious right-wing memes are, but I saw a centrist one yesterday that was every bit as wrong-headed. It posed as a "memorandum from the American people": "You are no longer allowed to talk about your opponent in any way, form or fashion. You are only allowed to tell us why YOU are right for this position and NOT why your opponent is not." . . .

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Daily Log

Birthday Thursday, 68. Got a fairly good examination by my cardiologist on Wednesday, although in most regards I'm in worsening shape. Mostly aches and pains moving around. Eyesight worse. Allergies as bad as ever. Having trouble getting to bed before 6AM, or sleeping past Noon -- but I do get a pretty solid five hours.

Spent all day cooking for my big Birthday Dinner tomorrow night. This year's theme is French country cooking. I ordered two cookbooks for the occasion: Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, and Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. The only proper French cookbook I had before this was Julia Child's Volume 1, which I'm should mention I have yet to cook anything out of yet. I have cooked a handful of French dishes in the past, but never made a point of cooking a whole French dinner.

When I came up with the idea, I thought I'd fill up the entire week with cooking, starting with things I could keep around a few days. As it turned out, although I had made a couple of early scouting trips, I didn't do any serious shopping until Wednesday. Even then, my menu was still a rough sketch of possible ideas. What I wound up serving Friday was:

  • Ready-to-bake French baguettes, with several spreads:
    • Mme. Maman's chopped liver (Greenspan)
    • Salmon rillettes (Greenspan)
    • Duck rillettes (Peterson)
    • Lyonnaise garlic & herb cheese (Greenspan)
    • Tapenade (Jenkins)
  • Cold trout in orange marinade (Hazan)
  • Boeuf bourgoinon (Bourdain)
  • Veal marengo (Greenspan)
  • Whole duck cassoulet (Bittman)
  • Ratatouille (Jenkins)
  • Gratin dauphinois (Bourdain)
  • Bittersweet chocolate-almond cake with amaretti cookie crumbs (Greenspan)

I bought stuff to make several other smaller dishes, but they fell by the wayside. I thought about making my own bread, but ultimately figured it would be too much work and pretty risky. The ready-to-bake loaves seemed like a nice compromise, although they actually turned out not to be very good. Only dish I was even moderately disappointed by was the beef, which barely made the two hours the recipe calls for -- I suspect another 30-45 minutes would have helped, if nothing else to concentrate the sauce. By contrast, I wound up cooking the veal a lot longer than called for, and it was spectacular.

Did pretty much all of the shopping on Wednesday. Thawed the duck out and cut the breast and legs off, reserving them for later use. I then roasted the rest of the duck along with an onion, carrots, and celery for an hour, then dumped them into the stock pot, simmering the stock for another 3-4 hours. I collected the fat for future use. Both steps could have used more time -- not least because I needed more fat. I wound up salvaging the loose boiled meat, and tried slow-frying the skin and any bits of fat I found, like I've done making gribenes. I wound up throwing the skin away, but did get a few more tablespoons of fat.

I also covered four cups of white (great northern) beans with cold water, soaking them overnight rather than following Bittman's recipe and soaking them one hour in boiling water. (Bourdain's recipe called for soaking overnight, and that's what I've usually done.)

Next day, Thursday, I was able to skim a bit more fat from the stock (though not as much as I expected). First thing I did Thursday was to make duck confit from the reserved legs and fat. Didn't quite have enough fat to cover the legs, so I added some from a jar I keep handy: originally started with duck fat, but mostly had bacon drippings added since. Confit cooks in the fat, ideally between 190-200F, for 90 minutes. I monitored this closely, but had a tough time keeping the temperature down. I expected the meat, once cooled, to come out softer than it did, but I'm not expert enough to really judge the results.

I made the spreads on Thursday. I had originally wanted to do Bourdain's pork rillettes recipe, but on re-reading I discovered it called for three days refrigeration before serving, and I didn't start soon enough to do that. Howver, I noticed a duck rillettes recipe in Peterson's book. Sure, it called for starting with confit legs, but I had about a cup of scrap meat (mostly neck and wings, bits from the back, and giblets) so I added some duck fat and spices, and it turned out to be really delicious.

I made the trout and all of the other spreads. Brief notes:

  • The trout came from an Italian cookbook (Hazan), but always struck me as a rather French recipe. Sprouts has trout filets, so I'm always tempted to pick them up -- they make a nice little dinner for two. I thought of using them for a main fish dish, but then I remembered the Hazan recipe, and figured it would be better to cook them sooner, and get the dish stored away. Basically: flour and sautee the filets. Make a sauce from olive oil, shallots, orange peel, vermouth, orange and lemon juice. I ran out of vermouth, so filled out the deficit with white wine.
  • The salmon rillettes were made from a piece of fresh salmon, poached in wine, and a similar-sized chunk of smoked salmon, all mashed up with butter.
  • Mme. Maman's chopped liver is you basic onions and chicken liver mash up. I added a little cognac (not called for in the recipe), two hard-boiled eggs, and blended it in the food processor (recipe seems to want you to chop by hand).
  • I made the cheese with whole milk ricotta, drained, with garlic and various chopped herbs (chives, parsley, tarrogon, maybe thyme).
  • I used black Greek olives for the tapenade, along with capers and a can of ventresca tuna (albacore belly). The olives didn't pack much taste, but but it got better (and blacker) when I added some Moroccan oil-cured olives.

I decided to only make a half-recipe of ratatouille, although I had bought two eggplant and four red bell peppers for a full recipe. The ratatouille recipe calls for peppers to be roasted and peeled, but the eggplant is simply cut into cubes and brined. I decided I'd roast one eggplant along with the peppers, and possibly make another spread of "eggplant caviar," but in the end didn't use them. Other little things I managed to get done on Thursday include making a couple cups of bread crumbs (from a nice loaf of herb bread), boiling and peeling pearl and cippoline onions for the beef and veal dishes. Finally, I cooked the ratatouille, and baked the cake.

The ratatouille half-recipe calls for the vegetables to be cooked one by one, then collected in a bowl: the red bell peppers roasted and peeled, the onion sliced, the eggplant cubed and fried, the two zucchini chunked and fried, then a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes with a bit of sugar and corriander. When the latter had thickened, I dumped the rest back in, added capers, and let it simmer much longer than called for.

The cake recipe called for an 8-inch round cake pan, but my smaller springform pan was 9-inch, so I did some math and decided to scale the recipe by 25% (close enough that 3 eggs became 4). Exotic ingredient was amaretti cookies, which I found at World Market, ground with almonds in the food processor. Added butter, eggs, cocoa (Hershey's Special Dark), sugar, salt, and 5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%). Scraped it into the pan and baked it. Came out with a large bubble raising one-third of the cake, so I pushed that back down with a spatula. Came out thinner and denser than I expected, looking like my recent Prague Cake disaster -- until I cut and served it, I fretted that I had made my second straight cake faux pas. I left the glazing until Friday, and wound up barely getting it done, but by then I had some space in the refrigerator to chill the glaze (2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, 1/4 c heavy cream, 1 tbs sugar, 1 tbs water; I forget now whether I poured the heated cream into the chocolate, as the recipe directed, or vice versa, as recommended by Bakewise). I ground up two more cookies and scattered the crumbs over the glaze before popping it into the refrigerator.

I got up Friday around noon, with three large pots left on the stove: the beans, the lamb mixture, and the ratatouille. I reheated them. The ratatouille was done, so when it was hot, I scraped it into a serving bowl. I cut the meat into chunks, and got the mandoline out to slice the potatoes (which worked pretty well, for once). I figured my smaller (chicken-sized) roasting pan would suffice for the cassoulet, but before I could assemble it, I had to fry the sausage and warm up the duck stock. A proper cassoulet sausage is thin, pork, with a lot of garlic. I looked at a lot of alternatives, but couldn't find anything uncooked that came close, so I bought a couple of cooked sausage candidates. I wound up going with Silva Bourbon, Uncured Bacon and Black Pepper Sausage, cut into half-inch slices and browned in duck fat. I don't particularly recall them in the finished dish, but they certainly didn't hurt. I assembled the cassoulet, starting with a layer of beans, then sausage and the slab bacon I cooked the beans with, then more beans, then the lamb-duck-tomato mixture, then more beans. I added two cups of duck stock, and covered the top with my bread crumbs.

I tried to work out a chart of when various things had to be done for the four hot dishes to come out at 6:30. The boeuf bourguinon had the longest cooking time (2 hours), and I barely got it on by 4:30. In retrospect, I think it could have used another hour. I also didn't quite believe that the 1 cup of red wine called for was enough, so I doubled that. I also added the pearl onions, which Bourdain didn't call for (but most other recipes do).

There were several things about the veal marengo recipe I didn't like -- especially the part where you put the dish in the oven to cook, as I wanted to do it all on the stove top. I used a large, deep skillet, figuring that was the right geometry. I floured and browned the veal (using inch-thick veal chops, so my cubes were around 1 inch). Set them aside, then sauteed the onions, added the tomatoes and tomato paste, and white wine, returning the meat. I covered it, and let it all cook gently. Meanwhile, I put the sliced potatoes (Yukon gold) into a pot of cream, garlic, and herbs, and simmered them for probably two times the 10 minutes the recipe called for. In another skillet, I tossed the cippoline onions in butter, added some wine, covered and steamed, then added the white mushrooms and boiled the vegetables dry. The recipe also called for boiling potatoes on the side, but I decided to skip that part, figuring them redundant next to the gratin dauphinois. I folded the onions and mushrooms into the veal pan, kept it covered, and let it all slowly cook together. Meanwhile, I put the cassoulet into a 375F oven for 30 minutes. I poured the potatoes and cream (picking out most of the green bits) into another baking dish, and topped with 8 oz. grated gruyere. I lowered the oven to 350F, and put the gratin in next to the cassoulet. Then I sauteed the duck breasts in the pan I had used for the sausage. I cut the duck into crosswise slices, and scraped the pan dripping over the cassoulet. A few minutes before the cassoulet was done, I pulled it out of the oven, tucked the duck breast in, and scattered more parsley on top. The idea was for the breast, sauteed rare, to still be medium rare when the cassoulet came out of the oven.

Finally, I glazed the cake, put it into the refrigerator, and popped the baguettes into the other oven. By then most of the guests had arrived, and things got crazy trying to set the table, round up chairs, arrange the food, and provide drinks, while I finished up. Zhanna brought some bread that was better than my baguettes, and she stopped me from serving the latter underdone. I served the cassoulet and the gratin dauphinois in their hot baking dishes, so people had to reach to get them. I put the beef and veal into serving dishes (only about half of the beef fit, so most of it sat out the meal in the pot).

Having grown up as I did, I always think these meals should be served family style: all the dishes in the middle of the table, with people reaching and/or passing as seems best. However, it does get awkward when you get ten people and more than ten dishes. I doubt there is any good alternative: we don't have a good space to organize a line, and the space is too crowded for people to get up and around. And I've never like the idea of plating the dishes: people should be able to pick and choose, as well as come back for more. (I do tend to plate the desserts, which often leads to issues about portion size.)

Everything turned out good (except perhaps the bread, but that was there mostly as structure under the spreads, although it was also useful for mopping up the plate). As I said, the beef could have benefited from longer cooking, and more reduction of the sauce. Bourdain suggests adding a couple spoonfuls of demi-glace, which I didn't have and couldn't find. (Would be a useful pantry project -- one technique is to freeze it in ice cubes -- but it's pretty hard around here to find the veal bones for the initial stock.) Among the very good dishes, the veal and the potatoes were really exceptional. So was the cassoulet -- I had tried this recipe once before, but was disappointed then; main improvement this time was that I did a much better job of getting the beans fully cooked (although I think I also did a better job handling the duck this time, and the homemade bread crumbs were superior). The only other recipes I had previously made were the trout and the ratatouille.

I served the cake with two pints of Haagen Dasz vanilla bean ice cream. No leftovers of either.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30499 [30473] rated (+26), 287 [286] unrated (+1).

Forgot to include the grade for the Myra Melford album reported last week, so I'm running it again here.

I've had a rough week, and it's left me pretty badly shaken. I used to think of myself as fairly handy, and started the week with several seemingly simple projects to do. One was to repair some office chairs. They have a standard gas lift cylinder to adjust the height. Over time, it can leak, causing the chair to sink under weight, often in startling little bursts. I've replaced them before, and never had any problem. The ends are slightly tapered, so the weight of sitting on the chair presses them into the base and seat frames. You can find YouTube videos that show how easy it is to extract the old cylinder and replace it with a new one. Typically, you use a hammer to tap the cylinder out of the base. It took me a few more blows than the video shows, but I did that part was easy enough. Separating the cylinder from the chair is a little more awkward, so they suggest using a pipe wrench. I tried that and failed. It was stuck so completely that my wrench cut deep gouges in the side of the cylinder without budging it. Nor did spraying WD-40 around the interface help.

So I thought, maybe I could tap it out, like the base. I unbolted chair from the metal frame the cylinder was stuck into, so I could hit it from the top. I pulled a clip and moved the handle out of the way. I clamped the unit into a WorkBench. I took a chisel I use for chipping apart masonry that's just a bit smaller than the top of the cylinder, centered it over the cylinder, and smashed it 20-30 times with a heavy mallet. It didn't budge, although it did start cutting into the top. Then I took a gear puller, wrapped it around the frame with the screw centered on the cylinder, and started tightening it with a wrench. No change (except perhaps that the screw, which has a point to help keep it centered, is now drilling into the middle of the cylinder). Only other idea I can think of would be to get a flat steel disc just a bit smaller than the top of the cylinder, and insert that under the screw to spread out the pressure more evenly. I thought about using small stack of quarters, but the amount of pressure I've already put on it would tear a hole in such soft metal. So right now, this looks like a total failure: having bought replacement parts, nothing I can do now but throw the chair away.

Second project was to install some covering over the gutter on the garage. We had new gutters and covers installed when we had the house covered with vinyl siding ten years ago, but the garage is detached and a separate deal. I found some material that looked promising at Home Depot, and ordered enough for my garage and my nephew's house (at pre-sale prices, I now see). Should have been a pretty simple installation on the garage -- one 22-foot run, not very high -- but it would up taking me three afternoons. The material had to be bent to fit, I had to cut one piece short, and trim both ends. I bought screws that didn't work very well. But mostly it was just a lot of aches and pains going up and down the ladder. At least I got that little project done. But that still leaves my nephew's house, which will be four times as much work (hopefully, with some help, and having learned some tricks).

The more serious problem struck Thursday evening. I figured it was tie to upgrade my main computer from Ubuntu 16 to 18. I've done this upgrade twice before, so expected it to be slow and disruptive, but uneventful. To be safe, I copied all my data off onto another computer, then shut my work programs down and ran the upgrade. It failed, leaving the machine in "unstable" state. The specific error concerned grub, which is the Linux boot loader. There is something called UEFI built into the motherboard software to provide a feature they call "Secure Boot," which will only allow kernels with certain signatures to be booted. The install program normally creates signed kernels, but due to a bug (reportedly since fixed, but somehow still in the upgrade package) it detected unsigned kernels on the system, and aborted the upgrade rather than install a boot loader that might not be able to boot up. I'm not clear on the exact implications of all that: basically, a bunch of stuff got installed, but not everything, so there are possible incompatible versions. More obviously, with the upgrade process aborted, it isn't clear how to identify and fix the problems, and how to restart and finish the upgrade.

What happened then was basically my mind froze up and I stopped, not knowing how to back out, and not daring to move forward. The computer itself was semi-functional: indeed, I'm using it now to write this post, and should be able to upload it before I'm done tonight (but between Thursday and now I've done next to nothing). After I'm through with this upload, I'll try rebooting, which may or may not work. Worst case is I have to put a new disc in and do a fresh install, then bring the old disc back and patch it all up. Best is that it will reboot, finish installing the packages it has downloaded, and be stable enough that it can look for updates and finally get a complete up-to-date system installed.

Couple other problems this week, but that's enough to chew on. My music work stopped with the computer on Thursday. Most of what's listed below comes from the Will Friedland The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums list. I started a couple weeks ago having only heard one-third of the 57 albums on the list. Now I've heard 47 of the albums: 6 I wasn't able to find on Napster, 4 more I haven't gotten around to checking on. I don't align very well with Friedland's taste here -- I've only rated 12 of 47 at A- or higher -- but three A- records this week all caught me by surprise (Judy Garland, Della Reese, and Kay Starr; the high B+ records by Anita O'Day and Maxine Sullivan were pretty much what I expected, but my previous Garland grades were { C+, C, B, B- }, and I had nothing graded by Reese or Starr).

When I resume, I'll probably go deeper on Frank Sinatra than the one I've missed (In the Wee Small Hours, which pretty much everyone regards as A/A+), not least because I actually own (but never rated) the 14-CD Capitol Records Concept Albums box). The others I need to look up are less promising: Mel Tormé (2 rated, 1 B+, The Mel Torme Collection: U), Sarah Vaughan (13 rated, 1 B+(*), 4 B+), and Margaret Whiting (1 rated: C+).

Didn't even think about Weekend Roundup yesterday, although I'm pretty sure there were some really terrible things to write about (especially with Trump's America Only foreign policy). Moreover, even if the computer comes back to life painlessly, I don't expect to get much done on it next week. I still have the gutters on my nephew's house to deal with. Also, I'm cooking "birthday dinner" this week, so will try to come up with something fabulous for that. Seems like that, at least, is still a project I can carry off. If not, I'll be even more bummed next week. Doesn't look like I'm cut out for getting old and decrepit.

New records rated this week:

  • Alchemy Sound Project: Adventures in Time and Space (2016 [2018], ARC): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Myra Melford's Snowy Egret: The Other Side of Air (2017 [2018], Firehouse 12): [cd]: A-
  • John Moulder: Decade: Memoirs (2009-17 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Tyshaw Sorey: Pillars (2017 [2018], Firehouse 12, 3CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Brad Whiteley: Presence (2016 [2018], Destiny): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Judy Garland: Judy at Carnegie Hall (1961 [2001], Capitol, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • .
  • Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence: Sing the Golden Hits (1960 [1990], MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dick Haymes: Rain or Shine (1956, Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peggy Lee: The Man I Love (1957, Capitol): [r]: B
  • Marilyn Maye: Meet Marvelous Marilyn Maye (1965, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marilyn Maye: The Happiest Sound in Town (1968, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(***)
  • Anita O'Day: Sings the Winners (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Della Reese: Della (1960, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Della Reese: Della Della Cha Cha Cha (1961, RCA Victor): [r]: A-
  • Jimmy Scott: The Source (1969 [1970], Atlantic): [r]: B
  • Jimmy Scott: All the Way (1992, Sire): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Short: Bobby Short (1956, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nina Simone: Nina Simone and Piano! (1969 [2011], RCA/Legacy): [r]: B
  • Jo Stafford: Capitol Collectors Series (1944-50 [1991], Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jo Stafford: Sings Songs of Scotland (1953-56 [1957], Columbia): [r]: B
  • Jo Stafford: I'll Be Seeing You (1959, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kay Starr: I Cry by Night (1962, Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Kay Starr: Capitol Collectors Series (1948-62 [1991], Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Maxine Sullivan and Her Jazz All-Stars: Memories of You: A Tribute to Andy Razaf (1956 [2007], Essential Music Group): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jack Teagarden: Think Well of Me (1962, Verve): [r]: B
  • Tiny Tim: God Bless Tiny Tim (1968, Reprise): [r]: B-

Monday, October 15, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30473 [30430] rated (+43), 286 [282] unrated (+4).

Another week with much more old music than new. One chunk of old music was an attempt to fill in a few holes after baritone sax great Hamiet Bluiett's death. Other A- Bluiett records my database:

  • Hamiet Bluiett: Live at Carlos 1: Last Night (1986 [1998], Just a Memory)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Young Warrior, Old Warrior (1995, Mapleshade)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Makin' Whoopee: Tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio (1997, Mapleshade)
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Selim Sevad: A Tribute to Miles Davis (1998, Justin Time)
  • Hamiet Bluiett/D.D. Jackson/Kahil El'Zabar: The Calling (2001, Justin Time)
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006, Justin Time)

I didn't follow up with World Saxophone Quartet albums I may have missed. I didn't care for their early work -- thought they needed something extra beyond the four-sax harmonics, as the few records I wound up liking proved. Still, Napster filed a couple under Bluiett's name, reminding me that I was missing some.

I was pointed to the rest of the "old music" by Will Friedland's new book, The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums. I made a list of the 57 albums reviewed at great depth there, found that I had only heard a third of them (19/57), and vowed to improve myself. Usually I went straight to the selected album, but sometimes I dug a little deeper -- e.g., wound up playing all of Blossom Dearie's Verve albums, a couple of extras from Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney, and a second Matt Dennis album (that got compiled into a single CD with the pick). On the other hand, I figured Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald would have turned into vast time sinks (plus I already have 15 Cole and 36 Fitzgerald albums graded; Ella at Zardi's was a vault music album from last year, and too good to skip). I felt more need to check out Billy Eckstine (4 records), but I've never been that much of a fan. As for Robert Goulet, his is a name I remembered from my youth but hadn't heard in as many years -- a mistake I'm not likely to repeat soon.

I'll try to knock off some more this week: Judy Garland, Eydie Gormé, Dick Haymes, Peggy Lee, Marilyn Maye, Carmen McRae, Anita O'Day, Della Reese, a dozen more. Friedland's list is skewed pretty strongly to the string-drenched pop of the first few years of the LP era -- basically the pre-rock and anti-rock I grew up rebelling against, so it's not very promising ground for me. Also not finding everything, so I'll probably stop close to 80% (missing so far: Lena Horne, Barb Jungr, Bobby Troup).

I did manage a milestone on one months-long project. I've spent a couple years now collecting bits of text from my on-line notebook. My first pass picked up all the capsule reviews of jazz albums, which I sorted into two book files: one on records from 2000 forward, the other on records recorded earlier (20th century). Those volumes added up to 765 pp (pre-2000) and 1650 pp (post-2000). I then went back through the notebooks and started pulling out all of the political notes (four volumes: 1590 pp 2001-08, 1768 pp for 2009-12, 1666 pp for 2013-16, and 858 pp since 2017), plus another file for various personal notes (memoir, health crises, dinners, deaths, plus some movies and tv: another 780 pp).

When I finished those, I realized that there were still a couple of major chunks of writing unarchived from the notebook: non-jazz capsule reviews (1863 pp) and miscellaneous music writings (e.g., intros to my CG posts, year-end notes, obits: 1735 pp). I finished my initial pass on Sunday, so the total for the nine volumes is 12,685 pages, which works out to about 5.4 million words.

While most of what I've written since 2001 is either in the notebook or accessibly linked from it, I still need to look at other files on the website and fold them in where appropriate. Biggest chunk here is probably the longer music reviews, but I also have fragments of book drafts and project plans, and other things. Would be nice if I can recover my email files -- lost in my early-summer server crash, but perhaps not hopelessly. Other things I need to do:

  • Make a pass comparing the misc. music notes to the political files, eliminating redundancies (e.g., political paragraphs stuck in the middle of Music Week posts).
  • Make a pass comparing the non-jazz capsule reviews with the jazz guides to eliminate redundancies.
  • I need to bring the earlier book files up to date, picking up more recent notebooks and Streamnotes posts.
  • The non-jazz capsule reviews are currently organized by date posted. They should be reorganized by genre and artist name.
  • The books currently exist as LibreWriter files, with at least some versions available on my website. I need to straighten that out, decide what I want to make available, and write up some sort of introduction to all that.
  • I also need to look into alternate formats. PDF files are one possibility, but they are much larger than the LW files. Perhaps more useful would be some sort of Ebook format. I'm aware of some free tools for conversion, but haven't used them yet.

Ultimately, I see these files as resources for constructing various other books and/or websites. Laura has read through the first of the political files (2001-08), but we haven't yet had any substantial discussions on where she thinks it should go. I have various scattershot ideas on these things, but won't try to develop them here and now. I understand that essentially no one will want to sit down and read any of these "books" straight through, I find that a fair amount of the writing has held up over time (some still useful, some even amusing). One good thing for me about this process is that it's given me something tangible (and relatively non-taxing) to do over the past two year. But now it's starting to come to a point where I need to move on: pick a project (or two or three) and focus on that. End of the year might be a good deadline for wrapping this up and figuring that out.

A couple more notes:

Allen Lowe (on Facebook) recommended a 20-CD box from Sony (Canada) called The Perfect Roots & Blues Collection. This looks like a series of CDs Sony/Legacy issued in the early 1990s. If so, I've heard (and own) nearly all of them, and I agree that they've been a really superb series. Even at Amazon's own price ($93.99) it's a bargain, but they have dealers in the UK offering it for much less.

When I looked it up, I noticed another tempting 20-CD box, Jazz From America on Disques Vogue -- jazz recorded by American artists in Paris late 1940s/early 1950s. RCA released a series of these in the early 1990s. I have a dozen or more, most quite good.

I've never bought any of Sony's massive boxes, so I can't speak as to packaging and documentation, but I did write a bit about The Perfect Jazz Collection back in November 2011. For me, and possibly for you, the problem's always been owning so many of the packaged albums the big boxes, even when quite cheap, are still not cost-effective. Still, one can imagine others these sets would be perfect for. Sony also has massive collections of Miles Davis and Johnny Cash, as you can well imagine.

I also want to point out two books that came out last week, that my wife, Laura Tillem, edited:

Both authors live here in Wichita, and are good friends of ours.

New records rated this week:

  • David Ake: Humanities (2017 [2018], Posi-Tone): [r]: B+(***)
  • Myra Melford's Snowy Egret: The Other Side of Air (2017 [2018], Firehouse 12): [cd]: A-
  • Kjetil Mřster/John Edwards/Dag Erik Knedal Andersen: Different Shapes/Immersion (2014 [2018], Va Fongool): [r]: B+(*)
  • Aaron Parks: Little Big (2018, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (2018, Epitaph): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Anne Sajdera: New Year (2018, Bijuri): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jared Sims: The New York Sessions (2018, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alister Spence/Satoko Fujii: Intelset (2017 [2018], Alister Spence Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mike Steinel Quintet: Song and Dance (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Patrick Zimmerli Quartet: Clockworks (2017 [2018], Songlines): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Zardi's (1956 [2017], Verve): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Fred Astaire: The Astaire Story (1952 [2017], Verve, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred Astaire: Steppin' Out: Astaire Sings (1952 [1994], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tony Bennett and Bill Evans: Together Again (1976 [2003], Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Birthright: A Solo Blues Concert (1977, India Navigation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Resolution (1977 [1978], Black Saint): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: "Dangerously Suite" (1981, Soul Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Ebu (1984, Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hamiet Bluiett & Concept: Live at Carlos 1 (1986 [1997], Just a Memory): [r]: A-
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Sankofa/Rear Garde (1992 [1993], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Live at the Village Vanguard: Ballads and Blues (1994 [1997], Soul Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: With Eyes Wide Open (2000, Justin Time): [r]: A-
  • Rosemary Clooney/Duke Ellington: Blue Rose (1956 [2008], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rosemary Clooney: Rosie Solves the Swingin' Riddle! (1961 [2004], RCA/Bluebird): [r]: A-
  • Rosemary Clooney: Everything's Coming Up Rosie (1977, Concord): [r]: B+(***)
  • Rosemary Clooney: Sings the Lyrics of Johnny Mercer (1987, Concord): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nat 'King' Cole: St. Louis Blues (1958, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Doris Day and Harry James: Young Man With a Horn (1950 [1954], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Doris Day: Day by Day (1956, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Doris Day: Day by Night (1957, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Doris Day: 16 Most Requested Songs (1945-58 [1992], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Doris Day/Robert Goulet: Annie Get Your Gun (1963, Columbia Masterworks): [r]: B+(*)
  • Blossom Dearie: Give Him the Ooh-La-La (1957 [1958], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Blossom Dearie: Once Upon a Summertime (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Blossom Dearie: My Gentleman Friend (1959, Verve): [r]: A-
  • Blossom Dearie: Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green (1959, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Blossom Dearie: Soubrette: Blossom Dearie Sings Broadway Hit Songs (1960, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Dennis: Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (1954, Trend): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Dennis: Dennis, Anyone? (1955, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Dennis: Plays and Sings Matt Dennis: Live in Hollywood (1954-55 [2011], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Billy Eckstine: Billy's Best (1957-58 [1995], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Lullabies of Birdland (1947-54 [1955], Decca): [r]: A-
  • Benny Goodman/Rosemary Clooney: Date With the King (1956, Columbia, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Robert Goulet: 16 Most Requested Songs (1960-69 [1989], Columbia): [r]: C
  • Beaver Harris 360 Degree Music Experience: Beautiful Africa (1979, Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)

Grade (or other) changes:

  • Blossom Dearie: Blossom Dearie (1956 [1957], Verve): [r]: [was: B+]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Amu: Weave (Libra)
  • Ethan Ardelli: The Island of Form (self-released): November 2
  • Bobby Broom & the Organi-sation: Soul Fingers (MRi)
  • Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (Impakt)
  • Richie Cole: Cannonball (RCP): October 26
  • Randy Halberstadt: Open Heart (Origin): October 19
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto (1977, Widow's Taste, 3CD): November 2
  • Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet: That's a Computer (Outside In Music): October 19
  • Kristen Strom: Moving Day: The Music of John Shifflett (OA2): October 19

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Weekend Roundup

The big story of the week seems to be the evident murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He had moved from Saudi Arabia to Virginia, but entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to "finalize some paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée." He never emerged from the consulate. The Turkish government has much evidence of foul play, and there are reports that "US intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to 'capture' Khashoggi" -- something they made no attempt to warn Khashoggi about.

Some links (quotes above are from Hill, below):

The week started with Nikki Haley's resignation as US ambassador to the UN, but a week later it's hard to find any mention of it. Then the Florida panhandle got demolished by Hurricane Michael. Then there was some sort of White House summit between Trump and Kanye West. Meanwhile, elections are coming.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Superior ruthlessness isn't why Republicans control the Supreme Court: "They had some good luck -- and, most importantly, they had the votes." After their losses in 2016, all the Democrats could do to derail the Kavanaugh nomination was to convince the public that he was a really terrible pick, and opinion polls show that they did in fact make that case. However, as we've seen many times before, Republicans are fine with ignoring public opinion (at least as long as they keep their base and donors happy), so they're eager to exploit any power leverage they can grab, no matter how tenuous. Democrats (in fact, most people) regard that as unscrupulous, which Republicans find oddly flattering -- backhanded proof that they hold convictions so firm they're willing to fight (dirty) to advance them. Some Democrats have come to the conclusion that they need to become just as determined to win as the Republicans -- e.g., David Faris's recent book: It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. Several problems with this: one is that there are still Americans that believe in things like fair play and due process, and those votes should be easy pickings for Democrats given how Republicans have been playing the game; another is that past efforts by Democrats to act more like Republicans haven't fared well -- they're never enough to appease the right, while they sure turn off the left. But what Democrats clearly do have to do is to show us that they take these contests seriously. I didn't especially like turning the Kavanaugh nomination into a #MeToo issue, but that did make the issue personal and impactful in a way that no debate over Federalist Society jurisprudence ever could.

    Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Trump's 60 Minutes interview once again reveals gross ignorance and wild dishonesty.

    • People don't like "PC culture" -- not that many of them can tell you what "PC culture" means (only that it consists of self-appointed language police waiting to pounce on you for trivial offenses mostly resident in their own minds). Refers to Yascha Mounk: Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture, which doesn't much help to define it either. To me, "PC culture" is exemplified by the God-and-country, American exceptionalist pieties spouted by Democratic politicians like Obama and the Clintons -- a compulsion to say perfectly unobjectionable things because they know they'll be attacked viciously by the right (or for that matter by center/leftists wanting to show off for the right) for any hint of critical thought. On the other hand, on some issues Republicans are policed as diligently -- racism is the one they find most bothersome, mostly because catering to the insecurities of white folk is such a big part of their trade. Of course, if we had the ability to take seriously what people mean, we might be able to get beyond the "gotcha" game over what they say.

    • Trump's dangerous game with the Fed, explained.

    • Trump's USA Today op-ed on health care is an absurd tissue of lies.

    • The case for a carbon tax: A carbon tax has always made sense to me, mostly because it helps to counter a currently unregulated externality: that of dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Two key ideas here: one is to implement it by joint international agreement (Yglesias suggests the US, Europe, and Japan, initially, but why wait for the US?), then grow it by charging tariffs against non-members; the other is to start low (to minimize short-term impact) and make the taxes escalate over time. Yglesias contrasts a carbon tax to David Roberts: It's time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels. This reminds me that major oil players have every now and then "advocated" a carbon tax, specifically when threatened with proposals like Roberts'. Unfortunately, it looks like the only way to get a carbon tax passed is to threaten the oil companies with something much more drastic. No one has much faith in reason anymore.

    • Immigrants can make post-industrial America great.

    • Trump's successful neutering of the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation has scary implications: Trump evidently got the rubber stamp, ruffle no feathers investigation of Brett Kavanaugh he wanted, showing that Comey replacement Christopher Wray can be trusted to protect his party.

      The White House got away with stamping on an FBI investigation. Think of it as a dry run for a coming shutdown of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

      It's easy to forget, but the existence of a Russia inquiry isn't a natural fact of American life. Barack Obama was president when it began, and then in the critical winter of 2016 to 2017, many Republicans, particularly foreign policy hawks, were uneasy with Trump and saw an investigation as a useful way to force him into policy orthodoxy. When Comey was fired, enough of that unease was still in place that many Republicans pushed for a special counsel to carry things forward.

      Trump, however, has clearly signaled his desire to clean house and fire Mueller after the midterms. And the Kavanaugh fight has shown us (and, more importantly, shown Trump) that congressional Republicans are coming around to the idea that independence of federal law enforcement is overrated. His White House, meanwhile, though hardly a well-oiled machine, has demonstrated its ability to work the levers of power and get things done.

      If the GOP is able to hold its majority or (as looks more likely, given current polling) pick up a seat or two, a firm Trumpist majority will be in place ready to govern with the principle that what's good for Trump is good for the Republican Party, and subverting the rule of law is definitely good for Trump.

  • Stavros Agorakis: 18 people are dead from Hurricane Michael. That number will only rise. Category 4, making landfall with winds of 155 mph, the third-most intense hurricane to hit the continental US since they started keeping count (after an unnamed Labor Day storm in 1935 and Camille in 1969) -- i.e., about as strong as the hurricane that the Trump administration couldn't cope with in Puerto Rico.

  • Ryan Bort: The Georgia Voter Suppression Story Is Not Going Away.

  • Juan Cole: 15 Years after US Occupied Iraq, it is too Unsafe for Trump Admin to Keep a Consulate There.

  • Joe Klein: Michael Lewis Wonders Who's Really Running the Government: Book review of Lewis's The Fifth Risk, which looks at what Trump's minions are doing to three government bureaucracies: the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. Mostly they are shredding data, and purging the departments of the workers with the expertise to collect and analyze that data. Lewis explains why that matters -- a welcome relief from those journalists who are satisfied with reporting the easy stories about stupid Trump tweets and hi-jinks.

  • Paul Krugman: Goodbye, Political Spin, Hello Blatant Lies: I try my best to avoid political ads, but got stuck watching a jaw dropper for Wichita's Republican Congressman Ron Estes, who spent most of his 30 seconds talking about how hard he's been working to save Medicare. Wasn't clear from what, since the only imminent threat is from his fellow Republicans, and his key votes to repeal ACA and cut corporate taxes and saddle us with massive deficits sure don't count. Estes isn't what you'd call a political innovator -- the main theme of his ads last time was that a vote for him would thwart Nancy Pelosi's nefarious designs on the Republic -- so most likely his ads this time are being repeated all across the nation. Also by Krugman: The Paranoid Style in GOP Politics.

  • Dara Lind: The Trump administration reportedly wants to try family separation again.

  • Anna North: Why Melania's response to Trump's alleged affairs was so weird:

    In some ways, it's a relief that the first lady is rarely called upon to perform the thankless task of trying to convince the country that her husband respects women. But it's also a sign of something darker: Plenty of Americans know the president doesn't respect women, and a lot of them don't care. They may even like it.

  • Sandy Tolan: Gaza's Dying of Thirst, and Its Water Crisis Will Become a Threat to Israel.

Daily Log

Been compiling my last two "books" from the notebook, and finally caught up to the present moment. Miscellaneous Music Writings comes to 1735 pages (718k words). Non-Jazz Capsule Reviews is 1863 pages (806k words). I need to make a second pass through the book files, and weed out bits from the music writings that really belong in either the political or personal books. Also cut out any jazz reviews from the capsule book. (I was pretty sloppy about that in the beginning, when the review posts were more scattershot). That will probably knock a hundred pages off each. I also need to take another look at the lists and such I dropped from the Misc. book, and be more consistent about what I include and what I don't. That'll probably add some material back.

Next step beyond that would be to go back to the non-notebook writings that should be considered. I figure I'll add the pre-2000 stuff in the appendix.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30430 [30390] rated (+40), 282 [280] unrated (+2).

Everything below is jazz. Most of it is new stuff I wasn't serviced on (unless someone sent me a download link which I didn't open; i.e., it was streamed, either from Napster or Bandcamp). Only a couple of CDs I did receive, mostly because I took so long making up my mind about the Jonathan Finlayson record (A-, but just barely). Most of my tips came from Phil Freeman's monthly Ugly Beauty column at Stereogum. Biggest find there was the trove of Japanese jazz from the 1970s (for once, the sampler is the place to start). The only old music was a Penguin Guide 4-star I had missed, by a saxophonist who showed up on at least three of this week's new discs (to best effect with Matt Penman).

I've walked Freeman's columns back to March, which gets increasingly into things I've already heard. One thing I didn't know was that Buell Neidlinger died back on March 16. He was the bassist in Cecil Taylor's 1956-61 groups -- in at least one case the album was initially under his name (New York City R&B). My database credits him with four A- records from the 1980s: Swingrass '83, Across the Tracks, Rear View Mirror, and Locomotive (all recorded 1979-87, but most got delayed releases -- Swingrass '83 was the first I noticed, and fell in love with.

The great baritone saxophonist Haimet Bluiett also died last week. I need to take some time and dive into his dicography -- I see, for instance, that Napster has Birthright, a PG 4-star from 1977. Some A- records I have heard: Live at Carlos I: Last Night; Young Warrior, Old Warrior; Makin' Whoopee: Tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio; The Calling. Bluiett also batted clean up in the World Saxophone Quartet, and he was particularly prominent on their best-ever Political Blues.

I did a little work on my project of collecting the last bits from my on-line notebook into book form. I'm up to February 2015 with a volume of miscellaneous music notes (1343 pp) and another of non-jazz capsule reviews (1515 pp). I doubt the former (which largely consists of introductions like this one) will be of any real interest, but think it would be handy to get it into searchable form. It turns out that 2011-13 were big years for misc. notes, mostly because that was when Robert Christgau's Expert Witness at MSN encouraged comments, and that resulted in a lot of community commentary. I jotted down pretty much everything I contributed -- often answering questions on recommended CDs, or extemporaneously venting on subjects like Charlie Parker.

I always figured my non-jazz capsule reviews were too spotty for any sort of reference book/website, but it turns out that there are enough of them to provide a decent starting point if other people got interested in adding to them.

I interrupted work on this to post another batch of Robert Christgau's Xgau Sez questions and answers. At some point I'd like to adapt that framework to offer a similar service here. I've struggled for many years to crank out pieces I think might be of public interest. It might be a relief to let other people direct me for a while.

I noticed this week that Tom Smucker has finally published a whole book on what's long been one of his favorite topics: Why the Beach Boys Matter. I have a copy on order. Ironically, my own original foray into rock criticism came from arguing with Don Malcolm over the Beach Boys. I'm surprised he never got around to writing his own book. Also noticed and ordered a copy of a new edition of Vince Alletti's The Disco Files 1973-78. I actually knew both Vince and Tom during my few years in New York, so I consider them old friends.

Posting of this got delayed as I was trying to figure out when I was done with Weekend Roundup. I had started intending to write something different on Brett Kavanaugh, but never really got past the preface. I have some sympathy for the argument that something that happened over 35 years ago shouldn't permanently tar a person. I think that many interactions between the sexes are confusing, and best forgotten. I think we should be more tolerant and forgiving of what are often just human foibles. On the other hand, I'm not sure that of my general sensitivities actually offer Kavanaugh much benefit. I could see why a normal person might not recall details or motives of the charges, but such a person would at least recognize the horror and pain behind the charges, and sympathized with the victim. Kavanaugh didn't do that. His blanket denial effectively repeated the original attacks. And his insistence that the charges were purely political, a "hit job" ordered by the Democrats, pure "borking," effectively said that he thought he should be exempt from his actions and consequences purely because of his politics.

As it turned out, Kavanaugh's final testimony was one of the most disgusting performances I have ever seen -- something that should have disqualified him all by itself. Before you can forgive sins, you first must recognize them and make amends. Kavanaugh didn't come close to doing that. Indeed, his entire career, and the broader agenda of the political movement he furthers, offers little more than repeated examples of the strong trampling the weak and the rich abusing the poor.

New records rated this week:

  • Joey Baron/Robyn Schulkowsky: Now You Hear Me (2016 [2018], Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jakob Bro: Bay of Rainbows (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mike Clark & Delbert Bump: Retro Report (2018, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Drums & Tuba: Triumph! (2018, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Espen Eriksen Trio With Andy Sheppard: Perfectly Unhappy (2018, Rune Grammofon): [r]: A-
  • Jonathan Finlayson: 3 Times Round (2018, Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Nick Finzer's Hear & Now: Live in New York City (2018, Outside In): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Vinny Golia Sextet: Trajectory (2017 [2018], Orenda/Nine Winds, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Devin Gray: Dirigo Rataplan II (2016 [2018], Rataplan): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Hofbauer/Rosenthal Quartet: Human Resources (2017 [2018], Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • José James: Lean on Me (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Kavuma: Kavuma (2017 [2018], Ubuntu Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Shai Maestro: The Dream Thief (2018, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave McMurray: Music Is Life (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ryan Meagher: Lost Days (2017 [2018], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ryan Meagher: Evil Twin (2018, PJCE): [r]: B
  • Allison Miller/Carmen Staaf: Science Fair (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe Morris/Ben Hall/Andria Nicodemou: Raven (2016 [2017], Glacial Erratic): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Moskus: Mirakler (2016-17 [2018], Hubro): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel: Where the River Goes (2018, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Penman: Good Question (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [r]: A-
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Anthem (2018, Decca): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mikkel Ploug/Mark Turner: Faroe (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • R+R=Now: Collagically Speaking (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant: The Window (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Christian Sands: Reach Further EP (2017-18 [2018], Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Christian Sands: Facing Dragons (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • JP Schlegelmilch/Jonathan Goldberger/Jim Black: Visitors (2018, Skirl): [r]: B+(*)
  • Elliott Sharp Carbon: Transmigration at the Solar Max (2018, Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chad Taylor: Myths and Morals (2018, Ears & Eyes): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Turner/Ethan Iverson: Temporary Kings (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Steve Turre: The Very Thought of You (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jeff "Tain" Watts: Travel Band: Detained in Amsterdam (2017 [2018], Dark Key): [r]: B+(***)
  • Walt Weiskopf: European Quartet (2017 [2018], Orenda): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chip Wickham: Shamal Wind (2017 [2018], Lovemonk): [r]: B

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

  • Tohru Aizawa Quartet: Tachibana Vol. 1 (1975 [2018], BBE): [bc]: A-
  • Takeo Moriyama: East Plants (1983 [2018], BBE): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Calm Waters Rolling Swells & Roiling Seas: A Whaling City Sampler (2004-17 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B
  • J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1984 (1969-84 [2018], BBE): [r]: A-
  • Ralph Thomas: Eastern Standard Time (1980 [2018], BBE): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mark Turner: In This World (1998, Warner Brothers): [r]: A-

Grade (or other) changes:

  • The Internet: Hive Mind (2018, Columbia): [r]: [was: B+(**)] B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Claus Hřjensgĺrd/Emanuele Mariscalco/Nelide Bendello: Hřbama (Gotta Let It Out)
  • Jacobson/Friis/Maniscalco + Karlis Auzixs: Split: Body/Solo (Getta Let It Out): advance
  • Kyle Nasser: Persistent Fancy (Ropeadope)
  • Nikita Rafaelov: Spirit of Gaia (Gotta Let It Out)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Story of the week: It's official: Brett Kavanaugh just became the least popular Supreme Court justice in modern history. The Senate vote was 50-48, almost a straight party vote. The Republican advantage in the Senate is 51-49 (counting Angus King and Bernie Sanders as Democrats). Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed by 54-45, with all Republicans and three Democrats (Manchin, Heitkamp, and Donnelly). Opposition was clearly political: Republicans had made it so by their refusal to even hold so much as a hearing on Merrick Garland, Obama's moderate nominee for the seat, turning it into a spoil for the 2016 election winner. But other than being cut from the same political cloth, Gorsuch had no personal baggage that made his nomination controversial.

Republicans have dreamed and schemed of reversing the Court's "liberal bent" -- really just an honest belief that the Constitution protects individual and minority civil rights -- ever since Nixon's "southern strategy" nominated Clement Haynsworth and, failing that, G. Harrold Carswell in 1969. The Republican campaign took an even more extremist turn when Reagan nominated the blatantly ideological Robert Bork in 1987 (after having slipped Antonin Scalia by in 1986). But only with GW Bush did Republicans consistently apply a rigorous ideological litmus test to their nominees. (Bush's nomination of Harriet Myers was quashed by hard-liners who didn't trust her to be conservative enough. They were still livid that his father's appointment didn't turn out to be as reliably reactionary as Scalia and Clarence Thomas.)

Kavanaugh turned out to be a very different story (from Gorsuch), yet the result was nearly the same. Only one Democrat (Manchin) voted for Kavanaugh, while one Republican opposed the nomination (Murkowski, who wound up not voting in an offset deal with an absent Republican senator). The first problem Kavanaugh faced was that he would replace Anthony Kennedy, who's run up a dreadful record in recent years but was still regarded as a moderate swing vote between the two polarized four-member camps. Kavanaugh would tilt that balance 5-4, allowing conservatives to rule almost arbitrarily for their political sponsors. Second, he was a person whose entire career was spent as a political operative: most notably as part of the Ken Starr prosecution of Bill Clinton, and later in the Bush White House where he argued for ever greater presidential power (at least for Republicans). A big part of the early debate over his nomination concerned discover of the paper trail of his partisan activities against Clinton and for Bush. His supporters in the White House and Congress made sure that those documents were never made available, and as such the extent of his partisan corruption was never properly aired.

His record as a DC Circuit Court judge was also largely unexamined, although his ruling, since overturned, against a detained immigrant girl who wanted to obtain an abortion, is a pretty clear signal that his views on abortion show no respect for "settled law." This case also shows his contempt for immigrants and refugees, his willingness to apply the law differently for different classes of people, and his reticence to restrain abuses of government power (at least against some people). I've long believed that the proper role for the Supreme Court is to build on the best aspirations of the Constitution to make government serve all the people, to protect the rights of minorities and individuals from the all-too-common abuses of power. Through much of my life, the Court at least leaned in that direction -- often not as hard as I would like, but their rulings against segregation, to defend a free press, to establish a nationwide right to abortion and most recently to marriage, have been major accomplishments, consistent with the understanding of America I grew up with, as a free, just, and egalitarian nation (ideals we haven't always achieved, but that we most often aspired to).

So, when I'm faced with the question of whether a given person should be given the responsibility of serving on the Supreme Court, the only question that matters to me is whether that person will understand and shape the rule of law in ways that promote greater freedom, equality, and justice, or not. After a fair investigation, I see nothing whatsoever that suggests to me that Brett Kavanaugh is a person who should be entrusted with that responsibility. In fact, what evidence I've seen suggests that he would actually be worse than any of the four partisan conservative judges currently on the court. To my mind, that should have been enough to settle the matter -- although between the fact that Republicans tend to vote as an arbitrary pack, and the tendency of many "moderate" Democrats to defer to Republican leadership, that wouldn't have been enough to defeat Kavanaugh.

However, Kavanaugh's confirmation didn't solely hinge on whether he'd be a good or bad Justice. It wound up turning on whether he was guilty of sexual assault, and whether he lied under oath about that charge (and ultimately about many other things). With these charges, Kavanaugh's confirmation wound up recapitulating that of Clarence Thomas back in 1991. The charges are slightly different. Thomas was accused of making grossly inappropriate office comments, which was especially grievous given that he ran (or mis-managed) the Reagan administration office responsible for regulating such matters. The initial charge against Kavanaugh was that as a high school student he had committed a drunken assault on a girl, which stopped barely short of rape. (Others subsequently came forward to charge Kavanaugh with other acts of drunken, sexually charged loutishness, but none of those women were allowed to testify or further investigated.)

You can read or spin these charges in various ways. On the one hand, sexual assault (Kavanaugh) is a graver charge than sexual harassment (Thomas); on the other, Kavanaugh was younger at the time and the event took place at a party when he was drunk, whereas Thomas was at work, presumably sober, and effectively the boss of the person he harassed. It is unclear whether this was an isolated incident for Kavanaugh, or part of a longer-term pattern (which is at least suggested by subsequent, uninvestigated charges, plus lots of testimony as to his drinking). Still, the one thing that was practically identical in both cases is that both nominees responded with the same playbook: blanket denials, while their supporters orchestrated a smear campaign against the women who reluctantly aired the complaints, while trying to portay the nominees as the real victims. Thomas called the charges against him a "lynching." Kavanaugh's preferred term was "hit job." Neither conceded that as Supreme Court nominees they should be held to a higher standard than criminal defendants. In the end, in both cases, marginal Senators wound up defending their vote as "reasonable doubt" against the charges. There was, after all, nothing admirable about being charged or defending themselves in such a disingenuous way. Both cases have wound up only adding to the cynicism many of us view the Courts with.

I'll tack on a bunch of links at the end which will round up the details as we know them, as well as other aspects of the process, not least the political rationalizations and consequences. But one thing that I think has been much less discussed than it should be is that neither Thomas nor Kavanaugh promoted or defended themselves on their own. I don't know who was the first Supreme Court nominee to hire lawyers and publicists to coach in the confirmation process, but the practice goes back before Thomas. I was reminded of this when John Kyl was appointed to fill the late John McCain's Senate seat. At the time Kyl was working for a DC law form representing Kavanaugh for his confirmation, so Kyl instantly became Kavanaugh's most secure vote. That nominees need help managing their egos and loose tongues was certainly proved by Bork, who managed to alienate and offend 58 Senators (almost all of whom had previously voted for Scalia, not exactly known for his tact). Mostly this handling means to make sure that the nominee doesn't say anything substantive about the law that may raise the hackles of uncommitted Senators, so the handlers only get noticed in the breech of an inadvertent gaffe. However, when something does go wrong, the first decision is whether to fight or flee -- since Nixon fought for Haynsworth (and lost), over a dozen nominees have simply withdrawn, often when faced with far less embarrassing charges than Thomas or Kavanaugh. As we saw with Myers, a nominee with no natural Democratic support can be brought down by a handful of vigilant Republicans, allowing the fringe of the party to insist on a harder candidate.

With a 51-49 majority, it wouldn't have taken much more than two Republicans to force Trump to withdraw Kavanaugh, but in the end only Murkowski opposed, and she was offset by Manchin (not that Pence wouldn't have been thrilled to cast a 50-50 tiebreaker). A couple of Republicans waffled a bit, but Collins and Flake have a long history of feigning decency then folding, and most simply don't care how bad a candidate looks (e.g., they voted for Betsy DeVos). They're quite happy to win with a bare minimum of votes, even when the polls are against them (e.g., their corporate income tax giveaway), figuring they can always con the voters again come election day. The problem with replacing Kavanaugh with a less embarrassing candidate came down to timing: restarting the process would have pushed it past the election into lame-duck territory, and possibly into the next Congress, which will likely have fewer Republicans (although not necessarily in the Senate). Never let it be said that the Republicans have missed an opportunity to gain an advantage -- and there are few prize they covet more than control of the Supreme Court.

Further links on the Cavanaugh Nomination:

Some scattered links this week:

Monday, October 01, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30390 [30365] rated (+25), 280 [273] unrated (+7).

Week got wiped out several different ways. Helped a friend fix a huge Russian dinner on Friday. Shopped for that on Wednesday, having to hit up nine (or was it eleven?) stores along the way, then spent from Thursday afternoon to something like 4AM doing prep for another 6-7 hours of cooking on Friday. Wound up with way too much food, but much of it was magnificent. Only the dessert disappointed, an attempt at Prague cake which I now understand doesn't resemble the real thing at all.

Then Saturday I developed a fever with no other symptoms, and I basically shut down over the weekend -- so no Weekend Roundup, even following one of the more outrageous weeks of the Trump era. (Not like there won't be plenty more as bad or worse.) I started reading Jill Lepore's massive (or schematic, depending on your point of view) These Truths: A History of the United States. She starts by quoting the preamble to the US Constitution, and I realized it to offer not a practical description of the federal government but a vision statement of what that government should aspire to. The same, of course, could be said of the first lines of the Declaration of Independence, which Lepore also mentions.

What I then realized is that the standard for all three "separate and equal" branches of government should be their efforts to achieve these founding aspirations. We were fortunate, at least for the first half of my life, to have a Supreme Court that took those aspirations seriously, especially in its assertion of civil rights even while the other branches dragged their heels. Since Nixon, the right-wing has made a determined effort to overturn those rulings and to strip us of our rights, not least by stacking the courts with people who oppose the aspirations the nation was founded on. With the hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, we got a good view of just what kind of person would gladly do such things. Regardless of whether Kavanaugh has committed sexual assault and/or perjury, he's made it abundantly clear that he's unfit for the Supreme Court, or for that matter for the judgeship he currently holds.

Maybe I'll write more on that later in the week. My most immediate task is to get September's Streamnotes organized and posted. Thinking about the dinner, then not thinking at all, I totally missed the end of the month. I can backdate what I have, making it look like I did it on time and before doing this. The latter, at least, is mostly true.

I'm not sure what comes next. I can always return to compiling my last two books from the notebooks (non-review music notes, non-jazz reviews; I'm currently stalled in May, 2013). I could take a look at Pitchfork's The 2000 Best Albums of the 1980s -- the music decade I paid the least attention to at the time. Another possible source of unheard records is Will Friedland's latest book, The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums. I picked up the book at the library, and while there is zero chance that I'll read it through, the actual album list isn't prohibitively long (probably 40-50 albums, half already heard). On the other hand, the new jazz queue has grown a bit (26 albums at the moment), so I should pay some attention to that.

New records rated this week:

  • Dmitry Baevsky/Jeb Patton: We Two (2018, Jazz & People): [r]: A-
  • Tony Bennett & Diana Krall: Love Is Here to Stay (2018, Verve/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Black Art Jazz Collective: Armor of Pride (2018, HighNote): [r]: B
  • Geof Bradfield: Yes, and . . . Music for Nine Improvisers (2018, Delmark): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jonathan Butler: Close to You (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: C+
  • Noname: Room 25 (2018, self-released): [bc]: A-
  • Eddie Palmieri: Full Circle (2018, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(***)
  • Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble: From Maxville to Vanport (2018, PJCE): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ned Rothenberg/Hamid Drake: Full Circle: Live in Lodz (2016 [2017], Fundacja Sluchaj): [r]: B+(*)
  • Steven Taetz: Drink You In (2018, Flatcar/Fontana North): [cd]: B
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The Jazz Heritage Series 2018 Radio Broadcasts (2018, self-released, 3CD): [cd]: C
  • Fay Victor's SoundNoiseFUNK: Wet Robots (2017 [2018], ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Gene Ammons: The Gene Ammons Story: Gentle Jug (1961-62 [1992], Prestige): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gene Ammons: Gentle Jug Volume 2 (1960-71 [1995], Prestige): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gene Ammons: The Boss Is Back! (1969 [1993], Prestige): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bud Powell: Jazz Giant (1949 [1957], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bud Powell: Piano Interpretations by Bud Powell (1955 [1959], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bud Powell: The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 4: Time Waits (1958 [1999], Blue Note): [r]: A-
  • Bud Powell: Strictly Confidential (1964 [1994], Black Lion): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bud Powell: Salt Peanuts (1964 [1988], Black Lion): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (Intakt)
  • David Dominique: Mask (Orenda): November 9
  • Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet: Time Like This (Intakt)
  • Aaron Goldberg: At the Edge of the World (Sunnyside): November 16
  • Aaron Parks: Little Big (Ropeadope): October 19
  • Subtone: Moose Blues (Laika): October 26
  • Harry Vetro: Northern Ranger (T.Sound): October 19

   Mar 2001