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Monday, September 18, 2023

Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40883 [40847] rated (+36), 28 [27] unrated (+1).

New releases have started to pick up after the late-summer doldrums, so it's been easier to find things to listen to. One help was Robert Christgau's September Consumer Guide. Four full-A albums, three of them hyped enough I got to them previously: Olivia Rodrigo (A last week), Ashley McBryde and Speedy Ortiz (below, but written up, and commented on in Facebook, before the CG appeared). Both got multiple plays, with diminishing returns. Not that I can't hear why other people like them so much, but my own pleasure wore thin fast. I'm hardly the only guy to get cranky as he gets old, but felt it here.

Nothing wrong with the Bobbie Nelson/Amanda Shires album, but doesn't strike me as a big deal either. Nor do I find comparisons to brother Willie's Stardust or Lady Gaga's Bennetts very helpful. As a jazz critic, I listen interpretations of standards all the time, so I need to be more discerning (or maybe again I'm just being cranky). On the other hand, I thought the Muldaur/Thompson record added something significant, albeit not revolutionary, to the original duets.

The rest are below, aside from the ones I had previously dealt with: Rodney Crowell (**), Gloss Up (**), Killer Mike (***), Janelle Monae (A-), Thelonious Monk (B+), and Noname (A-, though I found several places where I hadn't updated the original *** grade). I might have given up too fast on the first two, but haven't rechecked. Discogs doesn't give a release date for my Monk box (3-CD), and the outside of the box doesn't help, but inside there's a hint that it came out in 1988. I can't find anything I wrote on it, so it was probably pre-2003. I also didn't grade the individual discs, as I sometimes did later -- but there's little to differentiate this set.

I also picked up some suggestions from Brad Luen's Countrypop Life: Love and Theft. I still haven't tackled Morgan Wallen (or Bailey Zimmerman), and everyone else I'm either up or down on, but it's a good guide. I'll also note that I have tabs open for Christian Iszchak, Sidney Carpenter-Wilson, and Steve Pick -- none of which I've exhausted.

I also took a look at Magnet's "30 for 30" lists by Dan Weiss and Thomas Reimel. Not very useful as checklists, as I've heard everything on the Weiss list, and I've only missed 2 items on Reimel's (although I had to look more up, as who remembers bands like Guided by Voices and Interpol?). I tried jotting down a list myself (or two, one comparable for non-jazz, one with zero overlap for jazz): in the notebook. I spent less than an hour on each, so they're pretty iffy -- especially the jazz one. I'd be delighted if Magnet had any interest in running my list. (I was assuming they had no interest in jazz, but I now see a review of Rempis Percussion Quartet's Harvesters in their Essential New Music section -- as well as another Guided by Voices album I haven't heard.)

The new Lehman album is in a tight race with James Brandon Lewis's For Mahalia, With Love for jazz album of the year. It took me longer to get comfortable with, but that's the kind of prickly record it is. The other Lehman thing is one of the first things I noted in my infrequent "Limited Sampling" section, panned with a U-, so I was very surprised when it came through. By the way, the aforementioned Harvesters is currently a top-five jazz album this year.

The Mike Clark album was another surprise -- not the first time he's surprised me, but he's got one of those names that gets easily mixed up with many others. Before I played Clark, I came within a hair of giving his long-time collaborator Eddie Henderson an A-, but afterwards this is the place to hear him.

Still starting each day off with something old from the stacks. This morning: Tampa Red. Playing a new-old François Carrier/Tomasz Stanko box at the moment, which is sublime background.

Another Speaking of Which yesterday (5894 words, 103 links). Got a late start Friday, as I spent Thursday cooking a small dinner for a friend's birthday. Just had a single dish: phat thai, something I make fairly often, as it's easy to keep the rice noodles in the pantry, shrimp in the freezer, eggs and scallions in the refrigerator (I buy fresh scallions every trip to the grocers, as they're always useful), peanuts, and the basic sauce ingredients. (We don't care much for the bean sprouts.) As it was a special occasion, I added a package of frozen sea scallops, and chunks of country ham I trimmed off the shank bone. For dessert, flourless chocolate cake. Couldn't be simpler, or better.

Many oft-procrastinated projects await this week. The most important, and most daunting, one is getting mail working on the server. Weather around here is forecast to be neither hot nor cold, but rather wet.

New records reviewed this week:

The Chemical Brothers: For That Beautiful Feeling (2023, Virgin EMI): British techno duo, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, have been doing this a long time (debut 1995). Takes some time warming up, then overdoes it. B+(*) [sp]

Mike Clark: Kosen Rufu (2022 [2023], Wide Hive): Drummer, like Eddie Henderson (who plays trumpet here) started with Herbie Hancock in the early 1970s, giving him a reputation for fusion that he's often strayed from. Besides Henderson, band here is an inspired mix: Skerik (tenor sax), Wayne Horvitz (keybs), Henry Franklin (bass), and Bill Summers (percussion). Hard bop, I guess, but not as throwback, some surprises here. A- [cd]

Dave and Central Cee: Split Decision (2023, Neighbourhood, EP): British rappers, Dave Omoregie and Oakley Caesar-Su, two previous albums each (Dave's are much better), dropped this 4-song, 16:23 EP. B+(**) [sp]

The Handsome Family: Hollow (2023, Loose): Husband-and-wife duo, Brett and Rennie Sparks, he from Texas and she from Long Island, he the singer (although he never seemed like a natural), eleventh studio album since 1994. They have a distinctive sound, but this seems slightly more refined, comfortable, and fascinated with the world. A- [sp]

Eddie Henderson: Witness to History (2022 [2023], Smoke Sessions): Trumpet player, b. 1940, long career starting with Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi fusion band, over two dozen albums as leader, several times that many side credits, notably since 2010 in the Cookers. Marks his 50th anniversary as a leader with this quintet: Donald Harrison (alto sax), George Cables (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), and Lenny White (drums). Bright, powerful mainstream jazz. B+(***) [sp]

Irreversible Entanglements: Protect Your Light (2023, Impulse!): Jazz group with poet-vocalist Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), eponymous debut 2017, core group: Aquiles Navarro (trumpet), Keir Neuringer (alto sax), Luke Stewart (bass), Tcheser Holmes (drums). Cosmic vibe rivals Sun Ra, but deadly serious words, and shooting star horns, and MVP bass. A- [sp]

Laufey: Bewitched (2023, AWAL): Singer from Iceland, last name Jónsdóttir, mother Chinese, a classical violinist, second album, has some reputation in jazz but writes most of her material, most personal ballads ("the magic in the love of being young"). Does, however, include a cover of "Misty." B+(*) [sp]

Steve Lehman/Orchestre National de Jazz: Ex Machina (2023, Pi): Alto saxophonist, a Braxton student, has a long list of outstanding albums from 2001, including complex octets and his African fusion Sélébéyone. ONJ is a venerable French organization, dating from 1986, directed since 2019 by Frédéric Maurin. I haven't followed them, but at least in this iteration, they're not just a budget big band. Maurin not only directed, but wrote 5 (of 11) pieces, as clever and tricky as Lehman's. This took me longer than usual, but surely will rank as one of the year's best. A- [cd]

Ashley McBryde: The Devil I Know (2023, Warner Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2018. Her songwriting remains sharp as ever, but the drums hit you hard from the beginning (Christgau on her second album: "Nashville rock at its bigged-up schlockiest, with McBryde belting to match"). It's not all like that, but the half that is wears me out. And once that happens, the paean to whiskey and country music no longer seem so sharp. B+(**) [sp]

Mitski: The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We (2023, Dead Oceans): Mitsuki Laycock, born in Japan with an American father who worked for the US State Department and dragged her around the world before settling in New York. Seventh studio album since 2012. One of the year's top-rated albums (Metacritic: 92/19), yet I find it almost totally opaque, requiring intense concentration to discern its artfulness -- orchestral shifts, background choirs, a real voice. B+(*) [sp]

Victoria Monét: Jaguar II (2023, RCA): Pop singer-songwriter from Atlanta, first album after the 2020 EP Jaguar. B+(**) [sp]

Megan Moroney: Lucky (2023, Sony Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter (with help), from Georgia, first album, advance single won a CMT music award for "female breakthrough video of the year." Two self-deprecating songs feel ironic. Maybe she is lucky? B+(***) [sp]

Jenni Muldaur/Teddy Thompson: Once More: Jenni Muldaur & Teddy Thompson Sing the Great Country Duets (2021-23 [2023], Sun): Maria Muldaur's daughter and Linda Thompson's son: she released albums in 1992 and 2009, he has a few more since 2000. They teamed up for a 4-song EP of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton duets in 2021, followed by another of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Those are rolled up here, along with four more from Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Aside from jazz (sometimes even there), we tend to deprecate repertory, but these sound great, near perfect till they ad lib a bit on "Pickin' Wild Mountain Berries," where they show more chemistry than Loretta and Conway could ever muster. A- [sp]

Bobbie Nelson and Amanda Shires: Loving You (2021 [2023], ATO): Credit order given front, back, and center, but some sources insist on crediting the singer first, instead of the pianist, whose death last year gives the album meaning, as well as an excuse for a set of standards. Brother Willie drops in for a duet on "Summertime," which would be welcome on a mixtape of the fifty (maybe even thirty) best covers of the song ever. B+(***) [sp]

Pretenders: Relentless (2023, Rhino): Chrissie Hynde, twelfth group album, band has turned over since 1978, although original drummer Martin Chambers returned, and guitarist James Walbourne co-wrote this batch of songs. B+(*) [sp]

Joshua Redman: Where Are We (2023, Blue Note): Saxophonist (tenor certainly, usually some soprano), second generation, made a big splash with his 1992 debut. This one features vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa (front cover credit), backed by Aaron Parks (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), and Brian Blade (drums), with several guest spots. The songs come first, nice enough but not exceptional, the sax secondary, but every bit as nice. B+(**) [sp]

Doug Richards Orchestra: Through a Sonic Prism: The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim (2022 [2023], self-released): Arranger and conductor, based in Richmond, running a standard big band with guitar, plus vocalist Laurie Ann Singh. Standard stuff, but very nicely, and credibly, done. B+(**) [cd]

Jeff Rosenstock: Hellmode (2023, Polyvinyl): Singer-songwriter, fifth album, influenced by punk rock, not as austere, but noisy enough. B+(*) [sp]

Speedy Ortiz: Rabbit Rabbit (2023, Wax Nine): Singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis, plays guitar and synthesizer, plus a band that has completely turned over since their 2013 debut. Fourth album. Probably something there, but not for me. B+(*) [sp]

Chris Stamey: The Great Escape (2023, Car): Pop singer-songwriter, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina; played in the Sneakers with Mitch Easter, but is best known for the dBs, with Peter Holsapple. Scattered records, first in 1982, more since 2013. Cover features a Pontiac GTO (1967?). B+(*) [sp]

Teddy Thompson: My Love of Country (2023, self-released): British, but only one song here was written by a countryman, his father Richard Thompson. The others are what you'd expect: American, mostly country music hits, not what I think of as obvious classics but things I recognize, like "I Fall to Pieces," "Satisfied Mind," and "You Don't Know Me." B+(**) [sp]

Tirzah: Trip9love (2023, Domino): British singer-songwriter, third album since 2018, produced by Mica Levi, similar to trip hop with more distortion. B+(*) [sp]

Alex Ventling/Hein Westgaard: In Orbit (2021 [2023], Nice Things): Pianist ("home in both Switzerland and New Zealand" but based in Trondheim), in a duo with guitar. B+(**) [bc]

Maddie Vogler: While We Have Time (2022 [2023], Origin): Alto saxophonist, based near Chicago, first album, all original compositions, sharp postbop sextet with trumpeter Tito Carrillo especially notable, plus guitar, piano, bass, and drums. B+(**) [cd]

Morgan Wade: Psychopath (2023, Ladylife/RCA): Country singer-songwriter, from Virginia, second album, fine voice, solid-plus writing, a bit too much guitar-heavy production but not as annoying as McBryde. Christgau says this "exemplifies Nashville's evolution away from down home country toward a less regional style of autobiographical pop." That doesn't sound like a good idea to this old-timer, but the middle ground can still be fertile for someone with the talent to work it. A- [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Atmosphere: Sad Clown Bad Dub II (2000 [2023], Rhymesayers Entertainment): Minneapolis underground rap duo, still going, here with a new remaster of the 2003 authorized version of a bootleg. I figure they had three A- 1997-2002 albums. The beats and rhymes jump like they did back in that first flush of youth, but they don't all land. B+(**) [bc]

John Blum: Nine Rivers (2013 [2023], ESP-Disk): Pianist, from New York, studied at Bennington with Bill Dixon and Milford Graves, also Borah Bergman and Cecil Taylor. Only a handful of records. This one is solo, harsh, dissonant, the first sounds suggesting prepared. B+(**) [cd]

Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah (1976 [1977], India Navigation): Tenor saxophonist (1940-2022), first album 1964, but during that period was closely engaged with John Coltrane, in a project that combined free and spiritual jazz. He recorded for Impulse! to 1973, then like many jazz musicians of the era, wasn't able to find another major label until 1998. This one came out on a small but important American label. Three pieces (40:20), with guitar (Tisziji Munoz), harmonium or organ, bass, and drums/percussion, with a vocal on "Love Will Find a Way." First side finds its groove. Second is a bit less successful. B+(***) [sp]

Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah [Expanded Edition] (1976-77 [2023], Luaka Bop): This 2-LP reissue adds two live takes of the first-side piece, "Harvest Time," one from Middelheim, the other Willisau, with a quartet -- Khalid Moss (piano/electric), Hayes Burnett (bass), and Clifford Jarvis (drums) -- and the box includes a booklet I'll never see. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Steve Lehman: Xenakis and the Valedictorian (2020, Pi, EP): Early in the 2020 lockdown, Pi Recordings asked their artists to help fill the void with digital-only releases. Lehman contributed this "concise EP" (10 pieces, 9:06) of solo practice sessions, "recorded in the passenger seat of my 2011 Honda CR-V, from March 25 to April 15, 2020." The mathematician-composer Xenakis was on his mind, as he was thinking of his mother, unable to visit on her 80th birthday. She had "introduced me to an incredibly wide array of musicians and musical styles" -- he provides a list, but nothing nearly as far out as her choice of "Bohor" as theme music for his 10th birthday party. I hated the 46 seconds Pi made public on their Bandcamp page, but this turns out to be really remarkable. I'm even a bit reminded of an experience I had with Xenakis long ago, where I left with a visceral impression of what the eye of a tornado must sound like. A- [dl]

Jenni Muldaur: Jenni Muldaur (1992, Reprise): Geoff & Maria Muldaur's daughter (b. 1965), got this one shot at recording a big-time studio album, with producer Russ Titelman pulling out all the stops: tapping David Sanborn for a sax spot, Andy Fairweather Low for a bit of slide guitar, letting Donald Fagen arrange the Brecker brothers for another. Nothing per sé bad, but not much personality emerges. B [sp]

Grade (or other) changes:

Otis Spann: Otis Spann Is the Blues (1960, Candid): Surprised, when Candid reissued it last year, I had this graded so low. Then I remember that the one I liked better was Walking the Blues (also 1960). [was: B] B+(**) [cd]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jeff Coffin/Jordan Perlson/Viktor Krauss: Coffin/Perlson/Krauss (Ear Up) [09-15]
  • Caroline Davis' Alula: Captivity (Ropeadope) [10-13]
  • Tomas Fujiwara: Pith (Out of Your Head) [09-15]
  • Carlos Henriquez: A Nuyorican Tale (self-released) [09-15]
  • Elsa Nilsson's Band of Pulses: Pulses (Ears & Eyes) [10-06]
  • Brad Turner Quintet: The Magnificent (Cellar) [09-22]
  • Peter Xifaras: Fusion (Music With No Expiration) [10-01]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Speaking of Which

Started this on Friday, not with much enthusiasm, so many of the early links I collected are just that. The comment on Levitz under "Legal matters" is probably where I got started, after which I found the Current Affairs interview.

I've tried of late to articulate moderate positions that one might build a viable political consensus around, but lately I'm despairing, not so much of the popular political potential as of the probability that nothing possible will come close to what is actually needed.

Back when I was a teenage schizophrenic, I was able to pursue the two paths -- on the one hand I poured over political stats as nerdishly as Kevin Phillips, on the other I immersed myself in utopian fantasy writing -- without ever trying to reconcile them. As an old man, I find once boundless time closing in, and shutting down.

Just a few years ago, I was thinking that the worst failures in American politics were opportunity costs: wasting time and resources that could be used on big problems while doing stupid things instead (like $800B/year on useless "defense" spending). But it's looking more and more like the problem is one of cognitive dysfunction, where there is little to no hope of convincing enough of a majority that problems are problems, and that their fantasies aren't.

Top story threads:

Trump: He was having a slow week, until NBC offered him a free infomercial (see Berman, below). He is now virtually assured of the Republican nomination, but also of a margin of free publicity even exceeding his bounty in 2016 and 2020.

DeSantis, and other Republicans: The Florida governor has done little to justify being singled out, but Steve M [09-17] assures us: Ron DeSantis is still first runner-up, based on a recent straw poll. He also argues, "I'd like DeSantis to be the nominee, because he appears to be a much weaker general election candidate than Trump," and has some charts that seem to support his case.

  • Olivia Alafriz: [09-16] Texas Senate acquits AG Ken Paxton on all corruption charges: His impeachment moved me to ask the question, "when was the last time an office holder was deemed too corrupt for the Texas lege?" Since I never got an answer, I don't know whether they lowered the bar, or never had one in the first place. But this was the only opportunity since Nixon for Republicans to discipline one of their own, and they've failed spectacularly.

  • Jonathan Chait: [09-13] Mitt Romney and the doomed nobility of Republican moderation: "The party's last antiauthoritarian walks away." It's silly to get all bleary-eyed here. He isn't that moderate, noble, and/or antiauthoritarian. Chait quotes Geoffrey Kabaservice, totally ignoring the face that Romney ran hard right from day one of his 2012 (or for that matter his 2008) campaign, going so far as to pick Koch favorite Paul Ryan as his VP. And he's old enough to make his age concerns credible. And he's rich enough he doesn't need the usual post-Senate sinecure on K Street. That he also took the opportunity to chide Biden and Trump is also typical of his considerable self-esteem. But it also saves him the trouble of having to run not on his name but on his record -- much as he did after one term as governor of Massachusetts. Also on Romney:

  • Sarah Jones: [09-13] The enemies of America's children. This could be more partisan, not that Joe Manchin doesn't deserve to be called out, but he's only effective as a right-wing jerk because he's backed up by a solid block of 49-50 Republicans. Relevant here:

    • Paul Krugman: [09-14] America betrays its children again: "child poverty more than doubled between 2021 and 2022." That's almost exclusively because "Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats blocked the extension of federal programs that had drastically reduced child poverty over the previous two years." "Handful" seems a generous counting of two Senators.

  • Nikki McCann Ramirez: [09-14] DeSantis lived large on undisclosed private flights and lavish trips: What is it about Republican politicians that makes them think that just because they cater to every whim of their billionaire masters, they're entitled to live like them?

  • Bill Scher: [09-14] A shutdown will be the GOP's fault, and everyone in Washington knows it.

  • Matt Stieb: [09-15] New, gentler Lauren Boebert booted from Beetlejuice musical: Another reminder that the most clueless thing a politician can say to a cop is: "do you know who I am?" [PS: Later updated: "New, gentler Lauren Boebert apologizes for Beetlejuice fracas."]

  • Tessa Stuart: [09-16] The GOP is coming after your birth control (even if they won't admit it).

  • Li Zhou: [09-13] Republicans' unfounded impeachment inquiry of Biden, explained: "House Speaker Kevin McCarthy backed an inquiry despite no evidence of Biden's wrongdoing." More on impeachment:

    • Jonathan Chait: [09-13] Republicans already told us impeachment is revenge for Trump: "They did it to us!"

    • Peter Baker: [09-14] White House strategy on impeachment: Fight politics with politics. Steve M comments: "Are House Republicans really trying to impeach President Biden, or do they just want him under a cloud of suspicion?" The only way impeachment succeeds is if the other party break ranks. For a brief moment, Clinton seemed to consider the possibility of resigning, then decided to rally his supporters, and came out ahead. (In American Crime Story, Hillary was the one who straightened out his spine.) That was never a possibility with Trump, but at least the Democrats had pretty compelling stories to tell -- whether that did them any good is an open question. Now, not only is there no chance that Biden and the Democrats will break, the only story Republicans have is one their sucker base is already convinced of. So "cloud of suspicion" seems to be about all they can hope for.

Biden and/or the Democrats: Big week for Democratic Party back-biting. I find this focus at the top of the ticket silly and distracting. True, Trump decided that "America is Great Again" the moment he took office, but Democrats surely know that inaugurating Biden was just the first step, and that lots of big problems were left over, things that couldn't be solved quickly, especially as Republicans still held significant levers of power and press, and were doing everything possible to cripple Democratic initiatives. So why do Democrats have to run on defending their economy, their immigration, their crime, their climate, etc.? They can point to good things they've done, better things they've wanted to do, and above all to the disastrous right shift in politics since 1980. Is that so hard to understand?

  • Liza Featherstone: [09-15] We need bigger feelings about Biden's biggest policies: "Anyone who doesn't want Trump to serve another term must learn to love the Inflation Reduction Act, and despise those who seek its destruction." This sentiment runs against every instinct I have, as I've spent all my life learning to deconstruct policies to find their intrinsic flaws and their secret (or more often not-so-secret) beneficiaries. IRA has a lot of tax credits and business subsidies for doing things that are only marginally better than what would happen without them. Even if I'm willing to acknowledge that's the way you have to operate in Washington to get anything done, I hate being told I need to be happy about it. But as a practical matter, none of these things -- and same is true of the two other big bills and dozens or hundreds of smaller things, many executive orders -- would have been done under any Republican administration, Trump or no Trump. And while what Biden and the Democrats have accomplished is still far short of what's needed, sure, they deserve some credit.

  • Eric Levitz: [09-13] The case for Biden to drop Kamala Harris: "The 80-year-old president probably shouldn't have an exceptionally unpopular heir apparent." What's unclear here is why she's so unpopular. The whole identity token thing may have helped her get picked, works against her being taken seriously, but probably makes her even harder than usual to dump. But before becoming Biden's VP pick, she was a pretty skilled politician, so why not put her out in public more, get her doing the "bully pulpit" thing Biden's not much good at anyway, give her a chance?

  • Andrew Prokop: [09-12] Why Biden isn't getting a credible primary challenger: "Many Democrats fear a challenge would pave the way to Trump's victory." Responds to a question raised by Jonathan Chait with my default answer, and pointing to four cases where incumbent presidents were challenged (Johnson in 1968, Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980, and Bush in 1992) that resulted in the other party winning. Chait, by the way, replies here: [09-15] Challenging Biden is risky. So is nominating him. Steve M comments here: [09-15] Do we really want to endure the 2028 Democratic primary campaign in 2024? Evidently, there's also a David Ignatius piece, but wrong about pretty much everything, so I haven't bothered.

  • Katie Rogers: [09-11] 'It is evening, isn't it?' An 80-year-old President's whirlwind trip: Raises the question, will the New York Times ever again publish an article on Biden that doesn't mention his age? I don't know whether his trip to India and Vietnam was worthwhile, either for diplomatic or political reasons. I am not a fan of his efforts to reinvigorate American leadership after the chaotic nonsense of the Trump years: somehow, I rather doubt that "America's back" is the message the world has been clamoring for.

    I was taken aback by Heather Cox Richardson's tweet on this article (my comment here), but her write up on September 11, 2023 is exceptionally clear and straightforward, much better reporting than the NY Times seems capable of.

Legal matters and other crimes:

  • Josh Gerstein/Rebecca Kern: [09-14] Alito pauses order banning Biden officials from contacting tech platforms. The case has to do with whether the government can complain to social media companies about their dissemination of false information about the pandemic. One cherry-picked judge thinks doing so violated the free speech rights of the liars whose posts were challenged, so he issued a sweeping ban against the government. (That's what Alito paused, probably because the case is so shoddy he knows it won't stand.)

    For a laugh, see Jason Willick: [09-15] Worried about Trump? You should welcome these rulings against Biden. This is bullshit for two reasons. One is that rulings like this are deeply partisan, so there's no reason to expect that a restriction on a Democratically-run government would also be applied to a Republican-run one. And secondly, Republicans (especially Trump) would be promoting falsehoods, not trying to correct them. We already saw a perfect example of this in Trump's efforts to gag government officials to keep them from so much as mentioning climate change.

  • Eric Levitz: [09-12] Prisons and policing need to be radically reformed, not abolished. This is not a subject I want to dive into, especially as I pretty much agree with all nine of the issues he talks about (6 where abolitionists are right, 3 where they are wrong). One more point I want to emphasize: we use an adversarial system of prosecutors and defenders, each side strongly motivated to win, regardless of the truth. More often than not, what is decisive is the relative power of the adversaries (which is to say, the state beats individuals, but also the rich beat the poor, which gives rich defendants better chances than poor defendants). Some of this is so deeply embedded it's hard to imagine changing it, but we need a system that seeks the truth, and to understand it in its complexity (or simple messiness).

    Levitz properly questions the desire for retribution driving long sentences, but I also have to question the belief that long sentences and harsh punishments (which is part of the reason why jails are so cruel) deter others from committing crimes. Sure, they do, except when they don't (e.g., mass murder as a recipe for suicide by cop), but the higher the stakes, the less motive people have to admit the truth. Also, as in foreign policy, an emphasis on deterrence tends to make one too arrogant to seek mutually-beneficial alternatives. A lot of crimes are driven by conditions that can be avoided or treated.

    Finally, we need to recognize that excessive punishment is (or should be) itself criminal, that it turns us into the people we initially abhor, a point rarely lost on the punished. And one which only makes the punishers more callous. The big problem with capital punishment isn't that it's cruel or that it's so hard to apply it uniformly or that some people don't deserve it. The problem is that such deliberate killing is murder, and as done by the state is even colder and more deliberate than the murders being avenged.

  • Ian Millhiser:

  • Andrew Prokop: [09-14] The indictment of Hunter Biden isn't really about gun charges: "Prosecutors are moving aggressively because the plea deal fell apart. But why did it fall apart?" Also:

    By the way, no one's answered what seems to me the obvious question: has anyone else ever been prosecuted for these "crimes" before (standalone, as opposed to being extra charges tacked onto something else)? Also, doesn't the Fifth Amendment provide some degree of protection even if you don't explicitly invoke it?

  • Li Zhou: [09-15] The fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants is caught in an endless court fight: "The high stakes of the latest DACA decision, explained."

  • Current Affairs: [09-15] Exposing the many layers of injustice in the US criminal punishment system: Interview with Stephen B Bright and James Kwak, authors of The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Courts. Particularly check out the section on privatized probation companies, which have come about due to the belief that "the private sector can do things better than the government," and that "there is a lot of legal corruption at all levels of government."

Climate and environment:

The UAW strike:

Ukraine War: I find it curious that despite all the "notable progress" the New York Times has claimed for Ukraine's counteroffensive (most recently, retaking the village of Andriivka), they haven't updated their maps page since June 9. Zelensky is coming to America next next week, to speak at the UN and to meet Biden in Washington.

Israel: This is 30 years after the Oslo Accords, which promised to implement a separate Palestinian state in (most of) the Occupied Territories, after an interval of "confidence building" which Israel repeatedly sabotaged, especially by continuing to cater to the settler movement. The agreements put the Intifada behind, while seeding the ground for the more violent second Intifada in 2000, brutally suppressed by a Sharon government which greatly expanded settlement activity. The PLO was partly legitimized by Oslo, then reduced to acting as Israeli agents, and finally discredited, but was kept in nominal power after being voted out by Hamas, ending democracy in Palestine. Middle East Eye has a whole series of articles on this anniversary, including Joseph Massad: From Oslo to the end of Israeli settler-colonialism.

Iran: One step forward (prisoner swap), one step back (more sanctions as the US tries to claim Iranian protests against police brutality and repression of women -- issues the US is not exactly a paragon of virtue on).

Around the world:

Other stories:

Ana Marie Cox: [09-14] We are not just polarized. We are traumatized.

Constance Grady: [09-13] The big Elon Musk biography asks all the wrong questions: "In Walter Isaacson's buzzy new biography, Elon Musk emerges as a callous, chaos-loving man without empathy." Proof positive that no one should be as rich and powerful as he is, and not just because he is who he is.

Sean Illing: [09-12] Democracy is the antidote to capitalism: Interview with Astra Taylor, who has a new book: The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart.

Noel King: [09-15] 5 new books (and one very old one) to read in order to understand capitalism: A podcast discussion. The old one is The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, which is somewhat more nuanced and sophisticated than is commonly remembered. (For one thing, the "invisible hand" is basically a joke.) The new ones:

  • Jennifer Burns: Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative (Nov. 2023)
  • David Gelles: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America -- and How to Undo His Legacy (2022)
  • Martin Wolf: The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2023)
  • Jason Hickel: Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (2020)

I'm not sure what I'd recommend instead, but here are a couple ideas: George P Brockway's The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any Future Economics is my bible on economics, so I'd gladly swap it for Smith. Zachary D Carter's The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes is all you need on Friedman, plus a lot more. There are lots of books on recent economic plunder. I'm not sure which one(s) to recommend, but Jeff Madrick's Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970s to the Present is good on the bankers, and the Jacob Hacker/Paul Pierson books, from The Great Risk Shift to Let Them Eat Tweets, are good on the politics (also Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew). Hope Jahren's The Story of More is an elegant if somewhat less political alternative to Hickel.

Dylan Matthews: [09-14] Lead poisoning could be killing more people than HIV, malaria, and car accidents combined.

Kim Messick: [09-09] The American crack-up: Why liberalism drives some people crazy.

Andrew O'Hehir: [09-14] Naomi Klein on her "Doppelganger" -- the "other Naomi" -- and navigating the far-right mirror universe. Klein's new book is Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, which starts by noting the tendency people have of confusing her with Naomi Wolf, then goes beyond that to show how much propaganda from the right picks up memes from the left and twists them for the opposite effect. Also:

  • Jacob Bacharach: [09-06] Is Naomi Klein's Doppelganger weird enough? Criticism that promises more than it delivers, perhaps tipped off by the by far most unflattering pics of the Naomis I've seen.

  • Laura Wagner: [09-11] In Naomi Klein's Doppelganger, Naomi Wolf is more than a gimmick.

  • Adrienne Westenfeld: [09-12] Naomi Klein's double trouble: An interview with the author.

  • Democracy Now: [09-14] Naomi Klein on her new book Doppelganger & how conspiracy culture benefits ruling elite: I watched this, which is a good but not great interview, but the reason I looked it up was a turn of phrase that struck me as peculiar. Klein notes that:

    When I would confess to people I knew that I was working on this book, sometimes I would get this strange reaction like, "Why would you give her attention?" There was this sense that because she was no longer visible in the pages of The New York Times or on MSNBC or wherever, and because she had been deplatformed on social media -- or on the social media that we're on -- that she just didn't exist. And there was this assumption that "we," whoever we are, are in control of the attention, and so if this bigot gets turned off then there's no more attention.

    Of course, the New York Times reference is the one that sticks in my craw, because I've never viewed them as "we," or even bothered to read the thing on my own dime (or whatever it costs these days, which is surely lots more). Klein's point is that there is a lucrative right-wing media universe that welcomes and supports people who lose their perch among the moderate elites. My complaint is that the Times excludes more viewpoints from the left than it does from the right, and those from the left are essential to understanding our world (whereas those from the right are mostly promoting misunderstanding).

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-15] Roaming Charges: Just write a check. First fourth of the column is devoted to outrageous police behavior: example after example, impossible to summarize more briefly. Then he moves on to the War on Terror.

Scott Wilson: [09-15] Outflanked by liberals, Oregon conservatives aim to become part of Idaho. There are several such secessionist movements, including rural parts of Washington and California, where the population is so sparse their reactionary leanings have little effect at the state level. I only mention this because Greg Magarian did, adding: "Huh -- living in a state where your political opponents get to impose their values on you. I wonder what the &@%$# that's like." Magarian lives in St. Louis, so he very well knows what that's like. One could imagine St. Louisans opting to join Illinois. If that happened, and especially if Kansas City also defected to Kansas (which is closer to tipping Democratic than Missouri would be without its two big cities, and would also save Kansas from trying to poach their teams), the rest of Missouri might as well be part of Arkansas. In states where Republicans hold power, they're constantly passing state laws to disempower local governments that may elect Democrats. Florida and Texas have gotten the most press on that front lately, but they've done that all over the map, a bunch of times even here in Kansas. I'm not aware of Democrats behaving like that.

I finished reading EJ Hobsbawm's brilliant and encyclopedic The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848. Only disappointment was that I expected more details on the 1848 revolutions, but Hobsbawm just tiptoes up to the brink, satisfied as he is with the "two revolutions" of his period (French and Industrial, or British). I still have Christopher Clark's Revolutionary Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World, 1848-1849 on the proverbial bedstand, but I also have several more books I'd like to get to. I need to make a decision tonight.

Books post is still in progress, with 23 (of a typical 40) books in the draft main section, and 62 partials and 229 noted books. Looking back at the April 28, 2023 Book Roundup, I see that I was thinking of cutting the chunk size down, perhaps to 20, to get shorter and more posts, but also because the length of 40 has grown significantly with supplemental lists. I need to think about that. I certainly have much more research I can (and should) do. The current draft file runs 15,531 words, of which about 1/3 is in the finished section.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40847 [40811] rated (+36), 27 [34] unrated (-7).

I rushed through another Speaking of Which Sunday (5873 words, 91 links). As I noted there, I started working on a books post, so got a late start, but still managed to write quite a bit. One item of possible interest here is that I collected several links on the Olivia Rodrigo album, reviewed below. It's currently rated 86/17 at AOTY, which puts it as 25 on the year, so behind Boygenius, Caroline Polachek, Foo Fighters, and Young Fathers among albums with 17+ reviews.

I added a link to Molly Jong-Fast: [09-05] Can Joe Biden ride "boring" to reelection?. I had included several links about Biden's weak polling numbers, even though I regard such stories are generally worthless. But they reflect a severe misunderstanding of politics (cliché: "the art of the possible") and government (which should be boring to all but the most dedicated wonks). While it's always easy to blame the American people for their ignorance, shouldn't we start with the media, who are actually paid to report on things they show little evidence of (or interest in) understanding? Biden's fate in 2024 is going to depend on people getting better informed (and smarter) than they evidently are now.

I've also added a postscript on Biden's diplomatic trip: more specifically on how it's misreported and misunderstood. As much as I've been pleasantly surprised by Biden's domestic policy accomplishments, I've been alarmed by his foreign policy (his "reworking of global relationships"), especially how completely most of the Democratic Party has fallen into line behind Ukraine as America's war party (a reputation they earned in WWII, which then tricked them into taking the lead in the Cold War).

You might also want to take a look at this picture of Trump and his fans.

My listening scheme is mostly an extension of last week's checklists, picking up stragglers, and moving on. I did get to the end of DownBeat's jazz albums ballot, with only a John Zorn album unheard. Reissues/historical were harder to find, but I picked up a few of those, too. But also, new releases get an uptick in September.

Bassist Richard Davis died last week, so I took a look there, which led me to Elvin Jones, and then to Bennie Wallace.

Sometime last week, I commented on a Chris Monsen Facebook post, regarding James Brandon Lewis's For Mahalia, With Love (reviewed here, a couple weeks back). I figured the comment was lost, but it popped up again, so let's preserve it here:

By the way, "These Are Soulful Days," the bonus disc in the 2CD set but only a download code with the 2LP, is one of the best sax-with-strings things ever. On the other hand, the gospel pieces, fine as they are, sent me searching back for David Murray's "Spirituals" and "Deep River."

New records reviewed this week:

Jon Batiste: World Music Radio (2023, Verve): Keyboard player, sings, seventh album, could probably do anything, so is tempted to try everything, the radio concept tying together twenty pieces that mostly feature happy beats and varied hooks. B+(**) [sp]

Billy Childs: The Winds of Change (2023, Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Los Angeles, has composed classical music as well as jazz, 18th album since 1985. Quartet here with Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Theo Croker: By the Way (2023, Masterworks, EP): Trumpet player, from Florida, debut 2006, some crossover moves, did this five track (21:57) with British singer-songwriter Ego Ella May and producer D'Leau. Slight soul-funk, dressed up with nice trumpet. B+(*) [sp]

Open Mike Eagle: Another Triumph of Ghetto Engineering (2023, Auto Reverse): Underground rapper, ninth album, short at 25:28, but still has lots to mull over. B+(***) [sp]

Darrell Grant's MJ New: Our Mr. Jackson (2023, Lair Hill): Pianist, born in Pittsburgh, grew up in Denver, studied at Eastman, moved to New York (where he joined Betty Carter's group), wound up teaching in Portland. Scattered records, starting with mainstream Criss Cross in 1994. This one is dedicated to drummer Carlton Jackson (1961-2021), who anchors this quartet with Mike Horsfall (vibes) and Marcus Shelby (bass). B+(**) [cd] [10-06]

José James: On & On (2023, Rainbow Blonde): Jazz singer, from Minneapolis, dozen albums since 2008. Six (of seven) songs co-written by Erica Wright (Erykah Badu); the most prominent songwriter on the other is Isaac Hayes. B+(*) [sp]

Bobby Kapp: Synergy: Bobby Kapp Plays the Music of Richard Sussman (2023, Tweed Boulevard): Drummer, credits go back to 1967 with Marion Brown and Gato Barbieri, have picked up a bit since 2015 with Matthew Shipp and Ivo Perelman. Sussman, who plays piano here, has a comparably long but thin discography, leading a couple 1978-79 records for Inner City. Group here: Zach Brock (violin), Aaron Irwin (clarinet/bass clarinet), Abraham Burton (tenor sax), John Clark (French horn), and Harvie S (bass), with Scott Reeves as conductor. B+(**) [cd]

Pascal Le Boeuf: Ritual Being (2016-19 [2023], SoundSpore): Pianist, from Santa Cruz, also records with his saxophonist brother Remy as Le Boeuf Brothers. Pieces here are built on vigorous strings, either with Friction Quartet, the 5-piece Shattered Glass ensemble, or violinists Todd Reynolds and Sara Caswell, with Linda May Han Oh (bass), Justin Brown (drums), and on some cuts Remy Le Boeuf (alto sax) and/or Ben Wendel (tenor sax). B+(***) [cd]

Vince Mendoza/Metropole Orkest: Olympians (2023, Modern): From Connecticut, played keyboards but has mostly worked as a big band arranger and conductor, since 1997 mostly with the Dutch Metropole Orkest. B- [sp]

Joni Mitchell: Joni Mitchell at Newport (2022 [2023], Rhino): Major folkie singer-songwriter in her first period (1968-74, through Court and Spark), after which she got jazzier and more obscure, up to her 2000 standards album Both Sides Now, with subsequent albums in 2002 and 2007. She gets vocal help here from Brandi Carlisle and others, focusing on her best-known songs, plus a cover of "Summertime." But sometimes more help isn't better. B [sp]

Todd Mosby: Land of Enchantment (2022 [2023], MMG): Guitarist, title the state motto of New Mexico, album recorded in California, opens with five originals, including a nod to Georgia O'Keefe, adds one more between covers of "Norwegian Wood" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." B [cd]

Jean-Michel Pilc: Symphony (2021 [2023], Justin Time): French pianist, had a couple earlier albums but came into prominence in 2000. Solo. B+(*) [sp]

Darden Purcell: Love's Got Me in a Lazy Mood (2023, Origin): Standards singer, based in DC, couple previous albums, sang for the Airmen of Note. Nice, clear voice, backed with guitar (Shawn Purcell), piano (Todd Simon), bass, drums, and Joe Locke on vibes (6 of 11 cuts). B+(**) [cd] [09-15]

Olivia Rodrigo: Guts (2023, Geffen): Second album, her debut at 17 was attention-grabbing, and this one, where the production goes big and where she pops through the cracks to claim it all, is even more impressive. A mere two plays through what may well be the record of the year. A [sp]

Romy: Mid Air (2023, Young): Singer-guitarist in The XX, Romy Madley Croft, the last of the trio to spin off a solo album. Dance pop, strong beats, rich tones but trimmed back a bit, very catchy, romantic interests female, but not too close. Fred Gibson (Fred Again) conspicuous among the collaborator. A- [sp]

SLUGish Ensemble: In Solitude (2023, Slow & Steady): Steven Lugerner, plays bass clarinet, baritone sax, and alto flute here, second album with this densely layered sextet, with piano, synthesizer, guitar, bass, and drums -- most prominently the guitar (Justin Rock?). B+(**) [cd] [09-15]

Smoke DZA & Flying Lotus: Flying Objects (2023, The Smoker's Club, EP): Rapper Sean Pompey, debut 2009, Discogs lists 21 albums, nearly as many EPs, this part of a flurry of five such releases. Five tracks, 14:11, including features for Conway the Machine, Black Thought, and Estelle. B+(*) [sp]

Speaker Music: Techxodus (2023, Planet Mu): DeForrest Brown Jr., originally from Alabama, self-described "Ex-American theorist, journalist, and curator," produces electronic music "representative of the Make Techno Black Again campaign," several albums (one from 2020 I like is Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry, but beware that Discogs has this album listed under that title), also has a book, Assembling a Black Counter Culture. B+(**) [sp]

Melissa Stylianou: Dream Dancing (2018 [2022], Anzic): Jazz singer, from Toronto, sixth album since 1999, all standards (including two Jobims), backed by Gene Bertoncini (a delight on guitar) and Ike Sturm (bass). B+(**) [sp]

Ulaan Passerine: Sun Spar (2021 [2022], Worstward): Guitarist Steven R. Smith, from California, many records since 1995, both under his own name and various aliases/groups -- four starting with "ulaan." Ensemble here adds organ, banjo, violin, alto flute, bass clarinet, French horn. Achieves the minimal level of exotica evidently aspired to. B [sp]

Sachal Vasandani & Romain Collin: Still Life (2022, Edition): Jazz singer, born in Chicago, early albums (from 2007) as Sachal, this his second duo with pianist Collin. Wrote the title song, has a credit in a second, Collin wrote one, the others non-traditional standards (Elizabeth Cotten to Billie Eilish via Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel). B- [sp]

Claudia Villela: Cartas Ao Vento (2023, Taina Music): Brazilian jazz singer, based in Santa Cruz since the mid-1980s, has a handful of albums since 1996, this the first one she's recorded in Brazil. B+(***) [cd]

Hein Westgaard Trio: First as Farce (2022 [2023], Nice Things): Guitarist, from Norway, based in Copenhagen, recorded this "debut" in Sweden -- he appears to have a couple duo albums they're not counting. With Petter Asbjørnsen (bass) and Simon Forchhammer (drums). I'm impressed by the complementary thrash that often erupts from the occasional background noodling. A- [cd]

Ben Wolfe: Unjust (2021 [2023], Resident Arts): American bassist, debut 1996, support at various times includes Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Immanuel Wilkins/Nicole Glover (sax), Joel Ross (vibes), Addison Frei/Orrin Evans (piano), and Aaron Kimmel (drums). Some nice combinations. B+(***) [sp]

Lizz Wright: Holding Space: Live in Berlin (2018 [2022], Blues & Greens): Jazz singer, from Georgia, grew up in church, where her father was minister and musical director. Seventh album since 2003, with Chris Bruce (guitar), Bobby Sparks (keybs), Ben Zwerin (bass), and Ivan Edwards (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Bobby Zankel/Wonderful Sound 8: A Change of Destiny (2022 [2023], Mahakala Music): Alto saxophonist, long based in Philadelphia, has a side credit from 1977 but debut as leader was 1992, and he's remained relegated to small avant labels, scattered from Krakow to Little Rock. He did a Wonderful Sound 6 album in 2017, and builds on that here, with a second alto sax (Jaleel Shaw), trombone (Robin Eubanks), violin (Diane Monroe), piano (Sumi Tonooka), bass (Lee Smith), and drums (Pheeroan Aklaff), plus singer Ruth Naomi Floyd. Of course, I prefer the blazing sax runs. B+(***) [09-22]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Brian Blade Fellowship: Live From the Archives: Bootleg June 15, 2000 (2000 [2022], Stoner Hill): Drummer, group named from his 1998 debut album, group with Myron Walden (alto sax/bass clarinet), Melvin Butler (tenor/soprano sax), Jon Cowherd (piano), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), and Christopher Thomas (bass). I don't particularly see the point of this. B [r]

Charlie Parker: The Long Lost Bird Live Afro-Cubop Recordings (1945-54 [2023], RockBeat): Nice packaging. The music comes from six widely scattered sources, including guest spots with Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and Machito, and an early quintet with Dizzy Gillespie. Sound is variable, as is the "cubop" quotient, though the "Manteca" with Machito overcomes all my reservations. [Previously released on CD in 2015, now on vinyl.] B+(***) [r]

Old music:

Johnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways (2003 [2006], American): When Rick Rubin stepped in to record Cash in 1994, the idea was less to cement his legend than to just keep him going, after Columbia dropped him in 1986, and Mercury in 1991. He was only 62, but had less than a decade left, and he spent it singing whatever songs took his fancy, in the simplest of arrangements, his voice still unique but losing its force. Four volumes appeared before he died in 2003, and this -- the only one I missed -- and American VI were released later. American IV was the pick -- the others struck me as various shades of B+ -- but the more time passes, the more fortunate these recordings feel. B+(***) [r]

Richard Davis: One for Frederick (1989 [1990, Hep): Bassist (1930-2023), not a lot of albums under his own name -- Discogs lists 33, but only 13 list him first -- has a huge list of side-credits, starting with Don Shirley in 1955 and Sarah Vaughan in 1957, with 1964 an early peak (Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch and Andrew Hill's Black Fire), and even a few "beyond" albums, like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks (of which Greil Marcus wrote: "Richard Davis provided the greatest bass ever heard on a rock album"). This one was live at Sweet Basil, co-credited to "and Friends," a sharp quintet with Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), Ricky Ford (tenor sax), Roland Hanna (piano), and Freddie Waits (drums, the Frederick of the title, who died November, 1989, after this was recorded in July). B+(***) [sp]

The Fugs: The Fugs' Second Album (1966 [1994], Fantasy): Folk-rock group founded 1964 by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums, with others joining on occasion -- most famously Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. They released a 1965 album on Broadside/Folkways titled The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views, and General Dissatisfaction, which a year later was reissued as The Fugs' First Album, along with a second album, just The Fugs, but rechristened here. Both pick up spare tracks. They held together until 1969, recording one more album for ESP-Disk, an unreleased album for Atlantic, and three for Reprise (eventually boxed as Electromagnetic Steamboat: The Reprise Recordings). This album even cracked the charts at 95, so their indifference to commercial success wasn't totally unreciprocated. Big pieces here are the not-quite-ironic-enough "Kill for Peace" and a stab at new age exotica called "Virgin Forest" (11:17). Bonus tracks include some live cuts and end with a whimper on "Nameless Voices Crying for Kindness." [sp]

Elvin Jones and Richard Davis: Heavy Sounds (1968, Impulse!): Heavy that drummer and bassist should share billing credit, but they claim it with an 11:33 duet on "Summertime." The other five cuts (30:23) add Billy Greene on piano and Frank Foster, really tasty on tenor sax. A- [sp]

Elvin Jones: Poly-Currents (1969 [1970], Blue Note): Drummer (1927-2004), one of the Jones Brothers (with Thad and Hank), played with Sonny Rollins (A Night at the Village Vanguard) in the late 1950s, but is most famous for the 1960-66 John Coltrane Quartet, and echoes followed him ever after. This is one of a bunch of 1968-73 records for Blue Note. Five tracks, first three with Candido Camera (congas), Wilbur Little (bass), and saxophonists George Coleman, Joe Farrell (also English horn and flute), and Pepper Adams (baritone). The last two cuts trim down a bit. Needless to say, the drummer puts on a show. B+(***) [sp]

Richard Thompson: (Guitar, Vocal): A Collection of Unreleased and Rare Material 1967-1976 (1967-76 [1976], Island): English folkie, guitarist first, singer-songwriter in a duo with wife Linda 1974-82, solo for 40+ years after. This picks up scattered bits starting with six songs with Fairport Convention, then adds some outtakes with or without Linda, including one new track. Seems like a hodgepodge, where the artist only starts to reveal himself toward the end. [NB: Issued in UK by Island 1976, as 2-LP; reissued in US by Carthage in 1984, and by on CD Hannibal in 1989.] B [sp]

Richard Thompson: Mirror Blue (1994, Capitol): Eighth studio album, about par for the course. B+(**) [sp]

Richard Thompson: Mock Tudor (1999, Capitol): Another solid record. B+(**) [sp]

Bennie Wallace: Big Jim's Tango (1982 [1983], Enja): Tenor saxophonist, from Tennessee, fifth album since 1978, a trio with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, playing four originals plus one Cole Porter. Mainstream player, always loved his tone, especially on mid-tempo pieces, but even there this rhythm section keeps him on his toes. [PS: Album cover from 1995 CD reissue.] A- [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sara Serpa & André Matos: Night Birds (Robalo Music) [09-29]
  • Hein Westgaard Trio: First as Farce (Nice Things) [09-01]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Speaking of Which

I started to work on a books post this week, which caused some confusion when I ran across reviews of books I had recently written something about. I'm guessing I have about half of my usual batch, so a post is possible later this week, but not guaranteed. I'm still reading Eric Hobsbawm's brilliant The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, which is absolutely jam-packed with insights -- probably why I drone on at such length below on liberalism and its discontents. I got deep enough into it to order three books:

  • Franklin Foer: The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future (2023, Penguin Press)
  • Cory Doctorow: The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation (2023, Verso)
  • Astra Taylor: The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart (paperback, 2023, House of Anansi Press)

I didn't bother with any reviews of Foer this week (there are several), although I mentioned the book last week. I figured I'd wait until I at least get a chance to poke around a bit. I have a lot of questions about how Biden's White House actually works. I'm not big on these insider books, but usually the outside view suffices -- especially on someone as transparent as Trump. Two I read on Obama that were useful were:

  • Ron Suskind: Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011, Harper).
  • Reed Hundt: A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions (2019, Rosetta Books).

Suskind was a reporter who had written an important book on the GW Bush administration (The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11). Hundt was a participant, but not an important nor a particularly successful one, so he took his time before weighing in.

Top story threads:


  • Holly Bailey: [09-08] Georgia special grand jury recommended charging Lindsey Graham in Trump case. We now know that the Grand Jury actually recommended prosecution of 38 people, but the prosecutor streamlined the case to just 19 defendants. It's easy to imagine the case against Graham, who was especially aggressive in trying to bully Georgia officials into throwing the election to Trump. But it's also easy to see how prosecuting Graham, and for that matter Georgia Senators (at the time) Loeffler and Perdue, could distract from focusing on the ringleader.

  • Amy Gardner: [09-08] Judge denies Mark Meadows's effort to move Georgia case to federal court: This was the first, and probably the most credible, such appeal, so it doesn't look good for the other defendants.

  • Alex Guillén: [09-07] Trump's border wall caused 'significant' cultural, environmental damage, watchdog finds. Rep. Raúl Grijalva put it more bluntly: "This racist political stunt has been an ineffective waste of billions of American taxpayers' dollars."

  • Nicole Narea: [09-06] January 6 rioters are facing hundreds of years in prison combined. What does it mean for Trump? Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was sentenced to 22 years for seditious conspiracy, the longest individual sentence yet. Jeffrey St Clair notes (link below) that Tarrio was initially offered a plea deal of 9-11 years, in "a textbook case of how prosecutors use plea deals to coerce guilty pleas and punish those who insist on their constitutional right to a trial." He lists four more Proud Boys who received sentences approximately double of what they were offered to plea out.

  • Tori Otten: [09-07] Guilty! Trumpiest Peter Navarro convicted of contempt of Congress.

  • Charles P Pierce: [09-08] Get a load of the letter Fulton County DA Fani Willis sent Jim Jordan: "I didn't think there were this many ways to tell somebody to fck off."

  • Jack Shafer: [09-08] Donald Trump destroyed horse race journalism: "At least for now." I guess it's hard to enjoy a good horse race when something more than your own bet depends on it. Like whether there'll ever be another race. Especially when you have to spend so much time scanning the grounds for snipers and ambulances, which are the only things about this race you haven't seen before.

  • Li Zhou: [09-07] Trump faces another big legal loss in the E. Jean Carroll case.

  • No More Mister Nice Blog: [09-08] So why wasn't Trump impeached for emoluments?:

    It's a shame, because much of America struggled to understand the point of the first impeachment, whereas an emoluments impeachment would have been extremely easy for ordinary citizens to grasp: If you use your status as president to cash in, that's illegal. Simple. Relatable. It's like stealing from the cash register. And he was allowed to get away with it.

    The question is probably rhetorical, but the obvious answer is that there was a faction of Democrats who thought that national security was the only unassailable moral high ground that exists, therefore everyone would get behind it. In the end, it persuaded no one who wasn't going to vote to impeach Trump for any of dozens of things anyway. Ironically, the key witnesses against Trump at the time have become the Washington's biggest Ukraine hawks, with the same "security Democrats" cheering them the loudest. And still Republicans are trying to get Hunter Biden prosecuted, so you didn't even win the battle, much less the war.

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Peter Baker/Katie Rogers: [09-10] Biden forges deeper ties with Vietnam as China's ambition mounts: Further proof that the only thing that can get American foreign policy past a grudge is to spite another supposed foe.

  • Jonathan Chait: [09-09] Biden or Bust: Why isn't a mainstream Democrat challenging the president? The simple answer is that no one wants to risk losing, not so much to Biden as to a Republican who should be unelectable but still scares pretty much everyone shitless. The greater left of the party isn't that unhappy with Biden, at least as long as they don't have to think much about foreign policy (which, frankly, is pretty awful, but so were Obama and Clinton). The neolibs aren't that unhappy either, and they're the ones most likely to sandbag anyone to Biden's left. Second answer is money. Nobody's got any (unless Bloomberg wants to run again, and that would really be stupid). But if Biden did drop out, ten names would pop up within a month.

  • Lisa Friedman: [09-06] Biden administration to bar drilling on millions of acres in Alaska: This reverses leases granted in the late days of the Trump administration, but only after [04-23] Many young voters bitter over Biden's support of Willow oil drilling, also on Alaska's north slope.

  • Molly Jong-Fast: [09-05] Can Joe Biden ride "boring" to reelection? "His administration is getting a lot done for the American people, yet its accomplishments don't get the same media attention as Trumpian chaos."

  • Andrew Prokop: [09-08] Should we trust the polls showing Trump and Biden nearly tied? You have much more serious things to worry about than polls, but what I take from this is that Democrats haven't really figured out how to talk about their political differences, and the mainstream media isn't very adept at talking about politics at all. There are obvious, and in some ways intractable, reasons for this. The idea of merely reporting the news gives equal credence to both sides regardless of truth, value, or intent. Republicans are masters at blaming everything bad on Democrats, while crediting them nothing. Democrats are reluctant to reciprocate, especially as we've been conditioned to dismiss their infrequent counterattacks as shrill and snotty. The double standards are maddening, but somehow we have to figure out ways to get past that. The differences between Trump and Biden, or between any generic Republican and Democrat you might fancy, are huge and important. At some level you have to believe that it's possible to explain that clearly. But until then, you get stupid poll results.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [09-08] Diplomacy Watch: Inquiry finds 'no evidence' South Africa armed Russia. No meaningful diplomacy to report. The website has a new design, which I don't like, mostly because it makes it much harder to find new pieces on the front page.

  • Ben Armbruster: [09-05] Why blind optimism leads us astray on Ukraine: "The pre-counteroffensive debate in the US was dominated by claims of 'victory' and 'success' despite available evidence predicting it wouldn't meet key goals." This is similar to the Confidence Fairy, where Obama and his people seemed to think that the key to recovery from the 2008 meltdown was projecting confidence that the economy was really just fine. The effect of such thinking on war strategy is even worse: any doubt that war aims will succeed is scorned as giving comfort to the enemy, so everyone parrots the official line. The final withdrawal from Afghanistan was hampered by just this kind of thinking. The article includes a wide sampling of such yes men cheering each other on into thinking it would all work out. I've tried to take a different position, which is that it doesn't matter whether the counteroffensive gains ground or not. In either case, the war only ends when Russia and the US -- with Ukraine's agreement, to be sure, but let's not kid ourselves about who Putin's real opponent is -- decide to negotiate something that allows both sides to back down. And the key to that isn't who controls how many acres, but when negotiators find common ground. Until then, the only point to the war is to disillusion hawks on both sides.

  • Ben Freeman: [06-01] Defense contractor funded think tanks dominate Ukraine debate: A lengthy report, finding that "media outlets have cited think tanks with financial backing from the defense industry 85 percent of the time."

  • Jen Kirby: [09-07] Are the US and Ukraine at odds over the counteroffensive?

  • Daniel Larison: [09-07] Hawks want Biden to take the fight with Russia global: "Walter Russell Mead thinks the West can wear down Russia by attacking it everywhere." The first question I have is: isn't it global already, or is he really arguing for escalating with military action? (Syria and Mali are mentioned.) The bigger question is why do you want to fight Russia in the first place? I can see defending Ukraine, but the hawks seem to be starting from the assumption the US should wage war against Russia, and Ukraine is just an excuse and tool for that purpose.

  • Anatol Lieven: [09-06] Afghanistan delusions blind US on Russia-Ukraine: "If Washington forgets the war's lessons, its mistakes are likely to be repeated."

  • Robert Wright: [09-08] Logic behind Ukraine peace talks grows: This is a pretty good summary of an argument that I think has been obvious if not from day one, at least since Russia retreated from its initial thrust at Kyiv: that neither side can win, nor can either side afford to lose.

  • Common Dreams: [09-02] US to begin sending controversial depleted uranium shells to Ukraine: The shells are effective at piercing tank armor, but they ultimately disintegrate, leaving toxic and radioactive uranium in the air, water, and soil. They were used extensively in Iraq, and the results have been tragic; e.g., Sydney Young: [2021-09-22] Depleted Uranium, Devastated Health: Military Operations and Environmental Injustice in the Middle East; and Dahr Jamail: [2013-03-15] Iraq: War's legacy of cancer.


Around the world:

Other stories:

Dan Balz: [09-09] What divides political parties? More than ever, it's race and ethnicity. That's what a report from the American Political Science Association (APSA) says. My first reaction was: that's a shame. My second was the suspicion that they got that result because that's all they could think of to measure. It's always possible to think of other questions that could scatter the results in various directions. And my third is that this is mostly an indictment of the news media, which seems completely incapable of explaining issues in ways that people can relate to.

Zack Beauchamp:

  • [09-06] Elon Musk's strange new feud with a Jewish anti-hate group, explained: So Musk is suing the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) . . . for defamation? He blames them for a 60% loss of advertising revenue, which couldn't possibly have been caused by anything he did?

  • [09-10] Chris Rufo's dangerous fictions: "The right's leading culture warrior has invented a leftist takeover of America to justify his very real power grabs." Rufo's book is America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything. Rufo is the guy whose rant on Critical Race Theory launched recent efforts by DeSantis and others to ban its teaching, even though it never had been taught, and thereby censoring the very real history of racial discrimination in America, lest white people be made to feel bad about what their ancestors did. CRT was developed by legal scholars to show that some laws which were framed to appear race-neutral had racist intent. This refers to the Critical Theory developed by mid-20th century Marxists like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, which was very useful in detecting how capitalism and authoritarianism permeated and refracted in popular culture.

    I spent a lot of time studying Critical Theory when I was young. (I recently cracked open my copy of Dialectic of Enlightenment and was surprised to find about 80% of it was underlined.) It really opens your eyes to, and goes a long way toward explaining, a lot of the features of the modern world. But having learned much, I lost interest, at least in repeating the same analyses ad nauseum. (To take a classic example, I was blown away when I read How to Read Donald Duck, but then it occurred to me that one could write the same brilliant essay about Huckleberry Hound, Woody Woodpecker, and literally every other cartoon or fictional character you ran into.) But while Critical Theory appealed to people who wanted to change the world, it was never a plan of action, much less the plot to take over the world that Rufo claims to have uncovered.

    Beauchamp does a nice job of showing up Rufo's paranoia:

    Rufo cites, as evidence of the influence of "critical theory" across America, diversity trainings at Lockheed Martin and Raytheon that used the term "white privilege" and similar concepts in their documents. This, he argues, is proof that "even federal defense contractors have submitted to the new ideology."

    But the notion that American arms manufacturers have been taken over by radicals is ridiculous. Lockheed Martin builds weapons to maintain the American war machine. It is not owned or controlled in any way by sincere believers in the Third Worldist anti-imperialism of the 1960s radicals; it is using the now-popular terms those radicals once embraced to burnish its own image.

    Rufo is getting the direction of influence backward. Radicals are not taking over Lockheed Martin; Lockheed Martin is co-opting radicalism.

    So Rufo is not wrong that some radical ideas are penetrating into the institutions of power, including corporations. Where he is bonkers is in thinking that the ideas are power, plotted by some malign adversary bent on total control, trying to force us to think (gasp!) nice thoughts. What's scary is the mentality that views any hint of civility or accommodation as a mortal threat. Beauchamp continues, in terms that will probably drive Rufo even crazier:

    Historically, liberalism has proven quite capable of assimilating leftist critiques into its own politics. In the 19th and 20th centuries, liberal governments faced significant challenges from socialists who argued that capitalism and private property led to inequality and mass suffering. In response, liberals embraced the welfare state and social democracy: progressive income taxation, redistribution, antitrust regulations, and social services.

    Reformist liberals worked to address the concerns raised by socialists within the system. Their goal was to offer the immiserated proletariat alternative hope for a better life within the confines of the liberal democratic capitalist order -- simultaneously improving their lives and staving off revolution.

    Meanwhile, conservatives like Rufo resisted every such reform, often histrionically, even ones they eventually came to accept as necessary.

Jonathan Chait: [09-07] Samuel Moyn can't stop blaming Trumpism on liberals. I only mention this because I recently spent a lot of time writing up a book blurb on Moyn's Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times. I'll save the details, but note that Chait is upset because his heroes and his muddle-of-the-road philosophy were critiqued -- he says, incoherently. What happened was that after 1945, the New Deal coalition was deliberately split as most traditional liberals (like Chait, but he came much later) turned against the left, both abroad and at home, as part of a bipartisan Cold War consensus. They were pretty successful for a while, and with Lyndon Johnson even did some worthwhile things (civil rights and Medicare were big ones), but they neglected the working class base of the party, while throwing America into nasty (and in the case of Vietnam, hopeless) wars. So instead of building on the significant progress of the New Deal, the Democratic Party fell apart, losing not just to Republicans but to its own neoliberal aspirants. How that brought us to Trump is a longer and messier story, but it certainly got us Reagan, and the rot that followed.

PS: I wrote this paragraph before the one above on Beauchamp, so there's a bit of disconnect. Beauchamp talks about "reformist liberals," which diverge somewhat from Moyn's "cold war liberals." Chait thinks of himself as one of the former, but shares the latter's aversion to the left. Classical liberalism contained the seeds for both: first by individualizing society, breaking down the traditional hierarchy, then by declaring that every individual should have the right to "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." It turns out that in order for any substantial number of people to enjoy liberty, they need to have support of government. Some liberals understood, and others (including Hayek and Friedman) simply didn't care. Cold War liberals wound up on both sides, but even those who still supported reforms undercut them by fighting the left as much or more than the right.

Rachel M Cohen: [09-05] Is public school as we know it ending? Interview with Cara Fitzpatrick, who thinks so, as in her book title: The Death of Public School: How Conservatives Won the War Over Education in America.

Richard Drake: [09-08] Gabriel Kolko on the foreign policy consequences of conservatism's triumph: I occasionally still crack open Kolko's brilliant books on US foreign policy (both subtitled The World and United States Foreign Policy, The Politics of War: 1943-1945, and The Limits of Power: 1945-1954), but it's been some time since I thought of his earlier The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916 (1963). The point there is that while the progressive movement sought to limit the manifest evils of capitalism, the actual reforms left big business and finance in pretty good shape -- as was evident in the post-WWI period, all the way to the crash in 1929.

Drake goes into the later books, but this piece doesn't do much to clarify how the "triumph of conservatism" in 1916 led to the "politics of war" in 1943. In this, I must admit I'm a little rusty on my William Appleman Williams, but "democracy" in Wilson's "making the world safe" slogan could just as easily been replaced with "capitalism." That was exactly what happened in the later 1943-54 period, when Roosevelt did so much to revive Wilson's reputation, while forever banishing opponents, including remnants of the anti-imperialist movement from 1898, to obscurity as "isolationists."

Kolko's formulation also does a neat job of solving the debate about whether Wilson was a progressive or a conservative: he was the former to the ends of the latter. Nowadays we dwell more on Wilson's racism, which we associate with the right, but in his day the two weren't strangers, even if what we still admire about the progressive idea suggests they should have known better.

Zeke Faux: [09-06] That's what I call ponzinomics: "With Sam Brinkman-Fried, Gisele, and a credulous Michael Lewis at the zenith of crypto hype." On first glance, I thought this might be a review of Lewis's forthcoming book on Bankman-Fried (coming Oct. 3: Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon), but it's actually an excerpt from Faux's new book, Number Go Up: Inside Crypto's Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, about a conference in 2022 where Lewis was talking about Bankman-Fried "as if he were presenting a prize to his star pupil."

Constance Grady: [09-08] The sincerity and rage of Olivia Rodrigo: One class of story I invariably skip past is "most anticipated," especially with albums, because interesting albums rarely get the advanced hype to make such lists. (TV and movies fare a bit better, because there are many fewer of them, at least that you'll ever hear about.) But I gave this one a spin as soon as the banner popped up on Spotify, and then I gave it a second. If you don't know, she's a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, whose 2021 debut Sour won me and practically everyone else over immediately (RIAA has certified it 4x Platinum). Her new one, Guts is her second, and I'll review it (sort of) next Music Week. For now I just want to note that she's getting newsworthy press:

Adam Hochschild: [09-05] The Senator who took on the CIA: Frank Church. Review of James Risen/Thomas Risen: The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys -- and One Senator's Fight to Save Democracy.

Whizy Kim: [09-08] The era of easy flying is over: "Lessons from a summer of hellish flights." As far as I'm concerned, it's been over for at least 20 years, about the time when it became obvious that deregulation and predatory profit seeking were going to devour the last shreds of decency in customer service.

Karen Landman: [09-07] Covid is on the rise again, but it's different now: "Covid transmission continues to ebb and flow -- but at least the latest Pirola variant isn't too menacing."

Prabir Purkayastha: [09-08] Is intellectual property turning into a knowledge monopoly? The question almost answers itself, given that the current laws defining intellectual property include grants of monopoly (with minor exceptions, like mechanical royalties for broadcast use of songs). The question of "knowledge" is a bit fuzzier, but there is real desire to claim things like "know how" as property (read the fine print on employee contracts). A patent can keep others making the same discovery independently from their own work, and the tendency to chain patents can keep competition away almost indefinitely. Copyrights, as the word makes clear, are more limited, but once you start talking derivative works, the line gets harder to draw. Moreover, the smaller granularity of fair use gets, the more likely accidental reuse becomes. How serious this is depends a lot on how litigious "owners" are, but in America, where so much seems to depend on wealth, we are very litigious indeed. This piece is excerpted from the author's book: Knowledge as Commons: Towards Inclusive Science and Technology (LeftWord, 2023).

Ingríd Robeyns: [08-28] Limitarianism: academic essays: Author has edited a book, Having Too Much: Philosophical Essays on Limitarianism, with various academic papers on the problem of having too much stuff. Fortunately, they read their own book and decided to make it available through Open Book Publishers, so it doesn't add to your surplus of stuff.

Dylan Scott: [08-07] The NFL season opener is also the kickoff for the biggest gambling season ever: "How America became a nation of gamblers -- and what might happen next." Few things make me more pessimistic for the future of the nation.

Norman Solomon: [09-07] Venture militarism on autopilot, or "How 9/11 bred a 'War on Terror' from Hell: America's response to 9/11 in the lens of history." Seems like every week brings enough new stories about America's bloated, wasteful, stupid, ineffective, but still really dangerous war culture, even beyond the ones that fit securely under "Ukraine" and "World." This gets to the big picture, being adapted from the introduction to Solomon's new book, War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine. The focus here is less on what war is and does than on how it is talked about, to make it seem more valorous and/or less cruel than it is, or just as often, how it's not talked about at all, allowing most of us to go about our daily lives with no sense of what the US government is actually doing, let alone why.

  • Melissa Garriga/Tim Biondo: [09-08] The Pentagon is the elephant in the climate activist room: "The US military is the world's largest institutional oil consumer. It causes more greenhouse gas emissions than 140 nations combined and accounts for about one-third of America's total fossil fuel consumption."

  • Maha Hilal: [09-05] 22 years of drone warfare and no end in sight: "Biden's rules on drone warfare mask continued violent islamophobia." Author wrote the book Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11, so that's her focus, but one could write much more about the seductiveness of drone warfare for the gamers who increasingly run the military, with their huge budgets to waste while risking none of their own lives.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-08] Roaming Charges: The pitch of frenzy. Lots here, as usual, including some links I've cited elsewhere. One I'll mention here is a tweet by anti-woke pundit Richard Hanania: "Jimmy Buffett taught Americans to hate their jobs and live for nights and weekends so they could stuff themselves with food and alcohol." Actually, he picked that trope up from country music, where he sold most of his records before being reclassified as Adult Contemporary. The classic formula was to transpose Saturday night and Sunday morning, but many singers never got to the latter (or only did so in niche albums).

PS: I mentioned Biden's stop in Vietnam above, but hadn't seen this article: Katie Rogers: [09-11] 'It is evening, isn't it?' An 80-year-old president's whirlwind trip. Which focuses more on his age and foibles than on the diplomatic mission, showing once again that the mainstream press would rather focus on appearance than substance. Why does "the rigors of globe-trotting statesmanship" even matter? I'd rather prefer to have fewer photo-ops and more actual communication. But the reason I bring this piece up isn't to rag on the sorely atrophied art of journalism yet again. I found this tweet by Heather Cox Richardson, which pointed me to the article, even more disturbing:

Here's what I don't get: this administration's reworking of global relationships is the biggest story in at least a generation in foreign affairs -- probably more. Why on earth would you downplay that major story to focus on Biden's well-earned weariness after an epic all-nighter?

No doubt Biden has been very busy on that front, but it's hard to tell what it all means, which makes it hard to agree that it's big, harder still that it's good. GW Bush did at least as much "reworking," but his assertion of imperial prerogatives wound up undermining any possibility of international cooperation, and more often than not backfired. Obama tried to unwind some of Bush's overreach, and negotiated openings with Iran and Cuba, but left the basic unilateral posture in place. Trump did more in less time, but was too erratic, greedy, and confused to set a clear direction.

Biden, on the other hand, is mostly intent on patching up the mess Trump made, without addressing any of the underlying problems. And because he's left the imperial hubris unchecked, he's actually worsened relations with many countries, of which Russia and China are the most dangerous. On the other hand, even though Ukraine has brought us near a precipice, he hasn't actually plunged into disaster yet, as Bush did. It's still possible that, having reëngaged, he could move toward a more cooperative relationship with an increasingly multipolar world. But you can't call this a "story" without some sense of how it ends, and that's far from clear at the moment.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40811 [40767] rated (+44), 34 [27] unrated (+7).

Huge Speaking of Which last night: 135 links, 8610 words. Started Thursday, and let some things like the baseball memoir, the note on Golda Meir, and the Hobsbawm introduction just flow. Also added the Jimmy Buffett obituary late, after I found the note on his politics. By then I had gone back for a few of his records, below.

Looking back over it, I see a dozen spots where I should (or at least could) write much more. I've made some minor edits, but it certainly needs much more.

The only thing that kept the rated count from cratering was working off a checklist, in this case the unheard records from Brad Luen's 2003 poll results (in the notebook), hence a lot of 2003 releases under Old Music. I've hit everything that got ranked, but very few of the single-vote records. The records rarely got more than one play, so they piled up pretty fast. Aside from the Pet Shop Boys, which a second play would most likely lift to full A, Marcelo D2 made the grade the fastest.

I got another food plate, if you're into that. The diet is going fitfully, but I believe I'm entitled to clean up leftovers and dated pantry items. It was orders of magnitude better than the microwave fish from the night before, or whatever I had last night and have already blotted from memory.

After taking it apart and reassembling it, the upstairs CD player finally decided to start working, but only after I ordered a replacement -- something I found pretty embarrassing. But it is the last such model still available (an Onkyo), and the last unit Amazon had in stock, so I figure I'll keep it as a collector's item. Next day, the downstairs CD player reverted to its bad habit of instantly withdrawing the tray before I could put a new disc in, so if I shoot it, I'll already have a replacement.

After much nagging, I filled out a ballot for the DownBeat Readers Poll. My notes are here. Note that I'm only picking from the ballot choices they offer, which miss a lot of worthy albums (at least 80% of my A-lists: 2022 and 2023) and a great many notable musicians (especially from Europe, but also more avant or more retro than their MOR niche).

The demo queue continues to grow, and I'm probably farther behind than I've been a decade (give or take). One reason I've let it slide is that only 5 (of 35) are out yet, and most won't be released until October. The pending list is sorted by release date, but my basket isn't, so sometimes I slip up and jump the gun (as with Birnbaum, below; future dates noted at the end of the review).

Still no indexing on last month's Streamnotes. Expecting more 100°F weather this week. It's often hot here until the last week of September.

New records reviewed this week:

Adam Birnbaum: Preludes (2023, Chelsea Music Festival): Pianist, several albums since 2006, in a trio with Matt Clohesy (bass) and Keita Ogawa (percussion), playing Bach preludes. B+(**) [cd] [10-10]

Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((World War)) (2022 [2023], International Anthem): Trumpet player, sings some, adds some keyboard and percussion, died at 39 shortly after recording this somewhat unfocused album. Mostly quartet with Lester St. Louis (cello), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums) plus extra credits for all, and various guest spots -- Rob Frye plays bass clarinet on three tracks, Nick Broste trombone on two of those. B+(***) [sp]

Scott Clark: Dawn & Dusk (2021-22 [2023], Out of Your Head): Drummer, has at least one previous album, composed these pieces with lyric help from vocalist Laura Ann Singh. Strong instrumental stretches, with JC Kuhl (bass clarinet/tenor sax), Bob Miller (trumpet/flugelhorn), Adam Hopkins (bass), and the always excellent Michael McNeill (piano). B+(**) [cd]

Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons: Live at the Village Vanguard (2022 [2023], Pyroclastic, 2CD): Canadian pianist, based in New York since 2001, impressed me early, especially with 2008's Rye Eclipse, eventually rising in DownBeat's polls, and winning the Jazz Critics Poll in 2019 for Diatom Ribbons. The latter album, with its fusion elements (various guitars, Val Jeanty's turntables, vocals and spoken word), threw me at the time (or maybe, without a CD, I just didn't give it enough time, but I did recheck it during the poll). But this new one isn't a live take on the original. It's new material -- incorporating pieces by Wayne Shorter, Geri Allen, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Conlon Nancarrow/Eric Dolphy -- played by a slimmed down but fully functional band, with Jeanty, Julian Lage (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), with several vocal samples (Messiaen, Stockhausen, Sun Ra, Paul Bley). It opens up and stretches out (53:42 + 51:09), which among other luxuries gives the pianist more time to claim the spotlight. Which she does. [PS: Back in early JCG days, I noticed that nearly all of my featured Duds had just appeared on the cover of DownBeat. Davis finally made the September 2023 cover, a rare exception to a rule that has proven remarkably robust.] A- [sp]

Homeboy Sandman: Rich (2023, Dirty Looks): New York rapper Angel Del Villar III, lots of records since 2007, this another short one (11 tracks, 26:29). Always loose, some of this feels too flip, like when all he can come up with is "I rap real well." Choice cut is "Then We Broke Up," where he even finds some horns. B+(**) [sp]

Superposition: Glaciers (2019-22 [2023], Kettle Hole): Duo of piano/keyboard players Todd A. Carter and Michael Hartman, who also work in some percussion and toys. Second album (or "debut") under this name, but they have worked together for 30 years, including in an ambient/drone band called Liminal. Nice textures, ambient plus something. B+(**) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Sonny Stitt: Boppin' in Baltimore: Live at the Left Bank (1973 [2023], Jazz Detective): Alto saxophonist, a bebopper from his start in the late 1940s, took a lot of grief as a "Bird imitator," but invented as much as he stole, and really who cares? He was always up to play, especially in his early-1960s duo albums with Gene Ammons, but his best albums came in 1972 for Muse, when he slowed down a bit. This previously unreleased tape comes from that period: a quartet with Kenny Barron (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Louis Hayes (drums). A- [sp]

Old music:

Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Meeting (2003, Pi): Down to four -- Malachi Favors (bass), Famoudou Don Moye (drums), Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman (reeds), everyone percussion -- with the recent death of Lester Bowie. He is missed. B+(*) [sp]

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Sirius Calling (2003 [2004], Pi): Moving on, still a quartet, streaks of brilliance with a lot of ambling along. B+(*) [sp]

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Chi Congo (1972, Decca): Now-legendary Chicago quintet, they recorded a massive amount in 1967-72, much of it in France, like this album, before they landed on Atlantic for a couple 1972-73 albums, then ECM from 1978 to 2001 (aside for a 1986-90 burst in the Japanese label DIW). B+(**) [sp]

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Live in Paris (1969 [2003], Charly, 2CD): Two long pieces (49:34 and 42:02), each originally split on LP, not sure when BYG originally released them but Part 2 came out in Japan in 1975, they were collected on 2-LP by Affinity in 1980, and later reissued on CD here and by Fuel 2000 in the US. Current digital editions have them split up again, but each part refracts the whole and vice versa. As usual, everyone doubles on percussion, with Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman on all manner of flutes and reeds. Singer Fontella Bass is also credited, a nice bit toward the end. B+(**) [sp]

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Live Part 1 (1969 [1975], BYG): "Oh, Strange," credited to Jarman and Bowie. B+(**) [sp]

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Live Part 2 (1969 [1975], BYG): "Bon Voyage," credited to Bowie. B+(**) [sp]

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Live in Berlin (1979 [1998], West Wind, 2CD): One 80:10 stretch, sensibly split over 2-CD, the set pieces (if indeed that's what they are) flowing into one long medley. B+(*) [sp]

Baba Zula/Mad Professor: Ruhani Oyun Havalan (Psychebelly Dance Music) (2003, Doublemoon): Turkish group, sing and play traditional instruments augmented with electronics for "a unique psychedelic sound," with Mad Professor mixing dub style, and a couple dancers listed among group members. B+(***) [sp]

Bobby Blue Bland: Blues at Midnight (2003, Malaco): Blues/soul singer (1930-2013), his 1957-69 Duke Recordings the peak of several essential compilations ranging from 1952-59 (The "3B" Blues Boy) to 1973-84 (The ABC-Dunhill/MCA Recordings). After leaving MCA in 1984, he got picked up by Malaco and cut nine more albums, ending with this one -- touted as "a return to form." I've never followed him album-by-album, but the first thing clear here is that he never lost his voice (despite an occasional disconcerting gargle). This one flows easy. B+(**) [sp]

Brooks & Dunn: Red Dirt Road (2003, Arista Nashville): Country duo, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, debut 1991, ninth album (of eleven through 2007, plus Reboot in 2019), most went top-ten country. Wikipedia says "neotraditional" but, nah! I'm not sure who came first, but they were part of a wave that amped country guitars and drums up to fill arenas. They also groomed their songs to appeal to the mass conservative audience, without quite becoming assholes about it. (GW Bush and Barack Obama both used their "Only in America" as campaign songs.) Most striking thing here is how their women are feisty enough to dump them but never do. They count themselves lucky, as well they should. B [sp]

Jimmy Buffett: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean (1973, ABC): Dead at 78, he recorded 29 (or 51) albums, sold over 20 million, and probably made more money merchandising his lifestyle (per Wikipedia, his net worth was $550 million). Only thing of his I ever checked out was a 2003 best-of, but I always loved this title -- a play on a Marty Robbins title he didn't bother trying to turn into a song. Agreeably loose, maybe even a bit sloppy. B+(***) [sp]

Jimmy Buffett: Living and Dying in 3/4 Time (1974, ABC): As folksy and sloppy as before, but somehow he misplaced . . . songs, I think. B [sp]

Jimmy Buffett: Havana Daydreamin' (1976, ABC): Skipping a couple, another pleasant set from the Key West Chamber of Commerce. B+(*) [sp]

Jimmy Buffett: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (1977, ABC): His country shtick seems to be in decline, but he's been working on his songs, coming up with a signature one in "Margaritaville" -- although note that the chart it topped was called US Adult Contemporary (it hit 8 on Billboard Hot 100, 7 on Cash Box). This was his first album to rise as high as 12 on the pop charts (2 on country). B+(**) [sp]

Jimmy Buffett: Son of a Son of a Sailor (1978, ABC): Actually, a minor correction to the above: I did own a copy of this, but it never got copied into my database. A second platinum album, peaked at 10 (6 country), heights he didn't return to until the 1990s. His hit single this time was "Cheeseburger in Paradise," which like "Margaritaville" he converted into a chain of restaurants. B+(*) [sp]

John Cale: Hobo Sapiens (2003, EMI): Welsh singer-songwriter, started in avant-classical in the 1960s, played electric viola in Velvet Underground, had various high points in the 1970s, which ultimately established the sound he's still working with here, more engagingly than was his norm (most remarkably "Letter From Abroad"). B+(***) [sp]

Constantines: Shine a Light (2003, Sub Pop): Canadian indie rock band, five albums 2001-08, released a couple reunion singles since. Second album. B+(*) [sp]

Rodney Crowell: Fate's Right Hand (2003, DMZ/Epic): Country singer-songwriter, moved from Houston to Nashville and made a splash with his 1978 debut. This was his eleventh, during a stretch of eight albums with eight different labels, most charting around 30. Choice cut: "Preachin' to the Choir." B+(***) [sp]

The Darkness: Permission to Land (2003, Atlantic): English rock band, first album, leans toward metal but a bit soft and malleable. Broke up after second album (2005), regrouped in 2012, with five albums since. There was a day when I might have cut them more slack (or maybe I did, given how annoying the singer's screech is). B [sp]

DonaZica: Composição (2003, Tratore): Brazilian group, principally singers Anelis Assumpção, Iara Rennó, and Andreia Dias (reportedly the lead), first of two albums (although I've run across Rennó elsewhere). Looking them up, I got confused by a samba dancer known as Dona Zica (actual name Euzébia Silva de Oliveira, who died at 89 the same year this appeared). Catches your ear, in a typically slippery mode. A- [sp]

Kathleen Edwards: Failer (2003, Zoë): Canadian folkie singer-songwriter, father was in the State Department, so she grew up around the world. First album, of five through 2020. B+(*) [sp]

Entropic Advance: Monkey With a Gun (2003, Symbolic Insight): Wesley Davis (bios+a+ic) and Noise Poet Nobody (James Miller?), released ten albums 1998-2014, of dark ambiance, light noise, captured sounds, some vocal. B+(**) [sp]

Barry Guy/Evan Parker: Studio/Live: Birds & Blades (2001 [2003], Intakt, 2CD): Bass and tenor/soprano sax, one set recorded at Radiostudio DRS Zürich, a second a day later at Sphères Bar Buch & Bühne, also in Zürich. Long history, dating back to the late 1960s when they, foremost among a few others (like Derek Bailey and Paul Rutherford) introduced avant-jazz to Britain. This is a generous sample of what what these remarkable musicians have been doing for decades. A- [sp]

Corey Harris: Mississippi to Mali (2003, Rounder): Bluesman, appeared in the mode established by Taj Mahal in the 1970s, cultivating those old delta blues for hip moderns, which garnered him a MacArthur in 2007. This came out about the time Ali Farka Touré was being treated as John Lee Hooker's long-lost cousin. That's the sort of connection Harris could revel in, but the mix here barely connects. B+(*) [sp]

King Geedorah: Take Me to Your Leader (2003, Big Dada): Alias for rapper Daniel Dumile (1971-2020), formerly of KMD, also recorded as Viktor Vaughn but is best remembered as MF Doom. He was born in London, moved to Long Island while young, built his career in US, then was denied re-entry after a tour of Europe in 2010. I never quite got his cosmology, but the slinky beats and sense of surprise were irresistible. B+(***) [sp]

The Knife: Deep Cuts (2003, V2): Swedish electronic duo, Olof and Karin Dreijer (brother and sister) -- she later broke off as Fever Ray, while he recorded, less successfully, as Oni Ayhun. Second album. B+(**) [sp]

Linkin Park: Hybrid Theory (2000, Warner Bros.): Rap-metal group, first album, huge hit with 30 million copies sold worldwide, albeit with very little love from critics I follow. I cheated here by leaving the room while this played, the distance dimming the volume and dulling the words (if not dull enough already), but leaving basic impressions: palpable anger, and enough melodic sense to provide hooks. Clearly not my thing, but better than expected. B+(*) [r]

Linkin Park: Meteora (2003, Warner Bros.): Second album, worldwide sales dropped off to 27 million. Listened to this one in the same room, which made it louder and a bit clearer, and only marginally more tedious. B+(*) [r]

Patty Loveless: On Your Way Home (2003, Epic): Country singer-songwriter, original name Ramey but had just divorced a husband named Terry Lovelace when she recorded her debut in 1987. Has a pure country voice for a very traditional sound, later moving even further into bluegrass, recording steadily up to 2009, nothing since. B+(**) [sp]

Marcelo D2: Looking for the Perfect Beat [A Procura Da Batida Perfeita ] (2003, Mr. Bongo): Brazilian rapper Marcelo Maldonado Peixoto, previously had a group called Planet Hemp. Second album, title originally in Portuguese, translated for reissue by Mr. Bongo (2003). I can't speak to the words, but the beats really jump. A- [sp]

Metric: Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? (2003, Last Gang): Canadian electropop band, first album (of nine through 2023), Emily Haines the singer-keyboardist, with James Shaw on guitar. B+(**) [sp]

My Morning Jacket: It Still Moves (2003, ATO): Indie rock group from Louisville, Jim James the singer, nine albums 1999-2021, this their third. Long album, sometimes plaintive with faint echoes of Neil Young. B [sp]

The New Pornographers: Electric Version (2003, Matador): Canadian indie band, second album, three members also have notable side projects (Neko Case, Carl Newman, Dan Bejar). Came in 18 in Brad Luen's 2003 poll, highest of any album I missed, the likely explanation being that I thought their debut sucked, this one wasn't as well-regarded, and I've never cared much for their later albums, or for those side projects. But sure, it is very snappy, with hooks and, well, what else? B [sp]

Pernice Brothers: Yours, Mine & Ours (2003, Ashmont): Indie rock band led by Joe Pernice, formerly of Scud Mountain Boys, and brother Bob among others. Third album. Sounds pretty, but feels trivial. B+(*) [sp]

Pet Shop Boys: Pop Art: The Hits (1985-2003 [2003], Parlophone, 2CD): A 35-song best-of, focusing on 7-inch versions, so nothing very long (5:10 max). Most songs I instantly recognize and totally love, including five songs from Very, but the few I don't recognize are pretty amazing, too. Good chance more plays would raise this grade. A- [sp]

Steely Dan: Everything Must Go (2003, Warner Bros.): Four outstanding albums 1972-75 when they were still a band, fell off a bit in 1976 as Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, and some studio support, found a new niche -- longer songs, jazzier -- with Aja and Gaucho 1977-80. Not much to show for solo careers, other than Fagen's brilliant The Nightfly (1982), so they reunited in 2000 for a pretty good record (Two Against Nature), then ended with this (Becker died in 2017). Still, not much here beyond trademark sound. B+(*) [sp]

T.I.: Trap Muzik (2003, Atlantic/Grand Hustle): Atlanta rapper Clifford Harris, second album (has eleven through 2020, has had a pretty checkered career beyond the music). Trap has something to do with selling drugs, but you can just go with the flow here, and occasionally catch the odd beats. B+(**) [sp]

TV on the Radio: Young Liars (2003, Touch & Go, EP): Indie/art rock band from Brooklyn, self-released a demo album in 2002, this EP (5 songs, 25:13), then went on to release five albums 2004-14, most critically acclaimed -- I'm even on record as liking Dear Science and Nine Types of Light, but don't remember any more than that. This hints at something more, but hard to tell what. B [sp]

Ying Yang Twins: Me & My Brother (2003, TVT): Crunk duo from Atlanta, Kaine (Eric Jackson) and D-Roc (D'Angelo Holmes), debut 2000, third album. Relentless, cartoonish bangers, can be sampled on the Crunk Hits volumes. Christgau gets the spirit: "Way more fun than most bitch-ass motherfuckers." High point: "Naggin' Part II (The Answer)." Then the down of "Armageddon." B+(***) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Afro Peruvian New Trends Orchestra: Cosmic Synchronicities (Blue Spiral) [10-01]
  • Ron Blake: Mistaken Identity (7ten33 Productions) [10-13]
  • John Blum: Nine Rivers (ESP-Disk) [09-01]
  • Bowmanville: Bowmanville (StonEagleMusic) [10-01]
  • Arina Fujiwara: Neon (self-released) [10-02]
  • George Gee Swing Orchestra: Winter Wonderland (self-released) [11-01]
  • Ivan Lins: My Heart Speaks (Resonance) [09-15]
  • Todd Mosby: Land of Enchantment (MMG)
  • Madre Vaca: Knights of the Round Table (Madre Vaca) [11-21]
  • Colette Michaan: Earth Rebirth (Creatrix Music) [10-15]
  • Mark Reboul/Roberta Piket/Billy Mintz: Seven Pieces/About an Hour/Saxophone, Piano, Drums (2004, ESP-Disk): [09-01]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Speaking of Which

I've been reading my old paperback copy of Eric Hobsbawm's The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (1962, my paperback is a New American Library pocket edition I've had for 50+ years -- retail $1.25, so it's bound as densely as it was written. I've always been reluctant to read old books, but this one may get me to change my mind, or at least continue to his sequels. The first chapter, in particular, describes the European world so compactly yet completely that you approach the French Revolution thinking you know all the background you need. The next three chapters -- one on the industrial revolution in Britain, the next on France, and a third on the Napoleonic wars -- are every bit as compact and comprehensive.

Much of the book is quotable, but I was especially struck by the line at the bottom of this paragraph, from Part II, where he goes back and surveys how ownership and use of land changed during those revolutions (p. 191, several previous lines added for context):

For the poor peasant it seemed a distinctly hard bargain. Church property might have been inefficient, but this very fact recommended it to the peasants, for on it their custom tended to become prescriptive right. The division and enclosure of common field, pasture, and forest merely withdrew from the poor peasant or cottager resources and reserves to which he felt he (or he as a part of the community) had a right. The free land market meant that he probably had to sell his land; the creation of a rural class of entrepreneurs, that the most hard-hearted and hard-headed exploited him, instead or, of in addition to, the old lords. Altogether the introduction of liberalism on the land was like some sort of silent bombardment which shattered the social structures he had always inhabited and left nothing in its place but the rich: a solitude called freedom.

The significance and relevance here has to do with the phenomenon where former peasants leaned to the right politically, taking more comfort in the memory of feudal bonds to lord and church. Liberalism here means proto-capitalism, or what CB MacPherson more descriptively called "possessive individualism." The later Luddite revolt grew from a similar impulse, as does Trumpism today. In all these cases, the satisfaction of joining the right is purely emotional, as the right is every bit as controlled by people who saw in capitalism a path to ever greater exploitation.

The difference between conservatism and liberalism today is that one offers a better afterlife for their deference, and the other offers a rarely achieved hope for better in this life. The difference between liberals and the left is that one idealizes individuals each responsible only to themselves, and the other emphasizes solidarity, arguing that our fates are shared, and therefore our responsibility is to each other. Liberals like to call Trumpists, and their antecedents back to the Dark Ages, populists, because they look down on common people as ignorant and prejudiced (or as one put it memorably, "deplorable"). Leftists hate that designation, because they feel kinship with all people, not just because that's how solidarity works, but because they see many of those people being critical of capitalism, even when they aren't very articulate about why.

Top story threads:


DeSantis, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • EJ Antoni: [08-31] Bidenomics robs from the poor, gives to donor class: This piece of hackwork showed up in my local paper, along with Ryan Young: [09-01] Don't let politicians take credit for economic recovery. Together they give you a sense of how flailing and incoherent right-wing attacks on Bidenomics have become: on the one hand, don't credit Biden for any recovery, because that's just good old capitalism at work (an article that none of them wrote when Trump or Reagan were president, but became a staple during the much stronger recoveries under Clinton and Obama); on the other blame everything bad on Biden, and imply that corruption is the root of everything Democrats do (talk about projection). Antoni is particularly ripe for his concern over "the radical disconnect between Washington's ruling elites and working-class folks." It may be true that much of the extra spending Biden accomplished -- the first recovery act, the barely-bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the big Inflation Recovery Act -- has passed through the hands of companies that donated to Democrats (and usually Republicans, who get even more of their money from rich donors), but most of that money has trickled down, creating jobs that wouldn't have existed otherwise, and raising wages in the process.

    Both parties do most of their public spending through companies, but Biden has done a much better job than previous Democrats at seeing that spending benefit workers -- and indeed in improving the leverage of workers throughout the labor market. Maybe you can criticize him for not doing enough, but he clearly would have done more if he had more Democrats in Congress (and better ones than Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema). As for "robbing the poor," the only evidence he has is inflation, which is simply the result of companies actively taking advantage of supply shortages and growing demand -- lots of reasons for both, and I suppose you could blame Biden for adding to the demand side, by giving jobs and raising wages. These are, after all, complex issues, with many factors, but to the extent you can isolate Biden's contribution, it clearly has helped large segments of the economy.

    [PS: Both links include author pics. I hate it when people make assumptions about character based on looks, but I must admit I was taken aback by this pair -- perhaps by how young they appear, and how smiley when their messages are so disingenuous.]

  • Jessica Corbett: [08-30] Biden admin proposes 'much-needed' overtime protections for 3.6 million workers.

  • Lee Harris: [08-07] Biden Admin to restore labor rule gutted in 1980s.

  • Ben Jacobs: [09-01] Sidelined and self-sabotaged: What The Last Politician says about Kamala Harris. Franklin Foer's book, subtitled Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future, is coming out this week (Sept. 5). I've never been much of a Harris fan, but I've also thought they should be using her more, and trying to build her up, to make the 2024 campaign more of a team effort, reassuring voters of continuity, should Biden's age get the better of him. Republicans are going after her anyway, so why not lean into it and feature her more?. For a bit more on the book, see this Playbook column. There is also an excerpt on Afghanistan in The Atlantic.

  • Harold Meyerson: [08-07] Buybacks are down, production is up: "Bidenomics has begun to de-financialize the economy."

  • Toluse Olorunnipa: [09-02] Biden surveys Hurricane Idalia's damage in Florida, without DeSantis: There is a photo of DeSantis (looking annoyed) with Biden after Hurricane Ian a couple years ago. Such photo ops are normal, but Republicans often take flak for mingling with the enemy, much as Trump did for posing with Kim Jong Un. I wonder how much of this is because the White House Press has nothing useful to do, but maybe if they were given fewer useless ops they might think of something?

    [PS: I see a tweet with a New York Times: "Biden Won't Meet DeSantis in Florida During Tour of Hurricane Damage"; but wasn't it DeSantis refusing to meet Biden, not the other way? On the other hand, Rick Scott wasn't afraid of having his picture taken with Biden. DeSantis is such a wuss!]

  • Dylan Scott: [08-30] Medicare's first-ever drug price negotiations, briefly explained: Seems like a very modest first step, but looking at the list prices, you can see how "serious money" adds up. (For you youngsters, back in the 1970s, Sen. Everett Dirksen quipped: "a billion here, a billion there, before long you're talking serious money"). After this ten, another batch of fifteen are to follow. There is much more that should be done. Such high prices are purely the result of government-granted patent monopolies. The law could change the terms of patent use from monopolies to some form of arbitration. Or (my preference) we could end patents all together. And yes, I filed this under Biden/Democrats because there is zero change of getting even this much relief when Republicans are in power. Also see:

Legal matters: Ok, sometimes I mean illegal matters. Obviously, Trump's crimes are filed elsewhere.

Climate and Environment: Hard to find anything about it in the US press, but they're having a rip-roaring typhoon season in East Asia this year; e.g.: Typhoon Saola makes landfall in China's coast after slamming Hong Kong; and As Typhoon Haikui barrels into Taiwan, thousands are evacuated. These are big storms hitting heavily populated areas. Back in early August, there was this: [08-02] Heaviest rainfall in 140 years drenches Beijing while Typhoon Khanun hits Japan's Okinawa. You may recall that in 2022 they held the Winter Olympics in Beijing, so it's not exactly a place you expect to be ravaged by tropical storms.

Ukraine War: The New York Times insists Ukraine's offensive makes progress. Elsewhere, we are warned: Ukraine tells counteroffensive critics to 'shut up'. Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal says US is getting its 'money's worth' in Ukraine because Americans aren't dying, which suggests ulterior motives and double standards. More stories follow, but plus ça change, etc. Even if the counteroffensive breaks the Russian line, doing things in the next month or two (before winter) they haven't even hinted at in the last three months, Ukraine will remain far short of their goal of expelling Russia from their pre-2014 borders, and will have no real leverage to force Russia to capitulate to their terms. And even if they could expel Russia, they'd still be locked in a state of war until a truce was negotiated. The only way out is to find a combination of tradeoffs that is agreeable both to Russia and to Ukraine, and (not that they have any business dictating terms to Ukraine) to Biden, who is engaged in his own shadow war with Putin, and has possibly decisive chips to play (sanctions, trade, security assurances).

  • Blaise Malley:

    • [09-01] Diplomacy Watch: The search for an endgame in Ukraine.

    • [08-29] Can sanctions help win peace? According to this report, not likely: "Not only does economic warfare not work because it ends up hurting the people it claims to help, but it can stand in the way of diplomacy." I don't think that is quite right. Sanctions can, and should, be considered a chit for negotiation, but that only works if one is willing to relinquish them as part of an agreement. The problem is when sanctions are seen as permanent, foreclosing negotiation. For instance, sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq demanded regime change, not something Hussein could reasonably negotiate. Under such conditions, sanctions are acts of kabuki warfare, symbolic yet reflecting hostility and a desire to harm -- a meaning that targets cannot fail to detect, but which, due to the arbitrariness and overreaching hubris of American foreign policy, especially the belief that enemies can only respond to a show of force, makes it nearly impossible to defuse. US sanctions against Russia started way before Putin's invasion of Ukraine, and have only escalated with each offense, paving the way to the present war, and possibly to much worse.

      The report is from International Crisis Group: [08-28] Sanctions, Peacemaking and Reform: Recommendations for US Policymakers. One key quote there is: "Sanctions can only help bring parties to the table for peace talks, and provide leverage when they get there, if negotiators can credibly promise meaningful and enduring sanctions relief." Moreover:

      The U.S. does not always make clear what parties can do that will lead to sanctions relief. In some cases, Washington has not laid out any such steps or it has outlined steps that are unrealistic. In others, the U.S. was never willing to lift sanctions in the first place. Elsewhere, Washington's communication on sanctions has been vague, leaving targets in the dark about what might lead to reversal. Targets can be unsure why they were sanctioned, as members of Venezuela's electoral authority reported in 2020, or have learned about the designations second- or thirdhand (a former Congolese official found out about his listing from the newspaper and some FARC members learned from listening to the radio). Some never see the full evidence underpinning the designations -- even if they lobby the Treasury Department. Without clarity on why they were sanctioned and what they can do to be delisted, targets have little incentive to make concessions in exchange for relief.

      A big part of the problem is that the neocon view that talking is a sign of weakness, and liberal-interventionist conviction that America's unique moral legitimacy makes it a fair and necessary judge of everyone else, has driven diplomacy from Washington, leaving American foreign policy as little more than "irritable mental gestures."

  • David Bromwich: [08-29] Living on a war planet (and managing not to notice): Raises the question (at least to me): if the war in Ukraine hadn't come along, would America have invented it? ,Leaving aside the second question (did it?), the withdrawal from Afghanistan left some kind of void in the minds of that class of people whose sole concern is America's military position in the world? Wars give them meaning in life, and after twenty years of frustration in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ukraine is some kind of dream: industry is stoked delivering arms and explosives, while it's someone else doing the fighting and bleeding, someone else having their lives upended. The plotters in America haven't had so much fun since Afghanistan in the 1980s -- another time when every dead Russian was counted as a blow for freedom. But mostly it just helped perpetuate the conflict, with no domestic political cost. So of course they refuse to negotiate. Why spoil such a good thing?

    After citing Roger Cohen's recent propaganda piece (Putin's Forever War), he notes that "Mikhail Gorbachev finally emerges as the hero of this story," then adds:

    Nowhere quoted, however, is the Gorbachev who, between 2004 and 2018, contributed eight op-eds to the New York Times, the sixth of which focused on climate change and the eighth on the perilous renewal of a nuclear arms race. Gorbachev was deeply troubled by George W. Bush's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty (which Putin called a "mistake") and Donald Trump's similar decision to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Does anyone doubt that Gorbachev would have been equally disturbed by the Biden administration's virtual severance of diplomatic relations with Russia?

  • Daniel Brumberg: [08-30] The Russia-Ukraine Jeddah meeting reflects a changing global order.

  • Stephen F Eisenman: [09-01] Some people will hate me for writing this: End the war! Sounds like some people already do. Every war starts with efforts to suppress doubters and dissenters in one's own ranks, which no one doubts happened in Russia this time, but has been relentless here as well (albeit stopping short of arrests, unlike the World Wars and, in some cases, Vietnam). Lately we've been warned that casting doubt on the counteroffensive's prospects is catering to Russia, and that even suggesting talks should begin before Ukraine is ready implies we're eager to sell them out. My counter is that the war will never end until negotiators on all sides decide to end it, and that you'll never know whether that is even possible until you've set up a forum for negotiation.

  • Ellen Francis: [09-02] Nobel Prize foundation scraps plan to invite Russia, Belarus after criticism: Ukraine may be having trouble with their counteroffensive, but they're winning regularly at shaming international bodies into petty slighting of Russia.

  • Keith Gessen: [08-29] The case for negotiating with Russia: Draws on RAND analyst Samuel Charap, co-author of the 2016 book, Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Russia. Since then, everyone has continued to lose, the pace accelerating with the February, 2023 invasion. I'd argue that all wars are, as he puts it, "negative-sum games," but the case here is especially easy.

    But among "defense intellectuals," that's a minority view -- in my formulation, it would probably disqualify you permanently from employment. Gessen quotes Eliot A. Cohen as saying:

    Ukraine must not only achieve battlefield success in its upcoming counteroffensives; it must secure more than orderly Russian withdrawals following cease-fire negotiations. To be brutal about it, we need to see masses of Russians fleeing, deserting, shooting their officers, taken captive, or dead. The Russian defeat must be an unmistakably big, bloody shambles.

    The implicit assumption is that it's possible to inflict such a defeat on Russia without further escalation or recourse: that Putin (or some other Russian who might ascend to power) will take such a catastrophic defeat gracefully, as opposed to, say, blowing the world up. Note that if Putin is really as irreconcilable as people like Cohen make him out to be, that's exactly what he would do in that circumstance.

  • Joe Lauria: [08-29] US victim of own propaganda in Ukraine War.

  • Anatol Lieven:

    • [08-30] Few Russians wanted the war in Ukraine -- but they won't accept a Russian defeat either. As bad as Putin has been -- for America, for Europe, even (especially?) for Russia -- replacing him could get a lot worse. The kind of embarrassing, punishing defeat that Cohen (above) demands has been tried before, especially at Versailles after WWI, and tends to backfire spectacularly.

    • [08-31] Sarkozy vilified for speaking uncomfortable truths about Ukraine: The quorted sections from Sarkozy's book seem pretty reasonable to me. I've said all along that we should allow for internationally-supervised referenda in the disputed territories. If Crimea, say, wants to be part of Russia, it should be. Granted, it's harder to do now than it was before the invasion, but it should be possible. I think that a similar procedure should also be used to resolve disputes in Georgia, Serbia, and elsewhere. If Scotland wishes to avail itself of a referendum, we should allow it. It's easy enough to propose solutions on other issues as well. But at some point Russia has to see NATO as a purely defensive pact -- which NATO could help make more plausible with less war-gaming, something that should be but doesn't have to be reciprocal -- and the EU as simply an economic club, which Russia could conceivably join. On the other hand, the US and allies need to see a path to dropping the sanctions against Russia, and reintegrating Russia into the world economy. Granted, there are problems with the way Russia runs itself, but that's really their own business. One thing that would help would be an international treaty providing a right to exile, so real or potential political prisoners in any country could appeal to go to some other country. It's hard to get a country like Russia to agree to peaceful coexistence, but a necessary first step would be to tone down the criticism, the meddling, the menace, and the isolation. In the long run, none of us can afford this level of hostility.

  • Alice Speri: [] Prigozhin's legacy is the global rise of private armies for hire.


  • Al Jazeera: [09-03] Israel's Netanyahu calls for deportation of Etitrean refugee 'rioters'.

  • Jonathan Coulter: [09-03] A seditious project: "Asa Winstanley's book shows how the Israel lobby facilitated the influence of a foreign government's interests in dictating who gets to lead the Labour Party, causing the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn." The book is Weaponizing Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn. Of course, the Lobby is also active trying to purge any whiff of criticism from the Democratic Party, but Corbyn was their biggest victim, all the more critical as the Labour Party replaced him with the second coming of Tony Blair ("Bush's poodle").

  • Nada Elia: [08-30] Golda: A failed attempt to boost Israel's propaganda: There is a new movie about the Israeli Prime Minister (1969-74), with Helen Mirren in the title role. Looking at the film's plot on Wikipedia, I see that it focuses on the 1973 war, when initial setbacks led Meir to prepare to use nuclear weapons, and the immediate aftermath, which led to recriminations over allowing those setbacks. But it also notes: "Anwar Sadat, who like Golda Meir publicly speaks English, agrees to establish diplomatic relations to Israel in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula." Sadat offered that shortly after the war, but Meir didn't agree to any such deal. That was Menachim Begin in 1979, under heavy pressure from Jimmy Carter. By the way, one of the few stories I like about Meir is how she casually referred to Begin, when he joined the war cabinet in 1967, as "the fascist." (Begin doesn't appear in the film's cast, although there are a bunch of generals, and Liev Schreiber playing Henry Kissinger.)

    Although the 1973 war occurred at the pinnacle of Meir's political career, I doubt her leadership was any more decisive than Levi Eshkol's was in 1967. In both wars, the key character was Moshe Dayan, and the difference was that he was the aggressor in 1967, but in 1973 he had to play defense, which wasn't as much fun, especially as it punctured the air of invincibility he had built up through 1967. The key lesson of 1973 is that if you refuse to negotiate with your enemies, as Meir had done, they may eventually decide that their only option is war, and at that point all sorts of bad things can happen. But to make sense out of 1973, you need a lot more context than they're likely to provide, especially given the usual propaganda mission.

    I imagine that a more interesting film could be made about Meir when she was younger, about how she became the only woman in the Histadrut and Mapai inner circles, where she probably overcome the default sexism by becoming the toughest character in the room -- not unlike Mirren's character in Prime Suspect. That would have been a tougher movie to sell, especially without Mirren, and it would be hard to present those times accurately, and easy to wallow in post-facto mythmaking.

    Having gone on at this length about Meir, I should close with a quote of hers, which in my mind is possibly the most obnoxiously self-flattering thing any political figure ever said:

    When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.

    But peace hasn't happened, and this attitude goes a long way to explaining why. More on Golda:

    • Sonja Anderson: [] The real history behind the 'Golda' movie: A fairly detailed biographic sketch of Meir's life, but very little to explain the conflict leading to the 1973 war.

    • David Klion: [09-01] The strange feminism of Golda. Regarding director Nattiv's motives: "The answer seems to be that he is more interested in rescuing the dignity of Israel's founding generation in the context of its current political crisis." Still, that generation was at the root and heart of Israel's later militarism and apartheid. To hold them up as models barely rebukes Netanyahu and Ben Gvir for bad manners.

  • Joseph Massad: [08-31] Ben Gvir's racist comments are no different from those if Israel's founders. Quotes from Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, even the usually circumspect Abba Eban.

  • Peter Shambrook: [08-25] Policy of Deceit: Britain and Palestine, 1914-1939: An extract from a new book of that title. One of the first books I read on the subject was Tom Segev: One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, which I recommend, although there is certainly more detail that can be added.

  • Richard Silverstein: [08-29] Why the US must not add Israel to its visa waiver programme.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Rachel DuRose: [08-30] The US has new Covid-19 variants on the rise. Meet Eris and Fornax.

Bill Friskics-Warren: [09-02] Jimmy Buffett, roguish bard of island escapism, is dead at 76: I wasn't going to mention this here, but No More Mister Nice Blog picked out a selection of rabid hate comments from Breitbart on how awful his politics were (see Jimmy Buffett, Stalinist Nazi). Warms my heart more than his music ever did (and let's face it, I'd never turn down a "Cheeseburger in Paradise," although I must admit I've never gone to one of his restaurants for one). Few things drive right-wingers crazier than finding out a rich guy identifies with Democrats. By the way, this blog is almost always worth reading, but his piece Public Options is especially striking, as one that gets personal -- unusual for an author whose last name is M.

Sean Illing: [08-30] Is the populist right's future . . . democratic socialism? Interview with Sohrab Ahmari, explaining "why precarity is breaking our politics." You see some of this happening in multiparty systems in Europe, where it's possible to combine safety net support with conservative social concerns, resulting in a party that could ally with either right or left, but at least this two-party system has little choice to offer: you can get a better break on economics with the Democrats, but you have to accept living in a diverse and predominantly urban country; on the other hand, if you insist on the old "family values," you can get some lip-service from Republicans, but in the end their embrace of oligarchy will hurt you. I think such people should be more approachable by Democrats, but I'm even more certain that as long as they back Republicans, they will be screwed.

Eric Levitz: [08-31] Was American slavery uniquely evil? Not sure why this came up, other than that some right-wingers are irate about the tendency to view all (or at least many) things American as evil. As Levitz points out, all slave systems shared many of the same evils. One could argue that America was more exploitative because American slaveholders were more deeply enmeshed in capitalism, but it's hard to say that the French in Haiti and the British elsewhere in the Caribbean were less greedy. You can argue that America was more benign, because after the import of slaves ended, the numbers increased substantially, while elsewhere, like in Brazil, imports barely kept up with deaths. Plus there were many more slave revolts in Brazil and the Caribbean than in the US -- but still enough in the US to keep the masters nervous. As for reparations, which comes up tangentially here, I don't see how you can fix the past. But it would be possible to end poverty in the near future, and to make sure everyone has the rights they need going forward. History neither precludes nor promises that. It just gives you lots of examples of what not to do again.

By the way, Levitz cites a piece he wrote in 2021 about Israel and Palestinian rights: Why is this geopolitical fight different from all other fights? He offers three reasons, and admits one more ("Israel's role in the Christian right's eschatology is also surely a factor"). He omits one or two that have become even more salient since then: Israel is an intensely militarist nation, which makes it a role model for Americans (and some Europeans) who want an even larger and more aggressive military front. Israel is also the most racially and religiously stratified nation, with discriminatory laws, intense domestic surveillance, and strong public support for establishment religion, and some Americans would like to see some or all of that here, as well. I only quibble on the count because the prejudices seem to go hand-in-hand. On the other hand, many of the moderate and left people who have begun to doubt the blind support given Israel by nearly all politicians started with alarm at what Israel's biggest right-wing boosters want to also do to America.

Amanda Moore: [08-22] Undercover with the new alt-right: "For 11 months, I pretended to be a far-right extremist. I discovered a radical youth movement trying to infiltrate the Republican Party." But they're pretty obvious about that.

Jason Resnikoff: [08-31] How Bill Clinton became a neoliberal: Review of a book by Nelson Lichtenstein and the late Judith Stein (who started work on the book that Lichtenstein picked up): A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism. First I have to question whether the notion that Clinton wasn't any kind of neoliberal before he became president. The premise of the New Democrat movement was the promise to be better for business than the Republicans were, and Clinton's long tenure as governor of Arkansas, as WalMart and Tyson grew from regional to national businesses, suggests that he was good at it. Clinton certainly wasted no time throwing labor under the bus to pass NAFTA.

Sam Roberts: [09-02] Bill Richardson, champion of Americans held overseas, dies at 75: Former governor of New Mexico, served 14 years in Congress, was Secretary of Energy, held various diplomatic posts, including US Ambassador to the United Nations, ran for president in 2008, and engaged in more freelance diplomacy than anyone but Jimmy Carter. Curiously, there is only one line here about North Korea ("he went to North Korea to recover the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War," as if he had nothing more to talk to them about).

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [08-31] "Conservatism" conserves nothing: "Whatever 'conservatism' is, it does not involve the conservation of a stable climate, or the polar ice caps, or the coral reefs, or the global food supply." The rejoinder is that the nation and the world are too far gone to be satisfied with just preserving the status quo, which is why others are more likely to call them reactionaries: they see change they don't like, and react fitfully, contemptuously, often violently. But not all change bothers them: what they hate above all is any challenge to the privileges of wealth, or any limit to their ability to accumulate more. Given that one of the easiest ways to get rich is to suck wealth from the earth, conservation is not only not in their portfolio, it's something they dread -- etymology be damned.

  • [08-29] As cruel as it's possible to be: This week's example is Fox host Jesse Waters, who wants to make homeless people feel more ashamed for their misfortune, and argues that "the deaths of homeless people are a form of cosmic justice."

Kenny Torrella: [08-31] The myths we tell ourselves about American farming. One I should write more about, one of these days.

Bryan Walsh: [09-01] What America can learn from baseball (yes, baseball): "Baseball fixed itself by changing its rules. The country should pay attention." I used to know a lot about baseball. I could recall back to the 1957 all-star game lineups. (You know, the one where the Reds stuffed the ballot box so Gus Bell and Wally Post got more votes than Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.) And I looked up the rest. I was part of a club a friend started called Baseball Maniacs, out of which Don Malcolm started publishing his Big Bad Baseball annuals. (Malcolm was my co-founder on Terminal Zone, and he published my Hall of Fame study, I think in the 1998 Annual.) Then with the 1994 lockout, I lost all interest, and never returned, although I'm slightly more aware this year than I have been since 1994.

The difference is getting the "electronic edition" of the local paper, which is padded out with a ridiculously large sports section. While I speed click through everything else, that got me to following basketball more closely, so I wondered if I might pick up a bit of baseball while waiting for the season to change. A little bit is about right: I land on the standings page, so I know who's leading and who's beat, and sometimes look at the stats, but that's about all. I do know a bit about the rules changes, because I've read a couple pieces on them.

Walsh's point is that when people get too good at cornering the rules, it helps to change them up a bit. In baseball, that mostly means shorter games (not that they've gotten much shorter: Walsh says they've been dialed back to the 1980s, but I remember games that barely exceeded two hours). Walsh has plenty of other examples of "operating under a rule book that is out of date," many involving the gridlock in Congress. But baseball at least has incentive to change (although it took an insanely long time for the NL to accept the DH, even though watching pitchers try to hit was embarrassing even back in the 1950s).

Li Zhou: [08-31] Marijuana could be classified as a lower-risk drug. Here's what that means. Well, for starters it would reduce the quantity of complete nonsense the government swears on, which might make them more credible about drugs that pose real dangers beyond mere bad habits.

There's a meme titled "When the actual dictionary completely nails it." The text offers a dictionary definition:

trumpery, n.; pl. trumperies, [Fr. tromperie, from tromper, to deceive, cheat.]

  1. deceit, fraud. [Obs.]
  2. anything calculated to deceive by false show; anything externally splendid but intrinsically of little value; worthless finery.
  3. things worn out and of no value; useless matter; trifles; rubbish; nonsense.
    This idolatrous trumpery and superstition.

Trump's German family name used to be Drumpf. After a brief search, I'm unclear as to exactly when, where, and why the name change occurred, but it does seem like a deliberate choice, if not necessarily a fully knowing one.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Music Week

August archive (final).

Music: Current count 40767 [40728] rated (+39), 27 [19] unrated (+8).

Another big Speaking of Which yesterday. Too bad I've never been able to find a shrink who can explain why I've sat on my political book idea for two (or twenty) years with nothing to show for it, then knock out a pretty coherent outline in less than five hours. In my experience, shrinks can help you out of extreme panic attacks, but beyond that are useless. Beyond that, you need friends.

One thing I should have mentioned is the Student Debt Release Tool, from the Debt Collective. If you have outstanding loans, check it out.

Went to doctors last week, and lab results are grim. No idea how I'm going to deal with this. (Well, maybe half an idea.)

Also grim is my CD player. I replaced the belts, and put it back together again, and now I'm getting the same "error" flashed on the front panel, as it's locked up and refuses to eject the tray. Best guess is the sensor isn't detecting the presence or absence of discs. Plan is to take it apart again and see if the tray is misaligned or the skimpy cable isn't set right. Beyond that, it probably goes into the trash. A few years back, I wanted to set up an electronics bench so I could repair equipment like this. Now that seems beyond my grasp.

Short list of new records reviewed this week. I have more in the promo queue now than I've had at any point this year, but almost all of them are September/October releases -- including the James Brandon Lewis and Todd Sickafoose albums I jumped the gun on. I made up for that shortfall by following a couple of checklists. The first was one I had compiled some time ago based on Will Friedwald: The Great Jazz and Pop Vocals Albums. Phil Overeem mentioned this list in relation to a course he's teaching, and discussion turned to a Barb Jungr record I hadn't found at the time. I found it this time, and wound up playing most of her oeuvre.

I didn't find anything in Soto's list that added to the 17 albums already on my A-list, although they did lead me to a second Electronic album that I liked a bit better -- the listed album came in at B+(***). Still, it was an interesting exercise.

The second checklist was one I compiled based on Afred Soto's post: My 50 favorite albums. Turned out there were quite a few albums on his list that I hadn't heard (or at least rated), so I wound up spending most of the week filling in the blanks. Thus far, only one record has eluded me: DJ Sprinkles: Midtown 120 Blues. (I did find some Spotify playlists, but they were defunct, with links broken.)

I also jotted down the years of the records. I've long suspected that most of the records one feels strongest attachment to are ones that came out in one's teens and twenties. That's true of me, and I suspect that explains most of our divergence. Soto's records fall into these age bands: 1970-79 (6), 1980-84 (7), 1985-89 (8), 1990-94 (11), 1995-1999 (2), 2000-04 (4), 2005-09 (6), 2010-present (4). I don't have a comparable list, but in my unsorted 1000 Records list, more than half of my rock/r&b records came from the 1960s and 1970s (255/407, or 62.6%; if you throw in rap and techno, and count all of them as post-1979, it becomes 255/459, or 55.5%).

I had the idea of throwing together a comparison list, taking as rules: one album for each year there were albums on Soto's list (so the same age spread); no more than three compilations (Soto had Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music, Wire, Dolly Parton), counted by source end date; no more than one jazz album (Soto had Miles Davis). I'm not sure that other genre matches would help much: Soto has 2 Brazil, 0 other world/latin, 3 rap, 3 country, 8 r&b, 2 (or maybe more) electronica, the rest pop/rock (of which Sugar is most metal). My biggest shift would be less r&b, which I thought went into decline after 1980 and became increasingly muddled, not that I wasn't able to find exceptions.

I also want to cite Brad Luen's 2003 poll results. He has been doing annual polls in the Expert Witness Facebook group, decided to do 2003, and rounded up 39 ballots (which don't seem to be available). I didn't vote, but I do have a 2003 list published (untouched since Jan. 1, 2005). Back in the day, I also compiled a 2003 poll (10 voters, 7 for Buck 65's Talkin' Honky Blues, which came in 7th in Luen's poll). I doubt I need to checklist the results, as I've heard nearly all of them, but the exceptions start at 24 with DonaZica's Composição, which got a boost recently with a Rod Taylor guest post on Luen's Substack: Sixteen 21st century Brazilian albums. Taylor's list deserves a checklist, but my grasp of Brazilian music is so lame I doubt it will do me much good. (Looking down at the poll results, there are more, like Yin Yang Twins at 27, Linkin Park at 37, King Geedorah at 40, Kathleen Edwards at 41, Constantines at 42, Brooks & Dunn at 50, etc. [PS: In scanning the list, I missed The New Pornographers: Electric Version at 18. I just assumed I had heard it, like the rest of the group's instantly forgettable albums.]

I don't often link to music, but Dan Ex Machina posted a single to mark Trump's latest arrest.

August Streamnotes done but not indexed yet. Monthly rated list dropped way down to 131.

New records reviewed this week:

Barb Jungr and Her Trio: My Marquee (2023, Marquee): British singer, writes some songs but mostly interprets other singer-songwriters, especially Bob Dylan. Twenty-seven albums since 1985. Backed by piano-bass-drums trio, she does six songs plus two medleys, taking vintage rock pieces and treating them as proto-standards. Most successful is a medley interleaving three Yardbirds hits ("Heart Full of Soul/Shapes of Things/For Your Love"). B+(**) [sp]

James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: For Mahalia, With Love [Expanded Edition] (2023, Tao Forms, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, formed this group for his poll-winning 2021 album Jesup Wagon, reconvenes with Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums), to play his arrangements of a set of trad. gospel pieces tied to Mahalia Jackson, but with no vocals, as nothing else can be as sanctified as his instrument. The digital album ends there (9 tracks, 71:32), and as long as it stays on track, it's as inspired as any gospel program since David Murray's Spirituals. The 2-CD package adds a second album, These Are Soulful Days, a suite (8 tracks, 47:24) that starts out as an interesting strings piece, played by Lutoslawski Quartet, with Lewis joining in and eventually dominating -- about as good as sax-with-strings gets. [There's also a 2-LP package of the album proper, with a download code for the bonus.] A- [cd] [09-08]

Evan Parker/Matthew Wright Trance Map+ Peter Evans/Mark Nauseef: Etching the Ether (2022 [2023], Intakt): Soprano sax and electronics duo, their names above the group name, as with their previous Crepuscle in Nickelsdorff, with extra guests below the group name (new ones this time: trumpet and percussion. (There's also a duo album on FRM, but I haven't heard it.) B+(**) [sp]

Rachael & Vilray: I Love a Love Song (2022 [2023], Nonesuch): Vocal duo, Rachael Price and Vilray Bolles, who also plays guitar and claims most of the writing credits, but doesn't publicize his surname. Front cover lists much of the band. B+(*) [sp]

Sebastian Rochford/Kit Downes: A Short Diary (2022 [2023], ECM): Drums and piano duo, the former -- drummer in Sons of Kemet and various other groups -- also the composer. Very quiet, the drummer almost inaudible. B [sp]

Todd Sickafoose: Bear Proof (2023, Secret Hatch): Bassist, looks like only his third album (since 2000) solely under his own name -- Discogs mostly lists live Ani DiFranco albums from 2004-09, when she was jazzing up her sound (Mike Dillon and, later, Allison Miller were also credited). Eight musicians, including Jenny Scheinman (violin), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), and Miller (drums). B+(**) [cd] [09-29]

Kate Soper Feat. Sam Pluta: The Understanding of All Things (2022, New Focus): Composer, mostly filed under classical, plays piano, singer for Wet Ink Ensemble, was a Pulitzer finalist for her chamber opera Ipsa Dixit. Pluta works in electronics, which Soper speaks and sings over, sometimes alarmingly. B- [sp]

Aki Takase: Carmen Rhapsody (2023, BMC): Bizet opera done up by jazz trio with piano (Takase), cello (Vincent Courtois), and sax (Daniel Erdmann), with mezzo soprano Mayumi Nakamura popping in and out. Needless to say, I could do without the latter, but after the initial bad taste, I found it fitting in with the flow. B+(**) [sp]

Aki Takase/Alexander von Schlippenbach: Four Hands Piano Pieces (2021 [2023], Trost): Piano duo, married but both have huge solo careers, as well as several joint duo or larger group albums. But this one feels awkward at first, banging chords, but it does get a bit more interesting toward the end. B [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Julee Cruise: Floating Into the Night (1989 [2023], Sacred Bones): Singer (1956-2022), originally from Iowa, moved to New York, started working with David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti as a vocal coach for Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet. First album, with Lynch writing lyrics and Badalmenti doing the music and orchestration, tied into Lynch's Twin Peaks. Billed as dream pop, but not without a few kinks. B [sp]

Sonic Youth: Live in Brooklyn 2011 (2011 [2023], Silver Current): Seminal New York guitar band, started with an EP in 1982, ended in late 2011 with the separation of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore after 27 years of marriage. Last concert was in São Paulo in November 14, following this August 11 performance outdoors, in Williamsburg facing the East River. In recent years they've released a couple dozen live tapes, but I've had little interested in sifting through them. But they've singled this one out, remastered it, and offer it as 2-LP or 2-CD (82:40). More noise than I'd like, especially on the encore, but in controlled doses it made them stand out. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

808 State: Ex:el (1991, ZTT/Tommy Boy): English electronica group, from Manchester, first album 1988, this their fourth (of seven through 2002) and most popular (4 in UK). B+(**) [sp]

Aaliyah: Age Ain't Nothing but a Number (1994, Blackground): Last name Haughton, released three gold records, this first one when she was 15 -- also the age, in what seems even more bizarre today, she married R. Kelly, although that story is messier than I care to get into -- before dying at 22 in a plane crash. Kelly produced, his "new jack swing" a mix of funk and hip-hop, tempered by the young singer. It sold three million copies in the US, three more million elsewhere. B+(*) [sp]

Aaliyah: One in a Million (1996, Blackground): Second album, age 17, another big seller, runs 17 songs, 73:10, seems to be coming her own but this is very much a producers' showcase, with most of the songs written by Missy Elliott and Timbaland. It does capture the sound of the times, which as someone who grew up decades earlier has always struck me as a bit muddled, but she comes through clearer than most. B+(**) [sp]

Aaliyah: Aaliyah (2001, Blackground): One more big hit record, most of the lyrics this time by Stephen Garrett, the music by various committees, and four producers, not that I can discern much variation, just relentless craft. B+(**) [sp]

Change: The Glow of Love (1980, RFC/Warner Bros.): Post-disco group, inspired by Chic, formed in Bologna, Italy, with David Romani, Paolo Gianollo, and Mauro Malavasi doing most of the songwriting and producing, Jacques Fred Petrus running the business, and lots of movable parts, including Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown singing two songs each. B+(**) [sp]

Duran Duran: Rio (1982, Capitol): English new wave band, MTV stars of the early 1980s as their first three albums (1981-83) went multi-platinum. After that they coasted, but never more than four years between albums (until 2021's Future Past took six; a new one is scheduled for October 2023). Title song was as catchy as they ever got. Nothing else here comes close, and in the end I wonder whether there was anything to them in the first place. B- [r]

Electronic: Electronic (1991, Factory): Duo of Bernard Sumner (Joy Division/New Order) and Johnny Marr (Smiths), Sumner the vocal lead, both play guitars and keyboards, Marr also bass. First of three albums (1991-99), sounds much like New Order, nothing to sniff at, but lacks the same magic -- even when the Pet Shop Boys join on two tracks. B+(***) [sp]

Electronic: Raise the Pressure (1996, Parlophone): Second album, Sumner and Marr are joined here by Karl Bartos, from Kraftwerk, who co-wrote six songs. Soundwise, it doesn't make a lot of difference, other than some extra squiggles in the background, and more background vocals. In other words, less overtly New Order, still built on the same strengths, but a bit more nuanced and nicer. A- [sp]

Everything but the Girl: Walking Wounded (1996, Atlantic): English duo, singer Tracey Thorn and multi-instrumentalist Ben Watt, ten albums 1984-99 plus a new one in 2023, each with solo albums before 1984 and after 2000, and also memoirs. This is their ninth album, possibly their bestseller. Nice, steady beat, would take more study, especially for a group I've heard next to nothing by. B+(***) [sp]

Amy Grant: Heart in Motion (1991, A&M): Singer-songwriter, started on the gospel label Myrrh in 1977, sixth album (1985) got picked up for distribution by A&M and went platinum, with this more pop-oriented album ("mingled with Christian values") an even bigger hit. I've had zero interest in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) since it emerged as a marketing niche, but my rare encounters suggested it was basically arena rock with sanctified (or at least sanitized) lyrics, so as mind-numbing as metal without even the pretense of subversion. This has some of that ("You're Not Alone" is so over the top it's almost good), then winds down with some more gracious ballads (best is "Hope Set High," despite Jesus). B [sp]

The Human League: Dare (1981, A&M): English new wave (synthpop) band, third album after their 1979 debut, a breakthrough hit in the US as well as UK. Formally this has some interest, but I still find it hard to like. B- [sp]

Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (1990, Priority): West coast gangsta godfather, O'Shea Jackson, first solo album while still a member of N.W.A. -- group disbanded after their second album in 1991, but he returned for their 1999-2002 reunion, and a couple times since then. Big album at the time, hard beats, sharp jolts. I'm certainly not hanging on every word. B+(**) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Every Grain of Sand: Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan (2002, Linn): English singer, father Czech, mother German, writes some but has many songbook albums, including more on Dylan. Tempting up to the home stretch, where the song selection hits a couple pet peeves. B+(***) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Waterloo Sunset (2003, Linn): Three originals, nine covers, mostly rock singer-songwriters from the Everly Brothers ("Cathy's Clown") to Richard Thompson, including two Dylans and the remarkable title song from Ray Davies. B+(**) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Love Me Tender (2004 [2005], Linn): Moving on to Elvis Presley, including two more Dylan songs that Presley covered, and one new song by Jungr and producer Aidan York. Everything is done at such a crawl you may already be dead for "Peace in the Valley." B+(*) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Just Like a Woman (Hymn to Nina) (2008, Linn): "All songs previously recorded by Nina Simone," but none written by her, and Jungr doesn't have the voice, the phrasing, or the piano to make the connection. She does, however, find three more Dylan songs. B+(*) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Man in the Long Black Coat: Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan (2003-11 [2011], Linn): Another Dylan tribute, this one rolling up the covers on her albums since 2002's Every Grain of Sand -- no duplicates, while adding four new ones (or outtakes?). Almost a best-of, except when it isn't. B+(***) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen (2014, Kristalyn): Six more Dylan songs, along with five from Cohen (two co-credits with Sharon Robinson). The latter tend to be played down, but she throws some back into the former, especially "It's Alright Ma." B+(**) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Shelter From the Storm: Songs of Hope for Troubled Times (2016, Linn): Philipp Ther, in How the West Lost the Peace, repeatedly refers to 2016 as annus horribilis, the combined effect of Brexit and Trump, so Jungr has some company in recognizing "troubled times." She co-wrote three songs with pianist Laurence Hobgood ("featuring" on the cover), but went to Dylan for a title (also for "All Along the Watchtower"), Cohen for "Sisters of Mercy," Joni Mitchell for "Woodstock," and wound up with Peter Gabriel and David Bowie ("Life on Mars?/Space Oddity" -- nice idea for another album). B+(*) [sp]

Barb Jungr/John McDaniel: Come Together: Barb Jungr & John McDaniel Perform the Beatles (2016, Kristalyn): McDaniel is an American pianist, sings some, is best known as music director for The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which netted him a couple Grammys. Beatles songs have an almost singularly shabby track record as jazz vehicles, but jazz isn't really the point here. The mostly late-period songs are cannily selected for diva performance, ranging from "Eleanor Rigby" to the medley of "Somewhere" and "The Long and Winding Road," closing with "In My Life." B+(**) [sp]

Barb Jungr: Bob, Brel, and Me (2019, Kristalyn): Bob is Dylan, of course, good for five more songs here, along with five by Jacques Brel (translated into English by Robb Johnson), and five originals. Even the Dylan songs are running low. B [sp]

The London Suede: Dog Man Star (1994, Nude/Columbia): Britpop group, Suede in the UK, the qualification used only in the US. Debut 1993, second album here, released five albums through 2002, took a decade off and returned with four more 2013-22. B [sp]

Kylie Minogue: Fever (2002, Capitol): Australian dance-pop star, debut 1988, has sold over 80 million units worldwide, but didn't chart above 53 (her debut) in the US until this eighth album when platinum, peaking at 3. The beat, especially on the opener ("More More More") is enticing, but winds up feeling a bit empty. B+(**) [sp]

Róisín Murphy: Overpowered (2007, EMI): Irish singer-songwriter, grew up in Manchester, debut 2005 with three EPs leading to the album Ruby Blue, followed by this album, which sold well in the UK. Electropop, although it sometimes falls below functional dance-pop levels. B+(*) [sp]

Sinéad O'Connor: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (1990, Ensign): Irish singer-songwriter (1966-2023), second album, a huge hit. I didn't care for her debut album or for her best-of, but this feels varied and masterful, if a bit beyond my ken. B+(***) [sp]

Alexander O'Neal: Hearsay (1987, Tabu): R&B singer, debut 1985, this his second (and bestselling, although 1991's All True Man came close) album, with occasional later albums, up to 2010 (or 2017?). B+(**) [sp]

René & Angela: Street Called Desire (1985, Mercury): R&B duo, René Moore and Angela Winbush, recorded four albums 1980-85, the first three for Capitol, this their first gold record, but went separate ways afterwards: Angela recorded three more albums, both having success in songwriting and production (René contributing to Michael Jackson; together they had written songs early on for Janet Jackson). Starts disco, but emphasis is on the funk, extending to a Kurtis Blow rap. [Spotify adds extra cuts, which I didn't manage to separate out.] B+(***) [sp]

René & Angela: René & Angela (1980, Capitol): First album, seven originals are decent enough, but I wouldn't say they have great chemistry. The cover is wildly unfortunate ("Hotel California"). B [r]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Benjamin Boone: Caught in the Rhythm (09-15]
  • Mike Clark: Kosen Rufu (Wide Hive) [09-08]
  • Scott Clark: Dawn & Dusk (Out of Your Head) [08-25]
  • David Ian: Vintage Christmas Trio Melody (Prescott) [09-22]
  • Steve Lehman/Orchestre National de Jazz: Ex Machina (Pi) [09-15]
  • Astghik Martirosyan: Distance (Astghik Music) [10-06]
  • Billy Mohler: Ultraviolet (Contagious Music) [10-13]
  • Jessica Pavone: Clamor (Out of Your Head) [10-06]
  • Simon Willson: Good Company (Fresh Sound New Talent) [10-13]
  • Superposition: Glaciers (Kettle Hole) [08-14]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Speaking of Which

The Republican Party has been skidding into dysfunction and madness for decades now -- take your pick when you want to start the plot -- but last week hit a new all-time low. Trump and eighteen others -- some conspiracists and others mere suckers -- had to trek to the Fulton County Jail to be booked on racketeering charges, something they turned into the mother of all photo-ops. Meanwhile, eight more Republicans presidential candidates showed up in Milwaukee for a Fox-sponsored debate forum, where they were torn between the need to prove themselves as alpha leaders and the terror of saying anything that could be construed as out of line with the dogma propagated by the oracles of the right, ranging from QAnon to Fox to Trump himself, whose 40+ poll leads exempted him from having to associate with such meager strivers.

Weeks like this make me think I should dust off my political book outline and finally get cranking -- although there seems to be little chance of that happening. Basically, the idea is:

  1. Introduction: The stakes of the 2024 election go way beyond the usual patronage interests of political parties. This is not just because Republicans and Democrats are rivals for popularity and power. The Republicans have become so obsessed with seizing and exploiting power, and so locked into a rich donor class and a dwindling, emotionally fraught base, that in their desperation they've turned against democracy, civil rights, reason, justice, and civility, leaving them with a political agenda incapable of addressing growing problems (like climate and war). The signs are obvious. For example, when Trump lost in 2020, dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatures passed new laws to restrict or interfere with voting rights. They've gotten away with this because they've been organized and ruthless, but also because Democrats have been ineffective at countering them. The first parts of the book will explore in more depth how and why Republicans have gone so wrong. The latter parts will suggest some ways Democrats can respond more effectively, and when they do win, govern better.

  2. History and structure: Here I want to look at the evolution of the two-party system -- with an aside on why third parties don't work -- and how it has evolved into a right-left divide. Part of this is the period scheme I've sketched out before: Jefferson-to-Buchanan, Lincoln-to-Hoover, Roosevelt-to-Carter, Reagan-to-Trump. (The first could be divided at Adams/Jackson. The second might have split with the Populist revolt of Bryan, but that break was suppressed. Teddy Roosevelt represented a brief progressive revival within the Lincoln-to-Hoover period, as Johnson did in Roosevelt-to-Carter. Washington-to-Adams has a similar pattern, but wasn't long enough for an era.) While the first three eras each marked a distinct shift to the left, Reagan is exceptional in moving to the right, so we need to explore that anomaly: particularly how Reagan's success moved Democratic leaders to the right, while driving the Democratic base to the left.

  3. The Modern Republicans: The core concept that Republicans are the only true Americans was forged in the Civil War, even as the Party was split from the start between progressive and conservative factions. However, with Goldwater conservatives became ascendant, but it was Nixon to taught them not just how to win but that winning was the only thing that matters. Nixon's dirty tricks eventually did him in, but his legacy was to take every advantage, to undermine opponents at every opportunity. Reagan and the Bushes did this, while seeming to be nice guys. Gingrich and Cheney weren't nice at all, and the base liked them even more -- especially as the Fox cheerleaders kicked in. After Obama won, Fox got ever nastier, and the Republican sweep in 2010 went to their heads. Trump was nothing but menace. When he managed to win without even getting the votes, Republicans knew they had found their messiah. Even after losing Congress in 2018, he held firm. And when he lost in 2020, he simply cried foul, and most Republicans were so invested in him, they played along. Karl Rove had contrasted self-actualizing Republicans to "the reality-based community." Trump went him one better, making his followers believe that reality was just a conspiracy against them.

  4. Republicans Against Reality: The problem with Republicans isn't just that they have no ethics, that they are inextricably wedded to graft, that the fear and hatred they exploit for votes rebounds against them, and the contempt they show for everyone else motivates opposition. They also have really bad ideas, based on a really poor understanding of how the world works. The theme for this section is to examine 4-6 problem areas and show how Republican solutions only make them worse. Some possibilities, in no particular order:

    • Government and the public interest: Reagan's joke and Norquist's bathtub. Attacks on civil service, including public sector unions, and expanding political control. Revolving door and regulatory capture. Privatization. Erosion of the very idea of public interest.
    • Macroeconomic policy, business cycle, wage suppression, inflation, bailouts for certain businesses.
    • Tax policy, increasing inequality, and consequences.
    • Mass incarceration, the erosion of civil rights, and the imposition of repressive thought control (e.g., in education).
    • Health care (opposition to anything that might help improve services and/or contain costs).
    • Climate change and disaster management.
    • Defense policy, opposition to international treaties/cooperation (except trade with the requisite graft), the wasteful deployment of armed forces in the War on Terror, and the reckless provocation of Russia and China.

    Obviously, each of these could be a chapter or even a book on its own, but they cover a broad swath of major issues, and are typical of Republican approaches.

  5. What Democrats Can Do: To counter the Republicans, Democrats need to do two things: they need to win elections, and they need to implement policies that deal constructively with problems. Republicans only do the former, and they do it mostly by convincing people that they should fear and loathe Democrats. It shouldn't be hard to turn the tables, given the critique of the previous chapters. Fear and loathing of Republicans isn't enough to clinch Democratic wins, but it is pretty widespread by now, at least among people with any idea of the Republican track record. But the other thing Democrats need to do is to build trust, and prove themselves trustworthy. Democrats are most vulnerable when Republicans can turn the tables and paint them as corrupt and/or out of touch (cf. the check-kiting scandal of 1994, Obama's aloof and tone-deaf confidence cult in 2010, and Hillary Clinton's courting of special interests in 2016).

    This could be divided into two sections, with one showing how the Democrats have compromised themselves, especially during the Reagan-to-Obama era. (It took Trump to finally repulse Democrats enough to stop tacking toward the center, although Bloomberg and others rose to do just that in 2020, anything to deny Sanders the nomination.) It's possible that many of these points may have been made in earlier sections. The second part would be a recommended behavior guide for Democratic candidates. I don't see much value in providing a catalog of possible problem solutions -- a subject for another book (or several). Rather, the goal is to show ways Democrats can respond to Republicans in ways that elicit trust from voters. Democrats need to listen and engage. They need to keep an open mind, and be flexible enough to change tack when better (or easier) solutions emerge. They need to balance off multiple interest groups, and they need to minimize losses when tradeoffs are necessary. They need to be decent and empathetic. They need to offer orderly transitions where change is required. They need to be very reluctant to force changes. They need to develop the skills to reason down people on all sides who get hung up on details. They need to respect differences of belief, and to avoid blanket condemnation. They need to recognize that there are limits to power, and shy away from overstepping. And they need to recognize that some things can't be fixed before they break, so that much of the work ahead will be recovery, and won't be helped by recriminations.

  6. Afterword: Is there anything left that needs to be said?

At some point, I should explain that the target audience for this book consists of Democrats who are active in electoral politics, and are trying to navigate the two requirements noted above: win elections, and govern to make conditions better. It is also for leftists who are willing to work within the Democratic Party to advance their ideas, which often involves coalition-building with people who don't share many of those ideas. Hopefully, it will help both understand each other, and join forces, at least for practical purposes. I also think that Democrats should accept that there are leftists who don't want to work with them, and not get all bent out of shape over that. Some Democrats seem to get way more agitated that some folks voted for a Jill Stein or Ralph Nader than that many more voted for Trump or Bush (or against Clinton or Gore). I won't go so far as to say that there are "no enemies on the left," but I have found that principled refuseniks are more likely to show up at a demonstration when you really need them than are your local Democratic Party workers.

The main way the book helps is in providing a historical framework to how politics has been practiced in America, and a general sense of how hopelessly divided we are on a number of important issues. I think this framework will make it easier to approach issues as they come up in campaigns. The etiquette guide may also help, but most people inclined to run for office already know most of it. There I'm more concerned with leftist readers, who may need to moderate their tactics, if not their views.

The book is not intended to convince Republicans (even Never Trumpers) or Mugwumps. That's different task, and may very well require a different writer. I do think that most people who vote Republican are very poorly served by their elected representatives. Maybe a few of them will open the book and discover why, but I'm not counting on that, and don't regard it as a priority. That does not mean I see no value in approaching such people politically. I think literally everyone will ultimately benefit from honest, flexible, responsible politics -- even billionaires who could take a big financial hit. But people are different, and need to be approached differently.

Such a book would ideally be published by early summer 2024, in order to have any impact on those critical elections. Of course, it's still likely to be generally useful after the election, and well into the foreseeable future. My fantasy is that someone will read it and decide to run. It can't have that impact in 2024, but there will be many more critical elections to come.

Still, nine months seems like a long time compared to the five hours I invested knocking the above out off the top of my head. Too bad I don't have the confidence to commit to that.

Top story threads:

Trump: His week was dominated by the order that he surrender to the Fulton County Jail, which produced a rather peculiar mug shot, and the usual senseless blather on Trump's part, and reams of reports and commentary elsewhere. Pieces on this (and other Trumpiana) are alphabetized below, with Zhou as an intro, his Wednesday-night debate diversion at the end.

  • Li Zhou: [08-24] Why Trump's surrender is such a big deal: "Everything you need to know about Trump's arrest, mugshot, and coming arraignment."

  • Li Zhou/Nicole Narea: [08-25] A visual guide to the 19 defendants in the Trump Georgia case: "The mugshots and the charges they face, briefly explained." I have to wonder about the mugshot process. For one thing, the Sheriff medallions are different sizes, with Trump's especially small, all but illegible. Also, Trump's picture is uniquely flattering, his face sharply etched in shadows while the glare present in most of the shots is limited to his shiny hair (which, as Warren Zevon once put it, "is perfect").

  • Aaron Blake: [08-26] Trump's Georgia case could get real -- quickly: With 19 defendants, each relatively free to pursue their own options, including the early trial date that Trump dreads. It's not unusual for defendants to plead out during RICO trials, which usually means testifying against their co-defendants -- of which one stands out as "more equal" than the rest.

  • Philip Bump: [08-25] Parsing Trump's post-surrender comments in Georgia.

  • Will Bunch: [08-27] Journalism fails miserably at explaining what is really happening to America: "Momentous week of GOP debate, Trump's arrest gets 'horse race' coverage when the story's not about an election but authoritarianism."

  • Margaret Hartmann: [08-22] Does Trump want me to think he's a flight risk? Well, he does like to be seen as unpredictable, even though he rarely is. He does tease a flight to Russia, but surely there must be preferable retreats for an itinerant billionaire on the lam?

  • Vinson Cunningham: [08-25] Trump's mug shot is his true presidential portrait: "He might be angry in the mug shot; he might even be scared. But he damn sure doesn't look surprised. Nobody is."

  • Ankush Khardori: [08-25] Lock him up? A new poll has some bad news for Trump: Most Americans believe Trump should stand trial before the 2024 election: 61% to 19% (independents 63% to 14%, Republicans 33% to 45%). About half of the country believes Trump is guilty in the pending prosecutions: 51% to 26% (independents 53% to 20%, Republicans 14% to 64%). Half of the country believes Trump should go to prison nif convicted in DOJ's Jan. 6 case: 50% for imprisonment, 16% for probation, 12% financial penalty only, 18% no penalty (independents 51% prison to 14% for no penalty; Republicans 11% to 43%). They also argue that "a conviction in DOJ's 2020 election case would hurt Trump in the general election," and "there is considerable room for the numbers to get worse for Trump."

  • Akela Lacy: [08-24] Georgia GOP gears up to remove Atlanta prosecutor who indicted Donald Trump: "Lawmakers invoked a new law that's supposed to target reform DAs. The real targets are Black Democrats." This is evidently similar to the law that DeSantis has been using to purge Florida of Democratic District Attorneys. But the grounds stated in the law are using discretionary powers to not prosecute state laws, so it will be a stretch to remove Willis for actually prosecuting a case. Not that Republicans think they need an excuse to trash local democracy.

  • Amanda Marcotte: [08-21] Let's pour one out for Mike Lindell: MyPillow Guy wasn't important enough to get his own indictment. Speaking of unindicted co-conspirators, Marcotte also wrote about: [08-23] Roger Stone's hubris exposes Trump's plan: New video shows lawyers faked distance from Capitol riots.

  • Patrick Marley: [07-18] Michigan charges 16 Trump electors who falsely claimed he won the state: This story is more than a month old, so "the charges are the first against Trump electors" is still true, but now they're not also the last. There is also a story by Kathryn Watson: [08-17] Arizona AG investigating 2020 alleged fake electors tied to Trump. Looks like there are also investigations in other states.

  • Kelly McClure: [08-27] Trump gripes on Truth Social that indictments are keeping him from PGA championships in Scotland.

  • Nicole Narea: [08-25] Why Trump seems to grow more popular the worse his legal troubles become: "Trump isn't Hitler. But when it comes to the courts, he's successfully borrowing the Nazi's playbook." But, like, is any of that actually true? Sure, Trump has a hard core following, but is it really growing with each indictment? He's good not just at playing the victim, but in acting defiant, but that's easy given how much deference his prosecutors have shown him. And is running 40 points above DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Pence, Scott, Haley, Christie, et al. such an accomplishment? All it suggests that Republicans are more into circuses than bread

    As for Hitler, the best analogy is the one Marx coined comparing the two Napoleons: the latter was as full of delusion and himself as the former, but had none of the skills, and few of the grievances, that made the original such an ill-fated menace. But Trump was never a failed painter, nor a battered soldier. He wasn't hardened by jail, and never tried to articulate a vision, even one as perverse as Mein Kampf. His agenda to "make America great again" was miraculously achieved on inauguration day, as him being president was all greatness required. Conversely, as soon as he lost the presidency, America fell back into the toilet. Hitler, on the other hand, just started when he ascended to power, and used it even more ruthlessly than Napoleon, until it consumed him, destroyed his nation, and wrecked much of the world.

    Given that there is little daylight between Trump and Hitler regarding emotions and morals, we are lucky that Trump is pure farce: he is stupid, he is lazy, and he understands politics purely as entertainment (which is the only thing he has any real aptitude at, although lots of us have trouble seeing even that). But not being Hitler doesn't make him harmless. He's created -- not from whole cloth but by building on decades of resentment and vindictiveness, from Reagan to Gingrich and especially through the talking heads at Fox and points farther right -- what may be summed up as the Era of Bad Feelings: a revival of right-wing shibboleths and fever-dreams that had mostly been in remission. And then there are the opportunity costs: things we will pay for in the future because we were too cheap, or dumb, or distracted to deal with when they were still manageable (climate, obviously, but also infrastructure, health care, and perhaps most importantly, peace).

    Nonetheless, Narrea has opted to go down this rabbit hole, by interviewing Thomas Weber, who's written about the comparison in a forthcoming book, Fascism in America: Past and Present (along with others writing on various right-wing movements). I've done considerable reading into the history of fascism, and as a person on the left, I've developed a sensitivity to both its politics and aesthetics, so these questions engage me in ways that most other people will find pedantic and probably boring. I won't go into all that here, but will note that even I find this particular discussion rather useless.

  • David Remnick: [08-22] The mobster cosplay of Donald Trump.

  • Jeff Stein: [08-22] Trump vows massive new tariffs if elected, risking global economic war: "Former president floats 10 percent on all foreign imports and calls for 'ring around the collar' of U.S. economy." Unlikely he's thought this through, but a reason for doing something like this would be to help balance a trade deficit the US has run since 1970 and never done anything serious about, because the dollar drain is either held as capital abroad or returned for financial services and assets in America -- both of which are massive transfers to the rich both here and elsewhere. But it's unlikely to happen, because it will upset a lot of apple carts, and those aggrieved interests will have no problem reframing it as a massive tax on American consumers, which it would be. For more, see:

    • Dean Baker: [08-23] Donald Trump's $3.6 Trillion Dollar Tax Hike: This might look bad for Republicans to be raising taxes, but the only taxes Republicans care about are ones that take money from the rich and distribute it downwards -- those they hate, and do anything in their power to kill. Tariffs, on the other hand, are taxes on consumption -- the only one of those Republicans get upset over is the gasoline tax (or worse, any form of carbon tax). Moreover, tariffs allow domestic businesses to raise prices and pocket the profits, so they're cool with that, too.

    • Paul Krugman: [08-24] Trump, lord of the ring (around the collar): Krugman hates the idea for the usual reasons, plus some extras. At least he admits that the economic inefficiencies are pretty minor. Given that any taxes raised will be quickly respent, his complaint about the regressive nature of the tax isn't such a big deal, either. His bigger point has to do with international relations, although he could explain it better. Trade makes nations more interdependent, and less hostile. Unbalanced trade, like the US has been running, also returns some good will. East Asia (China included) largely grew their economies on trade surpluses with the US, and that helps keep most of them aligned militarily aligned with the US (not China, but it certainly makes China less hostile than it would be otherwise). Trade wars, on the other hand, undermine relationships, promote autarky and isolation, or drive other countries into alliances that bypass the US (e.g., BRICS). The few countries the US refuses to trade with fester economically and become more desperately hostile (North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and now Russia). They are usually so small that it doesn't cost the US much, but Russia is stressing that, and a trade war with China would stress everyone.

  • Caitlin Yilek/Jacob Rosen: [08-27] Trump campaign says it's raised $7 million since mug shot release. I had already snagged the Darko cartoon up top before linking to this. After all, he always does this.

  • Matt Stieb: [08-23] The craziest moments from Trump's Tucker Carlson interview. For more crazy:

  • Jeanne Whalen: [08-22] Trump promised this Wisconsin town a manufacturing boom. It never arrived. Also on this:

DeSantis, and other Republicans: Starts with the Fox dog and pony show in Milwaukee.

  • Eric Levitz: [08-24] Who won (and lost) the first Republican debate: Scorecard format counts DeSantis and Pence as winners; Ramaswamy, Scott, Haley, and "your grandchildren" as losers. The knock on Scott was that he tried to be sensible and was revealed as boring, while Haley tried to be serious and turned preachy (she "came across as the most informed, capable, and honest candidate on the stage. In other words, she's cooked." Levitz didn't mention this, but she was also psychotic on foreign policy, but sure, in Washington that counts as a synonym for serious). Ramaswamy, on the other hand, tried to be "the biggest sociopath at the prep-school debate" only to find out that he "just isn't [MAGA Americans] kind of conman." That left the candidates self-respecting Republicans can see themselves in, which is to say ridiculous ones. As for the rest of us, we don't count to this crowd. Levitz was much too kind in summing up their agenda for us as a loss to "your grandchildren." The threat of these politicians is much more urgent than that.

    For more on the debate (let's try to contain this, although it leaks out, especially in the attention suddenly being paid to Vivek Ramaswamy):

    • Intelligencer Staff: [08-23] 34 things you missed at the Republican debate: The live blog, so LIFO. Levitz skipped over Christie, but he wound up with the third largest talking share (after Pence and DeSantis). Chait noted how Christie got booed, and: "Christie picked the most moderate possible ground to object to Trump's attempt to secure an unelected second term. That stance was beyond the pale." As for DeSantis as winner: Hartmann noted "Ron DeSantis almost appears human," while Rupar conceded that "DeSantis is getting better at making normal human facial expressions." With Republicans, it seems that journalists have to take what they can get.

    • Dan Balz: [08-26] 'Democracy' was on the wall at the GOP debate. It was never in the conversation. Clearly, they view democracy as the enemy, but they can't exactly say that in so many words.

    • Emily Guskin, et al: [08-24] Our Republican debate poll finds Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy won: Poll limited to "likely Republican voters," with 29% to 26%. Nikki Haley came in third with 15%, Pence had 7%, Scott and Christie 4%, Burgum and Hutchinson 1%, 13% had no idea. Comparing pre- and post-debate polls, Haley got the largest bump (29-to-46%), followed by Burgum (5-to-12%).

    • Ed Kilgore: [08-24] The debate did nothing to diminish Trump's control of the GOP.

    • Rebecca Leber: [08-24] The first GOP debate reveals a disturbing level of climate change denial. The more impossible it becomes to ignore or waive away the evidence, the more dogmatic they become in rejecting the very notion, and the more they retreat from any possible compromise. Nor is this the only example. On virtually every issue, Republicans have hardened their positions into rigid principles that they will defend even if it involves wrecking the government. This is in stark contrast to the Democrats, who have long been willing to compromise anything. The result makes Republicans look strong (albeit crazy) and Democrats weak (while getting little sympathy for being sane).

    • Chris Lehmann: [08-24] The Donald Trump look-alike contest.

    • Amanda Marcotte: [08-24] Why do Republicans even bother with this whole farce? "trump wasn't there, but we saw why he's leading: GOP voters don't care about substance, just unjustified grievances." Still, a large swath of mainstram media took this "debate" as serious news, lending support to the idea that we should care about what various Republicans think, and that it makes any difference who they ultimately nominate.

    • Osita Nwanevu: [08-24] The first Republican debate was one long stare into a Trump-shaped void.

    • Christian Paz: [08-24] 2 winners and 3 losers from the first Republican debate: Winner: Donald Trump; Loser: Any alternative to Trump; Loser: Ron DeSantis; Winner: A pre-Trump Republican Party; Loser: Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. I don't understand the point of the second "winner," but the audience reliably booed any least criticism of Trump, of which there were very few.

    • Nia Prater: [08-25] Oliver Anthony didn't love his song being played at the GOP debate: This should be a teachable moment. As I noted last week, the song's first two lines could have kicked off a leftist diatribe. That he then veered into stupid right-wing talking points was unfortunate, but anyone who believes that working men are getting screwed should have the presence of mind to see that the billionaires and stooges on the Milwaukee stage were the problem, not the solution. Also see:

    • Dylan Scott: [08-25] What the GOP debate revealed about Republican health care hypocrisy: "The GOP loves Big Government in health care -- if it's blocking abortion or trans care."

    • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-24] GOP debate bloodbath over Ukraine leaves room for agreement -- on China: "All agreed Beijing is the greatest threat to the US, particularly at the American border." Huh? Evidently, they believe that China is behind the fentanyl being smuggled in from Mexico, and that the best defense would be a strong offense . . . against Mexico.

    • Tony Karon: [10-24] [Twitter]: "Whether it's Republicans or Democrats, US presidential elections are conducted as TV game shows. America has entertained itself to death, as Neil Postman warned it would . . ."

  • Philip Bump: [08-23] One in 8 Republicans think winning is more important than election rules: "Another 3 in 8 apparently think Donald Trump adheres to those rules." I would have guessed it was more like 7 in 8, at least if you limit the question to party activists (politicians, donors, people who work campaigns, think tanks, and their media flaks), and phrased it in terms that didn't inhibit from expressing their beliefs. Their core belief is that anything that helps them win is good, as is anything that can be used to hurt the Democrats. I could, at this point, list a dozen, a score, maybe even a hundred examples. This isn't just competitiveness -- Democrats can exhibit that, too, although they're rarely as ruthless, in part because they believe in representative democracy, where everyone has a say, and that say is proportional to popular support. On the other hand, Republicans believe that power is to be seized, and once you have it, you should flout it as maximally as you can get away with. At root, that's because most Republicans (at least most activists) don't believe in democracy: they don't believe that lots of people deserve any power or respect at all.

  • Thomas B Edsall: [08-23] Trump voters can see right through DeSantis. Interesting. So why can't they see through Trump?

  • James Fallows: [08-23] "What's the matter with Florida?" "The GOP's doomed war against higher ed."

  • Van Jackson: [08-23] Vivek Ramaswamy's edgelord foreign policy: What do you get when you flail senselessly at the "secular gods" of "Wokeism, transgenderism, climatism, Covidism, globalism"? I had to look "edgelord" up, but here it is: "a person who affects a provocative or extreme persona," e.g., "edgelords act like contrarians in the hope that everyone will admire them as rebels." But wasn't Nixon's "madman theory" simply meant to confuse and intimidate others, not to woo voters?

  • Glenn Kessler: [08-25] Vivek Ramaswamy says 'hoax' agenda kills more people than climate change. The Washington Post's Fact Checker says: "Four Pinocchios."

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-25] Palin's civil war threat is a sign of very bad things to come. Mostly that Republicans think they'll prevail, if not at the ballot box (that one's pretty much sailed) then because they own more guns than Democrats. This assumes that the institutions of justice and violence, which they've been courting so assiduously all these years, will bend to the ir demands. That didn't happen on Jan. 6, and it still seems pretty unlikely, although it happens all the time in the "shithole countries" Republicans are trying to turn this one into.

  • Martin Pengelly: [08-25] Ramaswamy's deep ties to rightwing kingpins revealed: Leonard Leo and Peter Thiel, for starters.

  • Charles P Pierce: [08-23] Gregg Abbott has outdone himself again: "Exactly what are the upper limits of inhumanity he has to reach before the federal government does something about this mad stage play?" This time he sent a busload of refugees from Texas into a hurricane in Los Angeles, instead of doing the decent thing, which was to lock them up and wait for a hurriance to hit Texas.

  • Andrew Prokop: [08-23] Vivek Ramaswamy's rise to semi-prominence, explained. The first interesting question is how he got so rich. He started as a hedge fund analyst investing in biotech, then bought a piece of a company, which bought rights to an Alzheimer's drug that had repeatedly failed trials. He hyped the drug into a lucrative IPO, before the drug again flopped. Meanwhile, he sold off several other "promising" drugs, and cleaned out, going back into the hedge fund racket, and his intro to politics via books like Woke, Inc.

  • Ryu Spaeth: [08-25] What if Vivek Ramaswamy is the future of politics? Could be, as long as the media is more concerned with the performance of politics than with its substance. The most persuasive paragraph here is the one that shows how Ramaswamy draws on Obama: nothing substantive, of course, but much performative. So it's fair to say he's not just aimed at out-Trumping Trump. [PS: See Tatyana Tandanpolie: [08-24] Vivek Ramaswamy accused of plagiarizing Obama line at GOP debate. I wouldn't call that plagiarism. It sounds more like an homage.]

  • Brynn Tannehill: [] Republicans' border policy proposals are sadistic and would lead to chaos.

  • Prem Thakker: [] Republicans pushed almost 400 "education intimidation" bills in past two years.

  • Li Zhou: [08-23] A shooting over a Pride flag underscores the threat of Republican anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

From my Twitter feed, Peter Baker: "In 1994, 21% of Republicans and 17% of Democrats viewed the other party very unfavorably. Today, 62% of Republicans and 54% of Democrats do." Mark Jacob responded: "Call it 'tribalism' ifyou want. But another explanation is that one political party turned full-on fascist, and the rest of us found that unacceptable." Baker cites a WSJ piece by Aaron Zitner, "Why tribalism took over our politics," which offered "an uncomfortable explanation: Our brains were made for conflict." I haven't read the piece (paywall), nor do I particularly want to, as it seems highly unlikely that our brains manifested themselves on such a level only in the last thirty years.

Legal matters:

  • Matt Ford: [08-25] The one thing the Supreme Court got right: Blowing up college sports: "The NCAA's hold on its lucrative status quo looks more vulnerable than ever, two years after the high court ruled against it." On the other hand, it would have been better still to blow up the entire business of college sports, which are a massive drain (financial as well as mental) on higher education.

  • Stephanie Kirchgaessner/Dominic Rushe: [08-25] Billionaire-linked US thinktank behind Supreme Court wealth tax case lobbying.

  • Christiano Lima: ]08-24] Judge tosses RNC lawsuit accusing Google's spam filters of bias.

  • Ian Millhiser: [08-26] The edgelord of the federal judiciary: "Imagine a Breitbart comments forum come to life and given immense power over innocent people. That's Judge James Ho." Second time I've run across the word "edgelord" this week: I think it was more accurately applied to Vivek Ramaswamy (see Van Jackson, above), but the author was evidently hard-pressed to find words to express his disgust with Judge Ho. At one point he seems to give up: "There are so many errors in Ho's legal reasoning that it would be tedious to list all of them here." But then he comes up with five more paragraphs, before warning us that "Ho could be the future of the federal judiciary."

Climate and Environment:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [08-25] Diplomacy Watch: Washington's 'wishful thinking' on Ukraine: Sub is "Russia hawks have no shortage of unrealistic assumptions underlying their views of the conflict," but one can say the same thing about American hawks, indeed about all hawks.

  • Dave DeCamp: [08-20] US 'fears' Ukraine is too 'casualty averse': This was the first of a number of recent articles where America's armchair generals are unhappy, blaming Ukraine's slow counteroffensive on reluctance to sacrifice their troops. This shows that those who suggested that America is willing to fight Russia "to the last dead Ukrainian" were onto something. On the other hand, it also suggests that Ukraine should reconsider its war goals in terms of what is actually possible. Some examples include:

  • Thomas Graham: [08-22] Was the collapse of US-Russia relations inevitable?.

  • Branko Marcetic: [08-23] Are US officials signaling a new 'forever war' in Ukraine? "Now that Kyiv's counteroffensive is floundering, goal posts in the timing for talks and a ceasefire are quietly being moved."

  • Fred Kaplan: [08-21] No, Biden hasn't messed up an opportunity to end the war in Ukraine: But he hasn't presented one, either. Rather, as long as Ukraine is willing to continue fighting, he's happy to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons, and to duck the question of whether the US has ulterior motives in backing Ukraine.

  • Anatol Lieven/George Beebe: [08-25] What Putin would get out of eliminating Prigozhin. The Wagner Group CEO was presumably among the passengers in a plane that crashed Thursday. Most commentators jumped to the conclusion that Putin was behind the crash, because, well, it just seems like something he would do. This piece doesn't offer any evidence. (Early speculation that the plane was shot down seems to have fallen out, with a bomb now viewed as the most likely. Another theory is that Prigozhin faked his death, with or without Putin's collaboration, but I haven't seen any evidence of that.) Lieven is usually pretty smart about reading Russian tea leaves, but he doesn't have much to go on here. More Prigozhin/Putin:

    • Robyn Dixon/Mary Ilushina: [08-27] Russia confirms Wagner chief Prigozhin's death after DNA tests.

    • Fred Kaplan: [08-23] Why it's easy to see Yevgeny Prigozhin's plane crash as Putin's murderous revenge.

    • Joshua Yaffa: [08-24] Putin's deadly revenge on Prigozhin.

    • Paul Sonne/Valeriya Safronova/Cassandra Vinograd: [08-25] Putin denies killing Prigozhin, calling the idea anti-Putin propaganda: There's no way short of a confession, of which there is none, to know if Putin ordered the killing, but he is right that the insinunation is "anti-Putin propaganda" -- one more instance in a long list of charges going back to the 1999 Russian apartment bombings, which Putin used as cassus belli to launch the Second Chechen War, followed by virtually every mishap that befell any of his political opponents ever since. The idea is to present him as a ruthless monster who cannot be trusted and negotiated with, who can only be checked by force, and who must ultimately be beaten into submission. For all I know, he may indeed be guilty of many of the charges, but he is still the leader of a large nation we need to find some way to respect and coexist with, to engage and work with on problems of global import. The purpose of anti-Putin propaganda is to prevent that from happening. The results include the present war in Ukraine, which, as Crocodile Chuck never tires of reminding me, is what happens when you start believing you own propaganda.

Around the world:

Back to school:

Other stories:

Adam Bernstein/Robin Webb: [08-26] Bob Barker, unflappable 'Price is Right' emcee, dies at 99: The show debuted in 1956. I watched it pretty regularly into the early 1960s, and learned one indelible lesson: how list prices were inflated to create the sense that sales offer bargains. Before we bought a set of World Book in 1961, the book I most diligently studied was the Sears & Roebuck catalog, so my knowledge of real prices was close to encyclopedic, and the list prices on the show often came as a shock. Barker didn't join the show until 1972, so I probably never watched him except in passing. But the persistence of the show is a tribute to the mass consumer society my generation -- the first to watch TV from infancy -- was programmed to worship.

Rachel DuRose: [08-25] AI-discovered drugs will be for sale sooner than you think: "It takes forever to get drugs on the market. AI could help speed up the process."

Ronan Farrow: [08-21] Elon Musk's shadow rule: "How the US government came to rely on the tech billionaire -- and is now struggling to rein him in." A long and not unsympathetic profile, which starts from the fact that Ukraine depended on Musk's Starlink satellite communications network, which allowed him to shake the US down for profits. But what may have started as a human interest story is rapidly becoming a morbid one, the critical flaw not the person necessarily but the power he has accumulated.

Adam Gopnik: [08-21] How the authors of the Bible spun triumph from defeat. Reflects on Jacob L Wright's new book, Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scriptures and Its Origins (out Oct. 19), which argues that the secret of the Bible's long-term success was that it provided a story of underdogs surviving against all odds:

The Jews were the great sufferers of the ancient world -- persecuted, exiled, catastrophically defeated -- and yet the tale of their special selection, and of the demiurge who, from an unbeliever's point of view, reneged on every promise and failed them at every turn, is the most admired, influential, and permanent of all written texts.

I've read several of Karen Armstrong's books, where she argues that the major religions invented in the first millennium BCE were attempts to limit the increasing horror of war -- one things of the waves of Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks across the Middle East, but India and China were similarly affected. It's hard to say they worked: even Christianity, which was untainted by military power until Constantine, proved to be amenable to state power. I still find it puzzling that more than two-thousand years later, the arts of war having advanced to an apocalyptic level, that no comparable progress has been made in religion, leaving us stuck grappling with these failed myths. As Gopnik notes, "Wright, like so many scholars these days, cannot resist projecting pluralist, post-Enlightenment values onto societies that made no pretense of possessing them." But what else can he do, other than disposing of the emotions that cling to belief in religion?

Sarah Jones: [08-25] What is a university without liberal arts? More on West Virginia Univeristy -- I noted Lisa M Corrigan: The evisceration of a public university last week.

Andrea Mazzarino: [08-22] The violent American century: "The ways our twenty-first century wars have polarized Americans." I give you an example at the bottom of this post. It's hard to imagine so many Americans stocking up on guns as a solution to their concerns for safety and order without the example of America's near-constant war -- at least since 1941, but especially since 2001, when the "enemy" became as nebulous and intimate as an idea.

Jonathan O'Connell/Paul Farhi/Sofia Andrade: [08-26] How a small-town feud in Kansas sent a shock through American journalism: The Marion County Record.

Emily Olson: [08-26] Thousands march to mark the 60th anniversary of MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech. Also:

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [08-24] This is only going to get worse until we make it stop: "Republicans want to maximize the catastrophic heating of the globe. Democrats want to pretend to be doing something without taking on the fossil fuel industry." He starts by declaring that "I turned 34 yesterday." That means he should have 38 more years left than I have. That calls for a different perspective -- one I can't quite imagine, leaving me more in tune with the cad he calls Martha's Vineyard Man.

  • [08-22] There should not be "religious exemptions to laws: Or, if there should be a religious exemption, most likely the law is wrong -- he gives examples like forced cutting of Rastafarian dreadlocks, or the allowance for certain Indians to take peyote.

  • [08-21] How Rupert Murdoch destroyed the news.

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-25] Roaming Charges: Through a sky darkly: Usual grabbag opens with smoke close to his Oregon home, but goes far enough to note that Europe has had over 1,100 fires this summer (up from a 2006-22 average of 724), offers a map of Greece, notes the Devastating floods in Slovenia, and the parade of hurricanes currently crossing the Atlantic. Much more, of course.

Steve M (No More Mr Nice Blog) wrote a piece [08-23] Vivek Ramaswamy wants to deport two members of congress (and doesn't know one was born in America). I'm breaking this out because I want to quote a big chunk, after he quotes Ramaswamy bitching: "We need to weed out ingrates like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who come to this country and complain about it."

Hey, smart guy -- you know that Rashida Tlaib was born in Detroit, right?

Omar, of course, is a naturalized citizen (though as Essence once noted, Omar has been a citizen longer than Melania Trump). It's true that Omar has said some critical things about America. But do you know who else "complains about" the U.S.? Every Republican. Republicans hate the president. They hate most of the laws passed during liberal administrations, and most of the laws passed in liberal cities and states. Republicans hate millions of their fellow citizens. They hate most of the nation's cities. And they have an inalienable right as Americans to feel all this hate and complain that America isn't exactly the way they want it to be. But Ramaswamy doesn't want extend this right -- a right Republicans exercise every single day -- to Omar and Tlaib.

I'm old enough to remember when "love it or leave it" was on the lips of every Cold Warrior, but what they really meant by "love it" was support America's imperialist war in Vietnam. A few years later, few Americans doubted that Vietnam was one of the worst mistakes the nation had ever made, but few conceded that antiwar protesters had been right all along, let alone that they cared more for the country than the people who led them into such an evil war.

Back then, as well as today, there was/is a certain type of American who feels the country is theirs exclusively, and that no one who disagrees with them counts, or should even be allowed to stay in the country they grew up in. And, as someone with only one set of immigrant ancestors in the last 200 years (my father's mother's parents, in the 1870s from Sweden), it especially galls me to be slandered by relatively arriviste "super-patriots" named Ramaswamy and Drumpf. (I'm not saying that newcomers can't be real Americans, but I have noticed a tendency to overcompensate -- as, indeed, my grandmother did, in totally discarding her Swedish heritage.)

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Monday, August 21, 2023

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 32 albums, 1 A-list,

Music: Current count 40728 [40696] rated (+32), 19 [22] unrated (-3).

Another big Speaking of Which yesterday (8215 words, 134 links, words slightly below last week's record, but links are up). Since posting, I added a link to a piece on Stephen Miller's America First Legal suit against Target for losing money in a right-wing anti-woke boycott. I saw this story early in the week, and meant to link to it, but missed it in the round up rush.

I figured there was no chance I'd hit 30 albums this week, both due to distractions and a (probably seasonal) shortfall of tips, but I found some priority jazz albums in my tracking file, and they led me to some more, with the Lucas Niggli oldies pushing me over the top. I've long wanted to hit 100% of Intakt's back catalog.

I wound up the week with zero A- records, but thought Noname and Margaret Glaspy merited another spin (or as it turns out, three each). Noname was the easier promotion, but the best Glaspy songs are quite solid, and my main reservation is that sometimes my mind wanders. Similar exposure might have promoted Neil Young, or either or both Ivo Perelmans, but I chose not to go there. I think those grades are solid enough.

I finally did the indexing for July Streamnotes. I barely average 30 records per week in July, so I guess this has been going on longer than I thought. Sometimes it feels like a pointless grind, but like Speaking of Which, it's one of the few things I can do these days without too much strain.

Lots of useful information in Philipp Ther's How the West Lost the Peace, but it doesn't really live up to the promise of the title. It certainly is true that the West's single-minded pursuit of neoliberal capitalism caused harm every step of the way, but equally important was the blind spot that grew unaware as "defense." That Russia, having been excluded from integration with Europe both militarily and economically, and coming up on the short end of both sticks, would revive imperial longings now seems inevitable, even if completely foolish. Ther understands this on some level, but in the end comes down so emphatically on the side of Ukraine that he offers no exit path.

I was thinking I would read Christopher Clark's Revolutionary Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World, 1848-1849 next, but had to go to the doctor today, and wanted to carry a smaller book. Scrounging through my old shelves, I found a 1962 paperback of EJ Hobsbawm's The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, which leads up to that period. I bought it ages ago (the paperback price is $1.25), but don't recall ever actually reading it, but now I have to admit that the first chapter is one of the most brilliant pieces of historical writing I've ever encountered. I doubt I'll be able to put it down (even though I just read a pretty good short overview of the French Revolution in David A Bell's Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution).

Correction: The Doug MacDonald album I reviewed last month as Big Band Extravaganza was actually titled Edwin Alley, and credited to Doug MacDonald Trio. Big Band Extravaganza was reviewed in January. Both reviews are so cryptic I doubt anyone noticed, but I've seen several hints that I screwed up, and balancing the books finally proved it.

New records reviewed this week:

Anitta: Funk Generation: A Favela Love Story (2023, Republic, EP): Brazilian singer-songwriter, Larissa de Macedo Machado, has several albums since 2013, this turns out to be a very short one (billed as a single, but 3 songs, 7:33), dance rhythms clicking. B+(**) [sp]

Itamar Borochov: Arba (2022 [2023], Greenleaf Music): Trumpet player, born in Israel, based in Brooklyn, fourth album since 2011 (Arba is Hebrew for four). Really nice trumpet, backed by piano (Rob Clearfield), bass (Rick Rosato), and drums (Jay Sawyer), with a bit of oud and some vocal effects. B+(***) [cd] [09-09]

Grian Chatten: Chaos for the Fly (2023, Partisan): Frontman for Irish post-punk rockers Fontaines D.C. tries a solo album, very different in style and pace. B+(**) [sp]

Claire Daly With George Garzone: VuVu for Frances (2021 [2023], Daly Bread): Baritone saxophonist, side credits back to 1990, only a handful of albums as leader. Garzone lends his tenor sax to broaden out the leads, a nice set of standards which rarely gets rowdy, backed by piano (Jon Davis), bass (Dave Hofstra), and drums (David F. Gibson). B+(**) [sp]

Dazegxd & Quinn: DSX.FM (2023, DeadAir, EP): Young beat producer, with young rapper Quinn Dupree. Scattered at first, but finds a crude groove. Seven tracks, 13:43. B+(*) [sp]

Kent Engelhardt & Stephen Enos: Madd for Tadd: "Central Avenue Swing" & "Our Delight" (2020 [2023], Tighten Up, 2CD): Alto sax and trumpet, the former a mainstay of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, running a full blown big band playing Tadd Dameron songs and a few originals, situating them in the transition from swing to bop. Several vocals by Erin Keckan are treats. B+(***) [cd]

Tianna Esperanza: Terror (2023, BMG): First album, 22, hard to piece together a coherent biography: British grandmother Paloma McLardy was in the Slits and the Raincoats, but she's mixed race, grew up on Cape Cod, through a litany of terrors she recounts in the presumably autobiographical title song (or if not, she has a pretty grim imagination). Comparisons to Nina Simone are apt, starting with the voice, but she's picked up more history than her publicity lets on. Could be an album that sticks with you, or misses. B+(***) [sp]

Miya Folick: Roach (2023, Nettwerk): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, studied acting at NYU before returning to USC. Second album. One review describes this as her "quarter life crisis." Most impressive when her anger rises, as in "Get Out of My House." B+(**) [sp]

Frog Squad: Special Noise (2023, Mahakala Music): Jazz group from Memphis, principally David Collins (guitar, vibes, keys, percussion) and Khari Wynn (bass), with a couple label ringers like Chad Fowler and Aaron Phillips joining in. Group has at least two previous albums, including Frog Squad Plays Satie. They lay it on pretty thick here. B+(*) [sp]

Margaret Glaspy: Echo the Diamond (2023, ATO): Singer-songwriter, from California, based in New York, third album since 2016 (Emotions and Math, a Christgau A-). She is at her best defending her "Female Brain," which in that case came up with something a bit funkier than usual. A- [sp]

Gloss Up: Shades of Gloss (2023, Quality Control): Memphis rapper Jerrica Russel, second album this year. B+(**) [sp]

K-Lone: Swells (2023, Wisdom Teeth): British electronica producer Josiah Gladwell, second album. B+(*) [sp]

Kimbra: A Reckoning (2023, self-released: Pop singer-songwriter from New Zealand, full name Kimbra Lee Johnson, fourth album. B+(**) [sp]

Låpsley: Cautionary Tales of Youth (2023, Believe): English pop singer-songwriter Holly Lapsley Fletcher, dressed up her middle name to look Scandinavian, third album. This slips up on you. B+(**) [sp]

Pat Metheny: Dream Box (2021-22 [2023], Modern): Guitarist, active since 1976, mostly in fusion bands I don't much care for, although he has other interests that sometimes bear fruit. This one is solo, quietly elegant. B+(*) [sp]

Lucas Niggli Sound of Serendipity Tentet: Play! (2023, Intakt): Swiss drummer, couple dozen albums since 1993, surprised there is no Wikipedia page for him, as his albums with Ali Keïta and Jan Galega Brönnimann are personal favorites. Large group here, but not many horns (tenor sax, tuba, flute), with organ, accordion, violin, celesta, melodica, bass, double drums, and voice/electronics (Joana Maria Aderl). B+(**) [r]

Noname: Sundial (2023, self-released): Rapper Fatima Warner, second album after a breakout mixtape, subtle beats under a torrent of words, some from guests who threaten politics. Before I got to this I heard cries of "antisemitism" just because Jay Electronica dropped a verse that namechecked Farrakhan -- far from the only preacher who wishes God's wrath on others, but the one whose name automatically elicits instant opprobrium -- and delved into the murky prophecies of Armageddon. (Perhaps even more politically incorrect these days, he says "a joke like Zelenskyy.") More explicitly political is the later verse by Billy Woods, recalling his childhood with revolution in Africa, or for that matter the closer with the more liberal Common. All reflect back on racism, which I figure is fair game, especially done this seductively, in a brief 31:54. A- [sp]

Arturo O'Farrill: Legacies (2023, Blue Note): Pianist, son of Cuban bandleader Chico O'Farrill, based in New York, typically records with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, but drops down to a trio here, with Liany Mateo (bass) and Zack O'Farrill (drums). One original, one track by his father, the rest jazz standards, including Monk and Powell, Rollins and Hancock. B+(*) [sp]

Okonski: Magnolia (2020-21 [2023], Colemine): Trio, with Steve Okonski (piano), Michael Isvara "Ish" Montgomery (bass), and Aaron Frazer (drums). First album, all pieces jointly credited. B+(*) [sp]

Genesis Owusu: Struggler (2023, Ourness/AWAL): Rapper/singer, born in Ghana, grew up in Australia, second album. B+(**) [sp]

Ivo Perelman/Aruan Ortiz/Lester St. Louis: Prophecy (2023, Mahakala Music): Tenor sax, piano, and cello, two long improv pieces (55:10) recorded in Brooklyn. Their Brazilian and Cuban sources, with their African and Iberian roots, may enter a bit more than usual, as they feel each other out. B+(***) [bc]

Ivo Perelman/James Emery: The Whisperers (2023, Mahakala Music): Duo, tenor sax and guitar, thirteen improv pieces recorded in Brooklyn. Emery goes back to the 1980s, played in String Trio of New York, a duo with Leroy Jenkins, and various others. B+(***) [bc]

Bobby Rozario: Spellbound (2019-21 [2023], Origin): Guitarist, mother a semi-classican Indian vocalist, father a Brazilian drummer, grandfather a band master in the Brazilian Army, bio jumps around a lot without explaining where he landed. Strong Latin beat in much of this, several vocals, but something more. John McLauglin is almost certainly an influence, but that's just a starting point. B+(***) [cd] [08-26]

Tamara Stewart: Woman (2023, self-released): Country singer, born in Australia, based in Nashville, Discogs lists two 2001-05 albums, website offers three more recent efforts (2012, 2018, 2023), a lyric places her at 44. B+(**) [sp]

David Virelles: Carta (2022 [2023], Intakt): Cuban pianist, moved to Canada after 2001, studying and playing with Jane Bunnett, and on to New York in 2009. Eighth album, a trio with Ben Street (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums), both prominently credited on the cover. B+(**) [r]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Anthony Branker & Ascent: Spirit Songs (2004 [2023], Origin): Composer, born in New Jersey, parents from Trinidad and Barbados, has a 1980 debut album but discography really starts up with Spirit Songs in 2005. This appears to be a prequel, dusted off as a tribute to the late drummer, Ralph Peterson Jr. Sextet with Ralph Bowen (tenor/soprano sax), Antonio Hart (alto/soprano sax), Clifford Adams Jr. (trombone), Jonny King (piano), John Benitez (bass), and Peterson. B+(***) [cd] [08-26]

George Cartwright: The Ghostly Bee (2005 [2023], Mahakala Music): Saxophonist, best known for his 1984-2003 group Curlew, plus scattered releases under his own name since 1979. This one appeared on Innova, a quintet with guitar (Davey Williams), keyboards (Chris Parker), bass, and drums, organized as two long "suites" (77:37 total, all improvised). B+(*) [bc]

George Cartwright: A Tenacious Slew (2007 [2023], Mahakala Music): Another reissue, originally on Innova. Includes a bit of poetry by Anne Elias. B+(*) [bc]

Neil Young: Chrome Dreams (1974-77 [2023], Reprise): Demo album, considered for release in 1977, leaked in the 1990s as a bootleg, so now is official, 16 years after the release of another album, Chrome Dreams II. Most songs solo, but some are fleshed out with a band, notably "Like a Hurricane." Most of the songs appeared on his next four albums, up to 1980, with a couple stragglers. Those four albums run { A-, A, A+, A- } in my book, so this should too, but adds little, and feels a bit tentative. B+(***) [r]

Old music:

Lucas Niggli Zoom: Spawn of Speed (2000 [2001], Intakt): Swiss drummer, albums since 1993, this the first of four with this trio of Nils Wogram (trombone) and Philipp Schaufelberger (guitar). One of those odd three-legged stools that looks wobbly but somehow holds up. B+(**) [sp]

Lucas Niggli Zoom: Rough Ride (2002, Intakt): Second album by this trombone-guitar-drums trio. B+(*) [sp]

Lucas Niggli Drum Quartet: Beat Bag Bohemia (2007 [2008], Intakt): Three drummers plus Rolando Lamussene on djembe, mbira, voice, percussion. B+(**) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Roberto Magris & the JM Horns: High Quote (2012, JM)

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Sunday, August 20, 2023

Speaking of Which

Didn't really start until Friday, but by now this pretty much writes itself. I do notice that I'm dropping more bits of memoir into the mix. Also that I needn't comment on everything. But do read the Astra Taylor piece. Not sure when the new book is coming out, but you probably have time to Democracy May Not Exist: But We'll Miss It When It's Gone first.

I clicked on a bunch of articles, and ran into the paywall at The New Republic. Evidently my wife's subscription had expired. It's probably worth straightening out ($15/year is pretty decent as these things go), but meanwhile the articles that looked promising but I wasn't able to read:

Top story threads:

Trump: He got indicted again, and the resulting tsunami of press earned him his own section, separate from the Republican mill.

  • Alexander Bolton: [08-14] GOP sees turnout disaster without Trump. This suggests that a sizable bloc of Trump supporters will only turn out for him, so that if Republicans run some other candidate with the same effective program, a lot of voters are likely to pass. And since Republicans have alienated most people, they can only continue to win by thin margins (even trying to rig them, as they do). It is certainly true that a lot of Trump supporters really hate many other Republicans -- Mitch McConnell is a good example -- although they hate Democrats so much more that the GOP benefits when they show up. It's also true that Trump's fans are spectacularly misinformed about nearly everything, which is a trait Republican strategists bank on.

  • Jonathan Chait: [08-15] Lindsey Graham: Don't indict Trump, or impeach Trump, or vote against him: Two thoughts here: one is the extended portrait of Graham in Mark Leibovich's Thank You for Your Servitude, which paints Graham as an innate lap dog, who once took John McCain as his leader, a role that, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, Trump has since assumed (the insecurity to have made that transition is staggering); the other is the old maxim, "all's fair in love and war." We won't talk about Graham's love life, but no one in Congress in eons has exhibited a more kneejerk affection for war. Graham has always seen politics as war, so as long as Trump can be seen as an effective warrior (and Graham can hardly see him otherwise), anything can be excused (and most of it can be celebrated).

  • Kyle Cheney: [08-15] Special counsel obtained Trump DMs despite 'momentous' bid by Twitter to delay, unsealed filings show.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [08-16] The benefits and drawbacks to charging Trump like a mobster: "Racketeering statutes allow prosecutors to arrange many characters and a broad set of allegations into a single narrative." Interview with Caren Myers Morrison. Many people have observed that the Trump indictments are designed to tell stories. Morrison contrasts Georgia and Smith: "The other one's Raymond Carver, and this is Dickens."

  • Matthew Cooper: [08-17] Willis's indictment is "an overwhelming show of force . . . shock and awe": Interview with Jennifer Taub.

  • Norman Eisen/Amy Lee Copeland: [08-15] This indictment of Trump does something ingenious.

  • Adam Gopnik: [08-16] There is nothing élitist about the indictments against Trump: "The judicial system is doing its work, and the former President has never been a man of the people."

  • Danny Hakim/Richard Fausset: [08-14] Two months in Georgia: How Trump tried to overturn the vote.

  • Margaret Hartmann:

    • [08-18] Trump cancels press conference, will lie in legal filings instead: On Monday, he promised to unveil on Friday an "Irrefutable REPORT" about "the 2020 presidential election fraud that took place in Georgia." Then, big surprise, he bailed.

    • [08-18] Melania really doesn't care about Trump's indictment, do u? I had this theory back in 1988 that one of the reasons Bush won (besides Willie Horton, you know) was that voters took pity and decided to spare Kitty Dukakis the ordeal of being First Lady. She was clearly unstable and easily freaked out during the campaign, whereas, well, you might not like Barbara Bush, but you knew she could take it. It's hard for me to gin up any sympathy for Melania, but maybe someone should take pity on her. Maybe not as much as I dread a second Trump term, but putting her through a second term as First Lady seems like a lot of unnecessary cruelty.

    • w/Chas Danner: [08-19] Giuliani begged, but Trump refused to cover his crushing legal bills.

  • Richard L Hasen: [08-15] The biggest difference between the Georgia indictment and the Jan. 6 indictment: Race, which enters from several angles, but especially from Trump, who wasted no time in calling the prosecutor racist.

  • Quinta Jurecic: [08-15] Trump discovers that some things are actually illegal: "The cases against the former president aren't criminalizing politics. They're criminalizing, well, crimes."

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-17] A pardon won't save Trump if he's convicted in Georgia: They've rigged the system to make pardons virtually impossible.

  • Ian Millhiser: [08-15] Will anyone trust these hyper-politicized courts to try Donald Trump? "The federal judiciary is a cesspool of partisanship, and now it's being asked to oversee some of the most politically fraught criminal trials in American history."

  • Lisa Needham: [08-15] Trump's Fulton County indictment, unpacked.

  • Andrew Prokop: [08-15] The five conspiracies at the heart of the Georgia Trump indictment:

    1. Trump's effort to get Georgia officials and legislators to change the outcome
    2. Trump's fake electors
    3. Jeff Clark's effort to have the US Justice Department case doubt on Georgia results
    4. Trump allies' effort to influence poll worker Ruby Freeman's testimony
    5. Trump allies' breach of voting data in Coffee County, Georgia
  • Matt Stieb: [08-18] Threats from Trump supporters are piling up against the authorities: This seems like one of those articles that's going to grow to book length by the end of the year. The right-wing ecosystem is a cesspool of hate and malice, so violence is inevitable, and not necessarily preceded by easily traceable threats (such as the late Craig Robertson).

  • Jennifer Rubin: [08-20] Why Trump's Georgia case likely can't be removed to federal court.

  • Charles P Pierce: [08-18] I'm starting to think Donald Trump is untrustworthy: "He canceled a Monday presser that was sure to be the mother of all conditions of release violations."

  • Tatyana Tandanpolie: [08-16] Economic analyst stunned at sources of Jared Kushner's funds: "Just 1% of investments in Kushner's fund came from sources in the United States." No doubt Trump has done a lot of disreputable and dishonest things to get money, but he's never come remotely close to the heist his son-in-law pulled off, leveraging his multiple White House portfolios. The 1% figure looks bad, but the really outrageous number is $3 billion.

  • Hunter Walker: [08-15] The full story behind the bizarre episode that led to charges in Trump's latest indictment: "How Kanye West's publicist, an "MMA fighter," and a Lutehran pastor teamed up to pressure a Georgia election worker."

  • Amy B Wang/Josh Dawsey: [08-19] Trump to release taped interview with Tucker Carlson, skipping GOP debate.

  • Odette Yousef: [08-18] Threats, slurs and menace: Far-right websites target Fulton County grand jurors. Follow-up: Holly Bailey/Hannah Allam: [08-18] FBI joins investigation of threats to grand jurors in Trump Georgia case.

  • Li Zhou/Andrew Prokop: [08-16] Trump's 4 indictments, ranked by the stakes: About what you'd expect, but the Georgia election case could add up to more time than the federal election case, and couldn't be pardoned by a Republican president. (As I understand it, the Georgia governor doesn't have pardon power like the US president has. To secure a pardon in Georgia, you have to go before the state parole board.) The New York charges would also be more difficult to pardon, but aren't very likely to result in jail time. Ranked third is the federal documents case. The charges there are pretty air tight, and the maximum sentences are very long, plus such cases are usually judged harshly.

  • James D Zirin: [08-15] Will the prosecution of Trump have terrible consequences? "Maybe, but they're likely to be far less terrible than if he wasn't prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." I'm not sure I understand either argument. If Trump had quietly faded into oblivion, as Nixon did, I could see letting these charges slip by -- although pleading them out would have been better. But Trump couldn't let it go, so now he really should face a reckoning with his crimes (at least those he's been charged with -- no doubt there were many more). Will this have a chilling effect on the behavior of future presidents? Let's hope so.

    This is an aside, but I hadn't realized that Gerald Ford was given a John F Kennedy Profile in Courage award for pardoning Nixon. There was nothing conventionally recognizable as courage in that pardon. It was pure cover-up, meant to short-circuit further investigations, taking the story out of the press cycle, and saving Republicans from the continued association. Still, in one sense the award was completely predictable. In his 1956 book, Kennedy devoted a chapter to Edmund G. Ross for voting against impeachment of Andrew Johnson, who had become president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and who used his office to sabotage Reconstruction, speeding the return of white racist power in the South. Another of Kennedy's profiles was Robert A Taft, who was praised for his criticism of the Nurembert Trials of Nazi war criminals.

  • Zack Beauchamp: [08-17] The Trump indictments reveal a paradox at the heart of American democracy: "The Trump cases help us understand how America's democracy can be both strong and weak at the same time." Last section sketches out what he calls "the ominous Israeli parallel," which is interesting in that few people are willing to take it seriously, but is not quite the one I would make.

    The simplest way to make sense of politics among Israeli Jews is to divide it on two axes: conservative vs. liberal/socialist, religious vs. secular. The Palestinian "citizens of Israel" are off on the side, with their own conservative (religious) vs. socialist (liberal/secular) spread, but they are rigidly excluded from consideration by Jewish Israelis. The secular/liberal sector was dominant up to 1978, and still an important factor up to 2000, but have since been largely wiped out, as the right has taken the lead in fighting the Palestinians, while neoliberal economic policies have undermined traditional support for Labor. The religious parties early on were content to seek special favors from joining Labor coalitions, but with the rise of the right, they gravitated that way, and recently have become even more anti-Palestinian.

    That same matrix model works reasonably well for the US, at least if you buy the superficially ridiculous idea that Trump is the manifestation of the religious right. The key thing is that the more violence against others, the more people rally to the cult of violence, which is most clearly represented by the party of Armageddon.

    The big question in Israel is whether the threat to democracy from the religious right, which thus far Likud has indulged, will push enough moderate voters into opposition to curb the threat from the far right -- which threatens not just democracy but genocide. One could imagine a similar dynamic in America, but the far-right is mostly out of power here, unable to manufacture crises (although Abbott and DeSantis are trying), and are faced with a more deeply democratic/liberal political culture. Still, that Trump can be seriously considered as a political force, and that Republicans have had so much luck leveraging their power bases, means that the threat here is real. To get a better idea of how real that could be, look no farther than Israel.

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

  • Jonathan Chait: [08-18] 'Lock them up' is now the Republican Party's highest goal: "It's no longer about policy or even culture war but prosecutorial revenge." Nobody seems to remember this, but it was GW Bush who started started the purge of politically unreliable US attorneys back in 2006 (see Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy). I don't recall anything remotely like that under Obama, and Biden hasn't lifted a finger to curtail the Trump-appointed US attorney prosecuting Hunter Biden. You'd think that if Republicans genuinely objected to the partisan nature of being prosecuted by Democrats, they'd deny that if given the chance they'd do the same thing, but the opposite appears to be true: they're chomping at the bit. One pretty good bit here, about Trump:

    Trump's legal jeopardy is easily explained: His private sector record was a long history of shady associations with gangsters and running scams. His presidency was a continuous procession of his own advisers pleading with him not to do illegal things while he complained that his attorneys weren't as unethical as Roy Cohn, the mob lawyer he once employed.

    I wouldn't have bothered with the last clause, as anyone familiar with Cohn knows that representing the mob was nowhere near the most unethical thing Cohn did. Also that Cohn was more of a mentor to Trump than an employee.

    PS: Steve M. comments on Chait's piece: [08-18] Republicans think Democrats stole their act (and are doing it better), starting with a tweet from Ben Shapiro (if you don't know who he is, Nathan J Robinson has written reams on him):

  • Whatever you think of the Trump indictments, one thing is for certain: the glass has now been broken over and over again. Political opponents can be targeted by legal enemies. Running for office now carries the legal risk of going to jail -- on all sides.

    In some sense, that risk has always been there. John Adams passed laws to criminalize the speech of his political opponents, but he never got around to prosecuting his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, who did wind up prosecuting his, Aaron Burr. But for the most part, politicians behaved themselves, or at least managed to keep above the fray when their subordinates misbehaved (Grant, Harding, and Reagan are classic examples; Nixon only escaped with a pardon). But the idea of using criminal prosecutions for political leverage was mostly developed against Clinton, a period when "no one is above the law" was etched on every Republican's lips. Nothing comparable happened on during the Bush and Obama presidencies, although several people wrote books urging the impeachment of Bush (Elizabeth de la Vega was one, in 2006, although the Democratic Congress elected that year didn't touch it), and (as Chait noted) Shapiro himself wrote The People Vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against the Obama Administration, structuring his complaints as a RICO case.

    Trump, on the other hand, was hellbent on prosecuting his opponents from early in the campaign, when "lock her up" became a rally chant. He toned back a bit after taking office, probably realizing that he didn't really have the power to order prosecutions (though Nixon probably did just that with the Chicago 8 and Daniel Ellsberg), but where he did have power he exercised it politically (e.g., to fire James Comey, and to pardon a number of his allies). And in general, he behaved as someone convinced he was above the law, as someone who could never be held to account for trampling on the law, as someone who had no sense of justice other than seizing advantage. And he was above the law, until he wasn't. Prosecution for his crimes may be precedent-setting, but the crimes are very carefully defined, and the evidence overwhelming. As a precedent, it's also a pretty high bar. If a Democrat did anything comparable, most of us would have no problems with prosecution.

  • Ryan Cooper:

  • Beth Harpaz/Jacob Kornbluh: [08-14] Former Trump adviser Michael Flynn blamed Jews for boarding trains to Asuchwitz: And "more offensive comments he's made about Jews." But not a single one involved Israel, so he must be OK.

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-18] DeSantis targeting Ramaswamy in a debate a sure sign he's losing: It's hard to see how calling him an "inauthentic conservative" will pay off, but bashing Ramaswamy as a Hindu should help DeSantis with his bigotry bona fides.

  • Eric Levitz: [08-19] The rise of the young, liberal, nonwhite Republican

  • Nia Prater: [08-17] Trump supporter arrested for threatening to kill Trump's trial judge.

  • Matt Stieb: [08-18] James O'Keefe is now under criminal investigation: Conservative provocateur, recently ousted as CEO of Project Veritas, appears to be one of those guys whose "favorite charity" is himself.

  • Ben Terris: [08-17] Awkward Americans see themselves in Ron DeSantis: I'm not sure which one this reflects more embarrassingly on: the candidate or the journalist (who at least asks one further question: "but do they like what they see?").

  • Chris Walker: [08-16] Arkansas rejects credit for AP Black History -- but Europe history is fine.

  • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [08-17] In Vivek Ramaswamy, the Republicans have something new: This left me hoping we never have to take him seriously, but fearing that he's proving much more effective at shoveling bullshit than his milquetoast competitors.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters:

  • Aaron Gregg/Jacob Bogage: [08-14] After conservatives' Target boycott, Stephen Miller group sues over losses. Miller's group is called America First Legal, "which bills itself as the conservative movement's 'long-awaited answer to the ACLU.'" It's unclear whether their mission is simply to degrade and ultimately destroy Americans' civil liberties, or they just mean to file lawsuits, like this one, to harass their imagined enemies.

  • Ian Millhiser:

    • [08-16] The fight over whether courts can ban mifepristone is headed back to the Supreme Court: "The far-right court just tried to ban an abortion drug. Here's why you can ignore that."

    • [08-20] The case for optimism about the Supreme Court: "There are some terrible things that even this Supreme Court isn't willing to do." With power comes some measure of responsibility, I guess -- something Thomas and Alito never learned, possibly because when they joined the Court, right-wing agitators were still a minority. Or they may simply bear in mind the threat that Congress can still restructure the Court, a chance that goes up the more they embarrass themselves as political hacks. Roosevelt's "pack the court" scheme wasn't very popular, but ultimately failed because a majority of the Court read the tea leaves and decided that Congress could legislate on issues like child labor after all ("the switch in time that saved nine").

  • Andrew Perez/Julia Rock: [08-18] The antiabortion judge with a financial ethics problem: James Ho, who cast the decisive vote in the mifepristone case Millhiser wrote about above. His wife, Allyson Ho, has "participated in events with the Alliance Defending Freedom and accepted honoraria, or speaking fees, every year between 2018 and 2021."

Climate and Environment: Record-setting high temperatures here in Wichita, yesterday and today and probably tomorrow. Next week we'll probably have news about Atlantic hurricanes, as no less than five suspects have been identified late this week. And while the rubble of Maui and the evacuation of Yellowknife are the big fire stories below, there are also big ones in Washington and British Columbia.

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [08-18] Diplomacy Watch: Will Russia follow through on Black Sea threats? "Tensions are gripping the region as Ukraine begins to allow free passage from its ports past the grain blockade." The end of the Black Sea Grain initiative, and the subsequent Russian bombing of Ukrainian ports, not only hurts world food supplies, it also means suggests that Russia has decided that agreeing to such limits on its warmaking won't lead to further negotiation. This is at least partly the result of Ukraine crossing various red lines (mostly through drone attacks, ranging from Black Sea ships to the Kerch Strait Bridge to spots in Moscow), and partly due to ever-tightening sanctions hurting Russia's efforts to export its own agricultural products. Ukraine, meanwhile, is daring Russia to attack ships in its newly-christened "humanitarian corridor." Nothing else in this report suggests any diplomatic progress.

  • Paul Dixon: [08-15] Five lessons from Northern Ireland for ending the Ukraine war. These points are fairly reasonable -- especially the second that "everyone must win" -- but it seems to me that a partition plan, decided by popular vote that hands Russia a slice of Ukraine somewhere between the pre-2022 secession borders and the current battle lines, would be cleaner and simpler than trying to come up with a power-sharing agreement under a neutral Ukraine. That would allow Ukraine to join the EU and (effectively if not quite completely) NATO, while allowing ethnic Russians the option of moving east), so the pre-2014 divisions would effectively vanish. (One wrinkle I would like to see is the option of a revote in 5 years. That would provide both powers with incentives to rebuild and to rule responsibly.)

  • Benjamin Hart: [08-14] How Ukraine's counteroffensive might end: Interview with John Nagl, now a "professor of warfighting studies at U.S. Army War College," once regarded as one of the Army's counterinsurgency gurus. He's pretty gung ho on Ukraine, but he also admits that Ukraine can't fight the war the way Americans would, and that's the way he most believes in. He cites a piece by Steve Biddle: [08-10] Back in the Trenches ("why new technology hasn't revolutionized warfare in Ukraine") that gets technical about weapons systems and trench warfare, while ignoring the only fact that matters: that this war cannot be resolved on the battle field.

  • John Hudson/Alex Horton: [08-17] US intelligence says Ukraine will fail to meet offensive's key goal: "Thwarted by minefields, Ukrainian forces won't reach the southeastern city of Melitopol, a vital Russian transit hub, according to a US intelligence assessment."

  • Michael Karadjis: [08-17] The Global South's views on Ukraine are more complex than you may think: "The claim that developing countries are neutral about the war or even pro-Russian oversimplifies and distorts a more nuanced reality."

  • Paul Krugman: [08-15] Science, technology and war beyond the bomb: Tries to make a case that superior technology and "under the surface" tactical adjustments may still give Ukraine a counteroffensive breakthrough, analogous to the WWII Battle of the Atlantic. In support of this, he cites a piece by Phillips P O'Brien: [07-23] Weekend Update #38, arguing "Please give this time."

  • Branko Marcetic: [08-14] Can Washington pivot from its maximalist aims in Ukraine? Actually, many American presidents have talked themselves into a blind alley. Truman couldn't accept a Korean armistice that Eisenhower signed right after he took office. Johnson never got a chance to negotiate a deal in Vietnam. Perhaps most egregiously, GWH Bush's insistence that Saddam Hussein was Hitler redux made it impossible to explain why he stopped the rout at the border of Kuwait, leading to the grudge match in 2013. Anyone portraying Ukraine as a life-or-death struggle for democracy is either full of shit or incapable of thinking two or three moves ahead. Hard to tell about Biden, but some of his people definitely are both.

  • Peter Rutland: [08-14] Why the Black Sea is becoming ground zero in the Ukraine War: "Kyiv's counteroffensive efforts have focused on cutting Russia off from Crimea, while the grain export deal continues to falter."

  • Ted Snider: [08-16] Why peace talks, but no peace? When I saw this piece, I guessed it was about the recent conclave in Saudi Arabia which Russia wasn't invited to -- really more of Ukraine rehearsing its talking points (see Kyiv says Jeddah participants back Ukraine territorial integrity in any peace deal) -- but this goes back to actual talks, both before and after invasion, which the US and UK helped subvert.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-17] Bill Kristol leads charge to make Republicans think 'right' on Ukraine: The neocon founder is juicing over another war, and has some lobbying money to work with, though probably not enough to stand up to Trump.

  • Marcus Walker: [08-20] Why Russia's war in Ukraine could run for years: "The reason isn't just that the front-line combat is a slow-moving slog, but also that none of the main actors have political goals that are both clear and attainable."

  • Lauren Wolfe: [08-14] In occupied regions, Ukrainians are being forced to accept Russian passports: While the annexation is not sanction by international law, the idea that this amounts to genocide mocks the concept.

  • Joshua Yaffa: [07-31] Inside the Wagner Group's armed uprising.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [08-15] Getting beyond copyright: There are better ways to support creative work.

Paul Cantor: [08-18] The other 9/11: Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the US-supported coup in Chile, where democratically elected president Salvador Allende was killed, as were many more (the final figure cited here is 3000), and replaced by Augusto Pinochet's dictartorship. Henry Kissinger was chief among the conspirators, and this figures prominent in his long list of crimes against humanity. Pinochet remained in power until 1990, and turned Chile into a laboratory for Milton Friedman's neoliberal economic theories, which needless to say were disastrous.

  • Robert Sherrill: [1988-06-11] William F Buckley lived off evil as mold lives off garbage: An old piece, basically a review of John B Judis: William F Buckley, Jr: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, which includes a section on Buckley's junkets to Chile to help Pinochet. Sherrill was 89 when he died in 2014. I remember reading his eye-opening 1968 book, Gothic Politics in the Deep South, which helped clarify some memories I had of visiting Arkansas when Orval Faubus was still governor. I also read, and occasionally drop the title of, Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music (1970).

Lisa M Corrigan: [08-16] The evisceration of a public university: "West Virginia University is being gutted, and it's a preview for what's in store for higher education."

Carter Dougherty: [05-22] A new vision for a just financial system: A laundry list of mostly good ideas, but the one that always strikes me as key is "provide public banking," which leads me to ask, what do we need all these other crooks and predators for? I don't anticipate outlawing them, and I can see likely value for innovation around the margins, but most banking transactions can be done simply and cheaply by a common non-profit, and that can easily extend into large classes of routine loans (credit cards, mortgages, small business loans, etc.).

Rachel DuRose: [08-12] What's going on with your lightbulbs? Perhaps they're right that "incandescent lightbulbs aren't banned," but they're getting harder to find, not that I've looked in 10-20 years, at least since LED manufacturers stopped trying to charge you for the 5-10 incandescent bulbs you might have bought during the expected lifetime of the LED bulb. I've moved to LEDs wherever possible: the main exception are places where only halogens seem to work; my happiest switch was finding I could replace fluourescent tubes with LEDs without having to rewire around the ballast, and they are many times better.

Jordan Gale: [08-18] An intimate look at Portland's housing crisis: "The ongoing housing crisis in Portland, Ore., has desensitized us to the real people who have been affected." A photo essay.

Peter E Gordon: [08-08] President of the Moon Committee: "Walter Benjamin's radio years." German literary critic, associated with Frankfurt School but legendary in his own right, 1892-1940 (committed suicide when jailed while trying to flee the Nazis). This collects what survives of radio transcripts from 1927-33, a wide-ranging commentary meant to be more readily accessible than his usual writings.

Constance Grady: [08-17] How does Elon Musk get away with it all? "The billionaire's heroic image is built on media praise, breathless fans, and . . . romance novel tropes." But hasn't he also become the object of intense ridicule, based on not just that he's a rich asshole but that he flaunts that image endlessly. Or am I missing something? And what's unusual about rich assholes getting away with things? Sure, Donald Trump is turning into an exception, but think of all the things he got away with before his luck turned. And as a rich asshole, he still has such enormous advantages, he may still get away with it.

Lauren Michele Jackson: [08-17] The "-ification" of everything: "it's an interesting combination of trying to do something original that is, in fact, already quite derivative. That's how culture works."

Chalmers Johnson: [08-13] Coming to terms with China: This is a piece written back in 2005 by the former CIA analyst (1931-2010), who wrote a series of books I recommend highly: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000; rev. 2004); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2006); Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007); and Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010). In one of those books, he published a thought experiment as to how China could disable America's entire satellite network (all it would take would be to "launch a dumptruck full of gravel" into earth orbit), and how crippling that would be. This is a sober analysis of trends already clear in 2005 as China was emerging as a fully independent world power. He ends with the question: "Why should China's emergence as a rich, successful country be to the disadvantage of either Japan or the United States?" In particular, he warns that: "History teaches us that the least intelligent response to this development would be to try to stop it through military force." Yet we clearly do have strategists in Washington whose intelligence is that low.

Mike Joy: [08-15] Critics of 'degrowth' economics say it's unworkable -- but from an ecologist's perspective, it's inevitable. Looks like it was David Attenborough who said, "someone who believes in infinite growth is either a madman or an economist." Even some economists realized that infinite growth can't possibly happen (although I failed to find the quote; I vaguely remember Kenneth Arrow). One of the big differences between eco-activists and Democrats is that the latter see growth as the solution to all problems, whereas we (putting on that hat, which isn't my only one) see it as one of the most intractable of political problems. But at some point, I think it does have to come into play, as I don't see any viable alternative.

Stephen Kearse: [08-17] The return of Nonane: "In her new album, Sundial, the rapper melds her activism and artistry seamlessly." Before I heard this album, I ran into complaints of anti-semitism, a kneejerk reaction to guest Jay Electronica namedropping "Farrakhan sent me." So this review is first of all interesting to me because the reviewer didn't even notice the offense, casually grouping Jay Electronica with Billy Woods among "the fellow rap mavericks," with an oblique reference to a different line. Expect my review in the next Music Week. I wish I was as sure of her political acumen as Kearse is, but I also doubt that it really matters.

Chris Lehman:

  • [08-16] The patronizing moralism of David Brooks: "In a series of recent essays, the New York Times columnist has pronounced all social ills the result of deficient moral fiber among individuals." Reminds me of a Bertolt Brecht line, but the English translations leave much to be desired. ("Grub first, then ethics"? More like "morality is a self-satisfying luxury for those who have eaten." Not that Brecht couldn't be pithy, as in: "What keeps mankind alive? Bestial acts.") Still, isn't it possible to accept Brooks' analysis and simply ask "so what"? If problems are caused by "deficient moral fiber," why should that prevent us from solving the problems? Does it sound like too much work? Or is it possibly the sense of righteousness that accrues to people who can afford to look down their noses at others? It's even possible that people who "lack morals" now might develop some once their baser needs are met. On the other hand, I rather doubt that the conservative approach, which is to let people rot in their squalor, or just lock them away or worse, gives "morals" a very good reputation, or sets a positive example.

    Interesting note toward the end here about Christopher Lasch. I read much of his early work, but never got to The Culture of Narcissism, which as Lehman notes is widely cited by social scourges like Brooks. Lehman defends Lasch as much misunderstood, which certainly sounds credible to me. After all, the amount of stuff Brooks misunderstands seems boundless.

  • [08-18] The new bard of the right: More than you need to know about a country song by Oliver Anthony, "Rich Men North of Richmond," which earns its conservative bona fides by bitching about how taxes are spent on poor people (without, of course, noting the vastly larger sums spent making rich people richer).

    PS: Listened to the song and double-checked the lyrics. First verse could just as easily have turned left ("I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day/ Overtime hours for bullshit pay"), but then he makes a couple fairly major blunders. You know about the punching down on welfare, which has been a right-wing trope for more than fifty years, but the other one still surprises me: "These rich men north of Richmond/ Lord knows they all just wanna have total control." This notion that "liberal elites" (which is what his phrase means, after stripping away the gratuitous Confederate angst) want "total control" is ridiculous on many levels, yet it is the common thread of right-wing paranoia (e.g., Bill Gates' nanobots disseminated through Covid vaccines). Such control, despite the diligent efforts of regimes like China and Israel, is impossible, and even if it were possible, no liberals would want it: central tenets of liberalism include that all people should think for themselves, and respect for (or at least tolerance of) different thinking by others.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, are opposed to those tenets, which makes their aversion that liberals want "total control" look like some kind of projection. On a practical level, this leads them to prevent students from being exposed to facts and ideas that may undermine their preferred beliefs, and where possible to ban those ideas from the public, while using the power of the state for harsh repression of any sign of dissidence.

    A couple more comments on this song:

Gregory P Magarian: [08-20] The revealing case of a Kansas judge and a search warrant: The Marion, KS police raided the offices of a small-town newspaper that had upset a local business owner.

Orlando Mayorquin: [08-20] Store owner is fatally shot by man who confronted her about Pride Flag. Her murderer was later tracked down and killed by police, further proof that while guns are good for committing crimes, they're not much good for self-defense.

Christian Paz: [08-14] How two pop culture Twitter accounts turned into the internet's wire service: "Are Pop Crave and Pop Base the future of political journalism?" Noted out of curiosity, which so far isn't sufficient to render an answer. I am, however, skeptical, and not just about these particular portals but about "political journalism" in general.

Andrew Prokop: [08-17] The mystery of Hunter Biden's failed plea deal: "Incompetence, malfeasance, or politics?" My best guess is mixed motives, undone by politics. The plea deal was a way for the prosecution to score a win, while Biden gets to put the case behind him without too much pain. But neither motive was strong enough to overcome the politics, where Republicans have been harping on "the Biden crime family" way before Biden ran in 2020. Without this drumbeat of harassment, I doubt the case would ever have been prosecuted, regardless of the defendant's name. In any case, credit Republicans with extraordinary chutzpah for juggling their political campaign against Biden while while still decrying political motives in re Trump.

Sigal Samuel: [08-18] What normal Americans -- not AI companies -- want for AI: "Public opinion about AI can be summed up in two words: Slow. Down." One significant polling result is: "82 percent of American voters don't trust AI companies to self-regulate." One proposal is that: "At each phase of the AI system lifecycle, the burder should be on companies to prove their systems are not harmful." Even this seems like a two-edged sword, as "harmful" can mean different things to different people. I'm inclined to limit ways companies can profit from AI, such as requiring the software to be open source, so we can get lots of eyes evaluating it and flagging possible problems. That would slow things down, but also help assure us that what does get released will be used constructively. If AI seems like a sudden emergence in the last couple years, it's because companies have hit the point where they have products to sell to exploit various angles. Given that most new business development is predatory, that's something one should be wary of.

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-18] The night the cops tried to break Thelonious Monk. No "Roaming Charges" this week, but this is worth perusing. It recounts the story of how Monk took a rap for the more fragile Bud Powell in 1951, and how Monk got blackballed by NYC, so he couldn't perform live during the period when he cut some of the most groundbreaking albums in jazz history. I first encountered these stories in Geoff Dyer's fictionalized But Beautiful, which I've always loved (although I know at least one prominent Monk fan who flat out hates the book).

Astra Taylor: [08-18] Why does everyone feel so insecure all the time? One of the smartest political writers working today, offers an introduction to her forthcoming book, The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart, where among much more she picks up on Barbara Ehrenreich's "fear of falling" theme (title of her "1989 study of the psychology of the middle class"). The more recent term is precarity. Much of this is quotable, as I'm reminded by tweets quoting her:

The relatively privileged have "rigged a game that can't be won, one that keeps them stressed and scrambling, and breathing the same smoke-tinged air as the rest of us."

"Insecurity affects people on every rung of the economic ladder, even if its harshest edge is predictably reserved for those at the bottom."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [05-29] The long afterlife of libertarianism: "As a movement, it has imploded. As a credo, it's here to stay." Review of The Individualists: Radicals, Reactionaries, and the Struggle for the Soul of Libertarianism, by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi, while roping in several other books. This reminds me that one of my jobs, back in the mid-1970s, was typesetting reprints of several Murray Rothbard books -- for the Kochs, as it turned out -- so I got deep into the weeds of his arguments for privatized police and fire departments, among everything else. Thus I was able to make sense out of Michael Lind's quip: that libertarianism had been tried and had failed; it was just called feudalism at the time. (Can't find the exact quote.) It's easy to imagine the Kochs as feudal lords, because that's how they run their company (and would like to run the country), which not coincidentally leaves precious little liberty but anyone but the lords. Still, when governments do become overbearing, which is sadly much of the time, it's tempting to fall back on the libertarians for sharp critiques. It's just impossible to build anything that works from negative platitudes. As I think back, the new left was much smarter to focus not on government, which was a tool and rarely monolithic, but on power itself. I don't recall when I first ran across the maxim "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," but it was well before I turned left, yet it remains as one of the great truths of our times.

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