January 2011 Notebook


Monday, January 31, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17715 [17682] rated (+33), 831 [837] unrated (-6). Missed Steve's birthday a week ago, but talked to him during the week. Cooked Mom's birthday dinner tonight: chicken and dumplings, green beans, coconut cake. Had a couple of nice days last week, and got some work on the garage done. Cold today, 16F as I'm writing this. Snow forecast, but haven't seen it yet. Been a super-dry winter, partly because it's been a cold one.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 4)

Another week come and gone. Not sure what happened, why I didn't get more done, or even why I got this much done.

Sonic Libreration Front: Meets Sunny Murray (2002-08 [2011], High Two): Philadelphia group, led by percussionist Kevin Diehl, who specializes in Lukumi bata drums (Afro-Cuban, more specifically Yoruba) but has one paw rooted in the avant-garde, in no small part due to his relationship with avant-drummer Sunny Murray. Fourth album since 2000 -- the other three I recommend highly, especially 2004's Ashé a Go-Go. This one sweeps up two sessions with Murray on board, one from 2002, the other 2008. Murray's drums are worth focus, but the band sometimes loses its focus in long ambling patches, only to burst to life when Terry Lawson cuts loose on tenor sax. B+(***)

Jacques Coursil: Trail of Tears (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1938 in Paris, parents from Martinique, cut a couple of well-regarded avant albums in 1969 and pretty much vanished until 2005. Title comes from the 1830s expulsion of the Cherokee from the Carolinas and Tennessee to the future Oklahoma. Packaging includes a couple of maps tracing the route. I first learned about this in 8th grade -- the only person I recall learning much from was my 8th grade American history teacher -- but I never quite visualized the routes before: one by river seems convoluted but obvious, descending the Tennessee to the Ohio to the Mississippi, then upriver on the Arkansas to Fort Smith and into Oklahoma; the other a land route further north, across Kentucky and Missouri where I would have expected a more direct southerly route. The music is muted, somber, brief, with relatively minor contributions from Mark Whitecage, Perry Robinson, Bobby Few, Sunny Murray, and others who normally don't blend into the vintage woodwork. B+(**)

Jazz Folk: Jazz in the Stone Age (2008 [2010], 1 Hr Music): Piano trio, with Peter Scherr on bass, Simon Barker on drums, and Matt McMahon on piano, listed in that order. Hype sheet treats this as Scherr's record, with minimal bio on him -- lives in Hong Kong -- and nothing on the others. The eight songs are all covers, with "stone age" mostly meaning rock: three from Beck, two Velvet Undergrounds ("Pale Blue Eyes" and "All Tomorrow's Parties"), one each from Taj Mahal, Joni Mitchell, and the Grateful Dead. Of course, I was most moved by "Pale Blue Eyes," and baffled by the Beck pieces. B+(*)

John L. Holmes y Los Amigos: The Holmes Stretch (2010, self-released): Guitarist, b. 1950 in Walla Walla, WA. Can't find much on him, can't read the microscopic type in the booklet, don't recognize anyone he's playing with. Could be that he's still based in Walla Walla. Did see a review that tried to sandwich him between George Benson and John McLaughlin; he's more interesting than that. B+(**)

Salo: Sundial Lotus (2009 [2010], Innova): Bassist Ben Gallina wrote all of this (except for an extract from Hindemith), and it's very much a composer's album -- the three reeds, guitar, piano, bass and drums deployed precisely, working out an impressive series of postbop progressions. B+(**)

Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Soul of the Movement (2010 [2011], Porto Franco): Bassist, b. 1966, seventh album since 1997, delving into black history last time for Harriet Tubman, and again here. Heavy with gospel, from "There Is a Balm in Gilead" to "Go Tell It on the Mountain" to "Take My Hand Precious Lord" with the iconic "We Shall Overcome" in the middle; four new Shelby pieces on key moments in the civil rights struggle, and a few more things that seemed like they'd fit -- can't go wrong with "Fables of Faubus," can you? Big band: five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds plus Howard Wiley toward the end, lots of vocals. Very nice packaging, things everyone should know and appreciate. I find it overwhelming, and itch to move on, before I start to get annoyed. B+(*)

Matt Jorgensen: Tattooed by Passion: Music Inspird by the Paintings of Dale Chisman (2009 [2010], Origin): Drummer, b. 1972, based in Seattle, sixth album since 2001. Not familiar with Chisman, although his abstracts in the package and booklet are interesting and attractive. Music is conventional postbop quintet, with Corey Christiansen's guitar in lieu of piano, and Thomas Marriott and Mark Taylor the horns, trumpet and sax. Three cuts add some strings, and one Richard Cole's clarinet. B+(*)

Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza: Paraphrase (2010 [2011], Yeah-Yeah): Alto saxophonist and drummer, respectively, split writing credits 4-4, have a couple previous albums together. Quartet with Geoff Kraly on electric bass and Jacob Garchik on trombone -- Garchik seems to be the key player, slowing things down and adding depth. B+(**)

Colin Dean: Shiwasu (2010, Roots and Grooves): Bassist, b. and raised in Long Island, studied at New School, first album, composed all the pieces. Quartet with Sean Nowell on tenor and soprano sax, Rachel Z on piano, and Colin Stranahan on drums. Nowell and Nicolazzo make typically strong impressions, the pieces are thoughtfully constructed and flow effortlessly. B+(**)

Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs (2010 [2011], Blue Note): Second album by Lovano's two-drummer quintet, with Otis Brown III and Francesco Mela the drummers, Esperanza Spalding on bass, and James Weidman on piano. Charlie Parker compositions, except for "Lover Man" and the Lovano original "Birdyard" -- wonder if anyone thought of that before. (AMG sez no.) None of the sonic crudeness that always turned me away from Parker's records, nor any of the daring crunchiness that made Bird such a legend. Don't know why Lovano decided to play this so sweet, other than that the band isn't really up to it. B+(**)

Moon Hotel Lounge Project: Into the Ojalá (2010 [2011], Frosty Cordial): Tom Moon project, first record I'm aware of, wrote all but one of the songs, plays credible tenor sax against a swishy background of guitar, bass, electric piano, vibes and percussion. I'm mostly familiar with Moon as a rock critic, author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List, which aside from a few dozen nods to the Euroclassics that I'm sure will remain unheard when I die, is a pretty useful guide. And this is a remarkably enjoyable record, its lounge concept neither camp nor corny, easy listening where everything else that conventionally goes by that label turns dull and tedious. A-

Todd Clouser: A Love Electric (2010 [2011], Ropeadope): Guitarist, b. 1981 in Minneapolis, studied at Berklee, based in Baja, Mexico -- wanted a slower paced life in which to develop his own voice. Second album, fusion that grows out of the 1970s but isn't contained by it. No credits breakdown I can see: Bryan Nichols on Rhodes, Julio de la Cruz on piano, and Jason Craft on B3 would seem to be either-or; same for the two bassists (Gordy Johnson and Adam Linz) and the two trumpeters (Steven Bernstein and Kelly Rossum). One cover, Harry Nilsson's "One" -- smartly reinforcing the period thing. One uncredited vocal, on "Mo City Kid" -- unpro but sly. B+(**)

Suzanne Pittson: Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (2008 [2010], Vineland): Singer, don't know how old, teaches at City College in New York, has two previous albums, one from 1992, the other from 1999; both appear to be substantial projects to pull new vocal music out of relatively untapped sources: Blues and the Abstract Truth (the Oliver Nelson classic), and Resolution: A Remembrance of John Coltrane. She, and/or husband-pianist Jeff Pittson and/or son Evan Pittson wrote new lyrics for six Hubbard pieces; they picked up other lyrics for two more, and included three covers ("You're My Everything," "Moment to Moment," and "Betcha by Golly, Wow!"). Half the tracks add Jeremy Pelt, who does a pretty good Hubbard impersonation, and Steve Wilson, who at least at first threatenes to run away with the record. The hornless cuts are less exhilarating, although Pittson is a technically impressive singer and scatter, and the project is ambitiously conceived and executed. B+(**)

Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (1954-70 [2010], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The key to parsing the awkward title is the relatively narrow timespan covered, limited to Brubeck's Columbia recordings, now managed by Sony's Legacy division. That cuts off the important early recordings and interesting later ones swept up in the excellent The Essential Dave Brubeck, released in 2003 and a better place to start if you want an overview before delving into his many worthwhile individual albums. Some solos, but mostly delectable quartet with Paul Desmond, three vocal spots that should have been better (Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong), and winding up with two cuts featuring Gerry Mulligan. B+(***)

Adam Pieronczyk: Komeda -- The Innocent Sorcerer (2009 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): Saxophonist, b. 1970 in Poland, plays soprano and tenor, has a dozen-plus albums since 1996. Komeda, of course, is Krzysztof Komeda (1931-69), the pianist-composer who seems to be the root of all subsequent Polish jazz. Komeda may be best known for his soundtrack to Rosemary's Baby. I'm not nearly familiar enough with his dozen or so records, but regard Astigmatic as one of the high points of European jazz in the 1960s. Komeda has also been the subject of such notable tributes as Tomasz Stanko's Litania, and this is another one. With Gary Thomas on tenor sax, Nelson Veras on guitar, Anthony Cox on bass, and Lukasz Zyta on drums. A-

Kellylee Evans: Nina (2010, Plus Loin Music): Singer, second album, songs more or less associated with Nina Simone. Doesn't have Simone's voice, which leaves the most familiar of these songs a bit hollow. B-

Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz: 20th Anniversary (1992-2010 [2010], Richport): Drummer, congalero, "Mr. Ritmo" to his friends, formed his Latin Playerz group in 1989, but I'm not finding much discography for them -- AMG only lists one record, Spiritual Awakenings (2005, Mambo Maniacs), but doesn't, for instance, list this one. Two songs date from 1992, one 1993, one 2000, one 2004, three 2006, most newer. The booklet doesn't list the Playerz, but does spotlight Judi Deleon, presumably the singer. She takes some overworked standards like "Lullaby of Birdland," "Lover Man," and "Bye Bye Blackbird," and turns them all into high points. B+(**)

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (2010, Archival): Trumpet- and trombone-playing brothers from England, took advantage of their networking and lined up some splashy guest stars but didn't make it clear who played what where on the package, so I muddled my review. Turns out Chris Potter plays tenor sax on two cuts, Joe Locke vibes on one, Tim Miller guitar on one, each a different cut. They each help out, Locke most clearly. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Ketil Bjørnstad/Svante Henryson: Night Song (ECM): advance, Mar. 29
  • Ralph Bowen: Power Play (Posi-Tone)
  • Paolo Fresu: Mistico Mediterraneo (ECM): advance, Feb. 22
  • Chantale Gagné: Wisdom of the Water (self-released)
  • Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (ECM): advance, Mar. 29
  • Vijay Iyer with Prasanna & Nitin Mitta: Tirtha (ACT): Mar. 8
  • Darius Jones/Matthew Shipp: Cosmic Lieder (AUM Fidelity): Apr. 12
  • Landon Knobloch/Jason Furman: Gasoline Rainbow (Fractamodi)
  • Ben Kono: Crossing (19/8): Feb. 22
  • Amy London: Let's Fly (Motéma)
  • Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: 40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho): Feb. 8

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week. A couple items relate to the anti-authoritarian mass movements in Tunisia and Egypt, which are starting to feel much like the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989, or somewhat less dramatically the shift in Latin America around the same time from mostly military dictatorships to mostly populist democracies.

  • Helena Cobban: Obama's know-nothings discuss Egypt:

    What is notable is the absence of anyone in the group who has any serious knowledge about either Egypt or the broader region.

    So thorough-going has been the witch-hunt that AIPAC and its attack dogs have conducted over the past 25 years against anyone with real Middle East expertise that the U.S. government now contains no-one at the higher (or even mid-career) levels of policymaking who has any in-depth understanding of the region or of the aspirations of its people. [ . . . ]

    Clinton, that is, who brought along as his key advisers on the affairs of the whole region the two long-time pro-Israel activists Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk! Then, of course, under GWB, we had Elliott Abrams and rest of the neocons running regional affairs for the government.

    And what was happening inside the State Department during all those years? Only hacks like Jeffrey Feltman or Donald Blome -- the list is endless . . . -- who could prove their unswerving loyalty to the pro-Israel agenda got promoted or retained. Throughout those 16 years of the Clinton and GWB presidencies, a generation of career diplomats grew up whose main mantra was to do nothing that might question or even upset Israel. [ . . . ]

    So now, in the Oval Office, we have the blind leading the blind and the blind advising the blind. No Chas Freeman, no Bill Quandt, no Rob Malley . . . (The list of those excluded on ideological grounds is pretty long, too.) No-one, in short, who can integrate into the advice the President desperately needs to hear any real understanding of how the peoples of the region think and how the regional system actually works. God save us all from their self-inflicted ignorance.

  • Justin Elliott: How Did the US Get in Bed with Mubarak?: Actually, this is an interview with Joel Beinin, a much better source:

    The United States is going to be allies with whoever is in charge in Egypt. And it's probably going to support Mubarak, until the moment comes -- if it does -- that it's clear that it's over. A day or two before he gets on the plane to leave, if that ever happens, the United States is going to come out and support whatever the alternative is.

    That all assumes that the military is the backbone power in Egypt, that the military remains in Washington's pocket, and that whoever they ultimately back will go along with that arrangement. That's probably right up to a point.

  • Paul Krugman: The War on Demand:

    Something really strange has happened to the debate over economic policy in the face of the Great Recession and its aftermath -- or maybe the real point is that events have revealed the true nature of the debate, stripping away some of the illusions. It's a bigger story than any one point of dispute -- say, over the size of the multiplier, or the effects of quantitative easing -- might suggest. Basically, in the face of what I would have said is obviously a massive shortfall of aggregate demand, we're seeing on all-out attack on the very notion that the demand side matters. [ . . . ]

    Second, the reasons so many people find the notion of inadequate demand abhorrent are, in part, bound up with notions of morality. I've been writing a bit about monetary morality in the context of inflation and the gold standard; but this goes deeper than policy. It's becoming clear to me that a substantial number of writers on economics find the whole idea that the economy can suffer because people are too thrifty, insufficiently willing to spend, deeply repugnant. I'm the sort of person who finds the notion that sometimes virtue is vice and prudence folly interesting; but it's clear that a number of people find that notion just plain evil. The world shouldn't be like that -- and therefore it isn't. [ . . . ]

    It's kind of shocking if you think about it. Here we have a huge, hard-won intellectual achievement, one that accounts very well for the world we actually see, and yet it's being thrown away because it doesn't go along with ideological preconceptions. Once that sort of thing starts, where does it stop? The next thing you know, the theory of evolution will get the same treatment. Oh, wait.

    Seriously, though, this is truly sad -- and dangerous. Demand-side understanding, in my view, played a big role in helping us avoid a full replay of the Great Depression; if enough people had shared that understanding, we might have avoided even the minor-league Depression we're going through. But willful ignorance is on the march -- and the odds are that we'll handle the next crisis very badly.

    Supply and demand are economic terms, not precisely equal to capital and labor, but close enough to front for ideological purposes. Policies favoring supply-side are generally meant to increase capital formation, where capital is owned and managed by, you know, capitalists. Pro-demand policies are more even-handed: they redistribute money (or much more rarely, like not in our lifetimes, power) to people who will spend it, so capitalists wind up pocketing most of it too, but only after they've produced goods and services, which depend on labor. So it shouldn't be surprising that supply and demand have gotten wrapped up in politics, and that political interests try to capture economics for their own purposes.

    One more point: as long as labor isn't powerful enough to push redistribution policies through government (which basically hasn't happened since WWII), the only way workers can improve their living standards is through growth; capitalists, on the other hand, gain when the economy grows but many also make out relatively well when recession hits: they can pick up distressed properties cheap, consolidate monopolies, and cut labor off at the knees -- zero-sum strategies, but that's often where the easiest profits are. So they have have few qualms about promoting growth nostrums that don't work (like tax breaks for the ultrarich) and disparaging ones that do work (like government stimulus spending). And that's pretty much what we're seeing here.

    Also see: Paul Krugman: The Demand-Side Temptation:

    Nick Rowe makes a good point: most of the time, in market economies, sellers feel constrained while buyers don't. I'm somewhat surprised that he doesn't mention why: it's because perfect competition is actually rare, because oligopoly or monopolistic competition -- in which prices exceed marginal cost -- is actually the norm. [ . . . ]

    Add to this the Kalecki notion that captains of industry want governments to believe that it's all about being nice to business, which makes them hostile to any active policy, and I think you have a rough explanation of the fact that right now hostility to demand-side policies, rather than demands for more, rule our discourse.

  • Andrew Leonard: How the US Screwed Up Globalization: Not quite a review, more like a teaser note on Dani Rodrik's new book, The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy:

    In Chapter 1, "Markets and States," Rodrik discusses the "amazing fact" that the richest countries also have the biggest governments: "with very few exceptions, the more developed an economy, the greater the share of its resources that is consumed by the public sector." His explanation: efficiently functioning markets require strong government institutions and oversight and intervention.

    But there's another correlation that's even more interesting. Rodrik found himself befuddled by the work of Yale political scientist David Cameron, who had discovered that the economies with the largest governments were also those that "were the most exposed to international markets." Since this was "a highly counterintuitive argument if you are used to thinking that markets can prosper only where the state does not intrude," Rodrik decided to disprove the thesis by crunching the data himself.

    But he failed. The correlation held.

    Where was this correlation coming from? I considered many possible explanations, but none survived my battery of tests. In the end the evidence seemed to point strongly toward the social insurance motive. People demand compensation against risk when their economies are more exposed to international economic forces, and governments respond by erecting broader safety nets, either through social programs or through public employment . . . This need for expansion isn't just because governments are necessary to establish peace and security, protect property rights, enforce contracts, and manage the macro economy. It is also because they are needed to preserve the legitimacy of markets by protecting people from the risks and insecurities markets bring with them.

    Reading this, I was struck by the fact that the United States (which, despite all the hoo-ha we hear about Obama's "socialism" today, boasts a smaller government as measured against the size of the economy than most other rich nations) has opened itself up very widely to globalization and international trade without expanding its safety net to compensate for the risks involved. We've thrown ourselves into cutthroat waters without a life preserver in sight, exposing our workers to the harsh mercy of global competition without showing them any mercy of our own.

    Perhaps at some point we'll realize that extending healthcare coverage to millions of Americans is exactly the kind of thing that a nation that intends to be an active participant in the global economy should do if it wants its citizens to embrace international engagement. Because continuing down the path we're on is madness.

  • John Quiggin: The Military Failure Machine:

    Nicholas Kristof has a column in the NYT putting forward the heretical idea that the US should spend less on the military and more on diplomacy and education. The argument is obviously right as far as it goes, but it leaves one big question unasked. An obvious reason for the focus on military spending is that Americans have massive confidence in their military and much less in their education system, particularly the public school systems.

    Yet judged by results, the opposite should surely be the case. Why is this so?

    The US military has fought five large-scale wars in the past fifty years, resulting in a draw in Korea, a defeat in Vietnam, and three inconclusive outcomes in Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan. That's a record that makes the worst inner-city public school look pretty good. At least the majority of students, even at the worst schools, end up more or less literate. [ . . . ]

    Kristof is right that even where the use of military power is successful in its own terms, it is unlikely to be cost-effective -- his striking observation on this is that the cost of one US soldier in Afghanistan is the same as that of 20 schools. Similarly, Greg Mortensen observes that sending back 243 troops would be enough to finance the entire Afghan higher education system. [ . . . ]

    Moreover, in all sorts of respects the self-image of the US (as a land of opportunity and social mobility, a generous giver of foreign aid, a beacon of democracy in a generally undemocratic world and so on) seems in most respects to have been set in concrete by 1950. The failure to learn anything from a string of military failures and disappointments seems to fit with this.

    I'm talking here mostly about the views of the American public, but these views are even more predominant among the policy elite and the Foreign Policy Community. I don't think this is primarily because either the elite or the capitalist class they might be regarded as representing benefit from wars. It's true that there is not much of a penalty for advocating disastrous wars, but as long as you steer clear of a handful of topics, there is not much of a penalty for anything in the US policy elite, once you are regarded as "serious."

  • Philip Weiss: Why Is America So Afraid? On the grim reaction of the Obama administration to the prospect that Egypt may overthrow its longtime dictator and establish some sort of government more responsive to its citizenry, and perhaps less committed to taking direction from the US and Israel.

    The danger to America and Israel is that the Egyptian revolution will destroy this false choice of secular dictator-or-crazy Islamists by showing that Arabs are smart articulate people who can handle real democracy if they get to make it themselves. And when they get it, they are likely to strip the mask off the peace process. On Al Jazeera English, there is much talk about the Palestinians. One commentator said that the "humiliation" of the Palestinians is feeding the Egyptian revolt. (I will never forget how Egyptian construction workers put down their tools to stand and applaud the Code Pink buses as we left El Arish for Gaza in June 2009.) And in his beautiful statement calling on Mubarak to serve his country by leaving, ElBaradei said that a government that heeds the people's will would turn soon to the Palestinian issue.

    Of course, Egyptians have more reasons than Palestine for revolting. But it is especially striking how complicit Mubarak has been in arming the PLO against Hamas and in facilitating Israel's stranglehold on Gaza -- two things that would never happen if the government were accountable to the people.

    Still, I doubt that concerns over Israel are what's really made Obama, Biden, et al. look so grim. Their real problem is that their concept of imperial America convinces them that the world needs American direction at times like this, but for practical purposes there is nothing that they can say or do that might have any positive effect, because no one involved actually cares what some self-interested politicians in Washington think they should or should not do.

    Personally, I'd be much happier if Obama would just come out and say, look, it's none of our business who governs Egypt, Tunisia, and every other country around the globe.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

End of an Era

Nice weather today, up around 70F. I screwed some standards into studs on the north wall of the garage, hung some shelf brackets onto them, and stacked some spare lumber on them. To get to the wall, I had to move a bunch of leftover OSB, which slipped into the sheet lumber rack I built last time we had some decent weather (about six weeks ago, if memory serves). Don't have enough brackets, but that can be fixed with a shopping trip. Cut up some of the OSB to make a table top, which I attached to a base cabinet unit we had scrapped from the kitchen a couple years ago. Not real happy with it: the OSB had swollen a bit on one edge -- must have picked up a bit of moisture -- making the tabletop a bit uneven, but will do for now.

Bigger news is that we were finally able to move the last of the living room lumber pile out to the garage. I had bought 24 sheets of plywood to build cabinets and bookcases with, and eventually used all but a few odd scraps. What was left was one full sheet of 1/4" not-quite-plywood, a possibly thinner sheet of composite, and three 1/2" sheets of OSB, some of which came with the plywood. Moved those out to the sheet rack in the garage, picked up the plastic sheet underneath it all, and swept up two-plus years of dirt. Result is we have the living room floor back. Feels like a milestone, the end of the kitchen rehab project. Can't say there won't be further work/changes: want to swap out the phone, and a light switch. I'm tempted to add some more pantry racks. And I'm still not happy with the weird angle on the refrigerator box (but don't have any idea how to go about fixing it). And still need to move stuff up and down, settling on how best to use the available storage. But all that will be in a new era; the age of reconstruction is over.

Friday, January 28, 2011

March Madness

Finally, in looking up those links, I rediscovered a Richard Crowson cartoon from last March that couldn't be more timely (unless he tacked on Obama racing behind the ranks, hand outstretched, shouting "wait for me"):

Shortly thereafter, I noticed a link to a piece that could serve as yet another caption: Philip Giraldi: The Road to National Suicide:

It is not often that one sees an entire nation marching in lockstep to go over a cliff into an abyss, but that is essentially what the United States is doing at the moment. Not only have there been strong hints from the Obama Administration that the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will go on into the dim future, but there is also no sign of any necessary course correction in other areas. Israel, backed by Washington, continues its reckless policies and may be cranking up for a new war against Lebanon and Syria with the ultimate objective of involving its American patron in fighting against Iran. Clearly President Obama is unwilling to take any risks by challenging existing policies. He is edging towards what he perceives as the political center and is preparing to ride the status quo to electoral victory in 2012.

Is it really that bad? Israel (and its Washington backers) may have second thoughts about crushing Hezbollah and Iran given what a sudden wave of anti-American backlash might mean for their good ally in Cairo. Obama is again talking about withdrawals from Afghanistan next year, seems to regard Iraq as settled, and has finally proposed some cuts at the hitherto sacrosanct Defense Department. The House Republicans haven't actually done anything damaging yet, although that's clearly just a matter of time. But Obama's playing nice with them, meanwhile restocking his administration with big business types, who in turn won't have to worry about any reform nuissances. Economic indicators are slightly up, which is better for business than it is for you or me. Obama's own polls are significantly up, which is good for him but less so for us. Puts him in a position where he can promise the capitalists both to keep the crazies at bay and to keep the Democrats down.

On the other hand, it looks like we've gotten through this crisis without learning a single important lesson. Instead of changing the way we think about war (and empire), Obama's managing to minimize them to the point we don't think about them at all. The bankers who broke us have scarcely been touched. Reforming health care left us with the same problems and same villains we started with. The biggest Democratic majority in Congress in several decades left as its final testament the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the superrich. The Fed is still run by a Republican anti-inflation hawk. And the march of stupidity goes on and on.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Girl Economist

I'm pretty broken up about this: To all Maxine Udall Girl Economist readers. I keep one browser window with a set of tabs opened to a handful of websites I follow pretty closely: of late, I trimmed this list down to mine, TPM, War in Context, Krugman, and Udall. (I cut back on Salon and Yglesias due to browser performance issues -- maybe just a suspicion but I wish I had more Javascript profiling and management tools -- and my interest in other sites waxes and wanes.) Anyhow, the news is that Udall -- a pseudonym, it turns out, for Alison Snow Jones -- has died, "suddenly" we're told. I've linked to a number of her pieces over the last few months (my posts listed first, for what little I add, then hers):

That's as far as my links go back -- about the point when I first noticed her. Her pieces tackle real world problems, but always with the methodological logic that makes economics the dismal science it aspires to be. This logic has its own inner beauty, and its ability to trivialize human concerns turns out to be part of its utility. Still, Udall never lost track of those concerns; she somehow managed to bring the logic back to real issues and problems, and she often brought back some new insight into them that I previously didn't have. That actually doesn't happen all that often -- we are all much more comfortable reading things that confirm what we already think we know -- and that's what landed her on my short list. As far as economists are concerned, I feel now almost exactly the way I felt when George P. Brockway died. I've read more than a hundred books on economics, but most of what I actually learned came from Brockway. I don't have enough perspective to measure Udall, but hardly anyone I've read in the last year has been more rewarding.

I should spend some time digging back through the many pieces I missed. I'd like to quote one at some length here, partly because it's more personal than I suggested above was her norm: 'Tis the Season . . .:

I started blogging a little over a year ago. Last night over dinner, a friend asked me why I do it. The answers I gave him were: I love to write and I want to be part of the really exciting conversation about economics and economic thought that has been a byproduct of the financial sector's mismanagement of risk.

I didn't say it last night, but I think I also started blogging because I grew up in a family business and have become increasingly appalled over the last 10 years or so by what seems to me to be a very limited view of the duties, obligations, and responsibilities of business.

I remember the sense of incompleteness and confusion I felt when first exposed to the theory of the firm. You see, in our business we were not profit maximizers. We were business men and women, embedded in a community, our fate intertwined with that of the community. We had to make enough money to stay in business for the long-haul. That meant that our customers had to keep coming back, we had to provide value, and we had to work, to sell. No one who walked into our business was greeted with "Let me know if I can help you." The customer was like a sacred guest. Our job was to find out what she needed, to tell him as much as we could about the merits of our merchandise, to help them identify and purchase the best match for their preferences and their pocketbook, or to send them to a competitor, with directions on how to get there, if we didn't have and couldn't get what they were looking for. [ . . . ]

Now, after a year of blogging, I'm discouraged and puzzled.

I can understand that someone who has managed to capture a privileged economic and political position, one where they are backed by US taxpayers as they gamble for personal gain in financial casinos, will do whatever they must to maintain it. And I expect that over time, if unchecked and unchastized, they will take on increasing amounts of risk, underwritten by the rest of us. What I didn't expect was the magnitude of the moral failure: that financiers would help to create securities designed to fail, sell them to clients, and then bet against them.

What I can't understand is the willingness of the citizenry to protect and reward someone who has harmed or is continung to harm them. I do not understand voting for politicians who support tax cuts for and neutered regulation of these same destructive speculators. Nor do I understand voters' apparent willingness to eviscerate all of the social programs and safety nets that are all that stand between them and what can only be regarded as neo-feudalism. I conjecture that the reason for this counterintuitive behavior is that the moral narrative that accompanies a technocratic tax cut for the wealthy is more compelling that the moral narrative that accompanies a technocratic stimulus of aggregate demand or support for families harmed by the financial sector's market and moral failures.

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would become a critic of investment bankers and an advocate for labor, I would have said that you were crazy. I was weaned on horror stories about the New Deal, the WPA and CCC, wage and price controls, and the horror of unions. [ . . . ]

Now I find myself wondering if the price is becoming too high, paid by those who can least afford it, and collected disproportionately by those who no longer generate the jobs or the universal opulence that used to be justification for that disproportionate allocation. I'm also increasingly concerned about how that price is set and the one-sided and self-serving (for those at the top) discourse that surrounds it.

I got into this conversation because I felt I might be able to contribute clarity for those not trained in economics and a different perspective. It has been an exciting and stimulating conversation. I've thought and read more about macroeconomics than I ever did in grad school. I have developed a real fondness and respect for my readers and their very thoughtful comments and for my fellow economics, anthropology, sociology, and biology bloggers, especially Mark Thoma, without whom only five people would ever have read this blog.

Now I find myself in need a a break, partly because I feel so discouraged by recent political events and the apparent triumph of zombie economics; partly because I have a paper and a grant proposal that need my attention. Barring some major new development, I'm going to take some time between now and New Years to reflect on what I've learned this past year and on the conversation we have had. I'll be back online around the New Year.

She did come back, and wrote several brilliant pieces, the last, What Price Microfinance?, posted on Jan. 17, the day she died.

Looking around her blog, before I close I can't help but share the two quotes Udall picked out from the original girl economist, Joan Robinson (incidentally, one of the first economists I read at any length):

The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.


A sure sign of a crisis is the prevalence of cranks. It is characteristic of a crisis in theory that cranks get a hearing from the public which orthodoxy is failing to satisfy. . . . The cranks are to be preferred because they see that there is a problem.

I spend some time looking for further information about Udall. Came up with many tearful links to the announcement, but not much else, other than this:

  • Interfludity: this post goes back and pulls a bunch of quotes from Udall's blog, starting with pretty much the same 'Tis the Season extract above.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Leaks

Several War in Context links on "the Palestine papers" -- a mass of documents leaked to Al Jazeera. Even more so than Wikileaks these leaks are proving embarrassing to all parties, most pointedly to Palestinian Authority officials like Saeb Erekat who have been desperately and futilely trying to figure out how much surrender it takes to appease an Israeli government that would much rather fight than switch. None of this is news to people who have been paying attention, but most haven't, and may be in for some shocks. Of course, those content with the status quo have already started blaming the leaks for making their lives more difficult, but as Paul Woodward explains, "you can't slow down a stationary peace process."

Many more links are embedded in these pieces, with much of the best analysis at Al Jazeera itself, partly because they've sought out world class experts; e.g.:

I haven't spent anywhere near enough time to sort all this out, and doubt that I will. But I'm glad to see these details emerging into public light.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Muddle of Ideas

In my semi-official role as currator of all things Christgau, I took a look at his NAJP blog last week and found two new-to-me posts, dated Dec. 17 and Dec. 31, attacking Julian Assange and Wikileaks:

The first referred to an article by Robert P. Baird, What Is Julian Assange Up To?, and the second reiterated the recommendation. I myself wrote about Baird's post back on Dec. 9 (Wikileaks), although what I got out of it was completely different than what Christgau got. I glossed over the section in the middle of Baird's piece about the "language poets of the 1970s" (whoever they be) thinking it irrelevant and possibly nonsensical, but it seems to mean something for Christgau. Still, I doubt that one needs a theory of poetic language here. The real issues are more basic than that.

Christgau's upshot:

Why am I anti-Assange -- which I was not at all, let me add, when his Iraq war bundle dropped? Because I believe the practical effect of the dump will be to trip up a US diplomatic system that, for all its deplorable perfidies, is considerably less deplorable than those of, to name just a few, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and -- most ominously, given the proximity of Islamist extremists and nuclear weapons -- Pakistan. (And probably no more deplorable than that of France, a major source of the brand of reflexive anti-Americanism to which Assange seems to subscribe.)

In other words, Christgau continues to identify with US foreign policy (despite "its deplorable perfidies"), pledges his allegiance by reciting a cliché laundry list of more perfidious countries, and dismisses any criticism (except his own) as "reflexive anti-Americanism." He's exempt because he's ultimately loyal, as he proves by spitting on Assange and castigating all the usual devils. He continues:

Absolute external transparency is not a practical or desirable way to run any even moderately complex organization. And the most likely result of Assange's dump will be a radical decrease in intra-governmental transparency in our foreign policy complex, which will increase its perfidy quotient by freeing its bad guys from the oversight of its less-bad guys.

His conclusion here is exactly the opposite of the one I drew: I argued that the likelihood of disclosure would eventually force (or select) diplomats to take positions in private that wouldn't be embarrassing in public, and that will tend to rein in many of the reckless and dangerous impulses we see blow up. He not only accepts the need for secrecy but imagines a tug-of-war within the US foreign policy establishment where the good guys would be less effective if their disputes were exposed to the public. This seems counterintuitive: isn't it usually the bad guys who have more to fear from public exposure?

I'm going to pick out bits from the comment stream as well as the articles. Tom Carson commented:

Call it a semantic quarrel if you like, but apparently nobody here -- not even you, Bob -- appreciates the difference between diplomacy and foreign policy. US diplomacy hasn't caused millions of deaths; US foreign policy has. The distinction matters because our diplomacy, not our foreign policy, has been done the most damage by the WikiLeaks info dump. The policy-makers won't suffer and the policies won't change, OK? But any number of analysts and envoys -- who are, by and large, out of the decision-making loop -- now won't be able to do their jobs thanks to their reports on what they're really up against going public, and their informed professionalism was the closest thing the government had to an in-house check against reckless assumptions and misguided policies. As I recall, Eugene Robinson -- nobody's idea of a GWOT jingo -- was one of the first to call Assange and his crew nihilists, and for my money, the shoe fits. Hence my own, less elegant reaction: "Thanks a lot, asshole."

Two big assumptions here: one is that sub-policy-level analysts act as "an in-house check" against "misguided policies" but that is belied by the concession that the policy makers do what they want anyway; the other is the idea that secrecy lets analysts be more critical than they would be otherwise, even though it seems at least as likely that with no risk of exposure they'd just tell the policymakers what they want to hear in the first place.

Christgau reiterated his intents in the second piece:

Let me begin by explaining that I wrote the post for two basic reasons. 1) I admired Baird's essay and was struck by how decisively it connected Assange to our putative topic, arts journalism -- in fact rather highbrow arts criticism, but that's close enough. 2) I believed and believe that Assange's heroism has been vastly overrated by the left-liberal community most of us here are part of, and wanted to suggest that possibility in solidarity with anyone who'd been having doubts about that heroism.

That's the last we'll hear of whatever (1) means; all else is politics, always good for a quarrel. Christgau then reiterates his early opposition to Bush invading Iraq, adding:

I loathe the war so much, in fact, that the policy implications of Assange's Iraq dump simply didn't concern me -- any discrediting of the war was OK with me. In retrospect, I'm not sure I didn't therefore succumb to my own emotionalism.

I won't try to explain much less critique the next few fevered lines, but we'll return to more like them. He then endorses Carson's distinction between diplomacy and foreign policy ("terms I and everyone else in this discussion have been using too losely"), nitpicking a bit but ultimately restating Carson's thesis:

Even our foreign policy isn't monolithic. And our diplomatic service and spy networks are full of people whose job, to emphasize Carson's chosen term, is to gather facts capable of changing foreign policy for the better (Valerie Plame, ever hear of her?) -- and also of civil servants who disapprove of the policies they're stuck with, especially when they're as stupid, cruel, and destructive as the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-etc. Iraq policy. One thing the WikiLeaks dump does is make it much harder for this corrective process to take place. It assumes that everybody who works for the State Department -- not to mention the C.I.A., the Pentagon, and so forth -- is a colluder. By gumming up the conduits of intra-governmental candor, it leaves those with the worst motives and information freer of contradiction and even outside review.

I've fought this argument several times already, so won't rerun it here. But then there's this:

Essentially, when Assange spouts his theories about what WikiLeaks can accomplish, theories whose inadequacies Baird explains quite thoroughly, he is putting what he learned in the university into action. Rather than one more tenure-track wanker striving to further obfuscate his or her bad ideas with worse jargon, he is out in the world undermining the ordinary language of diplomacy because he believes it is oppressive a priori and ipso facto. And thus he is making it easier for the bad guys to kill people.

We should be clear here that Baird's mumbo-jumbo about poetry is Baird talking, not Assange. Baird does point out that Assange's initial assumption about increased transparency encouraging responsibility may not work because those in power are likely to survive embarrassments here and there, even lots of them. That's actually an old problem, much hashed over since the 1950s by such varied thinkers as Marcuse, Chomsky, Neil Postman, and Chris Hedges. So the threat of leaks, and the facts revealed by leaks, might not be enough to turn American foreign policy around? That doesn't make them useless or unhelpful or unworthy.

It isn't clear to me why revealing a few internal cables should in any way alter "the language of diplomacy" -- I thought diplomatic language was, by definition, public. Even more baffling is how the leaks are "making it easier for the bad guys to kill people" -- even if I stuck to Christgau's probable designation of who the "bad guys" are. (I'd be tempted to include the US diplomats who encouraged Israel to attack Lebanon in 2006, and who arranged to arm the PLO to attack and purge Hamas -- which failed, leading to Israel's blockade and siege of Gaza. I could go on, but Christgau has already stipulated that US foreign policy has killed hundreds of thousands, and insisted that it doesn't matter; he still wants to protect them from Wikileaks.)

Felix Caldwell:

In addition to repeating the untruth that 250,000,000 cables have been published (as NPR was recently forced to acknowledge, the actual number is fewer than 2,000, with none of those on offer at the Wikileaks site different from what's available via the Times, the Guardian, et al), [ . . . ] (I would, by the way, be interested to know how the "informed professionalism" of diplomats was instrumental in thwarting excesses of US policy in, say, the last ten years. Are we to believe that Cheney would have gone that much further but for their counsel?)

Tom Carson further defines foreign policy and diplomacy; asserts that Wikileaks has hurt the latter more than the former; tries to answer Caldwell by arguing that "the State Department -- along with those 1960s betes noires, the CIA and the Pentagon" did warn against the Iraq war: "So let's discredit and embarrass the people who tried to give those warnings and make sure they never get another chance to do it again! That's the practical effect of what Assange has done."

William Osborne made a long comment that I didn't find anything interesting in, but Carson jumped all over him, exclaiming "sorry, but I just can't stomach this kind of Chomskyite claptrap anymore." Osborne never mentioned Chomsky, nor referenced him in any obvious way. More of this to come.

Felix Caldwell:

In his posts, Mr. Christgau suggests that Baird's linkage of Assange to the Language Poets is in turn linkable to certain aspects of French theory and, by further extension, to a strain of French anti-Americanism. While no one who cares about ideas would dispute that they have consequences, it seems unclear and even largely irrelevant what ideas (as opposed to motives) are at work in the case of Wikileaks. For one thing, though, it doesn't seem at all plain that Assange favors "absolute external transparency," nor that he regards diplomats as merely collusive.

Christgau returns, compliments Carson ("who knows more about this stuff by a factor of 50 than I do and probably more than any other practicing arts journalist, and whose personal history as regards US policy in Central America happens to be unimpeachable"), offers links to two war-related pieces he wrote in 1991 and 2001, and goes on to vent:

My doubts about Assange surfaced only with the current dump. Until then I thought he was one more cyberspace anarchist-libertarian doing more good than harm; exposing the underbelly of our Iraq and Guantanamo was and remains fine with me. But not the de facto embrace of the Chomskyite-jihadist notion that America is the Great Satan, which may well be an accident of what happens to have fallen into his hands but is still his responsibility. Once again, our foreign policy sucks more than it doesn't. It is imperialistic, and that's (usually) bad. But it doesn't suck as much as those of Russia (Chechnya? Georgia?), China (check into how they implement their African "aid," for instance), Saudi Arabia (anti-jihadist on the face of it, pro-jihadist in many crucial and sometimes officially non-governmental particulars), and Pakistan (of which more later). As for France, Germany, the UK, all now in the hands of economic conservatives whose main virtue is that they're not as bad as Bush II et al? My view is that they pursue their own economic interests as ruthlessly as we do while holding their delicate noses at the vulgarity of American greed.

First, the Chomsky libel is utterly uncalled for. There is absolutely no basis for linking Chomsky and jihadism. All it does it parade one's ignorance, raising it to the level of a rhetorical parlor-trick. Carson did it above, and Christgau previously did it in his warmongering 2001 piece (linked above), where in order to wage war on the "far enemy" in Afghanistan one first had to demolish anyone harboring antiwar doubts or sentiments in the US, and Chomsky seems to be the favorite whipping boy for leftists eager to enlist Dick Cheney as their lesser evil. To do so requires several profound leaps of faith; in particular, belief that Al-Qaeda is so evil and immediately threatening as to require a drastic, morally compromising assault, and faith that the US government and military wasn't so morally compromised and wouldn't fuck it up too bad. I can see where someone living less than two miles from WTC could be so shook. (In fact, I was in New York on 9/11, and did see it.) But I couldn't buy the latter point, and frankly never for one minute saw the US invading Afghanistan as solving anything. And Chomsky had very little to do with my feelings.

As for the rest of the relative moralizing, I could nitpick but quite frankly I'd trade US foreign policy for any other nation's. No other country meddles more promiscuously or perversely in other nations' internal affairs. (The blow-up in Lebanon is this week's latest such disaster, and I'd love to see the leaks on it. Even more, I'd love to be assured that US machinations over the next few weeks and months will be exposed. Otherwise it seems almost certain that the US will green light another Israeli misadventure.) But even if you're right that the US is (or could be, with a decent president and a little tlc) a more benign world force than those named above, would that even be a good thing? Americans are vastly ignorant of what US foreign policy does to us -- and I'm not just talking about the war crimes, or the tyranny and corruption we support. In particular, few of us have any sense of how we bleed our economy to curry foreign favor for global capital that in turn bleeds our economy.

I'm boxing myself into a lose-lose position here. If I argue that Wikileaks is a good thing because it undercuts and circumscribes US foreign policy, Christgau and Carson will feel vindicated because they support that policy -- sure, not that exact policy, but some possible version of it in their dreams. On the other hand, if I fall back and doubt that Wikileaks will have any real effect, they will still hate Assange as a nihilist pissing on their dreams because they imagine his revelations harming the good guys they hypothesize must exist in the diplomacy ranks because, well, they're Americans, there's gotta be decent people in the ranks somewhere.

Christgau continues by explaining "I continue to be a fairly staunch supporter of Barack Obama" -- despite Larry Summers ("by far his worst appointment"; actually Ben Bernanke was, although some missing leaks could tilt the honor to Richard Holbrooke; there's still a vast amount we don't know about how US foreign policy works) -- then:

Here's where diplomacy vs. foreign policy comes in, as well as the dangers of the dump. Because what Afghanistan is really about is Pakistan, a nation in possession of nuclear arms continually on the verge of Islamist takeover. Should that takeover occur, the danger of nuclear war would increase, what, fivefold? We don't know. Maybe it wouldn't be directed at "us"? But me, I'd feel pretty damn bad if it was directed at the most likely target, India. And I might well blame Assange.

When Osborne tries to steer the discussion back to "the symbiotic relationship between rock, journalism, and corporate America," Christgau slaps him down:

Why should I write about this thorny, endlessly complex subject at your behest when it comes up all the time in my criticism? I mean, did you even manage a glance at the pieces I suggested? You apparently don't know fuckall about my work which has addressed the issues you raise for more than 40 years, and if what you know about rock is based on VOA and Armed Forces Radio, you don't know fuckall about rock as it now exists either.

Some more comments of minor relevance, including one by Joe Levy on indie rock. I find this all rather depressing. I regard Christgau and Carson as friends and most often allies -- don't know Carson nearly as well as I know Christgau, but he's edited me and done me various favors. I doubt that there are many areas where we'd actually disagree, but they evidently have two genes that I lack: one is the willingness to compromise on nonviolence; the other is an excessive desire to identify with their government and political system. They are not in any sense enemies of peace, justice, or equality. But they are not being helpful in throwing out these silly, irrational attacks on Wikileaks -- a force which, regardless of whether it is optimal or even well-intentioned, is something we desperately need and should be very grateful for.

UPDATE: One more line I wanted to say something about -- actually one of the most important ones -- but somehow missed when I was assembling the outline above. From Christgau (part of his Obama point):

Obama always said he would pursue war in Afghanistan, and while I've hoped that he's step back in view of the intractable situation Bush left him with (which wouldn't have been intractable had Bush followed through there instead of fabricating the Iraq conflict), I'm not surprised or offended that he hasn't.

I don't care to get into whether Obama's Afghanistan decisions were excusable or tolerable or what not. What bothers me here is the suggestion that Afghanistan would have been solved successfully if only Bush hadn't diverted all those resources to Iraq. I maintain that both wars were doomed from the start to fail, and mostly due to the nature of the occupation -- the way the US armed forces think and act, and the way US foreign policy thinks and acts. That Iraq failed more quickly was mostly because Bush put more effort there. If you want an analogy, think of the World Trade Center. The second tower collapsed first, mostly because it had been struck off-center, the plane at an angle which directly impacted more floors, and a bit lower down so there was more dead weight on top. Nonetheless, the first tower fell eventually, and not because firefighters were distracted by the second. The first tower held up longer, but was subject to the same basic flaw.

The US had more options and chances in Afghanistan than in Iraq, but still made the worst of them. Karzai was recruited precisely because he was corrupt: we knew he'd be our man because he was already on the payroll, and had been for decades. Same for the warlords. Maybe if we had paid more attention to where the money was going; maybe if we better understood Pakistan's interest in the Taliban; maybe if we hadn't incidentally killed so many pure bystanders; maybe . . . well, none of these things could really be maybes because we are who we are, and at least when it comes to running an empire we're not aware and sensitive to things like that. Certainly Bush wasn't the ideal leader for the job, but how much better is Obama? He's still, as Rumsfeld put it, stuck with the army he's got, and the country he's got.

There have been a lot of lame excuses for the US failure in Afghanistan, but the one that Iraq diverted our attention at some critical point is the lamest of all.

Monday, January 24, 2011

More Pazz, Less Jop

Glenn McDonald: Pazz & Jop Stats: On Kanye West's Dominance, and What the Poll Would've Looked Like Without Him: I wrote a comment to this page. (Had a lot of trouble getting it through the user interface, and even wrote a complaint letter to Zach Baron on the subject.)

I look at the same Kanye-only data and see something quite different. If you sort it by raw votes instead of percentage, the top 10 looks almost exactly like the overall top 10: the only change is that Titus Andronicus bumps Black Keys; going down, Robyn snags 11th away from Deerhunter. Kanye-world is a bit more hip-hop oriented than the entire pool, but not enough to lift the Roots over Joanna Newsom. This suggests the percentages should be read the other way: anyone who would vote for Curren$y, Drake, or Rick Ross would at least consider Kanye, and that 80-90% also voted for Kanye isn't a big deal, much less a conspiracy. Where the percentages become interesting is with dissimilar records; e.g. that Taylor Swift and Jamey Johnson do better in Kanye-world than otherwise.

Also on Pazz & Jop:

Music Week

Music: Current count 17682 [17651] rated (+31), 837 [829] unrated (+8). Pazz and Jop poll results out. Spent a good deal of time wrapping up the metafile and freezing the 2010 year-end list. Had a tough time listening to jazz this week -- or more precisely, writing about it. Got a lot of mail on Tuesday after MLK day, not much the rest of the week.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 3)

Not a lot this week, as I had a lot of trouble focusing on writing. First three records came real close to the A- cusp, so I wound up having spent the better part of a day on each, only to demur in the end. Played Chaise Lounge four times too. Perhaps I was feeling the weight of having my 2010 year-end list close out with 122 A-list records -- enough to make me wonder if I haven't been too easy a grader.

In any case, I finally declared 2010 over and out. I froze a copy of my year-end list -- any later changes to the working file will be flagged in green. Most importantly, I still have 145 unrated records from 2010 to mop up, and there are always things I will belatedly catch up with during the next year -- my usual practice is to continue updating a year-end file until the end of the following year. (E.g., I won't be adding any new records to the 2009 file, although I notice now that I still have 17 unrated records in it -- a significant share of them Xmas records.)

The 2010 metafile and its oldies adjunct are also finished. I did manage to work in the Pazz & Jop data (and caught 6 or 7 cases where variant ballots caused short counts) and a few more lists I found late, so my final totals are slightly out of line compared to what I used in recent posts. The main thing that the metafile did was to help me identify new records of general interest; Rhapsody in turn let me listen to a great many of them. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the highly rated records turned out to be crap, but I found more than a few interesting things lurking deep on the list.

Will try to cut down the jazz backlog this coming week.

Jaruzelski's Dream: Jazz Gawronski (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Italian sax trio, with Piero Bittolo Bon on alto (and smartphone), Stefano Senni on bass, and Francesco Cusa on drums. Don't know where they came from, what they've done in the past, or why they're obsessed with all things Polish. I can begin to unravel such jokes as "Soulidarnosc" and "Mori Mari Curi" (the discoverer of radioactive elements like "Polonium" that killed her) but not "Swiatoslaw" or "Zibibboniek" or "Maria Goretti Contro Tutti." Presumably the group name honors (if that's the word) the last Communist dictator of Poland, Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski. Gawronski, however, appears to be an Italian politician, prominent in Berlusconi's Forza Italia, first name Jas, easy enough to play off. Gruff, garulous free sax, with enough beat to keep it steady. For a while I thought "Sei Forte Papa" was "New York, New York." I wouldn't put anything past them. B+(***)

Billy Fox's Blackbirds & Bullets: Dulces (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Percussionist, credited only with maracas here, has two previous albums, The Kaidan Suite and Uncle Wiggly Suite, and a couple of side credits -- e.g., worked with Bobby Sanabria. So how does a maracas player sustain interest? He recruits players I've barely (or never) heard of, spread out among two saxes, trumpet, keybs, a one-track violin guest, and gives them each a few minutes to stand up and out. Also does a superb job of working out horn charts for transition. B+(***)

Zed Trio: Lost Transitions (2009 [2010], Ayler): French trio, don't know much about them, but here goes: Heddy Boubaker (b. 1963, Marseille, father Tunisian), plays alto and bass sax, mostly free jazz but has also played in gnawa bands, name listed on a couple other albums; David Lataillade, electric guitar; and Frédéric Vaudaux, drums; no further discography. Choppy free improv, tends to get noisy, which I like to a point but they do push it. B+(***)

The Dymaxion Quartet: Sympathetic Vibrations (2010, self-released): Drummer Gabriel Gloege, student of Bob Brookmeyer and fan of Buckminster Fuller, wrote all nine pieces here, arranged as three sets of three labelled Hong Kong, Paris, and Manhattan. Dymaxion is Fuller's term, fused together from dynamic, maximum, and tension and used for all sorts of wild and wooly ideas. This one is a pianoless quartet: Michael Shobe's trumpet and Mark Small's tenor sax are the free horns, with Dan Fabricatore on bass. Seems more composed-through than maximally dynamic, a neat effect but maybe too neat. B+(**) [advance]

Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live (2006-08 [2010], Challenge): B. 1922 in Brussels, Belgium, played some guitar early on but distinguished himself on harmonica to the point that he has dominated Billboard's miscellaneous instrument category for ages now. His records start in 1955 and continue with few gaps -- only four in the last decade but mostly toward the end. Quartet with piano (Karel Boehlee), bass (Hein Van de Geyn), and drums (Hans van Oosterhout, so he carries almost every moment selected here from various unspecified concerts. Mostly venerable standards, ending with two originals he did much to turn into standards. His tone is as striking as ever, but that's about it. B+(*)

Chaise Lounge: Symphony Lounge (2010, Big Round): Charlie Barnett group: he plays guitar, sings a little, writes most of the songs. Lead singer is Marilyn Older, and the group includes Gary Gregg (sax, clarinet, flute), John Jensen (trombone), bass and drums, but gets stretched out this time with Capital City Symphony adding strings and who knows what else. Two covers -- "Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From Me" and "Luck Be a Lady" -- define the milieu as retro while Barnett's own songs fit in as period obscurities -- titles include "Dude, She's Waiting," "In Walked Mo," "Blue, the Distracted Reader," "Lonely Is as Lonely Does." B+(***)

Maxfield Gast Trio: Side by Side (2010, Militia Hill): Saxophonist, credits list soprano, alto and tenor here. First album he tried doing a hip-hop beat thing with EWI and it didn't work out so well. This time he's running a straight sax trio with Brian Howell on bass and Mike Pietrusko on drums, and turns in a very solid performance. B+(**)

The Pickpocket Ensemble: Memory (2010, self-released): San Francisco group, fourth album since 2003, plays "café music" -- "the inversion of folk," as leader Rick Corrigan (accordion, piano) puts it. Band includes violin (Marguerite Ostro), guitar/banjo (Yates Brown), bass (Kurt Ribak), and percussion (Michaelle Goerlitz), with Myra Joy on cello but evidently not in group. Hype sheet talks about them picking up elements from all over the globe, but nothing very clear emerges from the cosmopolitan mishmash. B

Jeremy Siskind: Simple Songs: For When the World Seems Strange (2010, Bju'ecords): Pianist, b. 1986 in California, based in New York; second album. Mostly piano trio, with Chris Lightcap on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Some songs add Jo Lawry singing. Piano often impressive, don't mind the vocals, but overall I'm not getting much traction, finding myself with little to say. B+(*)

Blue Cranes: Observatories (2009 [2010], Blue Cranes): Portland, OR group; second album since 2007. Two saxophones (Reid Wallsmith on alto, Sly Pig on tenor), keyboards (Rebecca Sanborn), bass and drums. The horns are mostly yoked together, slowed down and muscled up with a harmonic fuzz I don't much care for -- reminds me of rock opera more than anything else. Three cuts add strings, four guitar, the closer adds a "family percussion section" that concludes with a shout-out. B-

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Patti Austin: Sound Advice (Shanachie)
  • David Binney: Graylen Epicenter (Mythology)
  • Bones & Tones (Freedom Art)
  • Dollshot (Underwolf)
  • Peter Erskine/Bob Mintzer/Darek Oles/Alan Pasqua: Standards 2: Movie Music (Fuzzy Music)
  • Paolo Fresu: Mistico Mediterraneo (ECM): advance, Feb. 22
  • Alekos Galas: Mediterranean Breeze (Ehos -10)
  • GRASS on Fire: Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Plays Catch a Fire (Mightly Gowanus)
  • Yaron Herman Trio: Follow the White Rabbit (ACT): Feb. 15
  • Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade (Foxhaven): Mar. 22
  • Majid Khaliq: The Basilisk (self-released)
  • Brad Mehldau: Live in Marciac (Nonesuch, 2CD+DVD): advance, Feb. 22
  • Sandra: Gypsy in a Tree (Barbes)
  • Todd Snider: Live: The Storyteller (Thirty Tigers/Aimless, 2CD)
  • Melvin Vines: Harlem Jazz Machine (Movi)
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: To Hear From There (Patois)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Juan Cole: Olbermann Departs, as Media Consolidate Further: I rarely saw, and never particularly enjoyed, Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show, but it was one of major media's few nods toward fairness and political balance. Major US media companies have always been owned by big and decidedly conservative corporations, but they used to enjoy some independence based on standards of objective journalism and the public expectations of fairness and balance. Eliminating the FCC's Fairness Doctrine was probably the most far-reaching act of Reagan's presidency. Sure, it didn't directly tilt the playing field, but it removed one of the main inhibitions against the big corporate owners using their media resources to propagandize their interests.

    It seems Olbermann is too extreme for US television. But Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, now they are mainstream. What universe could that proposition be true in? That of cranky old white billionaires. And television news is owned by them. Not by you.

    Whether Comcast is the villain of the piece directly, things like the Comcast merger with MSNBC are responsible for there being very few voices on American television (and despite the proliferation of channels) like Olbermann's. And for there being relatively little news on the "news" programs. Time Warner, General Electric and Comcast (partners in NBC), Viacom, Disney, and Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp own almost all television news. In other words, six big corporations determine what you will hear about the world if you get your news from television. There are fewer and fewer t.v. news outlets that do not belong to one of these six, a process called media consolidation. [ . . . ]

    We'll miss Keith. But it isn't about him. It is about the ever-narrowing character of public comment in the US, about the few having most of everything. It is about media consolidation.

    I would have said media monopolization rather than consolidation. The usual idea behind a monopoly is to eliminate competition so as to fix prices and exact exorbitant rents, but when your product is information, knowing you have no real competition gives corporations an irresistible temptation to block out uncomfortable viewpoints. Of course, this isn't new. The left has been choked out of public discourse ever since the Cold War started by the alliance of conservative and liberal elites that have backed every US war from Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan. Decades of such narrowing media control has resulted in Americans being notoriously, staggeringly ill-informed and ignorant about the world around them. The media has become such a closed system that it's difficult to imagine any way to break out of it.

  • Tom Engelhardt: In the Crosshairs (Tucson-Kabul): Needless to say, you don't have to go to Tucson to get show by a deranged American, although if you want some publicity odds are better there than in Afghanistan. Of course, you're much more likely to get shot by Americans in Afghanistan, deranged or certifiably sane. It's just that nobody reports on shit like that.

    Here's a question: Why don't the dead of our foreign wars register on us, particularly the civilians killed in numbers that, if attributed to our enemies or past imperial armies, would be seen as the acts of barbarians? After all, when a Taliban suicide bomber kills 17 Afghans and wounds 23 in a bathhouse, including a senior police border-control officer, we know just what to think. It wouldn't matter if those who sent the bomber claimed that he had made a "mistake" in targeting, or if they declared the other deaths regrettable "collateral damage." When we attack with similar results, we hardly think about it at all.

    That's a point, but not the one that nags me about Tucson (or Afghanistan). The one I'm thinking of is the psychology that thinks all we have to do to "win" (or "succeed" or "prevail" or just get our way) is to kill the ones we deem bad guys. The problem there is that everyone, everywhere has a list of bad guys -- I know I sure do. That we don't all go out to kill them is a matter of social and moral conditioning. What the US military and CIA and their presumed citizen-politician masters have done is to give themselves license to suspend that conditioning and those morals, opening up a vast free kill zone -- a zone where Americans are free to kill all the bad guys they can find, and where they won't be penalized for killing a few not-so-bad guys or even good guys (even their own fellow troops) along the way. And -- this is the key point -- the decision to do that is official policy, by a consensus that includes at least the last three presidents and virtually every defense/intelligence official under them. (At least I haven't seen many resigning in protest.) Engelhardt gives us lots of examples of people the US killed "by mistake" in Afghanistan -- that's an important point in that it reminds us of the moral futility of war, and how far we have strayed from the morals we think we live by in the US, but he misses the critical point: that we've chosen to go out and kill bad guys. The psychology that lets us become murderers while reinforcing our righteousness is something that is impossible to contain. It leaks out and comes home, as we've seen time and again.

    In this regard, also see Stephan Salisbury: The Right Wing of Killing.

  • Paul Krugman: Health Care Basics: Nice, clean, clear explanation of the 2010 health care reform act, tactfully called "Obamacare/Romneycare," emphasizing its bipartisan, centrist roots. Points up that coverage is up to 98% under basically the same law in Massachusetts, where it was implemented under then-governor Romney.

    It's a bit of a Rube Goldberg device, a sort of indirect way of simulating single-payer. But it's better than leaving tens of millions of Americans uninsured -- and it also establishes the principle of universal coverage, which one can hope will lead to a better system over time. In particular, there may yet be a chance -- not soon, but eventually -- to reintroduce a public option, allowing people to bypass private insurers, and potentially leading in the long run to a simpler system.

    Is it affordable? Again, we already have government insurance for the most expensive clients, the elderly. Extending coverage to younger people requires some subsidies, but not on a scale that should prove especially difficult to pay for -- and Obamacare does, in fact, pay for the expansion of coverage.

    So that's what we have: a workable if imperfect universal health care system, if we can keep it.

    The political problem with the Obama/Romney sysem is that it represents a failure of imagination -- the only excuse for the "Rube Goldberg device" is the perceived political need to compromise with business interests that are clearly robbing the nation blind -- and that it conceded so much to those interests that it doesn't buy us nearly enough either in terms of containing costs or in terms of providing better health care going forward.

  • Andrew Leonard: Why Is the U.S. So Awful at Job Creation?: Starts off with an aside on American Exceptionalism, pointing out that some of the ways we're so exceptional are on the negative side:

    More than any other advanced industrial rich nation, we have really, really sucked at creating jobs since the recovery from the Great Recession began.

    Worthwhile Canadian Initiative has the charts. In comparison with other members of the G-7 -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S. -- the United States has demonstrated remarkably good GDP growth since the beginning of 2009, second only to Canada's. But we're last, by a mile, in terms of new job creation over the same period. [ . . . ]

    But none of these explanations gives a satisfying answer to the exceptionality question. Globalization and technological progress affect everyone, and presumably, there are crappy workers everywhere. We must look elsewhere for the difference that makes the U.S. special.

    How about this? In comparison to the rest of the G-7, the U.S. boast higher levels of income inequality, does a poorer job of educating its workforce, enjoys the double jeopardy of weaker labor unions and a sketchier social welfare net, and, at the government policy level, appears relatively more influenced by the financial sector than by Main Street.

    Add those all up, and it's pretty simple to understand why the U.S. has performed so badly at job creation while the economic recovery has gathered steam. There are massive forces working against labor in the developed world in the 21st century -- and the U.S. is exceptionally unprepared to deal with them.

    This reminds me of a pet peeve: given how little retail checkout workers are paid, how expensive self-checkout system are, and how much more efficient (at least if you consider the customer's time as having any value) the people are over the machines, why are we seeing so many self-checkout systems installed? When labor is expensive, business invests capital to make that labor more productive -- and when unions are strong a healthy chunk of that productivity is returned to the workers, providing mutual benefits. But these checkout systems don't increase productivity; at best they shift it from labor to capital, and as such they weaken labor even further. And another reason they are affordable -- deemed good investments to business -- is that our tax policy has been skewed to accelerate capital expense write-offs, so they can tax-shelter their profits. I used to think that quick capital write-offs were a reasonable deal because they would result in more productive capability sooner. But right now we have way more productive capability than we can use, so nobody's investing capital for that. Instead, they're using readily available capital -- cheaper than ever because we foolishly think the way to solve a recession is to shove money at businesses -- deliberately so they can lay people off, and further suppress the wages of everyone else.

  • Alex Pareene: America's Most Persecuted Minority Group: Republicans:

    28 years later, it's hard to imagine even a deeply Republican Congress opposing a holiday dedicated to Dr. King -- in part because some contemporary conservatives like to pretend the civil rights activist was or would be a Republican, but mostly because conservatives have spent years pretending to be a persecuted minority group.

    That's why something like Sarah Palin claiming to be a victim of "blood libel" doesn't raise an eyebrow among the true believers. It's the myth that keeps the checks rolling in for most right-wingers. The liberals are all-powerful and they oppress us. [ . . . ]

    The longtime opponents of what they mockingly termed "the culture of victimhood" now revel in every perceived slight. Republicans accused of unethical behavior make great martyrs.

    And all this time I kept hearing that the most persecuted people in America are . . . Christians.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pazz & Jop Notes

The Pazz & Jop Critics Poll results are out in the Village Voice this week. Start here and work your way around. If you're more than passingly curious about the numbers (and/or the critics) also look at Glenn McDonald's Needlebase website here. The poll aggregates top-ten albums and singles charts from 708 critics. The thing started in 1974 with two dozen critics, gradually expanded to 207 critics in 1983, was still at 212 in 1989, shot up to 300 in 1991, trailed back to 236 in 1996, exploded to 496 in 1998, 586 in 2000, 622 in 2001, 695 in 2002, to a peak of 795 in 2005. In 2006, Robert Christgau was sacked at the Voice, a short-lived rival poll was organized, and the participation dropped to 494. (Most of the history has been captured here, although there are still some gaps and the post-Christgau poll data isn't up to date.)

I'm mostly concerned with the album totals, because I mostly focus on albums -- and, well, find the singles arena to be much more erratic and inconsistent. Singles get fewer voters, there are more singles to vote for, so the result should be more scattered -- not that I've done the work to check this -- and if it's not, does that actually prove anything of interest? But I also have another reason for focusing on albums: I want to see how they stack up against my metafile -- a count I've been running of how many times albums show up in various top-N lists. I got a little carried away this year and toted up about 1200 such lists -- a lot of work, the main effect being that I have gained a pretty broad idea about what lots of people think about this year's albums.

One use for the metafile was to make predictions about how the P&J voters would wind up voting. I didn't specifically design it to do so: had I done so I would have needed to typify and qualify the listmakers to get something more representative of P&J voters (e.g., I could have safely ignored lists from Europe and South Korea, which I didn't do); also I would have needed to work in some form of weighting -- I counted number 100 on a list the same as number 1. I didn't do this for several reasons: simple counts cut down on my workload, and more lists helped rope in more records (I wound up with 4900), especially obscure genres of personal interest. Ultimately it matters very little to me who beat out whom, but I did want to get a sense of what I had missed but looked interesting, and I had at least some curiosity about what other people were thinking. My method worked reasonably well for those intents.

As for predicting P&J, I had been pretty convinced that I had identified the top 10-12 records, possibly more, but orders that had seemed pretty stable as I accumulated my data jumped around quite a bit: for instance, the National's High Violet, rock solid in my data at number 3, dropped to 8th place; Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid, my number 8 by a tiny margin, jumped to 4th; and while I knew the slim margin that Arcade Fire's The Suburbs was able to maintain over Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy wouldn't carry over, I was surprised by West's margins: +121 mentions (266 to 145) and over twice the points. Nonetheless, in one discussion group that followed, Cam Patterson noted:

Ho hum to the critics. Tom Hull nailed the first 11 in his Metacritics file. Rock writing is now entering the Bill James era.

My number 11, Sleigh Bells' Treats, had jumped up to 9th; my number 6, dropped down to 11th. But while the order was severely perturbed, my top 11 were the poll's same top 11. What happened below that was more unruly. My number 12 (Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz) dropped to 37th, with number 13 (Gorillaz' Plastic Beach) down in 30th. The poll, instead, sloted 12th and 13th Titus Andronicus' The Monitor (my number 20) and Robyn's Body Talk (my number 23) before bouncing back into alignment -- Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's Before Today took two of the next three slots on both polls.

So, that's not so bad, and the same pattern of general correlation with fluke bursts one way or the other carries on until the sample size disintegrates into randomness. But what do these jumps one way of the other tell us? I tried comparing them and played around with various formulas until I got something that seemed reasonably clear. The comparison formula, where P is P&J points and M is metafile count:

sqrt(P + 20) / sqrt(M + 20)

So basically a log ratio, which has been feathered a bit to reduce the extreme ratios that you get when M (especially) or P drop real small. Even so, I'll give you tables in each direction, plus a second level of gainers. In the discussion I'll refer to the P&J voters as the pros and the metafile listers as the masses -- a simplification, no doubt, not just because at least 50% of the pros were also counted among the masses.

1. P&J Gainers (top 60 positions, minimum 180 points):

  1. 2.133 Taylor Swift: Speak Now (Big Machine) {64, 362}
  2. 2.094 Superchunk: Majesty Shredding (Merge) {113, 563}
  3. 2.074 Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song (Mercury Nashville) {93, 466}
  4. 2.073 Agalloch: Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore) {37, 225}
  5. 2.046 Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Island Def Jam) {761, 3250}
  6. 1.927 Tracey Thorn: Love and Its Opposite (Merge) {39, 199}
  7. 1.926 Das Racist: Sit Down, Man (mixtape) {66, 299}
  8. 1.878 Rick Ross: Teflon Don (Def Jam) {67, 287}
  9. 1.792 Robyn: Body Talk (Cherrytree/Interscope) {225, 767}
  10. 1.784 Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy) {441, 1448}
  11. 1.765 Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (XL) {260, 852}
  12. 1.756 Grinderman: Grinderman 2 (Epitaph) {194, 640}
  13. 1.754 The-Dream: Love King (Def Jam) {83, 297}
  14. 1.699 Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam) {391, 1166}
  15. 1.695 Drake: Thank Me Later (Cash Money/Universal) {122, 388}
  16. 1.694 MIA: Maya (XL/Interscope) {94, 307}
  17. 1.678 Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL) {447, 1295}
  18. 1.656 LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (DFA) {583, 1634}
  19. 1.655 Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of Ankh (Universal Motown) {130, 391}
  20. 1.633 Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (Young God) {112, 332}
  21. 1.623 Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone (Anti-) {81, 246}

A couple of hypotheses jump out here. One is that the pros include more black (and/or rap) music in their lists (9 of 21 not counting MIA or Robyn, versus 0 of 28 in the following chart; Nicki Minaj did the poorest, just under 1.0). You also have two country albums that crossed over -- one mark of a pro is an interest range able to encompass both r&b and country, something the masses seem to have trouble with. You have a couple of niche items (Agalloch, Swans, Grinderman?) that may have gained from weighting -- I doubt that Agalloch got any non-metal support, although the others did. And that leaves a couple of alt-rock bands. Especially with Vampire Weekend, I'm thinking this shows is that the pros prefer better records.

On the other hand, the following chart shows what did well in metafile but fell off with P&J:

2. P&J Losers (top 106 metafile places, minimum 70 count):

  1. 0.593 Avi Buffalo: Avi Buffalo (Sub Pop) {108, 25}
  2. 0.603 Villagers: Becoming a Jackal (Domino) {90, 20}
  3. 0.663 Foals: Total Life Forever (Sub Pop) {187, 71}
  4. 0.681 Of Montreal: False Priest (Polyvinyl) {77, 25}
  5. 0.690 Gold Panda: Lucky Shiner (Ghostly International) {85, 30}
  6. 0.698 These New Puritans: Hidden (Domino) {136, 56}
  7. 0.707 Mount Kimbie: Crooks & Lovers (Hotflush) {104, 42}
  8. 0.711 Two Door Cinema Club: Tourist History (Kitsune) {79, 30}
  9. 0.718 Local Natives: Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss) {176, 81}
  10. 0.723 The Morning Benders: Big Echo (Rough Trade) {114, 50}
  11. 0.794 The Besnard Lakes: The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar) {91, 50}
  12. 0.808 Wolf Parade: Expo 86 (Sub Pop) {95, 55}
  13. 0.810 Perfume Genius: Learning (Matador) {73, 41}
  14. 0.850 Wavves: King of the Beach (Fat Possum) {157, 108}
  15. 0.860 She & Him: Volume Two (Merge) {80, 54}
  16. 0.866 Menomena: Mines (Barsuk) {124, 88}
  17. 0.868 Kings of Leon: Come Around Sundown (RCA) {73, 50}
  18. 0.883 Baths: Cerulean (Anticon) {75, 54}
  19. 0.887 Warpaint: The Fool (Rough Trade) {158, 120}
  20. 0.904 Twin Shadow: Forget (Terrible) {160, 127}
  21. 0.906 Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts) {192, 154}
  22. 0.909 Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles [II] (Fiction/Last Gang/Universal Motown) {181, 146}
  23. 0.913 Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty) {339, 279}
  24. 0.917 Yeasayer: Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian) {280, 232}
  25. 0.928 The Soft Pack: The Soft Pack (Kemado) {74, 61}
  26. 0.939 Delorean: Subiza (True Panther Sounds) {73, 62}
  27. 0.939 Toro y Moi: Causers of This (Carpark) {81, 69}
  28. 0.949 The Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards (Third Man) {100, 88}

Note first that this data doesn't center on 1.0: the median is pretty close to 1.150, which is about what Four Tet's There Is Love in You and Hot Chip's One Life Stand did. I think there are two things going on here (aside from the matter that most of these records aren't all that good): one is that we're hitting a few critical pools which are lightly represented in P&J, especially electronica (Gold Panda, Mount Kimbie, Baths, Delorean) which is both well represented on the web and is is something I was personally looking for; the other is that there is a lot of nerdy and/or mediocre alt-rock here, and that seems to be the prime demographic for non-pro bloggers. Sufjan Stevens dropped from 12 to 37, Yeasayer from 17 to 45, Tallest Man on Earth from 24 to 40, Walkmen from 25 to 51, Tame Impala from 28 to 59, Jonsi from 29 to 49, Broken Social Scene from 31 to 74, Foals from 32 to 170, Crystal Castles from 35 to 77, Local Natives from 36 to 148, Twin Shadow from 39 to 91, Warpaint from 40 to 101, Wavves from 42 to 107, These New Puritans from 48 to 212 -- a couple of those aren't on the chart but they headed that way. As for quality, I only had one of those above my bottom rung decent B+(*) -- Crystal Castles.

Only other thing to note is that Foals had very UK-centric support, which fell outside of the P&J voter set. Villagers was even more narrowly Irish. Don't know about Avi Buffalo -- one of the few records here I haven't heard -- but it dived from 65 to 441, just 3 P&J voters.

I'll add a second table of P&J gainers from the lower rungs. Same basic idea/dynamics, although the selection is a lot more eclectic.

3. P&J Gainers (top 61-200 finishers, 60-180 points):

  1. 2.536 Javiera Mena: Mena (Jabalina) {10, 173}
  2. 2.219 Waka Flocka Flame: Flockaveli (Asylum/Warner Bros) {19, 172}
  3. 2.214 Roc Marciano: Marcberg (Fat Beats) {20, 176}
  4. 2.138 Kesha: Animal (Jive) {22, 172}
  5. 2.136 Sun City Girls: Funeral Mariachi (Abduction) {21, 167}
  6. 2.014 Zs: New Slaves (The Social Registry) {16, 126}
  7. 1.911 Nellie McKay: Home Sweet Mobile Home (Verve) {3, 64}
  8. 1.886 Rita Indiana y Los Misterios: El Juidero (Sony Music) {7, 76}
  9. 1.871 Ludicra: The Tenant (Profound Lore) {10, 85}
  10. 1.856 Carolina Chocolate Drops: Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch) {25, 135}
  11. 1.846 R Kelly: Love Letter (Jive) {12, 89}
  12. 1.833 E-40: Revenue Retrievin': Day Shift (Heavy on the Grind/Jive) {5, 64}
  13. 1.828 The Mynabirds: What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood (Saddle Creek) {18, 107}
  14. 1.787 Rangda: False Flag (Drag City) {11, 79}
  15. 1.780 Against Me!: White Crosses (Sire) {40, 170}
  16. 1.774 Infinite Body: Carve Out the Face of My God (Post Present Medium) {7, 65}
  17. 1.732 Diddy Dirty Money: Last Train to Paris (Bad Boy) {13, 79}
  18. 1.722 Tom Zé: Estudando a Bossa: Nordeste Plaza (Luaka Bop) {9, 66}
  19. 1.722 David Byrne/Fatboy Slim: Here Lies Love (Nonesuch) {9, 66}
  20. 1.719 The Sights: Most of What Follows Is True (Alive) {2, 45}
  21. 1.718 Patty Griffin: Downtown Church (EMI/Credential) {22, 104}
  22. 1.697 Dirty Projectors/Bjork: Mount Wittenberg Orca (Domino (EP)) {13, 75}
  23. 1.692 The Posies: Blood/Candy (Rykodisc) {9, 63}
  24. 1.690 Elizabeth Cook: Welder (Thirty One Tigers) {36, 140}
  25. 1.681 Bettye Lavette: Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti-) {20, 93}
  26. 1.666 Little Women: Throat (AUM Fidelity) {11, 66}
  27. 1.660 Earl Sweatshirt: EARL (OFWGKTA) {17, 82}
  28. 1.631 Dessa: A Badly Broken Code (Doomtree) {24, 97}
  29. 1.603 Enslaved: Axioma Ethica Odini (Nuclear Blast) {24, 93}
  30. 1.601 Jazmine Sullivan: Love Me Back (RCA) {19, 80}

Symmetry aside, I don't think a fourth chart of obscure losers would do much good. For one thing, a lot of jazz records pop up, mostly because I skewed the metafile to pick up about 150 jazz lists but hardly any jazz critics are invited to P&J. Also, although lots of records here leave much to be desired, there are some that I like -- LoneLady, Lower Dens, El Guincho -- what you might call cult obscurities. One thing that happens in this quadrant is that you're throwing away list depth going from the metafile -- where some list more than 100 albums -- to the straightjacket of a top-ten. It becomes increasingly random, then, which records go up or down.

When Chuck Eddy was editing the Voice music section, I used to get to look at the Pazz & Jop totals early. I had complained about massive amounts of errors in the past, and over the 2-3 years I checked them over we managed to significantly knock the error rate down. Since then, Glenn McDonald has moved into that slot. (Even before I started, McDonald was adept at snarfing up the website data and playing around with it.) He has some interesting tools to work with -- a lot more sophisticated than my hardcore Unix hacker toolbox, so all the data is now available in a second form, with extra analysis. For instance, my ballot is here. You can tell a few more things from this page than from the my Voice page. You can, for instance, tell that I voted for three albums and five singles that no one else voted for. You can tell that of all the voters, the one whose ballot was most similar to mine was -- quel surprise -- Michael Tatum, followed by Dan Weiss, Theon Weber, and Amy Linden. I'm not familiar with the last two, but following some links I see that Weber had two of my albums (Robyn and Big Boi, big deal) and two of my singles (Swift and Anderson) and was himself much closer to Weiss (0.373) than to me (0.139). I'll also note that I like nearly everything that Weber likes (Weiss too, of course), so the small degree of similarity at the top has deeper roots. As for Linden, we also shared two albums (Big Boi and Bruno Mars) and one single (West), and maybe it counts that she went for a VV Brown single where I went for the album. My 0.195 empathy to Tatum isn't especially high as these things go: we only shared two albums (Roots and Robyn, not that uncommon) and two singles (West and Belle and Sebastian), although we also had album/single splits on Liz Phair and Bruno Mars.

Tatum in turn was most similar to Robert Christgau (five common albums including rarities Rachid Taha and Tom Zé, and two singles). That happened to me last year, but this year we had one common album (Roots, along with 48 other voters). Deeper lists would help sort similarities out. The great thing about the Voice's website is that you can chase connective strings all around for hours, checking who voted for an album you're interested in, then what else they voted for. (McDonald's site doesn't navigate as well.) But that's as far as the website goes. I can imagine interesting queries based on grouping (including or excluding) sets of voters, but mostly what I'm interested in doing is improving the odds of finding something interesting.

McDonald's main curiosity seems to be eccentricity. He calculates something he calls centricity for each voter, then sorts those numbers into a centricity rank. The ballot of a perfect centrist has all of the top ten finishers, possibly in order -- such a person is as much like everyone else as can be. The opposite votes for 10 records not on anyone else's ballot. I'm usually far away from the center, but not an extremist. That's largely because I vote for 4-6 jazz records per year. This year three of four were on my ballot alone, the other on two other ballots as well. VV Brown and Bruno Mars also totalled three ballots, Dessa eight. On the other hand, I also voted for three albums that had broad support -- Big Boi, Robyn, and the Roots (121, 74, and 50 votes respectively) -- so I'm not a diehard obscurantist. My score is 0.201, rank 449 (again, 708 voters, so that's 63 percentile, or 37 depending on your angle). Christgau was more centist, and Tatum more centrist than that, although a lot of the difference can be chalked up to voting for Kanye West. The most centrist of all was Julia Simon, 0.949. She voted for eight of the top ten, going long on Deerhunter (11) and Grinderman (15) in lieu of Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells. She may have her finger on the Zeitgeist, or she may just be a hack.

McDonald also provides a measure called Metalism, for how focused (or obsessed) a given critic is on metal. His score is 1. Mine is 0. With Bruno Mars and VV Brown I was hoping for a negative number this year, but I guess that's not possible. Similar scales could be provided for other genres, but then you have to sort out the records by genre, and that's no easy task. You do get a hint of this looking at the "A World With Only Kanye" and "A World Without Kanye" charts. I wouldn't have predicted Pantha du Prince to top the latter, but I'm not surprised to see Agalloch, Roky Erickson, Justin Townes Earle, Swans, Walkmen, and Jónsi high on the list. The Kanye-only set gives you an all-rap top-5 (sorted by percent of votes, not totals), then adds Titus Andronicus, Eminem, Das Racist, MIA, and Girl Talk. But a raw vote sort would look a lot like the overall poll: LCD Soundsystem (86), Arcade Fire (78), Janelle Monáe (77), Big Boi (74), Vampire Weekend (63), Beach House (52), Titus Andronicus (51), Sleigh Bells (47), the National (45), Robyn (44); the Roots correlated well (11th) but only managed to tie Joanna Newsom (30). Also note that both Taylor Swift and Jamey Johnson got more than half of their votes from Kanye-voters. Pace McDonald's snark in the intro ("If you cherish any pan-cultural delusions that people don't tend to vote along genre lines, don't scrutinize this list") the Kanye-only world strikes me as much more open-minded than the Kanye-less one.

Scanning hundreds and hundreds of year-end lists, I'm still struck by how many of those lists are white-artists-only, often going 30-40 deep. The opposite scarcely exists: the main reason West was unable to catch up with Arcade Fire in my metafile is that most of West's fans also listed Arcade Fire. That it stayed close was mostly due to forced short lists where weighting had more impact, like when I would tally two or three dozen top-10 ballots at a publication. Indeed, West's best day was when I counted a site that polled 100 people for 1 album each. (By the way, the black artist most likely to show up on an otherwise all-white list was Janelle Monáe, by a pretty big margin.)

I could natter on and on about this, but my back is killing me, I have a fairly ambitious dinner to produce, and I gotta stop somewhere. Same with the metafile. I started to note the Pazz and Jop votes (not to count them) and gave out down around number 1000 (of 1844, already in the middle of the 10-point cluster), and I doubt that I'll return. (Still need to sort the file before updating, so the current link isn't fully up-to-date.)

Patterson's line about the "Bill James era" is still premature, and may never come to pass: we don't actually have the data to sort out, and the domain is way too unruly. Relatively simple things like trying to figure out if there's a correlation between votes and sales elude us. We need to know more about who's ranking these lists. Top-ten lists aren't deep enough, and nobody (well, except me) gives you lists that make it clear what one has or has not listened to. And we need better ways to collect and manage the data: I saw a lot of stuff that I didn't collect because I didn't have any easy way to manage it. If I really wanted to pursue this I can think of a lot of things I'd do differently next year. I'm not sure that I do, or even that it'd be worthwhile -- at best it's just one of those intriguing puzzles. But yeah, it is something that could be done more scientifically, and doing so would make the world a bit more comprehensible. So who knows?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marching Lockstep Into Decrepitude

I know we've been hearing about this happening for the last couple of weeks, and nothing is more inevitable than the entire House Republican caucus voting in lockstep with their one homogenized mind, but still I felt shock when they passed their health care reform repeal. How can anyone be so ignorant as to think that returning to to the status quo ante solves our health care problems? Or even crazier, that there were no problems pre-Obama? There are lots of problems with the Obama reforms, but none will be solved by repealing the law. Indeed, the need to spend political capital to defend the law makes it all the more difficult to fix the real problems that remain.

The saving grace, of course, is that with a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic president, actual repeal has no chance: it is basically a symbolic gesture, a way of reminding us of the Republican commitment to letting the health care system run as a racket. Indeed, the main point of the Republicans' anti-regulation, pro-business agenda looks to be the elimination of all constraints on corporation efforts to rip consumers and workers off. This rarely happens more explicitly than in their fight against consumer protections against the finance industry, although you see it in everything they do, from loosening up pollution restrictions to protecting corporations from being sued for their malfeasances to letting every profit-seeking company in the health care industry shake you down in any way they can imagine.

Living under Republican power -- and I remind you I live in Kansas -- is a lot like trying to navigate through a squalid neighborhood ruled by gangs. Once they bought the idea that greed makes the world go round, indeed that it makes anything and everything all right, they concluded that the sole purpose of government was as a patronage racket -- reward one's friends, and render everyone else powerless so the no one can stand up to the plunder.

That may seem like an extreme charge, but it's hard to find any more benign explanations. Sometimes they cloak their agenda in platitudes, but often they just let it all hang out. If they ever manage to do what they say they want to do, that will be the end of anything approaching affluence in America, indeed the end of civil society.

This at least is something the Democrats can rally around, like a few other Republican targets (like Social Security). Still, a better offense would help the defense. The main thing that's happened since health care reform passed here in Wichita is that one of the largest physician groups, Wichita Clinic, has sold out to Wichita's largest hospital business, Via Christi, while Gallichia Hospital -- the most reputable of the physician-owned hospitals -- has sold out to HCA, which runs Wichita's other major hospital, Wesley. This concentration gives the big hospitals more political muscle and less competition. The sellers, of course, make more money than they could make running their own businesses because the buyers know they can make even more running their monopolies. And the money comes cheap to the buyers because the government is holding interest rates down, allegedly to stimulate the economy and create new jobs. And that they're failing should be no surprise: concentration invariably eliminates jobs as well as driving up costs for everyone, undermining competitiveness and costing more jobs.

One thing Obama could do to fight back is to fight the mergers and acquisitions that are concentrating corporate power -- there are, you know, already laws on the books against that sort of thing, even if they've rarely been enforced since Reagan. Another thing would be to start the campaign for extending health care reform beyond 2012 -- to get a public option to ensure competitiveness, to finally take on the drug companies, and some more easy targets. He needs, after all, to rally voter turnout for 2012, so it's time to start promising something more than stale compromises.

A couple related links:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pity the Poor Apparatchik Shunned

Josh Marshall: Et Tu, Priebe?:

Michael Steele says he knows "exactly how Caesar felt" after his former deputy and now successor's betrayal.

Exactly? Caesar was dead after Brutus et al. turned on him, stabbed to death on the Senate floor. This illustrates at least three common traits of right-wing pundits: no grasp of reality, let alone history; a penchant for gross melodramatic inflation of metaphors; and so much self-absorption that they readily conflate their own personal problems with matters of world import. This is another case of Clarence Thomas's "high-tech lynching." Just another case of the privileged whining.

The end of Steele's RNC term was inevitable. He got his job because someone in the Republican brain trust decided that putting a black face up front would give the Republicans cover as they fought back against Obama. Now that they have a House Speaker, more elected officials, and presidential canidates campaigning, it makes perfect sense they'd like to dial down the visibility of the RNC chair, and what better camouflage than to pick a white guy nobody's heard of? The Republican Party is a powerful machine, aware that it's best to keep the machinations out of sight. Steele's been a useful idiot, but the stakes are getting serious, and they hardly need such a conspicuous fool.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Music Week (Times Two)

Music: Current count 17651 [17543] rated (+108), 829 [854] unrated (-25). Missed my tally last week when the laptop was hosed and my data was buried under a lot of file system rubble, so this covers two weeks. Not that I haven't been working hard, but even that doesn't explain the huge bump in the rated count. A reader wrote in and pointed out what looked like a discrepancy in my unrated file. It was merely a quirk, but I found two disturbing things there. One was a bug, which moved albums from artist names to various artists based on certain formatting errors in the input data -- the short-term fix there was to fix the input data. The other was that I noticed a few albums I was sure that I had rated, so I scanned through the list and looked up as many as I could -- didn't keep count but 30 is a likely number. I doubt that I got them all, but probably got most of them, so that's a one-time windfall.

Changed previous grades:

  • Eminem: Recovery (2010, Interscope): Bought a deep sale copy, recognizing that Tatum and Christgau both think highly of this, and also that Eminem has been consistently impressive on other people's records. This may not be the ceiling either, not that I don't still have doubts. [was: B+(*)] B+(***)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 2)

OK, this is actually three weeks of Jazz Prospecting. The first one was short, although I did a lot of the Rhapsody section then. The second was spoiled by my laptop crash just before I was due to post last Monday. I've recovered that material now, most of what's here. Then there's a third week.

Tribecastan: 5 Star Cave (2009 [2010], Evergreene Music): New York group -- that much shouldn't be hard to figure out -- with pretensions to exotica rooted in the real world today, very much including Afghanistan but not limited by it, as opposed to Esquivel-ish fantasies of Polynesian fleshpots. Principals are John Kurth and Jeff Greene, each with a dozen or more obscure instruments, most with strings, some flute-like or percussive. Group is rounded out with Todd Isler on more percussion and Mike Duclos because music always sounds better with a bassist on hand, and sprinkled with a dozen "special guests" -- the sort of people easy to find in New York (some names I recognize: Steve Turre, Charlie Burnham, Al Kooper, Badal Roy). Samantha Parton sings one song, a cool breeze with words by A.P. Carter. Everything is very mild and painless; I guess not like the real Afghanistan. B+(**)

Afrocubism (2010, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Cuba was the only new world post where slaveholders didn't try hard to strip the roots of their chattels, so the island developed as a microcosm of the mother continent, with well-defined religious and musical tribes mapping straight to Senegal, Nigeria, and Congo, permitting hybridized African music to flow back into Africa itself. But Africa is a big and diverse continent, and Mali was isolated, much of its land parched, its music simpler and more ethereal, which oddly enough has lately turned Mali's musicians -- especially kora master Toumani Diabaté into the continent's most prolific musical diplomats. This is their record, aided by a few Cubans like Eliades Ochoa, primed with Benny Moré and Nico Saquito songs, with a sweet but slight "Guantanamera" to ice the cake. B+(***)

Suresh Singaratnam: Lost in New York (2009 [2010], Suresong): Trumpet player, born in Zambia, moved to UK then Toronto then New York, studying at Manhattan School of Music. Has some classical music on his resume. First jazz album, fairly dense and fancy postbop with Jake Saslow on tenor sax, Jesse Lewis on guitar, piano, bass, drums, plus a guest vocal I could do without. Lewis has the key support role; trumpet is bright and bold. B+(**)

Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (2010, Archival): AMG lists two albums, but they're by different pairs of Mason Brothers: the other one has James Mason and Christian Mason playing guitar, presumably something country-rock. This one has Brad Mason on trumpet and flugelhorn, Elliot Mason on trombone and bass trumpet, playing mainstream postbop. From England, b. 1973 (Brad) and 1977 (Elliot), both studied at Berklee; Brad has more session work going back to 2004; Elliot holds down a chair in JLCO. Wynton Marsalis wrote the liner notes. The band shows how well connected they are: Chris Potter (sax), Joe Locke (vibes), David Kikoski (piano), Tim Miller (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums). Don't have (or can't read) track breakdowns, but you'd think that if Potter, to say the least, had played through I'd have noticed him. Did hear a lot of trombone, tight, snug between the lines. B+(*)

Clayton Brothers: The New Song and Dance (2010, ArtistShare): Bassist John Clayton and reedist Jeff Clayton (alto sax and alto flute this time) are the brothers. They got their start in the Basie Orchestra, then formed the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with drummer Jeff Hamilton -- the group Diana Krall tapped when she wanted a big band like Sinatra used to use. The quintet includes a third Clayton, John's son Gerald on piano, plus Obed Calvaire on drums and Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn. Despite the small group size, they know how to make a splash. It's usually Stafford up front, of course, but the band swings at unit force, and the sax is much more than a foil for the trumpet. B+(**)

Harold O'Neal: Wirling Mantis (2008 [2010], Smalls): Pianist, b. 1981 in Tanzania, raised in Kansas City -- father and uncle were leaders in Black Panther Party in KC; uncle remains "in exile" in Tanzania. Studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music. First album, quartet, with Jaleel Shaw on alto sax, Joe Sanders on bass, Rodney Green on drums. Postbop, Shaw roughs it up a bit, piano whirls around making a nice impression. B+(***)

Dan Block: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington: From His World to Mine (2009 [2010], Miles High): Block plays tenor and alto sax, various clarinets, and basset horn. First album under his own name; I'm having trouble tracking down his side credits, which may include some classical performances as well as a fair number of more or less trad jazz groups -- I get more hits grepping my notebook for him than AMG lists (Linda Ronstadt's big band, David Berger's Sultans of Swing, George Gee, John Sheridan's Dream Band, Michael Camacho, Chris Flory, Jerry Costanzo/Andy Farber [on baritone], Marty Grosz's Hot Winds, Catherine Russell). Ellington and Strayhorn tunes, none of the really obvious ones you've heard hundreds of times (although I've certainly played "Mt. Harrissa" that much, enough to recognize it even without the original's pyrotechnic brass), given the small group swing treatment, sometimes with Pat O'Leary's cello and no drums; about half in a septet with Mike Kanan on piano, James Chirillo on guitar, and Mark Sherman on vibes. Lovely stuff -- Block favors his clarinet but I'm partial to his tenor sax. B+(***)

Richard Cole: Inner Mission (2007 [2010], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1957, based in Seattle, name inevitably recalls alto saxophonist Richie Cole (nine years older, presumably unrelated, recorded extensively 1976-88 and not much since). Fourth album since 1994, all on Origin. Front cover says "featuring Randy Brecker" -- the trumpet player on 5 of 9 cuts, with Thomas Marriott on trumpet on two others. Bill Anschell plays piano on 6 cuts; John Hansen on two others, and bassist and drummers come and go. Cole takes Henry Mancini's "Slow Hot Wind" on soprano. I don't get much out of the postbop arrangements here, but the sax is often impressive. B

Dave Liebman Big Band: As Always (2005-07 [2010], MAMA): Liebman plays soprano sax and wooden flute, in front of a big band led by saxophonist Gunnar Mossblad: five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano (Jim Ridl), guitar (Liebman's long-time collaborator Vic Juris), bass (Tony Marino), and drums (Marko Marcinko). Liebman's tunes, arranged by various others. Dense, complex, not much stands out. B

Antonio Sanchez: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2008 [2010], CAM Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, from Mexico, b. 1971, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory; second album under his own name, but has scads of side credits. All-star two sax quartet, Miguel Zenon on alto and David Sanchez on tenor, with Scott Colley on bass. Often turns into a thrilling sax chase, not that far removed from Gordon and Gray, or Stitt and Ammons. B+(**)

Patrick Cornelius: Fierce (2009 [2010], Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978, AMG credits him with two records but his website claims four going back to 2001. Trio plus two extra horns -- Nick Vayenas on valve trombone and Mark Small on tenor sax -- what he calls his Chordless Jazz Ensemble. Solid postbop effort, bold even, fierce too. B+(**)

Pete Levin: Jump! (2008-10 [2010], Pete Levin Music): B. 1942, started out playing French horn in Gil Evans' orchestras, then around 1980 switched to keyboards, eventually settling on the organ. Straight, upbeat soul jazz session, with Dave Stryker adding quite a bit on guitar, plus Lenny White on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion. Closer was a 2008 "Honeysuckle Rose" with the late Joe Beck on guitar, rescued from the archives and spruced up a bit. B+(*)

Tom Rizzo: Imaginary Numbers (2009 [2010], Origin): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, plays in the Tonight Show Band, before that with Maynard Ferguson. First album, looks like it was originally released in 2009 then picked up by Origin. Runs a bigger group than necessary -- five horn credits including Bob Sheppard on soprano and tenor sax and four brass including French horn and tuba -- but the guitar is the most memorable. B+(*)

Leslie Pintchik: We're Here to Listen (2010, Pintch Hard): Pianist, based in New York, third album since 2003 although she dates her trio and collaboration with bassist-guitarist Scott Hardy back to 1992. This adds Mark Dodge on drums and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Thoughtful, deliberate. I also have a DVD of here around here somewhere, but you know how it is with DVDs. B+(*)

Raúl Jaurena & His Tango Orchestra: Fuerza Milongnera (2008 [2010], Soundbrush): Bandoneon player, from Uruguay, based in New York but recorded this in Montevideo. Group features four bandoneons, two violins, viola, cello, piano, guitar, bass, and Marga Mitchell sings a couple of tunes. Pablo Aslan produced but doesn't play. Deep, rich, sounds very old-fashioned, downright classical. B+(**)

Amy Briggs: Tangos for Piano (2005 [2010], Ravello): Pianist, exclusively classical as far as I can tell, although this is only her first album under her own name. Solo piano. The 22 tangos include one by Piazzolla, but are mostly by composers not normally associated with tango -- some I more/less recognize are Stravinsky, Nancarrow, Rzewski, Harrison, but most are too obscure for me. Drama and panache, of course, and in some ways it's refreshing not to carry along the standard instrumental baggage. B+(*)

Dave Frank: Portrait of New York (2009 [2010], Jazzheads): Pianist, based in New York, fourth record since 1997, most or possibly all of them solo. Does the one thing that most helps carry a solo piano recording: keeps his own rhythm churning. B+(*)

Dan Adler/Joey DeFrancesco/Byron Landham: Back to the Bridge (2010, Edman Music): Organ trio, obviously. The guy you don't know gets top billing, slightly larger type (but fewer letters), is pictured on a bridge with a guitar -- what more do you need to know? Web bio includes everything I want to know except year born -- probably mid-late 1960s, in Israel. Trained as a semiconductor engineer/computer scientist, has an impressive resume there including notable open source software work. Moved to New York in 1986. Picked up guitar in 4th grade. Studied with Gil Dor, and cites a lot of other musical influences -- Roni Ben-Hur stands out, but also DeFrancesco's usual sidekick Paul Bollenback. First album. Nothing ambitious or pretentious, just does a nice job of laying in the groove. B+(**)

Colin Stranahan: Life Condition (2009 [2010], Tapestry): Drummer, from Colorado, third album since 2004, basically a sax trio with Ben Van Gelder on alto and Chris Smith on bass, with Jake Saslow joining on tenor sax on 2 of 8 cuts. Snakey freebop, the beat lagging behind not so much to steer the sax as to steer our ears. B+(**)

Boris Kozlov: Double Standard (2007 [2010], self-released): Bassist, b. 1967 in Moscow, moved to New York in the 1990s, joined the Mingus Big Band in 1998, has had a lot of side-credits since 2000 or so. First album, solo bass, two and a half originals -- the fraction mixed in with a Mingus piece. A little narrow and subdued to focus on, which tends to be the nature of the beast. B

The Kora Band: Cascades (2010, Origin): Seattle group, seems to mostly be the project of pianist Andrew Oliver, but Kane Mathis is the indispensible kora player. More than half of the 13 tunes are African, mostly trad. from Gamaia, Mali, and Guinea but also from Les Tetes Brulees and Ntesa Dalienst; four originals, three from Oliver, one from Mathis. Group includes Chad McCullough on trumpet/flugelhorn, Brady Millard-Kish on bass, and Mark DiFlorio on drums. More synthesis than ersatz, the brass a nice touch. B+(*)

Mario Romano Quartet: Valentina (2010, Alma): Pianist, from or at least based in Toronto, Canada. First album, but he's been around since the early 1970s. Quartet with Pat LaBarbera on tenor sax, Roberto Occhipinti on bass, and Mark Kelso on drums, with someone identified only as Kristy singing one song (Romano's "Those Damn I Love Yous" -- only song he wrote here, although Occhipinti wrote one for him, "Via Romano"). LaBarbera is drummer Joe LaBarbera's older brother; b. 1944, joined Buddy Rich in 1968, has a scattered career after that, with a half-dozen records on his own. He's an impressive mainstream player, a fine counterpart to the pianist. Mostly covers from 1950s and 1960s, many I associate with Miles Davis ("Nardis," "On Green Dolphin Street," "Someday My Prince Will Come"); one Beatles song ("Norwegian Wood"), which hardly spois the day. [PS: Kristy is Kristy Cardinali; turns out I have her debut album, My Romance, in my queue.] B+(**)

Mina Cho: Originality (2010, Blink Music): Pianist, b. 1981 in Seoul, South Korea, started playing gospel in church, moved on to Berklee, and now has her first album. Piano itself is rich and flowing, with Andrew Halchak's soprano sax or Shu Odamura's guitar adding to the lushness. Bonus track is the only non-original, with a David Thorne Scott vocal in the usual hipster style. B+(*)

Benjamin Herman: Hypochristmastreefuzz [Special Edition] (2008-09 [2010], Dox, 2CD): Title broken up onto three lines on front cover, but one word on spine, and one word as a song title. I probably put this off thinking Xmas music, a big mistake that should have been flagged by the subtitle: More Mengelberg. The Dutch pianist doesn't play, but did write all but two compositions, and emerges for a short interview fragment at the end of the first disc -- in Dutch, natch. Herman is a Dutch alto saxophonist, b. 1968, has a healthy list of albums since 1999, including Plays Misha Mengelberg in 2000 and Plays Jaki Byard in 2003. Looks like Hypochristmastreefuzz originally came out as a single in 2009, then was reissued in 2010 with a second disc, "Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival." I recognize Mengelberg (b. 1935) as one of the giants of the European avant-garde, but I've actually listened to very little by him (or his longstanding ICP [Instant Composers Pool] Orchestra), so the big surprise for me here is how this all jumps. Mostly sax-bass-drums, a little guitar, one track with mellotron, one with a Ruben Hein vocal, another with a bit of choir. Manages to be edgy and catchy at the same time. Several songs reappear on the live disc, looser and rougher, as you'd expect. A-

Toca Loca: Shed (2010 [2011], Henceforth): Two pianos -- Simon Docking, from Australia, and Gregory Oh, from Toronto, although he's also studied in Michigan and worked in San Diego (Toronto seems to be where the action is, but the record label has a San Diego address) -- plus percussionist Aiyun Huang, born in Taiwan but also based in Toronto (teaches at McGill) and also passed through San Diego (UCSD). Oh seems to be top dog, as he's also credited as conductor. Album doesn't have a jazz feel, and I've shuttled it over to my vaguely defined "avant-garde" file (mostly following AMG, which pretty much ensures vague defs). Four 11-22 minute cuts, composed by others -- Frederic Rzewski is the only one I recognize but further research would probably put them all into the post-classical avant-garde. One cut has some guests on clarinet, cello, french horn and flute; another has extra percussion, but mostly I'm hearing piano abstractions varied with the extra percussion. Mostly interesting stuff, but nothing to sweep you away. [PS: Digging a bit deeper, Toca Loca has one previous album, P*P. Oh also scored a "doll opera" called "XXX Live Nude Girls!" which the poster warns: "contains crude language. adult sexual content. doll nudity. not suitable for children." See the website for samples of the doll porn.] B+(*)

Jeremy Pelt: The Talented Mr. Pelt (2010 [2011], High Note): Trumpet player. I first bumped noticed him as a Downbeat poll rising star, and when I finally heard him I thought he was worthy, brilliant even. Now this is his eighth album since 2002, and I've yet to see much from his undoubted talent. This is livelier than most, as it should be with tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen sharing the front line, Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, but he's yet to break loose over a full album. B+(*)

These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Chucho Valdes & the Afro-Cuban Messengers: Chucho's Steps (2009 [2010], Four Quarters): Cuban pianist, b. 1941, son of famed pianist Bebo Valdés, now in his 90s and at least recently active; led Irakere from 1972, and has released a steady stream of records under his own name since 1986 including several on Blue Note. He is still a spectacular pianist, the kind that reminds one of Art Tatum although Tatum never tackled such tricky rhythms. With trumpet and tenor sax that don't often add much, lots of percussion, a chorus for one song. Swept the Voice poll's Latin Jazz category -- an obvious choice although it strikes me as a bit out of sorts. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (2010, Palmetto): Read the end of the title as a pun on Trio, which is what Wilson assembled here: Paul Sikivie on bass; Jeff Lederer on various saxes, clarinets, piccolo, and toy piano; the leader on drums. Songs are mostly trad, but Wilson (like myself) is just the right age to include Dr. Seuss and "The Chipmunk Song" among the classics, and for good measure he works in a solemn "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Not so solemn are the classics, with "Angels We Have Heard on High" warming to a free sax freakout, and "Hallelujah Chorus" full of squawk and tympani. Can't recall hearing this at the mall this year; for one thing, it would have lifted my spirits. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Ted Nash: Portrait in Seven Shades (2010, Jazz at Lincoln Center): Saxophonist, b. 1959, played mostly alto early on but (I think) mostly tenor now. Uncle was a well known saxophonist, also named Ted Nash; father played trombone. Broke in with Quincy Jones at age 17, played in big bandsa (Louie Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Don Ellis, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Lewis, most recently the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, while knocking out ten or so albums under his own name, some quite good. It's real hard to judge this one by streaming it: the sound isn't coming through loud or clear enough to catch the details, so I'm tend to give Nash credit for things I can't quite follow, but perhaps not as much as he deserves. Pretty impressive sax player when he bothers to get out front. Also, I'm a little confused about those shades, since the seven pieces are named for actual painters: Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Pollock. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Danilo Pérez: Providencia (2010, Mack Avenue): Pianist, b. 1966 in Panama; father was a bandleader; studied and now teaches at Berklee. Not someone I've followed closely, but has a solid reputation, with ten or so albums since 1992, including one dedicated to Monk. Mixed bag: impressive enough solo or trio, especially memorable when Rudresh Mahanthappa joins in on alto sax, but some cuts add classical orch instruments (flute, oboe, French horn, bassoon) and/or Sara Serpa vocalizing. The one with flute and Serpa would be unlistenable except for Pérez fighting back with his most bracing piano. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Irene Kral: Second Chance (1975 [2010], Jazzed Media): Singer, b. 1932 in Chicago, younger sister of Roy Kral (pianist-vocalist, mostly of Jackie & Roy fame); bounced through several big bands, getting her name first on a 1958 album with Herb Pomeroy (The Band and I). Most of her recordings cluster around 1974-77, just before she died in 1978 of breast cancer. This is the second 1975 live session the label has come up with (after 2004's Just for Now). Accompanied by pianist Alan Broadbent, superb in this context. Some standards, some pop songs of more recent vintage, mostly ballads which she nails, but ends on a very upbeat "Nobody Else but Me" and nails it too. Never heard her before -- just a name I recognized but couldn't place. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Dave Douglas & Keystone: Spark of Being: Expand (2010, Greenleaf Music): The new record, or three, or you can buy them all in a box, or download, etc., in some sort of subscription -- the business plan behind this product is more complicated than the music. Expand is the second disc if, e.g., you buy the box, and it's the only one on Rhapsody. The first is Spark of Being: Soundtrack, the edited soundtrack to a Bill Morrison "multimedia collaboration." Expand is made up of seven long-ish pieces before they got hacked up for the soundtrack. The third is Spark of Being: Burst, which are ten more pieces written for the film but not used. Group includes Douglas on trumpet and laptop, Marcus Strickland on tenor sax, Adam Benjamin on Fedner Rhodes, Brad Jones on Ampeg baby bass, Gene Lake on drums, and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. The keyb and electronics are as tightly integrated and integral as ever, maybe more so. The horns are far less bracing, but that goes with soundtrack mode. I'm reluctant to rate this higher without being able to see the rest of the puzzle. But Douglas is in a prolonged creative stretch, albeit sometimes a puzzling one. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

John Zorn: Interzone (2010, Tzadik): Lost track of whether Zorn succeeded in his quest to release one record for each month of 2010, but this is Miss November. It's also the one that sounds most like a standard-issue John Zorn record: screechy sax, open spaces, lots of scattershot percussion. John Medeski's "keyboards" sound like they include a piano; Marc Ribot plays guitar-like instruments; Trevor Dunn basses; Cyro Baptista, Ikue Mori, and Kenny Wollesen are responsible for the bumps and blips. Theme has something to do with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, which in Zorn's hands means comic book punk jazz with surreal or absurdist interludes -- the sort of thing he used to do c. Spillane and Spy vs. Spy before he got all Jewish on us and/or discovered he discovered he could throw a bunch of index cards at other musicians and get them to record 3-4 times as many records under his name as he could do himself. So this feels a bit like a con, but Ribot is terrific, there are some utterly sublime oases amidst the chaos and cartoon violence, and, well, unless Medeski somehow snuck a Cecil Taylor sample into his synth I for one have never heard him play piano like this. Very tentative grade: A- [Rhapsody]

John Zorn: What Thou Wilt (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Composition only, no Zorn playing. Main group consists of piano, three celli, and viola, but there's also the Tanglewood Orchestra on the 13:37 opener, "Contes de Fées," with more violins than I can count, another phalanx of celli, and the occasional oboe, bassoon, or flute. Demands a high tolerance for abstract string sounds, especially on the first piece. The remaining two pieces bounce the piano off the strings, which is more entertaining to say the least. B [Rhapsody]

Erik Friedlander: Fifty: Miniatures for Improvising Quintet (2008 [2010], Skipstone): Reading the cover I get 50 Miniatures for Improvising Quintet, but Friedlander's own sources spell out Fifty, so I compromised above. Each miniature is a 14-note figure having something to do with a Hebrew letter, but they've been glommed together for seven pieces ranging from 3:53 to 6:26. Quintet is Friedlander on cello, Jennifer Choi on violin, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums. String sounds dominate, but they have a cutting edge, and while the miniatures can break abstractly they can also flow together powerfully. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Lorraine Feather: Ages (2008-09 [2010], Jazzed Media): Daughter of jazz encylopedist Leonard Feather, b. 1948, full name Billie Jane Lee Lorraine Feather, the first for a godmother named Holiday -- not the first comparison a fledgling jazz singer wants to bring to mind. Cut an album in 1979, not regarded as much, then restarted her career in 1997, this her eighth album. She wrote the lyrics, picking up music from her band and guests -- guitarist Eddie Arkin; pianists Shelly Berg, Russell Ferrante and Dick Hyman; banjoist Béla Fleck. Several striking songs, like "The Girl With the Lazy Eye," "Two Desperate Women in Their Late 30s," and "I Forgot to Have Children." B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Geri Allen & Timeline: Live (2009 [2010], Motéma Music): Pianist, b. 1957, several dozen albums and scads more credits since 1984 -- a major jazz pianist by any reckoning. Two Jazz CG appearances: an A- for her superb trio The Life of a Song, and a dud for the sprawling Timeless Portraits and Dreams. Haven't gotten anything from her since, including two well-regarded albums this year. Flying Toward the Sun got nearly all of the poll attention, finishing ninth at Village Voice, but it takes something really exceptional in a solo piano record to hold my interest. This has more rhythmic push -- a trio with Kenny Davis on bass and Kassa Overall on drums, plus something extra in tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. The piano remains impressive when it breaks out, the rhythm helps sustain things, and the taps are hard to figure. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Stacey Kent: Raconte-Moi . . . (2010, Blue Note): Singer, b. 1966 in South Orange, NJ; lives in England, and (this time at least) sings in French. Thirteenth album since 1997. Light touch, an elegant stylist. Starts with a particularly charming translation of Jobim. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Jay Phelps: Jay Walkin' (2010, Specific Jazz): Canadian trumpet player, been in UK since he was 17; first album at 28, which I guess would make him b. 1982. Kind of a hard bop throwback, with piano-bass-drums and Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. A couple of hipster vocals by Michael Mwenso, and occasional guests, all reinforcing the band feel. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Russell Malone: Triple Play (2010, MaxJazz): Guitarist, tenth album since 1992. Strikes me as about midway between Wes Montgomery's fluidity and Bill Frisell's poise on standard American fare, which is a pretty neat trick when no one gets in the way, or when he lets things get too complicated. No problems on either count with this guitar-bass-drums trio. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Vitoria Suite (2009 [2010], Decca, 2CD): Cover also adds: Featuring Paco de Lucia. That would be the famous flamenco guitarist, a sop to the home crowd as Marsalis takes LCJO on the road to Spain, and tries his hand at writing his own "Sketches of Spain." It sprawls over two discs, slipping into occasional dull stretches but mostly feeding clever arrangement details to what's become a very imposing big band -- the all-star trumpet section is if anything topped by the reed section (Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Walter Blanding Jr., Victor Goines, Joe Temperley). B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Tommy Smith/Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Torah (2010, Spartacus): Five pieces, each named for a book of the Torah or Bible, performed by a conventional big band (four trumpet, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums) led and dominated by Smith's exceptional tenor sax. One stretch where he plays solo is mesmerizing, rising to magnificent when the band joins in. But mostly the band camouflages the leader, making this one of his less distinctive albums. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra: Exploration (2007, Spartacus): A Scottish big band, organized by Smith after he returned to his homeland in 2002. Don't know how young the players are -- no one I recognize other than the guests, notably vibraphonist Joe Locke, who gets a "featuring" credit on the cover. Smith conducts and arranges but doesn't play. The best known cuts are the best by far: a rollicking "A Night in Tunisia" and a spiffy "Cottontail," with Locke in particularly good form on the former. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

I basically went down the Village Voice Jazz Poll Results and looked up most of the things I hadn't been serviced. Some are above; more I haven't gotten to (yet); more still I couldn't find, including the following (* indicates a record I've noted as missing before):

  • Muhal Richard Abrams/Roscoe Mitchell: Spectrum (Mutable)
  • Howard Alden: I Remember Django (Arbors)
  • Lina Allemano Four: Jargon (Lumo)
  • Scott Amendola: Lift (Sazy)
  • AMM/John Butcher: Sounding Music (Matchless)
  • Fred Anderson: Black Horn Long Gone (Southport)
  • Atomic: Theater Tilters, Vol. 1 (Jazzland)
  • Atomic: Theater Tilters, Vol. 2 (Jazzland)
  • Chet Baker: The Sesjun Radio Shows (Out of the Blue/T2)
  • Bruce Barth/Steve Wilson: Home: Live in Columbia Missouri (WASJS)
  • Jeb Bishop Trio: 2009 (Better Animal) *
  • Michael Blake: Hellbent (Label of Love)
  • Anthony Braxton/Gerry Hemingway: Old Dogs (2007) (Mode)
  • Bobby Carcasses y Afrojazz: De la Habana a Nueva York (Vero)
  • Daniel Carter/Alberto Fiori/Tom Abbs/Federico Ughi: The Perfect Blue (Not Two)
  • Jeff Chan: Horns of Plenty (Asian Improv)
  • Billy Childs: Autumn: In Moving Pictures (ArtistShare)
  • Evan Christopher: Finesse (Fremeaux)
  • The Cookers: Warriors (Jazz Legacy Productions) *
  • Andrew Cyrille/Greg Osby: Low Blue Flame (TUM)
  • Tim Daisy/Ken Vandermark Duo: Light on the Wall (Laurence Family)
  • Jeff Davis: We Sleep Outside (Loyal Label)
  • Michael Dease: Grace (Jazz Legacy)
  • Hamid Drake & Bindu: Reggaeology (RogueArt)
  • Dominic Duval & Cecil Taylor: The Last Dance (Cadence)
  • Harris Eisenstadt: Woodblock Prints (NoBusiness)
  • Elephant9: Walk the Nile (Rune Grammofon) *
  • The Engines: Wire and Brass (Okka Disk)
  • Joel Frahm & Bruce Katz: Project A (Anzic)
  • Tomas Fujiwara: Actionspeak (482 Music) *
  • Vinny Golia/Mark Dresser: Live at Lotus (Kadima)
  • Dennis González: Cape of Storms (Ayler)
  • Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky: In Search of a Standard (Leo)
  • Tigran Hamasyan: Red Hail (Plus Loin)
  • Scott Hamilton/Rossano Sportiello: Midnight at Nola's Penthouse (Arbors)
  • Eric Harland: Voyager Live by Night (Space Time)
  • Barry Harris: Live in Rennes (Plus Loin)
  • Tamir Hendelman: Destinations (Resonance)
  • Eddie Henderson: For All We Know (Furthermore)
  • Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band: Celestial Green Monster (Mutable/Big Red Media) *
  • William Hooker: Earth's Orbit (No Business)
  • ICP Orchestra: ICP Orchestra (ICP)
  • Ideal Bread: Transmit: Music of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform) *
  • Ahmad Jamal: A Quiet Time (Dreyfus)
  • Steve Lacy: November (Intakt)
  • Ingrid Laubrock: Anti-House (Intakt)
  • Azar Lawrence: Mystic Journey (Furthermore) *
  • Brian Lynch Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra: Bolero Nights: For Billie Holiday (Venus) *
  • Frank Macchia: Folk Songs for Jazzers (Cacophony)
  • Rudi Mahall: Der Rote Bereich 7 (Intakt)
  • Joe McPhee/Mikolaj Trzaska/Dominic Duval/Jay Rosen: Magic (Not Two)
  • Joe McPhee/Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten: Blue Chicago Blues (Not Two)
  • Joe Morris: Sensor (No Business)
  • Michael Mussilami Trio: Old Tea (Playscape) *
  • Dick Oatts: Two Hearts (Steeplechase)
  • Oregon: In Stride (CAM Jazz)
  • Mario Pavone: Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (Playscape) *
  • Mike Reed Loose Assembly: Empathetic Parts (482 Music)
  • Jamie Saft: Bag of Shells (Tzadik)
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Bauhaus Dessau (Intakt)
  • Walter Smith III: III (Criss Cross)
  • Lew Soloff, Steve Richman and Harmonie Ensemble New York: Sketches of Spain (Sheffield Lab)
  • Supersilent: 10 (Rune Grammofon)
  • Swedish Azz: Pazz På Svenska (Not Two)
  • Aki Takase: A Week Went By (Psi)
  • Aki Takase/Louis Sclavis: Yokohama (Intakt)
  • Warren Vaché/John Allred Quintet: Top Shelf (Arbors) *
  • The Vandermark 5: The Horse Jumps and the Ship Is Gone (Not Two) *
  • Bob Wilber: Is Here (Arbors)
  • John Zorn: Ipsissimus (Tzadik)

If I had time, I could have made this list much longer. A lot of important labels don't seem to ever be available. Some, like Leo, show up very rarely. Intakt has some old records but no new ones; Not Two is a bit better but slipping behind. Tzadik is usually there but not always easy to find. I haven't sorted it all out.

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last three weeks:

  • BANN [Seamus Blake/Jay Anderson/Oz Noy/Adam Nussbaum]: As You Like (Jazz Eyes): Feb. 15
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Convergence (Savant)
  • Jim Black/Trevor Dunn/Oscar Noriega/Chris Speed: Endangered Blood (Skirl): Mar. 16
  • Jane Ira Bloom: Wingwalker (Outline)
  • Francis Coletta/Jonas Tauber: Port Saïd Street (Origin)
  • The Cookers: Cast the First Stone (Plus Loin Music): Apr. 12
  • Roxy Coss (self-released)
  • Matija Dedic Trio: MD in NYC (Origin)
  • Todd DelGiudice: Pencil Sketches (OA2)
  • Al Di Meola: Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody (Telarc): advance, Mar. 15
  • Peter Eldridge: Mad Heaven (Palmetto): Feb. 15
  • Marika Hughes: Afterlife Music Radio: 11 New Pieces for Solo Cello (DO): Mar. 22
  • Marika Hughes: The Simplest Thing (DO): Mar. 22
  • Robert Hurst: Bob Ya Head (Bebob): Jan. 25
  • Robert Hurst: Unrehurst Volume 2 (Bebob): Jan. 25
  • The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (Justin Time)
  • Kathleen Kolman: Dream On (Walkin' Foot Productions): Feb. 1
  • Jonathan Kreisberg: Shadowless (New for Now Music)
  • Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs (Blue Note)
  • Tom Luer: Project Popular (Origin)
  • Donny McCaslin: Perpetual Motion (Greenleaf Music): Jan. 25
  • Moon Hotel Lounge Project: Into the Ojalá (Frosty Cordial)
  • David Murray and the Gwo Ka Masters: The Devil Tried to Kill Me (Justin Time)
  • Nordic Connect: Spirals (ArtistShare)
  • Open Graves with Stuart Dempster: Flightpatterns (Prefecture)
  • Adam Pieronczyk: Komeda: The Innocent Sorcerer (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Jerry Leake & Randy Roos: Cubist Live (Rhombus Publishing)
  • Plunge: Tin Fish Tango (Immersion)
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM: Our Secret World (Word of Mouth Music)
  • Eric Reed: The Dancing Monk (Savant)
  • Jamaldeen Tacuma: For the Love of Ornette (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Ben Thomas/Chris Stover/Alex Cnadsey: Q.E.D. (Origin)
  • Alex Vittum: Prism (Prefecture)
  • Doug Webb: Renovations (Posi-Tone)
  • Mark Weinstein: Jazz Brasil (Jazzheads)
  • Marty Williams: Long Time Comin' (In Moon Bay)
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Yes We Can (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • [various]: Jazzvox Presents: In Your Own Backyard (OA2)


  • Eminem: Recovery (Interscope)
  • Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager (Universal Motown)
  • Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday (Universal Motown)
  • Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria (Soundway)
  • Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993 (Sterns, 2CD)
  • Roots of OK Jazz: Congo Classics 1955-1956 (Crammed Discs)
  • Shad: TSOL (Decon)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Facebook blurb: Something for MLK day, Krugman clearing up our moral quandries, Lind muddying up out political differences, Greenwald on the liars and the bullshitters who enable them, Taibbi on the crying shame of Congress, and the incredibly offensive Rush Limbaugh.

UPDATE: Missed this little item when I posted: Limbaugh's "Straight Shooter" Billboard Yanked in Tucson. Given that I already have a Limbaugh item below, and that it is so timely, and that I can still use the pic in the Facebook link, I thought I should pack it in here. The text:

Clear Channel to TPM: "Clear Channel Outdoor management in Tucson quickly elected to take down this ad -- believing that discussion of its interpretation would not contribute to the desire for healing in the Tucson community."

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week or two:

  • Justin Elliott: Obama official: MLK would love our wars!: From Jeh Johnson, a DOD lawyer paid for by your taxpayer dollars:

    Johnson goes on to argue that American soldiers play the role of the Biblical Good Samaritan cited by King because they "have made the conscious decision to travel a dangerous road and personally stop and administer aid to those who want peace, freedom and a better place in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in defense of the American people."

    Journalist Jeremy Scahill calls the speech "one of the most despicable attempts at revisionist use of Martin Luther King Jr. I've ever seen." [ . . . ]

    Remember, this is the speech in which King assailed the U.S. government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." He targeted the "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism."

    King, of course, was unavailable for comment. As you may recall, he was assassinated in 1968 shortly after giving that speech. Since he was shut up, he's been turned into a harmless icon of America's ingenuity in putting all that civil rights mess behind us, something that gives the right reason to think that assassination works to their gain.

  • Glenn Greenwald: John Burns' "ministering angels" and "liberators": Expanding on Peter Maass: The Toppling, on the media inflation of the Army-staged toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square in 2003:

    The reason there's so little government censorship of the press in America is because it's totally unnecessary; why would the government even want to censor a media this compliant and subservient? Recall the derision heaped upon the media even by Bush's own former Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, for being "too deferential" to administration propaganda. As soon as an entity emerges that provides genuinely adversarial coverage of the U.S. Government -- such as WikiLeaks, whistleblowers, or isolated articles exposing its malfeasance -- the repressive measures come fast and furious. But in general, it's no more necessary for the U.S. Government to censor the American media than it would be for Barack Obama to try to silence Robert Gibbs.

  • Paul Krugman: A Tale of Two Moralities: This is one piece where Krugman's famed obsession with clarity gets it exactly right:

    But the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let's listen to each other more carefully; but what we'll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn't really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it's about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice. [ . . . ]

    What are the differences I'm talking about?

    One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state -- a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society's winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net -- morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It's only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

    The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That's what lies behind the modern right's fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

    There's no middle ground between these views. One side saw health reform, with its subsidized extension of coverage to the uninsured, as fulfilling a moral imperative: wealthy nations, it believed, have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care. The other side saw the same reform as a moral outrage, an assault on the right of Americans to spend their money as they choose.

    But Krugman makes a serious mistake further down:

    In a way, politics as a whole now resembles the longstanding politics of abortion -- a subject that puts fundamental values at odds, in which each side believes that the other side is morally in the wrong. Almost 38 years have passed since Roe v. Wade, and this dispute is no closer to resolution.

    Yet we have, for the most part, managed to agree on certain ground rules in the abortion controversy: it's acceptable to express your opinion and to criticize the other side, but it's not acceptable either to engage in violence or to encourage others to do so.

    What we need now is an extension of those ground rules to the wider national debate.

    Where I live, the ground rules of the abortion "debate" look pretty much like what happened in Tucson, and at all levels: everyday threats and harrassment, less frequent acts of vandalism, and finally the headline-popping shootings of George Tiller and Gabrielle Giffords. (Or has Krugman already forgotten about Tiller?) The main difference was that the hate campaign against Tiller was much further developed and much more persistent and hysterical, and was accompanied by the state using its legal powers to harrass Tiller. Nor is Kansas alone in this regard. Tiller stood out for his bravery and dedication, which made him all the more critical a target. But take a look at Mississippi, a state without a single abortion provider. Need I also add that it's a state with a vast history of intimidation against civil rights (both through the supposedly legal powers of the state and through extralegal means like lynching).

  • Michael Lind: The five worldviews that define American politics: Linds's definitions are:

    • Neoliberal globalism: "This is more or less the official ideology of the political and corporate financial establishments, shared by centrist New Democrats as well as most Republican conservatives in their practice as opposed to their preaching." Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, like that.
    • Social democratic liberalism: Actually, his examples are mostly Europeans, but presumably he means the fraction of the Democratic Party that doesn't get wet thinking of Jamie Dimon.
    • Populist nationalism: He mentions "its anti-elitism and and its economic protectionism," but this mostly boils down to racism -- or as he more quaintly puts it: "an inherently exclusive, ethno-religious definition of American identity.
    • Libertarian isolationism: Groups left and right anti-imperialists here: "Every president since McKinley, they believe, has been a tool of a self-aggrandizing crony capitalist oligarchy, which exaggerated the treats of Imperial and Nazi Germany and Japan and the Soviet Union and communist China and now of Islamist terrorism in order to regiment American society and divert resources to the bloated 'military-industrial complex.'" Then he charges them with wanting a "return to a 19th-century pattern of decentralized government and an economy based on small businesses and small farms."
    • Green Malthusianism: "This worldview synthesizes mystical versions of environmentalism with alarm about population growth in the tradition of the Rev. Thomas Malthus."

    Needless to say, these are all caricatures, but more importantly they're not discrete boxes. Mainstream Democrats mostly don't see any real contradiction between social democracy at home and neoliberalism as a foreign policy. This is a fundamental mistake, and has been since the start of the Cold War, but they see this as a conundrum as opposed to a contradiction: it turns out to be easy to implement neoliberal foreign policy where they are assured of bipartisan support and damn tough to promote social democracy, where the Republicans (and many of their own business interests).

    Also, "neoliberal globalism" doesn't really define the Republican rank-and-file very well, nor does "populist nationalism" -- really just a polite term for fascism -- except as some sort of mental breakdown. It seems to me that traditional economic conservatism -- what we used to call "petit-bourgeois thinking" -- is still the Republican core, as alive, and in terms of our present economy as deadly, as ever.

  • Alex Pareene: Rush Limbaugh says a dozen incredibly offensive things:

    Rush Limbaugh said many awful, offensive things today, because he was defending himself from people who say that hateful, ugly rhetoric leads to violence. Well, he wasn't really "defending himself" from anything, so much as just spewing his usual free-associative garbage.

    He "jokingly" suggested that Democrats had purposefully orchestrated a mass murder for their own political benefit. He incorrectly asserted that "every association that any act of violence has been made with the conservative right has fallen on emptiness." He said that now the government will take away your guns, along with "as many political freedoms as they can manage." (So you'd better stock up on guns, and you'd better fear and hate the government!)

    Then he said that Democrats and liberals are doing everything in their power to aid and help the man who tried to assassinate a Democratic member of Congress, because the sheriff said something mean about Rush Limbaugh.

    "This guy clearly understands he's getting all the attention and he understands he's got a political party doing everything it can, plus a local sheriff doing everything that they can to make sure he's not convicted of murder."

    Yes. Right. The Democrats don't want Jared Loughner to be convicted of murder, because Democrats are objectively pro-murdering Democrats.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Crying Shame of John Boehner: Let's warm up with just the first two paragraphs:

    John Boehner is the ultimate Beltway hack, a man whose unmatched and self-serving skill at political survival has made him, after two decades in Washington, the hairy blue mold on the American congressional sandwich. [ . . . ] The Democrats have plenty of creatures like Boehner. But in the new Speaker of the House, the Republicans own the perfect archetype -- the quintessential example of the kind of glad-handing, double-talking, K Street toady who has dominated the politics of both parties for decades. In sports, we talk about athletes who are the "total package," and that term comes close to describing Boehner's talent for perpetuating our corrupt and debt-addled status quo: He's a five-tool insider who can lie, cheat, steal, play golf, change his mind on command and do anything else his lobbyist buddies and campaign contributors require of him to get the job done.

    Wrote about this piece before; just didn't want you to miss it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rhapsody Streamnotes (January 2011: Pt 2)

Insert text from here.

The Dean's Test

Posted this week were Robert Christgau's annual Dean's List and second straight year-end survey, Live Albums -- there was a three-year stretch of no end-of-year essays between Christgau's termination from the Village Voice and his returning to the subject at Barnes and Noble Review. I thought about adding a comment to the essay, which kindly cites my research, but demurred from setting up yet another hackable account. And I was tempted to write him a note querying where he was at on some things that didn't make his list (but made mine). But that's often a rather uncomfortable subject. (I'm actually surprised to see him engaging as much as he does in the comments to his new Expert Witness column -- so often worth following that I've added the individual post links to his home page news notices.) So in the end I decided to try to get my ducks lined up first, then see what there is to wonder about.

I've made this point many times before, but should reiterate it here and now: Christgau's grades and rankings are the end result of a carefully considered process. He recognizes that his views aren't permanent, but insists on having done enough due dilligence that a grade will be stable the indefinite future -- his line here is that his end-of-year list records are ones "I expect to savor in 2015 or 2020 if I'm still alive and have the time." That's a standard I'd like to think I aspire to, but I'll slap a grade on anything, even if all I have to go on is a quick listen and a hunch. Grades for me are more like bookmarks, brief reminders of whatever progress I made with an album -- most often the point where I lost interest. It is true that by the time I write up a Jazz Consumer Guide I've listened to the records therein the 3-5 times (rarely but sometimes more) as Christgau regularly claims. But I often write Jazz Prospecting on a listen or two, and the lamest such notes are ones where all I have to say at the end of a pass is to jot down a grade. Then I slot it into my year-end-list-in-progress with no regard for A:B comparisons -- I usually just scan the grade bracket for something memorable and maybe analogous then tuck the record in above or below as momentarily seems appropriate. (Sometimes I go back in and do some resorting, especially in the A-ranks, but almost always on the basis of no-doubt-faulty memory.) And my Rhapsody notes are even quicker and dirtier -- I don't have the package to focus on, I don't have any stake in the music (I do feel some obligation to help promote jazz and jazz artists, although that will come as a surprise to some artists and publicists), and Rhapsody itself often craps out on me.

Still, I think it's useful to keep track of what I know, even if it isn't much. And my grading system doesn't work that badly -- I underrate some records I didn't give enough time to, and overrate some others (usually because something hits a personal sweet spot, or because I'm slow on lyrics so miss some really bad ones), but most of the time I return to a tentatively graded record I find pretty much what I thought I found in the first place. But I don't want to defend myself here. What I want to do is to look at my list through the prism of Christgau's list to see what he knows that I don't. This breaks down into two categories: records on his list I haven't heard, and records I have heard but didn't deem as worthy as he did. Almost all of the latter are records I've only briefly heard on Rhapsody. I'll also point out records on my list not on his, and attempt to divide those between ones he is known to like less and ones he hasn't expressed any known opinion on.

Christgau's list includes 82 albums. My list, cited above, runs 119 long, but Christgau includes some records I file differently -- some in 2009 or earlier, some compilations (mostly African). Adding them in (where I have them graded high enough) brings my list to 126, so I have 44 more albums than Christgau does. That doesn't necessarily make me an easier grader. The difference is more than accounted for by the jazz records on my list: 55, not counting James Blood Ulmer's blues record since Ulmer is someone Christgau normally covers (but thus far not this time; Christgau's only jazz record is Gabriel Johnson's Fra_ctured, so we'll keep it in play also). Cutting out the jazz leaves me with 71 albums, 11 less. So that's all for jazz.

We can also skip over 33 albums that intersect both lists. They cover a wide stylistic swath: I concurred with most of his world (especially African) picks (where I tend to be a bit less picky), hip-hop too, two (of three) country records, and at least six of his much more numerous white rock bands (where I tend to be more picky, or less easily impressed). That cuts his list down to 49. Of those, I haven't heard nine:

  • Peter Stampfel: Dook of the Beatniks (Piety Street Files & Archaic Media '09)
  • Lil Wayne: No Ceilings (mixtape '09)
  • Allo Darlin': Allo Darlin' (Fortuna Pop!)
  • Systema Solar: Systema Solar (Chusma)
  • The Rough Guide to Desert Blues (World Music Network)
  • David Bazan: Curse Your Branches (Barsuk '09)
  • Now That's What I Call Club Hits 2 (EMI)
  • Nicki Minaj: Beam Me Up Scotty (mixtape '09)
  • Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca: Retrospectiva (Mopiato Music '09)

I've only recently started to figure out how to get hold of and listen to mixtapes. The others, with the possible exception of Rough Guide, aren't on Rhapsody (or weren't last time I looked). And I haven't been doing any Rough Guides on Rhapsody: their documentation is so lousy I never know what I'm listening to, which makes trying to review them real annoying. (As does their publicist, but that's another story.)

That leaves 40 records, all but two downloaded mixtapes heard and rated based on Rhapsody (although I've since bought three). Let's break them down into two groups. The first are records that I've rated B+(***). I agree that these are quite good, but for one reason or another held back. There are 23 such records (and I'll throw in some comments):

  • Rachid Taha: Bonjour (Knitting Factory Works): went back and replayed this and still not convinced, although I have 5 of his albums A- or better
  • Care Bears on Fire: Girls Like It Loud (S-Curve, EP): takes more than an EP to impress me; their previous Get Over It! almost did until it derailed at end
  • Love Is All: Two Thousand and Ten Injuries (Polyvinyl): uncertain A- on previous album; this much the same so I hedged
  • Pierre de Gaillande: Bad Reputation (Barbès): distinctive, needs time to acclimate
  • MC Paul Barman: Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud (Househusband '09): all depends on words with him, and I'm not that fast with words
  • Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (XL): concept albums take time, more than I had
  • Gabriel Johnson: Fra_ctured (Electrofone): Jazz CG HM, not a real strong one
  • Das Racist: Sit Down, Man (mixtape): half brilliant, lot of filler, still working on it
  • The Pernice Brothers: Goodbye, Killer (Ashmont): another slight album from a group I've gone A- on before, but never strongly
  • Nas/Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley: Distant Relatives (Def Jam): bought this, but it's kind of stuck; good intents, good grooves, 'bout that
  • Balkan Beat Box: Blue Eyed Black Boy (Crammed Discs)
  • Eskmo: Eskmo (Ninja Tune): needs time
  • Sleigh Bells: Treats (Mom & Pop Music): not something I wanted to spend time with, but I heard enough to recommend it to Tatum (not that he wouldn't have found it anyway; cf. Best Coast) and he jumped on it
  • Das Racist: Shut Up, Dude (mixtape): cruder but basically same as above
  • Eminem: Recovery (Aftermath/Interscope): dismissed this when it came out; bought a copy much later and definitely better than I thought at first
  • MC Esoteric: Saving Seamus Ryan (Fly Casual -09): another concept album
  • Hole: Nobody's Daughter (Mercury): sure I hear it; now do I care?
  • Les Savy Fav: Root for Ruin (Frenchkiss)
  • Old 97's: The Grand Theatre: Volume One (New West): Tatum favorite, bought copy and warmed a bit
  • Spoon: Transference (Merge): I asked Christgau about this, and he told me the words made the difference; guess that's my problem
  • Standard Fare: The Noyelle Beat (Bar/None): sound is on the edge of unlistenable, but certainly has something to say
  • The Bundles: The Bundles (K): antifolk supergroup, again takes time
  • The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come (4AD '09): Biblical exegisis, that shit really takes time

I'd say maybe half a dozen of those could rise above the line if I had time and budget to pursue, but with 120 A-list records already it's hard to find time and money. More problematical are the rest. First albums 12 I rated B+(**):

  • Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave (Lost Highway): strikes me as really subjective; given that I already have everything else, might be good to pick this up
  • Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD): impressive when I first heard it, but I wasn't that interested; I wonder how many plays it took Christgau before he came around (there are always 3-5 high poll records that he surprisingly picks up when he's doing year-end catch-up -- Flaming Lips was one last year)
  • Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard: 'Em Are I (Rough Trade): possible rebound since I liked 12 Crass Songs, which he flagged as a dud; didn't help that publicist promised me a copy then didn't deliver
  • Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (Warp): wasn't on Rhapsody for a long time; have replayed it, but still can't make much sense of it
  • Tokyo Police Club: Champ (Mom & Pop Music): liked their previous record; this lost the primitive charm, in favor of what?
  • Surfer Blood: Astro Coast (Kanine): not bad for something I had no interest in
  • LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (DFA/Virgin): some great cuts, but they're eclectically derivative, and flow poorly; replayed this, plus the live sessions
  • Rokia Traoré: Tchamantché (Nonesuch '09): don't remember this
  • El DeBarge: Second Chance (Geffen): Christgau always likes DeBarge more than I
  • Die Antwoord: $O$ (Cherrytree/Interscope): interesting album; thought I had it a slot higher
  • Quasi: American Gong (Kill Rock Stars): another long-time Christgau favorite; has some good spots
  • Tricky: Mixed Race (Domino): I've liked some of his stuff, but didn't get much here

That leaves five records on Christgau's list that I rated B+(*) -- no extreme disagreements, but these just struck me as extraneous:

  • The Corin Tucker Band: 1,000 Years (Kill Rock Stars): Sleater-Kinney spinoff, a group I've long admired and never enjoyed listening to
  • Lady Gaga: The Fame Monster (Streamline/Konlive/Cherrytree/Interscope '09): I think he means the 2-CD package including The Fame, which we both originally had at one-star; the later EP itself, which is what I graded, didn't really add much; of course, she is enough of a phenomenon that she merits a revisit (on the other hand, thus far I'm more impressed by Ke$ha, who seems to be working from the same business plan)
  • Best Coast: Crazy for You (Mexican Summer): why did we get deluged with all this fucking second- and third-rate surf music this year? Beach House is another big example, lamer but less annoying
  • Diplo: Presents Dubstep: Blow Your Head (Downtown/Mad Decent): hard stuff to focus on; might do better if I had a copy and could play it in the car
  • Loretta Lynn and Friends: Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn (Columbia): I didn't get much Loretta out of this, one of those things that might have been clearer with a booklet; does have 3-4 good songs; is that enough?

If I had to guess 3 from column 1, 2 from column 2, and 1 from column 3 as best best to do better with time, I'd say: DeGaillande, Eskmo, Sleigh Bells; Cash, Die Antwoord; Lady Gaga. And I wouldn't rule out Das Racist, Barman, Love Is All, or even Eminem, since the numbers I arbitrarily picked don't match the real odds -- those other ranks were down-rated for reasons.

Having gone through this exercise, I feel less worried that I messed up and missed things I should have recognized. The other side of the coin is what I picked that Christgau didn't. Discounting the jazz which he doesn't bother trying to cover any more, that leaves me with 38 records. We can split these into two groups. The first are records that Christgau has dismissed in print (mostly early-year records cited by him as HMs), so these are things that relative to him I have overrated (12 of them):

  • V.V. Brown: Travelling Like the Light (Capitol)
  • The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever (Vagrant)
  • Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle (American)
  • Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars: Rise & Shine (Cumbancha)
  • The Soft Pack: The Soft Pack (Kemado)
  • The Apples in Stereo: Travellers in Space and Time (Yep Roc)
  • Burkina Electric: Paspanga (Cantaloupe)
  • Kate Nash: My Best Friend Is You (Geffen)
  • Reflection Eternal [Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek]: Revolutions Per Minute (Warner Brothers)
  • Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Old Devils (Bloodshot)
  • Shelby Lynne: Tears, Lies and Alibies (Everso)
  • The Magnetic Fields: Realism (Nonesuch)

Only one great record there (Brown); a few things I may have cut some slack for because I got promos (Refugees, Burkina, Magnetic Fields); some typically strong work by groups Christgau evidently expected more from (Hold Steady, Gogol Bordello, Apples in Stereo, Langford); some Rhapsody guesswork that may or may not hold up -- I wonder now whether everything from Nash down is that good, but haven't had time to recheck. Christgau had Apples, Brown, Gogol Bordello, Hold Steady, Magnetic Fields, Nash, and Soft Pack as high HMs, and he reviewed Langford as a B+, so not much disagreement there. Christgau had Lynne as a dud; don't know what that was about, but I do recall being heavily swayed by one exceptional song.

Then there are the records Christgau has never expressed an opinion (at least in print) on 26 more:

  • Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Elektra)
  • The Left: Gas Mask (Mello Music)
  • Manu Chao: Radio Bemba: Baionarena Live (Nacional/Because, 2CD): possibly originally 2009, got no promo, somewhat redundant to studio albums
  • Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love (Matador)
  • The Books: The Way Out (Temporary Residence)
  • El Guincho: Pop Negro (Young Turks/XL)
  • Jenny and Johnny: I'm Having Fun Now (Warner Brothers)
  • Lyrics Born: As U Were (Decon)
  • 7L & Esoteric: 1212 (Fly Casual)
  • Shakira: Sale el Sol (Sony Latin Music/Epic)
  • James Blood Ulmer: In and Out (In+Out)
  • LoneLady: Nerve Up (Warp)
  • T.I.: No Mercy (Grand Hustle)
  • The-Dream: Love King (Def Jam)
  • Lower Dens: Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong)
  • Richard Thompson: Dream Attic (Shout! Factory)
  • Calle 13: Entren Los Que Quieran (Sony Music Latin)
  • Steve Reich: Double Sextet/2x5 (Nonesuch)
  • Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids (Def Jam)
  • King Sunny Ade: Bábá Mo Túndé (Indigedisc, 2CD)
  • Chromeo: Business Casual (Big Beat)
  • Lars Vaular: Helt Om Natten, Helt Om Dagen (Bonnier/Cosmos): Norwegian rapper; hat tip Chris Monsen
  • Zs: New Slaves (The Social Registry)
  • Loudon Wainwright III: 10 Songs for the New Depression (Second Story Sound): download-only
  • Sage Francis: Li(f)e (Anti-)
  • Liz Phair: Funstyle (Rocket Science Ventures): originally a download-only, later repacked with inferior extras

Ulmer was the only one I didn't originally hear on Rhapsody, although I picked up 8 later (Mars, Belle, Books, El Guincho, J&J, Shakira, The-Dream, Phair). Once the MSN CG folded, Christgau stopped writing up HMs and Duds, and a lot of these came out then, so there's no way to tell what he thinks of albums he doesn't think much of (any way you want to read that). In particular, we don't know what he hasn't heard versus what he doesn't like (or more emphatically, like enough). On the other hand, even if he hasn't been reading me and Tatum (whom I credit with sniffing out 10 of these), he must have heard most: I count 17 artists he's previously found A-list records by (including Jenny if not Johnny). And as 10 '09 releases in this list attest, it's unlikely he's done.

Everything from King Sunny down here is pretty marginal in my mind, and Phair probably belongs down with the B+ records, especially in you factor the bonus disc in. Ade isn't classic but I welcome it. Wainwright isn't either, but it's got some things I strongly approve of -- he's been reading up on economics, and not Paul Krugman who's featured in one song. I'm a little scared of Zs and doubt that hardly anyone else will like it, but Christgau recommended a couple of Lightning Bolt albums that promised the same sort of thing -- I hated those records, but swear this one delivers. TI and Ghostface dropped so late hardly anyone considered them for lists, so maybe he's just being economical there.

On the year-end essay, Christgau linked to a blog post instead of the actual data. Hard to see the links with their style sheet, nor does it help that all the rest of them are trying to sell something at their store. Much of the blog post attempted to explain methodological details behind the file, but the top-43 list presented there is a narrow and distorted slice of the data. The file that's up now is a couple weeks advanced, and my local copy has further updates (including Christgau's Dean's List, and a sudden surge of country albums, lifting Jamey Johnson from 90 to 76). I'll probably add the Pazz & Jop results for reference when they come out next week, but I'm basically done. Largeheartedboy seems to have shut down his list collection back on Dec. 29, and it's been harder (but not impossible) to find lists since then.

As for content, I was surprised that Christgau's list (of my list) of probable poll leaders omitted Beach House, whose Teen Dream is currently just barely ahead of LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening in 4th place (570 to 568). Christgau pegged the record as a 1-star HM early in the year, summing it up: "Teeny-weeny dreamy-themey pokey-wokey tune-a-rooney." I can see where he might not have anything more to add to that -- I went back and replayed the record and left it in the exact same slot. But it's actually the leading edge (and a relatively decent one at that) of the year's big alt-rock fad: dream-pop. Behind it you will find a plethora of slow, stodgy, easy rocking records dedicated to dulling the senses: the Walkmen, Local Natives, Twin Shadow, Wild Nothing, the Morning Benders, Glasser, probably Tame Impala (which I haven't heard); Caribou and the Tallest Man on Earth come from different formalisms but wind up to the same effect.

Still, none of that makes me nervous like Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear did last year. I can sort of see the appeal of dream-pop whereas last year's tidal wave of art-prog just confused me -- made me feel old and out of touch. In comparison, this has been a much more sensible and promising year: terrific hip-hop records at the top of the food chain, some very solid alt-rock in the middle, a good teen-pop album for every bad one, and underground shit swelling up everywhere -- only big weak spot I see is country, which didn't amount to much in Nashville, Austin, or across Americana. Go figure.

UPDATE: Looks like I can move Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids from one column to another. In one of his MSN comments, Christgau wrote:

In re Ghostface, I loved it the first two times but eventually decided that was because I hadn't played any of his better albums for a while. Actually wrote an HM because it took a hard listen to figure that out:

Living off his past, but it's quite a past and a damned decent living ("In the Park," "Purified Thoughts"); ***

Best one's still the first one, you know. Wildflower, Camay, 260, and that one about half starving as a kid--all different, and not a one topped in its class.

I can read that a couple of ways. One is that he's at least two plays ahead of me on Apollo Kids. After one (or maybe it was two) plays I was satisfied that it sounded great. But then he brings up Ironman, which I gave up on at B+ and lists songs I never noticed, probably because that's not the way I think about albums. Besides, if that's the criteria, what's he doing pushing the new Rachid Taha over Diwan and Made in Medina?

On the other hand, I can remember buying new albums by Al Green and Van Morrison knowing they were inferior just because the thrill of hearing their voices doing something different seemed to make it worthwhile -- even realizing I'd never again pick them over better albums I already owned. Of course, records were cheaper than, and we had more time -- mostly because we had less other shit to keep track of. For a while I rationalized reviewing records by noting that when I retired I'd have a library I could thrive on for the rest of my life. Now I realize I'm not going to live long enough to enjoy more than a small fraction of them. So maybe I should dig up my copy of Ironman -- must be around here somewhere. But in the context of 2010 hip-hop, which has been a pretty good year, I was happy to find Apollo Kids sounding pretty great.

Michael Tatum: Reviewing Records Is Fucking Hard

I copied this off from a Facebook page Michael Tatum wrote, just to keep a copy handy. Filed it in this slot because it's driven by the same self-examination in my post above. His line about serious reviewing requiring more than 1-2 spins directly counters my methodology, so you're free to conclude that I'm not being serious. I'd say that like anything in statistics, sample size matters. I'll also say that even I am more inclined to believe his five-listen B- take on Jamey Johnson more than my one-spin B+(**), but not just because I recognize that he put more effort into it; it's also because the specific things he griped about are things that I either didn't notice or didn't give any thought to. On the other hand, it may be that if you don't care that his own songs aren't up to his covers, and you'll never pay any heed to some lyrics that rubbed him the wrong way, my take may be closer to yours.

Michael Tatum: Reviewing Records Is Fucking Hard

I say this not to grab your attention -- it's the honest truth. During my first two tries at it -- first for the Daily Bruin, UCLA's student-run newspaper, then as then the editor of Static Multimedia, a third-tier web magazine, I thought I was the shit. I really thought of myself not just as a rock critic par excellence, but also as an extremely hard worker. Neither was true. At the Daily Bruin, where I spearheaded a streamlined record review section, penned my own (highly obnoxious) weekly column, and grudgingly obliged the occasional interview for my editor, I thought I had this rock critic thing down to a science. I assembled lists that would make your head spin -- of publicists, of upcoming new releases, of items I had read about in Spin or The Village Voice that I thought might be ear-worthy. I was, or at least fancied myself, a tireless reviewing machine: churning out a daily parade of capsule reviews; fussing over punch lines, apercus, and five dollar words, and hovering over the hapless copy editors to ensure every word remained pristine, the way I had written it. God, I was a fucking idiot.

Of course, after a psychiatrist informed me I was bipolar, I mellowed out quite a bit -- several years and myriad medications later. I stopped writing rockcrit, and dreamed about the novel I wanted to write (which incidentally is now languishing in my computer, stalled at a hundred pages). My tenure at Static Multimedia seven years later was a total accident -- I was at the proverbial right place at the right time. Much like at UCLA, where the film editor doubled as the music editor, and he spent so much time with the former I could pretty much have my merry way with the latter, once again, I had carte blanche to do whatever I wanted -- to say Static was run haphazardly would be an understatement. Once again, I thought I was pretty brilliant; in hindsight, a sure sign I had my head up my ass. I made many of the writers who worked for me suffer -- my editing was merciless, though to be fair, that paragraph sounded better as the penultimate rather than the final, that word was misused, that sentence didn't make any sense, and for God's sakes Brett, could you stop writing about fucking WILCO? Jesus man, open up your mind!

The third time I fell into a rockcrit gig I realized how small I really was in the cosmic scheme of things, how much bigger music was than me. This is one of those things I always understood intellectually, but never really absorbed as fact until I shut my mouth and started listening. Being humbled in this manner is the first breakthrough I've had as a writer, at least with my music writing. Robert Christgau's "Consumer Guide" had recently been canned by MSN.com -- pretty criminal I thought, albeit a kinder end than death by cough syrup. For years I relied on that column for leads on good music, especially since I hadn't written anything for years (the concept of a "consumer guide" makes a great deal of sound sense when you're actually, you know, a consumer). Realizing I might have to do my own listening to find diamonds among the paste copies, I inaugurated -- with the help of my friend Tom Hull -- the "Downloader's Diary," my own response to the Consumer Guide, which it resembled in format. The way I envisioned it, I would review twenty-five to thirty odd records per month, separating them out into an A list (the really good stuff), trash (the really bad stuff) and "honorable mentions" (the in-between stuff). My modus operandi was to load a bunch of downloaded records onto my iPod and listen and take notes on my forty-minute train ride to work. A cinch, I thought -- could be fun.

I soon realized that my previous efforts as a rock critic were pretty lame. First of all, listening alone takes work. If you really want to get the core of how a record works, you can't listen to it twice -- you have to listen a number of times, and believe me, listening to the Jamey Johnson album three, four, five times to give a B minus ain't fun. This meant I had to not only burn my swag onto hard discs to play them at home, but those records became all I listened to. This is a pretty crucial component of the process to reveal. Back in college, my listening habits were far more lackadaisical -- I'd put far more ear time into things I already knew I liked (To Bring You My Love one more time, please), or thought I would like based on previous work (this new Liz Phair has to good, right?). I would regularly play hooky from the latest stack sent from the nice people at Warners and Elektra and pop in old favorites -- Gang of Four, Television, things I knew by heart. Now, no more. In the past, my wife used to ask, "What is that record you're playing?" Nowadays she's more likely to ask, "What is that record you're playing -- and why the hell are you listening to it?" Doing dishes, cleaning the house, huddled at my computer at two in the morning, it's whatever I downloaded last week: Das Racist, Chromeo, and what do you know, the new Liz Phair. If I like it enough -- if it merits at least an A in my column -- I'll pick up a physical copy at Spin, my local indie record store. After which it will be inserted into the correct alphabetical/chronological spot on the shelf, and it will be played a great deal less.

How I accumulate my playlists is a great deal different, too. Rather than skimming the cream from obvious sources -- obvious indie rock sources, it should be clarified -- I generally tend to amass titles gleaned from Metacritic and Pitchfork, neither of which existed when I was in college. But that proved to be not enough my purposes -- not nearly completist enough to suit my new mission. So I checked Sterns Africa for World Music, which proved to be a smart move -- that's how I unearthed D.O. Misiani's King of History and Roots of OK Jazz, two of my most prized 2010 releases. Pop Matters, Pause and Play, then Allmusic.com when I discovered they had lists of everything that would be released on any given day. Then I stumbled into the world of the mixtape via Das Racist, which opened up a whole avenue that would lead me to more great music. I wanted to hear it all. I would end up reviewing almost 150 records in the first six "Downloader's Diary" columns, some with a capsule review, some with a few words, and some merely listed under the "trash" designation. I still felt like I hadn't heard enough. I wanted to hear more.

If this strikes some as neurotic, so be it -- I still work a forty hour a week job, spend time with my lovely wife, and read a shit ton of fiction (in the last month: Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Erasers, H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, Shakespeare's Pericles, and Jorge Luis Borges' Ficciones, since you asked). I would like to think of myself as an intensely curious person who when he does something, wants to do it right. Writing this column, I think I'm getting closer to doing it right. In my own uniquely obsessive way, I'm trying, in my own little corner, to master a subject that's more daunting the further I chase it into the rabbit hole -- but I never tire of the chase. Neither should you.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Talking Pogrom Blues

Josh Marshall: They Just Don't Stop: Short, so I'll quote it all:

I thought Sarah Palin's "blood libel" comment was crude and stupid. And I understand that many found it offensive, though I can't say I was really offended in any personal way. The truth is very few things actually offend me. But this actually did. The Washington Times says that the reaction to Palin is part of an "ongoing pogrom" against conservatives in America.

That strikes me as offensive and even disgusting.

I really don't know what's with this people.

You know, people get a word stuck in their head that they just barely grasp and they feel compelled to misuse it. I'm reminded of the "high-tech lynching" of Clarence Thomas. No doubt Thomas was made uncomfortable by opposition to his nomination to the Supreme Court which impugned both his legal credentials and his moral character. But he never had to sweat like the thousands of Black Americans who actually were lynched over the past century, or the millions who lived in perpetual terror of who might be lynched next. Not only was it a stretch to compare his plight with those who were so cruelly murdered, it was profoundly disrespectful, and just plain ignorant. Same thing here.

This is getting really tiresome. What's happened is that a significant bunch of conservatives all wrapped up in their Revolutionary War rhetoric, their gun fetishism, and their eliminationist fury against anyone and everyone not up to their standards of what a True American should be, have stepped in a big pile of their own doo. But rather than taking some responsibility and trying to clean themselves up, all they can do is whine about how they're being picked on, and fantasize -- if you take pogrom literally -- about being the victims of police-organized mobs breaking into their businesses and homes to loot and kill them. They're not just pathetic; their obsessive sense of self-importance has turned them into their own worst enemy.

By the way, the Wichita Eagle ran a big tally today of all of the acts that had appeared at the new special-sales-tax-funded arena in downtown Wichita in 2010. Aside from a few Wichita Thunder games -- that's a minor league hockey team (even I had to look that up to be sure) -- the only act all year long that drew less than Sarah Palin's big speech here was something called Celtic Woman. Palin drew about 1/5 as many people as George Strait (2973 to 14738). And when she came back to the area a few months later, her sole appearance was a book signing at a suburban grocery store.

Her next stop, by the way, will be to speak at a hunting club convention in Nevada. The link has a publicity shot of her toting a rifle, although note that the scope has been tastefully removed, like the crosshairs on her website. Frankly, she doesn't look like much of a shooter to me. More like what Michael Kinsley used to call a "buckraker," only she's raking in a lot more bucks than Kinsley ever dreamed of.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Hard Way

I was saving Matt Taibbi's profile of John Boehner for Weekend Roundup (The Crying Shame of John Boehner) but deep down in the article I ran across a side story that takes on further overtones than it had when Taibbi wrote it:

Another Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus, clashed repeatedly with Boehner before losing his seat in the midterm elections. After Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus "may be a dead man" and "can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati" because "the Catholics will run him out of town," Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house. Driehaus says he approached Boehner on the floor and confronted him.

"I didn't think it was funny at all," Driehaus says. "I've got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, 'John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.'"

Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn't think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. "But it's not about what he intended -- it's about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work."

Driehaus says Boehner was "taken aback" when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: "He said something along the lines of, 'You know that's not what I meant.' But he didn't apologize."

Maybe someone will dig up some firm numbers on how many and how often members of Congress get death threats, but this isn't the only story I've read lately. Indeed, they seem to have been a regular feature in Giffords' life. So it doesn't seem to have been infrequent, and it doesn't seem to be random either. What Boehner did here, like what Sarah Palin did with her nationwide crosshairs campaign, amounted to flirting with those who would push the line, perhaps to its logical conclusion. It is just the sort of menace that delivers a vicarious thrill, while preserving legal and political deniability. Who, after all, could suspect a loyal party hack like Boehner of fomenting hate crimes?

There may be a certain amount of political opportunism in pouncing on the rabid right in the wake of the shootings of Giffords et al., but it feels more like a dam broke -- that a lot of Democrats had this pent up frustration at being barraged with death threats, at such actual violence as having offices vandalized, stuff that they couldn't really point back at the right without seeming like whiners, and now they can talk about it because virtually anyone can connect the dots. Conversely, the right's propagandists and politicians have been backed onto their heels trying to spin the charges around. And it's proving tough for them: you can't blame an isolated shooter for anything more than an isolated crime, but there are way too many threats and acts of violence to mop up.

One source on this is a book by John Amato and David Neiwert called Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press). The book shows a massive ramping up of threats and acts of violence ever since Obama was elected. Also, as Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out (most recently in Climate of Hate), the same thing happened with the 1992 election of Bill Clinton. As much as you might want right and left to balance out, the same thing did not happen with the election (or whatever you called it) of George W. Bush in 2000, and it's not really because leftists didn't despise Bush and Cheney and their crew as much as the right loathed Clinton and Obama. The real differences are that the left opposes war and domestic violence while the right exalts them (as much as isn't tactically taboo); the left believes in fair democratic processes whereas the right will do whatever it takes to win (because frankly real democracy works against them); the left appeals to reason on issue while the right works up a fury of emotion, sometimes to the point of glorifying stupidity and flat out craziness; and the right has a vast propaganda network that the left, for better or worse, simply lacks -- partly for lack of money, but also because the political left keeps undercutting itself by wanting to play fair, a scruple the right simply doesn't have.

And there's one more asymmetry that hardly anyone talks about but is worth noting: for a variety of reasons, assassinating leaders on the left, even very moderate ones, is more likely to work to the right's benefit than vice versa. You can argue whether the Kennedys would have pulled us out of Vietnam, but once they were dead they didn't, not did anyone else until the Army itself contrived to escape. Killing Martin Luther King capped the civil rights movement and turned him into a national holiday, a mere icon. Killing Yitzhak Rabin destroyed the Oslo Peace Process and ensured decades more of conflict in Israel/Palestine. Charismatic leaders are hard to replace: even though the left has more visionaries, their practical ability to challenge the status quo is hard to come by. So given this asymmetry, the right may feel it has little to lose if the culture of violence escalates.

Let's return to Krugman's piece, cited above:

I've had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton's election in 1992 -- an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has. [ . . . ]

Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness -- but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there's not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it's "the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business." The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line. [ . . . ]

And it's the saturation of our political discourse -- and especially our airwaves -- with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where's that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let's not make a false pretense of balance: it's coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It's hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be "armed and dangerous" without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there's a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you'll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won't hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly, and you will.

Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O'Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that's what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there's a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.

Krugman doesn't go far enough here. The idea that you can solve your problems by killing your enemies is deeply embedded in American culture. One could probably think up thousands of examples. For an indication of how deep the idea goes, just think of Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, which changes the course of WWII by killing off Hitler (with highly flammable films, no less). Of course that's just pop culture, and most people don't put much stock in it. Less well known is the extent to which targeted assassination has been US government policy, starting with the CIA's many botched attacks on Fidel Castro, their successful ones on Lumumba and Allende, the thousands of Phoenix victims in Vietnam, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Indonesian "communists" we helped finger to be killed. Occasionally scruples got in the way, as when Clarke backed away from an opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s -- a reticence the Bush administration made sure wouldn't happen again. Now we routinely patrol the skies over Pakistan and other countries scouring for bad guys to snuff out. Regardless of whatever differences America's two major political parties have over killing each other, they at least find common ground when it comes to killing foreigners.

It shouldn't be surprising that some of that leaks back. We continuously train people to go and kill foreigners, then expect them to act differently back in America. Most do, but dozens or hundreds in recent years didn't get the hang of it -- most commonly killing themselves, but sometimes killing others (as well). More civil political discourse might take the political thrust out of the killing, but we're still a country with a lot of damaged and deranged people in a sinking and pathetically hopeless economy, a lot of guns, a political system and a government that doesn't care. So we're a long ways from fixing any of that. And like any problem, you can't fix it as long as half of the political spectrum sees it as a winning hand. About all you can do is to keep pointing the finger back at them, because the saddest thing about America right now is that nobody learns anything but the hard way.

Facebook link announce: wrote a line I hadn't bothered to work into the post proper:

Who better than a 75-year-old sheriff to discern whether the tide in violent political rhetoric has resulted in more threats to public officials. You say he's a Democrat? So much the better to have a positive appreciation of and concern for reality.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Short update on my status. As I noted before, my laptop failed to boot Sunday night, taking with it nearly a week's worth of work, including Monday's planned Jazz Prospecting and a rather substantial update to my year-end list metafile. Since then I've been working to recover the data and get the computer working again. The first part of that has been successful. After a lot of cautious poking around I ran fsck on the laptop's root filesystem and it did its magic -- after one read failure, and a few dozen inode/bitmap/freelist fixes. Three files were orphaned and reconnected to /lost+found -- I haven't figured them out yet, but they don't seem to be part of my data. I was then able to mount the disk read-only and copy off my data. Then I reconciled its data with other changes I had made to the website's copy (including finding a bunch of inconsistencies where the two had drifted apart). Finally, I uploaded the reconciled data to the website. My master copy has been moved to a different base machine -- one that should be more reliable and which is also a fair bit faster.

Still need to work on the laptop. The file system is no longer corrupt, which should fix the boot problem -- mount was failing so no startup files could be found -- but the broken files could affect something further down the boot process, so I need to verify the software install. I'm also worried about the reliability of the hard drive, so I should run some diagnostics before I put much trust in the system. But for now I've cut it out of the work loop, which make it something I don't have to deal with right away.

I'm thinking now I'll hold Jazz Prospecting back until Monday -- I have enough material now but still have a bunch of filing and fiddling to deal with the incoming material. (Which, by the way, has started to come in again after a dry spell over the holidays.) I'll probably do a second Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week -- I had been planning on that after I split January's stash, then I wanted to hold it back until after Downloader's Diary appeared, then, well, this.

The much updated 2010 Metacritic File is sorted and up now -- although a tiny amount of source information is still lost (an accident prior to the crash). Since December 22, the leader's count rose from 438 to 742 (69%), while the challenger's rose from 391 to 699 (79%). Still unlikely, given my unweighted methodology, that Kanye West will ever catch up with Arcade Fire. Also worth noting that Beach House overtook LCD Soundsystem and looks to be pulling away -- the opposite seemed to be the case earlier. Also Janelle Monáe has edged ahead of Vampire Weekend, and Black Keys have opened up a fairly large lead over Big Boi. I thought the lists were settling down into a fairly stable pattern, so this much churn has been a bit of a surprise.

Not sure if I'm done with the lists or not -- at least I've broken the habit of working on them. And they've mostly served their purpose (although I would like to work Bruce Gallanter's list in -- bottom of post here, also Robert Christgau's Dean's List; I generally don't bother with Pazz & Jop, figuring it's too much and too late and spoils the predictive value).

Metafile Progress

Back on December 22, I posted some incremental data on my 2010 Metacritic File. After recovering from the near-death experience of losing my laptop files, I figured I might as well revisit the subject and separate out the counts added since Dec. 22 (which turn out to have been considerable). The following list is sorted by the added vote count. In braces you first find the progress (two rank numbers and total votes to Dec. 22), then after the semicolon the new rank number and vote total. The records I listed are the same ones listed last time, resorted.

  1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 308 {3:2:391;2:699}
  2. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs 304 {1:1:438;1:742}
  3. The National: High Violet 248 {2:3:364;3:612}
  4. Beach House: Teen Dream 242 {5:5:308;4:550}
  5. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest 208 {6:6:277;6:485}
  6. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening 204 {4:4:331;5:535}
  7. The Black Keys: Brothers 187 {11:11:210;9:397}
  8. Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid 183 {10:8:228;7:411}
  9. Vampire Weekend: Contra 154 {7:7:250;8:404}
  10. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty 142 {9:10:219;10:361}
  11. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today 135 {19:16:164;14:299}
  12. Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me 128 {16:14:167;15:295}
  13. Gorillaz: Plastic Beach 125 {13:13:176;13:301}
  14. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz 120 {12:12:199;12:319}
  15. Caribou: Swim 112 {15:15:164;16:276}
  16. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma 113 {22:22:136;18:249}
  17. Sleigh Bells: Treats 111 {8:9:222;11:333}
  18. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor 101 {18:19:145;20:246}
  19. Best Coast: Crazy for You 100 {27:18:148;19:248}
  20. Yeasayer: Odd Blood 98 {14:17:164;17:256}
  21. The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt 95 {30:26:124;22:209}
  22. The Roots: How I Got Over 93 {24:27:122;21:215}
  23. Four Tet: There Is Love in You 85 {28:29:113;26:198}
  24. Robyn: Body Talk 76 {31:24:128;25:204}
  25. Local Natives: Gorilla Manor 74 {42:40:93;33:167}
  26. Tame Impala: Innerspeaker 74 {82:33:108;30:182}
  27. Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record 69 {29:31:109;31:178}
  28. Spoon: Transference 69 {20:21:139;23:208}
  29. Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles [II] 68 {36:37:97;37:165}
  30. Surfer Blood: Astro Coast 68 {26:25:125;27:193}
  31. The Walkmen: Lisbon 66 {17:20:142;24:208}
  32. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer 65 {35:36:101;35:166}
  33. Jonsi: Go 64 {21:23:128;28:192}
  34. Grinderman: Grinderman 2 62 {23:28:120;29:182}
  35. Broken Bells: Broken Bells 62 {34:34:102;34:166}
  36. Twin Shadow: Forget 62 {54:42:91;38:153}
  37. Foals: Total Life Forever 61 {25:32:108;32:169}
  38. Hot Chip: One Life Stand 57 {44:39:94;40:151}
  39. Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here 53 {38:38:97;41:150}
  40. Wavves: King of the Beach 47 {51:45:89;44:136}
  41. Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can 40 {37:30:112;39:152}
  42. Warpaint: The Fool 38 {32:35:102;42:140}
  43. These New Puritans: Hidden 36 {41:41:91;48:127}

I don't have the reference point data for any other records, but it seems likely that the following may have fared better over the same period as the bottom finishers:

  • MGMT: Congratulations {36:166}
  • No Age: Everything in Between {43:140}
  • The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang {45:134}
  • Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More {46:134}

Also possible that Jason Moran: Ten would have shown up in the gainers when I tabulated all those jazz poll ballots. Right now he's at 61 with 106 counts.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (6): January 2011

Insert text from here.

Archive and indexes here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

No Jazz Prospecting?

After begging off for two straight weeks, I swear I had enough material for a Jazz Prospecting post today: 10-12 new records as I started picking things from my queue that scored mentions in year-end lists, plus another 12-15 similarly touted items I didn't get but found on Rhapsody. But the dog ate my homework, and right now I have nothing I can post.

Actually, what happened was that late last night I updated the software on the laptop where I keep the working copy of my website. After all the software packages were downloaded and installed, the update software asked to reboot the machine. I'd never had any problem doing this before, so didn't think about backing up last week's work. I just went ahead and did it, but the machine didn't reboot. It's running Ubuntu 10.10 (up from 10.4), and Grub 2 (the loader package) couldn't find "init" (presumably /sbin/init, the first program that all Unix-like systems run, as evidenced by the fact that it always owns process number 1. This dropped me into the BusyBox shell (ash) with the suggestion that I try explicitly specifying bootparms. But the disk drive was inaccessible and programs like fdisk and fsck weren't available. Looking at dmesg suggests that at least one disk block couldn't be read, but it was hard to sort out the context.

Most of the previous paragraph will be gibberish to most people, and to tell the truth, I'm a bit out of my depth too (although I do understand what I just wrote, and I have written bootstrap loaders in a past life, but nothing anyway near this sophisticated). Last night I figured out the above. I also copied down my public website and got it running on another Linux machine, so I can start working forward from the last time I updated the website -- last Monday or Tuesday (except that I purposely skipped the 2010 metafiles, so the loss there is greater). I also downloaded a live Ubuntu 10.10, burned it, and was able (after a harrowingly long time) to boot the laptop with it. That should provide me the missing tools like fdisk and fsck, let me mount the hard drive, and let me set up a network connection. The fix may be as simple as copying a new /sbin/init, or it may go deeper into the loader configuration -- I've had to fix problems with pre-Grub loaders, but I've never been forced to understand Grub -- or the hard drive may be more or less corrupt. I'll need to do two things here: the first is to copy off as much data as I can recover; the second is to fix the system so it boots properly. I'm guardedly optimistic that I can do both, but it's going to be a long, painstaking slog.

If I get lucky and recover the data today, I'll post Jazz Prospecting tonight. If not, I'll probably wait until next week. Either way, we should be able to post the delayed January 2011 "A Downloader's Diary" tomorrow.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Killers in America

Don't have any "weekend roundup" this week, although I could have included Paul Krugman's brief Assassination Attempt in Arizona note, which makes a couple of succinct points:

Just yesterday, Ezra Klein remarked that opposition to health reform was getting scary. Actually, it's been scary for quite a while, in a way that already reminded many of us of the climate that preceded the Oklahoma City bombing.

You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we're going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it's long past time for the GOP's leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.

Actually, the GOP leaders (at least in the House) rushed to say most of the right things, as they always do when one of their followers gets a little carried away. Even Sarah Palin's people made haste to scrub their website of crosshairs.

Of course, the GOP leaders won't chastise their radio propagandists, who have proven time and again that appeals to raw emotion and hate are the only things that work to motivate the disgruntled to support the cause of profiteers -- it's not like appeals to reason or even self-interest would do the trick.

But there is a far greater hypocrisy here that no one is talking about: it's hard to say that we shouldn't settle our domestic political conflicts with guns when both parties in Washington including President Obama believe that they can and should go out and assassinate their supposed enemies, including the occasional American citizen who steps over the line. The US, following Israel's model, has a program of targeted assassination, most famously using drones over Pakistan and Yemen.

If you sincerely want to prevent citizens from trying to solve their personal and political problems by killing people the least you can do is to stop setting such an example.

By the way, the New York Times didn't have any news about the Arizona shootings today -- it's Sunday, their no-new-news day -- but it was still chock full of pieces on the ill consequences of assassination: specifically, the murder of Pakistan's America-friendly governor of Punjab. One thing the articles studiously avoided saying was: what goes around comes around.

Paul Woodward: The gun -- preeminent symbol of the impotence of the American citizen: After Gore lost in 2000, the Democrats pretty much threw in the towel on gun control, deciding the issue wasn't worth losing any more elections over. Kerry made a point of interrupting his campaign to go goose hunting, and I don't recall Obama ever raising the issue, despite the fact that the NRA keeps pushing ever further lunacies. But when I heard about the shootings in Arizona, the first thing I thought of was last week's murder of a high school vice-principal in Omaha -- maybe that wasn't news on the coasts, but it was here. I doubt anything will change soon, but Woodward's comments are apt:

A paradox embedded in many popular symbols of power is that their greatest appeal is often found among those who perceive themselves as the most weak. Nowhere is this marriage of power and weakness more evident than in the American fetish of the handgun.

Also see: Justin Elliott: Weapon in Rampage Was Banned Under Clinton-Era Law.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Third Rail of American Politics

Chris Hedges: Ralph Nader: 'The Left Has Nowhere to Go': Hedges started out as a divinity student, became morbidly fascinated with war and after chasing it around the world for a couple decades was ultimately deeply appalled by it, setting himself off on a radical tangent where he has become obsessed with the role of what he calls the Liberal Class in fostering and perpetuating war and injustice. You can look up the details in his recent book, The Death of the Liberal Class, or you can extrapolate them from earlier books like War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Losing Moses on the Freeway, and it wouldn't hurt to read his more cogent books written along the way, Empire of Illusion, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. The new book is something I need to write about some day, because it is both profoundly right and profoundly wrong, and it's important to be able to figure out which is which. But the key point is that Hedges isn't the only person to follow this path from idealism to disillusion to attacking the political machine that once held promise but came to be seen as hopelessly corrupt. The New Left went through the same thing in turning against LBJ's liberalism in the late 1960s. Much the same thing happened a generation earlier with the intellectuals who turned against the CP -- Orwell, Koestler, Silone, the authors of The God That Failed, lionized by cold war liberals from the 1950s up to Tony Judt. I could digress on my own experience here, or I could delve into the deep and very murky politics of such splits, but let's stick with Hedges' immediate agenda. Being a journalist (as well as a failed divinity student), it's not surprising that Hedges should seek out a fellow disillusioned icon, especially one who has a practical (which is not the same thing as realistic) solution to sell. This is, of course, perennial third party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who turned on the Democrats after a Democratic congress shredded Nader's consumer advocacy programs in the 1970s.

"The more outrageous the Republicans become, the weaker the left becomes," Nader said when I reached him at his home in Connecticut on Sunday. "The more outrageous they become, the more the left has to accept the slightly less outrageous corporate Democrats."

Nader fears a repeat of the left's cowardice in the next election, a cowardice that has further empowered the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, maintained the role of the Democratic Party as a lackey for corporations, and accelerated the reconfiguration of the country into a neo-feudalist state. [ . . . ]

"The left has nowhere to go," Nader said. "Obama knows it. The corporate Democrats know it. There will be criticism by the left of Obama this year and then next year they will all close ranks and say 'Do you want Mitt Romney? Do you want Sarah Palin? Do you want Newt Gingrich?' It's very predictable. There will be a year of criticism and then it will all be muted. They don't understand that even if they do not have any place to go, they ought to fake it. They should fake going somewhere else or staying home to increase the receptivity to their demands. But because they do not make any demands, they are complicit with corporate power.

"Corporate power makes demands all the time," Nader went on. "It pulls on the Democrats and the Republicans in one direction. By having this nowhere-to-go mentality and without insisting on demands as the price of your vote, or energy to get out the vote, they have reduced themselves to a cipher. They vote. The vote totals up. But it means nothing."

Now, there is plenty of reason for people to feel disillusioned by Obama, and no reason to expect that to let up. (Even if you hypothesize that there is a more progressive Obama lurking deep down and that his compromises are tactical given the political exigencies, the political context is unlikely to change within his term limits.) So given that you care about the issues, what can you do? Nader, who has no faith in reforming the Democratic Party (and plenty of good reasons for that) insists on mounting a third-party movement. Hedges is at least tempted by the idea, and I know lots of other people who would lean that way, although frankly I know many more who would happily settle for the lesser evil -- a no-sweat contest for Obama against any conceivable Republican candidate.

The main reason to challenge Obama, either in a Democratic Party primary or with a third party candidate in the general election, or both, is that it gives you a platform to talk about issues. But the press, not to mention Obama and the Republicans, don't want to talk about issues. The only thing they want to talk about is the horse race, and the only way a progressive challenger enters into that is as a potential spoiler for Obama. Nader, of all people, should know that by now. You think he had nothing distinctive or interesting to say in 2000, 2004, or 2008? Do you remember anything he said during those three campaigns? All I remember is a lot of carping about how Nader hates the Democrats so much he'd hurt the country just for the personal satisfaction of seeing the Democrats lose. That wasn't fair: for starters, the Republicans are the ones out to wreck the country, and it's not clear that the Democrats are sharp enough to stop them even if they did win. But it doesn't support the argument that the left needs to front a presidential candidate in order to get the message out.

I'm writing this in large part because I was asked what I think about this article, so this is what I think: forget about Obama in 2012. He is what he is, and won't much matter after 2016 (or 2012) anyway. This is a practical matter, but there's also some principle behind it: even if you had a president who had the insights and ideals that many of us (perhaps foolishly) hoped to find in Obama you need a disciplined and principled party to get things done. So while I think running a presidential flyer would be a waste of time, the left should make a serious and earnest effort at building up a party.

There are two basic approaches to this. One would be to start a third party and take some lumps until enough people realized that you are the one with the best ideas and candidates. The other would be to form a caucus or faction within the Democratic party and work toward taking over the party -- which as George McGovern learned in 1972 may also mean taking some lumps. (Of course, given the present lack of organization on the left, you could find like-minded people to go both ways, and see which works out best.)

The third party approach has one big advantage, which is that you get to start with a clean slate, which can be built around a consistent and coherent program and campaign methodology. You start with the plan, recruit candidates to implement the program, and solicit votes in favor of it. In particular, you can argue that money is the prime source of corruption in politics, run all of your campaigns on shoestring budgets, and push the message that any politician who raises significant money and spends it on conspicuous things like TV and radio is corrupt, an enemy of the public. Do that enough and the money stops working.

Working within the Democratic Party seems easier, especially given that a lot of people who are your natural allies are already invested there. But so are other people who act like they're more dedicated to keeping the left down than they are to defending civilization from the Republican Horde. The Democrats who sold McGovern out are as far gone as the ones who sold Bryan out, but their heirs live on, and they seem to be pretty concentrated in the Obama-Clinton White House. One can imagine a modus vivendi where you challenge them in primaries then band together behind whoever the winner is, but in practice that will prove difficult and you'll wind up having to swallow a lot of blue dog before you break through. Moreover, you're saddled with the Democrat brand name, which may not seem as corrupt as the Republicans but more often than not that's because the Democrats sold out cheaper.

One thing I wonder about is whether it's possible to construct a left-satisfactory third party program that could appeal to significant numbers of down-market Republicans. I'm not looking for a few token compromises, not least because I don't think they work, let alone are worth it. But the Tea Party and the left believe in one thing that mainstream Democrats don't, and that's that money has corrupted not just politics but the whole of society. Both want to take government back; we'd just have to insist that that means making your government work for you. One thing such a party would have to be that the left would find distasteful is more nationalist; anti-immigrant even, but what you really have to tackle is the global capital flow which turns US trade deficits into foreign ownership where ownership is little more than a license to loot.

Another uncomfortable pill for the left would be to formulate a program that was staunchly supportive of small business. The left is genetically anticapitalist/antibourgeois, which forces large and small business into an alignment that greatly disadvantages the small. We want to break that alignment up, and we want to use small business as a check against monopolies and market manipulation. America has a large "reserve army" of entrepreneurs, which can be opened up with cheap money, lax regulation, favorable taxation -- relative to big business, to help level the playing field and to check against excessive concentration -- and a safety net. I can see a lot of good coming out of this. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine all those small businessfolk warming to labor unions. (My own preference is for employee-owned businesses anyway.)

I could rattle on like this for hours, but my own views are pretty idiosyncratic. One thing I am pretty sure of is that the left doesn't have a program that can win a majority, even though we can think of lots of things that would make most of our lives quite a bit better. I don't particularly blame Nader for hating or hurting the Democrats -- my position is that if Gore wanted to spend all of his time running to the right he was the one responsible for making that strategy work -- but he's mentally stuck in a 1960s world of huge bureaucracies, both corporate and government, that just isn't the way things work any more. There are lots of useful things his ideology can still do, like dismantle America's ridiculous empire and recover a big chunk of the wealth the rich have usurped over the last 30 years, but he doesn't have a clue how to get the American economy back to work, and that's kind of a non-starter for a 2012 presidential candidate. (Admittedly, Palin doesn't either, but she's not the standard a leftist alternative is going to be measured by.)

On the other hand, Nader himself is so bummed out that when he offers one faint glint of hope, he finally imagines a movement not led by himself:

The timidity and silencing of the left fuels the steady impoverishment of a dispossessed working class and a beleaguered middle class. It solidifies a corporate oligarchy that is dismantling the anemic regulatory agencies that once protected citizens from predatory corporations. The economic system is designed to bail out Wall Street rather than replace the trillions of dollars and millions of jobs lost by workers. And the only hope left, Nader argues, is if the conservatives in the right-wing movement break from the corporatists. If the big banks again start going to the cliff and calling for new bailouts, Nader says, this may provoke a schism between conservative groups embodied by figures such as Ron Paul, and corporate lackeys.

My emphasis, except I'm positing something much more sophisticated than libertarians can grasp -- something that avoids massive stupidity as going back to the gold standard, or even balancing the budget. But that depends on whether it's possible to break through the preconceptions that lock down the current political alignment.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Company Store

I've been meaning to write about Maxine Udall's Company Store Redux post. It's based on a paper by Michael Kumhof and Romain Ranciere called "Inequality, Leverage, and Crises." As economists like to do, this builds its understanding around a simplified model, dividing the world into two income groups: workers and investors:

The impacts of the two groups' preferences and behaviors play out differently depending which group is favored in terms of bargaining power within an economy. In the United States, where rising income inequality has been accompanied by erosion of labor union membership and political power and a rise in the political influence of financial and commercial interests, it's no surprise that bargaining power has favored so-called "investors." I say so-called, because usually when one "invests," one produces something, often of value to the rest of us: more productive physical capital; more jobs; innovation; or better and cheaper products. Something that doesn't require a taxpayer bailout and result in a near-10% unemployment rate. But I digress.

Kumhof and Ranciere note that as income inequality has grown in the US, it has fueled a recirculating flow of borrowing by working and middle class families and lending by the "investor" class, borrowing that has been necessary to maintain working and middle class consumption as real working and middle class incomes have stagnated or fallen: [ . . . ] Our current situation in which 5% of the population captures and owns a disproportionate share of national output, which it then lends to the teeming masses whose share of output has been stagnant or dwindling, is really just a new variant of the company store.

Udall goes on to describe mining company stores in terms that will be familiar to anyone who recalls Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" (actually a Merle Travis song, and worth seeking out in the original, although Ford's version is the one permanently etched in my mind, probably the most-played record I owned in the late 1950s). The key point is that when corporate control is so complete, wages just recycle back to the company in a closed loop -- kind of like the old joke about the bar that only rents you beer. The result:

Over time and as wage-earner bargaining power weakens, the investor class is able to capture greater proportions of workers' declining or stagnant real wages. The effect is that an increasing portion of middle-class wages circulate back to the financial sector as interest and fees instead of into the larger economy (except, of course, as it occasionally "trickles down" from the investor class to what over time is likely to become the equivalent of a servant class).

That's a pretty bad situation, at least if you're a worker or a servant, but it also turns out to be unsustainable:

In Kumhof and Ranciere's model, an eventual crisis causes a collapse of asset values, including those that wage earners have been borrowing to finance. The authors show through a series of simulations that only a restoration of wage-earner bargaining power (and therefore an increase in workers' relative incomes) produces the sustained reduction in worker leverage that is necessary to reduce the probability of another crisis.

My emphasis there, because that's the point I want to make sure you all get. The so-called investor class has pretty much had free reign to run the world company store since the early 1980s. They've become ever more dominant, ever more powerful, and ever more exposed to the absurdity of their political chokehold on the economy. The crisis occurred because they extended debt to people who couldn't afford it and justified it by pointing to asset values inflated by their own excesses. This basic critique has been made now and then -- David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010, Oxford University Press) is pretty dry but gets it right. The important thing about this piece is that it's one of the very few pieces that zeroes in on the only viable solution. As Kumhof and Ranciere put it:

By contrast, restoration of poor and middle-income households' bargaining power can be very effective, leading to the prospect of a sustained reduction in leverage that should reduce the probability of a further crisis.

Udall added the emphasis in her quote. Nice to have some theory here, but this should also be clear from practical examples. The US economy grew much faster from 1945-70 when real working class incomes were on the rise than it has from 1980-2010 when real incomes have been stagnant at best, even while asset prices inflated even faster. Even today, when you look at economies that are actually growing at significant rates -- China, India, Brazil -- one thing they have in common is that they are places where workers' real incomes and standards of living are growing (regardless of how pitiful they may seem relative to US and Europe). Moreover, real investments -- that is, investments that actually bother to increase productive capability -- are most often made in economies where real wages are growing (as opposed to the US, a capitalist nation with an ever-dwindling capital resource base, because we don't have the political will to halt its erosion). As Udall concludes:

If the model is right (it does seem a rather good fit with reality), all of these measures require that a government constituted to be of, by, and for the people enact policies that support wage earners, that its elected representatives start serving 95% of the people rather than the top 5% that has so effectively commandeered it. It also requires that we the people find ways to become less dependent on a financial sector that no longer serves our best interests. Unfortunately, the last will likely contract an already fragile economy, at least in the short run.

For the last 30 years, the government has been part of the problem in this trend to increasing income inequality. It's time for government to become part of the solution in reining in financial sector excesses and restoring workers to something that approximates a fair share of national output. Otherwise, most of us will eventually find out what its like to "owe our soul to the company store."

I've been trying to make this point all along, so let me reiterate: the only way to get the American economy going again -- seriously, the only way to save capitalism -- is to increase demand from the bottom of the economy up, and that can't be done without a redistribution of wealth and won't be done without a redistribution of political power. There are lots of ways to do this, and it doesn't have to result in perfect equality or anything close to it (although that would be nice), but it can't be faked (as it has through the extension of debt over the last twenty years). Still, we are a long ways from recognizing this truth, and will suffer mightily until we do.

Rate Your Music 2010 Notes

I took a look at the 2010 year-end lists at RateYourMusic and noticed one unusual piece of data: each record has a count of the user ratings (also of user reviews) as well as an average rating. (The actual ranking is based on both average and number of ratings [and/or reviews], using an unexplained formula that probably wouldn't be too hard to plot.) I've always suspected/argued that rank lists have as much to do with the number of people who heard a given album as with how well they liked the albums they heard, so I wondered whether the additional data here would help explain what we see on year-end lists. After carefully looking at the data, I'd say, uh, maybe.

To pick over some easy examples: Kanye West's average rating is higher (3.82) than Arcade Fire's (3.70), but Arcade Fire has many more raters (3457 to 2361), which explains why it's able to lead a count-oriented aggregation like my metafile. The National is in between in both aspects, which also fits my results reasonably well. Nothing else is as clear cut, but the only ones in my top 10 not in RYM's top 10 ratings counts are Big Boi and Black Keys, well down the list at 19 and 21 respectively, but with much higher ratings than Gorillaz (5th in ratings, only 3.39) if not Joanna Newsom (6th, 3.70).

Offhand, it looks to me like the ratings counts correlate fairly well with my list except for several genre selection anomalies. By far the biggest one is that RYM draws a lot of metal heads. It doesn't surprise me much that Agalloch and Alcest draw high averages -- Metacritic shows the same thing -- but it is surprising that both topped 1000 ratings, putting them in the top 30. Respectively, they have 23 and 20 counts in my list, which puts them somewhere down in the 300s. Aside from those two cases, the less obscure Deftones (74 on my list) and Owen Pallett (68 on my list), the other 27 albums with 1000 or more RYM ratings fit neatly in my top 37 (which is where Crystal Castles lands).

The ratings averages are harder to square away. Some make sense, like Sufjan Stevens' 3.68 raises him from 18 to 12, and Big Boi's 3.70 jumps from 19 to 10, while MGMT's 3.14 drops from 11 to 36. But Vampire Weekend's 3.18 only cost it two slots, and it took Deerhunter and Janelle Monae 3.72 ratings to dislodge it. (Monae has only recently and perhaps temporarily pulled ahead of Vampire Weekend.) And Sleigh Bells (3.20) and Best Coast (3.22) moved up significantly with relatively poor ratings -- those two records probably define another selection bias, albeit a pretty narrow one.

Harder to tell from the upper reaches of the data, but the people who rate records at RYM really don't like Americana and/or old-timers (although they do give Johnny Cash and Neil Young some respect, and aren't picky enough to pick on the Fall). As with anything else in statistics, as the counts dwindle the possibly random weird effects jump out. Nowhere is this more true than in jazz, where by far the most rated album is Little Women: Throat (arguably a heavy metal thrash album with saxophones). Second is Pat Metheny, which sort of makes sense, but the critically acclaimed major label Jason Moran album is in the dirt with just 24 ratings and a poor 3.29 average, with the next three Voice poll finishers doing not even that well. On the other hand, John Zorn has the two highest average scores in the top 1000, and on another album (not in the data below) picked up 99 ratings (the higher-rated ones came much later in the year). Moreover, I was very surprised (and rather pleased) to see the obscure RED Trio finish dead even with Keith Jarrett.

The following is some of the data I've drawn all this from. It starts out listing everything with more than 1000 ratings, the average rating in parens, and the rank in my metafile (up to the minute) after the dash. After that I picked out a few more records for one reason or another -- some seemed low, some high, some of special interest or curiosity. Anything that didn't make the top 1000 had to be looked up separately and is marked with an asterisk. A couple records didn't make the list because they weren't 2010 releases. Robyn's Body Talk fell out because it was deemed a compilation. By the time you get down to around 50 ratings you're in a weird zone where all kinds of things can happen, including a Russian rapper where the name and title are presented in cyrillic, and some kanji and hiragana I didn't bother chasing down. The data:

  1. 3457  Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (3.70) - 1
  2. 3265  The National: High Violet (3.76) - 3
  3. 3019  Beach House: Teen Dream (3.66) - 5
  4. 2361  Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (3.82) - 2
  5. 2308  Gorillaz: Plastic Beach (3.39) - 14
  6. 2238  Vampire Weekend: Contra (3.18) - 8
  7. 2211  Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (3.70) - 15
  8. 2102  LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (3.52) - 4
  9. 1810  Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid (3.72) - 7
 10. 1663  Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (3.72) - 6
 11. 1660  MGMT: Congratulations (3.14) - 36
 12. 1652  Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (3.63) - 19
 13. 1543  Four Tet: There Is Love in You (3.45) - 29
 14. 1532  Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today (3.54) - 13
 15. 1502  Caribou: Swim (3.48) - 15
 16. 1425  Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles [II] (3.43) - 37
 17. 1393  Yeasayer: Odd Blood (3.16) - 16
 18. 1360  Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz (3.68) - 12
 19. 1353  Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (3.70) - 10
 20. 1331  The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt (3.63) - 25
 21. 1276  The Black Keys: Brothers (3.65) - 9
 22. 1233  Alcest: Ecailles de Lune (3.57) - 300+
 23. 1182  Owen Pallett: Heartland (3.42) - 68
 24. 1178  Sleigh Bells: Treats (3.20) - 11
 25. 1166  Spoon: Transfernce (3.37) - 23
 26. 1159  Jonsi: Go (3.40) - 28
 27. 1137  Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record (3.37) - 31
 28. 1032  Surfer Blood: Astro Coast (3.26) - 26
 29. 1031  Agalloch: Marrow if the Spirit (3.83) - 300+
 30. 1024  Deftones: Diamond Eyes (3.51) - 74
 31. 1001  Best Coast: Crazy for You (3.22) - 17

      999  Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier (3.34)
      994  Burzum: Belus (3.24)
      963  Tame Impala: Innerspeaker (3.51) - 30
      961  Broken Bells: Broken Bells (3.29) - 34
      950  Gonjasufi: A Sufi and a Killer (3.41)
      940* Hot Chip: One Night Stand (3.07) - 40
      915* Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More (3.58) - 2009
      880  The Roots: How I Got Over (3.61) - 22
      879  Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (3.44) - 18
      873* MIA: Maya (3.00)
      860  Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love (3.35)
      860  The Radio Dept: Clinging to a Scheme (3.44)
      828* Eminem: Recovery (2.93)
      823  Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (3.60)
      783  Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (3.49) - 38
      767  Wavves: King of the Beach (3.17)
      759  Foals: Total Life Forever (3.44) - 32
      739  These New Puritans: Hidden (3.27)
      712  The Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards (3.44)
      708  Wild Nothing: Gemini (3.38)
      694  Menomena: Mines (3.55)
      687  Grinderman: Grinderman 2 (3.57) - 27
      680  Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh (3.49)
      674  The Fall: Your Future Our Clutter (3.59)
      636* Local Natives: Gorilla Manor (3.43) - 2009
      620  The New Pornographers: Together (3.30)
      560  Los Campesinos: Romance Is Boring (3.20)
      553  Yellow Swans: Going Places (3.48)
      545  Neil Young: Le Noise (3.50)
      543  Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave (3.56)
      537  The Walkmen: Lisbon (3.38) - 20
      535* Kings of Leon: Come Around Sundown (2.95)
      529* Weezer: Hurley (2.91)
      515  No Age: Everything in Between (3.29)
      511  Robyn: Body Talk Pt 1 (3.23)
      504  Holy Fuck: Latin (3.38)
      478  Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can (3.47) - 39
      457  Of Montreal: False Priest (3.17)
      449  Drake: Thank Me Later (2.78)
      394  Warpaint: The Fool (3.50)
      354  Kylesa: Spiral Shadow (3.53)
      338  The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever (3.18)
      333  Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way (3.54)
      330* Katy Perry: Teenage Dream (2.53)
      319  Robyn: Body Talk Pt 2 (3.29)
      314  Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer (3.47) - 33
      313* Robyn: Body Talk (3.48) - compilation - 24
      307* Lil Wayne: Rebirth (1.28)
      305  Actress: Splazsh (3.31)
      303  Girl Talk: All Day (3.25)
      294  Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal (3.28)
      276* Justin Bieber: My World 2.0 (0.95)
      269  Robert Plant: Band of Joy (3.52)
      254  Nachtmystium: Addicts: Black Meddle Pt 2 (3.21)
      253  Laurie Anderson: Homeland (3.50)
      251  Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr Rager (3.09)
      247  Dessa: A Badly Broken Code (3.36)
      242  Black Milk: Album of the Year (3.46)
      233  The-Dream: Love King (3.29)
      226  Shad: TSOL (3.55)
      217  Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday (2.52)
      212  Rihanna: Loud (2.82)
      207  Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle (3.23)
      183  El Guincho: Pop Negro (3.21)
      159  Das Racist: Sit Down, Man (3.36)
      141  Zs: New Slaves (3.37)
      137  Little Women: Throat (3.34)
      132* Lil Wayne: I Am Not a Human Being (2.32)
      122  Taylor Swift: Speak Now (3.34)
      115  Pat Metheny: Orchestrion (3.41)
      101  Jenny and Johnny: I'm Having Fun Now (3.31)
      101  Konono No 1: Assume Crash Position (3.37)
       94  Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone (3.62)
       89  Das Racist: Shut Up, Dude (3.24)
       83  Lower Dens: Twin-Hand Movement (3.26)
       81* Robyn: Body Talk Pt 3 (3.42)
       77  Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (3.58)
       75  Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids (3.46)
       75* Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip: Logic of Chance (2.70)
       74  Los Lobos: Tin Can Trust (3.70)
       70  Master Musicians of Bukkake: Totem Two (3.42)
       63* Lady Antebellum: Need You Now (2.95)
       57  Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song (3.73)
       57  Madonna: Sticky & Sweet Tour (3.64)
       56* Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2.76)
       56* Tom Ze: Estudando a Bossa - Nordeste Plaze (3.59) - 2008
       52  Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden: Jasmine (3.55)
       51  RED Trio: RED Trio (3.49)
       50  AMM: Sounding Music (3.38)
       50  Marc Ribot: Silent Movies (3.44)
       46  [Bird Em]: [Bird Pick] (3.46) - google translation from Russian
       43  Mose Allison: The Way of the World (3.43)
       37  Hamid Drake & Bindu: Reggaeology (3.49)
       30  Afrocubism: Africubism (3.60)
       29  Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (3.88)
       28  John Zorn: Interzone (4.13)
       24* Elizabeth Cook: Welder (3.49)
       24* Jason Moran: Ten (3.29)
       23  The Left: Gas Mask (3.84)
       19* Old 97s: The Grand Theatre Volume One (3.50)
       17* Susan Boyle: The Gift (2.64)
       15* Charles Lloyd: Mirror (3.77)
       14  John Zorn: What Thou Wilt (4.02)
       13* Mary Halvorson: Saturn Sings (3.69)
        9* Lars Vaular: Helt om natten, helt om dagen (3.55)
        5* Rudresh Mahanthappa/Bunky Green (3.46)

Pretty impressive database application at RYM. I wonder how open it is.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Perils of Pompeo

Two items from the Wichita Eagle today. Thought I'd just quote them rather than try to track down the URLs. The first is on 5A, under "Excerpts From Our Blog", titled "Voters want government to go away, Pompeo says":

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, was part of a focus group of GOP freshman lawmakers who appeared Tuesday on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News. After all the lawmakers indicated that they were more conservative than they were Republian, Pompeo said that "voters are mostly conservative, too. They want freedom and liberty, and they want government just to go away."

I was going to say that I don't know what planet Pompeo lives on then it occurred to me that the obvious answer was Planet Koch -- that is at least where the bulk of his financing comes from. But in Kansas a funny thing happens every time a tornado strikes, or a nasty patch of hail or freezing rain, or the creeks rise and flood a small town or a badly sited splotch of suburbia: everyone affected rises up and demands or begs for government help. When Greensburg was wiped off the map by a tornado a few years ago you didn't hear anyone go around explaining how the free market would make it all right. You sure didn't hear the suddenly homeless mayor of Greensburg quoting Ronald Reagan on how the scariest words in the English language are, "Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Who else could, or would, help people when they really needed it?

That's just one example, but it's a pretty common one: disasters strike Kansas with mind-numbing frequency. Nor does government only react to disasters. The government is responsible for forecasting tornado conditions, tracking storms and sounding alarms, which have saved thousands of lives. Before there was such a warning system, an unanticipated tornado struck Udall in 1955 killing 77 and injuring 270, close to half of the town's population. Before the government built a system of massive flood control ditches around the city, Wichita was flooded every 2-3 years -- something no one has seen since 1953.

I don't doubt that many people have good reason to distrust and fear government, and the suspicion that it's being run in someone else's interest is largely true. If the only people hurt by natural disasters were poor I don't doubt that the government would be far less responsive. Indeed, most federal disaster assistance goes to back up insurance companies, to state and local governments, and to their favored business interests. But the solution there is not to shrink and kill government; it's to reassert democratic control and repurpose it. Reagan's quote wasn't a deep truth; it was a joke, which turned on the perception that the hearer didn't have effective control of government, even when Reagan was president. It keeps getting repeated by simpletons like Pompeo because they want you to give up on turning to the government for help. And deep down, that's not really because they want to shrink it so small they can drown it in a bathtub. It's because they want to keep it all for themselves.

Second item, on page 4A, titled: "Court: Alaska's raids on homeless illegal":

An Alaska judge says Anchorage's rules for raiding homeless camps are unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner issued his ruling late Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

The ACLU argued the raids are unconstitutional because they violate property rights of the homeless.

The city passed an ordinance this summer giving the homeless five days' notice to leave the camps. The ACLU said that after that, property in the camps was to be seized and destroyed.

The judge found that giving the homeless five days' notice was not sufficient. He said a longer notice would give them time to find another place to live.

I just wanted to note that for all the Republicans' posturing about the sanctity of the constitution it's the hated, dreaded ACLU that's actually doing something about it. And it's all the more ironical that they're doing it in defense of property, something the Republicans usually hold as sacred, but evidently they're so myopic they can't recognize property unless there's an awful lot of it. (I'm reminded here of a Dave Barry line, that males can't see dirt unless there's enough of it to grow corn in.) A big part of Pompeo's campaign was to attack his opponent for once having worked for the ACLU. With the Tea Party all crazed in its love affair with the literal constitution, Raj Goyle should have embraced that charge, but instead he tripped all over himself trying to prove that he could be as bigoted and narrow-minded and opportunistic as any Republican, and that's the real reason he lost to Pompeo -- once Goyle eliminated every other distinction, the voters figured what the fuck, just go with the guy who was whiter, richer, and dumber.

One story I meant to write about when it happened but didn't get to, and it's relevant enough I should at least flag it in passing. Beech Aircraft was one of dozens of small aircraft companies founded here in Wichita back in the 1920s. Along with Cessna, it survived the Depression to become one of the world's premier manufacturers of small aircraft. It was founded by Walter Beech, and run for a long time by his widow, Olive Beech, who was not just the head of a company but one of Wichita's most eminent citizens. My mother worked there before she had me, and her sister worked there until she retired. As did other people on our block, and thousands of Wichitans. After Olive Beech died, her idiot heirs cashed in and sold the company to Raytheon, at which point it became just another outpost of an international conglomerate that couldn't care less about Wichita or Kansas. Eventually it got spun off and sucked up by a private equity group, who did what gangsters do: put a gun to the head of the governor of Kansas and demanded that if he didn't pay up they'd yank the plug and move Beech's factory to some other state or country willing to pay them the most money for the privilege of exploiting its workforce. The fact that all the know how that makes Beech aircraft fly resides here in Wichita didn't phase them a bit. By the time nobody wanted to buy Beech aircraft any more they'd have sucked all the value out of the company and moved on. So our lame duck DINO governor, Mark Parkinson, caved in and cut a deal. He promised the gangsters $40 million to keep their factory running in Wichita, and the mob agreed to lay off no more than 2,000 workers (of 6,000 currently employed, so they could still auction off a third of the company to some other bidder).

There are lots of lessons in this -- a lot more than I can unwind at the moment. One is that the real logic and purpose of the Republican's anti-government rant is to strip away any hint that government might serve anything other than private interests -- indeed, that there even is such a thing as a public interest, and especially the notion that government should act as a countervaling power against private interests. Indeed, what the Republicans want is a government that is strong enough to keep poor people down but so weak it can be bitch-slapped around by a bunch of private equity goons (who, by the way, are mostly fronts for oil-fueled foreign sovereign wealth funds that have been sucking up America's trade deficit since 1970). Or for that matter, by anyone with a serious wad of cash: what Beech did to Kansas was really minor league compared to the trillions Citibank, Goldman Sachs, et al. extorted from the federal government.

One funny thing is that Republicans like Pompeo rant and rail against the bailouts their jihad against government makes possible -- more often than not it's the Democrats who give in to extortion, because they at least can pretend to care about the casualties on Main Street if the rich don't get their way -- then promise to turn a blind eye to the subsequent looting. Indeed, if looting would help weaken government, they'd be happy to unlock the doors and hand over the keys. Then they'll lecture you on how the free market will make everything right.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Recycled Goods (81): January 2011

Text here.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Rhapsody Streamnotes (January 2011: Pt 1)

Text here.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17543 [17512] rated (+31), 854 [855] unrated (-1). Another week mostly on Rhapsody, mostly tracking down obscure records that popped up improbably in the year-end lists. Best luck has been with underground hip-hop, but you have to dig for it. Don't know when I'll switch back to normal (i.e., jazz prospecting). In sort of a zone, or a zombie state -- sometimes hard to tell.

No Jazz Prospecting

Still spending most of my time scrounging through year-end lists, checking out things I missed for one reason (high scores) or another (just looks interesting). That's actually included most of the jazz poll high finishers I wasn't serviced, but that alone isn't enough to publish. I've scarcely touched the queue, which itself hasn't grown any until today -- don't think I got any records in the mail all last week, or most of the previous one. Next week, most likely, although right now I'm trying to figure out Recycled Goods -- very short, I'm afraid. I do have a lot of Rhapsody Streamnotes, so my current plan is to split it, publish half or so tomorrow, and the other half mid-month, after A Downloader's Diary comes out -- which, by the way, will be running late this month, on or about the 10th is what I hear.

I've about run out of gas on the metacritic file, but will post a freshly sorted update today. Not much change in the rankings: Arcade Fire had pulled ahead of Kanye West by 58, then slipped to 49, then bounced back to 55. Beach House caught up to LCD Soundsystem, then slipped behind again. Black Keys had caught up to Janelle Monae then also slipped. A preponderance of European lists boosted Caribou up from 18 to 16 -- no idea what that's about. I added about two-thirds of the Village Voice jazz critic ballots in, dropping out the intersection with the JazzTimes critics ballots since they're almost identical (actually, more reissues on the JazzTimes side). This bumped Jason Moran from 75 to 51 (69 votes to 103), Rudresh Mahanthappa's Apex to 99, Charles Lloyd's Mirror to 124, Keith Jarrett's Jasmine to 142, Vijay Iyer's Solo to 149 -- all fairly meaningless numbers. The jazz subset is here, which is fairly similar (albeit somewhat longer) than the Voice's results. For me at least the interesting part of this list is the black print: the records I never got and never managed to hear -- only 4 of the top 67, but it thins out a lot after that.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Didn't get to this much during the week, but at week's end found a couple of entries in my file. Still mean to cite that Maxine Udall piece, sooner or later (although I have a different one here).

  • Paul Krugman: When Zombies When: John Quiggin has been popularizing the "zombie ideas" idea, and I have been meaning to crack open his book on that (although I suspect that John Cassidy's How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities and Yves Smith's Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism have already covered much the same ground), but under other rubrics the same idea has been a theme with Krugman. Still, whenever I look at this same evidence, I think of Jane Jacobs' Dark Ages Ahead and find them already here:

    When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything -- yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever. [ . . . ]

    Part of the answer, surely, is that people who should have been trying to slay zombie ideas have tried to compromise with them instead. And this is especially, though not only, true of the president.

    People tend to forget that Ronald Reagan often gave ground on policy substance -- most notably, he ended up enacting multiple tax increases. But he never wavered on ideas, never backed down from the position that his ideology was right and his opponents were wrong.

    President Obama, by contrast, has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing myths. He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.

    None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways that can do quite immediate harm. Right now Mr. Obama is hailing the tax-cut deal as a boost to the economy -- but Republicans are already talking about spending cuts that would offset any positive effects from the deal. And how effectively can he oppose these demands, when he himself has embraced the rhetoric of belt-tightening?

  • Alex Pareene: The Year in Trumped-Up Pseudo-Scandals: A quick review of a lot of crap that if you were fortunate you never noticed in the first place. (Proof that you can save yourself a lot of nausea by abjuring Fox News and Drudge Report.) For the historians, however, these stories will seem revelatory some day. The bold subheads:

    • Harry Reid said "Negro"
    • Barack Obama's uppity expression
    • Barack Obama yelled at the Supreme Court!
    • Captain America hates the Tea Parties
    • The Missile Defense Agency logo looks Islamic!
    • The Nuclear Security Summit logo also looks Islamic
    • NASA is abandoning space to coddle Muslims instead!
    • Barack Obama told Republicans to sit in the back of the car, which is reverse-racist
    • Barack Obama doesn't say the word "terror" often enough
    • Barack Obama said the word "ass"
    • Michelle Obama went to Spain!
    • The White House bribed Joe Sestak!
    • The White House also bribed Andrew Romanoff!
    • The White House forced Eric Massa to resign because of healthcare
    • Barack Obama's trip to India will cost $200 million a day!
  • Maxine Udall: Another Conversation about Health Care Costs: Her father is a businessman who understands running competitive businesses but health care is something else:

    "OK. Let's talk about the differences between your business and health care," I said. "Your customers are usually not feeling fear or desperation about their symptoms or their need to make a purchase. In addition, your customers can comparison shop on quality and price all over town and the internet. If you were a physician or hospital selling medical treatment, your patient won't be able to comparison shop because it's nearly impossible to find out what different providers charge for the same procedure. There's another difference, too. If she's insured, she'll pay out of pocket only a fraction of whatever you charge her. The combination of ignorance about price, quality, and whether or not something is even marginally beneficial to her combined with desperation and someone else picking up most of the tab is a potent demand enhancement mechanism. In the absence of a fee schedule or strong market or moral constraints, you could pretty much charge her whatever you felt like charging. The reasons you wouldn't do that are that there are still some weak market forces constraining you and you are trustworthy and moral and insurers won't pay you any price you like."

    "Now imagine that what you as a health care provider sell has been shaped over time to favor curing disease rather than preventing it. The technology you use has been shaped by market forces that favor diagnosis and treatment over prevention. And you're not paid for prevention. You're paid by piece work, so everything you sell, you can bill and get paid for (if she has insurance). If you make a mistake, you don't have to accept returned merchandise and refund the payment. In fact, you may actually get paid more for trying to fix the mistake."

    "So, dad, you're operating in a very non-competitive market where you are better off financially if there are more sick people than well people. Healthy people are not revenue generators for you. Understand, you're not a bad person. You're a product of markets and science that evolved from a mindset that viewed disease, not as the preventable culmination of a lifetime of sometimes bad consumption decisions, but as something outside of our control that happens to us randomly and requires intervention only after the fact. You're also in a world of animal spirits. When people become ill or disabled, they're willing to pay much more in hopes of a cure than they might have been willing to pay to prevent a hypothetical, sometime-in-the-future, episode of the same illness or injury."

Saturday, January 01, 2011

What Do You Do?

Laura Tillem: What do you do/if you are a Jew: Laura wrote this for a Wichita Peace Center event held in September at Poetic Justice, a local cafe that features poetry slam events. Seemed like a good opportunity to roll up and reiterate a set of points she's been making for years. Rhymes too. Also seemed like a good fit for the Mondo Awards, where the poem is entry 29.

I haven't had much to say about Israel recently. The evils of its current government and indeed of the whole culture that lets them rule have become so commonplace it's become tiresome to keep pointing them out. For just a taste, consider these headlines from War in Context:

Not sure who said this, but someone referred to the racist rabbis in Israel as the "auto-defamation league" -- a label that applies to more and more Israeli politicians. It's possible to trace the Zionist movement's fascination with ethnic cleansing -- their term, borrowed from the British, was "transfer" -- back to the 1930s, but Israel's leaders were usually careful to wrap up their intents with loftier prose, which helped Israel's liberal sympathizers and supporters do their best to keep American public opinion in line. But recently, headlines such as those above have started to erode deep-seated trust and commitment. Two pieces point this out: America's leading liberal Zionists are losing faith in Israel, and the typically snarky Israeli riposte: New York Times sick of Israel.

Also of note:

That's just one source among many -- too many to monitor let alone act on. So, indeed, what do you do?

Dec 2010