February 2016 Notebook


Monday, February 29, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26339 [26298] rated (+41), 410 [420] unrated (-10).

Most of this week's haul has already appeared in Rhapsody Streamnotes, if you noticed. I was rather bummed when I posted a link on Facebook and only got three "likes" and no comments. I put a lot of work into that, and I thought I came up with some really interesting records, most of which got very little recognition elsewhere. It seems that even Facebook didn't like the post, as it swallowed the URI and didn't bother picking up an image (a process which became mysterious and unpredictable a year or so ago). I did check that the link works, but maybe it got assigned some super-low priority that kept it out of readers' feeds. I also don't seem to have any way to share my Facebook posts with the Expert Witness group, which would give them a little broader circulation.

One thing a bit odd about last week was that most of the A- records pictured to the right and listed below came after the Streamnotes post. Usually I find a few things as I'm wrapping up. but last week only Tribu Baharú appeared in time, with two records (Alberto Pinton and Daveed Diggs) found the day after the post. This week's two jazz records are 2016 releases, from my mail queue. The other two appeared on Ye Wei Blog's 2015 EOY list (although it looks like the Diggs album originally appeared in 2012). About half of this week's records are 2015 releases -- consider that half-full or half-empty as you like.

Thought I'd note that we watched the Oscars last night -- using the DVR to speed through commercials, acceptance speeches, and most of those song numbers (my wife had control of the remote). We probably saw a record low number of nominated films, and I've rarely been so ambivalent about the ones I've seen. Some crib notes:

  • Picture: Saw 4/8 in theatres (The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian), plus Mad Max: Fury Road on TV. The "future dystopia" shown in the latter struck me as a pretty literal portrayal of this year's Republican platform -- with global warming turning the planet into desert, without in any way dimming our fetish for fossil fuels and guns; water is privatized, creating a master class which literally lives above the masses, who are effectively turned into slaves; the women (aside from a token truck driver) are reduced to being "breeders" and/or are hooked up to milking machines. Sure, that may not be exactly what Trump, Cruz, Rubio, et al. have in mind, but we're not talking about clear thinkers here. Presumably the movie appeals to action junkies, not far removed from people who find entertainment value in war and cruelty -- the sort of people who like to harp on how we "live in a dangerous world" and always need to be armed to the teeth to survive. Here, not only does avarice and ignorance lead to disaster, those same traits preclude any chance of learning from past mistakes. We missed the winner, Spotlight. Bad timing. The Big Short and Bridge of Spies were pretty good films.
  • Actress: Saw 2/5, missing winner Brie Larsen. I would have picked Cate Blanchett (Carol) over Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn).
  • Actor: Saw 2/5, missing winner Leonardo DiCaprio -- still in theatres here, so maybe we should check it out. I would have picked Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) over Matt Damon (The Martian).
  • Supporting Actress: Saw 1/5, Rooney Mara (Carol), thought she was pretty good.
  • Supporting Actor: Saw 2/5, including winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, though we know him more for Wolf Hall), a terrific choice.
  • Director: Saw 2/5, obviously preferring Adam McKay over George Miller.
  • Animated Feature Film: Saw 0/5.
  • Original Screenplay: Saw 1/5, would have been happy with Bridge of Spies.
  • Adapted Screenplay: Saw 4/5, missing only Room. Won by The Big Short, a remarkably fine job (also, almost unheard of, I've read the original book by Michael Lewis).
  • Foreign Language Film: Saw 0/5.
  • Documentary Feature: Saw 0/5.

I'll stop there, since most of the rest was won by Mad Max: Fury Road. I can sort of see the logic behind Makeup and Hair Styling, Costume Design, and Film Editing (though I much preferred Carol in the first two and The Big Short in the latter, just to pick the first things that popped into my mind). But the two awards for sound only reinforce my old suspicion that the loudest film wins. By the end I realized that Mad Max: Fury Road would have been less offensive (and probably made more sense) had I turned close captioning on and cut the sound way down.

For context, here's a quick, ranked rundown of 2015 movies we did see:

  1. The Big Short [A-]
  2. Bridge of Spies [A-]
  3. Trumbo [A-]
  4. Carol [A-]
  5. The Martian [B+]
  6. Mr. Holmes [B+]
  7. Brooklyn [B+]
  8. Black Mass [B+]
  9. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [B]
  10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens [B] -- in IMAX
  11. Mad Max: Fury Road [C+]

As I said, we didn't see much in 2015. We did catch our first 2016 release, Hail Caesar, today: not an especially good film, but it had more than a few great jokes (and a couple amusing dance numbers) [B+]. The Revenant is still in local theatres, and there's a good chance that Spotlight will get another encore. Less likely that The Hateful Eight will come back, but that's another film that we meant to see but didn't find time.

On the other hand I've probably watched more television this year than any time since I was a teenager. While most of it is rather light, I've gotten to where I prefer the pacing of a serial. Something, perhaps, to write about at a later date.

Too late for yesterday's political post, but I should note that we can add Kris Kobach's name to the list of Donald Trump endorsers. Had this happened a day earlier, I would have slotted his name in the Trump fanclub list somewhere between David Duke and Ann Coulter. Kobach is Secretary of State here in Kansas, or as he likes to think of it, the guy in charge of rigging elections. But he also freelances writing anti-immigrant legislation for ALEC, most of which has been ruled unconstitutional. A truly repugnant excuse for a human being.

New records rated this week:

  • The 3.5.7 Ensemble: Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples (2014 [2016], Milk Factory Productions, 2CD): [cd]: B
  • Andy Adamson Quartet: A Cry for Peace (2015 [2016], Andros): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Melissa Aldana: Back Home (2015 [2016], Wommusic): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Dave Anderson: Blue Innuendo (2015 [2016], Label 1): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Annie Girl and the Flight: Bodies (2015, United for Opportunity, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dawes: All Your Favorite Bands (2015, Hub): [r]: B-
  • Debashish Bhattacharya: Slide Guitar Ragas From Dusk Till Dawn (2015, Riverboat): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chaise Lounge: Gin Fizz Fandango (2015 [2016], Modern Songbook): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jonah Considine: Golden Flu (2015, Nein, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Daveed Diggs: Small Things to a Giant (2012 [2015], Deathbomb Arc): [bc]: A-
  • DJ Sandji: 100% Balani Show (2015, Sahel Sounds): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Ginkgoa: EP Ginkgoa (2015, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (2015 [2016], ECM): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Matt Kane & the Kansas City Generations Sextet: Acknowledgement (2014 [2016], Bounce-Step): [cd]: B
  • Knife Pleats: Hat Bark Beach (2015, Jigsaw): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: I Long to See You (2015 [2016], Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Bring Their 'A' Game (2015 [2016], Hot Cup, EP): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Magic Happen (2015 [2016], Hot Cup, EP): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Mark Lyken/Emma Dove: Mirror Lands (2015, Time Released Sound): [r]: B
  • Made to Break: Before the Code (2014 [2015], Trost): [r]: B+(***)
  • J Mancera: Mancera #5 (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Will Mason Ensemble: Beams of the Huge Night (2014 [2015], New Amsterdam): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gilligan Moss: Ceremonial (2015, EMI, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Takami Nakamoto: Opacity (2014, HIM Media, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Angelika Niescier/Florian Weber: NYC Five (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Nonch Harpin': Native Sons (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Eva Novoa: Butterflies and Zebras by Ditmas Quartet (2015 [2016], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oblik: Order Disorder (2014 [2015], Ormo): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Alberto Pinton Noi Siamo: Resiliency (2015 [2016], Moserobie): [cd]: A-
  • Quantic: The Western Transient: A New Constellation (2015, Tru Thoughts): [r]: B
  • Quttinirpaaq: Dead September (2015, Rural Isolation Project): [bc]: C+
  • Tribu Baharú: Pa'l Más Exigente Bailador (2015, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Twin Talk: Twin Talk (2014 [2016], Ears & Eyes): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Wildhoney: Sleep Through It (2015, Deranged): [r]: B+(*)
  • Wildhoney: Your Face Sideways (2015, Topshelf, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Young Thug: Slime Season 2 (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Omri Ziegele Noisy Minority: Wrong Is Right (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cdr]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Eva Novoa: Eva Novoa Trio (2010 [2012], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eva Novoa: Eva Novoa Quartet (2010 [2013], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Horace Parlan: Movin' & Groovin' (1960, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Horace Parlan: Up & Down (1961 [2009], Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Fiuczynski: Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian MicroJam (Rare Noise): advance, March 25
  • Krakauer's Ancestral Groove: Checkpoint (Table Pounding): April 8
  • Kirk MacDonald: Symmetry (Addo): March 4
  • Hendrik Meurkens: Harmonicus Rex (Height Advantage)
  • Larry Young: In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (1964-65, Resonance, 2CD): March 11

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in South Carolina by a good deal more than I expected (73.5% to 26.0%). This has finally given the media carte blanche to harp on the viability of Sanders' campaign as opposed to his issues and the relative merits (and weaknesses) of the candidates. I expect that will be the rap from now to convention time, so it may be true that the fun part of the campaign is over. In theory, Super Tuesday could mark a turnaround, but that doesn't seem very likely. Nate Silver has a piece where he estimates the share Sanders would take in each state if he split the Democratic vote 50-50 with Clinton (see Bernie Sanders Doesn't Need Momentum -- He Needs to Win These States). The table compares Silver's estimates with actual results through Nevada and polling (where available) later on. Where figures are available, Clinton is consistently beating her estimates -- even in New Hampshire, where Sanders +22 win fell short of his +32 projection. Silver figures Sanders needs to win six (of eleven) Super Tuesday states: Vermont (a cinch), Minnesota-Colorado-Massachusetts (maybe but not much polling, and Mass. is very close), and Oklahoma-Tennessee (which seem pretty hopeless, although the Okla. polling isn't so bad -- Clinton +2). Later in next week, he also lists Sanders as Kansas +18, but polls here favor Clinton. There are some fishy things about the model -- I'd be surprised if Sanders ran the table in the Rocky Mountain and Upper Midwest states like Obama did, and I suspect Clinton has more support in the "white belt" from Oklahoma up through West Virginia than Silver's model suggests (Silver has West Virginia +17 for Sanders, but Bill Clinton won the state, and Obama lost it bad).

Still, it's been fun, and regardless of what happens on Tuesday, we'll probably go to the caucus on Mar. 5 and get counted for Sanders.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is increasingly viewed as the Republican winner. 538 has estimates on the following upcoming Republican primaries (some with very little polling data, and many states are still missing). Trump is projected to win all but Texas (Cruz), although his leads in Florida (Rubio) and Ohio (Kasich) aren't unassailable. I've tabled up the raw poll averages below (* indicates only a single poll was used).

03-01Tennessee *40.0%19.0%22.0%9.0%6.0%
03-15North Carolina29.4%27.8%20.3%9.8%10.4%
03-22Arizona *35.0%23.0%14.0% 7.0%
04-05Wisconsin *30.0%20.0%19.0%8.0%8.0%

They don't seem to have any Kansas polling. As I understand it, Trump is leading among Kansas Republicans, although Rubio has racked up most of the big endorsements (Brownback, Roberts, Pompeo, Dole). Tim Huelskamp has endorsed Cruz. Lynn Jenkins was the first Rep. to endorse Carly Fiorina, so I guess she's due for a do-over. Last two Republican caucuses went to the holy roller -- this year that's split between Carson, Cruz, and Trump (not an evangelical, but he tends to hate the same people evangelicals do, and that seems to be what counts with them).

Trump, by the way, has very few endorsements: two sitting governors (Christie and LaPage), one senator (Sessions), two reps; but he has done well among European fascists (Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, Geert Wilders) and with some comparably shady Americans (David Duke, Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Jerry Falwell).

More about Trump in this week's links, below. Didn't even get around to last week's mass shooting incident in Hesston, KS:

  • Martin Longman: How Will Trump Unite the Party? Remember Ronald Reagan? He used to go around the country saying that the "11th commandment" was "never speak ill of a fellow Republican." The GOP was a much larger tent in those days, encompassing Mark Hatfield and John Chaffee as well as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms (and my own so-far-to-the-right-he's-left favorite, Iowa Rep. H.R. Gross -- younger folks can substitute Ron Paul, but you'll miss something). Reagan was himself pretty far gone on the right, but he never called anyone a RINO, much less any of the following, courtesy of Donald Trump:

    When it comes time to unite the party, he'll have to contend with having insulted all his opponents:

    • Kasich: "total dud"
    • Rubio: "a lightweight choker"
    • Carson: "Pyramids built for grain storage -- don't people get it?"
    • Cruz: "the worst liar, crazy or very dishonest"
    • Fiorina: "if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes straight, you develop a massive headache"
    • Graham: "dumb mouthpiece"
    • Walker: "not smart"
    • Pataki: "terrible governor of NY, one of the worst"
    • Jindal: "such a waste."
    • Paul: "reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain"
    • Perry: "should be forced to take an IQ test"

    And those are just the Twitter insults. Don't forget some of his other antics, like saying no one would vote for Fiorina's face and that Ben Carson is a pathological sociopath.

    Trump is going to have some problems with Fox News, too. Here's a sample of what he's said about their personnel:

    • Brit Hume: "know nothing"
    • Megyn Kelly: "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct"
    • Carl Cameron: "consistently fumbles & misrepresents poll results"
    • Charles Krauthammer: "should be fired"
    • Bill Kristol: "a sad case," "always wrong"
    • Frank Luntz: "a low-class snob"
    • George Will: "boring and totally biased," "should be thrown off Fox News"

    What about other organs of the right?

    Trump said "very few people read" the "dying" National Review, and their editor in chief, Rich Lowry, is "clueless," "incompetent," and "should not be allowed on TV."

    The Club for Growth is "crooked" and filled with "total frauds."

    Brent Bozell of the right-wing Media Research Center is "begging for money like a dog."

    Charles Koch is "looking for a new puppet."

    Most of these strike me as pretty accurate, perceptive even. Kristol, in particular, is wrong so often he makes stopped clocks seem brilliant. His judgments on Luntz, Will, Lowry, and Koch also get to the point, but he could stand to expand on Krauthammer. Still, one might note that no Republican candidate can claim Reagan's commandment as his (or her) own: they may admire the Gipper for lots of petty and vindictive shit, but not for the flexibility which made him seem much less the ogre than his record indicates. Even GW Bush was careful to sugar coat his conservatism, but to fight Obama the right-wing had to make sure that the ranks would hold, so they started a purge and everything turned nasty. Trump has taken that nastiness to a new level, but he didn't start it. He just took advantage of the seething hatefulness of the Republican masses -- ground tilled and sown by the right-wing propaganda mills. His only innovation was to turn that bile toward the Republicans' own puppet- and pundit-class -- the same people who had conned those masses into thinking that conservative economic orthodoxy was somehow in their interest (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    Somewhat related: see Nancy LeTourneau: Unprecedented for a laundry list of things that Republicans have done to oppose Obama that no opposition party in US history has previously done.

    Longman also has an interesting post, The Conservative Movement Collapsed Before Trump. As you know, since Obama became president the Republicans haven't offered any alternative policies, because a policy might provide a starting point for compromise. They've focused on obstructing everything that Obama has wanted to do, with the sole exception of a couple issues where Obama broke with the Democratic base (e.g., TPP): they're OK because they both undercut Obama within his own party and undercut the Democratic Party in the nation at large. Twenty years ago the Republicans had a largely unearned reputation as "the party of ideas" -- that was mostly due to the well-funded right-wing think tanks. Since then, well, most of the ideas turned out to be duds, and once Obama and the Tea Party arrived thinking went out the window, replaced by narrow-minded fervor. Hence every Republican candidate this year tried to run on leadership character, and mostly what they tried to lead the party in was being an asshole. Ergo:

    What the Republicans failed to do is to adjust to losing in 2008 and 2012 and come up with a new kind of conservatism that could win where McCain and Romney had lost.

    And that left a giant opening for someone like Trump to walk right through and begin denouncing everyone on the right as dopes and idiots and ineffectual morons.

    One of the reasons that the Republican Establishment has no answer for Trump is that their alternatives (basically, now down to Marco Rubio at this point) have never had an answer for how they could make the modern brand of conservatism a winner on the presidential level.

    If you are definitely not electable, then you can't convince people to vote against Trump because he's unelectable.

    Curiously enough, neocon godfather Robert Kagan is saying pretty much the same thing: Trump is the GOP's Frankenstein monster. Now he's strong enough to destroy the party. Kagan's so alarmed by Trump he's already endorsed Hillary Clinton as the best hope for Washington's war mongers. Personally, I find this as disturbing as David Duke's embrace of Trump. And I'm reminded that when Antiwar.com was doing a fundraiser a few weeks back, they included Clinton along with Trump, Cruz, and Rubio under the headline "are you scared yet?"

  • DR Tucker: The Sum of All Fears: This is the most over-the-top paranoid rant I've heard to date regarding Donald Trump. It's worth quoting, partly for entertainment value, partly to show how sensible fears can sometimes run amok:

    I'm scared for my friends' children. They will be of an impressionable age over the next four years. When they see President Donald Trump on the TV screen, what warped values will penetrate their minds? What flawed lessons will they carry with them for the rest of their lives? Will I have to tell my friends not to let their kids watch President Trump, for the same reason one doesn't let children watch movies with explicit sex, violence and profanity?

    What kind of world will those kids inherit? A Trump victory would be far more devastating for our climate than the Keystone XL pipeline would have been. I guarantee that within 24 hours of a Trump victory, China, India and other major polluters will abandon the Paris climate agreement, reasoning that by electing an unrepentant climate-change denier, America cannot possibly be trusted to hold up its end of the deal. Without that deal, you can say goodbye to a livable future -- and say hello to more fires, more floods, more disease, more death. [ . . . ]

    Think about what's at stake. This country is only so resilient. In 1992, America could have survived four more years of Poppy Bush. In 1996, America could have survived four years of President Bob Dole. In 2008, America could have survived four years of President John McCain. In 2012, America could have even survived four years of President Mitt Romney.

    Does anyone think this country could survive four days, much less four years, of President Donald Trump?

    I certainly agree that there are some pretty unsavory aspects to a prospective Trump presidency, but I wouldn't put our prospects under four years of Trump any lower than McCain or Romney. The one most inordinate power US presidents have is their ability to start wars, and McCain would easily have been (even without the legacy of GW Bush) en the most trigger-happy US president since Jackson. You should never forget that McCain was eager to push the US into war with Russia over Abkhazia. Romney has less history to review, but he ran for president in 2012 as an unreconstructed neocon -- an ideology also embraced by Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich. (I briefly turned on a recent GOP debate only to find Kasich answer another question by demanding that the US send arms to the Ukraine. That was, for me at least, the scariest single moment of the campaign I've witnessed thus far.) It's not unlikely that Trump, who has on purpose remained vague about most of his policy intentions, will turn out to be as bad as any of the above, but Tucker isn't reacting to Trump's agenda so much as to the aesthetics of his whole campaign. My own take is that Trump is significantly the least objectionable of the remaining Republican candidates. Also, my intuition is that once elected, Trump will (more readily than most) adjust to the confines of business-as-normal. (He will, for instance, have a much easier time learning to go with the flow in DC than a president Bernie Sanders would.)

    I also want to note that during his business career, Trump has actually built a few things. That's a pretty stark contrast to Romney, whose business career mostly consists of buying up companies and raping and pillaging them. I'm not saying that Trump has done mankind many favors, but he's not a pure predator like Romney.

    I'm not saying that Trump won't go bonkers over immigration: that is, after all, his signature issue. And sure, he'll do lots of other horrible things. Tucker tried enumerating some of those in another post, Mad World: Part I, although he does get carried away with the hyperbole:

    I doubt your pro-Trump friends or family members will acknowledge that the Republican frontrunner's mendacious mutterings about minorities are what really attracts them to the former pro wrestling personality, so it will be up to you to bring that issue up. Ask them if they are bothered by the bigots in Boston who pledged allegiance to Trump after beating up a homeless Latino man. Ask them if they are troubled by the violent assault on an African-American man at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Ask them to put themselves in the shoes of Muslim Republicans who are horrified by Trump's religious intolerance. [ . . . ]

    As I write this, I think of my own fears about a Trump presidency, fears that quite literally keep me awake some nights. I'm troubled by the thought of young and impressionable men and women thinking that Trump's behavior is something that should be emulated. I fear that a President who makes jokes about Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle will escalate the level of misogynist microaggression American women have to put up with on a daily basis. I'm scared that President Trump's Supreme Court nominees will make Antonin Scalia look like William Brennan. I worry that during a Trump administration, we will see the worst racial violence since the pre-civil rights era, with story after story of innocent Mexicans and Muslims being lynched in the night.

    From this you'd think that Trump is planning on relaunching the Brown Shirts and Hitler Youth. No doubt there are elements of fascism in Trump and his followers, but Trump spent much of his life working in a medium where you snarl and gruff a lot but always pull your punches. No doubt some of his admirers are more prone to violence, but we have that now. Groups like Black Lives Matter aren't going away if Trump wins. They're going to become more vigilant than ever.

    Finally, it's hard to let the hyperbole about Scalia and Brennan pass by without comment. I'm not much of an optimist, but I can't imagine a supreme court justice worse than Scalia. Ok, if you credit his brains there's Alito, or take away his wit and you get Thomas -- where do they get these guys? Well, they get them from central casting at the right-wing think tanks, and they keep them in line by keeping them on the conservative gravy train (otherwise justices have been known to take the constitution too seriously -- Brennan being something of the gold standard there). Ok, maybe Trump can find someone a shade more corrupt and venal and flat-out evil than Scalia, but if anything he's less likely to rubber stamp the next movement crony in line.

    Still, here's something real to worry about: Trump: We'll Prune Back 1st Amendment. Trump wants to make it easier for rich people to sue the media for "libel." While this could cut both ways, in America civil suits favor those with deep pockets, as those without can hardly afford to defend themselves, while the rich can sue to harass even if their cases have no merit.

    More Trump links:

  • Conor Lynch: Charles Koch's deceptive Sanders ploy: How the right-wing oligarch cloaks his dangerous agenda: Koch wrote an op-ed which appeared in the Washington Post, the Wichita Eagle, and presumably elsewhere, where he suggested that he shares at least one common cause with Bernie Sanders: ending "corporate welfare." The op-ed still fell far short of an endorsement: evidently ending "corporate welfare" is actually less important to Koch than preventing government from providing a wide range of services, including more affordable education and health care, to the middle class, let alone taxing the rich to pay for it all. The Kochs like to claim their opposition to "government picking winners and losers" is based on sound economic principles, but the case examples that they most care about are subsidies that make "green energy" more cost-competitive with the fossil fuels the Kochs are so invested in. On the other hand, what makes fossil fuels attractive economically is that a large portion of the real costs of their use, especially air and water pollution -- what economists call "externalities" -- is never factored into the market price of coal and oil products. A simple way to correct for these market distortions would be a carbon tax, which is something else the Kochs are dead set against.

    Growing up in Wichita, I've occasionally wondered whether it would be possible to tempt the Kochs to support, even if only through their professed libertarian lens, some progressive issues. (Disclosure: in the 1970s I worked in a Wichita typesetting shop where one of my jobs was to retype several books by Murray Rothbard, which the Kochs were reprinting as part of their missionary work. So I do have some insight into the philosophy they espouse as opposed to the corruption they actually practice.) In particular, anyone concerned about the size and reach of the federal government should be very critical about the military-industrial complex and the dozens of federal spy agencies. They should also be extremely concerned about "the war on drugs" and similar excuses for building up a police state. The Kochs have spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their narrow political views, yet have never -- at least to the best of my knowledge -- contributed a dime to the Peace & Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, which is very active on those very issues. Rather, they've spent a ton of money buying a congressional seat for Mike Pompeo, who has turned into one of the worst neocons in Congress. And they have thus far failed to kill off subsidies for windmills in Kansas -- turns out too many (Republican) farmers depend on "corporate welfare."

  • Sean Illing: Delusional David Brooks: His blind spot for Republican nihilism has become pathological: Could have filed this under Trump as this is yet another explanation how the Republican Party has succumbed to its intellectual and moral rot, but I figured it's worth quoting at some length:

    The Republican Party no longer aspires to governance. The Tea Party, an offspring of Republican politics, is a nihilistic political movement. Everyone one they've sent to Congress they sent for one reason: negation. Under the guise of some nebulous goal to "take the country back," they've done nothing but undermine Obama and destroy the possibility of compromise. And this delirium has spread throughout the party. Recall that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said explicitly that the GOP's "top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term."

    Only one party insists America is in perpetual decline. Only one party puts the culture wars at the center of its agenda. Only one party cultivates anti-intellectualism in its ranks. Only one party sold its soul to religious fanatics. Only one party refuses to accept the legitimacy of a democratically elected president.

    It was Republicans who abandoned conservatism as a serious governing philosophy. It was Republicans who repeatedly defied custom with radical non-filibuster filibusters. It was Republicans who used the nation's credit rating to blackmail the opposing party. It was Republicans who threatened to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. And yet Brooks says our problem isn't "exclusive to the right"?

    Well, Brooks would say that, wouldn't he? He knows that his bread is buttered on the right. He understands that being a "conservative" pundit is more of a career decision than a philosophical option. Once you agree to carry water for the reactionary rich, you have to expect to get wet now and then. It's not like he doesn't make a tidy living abandoning any pretense of principles. As a bought man he'll always make excuses for his proprietors, even when he can't understand them himself.

    Illing continues:

    Bernie Sanders may be an outsider, but only in an ideological sense. The man has served in public office for more than three decades. Trump is a political arsonist with no ideas, no experience, no plan -- and he's the most popular candidate in the party. With a grenade in one hand and a half-articulated list of platitudes in the other, he's brought the Republican Party to its knees. And that's because he's a perfect distillation of the Republican zeitgeist. The establishment doesn't approve, but Trump didn't emerge from a whirlwind -- he's an unintended consequence of their cynicism.

    Brooks is right: There is a metastasizing cancer in our body politic, of which Trump is a symptom. But the disease flows from the compromises of the Republican Party, a party increasingly of ideological troglodytes with no interest in policy or compromise.

    The Republican fringe has become the Republican mainstream, and the country is the worse for it. Brooks is wise to lament that, but he discredits himself by pretending this is a bipartisan problem with bipartisan roots. This is a Republican problem -- and he knows it.

  • Martha Rosenberg: The FDA now officially belongs to Big Pharma: I complained above about how Republican obstructionism against Obama is only briefly lifted on occasions when Obama does something that actively harms the Democratic Party base. The Senate's confirmation of Obama appointee Robert Califf to head the FDA is a good case in point. The vote for Califf was 89-4, with three Democrats (Markey, Manchin, and Blumenthal) and one Republican (Ayotte) opposed. (Sanders didn't vote, but spoke against Califf.) Nor is this the first Obama favor to Big Pharma, as the ACA was written to their specifications.

    Califf, chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University until recently, received money from 23 drug companies including the giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Schering Plough and GSK according to a disclosure statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute.

    Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical website, discloses that Califf "served as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech." Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors until leaving for the FDA.

    In disclosure information for a 2013 article in Circulation, Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead, AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis C drug AlterNet recently wrote about. This is FDA commissioner material?

  • Richard Silverstein: Another Mossad Assassination, This Time in Bulgaria:

    There are only a few things the Mossad is "good" at. And killing is the primary one. They don't do much that's constructive. They don't make the world better or safer for Israel. They don't bring peace. They don't persuade people to compromise.

    They kill. They cheat. They steal. They're good at all those things. But how do those things do anything to help Israel in the long-term? They don't.

    Yeah, they take out an enemy. But only to see a stronger, more formidable enemy replace the one they murdered. Often, as in tonight's case, they get revenge on someone who last posed any danger to any Israeli decades ago. So what benefit is it to Israel to murder an unarmed man (story in Telegraph and Ynet) who left militancy long ago and was eking out a life as a shop owner in a foreign country to which he'd fled so long ago?

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

  • Celebrating Allen Ginsberg 50 years after 'Wichita Vortex Sutra': I was surprised to see this long feature piece in the Wichita Eagle. After I dropped out of high school in 1967 I read a lot of poetry, and Ginsberg was very important to me. I assembled a poetry notebook for my younger brother when he was in ninth grade -- I had had a similar assignment and by then I felt embarrassed at my own pathetic notebook -- and picked out over a hundred poems, typing up over 300 pages. I don't recall whether I included "Wichita Vortex Sutra" -- if so it would have been the longest thing in the notebook -- but I am pretty sure that the first poem was Ginsberg's "Howl." By then I had a large poster of a bushy-bearded Ginsberg, which I attached to the ceiling over the stairs to my room with wallpaper paste. (My mother hated it. Unable to tear it down she painted over it as soon as I left home.) My brother got kicked out of school for that notebook -- the vice principal, who had been my ninth grade science teacher (the one that turned me from a future in science to never taking another science class) was especially livid. We were both sent off to see a shrink, who found the whole episode rather amusing. What I find amusing is that it only took fifty years for upright Wichita citizens to honor the greatest piece of literature ever situated in our fine burg.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich: Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City: Book review. Many stories. For example:

    The landlord who evicts Lamar, Larraine and so many others is rich enough to vacation in the Caribbean while her tenants shiver in Milwaukee. The owner of the trailer park takes in over $400,000 a year. These incomes are made possible by the extreme poverty of the tenants, who are afraid to complain and lack any form of legal representation. Desmond mentions payday loans and for-profit colleges as additional exploiters of the poor -- a list to which could be added credit card companies, loan sharks, pay-to-own furniture purveyors and many others who have found a way to spin gold out of human sweat and tears. Poverty in America has become a lucrative business, with appalling results: "No moral code or ethical principle," he writes, "no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become."

  • Tom Engelhardt: The Disappointments of War in a World of Unintended Consequences: I agree that Edwin Starr answered the key question with his 1970 hit song. Still, Engelhardt's litany of the sheer waste that is devoured by America's war machine took me aback. On the other hand, when he asks "has war outlived its usefulness?" I start to wonder whether he's really going far enough.

  • Alfred McCoy: Washington's Twenty-First-Century Opium Wars: Author wrote a book about the CIA's role in the heroin trade in and around the Vietnam War, but that was so 20th-century. Since 2001 the world's heroin trade has moved to another American war front: Afghanistan. The CIA's interest in heroin in war zones seems to have been how handy the business was for producing cash and corruption, but that works both ways as the Taliban has turned itself into one of the world's leading drug cartels -- its own potent source of cash and corruption.

  • Bill McKibben: It's Not Just What Exxon Did, It's What It's Doing: We now know that Exxon had internal documents as early as 1982 that acknowledged that global warming is a real (and possibly irreversible) threat and is caused by burning fossil fuels. Exxon buried the report, and hasn't become any more conscientious since.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rhapsody Streamnotes (February 2016)

Pick up text here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Roundup

Seems like these book blurb columns involve a lot of "hurry up and wait," or vice versa. Last one was August 9, and before that August 4, August 1, and July 31, 2015. At that point I was so backlogged I was able to pump out four 40-book posts in a little more than a week. I don't have nearly that much backlog now -- certainly enough for one more post, but at the moment a bit shy of two (current backlog count is 61, including a couple books that won't be out until April). Still, if I keep researching, I may get that third post.

I'm so far behind that I've managed to read several of these books: Padraig O'Malley: The Two-State Delusion, Roberto Vivo: War: A Crime Against Humanity, and Sarah Vowell: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. I've also started Jane Mayer: Dark Money, and have Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth and Joseph Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy waiting on the shelf.

Diane Ackerman: The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us (2014; paperback, 2015, WW Norton): She has written poetry, children's books, and some fifteen non-fiction books, some quite personal but a couple taking on very broad topics -- like A Natural History of the Senses (1990) and A Natural History of Love (1994). This one explores the many ways humans have reshaped the world to their own tastes and interests, an extraordinarily profound story, one that's hard to wrap one's mind around if only because the change has been so pervasive.

Mary Beard: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015, Liveright): A history described both as sweeping and concise (608 pp) of Rome and its Empire from foundation up to 212 CE when Caracalla extended Roman citizenship to all non-slaves throughout the empire -- as good a date as any to avoid having to deal with the Empire's decline and fall.

Bill Bryson: The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain (2016, Doubleday): An American who writes humorous books about the English language and travels (thus far to English-speaking countries) and occasionally stretches for something like A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003). Born in Iowa, he's spent most of his adult life in Great Britain, writing Notes From a Small Island (1996) before moving back to the US, and now this second travelogue to Britain after returning. Probably charming and amusing, smart too.

Hillel Cohen: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929 (paperback, 2015, Brandeis): Israeli author, has written two important books on Arab collaborators before and after Israel's founding -- Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration and Zionism, 1917-1948 (2008), and Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967 (2010, both University of California Press) -- reviews the pivotal 1929 Arab riots, which led to expansion of the Haganah forces, and in 1936-39 the much larger and deadlier Arab revolt. As for "year zero," historians can pick and choose; e.g., Amy Dockser Marcus opted for 1913 in Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2007, Penguin).

Michael Day: Being Berlusconi: The Rise and Fall From Cosa Nostra to Bunga Bunga (2015, St Martin's Press): Biography of the Italian media mogul who parlayed wealth and power into three terms as prime minister of Italy, which helped him gain even more wealth and power, give or take occasionally getting "bogged down by his hubris, egotism, sexual obsessions, as well as his flagrant disregard for the law." All the timelier given how Donald Trump threatens to repeat the feat. By the way, Berlusconi is currently estimated to be worth about three times what Trump is ($12-to-$4 billion), but that's after Berlusconi has been prime minister, and before Trump becomes president.

EJ Dionne Jr: Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond (2016, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, leans liberal, has covered politics for a long time and written books like Why Americans Hate Politics (1991), They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives will Dominate the Next Political Era (1996), Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge (2004), Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right (2008), and Our Divided Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2012). Much wishful thinking there, oft frustrated by the increasingly fervent (do I mean desperate?) right-wing, which he finally tries to face up to here.

Reese Ehrlich: Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect (2014, Pegasus): It may be decades before anyone writes a definitive history of the many facets of Syria's civil war, if indeed it is over then. Meanwhile, we get small facets of the story from many scattered observers, and I doubt this one is any different (despite the forward by Noam Chomsky, who is nearly always right, unpleasant as that may be). Other recent books on Syria (aside from ISIS, which are probably more numerous): Leon Goldsmith: Cycle of Fear: Syria's Alawites in War and Peace (2015, Hurst); Nader Hashemi/Danny Postel, eds: The Syria Dilemma (2013, The MIT Press); Emile Hokayem: Syria's Uprising and the Fracturing of the Levant (paperback, 2013, Routledge); David W Lesch: Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad (rev ed, paperback, 2013, Yale University Press); Jonathan Littell: Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising (2015, Verso); John McHugo: Syria: A Recent History (paperback, 2015, Saqi); Christian Sahner: Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (2014, Oxford University Press); Bente Scheller: The Wisdom of Syria's Waiting Game: Foreign Policy Under the Assads (2014, Hurst); Stephen Starr: Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising (rev ed, paperback, 2015, Hurst); Samar Yazbek: The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria (paperback, 2015, Rider); Diana Darke: My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution (paperback, 2015, Haus); Robert Fisk et al: Syria: Descent Into the Abyss (paperback, 2015, Independent Print); Robin Yassin-Kassab/Leila Ali-Shami: Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (paperback, 2016, Pluto Press).

Jack Fairweather: The Good War: Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan (2014, Basic Books): I remain stumped about what was so good about the war. The fact that American public opinion was more unified in favor of attacking Afghanistan than Iraq didn't make a bit of difference. The war may have polled as high as the war against Nazi Germany, but there was no depth, no commitment, beyond the polling, and even less understanding. The book is probably stronger on why it all went so wrong.

Richard Falk: Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope (paperback, 2014, Just World Books): A collection of essays since 2008 when Falk was appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights issues in Occupied Palestine (his tenure there ended in 2014). Falk was a law professor who took an early interest in war crimes, especially regarding the Vietnam War -- cf. Crimes of War (1971, Random House), written and edited with Gabriel Kolko and Robert Lifton. He also has a newer essay collection out, Chaos and Counterrevolution: After the Arab Spring (paperback, 2015, Just World Books).

Henry A Giroux: The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine (paperback, 2014, City Lights): Canadian educator and culture critic, has written books like Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (2011, Peter Lang). Essays include "America's Descent Into Madness" -- "The stories it now tells are filled with cruelty, deceit, lies, and legitimate all manner of corruption and mayhem. The mainstream media spin stories that are largely racist, violent, and irresponsible -- stories that celebrate power and demonize victims, all the while camouflaging their pedagogical influence under the glossy veneer of entertainment" -- and "The Vanishing Point of US Democracy."

Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The US Standard of Living Since the Civil War (2016, Princeton University Press): For 100 years after the Civil War, technological advances dramatically stimulated growth and raised living standards. However, from about 1970 on, growth rates have slowed markedly, and we seem to have entered a period of long-term stagnation. James K Galbraith, in The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, made a similar argument, but this goes much deeper into the changes wrought by the century of high growth. As for the future, we've already seen one consequence of slack growth: to keep profit levels up to expectations, investors have sought political favors and increasingly engaged in predatory behaviors (something often called financialization). Sooner or later the other shoe is bound to drop, as workers (and non-workers) who had been promised growth and wound up suffering from stagnation inevitably seek to regroup. Meanwhile, as Gordon points out, things like increasing inequality further dampen growth, further fueling the need for change.

Greg Grandin: Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman (2015, Metropolitan Books): More like America's premier war criminal, a point we need to keep stressing as he continues to woo war-friendly politicians of both major parties. Grandin, whose books include Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006), wants to delve deeper, going beyond Kissinger's own acts to explore his influence on America's peculiar self-conception as an empire. I'm not sure how much neocon nonsense can really be pinned on Kissinger, but if I did wonder this would be the place to start. Amazon thinks if you're curious about this you'll also be interested in Niall Ferguson: Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist (2015, Penguin Press). You won't be.

Ran Greenstein: Zionism and Its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2014, Pluto Press): Surveys various political movements and thinkers based in Israel/Palestine who rejected the politics of Zionist dominance, starting with Ahad Ha'am in the 19th century, continuing through the Communist Party, the various Palestinian movements, and the Matzpen movement up to the 1980s.

Ann Hagedorn: The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security (2014; paperback, 2015, Simon & Schuster): As I recall, when Bush I set out to attack Iraq in 1990, the US moved over 600,000 troops into position. When Bush II decided to invade Iraq, the US went with a little over 100,000 troops. The main difference was that in the intervening years the Military had contracted out vast numbers of support jobs -- logistics, food, that sort of thing. Over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the outsourcing expanded to security, and the mercenaries they hired became increasingly common and unaccountable for their actions. (You may recall, for instance, that when Fallujah first revolted, the Americans they hung from that bridge were contractors.) That's what this book is about. I'm a little surprised Hagedorn wrote this book, since the main thing I had read by her was a magnificent slice of history, Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 (2007; paperback, 2008, Simon & Schuster).

Jeff Halper: War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (paperback, 2015, Pluto Press): Head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and author of one of the most trenchant short analyses of Israel's "matrix of control" over the Palestinians, takes a deeper look at Israel's technologies of control, including how they are exported elsewhere in the world.

Doug Henwood: My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (paperback, 2015, OR Books): All the dirt on Clinton, at least as viewed from the left, a perspective which reveals her as a corporate shill and inveterate warmonger. Henwood mostly writes about economic issues, in Left Business Observer. Other books tackling Clinton from the left include: Diana Johnstone: Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton (paperback, 2015, CounterPunch), and Liza Featherstone, ed: False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton (paperback, 2016, Verso [June 16]).

Alistair Horne: Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century (2015, Harper): Argues that the many major wars of what the late Gabriel Kolko summed um as Century of War (1994) turned on excessive hubris of one side or the other ("In Greek tragedy, hubris is excessive human pride that challenges the gods and ultimately leads to total destruction of the offender" -- in reality the US has been a repeat offender without paying the ultimate price). Huge topic, but to provide depth of battle detail Horne limits his study to six cases: Tsushima (1905), Mononhan (1939), Moscow (1941), Midway (1942), Korea (1950), and Dien Bien Phu (1954).

Michael Hudson: Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy (paperback, 2015, Islet): Unorthodox economist, has seen this coming for a long time and written many books about it -- most recently The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis (2012), and more presciently an essay on "the coming real estate collapse" in 2006. As I've tried to point out, the function of debt today has little to do with putting savings to productive work, and much to do with allowing people who can't afford it to keep up appearances until they crash. Needless to say, this is unsustainable -- not that governments haven't struggled heroically to keep the bankers solvent.

Rafael Lefevre: Ashes of Hama: The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria (2013, Oxford University Press): I pulled this out of the long list of Syria books (see Reese Ehrlich) because it stands out: the focus is on the 1982 Hama uprising and Hafez Assad's brutal suppression (over 20,000 killed, mostly in an artillery barrage of the liberated city). The Muslim Brotherhood led the uprising, and returned two decades later as an activist faction in Syria's "Arab Spring" demonstrations -- also met brutally, resulting in the civil war that has killed another 200,000 (not that any of these estimates are proven).

Les Leopold: Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice (paperback, 2015, The Labor Institute Press): Labor economist, previously wrote a couple of primers on how Wall Street has ripped off America -- The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity (2009), and How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away With Siphoning Off America's Wealth (2013). Has lots of "easy-to-understand charts and graphs," goes beyond explaining predatory finance to note how other key issues ("from climate change to the exploding prison population") are connected to economic inequality, and offers activists a guide for doing something about this central problem.

Mike Martin: An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012 (2014, Oxford University Press): Author was attached to British forces occupying Helmand in 2006 -- a Pashtun province on the southern border of Afghanistan, also the locale for Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf) -- but speaks Pashto and was able to record the bewildered thoughts of the locals, as well as the equally confused thinking of the occupiers. The levels of misunderstanding here should give anyone pause. Noteworthy here that he extends his coverage of the conflict to include both Soviet and US/UK forces, occupations with more than a little in common.

Paul Mason: Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Argues that capitalism will change in the near future, mutating into something new, shifting the economy away from its basis on "markets, wages, and private ownership." He adds, "This is the first time in human history in which, equipped with an understanding of what is happening around us, we can predict and shape the future." I have no idea how he works this out, but I started thinking about "post-capitalism" back in the 1990s. In my case the initial insight was the realization that it is possible to engineer economic systems and thereby consciously direct development instead of waiting for the invisible hand to lead us around. I also realized that the infinite growth required by capitalism must sooner or later give way to ecological limits. These appear to be common themes, but of course the devil's in the details. I would reject, for instance, Hayek's rule that all planning leads to tyranny, but I don't think you can just hand-wave that; there's too much history to the contrary.

Jane Mayer: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016, Doubleday): Give a guy a billion dollars and all of a sudden he thinks he can recruit some politicians and hoodwink the public into voting fot them. It's really just a case of extraordinary hubris, a sense of self-appointed privilege combined with utter disdain for democracy. Take the Kochs, for instance -- Mayer has already reported on them in The New Yorker, and they seem to account for a big chunk of this book, but they are hardly alone. As I recall, Newt Gingrich blamed his loss to Mitt Romney in 2012 to only having one billionaire backer vs. five for Romney. In this state of corruption, sometimes a handful of voters can shape history, maybe even prevent democracy from working to the benefit of the majority.

Sean McMeekin: The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 (2015, Penguin): The old adage is "history is written by the victors" -- a rule which has served to distort and largely bury one of the major stories of the early 20th century: the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. Even David Fromkin's brilliant A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922 skips over the revolt of the Young Turks and the two Balkan Wars that set the stage for the Ottoman entry into the Great War, which has the effect of making much of what the Ottoman triumvirate did during the war seem nonsensical (and possibly insane). McMeekin attempts to correct this partly by starting earlier, but also by researching deeper into newly opened Ottoman and Russian archives. But also, I suspect, because history has finally shown the Anglo-French "victory" to be hollow and bitter indeed.

Aaron David Miller: The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President (2014, St Martin's Press): Washington on the cover. His most striking trait was a desire to be seen as disinterested, a leader who only sees to the public interest, never to his personal one. Needless to say, such people are scarce today, not so much because they don't exist as because they don't promote themselves in the manner of would-be presidents. On the other hand, there are great egos who would dispute this thesis, notably Donald Trump, who hope to lead a nation to its greatness, doing all manner of great things. For such cases, I can imagine two books: one explaining why they will fail, the other why what they sought was never desirable in the first place. I doubt that Miller has written either.

Ian Millhiser: Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted (2015, Nation Books): Reminds us that throughout history the Supreme Court has more often than not been an entrenched conservative activist -- it is only thanks to Franklin Roosevelt (and a few successors, with Nixon starting the revanchist return) that we have been fortunate enough to have grown up with a Court that actually expanded human rights. Of course, the recent growth of the conservative cabal has given the author more to complain about. Indeed, the subtitle could well be the Roberts' Court's motto.

David Niose: Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America From the Attack on Reason (2014, St Martin's Griffin): Legal director of the American Humanist Association, has focused defending the secular nature of American democracy -- his previous book was Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans (2012; paperback, 2013, St Martin's Griffin) -- but is worried not just by the right's religiosity but by its increasingly dogmatic attacks on reason.

Padraig O'Malley: The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine -- A Tale of Two Narratives (2015, Viking): Author has extensive experience in the reconciliation of conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa, giving him some perspective here. Hard to tell whether the focus on competing narratives is just a license to spin bullshit, but he's right that the power imbalance is what precludes every effort at reconciliation. Actually, I'm curious how he works this out -- as someone who occasionally thinks of writing a book along these lines: why is something so seemingly easy to reason out so impossible for the people who need to do it? The answer, of course, has to do with relative power: in particular, the one side who feel they don't have to do anything.

Dirk Philipsen: The Little Big Number: How GDP Came to Rule the World and What do Do About It (2015, Princeton University Press): Gross Domestic Product is a measurement of the overall size of an economy (usually expressed per capita), but it is at best a very coarse number, tied to growth in marketable goods and services, but not so much to a better, let alone a sustainable, standard of living. Many other writers have questioned the value of GDP as a measurement; e.g., Joseph E Stiglitz, et al., Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up (2010).

Ted Rall: After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan (2014, Hill & Wang): A "graphic journalist," Rall made two extended trips to Afghanistan, one shortly after 9/11, the other ten years later, recording his observations here, as well as some history -- if you don't know it, at least it goes down fast and easy. Recent Rall books include The Book of Obama: From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt (paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press), and Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia Is the Next Middle East (2nd ed, paperback, 2014, NBM Publishing). Before that, The Anti-American Manifesto (paperback, 2010, Seven Stories Press), which I found excessive, shrill, unfunny. More recently, Rall wrote and illustrated Snowden (paperback, 2015, Seven Stories Press) and Bernie (paperback, 2016, Seven Stories Press).

Pierre Razoux: The Iran-Iraq War (2015, Belknap Press): Big (688 pp) book on one of the largest and longest wars of the last fifty years, lasting from 1980-88, costing close to a million lives -- little understood in the West, the US in particular taking an attitude that both sides should kill off the other. This book evidently goes beyond the immediate conflict to look at how other nations related to, and encouraged, the war. Also available: Williamson Murray/Kevin M Woods: The Iran-Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History (paperback, 2014, Cambridge University Press). Before these books, the standard was probably Dilip Hiro: The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict (paperback, 1990, Routledge).

Robert B Reich: Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (2015, Alfred A Knopf): Supposedly one of Bill Clinton's longtime buds, taught government, staked out his politics in 1989 with The Resurgent Liberal, then in 1991 wrote The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which contain two major concepts, one spectacularly wrong (his idea that as trade policies liberalize the US will more than make up losses in manufacturing jobs with new "symbolic manipulator" jobs), the other alarmingly right (that the rich were withdrawing from community life to their gated communities and retreats, from which they will cease to care about the fate of the lower classes). Clinton liked this thinking so much he made Reich Secretary of Labor, a job Reich filled capably if not exactly happily (cf. his memoir, Locked in the Cabinet). Since leaving Clinton, he has continued to wobble leftward, writing optimistic books about politics (Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America in 2004) and business (Supercapitalism in 2007), on the other hand reacting when it all goes wrong (Aftershock in 2010 and Beyond Outrage in 2012, the subtitle still ending with How to Fix It. So figure this as more of everything: after all, the only thing wrong with capitalism is the capitalists, who somehow in their personal greed forgot that the magic system is supposed to make life better for everyone.

Dennis Ross: Doomed to Succeed: The US-Israel Relationship From Truman to Obama (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Author has been an advisor to three US presidents helping them to screw up numerous efforts to bridge the Israel-Palestine conflict, and in the meantime has worked for Israeli think tanks, his most consistent allegiance. In other words, he is an American who can always be counted on to take the position that "Israel knows best" -- his maxim for reconstructing a longer stretch of history. ("Ross points out how rarely lessons were learned and how distancing the United States from Israel in the Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush, and Obama administrations never yielded any benefits and why that lesson has never been learned.") If the title seems oblique, read it this way: the surest way to doom any chance for peace for Israel and Palestine is to involve Dennis Ross.

Andrew Sayer: Why We Can't Afford the Rich (2015, Policy Press): Shows how the rich ("the top 1%") have used their political clout "to siphon off wealth produced by others," and goes further to argue that their predation is something the rest of us can no longer afford -- a far cry from the common notion that we are so obligated to the "job creator" class that we need to sacrifice our own well being to stroke their egos. Author has previously written books like: Radical Political Economy: Critique and Reformulation (1995), The Moral Significance of Class (2005), and Why Things Matter to People: Social Science, Values and Ethical Life (2011).

Kevin Sites: Swimming With Warlords: A Dozen-Year Journey Across the Afghan War (paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial): War reporter, previously wrote In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars (paperback, 2007, Harper Perennial), and The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You About What They've Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War (paperback, 2013, Harper Perennial). Sites first entered Afghanistan to join the Northern Alliance in 2001, and on his sixth tour retraced his footsteps in 2013 to ask what has changed. Some stuff, but it's not clear for the better.

Timothy Snyder: Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015, Tim Duggan): The recent author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010) narrows his focus on the Nazi Judeocide, not just what happened but on why. He comes up with a rather original theory of Hitler's mind, something about resources and ecology, and adds that "our world is closer to Hitler's than we like to admit, and saving it requires us to see the Holocaust as it was" -- hence the "warning." I wonder whether obsessing on the need to "save the world" isn't itself an invitation to overreach (not to mention overkill). But then I tend to think of the Holocaust as a contingent quirk of history, not some cosmological constant.

Joseph E Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity (paperback, 2015, WW Norton): Practical proposals for reducing inequality, restoring the sense that the United States is "the land of opportunity, a place where anyone can achieve success and a better life through hard work and determination." That reputation has been blighted by stagnation as the rich have managed to use their political and economic clout to capture an ever-increasing share of the nation's wealth. Stiglitz, one of our finest economists (Krugman's preferred term is "insanely great"), has been working on this problem for a while now, including his books The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012), and The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them (2015).

Roberto Vivo: War: A Crime Against Humanity (paperback, 2015, Hojas del Sur): Born in Uruguay, CEO of "a global social communications media firm" in Buenos Aires, has put together a global history and virtual legal brief to outlaw war. The impulse is sensible -- common recognition of the law, whether from respect or fear, is the main reason we haven't sunk into a Hobbesian "war of all against all" mire -- and indeed at some points enjoyed broad international support. That's probably true today, too, but it only takes one country that insists on flexing its muscles and putting its self-interest above peaceful coexistence to spoil the understanding. In the 1930s, for instance, Germany and Japan were such outlaw countries. Today it's mostly the United States and Israel (and one could argue Saudi Arabia, Russia, and/or Turkey). Vivo makes his case logically and succinctly, but he doesn't really face up to the infantile nations that put so much stock in their warmaking skills and so little in international law.

Sarah Vowell: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015, Riverhead): Starting with an MA in Art History, she went into radio, wrote some essays, and found a niche writing popular history, starting with Assassination Vacation, her travelogue to the historical sites of murdered presidents. Since then her histories have become more conventional: The Wordy Shipmates (2005, on the Puritans), and Unfamiliar Fishes (on the takeover of Hawaii). Here she recounts the American Revolution by focusing on Washington's French sidekick, and the early nation viewed from Lafayette's 1824 return visit.

Lawrence Wright: Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David (2014, Knopf; paperback, 2015, Vintage Books): A day-by-day account of the 1979 Camp David negotiations between Egypt and Israel over return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and, as it turns out, damn little else -- still, the only significant time that Israel could be bothered to sign a peace agreement with a neighbor. (I don't much count the later treaty with Jordan.) Wright previously wrote The Leaning Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006, Knopf), a valuable book on the thinking behind the attack.

Next batch of 40 sometime next week.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26298 [26267] rated (+32), 420 [422] unrated (-2).

Skipped Weekend Roundup again. Instead, I cooked up a relatively simple two-dish dinner for my wife's birthday (also my nephew's): a variation on paella valenciana (with chicken, chorizo, sea scallops, shrimp, and a couple lobster tails, but no clams) and a salade niçoise (with canned tuna instead of the now-more-fashionable grilled). For dessert, a flourless chocolate cake with ice cream on the side. Prep took several hours, but it all went fairly leisurely. Good thing, as my back was killing me.

The political news I missed commenting on proved uneventful. Trump and Clinton made small, indecisive steps toward eventual nominations: Trump winning South Carolina with about 35% of the vote, Clinton eeking out another close caucus win in Nevada (52.6% to 47.3%). With the party establishment totally behind Clinton, all she has to do to win is not get beat too bad, which thus far has only happened once in three contests.

Trump, who still alarms his party's establishment, has more of an uphill climb, and with 32.5% of the vote hardly looks inevitable. Still, he could hardly dream of facing a lamer set of opponents. With Bush dropping out -- he got 7.8% of the South Carolina vote, barely edging John Kashich (7.6%) and Ben Carson (7.2%) for 4th place -- the establishment appears to be stuck with Marco Rubio as their standard bearer. I was surprised that Rubio edged Cruz for second place (22.5% to 22.3%), but Rubio got key endorsements and South Carolina Republicans seem to be relatively good at following orders. Rubio also got key endorsements last week in Kansas: Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts, both vastly unpopular even among Republicans, as well as neocon Rep. Mike Pompeo. Still, I find it very hard to take Rubio seriously.

Nevada Republicans will caucus on Tuesday, and South Carolina Democrats will vote on Saturday. FiveThirtyEight gives Trump a 64% chance of beating Rubio (25%) and Cruz (10%) in Nevada, and considers Clinton a cinch (>99%) in South Carolina. Their odds greatly exaggerate the voting split: the actual polling averages are 57.5% Clinton, 32.0% Sanders, which is about the flipside of Sanders' margin in New Hampshire. We've been hearing conventional wisdom for weeks now that Sanders will falter once the elections move from "white liberal" states Iowa and New Hampshire to ones that are more "diverse" -- but it now appears that Sanders won a majority of Hispanic voters in Nevada. One link I've been meaning to mention is Matt Karp: Why Bernie Can Win: some things to think about next time you hear we have to all get behind Clinton because she's the "electable" one. On the other hand, see Steve Benen: Sanders' turnout 'revolution' off to an inauspicious start: so far, at least, Democratic Party turnout this year is not up to the levels established in 2008 (and more alarmingly, I suspect, Republican Party turnout is up).

Two more links: Nancy Le Tourneau: Post-Policy Republicans Gave Us Donald Trump, which refers back to her earlier post, GOP Chaos: Post-Truth vs. Post-Policy: Over the last eight years, the Republicans have given up on promoting alternative policies -- partly because Republican think tank proposals, like the health care plan Romney implemented in Massachusetts, could be adopted wholesale by Democrats -- and turned into "the party of no." Actually, it would be more accurate to say that they've turned into extortionists, along the lines of "elect us, or we'll really make you suffer." (Note that the only policies Republicans have been willing to work with Obama on are ones intended to split Obama away from the Democratic base: TPP, offshore oil leases, and more war in the Middle East.)

A large chunk of this week's records, including both A- albums (Beans on Toast and Ursula 1000), came from Ye Wei Blog's 2015 EOY list, the HMs including: Nigel Hall, Abba Gargando, DMX Krew, and No Fun. Actually a pretty diverse group of records (English folk, disco, soul, Timbuktu guitar, electronica, and a garage punk band from Germany. A similar number of lower grades: electronica, alt-rock along a punk-pop axis, Saharan wedding songs. Huge thanks to Jason Gross for digging all these up.

The week's jazz releases include four limited edition LP-only releases that NoBusiness was kind enough to burn on CDR for me. None are great but three would be enjoyed by anyone with an ear for free jazz.

The new Saul Williams comes recommended by Robert Christgau, and that led me to check out some of his back catalog. Can't say as I got much out of any of them, not that they aren't interesting. Maybe it's that I've always had trouble fishing lyrics out of their matrix. Maybe I'm confused by that context. Christgau also provides directions on the proper way to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. My own approach was to stream the whole thing through once, while referring to the synopsis section of the Wikipedia article on the musical. I was thereby able to follow the plot and check it against my own recollection of the history. But unlike Christgau, I didn't make any extra effort to habituate myself to the music, which struck me as hackneyed and wordy -- a common trait of musical drama. My grade reflected that I was duly impressed, not least with the scholarship, but not much interested in hearing it again: B+(**).

The Catheters came up thanks to a Phil Overeem facebook post. He compared their first album to the Stooges, and as usual he's right -- although I guess I'm less impressed by the accomplishment. Their second album caught Christgau's attention, and we wound up with the same grade.

Never did this before, but here's a link for a Beans on Toast song/video.

Good chance I'll post Rhapsody Streamnotes sometime this week. Currently have 104 albums in the draft file. In any case, it has to come out before the end of the month, which is next Monday. Also working on a books post. Haven't done one of them in quite some time. I've even read a couple of the books I'll be reporting on.

New records rated this week:

  • Africans With Mainframes: Commission Number 3 (2015, Bio Rhythm, EP): [boomkat]: B+(*)
  • Ancient Methods: Turn Ice Realities Into Fire Dreams (2015, Hands, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Beans on Toast: The Grand Scheme of Things (2015, Xtra Mile): [r]: A-
  • Thomas Borgmann Trio: One for Cisco (2015 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Jean-Luc Cappozzo/Didier Lasserre: Ceremony's a Name for the Rich Horn (2014 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B-
  • Avishai Cohen: Into the Silence (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Diet Cig: Over Easy (2015, Father/Daughter, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • DMX Krew: There Is No Enduring Self (2015, Breakin): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dog Party: Vol. 4 (2015, Asian Man): [r]: B+(**)
  • Harris Eisenstadt: Old Growth Forest (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Abba Gargando: Abba Gargando (Sahel Sounds): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Nigel Hall: Ladies & Gentlemen . . . Nigel Hall (2015, Feel Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ross Hammond and Sameer Gupta: Upward (2015 [2016], Prescott): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Dre Hocevar: Collective Effervescence (2014 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lame Drivers: Chosen Era (2015, Jigsaw): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Marilyn Lerner/Ken Filiano/Lou Grassi: Live at Edgefest (2013 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • No Fun: How I Spent My Bummer Vacation (2014 [2015], Concrete Jungle): [r]: B+(***)
  • Novelist x Mumdance: 1 Sec EP (2015, XL, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Physical Therapy: Hit the Breaks (2015, Liberation Technologies, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rhythm Future Quartet: Travels (2015 [2016], Magic Fiddle Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pete Rock: PeteStrumentals 2 (2015, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vladimir Tarasov/Eugenius Kanevicius/Ludas Mockunas: Intuitus (2014 [2016], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Ursula 1000: Voyeur (2015, Insect Queen): [r]: A-
  • Saul Williams: Martyr Loser King (2016, Fader): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Joëlle Léandre: No Comment (1994-95 [2016], Fou): [cd]: B
  • Nouakchott Wedding Songs (2015, Sahel Sounds): [bc]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Catheters: Static Delusions and Stone-Still Days (2002, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Catheters: Howling . . . It Grows and Grows!!! (2004, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Saul Williams: Saul Williams (2004, Fader): [r]: B+(*)
  • Saul Williams: The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! (2007 [2008], Fader): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra: Back Home (Summit): March 4
  • Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra: All My Yesterdays (1966, Resonance, 2CD)
  • Angelika Niescier/Florian Weber: NYC Five (Intakt): advance
  • Richard Poole/Marilyn Crispell/Gary Peacock: In Motion (Intakt): advance
  • Omri Ziegele Noisy Minority: Wrong Is Right (Intakt): advance

Friday, February 19, 2016

Daily Log

There will be a belated memorial service for the late David E. Brewer on Saturday. He was a long-time friend and mentor of my sister and her son, a person I've known for roughly 20 years, an occasional dinner guest and a very dear person. He died back in December but the obituary wasn't published until last week. It reads:

Brewer, David E. May 17, 1944 - Dec. 12, 2015. Preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Helen Brewer. He is survived by his spouse of nearly 20 years, Thomas "T.J." Edmonds, Jr. and his sister, Margaret Joseph. At KPTS for over 50 years, he was devoted to public broadcasting. He volunteered at his church and at Oaklawn Elementary. He was deeply loved by all for his music, humor and kindness. Memorial Service 2 p.m. Saturday, February 20, at First UU Church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to KPTS or First Unitarian Universalist Church of Wichita.

Although David and T.J. have lived together for over twenty years, they were only able to get married after the Supreme Court decision last year made gay marriage legal in Kansas. That marriage has no doubt simplified the task of passing David's paltry estate on to T.J., something which I've been through and can assure you has never been an easy thing to do, but which without the Supreme Court ruling would certainly have been much worse.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26267 [26231] rated (+36), 422 [421] unrated (+1).

Started to write a Weekend Roundup yesterday, but I lost a big chunk of time when we went out for shopping and sushi, and another when we watched The Good Wife and Downton Abbey. In the meantime I wrote an ill-tempered rant I wasn't very happy with about the late Antonin Scalia, and a short item on the Republican debate. Scalia was one of the most despicable figures in American politics in my lifetime. In his early years he was remarkably adept at twisting the constitution and the law to support his own political prejudices -- economist Martin Feldstein was one of the few I can think of to have debased his craft so thoroughly -- but in his later years he gave up on cleverness and turned into an ill-tempered crank and demagogue. He wasn't the first modern conservative appointed to the court -- Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist are obvious cases -- but he was a movement conservative, not content to rule he went out to campaign. One reason Republicans are so apoplectic about the prospect of Obama naming a replacement is that Scalia had made himself one of the political idols of their movement. To them, he had become sacrosanct, turning every snarky dissent into gospel.

I did manage to get out one tweet on Scalia:

My only question re Scalia is how will we ever again know what the Founding Fathers originally thought without him to reveal the truth?

Scalia called his legal philosophy "originalism" but what it amounted to was little more than an egomaniacal fraud as Scalia was invariably able to find his own political agenda among the "original intents" of the Founding Fathers. Three obvious problems with this: one is the utter impossibility of anyone growing up in modern America fully understanding the mindset of anyone from the 18th century; the second is that those founders were a remarkably diverse and divisive lot, so there's really no single "original intent" to divine; and third, the common recognition that the genius of the US constitution lies in its flexibility, how it has been adapted over time. Yet Scalia has often been humored (and in some quarters revered) for this nonsense. What he tried to accomplish was to imbue the Constitution with something like the doctrine of papal infallibility, then proclaim himself pope. The arrogance of it all is breathtaking.

Anyhow, that's more or less what I meant to write. I also had some links, including two to more moderate pieces by Michael O'Donnell: Alone on His Own Ice Floe, a 2014 book review of Bruce Allen Murphy: Scalia: A Court of One, and the post-mortem It will Be Easy to Replace Antonin Scalia. The latter doesn't refer to the political process, which with the Republican-controlled Senate will be arduous and often embarrassing, but to the impact and stature of the former Justice, who conceded both many years ago (especially in Bush v. Gore, a ruling he explained should never be taken as a precedent elsewhere). My original draft is squirreled away in my notebook, along with various other aborted drafts and more personal notes (plus a lot of what I wound up posting -- it's basically my backup store).

I won't go into the other stuff here, other than to mention that when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled last week that the government of Kansas -- which is to say Governor Brownback and the neanderthal state legislature -- had violated the state constitution by failing to adequately and fairly fund public education. Brownback's response? He wants to personally appoint a new Kansas Supreme Court. This isn't the first time the Court has ruled as much: last time the legislature came up with their "block grant" scheme and basically dared the school boards to sue them again. When Scalia died, Brownback issued a moving tribute to his hero. Clearly, one thing Brownback learned from Scalia is that an oath of office swearing to "uphold the constitution" isn't enough to keep a Republican from picking and choosing which parts they want to uphold.

Also listened to a few records this past week. The number of A-list jazz records for 2016 increased from two to five, and it's worth noting that trombone great Roswell Rudd has two of those five. Also that one was originally recorded in 2001 but unreleased until now.

The other three A- records this week are alt/indie rock. Shopping showed up on Robert Christgau's Expert Witness last week (he swear the earlier Consumer Complaints, *** below, is every bit as good, but my more limited exposure prefers Why Choose). Radical Dads came from Jason Gross's EOY list (at Ye Wei Blog), as did a bunch of HMs listed below: Jason James, Souljazz Orchestra, White Reaper; Czarface, Haiku Salut, PINS, Worriers; The Alchemist/Oh No, Inventions, Seinabo Sey. It's not the best A-list Gross has ever come up with -- most years I discover 4-6 A- records there (like Radical Dads' Rapid Reality, an A- in 2013.

The third A- is American Man by the Yawpers, a record that no one I know has gotten onto yet: its only appearance in an EOY list was 19th among Hipersonica's international albums over in Spain -- I checked it out because I've often liked albums on the label, Bloodshot. Perhaps a bit long on American mythos, but struck me as a non-southern Drive-By Truckers with a dash of non-Jersey Bruce Springsteen. But what do I know? Feels weird to me to be the one finding alt/indie and post-punk albums. Definitely not my calling.

New records rated this week:

  • The Alchemist and Oh No: Welcome to Los Santos (2015, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(*)
  • Adam Baldych & Helge Lien Trio: Bridges (2015, ACT): [r]: B+(***)
  • Colleen: Captain of None (2015, Thrill Jockey): [r]: B+(**)
  • Czarface: Every Hero Needs a Villain (2015, Brick): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ari Erev: Flow (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Father: Who's Gonna Get F***** First? (2015, Awful): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Fred Frith/Darren Johnston: Everybody Is Somebody Is Nobody (2013-14 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Charles Gayle/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Live at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz (2014 [2015], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Haiku Salut: Etch and Etch Deep (2015, How Does It Feel to Be Loved): [r]: B+(**)
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Highest Engines Near/Near Higher Engineers (2015 [2016], Flat Langton's Arkeyes): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Inventions: Maze of Woods (2015, Temporary Residence): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jason James: Jason James (2015, New West): [r]: B+(***)
  • Buddy Miller & Friends: Cayamo: Sessions at Sea (2016, New West): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marius Neset: Pinball (2014 [2015], ACT): [r]: B+(*)
  • PINS: Wild Nights (2015, Bella Union): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pixel: Golden Years (2015, Cuneiform): [dl]: B
  • Radical Dads: Universal Coolers (2015, Old Flame): [r]: A-
  • Jemal Ramirez: Pomponio (2015 [2016], First Orbit Sounds Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Renku: Live in Greenwich Village (2014 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Roswell Rudd/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balasz Pandi: Strength & Power (2015 [2016], Rare Noise): [cdr]: A-
  • Samo Salamon Bassless Trio: Unity (2014 [2016], Samo): [cd]: A-
  • Travis Scott: Rodeo (2015, Grand Hustle/Epic): [r]: B
  • Seinabo Sey: Pretend (2015, Virgin): [r]: B+(*)
  • Shopping: Consumer Complaints (2014 [2015], FatCat): [r]: B+(***)
  • Shopping: Why Choose (2015, FatCat): [r]: A-
  • Shopping: Urge Surfing (2015, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Shopping: Gizzard Shingles (2015, self-released): [bc]: B
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith: Evolution (2016, Blue Note): [r]: B
  • The Souljazz Orchestra: Resistance (2015, Strut): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bruce Torff: Down the Line (2014-15 [2016], Summit): [cd]: B
  • Carlos Vega: Bird's Ticket (2015 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dan Weiss: Sixteen: Drummers Suite (2014 [2016], Pi): [cd]: B
  • White Reaper: White Reaper Does It Again (2015, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(***)
  • Worriers: Imaginary Life (2015, Don Giovanni): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Yawpers: American Man (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: A-
  • Yelawolf: Love Story (2015, Shady): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • The Great American Music Ensemble: It's All in the Game (2001 [2016], Jazzed Media): [r]: A-
  • Soft Machine: Switzerland 1974 (1974 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • PINS: Girls Like Us (2013, Bella Union): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Anthony Braxton: Excerpts From Three New Recordings: Trillium J (The Non-Unconfessionables)/Quintet (Tristano) 2014/3 Compositions (REMHM) 2011: sampler, albums: April 1
  • Rich Brown: Abeng (self-released)
  • Moppa Elliott: Still Up in the Air (Hot Cup)
  • Hanami: The Only Way to Float Free (Ears & Eyes): advance, April 22
  • Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra: All My Yesterdays (1966, Resonance, 2CD): February 19
  • Julian Lage: Arclight (Mack Avenue): March 11
  • Dave Miller: Old Door Phantoms (Ears & Eyes): April 1
  • Danny Mixon: Pass It On (2015, self-released)
  • Nonch Harpin': Native Sons (self-released): April 1
  • Alberto Pinton Noi Siamo: Resiliency (Moserobie)
  • Twin Talk (Ears & Eyes): April 29

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Weekend Roundup [Draft]

Little time to do this today, so this will be brief. Still, one must mention the sudden death of Antonin Scalia, by far the most horrifying Supreme Court justice in my memory. He was nominated by Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the Senate unanimously (98-0), a mistake so scarifying it's never happened again. By all accounts a very smart, humorous, and affable man, he nonetheless repeatedly abused his power to politicize the court's rulings, anchoring a hard right-wing faction that has often prevailed in recent years, doing much harm to our liberties. Throughout his tenure, Scalia has claimed a unique personal gift of being able to channel the original thinking of the Founding Fathers. He called his doctrine "originalism" -- what was most uncanny was how it turns out that the Founding Fathers always thought exactly what Scalia thought. Hopefully we will never again witness such an egomaniacal fraud.

The Republicans' reaction wasn't just to eulogize their departed leader. Senate Majority Leader McConnell announced that he would refuse to allow any confirmation vote on anyone "lame duck" President Obama might nominate to replace Scalia. Adding virtually any Obama pick, after all, would shift a perilously divided Supreme Court back toward sanity. This blanket rejection isn't unprecedented -- twice in the nineteenth century, under presidents John Tyler and Andrew Johnson -- both were slotted for Vice President in cynical moves to broaden tickets, elevated with elected Presidents died, and turned out to be antipathy to the political parties they were elected by. But it's never happened to a duly elected president, let alone one elected by popular majorities twice. But then the Republican Congress, elected with far fewer votes than the Democratic President, has a unique sense of its own entitlement -- a special status based on their assumed claim to represent all of America's traditional elites (white, male, native-born, devout, patriotic, above all the rich). But their claims are based on more than arrogance. They also have an air of desperation to them, a secret recognition that their privileged identities risk dissolving in the swelling masses, which is why the Republican Party is not just a contrast to the Democratic; it's why the Republican Party has repeatedly turned against democracy. You see this in their efforts to reduce and harrass voters. You see this in their efforts to flood political campaigns with dark money. You see this in their gerrymanders. You see this in their efforts to rig the courts. Now they think they can use their stranglehold on Congress to cower the President and the Courts.

It's worth noting that just a few days before Scalia died, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the governor and legislature of Kansas had (once again) failed to uphold the state constitution's mandate to adequately fund the public school system. Governor Brownback's response: he wants to change the laws so that he can pick a new Supreme Court. It seems like Scalia wasn't an isolated case: the GOP is rife with ideologues who thinks the Constitution means whatever they fancy it means.

  • David Atkins: The Latest GOP Debate Was an Embarrassing Nightmare for the Party: Offers a long list of low blows, but the one I find most interesting was:

    Probably the most compelling moment of the debate was when Trump hit the Bush Administration over 9/11 and Iraq. It might just be the final straw that pushes core GOP voters away from Trump. But it's also important to note that Trump has said many of the same things before without much consequence, nor is it entirely clear that GOP voters have a strong emotional vested interest in defending the Bush Administration on those issues.

    Actually, I doubt that GOP voters, or hardly anyone outside the Bush family, has any vested interest in defending George W. Rather, he makes a necessary scapegoat -- none of them have moved beyond GW's ideology, so they need some way to dismiss its manifest failures, so why not blame it on his implementation (especially when you can point to a lapse as a true believer). And why not Trump leading the charge? He's relatively free of the connections. Others, less so. Atkins has more on the debate here.

  • Scalia/SCOTUS links:

    • David Atkins: Scalia's Boring Legacy: Cites two pieces by Michael O'Donnell, one a book review of Bruce Allen Murphy: Scalia: A Court of One (from 2014, Alone on His Own Ice Floe, and one new one: It Will Be Easy to Replace Antonin Scalia. O'Donnell wrote:

      I will remember Scalia mainly for the ugliness that permeated his opinions. He once wrote with astonishing callousness that it is not unconstitutional to execute an innocent person if that person has received a fair trial. He described affirmative action as "racial discrimination," and mocked the notion that it could help students achieve "cross-racial understanding."

      Atkins added:

      In the end, what many characterized as Scalia's incisive wit and questioning simply became boring, because it was always in the service of the same agenda, rendering it devoid of truly honest insight. Scalia simply became as boring as your conservative uncle at Thanksgiving.

    • Tierney Sneed: Yes, the Senate Arbitrarily Blocked a SCOTUS Nom Before -- in the Mid-1800s: More on John Tyler and Andrew Johnson. Sneed also mentions several "lame duck" appointees (defined as appointees named after an election selected a new president, not just because a sitting president is term-limited), but omits the most remarkable one: John Adams appointed a new Supreme Court Chief Justice just before he left office in 1801, following a bitter loss to the opposition party. Yet his nominee, John Marshall, was confirmed and served longer than any other Chief Justice.

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

Friday, February 12, 2016

Post-New Hampshire

I didn't really want to let myself get sucked into another post-election commentary like last week's Post-Iowa, but enough links have popped up to be worth a brief post.

On the Democratic side, it's worth noting that Bernie Sanders thus far is running ahead of Barack Obama in 2008 against Hillary Clinton: sure, Obama won Iowa handily where Sanders only tied, but Clinton beat Obama soundly in New Hampshire, and this year lost that same state by even more. Geography tilts Iowa toward Obama and New Hampshire toward Sanders -- a little bad luck for Clinton there, but doesn't Clinton also have the advantage of having done all this before? In both states Sanders gained 20-30 points over the last six months. That's momentum.

Both states are atypical in various ways, and despite all the effort candidates put into winning them, their idiosyncrasies make them poor guides for subsequent primaries, where campaigning is necessarily less personal. The main thing Iowa and New Hampshire seem to do is to winnow down the field. The sixteen Republicans we started with are now down to six: Trump, Kasich, Cruz, Bush, Rubio, and Carson. Not sure if Gilmore still thinks he's running: he got 133 votes, or 0.052%, a figure that trailed three no-longer-running candidates (Paul, Huckabee, Santorum) but at least topped ex-candidates Pataki, Graham, and Jindal; see results here; all 30 names listed were on the Republican ballot, but the list doesn't break out the 1750 write-ins.)

Gilmore (and for that matter Santorum) were also beat by Andy Martin, who Wikipedia describes as "an American perennial candidate who has pursued numerous litigations" and "the primary source of false rumors that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election." Just behind Gilmore (and ahead of Pataki) was Richard Witz, a retired school custodian from Spencer, Massachusetts. The low vote getters on the ballot were Matt Drozd, Robert L. Mann, and Peter Messina, with five votes each (Messina is the only one of those three with as much as a website).

Chris Christie (6th place, 7%) and Carly Fiorina (7th place, 4%) dropped out after New Hampshire. With most of next month's primaries taking place in the South, they didn't really have anything to look forward to. Further down, Ben Carson (8th place, 2%) and Jim Gilmore (13th place, 0%) seem to still be running (as opposed to "in the running").

[PS: On Friday, after I had written the above, Gilmore gave up the ghost. NBC noted that the Republican field had narrowed to six, then gave a rundown that only mentioned five of them. Ben Carson seems to be turning into the invisible man.]

Here are some links to chew on:

  • Nate Silver: Republicans Need to Treat Donald Trump as the Front-Runner: Looks for comparisons in past Iowa-New Hampshire results for patterns and finds everything from Pat Buchanan to Mitt Romney (who in 2012 did 0.2 better in Iowa and 4.2 better in New Hampshire, but really pretty close, at least without adjusting for the competitive fields). The sidebar also (at the moment) shows Trump with a 55% chance of winning South Carolina (which you may recall Romney lost to Newt Gingrich; he has Rubio at 22% and Cruz at 15% but only in the fishy-sounding "polls plus" column). Then Silver abandons the stats and starts dreaming:

    If you could somehow combine Rubio's likability and appeal to conservatives, Kasich's policy smarts and post-New Hampshire momentum, and Bush's war chest and organization, you'd have a pretty good candidate on your hands. But instead, these candidates are likely to spend the next several weeks sniping at one another. The circular firing squad mentality was already apparent in New Hampshire, where fewer advertising dollars were directed against Trump despite his having led all but one poll of the state since July.

    By pegging Trump as the "front runner" Silver seems to be daring the "Republican elites" to get their act together and settle on one anti-Trump miracle and be done with it. Still, you have to wonder (as Elias Isquith does), if, having downplayed Trump's changes, Silver isn't just looking to salvage his reputation. What Silver's own data shows is that Bush-Kasich-Rubio (maybe even Cruz) understand that only by getting past each other does one have a chance of taking on Trump -- the problem is that none of them come close to Silver's dream criteria. What I suspect will eventually happen is that those "elites" will in the end reconcile themselves to Trump, because in the end Trump is no threat to them. That's far more likely than the prospect of the Democratic Party apparatchiki giving in to Sanders even if Sanders sweeps the primaries as thoroughly. Part of this is, as David Frum put it, because the GOP fears its base, whereas the Democrats loathe theirs. But mostly it's because Trump is just another corrupt demagogic symptom of a system that Sanders is promising to upend.

  • Paul Krugman: Hard Money Men: Ohio Governor John Kasich skipped Iowa and ran pretty close to the perfect New Hampshire campaign -- lots of town halls, one-on-ones, presenting a low-key personality with a command of issues and his own temper -- and wound up getting 16% of the vote, pretty unimpressive totals except that he topped Cruz, Bush, and Rubio for second place. Tempting, given his competition, to argue that he's a sane oasis in the Republican field, but Krugman isn't having any of it:

    [N]ote that on economic policy -- which sort of matters -- Kasich is terrible, arguably worse than the rest of the GOP field.

    It's not just his balanced-budget fetishism, which would be disastrous in an economic crisis. He's also a hard-money man.

    Ted Cruz has gotten some scrutiny, although not enough, for his goldbuggism. But Kasich, when asked why wages have stagnated, gave as his number one reason "because the Federal Reserve kept interest rates so low" -- because this diverted investment into stocks, or something. No, it doesn't make any sense -- but it tells you that he is viscerally opposed to monetary as well as fiscal stimulus in the face of high unemployment.

    So no, Kasich isn't sensible. He's just off the wall in ways that differ in some ways from the GOP mainstream. If he'd been president in 2009-10, we'd have had a full replay of the Great Depression.

    For more on Kasich, see Heather Digby Parton: John Kasich is a right-wing Trojan Horse. On the other hand, Jon Huntsman received 17% of the vote in New Hampshire in 2012 (3rd place behind Romney and Ron Paul) and was never heard from again.

  • Emily Douglas: Last Night, Rachel Maddow Perfectly Captured What Bernie's Win Means for the Left: Follow the link for that quote (and some video). What I find more interesting is this later bit:

    Think back to the 1992 conventions, when Pat Buchanan gave his infamous culture-wars speech, announcing a "crusade," as Maddow put it, against gay people, minorities and feminism and concluding that "There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself." In response to that declaration of war, the Democratic Party didn't have much: "As a gay person watching that in 1992, I didn't feel like Bill Clinton had my back. I didn't feel like the Democratic Party had my back," she added. "He was talking about agreeing with Ronald Reagan that government was the problem."

    I saw a little bit of Maddow in the election coverage. She was talking about how Trump is viewed, at least in Europe, as analogous to the neo-fascist right-wing parties there. That's probably true, but Americans have little experience with native-grown fascism, so the same resonance isn't easily felt here. On the other hand, most European countries experienced native fascist movements as well as the fascist-driven World War -- so bad that surviving right-wing parties can't help but be tarred by the experience. You find, for instance, in France large numbers of people who will vote for anyone against Le Pen. The closest analogue in the US was when Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke ran for governor of Louisiana. But aside the KKK, the US has never really had fascist movements. In a sense, the hallmarks of fascism -- racism, rabid xenophobia, militarism -- have become so mainstreamed here that they don't get flagged as such.

  • Martin Longman: Why Sanders Is Still Behind the Eight Ball: Points out that the way the Democratic Party selects "superdelegates" creates a huge baked-in advantage for Clinton (currently 394-42). By comparison, with the proportional split of delegates in New Hampshire, Sanders has made a net gain of 13 delegates. At that rate, it's going to take a long time and a lot of landslide victories for Sanders to catch up. Sure, Clinton had a similar advantage in 2008, but not as extreme as this year: Obama had a number of prominent Democratic supporters (Longman emphasizes Tom Daschle). Still hard to say what happens if the primaries go overwhelmingly for Sanders: those superdelegates may save Clinton, but won't make her look like the people's pick.

  • Joel Beinin: More details about Bernie Sanders and Kibbutz Sha'ar ha-'Amakim: In case you're curious. I've heard reports that after New Hampshire Clinton was going to attack Sanders for being anti-Israel. Good luck with that. Chances are that most supporters of Sanders are already more disturbed by Israel's right-wing polity (not to mention the alliance of Netanyahu with the Republicans) than Sanders himself is -- so attacking him on that is more likely to shift voters against Israel/Likud than it is to harm Sanders.

  • Michelle Alexander: Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote: "From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted -- and Hillary Clinton supported -- decimated black America." Then, and these are not unrelated, there's "the economy, stupid":

    An oft-repeated myth about the Clinton administration is that although it was overly tough on crime back in the 1990s, at least its policies were good for the economy and for black unemployment rates. The truth is more troubling. As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn't have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate. [ . . . ]

    Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn't reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton's tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant "effectively making the construction of prisons the nation's main housing program for the urban poor."

  • Josiah Lee Auspitz: For GOP, It's 270 to Win, but Also 1237 to Lose: Reviews the strange delegate allocation procedures the Republican Party adopted to help ensure the dominance of conservatives by tipping the scales toward smaller states in the west and south.

  • Eric Alterman: Why There Will Be No New New Deal: Draws on the argument of Jefferson Cowie in a new book, The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics. Cowie seems to believe that the New Deal was an unrepeatable exception because it occurred at the one point in American history when the internal divisions of America's working class -- race, ethnicity, religion -- were at low ebb (even so, he sees the exclusion of blacks from many New Deal benefits as necessary for their passage -- for details see Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White). Civil rights for blacks and increased immigration only serve to undermine the New Deal's unique focus on class and solidarity. Alterman also cites Robin Archer's Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States? and Robert J Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth to pile on inevitability. Yet he also notes:

    Beginning midway through Jimmy Carter's presidency, with the New Deal order wheezing on life support, Democrats tried to save themselves by aping right-wing arguments about government being the problem, not the solution, to the challenges that ordinary Americans faced. By tying themselves to the mast of a corrupt campaign-finance system, they have helped to make it so.

    Uh, maybe it wasn't so inevitable. Maybe it had more to do with some bad decisions certain politicians made because the Cold War had blinded them to thinking of America in class terms? Someone like, oh, Bill Clinton? Cowie points to the Great Depression and WWII as the key events that forged the sense of unity and solidarity that made the New Deal, and implies that they are irrepeatable. On the other hand, it's not that we lack for depressions and wars -- just the critical analysis to understand and overcome them.

  • Gar Alperovitz: Socialism in America Is Closer Than You Think: Lest you think that socialism is un-American, Alperovitz has a number of examples of things that already exist that go beyond Sanders' own program. Not all are advertised as "socialism" -- a brand that hasn't fared all that well, not that socialists don't have an honorable legacy, often moving well ahead of more mainstream politicians.

  • Josh Marshall: A Clarifying Encounter: On Thursday's Democratic debate, which Marshall thought was good for both but maybe a bit better for Clinton. He complains, "and yet there's a vague hint of Rubio-ism in Sanders" -- an objection to Sanders repeatedly hitting his campaign talking points. Having heard them all many times I can't say that's something I especially enjoy, but I suspect such repetition is needed to drive his points home -- and they are points that encapsulate broad programs, unlike Rubio's whatever. I caught about three minutes of the debate, which included Sanders citing the 1954 coup against Mossadegh as a lesson in unintended consequences -- and he wasn't just name-dropping; he explained it very succinctly -- and blasting Kissinger's guidance of American foreign policy, citing how the Kissinger's expansion of the Vietnam War destabilized Cambodia and led to three million deaths and how his opening to China has cost millions of American jobs. That's all stuff I know like the back of my hand, but it's also stuff you never hear politicians say. When Sanders promised he wouldn't be seeking Kissinger's advice, Clinton asked he would listen to on foreign policy, and Sanders ignored her. What should he say? The Democratic Party mandarins, like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madelyn Albright, are every bit as compromised as Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice: indeed, you can't be certified as a "foreign policy expert" in Washington without having been systematically deluded for decades. Maybe Marshall is right and Clinton is exceptionally knowledgeable about wonky policy specifics. But Sanders knows his history, and that's where lessons are to be learned -- not least the ones that have blindsided Clinton time and again.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26231 [26199] rated (+32), 421 [412] unrated (+9).

I don't have much to say this week. Most of the records below are still 2015 releases (11 are 2016, only one of those non-jazz). Since I froze the 2015 file, belatedly graded 2015 releases are appearing in green. (Note to self: this greatly increases the likelihood of a coding error making the file unviewable, so check it more often.) I have decided (for now) to continue adding to the jazz and non-jazz EOY lists, and I've added a few things to the EOY aggregate -- I'm not really looking for more lists, but occasionally stumble onto one (like this one from If Men Had Ears -- supposedly objective because numbers were crunched, but there's still selection bias, and anything that elevates Tame Impala to second place is a bit suspicious).

A fair number of the records below are alt-country. Last year I got a lot of good tips from Saving Country Music. Less so this year, but I checked most of their nominees out -- even Don Henley's not-so-bad album (much better than the James Taylor album that also appeared on Rolling Stone's EOY list). I complained last week about not being able to find Arca's Mutant on Rhapsody -- thanks to the reader who encouraged me to try again. The Eszter Balint album appeared on Christgau's EW post (also Thomas Anderson and Donnie Fritts). It's worth noting that Balint's superb album was totally missed by the 700+ EOY lists I've compiled -- the second (or third) time Christgau has picked something that far from the spotlight. (Foxymorons was the other, with Mark Rubin only appearing on the list of a well known fan.)

Old music has a couple albums from the wonderful Sheila Jordan. I noticed Better Than Anything in Downbeat, and when I found it on Rhapsody, I noticed a couple more albums I hadn't heard. I commented that she hadn't recorded anything new since turning 80 in 2008. Rummaging around a bit I found notice of an 85th birthday concert with Steve Kuhn in 2013, and her website showed events at least into 2014. No doubt she's moving into a treacherous age.

Some more EOY list links:

New records rated this week:

  • Arca: Mutant (2015, Mute): [r]: A-
  • Thomas Anderson: Heaven (2016, Out There): [r]: B+(***)
  • Allison Au Quartet: Forest Grove (2015 [2016], self-released): B+(*)
  • Eszter Balint: Airless Midnight (2015, Red Herring): [r]: A-
  • Blue Muse: Blue Muse Live (2015, Dolphinium): [cd]: B
  • Brooklyn Blowhards (2015 [2016], Little (i) Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brandi Carlile: The Firewatcher's Daughter (2015, ATO): [r]: B+(***)
  • Benjamin Clementine: At Least for Now (2015, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(**)
  • Anderson East: Delilah (2015, Low Country Sound/Elektra): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mike Freeman ZonaVibe: Blue Tjade (2014 [2016], VOF): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bill Frisell: When You Wish Upon a Star (2015 [2016], Okeh): [cdr]: B
  • Donnie Fritts: Oh My Goodness (2015, Single Lock): [r]: B+(***)
  • Michael Monroe Goodman: The Flag, the Bible, and Bill Monroe (2015, MammerJam): [r]: B+(***)
  • Grandpa's Cough Medicine: 180 Proof (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • William Clark Green: Ringling Road (2015, Bill Grease): [r]: B+(*)
  • Anna von Hausswolff: The Miraculous (2015, Other Music): [r]: B
  • Heads of State: Search for Peace (2015, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Don Henley: Cass County (2015, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Left Lane Cruiser: Dirty Spliff Blues (2015, Alive Naturalsound): [r]: B+(*)
  • Urs Leimgruber/Alex Huber: Lightnings (2015 [2016], Wide Ear): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Orchestra: Galactic Parables: Volume 1 (2013 [2015], Cuneiform, 2CD): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Mekons/Robbie Fulks: Jura (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(***)
  • Whitey Morgan & the 78s: Born, Raised & Live From Flint (2011 [2014], Bloodshot): [r]: B+(**)
  • Whitey Morgan & the 78s: Sonic Ranch (2015, Whitey Morgan Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Matt Parker Trio: Present Time (2015 [2016], BYNK): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ken Peplowski: Enrapture (2015 [2016], Capri): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Danilo Pérez/John Patitucci/Brian Blade: Children of the Light (2015, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Valery Ponomarev Jazz Big Band: Our Father Who Art Blakey (2014 [2016], Zoho Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • J. Peter Schwalm: The Beauty of Disaster (2015 [2016], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Shatner's Bassoon: The Self Titled Album Shansa Barsnaan (2015, Wasp Millionaire): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Mike Sopko/Simon Lott: The Golden Measure (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Turnpike Troubadours: Turnpike Troubadours (2015, Bossier City): [r]: B
  • Ward Thomas: From Where We Stand (2015, WTW Music): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Sheila Jordan: Better Than Anything: Live (1991 [2015], There): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Sheila Jordan: Confirmation (1975 [2005], Test of Time): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sheila Jordan: Believe in Jazz (2003 [2004], Ella Productions): [r]: A-
  • Sheila Jordan & E.S.P. Trio: Straight Ahead (2004 [2005], Splasc(H)): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Anderson: Blue Innuendo (Label 1): April 1
  • Andy Adamson Quartet: A Cry for Peace (Andros)
  • Thomas Borgmann Trio: One for Cisco (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • Jean-Luc Cappozzo/Didier Lasserre: Ceremony's a Name for the Rich Horn (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • Chaise Lounge: Gin Fizz Fandango (Modern Songbook)
  • Ari Erev: Flow (self-released)
  • William Hooker: Light: The Early Years 1975-1989 (NoBusiness, 4CD)
  • Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (ECM): advance, March 25
  • Marilyn Lerner/Ken Filiano/Lou Grassi: Live at Edgefest (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • Joëlle Léandre: No Comment (Fou)
  • J Mancera: Mancera #5 (self-released): March 1
  • Christian Perez: Anima Mundi (CPM): March 4
  • Rhythm Future Quartet: Travels (Magic Fiddle Music): February 26
  • Alfredo Rodriguez: Tocororo (Mack Avenue/Qwest): March 4
  • Vladimir Tarasov/Eugenius Kanevicius/Ludas Mockunas: Intuitus (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • The U.S. Army Blues: Live at Blues Alley (self-released)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Weekend Roundup

I threw this together rather quickly, but here are some links of interest this week:

  • Thomas Frank: It's not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street:

    As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one of the era's greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished rallying points of the president's supporters is the idea of the president's powerlessness.

    Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of Congress and it's easy to make the case for the weakness of the White House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that presidents are merely "buoys on the tides of history," not "mighty frigates parting the waters," he scarcely made a ripple.

    But the pundit fixation on Obama's powerlessness goes back many years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators -- people who are well pleased with the president's record and who are determined to slap down liberals who find fault in Obama's leadership. The purveyors of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e., themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied to Obama's talk of hope and change back in 2008.

    Frank brings up many examples, especially the Obama administration's response to the financial collapse and recession of 2008:

    It would have been massively popular had Obama reacted to the financial crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way. Everyone admits this, at least tacitly, even the architects of Obama's bailout policies, who like to think of themselves as having resisted the public's mindless baying for banker blood. Acting aggressively might also have deflated the rampant false consciousness of the Tea Party movement and prevented the Republican reconquista of the House in 2010.

    But Obama did the opposite. He did everything he could to "foam the runways" and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks. Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn't fire. The AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for. The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed. The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long, sordid list of apparent frauds.

    Frank concludes that "the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way." After all the "hopey-changey" campaign blather in 2008, it came as a shock to discover how hard Obama would work to conserve a banking industry which had frankly gone berserk: not only could Obama not imagine America without its predatory bankers, he couldn't imagine changing ownership of those banks, or even dislodging Jamie Dimon from Chase. It's not clear that anyone in the Republican party is that conservative. Rather, they are like those proverbial bulls in the china shop, blindly breaking stuff just to show off their power.

  • Paul Krugman Reviews The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon: Gordon's big book (762 pp.) argues that growth is largely driven by the introduction of new technologies, but that not all technologies have the same growth potential. In particular, a set of technological breakthroughs from the late 19th century up through the 1930s drove high rates of growth up to about 1970, but more recent innovations have had much less effect, so the prospects for future growth are much dimmer. This is pretty much the thesis of James K. Galbraith's 2014 book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, who I suspect is clearer about why this is the effect, while spending a lot less time on the case histories. For Galbraith, the key is that the earlier innovations tended to move work from the household to factories while cheaper transportation and energy made those factories much more cost-effective. On the other hand, recent innovations in computing and automation increase efficiency at the expense of jobs, and increasingly some of those labor savings are taken as leisure. One reason this matters is that our political system was built around an assumption that growth makes up for inequality -- that conflict over the distribution of wealth is moot as long as there is ample growth for all. But this isn't something that we're just discovering now: growth rates in the US started to dip around 1970, and the result over the next decade was the growth of a conservative political movement that aimed to maintain profit rates even as growth slumped. I actually think that shift was triggered by more tangible factors -- peak oil, moving from a trade surplus to deficit, the many costs of the Vietnam War (including inflation) -- but the technology shift helps explain why no amount of supply-side stimulus ever did any good: every subsequent growth spurt has turned out to be a bubble accompanied by more/less fraud. Krugman suggests some of this, but the more explicit (and challenging) suggestions are in Galbraith's book. Krugman:

    So what does this say about the future? Gordon suggests that the future is all too likely to be marked by stagnant living standards for most Americans, because the effects of slowing technological progress will be reinforced by a set of "headwinds": rising inequality, a plateau in education levels, an aging population and more.

    It's a shocking prediction for a society whose self-image, arguably its very identity, is bound up with the expectation of constant progress. And you have to wonder about the social and political consequences of another generation of stagnation or decline in working-class incomes.

    A couple more things worth noting here. One is that the exceptionally high growth rates of recent years in China, India, and similar countries is tied to them belatedly adopting the technologies that fueled high growth in Europe and America nearly a century ago. Nothing surprising here, although one would hope they'd be smarter about it. The other is that while newer technologies produce less economic growth, they still quite often have quality of life benefits. So while wages and other economic metrics have stagnated, many people don't really feel the pinch. (And where they do, I suspect is largely due to the oppressive weight of debt.)

  • Paul Krugman: Electability: Alright, so Vox asked 6 political scientists if Bernie Sanders would have a shot in a general election, and they said: no, no way. In particular:

    Fear of sudden, dramatic change could impede Sanders in a general election. But just as powerfully, Republicans could also successfully portray Sanders as out of step with the average American's political views, according to the academics interviewed for this story.

    There isn't a lot of doubt that this would have a big impact in an election. Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.

    Who's Krugman to argue with such august personages:

    I have some views of my own, of course, but I'm not a political scientist, man -- I just read political scientists and take their work very seriously.

    After all, man, they're scientists! They must be right, even though Krugman has occasionally -- well, more like 3-4 times a week -- been moved to note that the professional practitioners of his own branch of the social sciences, economics, often have their heads wedged. But, I guess, political science must be much more objective than economics, more predictive and all that, less likely to be biased by the political biases of its researchers and analysts. Sure, makes a lot of sense. After all, I know a lot of people who went into political science, and who among them did so because they were interested in politics? Uh, every one of them. I myself majored in sociology, and spent most of my time there dissecting the myriad ways biases corrupt research. I could have done the same thing in economics or political science, but the nonsense in those social sciences was just too easy to debunk. But it's been ages since I've been so reminded how shoddy political science is as I was by the Vox article.

    As for Krugman's value-added, there really isn't any. He doesn't even explain why electability is such a concern. He just proclaims, "The stakes are too high for that, and history will not forgive you," after taunting us: "That's what Naderites said about Al Gore; how'd that work out?" So, like, it's my fault Gore couldn't make a convincing argument why Bush would be a much more terrible president than himself? Sure, in retrospect that's true. In retrospect, it's also clear that enough hints were available at the time to make that argument -- and it's not only Gore's fault that he failed to do so, you can also blame a press that was totally smitten with Bush's good ol' boy shtick.

    I don't doubt the importance of the election, at least in terms of how much damage a Republican victory might inflict. But I don't buy the idea that we all live on a simple left-right ideological continuum, let alone that we all make rational choices based on who is closest to one's individual perch. Gore's problem, for instance, wasn't that he wasn't close enough to the median voter. It was more like he didn't convince enough of his base that he would fight for them, that his election would be better off for them than Bush's. No doubt Clinton is closer to that median voter, but will she fight for you? Or will she cut a deal with whatever donor woos her most? My first close encounter with Hillary was listening to a radio interview with her while her ill-fated health care plan was still in play. She was asked how she would feel if it was rejected, and she said "sad." Right then I realized this was a person who didn't care enough even to get upset. Sanders wouldn't take that kind of rejection lying down. But the Clintons simply forgot about health care for the rest of his terms, and went on to doing "pragmatic" things the Republicans would let them pass: NAFTA, welfare "reform," the repeal of Carter-Glass.

  • Robert Freeman: The new social contract: This is what's roiling the electorate & fueling the success of anti-establishment candidates Trump, Cruz and Sanders: Actually, less about those candidates -- that's just bait -- than the dissolution of the notion that rich and poor are bound together through a "social contract":

    But shared prosperity is no longer the operative social contract. Ronald Reagan began dismantling it in 1981 when he transferred vast amounts of national income and wealth to the already rich. He called it "supply side economics."

    Supposedly, the rich would plow their even greater riches back into the economy, which would magically return that wealth -- and more -- to everyone else. George H.W. Bush called it "voodoo economics." It seemed too good to be true. It was. Consider the facts.

    Since the late 1970s, labor productivity in the U.S. has risen 259 percent. If the fruits of that productivity had been distributed according to the post-World War II shared prosperity social contract the average person's income would be more than double what it is today. The actual change?

    Median income adjusted for inflation is lower today than it was in 1974. A staggering 40 percent of all Americans now make less than the 1968 minimum wage, adjusted for inflation. Median middle-class wealth is plummeting. It is now 36 percent below what it was in 2000.

    Where did all the money go? It went exactly where Reagan intended.

    Twenty-five years ago, the top 1 percent of income earners pulled in 12 percent of the nation's income. Today they get twice that, 25 percent. And it's accelerating. Between 2009 and 2012, 95 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent.

    This is the exact opposite of shared prosperity. It is imposed penury That is the new deal. Or more precisely, the new New Deal, the new social contract.

    Freeman is right that this is the rot and ferment that breeds support for "anti-establishment" candidates. Trump and Sanders have different answers to the problem: Trump flames foreigners, and that seems to appeal to certain voters; Sanders blames the rich, and that appeals to others. I'm less sure why Freeman lumps Cruz here. Sure, he's "anti-establishment" in the sense that he too has a scapegoat: the government. But he has the very opposite of a solution.

    I should also quote Freeman on Clinton and Sanders, since this runs against the "common sense" of Krugman's "political scientists":

    It is unlikely Hillary will pull many Republicans away from whomever the Republicans nominate. She is both an object of visceral hatred to most Republicans and the establishment candidate in a year of anti-establishmentism.

    Sanders, on the other hand, pulls well from disaffected Republicans. He has little of Hillary's baggage and polls much better against either Trump or Cruz than does Hillary. He is anti-establishment in a year of ervid anti-establishmentism, a fiery mouthpiece for the intense cross-partisan anger roiling the electorate.

    If Sanders can survive the primaries he has a much greater chance of beating any Republican challenger than does Hillary. Whether he can implement his vision of a retrofitted social contract is another matter.

  • Links on the presidential campaign trail:

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

  • Andrew J Bacevich: Out of Bounds, Off-Limits, or Just Plain Ignored: Sub: "Six national security questions Hillary, Donald, Ted, Marco, et al., don't want to answer and won't even be asked." Only one has to do with the "war on terror" -- still the biggest game in town. Not sure that Bacevich has much of a handle on his question six: "Debt."

  • Tom Engelhardt: "The Finest Fighting Force in the History of World": Take Afghanistan, for instance. Engelhardt cites Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living, America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, which argues that the Taliban disbanded and dissolved after their first taste of American firepower, but the US couldn't leave well enough alone:

    Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on terror forever and a day. So, as Gopal reports, they essentially refused to let the Taliban surrender. They hounded that movement's leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, "go back to work."

    It was a time of triumph and of Guantánamo, and it went to everyone's head. Among those in power in Washington and those running the military, who didn't believe that a set of genuine global triumphs lay in store? With such a fighting force, such awesome destructive power, how could it not? And so, in Afghanistan, the American counterterror types kept right on targeting the "terrorists" whenever their Afghan warlord allies pointed them out -- and if many of them turned out to be local enemies of those same rising warlords, who cared?

    It would be the first, but hardly the last time that, in killing significant numbers of people, the U.S. military had a hand in creating its own future enemies. In the process, the Americans managed to revive the very movement they had crushed and which, so many years later, is at the edge of seizing a dominant military position in the country. [ . . . ]

    It's probably accurate to say that in the course of one disappointment or disaster after another from Afghanistan to Libya, Somalia to Iraq, Yemen to Pakistan, the U.S. military never actually lost an encounter on the battlefield. But nowhere was it truly triumphant on the battlefield either, not in a way that turned out to mean anything. Nowhere, in fact, did a military move of any sort truly pay off in the long run. Whatever was done by the FFFIHW and the CIA (with its wildly counterproductive drone assassination campaigns across the region) only seemed to create more enemies and more problems.

    Engelhardt concludes that "Washington should bluntly declare not victory, but defeat, and bring the U.S. military home. Maybe if we stopped claiming that we were the greatest, most exceptional, most indispensable nation ever and that the U.S. military was the finest fighting force in the history of the world, both we and the world might be better off and modestly more peaceful."

  • Ann Jones: Social Democracy for Dummies: After having written books on American failure in Afghanistan and on how maimed US veterans have fared on their return, Jones moved to Norway, to see what life is like in an affluent country free from war. Not bad, really.

  • Thomas Piketty: A New Deal for Europe: The author of possibly the most important book yet in growing inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, offers a few modest proposals for reforms in the Eurozone. Also see Piketty's earlier review of Anthony B Atkinson's Inequality: What Can Be Done?: A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society.

  • Philip Weiss: Dov Yermiya, who said, 'I renounce my belief in Zionism which has failed,' dies at 101. Yermiya fought in Israel's "War for Independence" in 1948, and only issued his renunciation in 2009, in a letter quoted here. You might also take a look at Steven Erlanger: Who Are the True Heirs of Zionism? -- which starts with a bloody admission:

    ZIONISM was never the gentlest of ideologies. The return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty there have always carried within them the displacement of those already living on the land.

    The Israeli general and politician Yigal Allon defined Zionism in 1975 as "the national liberation movement of a people exiled from its historic homeland and dispersed among the nations of the world." Some years later, and more crudely, perhaps, another general and politician, Rehavam Ze'evi, a tough right-winger, said, "Zionism is in essence the Zionism of transfer," adding, "If transfer is immoral, then all of Zionism is immoral."

    Admissions like this were rarely broadcast to the public during the early days of Israel, when David Ben-Gurion spoke of Israel becoming "a state just like any other." So the recent tendency to speak in such terms may sound like a confession but is rarely accompanied by reflection much less shame: rather, they are bragging, and preparing the grounds for another round of "ethnic cleansing."

Friday, February 05, 2016


Postscript added [Feb. 6].

No Weekend Roundup last Sunday, as I was trying to tie up the loose ends on a Rhapsody Streamnotes column. Since then the ridiculous spectacle of the Iowa Caucuses happened. With all the money being spent on political corruption these days, some small states have spied an economic opportunity in being the first to weigh in on who's going to be the next president, and that's settled out into the convention that New Hampshire runs the first primary -- they've made it clear that if any other state tries to usurp them, they'll just move their primary further up -- with Iowa sneaking ahead with its caucus scam. As you know, everyone who's anyone (plus some who don't seem to be anyone at all) has been campaigning for president for a full year now, so this is the first real opportunity the voters have had to thin the field. That's the main takeaway from the caucuses.

Martin O'Malley was the first one to suspend his campaign after a pitiful showing in Iowa. He was running as the Democrats' insurance policy, figuring that if the voters couldn't stand presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton he'd make himself available as the fallback candidate. So basically he was running against Bernie Sanders as the alternative to Clinton only, you know, without having any policy differences from Clinton and, well, the laws of physics prevailed: substance defeated vacuum. On the other hand, Sanders and Clinton are likely to continue all the way to the convention: the former because he's somehow managed to inspire and organize a sizable chunk of the Democratic base -- with issues, of course, but also integrity -- and the latter because, as 2008 demonstrated, she has a remarkable ability to "take a licking and keep on ticking." More on this later.

As for the Republicans, I think it's fair to say that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum should hang it up. They won Iowa the last two times out, and they basically have no better prospects ahead. (Huckabee, as a Southern preacher, might want to hang on for South Carolina and maybe even Super Tuesday but if he was going to win he would have placed 1st in Iowa, not 9th.) As I understand it, Kasich and Christie didn't make much of an effort in Iowa -- still Kasich edged Huckabee for 8th, and Christie beat Santorum for 10th -- but see New Hampshire as their big opportunity. If they do as poorly there they'll be laughed out of the race too.

Hard to spin any upside for Jeb Bush either (6th place, 2.8%), not that he ever looked very likely. For starters, I suspect that it's hard to find any Republicans who didn't wind up hating either his brother or his father -- the latter for not being a true conservative, the former for making conservatives look so hideous (not that there aren't some conservatives so purist, or blinkered, as to hate both). But the final blow is probably the coalescence of the anti-Trump, anti-Cruz camp in favor of fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. Bush's only hope is that the romance will prove fleeting: Rubio ran so far ahead of his polls that I suspect that many of his supporters preferred less popular candidates but switched at the last minute trying to stop Trump and Cruz. I doubt you'd see that in a primary, although Rubio's 3rd place (23.1%) finish gives him a chance to carry the banner forward. Also Rubio does appear to have a hard core of supporters: he's emerged as the neocon favorite, even though pretty much every Republican candidate has pledged to start World War III.

Ted Cruz (1st place, 27.6%) seems to have captured most the Christian nationalist bloc which dominated Iowa's GOP caucuses in 2008/2012 -- I can't say as I see the appeal, but that's what people say. (Ben Carson's 4th place, 9.3% share is probably even more evangelical.) It's tempting to say that Cruz beat Trump (2nd place, 24.3%) once Republicans learned that he's the even bigger asshole, but it could just be Trump's excuse about not having a "ground game." That seems like something Trump could fix, or at least neutralize when we start getting into the real primaries. Whether he can repair his tarnished image as a winner is another story. As for who in the long run will reign as the chief asshole, I wouldn't count him out, but on the other hand it wouldn't be a stupid move to let Cruz enjoy his claim.

I have nothing much to say about Carson, Rand Paul (5th, 4.5%), or Carly Fiorina (7th, 1.9%), except that they are unique enough they can probably sustain their irrelevant campaigns longer than most. Still, it's worth noting that Paul, despite all his compromises, isn't doing nearly as well as his father did four (or even eight) years ago. I also see someone named Gilmore on the returns list, trailing even Santorum with 0%. As I understand it, he did so poorly his reported percentage wasn't even rounded down. [PS: After I wrote this, Paul and Santorum suspended their campaigns.]

Still, hard to even care about the Republican results. For starters, on any reality-based scale there's no practical difference between any of the candidates, and the distance between any of them and the worst possible Democratic candidate is so vast the election will most likely split the same regardless of who is nominated. In fact, there's probably a wider ideological split between the two Democrats than between Clinton and the Republicans, but the Democrats appear more cohesive because both camps recognize the very real danger the Republicans, and will tolerate the other rather than risk civilization and the republic. Sanders people are likely to bend your ear on how bad Clinton has been and could be, but unlike Nader people in 2000 they're not going to tell you there's no difference between Bore and Gush. That's one lesson that's been learned to our horror.

That lesson has been the signal accomplishment of Clintonism. When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, his real hope was to establish that the Democrats would be better for business than the Republicans had been under Reagan and Bush. The signature accomplishment of his first term was NAFTA, which was not only a giant gift to business; it split the Democratic Party, hitting the unions especially hard. He tried to follow that up with his (well, Hillary's) health care plan, which was intended as a second big giveaway to business, but got squashed when the Republicans decided to go feral on him (the one thing they couldn't allow was for Clinton to appear more pro-business than they were). That turned out to be a blessing for both: Republicans gained control of Congress, freeing Clinton from any need to satify any of his party's desired reforms, and positioning himself as the last defensive rampart against the barbarians at the gate. Clinton was re-elected in 1996 and presided over the strongest economic boom in the US since the 1960s -- partly the good luck of coinciding with a real tech boom, partly opening the economy up to ever greater levels of financial fraud.

But the key thing was how he usurped and monopolized the Democratic Party. He built a personal political machine, a network of rich donors -- he had, after all, made them a lot of money while he was president -- and he kept that going after he left office in 2001, mostly to support Hillary's ambitions. When she ran in 2008 she was both the heir to his machine and, once again, the designated defender of civilization against Republican ruin. As she is now -- the interesting sidelight is how Obama followed Clinton's pattern, spending his initial victory catering to business before provoking a Republican revolt which only he has saved us from. The pattern has become so regular it's hard to imagine a Hillary administration doing anything else: providing huge dividends to business while blaming the Republicans for kneecapping any popular reforms.

Clinton's hegemony over the Democratic Party proved so complete that no mainstream Democrat (unless you count O'Malley) dare run against her. This has less to do with a shortfall of up-and-coming politicians -- it shouldn't be hard to come up with a list of Senators and Governors as qualified as Cruz-Paul-Rubio and Bush-Christie-Jindal-Kasich-Walker -- as the fact that the Clintons had cornered the donor class, strangling the chances anyone else might have had for sponsorship. Sanders escaped their tentacles because he wasn't even a Democrat: he's been elected repeatedly to Congress as an Independent, yet it turns out he's the one able to appeal to the party's hardcore constituency. And the reason is quite simple: he hasn't sold them out like the Clintons have, time and time again.

I've long thought that the left wing, both inside and beyond the Democratic Party, was substantially larger than the paltry vote totals garnered by Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich, so I find Sanders' polling gratifying. Surprising too, as 50% in Iowa and 61% (latest poll I've seen) in New Hampshire is even more than I imagined. Part of this is Sanders' personal charisma, which is off the scale compared to Nader and Kucinich. Part of this is that conditions for working people, especially the young, have gotten objectively worse, in the last eight (or 16 or 24 or 36, take your pick) years. Part of this is that the cold war red-baiting which mad anyone even remotely tolerant of socialism anathema has lost much of its sting -- chalk this up to indiscriminate use, but also to how obnoxious those who traffic in such charges have become. But part of it is also residual disgust with the Clintons, who missed (and messed up) their opportunity to roll back the damages of the Reagan-Bush era, and whose minions at least contributed to Obama's post-Bush shortcomings (Larry Summers, for instance, not to mention Obama's Secretary of State).

Still, odds are Clinton will prevail. I know some decent leftists who are already supporting her, mostly on the theory that she's been tested and proven she's tough enough to stand up to the inevitable Republican slander campaign, and that matters because the alternative of a Trump-Cruz-Rubio-whoever becoming president is too horrible to even contemplate. Those people are mostly old enough to remember how the center and a loud slice of the Democratic Party abandoned George McGovern to re-elect the Crook (and War Criminal) Nixon in 1972. (If they know their history, they may even recall how many Democrats turned against the populist campaigns of William Jennings Bryan in 1896-1904 -- if not, they can read Karl Rove's recent book on his hero, William McKinley.) Paul Krugman cites an article on this: David Roberts: Give a little thought to what a GOP campaign against Bernie Sanders might look like. If anything, I think Roberts undersells his case (he admits "I'm not sure I have the requisite killer instinct to fully imagine how the GOP will play a Sanders campaign"). I think we'd be hearing a lot more about how Sanders' programs will kill jobs -- the same tack they took against the ACA, even though there's no evidence of it (but then there's no evidence that anything Republicans say about macroeconomics is true). What's unclear is whether those slanders will have any resonance beyond the right wing's echo chamber. Surely one effect of so many years of such outrageous and brazenly self-serving propaganda has worn thin on many people.

There's a famous David Frum quote where he argues that Republican politicians have learned to fear their base; by contrast, Democratic politicians loathe their base. The latter sentiment seems to fit the Clintons' cynical pandering to and rejection of their voters. Maybe if Sanders keeps rising in the polls, they'll learn to show their base some measure of respect. More likely it will come too late: given the quality of his opponents, it's harder for me to see how Sanders can fail to win the nomination and the election. What I worry about more is that he will have gotten too far out ahead of the party. But there is at least one precedent: Franklin Roosevelt became president before forging a grass roots New Deal coalition to support him. Roosevelt, an aristocrat who was turned into a radical by his times, only gradually realized the need, but as a life-long radical Sanders should know better. I'm still dismayed that he keeps talking about "a political revolution," but what else could that phrase mean?

Milo Miles tweeted a reply to this piece. Not feeling I could write an adequate reply in 144 characters, I thought I'd add a postscript here. Milo's tweet:

There's a good point to think about with your scenario: FDR couldn't walk. He was despised cripple. Makes reasoning different.

No less an authority than Frances Perkins, who knew and worked with FDR before he was struck with polio, felt that his crippling made him much more emphathetic with people, especially the downtrodden, than he had been when he was young and healthy. He was a Democrat, and a very rich and privileged one, by birth, which back then didn't predispose him toward any populist or progressive impulses. The only Democrat to win the presidency in the 19th century after the Civl War was Grover Cleveland, who was quite possibly the most conservative president we ever had. Woodrow Wilson did some progressive things early on, but he seemed to treat them like cough syrup, medicine to be swallowed fast and discarded as soon as possible. More influential was FDR's distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, so clearly the model for FDR's own career that some of the rhetoric had to rub off. Still, when FDR was elected president in 1932, I don't think it was obvious that he would wind up far to the left of Herbert Hoover. The voters simply wanted change, and in FDR they got a president who vowed to do something, to try all sorts of things to stem the Great Depression.

In his early days -- what turned into the legendary 100 days -- he indeed tried all sorts of things, all over the political spectrum. He was especially concerned about failing banks, falling farm prices, and deflation in general -- not exactly leftist causes -- but his empathy didn't exclude anyone (even though New Deal programs often excluded agricultural and domestic workers, i.e., blacks). And he was famously fond of balanced budgets, but he went with whatever worked, and what worked moved him far to the left. He finally acted on that in 1938, when he tried to move the Democratic Party to the left by challenging a number of reactionaries within the party, specifically its Southern wing. By and large, his "purge" of the party failed, even backfired, as conservative Democrats increasingly allied with Republicans to fight and in some cases undo New Deal reforms (most famously passing Taft-Hartley over Truman's veto in 1947). Over the longer term, the Democratic Party did evolve toward FDR's political stance -- even posting a few tangible legislative achievements under LBJ -- but in many respects they came up short.

I should make more explicit the point I was leaning to, which is that Sanders' "political revolution" (no matter how innocuously he means that) would be unprecedented in American history. Every major political challenge from the left so far has been voted down rather decisively -- the populist Bryan in 1896 (and 1900 and 1908), the Progressive parties of Roosevelt in 1912 and LaFollette in 1924, McGovern's anti-war candidacy in 1972. The only exception I could think of was FDR in 1932, but as I said, that case was relatively ambiguous, and his subsequent turns to the left were mostly checked. You might wish to nominate Obama in 2008, who was promptly pilloried by right-wing propaganda and the phony Tea Party movement -- not that he was much of a progressive, or any sort of leftist, in the first place.

That doesn't mean that Sanders' campaign is impossible, let alone undesirable. For one thing, historical conditions are every bit as unprecedented. The right-wing threat has never appeared more ominous. And the inadequacy of Clinton/Obama compromises has never been more obvious. In particular, they seem incapable of reversing major shifts of the last few decades: increasing inequality, severe climate change, the hollowing out of America's industrial base, persistent and often thoughtless war, the degeneration of democracy into an auction for the superrich.

Not sure that I answered one point about Milo's tweet: his line, "He was a despised cripple." Some people indeed despised Roosevelt, especially as "a traitor to his class," but my impression is that few people realized that he was so severely crippled, and I'm not aware of it ever becoming a "talking point" against him. I don't doubt that Roosevelt feared that being seen as a cripple would eat at the faith that he could lead the nation, and there's no doubt that he worked very hard to conceal his disability from the public. Hence I focused on the empathy question, which I thought more to the point.

PPS: Somehow I missed the report that Mike Huckabee ended his campaign, evidently on the night of his disastrous Iowa finish, buried in the Martin O'Malley news.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26199 [26163] rated (+36), 412 [408] unrated (+4).

Nearly everything here appeared in yesterday's Rhapsody Streamnotes -- the eagle-eyed will note that the exception is saxophonist Roxy Coss's minor-label debut. That one can wait for late February, by which time it will have some company. How much is hard to say: I really need to start writing more on other things. Wrapping up yesterday's music column precluded a Weekend Roundup. I'll try to start by doing a midweek edition, by which time the Iowa thing will be history (not that I expect to have anything to say on the subject).

In the last week, my jazz and non-jazz EOY files tightened up. When I first put them together, jazz had a big 52-33 lead in A-list files. End of January that had narrowed to 77-73 (with an 11-11 tie in reissues/compilations/vault music). There's a pretty strong correlation between what I think and what Michael Tatum and Robert Christgau write. If you read me, you probably read them, so are familiar with their picks. What I thought I'd do here is to pull out my list's non-jazz A/A- records that neither Christgau nor Tatum have reviewed thus far (the bracketed numbers are rank from my EOY aggregate file, as of yesterday; ** means ≥ 1000, breaking at 5 points):

  1. Lyrics Born: Real People (Mobile Home) [633]
  2. Gwenno: Y Dydd Olaf (Heavenly) [132]
  3. New Order: Music Complete (Mute) [54]
  4. Nozinja: Nozinja Lodge (Warp) [439]
  5. Dr. Yen Lo: Days With Dr. Yen Lo (Pavlov Institute) [205]
  6. Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl: We Are Not the First (RVNG Intl) [283]
  7. Mdou Moctar: Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai [Original Soundtrack Recording] (Sahel Sounds) [826]
  8. ¡Mayday!: Future/Vintage (Strange Music) [993]
  9. Bully: Feels Like (Startime International/Columbia) [136]
  10. Tuxedo: Tuxedo (Stones Throw) [**]
  11. Asleep at the Wheel: Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (Bismeaux) [764]
  12. 79rs Gang: Fire on the Bayou (Sinking City/Urban Unrest) [**]
  13. Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (Bordello) [**]
  14. BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (Lex) [126]
  15. The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (Republic) [**]
  16. Laura Marling: Short Movie (Ribbon Music) [65]
  17. Murs: Have a Nice Day (Strange Music) [**]
  18. Protoje: Ancient Future (Indiggnation Collective/Overstand) [**]
  19. Alaska Thunderfuck: Anus (Sidecar) [**]
  20. Downtown Boys: Full Communism (Don Giovanni) [355]
  21. Desaparecidos: Payola (Saddle Creek) [284]
  22. John Moreland: High on Tulsa Heat (Old Omens) [288]
  23. Alan Jackson: Angels and Alcohol (Capitol Nashville) [808]
  24. Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique: Love Is Free (Konichiwa/Cherrytree/Interscope, EP) [**]
  25. Battles: La Di Da Di (Warp) [159]
  26. Steve Hauschildt: Where All Is Fled (Kranky) [333]
  27. Max Richter: From Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon) [117]
  28. Skylar Spence: Prom King (Carpark) [489]
  29. Erykah Badu: But You Caint Use My Phone (Control Freaq) [213]
  30. Archy Marshall: A New Place 2 Drown (True Panther Sounds) [384]
  31. Hieroglyphic Being: The Acid Documents (Soul Jazz) [**]
  32. Metric: Pagans in Vegas (Metric) [998]
  33. Elysia Crampton: American Drift (Blueberry) [277]
  34. Fabiano Do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (Now-Again) [429]
  35. Plastician: All the Right Moves (self-released) [**]

I let the software renumber these, but there's a big gap between my number 1 and 2 -- about a dozen (OK, 11) common albums, although Christgau hasn't touched Ezra Furman (A per Tatum) and sloughed off Sleaford Mods and Low Cut Connie with low HMs. But I'm not looking for disagreements -- for what it's worth, a quick check shows 26 Christgau A/A- records I rated *** (12) or worse, out of 50 (with one records unheard, so I downrate a bit more than 50%) -- just to point out some exceptional records you may not have noticed. (Looking down the list, I find a few more tips I might have flagged, especially from Jason Gubbels, Phil Overeem, and Lucas Fagen.)

PS: Added Arca: Mutant to the A-list while working on this today. Thanks to Thomas Walker for pointing out it finally surfaced on Rhapsody. It will be in next week's list, but is already in the EOY list file, reducing the jazz edge to 77-74. Various things held this normally-on-Monday post up, including continued fiddling with the EOY Aggregates: added a bunch of jazz ballots, two aggregates from Album of the Year, plus I finally scored my own grades (same as I had done for Christgau and Tatum). This resulted in some reshuffling at the top of the list: Father John Misty in 5th breaking the tie with Tame Impala, Kamasi Washington to 8th ahead of Sleater-Kinney, Julia Holter to 10th ahead of Björk, and Alabama Shakes topping Oneohtrix Point Never for 14th. Also the top jazz records got a sizable boost: Maria Schneider (30), Rudresh Mahanthappa (32), Jack DeJohnette (44), Vijay Iyer (48), Henry Threadgill (56), Steve Coleman (67), Mary Halvorson (74), Chris Lightcap (87), Matana Roberts (100), Arturo O'Farrill (112), and Cecile McLorin Salvant (117) -- most of the latter two's gains came from counting the Latin and Vocal votes on Jazz Critics Poll ballots.

I wound up counting about two-thirds of the Jazz Critics Poll ballots -- in many cases the decision to include or exclude was arbitrary. I also counted 60+ Pazz & Jop ballots, although that's only about 15% of the total (those who voted in both had their ballots merged, with rank points from JCP; I didn't do rank points in P&J because of some presentation quirks).

New records rated this week:

  • Aram Bajakian: There Were Flowers Also in Hell (2014, Sanasar): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Aram Bajakian: Music Inspired by the Color of Pomegranates (2015, Sanasar): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nicholas Bearde: Invitation (2015 [2016], Right Groove): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Big Boi + Phantogram: Big Grams (2015, Epic, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Deafheaven: New Bermuda (2015, Anti): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dilly Dally: Sore (2015, Partisan): [r]: B+(**)
  • DJ Paypal: Sold Out (2015, Brainfeeder): [r]: B+(**)
  • Elephant9 with Reine Fiske: Silver Mountain (2015, Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Foals: What Went Down (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B
  • Helena Hauff: Discreet Desires (2015, Ninja Tune/Werkdiscs): [r]: B+(***)
  • Steve Hauschildt: Where All Is Fled (2015, Kranky): [r]: A-
  • Helen: The Original Faces (2015, Kranky): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mette Henriette: Mette Henriette (2014 [2015], ECM, 2CD): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Ira Hill: Tomorrow (2015, self-released): [cd]: C
  • Florian Hoefner: Luminosity (2015 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Voice (2014 [2016], Innova): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: The Song Is My Story (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • Kehlani: You Should Be Here (2015, self-released): [r]: B-
  • Sam Lee & Friends: The Fade in Time (2015, The Nest Collective): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lizzo: Big Grrrl Small World (2015, BGSW): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marina and the Diamonds: Froot (2015, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Archy Marshall: A New Place 2 Drown (2015, True Panther Sounds): [r]: A-
  • Pete McCann: Range (2014 [2015], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nero: Between II Worlds (2015, Cherrytree/Interscope): [r]: B
  • Dick Oatts/Mats Holmquist/New York Jazz Orchestra: A Tribute to Herbie +1 (2015 [2016], Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chris Pitsiokos Trio: Gordian Twine (2015, New Atlantis): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nathaniel Rateliff: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats (2015, Stax): [r]: B+(*)
  • Roswell Rudd & Heather Masse: August Love Song (2015 [2016], Red House): [cd]: A-
  • Julian Shore: Which Way Now (2015 [2016], Tone Rogue): [cd]: B
  • Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace/La Orquesta Sonfonietta: Canto América (2015 [2016], Patois): [cd]: B-
  • Lew Tabackin Trio: Soundscapes (2014-15 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Thundercat: The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam (2015, Brainfeeder, EP): [r]: B
  • Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott: Return of the East West Trumpet Summit (2014 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure (2015, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss (2015, Sargent House): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Tubby Hayes Quartet: The Syndicate: Live at the Hopbine 1968 Vol. 1 (1968 [2015], Gearbox): [r]: B+(**)
  • Schlippenbach Trio: First Recordings (1972 [2015], Trost): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Harris Eisenstadt: Old Growth Forest (Clean Feed)
  • Fred Frith/Darren Johnston: Everybody Is Somebody Is Nobody (Clean Feed)
  • John Grant: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015, Partisan): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dre Hocevar: Collective Effervescence (Clean Feed)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Bring Their 'A' Game (Hot Cup, EP): advance, February 5
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Magic Happen (Hot Cup, EP): advance, February 5
  • Ken Peplowski: Enrapture (Capri): February 16
  • Protean Reality: Protean Reality (Clean Feed)
  • Renku: Live in Greenwich Village (Clean Feed)
  • Roswell Rudd/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balasz Pandi: Strength & Power (Rare Noise): advance, February 26
  • J. Peter Schwalm: The Beauty of Disaster (Rare Noise): advance, February 26
  • Dan Weiss: Sixteen: Drummers Suite (Pi): February 26

Daily Log

Alfred Soto posted a piece called My Bill Clinton problem. I commented:

Interesting that the Ricky Lee Rector execution plays so large here. I have a cousin, a few years older than me, whose first political cause was Caryl Chessman, who was executed in California in 1960 despite nationwide protests. I voted for Clinton in 1996 -- first time I had voted since 1972 -- mostly because I relished the opportunity to vote against Bob Dole, before Brownback the most loathsome politician in Kansas history. What turned me against Clinton was his repeated, politically opportunistic bombing of Iraq, which I saw as a bad omen the Bush invasion. Of course, that wasn't the first problem with Clinton. The main thrust of his first term was to show that a Democrat could be more better for business than any Republican: NAFTA was his first big issue there, and he pushed it in a way that deliberately undercut the labor unions (and destroyed any chance for his own health care program -- not that it wouldn't have been another bonanza for business). There's too much more to mention here -- well, I do have to mention his deceitful handling of the Camp David negotiations, and his play to reduce capital gains taxes (he was hoping for a one-time selloff of stocks that would temporarily push the budget into surplus before he left office; he got that, plus the tech bubble crash, both setting up the Bush tax cuts). And no reason to think his wife will be any better. Not that we couldn't do worse, but that too is part of the Clinton legacy: a Republican Party ever more desperate to find ground to the Clintons' right, even as it's proven ever more untenable and treacherous.

Billmon tweeting on Sanders phenomenon:

  1. For liberal elites, to be called out as a) elites, & b) centrists in drag - and see those views endorsed by the young 'uns - is intolerable.
  2. Challenges every part of self image as keepers of flame of American progressivism, teachers of idealistic youth, knights in shining armor . . .
  3. . . . doing battle with RW troglodytes on behalf of social enlightenment, tolerance, justice and blah blah blah.
  4. Fact Sanders has put together a large movement that rejects their leadership, sees them as timid careerists who've sold out to Wall Street . . .
  5. . . . and sees THEM as part of the problem, not the solution, isn't something they can easily process.
  6. Neoliberals, social liberals, bourgeois liberals have gotten used to defining themselves exclusively as the left . . .
  7. . . . with unions, poors, radicals reduced to -- at best -- clients in a patronage relationship. Echoes of 19th century Britain.
  8. Idea that sizable chunk of Democratic Party, led by outsider by Sanders, might rebel against that patron/client relationship -- horrifying.
  9. Fact that Sanders might even be able to rebuild bridges to alienated white working class on economic grounds -- even MORE horrifying.
  10. Sanders is challenging a whole set of implicit & explicit relationships and assumptions that the modern Dem coalition is based on.
  11. And he's succeeded -- for 1st time since Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition -- in attracting chunk (different chunk) of Dem base to his cause.
  12. And for liberal elites, that's an earthquake. And they don't know how long it will last or how many fragile structures it will knock down.

Jan 2016