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Monday, October 31, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, October archive (final).

Tweet: Music Week: 26 albums, 5 A-list,

Music: Current count 38944 [38918] rated (+26), 47 [43] unrated (+4: 19 new, 28 old).

Rated count the lowest in quite some time (3rd lowest in 2022, after a 0 and a 21), mostly because I spent two days cooking birthday dinner (if you're interested, there's a writeup in the notebook), and took a while after that to get back to work. I did catch up some while working on Speaking of Which, but had trouble thinking of things to search out.

I got a kind note from Don Malcolm suggesting I write more about the late Mike Davis, but I haven't read that much by him -- in particular, I don't have his Los Angeles books, and I have very little personal experience with the city or the area, so I've always wondered how much I'd get out of them. But I did manage to collect some links, including an interview from shortly before he died. One thing I was struck by was how often he was identified as a Marxist historian. As far as I can tell, that's not something he wrote much about (although he was often published by Verso Books, and one recent title there was Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx's Lost Theory). But I know from my own experience that once you get the key ideas from Marx and his followers, you can go anywhere and examine anything and find fresh insights. That's what Davis did -- and also what Barbara Ehrenreich did, although somewhat less obviously.

Best thing about my birthday was hearing from several friends and relatives I've been missing. I still have a lot of catching up to do.

I saw a newspaper article last week explaining that despite reports to the contrary, Jerry Lee Lewis was still alive. Next day, he died, at 86. I'll listen to some more albums in the next week, but for now here's my list (long on compilations and live albums). Although Rhino's Original Sun Greatest Hits is the A+, the one I return to most often is a later live album called Rockin' My Life Away.

I got zero response to my Jazz Critics Poll request last week, so I'm just going ahead. I'll set up the website framework and mailing list later this week, and should be ready to send out the ballot invites mid-November. I have one probable sponsor lined up, which is one more than I minimally need, so I expect it to go fairly smoothly.

I got my copy of Rick Lopez's magnificent The Sam Rivers Sessionography: A Work in Progress, so let's go ahead and put it in my book scroll. Lopez has been producing extraordinary sessionographies for 20+ years -- I first ran across him when I was writing my William Parker/Matthew Shipp Consumer Guide in 2003, where I raved about his "treasure troves of information, some of the finest scholarship available on the internet today." I should have gone farther and pointed out that this is what the Internet was built for, and what vulture capitalists have denied us with their relentless monetization. Few people are more worthy of your support (and, as I said, the book is gorgeous). By the way, you can find an excerpt at Perfect Sound Forever.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Arild Andersen Group: Affirmation (2021 [2022], ECM): [sp]: A-
  • Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell: One More, Please (2021 [2022], Intakt): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Bi Ba Doom: Graceful Collision (2022, Astral Spirits): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Buechi/Franz Hellmueller/Rafael Jerjen: Moon Trail (2021 [2022], Intakt): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Tito Carrillo: Urbanessence (2021 [2022], Origin): [sp]: B+(*)
  • The Claudettes: The Claudettes Go Out! (2022, Forty Below): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Zella Day: Sunday in Heaven (2022, Concord): [sp]: B+(*)
  • John Dikeman/Stefan Gonzalez/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Jonathan F Horne: Texas Butt Biters (2019 [2022], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Kaja Draksler/Susana Santos Silva: Grow (2021 [2022], Intakt): [sp]: B
  • Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork (2022, 4AD): [sp]: A-
  • Lincoln Goines: The Art of the Bass Choir (2020-21 [2022], Origin): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Eric Jacobson: Discover (2022, Origin): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Benjamin Lackner: Last Decade (2021 [2022], ECM): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Michael Marcus: Abstractions in Lime Caverns (2021 [2022], ESP-Disk): [cd]: B+(***)
  • John McCowen: Models of Duration (2020 [2022], Dinzu Artefacts/Astral Spirits): [bc]: B
  • Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth (2022, Out of Your Head): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Fruition (2021 [2022], ESP-Disk): [cd]: A-
  • Barre Phillips/György Kurtág Jr.: Face à Face (2020-21 [2022], ECM): [sp]: B
  • Tegan and Sara: Crybaby (2022, Mom + Pop): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Walking Cliché Sextet: Suite Chase Reflex (2019 [2021], self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Walking Cliché Sextet: Micro-Nap (2020-21 [2022], Endectomorph Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • RA Washington/Jah Nada: In Search of Our Father's Gardens (2021 [2022], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Brodie West Quintet: Meadow of Dreams (2020 [2022], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Chris Williams/Patrick Shiroishi: Sans Soleil II (2022, Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes (2014-21 [2022], In+Out): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Sun Ra & His Blue Universe Arkestra: Universe in Blue (1971 [2022], Cosmic Myth): [sp]: B+(**)

Old music:

  • Michael Marcus: Sunwheels (2000 [2001], Justin Time): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Michael Marcus Trio: Blue Reality (2001 [2002], Soul Note): [sp]: A-
  • Michael Marcus: Speaking' Out (2001-02 [2002], Drimala): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Michael Marcus: Stone Jump (2019-20 [2021], Not Two): [sp]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Agnas Flaten Ståhl Texas: All Slow Dream Gone (Moserobie) [10-28]
  • Dan Cavanagh and James Miley With John Hollenbeck: Another Life (S/N Alliance)
  • Avram Fefer Quartet: Juba Lee (Clean Feed) * [11-18]
  • Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964 (Elemental, 2CD) [12-02]
  • Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-1966 (Elemental, 2CD) [12-02]
  • Jupiter: The Wild East (Moserobie) [11-15]
  • Reverso: Harmonic Alchemy (Outnote) * [11-11]
  • Esbjörn Svensson: Home.S. (2008, ACT) [11-18]

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

I feel like this week's edition is a mess, and I have neither the time nor the will to try to clean it up. Arguments could certainly be structured better, but all I can offer at the moment are hot reactions. I'm really chagrined by the media's embrace of the idea that Republicans are increasingly likely to win Congress -- FiveThirtyEight has shifted its estimate significantly, giving Republicans a 49 in 100 chance of taking the Senate, and an 81 in 100 chance of wrecking the House -- not least because there is no rational basis for such a shift. If it happens, it wouldn't be the first time I've been disappointed by the American people. (After Nixon beat McGovern in 1972, I was so disgusted that I didn't bother voting again until 1996, when the opportunity again arose to vote against Bob Dole. And today I was reminded of 2004 as I just read that part in David Corn's American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy; my campaign letter is here; my immediate analysis of the Kerry loss is here, as are some later thoughts. One line I want to pull out here: "At this point it's impossible to project how bad [four more years of Bush] will be, but it is certain that this election has cost us four years of opportunity to work on problems that are bad and getting worse." Rereading this 18 years later, I'm surprised at how much more is still relevant.)

If Republicans do win, the reasons are purely emotional, the sort of anger that drives a guy to punch a wall. The only possible outcomes are a hole in the wall and a broken hand (quite possibly both). But whatever emotional satisfaction punching the wall gives you will be temporary: the anger will return, because Republicans are counting on it, and because that's all Republicans can do. Sure, they can exhort you to be God-fearing Christians, and they can punish you for what they perceive as your failures, but neither the heavenly carrot nor the earthly stick actually works, at least at a macro level, so you're only going to get angrier, and that seems to be all they need to get away with their grift.

One consolation I can offer is that if Republicans win Congress, it will be easier for Democrats to run on anger in 2024 (as Harry Truman did in 1948). If Democrats win, they will be judged harshly both for doing things and for not doing enough. As the US system makes presidential elections more important than congressional ones, a loss now for a win later may seem like a prudent strategy. But after so many wasted opportunities, it's just possible that time is running out.

The runoff election in Brazil is today. Very little on it below, as almost everything written this week is pure speculation. But if Lula wins, the world will be a slightly better place. And if Bolsonaro wins, the decline will continue -- especially given the latter's war on the Amazon, which once was the world's most valuable carbon sink. The difference in degree isn't just that Lula isn't as far to the left as Bolsonaro is to the right. It's also because it's a lot easier to break things than to build.

[PS: Election in Brazil has been called for Lula, but it looks closer than 2020 was for Biden over Trump.]


I gather that some nations impose a press blackout a few days before an election. The idea is to prevent some last minute sensational charge, especially a false one, from swaying an election. It's impossible to expect that, and given the degree of early voting, it may not have any effect anyway, but it would be nice to sit back and take a deep breath, and consider one's choices rationally. I've been trying to do something like that, although quite frankly my votes were locked in the day the Kansas primary winners were announced. The only thing that's changed since then is that my level of disgust over KS Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt has increased by roughly an order of magnitude, eclipsing even the well-established obnoxiousness of his running mate for Attorney General, Kris Kobach.

In past years, I would have followed competitive Senate races, and a few others, closely, but I've tried my best to blank them out of my mind. Still, enough poll-driven pseudo-news has leaked through that it's clear that Republicans are engaging in a massive gaslighting operation intended to convince people that a massive Red Wave is coming on November 8, which will no doubt be foundation for charges that any actual votes that Democrats might win will be viewed as fraudulent. (Of course, Republicans never complained when large Democratic polling leads in 2016 and 2020 evaporated. Trump claimed he actually won bigger margins.)

There's a lot of obvious bullshit in this gaslighting, but the substantial piece is the assertion that Americans are most concerned with Republican talking point issues -- inflation (most conveniently reduced to gas prices), "crime" (which, since Republicans won't take responsibility for guns as a contributing factor, is reduced in meaning to what Republicans have defined it as since the 1970s: racism), and "open borders" (which, come to think of it, also reduces to racism). Supposedly Americans concerned with these issues trust Republicans more, although it's hard to think of a single reason why. Maybe there is some polling favoring Republicans on inflation-fighting, but more general economic concerns usually favor Democrats, and for good reason: the last three Republican presidencies ended in recessions, and the fourth (Reagan's) started in one that got worse for two years before the Fed belatedly reduced interest rates and kicked off a recovery that, thanks to Reagan, was much more unequal than most.

The one thing from the Republican playbook you don't hear much these days is how the Democrats are weak on defense. This is a bit surprising given how Biden's approval polls plummeted with withdrawal and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, but Biden has managed to present as both firm and sane in Ukraine, and Republicans don't seem to have a viable sound bite response. Granted, Tom Cotton still wants to start a war with China, but even Lindsey Graham seems rudderless since McCain died, while a faction of Republicans seem to prefer their former campaign aide and fellow fascist, Vladimir Putin -- a strange wind that has kept any Democratic anti-war camp from forming.

State and local races, especially governor, will have a huge impact locally -- if Derek Schmidt wins, Kansas will jump right back into contention for the worst right-wing horror show in the nation, like was the case when Sam Brownback was governor -- but Congress is strictly a numbers game, with the Democrats needing a bit beyond a simple majority to legislate effectively. Without a working majority, the next two years will be painful but basically stuck in status quo: much-needed reforms will be impossible, major problems will be allowed to slide, simple things like budgets will be held hostage. Biden will attempt to compensate with executive orders, and the Republican-packed courts will do their best to swat them down. And the incessant squeals from the right-wing propaganda machine will drone on and on. But lots of even worse things will be stopped until Republicans get another chance to steal another presidential election. Indeed, the big story of 2022 may be how effective their election stealing efforts will be.

But, like so much else, we won't know that until the votes are counted (assuming that's still permitted).


One of the first things I wrote was a long comment under Ukraine, specifically under the Eric Levitz piece about the Progressive Caucus letter to Biden urging the administration to take seriously the need for negotiations. As the comment was pretty general, I thought it better to pull the comment up here (although I'll add some more specific words down there).

It seems to me like it should be easier for the Democratic left to define a position on the Ukraine War that offers practical steps toward peace with justice. I've been trying to do that since the beginning. And along the way I've been willing to put my pacifist principles aside to allow that Putin's escalation of a conflict that should have been resolved peacefully long ago was so egregious that Russia's forces deserved a good ass-kicking, which Ukraine has to some extent been able to inflict with massive arms and financial support from the US and Europe. And I can see continuing this counterattack until Putin is willing to negotiate rationally, but I don't see how that can happen unless the US and Ukraine makes it clear that they are ready to negotiate as well. And the US really has to be part of this, not to pressure Ukraine into making concessions for peace, but because the US holds most of the real trading chips (sanctions, deployment of NATO forces, etc.).

However, that also implies that a useful arbiter has to be someone else, and the USA's habitual either-you're-with-us-or-against-us mindset takes any independent stand to be treason. (China's great crime isn't that they want to take over the world, but that they refuse to knuckle under to an American hyperpower world order.) But that's easy for me to say, as I started out with a long critique of American power and hubris. The Democratic left has several disadvantages: while they understand the core issues of equality, freedom, and justice at home, they've never had to reckon with the effects of American power abroad (minor exception for some people my age, who started with Vietnam). Making this worse is that the Democratic Party has been flooded with people from the armed services: even if most ex-soldiers are right-wing jerks, a significant minority saw their tours as public service, and they've found an esteemed home in the only American political party that actually values service to the public. And finally, there's the Republicans, with their extraordinary ability to trigger Democrats, especially Progressives. That's a real shame, because foreign war rots the very fabric of society -- a lesson Democrats in particular should have learned from Vietnam, and should have stuck with them through the neverending War on Terror.

There's a real chance that Republicans will flip the script on Ukraine, attacking the war not because they want peace and prosperity but because they can blame its expense and effects (like high gas prices) on Biden and the Democrats, with their ideals of American-led world order, and their disdain for Putin (a real but much-maligned conservative hero).

I want to add one thing: There is a need for a peace movement during but mostly after the Ukraine War. The goal is not to dictate or advocate for a specific resolution of the war, but to define a political agenda to prevent a recurrence and/or similar wars in the future. As such, we start with a deep critique of war making, especially the belief that war is justified by national and/or imperial ambitions. This has relevance to Russia, to the US, to their allies, and to various factions within Ukraine. But it is Russia alone that inserted its forces in Ukraine, and despite my own pacifist instincts, I have no problem with Ukraine fighting back, or with other nations (including the US, despite a poor record in other countries) helping them resist and roll back Russia's aggression. I do, however, believe that such support can come with conditions, especially agreement from Ukraine to seek a ceasefire and negotiated withdrawal of alien forces, and to allow people who live in contested territories to determine, by fair vote, whether they should stay in Ukraine or join Russia. The principle is that there is no justification for annexing territory except by the express approval of the people who live there. During and after the war, we should work to establish a process for resolving this and similar conflicts in the future.

Negotiations should be resolved on the basis of what's right, not on who has the power to extort concessions from the other. What's right may not always be clear, but one measure is whether a measure can be voluntarily agreed to, or can only be forced. For instance, no nation would voluntarily sacrifice its sovereignty, so it is wrong to demand that it do so. Some examples that wouldn't be right: demanding reparations, war crimes trials, changes to laws regarding minorities (although it's fair to note human rights abuses), preventing trade or association with other countries (although each country has the right to refuse to trade with other countries; i.e., to implement sanctions). So while US aid to Ukraine should be conditioned on Ukraine negotiating on the basis of doing what's right, it shouldn't pressure Ukraine to surrender things that are within its rights. I would say, for instance, that the provision of water to peninsular Crimea is not something that should be expected of Ukraine, although it could be something that Ukraine chooses to offer for other considerations.

At present, whatever negotiations may be going on are in secret, with little opportunity for the public to assess their intentions or progress. Therefore, it's impossible for anyone else to assess, or to make anything more than the most general suggestions. On the other hand, after the current hot conflict is resolved, there will be much for a peace movement to do. We need to make the world understand that the US and Russia both did much to provoke this war, and that even if nothing the US did justified Russia's invasion, it is critical to eliminate such provocations in the future. It is further imperative to understand that much of the "defense doctrine" both powers have espoused is severely faulty: it simply doesn't work, or worse (the logic that supposedly prevents war in fact provokes war).


Vincent Bevins: [10-30] In Today's Election, the Survival of Brazil's Democracy Is at Stake.

Patrick Cockburn: [10-28] Rishi Sunak and Britain's Post-Brexit Fairy Tales. By the way, in case you're wondering what an Indian Hindu is doing leading the Conservative Party in England, see (hint: he's a near-billionaire):

Connor Echols: [10-28] Diplomacy Watch: The West doesn't know how to talk about Ukraine: That's largely because any time someone speaks the plain truth -- that the only way out of the quagmire is through negotiation, which will involve some give and take on both sides -- they get shot down. Echols starts with the example of Romanian Defense Minister Visile Dincu, who was forced to resign after acknowledging reality. Then there was a letter to Biden sent by the House Progressive Caucus, who were pressured to retract it within 24 hours.

Ezra Klein: [10-30] Do the Democrats Deserve Re-election? He should know better, but can't even bring himself to answer his own question. Instead, he offers a long list of complaints about tactics, without accounting for the numerous obstacles (beyond Joe Manchin) that Democrats have had to struggle with over the last two years, including his own intractably suspect publication. The obvious rejoinder to the title is "compared to what?" -- not a hypothetical question, given that the answers are clearly Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy. Klein is smart enough to know that they did no good when they were in power, and that they wouldn't have gotten any better with another chance. Indeed, one of Klein's complaints about Biden is: "Politics has not moved on from Trump." That's not going to happen by punishing Democrats for not delivering an arbitrary list of programs that the Republicans wouldn't even have considered. But instead of answering his own easy question, here's Klein promising: "Next week, I'll take a closer look at what Republicans are promising to do if they are given the power to do it." You know, I wrote about just that -- Rick Scott's Senate campaign manifesto -- back in March.

Eric Levitz:

  • [10-26] The Media Did Not Trick Voters Into Disliking Inflation: Seems like a strange point. Inflation is an economic dislocation that has both winners and losers, but you never hear about the winners: those who have the power to raise prices or wages (whichever they benefit from) have a good chance of coming out ahead, while everyone else loses. Arguably, more people are properly concerned about inflation because more people come out on the losing end, but the media does have much to do with that perception. It seems strange to ignore that.

  • [10-24] Return of the Hostage Takers: "Surveys consistently find that rising prices are far and away the public's top concern and that Republicans are widely seen as more credible inflation fighters than Democrats." Really? Why the fuck is that? As noted above, inflation has winners as well as losers. Republicans favor the rich, and Democrats, well, also favor the rich, but also care a bit about the poor. So, assuming that both profess opposition to inflation, and have their favored remedies, you'd expect each to help its preferred voters, at the expense of the others. Republican remedies fight inflation by cutting employment and services, and those have widespread effects -- even within the business sector, most businesses are hurt to protect banks. Give Republicans more power, and they will flaunt it, to try to force their way on budgetary issues, even at the risk of defaulting. That's what Levitz means by "hostage taking." Democrats would have been well advised to pass a law getting rid of the debt ceiling crises, but couldn't manage to squeeze that through in time.

More on inflation:

  • Paul Krugman: [10-27] Republicans Have No Inflation Plan: Even if they did, they wouldn't implement it, because as long as Biden (or any Democrat) is president, their sole goal is tanking the economy to make Democrats look bad. Contrast this to 2020, when Democrats enthusiastically supported a bold rescue plan, because Democrats care more about helping people than about making their opponents (even Trump) look bad. But if a Republican was president, Republicans still wouldn't have a plan for fighting inflation, because the two or three things they think they know about the economy are wrong. But also because short of implementing wage-and-price controls -- which Nixon did, badly, but no one of either party would consider now -- there isn't much a party can do about inflation: that job has been turned over to the Fed (along with the task they take more seriously, which is keeping the banks profitable). You might counter that Democrats don't have an inflation plan either, but they do have plans for reducing the pain caused by inflation. And you'll find that they are invariably opposed by Republicans.

Ian Millhiser:

Nicole Narea: [10-28] What we know about the violent attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband. More than I knew about threats to other members of Congress. Also a reminder that Pelosi's home had been vandalized in December 2020. But strangely: nothing on the rabid vilification of Pelosi in Republican campaign ads (see below). While it's possible to imagine political figures of all stripes as targets of violence, only one side prides itself on its guns and eagerness to use them. It's a big step from "voting to kill" to actually doing so, but we're seeing it more and more. [PS: Narea later wrote: [10-29] The attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband is the culmination of longtime GOP hate-mongering.]

Siona Peterous: [10-28] The backlash against Ron DeSantis's puzzling voter fraud arrests. What's so puzzling? The arrests were a PR stunt, and that's what DeSantis does. And they were meant not just to harass 20 voters in a state with 10+ million registered voters, but to send a message intimidating more voters (still a tiny percentage, but Bush's margin of victory in 2000 was officially 537 after the recount was stopped). Interview between Sean Ramaeswaram and Lawrence Mower.

Kelsey Piper: [10-27] The shrinking ozone hole shows that the world can actually solve an environmental crisis: True enough, but the big difference is that industry was willing to find substitutes for CFCs, because they could profit either way. But replacing fossil fuels is not just harder: it takes business from established companies and moves it to new ones (no matter how much oil companies diversify into renewables). As long as political systems are stacked in favor of profits, it will be all but impossible to transition from fossil fuels to non-carbon energy.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-28] Roaming Charges: Tales From the Democratic Crypt: After the funding appeal, starts with the aborted Progressive Caucus letter on Ukraine, which "like a v-2 rocket . . . had exploded in the Democrats' faces before most people had even heard the sound of its flight." More on that above. Further down, he quotes a tweet from National Review: "Remember Rumsfeld's rule: 'Sometimes you have to kill a chicken to frighten the monkeys." For context, the article linked to was titled "To Contain Xi, Defeat Putin in Ukraine." Every word screams insane, from the disgraced authority to the racist innuendo of the metaphors, all the way down to any possible meaning, let alone agenda. I would start by questioning why the US needs to "contain China" when it has few options for expanding, but would no doubt regard such intentions as threatening, then ask why defeating Russia in Ukraine should make much of an impression on China, then ask whether defeating Russia in Ukraine is even possible (and how calling Putin a chicken advances any such ambitions?). And never forget that Rumsfeld's first big mismanagement job was when Nixon tabbed him to wreck the Office of Economic Opportunity. He went on to spend his whole life failing up, probably due to his knack for sharing racist jokes with superiors -- at least until Bush scapegoated him in 2006. Much more here, including a picture of a book subtitled "The inside story of Liz Truss and her astonishing rise to power," marked down for clearance.

Michael D Swaine: [10-28] Biden's boilerplate defense strategy: it's all about China: "The NDS continues a long tradition of painting China as an aggressive nation working to weaken the US." Publication of the latest National Security Document kicked off a number of alarms. In particular, the obsession with China as a strategic rival and possible enemy, while no doubt good for the defense business, is liable to turn fantasies into reality. More pieces:

Karen Tumulty: [10-29] I'm sorry I said nice things about Glenn Youngkin: The worst journalist in America -- she won her title in Alex Pareene's Hack 30 (why isn't this still online?), but continued to "fail up," landing as deputy editorial page editor and columnist at the Washington Post -- admits that she fucked up again. Speaking of Youngkin, see Steve M. on Katherine Miller (Considering the Post-Trump Era in a Tucson Sports Bar): Slow Lerner.

Alissa Walker: [10-26] Mike Davis Was Right: A truck driver who developed as "an activist historian with an unapologetically Marxist bent," Davis wrote a couple dozen books, especially on his home town of Los Angeles (City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles; Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster; Setting the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties). The one I was most impressed by was Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World, which pretty thoroughly upturned everything I thought I knew about 19th century colonialism. A couple more examples illustrate his eye for odd but profound detail: Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (2007), and The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005, one he lived long enough to update as The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism).

Marcy Wheeler: [10-27] John Durham's Investigation Has Disclcosed Corruption: His Own: "The Barr-appointed special counsel was supposed to reveal 'the crime of the century.' All he revealed was his incompetence -- and worse."


Here's a tweet triptych from Steve M.:

  • The goal of right-wing news and opinion is not to inform. The goal is to create and reinforce the right set of allegiances and hatreds, and to ensure that the audience never questions those allegiances and hatreds.
  • The multiple right-wing propaganda messages about the Paul Pelosi attack are designed to ensure that no one in the audience wavers in their hatred for Nancy Pelosi and love for fellow righties. He wasn't a righty - he was a psycho-lefty! It was a gay tryst gone wrong!
  • Right-wing media's one job is to guarantee that the audience never questions the right's main premise: that right-wingers are good 100% of the time and liberals/lefties/RINOs are evil 100% of the time.

M. writes more about this: [10-30] If you don't like these deflections, the GOP has others:

When real-world events threaten to expose the GOP as a threat to American civilization, the party uses kettle logic -- multiple arguments, many of them incompatible with one another -- to rally both rabid and moderate party supporters, and to reassure fence-sitters that all evil lies elsewhere. Look at January 6: To the rabid base, the party's propagandists argued that the violence was justified, or was the work of Antifa or the FBI (or both), or that it was encouraged by Nancy Pelosi, who (they falsely claim) was personally and solely in charge of the Capitol Police. To voters in the middle, the response has been whataboutism: Remember when Antifa and Black Lives Matter burned down entire American cities? (Which didn't happen.) Why isn't there a select committee about that?

While a lot of people still fall for this "kettle logic," and another bunch of them use but don't need it -- the ones who are unfazed by the violent events like the assault on Pelosi, and therefore need no reassurance -- an increasing number of people recognize this spin as the bullshit it is, and tune it out almost automatically. One of the things this election will measure is how gullible people remain after 20-40 years of Republicans lying to them continuously.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Daily Log

Cooked birthday dinner, for seven (Jerry, Janice, Tim, Zhana, Russ, Laura, and myself), with a couple late arrivals (Gretchen, Mike) for cake (I sent them home with leftover plates). I wanted to figure out how I could do something decent without killing or crippling myself. I went with my mother's Arkansas-style comfort food, with a couple minor twists. I wanted things that didn't have a lot of prep, that could either be prepared ahead of time or could sit in pots on the stove and be warmed up as necessary.

Photographs on Facebook: coconut cake; dinner plate (cw from top: chicken & dumplings, green beans, mushrooms, cabbage, corn, broccoli salad, slaw, with pickles in the middle).

I did my preliminary shopping on Friday with a rare trip to Whole Foods, and shopped again on Monday afternoon, going to Dillons, then having to chase down missing ingredients at another Dillons, and at Yoder Meats (for some reason Dillons didn't have whole chickens). I started cooking Monday evening, and was hurting pretty bad when I took a break to watch some television, but I returned to do a bit more after midnight. I resumed Tuesday around noon, and finished about 15 minutes after the announced 6:00 dinner time. I was still fairly mobile, and the food was very good. The menu:

  • Chicken & dumplings: my mother's recipe, with meat from one boiled chicken and the dumplings scaled 1.5. The chicken from Yoder came in at just under 3 lbs -- I can't remember seeing one that small in Dillons, but they didn't have any in two stores. I cut it up and put it in the pot first thing Tuesday, boiled it for an hour, and let it cool, after which Jerry picked the meat out. I mixed the dumpling dough in the food processor, split it into two balls, rolled each out to about 1/8-inch, then cut them into 2-inch wide strips, 4-5 inches long. They'd need to cook 20 minutes, so I meant to time them to be ready at 6:00. That was the only critical timing, and I ran just a few minutes late. I added the chicken at the end, and let it heat up while dishing out everything else.

  • Green beans: This is what my mother always served with chicken & dumplings, preferably from home-grown Kentucky Wonder beans, seasoned with bacon and onion. First Dillons I went to only had half the beans I wanted, but I made up the deficit at the second Dillons. I snapped the ends while the chicken was cooking. I bought two kinds of thick bacon at Whole Foods: maple and apple-bourbon. I started with the latter, but it produced very little fat, so I chopped up a couple slices of the maple and added them. I chopped a couple onions in the food processor, and dished out a half-cup here, cooked them a bit, then added the green beans, tossed them to coat, then added chicken stock to almost cover, put a lid on, and let it simmer an hour. After that, I removed the lid, checked the seasoning, and let the stock gently reduce while I was working on the other dishes.

  • Cabbage: I bought a head of green cabbage, and split it in half. Monday evening, one half went into a Spanish cabbage salad: I shredded it, julienned two carrots, and thinly sliced a green bell pepper; added green raisins (much more than the 3 tbs called for); mixed up a vinaigrette (olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper), tossed the salad in it, and refrigerated. The other half I fried alongside the green beans: I shredded it more thickly (closer to 1/2-inch instead of 1/8-inch), tossed it in the same bacon-onion mix, added some chicken stock, and let it steam covered for 1/2-hour, then I turned the fire down and let the stock reduce.

  • Corn: I used Betty Fussell's smothered corn (maque choux) recipe, but started with frozen corn (a 12-oz bag measured out to 3 cups, vs. the 4 cups called for, so I scaled the recipe down approximately). I used a large saucepan, starting with butter, adding onion, an orange bell pepper (recipe called for green, but I thought the orange would be prettier), some scallions, and a little less than a cup of cream. I covered it, let it cook for 30 minutes, then uncovered and let it reduce a bit. Finally I added an egg mixed with 2 tbs cream. When I served it, I garnished it with smoked paprika and parsley.

  • Mushrooms: I was thinking ragout, but went with a "ragu" recipe that was essentially the same thing (especially since it didn't use tomato, unlike recipes I had found during research). I roughly chopped three packages (baby portabella, shiitake, and "gourmet mixed"), sauteed them with onion and garlic in olive oil, added a half cup of red wine, cooked that down, then added two cups of beef bone stock, cooked that down, then finished with 1/3-cup cream, let that thicken, and garnished with basil and parsley. All four of these were cooking at the same time, with the stock on a fifth burner waiting for the dumplings.

  • Broccoli salad: I made this late Monday night. I cut up two bunches of broccoli, separated into florets and stems, then blanched them (stems first), so they were semi-cooked. I fried some bacon, and mixed the bacon, broccoli, green raising, craisins (cranberries), and black walnuts. I mixed up some mayonnaise and balsamic vinegar, and mixed it all together, then refrigerated. So it was ready for Tuesday.

  • Quick pickles: I was thinking about doing some appetizers, but this was the only one I managed Monday night (next day I didn't have time for anything else). I sliced up four small cucumbers, and two shallots, and put them in a bowl, with some chopped dill. I mixed white vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seed, and a bay leaf, brought it to a boil so everything dissolved, then poured it over the vegetables. I let it cool, then refrigerated. This turned out to be the only dish we didn't have any leftovers of.

  • Coconut cake: For dessert, another of my mother's famous recipes. I made the cake Monday evening, in two round pans, and wrapped the cakes in plastic to stay fresh. Tuesday, after I had the chicken cooking but before I got into everything else, I tried to make the icing. The idea is to whip up egg whites (recipe calls for 2, but lately I've been using 3, adding the extra yolk to the cake), then make a sugar syrup, add a pinch of salt and some light corn syrup to it, then beat it into the whipped egg whites. If everything works right, you get a warm and glossy white frosting which has some body and is intensely sweet. But the syrup is tricky. I've found it nearly impossible to get the sugar in the recipe quantities to dissolve (4/3-cup sugar to 1/4-cup water), so I bump the water up to 1/3- or 1/2-cup (I don't remember what I used this time, but probably 1/3, as it only barely worked). The timing is also very tricky (and Mom's instruction of "makes a string" is way too subjective for me): too much and it recrystalizes too fast, but not enough and your icing is runny.

    I screwed it up three times. The first, I noticed some brown specks floating, and tried to pick them out, but when it finally boiled, the whole thing looked brown, so I threw that batch out. I surmised that I hadn't washed the wood fork I was using, so it still had bits of chocolate on it. I washed the fork, and tried making another batch in another saucepan (I thought a straighter side might hold the thermometer better), but that saucepan turned out to be too small, so when it started to boil it started to overflow. I stopped that, then poured what I had left (plus a couple extra tablespoons of sugar) into my first saucepan, and tried it again. On my third try, I got the syrup up to 242°F, which should have been about right, but when I mixed it with the egg whites, the icing looked too runny for me. (Maybe I needed to boil the syrup longer, or maybe there was something with the egg whites -- I decided to whip them in the large mixer bowl instead of the small one, so maybe them weren't as fully whipped?) In any case, I've found that you can thicken this icing up by adding powdered sugar. I probably wound up adding 1/2-cup (in 2-3 additions). It still wasn't really firm, but I figured it was workable, and spread it into and onto the two-layer cake. I then sprinkled shredded fresh coconut on top and on the sides (always a treacherous proposition).

    In the past, I've been known to buy a coconut, shell it, peel it, and grate it -- a lot of work -- but Whole Foods sells chunks of peeled coconut, and I can just run them through the food processor, reducing a couple hours to 5 minutes. (That was what occasioned my Friday shopping trip.) The cake came out a bit on the dry side -- probably would have been better if baked 2-3 minutes less -- but the icing tasted fine, and the presentation was much better than my usual.

Aside from the cake, my only complaint was the dumpling stock should have thickened up a bit. When I boil chicken for biscuits, I want to reduce the stock as much as possible, so I only barely cover the chicken, and boil the stock down after removing the chicken, and usually add a cornstarch slurry to thicken what's left. But when making chicken for dumplings, you need enough stock to boil the dumplings, so I started out with a very full pot, and didn't think about thickening it. Of course, it will thicken a bit if you have loose flour on the dumplings, and I had some (from rolling them out), but not very much. Hence, it came out soupy (nothing a slotted spoon couldn't fix). Could be that the unusually small chicken had left it less flavorful than usual.

Recipe called for hydrating the raisins in the broccoli salad, but I think I would have preferred them not. I'm less sure about the craisins (also hydrated). I had seen them in another recipe, and had them handy, so thought I'd try them. It's the dish I have the highest-percentage leftovers of, so I should reëvaluate it.

Other than that, it's hard to see how any of these could have been improved. The one thing on my shopping list that I couldn't find was parsley (very unusually; note that Dillons put extra cilantro out in its place), but I had some in the refrigerator that was still in pretty good shape, so even that wasn't a problem.

I contemplated a number of possible appetizers, especially things that could be done early without a lot of effort. I wanted to limit them to things that could be picked up and popped into one's mouth, so I excluded spreads and dips from the start, and anything that should be served hot.

Looking specifically for Southern appetizers, everyone recommended deviled eggs. I also found a recipe for button mushrooms stuffed with sausage and mozzarella, and all sorts of things that were wrapped in bacon, ranging from tiny hot dogs ("smokies") to goat-cheese-filled dates. I considered phyllo shells stuffed with brie and pecans, but only if I could find pre-formed shells (I couldn't). I picked up the ingredients needed, but ultimately didn't feel up to doing the extra work, and had little doubt that what I was serving would suffice. Still, I should use up those ingredients some time.


Gretchen Eick brought a card over. Inscription: "To the world's best chef & the man tied with his wife for smartest Kansas. Wishes for a truly good year to come -- m ay it be a healthy & happy one & free from war."

Monday, October 24, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, October archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 38 albums, 6 A-list,

Music: Current count 38918 [38880] rated (+38), 43 [41] unrated (+2: 15 new, 28 old).

I spent a lot of time working on my Book Roundup post, which got rushed out late Saturday. I suppose it wouldn't tip my hand severely if I linked to my Books: Next Draft file, which is where I've been organizing the column. The "Main" and "Secondary" sections should be empty after each post. "Draft" contains entries I've written a bit about: I may be planning to return and write more, or they simply didn't make the cut, but they may show up in a future "Main" section. Similarly, "Noted" missed the "Secondary" cut, but could be expanded into "Main" section entries later (or grouped under other "Main" section entries).

That left me Sunday to scratch together a Speaking of Which. Considering the late start and limited time, and the fact that I posted before midnight, I feel like I came up with quite a bit. I wrote half of the introduction to start, then finished it at the end. As we get closer to the election, I feel more like spelling out the obvious.

I have very little to add on the music, except that I found out about Mary McCaslin's death last week, which sent me back to pick up the ones I missed. The others are here. I played Swift and Jepsen today, in that order, while trying to write, so I wasn't hanging on every word (not that I ever am, but they got three plays each). Swift is higher on the list, and more likely to go up than down (unlike Jepsen, which tails off a bit toward the end -- maybe because I wound up listening to the longer version).

One more thing here, and it's important (at least to me): if you've voted in Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll in the past, and you would like to help out with my organization of this year's poll, send me an email to express your interest. I want to set up a mailing list, and need some people to test it out on before I send out the actual ballot invitations (around mid-November, with a mid-December deadline). I'll also explain some of the mechanics of how the poll works, and how I see using the website as a voter reference (e.g., I'd like to add a FAQ). I'd welcome comments and questions, but I'm not asking a lot: mostly just tolerate getting some test email. Also, as per recent years, if you want to nominate a voter, or nominate yourself, please let me know.

Need to get this up and out of the way early, so I can get on with cooking birthday dinner. Going with some favorite comfort foods this year, not least because I expect that will reduce wear and tear.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Claudia Acuña: Duo (2022, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Airport 77s: We Realize You Have a Choice (2022, Jem): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Akusmi: Fleeting Future (2022, Tonal Union): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz (2022, Agogo): [sp]: B
  • Bibio: Bib10 (2022, Warp): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Burial: Streetlands (2022, Hyperdub, EP): [bc]: B
  • Tommy Crane: We're All Improvisers Now (2020-21 [2022], Whirlwind): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Criolo: Sobre Viver (2022, Oloko): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jens Düppe: Ego_D (2022, Enja/Yellowbird): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Open Mike Eagle: Component System With the Auto Reverse (2022, Auto Reverse): [sp]: A-
  • Flohio: Out of Heart (2022, AWAL): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Darryl Harper: Chamber Made (2022, Stricker Street): [cd]: B+(*) [10-28]
  • Hickeys: Fragile Structure (2022, self-released): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jason Kao Hwang/J.A. Deane [Dino Duo]: Uncharted Faith (2021 [2022], Tone Science Music/Blue Coast Music): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Dieter Ilg: Dedication (2020 [2022], ACT): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Dieter Ilg: Ravel (2021 [2022], ACT): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time (2022, Interscope): [sp]: A-
  • Keith Kirchoff/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble: Christian Wolff: Exercises and Explorations (2021, Spoonhunt): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: Spirit to All (2022, Whirlwind): [sp]: A-
  • Louis Moutin/Jowee Omicil/François Moutin: M.O.M. (2022, Laborie Jazz): [cd]: B+(***) [10-25]
  • Carlos Niño & Friends: Extra Presence (2019 [2022], International Anthem): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Christopher Parker & the Band of Guardian Angels: Soul Food (2019 [2021], Mahakala Music): [sp]: B+(**)
  • John Patitucci Trio: Live in Italy (2022, Three Faces): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Photay With Carlos Nino: An Offering (2021 [2022], International Anthem): [sp]: B
  • Charlie Puth: Charlie (2022, Atlantic): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Kristjan Randalu/New Wind Jazz Orchestra: Sisu (2021 [2022], Whirlwind): [sp]: B
  • Daniel Rotem: Wise One: Celebrating the Music of John Coltrane (2020 [2022], self-relased): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Harvie S & Roni Ben-Hur With Sylvia Cuenca: Wondering (2022, Dot Time): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Angelica Sanchez Trio: Sparkle Beings (2022, Sunnyside): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Jason Stein/Damon Smith/Adam Shead: Volumes & Surfaces (2021 [2022], Balance Point Acoustics): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Taylor Swift: Midnights (2022, Republic): [sp]: A-
  • Bilana Voutchkova/Susana Santos Silva: Bagra (2021 [2022], Relative Pitch): [sp]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (2010 [2022], Enja/Yellowbird): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron: Searching in Grenoble: The 1978 Solo Piano Concert (1978 [2022], Tompkins Square): [sp]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): [sp]: A-
  • Mary McCaslin: A Life and Time (1981, Flying Fish): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Jowee Omicil: Let's Do This (2006, Jowee Juise): [sp]: B
  • Jowee Omicil: Let's Bash (2017, Jazz Village): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jim Ringer: Waitin' for the Hard Times to Go (1972, Folk-Legacy): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Jim Ringer: The Band of Jesse James: Best of Jim Ringer (1973-81 [1996], Rounder): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Rocket From the Tombs: The Day the Earth Met the . . Rocket From the Tombs (1975 [2002], Smog Veil): [sp]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Claudia Acuña: Duo (Ropeadope) [09-23]
  • Patricia Brennan: More Touch (Pyroclastic) [11-18]
  • Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth (Out of Your Head) [10-28]
  • The Ostara Project: The Ostara Project (Cellar) [11-18]
  • Harvie S/Roni Ben-Hur/Sylvia Cuenca: Wondering (Dot Time) [10-14]
  • Sonido Solar: Eddie Palmieri Presents Sonido Solar (Truth Revolution) [10-28]

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

In this month's Q&A column, Robert Christgau was asked a dumb political question ("Were you always a pablum-puking liberal or did you have to be brainwashed?"), and took the occasion to comment on the November election:

I was raised in a born-again Christian family in Queens, Republicans though never true conservatives who like most Americans came to think the Vietnam War was a mistake. I started moving away from Christianity in my early teens, explicitly espousing atheism at 17. Influenced by several women I cared for, prominently including the two referred to in the Canada question below, I became a leftist in the '60s and would now label myself a "left Democrat" because I believe the word "progressive" has lost most of its mojo. I thank you for giving me an excuse to remind And It Don't Stop readers that there are crucial elections taking place November 8, perhaps as crucial as any we've known, and to urge them to vote as soon as possible as well as donate to favored candidates, as I have to over a dozen since March or so. Never since World War II has democracy been in so much peril.

Substitute Wichita for Queens, and note that I'm eight years younger -- which still adds up to 72 this week -- and the first two (or with minor edits three) sentences also describe me fairly well. I endorse the rest of the paragraph as well, although as always I have minor quibbles. I've been a careful observers of party politics since the 1960s, but never been an activist, or even a donor. (My wife has made the occasional contribution, and continues to pay for it with volumes of spam.) This year, we have yard signs for Laura Kelly, Chris Mann, and Lacey Cruse, but that's it.

While it's true that "never since World War II has democracy been in so much peril," the word "peril" implies that the real damage has yet to happen. The biggest threat to democracy in America is the influence of money, and that battle is so far gone Democrats hardly ever even talk about it any more. (Democrats dropped the ball when they found that Obama and the Clintons could raise even more money than the Republicans, but their riches didn't trickle down to the rank and file candidates, and came at the cost of policies that made the rich even richer while screwing everyone else.) And campaign donations, which candidates are obliged to spend most of their time pursuing, is just the tip of the money iceberg: the real advantage money has is in lobbying (the number of registered lobbyists is over 11,000, roughly 20 for each member of Congress). Then there is major media, which is divided between propaganda organs like Fox and "balanced" sources, which are also owned by the very rich. Again, the game has been so far lost that hardly anyone talks about it.

The only "threats" that do raise eyebrows are the Republican scams to gerrymander districts and suppress voting, but those, too, are mostly locked into place, and protected by a court system that has been overwhelmingly captured by Republican Party operatives. As for the courts, each week I cite articles by Ian Millhiser. The lifetime appointment of judges was one of several severe limits on democracy enshrined in the Constitution -- another is the hugely malapportioned Senate -- which have long been open to abuse, and lately targeted by Republicans. Still, Republicans are so rigid in their contempt for democracy, and relentless in their assault on it, that it's hard to keep up with them. The only real solution is to revolt in such numbers that all their tricks prove insufficient.

It's gotten to be a cliché to say that this election is the most important in our lives. A better word for it might be desperate, as what we are struggling against isn't just what Republicans might do in the next 2 years, but the cumulative weight of what they've taken away from us over the last 40+. The 6-3 Republican domination of the Supreme Court goes back to GHW Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas, who until GW Bush's nomination of Roberts and Alito was limited to an ominous and often bizarre minority of 2 (with Scalia, nominated by Reagan). Legislation that hurt unions and helped the rich goes back even further. That cumulative weight is ever harder to stop let alone reverse. And it also chews up time.

If Republicans win the House and/or the Senate this year, the immediate effect will be to derail any possibility of Democrats passing laws to protect and aid Americans. The resulting rancor will be unpleasant, and the inaction will hurt the most vulnerable -- which thanks to the Supreme Court and Republican mastery of most state legislatures now includes many more women, who are being denied access to reproductive care (one problem that a democratic majority in Congress could easily repair). But aside from its immediate effects, giving Republicans any measure of power to disrupt Congress will cost us opportunity, for a minimum of two years, to deal with problems that are festering while we do nothing. The most obvious is climate change, which would have been much easier to deal with 20-30 years ago, when the threat was clear to anyone willing to look at the evidence. But there is much more that we need to do sooner rather than later. Education, in particular, is always time sensitive.

I wish I could be more optimistic about Biden finding a path out of war, as the current path is potentially even worse than climate change. Every week I try to remind you all that the only way out of the Ukraine war is through negotiation, and that negotiation there shouldn't stop with the disputed territories but extend to a fundamental reëvaluation of how powerful countries behave beyond their own borders.

I spent all last week working on yesterday's Book Roundup, which touches on at least some of these issues. So I didn't get a start here until this morning. There is certainly a lot more I could have written about, but this will have to do for now.


AP: [10-20] Military suicides drop as leaders push new programs: No mention of exiting the war in Afghanistan. Strange no one thought of that as having any bearing, what with the "personal issues, including finances and marital stress."

David Atkins: [10-21] Republicans Cannot and Will Not Reduce Gasoline Prices: Gas prices is one of their big talking points, along with inflation more generally, and that old standby "crime." It really amazes me that Republicans think people are so gullible they'll think that Republicans can solve any of these "problems," but then there's little in their spiel that does not regard a massive suspension of disbelief. But at least it's possible to believe that most Republicans do want to see less crime (not that that's what they mean by the term, and not at the expense of their gun fetishism). Same for inflation, as long as you define the term the way they do: as escalating wages, not commodity prices. But Republicans are joined at the hip to the oil industry, and the only thing they want to see is more profits, and the only easy way to get them is through higher prices.

I don't want to get caught in the weeds of individual races, but here are some more general election pieces:

Jonathan Chait: [10-21] How Vaccine Skeptics Took Over the Republican Party: "A case study in the party's dysfunction." Always carping about something, in the early days of the pandemic, as the severity of Covid-19 was so great that hospitals were being overwhelmed, the knee-jerk response was to insist that businesses should decide for themselves what precautions (with the market in its usual role as judge and jury), but most held out hope that future vaccines would render the question moot. Then they started shifting to promoting quack treatments. And when the vaccines finally did become available, they trumpeted individual choice and allowed for "religious" exemptions. I can see a case for allowing people to decide whether or not to get vaccinated, but I've never understood why anti-vaxxers would campaign for others not to get vaccinated. Certainly self-interest argues otherwise. So what it seems to come down to is that certain people (Republicans, mostly) just like to spout off and make sure everyone hear them. And in doing so, they've tapped into the conspiratorial mindset that runs through the Republican Party, enough so to intimidate more sensible members of their cohort. Of course, to the rest of us, that just makes them look stupid, vain, arrogant, and malign -- traits they'd happily wear as a badge of honor. This is the same dynamic that has worked for the "stop the steal" campaign. Hard to say which proposition is more ridiculous, but both are thriving in the mental sewers of the Republican Party.

Conor Echols: [10-21] Diplomacy Watch: Could Lula be a force for peace in Ukraine? Probably not unless/until he gets elected, but Brazil is a big country, and someone needs to cajole both the US/Europe and Russia into negotiation. From what I gather, the general feeling in the Global South is that the Ukraine war is an internecine squabble within the Global North that has become a major headache for the rest of the world -- driving up prices of food and fuel, forcing nations to take sides, etc. -- and so perhaps Brazil and Mexico (where AMLO has made his own proposals) could combine with other more/less neutral countries (South Africa, India, perhaps China) to form an effective lobby for peace. They could, for instance, threaten to sanction all belligerents. That would raise some eyebrows.

Jonathan Guyer: [10-21] The secret history of America's tactical nukes. A lot of thought has gone into the idea that if you could scale nuclear bombs down enough, it would blur the difference between escalating to nuclear weapons, weakening inhibitions against their use. Some of those "thinkers" were Russian, but most were American.

Ellen Ioanes: [10-20] Why Liz Truss was UK prime minister for only six weeks: This makes me jealous for a political system that doesn't restrict change to fixed terms, although the UK system is still deeply flawed: allowing even a completely hapless Parliament five years before having to call new elections has created a peculiar dynamic: the dominant party (in this case the Tories) has incentives for infighting and self-destruction with no immediate risks. Meanwhile, new Prime Ministers are selected in a very limited partisan process which the overwhelming majority of UK citizens have no say in. If the US had such a system, it would be easy to imagine Trump (and maybe even GW Bush and/or Bill Clinton) getting purged mid-term, especially if their replacements weren't limited to even less popular VPs (Pence maybe, Cheney for sure). On the other hand, in the American system, embattled Presidents can fight back and actually strengthen their control (as both Trump and Clinton did after impeachment). By the way, after much speculation, Boris Johnson Drops Bid to Return as UK Prime Minister.

Jay Caspian Kang: [10-21] What would a nation of sports gamblers look like? I don't like gambling of any sort, but the more sports gambling becomes legit -- our Democratic governor's big "bipartisan" deal this year was to legalize it -- the more irritated I get. It's not so much that I worry about the integrity of professional sports (which have been ruined by money already), but that on a personal level, I've never been able to see why people would throw money away to prove that they aren't really that smart. (As compared to pure games of luck, sports betting lures in people who think themselves experts, but the odds are balanced so they still lose more often than not.) By the way, what really bothered me about the Kansas legalization wasn't that it allowed people to legally lose money that many were illegally losing before, but that the revenues are being earmarked to lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals west of State Line Blvd., in yet another massive giveaway to whichever billionaires own them now (last I knew the Chiefs belonged to HL Hunt, and the Royals to one of the Wal-Mart heirs.)

More gambling:

  • Kathryn Schulz: [10-17] What we've lost playing the lottery: "The games are a bonanza for the companies that states hire to adminster them. But what about the rest of us?" The rationale, which I accept, is that gambling should be legal, and should be run by the state, because the state can run a cleaner, more honest game than the Mafia, and with much less onerous side-effects. And the state can pick up some profits along the way, which it can then use for other worthwhile things, but preferably not so much that officials feel the need to market (promote) the practice (beyond the bare minimum necessary to prevent a black market). That shouldn't be too hard to grasp, but in practice gambling has become legal because operators with few better scruples than the Mafia have lobbied to pass laws, giving them various levels of monopolies and incentives to rake in as much profit as possible. I know a guy who signs his email with "lottery: n., a tax on stupidity." He's not wrong, even if you replace "lottery" with more skilled games, each seeking its own level of stupidity. In this light, the operators in this article are basically just tax farmers.

Ian Millhiser:

  • [10-20] America's Trumpiest court just declared an entire federal agency unconstitutional: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was established by the banking reform bill that followed the 2008 meltdown, which followed massive fraud, especially in home mortgages (but extending way beyond there, such as to derivatives that were designed to lose investor money). The fine print doesn't go so far as to say that federal law cannot prosecute fraud, but by underming the agency that fights fraud, that seems to be what they're aiming for.

  • [10-23] What the Constitution actually says about race, explained: "There's a glaring flaw in the Supreme court lawsuits attacking affirmative action."

More pieces on legal issues:

Indigo Olivier: [10-20] "Cannibal Capitalism" Is Eroding Society's Basic Structures: Interview with Nancy Fraser, author of Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System Is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet -- and What We Can Do About It. The best example I can think of capitalist cannibalism is private equity; see Jason Linkins: [10-15] The Industry Devouring the American Dream.

Areeba Shah: [10-19] Legal experts mock failed Durham probe: No other prosecutor "has ever posted such a dismal record": "One legal analyst noted Durham got 'two acquittals at trial in a system where the feds win 95% of their cases." Also: Ankush Khardori: [10-18] John Durham Almost Makes Ken Starr Look Good.

Alex Shephard: [10-20] The Spectacular Failure of Right-Wing Social Media Platforms: It's really just network effects: whoever gets in first with a service that appeals to virtually everyone gets a lock on the business, and can exploit that by collecting and selling data. There are a lot of right-wing jerks in America, but not enough to build their own niche ecosystem -- especially given that the insular echo chamber they crave is already available on mainstream platforms.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-21] Roaming Charges: Vincent, Duck! Soup!

Emily Stewart: [10-20] How airlines squeeze you for every penny. Deregulation promised cheaper tickets, and that worked for a while. But in a grossly unequal society, with limited supply and far-from-perfect information, they created a game for predatory companies.

Bob Woodward: [10-23] The Trump Tapes: 20 interviews that show why he is in unparalleled danger. "I have decided to take the unusual step of releasing [tapes of my 20 interviews with Trump]. I was struck by how Trump pounded in my ears in a way the printed page cannot capture." The interviews cover many topics, but Woodward concludes: "I believe the tapes show that Trump's greatest failure was his handling of the coronavirus." Early interviews reveal how incapable he was of comprehending the problem, and how he resisted attempt to nudge him into a responsible position. Less clear is how he got worse over time. After he recovered from his case, he intuited how to play the pandemic politically, while the nation as a whole suffered its darkest days. Even today, most Republicans are following his lead, and working to dismantle any possibility of public health officials responding to future crises.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Book Roundup

Blog link.

Last Book Roundup was on May 1, the second of a burst of two. This one should have a follow up relatively soon, although this one was so difficult to pull together that it's hard to imagine when the next one will be ready. This is not for lack of books I know about: my draft file has nearly 300 books noted (at least before adding the short note section below, but those are in theory still eligible for a longer write up). My rule of thumb is to publish a post when I get 40 books for the top section, but a smaller number might make more sense, especially given my tendency to tack on supplementary lists. We have a lot of Russia and China this time: Abelow, Brands, Gaeotti, Hoffman, Short. A special case of sublists is when I list previous books by authors (Levine, Lopez, Mead, Moyn, Scialabba; I don't count Chomsky here because I'm only listing new books by him and co-author Prashad).

Two sublists are things I haven't done before: Under Short, I give you a select list of other books on Putin, as well as a much more indiscriminate one of books I hadn't noted before. In theory, you could look them up, but that would be a pain. It would be nice to break the big file up into topical ones, and try to sort out the potentially useful titles from the rest, including some way to flag right-wing nonsense (to varying extents: Brands, Concha, Hegseth/Goodwin, Jones, Mandelbaum, Mead, as well as a number of sublist selections).

I also sorted the Leibovich sublist into two sets: one of books which (like Leibovich) offer useful reporting on Trump (especially in his last months in office), and a second one of self-serving memoirs, mostly of Trump associates. Normally, I would have lifted one of those items to the head of the list, but none seem worthy. On the other hand, a couple books that could have been developed as longer items got stuck on sublists (under Milbank, Corn is a book that I'm actually reading). I also left Shrecker under Bunch, as the two books seemed complementary. On the other hand, I did wind up breaking Haberman out of its original perch under Leibovich. And I wound up writing an entry for Hoffman's old (2011) book as an anchor for Khodorkovsky's new one. Hoffman's book is also relevant to the Short (Putin) list, but stands a bit apart.

As I've explained repeatedly, this is basically a research exercise, meant to gain a sense of the state of knowledge and understanding of the world, reflected in book form. With few exceptions, the descriptions are based on blurbs, samples, and sometimes reviews, mostly from digging through Amazon (as unpleasant as that often is). The only books below that I've read much from are: DeLong, Leibovich, Corn, and Smil. I've ordered copies of: Cooper, Levine, Milbank, Moyn. I've also read other books from: Bunch, Chemerinsky, Chomsky, Fischer, Hochschild, Hoffman, McKibben, Draper, Purdy, Gessen, Satter, Tomasky, and further down: Berry, Heinberg, Meier, and Rushkoff.


Benjamin Abelow: How the West Brought War to Ukraine: Understanding How US and NATO Policies Led to Crisis, War, and the Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe (paperback, Siland Press): A short (88 pp) summary, valid as far as it goes, but unlikely to shed much light on why the "provocations" led to such an egregious response from Putin. I would argue that although the US wanted to expand NATO to grow its arms market, and found that the easiest way to sell expansion was to fan old and new fears of Russian power, they never had the slightest desire to actually go to war with Russia, and it's strange that Putin could ever think so. On the other hand, while traditional economic ties and Russia's imperial legacy suggest why Russians like Putin think of Ukraine should be a subservient satellite, those attachments don't justify invasion and destruction, with its attendant risk to Russia's world standing. Several blurb writers, like Noam Chomsky, praise Abelow's telling of one part of the story that is widely ignored in the US, but there are other stories that need to be integrated. For more general books on Russian history, see Galeotti below. For books specifically on Putin, see Short. Here are a few more books on the Ukraine-Russia War, a few written since the 2022 invasion, a few more going back to 2014:

  • Paul D'Anieri: Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
  • Media Benjamin/Nicolas JS Davies: War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict (paperback, 2022, OR Books). [11-15]
  • Peter Conradi: Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War (2017; paperback, 2022, Oneworld): Included here because it describes in more detail how the Cold War was rekindled -- many points highlighted in Abelow's short book.
  • Yuri Felshtinsky/Michael Stanchev: Blowing Up Ukraine: The Return of Russian Terror and the Threat of World War III (2022, Gibson Square): Felshtinsky has a previous book, Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror (2007).
  • Valentine Green: Russia Ukraine, Putin Zelenskyy: Your Essential Uncensored Guide to the Russia-Ukraine History and War (2022, independent): 94 pp.
  • Mark Galeotti: Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine (2022, Osprey Publishing). [11-08]
  • Taras Kuzlo: Putin's War Against Ukraine: Revolution, Nationalism, and Crime (paperback, 2017, Create Space).
  • Fred Leplat/Chris Ford, eds: Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity (2022, Resistance Books).
  • William J O'Donnell: The Solution to Putin's War: The Lessons Learned Solving the Russian-US Cold War and Putin's Motivation and Psyche Provide a Durable Solution to Putin's War (paperback, 2022, independent): 76 pp.
  • Ilya Ponomarev/Gregg Stebben: Does Putin Have to Die? The Story of How Russia Becomes a Democracy After Losing to Ukraine (2022, Skyhorse): Seems over the top, but he was a Duma member 2007-16, the only one to vote against annexing Crimea, defected to Kyiv, where, as he put it, "I keep a machine gun by the door." [11-15]
  • Christopher M Smith: Ukraine's Revolt, Russia's Revenge (2022, Brookings Institution Press).
  • Marc Miles Vaughn: The History of Ukraine and Russia: The Tangled History That Led to Crisis (paperback, 2022, History Demystified): 164 pp.
  • Volodymyr Zelensky: A Message From Ukraine: Speeches, 2019-2022 (2022, Crown): 144 pp. [12-06]

Walt Bogdanich/Michael Forsythe: When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World's Most Powerful Consulting Firm (2022, Doubleday): Major consulting firm, their services are available anywhere a company wants to squeeze a little extra profit from their business, or rationalize and cover up their own misdeeds. A blurb from Joseph Stiglitz reads: "Every page made my blood boil as I read about McKinsey's flawed reasoning and vast profits made from ethically dubious work for governments, polluting companies and big pharma." Somewhere in my readings, I remember a piece of advice given to would-be managers: if they really want to scare their employees, just threaten them with bringing McKinsey in.

Kevin Boyle: The Shattering: America in the 1960s (2021, WW Norton): A "lively" history of the decade, expanding the decade a few years on either side, by a historian whose previous books were on civil rights and labor. I'm not sure how well this lives up to its title, a catchphrase that denotes some catastrophe that befell America, whereas I would argue that we started to find a new unity and vision that was then squelched and perverted by the political reaction of the 1970s (Nixon) and 1980s (Reagan), leaving Democrats too traumatized to even attempt to recover. I have no idea whether this book continues to ostracize the left movements of the extended 1960s, or hopes to find a way to move forward by sifting through the rubble.

Hal Brands/Michael Beckley: Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict With China (2022, WW Norton): The authors, professors and senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute, start from a belief common among American foreign policy mandarins: "The Sino-American contest is driven by clashing geopolitical interests and a stark ideological dispute over whether authoritarianism or democracy will dominate the 21st century." That's dangerous nonsense on several levels: neither country depends on propagating its political system abroad: the US likes to talk about democracy, but is more interested in business, demanding that its "allies" open themselves to global profiteering, and pay up monopoly rents. Conflicts with the US happen when countries decline to submit to American dictates on how they do business. China is the big one, because it's the largest economy, it has the most foreign trade, and it follows a go-along-to-get-along philosophy, making it easier to deal with than the US often is. But also note that US foreign policy is largely (and increasingly, or so it seems) defined by the marketing of US arms: "allies" are countries (democratic or not) that buy US arms, "enemies" are countries that buy from someone else like Russia and China (or build their own and try to compete, like Russia and China). The "danger" comes in mostly because arms races are destabilizing, regardless of who promotes them. Also note that within this mindset, other commodities can be viewed as security issues, including chips, oil, even food. Recent (and a few forthcoming) books on China (many more in previous reports):

  • Anne-Marie Brady: China as a Great Polar Power (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press).
  • Kerry Brown: Xi: A Study in Power (paperback, 2022, Icon Books).
  • Maria Adele Carrai/Jennifer Rudolph/Michael Szonyi, eds: The China Questions 2: Critical Insights Into US-China Relations (2022, Harvard University Press).
  • Lulu Yilun Chen: Influence Empire: Inside the Story of Tencent and China's Tech Ambition (2022, Hodder & Stoughton). [11-22]
  • Josh Chin/Liza Lin: Surveillance State: Inside China's Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control (2022, St Martin's Press).
  • Martin Chorzempa: The Cashless Revolution: China's Reinvention of Money and the End of America's Domination of Finance and Technology (2022, Public Affairs).
  • Carl T Delfeld: Power Rivals: America and China's Superpower Struggle (paperback, 2022, Economic Security Council).
  • Frank Dikötter: China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower (2022, Bloomsbury). Has written several earlier books on Chinese history: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 (2013); The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976 (2016); Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 (2020). [11-15]
  • Ian Easton: The Final Struggle: Inside China's Global Strategy (paperback, 2022, Eastbridge Books).
  • Howard W French: Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power (2017, Knopf; paperback, 2018, Vintage): Africa specialist, previously wrote China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa (2014).
  • Aaron L Friedberg: Getting China Wrong (2022, Polity): Wrong wrong: "the democracies underestimated the resilience, resourcefulness, and ruthless of the Chinese Community Party."
  • Chin-Hao Huang: Power and Restraint in China's Rise (paperback, 2022, Columbia University Press).
  • Chris Miller: Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology (2022, Scribner).
  • Stephen Roach: Accidental Conflict: America, China, and the Clash of False Narratives (2022, Yale University Press). [11-29]
  • Kevin Rudd: The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping's China (2022, Public Affairs): Former Prime Minister of Australia.
  • Susan L Shirk: Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise (2022, Oxford University Press).
  • Desmond Shum: Red Roulette: An Insider's Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today's China (2021, Sribner).
  • Robert Spalding: War Without Rules: China's Playbook for Global Domination (2022, Sentinel): Former Brigadier General, previously wrote Stealth War: How China Took Over While America's Elite Slept (2019).
  • Katie Stallard: Dancing on Bones: History and Power in China, Russia and North Korea (2022, Oxford University Press): Wilson Center fellow's Cold War revanchism.
  • Stephen Vines: Defying the Dragon: Hong Kong and the World's Largest Dictatorship (2021, Hurst).

Will Bunch: After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics -- and How to Fix It (2022, William Morrow): Ever since WWII college has been sold as the ticket to success. Early on, we made an effort to promote opportunity by keeping the costs low, but as inequality increased, and the unions which protected blue collar workers were undermined, the powers that be realized that the penalties for not getting a higher education were such that they could charge more for access to privilege. One goal was to stifle political dissent (aka free thinking). Another was to restore the advantages of the wealthy. Of course, they couldn't fully revert to the elitism of the pre-WWII university system, but by shifting costs to students and suckering them into increasingly deep debt, they effectively closed the doors of the class system while maintaining a hint of openness. Granted, poor but truly exceptional students could still rise through the gauntlet but by then they were likely to be properly acculturated -- Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are good examples of this. Related:

  • Derek W Black: Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy (2020, Public Affairs).
  • Ellen Schrecker: The Lost Promise: American Universities in the 1960s (2021, University of Chicago Press): 616 pp. Higher education grew after WWII, first with the GI Bill, then with the growth of a prosperous middle class, which suggested that everyone should go to college, and encouraged learning for its own sake. That was the promise noted here, but as the Vietnam War radicalized a generation, the forces of reaction started clamping down, eventually foreclosing that promise and restoring the notion of higher education as a passport to elite status in an increasingly inequal world.

Erwin Chemerinsky: Worse Than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism (2022, Yale University Press): Author has a number of books on The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (2011), as well as the more positive We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century (2018). So you can guess what he thinks of the legal theory Antonin Scalia popularized as Originalism. My own take is that it's awfully convenient to have a theory that says the law should mean whatever you think the original authors must have intended. Of course, it's bullshit, but not uncommon among conservatives, who love to claim long pedigrees for whatever their current prejudices dictate. A second problem is how Originalism fights the notion that constitutional law should be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions.

Noam Chomsky/Vijay Prashad: The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (2022, New Press). Based on conversations, although the former's knowledge and understanding of American power is encyclopedic, and seemingly on instant recall. Prashad wrote one of the broader (and deeper) histories of the modern world: The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World. Related:

  • Noam Chomsky/Marv Waterstone: Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance (paperback, 2021, Haymarket Books).
  • Noam Chomsky/James Kelman: Between Thought and Expression Lies a Lifetime: Why Ideas Matter (paperback, 2021, PM Press).
  • Noam Chomsky: Notes on Resistance (paperback, 2022, Haymarket Books): Interviews with David Barsamian.
  • Vijay Prashad: Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning From Movements for Socialism (paperback, 2022, Haymarket Books).
  • Noam Chomsky's Little Book of Selected Quotes: On Society, Capitalism, and Democracy (paperback, 2021, Lumière): 107 pp.

Joe Concha: Come On, Man! The Truth About Joe Biden's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Presidency (2022, Broadside Books): Starts by railing about "open borders, record inflation, and skyrocketing crime." In what universe are those even things? "The withdrawal from Afghanistan left thirteen U.S. service members dead and hundreds of Americans stranded as Afghans fell from airplanes." The entry of the U.S. into Afghanistan (remember GW Bush?) left 2,426 American soldiers dead, and millions of Afghans displaced (or worse). Biden ended that, not on the best terms imaginable, but given the cards he was dealt. "Though Biden may seem like a doddering idiot, stumbling from one mistake to the next, his blunders always hew closely to progressive dreams for American policy." Like making sure all Americans have food to eat, and health care that doesn't bankrupt them? No: "Dreams like saving the planet by attacking Elon Musk and strengthening the middle class by making gas prices higher than Hunter Biden in a motel room."

Ryan Cooper: How Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Questions in Politics (2022, St Martin's Press): Good idea for a book, but I was thinking more literally: a compendium of dumb questions (like the title one), each followed by a smart answer. Rather, Part I at least is a discourse in the history of economics, with something called "neo-propertarianism" singled out for especially harsh rebuke. He seems to mean neo-liberalism, but without any noble intents or rationales, which brings it back to old-fashioned capitalism, another term he'd rather duck. I've only seen the TOC for Part II, which offers more topical chapters: labor, healthcare, "the social climate," inequality, "a new collective American freedom," and finally "How to Argue with Propertarians."

J Bradford DeLong: Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century (2022, Basic Books): An economist teaching at UC Berkeley, the author has published a modest blog as long as I can remember, generally echoing and reinforcing the liberal views of Paul Krugman, all the while working on this "magnum opus" on the biggest question of our time, which is what's changed during our time. His 20th century is a long one, from 1870 to 2010, his starting date reflecting an American (as opposed to a British) bias: the industrial revolution may date back a bit earlier in England, but it really takes off after the US Civil War. The end date seems arbitrary, but the decade since doesn't (yet) have a lot to show for itself. We've seen extraordinary technological advances in this period, for the first time generating material wealth way beyond population growth. DeLong pegs the break at 1870: before then new technology was converted into population growth, but not per capita wealth, and the endpoint following the debacle of neoliberalism in the 2008 recession. He doesn't insist that the end point is terminal, but does note that the progress of the long century has repeatedly been interrupted by backsliding into war and recession, obstacles largely triggered by reactionary politics -- something we have yet to overcome, and a mental problem that may be getting even worse.

Gary Dorrien: American Democratic Socialism: History, Politics, Religion, and Theory (2021, Yale University Press): Big book (752 pp), includes chapters on the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, also on later figures who extolled socialism without a party framework, and winds up with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but the first couple chapters start with the Christian formulation of a "social gospel" and with Jewish Universalism. Dorrien has written 18 books, six with Theology in the title, and one subtitled Political and Religious Roots of European Socialism. It's good to be reminded of this history, and that the impulse behind social justice has always acted as a counterweight to the more touted focus on individualism.

David Hackett Fischer: African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals (2022, Simon & Schuster): Notable historian, one I first encountered in his Historians' Fallacies (1970), although his main work was Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989), which meticulously traced cultural threads from England to America. Here he tries something similar, only with the much more deliberately obscured connections from Africa through people brought to America as slaves. It's remarkable that he's come up with so much material (960 pp). Also on early American history:

  • Mark R Anderson: Down the Warpath to the Cedars: Indians' First Battles in the Revolution (paperback, 2022, University of Oklahoma Press).
  • Joseph J Ellis: The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783 (2021, Liveright).
  • Woody Holton: Liberty Is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution (2021, Simon & Schuster): Major effort (800 pp) to broaden the history of America during the Revolution, by showing how "overlooked Americans" influenced the Founders.
  • Woody Holton: Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (paperback, 1999, University of North Carolina Press);
  • Woody Holton: Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (2007; paperback, 2008, Hill & Wang).

Francis Fukuyama: Liberalism and Its Discontents (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux). Intends a defense of "classical liberalism," which he traces back to late 17th century arguments "for the limitation of the powers of government through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction." To do that, he has to rescue his preferred doctrine from later "neoliberalism," but also from conventional "left-of-center" political interests: those who recognize that the more complex the world becomes, the more we need reasonable government regulation that limits the tendency of the rich and powerful to prey on the poor and weak. That doesn't leave him with much more than abstract principles to stand on, making it hard to convince people such hyper-individualism is in their interest.

  • Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the Last Man (1992, Free Press): Famous pinnacle of post-Cold War triumphalism, arguing that the endpoint of history is "capitalist liberal democracy."
  • Francis Fukuyama: Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (1995; paperback, 1996, Free Press).
  • Francis Fukuyama: Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap Between Latin America and the United States (2008; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press).

Mark Galeotti: A Short History of Russia: How the World's Largest Country Invented Itself, From the Pagans to Putin (2022, paperback, Hanover Square Press): One thing that's become painfully obvious in the last six months is that the Americans who direct or report on foreign policy understand very little about Russia in general and Putin in particular. They also seem to be blind to America's own contribution to the rewarming of the Cold War (see my Abelow comment above; I suppose I should reiterate my standard disclaimer here: nothing the US has done with Ukraine or NATO justifies Putin's invasion, and nothing Putin has done or can do will rectify the errors the US has committed). I don't know whether Galeotti is a good or bad observer of Russia, but in 2019 he published a short book called We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong, and the chapters there cover a lot of sensible ground. This book here boils Russian history, including Putin, probably up to the eve of the invasion, down to 240 pp, which probably isn't enough but is certainly more than most Americans know. He also has a book coming out in November on Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine, which was mostly written before the invasion but at least deals with it. There are a couple other competing histories of Russia, as well as more specialized tracts:

  • Antony Beevor: Russia: Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1921 (2022, Viking).
  • Kees Boterbloem: Russia as Empire: Past and Present (2020, Reaktion Books).
  • Rodric Braithwaite: Russia: Myths and Realities: The History of a Country With an Unpredictable Past (2022, Pegasus Books).
  • Orlando Figes: The Story of Russia (2022, Metropolitan Books).
  • Mark Galeotti: The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War (2022, Yale University Press).
  • Nancy Shields Kollmann: The Russian Empire 1450-1801 (2017, Oxford University Press).

Maggie Haberman: Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America (2022, Penguin): New York Times reporter assigned to Trump starting with his campaign, pictures a younger Trump on the cover because she goes back further to merge her reporting and observations with a background character study. As such, this appears to be one of the more definitive tomes in a ridiculously large shelf of writings on Trump. Coming so late may seem to diminish its immediate usefulness, but as one of the more comprehensive studies, its utility may grow, especially once we have the luxury of regarding Trump in hindsight. (I originally listed this with similar books under Leibovich below, but decided it merited its own note.)

Oona A Hathaway/Scott J Shapiro: The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2017; paperback, 2018, Simon & Schuster): A history of the 1928 Paris Peace Pact, which is isn't exactly recalled today as having "remade the world," and for that matter is hardly remembered at all (even as, using the name better known in the US, the Kellogg-Briand Pact). The book puts it in a much broader context, after a Part I on "Old World Order," in the first half of Part II ("Transformation") before it gets blown up by WWII, winding up with Part III ("New World Order"), where the first three chapters merit some pondering: "The End of Conquest," "War No Longer Makes Sense," and "Why Is There Still so Much Conflict?"

Peter Hegseth/David Goodwin: Battle for the Amerian Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation (2022, Broadside Books): Fox News host, reduces his co-author to a "with" credit, but Goodwin is the one with experience in what they call "classical Christian education," where they "assigned the classics, inspired love of God and country, and raised future citizens that changed the world." Much as they seek to brainwash children to follow their political prejudices, they fear their enemies are doing the same, and winning: "Today, after 16,000 hours of K-12 indoctrination, our kids come out of government schools hating America. They roll their eyes at religion and disdain our history." It's possible that public education has become more liberal, but in my day public schools were well stocked with teachers dedicated to installing conservative identities in pupils. My own radicalism was not taught to me but found on my own after I became aware of the hypocrisy and worse of the established powers. The authors might counter than even in the 1950s education was gripped by liberal ideals -- most dangerously with the notion that learning was good for its own sake -- which introduced the possibility of doubt. (They do, after all, declaim a "century of miseducation.") I was taught that America's wars were just and advanced freedom (most notably those against monarchy, slavery, and Nazism), which raised the question what the US was trying to do in Vietnam. I was taught that the founding principle of the Declaration of Independence was that "all men are created equal," yet even then it was a major struggle to secure basic civil rights for all. Despite occasional school prayers (and the rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance), I don't remember God being a major part of school, but I got plenty of that in church (which, finally, also backfired). What makes this book worrying is that it seems to be a blueprint for the right-wing political movement to impose ever more draconian and dim-witted restraints on what it is permissible to discuss in school: in effect, turning them into indoctrination camps like we were taught Communists ran. I'm concerned that these schemes will turn future generations into brainless automatons at a time when we more than ever need people skilled in critical thought, but that effect will be mitigated by rebellion. Perhaps even more so, I see this kind of schooling as a cruel punishment of children who are anxious to learn and find their way in the world, but are still awfully naive and gullible.

Adam Hochschild: American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis (2022, Mariner Books): Historian, has written several books about the emergence of conscience as dissent from imperialism, starting with King Leopold's Ghost about the depradation of the Congo, backtracking to the anti-slavery movement (Bury the Chains), then forward to dissent against World War I (To End All Wars). This moves to America and picks up toward the end of the "war to make the world safe for democracy," with its "lynchings, censorship, and the sadistic, sometimes fatal abuse of conscientious objectors in military prisons," through the first great Red Scare, the collapse of the American left, and the closing of immigration.

David E Hoffman: The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia (2002; paperback, 2011, Public Affairs): This book is rather dated now, but written two years after Putin's rise to power, it provides a portrait of the oligarchy he was given by Yeltsin's corrupt mismanagement of the transition from state control to "shock treatment" markets. The scheme adopted for distributing assets let those most able to raise quick crash -- often the same crooks who ran Russia's black markets -- to grab immense fortunes dirt cheap. Part one profiles six: Alexander Smolensky, Yuri Luzhkov, Anatoly Chubais, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky. After the many disasters that befell Russia in the 1990s, Putin had his hands full. His first move was to rally the military to take back Chechnya (which had effectively broken away in what's now called the First Chechen War). That gave him some popular support, but to consolidate power he needed to bring the oligarchs under control, which started with the prosecution of Khodorkovsky. I was reminded of this when I came across the following book. We should beware that some of Putin's loudest critics are oligarchs who fell out of favor (cf. Bill Browder). Of course, there are other oligarchs who saved their empires by remaining loyal to Putin.

  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky/Martin Sixsmith: The Russia Conundrum: How the West Fell for Putin's Power Gambit -- and How to Fix It (2022, St Martin's Press).

Alex Jones: The Great Reset: And the War for the World (2022, Skyhorse): TV crackpot, in the news recently for losing a libel case filed by the families of victims in a school shooting he claimed was fake news. Joe Rogan says "he's the most misunderstood guy on the planet." Roger Stone says he's "the most maligned patriot in the country." Tucker Carlson says "maybe Alex Jones is onto something." The best Donald Trump can come up with is Jones's "reputation is amazing."

Mark Leibovich: Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washigton and the Price of Submission (2022, Penguin Press): Journalist, has written profiles of the rich and famous in technology and football, as well as in Washington, which he depicted as a den of thieves in his book This Town (2013: "There are no Democrats and Republicans anymore in the nation's capital, just millionaires"). The rich have often demanded subservience, but few more so than Donald Trump. Leibovich chronicles the flattery and groveling of Republicans desperate to curry favor with Trump. I recall an early cabinet meeting where they went around the table, where everyone had to praise and thank Trump -- none more so than "chief of staff" Reince Priebus, who ultimately offered a blurb for this book: "It's a hundred times worse than you've been hearing." More recent (and some forthcoming) books on Trump:

  • Rachael Bade/Karoun Demirjian: Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress's Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump (2022, William Morrow).
  • Peter Baker/Susan Glasser: The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 (2022, Doubleday). [09-20]
  • David Enrich: Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and the Corruption of Justice (2022, Mariner Books).
  • Major Garrett/David Becker: The Big Truth: Upholding Democracy in the Age of "The Big Lie" (2022, Diversion Books).
  • Jonathan Lemire: The Big Lie: Election Chaos, Political Opportunism, and the State of American Politics After 2020 (2022, Flatiron Books): Politico reporter.
  • Tim Miller: Why We Did It: A Travelogue From the Republican Road to Hell (2022, Harper): Former Republican operative wakes up.

We also have more memoirs from the Trump administration and fellow travelers. None of these appears to merit its own section head:

  • Geoffrey Berman: Holding the Line: Inside the Nation's Preeminent US Attorney's Office and Its Battle With the Trump Justice Department (2022, Penguin): Former US Attorney for Southern District of New York under Trump.
  • Michael Cohen: Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the US Department of Justice Against His Critics (2022, Melville House): The former Trump fixer's second book, after Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J Trump (2020).
  • Kellyanne Conway: Here's the Deal: A Memoir (2022, Threshold Editions).
  • Michael Fanone/John Shiffman: Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop's Battle for America's Soul (2022, Atria Books).
  • Jared Kushner: Breaking History: A White House Memoir (2022, Broadside Books).
  • Paul Manafort: Political Prisoner: Persecuted, Prosecuted, but Not Silenced (2022, Skyhorse): The word conspicuously missing, not just in the subtitle but in the blurbs, is "pardoned."
  • Dick Morris: The Return: Trump's Big 2024 Comeback (2022, Humanix Books): Hack more associated with the Clintons, but always looking to grub for a job.
  • Peter Navarro: Taking Back Trump's America: Why We Lost the White House and How We'll Win It Back (2022, Bombardier Books): Trump White House advisor, nominally director of trade and manufacturing policy, notably hawkish on China.
  • Kristi Noem: Not My First Rodeo: Lessons From the Heartland (2022, Twelve): South Dakota governor.
  • Mike Pence: So Help Me God (2022, Simon & Schuster): 560 pp. Not out yet, so we don't know whether he'll dish up some dirt, or just regurgitate his homilies. [11-15]

Bruce E Levine: Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person's Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian -- Strategies, Tools, and Models (paperback, 2018, AK Press): "The capacity to comply with abusive authority is humanity's fatal flaw." Although this talks of tools and models for resistance, the intro focuses on why anti-authoritarians should be valued in the first place. As it is, much social effort has been directed at breaking such people, sometimes going to the point of declaring them mentally ill. Much of this resonates with my own life, where anti-authoritarianism was an unknown but defining trait of my teenage years. Strange to see someone writing about it now, but then authoritarians have never left us, and in some respects are making a comeback. Levine also wrote:

  • Bruce E Levine: A Profession Without a Reason: The Crisis of Contemporary Psychiatry Untangled and Solved by Spinoza, Freethinking, and Radical Enlightenment (paperback, 2022, AK Press): Questions the whole edifice of modern psychiatry, in the tradition of Thomas S Szasz: The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), a book I personally found useful in my struggle with the arbiters of mental illness.

Barry Lopez: Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World: Essays (2022, Random House). Nature writer (1945-2020), bibliography is about half fiction, though titles there tend to read like Desert Notes: Reflections in the Eye of a Raven, Crow and Weasel, and Lessons From the Wolverine. One title here is "Our Frail Planet in Cold, Clear View." Introduction by Rebecca Solnit. Selected nonfiction:

  • Barry Lopez: Of Wolves and Men (1978; paperback, 1979, Scribner).
  • Barry Lopez: Artic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (1986, Scribner; paperback, 2001, Vintage).
  • Barry Lopez: Crossing Open Ground (1988, Scribner; paperback, 1989, Vintage): Essays.
  • Barry Lopez: The Rediscovery of North America (1991, University of Kentucky Press; paperback, 1992, Vintage Books): 58 pp.
  • Barry Lopez: About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory (1998, Knopf; paperback, 1999, Vintage).
  • Barry Lopez: Horizon (2019, Random House; paperback, 2020, Vintage): Essays.

William MacAskill: What We Owe Each Other (2022, Basic Books): Oxford philosophy professor, cofounded the Centre for Effective Altruism ("which has raised over $1 billion for charities"), based on his working concept about how we should be living our lives. He's gotten a lot of press in the last couple months, which makes one naturally skeptical, although I am at least impressed that one of his rave reviews comes from Rutger Bregman, whose Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World is itself a powerful argument that we can make the world much better through practical steps. Still seem a stretch that, as one Amazon reviewer put it, "people might look back in millions of years and say this was the most important book ever written." Related:

  • William MacAskill: Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work That Matters, and Make Smarter Choices About Giving Back (2015, Avery; paperback, 2016, Penguin).
  • Tony Ord: The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity (2020; paperback, 2021, Hachette Books): Another Oxford philosopher working on effective altruism.
  • Benjamin Todd: 80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good (paperback, 2016, Create Space): As a MacAskill student at Oxford, founded the title non-profit. 80,000 is the average hours in a human career (40 per week × 50 weeks per year × 40 years).

Michael Mandelbaum: The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: Weak Power, Great Power, Superpower, Hyperpower (2022, Oxford University Press): Implies the hits just keep on coming, but his time divisions -- Weak 1765-1865, Great 1865-1945, Super 1945-1990, and Hyper 1990-2015 -- suggest he's not so sure about the Trump effect (probably too early for him to weigh in on Biden), and that's the least of his problems. During the so-called "weak" period, Americans successfully fought two wars of independence against Britain -- that was Madison's view of the War of 1812, and while the war results were mixed, it finally ended Britain's attempts to control American shipping -- and an expansionist war against Mexico, as well as minor scraps with Barbary pirates and the opening of the China trade, and it ended with a Civil War where the Union became the technically most advanced fighting force in the world. American power was always base on economic power, which exceeded Britain's by the end of the 19th century. With WWII the US economy reached 50% of worldwide GDP, and in its fight against Germany and Japan, the US built a network of bases that straddled the globe, less concerned with empire -- which the war had proven was no longer a viable principle for ordering the world -- than with protecting a vast expansion of corporate business interests. Still, it's sheer hubris to call American power in that period "super," and even more so "hyper." US economic power started to slip after its WWII apogee. By 1990, Europe had achieved parity with the US, and Japan was richer per capita, and China was starting its rapid rise. The Soviet Union collapsed less because the US outbid it in the arms race than because Eastern Europe wanted to join in the bounty of Western Europe. Since then, the US has not only become an ever-smaller slice of the world economy, its enormous arms advantages have proven to be useless and often counterproductive, although that doesn't seem to have sunk into the blinkered brains of the people who work the "hyperpower" grift. The Table of Contents doesn't seem too bad here, so this is probably a decent recounting of the history, but looking over his past book list, he strikes me as a hack or an idiot, and possibly both. QED: in 2011, he was co-author of That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, with Thomas Friedman (who is definitely both).

Bill McKibben: The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened (2022, Henry Holt): Seems like he's been writing the same book over and over since his critical book on climate change, The End of Nature (1989). I guess it was the one that convinced me some years later when I read it on a midsummer trip to Florida, although I never stopped hating the much-too-sharp "end of nature" dividing line, and always suspected him of being a sanctimonious scold. The twist here is that it's structured as a memoir, so we should get a glimpse of his class and educational background (Harvard), but at 240 pp I wouldn't expect much detail on the devolution of the American Dream. As for "graying," he's ten years younger than me, so he missed out on the 1950s, the decade when we really enjoyed burning cheap gasoline.

Walter Russell Mead: The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People (2022, Knopf): Big (672 pp) tract on the "special relationship" between Israel and the United States, and its supposed benefits for the Jewish people, with pretensions of "demolish[ing] the myths that both pro-Zionists and anti-Zionists have fostered over the years" -- always in favor of the prevailing security doctrines. Blurbs are all from reliable supporters of Israel, most firmly ensconced on the right. As Dan Senor puts it a bit too revealingly, "Walter shows that US support for Israel is ingrained in American political culture and critical to America's strategy for world order." I can imagine architects of American world order not binding themselves so helplessly to Israel, but none since James Baker (or maybe Dwight Eisenhower) have so much as entertained the thought. This book is intended to make it even harder to break the common bonds of colonialism and occupation. Mead has also written:

  • Walter Russell Mead: Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition (1987; paperback, 1988, Houghton Mifflin).
  • Walter Russell Mead: Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (2001, Knopf; paperback, 2002, Routledge).
  • Walter Russell Mead: Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk (2004, Knopf; paperback, 2005, Vintage).
  • Walter Russell Mead: God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (2007, Knopf; paperback, 2008, Vintage).

Dana Milbank: The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party (2022, Doubleday): Washington Post columnist, but (hopefully) not just recycling his recent columns, as the promise here is to offer some historical context, showing that today's Republicans are linear descendents of at least several decades of past Republicans, with Newt Gingrich a key transitional figure on the way to today's gallery of crazy. (I would have started with Nixon and Reagan, although I can see arguments for older and less successful figures, like Goldwater and McCarthy.) The mainstream press seems to be the last haven of reporters desperately trying to find rare voices of reason among Republicans. On the other hand, consider how similar is the title of Thomas Frank's 2008 book: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation. Related:

  • David Corn: American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy (2022, Twelve): Same theme, but goes back to the Goldwater nomination in 1964, drawing a line not from Goldwater to Trump but from the shared characteristics of both's supporters (or from McCarthy, with at least a dotted line back to the Know Nothings, the Anti-Masons, and the Salem witch trials). (I bought this after Milbank, but decided to read it first.)
  • Robert Draper: Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind (2022, Penguin): Author of one of the best books on George W Bush: Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W Bush (2007), and eventually followed it up with the near-definitive To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020). This starts with the 2020 election, which strikes me as a little late.
  • Nicole Hemmer: Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s (2022, Basic Books): This moves the pivot to Gingrich and/or the rise of Fox, in both cases focusing not on the platitudes used to disguise the Reagan-Bush right turn but on relentless villification of the enemy.
  • Nicole Hemmer: Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics (paperback, 2018, University of Pennsylvania Press).

Samuel Moyn: Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Author has a background of writing about human rights, which gives this book a peculiar frame of mind, asking whether war can be made humane (I'd say certainly not) as opposed to a different question, whether a war can have an effect which is on balance humanitarian (I'm doubtful but it's harder to be certain, because it's conditioned on an unknowable future). Americans have argue in favor of both, and especially since the end of the Cold War those arguments have come to dominate debate over whether to go to war: at least public debate, where advocates of war like to dress their motives (most often revenge or intimidation) with higher-minded arguments. Also by Moyn:

  • Samuel Moyn: A Holocaust Controversy: The Treblinka Affair in Postwar France (paperback, 2005, Brandeis University Press).
  • Samuel Moyn: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (2010; paperback, 2012, Belknap Press).
  • Samuel Moyn: Human Rights and the Uses of History (expanded 2nd edition, 2014; paperback, 2017, Verso).
  • Samuel Moyn: Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (2018; paperback, 2019, Belknap Press).

David Pepper: Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines (paperback, 2021, St Helena Press): Lawyer, has written several novels (political thrillers), examines how Republicans have taken over statehouses and used them as political forums for suppressing votes, gerrymandering, pushing their culture war agendas, and tripping over each other in competition to shower business interests with special favors. I would expect something on ALEC here: the Republican organization that crafts model laws for state legislature, leading to the systematic sweep of bad ideas across every state Republicans have seized power in. (A prime example of their work is the "stand your ground" laws promoting gun violence.)

  • Jacob Grumbach: Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics (2022, Princeton University Press): Practically the same title as Pepper's book, but with more both-sides-ism.
  • Ira Shapiro: The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America (2022, Rowman & Littlefield).

Jedediah Purdy: Two Cheers for Politics: Why Democracy Is Flawed, Frightening -- and Our Best Hope (2022, Basic Books): Serious thinker, was touted as a homeschooled genius from West Virginia in 1999 when his first book appeared (For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today -- as I recall, he was anti-irony), but even then had graduated from Harvard and would go on to Yale Law School, a post as an Appeals Court clerk, a fellow at the New America Foundation, then on to teaching law at Duke. Six books later, he sensibly writes: "Politics is not optional, even though we may wish it were." The basic reason is that if you don't stop them, people who seek to take over and use government for their own private interests will enjoy a free run to loot and pillage. On the other hand, people rarely perceive public interests clearly, due to flaws in the system and in the people who campaign in it. Seems likely to me that the 23 years since he first wrote have pushed him to the left, even if he remains a stick-in-the-mud.

  • Zach Gershberg/Sean Illing: The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion (2022, University of Chicago Press).

George Scialabba: How to Be Depressed (2020, University of Pennsylvania Press). Author made his reputation as a social critic with freelance book reviews, eventually collected in several volumes. This is sort of a memoir: a collection he's kept of notes from various psychiatrists who have attempted to treat his depression over the years (he was 72 when this came out), which as Barbara Ehrenreich points out, winds up being "a devastating critique of psychiatry." His other books:

  • George Scialabba: Divided Mind (2006, Arrowsmith Press).
  • George Scialabba: What Are Intellectuals Good For? (paperback, 2009, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: The Modern Predicament (paperback, 2011, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: For the Republic: Political Essays (paperback, 2013, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: Low Dishonest Decades: Essays & Reviews 1980-2015 (paperback, 2016, Pressed Wafer).
  • George Scialabba: Slouching Toward Utopia: Essays & Reviews (paperback, 2018, Pressed Wafer).

Matthias Schmelzer/Andrea Vetter/Aaron Vansintjan: The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism (2022, Verso). Argues that "economic growth isn't working, and it cannot be made to work." Needs to be more specific. It's a common liberal convenience to see growth as the solution that benefits all, therefore saving us from having to tackle inequality. Of course, in a resource-limited world, growth cannot be infinite, which makes the inequality problem all the more pressing. As growth is so tightly bound up with capitalism, many sketches of a more equitable degrowth society go by "postcapitalism," a word this title points at.

  • Samuel Alexander/Brendan Gleeson: Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary (2018; paperback, 2019, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Samuel Alexander: Beyond Capitalist Realism: The Politics, Energetics, and Aesthetics of Degrowth (paperback, 2021, Simplicity Institute).
  • Lucio Baccaro/Mark Blyth/Jonas Pontusson, eds: Diminishing Returns: The New Politics of Growth and Stagnation (paperback, 2022, Oxford University Press).
  • Nathan Barlow/Livia Regen/Noémie Cadiou, eds: Degrowth & Strategy: How to Bring About Social-Ecological Transformation (paperback, 2022, Mayflybooks/Ephemera).
  • Giacomo D'Alisa/Federico Demaria/Giorgos Kallis: Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (paperback, 2014, Routledge).
  • Jason Hickel: Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (paperback, 2021, Windmill Books).
  • Tim Jackson: Post Growth: Life After Capitalism (paperback, 2021, Polity).
  • Giorgos Kallis: Degrowth [The Economy: Key Ideas] (paperback, 2018, Agenda Publishing).
  • Giorgos Kallis: In Defense of Degrowth: Opinions and Manifestos (paperback, 2018, Uneven Earth Press).
  • Giorgos Kallis: Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care (paperback, 2019, Stanford Briefs).
  • Giorgos Kallis/Susan Paulson/Giacomo D'Alisia/Federico Demaria: The Case for Degrowth (paperback, 2020, Polity).
  • Vincent Liegey/Anitra Nelson: Exploring Degrowth: A Critical Guide (paperback, 2020, Pluto Press).
  • Paul Mason: Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being (paperback, 2020, Penguin): Previously wrote Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2016).
  • Oli Mould: Seven Ethics Against Capitalism: Towards a Planetary Commons (paperback, 2021, Polity).
  • Anitra Nelson: Beyond Money: A Postcapitalist Strategy (paperback, 2022, Pluto Press).

Peter Shinkle: Uniting America: How FDR and Henry Stimson Brought Democrats and Republicans Together to Win World War II (2022, St Martin's Press): I generally accept the argument that Franklin Roosevelt thought American involvement in WWII was inevitable, and that he rather relished the leading the nation in that fight. That's likely why he chose to run for an unprecedented third term. True, he ran as an anti-war candidate in 1940, but so had Wilson in 1916. While Wilson quickly changed course in 1917, leaving a lot of ill-feeling even after winning the war, Roosevelt was patient, waiting for right moment, which was served up by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, followed immediately by declarations of war by Japan and Germany. Anti-war sentiment on both the right and left evaporated almost immediately. This book suggests another reason for such unity in entering the war: in 1940, Roosevelt laid the groundwork by inviting prominent Republicans to take over the War Department (Henry Stimson, Secretary of State under Hoover) and the Navy (Frank Knox, 1936 VP nominee). A chart early in the book shows that many more Republicans were given strategic positions even before Pearl Harbor. The bipartisan alliance survived the war, and even in the hyper-polarized present both parties can be counted on to line up behind wars like Afghanistan and Ukraine. (Iraq had a few dissenting Democrats, but every one of the 2004 presidential hopefuls rallied to the cause. The only 2008 exception was Obama, who closed ranks with the hawks after becoming president, and who kept one Republican Secretary of Defense, then later replaced him with another.) I have serious reservations against calling WWII "the good war" -- it was horrible any way you slice it, ultimately turning the US as genocidal as its opponents, leaving the "losers" destroyed and the "winners" insufferably conceited and soulless -- but FDR made it look so easy few appreciate what a remarkable job he did in running it. No later US president has come remotely close.

Philip Short: Putin (2022, Henry Holt): Weighing in at 864 pp, this is billed as "the first comprehensive, fully up-to-date biography of Vladimir Putin," but its July release means it's missing an all-important chapter on the decision to invade Ukraine in March and the still on-going war, with Putin challenged as never before by international sanctions, internal dissent, and military frustration. Author has previously published biographies of François Mitterand, Pol Pot, and Mao, as well as a book from 1982 called The Dragon and the Bear: Inside China & Russia Today. I've cited numerous books on Putin the past, most notably:

  • Catherine Belton: Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2022, Picador).
  • Karen Dawiska: Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (2014; paperback, 2015, Simon & Schuster).
  • Timothy Frye: Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia (2021; paperback, 2022, Princeton University Press): "Looking beyond Putin to understand how today's Russia actually works."
  • Mark Galeotti: We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong (paperback, 2019, Penguin Random House).
  • Masha Gessen: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012; paperback, 2013, Riverhead).
  • Steven Lee Myers: The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (2015, Knopf; paperback, 2016, Vintage Books)
  • David Satter: The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin (2016; paperback, 2017, Yale University Press).
  • Mikhail Zygar: All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (2016; paperback, 2017, PublicAffairs).

Some recent ones I had missed:

  • Heidi Blake: From Russia With Blood: The Kremlin's Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin's Secret War on the West (2019, Mulholland Books).
  • Eliot Borenstein: Plots Against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy After Socialism (paperback, 2019, Cornell University Press).
  • Anna Borshchevskaya: Putin's War in Syria: Russian Foreign Policy and the Price of America's Absence (2021, IB Tauris): "Washington's go-to expert on Russian involvement in the Middle East."
  • Michel Eltchaninoff: Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin (paperback, 2018, Hurst): Originally published in French in 2015.
  • Samuel A Greene/Graeme B Robertson: Putin vs the People: The Perilous Politics of a Divided Russia (2019; paperback, 2022, Yale University Press).
  • Amy Knight: Putin's Killers: The Kremlin and the Art of Political Assassination (2017, Thomas Dunne Books; paperback, 2019, Biteback).
  • David G Lewis: Russia's New Authoritarianism: Putin and the Politics of Order (2021, Edinburgh University Press).
  • Michael Millerman: Inside "Putin's Brain": The Political Philosophy of Alexander Dugin (paperback, 2022, independent): Nickname for Dugin, who got in the press recently when his daughter was killed by a car bomb, kind of like Karl Rove was referred to as "Bush's Brain," but not really (Rove actually was in a position to pull Bush's strings, like Steve Bannon would have been if they only worked); Dugin is more of a free pundit who thinks up arguments to flatter Putin -- Trump and the Republicans have dozens of acolytes to do that.
  • Anna Revell: Putin: Vladimir Putin's Holy Mother Russia: A Biography of the Most Powerful Man in Russia (paperback, 2017, independent).
  • Andrew S Weiss/Brian "Box" Brown: Accidental Czar: The Life and Lies of Vladimir Putin (2022, First Second): Graphic novel biography, all the better to present Putin as "a devious cartoon villain, constantly plotting and scheming to destroy his enemies around the globe and in Ukraine." [11-08].
  • Amber Snow, ed: On the Brink of War: Selected Speeches by Vladimir Putin (paperback, 2022, independent).
  • Vladimir Putin: First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President (paperback, 2000, Public Affairs): Not recent, but I hadn't noticed it before. Not the sort of subtitle a sane person might come up with.

Daniel Sjursen: A True History of the United States: Indigenous Genocide, Racialized Slavery, Hyper-Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism (paperback, 2021, Steerforth Press/Truth to Power): Author spent 18 years in US Army, taught history at West Point, retired a Major (long using that rank as part of his byline). I don't much like it when an author claims their book to be a true story, but in Sjursen's world of antiwar conservatism everything must be cut-and-dry. In any case, he has a lot of myth and rationalization to cut through, and does so in a sensible 688 pp. Seems like I've read a bunch of this online, and while truth may be elusive, he's rarely wrong.

Vaclav Smil: How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We're Going (2022, Viking): Bill Gates' favorite author, a Czech-born Canadian scientist with several dozen books, mostly relating to energy policy. The title tempted me to pick this up -- after all, good policy must be rooted in "how the world really works" -- but learned little I didn't already know, and found his imagination overly constrained by fossil fuels. (Perhaps this should have been expected, given that one of his titles from as recent as 2015 is Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century.) He has lots of books, but I'll only note a couple recent ones:

  • Vaclav Smil: Energy and Civilization: A History (paperback, 2018, The MIT Press).
  • Vaclav Smil: Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).

Michael Tomasky: The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity (2022, Doubleday): Political writer, edits Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, has a couple books, including one in 1996 announcing that the left is dead (Left for Dead), and one in 2019 that tried to salvage the center (If We Can Keep It), seems to have rediscovered the progressive sympathies he always claimed to have -- probably because the title has been presented as an ovearching concept for Biden's Build Back Better agenda. He has some suggestions, like critiquing economics that put self-interest over public needs, and recognizing that such traditional American ideals as freedom and democracy need to be grounded in a sense of shared equality, which has been all but killed by the neoliberal consensus.

Gaia Vince: Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World (2022, Flatiron Books): For the last 30-40 years, we have been divided into two camps: one recognized that people were changing the atmosphere in ways that would affect global climate, with far-ranging risks but couched in assurances that we could save ourselves through more/less easy reforms; the other denied that climate change this was happening, or denied that it would make much real difference, or trusted in God and/or capitalism to swiftly correct any problems that did occur. Perhaps we need a third approach, which admits we've failed to prevent climate change but takes seriously how to deal with the myriad problems it causes. One such problem is that as climate changes, some parts of the world will become uninhabitable, and others will become unsuitable for current uses. This will push many people to leave their current homes, and seek new abodes, and often new occupations. That's what this book is about: noting, for instance, that in 2018 1.2 million people in the US were displaced by extreme conditions, up to 1.7 million in 2020, as the US "averages a billion dollar disaster every eighteen days." Other parts of the world are in even more peril. ("In India alone, close to a billion people will be at risk.") There are other reasons why people move away from their homes, and that's been happening for some while, but it would be surprising if it didn't accelerate in coming years. How well we handle this change will say much about us as people, and about our future.

  • Gaia Vince: Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made (2014; paperback, 2015, Milkweed).
  • Gaia Vince: Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time (2020, Basic Books).

Brian T Watson: Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We'll Face (paperback, 2019, Anvilside Press): I could imagine writing a book like this, which starts with a long laundry list of systemic problems (Capitalism, Technology, Webworld, Politics, Media, Education, Human Nature, The Environment, Human Population, Transportation, Miscellaneous Forces) then winds up showing how any (let alone all) of them are unlikely to be solved (that chapter is called "Possible Reforms and Their Likelihood"). I'd shuffle the deck a bit -- in the 1990s, when I started thinking along these lines, I started with resources and environment, but back then I at least had some faith in reason to see a way through technical obstacles, but that idea has taken a beating ever since. So I see no more reason to be optimistic than the author, not that I would deny that the very act of looking into the abyss implies a certain unreasoned hope. Missing here is recognition of the unknown: e.g., no mention of pandemic a mere year before Covid-19 hit. While climate was most likely mentioned under Environment or Population, it's at least as much a headline as "Webworld." Another big topic is war: both as a cause of destruction and as a likely consequence, in both its conventional and annihilationist modes. Bibliography is just a list of mostly familiar books relevant to each chapter.


Additional books, with very brief (or in most cases no) comments. There is no count limit here per post (although I kept a lot of books back for lack of time to consider them; current count = 232). It's possible I will write a further entry on these at a later date.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (2020; paperback, 2021, WW Norton): Previous subtitle: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. List of "protagonists" runs from Idi Amin to Donald J Trump.