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Monday, October 3, 2022


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 38804 [38768] rated (+36), 43 [44] unrated (-1: 15 new, 28 old).

Made very little progress on my promised books post last week, but wrote another Speaking of Which yesterday, mostly because the war in Ukraine took a couple of nasty turns. Zelensky and his more hawkish backers seem convinced that as long as the arms spigot remain open full bore they can drive Russia from pre-2014 Ukrainian territory and hand Putin a complete defeat, the humiliation of which should drive his top Kremlin lackeys to sweep him from office. Putin, in turn, has called up reinforcements, and (again) threatened to use nuclear weapons: the message there is that Russia cannot be defeated, at least as imagined by his enemies. I believe that he is correct, even if he is not as insane as many of his opponents claim. (If I am right, his sanity may never be forced to a test. However, I do question the sanity of those who think the West can afford to prolong the war indefinitely.) Still, all the more reason to negotiate a ceasefire and start to resolve the remaining issues. Beware that anyone not talking in those terms is totally full of shit.

I don't subscribe to The Atlantic -- well, actually, my wife doesn't; I don't subscribe to anything, but she does and I get a free ride sometimes -- but if I did it would probably prove a rich source of references for Speaking of Which, both for insights and bad examples. In the latter category is a James Kirchick piece that Paul Woodward cited, provocatively titled How the anti-war camp went intellectually bankrupt. I know I shouldn't feel defensive when the author's lead example of "the anti-war camp" is Ron Paul, but he fails even to deal with that case honestly or accurately. There is, in fact, a long history of "Russophobic bloodlust" in the interstices of American foreign policy -- that was precisely the point of backing the mujahideen in Afghanistan -- and while "the last dead Ukrainian" has the brevity of a snappy talking point, it's hardly "specious": it is the logical endpoint of all proxy wars (of which this is one, even if that's not the only thing this war is). I suppose I should expect pieces like this: every war starts off with slanders against its critics. Not only does this pave the way for escalation, it lays a foundation for excuses after a war turns disastrous ("who would have thought?").

By the way, I looked up Kirchick, who Google describes as "a conservative or neoconservative." One recent article I found by him was The Sanctification of George Soros. Consider this line in the sixth paragraph: "Soros, in case you couldn't tell, happens to be Jewish, a fact that has absolutely nothing to do with his ideas about criminal justice reform, or with Rubio's opposition to them." I can't say for sure about Rubio, but I think it's pretty certain that most of the right-wingers who depict Soros as an ultrarich puppet master behind the left's nefarious schemes not only know that he is Jewish but fully understand the resonance of 150 years of antisemitic propaganda. That's precisely why they single him out.

I finally did the indexing for September Streamnotes, adding in the month's Music Week intros. I found myself hating that bit of busy work more than ever, spending the whole time thinking about how I don't want to keep doing this. I suppose I'll hang on until the end of 2022, but that's likely to be it.

Birthday coming up toward the end of October, which has me thinking about my annual dinner ritual. Even modest dinner efforts have been prohibitively painful, so it's tempting to call it quits there, too. But as I think about it, one possible approach would be to recruit some help to largely take over, and a fallback would be to do one that is so simplified I can still do it myself. (The latter involves chicken and dumplings.)

Not a lot of records this week, but a high percentage of them are very good. As usual, Phil Overeem's latest list helped.


New records reviewed this week:

Horace Andy: Midnight Scorchers (2022, On-U Sound): Journeyman reggae singer, perhaps best known for his 1972 hit "Skylarking," nicely summed up by his 1970-76 comp Feel Good All Over, may have hit a peak with 1977's In the Light, but never let up, so he has dozens of later albums I haven't heard. The one I have heard was this year's much-touted "comeback" (after a 3-year gap) Midnight Rocker. Nice record, but this one turns up the heat considerably, earning its title. B+(***) [sp]

Kenny Beats: Louie (2022, XL): Producer Kenneth Blume III, first album under his name only -- he has at least four more co-credited to rappers, and is producer for many more. B+(*) [sp]

Kristin Berardi: The Light & the Dark (2019 [2022], Earshift Music): Australian jazz singer, writes her own songs, albums since 2006. This one recorded in New York, with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Miro Sprague on piano, plus bass and drums, and a couple guest spots. B+(*) [cd] [10-14]

Crow Billiken: If I Don't Have Red I Use Blue (2022, self-released, EP): Rapper R.A.P. Ferreira delivers a short country blues album (6 songs, 21:37). "Alvin Youngblood Hart, Skippy James, Robert Petway, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Leroy Stewart Sr all contributed compositionally." B+(*) [bc]

Bitchin Bajas: Bajascillators (2022, Drag City): Cooper Crain, nominally a solo side project, but he has close to twice as many albums here (11 since 2010) as with his psychedelic drone group Cave (6 since 2008). It probably helps that these are conceptually simpler: four pieces ranging between 9:42 and 14:30, most attractive groove patterns drawn out. B+(**) [sp]

Alina Bzhezhinska & HipHarpCollective: Reflections (2022, BBE): Harpist, born in Ukraine, based in London, has at least one previous record, Bandcamp credits this to AlinaHipHarp. Credits unclear, but there is some sax (Tony Kofi), trumpet (Jay Phelps), bass, percussion, vocals (rap), and violin/viola (Ying Xue). B+(*) [sp]

Corey Christiansen: Standards (2022, self-released): Guitarist, from Utah, from 2000-07 worked as "senior editor ad guitar clinician" for Mel Bay Publications, and released his first album and books there. Since then he released six albums on Origin, and now this crowdfunded trio with Ben Williams (bass) and Carl Allen (drums). B+(**) [sp]

DJ Marz Y Los Flying Turntables/DJ Jester the Filipino Fist: Made in USA (2022, self-released): Mixtape, the DJs based in Texas (Austin and/or San Antonio), almost zero chance the samples got cleared. Looks like three cuts/one side each, the same title covering everything. The sort of thing that's only as good as it's funny. B+(**) [bc]

John Escreet: Seismic Shift (2022, Whirlwind): English pianist, eighth album since 2008, trio with Eric Revis (bass) and Damion Reid (drums), original pieces, kicks it up a notch (or two). B+(***) [cd] [10-07]

Fox Green: Holy Souls (2022, self-released): Mild-mannered rock band from Little Rock, probably wouldn't have given them a second listen but for knowing the guitarist. But the extra listens helped, especially once the Howlin' Wolf tribute caught my ear, and each song on the second side came into focus. A- [sp]

Gogol Bordello: Solidaritine (2022, Cooking Vinyl): Gypsy-punk band from New York, led by Ukrainian singer-songwriter Eugene Hütz, the only continuous member since their 1999 debut, although Russian violinist Sergey Ryabtsev comes close. I'm not catching every word, but the raw energy and rustic rage makes a fine soundtrack for writing my thoughts on the Ukraine War. A- [sp]

Keith Jarrett: Bordeaux Concert (2016 [2022], ECM): The best-selling pianist in jazz history has recorded nothing since his 2018 stroke, but his label has kept him current by releasing older tapes each year. This is the third solo set from his 2016 tour of Europe (following Munich 2016 and Budapest Concert). With over two dozen solo albums, I've given up on comparing them, so any grade is just a momentary impression. He is, of course, a great pianist, but he's also slowed down a bit. B+(**) [sp]

Laura Jurd: The Big Friendly Album (2021 [2022], Big Friendly): British trumpet player, best known for her band Dinosaur, has a couple albums on her own. Group here extends the brass with euphonium and tuba, plus guitar (Alex Haines), bass, and drums, with Jurd playing some piano, plus several guest spots (strings, soprano sax, and Frode Haltli's accordion on five tracks. Has a playful feel, almost circusy. B+(**) [sp]

Nikki Lane: Denim & Diamonds (2022, New West): Country singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2011. B+(**) [sp]

Yosef Gutman Levitt: Upside Down Mountain (2022, self-released): Bassist from South Africa, based in Jerusalem, plays acoustic bass guitar, doc sometimes omits "Levitt" from his name. Has a few albums, this one with Omri More (piano) and Ofri Nehemya (drums). Nice ambiance to it. B+(**) [cd]

Marxist Love Disco Ensemble: MLDE (2022, Mr Bongo): Italian group, seeks to resurrect the cheesy Euro-disco of the mid-1970s (they cite Patrick Juvet as an inspiration -- a name I recall, but not well enough to include when I constructed my original grade list), or maybe to mock it, or perhaps just to embue it with political meaning, although the titles suggest their politics were formed around the same historical moment. B+(**) [sp]

Bennie Maupin/Adam Rudolph: Symphonic Tone Poem for Brother Yusef (2022, Strut): For Yusef Lateef, who had a significant import for both musicians, including a long association with Rudolph. Just a duo here, with Maupin playing various reeds and flutes, and Rudolph keyboards and a long list of percussion. Set up as five movements, the middle drags a bit as if trying to find its way out of something dark and foreboding -- which it eventually does. A- [sp]

Ashley McBryde: Presents: Lindeville (2022, Warner Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, "presents" a concept album based in a fictional town named for Dennis Linde (1943-2006 -- been a while since I've thought of him), with guest artists playing various roles, taking over most of the songs, for better or worse. B+(***) [sp]

Marc Mommaas: The Impressionist (2021 [2022], Sunnyside): Dutch saxophonist (tenor/soprano), based in New York, sixth album since 2003 on label. Quartet with Gary Versace (piano), Nate Radley (guitar), and Jay Anderson (bass). B+(**) [sp]

The Ogún Meji Duo: Freedom Suite (2021 [2022], CFG Multimedia): Columbus-based duo of Eddie Bayard (sax) and Mark Lomax II (drums), have a long-term partnership not limited to the seven albums they're released under this name. This takes off from Sonny Rollins' 1958 album. Hard to say how closely this adheres, as Rollins has never had a drummer who can solo like Lomax, and Bayard is one of the few saxophonists up to the task. A- [os]

The Red Microphone: A Bleeding in Black Leather (2022, ESP-Disk): Group formed in 2010, with John Pietaro reading Bertolt Brecht to avant-sax (Ras Moshe and Rocco John Iacovone), bass (Laurie Towers), and percussion (Pietaro), reconvened here with some extras (mostly guitar), with Pietaro reading his own poetry (also published in book form). Several stories stand out, including a history of bebop and one on a New York neighborhood that turns tragic. "Punk Jazz" earns its title. Ivan Julian produced. A- [cdr]

Todd Snider: Live: Return of the Storyteller (2021 [2022], Aimless, 2CD): This one is easy. I doubt I'll ever like it as much as his 2011 Live: The Storyteller -- I recognize fewer of the songs (as much as I like his recent albums, I don't know them nearly as well as the ones from East Nashville Skyline through The Devil You Know), and the stories seem more random. But I enjoy them nonetheless, and most of all the pacing, which I doubt anyone else can match. A- [sp]

SonnyJim & the Purist: White Girl Wasted (2022, Daupe, EP): British rapper, Sonny Sathi, has released a lot of material since 2008, mostly co-credits, this one with Lawrence Lord, who also has a long list of credits. Includes a piece featuring MF Doom & Jay Electronica. A quick play (8 tracks, 20:41). B+(*) [sp]

Sunny Sweeney: Married Alone (2022, Aunt Daddy): Country singer-songwriter, has a great voice and solid-plus songs. B+(***) [sp]

Andrés Vial: When Is Ancient? (2020 [2022], Chromatic Audio): Pianist, from Montreal, third album, trio with Martin Heslop (bass) and Tommy Crane (drums), names on the cover but parsed below the title. Original pieces, nice, engaging. B+(**) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Biluka Y Los Canibales: Leaf-Playing in Quito, 1960-1965 (1960-65 [2022], Honest Jon's): Brazilain Dilson de Souza, traveled to Ecuador, where he learned to play a picked ficus leaf. No idea what that should sound like, unless it's the flute over the jaunty organ grind and percussion. B+(**) [sp]

Lionel Hampton Orchestra: 1958: The Mess Is Here Revisited (1958 [2022], Ezz-Thetics): Started as Louis Armstrong's drummer, but soon switched to the vibraphone, which he established as a jazz instrument. His late-1930s studio sessions introduced Dizzy Gillespie and bebop, and his 1940s big band (with Illinois Jacquet) deserves at least an assist for inventing rock and roll. He continued recording well into the 1990s. This is a big band he put together in Germany, with power horns, dazzling vibes, a strong blues vocal from Cornelius James, ending with an upbeat "Hamp's Boogie Woogie." B+(***) [bc]

Andrew Hill: Point of Departure to Compulsion!!!!! Revisited (1965 [2022], Ezz-Thetics): Two of the pianist's Blue Note albums squeezed onto a single CD. Point of Departure has long been counted as a high point, with saxophonists Eric Dolphy ad Joe Henderson, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Richard Davis (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). The later album may have been picked to fit -- a tight squeeze at 79:47, helped by using a couple alternate takes -- but is another essential album, with John Gilmore (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), bass, drums, percussion (including African thumb piano). I'm not a big fan of the label's reissuing of albums that are already widely available, but I can't quarrel with the music. A- [bc]

Luciano Luciani Y Sus Mulatos: Mulata, Vamos A La Salsa (1970 [2022], Vampisoul): Alto saxophonist from Italy, moved to Peru and put this band together, with Benny del Solar and Kiko Fuentes on vocals, and lots of percussion, combining his interest in cumbias and Nuyorican salsa. First album, after a couple singles, released another in 1975 but is hard to find. B+(***) [bc]

Archie Shepp: Fire Music to Mama Too Tight Revisited (1965-66 [2022, Ezz-Thetics): Tenor saxophonist, made his initial mark 1963-64 in Denmark with New York Contemporary Five, followed by a wave of explosive albums on Impulse! -- starting with Four for Coltrane and Fire Music, and continuing to 1973. This collects two albums on one CD, starting with Fire Music -- a sextet with Marion Brown (alto ax), Ted Curson (trumpet), trombone, bass, and drums -- and tacking on Mama Too Tight, an octet several albums down the road. I suspect the latter was picked because it's short enough to fit (78:28 total). The roster looks impressive on paper -- Perry Robinson (clarinet), Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Roswell Rudd and Grachan Moncur III (trombones), Howard Johnson (tuba), Charlie Haden (bass), and Beaver Harris (drums) -- but it doesn't quite cohere. B+(**) [bc]

Horace Tapscott Quintet: The Quintet (1969 [2022], Mr Bongo): Piano great, the central figure in the Los Angeles jazz scene, recorded this for Flying Dutchman to follow his debut A Giant Is Awakened, but somehow it didn't get released. With Arthur Blythe (alto sax), Everett Brown Jr. (drums), and two bassists (David Bryant and Walter Savage Jr.). B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Amina Baraka/The Red Microphone: Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (2017, ESP-Disk): Née Sylvia Robinson, mother and grandfather were union organizers, she was a founder of the Newark Art Society in 1963, before she married writer Amiri Baraka in 1966. She is a poet in her own right, and here ventures into spoken word over avant-jazz. The group was organized by percussionist John Pietaro, with two saxophonists (Ras Moshe Burnett and Rocco Jon Iacovone), and bass guitar (Laurie Towers). "The Things I Love" is easy to love, but she doesn't flinch from harsher fare, like "The Fascist," which gives the band reason to drill down. A- [sp]

Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now (1975 [2009], ESP-Disk): Bassist from Chicago, died young (1935-80), best known in Sun Ra Arkestra, recorded this one album as leader, untitled at first, named for its lead song in a 2002 reissue. With three saxophones (alto and soprano, plus flute), trombone, and congas (no one I've ever heard of), but the bass leads are most intriguing. B+(**) [sp]

Matt Lavelle & Reggie Sylvester: Retrograde (2018, ESP-Disk): Duo with drums, Lavelle playing trumpet, flugelhorn, and alto clarinet. B+(***) [bc]

The Ogún Meji Duo: For Those Who Have Gone, but Still Remain (2018, CFG Multimedia): Sax and drums duo, Edwin Bayard and Mark Lomax II. Not much info beyond "pay homage to artistic Ancestors," of which Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, and Charlie Cook (?) are named in titles, the other piece called "Each Passing Moment." Short (34:48) but dense. B+(***) [sp]

The Red Microphone: And I Became of the Dark (2020 [2021], ESP-Disk): The group from the Amina Baraka album, formed a decade earlier to support a Brecht reading, but this seems to be the first album they did on their own, with percussionist John Pietaro providing words ("provocative, political poetry") and vocals, and Dave Ross joining on guitar. First track, "Revenge of the Atom Spies," is fast enough you can say he's singing. B+(***) [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Trevor Dunn Trio - Convulsant Avec Folie à Quatre: Seances (Pyroclastic) [10-28]
  • Pablo Lanouguere Quintet: Altar (self-released) [10-14]
  • The Red Microphone: A Bleeding in Black Leather (ESP-Disk) [09-30]
  • Walking Cliché Sextet: Micro-Nap (Endectomorph Music) [10-21]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 2, 2022


Speaking of Which

The top story this week is the War in Ukraine. Russia held its long-threatened referendum on whether the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine wanted to be annexed by Russia, and lo and behold, they did, by implausibly large margins. The next step will be for Russia to accept the votes and annex the territories. (They already did this with Crimea in 2014, so the new territories are Luhansk, plus parts of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.) This matters because it presumably makes a Russian retreat from any of those territories harder for Russia to accept, and also because it means that Russia will characterize attacks on its troops in Ukraine as acts of war against Russia's homeland.

Thus far, Ukraine has refrained from launching attacks over the recognized Russian border (although they have attacked some spots in Crimea), and the US has been reluctant to give Ukraine weapons that would make it easier to launch such attacks. Ukraine and its allies will not accept the referenda or annexation, nor are they likely to change their battle plans. On the other hand, Russia has explicitly threatened significant (but unspecified) escalation if its territory is attacked, and it's easy to imagine scenarios escalating to nuclear weapons.

So the upshot is that it's become more urgent than ever to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the war. At the same time, hawks on both sides see recent events as vindicating their positions, making them even less willing to negotiate. (Hawks always see talk as a sign of weakness, and insist that the other side will crumple when allowed no other option, even though there's no evidence of the world working that way.) Western moderates may also be inclined to dig in their heels against Russia -- even if, as many do, they see Russia's aggressiveness as a sign of weakness, they remain in thrall to their desire to punish Putin for his transgression.

I understand and sympathize with the sentiment, but caution that justice is always hard to achieve, especially given that superior power is impossible between nations. I believe that Putin's war is rooted in the rot of his nationalist, chauvinist, oligarchic, and authoritarian political beliefs, and I pray that Russia will free itself from his grip. But I recognize that as something that no one outside Russia can affect, or has any business trying. It is sheer arrogance -- madness, really -- to think otherwise. As such, we need to prepare ourselves for some way to live and do business with a postwar Putin-led Russia. That means we have to advance a settlement that can be seen as fair and just.

I remain convinced that the key to this is allowing people in the disputed regions to vote to decide their own future. The referenda last week were illegitimate because Russia did not seek agreement with Ukraine to accept the results. I don't have time (let alone any responsibility) to sketch out how I think such elections should work, but they obviously start with a ceasefire. One wrinkle I would like to see is a second round, 5-10 years later, which would give residents of the territories a chance to rethink their vote (and would motivate the initial winners to rebuild and prosper).

I wrote most of what I have to say in my 23 Theses. Both sides have hardened their positions since then, but the solutions are unchanged -- just more desperately needed than ever.

Other pieces on Ukraine:

Connor Echols:

Anatol Lieven: [09-30] Putin annexations mean US-Russian talks more critical than ever.

Isaac Arnsdorf: [10-01] CPAC backpedals on pro-Russia tweet as some US conservatives back Putin: This isn't much of a story, because there's little chance that the "irritable mental gestures" of the right will come together into any sort of coherent challenge to Biden's foreign policy, with its reassertion of world hegemony. But the more Republicans seem to be aligned with Putin, the more even left-of-center Democrats rally behind Biden, compromising their own peace credentials.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-01] China and India remain neutral, even on Russia annexation.

Luke Harding/Isobel Koshiw: [09-30] Ukraine applies for Nato membership after Russia annexes territory. Another gesture only meant to provoke Russia and make negotiation less likely.

Susan B Glasser: [09-29] What if we're already fighting the third world war with Russia? This is a good example of rationalizing why "now's not the right time" to negotiate with Putin, empathizing how he "is not one to walk away from a fight or back down while losing -- escalation is his game, and by now he's very, very practiced at it." After acknowledging that we're engaged in nuclear brinksmanship, she reaches for a favorite warmonger's cliché: "Will Washington stay the course?"

Leonie Kijewski: [10-01] Russia retreats from Lyman a day after Putin's annexation. A victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but I wasn't aware of the "key strategic city" ("important railway junction") until now: it is in the far north of Donetsk Oblast, had a prewar population of 20,469 (13.8% Russian), was captured by Russia on May 27.

Jen Kirby:

  • [09-28] The Nord Stream pipeline sabotage, explained. Agreed, the evidence points to sabotage. But the argument that Russia blew up their own pipeline doesn't make any sense: Russia already has the ability to shut the pipeline down, just by closing a valve. The effect isn't to disrupt the flow of gas, since Russia has already done that. What the sabotage does is prevent Russia from turning the flow back on after a peace deal, so if you're looking for "who benefits" you might start with the people who are lobbying Germany to send tanks to Ukraine.

  • [09-30] Putin's desperate attempt to annex parts of Ukraine.

Matt Stieb: [09-30] Putin Decries US 'Satanism' in Bizarre Speech Annexing Parts of Ukraine.

Robert Wright: [09-30] Putin beyond the brink. "Yet many American elites -- politicians, journalists, even "think" tankers -- have been reacting to this war as if it were a football game or some other purely zero-sum contest. They've celebrated Ukrainian gains on the battlefield with no ambivalence, blissfully unaware that dramatic Ukrainian military success was always bound to encourage Kremlin risk taking, raising the chances of regional or even nuclear war."


Other pieces worth noting:

Muizz Akhtar: [09-29] Climate change has come for the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter: "China's catastrophic summer shows its climate adaptation plans still have a long way to go." Also its climate change diplomacy, as most of China's problems are caused by emissions elsewhere -- much as most of America's, most of Europe's, and most of the rest of the world's.

Jonathan Chait: [09-29] Republican House Majority Will Try to Melt Down Global Economy: "Democrats need to sabotageproof the government while they still can." I imagine one could write a broader article on Republican plots and schemes, but this one only deal with one: the debt ceiling. It used to be an automatic extension, but since the 1990s Republicans have used it repeatedly to sabotage government and try to extort concessions. And while it's difficult to do things now that couldn't be undone by a Republican House, ending the debt ceiling renewal requirement is one thing that should have been done long ago.

Nate Cohn: [09-30] Gerrymandering Isn't Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect.

Margaret Hartmann: [09-30] Bonkers Revelations From Maggie Haberman's Trump Book, Ranked. She lists 18 of them, from the mundane to the ridiculous to things that aren't even remotely news, none of which will make even the most ill-tempered critic's Very Short Introduction to the Trump presidency.

Sean Illing: [09-25] Do we ask too much of parents? Interview with Nate Hilger, author of The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis. Well, we ask too much of children, then blame the parents for failing, even when schools are far short of adequate. While the demands have grown as the world has become more complex and more difficult to understand, much of the anxiety comes from the vastly unequal economy, and the conservative politics that insists on failure being a personal fault. (Of course, we now also have to deal with an even more reactionary politics, that seeks to capture schools and turn them into right-wing indoctrination centers, even if that means not teaching the skills necessary to function in our synthetic world.)

Ellen Ioanes: [09-26] The rise of Giorgia Meloni, Italy's new far-right prime minister, explained. More on Meloni:

Sarah Jaffe: [09-23] The Country That Could Not Mourn: "The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how hard it is for Americans to grieve." Review of a book edited by Rhae Lynn Barnes, Keri Leigh Merritt, and Yohuru Williams: After Life: A Collective History of Loss and Redemption in Pandemic America.

Ed Kilgore: [09-29] Do Republicans Really Want to Punish Women for Having Abortions? Well, they have no qualms about punishing women who even think about having an abortion. When Trump read the room and suggested that women seeking abortions should be jailed, that was the only faux pas of the 2016 campaign he actually had to walk back, because he hadn't understood the public posture, but he certainly tapped into the vein of hatred underlying it. Trump was never one to miss a chance to be cruel. (As Kilgore explains: "But sometimes referring to abortion as 'murder' while calling the person who chooses to have an abortion blameless strikes hammerheaded men like Mastriano and Trump as nonsensical.")

Branko Marcetic: [10-01] Journalist Katie Halper Has Been Fired for Calling Israel an Apartheid State. She was fired from The Hill's political morning program. Calling Israel an "apartheid state" is an approximation, but not far from the mark. One difference is that South Africa still depended on cheap, underclass workers, where Israel has largely freed themselves on dependency (and therefore concern for) Palestinian workers. By the way, every time you read "illegal annexation" think back to Israel's annexations of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were every bit as illegal. Another example is Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, but that was reversed by foreign power.

Ruth Marcus: [09-30] You thought the Supreme Court's last term was bad? Brace yourself.

Julian Mark: [09-28] Teen sought in Amber Alert dies in shootout after running toward deputies: Further proof, as if we needed it, that police aren't very sharp or dependable when it comes to split-second thinking with guns in their hands. Needless to say, zero chance that anyone will be charged, damn little that anyone will be disciplined.

Nicole Narea: [09-30] Ken Paxton keeps running. Will his legal issues ever catch up? He's the worst state Attorney General in the country, at least until/unless Kris Kobach wins in Kansas. Also:

Andre Pagliarini: [09-29] Capitalism Triumphed in the Cold War, but Not by Making People Better Off: A review of Fritz Bartel's book, The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism. Looks to me more like the old switcheroo: Just as the Soviet Bloc was warming to the idea of getting in on the broad-based growth that Europe and America enjoyed from postwar to the 1970s, the West fell sway to the "greed is good" prophets and financiers cannibalized the productive economy, while imposing austerity on those who couldn't afford it. By the time the Soviet Union fell, oligarchs were all the rage, and those with the inside track seized it, to the detriment of nearly all of their people.

Nathan J Robinson: [09-26] Biden Declared the Pandemic Over. I Immediately Got COVID. The numbers have gotten slightly better since a recent peak on July 17 (130,035 new cases, on Oct. 1 down to 46,783), but deaths are still at 405 (that's 147,825 per year; I'm having trouble finding comparative data for other infectious diseases, but that's still close to 3 times the highest numbers I've seen for flu + pneumonia, which is probably the runner up). The ratio of deaths to hospitalized in ICU is 11.8%, and deaths to hospitalized is 1.4%. That's probably a long-term downward trend, but the ratio of hospitalized to cases still looks pretty high (60.2%), so it's likely that there are many more unreported cases. (Test positivity is 9.1%, which is another sign of unreported cases.) That still looks like a pandemic to me, even if it's nowhere near dire enough to force the sort of lockdowns we had in early 2020. Unfortunately, many survivors have decided that they were never at risk, and Republicans have been moving to make sure that public health officials can never interfere with business again.

Dylan Scott: [09-30] Republican states keep refusing to expand Medicaid -- until you ask their voters: "Medicaid expansion is 6-for-6 with voters on ballot initiatives. South Dakota could make it seven in a row." I have zero doubt that Kansas voters would approve expansion if given a choice. Even with a Republican supermajority in Topeka, they've only been able to stop expansion through parliamentary tricks. The political decision to spite Obamacare is especially hard on rural doctors and hospitals.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-30] Roaming Charges: Shelter From the Surge. If you want to read about Hurricane Ian, start with the intro here, then continue to the notes on fossil fuels and climate change and insurance premiums, and a note you're unlikely to read elsewhere on how "Nigeria was hit with its worst flooding in decades with more than 300 deaths and more than half a million people displaced."

Lauren Sue: [10-02] Marjorie Taylor Greene accuses Democrats of violence and wanting to make Republicans 'disappear': When people are this gullible, it's tempting to mess with them. But realistically, all Democrats want to do to Republicans is give them free health care and education, jobs that pay decently and come with union rights, infrastructure that works, and a full panoply of human rights. Many Republicans, on the other hand, actually do . . . well, psychologists call this kind of thinking "projection."

Jay Swanson: [09-29] The Left Needs to Take Back the Constitution: Review's the new book by Joseph Fishkin and William E Forbath: The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy, which argues "the Constitution is best understood as a document calling for the unashamed struggle for equality." I've read a number of books along these lines, starting with Staughton Lynd's Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (1968) and Gordon S Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), and more recently Ganesh Sitaraman's The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution (2017) and Erwin Chemerinsy's We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution in the Twenty-First Century (2018). You can slice that loaf many ways, but there's much to chew on if you're so inclined -- and these interpretations are at least as sensible, and much more useful, than what's passed off as "originalism" these days.

Jake Whitney: [09-26] Shattering the 'Myth of War': Review of Chris Hedges' new book, The Greatest Evil Is War. Evidently, he wrote this after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, which he condemns, as he does Bush's invasion of Iraq, and much more. There is also an excerpt, in which Hedges writes: "The true costs of war are hidden from the public because the reality is too horrific to accept."


That's enough for now. I had maybe 5-8 links from early in the week, and wrote the first half of the intro on Saturday, so that committed me to doing something to post on Sunday -- instead of a bunch of other things I'd rather be doing. Obviously, there's much more going on. Hurricane Ian is still a big story: death toll is at 58 (or 76 or 88), "second-largest catastrophe loss event on record" in the US, Hurricane Ian may leave behind a trail of environmental hazards, and I've seen very little on whatever it did in the Carolinas. This is the first week in many where I haven't bothered with the Trump legal stuff (a mere 5 mentions otherwise). Nothing yet on the election in Brazil. And I'm continuing my blackout on the November elections. More time for all that later.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, September 26, 2022


Music Week

September archive (finished).

Music: Current count 38768 [38717] rated (+51), 44 [46] unrated (-0: 16 new, 28 old).

I want to keep this brief. I haven't wrapped up the September archive file (link above) yet. I also haven't caught up with last week's releases in the metacritic file. Plenty of time for that sort of thing later.

I wrote up another big Speaking of Which yesterday. I picked up a couple links as far back as last Tuesday, but didn't write much of anything until Saturday. In between, I worked some on a future Book Roundup post, which I had hopes for last week but couldn't pull together in time. For what little it's worth, I developed a new scratch file to work in until I get enough material for a real post. No problem sharing the link, but I don't know how useful it will be (for you, although the jury is still out on how well it works for me).

I got some tips for this week's music from Chuck Eddy's Best Albums of 2022 So Far list, including an A- rapper I had never heard of. Christian Iszchak published a similar list. I spent less time with it, because I was already much more in tune with it -- I have 32 of 50 albums at A- or higher, 9 more at B+(***), only 1 as low as B, the last unrated belatedly added to today's list.

The Britney Spears dive was occasioned by a question to last week's Xgau Sez.

Pharoah Sanders died last week. I don't have much to say at this point, but my grade list is here. While there are good albums early and late -- in between was a struggle for most jazz musicians -- my favorite is 1990's Welcome to Love, which I've long regarded as the most gorgeous saxophone record ever recorded. Here are some obituaries: Andy Cush (Pitchfork); Andrew Flanagan/Nate Chinen (NPR); Jon Parles (New York Times).

Three more death to note way too briefly: Hillary Mantel (one of my wife's favorite writers); Anton Fier (drummer for Golden Palominos and other groups); Richard Cobeen (a music teacher and friend of friends). Also note that Dorothy Billings' memorial is this week.

Got a new dishwasher installed this week. I was surprised at how painful the whole process was: how hard it was to compare shopping information, how difficult to deal with dealers, how messy the whole delivery and installation process got. I'm not happy either with my choice or with the install (although not really the fault of the guy who did it). I've installed my own before, but decided to save myself some pain. If I ever do feel better, maybe I'll pull it out and redo it right, but for now it works ok. I used to pride myself as a smart shopper, but I'm on an extended losing streak.

Upgraded one computer to Ubuntu 22.04 last week with no issues, then finally did my main writing computer last night. Big problems. They lost my Firefox data (history, bookmarks, passwords, settings). Also broke my web server. Both problems are fixed now, but it took quite a bit of digging, config file editing, and shell programming to get it fixed. One reason I'm rushing to get this out.


New records reviewed this week:

Ingrid Andress: Good Person (2022, Warner Music Nashville/Atlantic): Country singer-songwriter, grew up in Colorado, studied at Berklee, second album. B+(*) [sp]

Linda Ayupuka: God Created Everything (2022, Mais Um Discos): Singer from Ghana, first album, "the future of fra fra music." Voices over beats, of varying intensity. B+(**) [sp]

Sasha Berliner: Onyx (2022, self-released): Vibraphonist, second album, backed by James Francies (keyboards), Burniss Travis (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums), with guests Jaleel Shaw (alto sax), Julius Rodriguez (synths), and Thana Alexa (vocals). B+(**) [bc]

The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field (2022, Carpark): Indie pop band from New Zealand, Elizabeth Stokes the singer and rhythm guitarist, Jonathan Pearce the lead guitarist. Third album, jumps out fast. B+(***) [sp]

Bobby Broom: Keyed Up (2021 [2022], Steele): Guitarist, debut album 1981, does a pretty fair Wes Montgomery impression. Quartet with piano/organ (Justin Dillard), bass (Dennis Carroll), and drums (co-producer Kobie Watkins). Makes it look easy. B+(**) [cd]

Butcher Brown: Butcher Brown Presents Triple Trey (2022, Concord Jazz): Jazz quintet from Richmond, Virginia; albums since 2013 veer between punk and funk with a Fela tribute on the side, but mostly this one, featuring MC and multi-instrumentalist Tennishu, goes for hip-hop. B+(*) [sp]

Cäthe: Chill Out Punk (2022, Träum Weiter!): German singer-songwriter, last nameSieland, fourth studio album since 2011. Light electropop, or perhaps deeper if I could decipher more than the occasional word, but definitely a chill album, and no, not punk. B+(***) [sp]

Cave In: Heavy Pendulum (2022, Relapse): Metalcore band from Massachusetts, debut 1998, a couple of their early releases wound up in my database but I never heard them until this showed up as the highest rated unheard album this year (tied for 150 on my list). Only their 7th studio album: they had a hiatus between their 2005 and 2011 releases, and didn't follow the latter up until 2019. Gruff vocals, more tolerable than the usual metal thrash, but awful long. B-

Raven Chacon/Tatsuya Nakatini/Carlos Santistevan: Inhale/Exhale (2020 [2022], Other Minds): Trio from New Mexico: guitar, percussion, bass, with electronics, live improvs on two side-long pieces (39:10 total). B+(*) [sp]

The Comet Is Coming: Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (2022, Impulse!): British fusion group, third or fourth album since 2016, with King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings) on tenor sax, Danalogue (Dan Leavers) on keyboards, and Betamax (Maxwell Hallett) on drums. B+(**) [sp]

Deca: Smoking Gun (2022, Coalmine): New York rapper Matthew Kenney, 10th album since 2004, delivery reminds me of Buck 65, beats too, guest spots for Blu and Homeboy Sandman. A- [sp]

Jeff Denson/Romain Pilon/Brian Blade: Finding Light (2022, Ridgeway): Bassist, albums since 2012, divided songwriting with guitarist Pilon 6-4, with Blade on drums. Tends toward ambient. B+(*) [cd]

DJ Travella: Mr Mixondo (2022, Nyege Nyege Tapes): Nineteen-year-old singeli producer from Tanzania: hip-hop beats, but faster. B+(*)

Djo: Joe Keery (2022, Awal): Joe Keery, better known as an actor (Stranger Things, since 2016), started in the band Post Animal, second solo album. B [sp]

Edoheart: Pandemonium (2022, Edoheart, EP): Esohe Arhebamen, from Nigeria, family moved to Detroit when she was seven, alias honors the Edo people of Nigeria, has studied the butoh dance of Japan, choreographed, published books of poetry, and released close to 10 albums and EPs. This one runs five tracks, 17:24, a star burst of ideas. B+(**) [sp]

El Khat: Albat Alawi Op. 99 (2022, Glitterbeat): Tel Aviv group, varied backgrounds (Iraq, Poland, Morocco, Yemen), named for a social drug common in Yemen, which "provides a feeling that promotes community and relaxation." B+(*) [sp]

Emperor X: The Lakes of Zones B and C (2022, Dreams of Field): Singer-songwriter Chad Metheny, originally from Florida, based in Berlin, debut 1998 but I didn't notice him until 2011's Western Teleport. I've been impressed with most of his work, but don't seem to be latching onto much here, even though the song titles are interesting, and the music is forthright. B+(**) [sp]

Alex G: God Save the Animals (2022, Domino): Singer-songwriter Alex Giannascoli, fourth album on this indie label after as many self-released efforts, going back to 2010. B

Noah Garabedian: Consider the Stars Beneath Us (2022, Outside In Music): Bassist, has a previous record or two, wrote everything here, played by Dayna Sephens (tenor/soprano sax), Carmen Staaf (piano), and Jimy Macbride (drums), with producer Samuel Adams credited for "effects, programming, additional recording, Moog Minitaur, Juno JU-06A." B+(***) [cd]

Connie Han: Secrets of Inanna (2022, Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Los Angeles, fourth album, trio with John Patitucci (bass) and Bill Wysaske (drums), plus spots for Rich Perry (tenor sax) and Katisse Buckingham (flute/piccolo). B+(*) [sp]

Jasper Høiby/Planet B: What It Means to Be Human (2021 [2022], Edition): Danish bassist, several albums, this is second of a promised four albums, starting with 2020's excellent Planet B, same trio with Josh Arcoleo (sax) and Marc Michel (drums). The bass is the pulse of life, the sax an adventure, the drums play off that. Includes spoken word texts from Grace Lee Boggs, Ruby Sales, and Jane Goodall. A- [sp]

Jon Irabagon: Rising Sun (2021 [2022], Irabbagast): Tenor saxophonist, Filipino roots, first noticed in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, won a Monk Prize (which got him a record on Concord, where he had to make nice and delivered a pretty good one anyway). Hit and miss in his solo work. Composed this (only cover is "Bebop") during an extended family roadtrip through the upper mountain states, and recorded it with a stellar quartet -- Matt Mitchell, Chris Lightcap, and Dan Weiss -- with guest spots for Miles Okazaki (guitar) and Adam O'Farrill (trumpet). B+(***) [bc]

Samara Joy: Linger Awhile (2022, Verve): Jazz singer, grew up in the Bronx, second album, still 22. Credits hard to come by, but guitarist Pasquale Grasso is featured on three songs, backed by Ben Paterson (piano), David Wong (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums). Mix of standards and jazz tunes she's written vocalese lyrics to. B+(**) [sp]

Julian Lage: View With a Room (2022, Blue Note): Guitarist, I count nine albums on mid-to-major labels, including his 2009 debut. Trio returns with Jorge Roeder (bass) and Dave King (drums), plus second guitarist Bill Frisell. B+(**) [sp]

Ingrid Laubrock/Tom Rainey: Counterfeit Mars (2021 [2022], Relative Pitch): Saxophone (tenor/soprano) and drums duo, something they've done a lot of since the pandemic locked them down. B+(***) [bc]

Urs Leimgruber/Christy Doran/Bobby Burri/Fredy Studer: OM 50 (2022, Intakt): Avant-fusion band (soprano sax, guitar, bass, drums), founded 50 years ago, released 5 albums 1975-80 -- their 2006 A Retrospective is a good sampler -- got back together for a live album in 2010, another in 2020, then this shortly before the drummer died. Too many spots where they lay back, but most are rewarded with outstanding returns. B+(***) [sp]

James Brandon Lewis Quartet: MSM Molecular Systematic Music Live (2021 [2022], Intakt, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, swept last year's Jazz Critics Poll with his Red Lily Quintet album Jesup Wagon, building on a streak of superb albums going back to 2014 (Divine Travels, on Okeh). This live set expands on his 2020 Quartet album Molecular -- with Aruán Ortiz (piano), Brad Jones (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums) -- reprising 9 (of 11) songs, stretch to 89:48. B+(***) [sp]

Charles Lloyd: Trios: Ocean (2020 [2022], Blue Note): Second of three trio albums, following Trios: Chapel earlier this year, with a box set scheduled for November 18 collecting all three. This one has the tenor saxophonist backed by piano (Gerald Clayton) and drums (Anthony Wilson), with Lloyd also playing a fair amount of flute. B+(**) [sp]

Marilyn Mazur's Shamania: Rerooting (2022, Clap Your Hands): Percussionist, born in US but family moved to Denmark when she was six, albums since 1984, including Shamania in 2019. Josefine Cronholm and Sissel Vera Petterson sing -- latter also plays alto sax, with Lotte Anker on tenor sax, plus trumpet, trombone, keyboards, electric bass, and two more percussionists. B+(**) [cd]

Makaya McCraven: In These Times (2022, International Anthem): Chicago-based second-generation drummer, mother a Hungarian folk singer (he includes one of her songs here), albums since 2012 including some crossover potential -- this one is distributed by XL in Europe, and Nonesuch in the US. Long credits list, which doesn't qualify as a big band but provides even more textural and rhythmic options. Unfortunately, that's basically all he has, but it makes for a swell ride, as long as it lasts. B+(**) [sp]

Cario Mombelli: Lullaby for Planet Earth (2021 [2022], Clap Your Hands): From South Africa, plays electric bass, voice credit threw me as there's not much of that. Has a record with Charlie Mariano from 1990. Otherwise, discography picks up in 2014. This was recorded in Basel with Wolfgang Muthspiel on guitar and Jorge Rossy on drums and vibraphone. Atmospherics, light and airy. B+(***) [cd]

Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 14: Henry Franklin (2022, Jazz Is Dead): The producers continue their tongue-in-cheek series featuring (mostly) forgotten figures of the decade jazz came closest to dying: the 1970s. Franklin is a bassist who released three obscure albums in the 1970s (the first two on Black Jazz), then struggled to find an outlet until 2000. Eight tracks with 7-9 musicians each, total 31:06. B+(*) [sp]

No Age: People Helping People (2022, Drag City): Indie rock duo, Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt, have an impressive string of albums since 2007. This one flies a bit under the radar. B+(**) [sp]

Oriental Brothers International Band: Oku Ngwo Di Ochi (2022, Palenque): Nigerian highlife band, founded in 1973, working under various names, sometimes featuring vocalist Dr. Sir Warrior or guitarist Godwin "Kabaka" Opara, neither of whom are still around for this new recordings (their first in 20 years). But the current crew, including band leader Ferdinand Dansatch Opara, have earned the right to keep this marvelous band name going. A- [bc]

Chris Pitsiokis: Art of the Alto (2022, Relative Pitch): Alto saxophonist, has produced quite a bit since 2012, including his group CP Unit. This one is solo, second time he's done that. First impression is that this is as good/bad/unlistenable as Anthony Braxton's For Alto. But ultimately it's a bit more varied, which helps. B+(*) [bc]

Shawn Purcell: 180 (2022, Origin): Guitarist, from Pittsburgh, based in DC region, spent eight years in Airmen of Note, teaches at George Mason. Basically an organ trio, with Pat Bianchi and Jason Tiemann, plus trombone on one track, vocals (Darden Purcell) on three. B [cd]

Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau/Christian McBride/Brian Blade: Long Gone (2022, Nonesuch): Supergroup (tenor sax, piano, bass, drums), all four established themselves as leaders in the 1990s, came together for the well-regarded 2020 album Round Again. B+(***) [sp]

Sampa the Great: As Above, So Below (2022, Loma Vista): Rapper Sampa Tembo, from Zambia, raised in Botswana, based in Australia after she turned 20. Second album (after two mixtapes). B+(**) [sp]

Rina Sawayama: Hold the Girl (2022, Dirty Hit): Pop singer, born in Japan, moved to London at age five, got a degree at Cambridge in political science, has worked as a model and actress. Twenty singles, but this is just her second album. I didn't like her earlier work, possibly sounded too metal, but this at best sounds like '90s Madonna, and there's something to even the most overwrought ballads. B+(**) [sp]

Suede: Autofiction (2022, BMG): Britpop group, first four albums (1993-99) were big hits in UK, three later albums (2013-18) returned to top ten there. For most of this time, they were known as London Suede in the US, but that seems not a problem this time. Music seems framed for the arena: big and heavy. B [sp]

Two Shell: Home (2022, Mainframe Audio, EP): British electronica duo, from London, eight releases since 2019, mostly EPs, which is how this one is billed, but at 5 tracks, 33:03 it could be an album. But it seems to slip by awful fast. B+(*) [sp]

Will Vinson: Tripwire (2021 [2022], Whirlwind): British alto saxophonist, based in New York, dozen-plus albums since 2004, this a trio with Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), plus guest Melissa Aldana (tenor sax) on two tracks. B+(***) [sp]

Katharina Weber: In Marta's Garden: Piano Solo (2022, Intakt): Swiss pianist, has a 2001 duo credit, a previous 2008 solo album, more albums since. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Suzi Analogue: Infinite Zonez (2016-19 [2022], Disciples): Hip-hop/electronica producer, compiled this from four Zonez volumes. B+(*) [sp]

John Ondolo: Hypnotic Guitar of John Ondolo (1961-68 [2022], Mississippi): Tanzanian singer-songwriter, frequented the Kenyan scene in Nairobi, played guitar, a member of Vijana Jazz Band. This collects early singles. Feels primitive, but is still very beguiling. A- [bc]

Celestine Ukwu and His Philosophers National: No Condition Is Permanent (1971-74 [2022], Mississippi): Nigerian (Igbo) highlife singer (1940-77) and bandleader, recorded a half-dozen albums with this group (1971-76). Five tracks (32:57), selected from singles and albums. Loses a bit when they slow it down, but the closer ("Tomorrow Is So Uncertain") is especially lovely. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

The Dils: Class War (1977-80 [2000], Bacchus Archives): Los Angeles punk band, released two singles in 1977 ("I Hate the Rich"/"You're Not Blank" and "Class War"/"Mr. Big"), and three more songs in 1980, with a 10-track live album appearing in 1990, all combined here. Two members went on to the country-rock Rank and File. The singles are notably political, and they display some embryonic tunecraft. B+(*) [sp]

Highlights From the Mercury Blues 'n' Rhythm Story (1945-55 [1996], Mercury/Chronicles): Single-CD sampler from the 8-CD box, 20 tracks. Cuts way back on the redundancy with only one song per artist, but plenty to go around. I suspect I could pick an alternate I'd like even more, but this does the job. A-

Nova Twins: Nova Twins EP (2016, Robotunes): British funk-metal duo, Amy Love and Georgia South, 5-song debut (15:03), start out closer to hip-hop but with heavier bass lines. I recommend their two subsequent full-length albums, but this should get you going. A- [sp]

Britney Spears: . . . Baby One More Time (1998 [1999], Jive): Teen pop princess, cast in The Mickey Mouse Club at 11, signed a record deal at 15, released this debut album at 17, looking pert and wholesome on the cover, last time you could say that. Sold 25 million copies: her most ever, although the next one came close (20 million). Front-loaded. The ballad "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart" seemed like a fall, but turned out to be catchy enough. B+(**)

Britney Spears: Britney (2001, Jive): Third album, another big seller (10 million), seems to have found her sound here, compressed with a staccato beat. B+(***)

Britney Spears: Circus (2008, Jive): Sixth album, after In the Zone (B) and Blackout (high B+), which this outsold 4 million to 3.1. Her ballad is a bust, but the dance beats are tight, even if there's little to distinguish the songs. B+(*)

Britney Spears: The Essential Britney Spears (1998-2012 [2013], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Seven albums in -- Britney Jean came out later and contributed nothing here -- so less to choose two discs (33 songs) from than the single disc (14 songs) Greatest Hits from 2004. But as she grew out of teendom, she got dirtier, and her beats got denser, so while she never came up with a particularly interesting pop persona, her records got better even as the individual songs grew less memorable. Her early phase end 9 songs in with "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." The rest is consistenty enjoyable, although I could say the same for 2011's Femme Fatale (4 songs here), or for that matter 2016's Glory (her last album before her neuroses and conservatorship put her out of commission). A-

Britney Spears: Britney Jean (2013, RCA): Still charting high (although topping out at 4 was her lowest ever), but the raw sales have collapsed (as was happening throughout the industry). She describes this as her most personal album, and indeed has a piece of all the songwriting credits, but also a lot of help. B


Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Neptune Power Federation: Le Demon De L'Amour (2022, Cruz Del Sur): Australian fuzz metal band since 2012, singer Lauren Friedman (aka Screaming Loz Sutch), have a drummer who goes by Mr Styx. - [yt]


Grade (or other) changes:

Britney Spears: Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (1998-2004 [2004], Jive/Zomba): Premature: compiled after four albums, baited with two new singles: the title cut (a Bobby Brown cover) is sharper than all but a couple of her own hits, which oddly seems to diminish them. [was: B] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • George Colligan: King's Dream (P.Ice) [11-11]
  • Marilyn Mazur's Shamania: Rerooting (Clap Your Hands) [09-16]
  • Cario Mombelli: Lullaby for Planet Earth (Clap Your Hands) [09-16]
  • Kerry Politzer: In a Heartbeat (P.Ice) [10-21]

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Sunday, September 25, 2022


Speaking of Which

I'm pleased with nearly everything Joe Biden has done as President, but the last couple weeks suggest that his understanding of foreign policy is fundamentally flawed, and that his grip on the tiller is slippery and gaffe-prone. Biden's comment about how US soldiers would fight on Taiwan to beat back a Chinese invasion is easily the worst gaffe: not only could it not possibly happen, the mere threat could precipitate the invasion the comment was meant to deter. Such blunders are possible because Biden, like every US president since (let's say) Eisenhower, vastly overrates the efficacy of the US military. But also because he doesn't understand, and doesn't respect, China (or, let's get real, Taiwan).

There are stories of similar cluelessness everywhere the US sticks its toe in. One minor example concerns Venezuela: Trump (who knows a thing or two about stealing elections) decided to back a pretender to head the government, then tried to force his choice through sanctions and seizure of Venezuelan assets, which had no effect other than to break relations, boost oil prices, and cause thousands of Venezuelans to become refugees (including the ones DeSantis kidnapped and sent to Martha's Vineyard). This made the news last week when an American fled bail, was arrested in Venezuela, but cannot be extradited due to this stupid political spat (see 'Fat Leonard' caught in Venezuela after fleeing Navy bribery sentencing). I don't much care whether he gets away or not, but America has been known to invade countries just to arrest people. I doubt Biden will do anything that stupid, but this is one more cost to his failure to reverse Trump's (or was it really just Marco Rubio's?) policy.

Another example is Iran, where Biden is reported to actually want to reverse Trump's withdrawal from the Obama-negotiated JCPOA, where Iran agreed to close monitoring of its nuclear energy program, in exchange for lifting of sanctions that have hampered the welfare of the Iranian people. Supposedly there is a new agreement ready to go, but it keeps getting kicked down the road, mostly because Biden isn't willing to stand up to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, who whipped up hysteria about Iran's "nuclear threat" in the first place. (Back in the 1990s, Israel predicted Iran would have bombs as soon as a couple years. Agreed-to monitoring is the only way to make sure that doesn't happen, so Israel's continued opposition to any sort of agreement suggests their original alarms were really part of some other scam.) Then last week, when Iran erupted in protests that were very similar to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, Biden's administration took its eye off the JCPOA objective to throw its full-throated support behind the protesters, who neither needed nor wanted friends like the US.

But by far the most perilous arena for Biden is the growing abyss in Ukraine. I go into this at some length below, but it's worth stressing here that the proximate trigger for Putin's "escalation" last week -- calling up reserves and drafting soldiers (including, evidently, some Ukrainians), accelerating referenda in occupied territories requesting annexation by Russia, and some awkward nuclear sabre rattling -- was Russia's loss of territory east of Kharkhiv, and the renewed vows of Zelensky and his supporters to keep fighting until they take back all of Ukraine. This is Putin's way of saying that he will do everything in his power to prevent defeat on the battlefield, including destroying it all. Still, no one seems to have grasped the obvious next sentence: so now is the time to finally negotiate a settlement, before this gets much, much uglier.

Obviously, one reason this lesson hasn't sunk in is Biden's (or more often his administration's) abiding faith in the efficacy of military power. Ukraine's limited successes to date have intoxicated long-time believers in American military power, while the costs of fighting never seem to register. Accurate information is hard to come by, but here's a six-month assessment: [08-24] Thousands of Civilian Deaths and 6.6 Million Refugees: Calculating the Costs of War. While the material costs are immense, the most striking number is the 6.6 million refugees who have left the country, another 7 million internally displaced, and perhaps 13 million "stranded or unable to escape contested ground." Also missing here are the more distant economic impacts -- I don't think anyone really has a handle on this, but this six-month review outlines the issues [08-21] Russia's war at 6 months: A global economy in growing danger. Of course, even these costs can be reduced to footnote status should the conflict escalate to nuclear arms. However right one thinks one side is, and however wrong the other, the overriding concern has to be how to end the war as soon as possible. That means negotiating, and that means recognizing and respecting differences. And that means the US needs to fundamentally rethink its attitudes toward the world: both its high-minded moralizing and its indifference to human suffering.


Naema Ahmed/John Muyskens/Anna Phillips: [09-23] Summer in Sedgwick County, Kan. was 2.2°F warmer this year than the average of the last 50 years. I had to pick a county to get into this page, so I picked mine. By some research I did a while back, this year was the 4th hottest in the last 23 since we moved back here in 1999. This summer was also dryer than usual. The average across America was 1.8°F hotter than usual. Very few spots were cooler than usual (northern Alaska, some counties near the upper Great Lakes).

Ryan Bort: [09-20] Fentanyl Halloween Candy Will Kill Your Kids, RNC Chair Says After Being Accused of Fear Mongering.

Nate Cohn: [09-24] Lost Hope of Lasting Democratic Majority: Revisits the 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, which hasn't proved to be particularly prescient -- unlike Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority (1969). I read the Phillips book when it came out, with a mixture of love and hate: love because his research methods dovetailed closely with mine, and hate because his conclusions predicted a much worse America than the one I grew up in. I never looked at the Teixeira/Judis book, but have wondered about it recently -- turns out it is out of print, and nearly forgotten. I don't have time to expand on my thoughts here, but flagging the article will make it easier to find.

Connor Echols: [09-23] Diplomacy Watch: Is AMLO's peace plan really that ridiculous? No. It doesn't come with a lot of detail, but starts with a cease fire, which stays Ukraine's offensive and Putin's latest escalation threats. What is ridiculous is thinking on either side that military victory is possible. Indeed, Russia's threats (more on those below) sound to me more like a plea for negotiation, which makes Ukrainian (and implicitly US) insistence on driving Russia completely out of pre-2014 Ukraine the real ridiculous. Even if this were possible -- something I seriously doubt -- I have to question the desirability of leaving Putin and Russia so humiliated. (Sure, there have been a rash of pieces recently suggesting Putin's perch atop the Kremlin has become less secure, but even if he's pushed out, that would be for tactical failures, not because he misrepresents the goals and intents of Russia's ruling class. On the other hand, odds are not good that Putin will be removed, and he only becomes more dangerous as his existence is undermined.) Americans don't want to admit it, but the world needs a stable Russia going forward, not one seething with the recriminations of defeat.

Note the item where Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister "disclosed that Russian officials have attempted to reach out for talks but said Ukraine is not ready to negotiate." Also note the item where China called for a ceasefire. It's possible they did that without Russian approval, but if Putin wants to negotiate, China offers one way to communicate that. Earlier in the week, Echols wrote [09-21] Putin mobilizes 300,000 reservists in significant escalation. More pieces on Ukraine:

  • Anatol Lieven: [09-22] Tick-tock: Putin escalation begins countdown of diplomacy clock. One shouldn't forget that this was also a week when Biden and Zelensky hardened their stands, perhaps feeling that Ukraine's offensive is gaining ground and pushing Putin into a corner. Putin's "escalation" is basically a warning to beware what you wish for. The part that bothers me most is the rushed scheduling of annexation referendums in Russian-occupied territories. Such referendums, under fair and honest international direction, are the preferable way to settle the disposition of disputed territories, but are effectively reduced to a sham under one-sided Russian control. I think it was very likely that a fair referendum in 2014 would have transferred Crimea to Russia, but Ukrainians boycotted the Russian-run one, and nobody but Russia recognized the results. (Similar referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk might have also favored Russia, but by lesser margins. Other disputed oblasts, like Odesa and Kherson, would probably have voted to stay in Ukraine.) The situation is much messier now, what with military occupation and millions of displaced refugees, but Russia unilaterally staging its own referenda just poisons the well. The idea that once annexed the territories would be protected by Russia's nuclear deterrent is even more troubling, not least because it's hard to know how seriously to take that threat (but the risks of not taking it seriously are painful to contemplate).

    Lievien notes: "If these areas are annexed by Russia, this will make any peace settlement in Ukraine much more difficult for a long time to come. The very best we could then hope for would be a situation like that of Kashmir over the past 75 years: unstable ceasefires punctuated by ared clashes, terrorist attacks, and occasional full-scale war."

  • James Carden: [09-21] Stop the escalatory ladder in Ukraine, we want to get off: "Ukraine is asking for new 'security guarantees' from the West, which will only ratched up the spending and risk a nuclear spiral."

  • Ted Galen Carpenter: [09-24] Biden's UN speech misreads global unity: "Attempts to isolate Russia over Ukraine with sanctions that are ultimately hurting the global economy aren't having the desired impact."

  • Daniel Drezner: [09-20] Russians believe they can win the war. Here are 3 reasons why. Subheds: "The West is weak and worthless"; "China will be Russia's lifeline"; "The technology sanctions will not be too painful for Russia." The first is something Dugin has been telling Putin all along, but the US was willing to drag losing war in Afghanistan out for 20 years, and while it wasn't popular, politicians risked very little stretching it out. In 2020, the US spent 12 times as much on its military as Russia did. The US GDP is 12 times as much as Russia. Since the debacle in Vietnam, the US has worked hard to insulate the people from costs and impacts of military adventures abroad. The US is also very isolated from loss of Russian business. All this gives the US a lot of leeway to continue a proxy war -- especially one that costs relatively trivial amounts of money and risks no American soldiers. Europe may be a weaker link, especially as right-wing parties gain ground over anti-immigrant issues and often look to Russia as a nationalist model, but I doubt they'll break ranks with the US. India and China have no appetite for quarreling with Russia, but don't relish conflict with the US either (hence, the second point is unlikely to be true, unless the US way overplays its anti-China impulses). But we should also be clear that rejecting Russia's reasoning on these points doesn't mean that Russia is going to cave in. Russia is strong enough it can persist for a very long time, without much help from China, and despite some degree of pain from sanctions. The problem with this kind of thinking, and this applies to both sides, is that it encourages continuing war to avoid admitting defeat, when in fact both sides are losing a lot, and will continue to lose the longer they fight.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [09-21] The West is testing out a lot of shiny new military tech in Ukraine.

  • Seth Harp: [09-19] Putting Ukrainian battle successes in cold, hard perspective.

  • David Ignatius: [09-22] To confront Putin, Biden should study the Cuban missile crisis. And what exactly should he learn from the Cuban missile crisis? That the country closest to the conflict cares the most about resolving it on their own terms? That the country most willing to risk nuclear war has the upper hand? That the leader of the country that backs down will get sacked? I got this link from Rick Perlstein, who says "a good argument can e made that it was a major cause of the Vietnam War." I don't quite get why, but unintended consequences are inevitable.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [09-18] Here's what we know about the state of Russia's military.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-22] What the West Should Do About Putin's Increasingly Dangerous Desperation. I think he's reading the signs correctly, but doesn't have a lot of useful advice. He also wrote: [09-13] When Will Russians Realize the Disaster in Ukraine Is Putin's Fault? The protests and evasion efforts following mobilization suggest that more Russians are beginning to feel impacted by Putin's decisions, which is the first step toward blaming him. But also remember that his main defense is to deflect blame to the US. Now may not be the time to cut back on arms to Ukraine, but it is a good time to take a public stand for ceasefire and negotiations, allowing Russia an exit that's not totally humiliating.

  • Jen Kirby: [09-22] What Putin's latest threats mean for the risk of nuclear war: Interview with Andrey Baklitskiy, an expert at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.

  • Paul Sonne/John Hudson: [09-22] US has sent private warnings to Russia against using a nuclear weapon. I'm sorry, but I find this article much scarier than Putin's veiled threats. Putin was basically saying that if you go too far, we'll do something crazier. The response is more like: if you think that's crazy, you ain't seen nothing yet. The "madman theory" was calculated on the assumption that the other side was sane. If not, the bluff fails, and backfires spectacularly.

  • Matt Stieb: [09-23] Prominent Russians Keep Dying Under Mysterious Circumstances: This is kind of weird. Maybe being an oligarch isn't all it's cracked up to be.

  • TOI Staff: [09-23] Zelensky 'shocked' by lack of Israel defense support: 'They gave us nothing': US politicians go on and on about how Israel's is our closest, bestest ally, but Israel gives the US nothing either. As Moshe Dayan put it, "America gives us arms, money, and advice. We take the arms and money, ignore the advice."

Robin Givhan: [09-20] King Charles III: The epitome of inherited everything.

Jonathan Guyer: [09-19] Biden's promise to defend Taiwan says a lot about America's view of China. I don't have time (or at present enough of a sense of urgency) to pick this apart, but we're seeing the convergence of a lot of unexamined myths Americans hold about their role in the world and the power of military force projection to enforce order, along with vastly changed economic factors, along with utter disregard for Chinese views of how the world of power has shifted. It doesn't help that the "strategic ambiguity" doctrine never made much sense: at the time it was a way to "agree to disagree" and thereby put that issue aside, hopefully to be forgotten about -- as it was for a long time, but it's recently been revived, as China regards any change as hostile, while the US arms lobby -- that that's who has really driven US foreign policy since the 1990s -- sees Taiwan as a lucrative customer. But also: Biden got a little sloppy here. He should always preface his remarks with the admission that it's totally up to the people of Taiwan, through their democratically-elected government, to decide whether they want to unite with China. The US is not going to pressure Taiwan to join China, or to stay independent. If the latter, the US may honor Taiwan's requests for arms and/or economic support, which may include the imposition of severe sanctions on China if the latter attempts to coerce union -- much like the US has done for Ukraine to fend off Russia's invasion. But the notion that US troops will fight alongside Taiwanese troops to fend off such an invasion is sheer folly, not a notion Biden or anyone else should entertain.

  • Michael D Swaine: [09-23] Biden trashes what remained of US One China policy, strategic ambiguity.

  • David P Goldman: [09-20] Five Myths About China: This piece from a right-wing think tank (Claremont Institute) was recommended by a reader, and the bottom line is awful (he wants to spend trillions of dollars to push America ahead in the high-tech arms race), but the five points he identifies as myths are basically right (quotes in italics):

    1. America is making China rich, and can weaken it by reducing imports, investment, and so forth.
    2. China depends on stolen American technology.
    3. China faces demographic collapse.
    4. China wants to take over Taiwan because it is led by an expansionist Marxist-Leninist party that hates and fears democracy.
    5. We can deter China by shifting military forces to Asia and adding to conventional capabilities.

    I needn't cover these point-by-point. China is a big country now. It has lots of world-class scientists and engineers, and is at the cutting edge of technology. (Sure, they "steal" some ideas. Everyone smart "steals" good ideas.) It doesn't need to, or particularly want to, emulate the US. (Best line here: "We imagine that China wants to spend trillions to project military power around the world, because we think China is as stupid as we are.") China can, and does, plan. China invests in itself. China cultivates relationships abroad, and is relatively easy to deal with, because they don't judge, and they don't get too greedy. America cannot plan, and does not invest in itself. Americans trust the market to work its magic, even though it mostly works for other people. China is patient. Sure, they got a bug up their ass about Taiwan, but unless we panic them, they're more likely to bide their time. And frankly, it doesn't matter. Our wealth doesn't depend on their poverty. If anything, the opposite. So maybe we should stop going out of our way to piss them off, and start trying to learn how to work with them, for mutual benefit. The alternative is, well, not likely to be good, for anyone.

Derek Hawkins: [09-20] U.S. can't ban gun sales to people indicted on felony charges, judge says.

Alex Henderson: [09-23] Privatizing Social Security is 'a loser' for Republicans -- but they keep proposing it anyway: The thing that gets me about their campaign isn't how unpopular it is, or how cruel, but how the very suggestion shows they don't understand the first fucking thing about how Social Security works. You can starve it, kill it even, but you can't save it by replacing it with a less efficient system, especially one that is endemically corrupt. But it's been a Republican talking point since 1936, so some people are dumb enough to assume it makes sense.

Arelis R Hernández: [09-20] They were still rebuilding 5 years after Hurricane Maria. Then Fiona hit. In more hurricane news:

Sean Illing: [09-20] The profound pessimism of Clarence Thomas: Interview with Corey Robin, who wrote the 2019 book The Enigma of Clarence Thomas. Interesting sidelight here is Robin citing Albert Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction, with its typology of reactionary arguments: perversity ("if you try to make things better, you're gonna make them the opposite"), jeopardy ("you try to do one thing, you may achieve it, but you're gonna jeopardize something else"), and futility ("in the end, you can't do a damn thing . . . because politics is really not a sphere that can either transform or ameliorate the human condition").

Ed Kilgore: [09-23] House Republicans Release Their Vague 'Agenda' for 2023: Talking points for the apocalypse, which makes them less alarming (and less forthcoming) than Rick Scott's Senate Campaign Manifesto.

Jen Kirby: [09-24] The far right is having a moment in Europe. Actually, everywhere. Interview with Pietro Castelli Gattinara. I don't know how to quantify the effect of the Ukraine War on this, but my guess is that it is substantial. Some examples:

Daniel Larison: [09-23] Grover Cleveland: One of the great anti-imperialist presidents: More accurate to say "one of the last," but why fudge with "one of": unless you want to try to argue that NATO, the World Wars, or Gunboat Diplomacy weren't imperialist. You could also argue that he was the first -- unless for some reason you want to exempt Indian wars, "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli," Manifest Destiny, Seward's Folly, much more. As for "great," that rests on a rather slim foundation: he rejected annexation of Hawaii after American planters overthrew the Queen. He was possibly the most conservative president the US has ever had, at least in the sense of not wanting to change anything. Nor is he all that forgotten. I've run across him several times in my recent reading, mostly for his role in using the army to break the Pullman strike. Brad DeLong describes him rather generously as "always triangulating." And you'll hear a lot more about Cleveland if Trump's nominated in 2024, giving him a shot at matching Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms. (By the way, Larison commits another sad hedge in describing Cleveland as "one of a few men to win the popular vote three times" -- the only other one is Franklin Roosevelt, who won four times, and no one else even tried; on the other hand, Trump could join William Jennings Bryan as the only major party candidate to lose the popular vote three times.)

Louis Menand: [09-19] Was Rudy Giuliani Always So Awful: Reviews Andrew Kirtzman's new book Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America's Mayor. Tragic? I knew the name, and knew that most of my friends in New York City couldn't stand him, but I didn't have any direct experience with him until 9/11. I was in Brooklyn at the time, staying in our friend Liz Fink's apartment. Liz and my wife had the TV on constantly, so we saw a lot of Giuliani's daily press conferences. At one point, I was moved to point out that he was actually doing a pretty good job: he managed to project the right combination of concern and competency, something very few politicians did at the time (certainly not GW Bush, nor NY's new junior senator, Hillary Clinton, both mostly concerned with appearing tough and eager to fight). I chalked it up mostly to having real work to do. Giuliani was a lame duck at the time -- the primary to pick his successor was held on 9/11, and had to be redone a month later. By that time, Giuliani got a chance to look at his polls, and decided he was such a hero he should have been accorded another term -- but by then he was too late, and he was well on his way to becoming insufferable again. But at least he made a lot of money out of the good will his momentary character lapse elicited. The book figures he made $8 million in speaking fees in 2002 alone. He became the early favorite in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, but he couldn't find any he could actually compete in. (He skipped Iowa and New Hampshire, settled on Florida, and dropped out after finishing 3rd, with 14.68% of the vote and no delegates.) It probably didn't help his campaign to find his crony Bernie Kerik going to jail. But scandal followed Giuliani everywhere he went, especially once he hitched his wagon to his fellow New York bigot, Donald Trump. But tragic? You'd have to find something noble to him first.

Jack Meserve: [09-24] The Mississippi welfare fraud involving Bret Favre, explained.

Ian Millhiser: [09-19] Two Republican judges just let Texas seize control of Twitter and Facebook.

Trita Parsi: [09-22] Iranian regime's allergy to reform breeds violence for change: Iran is again faced with mass demonstrations, this time protesting the death of a woman (Mahsa Amini) who was arrested and detained by the regime's "morality police" -- a unit set out to enforce submission to the Ayatollah's religious dictates.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [09-24] Why Iranian women are risking everything by burning their hijabs.

  • Al Jazeera: [09-23] US relaxes internet sanctions on Iran in support of protesters: Not sure where to start with this. The US shouldn't be seen as supporting civil unrest in any other country, but especially in a country where the US is universally discredited for its long history of hostility -- not least because any support now will be seen as underhanded. Second, if relaxing sanctions "aims to support the free flow of information," why was the US trying to interfere with "free flow of information" in the first place? Or did the US not understand the effect of these sanctions until Iran itself moved to choke off access? At which point it became just another way to spite Iran?

  • Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani: [09-22] Democrats Are Dropping the Ball on Iran: "Why is Tom Cotton the loudest member of Congress speaking about human rights abuses in Iran right now?" Because he's one of those "real men go to Tehran" hawks, who wants to start a war (or at least a blockade) to kill the people he supposedly is defending, if for no other reason than to gain some brownie points with Israel. But the point of the article isn't to puff up Cotton. It's to smear Democrats for not being interventionist enough to join Cotton's war. John Le Carré's quip about the Cold War applies equally to Iran's Revolution: "the right people lost, but the wrong people won." That leaves unfinished business for the Iranian people, and God bless them. But Uncle Sam has fucked up everything he's touched over there, so there's zero reason to think he can help now. (Less than zero if you let Tom Cotton lead the fight.)

  • Robin Wright: [09-25] Iran's ferocious return to the belligerent policies of the revolution's early days. Isn't doubling down a classic reaction when things aren't going your way? Iran has gone back and forth between reformers who were never quite able to get America off their neck and hard-liners who figured you might as well fight back. Raisi is one of the latter, and here he's being slagged for failing to revive the JCPOA deal that Trump pulled out of just to spite Iran.

Jennifer Rubin: [09-19] Trump's frightening rally in Ohio shows the media still doesn't get it.

Alex Shephard: [09-19] Donald Trump Is More Deranged Than Ever. So much shit on Trump every week that I always have to hang a list off a lead article, which can be hard to single out (especially early). But while Trump is in more legal trouble this week than last, or for that matter ever, it might be better to start out not with what the world is doing to Trump but with what Trump is doing to himself: a profile of character under stress, if you like. Interesting tidbit here is "J.D. Vance didn't invite Donald Trump to Ohio, where the president gave a lengthy, rant-filled speech at a rally on Saturday -- and it's easy to see why." So one thing unprecedented about these "midterms" is how a former president is imposing himself on the narrative. He's making a big bet that if Republicans win in November, he can take the credit and slingshot himself into front runner status in 2024. On the other hand, if Republicans get creamed -- especially after all those articles early in the year about how the election was a lock -- he'll make a convenient scapegoat for failure. In a sane world, that should send him into hiding (as GW Bush did in 2009). Unfortunately, Trump is incapable of realizing when he's lost, as are most of his fan base.

Amy B Wang: [09-20] Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard file class-action lawsuit against DeSantis.

Edward Wong: [09-06] Biden Puts Defense of Democracy at Center of Agenda, at Home and Abroad. Robert Wright drew my attention to this piece: see [09-20] Biden's grand and dangerous vision. This was his Philadelphia "soul of a nation" speech, where he depicted "MAGA Republicans" as a threat to American democracy. He is, of course, right to note their threat, which manifests across a broad spectrum of areas, from unlimited campaign donations to gerrymandering to voter suppression to efforts to deny election losses and to use whatever power levers they can find (the Supreme Court is the big one) to unilaterally impose their reactionary policies and worldview on people. His stand for democracy at home is both necessary and laudable. However, that doesn't mean that defense or promotion of democracy should be the mission of US foreign policy. That mission should be getting along with the rest of the world. And that's something the US has done very poorly ever since Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Program fell into disrepair (or more accurately, was gutted by the Cold War).

Sure, Americans have a long history of talking up democracy -- even before Woodrow Wilson promised World War would "make the world safe for democracy." During the Cold War, America like to tout the moral virtue of democracy, but was quick to settle for friendly dictators, and often worked to subvert elections where it feared the left might win. This tendency to regard democracy as a team sport tied not to popular support but to US interests persisted after the fall of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, we are quick to condemn regimes we don't like as undemocratic, even if their leaders won office in elections at least as free as our own (Iran, Russia, and Venezuela are favorite examples, with Turkey coming and going -- at least in those countries the winner was the one who got the most votes, unlike our GW Bush and Trump).

But before Biden, this was just self-serving hypocrisy. With Biden, the enemy seems to have become more unified and nefarious. The roots of this go back to Russian interference in the 2016 election, which left many Democrats with a mental link between Putin and Trump -- one the latter never did much to dispel. Democrats have also noticed how Steve Bannon has been working to turn a cast of international rogues (including Putin, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi, Orban, and Trump) into a mutual admiration society. The problem here isn't that we shouldn't sympathize with victims of fascism everywhere, but that US foreign policy should not interfere in the internal affairs of other regimes, no matter how abhorrent we find them. We're not that perfect ourselves, and we're also not very good at it.


Biden made a comment about the pandemic being over, so I thought I'd take a look at Latest Map and Case Count. New cases are down from about 125,000 per day around July 24 to 54,239, with 432 deaths, which is still 156,680 per year. When I first heard the quote, I thought maybe the toll had dropped to the ignorable level of gun deaths, car deaths, and opioid overdoses, but it's still more than all three combined.

Late-breaking tweet:

Alan Dershowitz tells Tucker Carlson why he's decided to represent Mike Lindell:

"Whoever the government oppresses and violates their constitutional rights, I'll defend them."

I wish I could ask the late Liz Fink about how much help Dershowitz was on the many constitutional rights cases she worked so tirelessly on.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, September 19, 2022


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 38717 [38685] rated (+32), 46 [48] unrated (-2: 19 new, 27 old).

Rated count is down, but that's partly explained by multi-disc sets: especially the 8-CD Mercury box, which took more than a day (including one I did some cooking on). But I also played more old music, including a big chunk of the ridiculously packaged Beg Scream & Shout: The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul (an A- in my database).

This week's two A- records were featured in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. I previously graded Etran De L'Aïr: Agadez, and The Mountain Goats: Bleed Out as A-; also Kabaka International Guitar Band and The Mountain Goats: Getting Into Knives as B+(***). I didn't get to Fox Green this week, and doubt I'll be seeing the Dusty Springfield comp (Ace rarely shows up on streaming services, although sometimes someone constructs a usable playlist; I still have no clue how to construct a playlist on Spotify).

Another Speaking of Which out Sunday night. I've started reading J. Bradford DeLong's big book (Slouching Towards Utopia), and it's already kicking off a lot of thoughts in my head. For instance, DeLong argues that before 1870 gains in technology and productivity were always diverted into more population (per Malthus) instead of more wealth per capita, but that changed after 1870 (basically doubling wealth every 33 years, until recently). It occurs to me that the 1870 shift wasn't global. In particular, Africa continued growing population, which correlates with low per capita growth, and widespread poverty. On the other hand, Asia did make the shift, mostly well after 1870, but the richest nations there are par with Europe, and most others are catching up fast (aside from politically excluded countries like Afghanistan and North Korea). It's a big book, so I'll probably be stuck on it for quite some time.

I've been wanting to do a Books post. Perhaps this week. Also have quite a bit of domestic work to get done, hopefully this week (but not likely until it cools off a bit). Only 7 September releases in my demo queue, and 2 of those not until 9/30. On the other hand, September is bringing more interesting new releases: in addition to the Miles Davis box below, there are new records waiting from the Beths, Gogol Bordello, Jesca Hoop, Samara Joy, Julian Lage, James Brandon Lewis, Rhett Miller, No Age, Rina Sawayama, Suede, and something called the Marxist Love Disco Ensemble. Also finally out is Jessica Pavone's Spam Likely, which I gave an A- to back in June.


New records reviewed this week:

Stacy Antonel: Always the Outsider (2022, self-released): Singer-songwriter, move to Nashville puts her in the country orbit, but she won't let that define her (even as she loads up on pedal steel). B+(*) [sp]

The Broken Spokes: Where I Went Wrong (2022, Broken Spokes Music): Country band from Houston, self-titled debut in 2016, singer Brent McLennan and guitarist Josh Artall write the songs, which feature more than a little western swing, and they keep the ballads on the sweet side. B+(**) [sp]

Charley Crockett: The Man From Waco (2022, Son of Davy): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, debut 2015, 11th album since 2015, 2nd this year. Trad sound, supplemented with horns. B+(**) [sp]

John Dikeman/Peter Ajtai/Nicolas Field: The Throes (2018 [2022], Orbit577): Avant sax-bass-drums trio, recorded in Amsterdam. Major thrash, for five tracks, 61:17. B+(*) [bc]

Dave Douglas Quintet: Songs of Ascent: Book 1 -- Degrees (2020-2021 [2022], Greenleaf Music): Trumpet player, postbop composer, long history as a preëminent player, most often leading quintets with someone equally skilled on reeds (Jon Irabagon here). Rhythm section is also superb: MattMitchell (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Thematically, he continues from last year's interest in Secular Psalms. There's also a Book 2 -- Steps, which is exclusive to his digital subscribers. B+(***) [10-07]

Homeboy Sandman: I Can't Sell These (2022, self-released): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, very prolific since 2007 (mostly in the EP-to-short-album range), counts this 20-track long-player as a mixtape, based as it is on uncleared samples. Helps with the music, but I mostly hear words, which fascinate and pick up momentum over the long haul. A- [bc]

Jockstrap: I Love You Jennifer B (2022, Rough Trade): English electropop duo, Georgia Ellery (also of Black Country, New Road) and Taylor Skye, first album after several EPs. Has an interesting glitchiness, which isn't quite the same thing as hooklessness. B+(**) [sp]

Freedy Johnston: Back on the Road to You (2022, Forty Below): Singer-songwriter from Kinsley, KS, moved to New York 1985, debut album 1990. Only his second album since 2010, nice and tuneful. B+(**) [sp]

Kimberly Kelly: I'll Tell You What's Gonna Happen (2022, Show Dog Nashville): Country singer from Texas, father and sister in the business, self-released her debut in 2007, this her third album, shows a lot of poise. Has a connection to Billy Joe Shaver that pays off with an ace cover of "Black Rose." B+(***) [sp]

Mach-Hommy: Dollar Menu 4 (2022, self-released, EP): Rapper Ramar Begon, born in Haiti, grew up in New Jersey, has an album dated 2004 but really picks up only in 2016, with 2021's Pray for Haiti his breakthrough. Released three Dollar Menu tapes in 2017, follows up here with Tha God Fahim: 9 songs, 25:06. B+(***) [sp]

Sana Nagano: Anime Mundi (2020 [2022], 577): Brooklyn-based violinist, second album, trio with Karl Berger (vibes) and Billy Martin (drums). B+(**) [cd] [10-28]

Rachika Nayar: Heaven Come Crashing (2022, NNA Tapes): Brooklyn-based sound designer, uses guitar and electronics, third album, "a left-turn into electronic maximalism." B+(**) [sp]

Petrol Girls: Baby (2022, Hassle): English punk band, Ren Aldridge sings (or more often screams), started with an EP in 2014, no longer all girls, this is their third album, 11 songs in 34:00. B+(**) [sp]

Rick Rosato: Homage (2021 [2022], self-released, EP): Bassist, originally from Montreal, based in New York, first album, solo: eight tracks, 22:51: the original title track, a Monk, one from Elvin Jones, the rest blues. B+(*) [cd] [10-14]

Santigold: Spirituals (2022, Little Jerk): Singer-songwriter Santi White, from Philadelphia, eponymous debut 2009, fifth album but first I've heard in a decade. No obvious gospel tropes or stylings here, but fine with me if the spirit wants to move. A- [sp]

Mista Savona: Havana Meets Kingston Part 2 (2022, Cumbancha): Australian keyboardist/producer, into dancehall, released a 2007 album called Melbourne Meets Kingston, followed it up in 2014 with a Mista Savona Presents Sizzla, then in 2017 with his first Havana Meets Kingston. Seems like a smoother mix than you get with reggaeton. B+(**) [bc]

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers: Pretty Good for a Girl Band (2022, Domestic La La, EP): Australian girl band, leans punk but not real hard, released an EP in 2017 and a couple singles. This one runs 5 songs, 15:01. B+(*) [sp]

Kate Vargas: Rumpumpo (2021, Bandaloop): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and flute, distinctive voice, fourth album since 2013. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Miles Davis: Live: What It Is: Montreal 7/7/83 (1983 [2022], Columbia/Legacy): After hiatus 1975-80, Davis staged a minor comeback in the early 1980s, probably peaking with the live Star People in 1983. This is much the same band, with the leader on trumpet and keyboards, Bill Evans (sax/flute), John Sccofield (guitar), Darryl Jones (bass), Al Foster (drums), and Mino Cinelu (percussion). Nine songs, 82:59, heavy on the funk groove. B+(***) [sp]

Miles Davis: That's What Happened [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7: 1982-1985] (1982-85, Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): Third disc reissues the Montreal date, available earlier this year on 2-LP. It's preceded by two discs of studio outtakes, mostly the residue of producer Teo Macero's editing. They are pleasantly inconspicuous. The live set is much hotter, but no more varied. B+(**) [sp]

Lou Reed: Words & Music, May 1965 (1965 [2022], Light in the Attic): Looks like Reed is going to get the full posthumous archive exploitation, starting with his earliest and crudest demos, mailed to himself to establish copyright: some songs that would become famous, some long forgotten, some with John Cale joining in, a Dylan-ish "Men of Good Fortune." I've only heard the 11 tracks of the most basic edition, and haven't seen Greil Marcus's liner notes. Rest assured that there are other options to take more of your money. At this level, it offers minor charms and amusements, as well as much room for improvement. B [sp]

Lou Reed: I'm So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos (1971 [2021], RCA): Guitar and vocal takes of 17 songs -- all 10 from his 1972 eponymous solo debut, 4 more from Transformer, 2 that appeared on later albums ("Kill Your Sons" on Sally Can't Dance, and "She's My Best Friend" on Coney Island Baby), plus a VU song Mo Tucker originally sung ("I'm Sticking With You"). The album mixes have always had their detractors, but bare demos feel a little monotonous. B+(**)

Charles Stepney: Step on Step ([2022], International Anthem): From Chicago, died young (1931-76), has some side credits but is best known as a producer, initially for Chess in the 1960s, later for Earth, Wind & Fire and other groups. No albums under his name until this one, which collects 23 undated demo pieces for 78 minutes -- mostly keyboard vamps, with some extraneous patter. The NY Times had a long review of this that described it as "a legacy of love" for someone who was "underrated, under-known, but he was magnificent." Maybe so, but aside from beat samplers, I doubt many will care. B [sp]

Stereolab: Electrically Possessed [Switched On, Vol. 4] (1999-2008 [2021], Duophonic/Warp, 2CD): British electropop, principally Tim Gane (guitar/keyboards) and Laetetia Sadier (vocals/other instruments), founded 1990, broke up 2009, regrouped 2019. Switched On was a 1992 album compiled from earlier EPs and singles, and two more volumes followed to 1998. This picks up with the 1999-2000 EPs The Underground Is Coming and The First of the Microbe Hunters, and then adds various scraps. Initial groove piece is terrific for 9:29, later vocals a bit less so. B+(***) [sp]

Stereolab: Pulse of the Early Brain [Switched On, Volume 5] (1992-2008 [2022], Duophonic/Warp, 2CD): Fifth volume of miscellaneous cuts, has to dig a little deeper, which sometimes means earlier. B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

The Mercury Blues 'n' Rhythm Story 1945-1955 (1945-55 [1996], Mercury/Chronicles, 8CD): Two discs each for Midwest Blues, Southwest Blues, West Coast Blues, and East Coast Blues. Mercury started in 1945 as an independent in Chicago, but they aimed big and spread everywhere, adding labels like EmArcy and Norgran (for jazz) and Smash, moving into Nashville and on to Europe, getting sucked up by Philips (eventually merged into Universal). Despite this breadth, this box winds up leaning heavily on a few artists: on the blues end, Big Bill Broonzy and Sunnyland Slim, and somewhat jazzier, Roy Byrd, Dinah Washington, and Cleanhead Vinson. Comes in an old-fashioned long box with four 2-CD jewel cases, and a big and useful booklet. B+(***) [cd]

Stereolab: Peng! (1992, Too Pure): Described as an "English-French rock band," based in England but singer Laetitia Sadier is French, the others on this debut album have proper English names (Tim Gane, Martin Kean, Joe Dilworth), but also give credit to a Charles Baudelaire text. Finds its groove with "Perversion," then sustains with some Velvet Underground airs. B+(**)

Stereolab: Switched On (1990-91 [1992], Slumberland): Starting off a future series, this combines four tracks each from two EPs (Super-Electric and Super 45) with the two tracks from their single Stunning Debut Album. Seems elementary, but sometimes a groove is all it takes (especially with those Velvet Underground overtones). B+(**) [sp]

Stereolab: Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (1993, Elektra): Title sounds like mere description, but not all that accurate, as most of it is pretty catchy, even a bit song-like. B+(***) [sp]

Stereolab: Mars Audiac Quintet (1994, Elektra): Guitar grinds a little more. B+(**) [sp]

Stereolab: Refried Ectoplasm [Switched On Volume 2] (1992-93 [1995], Drag City): A second compilation of non-album tracks, mostly from 7-inch singles, with one previously unreleased track. Steady groove pieces amplified with drone, a hook in its own right. B+(***) [sp]

Stereolab: Aluminum Tubes [Switched On Volume 3] (1994-97 [1998], Drag City, 2CD): Mostly EPs and side projects (like the "One Note Samba" with Herbie Mann from Red Hot + Rio). This period straddles their best album (Tomato Emperor Ketchup) and the much lamer Dots and Loops, so no surprise that it's more scattered than the first two Switched On volumes. Also longer: 113:12. B+(*) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Owen Broder: Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1 (Outside In Music) [10-14]
  • Jussi Reijonen: Three Seconds [Kolme Toista] (Challenge) [10-14]
  • Andrés Vial: When Is Ancient? (Chromatic Audio) [09-30]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 18, 2022


Speaking of Which

A week I was planning on skipping this exercise, then wrote the long Bacevich comment, then had a peek around the usual sources. Rather haphazard approach, but quite a bit got stuck in my net.


Tariq Ali: [09-14] King Charles III May Keep His Head -- His Kingdom is Another Story: "The monarchy needs death and weddings for its cyclical renewal." I like this opening: "Charles is a name that most English monarchs have avoided since the 17th century. Let's therefore start where we really should."

Andrew Bacevich: [09-13] Will the U.S. Learn Anything from Putin's Disastrous Invasion? Alternate title: "Russia's Underperforming Military (and Ours)." Not really. Even though the U.S. military studies its own failures, the conclusions rarely waft up to policy levels, unless they argue that the failures can simply be solved by spending more money -- that's something the top brass and their congressional enablers can always get behind. This suggests that the real obstacles to change are high up in the security state, with their broad misconceptions about the competency, efficacy, and desirability of military power. To the extent that they can explain Russia's failures in terms where the U.S. is plausibly more proficient (like logistics), they shield themselves from self-doubt. But as should have been clear from Iraq, a virtuoso performance in capturing Baghdad wasn't anywhere near sufficient to achieve the desired political goals (roughly speaking, leaving Iraq as a stable and peaceful democracy integrated into the western capitalist economy). That's basically because it's very hard to occupy a foreign country, and very easy for natives to disrupt it, and once that starts, military domination does as much or more harm than anything else.

It may be clear now that Russia lacks the ability to conquer alien territory like the U.S. did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen whether Russia will be able to defend its occupation of predominantly Russian areas like Crimea and Donbas -- where they know the language, and have cultural affinities unlike the U.S. in the Middle East.

One lesson the U.S. should draw from this war is that Russia isn't much of a threat beyond its borders, except for the nuclear threat. If the U.S. was seriously interested in world peace, it would make nuclear disarmament a major diplomatic priority, offering to sacrifice its own arsenal in the process. Secondly, it would negotiate pullbacks around Russia's borders. Thirdly, it would try to come up with a process for adjudicating border disputes in the region (and elsewhere: Kosovo and Bosnia are still unsettled; also, more ominously, Korea and Taiwan). But none of this is going to happen as long as U.S. politicians (and their security mandarins) think wars can be won, and that the projection of military power matters.

Bacevich has a book coming out in November on this theme: On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. One thing I've long been struck by is how poorly the British people have been served by their deep feelings of their imperial past -- now mostly nostalgic but never far removed from the racist prerogatives the British claimed. When you look at the history of imperialism, it's easy to sympathize with the oppressed, but the experience has also warped the humanity of their oppressors, and that too takes a toll.

In looking up Bacevich's book, I noticed that Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad have a new book, with a striking subtitle: The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power. One lesson few have learned from the last few years is how fragile many things we depend on are, like supply lines. As systems get more complicated, as fewer people understand how they work, as resources get stretched, as responsibility is blurred or shirked, the world becomes more fragile, and things break, often catastrophically. (Which, by the way, is a mathematical term, meaning suddenly. There is a branch of mathematics called catastrophe theory, which studies discontinuous functions.) We live in a world which is increasingly fragile, governed by economic and political systems which assume it isn't, and are regularly blindsided when things break.

Jamelle Bouie: [09-13] It Is a Well-Known Truth That Opponents of Democracy Don't Want You to Have Nice Things: Looks at "the old idea that political democracy requires a certain amount of economic equality." Finds many examples, especially before 1870, when the Gilded Age took off -- like the 1920s and 1980s, a brief period when greed grew into "irrational exuberance" before the bubbles burst. "Wherever you look in U.S. history, you see Americans grappling with the connections among equality, inequality and democracy. Crucially, many of those Americans have struggled to make democracy itself a tool for the more equitable distribution of wealth and status." Which is, of course, why conservatives, as the self-recruited (or otherwise employed) defenders of the rich, have always distrusted and often plotted against democracy.

Rachel M Cohen: [09-14] What Republicans would do if they win back Congress. I could elaborate, but short answer is that it would be very bad and real ugly. Given how clear Republicans have been about their plans, I'm left with the nagging question: why would any significant number of American voters want to hurt themselves like that?

Artin DerSimonian: [09-15] New attacks on Armenia call for immediate Western diplomatic engagement. This is the latest flare up of another post-Soviet territorial conflict, with ramifications for Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, and the US -- which is to say lots of countries with ulterior motives and chips on their shoulders. U.S. involvement is particularly disturbing: see Eldar Mamedov: [09-16] Caucasus conflict highlights US hawks' reckless support for Azerbaijan.

Connor Echols: [09-16] Diplomacy Watch: Putin reportedly spiked a peace deal in early days of war. A roundup of news in this week of no serious diplomacy. Robert Wright [09-16] writes more about the "spiked deal" report: You can't prevent a war after it starts.

On the battlefield, Ukraine has regained significant territory to the east of Kharkiv, including the strategic town of Izium, but has not yet crossed the border into Luhansk. Ukrainian gains in the southwest near Kherson have been less impressive. Russia responded to its losses with attacks on infrastructure in Kharkiv.

More on Ukraine:

  • Ross Douthat: [09-17] The Quality That Sustained Queen Elizabeth Is Hobbling Putin: Get ready for this: Putin "has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy." For the record, Putin's been in power for 16 of the last 22 years (and arguably for the other 6), and unlike Queen Elizabeth II he was actually elected (four times). There are lots of problems with Putin, but this one is purely in Douthat's noggin. He's never worth reading, but sometimes he's so bad you can't miss him as an example of how little talent and insight it takes to write for the New York Times.

  • Connor Echols: [09-14] Zelensky takes weapons push to Congress -- and the defense industry: Seems at first like a rude reach, but you can hardly blame him for thinking that the arms merchants, pulling their strings in Congress, are the real powers behind American support for war in Ukraine.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-13] When Will Russians Realize the Disaster in Ukraine Is Putin's Fault? Russia's political system and media are so closed off it will be hard to measure. On the other hand, any whiff of dissent is likely to be blown up as propaganda. Kaplan cites some examples, but cautions: "the fog of this war is particularly thick; there is so much that independent analysts and journalists can't yet see."

  • Paul Krugman: [09-16] What Ukraine Needs From Us: Gets off on the wrong foot by accusing "realists" as having "spent the whole war urging Ukraine to surrender and have been disappointed in their predictions of military defeat, are now predicting inevitable economic collapse." That's not a fair description of any "realist" I'm familiar with. I don't identify as such, but I've often found the realists to be more grounded than the fantasists and ideologues who dominate US foreign policy. But after reiterating his credentials as a liberal hawk, Krugman does have some interesting things to say about the macroeconomic effects of the war on Ukraine. Still, he runs out of space before getting to the question raised in the title. It's an open question whether the U.S. and E.U. will offer anywhere near as much support in rebuilding Ukraine as they did in tearing it apart. Past history doesn't offer many positive examples, but the West's welcome of Ukrainian refugees is categorically different from refugees from other war-torn nations. But we should be clear on two things: one is that no significant rebuilding will be possible before a negotiated peace; the second is that a lot of money will be required, and on more favorable terms than the West (especially the private sector) is used to. Probably a couple more things are worth mentioning: prewar Ukraine had quite a reputation for corruption and cronyism, which won't be easy to recover from; also Ukraine's recovery will to some extent be tied to Russia's own economic recovery, which is something U.S. planners will be especially reluctant to support.

Susan B Glasser: [09-15] A Second Trump Term Would Be a Scary Rerun of the First: "Scary" may be too mild of a word, given how the subhed cites velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The most obvious point is that the one thing Trump has clearly learned from his first term is to hire flunkies who are above all personally loyal to Trump and Trump alone. Don't expect any adults-in-the-room types. Maybe some diehard conservative agenda types will get on board, but only if they grovel a lot. (Mike Pompeo is the model here.) But it's not inconceivable that he felt sabotaged by the conservative apparatchiki Pence stocked his administration with, so he could lean more to popular/demagogic policies, most effectively in foreign policy (where the liberal/interventionist worldview has led to disaster after disaster). But it's not likely, because he doesn't seem to be capable of coherent thought, and his focus on hiring only the most servile flunkies all but guarantees incompetence. Still, it's hard to imagine how ugly it can get.

Julia Gledhill/William D Hartung: [09-11] How the Arms Industry Scams the Taxpayer. Arms spending is so popular on Capitol Hill that the House added $37 billion to the Defense Department's already astronomical ask, and the Senate topped with with $45 billion.

Briahna Joy Gray: [09-15] Debt is a Form of Social Control: "To be indebted means to lack freedom. That's why elites melt down in response to Biden's new plan to forgive $10k of student debt. They don't want you to be free." There's more to this the author goes into, and more beyond that. Much as debt maintains the class order here in America, the IMF has proven to be a more effective tool at preserving the domain of elite capitalism than imperial armies ever were. That's because most of the time debt is easier tolerated than challenged, but not always. Which makes one wonder: why do we keep paying tribute to the rich, when they don't have anything better to do with their wealth than loan it out?

Caroline Houck: [09-13] The questions over the queen's role in Britain's violent empire, explained by a historian: Interview with Caroline Elkins, who is the right historian to ask this question to -- see her recent book, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire. The British Empire had started to unravel before Elizabeth was coronated, but the most brutal periods of repression in Malaya and Kenya occurred on her watch, and she was often called to represent the fading empire (she was in Kenya when her predecessor died).

Sarah Jones: [09-16] What Happens When a Party Rejects Humanity? No need to ask "what party?" And while Ron DeSantis got the photo op, Greg Abbott and Doug Ducey joined him in the second paragraph: all three governors thought it would be funny to bus immigrants to liberal enclaves up north. For more on this:

Sarah Jones: [09-14] Lindsey Graham Caught the Garbage Truck: He probably thinks he's some kind of great compromiser with his federal abortion ban after 15 weeks, but he's just another jerk who thinks he's funny. But his stunt is not only view as proof of malevolence by the left; isn't not very well received on the right:

Sarah Leonard: [09-08] Free the Internet: "A handful of companies control the web. It doesn't have to be that way." A review of Ben Tarnoff's book, Internet for the People: The Fight for Our Digital Future. The Internet wasn't always a business. Since it became one, it may have become slightly more entertaining, but also misinforming and exploitative in ways that are hard to even grasp and reckon with. Page also links to a 2019 article: Jason Linkins: [2019-12-31] The Death of the Good Internet Was an Inside Job. That was part of a Decade From Hell retrospective of the 2010s.

David Leonhardt: [09-17] 'A Crisis Coming': The Twin Threats to American Democracy. Big article, covers the partisan divide in considerable depth, as well as structural issues (quotes Steven Livitsky with this oxymoron: "We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world"), but I find curious the lack of data on money in politics. This is part of a broader Democracy Challenged thread, but again there I don't see anything specifically on money, or the fact that most major media organizations (including the New York Times) are owned by very rich special interests.

Milo Milfort/Anatoly Kurmanaev/Andre Paultre: [09-16] Fuel Hike Plunges Haiti Into Near Anarchy: "Discontent over economic misery spilled into the largest national protests in years, prompting international calls for action."

Ian Millhiser: [09-15] 3 takeaways from that Trump judge's latest order in the Mar-a-Lago case: "Judge Aileen Cannon's latest order shows a disregard for established law." Millhiser also wrote: [09-15] The Supreme Court hands the religious right an unexpected loss. Don't expect it to last. "The Supreme Court disposes of the Yeshiva University case with an implicit threat." Update: Hurubie Meko: [09-16] Yeshiva University Halts All Student Clubs to Block L.G.B.T.Q. Group.

More on Trump and associates:

Timothy Noah:

  • [09-12] Why Isn't Everybody Rich Yet?: "The twentieth century promised prosperity and leisure for all. What went wrong?" Reviews new books by J Bradford DeLong (Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century) and Thomas Piketty (A Brief History of Equality): the former on how since 1870 previously unimaginable wealth has been created, the latter on how the rich prevented it from being widely disseminated, but also on how the more egalitarian period between WWII and the Reagan-Thatcher reaction produced the peak growth of DeLong's "long century," creating the broad "middle class" we're in danger of losing now. I have a number of nits to pick with Noah here -- like his Timothy Snyder-credited assertion that Stalin and Mao were greater monsters than Hitler -- but would rather note that his 2013 book, The Great Divergence: America's Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, is still, as I put it in one of my Book Roundups, "probably the first book to start with if you want to understand how incomes and wealth have diverged since 1973, with the rich and the superrich pulling ever further ahead while everyone else stagnates or worse."

  • [09-16] Strike Settled. Now Let's Nationalize the Railroads. Settling the strike is a good example of something Biden could take an interest in and make work, while Trump or any other Republican would either ignore the problem or come down solidly on the side of the owners (see Reagan, Coolidge, and Benjamin Harrison for particularly gross examples). As for nationalizing the railroads, that wasn't something I've given much thought to. But the profit figures Noah cites are suggestive. Railroads are natural monopolies, which is why they've been heavily regulated in the past. The profit figures suggest not heavily enough. The thinking for wanting to nationalize companies has changed since the early days of socialism, but that doesn't mean that there aren't good reasons to nationalize some companies/industries today. Amtrak is already an example, where there is a public need that the private sector is not able to provide. That could be true for rail freight, or at least its infrastructure, as well.

Kaila Philo: [09-14] Election Deniers Are Running to Control Voting in More Than Half of U.S. States: 18 of 36 gubernatorial races, 10 of 30 races for attorney general, 13 of 27 races for secretary of state; no need noting which party ticket they are all running on.

Charles P Pierce:

Andrew Prokop: [09-14] The case for Democratic optimism -- and pessimism -- in the midterms. I'm not in a position where I have to, or want to, worry about November elections. For me there is very little to think about, and very little I can do about it. Still, it seems odd to me that 538 gives Republicans a 71% chance of taking the House, and Democrats a 71% chance of keeping the Senate. I know the former is gerrymandered to help Republicans, but have no clear idea how much. I also have no notion of how much effect the Republican voter-suppression bills will actually have, and even less idea whether the provisions that allow officials to reject results will kick in. (Georgia seems to be the main test case.) I do know that voter turnout will be down this year from 2020, because it always is in non-presidential elections. (I hate to say "midterm," which implies that electing a new Congress and a majority of state governors and legislators is not just less important but a mere reflection of the exalted presidency.) That killed the Democrats in 2010, but same thing happened in 2006 and 2018 and those are counted as "blue waves." I'm not sure that having more uninformed voters in presidential election years is really such a good thing. The other thing I do know is that it would be tragic to elect Republicans almost anywhere, let alone in quantities sufficient to do real damage. And I get the sense that more and more people see that. The question is whether enough do.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [07-11] We Can Build Paradises for the Public: "We need to recover the concepts of great public goods, public services, and public works. The New Deal's WPA provides a vision of what is possible." Cites Joseph Maresca's book, WPA Buildings: Architecture and the Art of the New Deal. It shouldn't be hard to think of nice things even the WPA didn't envision, but catching up is a start.

  • [09-14] Can We Drop the Silly Idea That America Is "Heading for a Civil War"? Reviews the recent literature, which I and others have debunked several times before, then points out: "The idea distracts us from the class war we're actually in, and is a deeply misleading framework for understanding the real risks we face." Democratic politicians don't like to talk about class, probably because they spend most of their time and energy begging money from rich donors, who'd rather talk about abstract threats to democracy than tangible benefits at their expense. Even the phrase "real risks" detracts from the "class war" point, offering an alliance on issues that do threaten the rich, like climate change. On the other hand, a coat of "populist" culture war paint can scarcely hide the fact that Republicans are first and foremost servants of oligarchy. By the way, the term when people rise up against oligarchies isn't civil war. It's revolution.

  • [09-15] How Media Copaganda Hides the Truth about the US Punishment Bureaucracy: Interview with Alec Karakatsanis, author of Unusual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Justice System, and publisher of the Copaganda (I take this coinage to mean: propaganda for cops). Also see his [2020-08-10] piece: Why "Crime" Isn't the Question and Police Aren't the Answer. "The U.S. is currently caging human beings at a rate that is unprecedented in its own history and in the recorded history of the modern world. We're caging people at five times the rate that we did when Nixon was president. We're caging people at a rate of five or 10 times what other comparably wealthy countries do right now."

Sigal Samuel: [09-14] China is committing genocide. The world has no plan to stop it. This is about the Uyghur minority in the northwest province of Xinjiang, where they represent about 45% of a population of 26 million (vs. 42% Han, a number that has been rising and no doubt will eventually constitute a clear majority). Like many minorities around the world, they are subject to unfair treatment, prone to rebellion, and subject to harsh repression. The word "genocide" gets bandied about liberally in such cases, especially because it implies an obligation of other countries to step in and stop the perpetrators -- not that this has ever actually happened, even in the case of Rwanda, a much less fearsome power than China. (Ok, it has occasionally been used as a pretext for invasion, as when Russia invaded Ukraine ostensibly to protect ethnic Russians from Nazi genocide, but who really believes that?) While it seems likely that China trods on basic human rights in Xinjiang and elsewhere, you have to wonder why such hysteria over China -- especially given that there is absolutely no way the UN or any other world power can rectify the situation. There is no global world order. We live in a system where nations are not accountable to law or other nations, and that can only improve when all nations agree to establish some common standards -- something that is impossible to achieve with nations at each others' throats.

Alex Skopic: [09-13] The Commodities Markets are Absurd, Unstable, and Dangerous. Cites the recent book by Rupert Russel: Price Wars: How the Commodities Markets Made Our Chaotic World.

Emily Stewart: [09-08] What if we're fighting inflation all wrong?. Points out that the Fed is a blunt instrument for fighting inflation, rather limited and indirect in its efficacy, and indiscriminate in its side effects. Meanwhile, what we're calling inflation is often just an aggregation of discrete market failures, each better dealt with through direct policy changes. If your house has a roach infestation, the Fed can probably fix it by burning the house down, but less destructive solutions are possible -- just not from the Fed.

Derrick Bryson Taylor: [09-17] Western Alaska Lashed by Strongest Storm in Years: "Remnants of Typhoon Merbok" hit Alaska with "winds of around 90 miles per hour and heavy rain, causing significant coastal flooding. Also [09-17]: Storm Surge in Alaska Pulls Homes From Their Foundations. "Sea surface temperatures recorded along Alaska's western coast were at or near record highs."

Speaking of climate:

It looks like Tropical Storm Fiona will turn north into the Atlantic after hitting Puerto Rico. (PS: [09-18] Hurricane Fiona knocks out power to all of Puerto Rico, with "catastrophic flooding.") Typhoon Nanadol is heading north to Japan, and expected to follow the entire length of Honshu, with 39 million people facing hurricane-force winds in the south, and many more heavy rain. Meanwhile "dangerous heat" returns here to Kansas, with record-setting 100°F days in the forecast.

Michael Wines: [09-07] In Voter Fraud, Penalties Often Depend on Who's Voting: Author "searched through newspapers, online databases and other sources to compile a list of roughly 400 voter fraud prosecutions over the last five years." That may seem like a number, but it's "infinitesimal in a country where more than 159.7 million votes were case in the 2020 general election alone."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, September 12, 2022


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 38685 [38637] rated (+48), 48 [56] unrated (-8: 19 new, 29 old).

I don't have much to say about music this week, so the reviews can speak for themselves. I did have quite a bit to say yesterday in Speaking of Which. One thing I didn't bother with was the 21st anniversary of September 11. That's something I don't need to be reminded to "never forget," but the endless memorials have grown tiresome, especially as we still haven't come to terms with the much greater tragedy of the wars G.W. Bush and his merry band of Vulcans then launched to remind the world not to challenge American omnipotence.

If you still are interested, I wrote a bit of memoir and comments on various articles in a September 10, 2021 Speaking of Which, which more or less coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Attica prison massacre, so I wrote about that, too. The pieces cited there are still worth pondering (except for Olson, which I ponder enough), starting with Garrett M Graff's After 9/11, the US Got Almost Everything Wrong. I quoted Graff's section heads there, and they sum up the argument (but I'll add some clarifying notes here):

  • As a society, we succumbed to fear. -- Which was largely orchestrated by political interests, and echoed by a pliant media.
  • We chose the wrong way to seek justice. -- With the blunt instruments of war, guaranteed to compound injustice and regenerate resistance.
  • At home, we reorganized the government the wrong way. -- Elevating an out-of-control security state, concerned only with projecting power abroad (well, and stifling dissent at home).
  • Abroad, we squandered the world's goodwill. -- Only thinking of our own power, and using it to inflict harm far greater than the original offense.
  • We picked the wrong enemies. Starting with peace and social justice advocates at home and elsewhere, with scant concern (and ultimately blanket racism) for the inevitable collateral casualties of war.

I've written about 9/11 many times over the years. The first was written in October, 2001, and backdated for the September, 2001 notebook. One line from then: "Those of us who survived Sept. 11 have survived a wake-up call: we need to look at our lives, and work all the harder to make right." That wasn't a very popular sentiment at the time. And that's part of the problem now.

Also note that all Responsible Statecraft did on 9/11 this year was to reprise their 9/11 at 20: A Week of Reflection pieces.


New records reviewed this week:

Jeff Arnal/Curt Cloninger: Drum Major Instinct (2021 [2022], Mahakala Music): Drummer, I've run across him a number of times since 2000, although rarely as first credit. Based in Asheville, NC, as is Cloninger, who works with modular synthesizers. B+(***) [bc]

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: Popular Culture (Community Music Vol. 4) (2020 [2022], Royal Potato Family, EP): Nine-piece band, recorded Vol. 3 as the Hot 9, reverts here to band name he set up after arranging the Kansas City soundtrack. Six songs (Grateful Dead, Eddie Harris, Beatles, Bessie Smith, Ellington, and Ellington-via-Mingus), 28:42. Finale is typically gorgeous. B+(**) [sp]

Blue Reality Quartet!: Ella's Island (2022, Mahakala Music): Avant jazz supergroup -- Joe McPhee (tenor sax), Michael Marcus (reeds), Warren Smith (vibes), Jay Rosen (drums) -- second group album. Some fine moments, then they dither a bit. B+(**) [sp]

Rob Brown/Juan Pablo Carletti: Fertile Garden (2020 [2022], NoBusiness): Alto sax and drums duo, two improv pieces (57:08). Brown is an associate of William Parker since the early 1990s -- In Order to Survive, Little Huey, Raining on the Moon, various Quartets (O'Neal's Porch), etc. He is in fine form here, which gives the drummer plenty to work with. A- [cd]

George Cartwright/Steve Hirsh/Chad Fowler/Christopher Parker/Kelley Hurt: Notice That There (2020 [2022], Mahakala Music): Date not given, but suggested by "created during the pandemic and in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder." Cartwright plays guitar and sax, Fowler stritch, Parker piano, Hirsh drums, Hurt vocals (not a major factor). B+(**) [bc]

Con+Kwake: Eyes in the Tower (2022, Native Rebel): UK hip-hop duo, Confucius MC (William Carbine-Glean) and producer Kwake Bass, with jazz keyboardist Alexander Hawkins, and Shabaka Hutchings co-credited as producer. B+(***) [sp]

Confucius MC: Somewhere (2021, YNR Productions): British rapper William Carabine-Glean, singles since 2017, seems to be his first album. [sp]

Gustavo Cortiñas: Kind Regards: Saludos Afectuosos (2022, Pesato Candente): Drummer, from Chicago, has a couple albums, this one mostly a vehicle for vocalist-pianist Meghan Stagl, with some nice trumpet from Emily Kuhn, plus guitar and bass. B+(*) [cd]

Steven Feifke/Dijon Watson: Steven Feifke and Dijon Watson Present: Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra (2022, Cellar): Big band, leaders play piano and trumpet, Feifke is the arranger. Guest spots for Kurt Elling and Sean Jones, the band well stocked with mainstream players, some young (like Alexa Tarentino and Roxy Coss), some with big band experience (like John Fedchock). B+(*) [cd]

Tim Fitzgerald: Tim Fitzgerald's Full House (2019-21 [2022], Cellar): Chicago-based guitarist, seems to be his first album, has published a book of Wes Montgomery transcriptions, leads a septet here (wasn't Full House a Montgomery title?), with trumpet (Victor Garcia) and two saxophones (Greg Ward II, Chris Madsen). Ten songs, all penned by Montgomery in new arrangements. B+(*) [cd] [09-16]

Forest Chorus: Forest Chorus (2019 [2022], Orenda): Quintet, Finns Mikko Innanen (baritone/alto/sopranino sax) and Joonas Lappänenn (drums), Argentine Seba Saenz (trumpet), and Americans Caleb Vaazey (guitar) and Miller Wrenn (bass). B+(***) [bc]

Chris Forsyth: Evolution Here We Come (2021 [2022], No Quarter): Guitarist, has a couple dozen albums since 1998, but I hadn't heard of him. So I don't know how this record fits in the greater scheme of things, or even whether he's really jazz (which is suggested by many duo albums, including one with Nate Wooley). This is a quartet, with second guitar, electric bass, and drums, kicking off with a delightful groove piece, and more of the same to come. It also has guest spots, including a Steve Wynn vocal on one track, and Marshall Allen playing EVI on the opener. B+(**) [sp]

Chad Fowler/William Parker/Anders Griffen: Broken Unbroken (2022, Mahakala Music): Arkansas-based free jazz saxophonist, dials it back a bit here by playing stritch, saxello, and alto flute. Backed by bass and drums, with Griffen also playing some trumpet. B+(***) [bc]

Chad Fowler/William Parker/Anders Griffen: Thinking Unthinking (2022, Mahakala Music): Same group, probably same session, three more pieces (47:58). B+(***) [bc]

Joel Futterman/Steve Hirsh: Warp & Weft (2021, Mahakala Music, 2CD): Piano and drums duo. B+(***) [bc]

Joel Futterman/William Parker/Chad Fowler/Steve Hirsh: The Deep (2022, Mahakala Music): Piano, bass, sax, drums, playing one 51:56 piece, recorded in one take. Enough going on that the piano explosions stand out even more. A- [bc]

Matthew Halsall: The Temple Within (2022, Gondwana, EP): British trumpet player, DJ, label head, dozen-plus albums since 2008. Four tracks, 23:10, mixes in flute, harp, piano/organ, bass drums, extra percussion. Likes a good beat. B+(**)

Heart of the Ghost: Summons (2022, No Quarter): Avant-sax trio from DC area, Jarrett Gilgore on alto/soprano sax, with Luke Stewart (bass) and Ian McColm (drums). They have a couple previous cassetts, plus a live album with Dave Ballou. Hype suggests they started in punk, then got creative. Blasts right out of the gate, still steady with the horn chills down or drops out. B+(***) [bc]

Steve Hirsh/Zoh Amba/Luke Stewart: An Unlikely Place (2022, Mahakala Music): Drums, tenor sax/piano, bass. Amba, originally from Tennessee but based in New York, seems to be the breakout free jazz star of the year, but three earlier albums have eluded my grasp. This is an unplanned 48:19 improv, strong enough to suggest that Amba should be a subject for further research. B+(***) [bc]

JER: Bothered/Unbothered (2022, Bad Time): Alias for Jeremy Hunter, of Skatune Network, first album. Upbeat ska. B+(*) [sp]

K.O.G.: Zone 6, Agege (2022, Pura Vida Sounds): Kweku Sackey, from Ghana but based in England, initials for Kweku of Ghana, first album -- Bandcamp has various singles and EPs, attributed to K.O.G. & the Zongo Brigade. Souped up highlife, rapping at times. B+(**) [sp]

The Koreatown Oddity: Isthisforreal? (2022, Stones Throw): Rapper, Dominique Purdy, from Los Angeles (despite the initial misdirection), started in stand up comedy, prolific since 2012. B+(*) [sp]

Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Xaybu: The Unseen (2022, Pi): Alto saxophonist, studied under Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton, has released some of the finest avant-jazz albums of the last 15 years, took a radical turn with his 2016 Sélébéyone, a fusion of electronics, hip-hop, and mbalax -- the title translates as "intersection" from Wolof. Here he doubles down, with vocals in Wolof (Gaston Bandimic) and English (HPrizm), an extra saxophone (Maciek Lasserre on soprano), and drums (Damion Reid). Uncredited electronics and samples. Dense, with sharp edges, the sax breaks remarkable, but few and far between. B+(***) [cd]

Enrico Rava/Fred Hersch: The Song Is You (2021 [2022], ECM): Trumpet and piano duets: five standards, ranging from Monk to Jobim, one original each, one joint improv. Very comfortable. B+(***) [sp]

Howard Riley/Keith Tippett: Journal Four (2016 [2022], NoBusiness): Two major avant-jazz pianists in Britain: Riley's 1970 The Day Will Come is a Penguin Crown album, but Tippett (1947-2020) was the flashier player. They each take a warm-up solo here (15:53 for Tippett, 10:26 for Riley) then conclude with a 46:47 duet. B+(**) [cd]

Jeremy Rose: Face to Face (2022, Earshift Music): Australian saxophonist (tenor/soprano, also bass clarinet), several albums (I have a newer one in the queue). Quartet with piano, bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Jackie Ryan: Recuerdos De Mi Madre (2022, Open Art): Standards singer, grew up north of San Francisco, mother was Soledad Garcia, born in Mexico. Songs in Spanish, some even I recognize, with a band that features Paquito D'Rivera. B+(**) [cd] [10-07]

Wayne Shorter/Terri Lyne Carrington/Leo Genovese/Esperanza Spalding: Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival (2017 [2022], Candid): Venerable saxophonist, 83 when he was called on to headline the festival, played one set with his regular quartet, then assembled this one for another set, giving the drummer featured place, followed by piano and bass-vocals. The vocals flow nicely with the music, and as does the sax. B+(**) [sp]

Sonny Singh: Chardi Kala (2022, self-released): Based in Brooklyn, sings, plays trumpet, dhol, and harmonium, drawing on Sikh devotional poetry (gurbani), projecting high spirits as well as "denouncing tyranny, oppression, and dogmatic ideologies, while uplifting oneness and justice." The bit of lyric I understood helped. B [sp]

Clark Sommers Lens: Intertwine (2021 [2022], Outside In Music): Bassist, side-credits since 1998, has a couple albums with his group Ba(SH), Lens seems to be another group -- although Geof Bradfield (reeds) and Dana Hall (drums) overlap, joined here by Chris Madsen (tenor sax) and Matt Gold (guitar). Original pieces, nicely orchestrated postbop. B+(**) [cd] [09-16]

Vic Spencer x Small Professor: Mudslide (2022, Coalmine): Chicago rapper, albums since 2012, while producer Jamil Marshall goes back a bit further. Most memorable cut is a murder yarn. B+(*) [sp]

Sudan Archives: Natural Brown Prom Queen (2022, Stones Throw): Brittney Parks, born in Cincinnati, based in Los Angeles, plays violin, sings, raps, and presumably wrote the 18 bits that toss and turn in this kaleidoscope of an album. A- [sp]

Eric Vloeimans & Will Holshouser: Two for the Road (2021 [2022], V-flow/Challenge): Trumpet and accordion duo, not the most felicitous of combinations, recorded live. B(*) [cd]

Wrecking Crew: Sedale Threat (2022, self-released): Hip-hop collective, Small Professor brings the beats, others I haven't heard of. Title a Lakers basketball reference I didn't get, although I caught a couple more. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

None.

Old music:

Yugen Blakrok: Return of the Astro-Goth (2013, Iapetus): South African rapper, first album, I liked her 2019 album Anima Mysterium but didn't bother to look back at at whatever else was available. Mostly this album, with its cosmic beats and consciousness to match, noting "of all the things to waste the most terrible is the mind," and pushing: "we need a paradigm shift." A- [bc]

Kanif the Jhatmaster: The Hashemite (2016, Iapetus): South African hip-hop producer Rufus Sebright, "first appeared on the South African hip-hop scene in '97," but this seems to be his first album headlining. Note that 9 of 10 titles end in "Dub" (the other ends in "Ska"). And that's about all there is to it. B+(*) [bc]

Kanif the Jhatmaster: Flight of the 50 Foot Vimana (2016, Iapetus, EP): As understated as dub, but much more inscrutable. Seven tracks (25:01). B+(**) [bc]

Enrico Rava: Il Giro Del Giorno in 80 Mondi (1972 [1976], Black Saint): Italian trumpet player, still active, looks like his first album, appeared on a small label at the time before being reissued here. Title translates to Around the Day in 80 Worlds. Quartet with guitar (Bruce Johnson), bass (Marcello Melis), and drums (Chip White). Tries to be funky but also a bit out. B+(**) [sp]

Enrico Rava: The Pilgrim and the Stars (1975, ECM): First of many records on ECM, backed by guitarist John Abercrombie's trio, with Palle Danielsson (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums). They set a fine pace, and he sounds exceptional. A- [sp]

Enrico Rava: The Plot (1976 [1977], ECM): Return engagement, same quartet, similar vibe. B+(***) [sp]

Enrico Rava: Secrets (1986 [1987], Soul Note): Quintet with electric guitar (Augusto Manicinelli), piano (John Taylor), bass (Furio Di Castri), and drums (Bruce Ditmas). B+(**) [sp]

Enrico Rava/Franco D'Andrea: For Bix and Pops (1994 [1996], Philology): Trumpet and piano duets, not a style of music either is known for, and may seem a bit stiff, but nicely done. B+(**)

Enrico Rava/Ran Blake: Duo En Noir (1999, Between the Lines): Trumpet/flugelhorn and piano duets. One Rava original, the rest standards, with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" a nice addition to the usual fare (not that they will ever run out of things to do with "Tea for Two"). B+(***) [sp]

Lou Rawls: The Essential Lou Rawls (1963-81 [2007], Philadelphia International/Legacy, 2CD): Soul singer from Chicago, started in church, recorded with the Pilgrim Travelers in 1962, also with Les McCann, becoming a fixture at Capitol (1962-70), but wasn't a very big star there (3 singles charted 13-17-18). He got a second chance on Philadelphia International (1976-81), where he scored his biggest hit -- the still remarkable "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" -- but little else. That's as far as this goes, but he moved on to Epic, and kept releasing records up to his death in 2006. Impresses as a singer, but rarely finds the right song or arrangement. B- [sp]

Shorty Skilz: Spirit Scream (2019, Iapetus, EP): South African rapper, half of Witchcraft Books, short debut album (7 tracks, 24:09). B+(*) [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bobby Broom: Keyed Up (Steele) [09-23]
  • John Escreet: Seismic Shift (Whirlwind) [10-07]
  • Song Yi Jeon/Vinicius Gomes: Home (Greenleaf Music) [11-18]
  • Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Xaybu: The Unseen (Pi) [08-26]
  • William Parker: Universal Tonality (2002, Centering/AUM Fidelity, 2CD) [09-30]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 11, 2022


Speaking of Which

Queen Elizabeth II of England, or what's left of the British Empire, died at 96, ending her 70-year reign. No links follow, because it's not a story that matters, or should matter, to much of anyone. During her reign, the British monarchy has become a total irrelevancy. I'm not sure whether her being a woman had something to do with that -- most likely it would have happened anyway, as she followed a longterm trend or diminishing competency and clout, going back at least as far as George III, or perhaps even to the so-called Glorious Revolution. But watching Claire Foy play her in the first season of The Crown, one must note that she was trained for irrelevance and decorum in a way that must have been common for well-bred women in an era sorely lacking for feminism, and that she took to her role uncommonly well, with a grace and temperance that eluded her ridiculous progeny. The only sensible thing to do at this point would be to spare us from further humiliation and depredation by dissolving the monarchy. And, while you're at it, flush the aristocracy, including the House of Lords, away as well.

Of course, as an American, I grew up staunchly opposed to any and all shreds of aristocracy. One of the first things I learned was that we fought a revolution to free ourselves from the rule of a hereditary "noble" class. So I've always found it bizarre when Americans show any fascination, let alone deference, to European or other monarchs and aristocrats, yet many do, and I can't begin to fathom why. Surely it's not the aura of awe that monarchs have traditionally tried to cultivate, as these days anyone can see through that. That viewpoint is so unnatural I find it hard even to watch fantasy shows like Game of Thrones, where all one can hope for in life is pledge allegiance to a Great House and suffer their fate. Invariably, such societies are marked by their ignorance and cruelty, and their leaders by vanity and stupidity. We've come far too close to that with the Houses of Bush, Clinton, and Trump.

PS: I wrote the above the day after. Turns out I did find some links worth mentioning (although they were a small minority):

  • Victoria Brownworth: [09-11] The queen is dead. The legacy of her colonies is not.

  • Hari Kunzru: [09-11] My Family Fought the British Empire. I Reject Its Myths. Choice line here: "She spent a lifetime smiling and waving at cheering native people around the world, a sort of living ghost of a system of rapacious and bloodthirsty extraction." Also: "My hope is that as the screen of Elizabeth falls away, Britons ay find it easier to recognize the unhealthiness of a dependency on imperial nostalgia for self-esteem."

  • Anatol Lieven: [09-10] How Queen Elizabeth shepherded England out of Empire: "She showed that her country could retain roots and tradition while accepting change and ultimately becoming something better." Not really. The "roots and tradition" she maintained was the residue of Empire, which was preserved as a mindset even after all the territory was lost. Lieven pretty much admits as much in his last paragraph: "That the legacy of the British Empire should have helped to produce a consensual multi-racial Britain, and that the Monarchy should have played a positive role in this, . . ." But it and she didn't.

  • Hamilton Nolan: [2021-03-09] Down With the British Monarchy: An old piece, but still timely. "What is a monarchy if not the highest veneration of inequality?"

  • Nathan J Robinson: [09-09] What Will Future Historians Think of Our Priorities? Why is the late Queen on page 1, while Failure to Slow Warming Will Set Off Climate 'Tipping Points,' Scientists Say is relegated to page A20?

  • Ryan Zickgraf: [09-10] Thomas Paine Was History's Greatest Hater of the British Crown. I'm sure he had plenty of rivals for intensity, but if you want to talk about effectiveness, the only competition I can think of was Oliver Cromwell. Subhed: "The American Revolution was inspired by ruthless criticism of the British monarchy. Why stop now?" Perhaps because the British monarchy has atrophied to the point where it's become a quaint if unseemly relic, where further criticism borders on cruelty. But then you see how the death and succession is played up in the media, and think it still needs to be knocked down a few rungs.


David Atkins: [09-09] Voters Don't Believe You Stand for Things Until You Actually Do Them: "What's behind the Democratic comeback summer? Chalk it up to voters seeing Republicans overturn Roe and Democrats making big moves on issues like climate change." One problem with this is that Republicans seem to think Democrats stand for all kinds of nefarious things they've never seen them make the slightest move to implement. But credibility is always a problem when you run on one set of issues, then when you win pivot to servicing your donors' lobbyists. Republicans have it easier: they get votes because they profess to hate the same people their voters hate, after which all they have to do to deliver is to keep slinging the same shit. Still, nice to see Democrats believing in things and doing something about those beliefs.

Gil Barndollar: [08-28] The 'Stabbed in the Back' Myths of the War Hawks: "They're always eager to cover failures in cries of betrayal." Examples, working back, from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and Imperial Germany, which gave us the definitive term: Dolchstosslegende. That was the term that was parlayed by the Nazis into their WWII rematch. In America, it's just used to keep adding to the ignominious list.

Patrick J Buchanan: [09-10] How Liberal Elites Detest Middle America: How can anyone really believe this? Sure, elites of all stripes tend toward snobbery, and liberal ones can come off as condescending, but that's usually because they at least care, even if not enough to understand. Conservative elites, including the author, are the ones who like to see working people suffer. And if you want to talk about condescension, how can you think that someone like Trump has a mystical bond with Middle America because he likes fast food, pro wrestling, Ted Nugent, and the occasional lynching?

David Corn: It Didn't Start With Trump: The Decades-Long Saga of How the GOP Went Crazy. Nice to see more people recognizing this: "Since the 1950s, the GOP has repeatedly mined fear, resentment, prejudice, and grievance and played to extremist forces so the party could win elections." Corn explores this more in his new book: American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy.

Chas Danner: [09-06] A Guide to the Intense Debate Over Biden's Big Democracy Speech: No surprise, but most of the debate is over peripheral issues, like the lighting, the flag and Marines in the background, and the issue that most perturbs Republicans: how many of their followers are being dissed for MAGA-ness. The fact that the Republican Party, not as a bunch of ill-tempered individuals but acting in concert as a party, is consistently, systematically working to undermine democracy, not so much. Useful for one-stop opinion scanning, in an age where media would much rather cover what people say than what they do.

More recent examples:

Nonetheless, what's important to stress is that the message isn't "Republicans are bad people," but Republican politicians want to do bad things, which will ultimately cause much harm -- even to most Republicans. It's hard to draw such a fine line, especially given that most Republicans aren't going to hear what you say, and that many of them really do seem to be filled with hate.

Dave DeCamp: [09-08] White House: Biden Wants 'Other Options' for Iran if Nuclear Deal Talks Fail: He seems to be asking for war plans: "Back in July, Biden said he was willing to use force as a 'last resort' against Iran to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon." If his war planners are honest, there is no way to use force against Iran in a way that won't make them more motivated to build nuclear weapons. And if you recall the timelines Netanyahu was spouting about how soon Iran could have nuclear weapons (less than 5 years from the early 1990s), you should realize that the only reason Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons is that they don't want them. That means Biden will most likely order up another round of sanctions, which annoy but don't really threaten Tehran, and which express such deep-seated hostility that every marginal encounter between Iran or "Iran-backed forces" and the US and its "allies" threatens to blow up into broader conflict.

It doesn't seem to have sunk in yet, but the experience with Russia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere has shown that sanctions have no significant effect on resolve to resist US dictation, regardless of how much pain they inflict on ordinary citizens or even elites. The only place where sanctions worked was South Africa, where the Afrikaner elites finally put their business interests above what was already a losing political position. (There is some chance that sanctions might sway Israel to compromise with Palestinians, either by calving off chunks of territory Israel has little future in, like Gaza, or by extending political rights and economic opportunities to Palestinians within Israel's extended borders. On the other hand, sanctions could just as well backfire there, too. One critical element is to extend an acceptable off-ramp, which the US has almost never been willing to do.)

More on Iran:

  • Ben Armbruster: [09-08] Iran derangement syndrome season is here again: "With the rebirth of the nuclear accord seemingly within reach, those who'd rather have war are turning their hysterics into overdrive."

  • Connor Echols: [09-06] Saudi-led OPEC+ snubs Biden with oil production cuts: I'm not saying that we need more, let alone cheaper, oil, but if that's a goal that Biden thinks might be worthwhile, the obvious way to get it is to dial back the sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Such a move would also make it easier to tighten the squeeze on Russian oil. Guess who's opposed to any such move?

  • Faezeh Foroutan: [09-11] Suspicious bind: Iran's relationship with Russia. This relationship is complicating restoration of JCPOA, which by design has to get Russia on the same page as the US and the EU powers, but Russia has little reason to cooperate with the West these days, and the US (under the thumbs of Israel and Saudi Arabia) only knows how to drive Iran away. The smart move is usually to divide your "enemies," but hostility is so hegemonic in the US that they're driving them together -- most consequentially the one "enemy" the US cannot afford: China.

  • Daniel Larison: [09-09] Spoiler! Israel may get its fondest wish to see the JCPOA die. Sooner or later, this idea of subcontracting US foreign policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia -- an idea started by Kissinger but only reduced to an unthinking jerk reflex by Trump -- is going to be viewed as a horrible mistake. Isn't it?

Ross Douthat/Kristen Soltis Anderson/Erick Erickson: [09-07] Is the Democratic Midterm Surge Overrated? Why Republicans Can Still Win the House and Senate. A "round table" where the partisans try to psych each other up. I don't mind them fantasizing, other than that if they're right it will be such a tragedy for the whole country. Also, we can't let up. Democrats not only need to win majorities; the larger the majority, the better the prospects (especially in the Senate, where its undemocratic rules don't stop with the filibuster).

Related:

  • Frank Bruni/Molly Jong-Fast/Doug Sosnik: [08-25] 'A Stirring of Democratic Hearts': Three Writers Discuss a Transformed Midterm Landscape. A similar confab on the Democratic side, just as shallow, but at least you don't feel like they're cheering the Devil.

  • John Quiggin: [09-05] "Republican" as an identity: Points out that Ross Douthat continues to reflexively identify with the Republican Party, even though his fellow Republicans do virtually nothing he advises, and often do things he takes exception to. It's really remarkable how otherwise decent people have stuck with the Party even as they have recognized how badly Trump has betrayed them -- especially as it should have been clear that Trump wasn't leading the Party astray; he was channeling its deepest and ugliest convictions.

  • Andrew Kirell: [2018-12-11] Why Does Anyone Take Erick Erickson Seriously? An oldie, but worth trotting out every time he opens his yap.

Connor Echols: [09-09] Diplomacy Watch: Erdogan's balancing act between Russia and the West. Remember: the only thing that ends the war in Ukraine, and therefore the only story on Ukraine that really matters, is a ceasefire and constructive negotiations. Once again, that didn't happen this week. Only good news I see here is that Biden resisted the chorus demanding that Russia be added to the "state sponsor of terrorism" list, which would have kicked in a raft of dangerous US laws. Also note the quotes from Matteo Salvini, a far-right politician in Italy who seems to be on the rise, questioning the value of sanctions against Russia ("I would not want the sanctions to harm those who impose them more than those who are hit by them").

More on Ukraine and Russia:

  • Anne Applebaum: [09-11] It's Time to Prepare for a Ukrainian Victory: "The liberation of Russian-occupied territory might bring down Vladimir Putin." No, I didn't cross the paywall to read this fantasy. She's cultivated her hatred of Russia through several books -- first historical, but more and more polemical -- and developed as a world-class warmonger. The link is here merely to document how far self-propagandizing can go.

  • Connor Freeman: [09-09] EU Backs Off Russian Energy Price Cap. The ideal originally advanced by Janet Yellen, that we could arbitrarily cap Russia oil and gas prices to keep Russia from financing Putin's war without reducing global supply, was never going to work.

  • Brandon Gage: [09-11] 'We ask you to relieve yourself of your post': Kremlin officials have begun a mutiny against Vladimir Putin. I have no idea whether to give this any credibility, but it's not from an obvious propaganda source, and it's at least as hard to doubt that there are whispers and rumblings along those lines. Still, it's not an environment conducive to accurate polling.

  • Valerie Hopkins: [09-06] 'Nothing Has Really Changed': In Moscow, the Fighting Is a World Away: The same basic article could have been written about the US at any point in the 20+ year War on Terror, which even indirectly affected only a tiny sliver of the people, most comfortably out of sight and mind. The Vietnam and Korea Wars cut a slightly broader swath, but few Americans were exposed to serious risks or hardships. No doubt, US war planners had hoped that the sanctions they imposed on Russia would generate some opposition to the War in Ukraine, but Putin's government seems to be covering up those hardships rather nicely. No doubt Moscow will look bleaker come Winter, but thus far it's Europe that seems to be more seriously worried.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-08] Why Vladimir Putin's Latest Threat to the Rest of the World Is So Not Scary.

  • Paul Krugman: [09-08] Wartime Economics Comes to Europe: "The West isn't exactly at war with Russia." But US/NATO support for the war in Ukraine is having a disproportionate economic impact on Europe, which over the last 20-30 years had much more business with Russia, and therefore much more to lose to sanctions (especially gas, a major import that is relatively hard to second-source). Two interesting things here: one is that the stock complaints about Biden (e.g., inflation) are hitting Europe much worse than the U.S. (which, if anything, suggests that Biden's extra spending isn't the problem, and may even be part of the solution); the other is that while Biden seems to have been successful in bringing Europe back under the NATO umbrella (after 4 years of Trump trashing the franchise), continuing the war in Ukraine through a harsh winter risks finally breaking the alliance. Right now, it's mostly right-wing parties (e.g., in Hungary and Italy) that have turned anti-Ukraine, but as hardships like high prices, controls, and even rationing pile up, that could change suddenly.

  • Karl Ritter/Joanna Kozlowska: [09-10] Russia announces troop pullback from Ukraine's Kharkiv area: This is being touted as a big gain for Ukraine's counteroffensive, but also suggests that Russia doesn't feel the need to hold the area northwest of the breakaway Luhansk region. The map also shows some Ukrainian gains north of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

PS: We're starting to see breathless reports like [09-11] Amid Ukraine's startling gains, liberated villages describe Russian troops dropping rifles and fleeing. And: [09-11] Ukraine's New Offensive Is Going Shockingly Well. And where there's less progress to report, excuses: [09-10] Ukraine's southern offensive 'was designed to trick Russia'.

Sarah Jones: [09-08] The Magic of Barbara Ehrenreich. Tributes to the late writer -- as I put it last week, "the most important writer the American left has produced" -- continues to pour in, the new ones using their time to delve even deeper.

Jen Kirby: [09-06] New prime minister, same old battles over Brexit: Liz Truss takes over the Conservative Party, replacing Boris Johnson.

Robert Kuttner: [09-09] Bannon in Custody: "This time, there's nobody to pardon him." Kuttner's written about Bannon before: an interview, published the day before Bannon got fired from the White House.

Branko Marcetic: [09-07] Ignoring Gorbachev's Warnings. I could have filed this under Ukraine, which is a good example of the consequences of ignoring Gorbachev's insightful critique of America's attitude toward the world, but it is only one example, of which there are many. This piece even misses some. Gorbachev was surely joking when he told told Bush that Russia no longer needed the Brezhnev Doctrine -- the excuse for overthrowing the reform government in Czechoslovakia in 1968 -- so the U.S. was welcome to it (e.g., in Panama). The article does point out that Gorbachev continued to be an insightful critic of American power long after he left office. His proposals for Ukraine are thoughtful and almost certainly would have prevented the current war. Many American business thinkers celebrate "thinking outside the box," but nowhere is that notion more anathema than in the salons of Washington's foreign policy establishment -- a group that alternately celebrated and deprecated Gorbachev but, much to our peril, never took him seriously.

Ruth Marcus: [09-11] What Chief Justice Roberts misses. I doubt if he actually misses the point, but having lost control, is basically trying to make the best of a nasty situation -- the phrase "putting lipstick on a pig" comes to mind. Marcus quotes Justice Kagan: "The way the court retains its legitimacy and fosters public confidence is by acting like a court. By doing the kind of things that do not seem to people political or partisan. By . . . doing something that is recognizably law-like." But the majority today, the Court having been meticulously packed over several decades (but packed nonetheless), think themselves free to act out their prejudices, with only the flimsiest gossamer of legalistic reasoning -- with or without Roberts on their side.

David Marques: [09-09] Conservatives Want You to Die for Their Personal Beliefs: "A Texas judge's ruling that employers don't have to cover HIV-prevention medication is further proof that the right sees public health policy merely as a tool to punish political enemies."

Dylan Matthews: [09-07] Humanity was stagnant for millennia -- then something big changed 150 years ago. Interview with economist Brad DeLong, whose "new magnum opus" is Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century. It's a big subject, and an important one. During those years humans created previously unimaginable wealth, and have fought over that wealth, even to the point of threatening to destroy it all. We've literally changed the surface of the earth and our relationship to nature, yet our understanding of what we've done remains shallow and conflicted. This is an interview.

By the way, when I looked up DeLong's book, I found the same title by George Scialabba: Slouching Toward Utopia: Essays & Reviews (paperback, 2018, Pressed Wafer). Here's an interview from 2013: What Are Radicals Good For?.

Matt McManus: [09-11]: The Political Tradition of Republicanism Should Be a Touchstone for Democratic Socialists: No, not the Republican Party, although the early years there are worth knowing about, and might tangentially fit into the framework of the book reviewed here: Radical Republicanism: Recovering the Tradition's Popular Heritage, ed. by Bruno Leipold, Karma Nabulsi, and Stuart White. PS: I looked the book up on Amazon and suffered sticker shock ($81.29). One chapter on US: "Solidarity and Civic Virtue: Labour Republicanism and the Politics of Emancipation in Nineteenth-Century America," so yeah, early Republicans before the oligarchs took over. That's followed by pieces on Marx, Turkey, and France. The major book on this phase of the Republican Party is David Montgomery: Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872 (1967). I read it a long time ago, when I still had a sentimental attachment to the GOP (my grandfather's middle name was Lincoln), but like Labor Republicanism that didn't last long.

Ian Millhiser: [09-06] Why Trump's FBI investigation could now be delayed for months or even years: "Trump Judge Aileen Cannon's order [appointing a "special master"] is egregiously wrong and could be overturned on appeal. But it helps Trump run out the clock." On Twitter, Millhiser adds: "The unspoken undertone of this piece is that I genuinely wonder whether it will be possile to successfully prosecute Trump, no matter the evidence against him, when so much of the judiciary is on his side." Millhiser followed this up with: [09-08] DOJ warns judge that delaying the FBI's Trump investigation is a national security risk.

Also by Millhiser:

Luke Mogelson: [09-10] How Trump Supporters Came to Hate the Police: "At the Capitol riot and elsewhere, MAGA Republicans have leaped from 'backing the blue' to attacking law-enforcement officials." I can tell you, if not from personal experience at least from long observation, that calling cops names and getting in their face, threatening them, never works out, and I'll add that "white skin privilege" only works in passing (it keeps them from noticing you, but not when you give them no choice). Mogelson has a book coming out next week: The Storm Is Here: An American Chronicle. He started covering the anti-lockdown riots (especially in Michigan, where they stormed the Capitol and tried to kidnap the governor), then continued through the BLM demonstrations and reaction, winding up with January 6.

Andrew Prokop: [09-08] A new book claims Trump's efforts to politicize the Justice Department were worse than we knew.. Of course they were. Do you think Trump appointed Jeff Sessions for any other reason? Wasn't it clear when he turned to William Barr that the problem with Sessions was that he wasn't political enough? Book is by Geoffrey Berman, who was USDA for Southern District of New York until he was fired in June 2020 for not being political enough for Barr. For more, see Benjamin Weiser: [09-08] Trump Pushed Officials to Prosecute His Critics, Ex-U.S. Attorney Says.

Thomas E Ricks: [09-05] Why I've stopped fearing America is headed for civil war. Unlike the 1850s, there's no institutional support for civil war today. I've often joked that the 2nd Amendment was passed to be sure that a strong federal government couldn't nip a civil war in the bud, but wasn't repealed because no one imagined it could be used again (or wanted to admit that was the reason; besides, there were still Indians to kill). And no one could imagine that we'd ever be dumb enough to regard a random psycho with an AR-15 as a "well-regulated militia." While Ricks may sleep tight, there is still a good chance of a fair amount of semi-random right-wing violence from the crazies egged on by the Republicans and their propaganda wing.

Nathan J Robinson: [08-29] Our Invasions: "If we're never going to hold U.S. war criminals accountable, what moral credibility do we have when we condemn Russia and others? We don't even begin to practice what we preach."

Alex Shephard: [09-07] CNN, Politico Want to Give Authoritarianism a Fair Shake: "Are these outlets truly ignorant of the threats facing our democracy, or are they looking to profit from its fall?"

David Siders: [09-09] 'The environment is upside down': Why Dems are winning the culture wars: I think it would be more accurate to say that Republicans are losing "culture wars" to the people affected by them, in many cases decisively enough that Democrats have lost the will to side with the Republicans. Democrats have never seen "culture wars" as a winning political issue: otherwise, why would Bill Clinton push the Defense of Marriage Act? Or why would Democrats repeatedly pass the Hyde Amendment? I've seen a report that Biden will change the federal narcotics definitions to legalize marijuana. Once cultural change issues get to the point where 60-70% support them, they're difficult for the self-proclaimed Democratic Party to oppose.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-09] Roaming Charges: Special Master Blaster. Starts with a Barbara Ehrenreich quote (more later), then goes into how justice works (or doesn't work) in America. He points out that the rich and powerful get special treatment, but even so Trump is in a class of one. (What other criminal can boast of appointing his own judge?) He also notes that when the FBI raids a residence, they often seize property, and have to face lesser constraints for "forfeitures" than they do with regular indictments.

There is a map here showing "50-Year Change in Summer (Jun-Aug) Temperatures: 1973-2022. The point of the map here is to show how much hotter the West has gotten over this period, which is pretty dramatic, but I couldn't help but look at where I live, in south-central Kansas, where it seems to have gotten a bit cooler. (Also a big chunk of eastern Nebraska, and southeast South Dakota, along with isolated spots in the Midwest, from Indiana down to Oklahoma and up to the northeast corner of Montana. The South and East are all up, but not nearly as much as the West.)

Astra Taylor: [09-06] Debtors, Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Shame. One of the smartest writers on the left, but she got to this op-ed as an activist, fighting for debt relief. As she writes: "If debt is a dual source of profit and power, shame is its handmaiden. Shame isolates and divides, making class solidarity more difficult. The knee-jerk anger at the idea of student debt cancellation in some circles, while ostensibly about fairness, reflects the common though misguided view that when one person gains, another loses."

Michael Tomasky: [09-06] Economics, Democracy, and Freedom: It's All One Argument. Adapted from the author's new book, The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity. A major thrust here is the attempt to reclaim "freedom" as a goal (and therefore a principle) of progressive economic policy. As a political proposition, this is similar enough to my own that it may save me writing a book (I don't seem to be making any headway on anyway).

Jason Willick: [09-05] How a 1950s new left manifesto explains the 2020s new right: Well, I had to click this to see what the fuck he was talking about, but I'll save you the trouble: It's C. Wright Mills' 1956 bestseller, The Power Elite, which was about a world very different from the one we inhabit now. (Nicholas Lemann's book Transaction Man does a good job of showing how America changed from the big corporate power Mills wrote about to leaner/meaner financial depredation.) Still, don't expect to learn anything about Mills in a piece that starts: "One of the disorienting features of modern American politics is the sense that the parties' identifies have turned upside down." In Willick's bizarre "upside down" world Republicans are trying to defend the little guy against the tyranny of the FBI and military leaders, while Democrats are conspiring with "big corporations to control expression." Or, as he quotes AEI Fellow Yuval Levin: "Today's Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today's Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, September 5, 2022


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 38637 [38595] rated (+42), 56 [51] unrated (+5: 23 new, 33 old).

I'm tired and sick and generally disgusted, so have next to nothing to say about this week's music. If you want to go to a happier place, try Phil Overeem's September list. That's where I found Witchcraft Books (or whatever the proper credit is). Before that, the only A- record on my list was Vol. 6 of the Sam Rivers archives, which is probably the 6th A- in that series so far.

I wrote a pretty long Speaking of Which over the weekend. I thought I could get up today and give is an extra edit pass, but wound up spending most of the day on the August Streamnotes index. Only thing I got out of that was the news that the Streamnotes index passed 20,000 last month.

I did a fairly extensive update of the Robert Christgau website last week. We've had several episodes where resource limits choked the website, and one of those occurred last week. I had been working on coding changes to check for attempted hacks using HTTP arguments (especially the GET variables set from the URL), so I pushed myself and puts checks on the last such cases. There's no proof that the resource limits were being caused by those hacks, but since I knew it was a security risk, it was the obvious fix to make. I've been monitoring the website more closely since then. We've had one fault, but it was short-lived, and I don't know what caused it. As the changes hit most of the database code, let me know if you run into anything amiss. It's also possible that the checks will catch some reasonable requests, so let me know about that, too.

Given today's fault, the changes don't appear to have fixed the problem. The entry process limit exists primarily as a defense against DOS (denial of service) attacks, but I don't see any evidence of that level of traffic. That means, most likely, that some page requests are causing processes to hang. I have no way of identifying hung processes, so I'm left to guessing, looking at code for suspicious loops. (Code injected through arguments can easily cause hangs like that, so my first guess wasn't necessarily a wrong one.) I put some logging code in to help, but after I didn't get any data back in three days, I discovered a bug, and had to start over. (Ah: caught 17 errors so far, some suspicious, but I forgot to log the script name, so should add that.)

New router seems to be working OK. It picked up all the old DHCP addresses, so I ran into less trouble than expected. In some ways the transition was a little too smooth.

The second album (Holy Souls) from my friend Cam Patterson's band Fox Green is available now. I've been slow getting around to it, but you can listen for yourself on Bandcamp, and order a CD or download there. The first one, The Longest April, was a high B+ both by Robert Christgau and yours truly.


New records reviewed this week:

Florian Arbenz: Conversation #6 & #7 (2021 [2022], Hammer): Swiss drummer, has a trio (since 2006) called Vein, started his superb Conversation series during lockdown, entertaining various guests. Guest here is pianist Kirk Lightsey, in a duo for the first part, expanded to a quartet with Tibor Elekes (bass) and Domenic Landolf (tenor sax/bass clarinet). B+(***) [bc]

Karl Berger/Max Johnson/Billy Mintz: Sketches (2017 [2022], Fresh Sound): Mostly piano-bass-drums trio, with Berger also on vibes. All three contribute songs, plus one from Charlie Haden and one trad. B+(***) [sp]

Camp Cope: Running With the Hurricane (2022, Run for Cover): Australian alt-rock trio, Georgia McDonald the lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist, two other women on bass and drums. Third album. B+(*) [sp]

The Chats: Get Fucked (2022, Bargain Bin): Australian post-punk group, second album, knock their songs off like bowling pins. B+(***) [sp]

Tashi Dorji/Susie Ibarra: Master of Time (2020 [2022], Astral Spirits): Bhutanese guitarist based in Ashville, NC; numerous albums since 2009, mostly solo improvs and duos, like this one with the drummer/percussionist. She gets into the Buddhist thing. B+(**) [bc]

Drug Church: Hygiene (2022, Pure Noise): Rock band from Albany, NY; somewhere in the punk/hardcore/grunge constellation. Fourth album since 2013. I don't find the grind unlistenable, but don't get much more out of it. B [sp]

Silvana Estrada: Marchita (2022, Glassnote): Mexican singer-songwriter, from Veracruz, second album, title translates as "withered." B+(*) [sp]

The Fernweh: Torschlusspanik! (2022, Winterlude): Brit rock group, from Liverpool, name and title sounded German to me, so I called up Google translate and was amused to find that the English for "Fernweh" is "Wanderlust." The title translates as "last minute panic." Second album. Only non-English song title is French ("Pas devant les enfants"). B+(*) [sp]

Florist: Florist (2022, Double Double Whammy): Indie folk band quartet from Brooklyn, self-released debut EP in 2013, fourth album on the current label, the eponymous title suggesting that they've reached a level worthy of re-introducing themselves. Emily Sprague sings, and seems to be into modular synthesizers. Nice flow to the music. Does run a bit long. B+(***) [sp]

Al Foster: Reflections (2022, Smoke Sessions): Drummer, joined Miles Davis in 1972, had a couple albums as leader 1978-79, a scattered few since including one in 2019 on this label, huge number of side credits along the way. Leads a powerhouse quintet here, with Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Chris Potter (tenor and soprano sax), Kevin Hays (piano and Fender Rhodes), Vicente Archer (bass). I don't care for the ensemble horn tone, but as soloists they're impressive as expected. B+(*) [sp]

Ezra Furman: All of Us Flames (2022, Anti-): Singer-songwriter from Chicago, debut 2007 as front for a band (Ezra Furman & the Harpoons), solo since 2012, has a fairly remarkable string of albums. I'm having trouble focusing on this one, but maybe I should just let it be. B+(***) [sp]

Michael Grossman/Jai Morris-Smith: Curious Music (2020-21 [2022], Research/Astral Spirits): Australian guitar duo, both indulging liberally in "treatments," which fade into ambience. B [bc]

Ben Harper: Bloodline Maintenance (2022, Chrysalis): Singer-songwriter from California, 16th album since 1994, mixed race, mixed genre but blues seems to be his default setting, a reserve of strength when he gets topical, as in "We Need to Talk About It." B+(**) [sp]

Keefe Jackson/Oscar Jan Hoogland/Joshua Abrams/Mikel Patrick Avery: These Things Happen (2016 [2022], Astral Spirits, EP): Sax quartet, leader plays tenor and sopranino, backed by piano, bass, and drums. Opens with a Monk riff, covers Dewey Redman and Herbie Nichols, includes two songs by the pianist, and returns to Monk again. Short enough we'll call it an EP (21:55). B+(**) [bc]

JID: The Forever Story (2022, Dreamville/Interscope): Atlanta rapper Destin Route, third album, debut was called The Never Story. Slippery, some stories. B+(**) [sp]

Lykke Li: Eyeye (2022, PIAS): Swedish singer/songwriter, last name Zachrisson, fifth album since 2008. Soft pop, doesn't grab me, but has some moments. B+(*) [sp]

Roberto Magris: Duo & Trio: Featuring Mark Colby (2012-19 [2022], JMood): Italian pianist, from Trieste, started around 1982, has recorded a lot since 2005. Alternates cuts between a duo with saxophonist Mark Colby (the later session) and a trio with Elisa Pruett (bass) and Brian Steever (drums), adding congas to the latter on two tracks. Nice showing for Colby. B+(**) [cd] [09-01]

Rudi Mahall/Michael Griener: Jazzpreis (2020-21 [2022], Astral Spirits): German duo, bass clarinet/clarinet/baritone sax with drums/vibraphone. Mahall has a lot of shared or side credits since 1992. Griener, two years younger, has about half as many credits, but was leader on a 2014 quartet with Mahall I like, and joined Mahall's group Die Enttäuschung for their 2017 Lavaman album. B+(***) [bc]

Roc Marciano & the Alchemist: The Elephant Man's Bones (2022, ALC/Marci/Empire): Rapper Rakheim Calief Meyer, has a dozen alums since 2010, this the first one with Dan Maman producing. Not much stands out from their inscrutable groove. B+(**)

Matmos: Regards/Uklony Dla Boguslaw Schaeffer (2022, Thrill Jockey): Electronica duo, M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, originally from San Francisco, now based in Baltimore, 13th album since 1997, a collection of works by Polish computer Schaefer (1929-2019). Opens with beats. Could use more. B+(*) [sp]

Tommy McLain: I Ran Down Every Dream (2022, Yep Roc): Swamp pop crooner, got on the "one hit wonders" list with his 1966 recording of "Sweet Dreams" -- the only one to chart as pop (15) but these days you know it from Patsy Cline (1963) and I also know it from writer Don Gibson (1956; Faron Young cover sold more, but I'm a bigger fan of Gibson's compilations). McLain recorded a number of albums in the 1970s, but this is only the second one since. Aside from a Fats Domino cover, originals, some sharing credits with Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Van Dyke Parks. Nothing immediately grabs me, but some of it sinks in agreeably. B+(*) [sp]

Mdou Moctar: Niger EP Vol. 1 (2022, Matador, EP): Saharan guitarist from Niger, has uniformly appealing albums since 2013, long on groove, not many vocals. This is long enough (42:58), but starting with two "drum machine version" takes and concluding with four live tracks (most of old songs), is nicely discounted, and about as functional as the other albums. B+(***) [sp]

Mush: Down Tools (2022, Memphis Industries): Post-punk band from Leeds [UK], third album, some jangle in the guitars, some static in the amps. Reminds me of Psychedelic Furs and/or Pavement. B+(**) [sp]

Jessica Pavone: . . . Of Late (2021 [2022], Astral Spirits): Plays viola here, Abby Swidler violin or viola, Aimée Nieman violin on one track, which also has voice from all three. Mostly slow and methodical, thinking of minimalism. A bit more interesting toward the end, but I've never liked the shrillness. B [bc]

Harish Raghavan: In Tense (2021 [2022], Whirlwind): Bassist, based in New York, second album, quintet with Morgan Guerin (reeds), Charles Altura (guitar), Joel Ross (vibes/marimba), and Eric Harland (drums). B [sp]

Joe Rainey: Niineta (2022, 37d03d): Pow wow singer from Minneapolis ("faithful to tradition"), first album, backed by "cinematic, bass-heavy production from Andrew Broder." Jarring at first, grows on you. B+(**) [sp]

Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Joshua Abrams: Allium (2022, Aerophonic): Alto/tenor sax, with cello and drums, in what's by far the most atmospheric album Rempis has ever recorded. Lovely stretch toward the end, but hard to get excited about all the down time. B+(***) [cd] [10-04]

Joan Shelley: The Spur (2022, No Quarter): Folk singer-songwriter from Kentucky, albums since 2010, some in the group Maiden Radio. Nice voice, very pretty album. B+(**) [sp]

Ben Sidran: Swing State (2021 [2022], Nardis): Pianist, started in a rock band with Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs, has three dozen solo albums since 1970 (of which I've only heard one before this), I have him down as a vocalist but not here: eight standards (including "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Stompin' at the Savoy," and "Tuxedo Junction"), backed by Billy Patterson (bass) and Leo Sidran (drums, his son). B+(**) [cd] [09-16]

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Let's Turn It Into Sound (2022, Ghostly International): Started with a fascination for synthesizers and sound design, debut 2012, sings some, tenth album, some interesting quirks in the electronics. B+(*) [sp]

Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson (2022, Easy Eye Sound): Country singer, has a big, goofy voice you can't mistake for anyone else, debut in 1980, 22 albums through 2020, most of them charted but only 3 went gold, starting with 1982's Wild & Blue. Not immediately clear how many of these were written by Anderson, or how recently they were recorded. (This starts with John Prine, who died in 2020, singing "1959," written by Gary Gentry, and ends with a Billy Joe Shaver song, and one by Bo Diddley in the middle.) B+(**) [bc]

Charm Taylor: She Is the Future (2021, Sinking City): Born in St. Louis, based in New Orleans, "liberationist & pollinator is generating new music and art as movement in the throes of social revolution, emergent motherhood, and a global yearning for a better world." First album. Sings some, raps more. B+(**) [bc]

Teddy & the Rough Riders: Teddy & the Rough Riders 2022, self-released, EP): Nashville band, guitar-bass-drums plus pedal steel, released an album in 2019, back here with six songs (19:56). B [bc]

Matt Ulery: Become Giant (2022, Woolgathering): Chicago bassist, albums since 2009, goes long on strings here, with three violins, viola, cello, and drums, on the multipart title piece plus one more (total: 36:25). B+(**) [cd]

UNKLE: Ronin II [Mixed] (2022, self-released): Founded in 1990s by British electronia producer James Lavelle, a group that included DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) for their 1998 debut, Psyence Fiction, but has reduced here to someone called Miink and occasional guests, revisiting old tunes and adding a couple new ones. The closer is by far the most impressive. B+(**) [bc]

Wiri Donna: Being Alone (2022, self-released, EP): New Zealand-based "rock project," Bianca Bailey singer-songwriter, six tracks (23:46) EP after a 2-track single. B [bc]

Witchcraft Books [Shorty Skilz/Kanif the Jhatmaster]: Vol I: The Sundisk (2022, Iapetus): Cover can be parsed several ways, with Bandcamp page using "Witchcraft Books" in title as well as artist credit, with the duo names way below. Both artists have separate albums on the label, so I was tempted to elevate their names, but for now will just note them. South Africans (I think), closer to U.S. underground hip-hop than to local grooves (kwaito or amapiano), but was mastered in Marseille and Catalonia, and covers a fair swath of cosmos. A- [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Daunik Lazro/Jouk Minor/Thierry Madiot/David Chiésa/Louis-Michel Marion: Sonoris Causa (2003 [2022], NoBusiness): French saxophonist, albums since 1980, plays baritone here, with contrabass sarrusophone, bass trombone/telescopic tubes, and two 5-string basses, so you could say they "get down." B+(**) [cd]

Prince and the Revolution: Live (1985 [2022], NPG/Legacy, 2CD): March 30 concert in Syracuse, "televised live and semi live around the world," released at the time on tape (VHS/Betamax, with a Laserdisc in 1988), source for numerous bootlegs, until the Estate finally came up with the definitive box set (3-LP, 2-CD, Blu-ray), or just the 2-CD and/or Blu-ray. I'm just streaming the audio. The set draws heavily on his most recent album, Purple Rain, along with familiar earlier material. The auditorium and the crowd don't do the sound any favors, so while the energy is high and the songs are great, I don't see this as terribly useful. B+(**) [sp]

Sam Rivers: Caldera [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 6] (2002 [2022], NoBusiness): Featuring Doug Matthews (acoustic & electric bass, bass clarinet) and Anthony Cole (drums, tenor sax, piano), a trio that had been playing together since 1994. Rivers himself plays tenor & soprano sax, flute, and piano, plus gets a vocals credit. Opens with piano, finds new and varied combinations, what improvisation is all about. A- [cd]

Old music:

Tony Conrad: Early Minimalism: Volume One (1964-65 [1997], Table of the Elements, 4CD): Experimental film/video producer, composed pieces on the drone end of the minimalist scene that developed in New York in the 1960s. The first disc here is "Four Violins," and right away you'll hear the electric viola tone that John Cale brought to the Velvet Underground. Unfortunately, for 32:30 (and it seems much longer) you'll hear nothing else. The later sessions are slightly more fetching, not that the drones vary much there, either. The box is flimsy with a promotional wraparound, but it does include a fairly substantial booklet. B+(**) [cd]

Nazareth: Back to the Trenches: Live 1972-1984 (1972-84 [2001], Sanctuary/Castle, 2CD): Scottish hard rock band, debut 1971, moved into arenas with their 1975 album Hair of the Dog, solid but nondescript, from the era before metal became dead weight. B [cd]

Marianne Nowottny: Manmade Girl: SOngs and Instrumentals (2001, Abaton Book, 2CD): Singer-songwriter, second album after a 1999 debut, Discogs lists four more since. Songs fractured, backed with keyboard. Second disc of instruments, slips into background. B+(*) [cd]

Precocious Noise and Early Electronica Pt. 1: Incantations for Tape (1920s-60s [2018], Sound Miracle): Odd electronic music, from days when anything you could coax out of a circuit seemed like a breakthrough. How valuable this is will depend on the documentation. [NB: Streaming issues may have confused me here: it's possible that some pieces were omitted, while others were added at end.] B+(*) [sp]

Precocious Noise and Early Electronica Pt. 2: Wire Recorded Pieces (1921-62 [2020], Sound Miracle): Most of these date from the 1950s, with early ones from 1921, 1938, 1944. Later pieces include a few well-known names, like Ligeti, Ussachevsky, and Pierre Henry. B+(**) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Richard Baratta: Music in Film: The Sequel (Savant)
  • Kristin Berardi: The Light & the Dark (Earshift Music) [10-14]
  • Rob Brown/Juan Pablo Carletti: Fertile Garden (NoBusiness) [04-20]
  • Gustavo Cortiñas: Kind Regards: Saludos Afectuosos (Pesato Candente) [09-02]
  • Steven Feifke/Dijon Watson: Steven Feifke and Dijon Watson Present: Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra (Cellar) [09-09]
  • Tim Fitzgerald: Tim Fitzgerald's Full House (Cellar) [09-16]
  • Daunik Lazro/Jouk Minor/Thierry Madiot/David Chiésa/Louis-Michel Marion: Sonoris Causa (2003, NoBusiness) [04-22]
  • Shawn Purcell: 180 (Origin) [09-12]
  • Howard Riley/Keith Tippett: Journal Four (NoBusiness) [04-20]
  • Sam Rivers: Caldera [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 6] (2002, NoBusiness) [04-18]
  • Jeremy Rose & the Earshift Orchestra: Disruption! The Voice of the Drums (Earshift Music) [10=14]
  • Clark Sommers Lens: Intertwine (Outside In Music) [09-16]
  • Matt Ulery: Become Giant (Woolgathering) [08-26]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 4, 2022


Speaking of Which

I made the point a while back that Trump only became leader of the Republican Party when he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. Once he became viewed as a winner, all else was not merely forgiven but accepted as virtue. So when he lost in 2020, he should have been disposed of. But he came up with a clever way of escaping the trap: he declared himself the real winner, and most Republicans wound up falling back in line. After all, most Republicans are sheep, mired in a bubble of misinformation, and neither smart nor curious enough to think for themselves. With his "big lie," Trump has not only maintained his position as the leader of his party, he has kept himself in the spotlight continuously over the last two years -- mostly to get beaten up and humiliated even more, but professional Republicans are powerless to to stop him. They, after all, have become too complicit in his lies.

One result of this is that the 2022 elections are going to be a referendum not on Biden but on Trump. This is a huge difference from 2010. In 2008, Bush was even more unpopular than Trump was in 2020, but Bush basically went into hiding after leaving the White House, and two years later had been conveniently forgotten. Biden's record is arguably better in 2022 than Obama's was in 2010: both have presided over economic recoveries that could be better, and both have had legislative wins (although Obama's ACA was little appreciated at the time, partly because implementation was delayed). And give Biden credit for getting out of Afghanistan, where Obama got deeper in (but, at least, out of Iraq, although he got back in again later). But achievements like those don't seem to motivate voters, certainly not like fear and loathing. And let's face it: nobody in America elicits more fear and loathing than Trump.

But let's also note that Trump's onus has rubbed off on much of his party. And that's not just because the Big Lie and all the little liars who have dutifully lined up behind it has come to be viewed by so many as an assault on democracy as well as on the nation as a whole. And it's not just because the investigation and prosecution of January 6 has kept memory of those events from fading -- indeed, Trump's vow to pardon the rioters is a self-own, somewhere between Roosevelt's "I welcome their hate" of "economic royalists" and Napoleon crowning himself emperor. While Trump once could claim 80 million voters, the January 6 riot was just a few thousand fanatics, for which at most a few hundred have been charged with crimes. He's systematically belittling himself, all the while appearing even more ominous and abhorrent to the 85 million who voted him down in 2020.

While voters often remained confused about who is responsible for what, they got a crystal clear demonstrations of who the Republicans are when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. That's been a partisan crusade since the 1980s, and while Trump did the ultimate packing of the Court, the "trigger laws" that have snapped into place, depriving more than a third of Americans of a right that had been secure for 50 years, is purely the work of local Republicans. It remains to be seen whether Republicans will get the blame they deserve for dozens of other unpopular positions they have taken, let alone for the longer-term damage they've done to the economy and to society. Democrats have two more months to make those charges stick.

As for Trump himself, he more and more looks like a walking corpse. He may or may not get indicted, and possibly more than once. Unless he cops a plea, it will be hard to convict him, but the nicks and scrapes aren't likely to help him politically. He's too whiny and peevish to make much of a martyr, and the few who are inclined to see him as such aren't going to have much effect -- except perhaps through self-defeating acts of violence. If Democrats come out of the election stronger than before, his reputation as a winner will take a beating. We're already seeing articles like Nate Silver: [09-02] Why Trump's Presence in the Midterms Is Risky for the GOP. He may still announce a presidential run for 2024 -- it will be hard for him to resist a graft he has been cultivating ever since leaving office -- but I doubt he'll make it to Iowa or New Hampshire, let alone sweep the primaries. He's no longer the outsider he campaigned as in 2016. And he's no longer the winner. While others will seek his blessing, carry his colors, and promise to finally deliver on his vision of Make America Great Again™, no one else is likely to duplicate his clown show, and few (other than the idiot press) will miss the drama.


Facebook tells me that today is Mary McDonough Harren's birthday. Alas, she is no longer with us, and greatly missed.


Natalie Schachar: [09-02] Barbara Ehrenreich, Explorer of Prosperity's Dark Side, Dies at 81. This reads more like a profile than an obituary, including the quote: "So to me, sitting at a desk all day was not only a privilege but a duty: something I owed to all those people in my life, living and dead, who'd had so much more to say than anyone ever got to hear." I figure her as the most important writer the American left has produced. Everyone else who comes to mind filled some niche or other, but she ranged everywhere, and the few subjects she missed were ones we were waiting for her to weigh in on. In 2016, when sensible people were searching for books to explain how it was possible Trump won, few looked back as far as her 1989 Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. That was probably my introduction, followed by The Worst Years of Our Lives, a title she spent on the 1980s when even worse years were still to come. I imagine that The American Health Empire (1971) and her explicitly feminist works from the 1970s are a bit dated, but wouldn't be surprised to find otherwise. Blood Rites was a wholly original take on war, Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch introduced many of us to the hard work of poverty, Dancing in the Streets offered joy, and Bright-Sided told us not to get too obsessed with it. I read her primer on dying, Natural Causes, earlier this year, and found it reassuring, as she no doubt intended. Too bad I missed the memoir, subtitled A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything, which could double as mine. Something to live for.

Kate Aronoff: [08-23] Made-in-America Electric Cars: Good in Theory but a Complicated Mess in Practice: That's what you get when you try to do two things at once. Biden is starting to move away from free market globalization (which has stripped America of most manufacturing jobs) to a national economic policy that brings manufacturing jobs back. That makes the switch to electric cars harder and more expensive, but it's as good a place to start the policy as any.

Also on electric cars:

Ross Barkan: [08-29] Don't Mock the Payroll Protection Program: Sure, it was an easy reach when Republicans reacted hysterically to Biden's student loan order, especially given that lightning rods Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene were on the list of major beneficiaries of PPP loan forgiveness. But the program was one of a number of measures that helped people get through the early days of pandemic lockdown. Not every measure has to help everyone, and not every measure has to help the poorest of the poor. Forgiving student loans is effectively middle-class relief: the rich don't need it, and the poor can't use it, but for people in the middle it makes a lot of difference. PPP was more of an upper-middle-class program, but it was packaged with things like supplemented unemployment benefits that helped more people. Farm supports only directly help a small population, but they help keep food plentiful for the rest of us. Bank bailouts only obviously help filthy rich bankers, but they can be justified for keeping businesses open and running. (I don't quite buy that, but that's an argument that reasonable people who care about more than bankers can accept.)

I've long hated when people decry business supports as "corporate welfare." Welfare should be thought of as a good thing, something we all deserve more of. The preamble of the U.S. Constitution declared that the reason we have and should want a federal government is "to promote the general Welfare." The art of politics is maintaining a balance that benefits most of the people most of the time. The practice of politics tries to break this asunder, favoring some interests at the expense of others, and in its most degenerate form disfavoring others out of pure spite (or a misguided belief in zero-sum games). Republicans these days offer many examples of such degeneracy. We shouldn't emulate them.

Kim Bellware/Alex Horton: [09-02] VA plans to offer abortions for veterans regardless of state laws. This looks like an important policy change, and a brave one under the circumstances. Still doesn't go as far as an idea I thought of long ago: making VA centers available for abortions for all women, regardless of military affiliation. I liked the idea because it would be almost impossible to set up the sort of gauntlets women often have to pass through to get to clinics (at least that's the case here in Wichita). Related background: Alex Horton/Rachel Roubein: [07-29] Abortion ruling will worsen military personnel crisis, Pentagon says.

Daniel Davis: [08-29] The Real Problem With Biden's Afghanistan Withdrawal: It Came 10 Years Too Late. Or earlier still, but Davis's perspective was formed by serving in Afghanistan in 2010-11 ("at the height of Petraeus's Afghan surge"), which clearly proved that the US was not going to escalate its way to a satisfactory solution, but still had some leverage to negotiate with.

Also:

  • Gil Barndollar/Jason Dempsey: [09-02] Don't Believe the Generals: "Afghanistan was a lost war long before last year's final withdrawal." The authors served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2014, which is the critical window for understanding that there was nothing the US could do in Afghanistan that had any chance of working. Before that you could make excuses like "we dropped the ball" by rushing into Iraq, imagining that focus would help, that you could find better Afghan leaders than Karzai, that you could get more help from Pakistan, etc. Instead, all focus meant was more firepower, and that failed for all to see.

  • Jacob Batinga: [09-01] Sanctions are Destructive, Illegitimate, and Totally Bipartisan: "Destitution should not be a tool of U.S. foreign policy." I filed this under Afghanistan following the photo, but destitution is a tool (actually, a weapon) the U.S. has used many times, pretty much never with its advertised effect.

Last week I followed Tariq Ali's Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, with The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold, a slim volume compiled from previous essays. They're a little scattershot, but his insights and speculations have proven remarkably solid. Perhaps the best part is his background and analysis of the Russian intervention in 1979 and its 10-year occupation, which like the US invasion in 2001 he viewed as doomed from the start.

Connor Echols: [08-26] Diplomacy Watch: Will six months of war turn into six years? This weekly report came out before Ukraine announced its offensive in the Kherson region, but once again has no progress to report. As for the offensive: Against fierce resistance, Ukraine makes small gains in the south near Kherson. Or so they say.

More on Ukraine:

  • Connor Echols: [09-02] Diplomacy Watch: Did Boris Johnson help stop a peace deal in Ukraine?

  • Jan Cienski: [09-02] Energy war erupts as Putin and the West clash over oil and gas: The G7 thinks they can starve Russia's war effort by capping the price they pay for Russian oil and gas. I don't see how that can work, or why anyone thinks it can.

  • Blaise Malley: [09-01] Can the Quincy Institute Survive Putin's War? This is a rehash of Joe Cirincione's resignation, who felt the "transpartisan" think tank (backed by Koch and Soros money) wasn't sufficiently anti-Putin. I've found their Responsible Statecraft website to be a dependable source for sanity, one I've cited often in these pages (especially the work of resident expert Anatol Lieven and "Diplomacy Watch" reporter Connor Echols. No one there doubts that Putin is responsible for the war, and that his armed intervention deserves to be beaten back. On the other hand, they acknowledge the history that led to the conflict. And most importantly, they recognize that continuing the war only adds to the harms already inflicted. And they realize that the only way out is through negotiation, which they correctly criticize both sides for shirking.

  • Geoffrey Roberts: [08-26] Are these hawks really calling for a preventative war? Well, not exactly. As I understand it, they're saying that we don't need to worry about the war with Russia -- and they're really thinking of this as America's war to defeat Russia, not just to help Ukraine defend itself -- going nuclear, because Putin will always back down when faced with America's nuclear deterrent. Hence, we should send even more dangerous and provocative weapons to Ukraine. But while they are hawks and seek to extend the war, I don't see any reason to call it "preventative": the war is already ongoing, started by Putin when he invaded Ukraine beyond the breakaway regions. Still, the "preventative war" mindset does appear to be operative here: that's how Putin described his invasion. But the term isn't even an oxymoron; it's a self-negation. No one ever prevents a war by starting one.

  • Ravil Maganov is the eighth Russian oil executive to die under mysterious circumstances since the war begun.

Nick French: [09-03] US Life Expectancy Has Declined Again. Neoliberalism and Antidemocratic Rule Are to Blame. The more obvious reason is Covid-19, but it's hit the US much harder than most relatively well-off countries. Plus there's guns, opiates, car wrecks (which St Clair reports are twice as likely to be fatal in the US as in other countries like France and Canada). But sure, having a health care system that is better at making money than saving lives is part of the story. And putting prices on everything ensures that unprofitable people will suffer.

Tareq S Hajjaj: [09-01] Israel's 'Operation Breaking Dawn' killed 49 Palestinians. These are their stories. All wars should be reported like this. All war supporters should be read these reports. Note that the absence of any Israelis profiled is because none died in this particular bit of slaughter.

Jacob Heilbrunn: [08-28] Trumpism Before Trump: "How a small group of reactionaries hijacked the Republican Party -- decades before the 2016 election." Lead photo: Newt Gingrich. Review of Nicole Hemmer: Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s. Dana Milbank's recent The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party covers the same ground.

Alex Henderson: [08-26] Moderna sues two competitors for 'patent infringement' over COVID vaccine technology. Patents are basically a license to steal from the public. By claiming whole swathes of technology, they also inhibit further development of that technology. And when they're applied retroactively, the entire market gets blindsided. The whole racket should be demolished -- as indeed it only exists because political laws have been enacted to favor private interests.

Umair Irfan: [08-31] Why Covid-19 death rates remain stubbornly flat. A little over 400 per day, which would add up to 150,000 for the year: offhand, that's about as many people as die from guns, drug overdoses, and auto accidents combined, which are the three non-disease statistics that routinely outrage various people.

Ben Jacobs: [09-02] Biden defended democracy -- and pounced on a political opportunity: "The goal was to make 'MAGA Republicans' a label for everything that voters find politically toxic about the GOP right now." Biden gave a prime time political speech that quite rightly called out Republicans as a threat to democracy. He tried to limit blame to a subset of the party defined by their blind loyalty to Trump, and phrased that in terms just short of name-calling. I'm not much for broad labels, but one needs some way of making the point that electing Republicans will cost you rights, including the right to fair elections in the future, and impose other hardships. Biden's trying to be gentle about this, leaving a lot of room for Republicans to distance themselves from the most extreme elements of their party, but few of them will give him any respect for the effort. And frankly, I'm not sure coddling them is worth the effort. The Republican Party is designed to ratchet ever further to the right, so you can see where they're going, and should be alarmed. Of course, Republicans are reacting hysterically (reminds me of the old lawyering advice: if you have the facts, pound the facts; if you have the law, pound the law; if you have neither, pound the table).

Benji Jones: [08-30] How melting glaciers fueled Pakistan's fatal floods: "Pakistan has more than 7,000 glaciers. Climate change is melting them into floodwater." For more on Pakistan's floods, see St Clair, below; also:

Benji Jones: [08-31] How Jackson, Mississippi, ran out of water: A massive flood pushed an already stressed system over the brink. Why was it stressed? You know. If you don't, see Krugman, below.

Ed Kilgore: [09-01] Rick Scott Wants Mitch McConnell to Be 'Cheerleader' for Bad Candidates: Over at FiveThirtyEight Republicans are still favored 75-25 to take control of the House, but their Senate prospects have dwindled to 32-68. That's because Republicans have nominated some really bad Senate candidates, although it's quite possible they just don't know yet how bad Republican House candidates are: they just don't get as much polling and media attention (except for Sarah Palin, who just lost a "safe" R seat in Alaska). McConnell's is Republican leader in the Senate, and (whatever else you may think of him) a shrewd judge of whatever he can get away with, at least with respect to the Washington media bubble. He knows that he can get away with more as Majority Leader than as Minority Leader, and he sees chances of that are slipping away, so he's taken discreet steps to cover his ass. Scott is a MAGA fanatic, who was made head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee (with McConnell's approval, no doubt), figuring the time was ripe for his brand of aggression. Democrats should hang Scott's manifesto on the neck of every Republican candidate this year, but in the meantime Republicans are hanging themselves. I don't normally like to get into retail politics here, but a few more examples:

Anatol Lieven: [08-30] The tragedy of Mikhail Gorbachev: Dead at 91, the last President and General Secretary of the Soviet Union, often blamed for its demise, but rarely credited for the reforms he intended, and almost universally eschewed by later Russian voters. His reforms were readily embraced by other Communist nations -- except North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, whose defenses had been hardened by American sanctions, and China, which moved quickly to strangle Glasnost in its crib, while introducing more effective economic reforms. (It's worth recalling that China reacted with similar horror to Krushchev's de-Stalinization.) Gorbachev's Wikipedia page makes reference to him being "committed to preserving the Soviet State and its socialist ideals." The tragedy there is how few of his followers -- nearly all high-ranking functionaries in the Party -- retained any socialist ideals at all. Most, including Boris Yeltsin, shifted effortlessly to kleptocracy, some not even bothering to dress it up as a form of democracy.

Also:

Anatol Lieven: [08-30] There's a good chance Liz Truss's Ukraine, China policy will be worse: "She is expected to win the contest for PM next week but no matter who's in the role, the Brits will continue to follow Washington anywhere." Sounds like a distinction without a difference, but that seems to happen a lot with conservatives. I'm not surprised that Britain has their own security think tanks, but I hadn't heard of the Henry Jackson Society, named after the longtime "Senator from Boeing."

Sarah Mervosh: [09-01] The Pandemic Erased Two Decades of Progress in Math and Reading: "The results of a national test showed just how devastating the last two years have been for 9-year-old schoolchildren, especially the most vulnerable." As someone with decidedly mixed views of education, I'm tempted to point out that the skill they lost most on was test taking, that reading and math are the most intensely tested subjects. I suspect most students should be able to make that up in fairly short course. But I also suspect that what was really lost was something in short supply already: personal attention. There is a lot of debate these days on what school is and should be; e.g., see the New York Times series What Is School For? I haven't read through all of this yet, but the first section I clicked on was Care, which was probably the first thing sacrificed (if indeed it was much provided; in my day it wasn't).

Ian Millhiser: [08-31] The 4 major criminal probes into Donald Trump, explained: This piece has been around for several weeks, but keeps getting updated, so works as a general introduction.

For more on Trump and his tribulations:

Samuel Moyn: [08-31] 'Sweeping' DoD plan to mitigate civilian harm merely humanizes endless war. This sounds like it may be different from the more conventional defense of "humanitarian war," which admits to killing people but in order to achieve some "greater good" -- a nebulous theory that some neoliberals love to push but never seems to work out right. So most likely this is seen as a corrective against the "take the gloves off" mantra of the Bush-Cheney years. But civilian harm is inevitable given the way the US military is trained, and recent attempts to throttle it have failed (e.g., McChrystal's short reign in Afghanistan, which was abandoned not because it didn't work but because American soldiers revolted against the restraints). Moyn has a recent book along these lines, Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War.

Lindsay Owens/David Dayen: [08-31] Why Obama-Era Economists Are So Mad About Student Debt Relief: "It exposes their failed mortgage debt relief policies after the Great Recession." Of course, we've largely buried the memory of those programs, ignoring why they didn't work, and concluding we didn't need them after all. While the Biden policy is much better designed -- for debtors that is, where mortgage debt relief was actually aimed at helping banks -- there are still "a lot of ways the government can mess this up. See Dayen's [08-30] Implementing Student Debt Relief Is Critical.

Mitchell Plitnick: [09-02] Rebutting AIPAC's case for war with Iran. Aside from inflicting random acts of terror upon Iran, I don't see an actual war plan here. Israel doesn't have the proximity of logistics, let alone the numbers, to defeat Iran. Iraq, much better positioned, fought an 8-year war against Iran, and really just for border lands, and failed. In theory the US could launch something from its Persian Gulf crony petrostates, but they're pretty exposed to reprisals, in many cases literally living in glass houses. A US return to Iraq and/or Afghanistan (or for that matter Pakistan) expressly as a base against Iran wouldn't be tolerated. And while the US (or for that matter Israel) can nuke Iran back past the stone age, how will that play when the radiation cloud wafts past India and China and across the Pacific to America? It's hard to think of anything more disgraceful. So why? To stop JCPOA? That agreement delivers exactly what Israel campaigned for before it was signed, except without the gratuitous fireworks that warmongers see as necessary and self-validating. Since the US can't win a war with Iran, wouldn't we be better off learning to live with a world we cannot change?

More on Iran:

  • Richard Falk: [09-02] To Renew or Not to Renew the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement, That is the Question. Nothing other than a treaty with verification can do the job. Anything else simply dares Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Trump trashed a treaty that had been working as planned purely as a sop to Israeli (and possibly Saudi) political interests, and offered nothing to replace it. Biden supposedly wants to restore the treaty, but not at the expense of normalizing or in any way improving relations with Iran. As I noted above, there is no practical alternative. To pretend that Iran is a country the US can continue snubbing forever without suffering any consequences is delusional, yet such delusions are rarely even challenged in Washington.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-02] Roaming Charges: Losing It: Opens with a terrifying section on the floods in Pakistan (including a satellite picture that takes a while to sink in).


Let me close with this quote from Daniel P.B. Smith, scraped from Facebook, on Trump's cache of secret files:

My theory is that he had completely disorganized piles of mixed-up stuff, including top secret stuff he could show to visitors to impress them with what a big-shot he was [and] how great the US was. If he has photos of Macron in flagrante delicto I can easily see him showing them to everyone.

And that the reason all that stuff went to Mar-a-Lago was not that he is selling it to the Russians, but that his staffers were constantly trying and failing to grab stuff back from him and get it filed back in the proper place. When the time came to move Trump out of the residence at the White House, they suddenly found dozens of boxes with top secret files mixed up with flattering newspaper clippings. "My god, there is no way in hell we can sort this out now. If we leave it here, we could get in trouble ourselves. As well as embarrassing Trump by exposing his childishness and gross mismanagement. The only thing to do is to box it all up quickly, get it the hell out of here, and tell him to hide it at Mar-a-Lago and keep it hidden no matter what."

And the reason why Trump obstructed attempts by the Archives to get them back is that he has occupational defiant disorder, and wouldn't give them back for no better reason than that they asked. Plus that he has enough of a clue to realize that his habit of mixing up documents was something he could get away with while he was still President, but would embarrass him now that he wasn't surrounded by people to cover for him.

That he's embarrassed by what a mess they are in is shown by his accusing the DOJ of spreading out documents on the floor in order to make it look as if Trump had done it.

Heck, the dozens of empty "Top Secret" folders are probably empty because he went through them, didn't find anything that interested him, and tore them in quarters to show he had finished looking at them.

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