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Monday, November 28, 2022

Music Week

November archive (final).

Music: Current count 39159 [39116] rated (+43), 33 [33] unrated (+0: 5 new, 28 old).

First half last week I spent thinking about cooking a little something for Thanksgiving dinner. We wound up with five people. I bought a pound of ground turkey and two of hamburger. I mixed the former with chopped spinach and feta cheese, and added a little butter and garlic powder to both. The idea was to cook them on the little-used gas grill, but it didn't heat up, so my fallback was frying pans indoors. They both came out very well done, but with a lot of tasty brown. Topped them with smoked gouda and havarti, and had bacon, red onion, and pickles to add. Sides were baked beans (topped with bacon), Russian potato salad (with olives, red onion, smoked salmon, and dill), and Spanish slaw (with carrots, red bell pepper, and golden raisins). Had spice cake for dessert, with store-bought butter pecan ice cream. I'm learning to settle for relatively simple dishes that don't kill me. Not quite as good as the birthday dinner, but fit the bill, and didn't leave us with a lot of leftovers.

Second half of the week felt like a void. I finally opened up a file for Speaking of Which, figuring I'd just copy down a few links for future reference -- sort of a placeholder, with few if any comments. But on Sunday I made the rounds, and often couldn't help but write something. Rarely as much as I could, but this sort of analysis is all but second nature these days.

One nice thing about the meal was that I got a chance to talk shop with my nephew. He's been using some kind of AI software to generate images. I had a fairly serious interest in AI back in the 1980s, but haven't followed it much since then. Still, I have some ideas about what it might be good for and where it might cause more trouble than it's worth, so it was good to compare my thoughts with his actual experience.

[PS: I added a link to yesterday's post, as part of Vox's "World to Come" series: AI experts are increasingly afraid of what they're creating. Just a thought, but if you got rid of patents and copyright for AI code, and required that all code be open source, that would slow down the pace of development, and make it harder to hide harmful applications. I also added a link to another No More Mister Nice Blog piece, about how Mike Pompeo rates the head of a teacher's union as "the most dangerous person on the planet."]

A couple notes on the 17th Annual Jazz Critics Poll: Francis Davis asked to be kept informed of the voting, so I've been forwarding mail to him. I also broached the possibility of including his name on the masthead, and he said he'd be honored. I have 26 ballots counted so far, with two more weeks until deadline. I haven't had much time to go back over possible voter lists, but I'll try to do that over the next few days. The most striking thing so far is that the vote is exceptionally scattered: three albums appear on six ballots each, so 23% of the total. This compares to 2021, when James Brandon Lewis appeared on 34% of the ballots, and to 2020, when Maria Schneider scored 36%. Still early days. As I recall, there were six other leaders last year before Lewis finally broke from the pack.

I've done the basic indexing for November Streamnotes, but still have the Music Weeks to compile. I've also fallen behind on the EOY Aggregate, but that's largely because the number of EOY lists doubled today. (Pro tip: I mostly use the lists collected by Album of the Year and Acclaimed Music Forums.) I want to settle on a jazz ballot by Friday. This is what my 2022 list currently looks like. No way will I have time to resample everything on it, so I'm stuck with my memory and spot checks. I did replay Omri Ziegele today, and dropped it a tiny bit -- probably the vocals, as almost everything else is marvelous.

The EOY file has traditionally included a "2%" list of records I haven't heard but think might be worth looking for. This year I've significantly expanded that list to include everything that's gotten Jazz Critics Poll votes, even if I'd put their odds of hitting A- at much less than 2%. I may thin them out later, or just revise the explanation.

A couple quick notes on the music. The Paul Smoker albums are actually remastered digital-only, so the label arguably should be to the reissue, if only there was one. In general, when I stream an album that matches an original release, I attribute it to the original label, instead of the reissue label. I have no qualms about that with streaming services, but it may be a bit unfair in this case.

I've also resurrected "Limited Sampling" this week. I really wanted to hear the Dick Hyman album, but could only find fragments. I expect there will be more of these in the next few weeks. In most cases so far, they're possibly good albums that Bandcamp only has a couple tracks from. However, in the future, I may start including records that are fully available but I hit reject on. Similarly, limited sampling could mean something I've only heard a YouTube or Soundcloud single from. I don't count these as graded albums, but they do show up as heard in the EOY aggregate, with +/- notes.

New records reviewed this week:

Arctic Monkeys: The Car (2022, Domino): Britrock band, have grown increasingly baroque (and unpleasant) since their pretty good 2006 debut. Seventh album. I can't say this one is unlistenable, but the strings and stuff aren't very interesting. And I have no reason to think that Alex Turner is, either. B- [sp]

Simon Belelty: Pee Wee (2020 [2022], Jojo): Guitarist, first album, although he seems to have been around a while, with a 2001 credit with pianist Kirk Lightsey, who appears here. Provides plenty room for leads from Josh Evans (trumpet) and Asaf Yuria (sax), as well as Lightsey. B+(**) [cd]

Wolfert Brederode: Ruins and Remains (2021 [2022], ECM): Dutch pianist, albums since 1997, this one has credits below the title for Matangi Quartet (strings) and Joost Lijbaart (percussion). B+(**) [sp]

Sarah Elizabeth Charles: Blank Canvas (2022, Stretch/Ropeadope): Jazz singer-songwriter, several albums since 2012, backed by piano, guitar, bass, and drums, with a couple guest spots. B+(*) [cd]

The Chicago Plan [Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang]: For New Zealand (2019 [2022], Not Two): Group name from the title of a 2016 album by the same quartet. Leaders play tenor sax/bass clarinet and trombone, credited with three songs each, backed by cello and drums -- the latter pair their Chicago connection. B+(***) [cd]

The Clarinet Trio: Transformations and Further Passages (2021 [2022], Leo): Three clarinetists, nothing else, with Jürgen Kupke, Michael Thieke (alto clarinet), and Gebhard Ullmann (bass clarinet). They open with a collective improv, each takes a solo interlude at some point, the other pieces tend to be by German avant composers, with Albert Mangelsdorff the most frequent touchstone. B+(***) [cd]

Louis Cole: Quality Over Opinion (2022, Brainfeeder): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, plays drums, keyboards, guitar, and bass, also sings. Fourth album since 2010. Seems to have a jazz background, going back to his parents, but straddles genres without getting stuck anywhere. Twenty mostly-short songs, but adds up to 69:59. B+(*) [sp]

Hollie Cook: Happy Hour (2022, Merge): British singer-songwriter, father was Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, mother a backing singer for Culture Club, played keyboards in a late edition of the Slits, fourth solo album since 2011. Weaves a bit of reggae rhythm in. B+(**) [sp]

Cooper-Moore & Stephen Gauci: Conversations Vol. 1 (2019 [2020], 577): Piano and tenor sax duo, collecting six improv pieces (41:47), with another volume kept back in reserve (released 2022). The first sax notes fly awkwardly, but once the piano kicks in, Gauci finds his track. A- [sp]

Craig Davis: Tone Paintings: The Music of Dodo Marmarosa (2021 [2022], MCG Jazz): Pianist, studied at Indiana and Manhattan School of Music, seems to be his first album but claims "30 years of professional experience." Ten songs by bebop pianist Marmarosa, plus his own "A Ditty for Dodo," ably supported by John Clayton (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Paul Dunmall Quintet: Yes Tomorrow (2021 [2022], Discus): British saxophonist (alto/tenor), has a long career on the free jazz scene. Group backs him here with guitar (Steven Saunders), trombone (Richard Foote), bass, and drums. B+(***) [sp]

Chad Fowler/Ivo Perelman/Zoh Amba/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Steve Hirsh: Alien Skin (2022, Mahakala Music): An impromptu session, with three saxophonists -- Fowler plays stritch and saxello, Amba and Perelman tenor, with Amba also on flute -- backed by piano, bass, and drums. Starts off cautiously with a bass solo. Still, impossible to keep this much firepower down. Invigorating when they bust out, intriguing when they hold back a bit. A- [sp]

Laszlo Gardony: Close Connection (2022, Sunnyside): Hungarian pianist, albums since 1984, teaches at Berklee. Trio with John Lockwood and Yoron Israel, "embraces his Hungarian folk-music and prog-rock roots." B+(**) [cd] [12-02]

Ben LaMar Gay: Certain Reveries (2022, International Anthem): From Chicago, credited with cornet, synthesizer, and vocals, in a duo with drummer Tommaso Moretti. Shifts between several modes: the free jazz improv the most immediately appealing, the more ambient stretches take some time to sink in, but can't be dismissed as merely ambient. B+(***) [sp]

Milford Graves/Jason Moran: Live at Big Ears (2018-20 [2021], Yes): Legendary avant percussionist, died in 2021, in a duo with the once-famous pianist -- Moran's string of 1999-2010 Blue Notes dominated the decade, but aside from a 2014 Fats Waller tribute and a couple side-credits, hardly anyone managed to hear his self-released albums. B+(***) [bc]

Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen (2022, Blue Note): Covers twelve Leonard Cohen songs, the core band has some jazz cred -- Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax), Bill Frisell (guitar), Kevin Hays (piano), Larry Goldings (organ), Greg Leisz (pedal steel guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Nate Smith (drums) -- with ten guest vocalists, few doing justice to the songs (Sarah McLachlan's "Hallelujah" is an exception). B [sp]

Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Mingus (2022, Savant): Trombonist, started as a mainstream player in the 1980s with Clark Terry, played in big bands (Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mingus Big Band), picked up some Latin moves with Eddie Palmieri. This is his seventh Latin Side Of album, following tributes to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, and Horace Silver. This one touts Randy Brecker and Ruben Blades as special guests, with a half-dozen more names on the cover. A lot of Mingus tributes on the 100th anniversary of his birth. B+(**) [sp]

Aubrey Johnson & Randy Ingram: Play Favorites (2022, Sunnyside): Standards singer, second album, accompanied by just piano. Works several Brazilian songs in (two by Jobim), along with Joni Mitchell (whose voice she closely resembles) and Billie Eilish. B [cd]

Angélique Kidjo/Ibrahim Maalouf: Queen of Sheba (2022, Mister Ibé): Afropop singer from Benin, albums since 1989, I've never been very taken with her work, so credit Maalouf -- from Lebanon, based in Paris, his parents and other family are notable musicians -- with raising the musical bar, as well as adding some nice trumpet. B+(**) [sp]

Sam Kirmayer: In This Moment (2021 [2022], Cellar Live): Canadian guitarist, a couple previous albums, this one with tenor sax (Al McLean), piano (Sean Fyle), trombone, bass, and drums. B+(*) [sp]

Lantana: Elemental (2020 [2022], Cipsela): Portuguese group, all women, with trumpet (Anna Piosik), two cellos, violin, electronics, and voice (mostly Maria Radich). I could do without the singing voices, but there's something to the dense string-laden din, even with voiceover. B+(**) [cd]

Ramsey Lewis: The Beatles Songbook [The Saturday Salon Series: Volume One] (2020 [2022], Steele): Pianist, debut album was 1956, had a surprise hit in 1965 with his Trio's cover of "The In Crowd," followed that up with many more light covers of contemporary pop tunes, including several by Lennon-McCartney ("A Hard Day's Night," "Day Tripper," "Julia") -- enough to be collected as Plays the Beatles Songbook. That's what I expected when I first say this, but it turns out these are recent solo recordings (with "Imagine" slipped in). Given how hard it is to jazzify Beatles songs, I expected nothing here. But Lewis doesn't much try, settling for sober, stripped down melodies, and that seems to work. Title suggests there are more volumes like this to come, but Lewis died in September, at 87. B+(*) [cd]

Kirk Lightsey: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (2021 [2022], Cellar): Pianist, long career including leadership of The Leaders, was 84 when this was recorded, and has rarely appeared more sprightly. With Mark Whitfield (guitar), Santi Debriano (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums), all of whom help him shine. A- [cd]

Charles Lloyd: Trios: Sacred Thread (2020 [2022], Blue Note): The tenor saxophonist's third (and final) trio album this year, also plays alto flute and tarogato, joined this time by Julian Lage (guitar) and Zakir Hussain (percussion, vocals). The co-stars get ample opportunities here, often for better but not always. B+(**) [sp]

Jasmine Myra: Horizons (2022, Gondwana): British alto saxophonist, alto plays flute, from Leeds, first album, neatly wrapped up in silky strings, including guitar and harp, plus Jasper Green on keyboards. B+(*) [sp]

Flora Purim: If You Will (2022, Strut): Brazilian singer, started with bossa nova in 1964, moved to New York in 1967 and gravitated toward jazz fusion, singing in Chick Corea's Return to Forever. First studio album in 15 years, did this for her 80th birthday. Remarkably solid work all around. B+(***) [sp]

Hal Smith's New Orleans Night Owls: Early Hours (2021-22 [2022], self-released): Drummer, plays trad jazz, has led a few groups like this one (e.g., Hal Smith's Rhythmakers, Creole Sunshine Orchestra, Swing Central), while being drummer of choice for groups like Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Yerba Buena Stompers, and outfits led by James Dapogny, Ted Des Plantes, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, and Butch Thompson. Group here has cornet, trombone, clarinet, piano, banjo, and string bass. B+(**) [bc]

Hal Smith's Jazzologists: I Scream, You Scream, Everybody Wants Ice Cream (2021, self-released): Exceptionally jaunty trad jazz septet, with several members -- Katie Cavera (bass), Clint Baker (trumpet), and John Gill (trombone) -- stepping up for vocals. "Ice Cream" indeed is a screamer. B+(***) [bc]

Hal Smith's Jazzologists: Black Cat on the Fence (2021, self-released): Same group, I'm working backwards, this coming out several months before Ice Cream. Only note is "remote recordings from six U.S. cities." B+(**) [bc]

Wil Swindler's Elevenet: Space Bugs: Live in Denver (2022, OA2): Alto saxophonist (also soprano and flute), came out of UNT, has a previous Elevenet album from 2010. Group is large enough to provide big band complexity, but not risk breaking into swing. Original pieces, aside from one by Regina Spektor, and the never jazzable "Julia/Blackbird." B [cd]

The Dave Wilson Quartet: Stretching Supreme (2017-18 [2021], Dave Wilson Music): Tenor/soprano saxophonist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania; fourth album, quartet with piano, bass, and drums. Starts out by biting off two parts of A Love Supreme (25:03), follows that up with four more stretched pieces (51:21), with two more Coltrane pieces, an original, and "Days of Wine and Roses." Strong player, has a lot to work with. B+(**) [bc]

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: World Record (2022, Reprise): Per Wikipedia, this is studio album number 42, with Rick Rubin co-producing, and the relatively genteel "Love Earth" the lead single. Sounds better when the band gets the feedback going, but doesn't sound essential. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Elton Dean Quartet: On Italian Roads: Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979 (1979 [2022], British Progressive Jazz): British saxophonist, perhaps best known for his long tour with Soft Machine, but he had a parallel career in free jazz, as evidenced by the company he keeps here: Keith Tippett (piano), Harry Miller (bass), and Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums). That's one hell of a rhythm section. B+(***) [sp]

Bill Evans: Morning Glory: The 1973 Concert at the Teatro Gran Rex, Buenos Aires (1973 [2022], Resonance): Piano trio, with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Marty Morell (drums). Typically superb, bass solos included. Package reportedly includes 2-CD, extensive booklet. A- [sp]

Bill Evans: Inner Spirit: The 1979 Concert at the Teatro General San Martín, Buenos Aires (1979 [2022], Resonance): Another piano trio, same year, same city, but with a different bassist (Marc Johnson) and drummer (Joe LaBarbera). B+(***) [sp]

Michel Petrucciani: Solo in Denmark (1990 [2022], Storyville): French pianist (1962-99), born with a genetic bone disease which "caused his bones to fracture over 100 times before he reached adolescence and kept him in pain throughout his entire life." Nonetheless, he was a remarkable pianist, as is more than established in this recording. B+(***) [sp]

John Sinclair Presents: Detroit Artists Workshop: Community, Jazz and Art in the Motor City 1965-1981 (1965-81 [2022], Strut/Art Yard): I tend to think of Sinclair as a political figure, but aside from consorting with Yippies and co-founding the White Panthers and the Rainbow People Party, and spending way too much time in jail -- he was notorious enough that a "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" to protest his sentence was headlined by John Lennon and Stevie Wonder -- he's mostly viewed as a poet with a long connection to music (starting with the MC5). Unclear exactly what his role in these groups/tracks is, other than archivist and author of the booklet. Group leaders include Donald Byrd, Charles Moore, and Bennie Maupin. While I'm impressed by the horns, the rhythm is what finally won me over. A- [bc]

Old music:

Brian Charette: Music for Organ Sextette (2011, SteepleChase): Organ player, third album after a self-released debut, probably the farthest he got away from the soul jazz paradigm, with four reeds -- Mike DiRubbo (alto/soprano sax), John Ellis (bass clarinet), Jay Collins (flute, baritone sax), and Joel Fraham (tenor sax) -- plus drums (Jochen Rueckert). B+(*) [cdr]

Jason Moran: Bangs (2016 [2017], Yes): The pianist's third self-released album, after a solo and a live Village Vanguard set with his long-running trio. This is a different kind of trio, with Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Ron Miles (cornet). (Not clear where the drums on some tracks come from.) B+(***) [bc]

Paul Smoker Trio: QB (1984, Alvas): Trumpet player (1941-2016), first trio album with Ron Rohovit on bass and longtime collaborator Phil Haynes on drums, plus "special guest" Anthony Braxton (alto sax). Title cut is where they finally mesh. B+(***) [dl]

Paul Smoker Trio: Mississippi River Rat (1984 [1985], Sound Aspects): Second trio album: trumpet, bass (Ron Rohobit), and drums (Phil Haynes). The upbeat opener is especially impressive, but the album holds up throughout. A- [dl]

Paul Smoker Trio: Alone (1986 [1988], Sound Aspects): Trumpet-bass-drums trio with Ron Rohovit and Phil Haynes, third album together. Bandcamp edition drops the covers of "Cornet Chop Suey" and "Caravan," which offer some useful framework for the improv fury. A- [dl]

Paul Smoker Trio: Come Rain or Come Shine (1988 [1989], Sound Aspects): Fourth trumpet-bass-drums trio album, again with Ron Rohovit and Phil Haynes. B+(***) [dl]

Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn: Lead Me On (1972, Decca): Second duet album, after 1971's We Only Make Believe. Problematic as usual, finding love easier to fall out of than to fall into -- perhaps why "Never Ending Song of Love" feels wrong. B+(**) [dl]

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.

Dick Hyman: One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and the Austin High Gang (1992, Rivermont): Title could start with George Avakian Presents, referring back to an album produced by Avakian 50 years prior, "transcribed and directed" by Hyman, featuring clarinetists Kenny Davern and Dan Levinson prominently on the cover, but the whole lineup is star-studded, from the cornets (Peter Ecklund and Dick Sudhalter) to the banjo-guitarists (Marty Grosz and Howard Alden). ++ [os]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado: Refraction Solo (Trost) [10-28]
  • The Attic [Rodrigo Amado/Gonçalo Almeida/Onno Govaert]: Love Ghosts (NoBusiness)
  • The Chicago Plan [Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang]: For New Zealand (Not Two) [11-04]
  • The Clarinet Trio: Transformations and Further Passages (Leo) [11-01]
  • Satoko Fujii: Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams (Libra) [11-09]
  • Lantana: Elemental (Cipsela) [10-16]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Speaking of Which

Early in the week, I thought: maybe I won't have to do one of these this week. Later, I thought: well, if either of two weekly pieces I've been linking to -- Connor Echols' "Diplomacy Watch" and Jeffrey St Clair's "Roaming Charges" -- appear, I should at least include them. But it looks like they had the good sense to take the week off, even if the world didn't. Still, I have a few more pieces in tabs that I figured I should note now rather than save for next week. Then a quick round of the usual sources, and I'm close to a typical week's work.

Ukraine: The war grinds on. Connor Echols skipped his usual "Diplomacy Watch" this week, but I'm not aware that he had much to write about.

  • Yehonatan Abramson/Dean Dulay/Anil Menon/Pauline Jones: [11-25] Why are Germans losing enthusiasm for helping Ukraine? It's not just about energy costs, our research finds. Germans have a deep cultural aversion toward military intervention."

  • Fred Kaplan: [11-21] Where Realpolitik Went Wrong: This is a devastating critique of several interviews John Mearsheimer has given about the Ukraine War. Just this week, I looked over the latest and decided it wasn't worth citing here. I've long given Mearsheimer credit for being one of the few foreign policy mandarins to recognize the corrosive effects of The Israel Lobby, but I've mostly followed his "realist" stance through his co-author, Stephen Walt, and found it lacking even if not nearly as bad as the neocon ideologues both usefully criticize. Still, Mearsheimer seems so committed to the inevitabilities of great power rivalry that he thinks the US should drop Ukraine to cultivate Russia as a potential ally for an inevitable war with China. That's not just dangerous and immoral, it's down right stupid.

  • Eric Levitz: [11-22] Should Ukraine Give Peace Talks a Chance? Raises six questions, which he doesn't have very good answers to:

    1. What are Ukraine's odds of making further territorial gains?
    2. How interested is Putin in peace?
    3. How large are the humanitarian costs of appeasing Putin?
    4. How can Ukraine's future security be preserved?
    5. How much more economic damage will Ukraine suffer from a prolonged war?
    6. How likely is Putin to respond to total defeat by deploying nuclear weapons?

    Come to think of it, the questions aren't very good either. The only tangible one is territory, but as long as neither side is able to dictate peace, it's hard to see much value in the possible exchanges of territory: Ukraine might still gain a bit, but nowhere near enough to satisfy their victory goals; similarly, Russia could mount a new offensive, but recent losses suggest they are already overextended. At this point, the only possible agreement on territory is to let the people who live there (or used to live there before the war) vote, and trust the vote to decide. The third point is poisoned by "appeasing," especially with no account of the human costs of continued war.

    The answer to number four is: when Russia no longer sees Ukraine and its alliances, which are significantly deeper now than they were before the March invasion, as a threat. That may require a "leap of faith" Putin is incapable of, but it certainly won't be achieved by integrating Ukraine into NATO. Nor does it seem likely that the US and its allies are going to be making any "leaps of faith" either. One paradox of the war is that it seems to validate the core assumptions of NATO (that Russia is a threat to neighboring parts of Europe) while at the same time proving that the logic of deterrence is itself destabilizing and perilous.

  • Nicolai Petro: [11-25] The tragedy of Crimea: "A history of the region's difficult relationship with Ukrainian rule before 2014 shows why Kyiv's attempt to retake it would be difficult. There are a few things here even I wasn't aware of, helping explain why Crimea revolted in 2014 even before Russia intervened.

  • Robert Wright: [11-23] What was Zelensky thinking? "Last week's false claim about a missile strike in Poland carries two important lessons." Unfortunately, the article cuts off before getting to the meat of the argument, but the two lessons are: "interests can differ among allies" and "the picture we're getting of this war isn't wholly unreliable." It may be possible to portray Zelensky's initial claim that missiles landing on Poland was a Russian escalation to directly attack a NATO member, and more generally that Zelensky's statements that no negotiation is possible until Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory (even Crimea) reveal him to be a fanatical warmonger. But it makes more sense to accept that, as Wright puts it, he "was just doing his job." That job entails not only rallying his troops to fight the Russians but also lobbying America and anyone else who'll listen to send him arms and support to carry on that fight. Sometimes that involves shameless flattery, as when he quoted Churchill to the UK Parliament, and sometimes the distortions aren't exactly true. Sometimes he feels the need to stand up as a tough guy, and sometimes he he stresses how vulnerable Ukraine is. And sometimes what he says in public isn't the same thing he's saying in private, although even there it probably depends on who he's saying it to. It's a difficult balancing act, and actually he's proven remarkably skillful at it, but you do need to keep several things in mind: his interests aren't necessarily the same as those of his countrymen, and neither are more than incidentally aligned with the US and/or NATO; because his interests aren't exactly the same, he's not really a proxy (although the US could probably guide him if it's somewhere he's willing to go -- one worries that the Americans don't really know where they want to go, which makes them that much easier to take them for a ride). One should always remember that the news coming out of Ukraine is mostly filtered through the war machine, selected to make Ukrainians appear heroic and sympathetic [see examples below], and thus to rally support for them and opposition to Russia. They've been pretty successful so far, but I worry the distortions will make it harder to actually settle the war.

    Example stories, these from the Washington Post (I'm not saying that these are untrue, but there aren't many counterexamples):

Jacqueline Alemany/Josh Dawsey/Carol D Leonnig: [11-23] Jan. 6 panel staffers angry at Cheney for focusing so much of report on Trump: "15 former and current staffers expressed concern that important findings unrelated to Trump will not become available to the American public."

Kate Aronoff: [11-18] Effective Altruism Is Bunk, Crypto Is Bad for the Planet, and Other Basic Truths of the FTX Crash: "The overarching lesson of sam Bankman-Fried's downfall is that the gauzy philosophical natterings of CEOs are just meant to distract us from their real goal: accumulating cash without interference."

Zack Beauchamp: [11-22] How the right's radical thinkers are coping with the midterms: "The New Right emerged to theorize Trumpism's rise. Can they explain its defeat?" They mostly seem to be doubling down on the idea that the "left" secretly controls many critical institutions in America, making it all but impossible to "save America" by through democratic processes. One even urges the American right to emulate the Taliban: "The Mujahideen fighters who brought the Soviets to their knees in Afghanistan were outmanned and outgunned. And yet they removed the godless occupiers from their land." This is wrong on more levels than I can count, but illustrates the growing paranoia and attendant recklessness of what passes for thought on the far right.

Geoffrey A Fowler: [11-23] It's not your imagination: Shopping on Amazon has gotten worse: "Everything on Amazon is becoming an ad."

Graham Gallagher: [11-25] Elite Conservatives Have Taken an Awfully Weird Turn.

Forrest Hylton: [11-25] A Historian in History: Staughton Lynd (1929-2022).

Eric Levitz: [11-25] One Worrying Sign for Democrats in the Midterm Results: "The gubernatorial elections in Georgia and Ohio suggest that a right-wing Republican could win moderate voters in 2024 merely by not being Trump." A big part of the problem is that Democrats tend to focus on the "MAGA fringe" and ignore the fundamental truth: that virtually all Republicans share the same set of far-right policy preferences.

Dylan Matthews: [11-22] How one man quietly stitched the American safety net over four decades: On Robert Greenstein, who founded the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in 1981. The safety net they came up with is a hodge-podge of often unclear and inadequate programs which nonetheless add up to significant help against poverty. This is part of a Vox Highlight series on The world to come, which also includes:

  • Kevin Carey: [11-21] The incredible shrinking future of college: This starts with a demographic decline in "college-aged" Americans, but isn't the more significant problem that we've given up on higher education as anything more than credentialism for job training? The notion that adults might wish to learn more for their own gratification, and that society might benefit from a more knowledgeable citizenry, has fallen by the wayside, and in some cases succumbed to deliberate political attack.

  • Kelsey Piper: [11-28] AI experts are increasingly afraid of what they're creating.

  • Yasmin Tayag: [11-22] Will America continue to turn away from vaccines?

  • Bryan Walsh: [11-21] Are 8 billion people too many -- or too few? I read Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb shortly after it came out in 1968, so this is a question that has long haunted me, even as history has shown the need for a more nuanced view. The alarm raised by Ehrlich, like that of Malthus in the early 19th century, faded not because population growth was throttled -- although countries that did so have seen their average wealth increase more than elsewhere -- but because it's been possible to find and utilize resources more efficiently. Still, no one (other than mad men and economists) think this trend can continue indefinitely. This continues to interest me because the Earth's carrying capacity depends a lot on social and economic organization, and because hitting resource limits can stress and even break those institutions. Many of the problems we've encountered over the last couple years -- climate disasters, supply chain issues, inflation, even the pandemic itself -- are tied to resource limits, even if only very loosely to population.

Mike McIntire: [11-26] At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking: "Armed Americans, often pushing a right-wing agenda, are increasingly using open-carry laws to intimidate opponents and shut down debate."

Ian Millhiser: [11-27] A Trump judge seized control of ICE, and the Supreme Court will decide whether to stop him: "Judge Drew Tipton's order in United States v. Texas is completely lawless. Thus far, the Supreme Court has given him a pass."

Prem Thakker: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin, Who Supports No Gun Control, Is Heartbroken Over Virginia Walmart Shoting; and Tori Otten: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin Blames Virginia Walmart Shooting on "Mental Health Crisis." So What's His Plan?.

Adam Weinstein: [11-23] Six reasons the Afghan government utterly collapsed during US withdrawal: "A new official watchdog report sheds light on what led to the Taliban's rapid takeover last year and implications for America's future foreign policy." The list:

  1. Kabul failed to recognize the U.S. would actually leave;
  2. the decision to exclude the Afghan government from US-Taliban talks undermined it;
  3. Kabul insisted that the Taliban be integrated into the Republic rather than create a new model altogether;
  4. the Taliban wouldn't compromise;
  5. former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani "governed through a highly selective, narrow circle of loyalists" (read: yes men) which destabilized the government;
  6. Kabul was afflicted by centralization, corruption, and a legitimacy crisis.

Given time I don't have, I could nitpick my way around these points. I suspect number 4 has less to do with inflexibility than with the fact that neither the US nor Ghani had any real popular support that needed to be recognized much less compromised with. The other points should be studied by Ukraine, lest they find themselves in a position where the US wants out and that could leave them high and dry. (That doesn't seem to be the case now, but see the Wright comment above.)

Li Zhou: [11-25] The high stakes and unique weirdness of the Georgia Senate runoff, briefly explained.

Found this on Twitter:

The Colorado shooter's dad on finding out his son murdered people: "They started telling me about the incident a shooting . . . And then I go on to find out it's a gay bar. I got scared, 'Shit, is he gay?' And he's not gay, so I said, phew . . . I am a conservative Republican."

For more, here's an article: Kelly McClure: [11-23] "I'm just glad he's not gay," says father of alleged Club Q shooter: article includes Twitter link. Also quotes the father as saying: "I praised him for violent behavior really early. I told him it works. It is instant and you'll get immediate results." It also notes that the shooter legally changed his name to distance himself from this asshole. Steve M. wrote two more pieces about this (more than the story needs, but they observe the political spin): [11-23] National Review: Don't politicize the Colorado Springs shooting. The rest of the right: Well, actually . . . and, more importantly, [11-24] Bad parents are the original stochastic terrorists. [PS: He's been riffing on "stochastic terrorists" lately. For another example, see: [11-21] Republicans sound like stochastic terrorists even when they're (apparently) not trying to. The occasion here is Mike Pompeo declaring that "the most dangerous person in the world" is Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.]

Also note that Steve M. continues to have his finger on the pulse of elite Republican thinking: see [11-27] Maureen Dowd's brother recites the approved GOP establishment talking opoints. Notice what's not included. In particular, he points out:

If you ever ask yourself, "What does the GOP stand for?," the answer is "The GOP stands for GOP winning elections."

I've been saying for some time now that Richard Nixon was the godfather of the Republican Party, because he taught the party that winning is the only thing that matters, and no scruples should get in your way. The reason many prominent Republicans didn't like Trump when he was running in 2016 is because they didn't think he could win. But they voted for him anyway, and when he did win, he was not only forgiven; he was their hero. That should have lasted only until he lost in 2020, but thanks to the Big Lie, his popular support kept them in check until the 2022 loss gave them an excuse to brand him a loser -- which is really the only thing that they care about, and the one thing they think might work.

However, the polls haven't caught up, in large part because rank-and-file Republicans care much less about winning than about hating the Dems and being hated in turn, which Trump still has a knack for. See: That pro-DeSantis right-wing consent won't manufacture itself.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39116 [39065] rated (+51), 38 [46] unrated (-8: 10 new, 28 old).

On Thursday, I sent almost 200 invitations out to cast votes in the 17th Annual Jazz Critics Poll. Last year I wound up sending the invites out manually. I've been trying to think of a better method, and came up with two. The initial ballots I would send out using Thunderbird's Mail Merge option. For later notices and reminders, I figured I could use a GNU Mailman mailing list, using "mass subscription" to enroll people, and set up restrictions so only I can send further mail to the list. It took most of the day to figure out how to set those up, and a couple people got confused by the mail list, but it seems to be working fine now. As I'm writing this, I've gotten 46 acks back, and 10 ballots. Deadline will be end-of-day December 12. Results will be published at The Arts Fuse, and on my master website.

I'll possibly send out a few more invites this week. I haven't had much time to try to vet candidates this weekend, especially as I knocked out another Speaking of Which column. Some of this week's records are things I was pointed to by voters. I also found a Michaelangelo Matos ballot with eight records I hadn't heard, so I checked them out: liked all of the electronica, was less taken by two prog-ish pop groups (Au Suisse, Dungen).

Other news for me is that I've recently bought new keyboard, mouse, and speakers for the computer I'm typing this on. In each case the old pieces were failing: the mouse button was unreliable; the cap to one of the keyboard keys ('d') wore a hole in the middle, keeping the switch from engaging, and more keys were dropping out (especially shift states); and the right speaker was cracking up, so I had been listening to only one speaker for months (and wondering why the sound was so crap compared to the cheaper speakers on the other computer).

I went with a Logitech wireless (not Bluetooth) mouse, which is a huge improvement. I'm having more trouble adjusting to the keyboard, which is a bit disappointing give how much the Keychron Q3 cost: the brown switchers have more click than I'm used to, and the backlighting can be disorienting (presumably that and everything else is programmable, but I haven't looked up how to do that through Linux). But it's very sturdily built (weighs about 6 lbs), and the keys and mechanical switches are high quality, so I doubt they'll wear down like the Logitech keyboard did. I could wind up liking it once I get use to the feel. Speakers (Creative Labs Gigaworks T40) are pretty good, too, although I haven't used them much. (I use a second computer for streaming, but downloads land on this one, and I haven't been paying them much attention.)

Bonus is that I had to do some massive tidying up before I could install it all, which gave me lots of time to worry. That gives me a spot where I can organize the 2022 CDs I have in case I want to recheck any. Although I think the current grade sort on my jazz and non-jazz lists is good enough, I doubt that the A-list ranking is anywhere near right.

We have minimal plans for Thanksgiving, as it's always hard to round people up, and we have no particular place to go. I thought we might just grill some hamburgers and eggplant (topped with yogurt, a Turkish thing), and make baked beans, potato salad, slaw, and a spice cake. Should be warmer than last week was, and I can fob the grilling off on a guest, so that's always a treat for me.

New records reviewed this week:

A-Trak: 10 Seconds: Volume 1 (2022, Fool's Gold, EP): Canadian turntablist/electronica producer Alain Macklovitch, active since 1999, mostly singles and EPs, unearthed a broken drum machine during pandemic to "churn out the rawest house beats he's ever made." Four songs, 15:04. B+(***) [sp]

A-Trak: 10 Seconds: Volume 2 (2022, Fool's Gold, EP): Four more songs, 15:30. Pulls it out on the final cut. B+(***) [sp]

Adult.: Becoming Undone (2022, Dais): Detroit duo of Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller, 10th album since 2000, lots of funky industrial grind, at least until they slow it down. B+(***) [sp]

Franco Ambrosetti: Nora (2022, Enja): Swiss trumpet player, just turned 80, father was a saxophonist, playing together in the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band. This feels like a bucket list project, with an all-star combo -- John Scofield (guitar), Uri Caine (piano), Scott Colley (bassist), and Peter Erskine (drums) -- backed by a 22-piece string orchestra arranged and conducted by Alan Broadbent. The strings are indeed reminiscent of sessions with Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown, but that doesn't strike me as much of a plus. B+(*) [sp]

Au Suisse: Au Suisse (2022, City Slang): Duo of Morgan Geist and Mike Kelley (aka Kelley Polar), both Americans with a decade-plus experience producing electronic dance music. This is more of a new wave throwback. B+(*) [sp]

The Black Dog: Brutal Minimalism EP (2022, Dust Science, EP): British electronica group, founded 1989, Ken Downie the only original member left, joined by Richard and Martin Dust in 2001. Vast discography. "Brutal" refers to architecture, but the music is less so, even if that's what it's meant to convey. Four tracks, 17:47. B+(***) [sp]

The Black Dog: Concrete Reasoning EP (2022, Dust Science, EP): Three tracks, 12:21, builds on the architectural themes of Brutal Minimalism. B+(*) [sp]

Patricia Brennan: More Touch (2022, Pyroclastic): Vibraphone/marimba player, 2021 album won Jazz Critics Poll as the year's top debut. Second album, runs 70:47, backed with bass (Kim Cass), drums (Marcus Gilmore), and percussion (Mauricio Herrera). B+(***) [cd]

Terri Lynne Carrington: New Standards Vol. 1 (2022, Candid): Drummer, ranges from avant to crossover, is founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gener Justice. Her "new standards" are defined in a book of 101 lead sheets, the common denominator that all songs are by women. This offers 11 of them. Band on cover: Kris Davis (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Matthew Stevens (guitar). Plus there is a long list of guests, including vocalists. Results are rather mixed, which may have been the plan. B+(**) [sp]

Frank Catalano: Live at Birdland (2022, Ropeadope): Saxophonist from Chicago, mostly plays tenor, early albums on Delmark (1998-2001) include a joust with Von Freeman. Quartet with Randy Ingram (piano), Julian Smith (bass), and Mike Clark (drums). The result is an old-fashioned sax stomp, the sort of thing a Sonny Stitt, or maybe a George Coleman, might bust loose. A- [sp]

Callista Clark: Real to Me: The Way I Feel (2022, Big Machine): Young country singer-songwriter from Georgia, signed a contract at 15 with the label that launched Taylor Swift. First album expands on 2021's 5-track EP. I'm not wild about the big money production, but don't doubt her talent. B+(*) [sp]

Duduka Da Fonseca & Quarteto Universal: Yes!!! (2022, Sunnyside): Brazilian drummer, long based in New York, played in the group Trio da Paz (7 albums 1992-2011). Quartet with Vinicius Gomes (guitar), Helio Alves (piano), and Gill Lopes (bass). B+(**) [sp]

Dungen: En Är För Mycket Och Tusen Aldrig Nog (2022, Mexican Summer): Swedish group, albums since 2001, often considered prog or psychedelic, titles in Swedish. B+(*) [sp]

Joe Fahey: Baker's Cousin (2022, Rough Fish): Minnesota singer-songwriter, fifth album since 2006, too much rock reverb for country, but I suppose Americana might claim him. B+(**) [sp]

Avram Fefer Quartet: Juba Lee (2022, Clean Feed): Alto/tenor saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet, reconvenes a trio that produced one of 2011's best records -- Eilyahu, with Eric Revis (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums) -- and adds Marc Ribot (guitar) for very good measure. A- [cdr]

Bill Frisell: Four (2022, Blue Note): Guitarist, many records since 1982, this one a quartet with Gregory Tardy (clarinet, tenor sax), Gerald Clayton (piano), and Johnathan Blake (drums). Postbop, sometimes beguiling, sometimes not. B+(*) [sp]

Kittin + the Hacker: Third Album (2022, Nobody's Bizzness): French electronica duo, Caroline Hervé (more often known as Miss Kittin) and Michel Amato, collaboration goes back to 1997, along with solo work from both. B+(***) [sp]

Laufey: Everything I Know About Love (2022, AWAL): Singer-songwriter, first album after several singles/EPs, full name is Icelandic (Laufey Lin Jónsdóttir), her mother Chinese, a violinist like her grandfather Lin Yaoji. She studied at Berklee -- playing piano, guitar, and cello -- and is based in Los Angeles. B+(**) [sp]

Bill Laurance: Affinity (2022, Flint Music): British keyboard player, original member of Snarky Puppy, with an album of solo piano. B+(*) [sp]

Jeffrey Lewis: When That Really Old Cat Dies (2022, self-released, EP): Cover notes: "Asides & B-Sides" and "Previously Unstreamable Tracks," so the implication is that this compiles old tracks, but tracking them down isn't cost-effective. Seven occasionally interesting songs, 23:07 B+(*) [sp]

Dana Lyn: A Point on a Slow Curve (2022, In a Circle): Violinist, only previous album I can find was in 2004. this is a fairly large group, with Mike McGinniss on clarinet/bass clarinet, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon, Patricia Brennan on vibes, more strings and percussion, and several singers. B+(*) [sp]

Jim McNeely/Frankfurt Radio Big Band Featuring Chris Potter: Rituals (2015 [2022], Double Moon): I don't often include the "featuring" credit, but after McNeely's 6-part title piece (33:03) the other four pieces were composed by Potter (35:25), and as the soloist Potter owns this record. B+(***) [sp]

Abel Mireles: Amino (2021 [2022], Sunnyside): Mexican-American saxophonist (tenor/soprano), based in New York, first album as leader. B+(**) [sp]

Judy Niemack: What's Love (2021 [2022], Sunnyside): Jazz singer, writes or adds lyrics to most of her songs, debut 1978, second album 1989, has recorded regularly since then. Distinctive stylist, has a first-rate mainstream band here with Peter Bernstein (guitar), Sumner Fortner (piano), Doug Weiss (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums), with Eric Alexander (tenor sax) on one track. B+(***) [sp]

Lina Nyberg Band: Anniverse (2022, Hoob): Swedish singer, albums since 1990, backed by piano, guitar, bass, and drums, on a cycle of songs that move from month to month through one year. "September" stands out. B [sp]

The Ostara Project: The Ostara Project (2022, Cellar): Canadian group, named for "the Germanic goddess of the spring equinox," led by Amanda Tosoff (piano) and Jodi Proznick (bass), with alto sax (Allison Au), trumpet (Rachel Therrien), guitar (Jocelyn Gould), drums (Sanah Kadoura), and vocals (Joanna Majoko) -- the latter dominate, unfortunately, not that I don't enjoy a nice "Bye Bye Blackbird." B+(*) [cd]

Dierk Peters: Spring (2022, Sunnyside): German vibraphonist, second album, quintet with Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), Caleb Wheeler Curtis (alto sax), bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]

Zach Phillips: Goddaughters (2022, self-released): Singer-songwriter from San Diego, fourth album, shares a name with a more prolific keyboardist (has a UK website but was born in New Hampshire and is based in Brooklyn, and might be worth some research). This is billed as Americans, which means songs of real life from interesting angles, but I'm every bit as struck by the guitar, which reminds me of classic Who. A- [cd]

Piri & Tommy: Froge.mp3 (2022, Polydor): Drum & bass duo, singer-songwriter Sophie McBurnie (Piri) and Tommy Villers, first album together, or mixtape, or whatever. Easily the catchiest trifle from Michaelangelo Matos's electronica-heavy EOY list. A- [sp]

Plaid: Feorm Falorx (2022, Warp): British electronica duo, Ed Handley and Andy Turner, original members of the Black Dog (with Ken Downie), left in 1995 to focus on their duo, which started in 1991. Another good beats album that doesn't quite blow me away. B+(**) [sp]

Jana Pochop: The Astronaut (2022, self-released): Folk singer-songwriter from New Mexico, base in Austin, first album after a decade-plus of singles and EPs. Has an appealing spaciness. B+(**) [sp]

Pye Corner Audio: Let's Emerge! (2022, Sonic Cathedral): British electronica producer Martin Jenkins, more than a dozen albums since 2010. Shimmering surfaces reinforced with guitar. B+(**) [sp]

Reverso: Harmonic Alchemy (2022, Outnote): Chamber jazz trio, names on the cover, hard to see let alone parse, but clockwise from top: Vince Courtois (cello), Ryan Keberle (trombone), and Frank Woeste (piano). Two previous albums together, The Melodic Line and Suite Ravel. B+(***) [cdr]

Emiliano Sampaio Jazz Symphonic Orchestra: We Have a Dream (2022, Alessa): Brazilian guitarist and trombonist, based in Austria. I don't have a good sense of what his earlier work (e.g., Meretrio) was like, but he's been gravitating toward large ensembles, and goes whole hog here. With enough rhythm to keep it interesting. B+(**) [sp]

Chad Taylor Trio: The Reel (2022, Astral Spirits): Chicago Underground drummer, not much as leader but a lot of superb co- and side credits. Trio here with Brian Settles (saxophones) and Neil Podgurski (piano). Within a free jazz framework, each member gets chances to show off, an aims to please. A- [bc]

Thumbscrew: Multicolored Midnight (2021 [2022], Cuneiform): Trio of Mary Halvorson (guitar), Mark Dresser (bass, electronics), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums, vibes), seventh album since 2014. I'm not a fan of everything Halvorson does, but this group is one where she earns her reputation. A- [dl]

Dan Weiss Trio: Dedication (2020 [2022], Cygnus): Drummer-led piano trio, with Jacob Sacks and Thomas Morgan playing Weiss compositions, each title a "For X," where "X" includes musical influences like Nancarrow and Elvin, cultural ones like Tarkovsky, personal ones like "Grandma May," also one "For George Floyd." B+(**) [cd]

Lainey Wilson: Bell Bottom Country (2022, Broken Bow): Country singer-songwriter from Louisiana, fourth album, has all the tools, though I'm not so sure about the cover outfit. She co-wrote thirteen songs, then finished with a cover of "What's Up (What's Going On)" that blows them away. B+(***) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Roy Eldridge Quartet/Ella Fitzgerald Quintet: In Concert: Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, Denmark, May 21, 1959 (1959 [2022], SteepleChase): The two headliners shared the same band: Herb Ellis (guitar), Lou Levy (piano), Wilfred Middlebrooks (bass), and Gus Johnson (drums). Opens with two trumpet leads, then Ella takes over with "Cheek to Cheek," tripping up a bit on a mambo piece, but recovering spectacularly with a full scat "How High the Moon." Would like to have heard more from Roy. B+(***) [sp]

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook (1958 [2022], Verve): Previously unreleased 15-song concert, recorded a couple weeks after wrapping the Berlin section of her Songbooks series. B+(***) [sp]

Hal Galper: Ivory Forest Redux (1979 [2022], Origin): Another archival find, this one from early in the pianist's career, in a quartet featuring a young but already distinctive guitarist named John Scofield, backed by bass (Wayne Dockery) and drums (Adam Nussbaum). B+(***) [cd]

Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964 (1963-64 [2022], Elemental, 2CD): Pianist, born 1930 in Pittsburgh as Frederick Jones, converted to Islam in 1950, shortly before his first records, which became popular and plentiful from 1958 on. This collects two trio sets, with either Richard Evans or Jamil Nasser on bass, and Chuck Lampkin on drums. I give this one a slight edge: it's a bit more sprightly, but he's always entertaining. A- [cd] [12-02]

Ahmad Jamal: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-1966 (1965-66 [2022], Elemental, 2CD): Four more sets from the next couple years, with Jamal Nasser on bass, and various drummers (Chuck Lampkin, Vernel Fournier, Frank Grant). B+(***) [cd] [12-02]

Elvin Jones: Revival: Live at Pookie's Pub (1967 [2022], Blue Note): Drummer, best known for John Coltrane Quartet, which he left a year before this set, recorded a couple weeks before Coltrane died. With Joe Farrell (tenor sax/flute), Billy Greene (piano), and Wilbur Little (bass). Runs long, and I might prefer fewer drum solos and less flute, but those are quibbles. B+(***) [sp]

Dickie Landry/Lawrence Weiner: Having Been Built on Sand/With Another Base (Basis) in Fact (1978 [2022], Unseen Worlds): Saxophonist from Louisiana, also a painter, his scattered works often tied to art installations. This is billed as "a structure of Lawrence Weiner," with Weiner one of three spoken voices -- the one in English and German, along with Tina Girouard in English and Britta Le Va in German. B+(**) [sp]

Alhaji Waziri Oshomah: World Spirituality Classics 3: The Muslim Highlife of Alhaji Waziri Oshomah (1978-84 [2022], Luaka Bop): Original name Osomegbe Ekperi, from Edo in Southern Nigeria, a region where Muslims and Christians reportedly live in relative harmony. Dates not specified, but three (of seven) tracks are also on a 1978-84 5-LP box set. Not the hottest highlife I've heard, but the laid-back groove has its own appeal. A- [sp]

Esbjörn Svensson: Home.S. (2008 [2022], ACT): Swedish pianist, leader of the very popular piano trio, E.S.T., until his death in a scuba diving accident in 2008. This is a previously unreleased solo session, thoughtful with some spritely moments. B+(*) [cd]

Mototeru Takagi/Kim Dae Hwan/Choi Sun Bae: Seishin-Seido (1995 [2022], NoBusiness): Tenor sax, percussion, and trumpet trio. Second album the label has released featuring Takagi (1941-2002), a bit more scattered than Live at Little John. B+(**) [cd]

Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Hilliard Greene/Barry Altschul: We're Playing in Here? (2007 [2022], NoBusiness): Four pieces by Swell (trombone), one by Ullmann (tenor sax/bass clarinet), from a period when they played together frequently. Backed by bass and drums. B+(***) [cd]

Old music:

Homeboy Sandman: Actual Factual Pterodactyl (2008, Boy Sand Industries): Second album. Way too much here. B+(***) [sp]

Homeboy Sandman: Chimera EP (2012, Stones Throw, EP): Not as manic as the early records, just six songs (23:35). B+(*) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Simon Belelty: Pee Wee (Jojo) [10-21]
  • Sarah Elizabeth Charles: Blank Canvas (Stretch/Ropeadope) [11-11]
  • Aubrey Johnson & Randy Ingram: Play Favorites (Sunnyside) [11-04]
  • Kirk Lightsey: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (Cellar) [11-04]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Speaking of Which

Spent most of last week working on Jazz Critics Poll, enough so that I would have skipped this week had it not been for several fairly huge stories: the WWIII scare in Poland, the House falling into a Republican cesspit, Trump's announcement that he'll be glad to take your money in exchange for pretending to make yet another run for President (by the way, it's his 5th run, not his 3rd), and the death of Staughton Lynd. Other things popped up almost randomly, but I skipped over much more than I flagged. While I continue to be interested in Democratic strategy, I did skip over the House leadership turnover. In particular, I don't care whether Nancy Pelosi was a political mastermind (the word "consequential" is getting a lot of play) or a neoliberal hack who repeatedly screwed us over.

Hopefully next week will be boring, with its holidays and such, and I'll be able to skip it.

Margaret Carlson: [11-17] Hey, Democrats. Don't Give Up On Ohio. I'd stress that Democrats shouldn't give up on anywhere, but losing in Ohio especially hurts, because the state used to be competitive, and I don't understand why Democrats haven't done better, especially since it was the swing state in the 2004 presidential election (and they put those funny voting machines in). Sure, the steel-and-rubber belt has been in decline (for which Democrats deserve some but far from all of the blame), and southeast Ohio closely resembles West Virginia (where Democrats have been hit hardest, for reasons not entirely clear to me). On the other hand, Columbus and Cincinnati have become much more Democratic. Whether Tim Ryan was a good or bad candidate is open for argument -- my wife dislikes him intensely, but even with his retrograde politics (like his opposition to student loan forgiveness), he missed a golden opportunity in running against JD Vance, an effete phony with his Ivy League airs, his hedge fund business, and a billionaire pulling his strings. Beyond Ohio (and West Virginia), Iowa is another state the Republicans have gamed so successfully I'm inclined to suspect that something crooked is going on.

Howard Dean, who coined the phrase "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party," became chair of the DNC in 2006, and immediately looked beyond his own wing to support Democrats running in all 50 states. The 2006 and 2008 elections, with Dean at the helm, were the most successful for the Party since the 1970s. After Obama won, Dean was sent packing, and Democrats had a disastrous election in 2010, much like they did in 1994 when Clinton turned the Partly leadership into his own private vassal state. Both Clinton and Obama managed to get reëlected, but the second time without any appreciable coattails, so they could pursue their pro-business strategies without concern for their traditional party bases. That was a fine strategy for their own fundraising, but left the base with bitter resentments -- some peeled off to try their luck with Trump (bad luck, of course), and many more found a way back through Bernie Sanders.

Rachel M Cohen: [11-17] Anti-abortion groups don't think they lost the midterms: Well, by delivering the House to the Republicans, they'll stave off any attempt by Democrats to add abortion rights to federal law. That will in turn allow Republican states and their court allies to continue running amuck, sowing chaos and terror. I'm not sure that's much of a long-term strategy, but they did dodge a serious loss, which is about the best they could hope for given how unpopular their stand is.

Conor Echols: [11-18] Diplomacy Watch: Grain deal extended as Putin signals interest in peace talks. In a week when hawks got excited by an opportunity to start WWIII, some news that suggests sanity may still be possible. Especially read the following article by Echols:

  • Connor Echols: [11-16] How a lightly-source AP story almost set off World War III: "A deadly explosion in Poland kicked off hours of near-gleeful speculation about whether NATO would join the fight against Russia." Probably more accurate to say that NATO has already joined the fight -- they are, after all, providing massive amounts of arms and other support to Ukrainians directly fighting Russian invaders -- so the question was less whether a couple errant missiles was a cassus belli (a cause that is never real unless one is already itching for war -- otherwise the US would have declared war against Israel after the 1967 Liberty sinking, a much more flagrant attack than the ones cited by US warmongers in 1898, 1917, and 1964, although still less than 1941) than a time for reflection about how far NATO wants to escalate the existing war, and what the risks of continuing it may be.

  • Connor Echols: [11-15] Biden wants $37B more for Ukraine, setting up lame-duck fight. I seriously doubt Republicans will balk on more war subsidies, but note Dave DeCamp: [11-17] House Republicans Introduce Resolution to Audit Ukraine Aid. The Republicans listed are from the Trumpian fringe, but when this kind of money's available, it's almost inevitable that some will get lost or stolen, and that could be weaponized against Biden.

  • Patrick Cockburn: [11-18] Why a Diplomatic Solution to the Ukraine War is Getting More and More Elusive.

  • Jen Kirby: [11-18] Can Ukraine's infrastructure survive the winter?

  • Branko Marcetic: [11-18] NATO expansion and the origins of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: This is essential background history, an important part of the context necessary to make any sense out of Putin's invasion. (Although I still prefer my 23 Theses, which goes deeper and broader.)

    As far as I'm concerned, the best way to understand NATO is as follows: European nations could surrender military autonomy to the US in exchange for a guarantee they probably didn't need (the UK and France were allowed to rebuild to keep their colonies, but that didn't work out very well); the US accepted effective control over Europe's armed forces to keep them from doing anything stupid (although that didn't always work out, e.g., between Greece and Turkey, and didn't keep the US from doing stupid things).

    During the Cold War era, several countries opted for neutrality and fared as well or better than NATO members (e.g., Austria, Finland). After the Cold War, the more effective guarantor of peace was the expansion of the EU, but NATO persisted as a captive market for US arms manufacturers, who lobbied to expand it.

    Part of the NATO sales pitch was an effort to build up Russia as an enemy threat, which in turn made NATO a threat to Russian economic interests, as well as to Russian notions of sovereignty -- Russia was never going to turn its military over to US command -- and prestige. This was exacerbated by the US and its allies imposing sanctions on Russia, and by efforts to flip traditional Russian allies (like Ukraine and Georgia).

    In all this, both sides can be faulted for arrogance, ignorance, and reckless disregard for people caught in the middle. Still, explaining how this war came about doesn't excuse it. Rather, it helps deliver a severe indictment of each side, not that either's mistakes in any way justify the other's.

  • Rajan Menon/Dan DePetris: [11-17] Deep breaths: Article 5 will never be a flip switch for war: "After yesterday's NATO crisis that wasn't, it's clear we need to get a grip on what the alliance's obligations are -- and what they aren't."

  • Ted Snider: [11-15] Is Ukraine dropping talk of an accelerated NATO bid? "Zelensky just issue a '10 point plan for peace' with the Russians at the G20. But one thing was missing from the conversation." Some time before the invasion, I posed the question as: will Ukraine be more secure as a member of NATO (given that NATO is by definition anti-Russia) or as a non-member? The point was moot at the time, because NATO would never agree to accept a member which would immediately engage the alliance in a pre-existing war. And it's probably moot now, because Ukraine has the advantages of NATO membership -- massive arms and political support and more -- without having to give up autonomy. As Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov put it: "We are trying to be like Israel -- more independent during the next years."

Dexter Filkins: [11-14] A dangerous game over Taiwan. Better for background than for strategic thinking, but then I doubt there is any good strategic thinking on the subject. E.g.: "Taiwan's defeat would dramatically weaken America's position in the Pacific, where US naval ships guard some of the world's busiest sea lanes." Guard them from what, pray tell? Most of the shipping in the area is to and from China. What I think should be obvious is that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be much more difficult to pull off than Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even if the US military remains disengaged, and more prone to catastrophic escalation. But China has never risked that kind of confrontation, and Taiwan is unlikely to try to provoke it. I'm not so sure about the China-haters in the US.

Also on China:

Samuel Gardner-Bird: [11-15] The unipolar moment is over. When will the US get it? "These former Global South leaders don't mince words when it comes to America's diminishing leadership and the 'rules base order.'" Unfortunate, this was just a Quincy Institute colloquium, but we've heard grumblings like this in more formal forums, like last week's COP27, and the Doha round of world trade talks.

Anand Giridharadas: [11-19] This Week, Billionaires Made a Strong Case for Abolishing Themselves. Starts with the obvious low-hanging fruit: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the already-abolished crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried, and Donald Trump (who also isn't much of a billionaire). It shouldn't be hard to find similar stories among the less storied. Much harder to find exceptions (and no, I wouldn't give George Soros an automatic bye). Giridharadas has a new book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. For a review, see:

Margaret Hartmann: [11-16] 7 Ways Trump's 2024 Announcement Was Totally Sad! "There was no way Trump's 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday night was going to beat 2015's iconic, racist spectacle, but the event failed to meet even significantly lowered expectations." First thing I noticed was that there was no escalator in Mar-A-Lago. Trump's entrance was shrouded by a crowd, so you could barely see him until he stepped up on the stage. Then he went into his bored teleprompted voice, with his laundry list of absurd claims about how America was perfect back when he was President. Not quite how I remember it. I tuned out after a few minutes of that, but here's Hartman's list:

  1. Multiple Trump family members skipped the event. [Most strategically Ivanka, who issued a press release saying she wouldn't be part of the 2024 campaign.]
  2. Cable news networks didn't carry the whole speech. [Even Fox cut away.]
  3. The pump-up music was from Les Mis. [As opposed to "Rockin' in the Free World" in 2016.]
  4. He made a lot of confusing flubs.
  5. Security wouldn't let people leave.
  6. Former Trump officials bashed him on-air. [The most carefully crafted line was "I think he's the only Republican who could lose."]
  7. The New York Post's coverage was savage.

More on Trump:

  • Jonathan Chait: [11-19] Trump Says He's 'Not Going to Partake' in Being Charged by Special Counsel: But "that is not how our legal system works."

  • George T Conway III: [11-15] Trump is out for vengeance -- and to protect himself from prosecution.

  • Shirin Ghaffary: [11-19] Elon Musk just let Trump back on Twitter. Sounds like a desperate ploy to gin up some traffic, but if Trump takes the bait, it will also be an easy way to kill Trump's competing network. Ghaffary also wrote: A comprehensive guide to how Elon Musk is changing Twitter.

  • Briahna Joy Gray: [11-18] Don't Write Him Off Yet. I think he's probably toast, but that's mostly because he's stuck in a rut moaning about how everyone is picking on him, while pretending everything he did as president was perfect -- when most of what he did was rote Republicanism, liberally seasoned with his trademark vanities and vulgarities (which his people love and others hate). Still, it's not inconceivable he could turn it around, but only if he's willing to step outside the system, admit some failures (while blaming them on other Republicans), and make the case that if you give him the chance again, he'll finally deliver on what he intended to do in his first campaign (before Pence, Christie, McConnell, Ryan, etc., buggered it all up). Sure, I don't think he's smart enough to do that, and he still has a massive credibility problem, and he's no longer someone people are willing to take a chance on just because they hate his opponent even more. But when he starts debating primary Republicans, they're going to give him a lot of ammunition to use, and he at least used to have an instinct for that. And by the way, no need to waste energy rooting for or against him, because every other Republican is as bad.

  • Eric Lipton/Maggie Haberman: [10-20] Trump Family's Newest Partners: Middle Eastern Governments: "The government of Oman is a partner in a real estate deal signed last week by the former president, intensifying questions about a potential conflict as he seeks the White House again."

  • Ruth Marcus: [11-19] Garland's appointment of a special counsel was cautious. But also bold.

  • Andrew Prokop: [11-18] Why special counsel Jack Smith might be different from Robert Mueller: I don't have any particular insight here, but it seems to me that the criminal investigations into Trump should be handled by someone with a degree of political independence. Interesting that Smith has experience at the Hague prosecuting war crimes, but that doesn't seem to be in his remit here.

  • Dana Milbank: [11-18] As Republicans take the House, the crazies take the wheel. For a bunch of pundits, Marjorie Taylor Greene has already become the face of the Republican House. I doubt that's realistic, but she certainly isn't shying away from the spotlight. For Milbank's predictable pan of the Trump announcement, see: [11-15] At Trump's angry announcement, the magic is gone. He even winds up quoting Marx about history repeating itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

William Hartung: [11-17] Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth. I've often thought that the federal government should take over the arms industries, less for efficiency than to factor out the profit motive. Back in WWII, it made sense to use existing companies to ramp up production, and with cost-plus-10% contracts, everyone wanted to get in on the act. The result was the famous "arsenal of democracy," which brought the wars to a successful conclusion in remarkable time.

After the war, most companies converted back to consumer products, but a few hoped to keep on the gravy train, and they started lobbying efforts to spread fear and promote massive spending on "defense" -- so much so that by 1960, Eisenhower warned that the "military-industrial complex" was becoming an autonomous force in American politics. Since then, the US has repeatedly been thrown into wars, each one adding to bottom line of the arms merchants. But as importantly, the arms merchants have taken over US foreign policy, creating a worldwide market for US arms, fueling other wars, including ones where it's impossible to discern real American interests.

It seems crass to suggest that the only reason for the expansion of NATO was to expand the US arms market to Eastern Europe, but it's hard to explain otherwise. It even seems doubtful that the current war in Ukraine would have erupted had it not been for the insult and injury caused by NATO expansion: insult because expansion depended on playing up the threat posed by Russia, and injury because NATO took business away from Russia, especially their own lucrative arms industry.

Also at the invaluable TomDispatch:

  • Tom Engelhardt: [11-20] Future Heat Wave? "When Will Climate Change Become the Crucial Issue in American Elections?" The glib answer is "too late to make any difference." Americans used to pride themselves for pragmatism, including a willingness to put pre-conceived ideas aside and settle on whatever works (Franklin Roosevelt is the best political example, although George Washington and Abraham Lincoln also fit). But as hard as it is to discard dysfunctional ideas, it's even harder to overcome politically influential interest groups. The result is that Americans regularly get blindsided by reality, and forced to learn things the hard way. Climate is likely to be worse than most, partly because it's a derivative as opposed to an immediate fact, but also because it's going to get worse elsewhere before it gets that bad here. (Micronesian islanders have been terrified for years now, and South Asians are getting there fast.) What's perhaps hardest to anticipate is how Americans will react as the world blames them for their hardships. (We got a hint of this at COP27.)

  • Andrew Bacevich: [11-15] The Unasked Questions of 2022: Scattered ruminations on the UK and US political systems, finding both misguided, but at least credits the Brits with their swift dispatch of Elizabeth Truss: "when faced with a crisis of their politics, their politicians dealt with it expeditiously, even ruthlessly." By contrast, the American system couldn't rid itself of the far more clueless and malign Donald Trump until his fixed four-year term expired. But the American malaise runs far deeper than Trump's Ubu Roi act. Bacevich, who prides himself on his conservatism, offers a useful (but far from complete) bullet list:

    • the pervasive dysfunction that grips Congress;
    • the seemingly terminal irresponsibility to which the Republican Party has succumbed;
    • the corrupting influence of money on politics, national and local;
    • a waning public confidence in the impartiality of the courts;
    • a "way of life" centered on rampant consumption with lip service paid to the rapid environmental deterioration of our world;
    • freedom defined as radical autonomy, shorn of any collective obligation;
    • grotesque economic inequality of a sort not seen since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century;
    • increasing levels of violence stoked by resentments related to race and class;
    • the invasively corrosive, ever-expanding impact of social media;
    • deep-seated disputes centering on the role of religion in American life;
    • a mindless penchant for military activism sustained by willful amnesia about war's actual costs and consequences;
    • a refusal to acknowledge that the era of American global primacy is ending;
    • and last (but by no means least), a loss of faith in the Constitution as the essential cornerstone of our political order.
  • Bacevich has a new book of old (2016-21) essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. No doubt I've read most of them when they came out. It is far easier to show how America's worldview is myopic and dysfunctional than it is to actually convince people to open their eyes and see the world as it really is. Democrats and Republicans all have deep but different delusions about American power -- I'd say at least two sets per party -- and they have to be addressed each in turn. For Bacevich, it often suffices to show that the policies rooted in those myths do not work, and often cause even more harm, so the sane (conservative) response is to back away, to learn to exercise more restraint. However, there's another approach that may help Democrats break their kneejerk embrace of omnipotent intervention, and that's to not just do less harm but to do some good.

  • Rajan Menon: [11-13] Fighting a War on the Wrong Planet: "What climate change should have taught us." Includes a section on the Ukraine War, which strikes me as far from complete, but underscores that the climate, therefore the rest of the world, has a stake in ending the war. Another section asks "What International Community?" As long as Great Power politics dominates, there can be no community.

Sabrina Malhi: [11-20] RSV, covid and flu push hospitals to the brink -- and it may get worse.

Branko Marcetic: [11-18] The Left Has a Lot to Celebrate After the Surprising Midterm Results: Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot to justify an article like this.

Matt McManus: [11-19] Why Conservative Intellectuals Are Anti-Intellectual: "The heart of the problem for conservatives is this: they fear too much intellectualism will lead people to question authority and hierarchy." Probably shouldn't waste too much time on this subject, but I hadn't noted before one quote, where J.S. Mill called conservatives the "stupid party."

Ian Millhiser: [11-19] The Federalist Society controls the federal judiciary, so why can't they stop whining?

Nicole Narea: [11-17] The GOP captures the House -- and is ready for revenge. Current numbers (Friday evening) are 218 R to 212 D, with 5 seats undecided (AK, 3 in CA, and 1 in CO, with R's currently leading in 3). But of course they're out for revenge. The only thing that motivates Republicans is quest for power, and the thing they like best about being in power is flouting it, especially to punish their enemies. So yeah, expect a non-stop shit-show from House Republicans. That should provide Democrats with plenty of talking points about how Republicans can't be trusted with any power in government. For more on Republicans, especially in the House:

David Price: [11-18] The Great COIN Con: Anthropologists' Lessons Learned After Two Decades of America's Failed Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan.

Clay Risen: [11-18] Staughton Lynd, Historian and Activist Turned Labor Lawyer, Dies at 92. Born 1929, his parents were famous sociologists, and he took their politics further left. He wrote a short book in 1968 called Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, which I read and loved enough I wrote a letter objecting to Eugene Genovese's savage pan of the book. Genovese replied and suggested I read some of his work. I did, which steered me toward Marxism. Eventually, I conceded Genovese's points, but always remained sympathetic to Lynd -- which he rewarded with a long lifetime of political activism, eventually leaving academia for a second career as a labor organizer and lawyer.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-18] Roaming Charges: The Upside-Down World. As usual, lots of stuff here. One thing I learned about was "Natrium nuclear reactors." I had never heard of "natrium" before, but it turns out it's just a registered brand name for a particular company products, more generically known as sodium-cooled fast reactors (which I had heard of -- they go some way toward solving the worst risks of conventional reactors, but I'm not sure they go far enough). One item here worth quoting at length: a list of things that have already happened in the Ukraine War that weren't anticipated by either side:

We've seen several of these unanticipated turning points already in Ukraine: the thwarted run on Kyiv, the butchery at Bucca, the annexation of the four oblasts, the sabotage of the Crimean bridge and Nordstream pipelines, Putin's nuclear threats, Zelensky's belligerence, the resistance to Putin's draft orders, the retreats from Kharkiv and Kherson, the attacks on Ukrainian civilian power plants, which have left upwards of 10 million people without electricity as winter sets in. This week we narrowly avoided another, when a grain facility in eastern Poland was struck by an errant Ukrainian missile, killing two people and threatening to detonate a chain of events that would have dangerously escalated the war, putting NATO on a direct nuclear collision course with Russia.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39065 [39002] rated (+63), 46 [43] unrated (+3: 18 new, 28 old).

PS: As I've been doing most weeks, I started this introduction with a link to the previous day's Speaking of Which column. The political/news posts are a lot of work, and a lot of deadline pressure, so I think they deserve a friendly extra link, especially as I routinely link to Music Week on Facebook, but rarely to my other blog posts. Also, having depressurized after the post, I feel like I can get a bit more personal here -- especially given that the music reviews that make up the bulk of the content are already done and tucked away. But this week I went on at much more than expected length, and a reader -- one who often retweets and/or forwards me -- wrote in to ask if I couldn't break it up into two posts: one politics and one music. That's not unreasonable: I've long had a plan to split it up and maintain separate blogs for politics and music. But practical and personal problems have kept that from happening, and at this point I'm losing interest in both.

So I've done two things: I've moved the political part to the bottom of this post, adding this mini-explanation. And I've also copied the political part to yesterday's post, as a postscript. But while the intro is important to me personally, I doubt that it warrants its own post. It's mostly more drivel on the eternal book question, but if you're curious, by all means scroll down and read. I doubt if this is a satisfactory solution, but it's all I'm prepared to do for now.

I've made a small bit of progress toward organizing the Jazz Critics Poll, but not nearly enough. I was pleased to receive unsolicited mail from one of the voters today, reminding me that people are interested in this happening. I've thus far failed to line up a sponsor, but I want to make my website the focal point, so not lining up sponsorship won't stop it from happening. I would appreciate any suggestions on how to make the presentation more appealing, and/or how to better get the word out when we announce the results.

I'm still planning on sending the voter invites out this week. Basic minimal qualifications for voting are that you need to have heard several hundred new jazz releases this year, and to have written about several dozen of them (broadcast journalists also count -- we have a number of them, although that's not a world I'm very familiar with; thus far I've heard 681 jazz releases, out of 1113 in my tracking file). Here's a list of voters from 2021. If you know someone else who should be voting, let me know.

This week's records started with a long trawl through the late Loretta Lynn's back catalogue. I had looked for her albums a while back and found very little, so it's likely that their addition to streaming services is recent and ongoing (availability starts to get patchy after 1977, and I'm still missing one duet album with Ernest Tubb and several with Conway Twitty -- who, like many country stars of the period, I know almost exclusively from compilations).

A couple of minor notes here: I complained last week about Jerry Lee Lewis albums failing to hit 30 minutes, but threw in the towel here: none of Lynn's 1960s and 1970s albums do (they mostly run 11 tracks). I only did the first (of three, I think) Greatest Hits LPs, partly because I used to own the LP, and partly because she was only beginning to find her unique voice when it came out, so it shows a different side of her compared to the later compilations. One thing I found interesting was that during breaks from this immersion in her work, I found myself recalling other country songs, mostly from George Jones and Merle Haggard. Must be some common bits of melody wafting through all three.

The Mingus record was due to a user question. He asked whether my having skipped the record meant some sort of disapproval. You can rest assured that omissions simply reflect ignorance. Had I been aware of the album (at least during the last 20 years) I would have listed it. Now I am aware, and have listed it.

The new stuff came late in the week, mostly promos that weren't due for release until early November, plus a couple of the August NoBusiness releases I just got this week. I've aded things to my jazz and non-jazz files, but haven't gotten around to rethinking the order (what's currently there is likely to change, possibly a lot). I see that AOTY is reporting the first 2022 Music Year End Lists (Decibel, Uncut). I haven't tracked them yet, but will soon begin to (the current Aggregate File has 80+ ratings (*) and mid-year lists (+), so is somewhat biased toward early-year releases, but the ranking there is: Wet Leg, Big Thief, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Rosalia, Beyoncé, Mitski, Black Country New Road, The Smile, Nilufer Yanya. I weigh the EOY lists more heavily (5 points for top picks, 4 for 2-5, 3 for 6-10, 2 for 11-20, 1 for all other mentions), so the current numbers will soon get swamped.

I just realized that one of the reasons I've been avoiding playing downloads (e.g., the new Thumbscrew album) is that the Klipsch speakers on the machine I collect them on are flaky, with one side turned down to squelch noise. I've just ordered a new pair of (slightly cheaper) Creative Labs speakers, so hopefully that will fix the problem. I had to replace the mouse last week, and I'm delighted with the new one, not least for eliminating the wire.

New records reviewed this week:

The Attic [Rodrigo Amado/Gonçalo Almeida/Onno Govaert]: Love Ghosts (2020 [2022], NoBusiness): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, one of the best avant players over two decades, third group album (the first I filed under bassist Almeida's name; this one has a new drummer). A- [cd]

Jakob Bro/Joe Lovano: Once Around the Room: A Tribute to Paul Motian (2021 [2022], ECM): Danish guitarist, albums since 2013, 6th album on ECM since 2015. Bro played on Motian's Garden of Eden (2006), while Lovano (tenor sax/tarogato) played in a long-running trio with Motian and Bill Frisell. Group here adds Anders Christensen (bass guitar), two double bassists (Larry Grenadier and Thomas Morgan), and two drummers (Joey Baron and Jorge Rossy). Only one Motian composition here (vs. two for Bro, three for Lovano). B+(***) [sp]

Armani Caesar: The Liz 2 (2022, Griselda): Buffalo rapper, released a mixtape in 2020 called The Liz, gets dark, dense, and obscure. B+(*) [sp]

Coco & Clair Clair: Sexy (2022, self-released): Atlanta-based pop/rap duo, Taylor Nave and Claire Toothill, first album after a 7-track 2017 EP. Hard to gauge sexy, but cute, clever, sometimes nasty, sure. B+(*) [sp]

George Colligan: King's Dream (2022, P.Ice): Pianist, more than two dozen albums since 1995, solo, original compositions. Title reflects on Martin Luther King, promising "a balm for turmoil of recent days." B+(**) [cd]

Olli Hirvonen: Kielo (2022, Ropeadope): Finnish guitarist, fourth album, has a solid rock-fusion vibe. B+(*) [cd]

Homeboy Sandman: Still Champion (2022, self-released): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, many albums/EPs -- he seems to prefer 20-30 minute chunks -- since 2007, with this his third album this year (10 tracks, 33:23). Produced sparingly by Deca. Takes a couple tracks before his words start to flow with the mix, but they never melt into oblivion -- just too fascinating. A- [sp]

Dan Israel: Seriously (2022, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, started around 1998, Discogs lists 13 albums plus a compilation (Danthology). Bandcamp page includes a full lyric sheet, but this rocked past me so fast I never wondered about the words. B+(*) [bc]

Song Yi Jeon/Vinicius Gomes: Home (2020 [2022], Greenleaf Music): Voice and guitar. She was born in South Korea; educated in Graz, Basel, and Boston; based in Switzerland; third album, backed by the Brazilian (NY-based) guitarist. Seems like a fairly limited concept, but grows on you. B+(***) [cd] [11-18]

Kirk Knuffke/Michael Bisio: For You I Don't Want to Go (2020 [2022], NoBusiness): Cornet and bass duo. Knuffke has managed to slip easily between mainstream and avant contexts, so singularly it's never clear where this modest, bare bones project fits (not that it matters). A- [cd]

Sarathy Korwar: Kalak (2022, The Leaf Label): Percussionist, born in US, raised in India, based in London. Fourth album. Describes this as "an Indo-futurist manifesto." Opens with a recipe that lost me with the 10 crushed chili peppers, then enters a vocal piece I can only find exotic. After that, the music gets more enticing, especially the drums, so when the vocals return they have something to build on. B+(***) [sp]

Dave Liebman: Trust and Honesty (2022, Newvelle); Leader plays soprano and tenor sax, accompanied by Ben Monder on guitar and John Hébert on bass, with Monder taking most of the leads. Nothing rushed, so you need to let it seep in. B+(**) [sp]

Mama's Broke: Narrow Line (2022, Free Dirt): Canadian folk duo from Nova Scotia, Amy Lou Keeler and Lisa Maria, play string instruments (mainly guitar and violin, plus banjo and a bit of cello). Second album. Rather dank. Perhaps you have to be a lyrics hound to care enough, but I can see the appeal. B+(**) [sp]

Mama's Broke: Count the Wicked (2017, self-released): First album, following a 2014 EP. Music has a bit more snap. Can't speak to the lyrics. B+(***) [sp]

Timothy Norton: Visions of Phaedrus (2021 [2022], Truth Revolution): Bassist, debut album, leads a smart postbop sextet with trumpet (Josh Evans), sax (Jerome Sabbagh), piano (Randy Ingram), guitar, and drums. B+(***) [cd]

Houston Person: Reminiscing at Rudy's (2022, HighNote): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, started in the 1960s at Prestige, where he also did A&R, and has followed Joe Fields (the late, so now producer Barney Fields) from label to label. Easy-going live set, standards he's mostly done before, backed by guitar (Russell Malone), piano (Larry Fuller, bass (Matthew Parrish), and drums (Lewis Nash, also credited with a crooning vocal). Spottier than his best records, but some lovely parts. B+(***) [cd] [11-18]

Smino: Luv 4 Rent (2022, Zero Fatigue/Motown): Rapper Christopher Smith Jr., from St. Louis, third album, pretty sneaky. B+(**) [sp]

Sonido Solar: Eddie Palmieri Presents Sonido Solar (2022, Truth Revolution): Palmieri arranges and plays piano on just two tracks, but his imprimatur means something to the actual band leaders: Jonathan Powell (trumpet), Louis Fouché (alto sax), Luques Curtis (bass), and Zaccai Curtis (piano). They are joined by trombone, tenor sax, and three percussionists, playing Latin jazz classics. B+(**) [cd]

They Might Be Giants: Book (2021, Idlewild): Billed as "two catchy weirdos," I loved their 1986 debut -- "of course you do" was Bob Christgau's reaction when I gushed about how much -- but they wore out their welcome pretty fast, even as Christgau maintained his more moderate level of interest, which turned out not to include six albums since 2013 (his last-reviewed Nanobots, until this one). I only noticed (or bothered with) one of those, Glean, a low B+ from 2015, although this one was in last year's tracking file. This is comparably idiosyncratic. Reportedly comes with a book, which I haven't seen. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Yuji Takahashi/Sabu Toyozumi: The Quietly Clouds and a Wild Crane (1998 [2022], NoBusiness): Japanese piano and drums duo. Takahashi lived in Europe 1963-66, where he studied with Iannis Xenakis, and in the US 1966-72, with most of his early work classical (including Bach, Beethoven, Satie, Messiaen, and Cage; in 1979, he recorded Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated). B+(***) [cd]

Old music:

Homeboy Sandman: Nourishment (Second Helpings) (2007, Boy Sand Industries): New York rapper Angel del Villar II, first album, title recycled from a debut EP, long semi-popular career ahead of him. Fast and freaky. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Loretta Lynn Sings (1963, Decca): First album, after a couple singles including a 1960 hit (14) with "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl." She went higher with "Success" (6) here, and with the album itself (2). Nothing here that wound up in her canon, but she sure does sing, and her covers are nearly always definitive -- including a superb "Act Naturally," months after Buck Owens and a couple years before Ringo. A- [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Before I'm Over You (1964, Decca): She wrote a song here ("Where Were You"), but it's outshone by the covers, especially the sly "Wine, Women and Song," and how often she makes you forget well-known hits, like "Loose Talk" (Carl Smith) and "The End of the World" (Skeeter Davis). B+(***) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Songs From My Heart . . . (1965, Decca): Two original songs, still nothing notable, but she got a hit with "Happy Birthday," and "Oh, Lonesome Me" is as great as ever. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl (1965, Decca): Johnny Mullins wrote the title song for her, not just a hit but a signature song. She wrote four songs, mostly slow spots. "The Race Is On" opens the second side. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Hymns (1965, Decca): Too great a singer to make a really bad album, and this fills a niche that is all but expected in Nashville, but the songs about children praying got under my skin, and the old time religion just fills me with dread. B [sp]

Loretta Lynn: I Like 'Em Country (1966, Decca): The one original in a sob story "Dear Uncle Sam," which could use more context and anger. Covers of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash don't disappoint. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: You Ain't Woman Enough (1966, Decca): Do you suppose "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (covered here with extra twang) got her thinking? The title cut was her first self-penned masterpiece -- the one that stuck with me last time I played her Definitive Collection. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind) (1967, Decca): Another signature song, her first number one single. Two more Lynn originals add to her anger and frustration: "Get Whatcha Got and Go" and "I Got Caught." B+(***) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Loretta Lynn's Greatest Hits (1961-67 [1968], Decca): With just 11 songs (26:06), and nine of them 1965 or earlier (including the better-forgotten "Dear Uncle Sam"), you can do much better: I'd rank them: 20 Greatest Hits [1987], Country Music Hall of Fame [1991], then The Definitive Collection (2005), with the 3-CD Honky Tonk Girl (1994) nearly all first rate. A-

Loretta Lynn: Who Says God Is Dead! (1968, Decca): Note punctuation, on one of four originals here, which (aside from "Mama, Why?") aren't as perverse as last time. Bluegrass helps, and standards like "The Old Rugged Cross" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" are reliable. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Fist City (1968, Decca): Title song was her second number one single, just one of five songs she wrote (or co-wrote). While she's willing to fight for her man there, she wastes no time dumping him in "You Didn't Like My Lovin'." A- [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Your Squaw Is on the Warpath Tonight (1969, Decca): Title cut explains that "squaw" is nickname given by an abusive or at least damn annoying husband, but the album cover takes one aback these days, as does the choice of "Kaw-Liga" as a cover (although "Harper Valley P.T.A." isn't much better). Also comes up super short after a song (not one Lynn wrote) was pulled due to a copyright dispute. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Here's Loretta Singing "Wings Upon Your Horns" (1969 [1970], Decca): Single wasn't that big (11) or for that matter that memorable: "loss of innocence" is a more common phrase for those not obsessed with demons and angels, a recurring theme here. Though not really on "Let's Get Back Down to Earth," the best song here. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Loretta Lynn Writes 'Em and Sings 'Em (1965-69 [1970], Decca): She started writing songs a couple albums in, and gradually increased, but no more than five songs (including co-writes) to an album. She didn't have enough for a full album when she went into the studio in December 1969, but instead of adding cover filler, they dropped a few of her self-penned hits into the mix: "You Ain't Woman Enough," "Fist City," "Your Squaw Is on the Warpath," "Wings Upon Your Horns." Two great songs there, and two pretty good ones, which is about all I can say for the new ones. This was probably more useful at the time, but I had to assemble it as a playlist, checking out the missing "What Has the Bottle Done to My Baby" on YouTube. B+(***)

Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner's Daughter (1970 [1971], Decca): Title song was an inspired piece of storytelling, another number one hit and her first song to graze the pop charts (83), and went on to serve as the title of her autobiography and of the movie made about it, as well as a 2010 tribute to Lynn. Only two more Lynn credits here. The rest reveal little, but show off her still remarkable voice. B+(***) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: I Wanna Be Free (1971, Decca): Title song was a country hit (3), but little remembered. It's one of four Lynn credits here, along with covers she doesn't need but handles as well as you'd expect ("Rose Garden," "Me and Bobby McGee," "Help Me Make It Through the Night"). B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: You're Lookin' at Country (1971, Decca): The title song is perfectly iconic, but they she throws a cover of the perfectly fake "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Beyond that, the usual batch. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Alone With You (1961-64 [1972], Vocalion): Eleven tracks compiled from her first three albums, avoiding all five charting singles, including just two of her own writing credits. Makes you wonder why, other than to show off Owen Bradley's production skills. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: One's on the Way (1972, Decca): Shel Silverstein wrote the title song, but I can't imagine anyone else singing it. She only co-wrote one song, the trivial "L-O-V-E, Love," but the filler is uniformly solid, "It'll Feel Good When It Quits Hurtin'" fits her nicely, and you have to wonder why it took her so long to do "Blueberry Hill." B+(***) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Here I Am Again (1972, Decca): Shel Silverstein wrote the title song again, but not one he will be remembered for. Lynn's sole co-credit is for the so-so "I Miss You More Today." The rest is decent enough, except for a cover of "Delta Dawn" where the star gets submerged in the backup. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Entertainer of the Year (1972, Decca): This breaks her usual habit of naming the album for the top single, but the label didn't care call the album "Rated X." The song wasn't about sex per se, but about the tainted past of divorcées -- a quaint relic of an earlier period which Lynn did as much as anyone to end. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Love Is the Foundation (1973, MCA): Shel Silverstein came to the rescue again with "Hey Loretta" ("I love you more than my Irish setter," "this a-women's liberation, honey, is gonna start right now"). Would have been a good album title, too, but they went with the William Cody Hall title song first, and it sold well enough. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty: Country Partners (1974, MCA): Second duet album together, note that the billing order flipped. This opens with a definitive break up song ("As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone"), and the few exceptions are at best nostalgic. B+(***) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy (1974, MCA): Jerry Chestnut wrote the title track, another perfect single attached to another beautifully sung but less than remarkable album. Note that this is one of her first albums to inch above 30 minutes. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Back to the Country (1975, MCA): No self-penned songs (again), although the single couldn't have been written for anyone else, and was ultimately a milestone: "The Pill." B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty: Feelins' (1975, MCA): First I was confused by that apostrophe, then by the song it was attached to, then it got worse. Some of their best songs are marked by humor, but never this sophomoric. B- [sp]

Loretta Lynn: When the Tingle Becomes a Chill (1976, MCA): Lola Jean Dillon wrote the moving title song. Lynn's only song is "Red, White and Blue," where her Cherokee identity resurfaces. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty: United Talent (1976, MCA): Title is kinda creepy, as is the embrace on the cover, and for that matter the talkies "The Letter" and "God Bless America Again." On the other hand, the rest is more upbeat, but maybe because they rushed to get this over with in an exceptionally short 24:42. B [sp]

Loretta Lynn: I Remember Patsy (1977, MCA): Patsy Cline had four top-two hits before her plane crash death in 1963: "Walkin' After Midnight" (1957), and from 1961-62 "I Fall to Pieces," "Crazy," and "She's Got You," plus a couple lesser hits -- a fairly thin discography for such a legend, but her voice elevated lesser fare, and that's all history required. Cline befriended Lynn when the latter arrived in Nashville, but only three years separated them (b. 1932 to 1935; first singles 1955 to 1960). This tribute remakes nine songs from Cline's songbook, and goes straight for the top shelf: the four I listed above, and "Sweet Dreams," "Faded Love," "Why Can't He Be You," "Back in Baby's Arms," "Leavin' on Your Mind," then ends with a 7:11 interview excerpt to establish Lynn's bona fide -- as if her voice wasn't ticket enough. B+(***) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Out of My Head and Back in My Bed (1978, MCA): Another number one single, but neither it nor the follow up stick for me. B [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Making Love From Memory (1982, MCA): I Remember Patsy was her last top-10 country album until 2004's Van Lear Rose, and this was the first one that didn't chart at all. A couple odd things here, like the jazz steps on "When We Get Back Together," but I rather like Lynn's own song, "Then You'll Be Free." B [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Lyin', Cheatin', Woman Chasin', Honky Tonkin', Whiskey Drinkin' You (1983, MCA): Title song injects a badly needed bit of energy, if not quite anger, but it fades, like her career trajectory. B+(*) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Just a Woman (1985, MCA): Three singles stiffed, and the album topped out at 63, but having put Owen Bradley in the rear view mirror, there is much evidence that she's trying harder, including two songs she wrote, and a closer about a wedding ring, called "One Man Band." B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Who Was That Stranger (1988, MCA): Two originals, neither of them singles, but the singles stiffed. All the fun here comes from the fast ones, which are more plentiful than in a long time. B+(**) [sp]

Loretta Lynn: Still Country (2000, Audium): First studio album since 1988. Not much more to say about it. B+(*) [sp]

Charles Mingus: Tonight at Noon (1957-61 [1964], Atlantic): Outtakes from The Clown (1957) and Oh Yeah (1961), compiled into a 38:08 LP in 1964 after the bassist had moved on to Impulse!, then basically forgotten about until digital reissues became trivial. In the meantime, the cuts were added as bonuses to CD reissues, and compiled into Rhino's 6-CD Passions of a Man: The Complete Atlantic Recordings. Of course, parts -- especially those with Booker Ervin and Roland Kirk -- sound brilliant. Pianist Wade Legge, who died at 29 after an impressive list of side-credits, may also be worth a deeper look. B+(***) [sp]

Dolly Parton/Loretta Lynn/Tammy Wynette: Honky Tonk Angels (1993, Columbia): Credit per spine, which makes sense given that it had been several years since Lynn and Wynette had recorded (1988 and 1990). Starts with the Kitty Wells hit, which has never before been encased in such vocal splendor. Wells is credited as a special guest, as is Patsy Cline ("Lovesick Blues" 30 years after her death). Lynn and Wynette write their own showcases, and Parton amends the roster of "I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven." B+(**) [sp]

Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn: Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be (1965, Decca): Duets, the first of three albums together. Tubb was 51 and declining, Lynn 30 and on the rise, their voices an odd mix, and they spend more time breaking up than anything else. B [sp]

Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn: Singin' Again (1967, Decca): Country music's odd couple, back for a second engagement. The voices still don't mix, but through mutual respect they mesh much better. And Loretta's getting better at faking romance, but "Beautiful Friendship" is more to the point. B+(**) [sp]

Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn: Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man (1973, MCA): A better duet partner for Lynn than Ernest Tubb, whose flat Texas tone never quite meshed with Lynn. Twitty, two years older with a 1959 start in rockabilly, was a comparable star in Nashville: 10 number 1 singles through 1973, vs. 7 for Lynn, though Lynn was arguably more famous beyond country music. The obvious competition was George Jones and Tammy Wynette, who released during their 1969-75 marriage, and has real chemistry before they started developing their breakup material. Twitty and Lynn was just an act, which helps explain why they were doing covers of "Bye Bye Love" and "Release Me" on their first album. But the intercourse of their voices was something to marvel at. B+(***) [sp]

Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn: Two's a Party (1981, MCA): Their tenth (and last) duet album, laid on thick. B [sp]

Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn: The Best of Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1971-88 [2000], MCA Nashville): They knocked out an album every year for a decade, then one more after a seven year break. This 12-track max series should be ideal for hit-and-miss artists, but picking one song per album overrepresents the bad ones, and misses their one stroke of genius: "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly." Pick any of several alternative comps that have it, even the 24-track The Definitive Collection, which picks up everything here and still improves on it. B+(***) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The Attic [Rodrigo Amado/Gonçalo Almeida/Onno Govaert]: Love Ghosts (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Hal Galper: Ivory Forest Redux (1979, Origin) [11-18]
  • Kirk Knuffke/Michael Bisio: For You I Don't Want to Go (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Zach Phillips: Goddaughters (self-released) [08-12]
  • Scenes: Variable Clouds: Live at the Earshot Jazz Festival (Origin) [11-18]
  • Cory Smythe: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Pyroclastic) [12-02]
  • Wil Swindler's Elevenet: Space Bugs: Live in Denver (OA2) [11-18]
  • Yuji Takahashi/Sabu Toyozumi: The Quietly Clousd and a Wild Crane (1998, NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Hilliard Greene/Barry Altschul: We're Playing in Here? (2007, NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Dan Weiss Trio: Dedication (Cygnus) [11-11]
  • Rodney Whitaker: Oasis (Origin) [11-18]

Former Introduction

I wrote some on the 2022 election last week in yesterday's Speaking of Which. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time studying elections. I could name you every Senator since 1900, and most of the then-current members of the House. I poured through almanacs and colored in county maps to plot the spatial division of party splits, going back in many cases to Reconstruction after the Civil War. I went to the library a couple times each week, and regularly noted votes as tracked by Congressional Weekly. I did a lot of the same things Kevin Phillips did while writing The Emerging Republican Majority: effectively the Bible of Nixon's Southern Strategy and cult of the Silent Majority. In that book I glimpsed the future: the rise of reaction, and the end of the liberal America I had grown up in (and found deficient, although one can be nostalgic comparing it to the changes wrought by Nixon, Reagan, and their descendants down through Trump and beyond).

I gave up on electoral politics after McGovern's tragic loss in 1972, only to return in 1996 when presented with an opportunity to vote against the villainous Bob Dole (who had eked out a win in 1972 against Bill Roy in the dirtiest, most despicable campaign of my experience). But whenever I did pay attention to an election, I found my peculiar experience gave me considerable insight. You can find analyses of various elections as far back as 2000 in my notebooks. This year's seems rather paltry by comparison, as if I'm struggling not just with the data but with my motivation. One question I need to answer in the next month or two[*] is whether make a serious attempt at writing the political book I've been turning over in my head since the mid-1990s. The latest iteration of the outline envisions three sections:

  1. The evolution of the Republican Party from Nixon to the present, seen mostly as the pursuit of power regardless of the costs, including to their basic competency.
  2. A survey of several prominent problems that Republicans have proved themselves incompetent to address, much less to ameliorate.
  3. A prescription for the Democrats to forge a political stance that is capable of both winning elections and addressing problems.

As I noted in a tweet I quoted in the post, the first part is the easy one: books like David Corn's recent American Psychosis and Dana Milbank's The Destructionists, or older ones like Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew (2008), offer a surfeit of examples that go to the heart of the GOP (and not just the MAGA fringe). One can also draw on a rich literature on problems and solutions, most formulated on the left because that's where critical thinking survives. The tough problem is figuring out how to package both the critique of Republicanism and a practical range of solutions in a way that wins over a viable political majority. I have some ideas there, or at least some personal reactions, but putting them together won't be easy, and may be resisted as much by the left as by the center and the right.

The idea here is to provide a framework to help Democrats better understand what needs to be done, and what they're up against. It won't try to argue with Republicans or unaligned refuseniks -- not that I won't offer some suggestions for Democrats to win them over. It won't offer a left critique of mainstream Democrats, liberalism, and/or capitalism (although I suppose that's where I'm coming from, so it's liable to seep through, but only where I think it might be helpful for winning elections and setting policy). It won't engage in the sort of utopian thinking I've long been partial to. It won't be based on polling, or for that matter on the sort of political science Thomas Edsall and Ezra Klein base their analyses on. I'm not going to tell Democrats they should tell people what they want to hear.

I recognize that Republicans have a long-term credibility problem because nothing they say about problems and nothing they try to do about them actually works. Everything they've touched in the last 40-50 years has turned to crap, and it's getting increasingly hard to ignore that fundamental flaw in their thinking (though they try, by shouting louder and more desperately). Democrats have sometimes won elections by appropriating Republican rhetoric, but that's only saddled them with their own long-term credibility problem. The only way to reverse this is to promise and deliver on things that actually work. That's a tough sell, because we're so used to stupid posturing, and because the media practically polices pubic discourse to make sure nothing sensible survives. (That's a big part of why they love and/or hate Trump so much.)

[*] Let's make this specific: to make decision by the end of the year, either to write the book or to never think about it again. The alternative would be to work on the memoir, which could spin other things off eventually. In the meantime, I have the Jazz Critics Poll to run (and/or to ruin).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Speaking of Which

PS: I started to write a plug for this post in Monday's Music Week post, and it got a bit out of hand. As it makes more sense here, I'm adding it to the end of this post, as well as burying it at the end of the Music Week post. I'm not updating the notebook to reflect these changes.

The following section was started on Wednesday, mostly finished by Thursday, although I've added occasional bits. This intro was written Sunday afternoon. The Arizona and Nevada Senate races were finally called for the Democrats, giving them 50 seats, plus a chance to pick up one more in the Georgia runoff, As I understand it, the extra seat will save them from some procedural hassles, so would be a big plus. Plus one seat still means that Manchin and Sinema can veto legislation, and perhaps most importantly any change to the filibuster rule, but it will take both of them instead of either/or. Still may not matter much if the House goes to the Republicans, as seems likely.

Democrats have bravely claimed their showing as some kind of win, at least a victory over expectations, which seem to have been set by a combination of Republican arrogance and Democratic self-doubt. I haven't dug into the results nearly as much as in previous years, so have very little to say about specific races. Some of the articles below are helpful (especially the interviews), but none are anywhere near definitive.

Still, I'm not very happy with this election. I've felt all along that Democrats should be able to do better. I'm particularly saddened at not picking up the Senate seat in Wisconsin -- I seriously doubt anyone has ever won three Senate terms by slimmer margins than Ron Johnson (although Russ Feingold was close on track with his first two wins, before Johnson beat him). Also in Ohio, which is a state I've always felt Democrats should be winning, and Iowa and Missouri, which should be more competitive. (North Carolina was actually a bit closer, but always seems to fall short, as do the big hopes centrist Democrats hold for Florida and Texas.)

In Kansas, Democratic governor Laura Kelly won a very close race against one of the most loathsome Republicans I've encountered in a long time, but didn't have enough coattails to carry an Attorney General race where Republicans nominated the wretched Kris Kobach, let alone her former Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, who ran for Treasurer. The State Supreme Court justices Republicans were keen to purge for ruling that abortion is a constitutional right were easily retained, and the House gerrymander failed to get rid of Kansas' one Democratic Representative. I also think it's significant that Sen. Jerry Moran, who is a reliable Republican foot-soldier but far from the worst, only barely managed 60% of the vote, despite outspending Democrat Mark Holland by 6.6-to-1 (felt more like 30-to-1, which was about what happened six years ago, when Moran again was capped at 60%). Despite its bloody-red reputation, Kansas reliably has a close to 40% Democratic base no matter now little they campaign. Shouldn't we be able to build on that?

Americans voted for a new Congress, many Governors, and lots of lower offices. I ventured last week and the week before that the relentless drumroll of media stories touting Republican polling gains, even in publications like Vox that supposedly lean left, amounted to gaslighting. As the actual votes got counted, the New York Times (as usual, one of the worst offenders) immediately spun by asking their pundits: How did Democrats escape a rout?. A better question is why did a party that had nothing to offer America except more corruption, a diminished economy, less equality, more injustice, more guns and violence, fewer rights and an increasingly tattered security, with such contempt for the people that they spent the last two years scheming ways to steal elections and sabotage popular efforts when they lost anyway: why did this Republican Party still managed to get anywhere close to half of the votes? I suspect that the real effect of the gaslighting was less, as I mentioned last week, to set up another round of election-stealing charges, than to simply legitimize a Party that deserves nothing less than total dismissal.

I opened this file Wednesday afternoon because I wanted to start with this tweet from Rick Perlstein:

Let's be real. When the opposition is organized around doing nothing to help human beings, runs lunatics, and abandons the basic pretense of commitment to democracy, and the result is a tie, this is a demonstration of the weakness of the Democratic Party, not its health.

I only half approve of this tweet. The slam on the Republicans is succinct but fundamentally right. What's missing is not just extra charges, of which there are many, but appreciation of how effective Republicans are at campaigning with such obvious faults. Without considering how Republicans tap into deep-seated psychic traits, it's impossible to tell whether a tie is a sign of Democratic weakness or heroism. One can argue either case, but let's start by nothing that unlike the midterm fiascos of 1994 and 2010, Democrats held their own this year. This was certainly not because Republicans got lazy and/or missed tricks. Their relentless demonization of Biden drove approval polls toward 40% over a year ago, and their media manipulation far exceeded anything in my memory. They had tons of money, which helped them select emotional hot buttons, forcing Democrats to back-peddle and depend on reason.

Yet still, voters resisted. Biden's argument that democracy was at stake may have seemed too abstract, but it became much more palpable when the Republican-packed Supreme Court stripped Americans of their constitutional right to reproductive choice. Granted, Democrats should have done a better job of illuminating the much broader threat that Republicans poised to our freedoms, to our well-being, to society as a whole. Or alternatively, they could have tried harder to get people to fear and loathe Republicans, as Republicans have done to liberals and ultimately all Democrats over the last 40-50 years. But that's an uphill battle, and isn't necessarily in their nature (or necessarily a good thing). The Democratic Party is diverse and divided, intent on representing and servicing everyone -- which puts it at a severe disadvantage when facing such a single-minded adversary.

Scanning further down in the Perlstein thread, I see he writes more [other comments in brackets; mine are TH]:

  • Writing a whole book about it. [TH: Good. Been thinking about my own. What's wrong with R's is easy part, although few have noted the toxic power lust going back to Nixon. Hard part is what D's can do, given the asymmetries in identity and approach. Also, per W Rogers, Ds are not "an organized political party."]
  • What have Dems done to create a more robust sense of party identity ("tribalism"), build their own media ecosystem, and degrade the strategic capacity of the oppositions? Every excuse is an indictment.
  • Learned helplessness. If we don't win, the planet and the society collapse.
  • [jeff scheiner: Don't overlook money and media though.] Thanks for the reminder. Democrats collect and spend absurdly large amounts of money with no coordinated strategic vision, and have created no media platforms to define the terms of battle.
  • [desertbunny: We need a mechanism to be able to sue for political malpractice.] That mechanism is called "grassroots participation in Democratic Party politics." Volunteer in your ward/county organization, etc. The only out is through.
  • [VHistory: I'm not so sure I'm as much of a pessimist. Remember, many voters inexplicably don't see the GOP that way. Fundamentally we're just a broken electorate. Plus, I think if Dems become more activist it'll help them. They survived because of the things they did for people.] This is optimism, not pessimism. It's a faith that it's possible to build a vision in which the Democrats won operational control of the country for generations, like under FDR, and the GOP functions as an oppositional rump.
  • [David Silva: But let's not overlook the raw emotional appeal of the GOP. The attractive power of a lynch mob.] Dems one had a raw emotional power, of helping you stick it to the boss. One of the wages of Clintonism was making that go away.
  • [john maccallum: Of course the Democratic Party is weak. No labor unions or big city political machines to offset GOP $$$, a need to placate monied interests to raise $$$, dispirited core groups by a reactionary corporate media run by the rich.] And . . . Democrats couldn't have done more to rebuild union power? Every excuse is an indictment.

A couple more comments from the thread:

  • John Sheehan: One party has a 24-hour a day propaganda arm pushing its lies our 365 days a year. The other party, the Democrats, don't have that advantage. You're acting like it's a level playing field. [TH: No, you need strategies that work better given the unevenness of the playing field. Some tilts, like the Senate, are impossible to change. Gerrymandering, money, media access, etc., are also uphill climbs.]
  • Vax-o-licius: The theory underlying this tweet is that with better messaging and strategy Dems could romp to overwhelming victory. There is no evidence this is the case. What the last 7 years have taught us is that there is a pretty large constituency in this country for GOP lunacy. You can ALWAYS criticize the Democrats' messaging and strategy -- and you should -- but it's important to keep in ind that through all the scandals, incompetence and corruption, through Jan 6 and the fine job Dems did exposing it, the % of people who approve of Trump has gone UP.
  • ZaxxonGalaxian: Should be a landslide every election against this GOP, but we have to contend with a signif part of the older white electorate brainwashed by Fox News, fundamentalist churches, and Facebook conspiracy theories. The youth + educated + minority vote doesn't way outnumber them yet.
  • LeftOfTheDial: We can't just blame the GOP. The Dems are constrained in what policies/messages they can offer as a compelling, progressive alternative to the GOP by a combination of neoliberal ideology and subservience to donors. The result: tepid incrementalsm and ties.
  • AXEL LYCAN: The Dems waste so much money and energy on the same old add-makers and media advisors that have lost them thousands of races since Obama even came into office.
  • Cute Username: I feel like there is a substantial amount of evidence that the American people are a bunch of jerks who don't care about that kind of thing. For instance, your own books.
  • Kenny Log-ins: The fact that you can't see, or refuse to recognize, that the issue is WHITE PEOPLE ENTRENCHING INTO WHITE SUPREMACY is . . . unsurprising. Nah must be the Dems fault. [TH: This accompanied by a chart showing white men breaking 63-35 R, white women 53-45 R. I don't doubt that racism is part of what's driving the R's, especially when it can be coded as crime or wokism, but is White Supremacy really a useful term for mostly inchoate prejudice? And how does condemning whites for racism help you win elections?]
  • Real Benisons: Rightist Rs promised the psychic income of cruelty/owning libs/racism to plenty of humans. Is democracy as such anywhere near as salient to voters as freedoms? Ds could seize high ground against Rs who've become hostile to freedom in many ways.

I don't think we can stress too much the role of the mainstream media in conditioning (and legitimating) expectations for the election. One piece you should read is from Steve M.'s invaluable No More Mister Nice Blog: [11-09] Democrats hold off the red wave -- and The New York Times. The bulk of the piece is a day-by-day roll call of articles predicting doom for the Democrats. Nore was the Times alone in drinking Republican Kool-Aid: he includes similar pieces from The New Yorker, CNN, Bloomberg, Politico, Axios, and Washington Post. Millions of Americans depend on these outlets for relief from the non-stop propaganda spewed out by Fox and kin, so when the "reality-based" world gets snowed, it's hard for most people not to think they might have some kind of point. In this case they were wrong.

M. also wrote an earlier [11-05] piece on one specific New Yorker writer: Benjamin Wallace-Wells is a well-worked ref:

This is how the media works: Right-wing outlets offer pure GOP cheerleading and relentless demonization of Democrats, while Republican spin doctors live rent-free in every "liberal" media journalist's head, and stories routinely bash Democrats as a result.

PS: Dean Baker has another example of how the New York Times spread misinformation in the runup to the election: [11/03] It's Five Days Before the Election and the NYT Has Another Bad News About the Economy Story that Contradicts Government Data.

Another tweet on party mentality, from Josh Marshall:

Dems went into the senate battle Tuesday tense/worried. Most GOPs put on paper that they were absolutely going to run the fucking table, get 55 seats. Both were looking at the same roughly tied polls. This remains an enduring feature of the collective mentality of both parties.

Not a propos of the election, but another tweet caught my eye:

Whether it's Democrats defriending their Facebook contacts for being Republicans or Republicans shooting and killing their neighbors for being Democrats, both sides have an intolerance problem.

True enough, but it's not the same intolerance problem.

Here are a few post-election links/comments that caught my eye:

Isaac Chotiner: [11-11] Nate Cohn explains why this year's midterms broke the mold: Interview with "The [New York] Times' polling guru." Chotiner also wrote: [11-10] The accurate election polls that no one believed.

Matthew Cooper: [11-11] Why Did Democrats Do So Well in the Midterms? I'd probably be more tempted to write a "Why did Democrats do so poorly" piece, since my default position is that Republicans are so bad, and that Democrats are objectively so much better, that if everyone gave the question serious thought the results would have been much more favorable. Still, this makes the case that some Democratic arguments -- especially on abortion and democracy -- resonated with enough voters to stay close even given the Republican snow job.

James Fallows: [11-09] The Political Press Needs a Time Out: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. How about if we waste less time trying." More examples of misleading analysis, especially from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Judd Legum has more: [11-10] Political media is broken.

Benjamin Hart: [11-12] Donald Trump's Gift to Democrats. Interview with Amy Walter, of Cook Political Report. Trump has been in the news literally every day since he left office, which has made him much harder to forgive than, say, GW Bush, who became a hermit after 2008, and was totally forgotten by 2010 (even though his administration could be blamed for virtually everything had gone wrong in Obama's first two years). No doubt Trump motivated more Democrats to vote than would have without his constant irritation, but he also motivated his followers, and gave them renewed confidence even if based on lies. Hart's title isn't meant that way, but Republican elites who have no problem with Trump as long as he's winning will point to this disappointment as proof that he's not worth the drama, and should be dumped ASAP. Godspeed, sure, but Trump is still able to do one thing no other Republican can: suck all the oxygen out of a room, so it becomes impossible to rationally debate issues. Given the irrationality of Republican stances on virtually all issues, his removal may not work out as well as they think.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske/Paul Kane: [11-12] Democrats surged to flip state legislatures, defying past GOP gains.

Ellen Ioanes: [11-13] Democrats kept the Senate. But Georgia is still important.

Robert Kuttner: [11-11] Did We Just Save Democracy? Maybe, sort of, aside from the fact that democracy wasn't in very good shape in the first place. Kuttner refers to a review of his book Going Big: FDR's Legacy, Biden's New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy: [11-07] Steps in the Left Direction.

Eric Levitz: [11-10] David Shor's (Premature) Autopsy of the 2020 Midterm Elections. Midterms basically turn on which party comes out to vote, and which stays home. So the interesting point Shor makes here is: Republicans were up by about 2% relative to Democrats. Still, Democrats did better in battleground states, and seem to have gotten lazy in states they thought they had locked up (e.g., New York, California).

Maurice Mitchell: [11-11] How the Democrats Won and Lost and 2022 Midterms. "Tuesday's results are a reprieve, but we still have mountains to move."

Will Norris: [11-10] The Beginning of the End of the Subminimum Wage: "D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to force restaurants to pay employees the full minimum wage. The rest of the nation is likely to follow."

Charles P Pierce: [11-10] No One Can Pretend that Wisconsin Is a Republic: Wisconsin has the most grotesque partisan gerrymandering of any state. It's so bad that when Democrats got 51 percent of the vote statewide, they only won 30 percent of the seats in the state legislature.

Nathan J Robinson: [11-09] The Majority of Americans Do Not Support Right-Wing Extremism.

Bill Scher: [11-09] America Does Care About Democracy and Abortion Rights. Some curious poll numbers here: 52 percent say the Republican Party is "too extreme," but 51% say the same about the Democratic Party (huh?); 56 percent believe Republicans want to pass a national abortion ban, but 53% believe Democrats want to put police funding (as recently as 2021, Democrats actually voted to increase police funding). Part of this can be blamed on Democrats having poor messaging skills, but there's some deep psychology here that Republicans have learned to exploit but which leaves Democrats awkwardly clueless.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-11] Roaming Charges: The Searh for Intelligent Life in American Politics: He's proudly outside of the two-party system ("I don't think a candidate I've actively supported has ever won elective office"), but that gives him some perspective: "The fact that Democrats are relieved at the narrowness of their loss and Republicans outraged by the thinness of their win speaks to the different psychologies of the two parties. One lives in fear, unsure (with reason) about its own beliefs. The other perpetually angry that not everyone bends to their will." This is followed by the illustration for "a blue surge is coming for Florida, sooner rather than later." On the other hand, he quotes Ted Cruz on why Democrats did better than expected: "Because for two years they have governed as liberals. They've governed as whacked out lefty nut jobs. You know what that did? That excited their base. That excited a bunch of young voters." Maybe they should do more of that? Many other subjects, as usual. E.g.: "I don't understand fleeing Twitter when you can watch one of the most grotesque people on the planet be shredded day after day in his very own safe space, in front of the people whose admiration he craves."

Paul Street: [11-11] Twelve Takes on the Mid-Terms: I had doubts about linking here (he uses the "F-word" much more than necessary, as in "Republi-fascists," and nicknames Joe Biden "Burn Pit"), but couldn't deny you the dig at David ("statistically illiterate moron") Brooks.

Tessa Stuart: [11-09] It Was a Huge Night for Abortion Rights -- Even in Kentucky.

And here are few more items (mostly) beyond the election:

Dean Baker: [11-11] The Crushing Health Care Cost Burden that Never Came: Dredges up the ominous 1990s warnings of billionaire Scrooge Peter Peterson to make a couple points. One is that the cost growth projected back then wasn't really in Social Security and Medicare but in a profit-hungry health care system, that Medicare was actually doing a better job of controlling than private heath insurance was. Another is that cost growth basically went flat after the Affordable Care Act kicked in around 2015 (aside from a blip up with the pandemic in 2020, and a slide down as the pandemic abated). None of this suggests that Medicare-for-All wouldn't fare even better than Obamacare, but it does show that we'd be in much worse shape had Democrats not passed the ACA. And had Trump managed to repeal ACA, today's gas prices would just be a rounding error (even if most of the extra costs were paid for in service quality).

Jonathan Chait: [11-01] Progressive America Needs a Glasnost: "Stop being afraid to speak out against the madness." What he seems to mean is that Progressives should purge their ranks of hysterics and fringe eccentrics, but he starts with the example of the unnamed staff at the New York Times who persuaded the editorial board to not give air to an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for martial law to crush Black Lives Matter protesters. The rejection didn't prevent Cotton from airing his noxious views, and may have given him a publicity boost. There's no really good solution to issues like this. Chait has a few more examples, which are mostly things the right rails against as "cancel culture" and "political correctness." I certainly see a need to handle those cases better, but they rarely bother me, at least where the people being chastised have little power of their own. And I still have a bad taste from 1992, when Bill Clinton went out of his way to attack a minor rapper dba Sister Souljah.

Kate Conger/Mike Isaac/Ryan Mac/Tiffany Hsu: [11-11] Two Weeks of Chaos: Inside Elon Musk's Takeover of Twitter. I'm not sure why you should care, but if you're curious this is the basic story. Also:

Kelly Denton-Borhaug: [11-10] What an American Addiction to War Means to Veterans. Author has a book: And Then Your Soul Is Gone: Moral Injury and US War-Culture. Last week was Veterans Day, the only American holiday date (aside from Christmas, New Year's Day, and the 4th of July) considered so sacrosanct that it hasn't been gerrymandered into a long weekend. The date was originally fixed at the end of what was then called the Great War, making it a celebration of peace, but as the "war to end all war" in fact spawned more wars (David Fromkin wound up writing a book on the postwar settlement called The Peace to End All Peace), the holiday got taken over as a tribute to the martyrs, and eventually a celebration of American militarism. Every year, it's a holiday that makes me sick to my stomach.

I remember back when I was drafted in 1969, the greatest fear I felt wasn't what the "enemy" might do to me -- my life wasn't worth much as the time, which is part of the reason they looked on me as ideal draft bait -- but what the Army would certainly do to me to try to turn me into a killer. (Not that I didn't know well enough what was going on in Vietnam. My next door neighbor was sent there and came back in small bits.) So when the author talks about "moral injury," I recognize something deeper than the better known PTSD that affects so many veterans. "War damages all who wage it" is fairly profound, but even there the net isn't cast wide enough. War damages the politicians who vote for it, the writers who cheer it on, and many bystanders, who matter how innocent they think they are. If I've learned one thing important in my 72 years, it's that.

Connor Echols: [11-11] Diplomacy Watch: Could US-Russia nuke negotiations help set the stage for talks? Not a lot to report, but there is a report that Biden and Putin will be talking about extending the START treaty that limits some nuclear weapons. As Churchill once said, "jaw jaw is better than war war." Echols also wrote: [11-07] New White House reports suggest diplomacy isn't a four-letter word after all.

Also on Ukraine:

John Hudson: [11-12] US intelligence report says key gulf ally meddled in American politics: "The United Arab Emirates steered US foreign policy in its favor through a series of legal and illegal exploits." Given that what happens in US politics has profound impacts on the rest of the world, I'm not surprised when foreign countries try to affect US elections -- especially given that the US has a long record of trying to influence foreign elections. So most of what this proves is that it's not just Russia (and Israel, which is much more aggressive, given their proxies -- speaking of which, see Michael Arria: [11-09] AIPAC spent over $4 million trying to stop Summer Lee but she's headed to Congress).

Paul Krugman: [11-08] Is Divided Government Good? Don't Take Elon's Word for It. Refers to a Musk tweet, endorsing Republicans for Congress to lean against the Democrat in the White House. But the US has had divided government -- a President from one party and control of one or both Congressional bodies by the other -- with startling regularity (from memory so I may be off a bit: 2/8 years Truman, 6/8 Eisenhower, 0/8 Kennedy/Johnson, 8/8 Nixon/Ford, 0/4 Carter, 6/8 Reagan, 4/4 Bush I, 6/8 Clinton, 2/8 Bush II, 6/8 Obama, 2/4 Trump). In some cases that can lead to constructive compromises (although offhand, the examples that come to mind involve R Presidents working with D Congresses, and most of them are dated (like under Eisenhower and Nixon). But mostly it leads to obstruction and sabotage, which was most explicit after 2010, and would probably be even worse now (as of this writing, the Senate has 50 Democrats + a chance for one more in Georgia, but the House is leaning Republican, and that would be enough to torpedo any legislative efforts, and to hold even essential spending hostage). That might be OK if, like most contemporary Republicans, you believe problems (like pandemic and climate change) to be scams, and government to be intrinsically incompetent if not downright evil. On the other hand, if you think that we are facing real problems (even ones Republicans campaigned hard on, like inflation and crime) you should want a functioning political system, which these days means Democrats in charge. The only plus I see to divided government over the next two years is that it will make it easier to blame Republicans for inaction and obstruction in 2024. Still, it means two more years wasted so arrogant twits like Musk can get off easy. One last thing to note here is that the argument works best in the mid-terms, when the presidency is already fixed. You never find people arguing for divided government during a presidential election, because they always want to win both. So why credit it as an idea at all?

Jill Lepore: [11-07] The case against the Twitter apology: "Our twenty-first century culture of performed remorse has become a sorry spectacle."

Anatol Lieven: [11-09] Grim outlook on global warming emerges from UN conference: "Necessary carbon reduction targets will not be met; the US and China will have to work together to prevent further damage." Not much news (as least that I noticed) from the UN's COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

Ian Millhiser: [11-11] The legal fight that could kill Biden's student debt relief plan, explained: "The program is almost certainly legal, but that fact is unlikely to persuade a judiciary dominated by his partisan foes." One of whom, a Trump judge in Texas, has already ruled against the program.

Timothy Noah: [11-10] Inflation Is Dwindling (Just Like I Said It Was). He further suggests "there's even a growing possibility we can avoid a recession." But won't that require the Fed to stop its interest rate hikes when prices stabilize, instead of waiting until they get the unemployment rate they seem to be looking for?

Jonathan Ofir: [11-11] Meet the new kingmakers of Israeli politics: "The racist, homophobic, ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism list was the big winner in Israel's most recent election. It is also a perfect reflection of where Israel is heading." This trajectory is hardly surprising, given that Israel has maintained domestic repression (an apartheid state) and militarism ever since 1948, with no interest in mitigating injustice or reconciling with worldwide norms. One can imagine the US, following 9/11, sinking ever deeper into the same mental rut -- indeed, that appears to have been the aspirations of the neocons who ran Bush's war machine and their apocalyptic allies in the fundamentalist churches -- but most Americans turned out to not have the stomach for perpetual war. Also:

Barnett R Rubin: [11-05] 14 months later: Five conclusions on Afghanistan withdrawal. During the Bush years, Rubin was one of the few experts on Afghanistan who could be counted on to offer sober analysis of the war there. Then, he went to work for Obama, and disappeared from pubic view. So good to hear from him again. The main conclusion is that US sanctions only serve to make a bad situation worse. The most interesting point is that China, Russia, and Iran haven't shown any desire to join with the Taliban in thumbimg noses at the US. I read this as suggesting an opportunity for a joint engagement, which could mitigate some of the Taliban's worst characteristics, and also reduce friction between the the US and its supposed nemeses.

Alex Shephard: [11-11] The Attempt to Annoint Ron DeSantis as Trump's Heir Will Fail. I'm not so sure. Trump's command over the GOP Establishment was almost completely based on his reputation as a winner, established in the 2016 election and reinforced by virtually nothing since -- not that he hasn't tried to keep up appearances, rather remarkably keeping much of his base in line after wrongfooting such supposedly savvy Washington insiders as McConnell, Graham, and McCarthy.

More on Trump:

Washington Post Editorial Board: [11-12] Here's how Congress can make the lame-duck session a mighty one: In recent years, when Democrats won governorships in North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans in those states (including the lame duck governors) moved quickly to pass laws to undermine established powers of their governors. That's seemed like bad taste, but but there are things that the old Democratic majorities can still do that would make the next two years more bearable. Most important is to get rid of the unnecessary law that requires Congress to vote on raising the federal debt limit -- something that Republicans have often used to try to extort concessions from Democratic administrations. They raise a few more issues. (I'm skeptical about "fight Russian aggression," especially given that money for arms for Ukraine has had overwhelming bipartisan support so far.) I doubt that much can (or should) be done, especially on measures that have floundered for two years (mostly due to the filibuster, which is especially unlikely to be changed in a lame duck session), but I'd be open to ideas. Related:

    Alex Thomas: [11-10] Democrats Have Two Months to Trump-Proof the Presidency: "With the party likely to cede the House -- if not the Senate -- to the GOP, meaningful steps to limit some of the executive branch's power must be taken during the lame-duck session." One problem here is that in a divided government, the only way to get many things done is through executive orders -- which you may not want to deny Biden just on the chance that Trump (or some equally malevolent Republican) might win in 2024.

David Yaffe-Bellany: [11-11] Embattled Crypto Exchange FTX Files for Bankruptcy: "The speed of FTX's downfall has left crypto insiders stunned." At one point, FTX was "valued" at $32 billion. Also:

Bonus tweet from Zachary D Carter:

There is no "good" version of crypto. It has been a fraudulent project from the jump, and anyone who failed to see that over the past decade should not be in the business of thinking and writing about American political economy.

We must do the best we can with an imperfect world, but we must also be able to distinguish between genuinely difficult moral trade-offs and simply lighting things on fire for money.

PS: I wrote the following on Monday, November 14. It started as a reference to this Speaking of Which post, but kept growing until I got complaints about hijacking my Music Week post for politics. So I thought it might be more at home here:

I wrote some on the 2022 election last week in yesterday's Speaking of Which. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time studying elections. I could name you every Senator since 1900, and most of the then-current members of the House. I poured through almanacs and colored in county maps to plot the spatial division of party splits, going back in many cases to Reconstruction after the Civil War. I went to the library a couple times each week, and regularly noted votes as tracked by Congressional Weekly. I did a lot of the same things Kevin Phillips did while writing The Emerging Republican Majority: effectively the Bible of Nixon's Southern Strategy and cult of the Silent Majority. In that book I glimpsed the future: the rise of reaction, and the end of the liberal America I had grown up in (and found deficient, although one can be nostalgic comparing it to the changes wrought by Nixon, Reagan, and their descendants down through Trump and beyond).

I gave up on electoral politics after McGovern's tragic loss in 1972, only to return in 1996 when presented with an opportunity to vote against the villainous Bob Dole (who had eked out a win in 1972 against Bill Roy in the dirtiest, most despicable campaign of my experience). But whenever I did pay attention to an election, I found my peculiar experience gave me considerable insight. You can find analyses of various elections as far back as 2000 in my notebooks. This year's seems rather paltry by comparison, as if I'm struggling not just with the data but with my motivation. One question I need to answer in the next month or two[*] is whether make a serious attempt at writing the political book I've been turning over in my head since the mid-1990s. The latest iteration of the outline envisions three sections:

  1. The evolution of the Republican Party from Nixon to the present, seen mostly as the pursuit of power regardless of the costs, including to their basic competency.
  2. A survey of several prominent problems that Republicans have proved themselves incompetent to address, much less to ameliorate.
  3. A prescription for the Democrats to forge a political stance that is capable of both winning elections and addressing problems.

As I noted in a tweet I quoted in the post, the first part is the easy one: books like David Corn's recent American Psychosis and Dana Milbank's The Destructionists, or older ones like Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew (2008), offer a surfeit of examples that go to the heart of the GOP (and not just the MAGA fringe). One can also draw on a rich literature on problems and solutions, most formulated on the left because that's where critical thinking survives. The tough problem is figuring out how to package both the critique of Republicanism and a practical range of solutions in a way that wins over a viable political majority. I have some ideas there, or at least some personal reactions, but putting them together won't be easy, and may be resisted as much by the left as by the center and the right.

The idea here is to provide a framework to help Democrats better understand what needs to be done, and what they're up against. It won't try to argue with Republicans or unaligned refuseniks -- not that I won't offer some suggestions for Democrats to win them over. It won't offer a left critique of mainstream Democrats, liberalism, and/or capitalism (although I suppose that's where I'm coming from, so it's liable to seep through, but only where I think it might be helpful for winning elections and setting policy). It won't engage in the sort of utopian thinking I've long been partial to. It won't be based on polling, or for that matter on the sort of political science Thomas Edsall and Ezra Klein base their analyses on. I'm not going to tell Democrats they should tell people what they want to hear.

I recognize that Republicans have a long-term credibility problem because nothing they say about problems and nothing they try to do about them actually works. Everything they've touched in the last 40-50 years has turned to crap, and it's getting increasingly hard to ignore that fundamental flaw in their thinking (though they try, by shouting louder and more desperately). Democrats have sometimes won elections by appropriating Republican rhetoric, but that's only saddled them with their own long-term credibility problem. The only way to reverse this is to promise and deliver on things that actually work. That's a tough sell, because we're so used to stupid posturing, and because the media practically polices pubic discourse to make sure nothing sensible survives. (That's a big part of why they love and/or hate Trump so much.)

[*] Let's make this specific: to make decision by the end of the year, either to write the book or to never think about it again. The alternative would be to work on the memoir, which could spin other things off eventually. In the meantime, I have the Jazz Critics Poll to run (and/or to ruin).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39002 [38944] rated (+58), 43 [47] unrated (-4: 15 new, 28 old).

Rating count shot through the roof this week because I spent several days listening to the late Jerry Lee Lewis, and his Mercury albums rarely cracked 30 minutes, so they went fast. Nothing below impressed me as much as his best compilations and live albums, but I enjoyed almost every minute. There must be a solid A- Smash/Mercury best-of somewhere. (Christgau lists 1970's The Best of Jerry Lee Lewis at A- and 1985's Milestones at A, but those weren't available, and I didn't bother reconstructing them.)

Last time I looked, there was very little back catalog available from Loretta Lynn, but that seems to have changed recently, so she may be next week's focus. [PS: The first records are remarkable. I expected the country music norm of lots of filler around a famous single or two, but her voice is extraordinary, and the covers show it off.]

I spent a lot of time compiling my 2022 best jazz and best non-jazz files. I hadn't run any numbers before, so the big surprise was that I'm starting out with 73 non-jazz A-list new albums (which is a bit more than I usually wind up with) but only 49 jazz (which usually starts higher than non-jazz, but the numbers tend to even out as I scour EOY lists. On the other hand, B+(***) albums favor jazz 147 to 92, while lower grades are fairly even at 388 jazz, 376 non-jazz. In 2021, jazz divided at 77 A-list, 163 B+(***), and 455 lower; while non-jazz had 83 A-list, 122 B+(***), and 368 lower.

As best I recall, I used to get into November with a 2-to-1 jazz advantage overall, with somewhat reduced but still positive ratios in the upper grade tiers. The only thing I did differently this year was to track the metacritic file from early in the year, so I suppose that made me more aware of new non-jazz (especially hip-hop and country) records. The change in jazz grades suggests that I've shifted the line between B+(***) and A- down. I don't know about that. I could test this by going back to a few dozen B+(***) albums to get a sense of how many I had cut short. Probably a few, but I'd be surprised if they made up the deficit.

The thing that bothers me most about the lists is the ordering of the A-lists, especially for jazz. I have less sense of a top album, a top-five, a top-ten, etc., than ever before (e.g., I haven't played the Omri Ziegele album since I reviewed it, which is likely given that I streamed it, but I haven't played the top-rated CDs (Marta Sanchez, Andrew Cyrille, Rob Brown, Manel Fortiá) either, or anything else on the A-list. I'm sure that if I played them again, I'd like them again, but have absolutely no sense of how to order them. In such circumstances, what tends to happen is I add new records near the bottom of the list (this week's A- records are at 45 and 46), so early records wind up toward the top of the list. The non-jazz list is in slightly better shape, but I expect both will see a lot of reordering in the coming weeks. Plus additions, of course.

I arbitrarily nudged the Selo I Ludi grade up not due to any relistening but because I wanted to include it in the latecomer section of the EOY lists. Just seemed like the sort of record that belongs there. I'm not through reviewing the year's Streamnotes archives for possible additions. It's a slow, unpleasant process.

I should note that yesterday's Speaking of Which includes a long note on a piece by Brad Luen that Robert Christgau reprinted as a guest post last week. One more thing I want to stress is that it doesn't take a very high percentage of deaths (or other calamities) to produce a huge psychic toll. I'd say there is zero chance of all human beings being exterminated, and given that there is virtually zero chance of eradicating civilization (by which I mean our accumulated knowledge about the world). But there are a lot of bad things that can happen, and they reverberate through the living, often mutating into further bad things. One question I've been wondering about for at least 30 years is how close we are to the limits of Earth's carrying capacity. This isn't simply a question of population and resources, but varies considerably by organizational efficiency. The closer we are to the edge, the more fragile our world becomes. And if bad things create bad people -- which is suggested by the rise of neo-fascist parties around the world -- the risks of real systemic breakdown explode. These thoughts are the foundation for much of what I wrote yesterday.

I'm aiming to send out Jazz Critics Poll ballot requests by November 15. I've done some website setup, and should start assembling a mail list later this week. Sponsorship is still unsettled, but I'm not going to worry about that.

After I started writing this, I noticed that I still had unpacking to do. Next week for that.

New records reviewed this week:

Konrad Agnas/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Mattias Ståhl/Per Texas Johansson: All Slow Dream Gone (2022, Moserobie): Texas -- cover/spine only offers one name each, and that's how he appears -- plays clarinets (including bass and contrabass), an impressive showing over a first-rate rhythm section (drums, bass, vibraphone). A- [cd]

Daniel Avery: Ultra Truth (2022, Phantasy Sound): British electronica producer, 2013 debut called Drone Logic, this starts with a piano riff that expands into a reverb cloud. I prefer drums, and sometimes this delivers. B+(**) [sp]

Brian Charette: Jackpot (2021 [2022], Cellar): Organ player, debut 2009, seemed at first like he wanted to set out a new path for his instrument, but hard to do that when the temptations of soul jazz are so obvious. Quartet with Cory Weeds (tenor sax), Ed Cherry (guitar), and Bill Stewart (drums). B+(*) [sp]

Shemekia Copeland: Done Come Too Far (2022, Alligator): Blues singer, father was Johnny Copeland, 11th album since 1998. The high-minded opener should hit harder, but her formula for success isn't really "Dumb It Down"; it's catchier tunes, with a bit of humor. B+(**) [sp]

Trevor Dunn Trio - Convulsant Avec Folie à Quatre: Seances (2022, Pyroclastic): Bassist, electric as well as double, started in a band called Mr. Bungle, has a dozen or so albums as leader, a much longer list of side credits (Discogs lists 249). This revives his 2004 group Trio-Convulsant, with Mary Halvorson and Ches Smith returning on guitar and drums, and adds a chamber jazz quartet, consisting of Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mariel Roberts (cello), Oscar Noriega (clarinet), and Anna Webber (flute). B+(***) [cd]

R.A.P. Ferreira: 5 to the Eye With Stars (2022, Ruby Yacht, EP): Chicago rapper, previously Milo, fell back on his own name, the initial standing for Rory Allen Philip. Starts brilliantly, doesn't fade so much as fracture. Short album: 9 tracks, 23:09. B+(***) [sp]

Joe Fiedler: Solo: The Howland Sessions (2022, Multiphonics): Trombonist, debut 1998, did a tribute to Albert Mangelsdorff in 2005, marks the 50th anniversary of Mangelsdorff's first solo performance with his own solo album. Tough going, but interesting. B+(**) [cd]

Fred Again: Actual Life (January 1-September 9 2022) (2022, Atlantic): British electronica producer Fred John Philip Gibson, third album, all stylized as time slices in everyday life. B+(*) [sp]

Satoko Fujii: Hajimeru (2021, Libra, EP): Japanese avant-pianist, very prodigious, slipped this 4-track, 29:01 digital album out with no publicity last year. B+(*) [bc]

Satoko Fujii: Bokyaku (2022, Libra): Concept here is to take found noises ("trains, airplane, helicopters, laundry machine, water drops, parked boats, constructers, etc.") and play a little music to go with them. Perhaps too little. B [bc]

Steve Gadd/Eddie Gomez/Ronnie Cuber: Center Stage (2022, Leopard): Credit below the title is WDR Big Band, arranged & conducted by Michael Abene, with the guest stars on drums, bass, and baritone sax. I don't know when this was recorded, but it came out two weeks before Cuber died (at 80). He sounds pretty good here, buoyed not less by the heft of the big band than by his rhythm co-stars, ably aided on a selection of funk tunes by WDR's guitar (Bruno Müller) and organ players (Bobby Sparks II). B+(*) [sp]

Gato Libre: Sleeping Cat (2022, Libra): Trumpet player Natsuki Tamura's group, ninth album since 2004, with trombone (Yasuko Kaneko), and wife Satoko Fujii backing on accordion (instead of her usual piano). Slow, a bit too sketchy. B+(*) [bc]

Buddy Guy: The Blues Don't Lie (2022, RCA/Silvertone): Chicago blues legend, 86 now, born in Louisiana, moved to Chicago and got picked up by Chess, his first recordings -- I Was Walking Through the Woods, from 1960-64 -- made Robert Santelli's top 100 blues albums list. I was less impressed by him than by the giants's of the Chess blues stable, at least until he teamed up with Junior Wells (Hoodoo Man Blues was number 8 on Santelli's list, vs. 78 for Guy's album). He's long since outlived all of them, developed as a singer, never had to make any excuses for his guitar, and I now find he's had a half-dozen albums between the last one I noticed (2010) and this one. He gets a lot of help here, but is just as effective on the closing solo take of "King Bee" (but he's still not Muddy Waters). B+(***) [sp]

Jupiter: The Wild East (2022, Moserobie): Originally (2004) a guitar-organ duo of Håvard Stubø and Steinar Sønk Nickelsen, soon joined by saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar, and eventually by drummer Johan Holmegard. Best when the sax breaks out. B+(*) [cd]

Kanda Bongo Man: Yolele! Live in Concert (2016 [2021], No Wahala Sounds): Congolese soukous star, emerged in the 1980s, got some US recognition when Hannibal several albums 1987-93 (from Amour Fou to Soukous in Central Park). B+(**) [sp]

Kanda Bongo Man: Kekete Bue (2022, No Wahala Sounds): First new album since 2010, although it includes "reinterpretations of some of his classic songs." B+(**) [sp]

Mavi: Laughing So Hard, It Hurts (2022, United Masters): Rapper Omavi Minder, from North Carolina, has a 2019 album after a couple self-released efforts. B+(**) [sp]

Bill Orcutt: Music for Four Guitars (2021 [2022], Palilalia): Guitarist, founded the noise-punk duo Harry Pussy (1993-98), released a solo album in 1996, a couple dozen fringe albums since. He plays all four guitars here, so a solo album with overdubbed overtones, more metallic klang around rough-hewn riffs. B+(**) [sp]

Phoenix: Alpha Zulu (2022, Glassnote): French indie pop band, sing in English, seventh album since 2000, of which their fourth (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) was an international breakout with solid critical support. They remain catchy, but I suspect a long popular slide is in order. B+(*) [sp]

Plains: I Walked With You a Ways (2022, Anti-): Alt-country duo of Jess Williamson (who has four albums since 2014) and Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee, five albusm since 2012, after her debut with P.S. Eliot). Starts with harmonies as tight as the McGarrigles, and develops from there. A- [sp]

Rufus Reid Trio and the Sirius Quartet: Celebration (2022, Sunnyside): Bassist, several dozen albums since 1979 plus hundreds of side credits. Trio with Steve Allee (piano) and drums (Duduka da Fonseca), plus string quartet on six (of 11) tracks. B- [sp]

Antonio Sanchez: Shift (Bad Hombre Vol. II) (2022, Warner): Mexican drummer, based in New York since 1999, usually a jazz guy, but he seems to have gotten into this via soundtracks, and has lined up guest singers for nearly every track. B [sp]

Josh Sinton's Predicate Quartet: Four Freedoms (2022, Form Is Possibility): Leader plays baritone sax, bass clarinet, and alto flute, played in the Steve Lacy tribute group Ideal Bread. Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) is most impressive here, backed by Christopher Hoffman (cello) and Tom Rainey (drums). A- [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Crossroads Kenya: East African Benga and Rumba, 1980-1985 (1980-85 [2022], No Wahala Sounds): Seven singles (48:31) by as many bands, none I recall, but I couldn't name most of the bands on the so-far definitive Guitar Paradise of East Africa compilation. This may be second- or even third-tier, but that guitar sound is pretty hard to resist. A- [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer Keys of Jerry Lee Lewis (1956-60 [2022], Sun): Sun Records 70th anniversary series, remastered from original mono tapes, on vinyl, 14 "favorites, alternative versions & deep cuts." Seems like a fairly arbitrary collection, with two big hits but only a couple more obvious picks. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis (1958, Sun): After his two breakthrough hits in 1957 ("Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On," "Great Balls of Fire"), and one last top-ten single in early 1958 ("Breathless"), Sam Phillips figured he'd try an LP. They seem to be throwing a lot of shit at the wall, with covers of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins not measuring up. But "Jambalaya" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" do get the blood pumping. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis: The Sun Years (1956-63 [2013], Legacy, 2CD): Sure, a top shelf single-CD compilation like Rhino's Original Sun Greatest Hits is more choice, but Rhino's supplementary single-CD Rare Tracks was nearly as good. This isn't as consistent as either, but runs 40 tracks without breaking down. A- [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Golden Cream of Country (1956-63 [1969], Sun): Released by Shelby Singleton, who had produced Lewis at Smash, soon after he bought the Sun catalog. His earliest hits charted even higher on the country charts than on the pop charts, and by 1968 he had settled into a country music niche, so Singleton scoured the archives to construct a competitive album. No dates were offered, so I'm going with Lewis's Sun tenure, but most likely toward the end of that, and even so some pieces sound like they could be doctored (strings weren't big at Sun, and Linda Gail Lewis (who would have been 16 in 1963), joins for a duet). Eleven songs (none essential), 26:56. B [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: A Taste of Country (1956-63 [1970], Sun): Even his biggest early singles placed higher on the country chart than on pop, so it shouldn't be surprising that even when he was recognized as a rock star, he recorded a lot of country filler. He reinvented himself as a full-fledged country artist when he moved to Smash in 1964. When Shelby Singleton (who had produced Lewis at Smash) bought Sun in 1969, he cashed in with this "new" album of oldies: mostly ballads but Lewis can't quite contain himself when Hank Williams is concerned ("Your Cheatin' Heart," and better still is "You Win Again," one of the few covers Lewis owns). Short: 11 tracks, 26:37. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Songs for City Folks (1965, Smash): I guess the concept is that "city folks" wouldn't already know these 12 hit songs, but half of them I recall as hits from a time when I wouldn't be caught dead listening to country music: the biggest was "King of the Road," but it was hard not to also recognize "Walk Right In," "Ring of Fire," "Detroit City," "Wolverton Mountain," and "North to Alaska" (where little sister Linda Gail Lewis made her debut). B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Soul My Way (1967, Smash): Jerry Kennedy took over as producer, and toyed with the idea of flipping Ray Charles over, which works surprisingly well when he picks something upbeat (e.g., "Turn on Your Love Light") and turns on the Memphis horns. Not everything fit that mold, so this is remains a curiosity, a road not taken. Short: 26:56. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Another Place, Another Time (1968, Smash): This is where Lewis finally makes his commitment to contemporary country music, scoring two top-five singles (the title track and "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)"). Eleven songs, 27:33. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis & Linda Gail Lewis: Together (1969, Smash): His little sister was 12 years younger, with a brash but not very artful voice. She appeared as a duet partner on a couple previous songs, but gets a whole album here (and another on her own, but just one). For a guy who famously married an underaged cousin (along with seven other wives), they don't have much chemistry, but his leads are solid enough. She finally got another shot in a rockabilly revival in 1990, and hung on for a couple dozen mostly good albums. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: She Still Comes Around (To Love What's Left of Me) (1969, Smash): Two more hit singles, the title track and "To Make Love Sweeter for You" (his first #1 since "Great Balls of Fire"). Eleven songs: 27:48. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 1 (1969, Smash): With a couple country hit albums under his belt, this must have seemed like the easiest way to get a third, and indeed this was his highest charting country album ever. This doesn't have the crossover novelties of Country Songs for City Folks, but if you listened to country music from the late-1940s into the mid-1960s, you should recognize them all. (Granted, "Sweet Dreams" did cross over for Patsy Cline, #44 in 1963, and Tommy McLain, #15 in 1966, but the original country hits were by writer Don Gibson and coverer Faron Young in 1956.) Of course, he sings them credibly -- not that you'd pick these versions over Williams or Frizzell or even Gibson -- and he adds his signature piano. But Linda Gail heats up "Jackson" enough to give Cash & Carter a run for the money. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 2 (1969, Smash): Same deal here, extending the session to a second day, with Linda Gail returning for a second closing duet ("Sweet Thang"). B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye (1970, Mercury): New label, same producer (Jerry Kennedy), eleven short songs (26:51), most well-known filler ("Working Man Blues," "Waiting for a Train," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Since I Met You Baby"), a formula that can easily be milked for three albums a year. He's enough of a stylist that he doesn't have to eclipse Chuck Berry or Merle Haggard to be entertaining singing their songs. And give him a song like "When the Grass Grows Over Me" and he'll own it. B+(***)

Jerry Lee Lewis: There Must Be More to Love Than This (1971, Mercury): The only Lewis to co-write a song here is Linda Gail. The rest (aside from "Sweet Georgia Brown") come from contemporary Nashville songsmiths, who have reams of songs for any situation, especially a crumbling marriage. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Touching Home (1971, Mercury): Another solid if unspectacular album, with the usual pair of modest hit singles. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Would You Take Another Chance on Me? (1971, Mercury): Feeling the gravity of the countrypolitan trend, but he doesn't let it sink him, partly because he can talk as well as sing through the murk. Or turn up the heat, as he does on "Me and Bobby McGee." B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The "Killer" Rocks On (1972, Mercury): "Me and Bobbie McGee" was enough of a hit -- his first top-40 pop hit since "High School Confidential" in 1958 -- that they decided to recontextualize it in an album of rock covers (if you count two tracks by Joe South). "Chantilly Lace" is in his wheelhouse, and his Elvis impression is getting better. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano? (1972, Mercury): Back in his country groove, the title song custom built for him, several others of note. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough (1973, Mercury): Producer Sam Kesler provides the title single, and revives an oldie he co-wrote for Elvis. Of the rest, "Falling to the Bottom" fits Lewis best. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Session . . . Recorded in London With Great Artists (1973 [1984], Mercury): Originally released on 2-LP, trimmed down to 14 tracks (56:35) for CD (which matches my stream), later offered in a 2-CD "Complete" edition (2006, Hip-O Select, 25 tracks, 94:03). I'd be curious about some of the missing songs ("Be Bop a Lula," "Satisfaction") but chances are the editions even out. The "great artists" aren't so great: most famous are Albert Lee, Peter Frampton, Rory Gallagher, Gary Wright, Delaney Bramlett, and Klaus Voorman. Good enough for an oldies show, with a major in red hot piano. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Southern Roots: Back Home in Memphis (1973, Mercury): So he does a couple soul songs with the Stax crew including Memphis horns ("When a Man Loves a Woman," "Hold On! I'm Coming"), but he's also being pulled back to Louisiana, with Huey P. Meaux producing, feeding him both "Blueberry Hill" and a Doug Sahm song ("The Revolutionary Man"). But he tops them all with "Meat Man." B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: I-40 Country (1974, Mercury): I-40 crosses Tennesse, passing through Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville, extending east across North Carolina to Wilmington, and west across Arkansas and Oklahoma on to Barstow, California (2,556 miles total). What the highway has to do with this record isn't evident: maybe the Memphis-to-Nashville path he followed, but he's usually more fun when he heads the other way. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Boogie Woogie Country Man (1975, Mercury): His 30th album, with two songs by a young songwriter named Tom T. Hall, he cuts back on the strings and powers through eleven songs in 28:55. Holds the title song back until the end. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Odd Man In (1975, Mercury): Picks up where the last album left off with another boogie woogie, then segues into "Shake, Rattle & Roll." Reprises "Goodnight Irene," and boogie woogies "Your Cheatin' Heart." B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Class (1976, Mercury): Eleven more songs. I wouldn't say he's just going through the motions, but nothing especially notable here. Ends with a creepy one about making love to one woman while thinking of another. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Memories (1977, Mercury): Opens with "Middle Age Crazy," where the line "trying to prove he still can" suggests self-revelation, but he distances himself a bit by taking it easy when a little crazy might have helped. He follows this with a real nice Ernest Tubb song, and includes a lovely "Georgia on My Mind." B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Keeps Rockin' (1977 [1978], Mercury): His last album for Mercury, feels a bit like contract filler, although he acquits himself well on familiar hits ("Blue Suede Shoes," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Lucille"). I assume the recording date is 1977, because that's the year Lewis's Mercury compilations end. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, Elektra): After a decade-plus in Nashville cranking out 2-3 solid mainstream country albums each year, he goes to Los Angeles, where producer Bones Howe wanted him to rock a little. He obliges. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: When Two Worlds Collide (1980, Elektra): After his return to rock and roll stiffed (186 pop, 23 country), the label beat a retreat to Nashville. This one didn't do any better (32 country). Title song from Roger Miller. Fave is a dixieland throwback. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Killer Country (1980, Elektra): Leans back toward rock, but scores his biggest hit in a while with another middle-age crazy tale, "Thirty-Nine and Holding." Includes interesting takes on "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Over the Rainbow." B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Young Blood (1995, Sire): After being dropped by Elektra, he released two albums on MCA and three more on off labels before this one-shot, recorded in five studios over a couple years. A mix of rockabillied country songs and countrified rock and roll. Voice isn't in great shape, but he can still boogie. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Last Man Standing (2006, Artists First): Somehow, Lewis managed to outlive all the other major Sun stars from the 1950s, so he claimed the title with an album of 21 old songs featuring that many duet partners, where the median name is probably more famous than Lewis (and only certain exception is Delaney Bramlett, although in a better world Toby Keith and Kid Rock would count, and maybe Robbie Robertson, Don Henley, and/or Eric Clapton). Still, I'm not sure the guests add (or detract) all that much. B+(**) [sp]

Linda Gail Lewis: The Two Sides of Linda Gail Lewis (1969, Smash): Jerry Lee's little sister, appeared as a duet partner in 1967 (when she was 20, and he 32), raised her profile in 1969 with their Together and this solo album -- the only one she released until 1990. She sings with gusto, and wrote a couple songs, but not as good as the ones Hank Williams wrote. B+(*) [bc]

Grade (or other) changes:

Selo I Ludy Performance Band: Bunch One (2019, self-released): Ukrainian covers band, struck me as "pure corn," a favorite of Ukraine sympathizers in the first month of the Putin invasion. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Laszlo Gardony: Close Connection (Sunnyside) [12-02]
  • Ramsey Lewis: The Beatles Songbook: The Saturday Salon Series: Volume One (Steele) [01-06]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Speaking of Which

I started this relatively early in the week, with the extended comment on the Brad Luen piece, followed by the Timothy Noah piece on economicism, which I had set aside. I wrote the intro Saturday afternoon. I decided some weeks ago that not just lust for power but the assumption that one deserves power and the other side must be denied power is central to the Republican understanding of the world. That makes Nixon (and not Reagan or Goldwater) the godfather of the modern Republican Party. I could add more detail on how and why, but the key elements are here. After the election, I need to decide whether to write this analysis up as a short book. A recent spate of books on the fundamental rot at the heart of the Party (see Heilbrun below) should cover that part adequately, but they tend to focus on the fringe and neglect the center.

The rest of the book would be harder to get straight. Democrats face two problems: how to get more votes than Republicans, and how to deal with an increasing array of serious problems (many directly caused by Republicans), and others also caused by deep assumptions that both parties share. I have some ideas there, but they're rough and far from ready.

Not a lot below on major foreign elections in Brazil and Israel (see St Clair for both, but I didn't comment much). I suppose I should point out that the rise of the racist and possibly genocidal Kahanist party in Israel is a problem for Democrats in the US, who have hitherto automatically supported whatever Israel does but will find a huge disconnect between their pro-democracy, pro-equality posture here and in Israel, while Republicans will have no trouble accepting the new government -- not least because many Republicans admire Israeli repression and militarism, and would like to implement the same here.

Two days before the 2022 US elections, the so-called "mid-terms": a term I hate, because it suggests that only presidential elections really matter, and this is just a referendum on the last, a chance for disgruntled people to express their "buyer's remorse" without much consequence. But of course, there are consequences, the obvious one the chance to divide government to undermine any possibility of the party holding the presidency to get things done. Of course, that can be a good thing (as in 2006 or 2018) or a bad thing (1994 and 2010 were the worst), depending on which party is sabotaged. (Note though that 1994 and 2010 set up successful second term campaigns for Clinton and Obama, perhaps a source of hope if Republicans win in 2022, although the second terms of Clinton and Obama were mixed blessings, leading to defeats four years later.)

I continue to believe that reports of a "Republican surge" -- the title of a David Brooks column I haven't read and won't link to -- are pure gaslighting, with the added ominous overtone of convincing the right that their losses are stolen, which will help justify whatever post-election schemes they've spent the last two years putting into place. When actual votes start getting counted Tuesday evening, we will start to be able to see through the media fog, and possibly get some measure of how effective (or not) the last two years of election denialism and vote rigging have been. Still, I don't expect the mainstream media to be quick to learn from its errors -- especially its inability to recognize phony campaign issues, or to properly spotlight the corruption of money in politics least of all its own advertising windfall).

I'm not wild about Biden's characterization of this election as a test and defense of democracy. It's not that I dispute the point, but democracy in America has been crippled since well before Leonard Cohen wrote his hopeful song about it. The test of a democracy is not merely whether people get a chance to vote and have their ballots counted, but whether doing so produces a government that responds to and takes action on behalf of most people. Back in the 19th century, it's easy to find and quote elites bemoaning the prospect that extending suffrage would let the "mob" take over government and using it for popular causes (like those promised in the Preamble to the US Constitution). But as suffrage became more universal, elites had to fall back on treachery to convince the masses not to claim their rights. Money is a tool, both to buy propaganda and to train candidates, who inevitably spend more time chasing it than they devote to their constituents' needs and hopes. And the media, with its elite ownership, advertising funding, and crass competition for the passing attention of viewers, is the ecosystem in which this deception takes place.

It's often remarked that Republicans are better at playing the game of politics than Democrats. One theory is that Republicans simply care more about their policy goals than Democrats do -- if, indeed, Democrats, being hopelessly torn between their donors and their voters, actually have any (rather, their favorite trick is to try to work out compromises, like Obamacare, that ultimately satisfy neither camp). But Republicans are pretty careless about policy too: they mostly like wedge issues they can campaign on but don't have to do anything about once they're in power. A very good example is how much Reagan bashed Carter in 1980 over the plan to give the Panama Canal to Panama. After the election, he didn't lift a finger to rescind the transfer plan. Even when Bush I invaded Panama, no one suggested recovery of the Canal should be a war aim. Thomas Frank, in What's the Matter With Kansas?, went too far in chiding Republicans for never delivering on their promises to the religious right, but mostly because he riled up the suckers in the rank and file.

The single most important thing to understand about Republicans is that they are addicted to power, and will do anything, at least within their identity as the party of True Americans, to seize and protect it. That identity goes all the way back to the Civil War, when they rose to save their vision of a Free West and wound up having to destroy the Slave Power. That left them with a very WASP power base, against which the Democrats were derided as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." While "rebellion" originally referred to secessionists, the list of the others Republicans hated grew to include populists, progressives, labor unions, socialists, and communists, all the way up to the post-WWII Red Scare. Coming out of the McCarthy hysteria, Nixon made a few tweaks to Republican Party identity: following Kevin Phillips's The Emerging Republican Majority, Nixon welcomed white southerners and white suburban ethnics into the G.O.P., making them True Americans, giving up on the dwindling support of Blacks for the one-time Party of Lincoln.

Nixon is sometimes disparaged by conservative ideologues, who feel he never believed much in their principles (other than his own casual bigotry, which was almost universal among conservatives back then; even the rabid anti-communism he built his career on was something he was willing to compromise on). But he did obsessively believe in one thing: power, which was so important he was willing to do virtually anything to get and keep it. Republican contempt for democracy was all but inevitable given that they sought power by merging empowering the rich, boosting the military, and rallying (mostly religious) cultural reactionaries. Reagan was more successful at applying Nixon's strategy, partly because he avoided Nixon's deceitful smarminess, and partly because after McGovern, Carter gave up on unions as the backbone of the Democratic Party in favor of triangulating business interests -- a balancing act that proved difficult to pull off, although Clinton and Obama got some mileage out of it.

But as demographics and repeated doses of dysfunctional policy started to erode their credibility, Republicans have been stuck in a pattern of doubling down, a bluff that has kept their vote share close enough to win (sometimes without even a plurality). Trump's innovation here is that even when he has an indefensible record, he's always on the attack, and that's kept kept together a party that should have been banished for gross incompetence as well as indecency. Rational people, like myself, wonder how long they can keep this farce up. We'll get some idea after Tuesday.

Connor Echols: [11-04] Diplomacy Watch: Putin blinks, returns to Black Sea grain deal after just 4 days. I haven't put much effort into this regular section this week. The New York Times Updates headlines should give you a flavor:

  • Pentagon unveils new U.S. comand and more Ukraine aid
  • The Defense Department says it will support Ukraine for 'as long as it takes.'
  • Moscow is pouring new conscripts to the front line to try to halt Ukrainian advances.
  • Putin says 318,000 new soldiers have joined Russia's forces in his mobilization push.
  • G7 diplomats end their meeting in Germany with a plan to coordinate on rebuilding Ukraine's infrastructure.
  • China warns against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and Germany urges Beijing to do more to end the war. [Olaf Scholz visited Beijing.]
  • A top Biden aide assures Kyiv that the outcome of the U.S. midterm election won't impede military aid. [Jake Sullivan]
  • Amid a forest of Ukrainian flags, soldiers honor a fallen comrade with vodka.
  • With 4.5 million Ukrainians cut off from power, officials reiterate calls for energy conservation.
  • Southeast Asia is a case study in Russia's declining prospects as an arms exporter.
  • Here are 5 ways that sanctions are hitting Russia. [Finance, Trade, Technology, Energy, Elites]

The New York Times map page hasn't been updated since October 11, following Ukrainian ground gains in the two weeks before October 4, and widespread Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. The links I picked up are mostly on the lack of diplomacy:

Thomas Edsall: [11-02] 'Elites Are Making Choices That Are Not Good News': I was steered to this piece by Dean Baker, who agrees that "the basic point in the column is completely true," he adds that Edsall "hugely understates the extent to which the screwing of noncollege educated workers was the result of deliberate government policies." Sure, but why are we still litigating Clinton's stupid idea that the US can afford to lose blue collar jobs because cheaper trade will open up all those lucrative "symbolic manipulator" jobs his Labor Secretary Robert Reich touted? One can understand why workers who got shafted in that deal bear grudges against the Clintons, but who in their right mind thinks voting Republican is going to in any way fix their problem?

Shirin Ghaffary: [11-04] How Elon Musk is changing Twitter: Before the sale, Twitter was a middling company with a massive network of users, which gave it a huge market valuation, as investors figured capturing that many eyes could eventually be exploited to make a lot of money. But the business model didn't demand much from users, so few people felt burdened by signing up and joining in. Musk's purchase may or may not have political and/or cultural implications, which may or may not be ominous, but immediately what it means is that henceforward Twitter has to make enough money to pay off its new owner and the debt he has saddled the company with. So Musk is starting to do the same things that private equity firms do when they swallow up companies: asset stripping and cost reductions. The net effect will make Twitter a much nastier place to work, and very likely a much less satisfactory place for users -- who, we should remember, contribute virtually all of the content that attracts viewers in the first place.

The proposal for "making people pay for blue check marks" sounds like a tax at first, which is bad enough, but the fine print is considerably more alarming. The idea is that a premium program would "include other benefits like fewer ads and more visibility for your Twitter replies to other people's threads." The first part is relatively benign -- damn near everyone seems to be moving to a model of paying-to-avoid-ads -- but the latter is the first step toward a pay-to-play scheme. Eventually premium user's tweets will all be ads, because the model that pays the most -- although "ads" suggests that they're selling things; very often it will just be well-heeled people hiring megaphones to hector you. I expect they will eventually drive most users away, turning into a death spiral. Musk and his credits will lose a lot of money, and make an ugly mess in the process.

More on Twitter:

Jonathan Guyer: [11-02] Netanyahu and the far right have triumphed. Here's what it means for Israel. Interview with Daniel Levy. I've followed Israel's slide to the far-right for 25+ years, but even still I'm shocked by how viciously racist Netanyahu's coalition partners are -- way beyond bigots in any other part of the world. More on Israel:

Benjamin Hart: [11-01] Of Course Trump Is All In on Paul Pelosi Conspiracy Theories. This sort of kneejerk deflection is one way to avoid a self-examination that might reveal that you're some kind of monster, or at least a major asshole.

Jacob Heilbrunn: [10-30] How the Republican Fringe Became the Mainstream. Review of Robert Draper's new book, Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind, although it could easily be expanded to include Dana Milbank's The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party and David Corn's American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, or possibly others: now that the end-point is obvious, the debate is more about when the craziness started. I've been reading Corn, who looks back all the way back to McCarthy and the John Birch Society. One can even go further: Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan goes back to the DuPonts in the 1930s, and Heather Cox Richardson's To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party does a pretty good job of making Benjamin Harrison sound like a Bircher. But crazy is a dimension beyond promoting oligarchy with racism and demagoguery, something that runs deep in the Republican Party. The crazy really takes off with Obama's election in 2008, after which the chastised party pros fell behind the Fox-fanned Tea Party mania. John Amato and David Neiwert got it right in their short 2010 book: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane. After the party pros nominated Mitt Romney and lost again to Obama, the rank-and-file was ready for someone as crude and vicious as Trump. And after Trump eeked out a win against Hillary Clinton, well, you don't need a book to explain how crazed the Republicans became.

It's gratifying that so many people have figured that much out. But the problem with focusing on how irrational Trump and his fans have become is that doing so often misses how bad Republican policy has become, and how little reporting gets done on how those policies harm the vast majority of Americans, and much of the world. Reagan and the Bushes were frontmen who were sent out to sugar-coat their administration's graft, while Romney and Ryan were forthright enough to come off as supervillains. With Trump, policy and performance are separated: he is a master at sucking up media attention, so no one bothers noticing what the goons in his administration actually do. With him, the transformation of the presidency to show business is complete, and that's mostly a bad thing, but hardly the worst. Similarly, his association with unsavory characters is bad, but nowhere near all of it.

By the way:

  • Robert Draper: [10-17] The Problem of Marjorie Taylor Greene. Long profile piece. I find her boring, but the press and the late night comics love her (or love to hate her, which for practical purposes is the same thing).

Ellen Ioanes: [11-05] An atmosphere of violence: Stochastic terror in American politics: Interview with Kurt Braddock, "about how rhetorical strategies can lead to violence."

Umair Irfan: [11-03] Your free pandemic health perks are on the way out: "The privatization of the Covid-19 response is well underway as federal funding runs out." I got a third Covid-19 booster shot last week. I had to go to Walgreens, and wait about 20 minutes until they squared away my insurance (which was Medicare + supplementals, good enough I almost never run into problems). I haven't been following this, but we're missing a big opportunity, not only to continue Covid-19 coverage but to start to build a universal foundation that can be incrementally extended toward universal health care. Most senior citizens are confused when people talk about Medicare-for-All, because they know that Medicare for them doesn't cover everything, and they have to get supplemental insurance to make up the gaps. So they think they still have private insurance, but have trouble understanding that it's so affordable because Medicare itself does all the heavy lifting. (Of course, like all private insurance, it gets ratcheted up every year, and unlike most they get to factor your age into the price, so "affordable" is a pretty relative term.) On the other hand, let's imagine a system where some things get covered automatically for everyone. That list could have started with the Covid-19 precautions and treatments, and be expanded going forward. Everything moved from individual/group policies to universal helps lower the cost of the policies, and can help manage overall costs, while getting us closer to the universal coverage we want and deserve.

Paul Krugman:

  • [10-31] The Truth About America's Economic Recovery. "Inflation is high, but a lot has gone right." I'm always wary of "truth" in titles, which implies not just that the author knows best but that you don't. Still a fairly balanced presentation of inflation, jobs, spending, etc.

  • [11-03] The G.O.P. Plot Against Medicare and Social Security: "let's note that the push to slash major benefit programs may be the ultimate exaple of an elite priority at odds with what ordinary Americans want." Such plots are as old as the bills they set to wreck, and they've never gotten any traction, so why worry now? I'd offer two reasons: the first is that such proposals reveal a moral bankruptcy that should warn you off everything else they want to do; second, they reveal profound ignorance about how the world works.

Brad Luen: [10-23] The Semipop Review of Catastrophic and Existential Risks: Starts by defining catastrophic risks ("things that could kill off a decent percentage of the world") and existential risks ("things that could result in the collapse of civilization"), then reviews a handful of books, opening with Will MacAskill's What We Owe the Future, then focusing on four such risks: AI (Martin Ford: Rule of the Robots, Nick Bostrom: Superintelligence), Climate Change (David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth), Bio-Risks (Michael T Osterholm/Mark Olshaker: Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs), and War (Bear F Braumoeller: Only the Dead, Bruce G Blair: The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, Fiona Hill/Clifford G Gaddy: Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin), before concluding with "The Intersection" -- the domino metaphor strikes me as more apt here, as various risks increase the likelihood of war, which in turn accelerates other risks. Luen is a professor of statistics and describes himself as "an unprincipled philosophical centrist."

The only one of these books I've read is the Wallace-Wells, which among the half-dozen similar tomes I've read (going back to McKibben's The End of Nature, which I read in the mid-1990s during a July trip to a very steamy Florida, which illustrated his points better than his prose did) is as good a place to start as any. I've read very little about AI: I had a serious interest in it back in the 1980s, about the time neural nets and fuzzy math were invented, but lost track after that, and these days most "practical applications" I see are better described as Artificial Stupidity. I wouldn't say that AI is "value-neutral," but like most things its usefulness or not is fundamentally a political question. But the rest of the risk, as well as items Luen didn't include (most obviously various resource limits, including water and air as well as minerals and productive land). Were I do redo this exercise, I would start with politics, and try to show that bad politics both increases risk and degrades one's ability to cope with disaster. (Bad politicians like to hide increasing risk by shifting it to individuals: see The Great Risk Shift, by Jacob S Hacker. Also by pretending it isn't real: see The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis.)

The thing I find most disturbing about the pandemic wasn't how vulnerable we were -- beyond the legitimate fear of a new disease, the economy collapsed as much from supply chain fragility as from politically-ordered lockdowns -- but how a sizable political bloc has grown determined to prevent governments from responding to any future pandemic (which we should now understand to be a certainty). It's easy enough to think of technical solutions to most problems -- not that it's technically easy to switch from a carbon-fueled train to a solar-driven train without slowing the former down (the two great bugbears of the climate change debate are the ideas that the crisis is in the future, and that the only acceptable solution is one that imposes no costs or changes to our way of life). But we lack the political will to make changes based on rational analysis, and even when the lessons are hard-earned, lots of people refuse to learn them. My touchstone here was Jane Jacobs' 2004 Dark Age Ahead, which foresaw increasing cognitive inability to deal with the problems inevitably produced by technological complexity. (Richard Florida reviews Jacobs' book from the perspective of 2016, late enough to claim she prophesied Trump, here: Even Late in Her Career, Jane Jacobs Made Predictions That Are Coming True Today.) I've read more books along these lines, and none of them make me very optimistic for this century -- not that I don't doubt that humanity and some measure of civilization will survive into the next century.

I should probably read the Braumoeller book, although at the moment I suspect some methodological problems. It's certainly one possible critique of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, but as I understand it -- I recall buying a copy but never got around to reading it -- the argument isn't just about the frequency of wars but also about the reasoning behind them. Up through WWII, most wars aimed at plunder, but that's become a much less popular rationale since, especially as the cost/benefit calculation has flipped, and the threat of nuclear annihilation looms. But I wouldn't be surprised if the frequency of war remains fairly steady: after all, I write about wars (and "lesser" but still violent conflicts) virtually every week.

By the way, I just bought a copy of Brian T Watson: Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time and the Future We'll Face, which greatly expands on the subject of Luen's review. It's notable that the first chapter is "Capitalism," which even more than politics is the rarely-examined (except by Marxists, who obsess over it) prime mover driving us into the future. I should also note that my latest Book Roundup has a long list of recent books on post-capitalism (aka "degrowth" or "post growth") thinking. Scant chance that any signifiant number of American politicians are going to even start talking about this -- Democrats have long seen growth as the magic elixir that allows them to be pro-business as well as helping everyone else; on the other hand, Republican economic scams often seem to be anti-growth, without giving us any degrowth benefits. Much more on war and the diminishing competency of politics there.

Ian Millhiser: [11-03] The nightmarish Supreme Court case that could gut Medicaid, explained: "Health and Hospital Corporation v. Talevski is the single greatest threat to America's social safety net since Paul Ryan."

Steven Lee Myers: [11-06] Russia Reactivates Its Trolls and Bots Ahead of Tuesday's Midterms: "Researchers have identified a series of Russian information operations to influence American elections and, perhaps, erode support for Ukraine." I wouldn't read much into this, but of course, that's what they do. I doubt it will have any effect, unless Democrats use it as some kind of excuse for losing (as Clinton's coterie did after 2016). More interesting is whether they can nudge Republicans into an anti-Ukraine stand, which is something they're tempted by. Also, note: [11-04] Twitter layoffs gutted election information teams days before midterms.

Timothy Noah: [10-25] May God Save Us From Economists: Economics "can be a useful tool for policymaking, but it's become the only tool. It's time for economics to back the hell off." As Noah points out: economists overvalue modeling; economists undervalue data; economists don't get societies; economists don't get irrationality; economists don't get people who aren't economists. Noah then looks at three domains: criminal justice; health care; and climate change. Central to this is the notion that every problem can be decided by a cost/benefit analysis (provided you can assume a value for human lives, which is kind of a problem; as with many math problems, the devil's not so much in the details as in the assumptions). Elizabeth Popp Berman's Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in US Public Policy is one of the books cited.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-04] Roaming Charges: History Ain't Changed: Starts with elections in Brazil and Israel.

Elections: No horse races, and no post-mortems, but a few quick links on the election:

Mike Davis: More pieces on the late leftist scholar Mike Davis:

A couple closing tweets. The first is from Bill Kristol, who 20 years ago I would have put near the top of a list of top-ten public enemies:

Hey, don't want to interrupt my Democratic friends when they're engaged in their favorite sports of The Gnashing of Teeth and The Tearing of Garments, but it looks as if the Democratic Party will have the best midterm performance by a party in the White House in two decades.

So I don't regard his opinion as anything more than a random blip, but there it is. The second one is from someone named Benedict Evans:

Suggesting Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter is like suggesting Linux as an alternative to Windows.

I started using Linux around 1998, and I never regretted it, so this makes me more (not less) inclined to switch. Still, while the two comparisons aren't analogous. It doesn't make much difference to me whether you are also running Linux, or are saddled with Windows or MacOS (or whatever they call it these days). On the other hand, with Twitter-like software it does matter whether the people I want to follow are on the same service I'm on. For social media, network effects are the basis of effective monopolies, which is what Twitter, Facebook, etc., are. Mastodon doesn't come remotely close, and for various technical reasons -- it's designed to prevent monopolization -- it likely never will be. On the other hand, I could see setting up a server and migrating a fairly close-knit group (like, say, the Expert Witness group currently at Facebook) -- which would probably work better than it does on Facebook. But I haven't looked into it enough to make any decisions.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Music Week

October archive (final).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

Arild Andersen Group: Affirmation (2021 [2022], ECM): Norwegian bassist, started as a George Russell protégé in the late 1960s, has had a long and fruitful career. Quartet here with Marius Neset (tenor sax), Helge Lien (piano), and Håkon Måjset Johansen (drums), the multipart title piece jointly credited, plus his own "Short Story." Remarkable balance and poise. A- [sp]

Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell: One More, Please (2021 [2022], Intakt): Alto sax and piano duo, their first duo record 2017's Førage, this the fifth by my count, but the only other one I've managed to hear is 2020's Spiders, still a slight preference although most likely they're all quite close, high-level collaborations. B+(***) [sp]

Bi Ba Doom: Graceful Collision (2022, Astral Spirits): Free jazz trio, first album as such but musicians are fairly well established: Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax), Luke Stewart (bass), and Jason Nazary (drums), everyone also electronics. B+(***) [bc]

Sarah Buechi/Franz Hellmueller/Rafael Jerjen: Moon Trail (2021 [2022], Intakt): Swiss vocalist, titles in English (except for one in French, one in German), modestly backed with guitar and bass. She sings with rare poise, although the best known standards (like "I Thought About You") can feel tortured. B+(**) [sp]

Tito Carrillo: Urbanessence (2021 [2022], Origin): Trumpet player, from Chicago, second album, original pieces, played by a sextet with sax (Troy Roberts), piano (Ben Lewis), bass, drums, and congas. B+(*) [sp]

The Claudettes: The Claudettes Go Out! (2022, Forty Below): Indie band from Chicago, founded by keyboardist Johnny Iguana in 2013, singer Berit Ulseth, fifth album. B+(*) [sp]

Zella Day: Sunday in Heaven (2022, Concord): Indie pop singer-songwriter from Arizona, self-released an album at 14 in 2009, second album since. B+(*) [sp]

John Dikeman/Stefan Gonzalez/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Jonathan F Horne: Texas Butt Biters (2019 [2022], Astral Spirits): Sax. drums, bass, guitar, recorded in Amsterdam (Dikeman's home turf), although the others have ties to Texas. B+(*) [bc]

Kaja Draksler/Susana Santos Silva: Grow (2021 [2022], Intakt): Piano and trumpet duo, from Slovenia and Portugal, both have been very active of late, including a previous duo in 2015 (This Love, on Clean Feed). Has an uncomfortably industrial feel, not expected given the instruments. B [sp]

Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork (2022, 4AD): English post-punk band, second album after an acclaimed debut, Florence Shaw vocalist (mostly spoken word). It's a vibe I'm hopelessly attracted to, even if I never seem able to parse it. A- [sp]

Lincoln Goines: The Art of the Bass Choir (2020-21 [2022], Origin): Bassist, seems like he's been around a while but his may be his first leader album. Employs 10 bassists, but usually in duos, with a drummer (of four total), cello on two cuts, voices on two more (one an Adam Nussbaum rap, praising Jaco Pastorius). Cites "Steve Swallow's upper register explorations" as an inspiration, so much of this sounds like guitar. B+(*) [sp]

Eric Jacobson: Discover (2022, Origin): Trumpet player, leads a hard bop quintet, with Geof Bradfield (tenor sax), Bruce Barth (piano), bass, and drums, playing half originals, plus covers including Dizzy Gillespie and Blue Mitchell. B+(**) [sp]

Benjamin Lackner: Last Decade (2021 [2022], ECM): German pianist, albums since 2003 (mostly as Benny). This is a quartet with Matthias Eick (trumpet), Jérôme Regard (bass), and Manu Katché (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Michael Marcus: Abstractions in Lime Caverns (2021 [2022], ESP-Disk): Plays reed instruments (here: soprano/tenor sax, alto tarogato, G clarinet, bass flute, gong), discography starts 1990, including Cosmosamatics (with Sonny Simmons, 9 albums) and Duology (with Ted Daniel, 4 albums). These are duos with drummer Jay Rosen, expanded to trios (2 tracks) or quartets (3) with Frank Lacy (French horn) and/or Tarus Mateen (bass). B+(***) [cd]

John McCowen: Models of Duration (2020 [2022], Dinzu Artefacts/Astral Spirits): Contrabass clarinet player, has several albums, this one solo, nothing electronic but sounds like a cross of Stuart Dempster's deep drones and an amplifier feedback album like Metal Machine Music. I don't think he's trying to be annoying, but the title suggests a test of endurance. B [bc]

Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth (2022, Out of Your Head): Bassist, from the Wabanaki First Nation of Canada, also sings and plays hand drums, organized her debut albums as three movements, drawing on folk tales and jazz musicians, including co-producer Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet/flugelhorn), saxophonists Noah Campbell and Allison Burik (also bass clarinet), guitarist Miriam Elhajli (also sings), and Savannah Harris (drums). A- [cd]

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Fruition (2021 [2022], ESP-Disk): Tenor sax and piano duo, they have well more than a dozen, starting with 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz, and the obsessive documentation of every encounter can grow numbing. For many years I was sent all of them, and tried my best to figure sort them out. All of Perelman's records are good, and many are outstanding, and same for Shipp. But for me at least, the torrent has slowed down, even as Perelman's ambitions have grown: I never heard last year's 9-CD Brass and Ivory Tales or the Special Edition Box (only 1-CD + Blue-Ray + book, with Shipp) or this year's 2-CD Magic Dust or this week's Reed Rapture (duets with 12 famous saxophonists that would fill up as many CDs). On the other hand, this single (11 tracks, 60:13) really hits the spot. A- [cd]

Barre Phillips/György Kurtág Jr.: Face à Face (2020-21 [2022], ECM): Bass and electronics duo. Phillips has albums going back to 1969, including a bass duo with Dave Holland in 1971. Kurtág's father is a famous Hungarian composer (b. 1926, so 96). B [sp]

Tegan and Sara: Crybaby (2022, Mom + Pop): Twin sisters, last name Quin, from Canada, tenth album since 1999. Gloomy song titles, but otherwise pretty jaunty. I must be missing something. B+(***) [sp]

Walking Cliché Sextet: Suite Chase Reflex (2019 [2021], self-released, EP): Korean-born, New York-based bassist SeaJun Kwon, debuts with a single 26:15, leading a sextet with tenor sax (Jacob Shulman), alto sax (Aaron Dutton), trombone (Michael Prentky), piano (Erez Dessel), and drums (Charles Weller). B+(*) [bc]

Walking Cliché Sextet [SeaJun Kwon]: Micro-Nap (2020-21 [2022], Endectomorph Music): Aside from part-time subs on piano and drums, same group for a 50:33 program, starts with piano intro before rousing the horns, before finally smoothing out with the 15:31 "Suite Transient." B+(***) [cd]

RA Washington/Jah Nada: In Search of Our Father's Gardens (2021 [2022], Astral Spirits): Washington, from Mourning (A) Blkstar (an Ohio-based "gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture"), plays piano, drums, and sings; Nada, from other Ohio groups (the only one I've heard of is Obnox) plays bass, synths, and drums; others from their circle add horns, guitars, and vocals. B+(*) [bc]

Brodie West Quintet: Meadow of Dreams (2020 [2022], Astral Spirits): Alto saxophonist, from Toronto, has a couple previous albums going back to 2003, including a duo and a trio with Han Bennink. This one has piano (Tania Gill), bass (Josh Cole), and drums (Nick Fraser), plus wild card Evan Cartwright (credits: drums, vibraphone, and guitar). B+(*) [bc]

Chris Williams/Patrick Shiroishi: Sans Soleil II (2022, Astral Spirits): Trumpet and saxophone duo, both play related instruments and other "objects" and, yes, they've done this before. B+(*) [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes (2014-21 [2022], In+Out): Bassist, probably holds the record for most albums anyone has played on (Wikipedia says 2,221 recording sessions). Title is from a 2014 "autobiography" which has Dan Ouellette's name on the cover, and was the basis for a PBS documentary, to which this is the official soundtrack (the 2-LP adds one song and reorders others). Although he has a substantial number of albums as leader (or co-, Wikipedia count is 61), he spent his career (still active at 85) making other people sound good. This starts way down the road, at 74, the tracks picked less for representativeness than to support views of him soloing, or playing in small groups (like duos with Bill Frisell or Jon Batiste). B+(**) [sp]

Sun Ra & His Blue Universe Arkestra: Universe in Blue (1971 [2022], Cosmic Myth): Dates unknown, "probably live in California, ca. August 1971," released on LP with two different covers in 1972, and neglected since. Starts with sludgy blues organ, then a June Tyson vocal on "When the Black Man Rules This Land." Adds two bonus tracks, a plus, especially when John Gilmore gets cranked up. B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

Michael Marcus: Sunwheels (2000 [2001], Justin Time): Cover extends the credit: "with Rahn Burton/Nasheet Waits/& Special Guest Carlos 'Patato' Valdes." Back cover just lists Marcus, shown with tenor and soprano saxophones, the others playing organ, drums, and congas. B+(***) [sp]

Michael Marcus Trio: Blue Reality (2001 [2002], Soul Note): Plays alto sax and saxello here, with Taurus Mateen (bass, electric bass, percussion) and Jay Rosen (drums). Album title was resurrected by Marcus and Rosen for their Blue Reality Quartet! in 2020, which missed having a bassist tie things together like Mateen does here. (The Quartet doubled up on reeds and drums with Joe McPhee and Warren Smith.) A- [sp]

Michael Marcus: Speakin' Out (2001-02 [2002], Drimala): Solo album, mixes it up by playing clarinet, tenor sax, alto sax, saxello, and bass clarinet. This has the usual limits, but Marcus has spent most of his career working with minimal support, so he's well prepared to go it alone. B+(**) [sp]

Michael Marcus: Stone Jump (2019-20 [2021], Not Two): Five more names on the cover, but over several sessions we're mostly looking at quartets, with piano (John Austria on electric, or Denton Darien on acoustic), bass (Tyler Mitchell), and drums (Warren Smith), with Lawrence Feldman's alto flute on two tracks. By his usual standards, this feels rather luxe -- even has ballads. B+(**) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Speaking of Which

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Levitz:

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

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

More on inflation:

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

Ian Millhiser:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a tweet triptych from Steve M.:

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

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

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

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

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