Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Biggest news for me is that the server I use for TomHull.com is wedged, with no disk space available for uploading updates. I may (or may not) be able to insert this post into the blog software (which I've had problems with in the past, but evidently uses its own separate storage), but cannot update the "faux blog" (which I've been linking to for the last year-plus). The ISP, Addr.com, seems to be on auto-pilot, with all of their support tools broken and no one responding even to email. I know I've threatened this in the past, but I suppose I have to bite the bullet and move the site. That will be a pain for me, and disruptive for the world -- as if I don't have enough problems already.


Some fairly large topics I have nothing on below: Hurricane Maria and the mass destruction of Dominica and Puerto Rico; devastating earthquakes in Mexico; elections in Germany which gave the far-right AfD party seats in parliament; the never-ending Russia investigation (starring Paul Manafort and Facebook this week); Betsy DeVos' latest efforts to make college a safe haven for rapists; a revised anti-Muslim travel ban; the ongoing protests against police brutality and injustice in St. Louis (special hat tip to Greg Magarian and Bronwen Zwirner on the ground there); and, of course, the big deal of protesting the national anthem at NFL football games (and Trump's hate tweets against those who do) -- the latter is the subject of the first five articles at Slate, and evidently the top trending hashtag(s) at Twitter (Jeffrey Goldberg tweet: "The President of the United States is now in a war with Stephen Curry and LeBron James. This is not a war Trump will win").


Some more reviews of Hillary Clinton's What Happened and comments on the 2016 election:

  • Glenn Greenwald: The Clinton Book Tour Is Largely Ignoring the Vital Role of Endless War in the 2016 Election Result:

    Part of that is the discomfort of cognitive dissonance: the Democratic branding and self-glorification as enemies of privilege, racism, and violence are directly in conflict with the party's long-standing eagerness to ignore, or even actively support, policies which kill large numbers of innocent people from Pakistan, Libya, and Somalia to Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza, but which receive scant attention because of the nationality, ethnicity, poverty, distance, and general invisibility of their victims.

    Actually, Hillary gets hurt in several ways: because she always rose to support the wars, no one can identify with her as a war critic; because she was actually in office during much of this time (as senator and especially as secretary of state) she bears some responsibility for the failure of the wars to accomplish their proclaimed goals; and the simple fact is that after 15 years of continuous war Americans are poorer and meaner than they would have been otherwise, and Republicans feed on that.

  • Katherine Krueger: Hillary Clinton Will Never Understand What Happened:

    Those looking for mea culpas will get them, but only up to a point, and always closely followed by qualifications. . . . She then pivots to consider the "strong headwinds" her scrappy little $623 million campaign-that-couldn't was up against. . . .

    Most of all, Clinton can't understand why young voters were won over by Sen. Bernie Sanders. And it is here where the essential cynicism underlying her worldview -- and which ultimately played a key role in her doom -- comes most sharply into focus. For Clinton, politics are fundamentally about pragmatism, where strategic concessions and horse-trading with Republicans necessarily means sacrificing ideals for the ultimate good of Getting (Some) Things Done. To her, change within the system is needed and worthy, but the system itself can never change. . . .

    After a career built on steadfastly upholding the status quo, Clinton didn't share the anger of the people she sought to govern, because, to her, the state of the U.S. is not something to be angry about. Even as she criss-crossed the country talking with veterans and moms and immigrants, their problems were never her problems. As her fellow Americans continue to lose their jobs and homes and fall into medical debt and struggle with opioid addictions, the system Clinton has for years fought to keep intact is humming along just fine. The fact that racism, militarism, inequality, and religious fundamentalism pervade this country, or that poor people are being consumed by the gears of our economy and left exhausted in its dust, is not something to get "angry" about. In Clinton's words, "It's always been thus."

  • Jon Schwartz: Hillary Clinton doesn't understand why the corporate media is so bad:

    The New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, et al., are gigantic corporations -- in most cases owned by even larger ones. And the job of giant corporations is not to inform American citizens about reality. It's not to play a hallowed role in the history of a self-governing republic. It's to make as much profit as possible. That in turn means the corporate media will never, ever be "liberal" in any genuine sense and will be hostile to all politicians who feint in that direction.

    From that perspective, the media's performance in 2016 was a shining, glorious success. As Les Moonves effused just as the primaries were starting, Donald Trump's campaign was "good for us economically. . . . Go Donald! Keep getting out there!" The entire Hieronymus Bosch-like nightmare, said Moonves, "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." CNN made $1 billion in profits during the election year, far more than ever before.

  • Matthew Yglesias: What really happened in 2016, in 7 charts: The key one is the monumental unpopularity of both candidates. Still, in that comparison, the odd thing is that Trump ranks much worse than Clinton, yet more people who disliked Trump voted for him than people who disliked Clinton voted for her. Why was that? My best guess is that having no real track record, people significantly underestimated how damaging Trump would be, whereas she was much more of a known, and one of the main things you knew was she would be dogged by and endless procession of (mostly) fake scandals as long as she was in the public eye. Trump exploited this by asking the question: "what have you got to lose?"

  • Joshua Holland: How Right-Wing Media Played the Mainstream Press in the 2016 Election: Not on Hillary's book, but this is the piece she should have read before writing up her excuses.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Andrew J Bacevich: Past All Reason: Review of the 18-hour Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War and, to some extent, the war itself. The series remains focused on its American audience, going out of its way to stress the patriotism and idealism of American soldiers (though less so of America's political leaders and generals). But it shies away from war propaganda, mostly because they make extensive use of Vietnamese voices (from all sides) and video -- putting human faces on people long caricatured in American minds.

    Burns and Novick pay surprisingly little attention to why exactly the United States insisted on butting in and why it subsequently proved so difficult to get out. Their lack of interest in this central issue is all the more striking given the acute misgivings about a large-scale US intervention that Lyndon Johnson repeatedly expressed in the fateful months between late 1964 and early 1965.

    The anguished president doubted that the war could be won, didn't think it was worth fighting, and knew that further expansion of US involvement in Vietnam would put at risk his cherished Great Society domestic-reform program. . . . Despite his reservations, Johnson -- ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- somehow felt compelled to go ahead anyway. Yet Burns and Novick choose not to explore why exactly Johnson felt obliged to do what he did not want to do.

    Our present situation makes the question all the more salient. The US war in Afghanistan, although smaller in scale than the war in Vietnam, has dragged on even longer. It too has turned out to be a misbegotten enterprise. When running for the presidency, Donald Trump said as much in no uncertain terms. But President Trump -- ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- has not turned his skepticism into action, allowing America's longest war to continue. . . . As Trump has affirmed, even (or perhaps especially) presidents must bow to this pernicious bit of secular theology.

    According to Burns and Novick, the American war in Vietnam was "begun in good faith, by decent people." It comes closer to the truth to say that the war was begun -- and then prolonged past all reason -- by people who lacked wisdom and, when it was most needed, courage.

    Other reviews:

    Whereas I found the first four episodes valuable, the biases in the fifth (January-July 1967) started to get out of hand. It's not clear yet whether Burns-Novick will wind up adopting the position that the only reason the US lost in Vietnam was that the American people let the Vietnamese down -- the early episodes seemed to recognize that the American neo-colonial project never had a chance, but their take on the Tet Offensive suggests the opposite. Also, as is still the case in St. Louis today, their cameras love to seek out violence in antiwar protests, and their narrative goes out of its way to stress the that there was still much pro-war support -- what Nixon would come to call "the silent majority" (something I expect we'll hear much more about in later episodes).

  • Sarah Kliff: I've Covered the GOP repeal plans since day one. Graham-Cassidy is the most radical. It surely says something about rank-and-file Republicans these days that each and every time their "repeal-and-replace" bills fail to pass, they go back to the drawing board to come up with something even more damaging.

    While other Republican plans essentially create a poorly funded version of the Affordable Care Act, Graham-Cassidy blows it up. The bill offered by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy takes money from states that did a good job getting residents covered under Obamacare and gives it to states that did not. It eliminates an expansion of the Medicaid program that covers millions of Americans in favor of block grants. States aren't required to use the money to get people covered or to help subsidize low- and middle-income earners, as Obamacare does now.

    Plus, the bill includes other drastic changes that appeared in some previous bills. Insurers in the private marketplace would be allowed to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example. And it would eliminate the individual mandate as other bills would have, but this time there is no replacement. Most analysts agree that would inject chaos into the individual market.

    The right has employed the back-to-the-states scam before, but it strikes me as especially explosive here: whereas now we have a unified national debate about health care policy, this bill will turn health care info a burning issue for fifty state political contests -- an area where Republicans have gained considerable power recently not least due to the widespread perception that states don't matter much. That strikes me as a big political risk: both to their own control in competitive states, and because at least some blue states will use those block grants to implement single-payer schemes (not that they won't be inhibited by cutbacks and other regulations).

    More on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill:

  • Fred Kaplan: Trump's Reasons for Scrapping the Iran Deal Are the Definition of Self-Destructive. Also see the Trita Parsi pieces below.

  • John Nichols: Bernie Sanders Just Gave One of the Finest Speeches of His Career: "Outlining a vision of an America on the side of peace and justice, the senator shredded Trump's brutish foreign policies." Sanders gave his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri -- the site of several famous world affairs speeches, including the one in 1946 when Winston Churchill coined the term "iron curtain," to some extent starting the Cold War. This is especially noteworthy because Sanders has long shied away from challenging the precepts of American foreign policy. Some more links:

    Sanders' speech stands in especially stark contrast to Trump's UN speech. For more on that, see:

  • Evan Osnos: The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea: A long "letter from Pyongyang," which Osnos recently visited for a tightly guided tour. While he wasn't able to meet many people, or see many things, that first-person experience gives him a leg up on Trump, his generals, Nikki Haley, or pretty much anyone else in the administration. The portrait he paints of Kim Jong Un is actually pretty scary, but the balance of terror is firmly if cavalierly dominated by Washington.

    There is also scattered support for a less confrontational option, a short-term deal known as a "freeze for freeze." North Korea would stop weapons development in exchange for a halt or a reduction in U.S.-South Korean military exercises. Proponents say that a freeze, which could be revoked if either side cheats, is hardly perfect, but the alternatives are worse. Critics say that versions of it have been tried, without success, and that it will damage America's alliance with the South. Thus far the Trump Administration has no interest. "The idea that some have suggested, of a so-called 'freeze for freeze,' is insulting," Nikki Haley, the U.N. Ambassador, said before the Security Council on September 4th. "When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard."

    Outside the Administration, the more people I talked to, the more I heard a strong case for some level of diplomatic contact. When Obama dispatched James Clapper to Pyongyang, in 2014, to negotiate the release of two prisoners, Clapper discovered that North Korea had misread the purpose of the trip. The government had presumed that he was coming in part to open a new phase in the relationship. "They were bitterly disappointed," he said. Clapper's visit convinced him that the absence of diplomatic contact is creating a dangerous gulf of misperception. "I was blown away by the siege mentality -- the paranoia -- that prevails among the leadership of North Korea. When we sabre-rattle, when we fly B-1s accompanied by jet escorts from the Republic of Korea and Japan, it makes us feel good, it reassures the allies, but what we don't factor in is the impact on the North Koreans."

    The striking thing about the Haley quote is how easily North Korea could justify taking the same stance. North Koreans surely recall that prominent US generals advocating nuking Korea during the 1950-53 war. And while it's only been since the 1960s that the US has had ICBMs capable of hitting Korea, the US has had conventional bombers within striking distance since that war. So what gives us the right to insist that North Korea lower its guard? If it's that the US should be trusted, that isn't a very convincing argument. Another quote:

    Our grasp of North Korea's beliefs and expectations is not much better than its grasp of ours. To go between Washington and Pyongyang at this nuclear moment is to be struck, most of all, by how little the two understand each other. In eighteen years of reporting, I've never felt as much uncertainty at the end of a project, a feeling that nobody -- not the diplomats, the strategists, or the scholars who have devoted their lives to the subject -- is able to describe with confidence how the other side thinks. We simply don't know how Kim Jong Un really regards the use of his country's nuclear arsenal, or how much North Korea's seclusion and mythology has distorted its understanding of American resolve. We don't know whether Kim Jong Un is taking ever-greater risks because he is determined to fulfill his family's dream of retaking South Korea, or because he is afraid of ending up like Qaddafi.

    More on Korea this week:

    A recent poll shows that Trump is especially untrusted by Americans to deal with North Korea (see Trump seen by 66 percent in US as doing more to divide than united country): the "trust to act responsibly handling North Korea" is 37% favorable, 62% negative, compared to which US military leaders score 72-27% favorable. The notion that military leaders are both competent and trustworthy is widely held, though I'd be hard pressed to cite any evidence showing it should be. One cautionary piece is: Stephen Kinzer: America's Slow-Motion Military Coup. He notes that "given the president's ignorance of world affairs, the emergence of a military junta in Washington may seem like welcome relief," then goes on to offer some reasons to worry. There's been much talk of a coup since Trump took office, but that seems unlikely as long as Trump lets the junta do whatever they want. The only time I've actually worried that the military brass might move against civilian government was when Clinton was elected in 1992, but his surrender to the chiefs was so complete they didn't have to flex a muscle. Obama proved to be every bit as supine, not even bothering to replace Bush's Secretary of Defense (although after Gates quit, he went through a series of safe names: Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and Ash Carter).

  • Gary Rivlin/Michael Hudson: Government by Goldman: "Gary Cohn is giving Goldman Sachs everything it ever wanted from the Trump administration." Important, in-depth article, goes well beyond explaining why Cohn hasn't resigned in disgust, which he certainly felt after Trump's embrace of the Nazis in Charlottesville.

    There's Ultimately no great mystery why Donald Trump selected Gary Cohn for a top post in his administration, despite his angry rhetoric about Goldman Sachs. There's the high regard the president holds for anyone who is rich -- and the instant legitimacy Cohn conferred upon the administration within business circles. Cohn's appointment reassured bond markets about the unpredictable new president and lent his administration credibility it lacked among Fortune 100 CEOs, none of whom had donated to his campaign. Ego may also have played a role. Goldman Sachs would never do business with Trump, the developer who resorted to foreign banks and second-tier lenders to bankroll his projects. Now Goldman's president would be among those serving in his royal court.

    Who can say precisely why Cohn, a Democrat, said yes when Trump asked him to be his top economic aide? No doubt Cohn has been asking himself that question in recent weeks. But he'd hit a ceiling at Goldman Sachs. In September 2015, Goldman announced that Blankfein had lymphoma, ramping up speculation that Cohn would take over the firm. Yet four months later, after undergoing chemotherapy, Blankfein was back in his office and plainly not going anywhere. Cohn was 56 years old when he was invited to Trump Tower. An influential job inside the White House meant a face-saving exit -- and one offering a huge financial advantage. . . .

    The details of the president's "$1 trillion" infrastructure plan are similarly favorable to Goldman. As laid out in the administration's 2018 budget, the government would spend only $200 billion on infrastructure over the coming decade. By structuring "that funding to incentivize additional non-Federal funding" -- tax breaks and deals that privatize roads, bridges, and airports -- the government could take credit for "at least $1 trillion in total infrastructure spending," the budget reads.

    It was as if Cohn were still channeling his role as a leader of Goldman Sachs when, at the White House in May, he offered this advice to executives: "We say, 'Hey, take a project you have right now, sell it off, privatize it, we know it will get maintained, and we'll reward you for privatizing it.'" "The bigger the thing you privatize, the more money we'll give you," continued Cohn. By "we," he clearly meant the federal government; by "you," he appeared to be speaking, at least in part, about Goldman Sachs, whose Public Sector and Infrastructure group arranges the financing on large-scale public sector deals.

  • Jon Schwartz: The History Channel is finally telling the stunning secret story of the War on Drugs: A four-part documentary. Much of it seems to involve the CIA, which has repeatedly forged alliances with drug traffickers -- in Laos, Nicaragua, and most recently in Afghanistan.

    That core truth is: The war on drugs has always been a pointless sham. For decades the federal government has engaged in a shifting series of alliances of convenience with some of the world's largest drug cartels. So while the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since President Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, top narcotics dealers have simultaneously enjoyed protection at the highest levels of power in America.

    This might be a good place to mention Sheelah Kolhatkar: The Cost of the Opioid Crisis -- an awful piece which tries to quantify the economic costs of opioid overdoses by toting up lost hours worked and similar metrics. I don't doubt that these deaths add up to some kind of crisis, but you need to back up a bit and frame this issue in terms of two much larger, less acute crises: one is the "war on drugs," which has accomplished little other than to make people really stupid about what drugs do; the other is the for-profit health care system, which has veered inconsistently on pain management, doing first too little then too much and probably, if the crisis-mongers get their way, reverting to too little. The big money is in prescribing pills, not in monitoring treatment.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Madness of Donald Trump: Starts by noting that Trump's August 22 speech in Phoenix was "Trump's true coming-out party as an insane person." Goes on to try to draw fine distinctions between Campaign Trump, who was crazy in ways that seemed to work, and President Trump, whose craziness is becoming more and more dysfunctional. After considering the possibility that America deserves Trump, he pulls out the DSM and comes up with a diagnosis:

    Everyone with half a brain and a recent copy of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used by shrinks everywhere) knew the diagnosis on Trump the instant he joined the race. Trump fits the clinical definition of a narcissistic personality so completely that it will be a shock if future psychiatrists don't rename the disorder after him.

    Grandiosity, a tendency to exaggerate achievements, a preoccupation with "fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love," a belief in one's specialness (which can only be understood by other special people), a need for excessive admiration and a sense of entitlement -- sound like anyone you know?

    Trump's rapidly expanding list of things at which he's either a supreme expert or the Earth's best living practitioner would shame even great historical blowhards like Stalin or Mobutu Sese Seko.

    Taibbi's points on Trump's losing war with the English language are more to the point (though "he makes George W. Bush sound like Vladimir Nabokov" shows how quickly we forget). He tries to take some comfort by viewing Trump as just desserts for a country with so much blood and oppression staining its history, but Trump's too deranged to deliver a lesson on karma. For more on the madness, see: Alex Morris: Trump's Mental Health: Is Pathological Narcissism the Key to Trump's Behavior? One note here deserving caution is a study that "found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having a psychiatric disorder," although some ailments, like depression, "do not typically lead to psychosis or risky decision-making." More interesting is this paragraph:

    When it comes to presidents, and perhaps all politicians, some level of narcissism is par for the course. Based on a 2013 study of U.S. presidents from Washington to George W. Bush, many of our chief executives with narcissistic traits shared what is called "emergent leadership," or a keen ability to get elected. They can be charming and charismatic. They dominate. They entertain. They project strength and confidence. They're good at convincing people, at least initially, that they actually are as awesome as they think they are. (Despite what a narcissist might believe, research shows they are usually no better-looking, more intelligent or talented than the average person -- though when they are, their narcissism is better tolerated.) In fact, a narcissist's brash leadership has been shown to be particularly attractive in times of perceived upheaval, which means that it benefits a narcissist to promote ideas of chaos and to identify a common enemy, or, if need be, create one.

    I've long noted something like this: the tendency of people in times of crisis to rally around whoever seemed to be the most self-confident. I figure that's something we learned in our early evolution, something that back in primitive times worked well enough it didn't get erased through natural selection. However, in modern times such "emergent leaders" rarely turn out to be wise choices.

    By the way, Taibbi has another piece out: Steve Bannon Splits From Trump: Hilarity Ensues. This is about the Republican Senatorial primary runoff between Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions' seat and is backed by Trump and McConnell, and Roy Moore, the former judge with the Moses complex who is backed by Bannon. In this contest, you'd have to say that Strange is the lesser evil, but the margin is so thin I find it hard to care. I'm even tempted to think that we might be better if they elect the greater embarrassment (Moore), although that's pretty much what happened with Trump.

    By the way, there are more Alabama races down ballot. See: Christina Cauterucci: Some of the US's Creepiest Anti-Abortion Men Are Running for Office in Alabama.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Bill XCIX Phillips

I was dawdling on Facebook last night, and clicked on "Notifications," wondering what (if anything) that might do. I scrolled down the widget, and noticed that someone I didn't recognize commented on something I had written, so I was curious and clicked. That someone was the sister of Bill Phillips, telling me that he had died back in January. I got a Facebook notice that Bill's birthday was June 3, so (something I don't often do) I sent him a little note. The response came on June 8, but . . . well, I checked my email trash and there was no mention of it among 1628 deleted Facebook messages. Somebody's algorithm sure sucks. I should have noticed something was amiss when he stopped posting after January 3, but I just didn't pay that much attention, even less than usual this year.

I first met Bill around 1978-79. I was working for a typesetting shop in New York City, and the co-owner decided to buy a computer and hire a consultant to set up an accounting system. The computer was a low-end PDP-11, and Bill was the consultant (or maybe just the guy the consultant assigned to do the work). At the time I was trying to read electronics textbooks, thinking I might go back to college and study engineering. I was making slow progress, especially on the analog stuff, but at some point I picked up a book on programming in Pascal and it seemed like the easiest thing in the world. I decided to buy a personal computer. My first choice was something called the Pascal Microengine, but when the dealer couldn't deliver, I settled for an Apple II. I wrote some trivial programs in Basic, but my real interest was designing my own typesetting systems software. I talked to Bill about this, and we wound up pitching the co-owner on the idea. He gave us an allowance to buy some hardware, and I wrote a 300-page functional spec for a distributed, networked multinode editing ("front end") system.

By the time we gave up on the project, Bill had steered me toward programming in C and using an editor called MINCE (a recursive acronym for "MINCE Is Not Complete Emacs" -- basically, a text editor inspired by Richard Stallman's LISP-based EMACS editor, written in C to run on a Z-80 microprocessor). MINCE came with partial source code, and the documentation was the author's Master's Thesis. Both turned out to be remarkably fine tutorials, and Bill was my first brilliant mentor. I left Wizard in 1980 and landed a job as a Software Engineer at Varityper in East Hannover, NJ. Varityper made "direct-entry" phototypesetters, which set type incrementally as you keyed the text and commands in. But they had just started a project to build a multi-user system not unlike the one I had designed, so they hired me to consult on that, then wound up throwing a number of tricky programming assignments my way. I spent the next three years there, then moved to Massachusetts to work for Compugraphic, their largest competitor, and a year later moved on to a start-up working on color prepress software for package design: Contex Graphics Systems.

While I was learning lots of new things in my various jobs, Bill was mostly stuck babysitting legacy systems in New York, which left him in something of a rut. We kept in touch over those years: not close, but I knew he was having trouble finding work in New York, and that he was especially fond of Boston. When I started taking on management duties, I had the opportunity to hire a couple of consultants, so I offered Bill a job, and a place to stay until we turned it into a regular job, and he and his wife Jane moved to Cambridge. Over the next couple years, Contex went through a lot of ownership trouble, eventually being sold to Xyvision shortly before their main business ("tech pubs" systems, again similar to my original design) crashed. I had to lay Bill off then, and I don't think he ever made much of a living again. But Jane had found a decent job, he loved Cambridge, and he was very active in local computer clubs, so he was reasonably content. I saw him socially, and tried to rope him into my Ftwalk project, but he resisted.

After I left Massachusetts and wound up back in Kansas, I picked his brain for various projects -- among other things, he made a contribution to robertchristgau.com. After Jane died in late 2011 he moved back to New York. I saw him at least three times there -- most recently in June 2016. He had gotten into political interests, adopting "XCIX" as his middle name to signify solidarity with the 99%, and was the first person I knew to get involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign. For some reason we had never talked about politics back in our initial period -- though we talked a lot about music (not that we had much in common: he turned me on to some quality folk music, but by then he was mostly into new age, and I was more into punk, funk, and avant-jazz).

First inkling I had of his politics must have been in 1989 when Abbie Hoffman died, and Jane (I think it was) suggested they should go to the funeral to show solidarity. I didn't get the impression they had a direct connection, but that does say something about where they came from. As I'm writing this, I realize there's so much about him I don't know. He was born in Queens, a few years older than me but I'm not sure how many -- not a lot -- and was living in Queens when I first met/visited him. His mother was still alive when he moved back to New York. He had two sisters, I think, but I never met either. They had a son, who was close to ten when I first met him. Went to college in Binghampton, and at least for a while turned into a Dead Head. Last I knew they didn't seem to be close, but I don't think I ever met the son as an adult. Toward the end he seemed worn and weary, and felt trapped. He talked like he might leave New York, possibly for Washington State, but I doubt he had the energy.

I do remember lots of little things. He always had a beard, which I can't remember not being grizzled white but it may have been blond way back when. He always looked rumpled, moving slow and speaking softly. He liked model trains and western shirts -- had a whole rack of them bought mail-order from Sheplers, the famous outfitter in my own home town. (I had a few myself, though I regarded them more as a joke. But I don't think I ever saw his trains.) He used the alias "Old Professor Bear," and called his web business Shoestring Projects. He spent most of his disposable income on books and records, especially books, and lived in a constant state of hopeless clutter -- no doubt a big part of the reason he had such trouble picking up and moving. I was taken aback at one point when he was at Contex and I noticed the title, How to Work for a Jerk -- but I already owned the same title.

He liked assembly code, working "close to the machine," and his favorite programming stories were clever optimizations. At one point I was taken with the ideal of "simple and elegant." He came back with: "but why make something simple and elegant when you can make it complex and wonderful." Not really the words of a first-rate engineer, but he made a marvelous mentor, and a fine friend. One of the sweetest, most generous people I've ever known.

I'm really staggered that we've lost him.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28690 [28650] rated (+40), 392 [376] unrated (+16).

Did almost nothing last week but listen, all jazz except for a couple items Phil Overeem recommended in tweets, only three albums coming from my recently expanding CD queue. The majority (22+5/40) of the records were Clean Feed/Shhpuma releases I never got in the mail -- I just brought up their 2017 releases pages and found it all on Napster, so easy enough. Nothing bad or especially good there: high was two B+(***), low three B. I rather expected more given that I had previously logged six A- records on Clean Feed (three on CD, three streamed). I don't believe this includes their September releases (I have some email on such, but lately they've gotten into making life difficult).

I did manage a push forward on compiling the Jazz Guide(s) last week. Up to John Hébert in the Jazz Post-2000 file (39%), which brings the post-2000 guide to 1140 pages. I was at 29% a week ago, so if I keep up the slog I still have six weeks to go (plus the groups I've shunted to the side). I'm still estimating it will hit 1500 pages, although the estimating formula I've been using shows it a bit shorter (1375, down from 1425, but that doesn't account for group entries).


By the way, some very bad political news since yesterday's already grim Roundup: John McCain announced he will "regrettably" vote for the Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal (see Arizona Governor Backs O'care Repeal, Likely Securing McCain's and Flake's Votes). The Graham-Cassidy bill is in many ways even worse than the previous Repeal/Replace bills, reminding us that as with the House bills, the key to getting more Republican support is to make the legislation even more vicious.

Perhaps even more disturbing is this report: U.S. warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with North Korea. I think the last time that precise headline was used was 1914: "Austria-Hungary warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with Serbia." By the way, it was Rex Tillerson delivering the threat. Isn't he supposed to be the adult in the Trump playpen? Slightly less ominous but still way past the cusp of sanity, there's a picture of Trump and Netanyahu shaking hands under the title Trump on Withdrawing From Iran Nuclear Deal: 'You Will See Very Soon'.

Of course, we've seen plenty of hints already of these things, but it's part of human nature to discount worst-case scenarios.


New records rated this week:

  • Alfjors: Demons 1 (2015 [2017], Shhpuma, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chino Amobi: Paradiso (2017, NON): [r]: B
  • Michaël Attias Quartet: Nerve Dance (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chamber 4: City of Light (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Zack Clarke: Random Acts of Order (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kaja Draksler Octet: Gledalec (2016 [2017], Clean Feed, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day Quartet: On Parade in Parede (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn: Ljubljana (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B
  • João Hasselberg & Pedro Branco: From Order to Chaos (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Honest John: International Breakthrough (2015-16 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Humcrush: Enter Humcrush (2014-15 [2017], Shhpuma): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kokotab: Flying Heart (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Luis Lopes: Love Song (2015 [2016], Shhpuma): [r]: B
  • Tony Malaby/Mat Maneri/Daniel Levin: New Artifacts (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Luís José Martins: Tentos -- Invenções E Encantamentos (2017, Shhpuma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Meridian Trio: Triangulum (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mind Games [Angelika Niescier/Denman Maroney/James Ilgenfritz/Andrew Drury]: Ephemera Obscura (2013 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • MIR 8: Perihelion (2017, Shhpuma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jonah Parzen-Johnson: I Try to Remember Where I Come From (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mario Pavone: Vertical (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cochonnerie (2015 [2017], Aerophonic): [cd]: A-
  • Dave Rempis: Lattice (2017, Aerophonic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • ROVA Saxophone Quartet/Kyle Bruckmann/Henry Kaiser: Steve Lacy's Saxophone Special Revisited (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vitor Rua and the Metaphysical Angels: Do Androids Dream of Electric Guitars? (2017, Clean Feed, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rune Your Day: Rune Your Day (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Angelica Sanchez Trio: Float the Edge (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Selva: The Selva (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet: Not Bound (2016 [2017], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • Tommy Smith: Embodying the Light: A Dedication to John Coltrane (2017, Spartacus): [r]: A-
  • Wadada Leo Smith/Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii/Ikue Mori: Aspiration (2016 [2017], Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • David Stackenäs: Bricks (2013 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rain Sultanov: Inspired by Nature (2017, Ozella): [r]: B+(**)
  • Trespass Trio: The Spirit of Pitesti (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Vincent Ahehehinnou: Best Woman (1978 [2017], Analog Africa): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Warsaw) 2012 (2012 [2013], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • Mario Pavone: Sharpeville (1985 [2000], Playscape): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mario Pavone Nu Trio: Remembering Thomas (1999, Knitting Factory Works): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mario Pavone/Michael Musillami: Op.Ed (2001, Playscape): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mario Pavone Nu Trio/Quintet: Orange (2003, Playscape): [r]: B+(***)
  • Trevor Watts & Veryan Weston: At Ad Libitum (2013 [2015], ForTune): [bc]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Heart Knows (Fresh Sound New Talent): September 25
  • Collective Order: Vol. 2 (self-released): September 29
  • Corey Dennison Band: Night After Night (Delmark)
  • Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies Vol II (Accurate): October 20
  • Gordon Grdina Quartet: Inroads (Songlines)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4: Reminiscing in Tempo (Creative Nation Music): November 3
  • Dylan Jack Quartet: Diagrams (Creative Nation Music): September 22
  • Matt Mitchell: A Pouting Grimace (Pi): September 29
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Duets With Anthony Braxton (1976, Sackville/Delmark)
  • Ian O'Beirne's Slowbern Big Band: Dreams of Daedelus (self-released)
  • Chris Parker: Moving Forward Now (self-released): October 6
  • Tom Rainey Obbligato: Float Upstream (Intakt)
  • Irène Schweizer/Joey Baron: Live! (Intakt)
  • Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal (Rune Grammofon)
  • Lyn Stanley: The Moonlight Sessions: Volume Two (A.T. Music): October 6
  • Trio S: Somewhere Glimmer (Zitherine)
  • Tal Yahalom/Almog Sharvit/Ben Silashi: Kadawa (self-released)

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Weekend Roundup

This has been another week when I could have spent every waking hour compiling stories and still not covered it all. There is nothing below on Korea, where there have been new missile tests, new even more vicious sanctions, and the usual threats of nuclear annihilation -- one story I was tempted by was on how the new UN sanctions attempt to choke off North Korean exports of clothing (evidently one of their major sources of foreign currency). Nothing on Nikki Haley's bluster, nor on Trump's forthcoming UN speech. Nothing on Burma's attacks on the Rohynga. (Wasn't opening up Burma Hillary Clinton's big coup as Secretary of State?) Nothing on US threats to close the embassy in Cuba. Only the most general comments on Yemen-Syria-Iraq. Nothing on Israel/Palestine, which ever deeper into an abyss of inhumanity, even while Netanyahu and family are in legal trouble. Nothing on the latest ISIS bombing in London, nor on Trump's inane tweets about it. Very little on the big hurricane season, other natural disasters, and how well (or more likely miserably) the feds are dealing with them. Nothing on voter suppression (although Kris Kobach has been busy on that front). Nothing on Jeff Sessions refusal to investigate civil rights abuse in St. Louis, nor on protests against same, nor on Missouri's governor's preference for meeting protests with a show of military force. Nothing on Harvard's failed chemistry experiment, where they tried to mix Mike Pompeo and Chelsea Manning. Nothing on the Russia investigation, where an interesting side-story has developed over Facebook advertising. Very little on so-called tax reform. Nothing on rape on college campuses, although Betsy De Vos seems to be set on making it more difficult to punish. Nothing on DACA, not even Trump's alleged DACA deal with Democrats nor the way Republicans blew up after it was reported. And I'm sure there were dozens of other stories I could have found worthy.

On the other hand, maybe there's too much on Hillary Clinton's campaign memoir, What Happened, and also on the Democrats' intra-party struggles. Perhaps that has something to do with our preoccupation with talk-about-talk. But most other stories just add to the cumulative weight of moral rot in the Trump regime. The new books by Clinton (in her backhanded way) and Sanders (much less reviewed, probably because it's much less gossipy) point forward -- as does Sanders' new "Medicare for All" bill (please stop calling it "Berniecare").


Just before posting, I noticed this piece by Jay Rosen: Normalizing Trump: An incredibly brief explainer. It offers a short list of things "most every journalist who covers Trump knows:

  1. He isn't good at anything a president has to do.
  2. He doesn't know anything about the issues with which he must cope.
  3. He doesn't care to learn.
  4. He has no views about public policy.
  5. Nothing he says can be trusted.
  6. His "model" of leadership is the humiliation of others.

He adds: "If nothing the president says can be trusted, reporting what the president says becomes absurd." That reminded me of a piece I noticed but didn't figure was worth pursuing -- until it became perfectly illustrative: Elliot Hannon: A Ranking of Trump's Sunday Morning Tweets From Least to Most Insane.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Dean Baker: Adults in the Room: The Sordid Tale of Greece's Battle Against Austerity and the Troika: Review of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis's book, Adults in the Room. The Troika is the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Greece had run up large debts then fell into a major depression after 2007, losing 25% of its GDP -- all the worse because Greece had joined the Eurozone, leaving it at the mercy of an EU dominated by Germany. To make good on those debts, the Troika was set on forcing Greece into extreme austerity, combined with massive privatization of public assets -- a "solution" that Varoufakis understood not merely to be vicious but untenable. What happened is little short of gruesome.

  • Ross Barkan: Universal healthcare in America? Not a taboo now, thanks to Bernie Sanders: Sanders introduced his "Improved Medicare for All" last week, remarkably co-sponsored by sixteen Democratic Senators.

    Other related links:

  • Ariel Dorfman: A Tale of Two Donalds: Dorfman wrote a seminal essay, a masterpiece of Marxist cultural criticism, back in 1971, How to Read Donald Duck, one I read avidly when it was translated (and, if memory serves, published in Radical America). Here he updates his analysis to encompass that other Donald. I suppose some times history repeats itself, first as farce and then as tragedy. Other recent TomDispatch pieces:

    Here's a sample quote from Sjursen:

    Take a good, hard look at the region and it's obvious that Washington mainly supports the interests of Israel, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt's military dictator, and various Gulf State autocracies. Or consider the actions and statements of the Trump administration and of the two administrations that preceded it and here's what seems obvious: the United States is in many ways little more than an air force, military trainer, and weapons depot for assorted Sunni despots. Now, that's not a point made too often -- not in this context anyway -- because it's neither a comfortable thought for most Americans, nor a particularly convenient reality for establishment policymakers to broadcast, but it's the truth. . . .

    While President Trump enjoyed a traditional sword dance with his Saudi hosts -- no doubt gratifying his martial tastes -- the air forces of the Saudis and their Gulf state allies were bombing and missiling Yemeni civilians into the grimmest of situations, including a massive famine and a spreading cholera epidemic amid the ruins of their impoverished country. So much for the disastrous two-year Saudi war there, which goes by the grimly ironic moniker of Operation Restoring Hope and for which the U.S. military provides midair refueling and advanced munitions, as well as intelligence.

    Engelhardt notes how a president supposedly obsessed with winning has surrendered his administration to three of America's "losingest generals": H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, and "Mad Dog" Mattis. For instance, consider McMaster:

    Then-Colonel H.R. McMaster gained his reputation in 2005 by leading the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment into the Iraqi city of Tal Afar and "liberating" it from Sunni insurgents, while essentially inaugurating the counterinsurgency tactics that would become the heart and soul of General David Petraeus's 2007 "surge" in Iraq.

    Only one small problem: McMaster's much-publicized "victory," like so many other American military successes of this era, didn't last. A year later, Tal Afar was "awash in sectarian violence," wrote Jon Finer, a Washington Post reporter who accompanied McMaster into that city. It would be among the first Iraqi cities taken by Islamic State militants in 2014 and has only recently been "liberated" (yet again) by the Iraqi military in a U.S.-backed campaign that has left it only partially in rubble, unlike so many other fully rubblized cities in the region. In the Obama years, McMaster would be the leader of a task force in Afghanistan that "sought to root out the rampant corruption that had taken hold" in the American-backed government there, an effort that would prove a dismal failure.

    Meanwhile, see if you can discern any hope in these recent reports from Afghanistan: Helene Cooper: US Says It Has 11,000 Troops in Afghanistan, More Than Formerly Disclosed; Rod Nordland: US Expands Kabul Security Zone, Digging in the Next Decade; Mujib Mashal: US Plan for New Afghan Force Revives Fear of Militia Abuses; Max Fisher/Amanda Taub: Why Afghanistan's War Defies Solutions.

  • Thomas Frank: Hillary Clinton's book has a clear message: don't blame me: Clinton's campaign memoir, What Happened, was released last week, generating enough publicity to put her back in the spotlight. Before publication we were treated to various sections where she tried to blame Bernie Sanders and/or his supporters for her loss, which fit in with the general perception that she's not one to take responsibility for her own mistakes. I haven't looked at the book, and have no desire to read it, so I don't know how fair those charges are. But really, one could write a huge book about Hillary and all the ways the world has treated her unfairly -- to her advantage as well as to her detriment. Frank, too, tells us more about his own focus on populism, although this seems likely to be a fair summary:

    She seems to have been almost totally unprepared for the outburst of populist anger that characterized 2016, an outburst that came under half a dozen different guises: trade, outsourcing, immigration, opiates, deindustrialization, and the recent spectacle of Wall Street criminals getting bailed out. It wasn't the issues that mattered so much as the outrage, and Donald Trump put himself in front of it. Clinton couldn't.

    To her credit, and unlike many of her most fervent supporters, Hillary Clinton doesn't deny that this web of class-related problems had some role in her downfall. When she isn't repeating self-help bromides or calumniating the Russians she can be found wondering why so many working-class people have deserted the Democratic party.

    This is an important question, and in dealing with it Clinton writes a few really memorable passages, like her description of a grotesque campaign stop in West Virginia where she was protested by a crowd that included the former CEO of the company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 coal miners died in 2010.

    But by and large, Clinton's efforts to understand populism always get short-circuited, probably because taking it seriously might lead one to conclude that working people have a legitimate beef with her and the Democratic party.

    Countless inconvenient items get deleted from her history. She only writes about trade, for example, in the most general terms; Nafta and the TPP never. Her husband's program of bank deregulation is photoshopped out. The names Goldman Sachs and Walmart never come up.

    Besides, to take populism seriously might also mean that Bernie Sanders, who was "outraged about everything," might have had a point, and much of What Happened is dedicated to blasting Sanders for challenging Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Given that he later endorsed her and even campaigned for her, this can only be described as churlish, if not downright dishonest.

    That Clinton might have done well to temper her technocratic style with some populist outrage of her own only dawns on her towards the end of the book, by which point it is too late.

    Not to mention impossible. Hillary Clinton simply cannot escape her satisfied white-collar worldview -- compulsively listing people's academic credentials, hobnobbing with officers from Facebook and Google, and telling readers how she went to Davos in 1998 to announce her philosophy.

    Other posts on Clinton's book:

    • James Fallows: Why Hillary Clinton's Book Is Actually Worth Reading: "It's the rare interesting work by a politician -- and it offers an important critique of the press." Fallows stresses how often Hillary does take responsibility for losing, although when he quotes her, you get this (Fallows' emphasis):

      I don't understand why there's an insatiable demand in many quarters for me to take all the blame for losing the election on my own shoulders and quit talking about Comey, the Russians, fake news, sexism, or anything else. Many in the political media don't want to hear about how those things tipped the election in the final days. They say their beef is that I'm not taking responsibility for my mistakes -- but I have, and I do again throughout this book. Their real problem is that they can't bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump, from providing him free airtime to giving my emails three times more coverage than all the issues affecting people's lives combined.

    • Hadley Freeman: America's vitriol towards Clinton reveals a nation mired in misogyny: But is it really? No doubt there are pockets of misogyny that somehow escaped the women's liberation movement of the 1970s and the growing feminist consciousness which has largely settled into common sense, much as there are pockets of racism left untouched by the 1960s civil rights movement. And clearly, Clinton brings misogynistic slurs to the forefront, if only because those who most hate her lack the imagination to craft anything new -- much as many of those who hated Obama reverted to racist vitriol. On the other hand, had she won -- which she would have if only the constitution's framers put a little more care into how elections work -- we'd be complimenting ourselves for how enlightened we've become (much as we did with Obama's election in 2008). Granted, that Donald Trump, as unreconstructed a racist/sexist as we can imagine these days, sure looks like a setback, but could there be some other reason?

    • Sarah Leonard: What Happened by Hillary Clinton review -- entertainingly mean but essentially wrong-headed: For example:

      It feels tiresome to explain this, but many Americans consider bankers the enemy, and voters wanted her to pick a side. The fact that she couldn't see that reveals a fundamental problem with her politics. And it isn't symbolic -- America's particular form of political corruption is rarely a simple exchange of cash for laws. Instead, as a famous Princeton study has shown, wealthy institutions like banks exercise substantial influence over legislative outcomes through the softer power of lobbying and campaign donations, while average people and their institutions exercise almost none. It is laughable that an American politician would be indignant about her right to accept money from banks. . . .

      She primarily attributes her loss to what she calls "tribal politics" -- a blend of racism, sexism and economic discontent -- and FBI director James Comey's press conference days before the election. She may be right about Comey shifting enough white swing voters to ultimately cost her the race. But Clinton's relationship to populism is more complicated.

      "Tribal" isn't the word I would choose for racism and sexism, but there is something primitive about those traits. However, economic discontent is something quite different, something that only looks quaint and irrational if you're able to make ten years average wages for a single speech to bankers.

    • Sophia A McClennen: The great Hillary Clinton paradox:

      As Clinton blames Sanders for disrupting the party and causing "lasting damage" to her campaign she fails to notice the various advantages she had. From her biased treatment by the DNC to the superdelegates to her $150 million war chest (twice Trump's) to the backing of mega-stars from Bruce Springsteen to Beyoncé to Oprah to her massive list of media endorsements, Clinton had plenty of support. She had more endorsements from newspapers than either Reagan or Obama.

      This brings me back to the paradox. There is no doubt that Trump ran a sexist campaign, but that doesn't mean that the Sanders campaign was sexist too. And there is no doubt that some of those who voted for Trump are sexist, but not all of them are.

      McClennan then cites Emily Ekins: The Five Types of Trump Voters: the type Ekins dubs American Preservationists are closest to the racist/sexist/xenophobic stereotype, but they only number 20% of Trump voters (not that such views don't lap over into other "types"). Still, the "lasting damage" Sanders wrought has an Emperor's New Clothes air: it assumes that no one would have noticed that Hillary wasn't an immaculate progressive if only Sanders hadn't pointed out her shortcomings. There is some truth to this: I, for instance, had early on resigned myself to her inevitability, mostly because I thought that she alone among Democrats could raise the sort of money necessary to compete with the Kochs. Obviously, her fundraising prowess came at a cost, which had been painfully evident over the last four Democratic presidential terms, but it wasn't hard to imagine how much worse any name Republican would be. Sanders changed my calculus, not by telling me anything I didn't already know about Clinton, but simply by offering better policies, and backing them up with a credible history of integrity that Clinton lacked.

      Still, this raises an interesting question: if Clinton actually thought that Sanders had undermined her in the primaries, why didn't she make a more dramatic effort to heal the chasm, specifically by making Sanders her running mate? Granted, she did give up some ground on the platform, but personnel is a more serious predictor of policy than campaign platitudes. It wouldn't have been an unusual move, and Sanders would have been an asset to the campaign (unlike Tim Kaine, who at best helped a little in Virginia). Like Gore in 2000 when he picked Joe Lieberman, and like Bill Clinton in 1992 when he picked Gore, Hillary signaled with her VP pick that she was going to go her own way, paying no heed and owing no debts to the "democratic wing of the Democratic Party." So, again like Gore, she now finds herself blaming the left for her own campaign's shortfall after her bad bet that there were more money and votes to be had by snubbing the left than by embracing it.

      McClennan also wrote: A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton emphasize their differences.

    • Jeff Spross: This Hillary Clinton would've won: Specifically, this hinges on the book's revelation that Hillary considered pushing for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme.

    • David Roberts: Hillary Clinton's "coal gaffe" is a microcosm of her twisted treatment by the media: Even more than her "basket of deplorables" comment, Hillary singles her taken-out-of-context "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business" as the one comment she regrets most. Still, had the media put the one line in its actual context (even just its paragraph), and noted that Clinton was proposing a $30 billion plan to help communities hit by the declining coal market rebuild their economies, her comment may not have been interesting, but shouldn't have been crippling. Still, the media, prodded by right-wing agitators, made it so:

      There is one and only one reason to pluck out that sentence and make a story of it: to try to hurt Clinton politically by lying about her meaning and intentions. . . .

      From the media's perspective, "Clinton garbled a sentence" is true but not particularly newsworthy. "Clinton boasted about putting coal miners out of work" is false but definitely newsworthy (and damaging to Clinton) if it were true. In other words, there's no honest reason to make this "gaffe" a story at all. . . .

      Right-wing operatives and media figures watch Clinton intensely. Anything she says or does that can be plausibly (or implausibly) spun to appear maleficent, they spin. A vast echo chamber of blogs, "news" sites, radio stations, cable news shows, and Facebook groups takes each one of these mini faux scandals and amplifies the signal.

      If one of the faux scandals catches on enough and dominates right-wing media long enough, then a kind of alchemy occurs. The question facing mainstream outlets is not, "Why aren't you writing about what Clinton said?" That question is easy to answer: It's a nothingburger. The question becomes, "Why aren't you writing about the scandal over what Clinton said?"

      Reputable mainstream journalists don't have to pretend that Clinton meant the ridiculous thing right-wing media says she meant. They can just report that "some interpreted Clinton to mean [ridiculous thing]," and hey, that's technically true. The fact that a bunch of right-wing political and media hacks feigned outrage becomes the story.

    • Jon Schwarz: Hillary Clinton Doesn't Understand Why the Corporate Media Is So Bad:

      Then there's Clinton's peculiar affection for the New York Times. Yes, she says, it has often viewed her "with hostility and skepticism," but "I've read the Times for more than 40 years and still look forward to it every day. I appreciate much of the paper's terrific non-Clinton reporting." . . .

      Since Clinton has no structural critique of the press, why does she believe she was so badly mauled in 2016? The only explanation she presents is that the rules are different for her personally. . . .

      In the end, Clinton's ideas about the media demonstrate that, more than anything, she badly needed to watch the Noam Chomsky documentary "Manufacturing Consent" or get a subscription to the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting newsletter. Then she could have approached her campaign with fewer illusions, and with a much greater chance of winning.

      Instead, she's left with the bitter observation that the press "want me to stop talking. If it's all my fault, then the media doesn't need to do any soul searching." But that's the whole point: The corporate media doesn't have a soul. It just has a balance sheet.

    • Jeffrey St. Clair: Hillary Happened: The late Alexander Cockburn's Mini-Me, better known recently for his virulent, supposedly left-wing attacks on Bernie Sanders, manages to save some bile for Hillary and her book, occasionally managing to be witty -- to no small part because Hillary's never looked much good from the left, even against the vile backdrop of attacks from the right. Favorite line: "Clinton was miscast from the beginning as a political candidate for elected office. Her skills and temperament were more suited to the role of political enforcer in the mode of Thomas Cromwell or John Ehrlichman."

    • Rebecca Traister: Hillary Clinton Is Finally Expressing Some Righteous Anger. Why Does That Make Everyone Else So Mad?

      People have been reacting with atavistic censure to Hillary Clinton for decades, and she's been expected to simply absorb it all without returning fire. There are shirts, as she writes in What Happened, that feature an image of Trump holding her bloody severed head aloft; others, which she doesn't mention, read "Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica."

      You can disagree with Clinton; you can reasonably acknowledge that some of her pique does sound defensive. But she's not lying; she's not inciting violence. She's not freaking out about crowd size or claiming that antifa protesters are as bad as neo-Nazis or suggesting that protesters be taken away on stretchers.

    • Shea Wong: Let's talk for a second about #ImWithHer . . .: I was steered to this twitter thread by Robert Christgau (via DailyKos), who tweeted:

      Hillary haters owe it to history and their own integrity to read this. She's not perfect. You're totally fucked up.

      I'm not sure Bob would count me among the "Hillary haters" -- I voted against her in two caucuses, but voted for her against Trump, and didn't consider any of those choices to be close calls. To say "she's not perfect" omits volumes of serious detail -- although nothing I couldn't personally overlook compared to Trump. On the other hand, I do know people who swear they'd never vote for her -- not that any of them hated her enough to vote for Trump. Still, I take offense that they, let alone we, are "totally fucked up." They are, for starters, people who can be counted on to oppose senseless, fruitless wars that Hillary has always been eager to support -- and that one might reasonably expect her to start in the future. I don't agree with their voting decision, but I have to respect them: at the end of the day, they're comrades, while Hillary skews somewhere between "lesser evil" and "lesser good." Still, I'm open to reading something that makes a case for her -- indeed, many of the reviews I've cited in this section give her credit. But this thread is something quite different. This isn't "excellent" (as hpg put it), or enlightening, or even coherent, and I have to wonder about sane. Obviously much of problem is twitter, both for chunking and for the nine distracting and irrelevant videos Wong inserted. As best I can discern, Wong's rant boils down to two salient points: Hillary was the victim of a vile and unrelenting torrent of misogynistic smears, and that was mostly the fault of Bernie and the left ("We watched progbros parrot trump talking points, and vice versa, to the point if you covered avatar/bio you couldn't tell the difference"). Wong then concludes: "If she could be torn down that easily. So could any of us." I'm not sure Wong is right even on the first point. By far the most effective attack was the "Crooked Hillary" meme. One might dispute this, especially in comparison to Trump, but it has nothing to do with her gender. The second point is certainly false, running opposite to the very principles that define the left, and continued harping on it by diehard Hillary fans reeks of old-fashioned liberal red baiting.

  • Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Intra-Democratic Divide: Meant as a follow-up to his commentary on Ta-Nehisi Coates' The First White President ( Thoughts on the First White President). To oversimplify a bit, Coates argues that racism remains the fundamental dividing line in American politics, one that cannot be erased by cleverly attempting to fashion a class-based appeal to working class Trump supporters. Marshall looks to have it both ways: agreeing that Coates is right on racism, but still stressing the need to recapture some Trump supporters, probably by appealing to them on economic grounds -- but he kind of makes a muddle out of it. Let's try to clear up this confusion:

    1. "Identity politics" will always be with us: it's the default mode of most voters -- not necessarily just "low information" but it's especially prevalent there. Unless you know better, the safe and sensible vote is to follow the people you identify with -- usually people most like yourself. Everyone does it. I know a good deal more about politicians than most folk, but every now and then I find myself choosing between two people I don't know anything substantial about, so I fall back on my prejudices -- the most common identity there is partisan, and while I don't especially identify with Democrats, I've learned that Republicans are dangerous (and often demented).
    2. Of course, it's just as easy to vote against categories you don't identify with, and political parties have found it efficient to focus on that. The Republican Party was founded on the interests of independent farmers and manufacturers ("vote yourself a homestead, vote yourself a tariff") but given its solid Northern protestant homogeneity soon took to rallying against its opponents, deriding the Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." In the 1970s, Richard Nixon and the architects of The Emerging Republican Majority saw an opportunity to expand the party's base to pick up two major blocks of white Democrats: protestants in the South and catholics (mostly) in the North. They used coded appeals to racism, but wrapped them up with God and guns and sheer avarice into a package that was very flattering to their targets, and repulsive to the groups they rallied against. The latter had little choice but to align with the Democrats, even if it wasn't clear what they were supporting. The key point here is that the Democrats didn't deliberately build their recent coalition: as with their late-nineteenth-century coalition, they got the odds and ends after the Republicans had seized the middle ground.
    3. In both centuries, it appeared as though Republican efforts to rally its chosen people against the margins was destined to run against demographic trends -- mostly driven by immigration. Republican identity politics found its greatest success in the 1920s, with prohibition and a hard turn against immigration. In recent years, some Democratic Party strategists have started to flirt with their own identity politics, calculating that the groups the Republicans have left them with will grow into a new Democratic majority. This idea is attractive to Democratic Party elites because it lets them think they can bank on winning votes without having to offer the voters tangible value.
    4. As usual, the Republicans have been on the leading edge of this dynamic. As Thomas Frank pointed out in What's the Matter With Kansas?, Republican elites had constructed a scam where the base would vote for causes they were passionate about (guns, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant) but all elected Republicans would do is to cater to their donor class. Since Frank wrote, the GOP has seen an upheaval as the base have forced their concerns onto the party agenda. Nowhere has this been more drmatic, much to our detriment, than here in Kansas. As Frank pointed out in Listen, Liberal, the same elite/mass split exists in the Democratic Party -- it's easy to note Democratic governors and majors who are every bit as deep in donor pockets as the most corrupt Republicans (e.g., Andrew Cuomo and Rahm Emmanuel). And indeed, what we saw in 2016 was a rank-and-file revolt against the elites of both parties -- unsuccessful, sure, because Clinton was still able to keep enough Democrats in line, and because Trump was a fraud, but both served notice that the gap between what parties run on and what they try to deliver needs to close.
    5. Republican identity politics never recognized as such because the white protestants (and later catholics) that made up their core were so ubiquitous -- until recently, when they've become minorities in many urban areas, including the nation's most booming economies. This added a sense of fear, urgency, and despair to the Trump vote, and the result was a small but significant shift in the white vote against the Democrats, especially away from the coasts. Democrats are divided on this: some argue that Democrats should focus more on class (economics, inequality) to broaden their base to bring back some of those white voters; others regard the white voters as lost causes, atavisms, who will fade away as the nation becomes ever more urban and globalized. Some of the former have characterized the latter as "engaging in identity politics" -- this strikes me as misguided and self-destructive.
    6. At this point we can dispense with the Republicans, aside from noting that Republican rule invariably ends not from demographic misjudgments but from corruption and disastrous economic crashes that (temporarily anyhow) expose the folly of their pro-business ideology -- on the other hand, Democratic rule usually ends when people get a sense of recovery and stability, and grow reckless and fickle again.
    7. The Democratic Party is divided today, with the emergence of a faction which focuses on reducing inequality and securing real economic gains for the vast majority of the American people, and another which caters to wealthy urban liberals and promises to somehow protect various targets from vicious Republican attacks. The former still lack power in the party, although their grass roots visibility has grown significantly over the past year. The latter still has their rich donor base and a grip on the levers of party power, but they also have a track record of failure -- most embarrassingly to Trump in 2016. It is unlikely that this divide will heal soon, but they do have dangerous enemies in common -- which should help focus the mind.
    8. I am getting to where I have very little patience for the still-prevalent internecine sniping between these camps. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't argue about important matters of policy, like the tendency of the Clinton and Obama admins to undermine unions, to promote job-killing trade deals, to allow financiers to take over our industries and run them to ground, to increase mass incarceration, to allow the national security state to withdraw ever further from the purview of the people they're supposed to serve -- and one should add the global war on anything that affronts American egos, which is an issue that even Bernie Sanders has treated as a sort of "third rail."
    9. Whereas Republicans can at least make short-term gains merely by cranking up the volume of their social polarization, Democrats have to respond rationally and systematically. First thing they (especially the elites) need to do is to shift their program to emphasize a tangible return to the people they expect and hope will vote for them -- even if that means becoming less responsive to their donors. Second, they need to make the donors realize that the viability of the party depends on the party delivering benefits to its base -- and in fact that the country as a whole would gain by forging a more equitable economy and society. And third, those who wish to appeal to the more white workers need to convince them that they cannot prosper without helping everyone -- that Republican demagoguery offers them nothing but ruin, and that only the Democrats are offering them a hand up.
  • Josh Marshall: The Real Problem With Equifax:

    It now seems clear that the massive data breach at Equifax was caused not simply by aggressive hackers but by clear and potentially negligent security errors by Equifax itself. But fundamentally, this isn't a security problem. It's a market failure and a legal and regulatory failure. . . .

    In some cases consumers would rebel. That would solve the problem. But that's actually a key part of the problem: consumers aren't Equifax's customers. They're the product. You're the product. Banks and other lenders like credit agencies because they offer a systematized and standardized way of evaluating risk. The banks are the customers. Credit rating agencies would prefer never to deal with consumers at all. They only do so when forced to or, more recently, as they've developed a secondary business in selling consumers services to help them protect themselves against errors or security breaches by credit rating agencies.

  • Bill McKibben: Stop talking right now about the threat of climate change. It's here; it's happening: Massive hurricanes, record high temperatures and wildfires on the west coast, drought in North Dakota -- and that's just seven days in the US. Other related links:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week: Senate Republicans threw an Obamacare repeal Hail Mary: Senators Cassidy and Graham proposed repealing ACA and replacing it with that old standby: block grants to the states; DREAMer deal: Trump's over-dinner deal with Shumer/Pelosi; Berniecare: kiss-of-death label for Sanders' "Medicare for All" bill; Tax reform is coming soon, maybe. Other Yglesias pieces this week (skipping the ones on Apple's product announcements, which would only be of interest if they explained the predatory nature of Apple hype, which they don't): Berniecare leaves enormous discretion to the executive branch; Trump should actually do what he's pretending he'll do on tax reform; The Trump administration's big new anti-leak memo leaked last night; Medicare-for-all is nothing like "repeal and replace"; Donald Trump is making the single-payer push inevitable. I'm not happy Yglesias keeps referring to "Berniecare," but he does offer a pretty fair description of the Republican alternatives:

    Repeal and replace wasn't just a slogan that covered up some internal disagreements. It was a lie. Repeal and replace was an effort to bridge a fundamentally unbridgeable gap between the American people's complaints about the ACA -- premiums, deductibles, and copayments that were too high -- and the Republican Party donor class's complaints about the ACA: that it levied too much in taxes. This left Republican legislators not just with some difficult trade-offs to grapple with, but with the difficult question of how to break the news to the American people that the outcome of their legislation was going to bear no resemblance whatsoever to what had been promised.

Monday, September 11, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28650 [28627] rated (+23), 376 [369] unrated (+7).

Light count, mostly because I missed three days from the middle of the week -- would have been much lower had I not hit Rhapsody hard on the weekend. On Wednesday, I took a long day trip to see my extraordinary cousins in Independence, KS. Left around noon, and got back after midnight. Actually, night before I made a chocolate cake for the occasion (much to the disappointment of those hoping for a my mother's legendary coconut cake, but I had so little time I went with simple and surefire). Friday I cooked a Turkish dinner for seven (if you're interested, I did a brain dump in the notebook). Thursday I had a doctor's appointment, then went shopping, and finally started cooking. Worn out after that, and aggravated by a couple stupid kitchen mishaps (plus a couple pieces of technology that completely discredit my reputation as a smart shopper).

Many of the records below came from Phil Overeem's latest 2017-to-date list: only things I haven't heard there now are the two AUM Fidelity jazz releases (William Parker and David S. Ware), Obnox: Niggative Approach (only 4/12 cuts on Bandcamp), and the Nots' single (or so I assume). Public Enemy was available as a free download for a week or so, but that's dried up and the only copy I found was on YouTube. Could be that more plays might raise it a notch -- ditto for Shabazz Palaces -- but I'd say odds are equal that they wouldn't. The worst, no surprise, were Dylan's songbook albums: the 2016 one was on Overeem's 2016 list but I hadn't noticed it on Napster until now.

My grade breakdown from Overeem's list: 20 A-, 14 ***, 17 **, 11 *, 3 B, 1 C+, 4 unheard. This week's only A- record comes from his list, a case where Ghana and Mozambique meet somewhere in Europe. I don't have a breakdown for how many I actually have CDs for -- probably not many (ok, 5, all but one jazz).

Haven't done anything on the jazz guides in 2-3 weeks, so my hopes of wrapping them up -- first draft, just raw collection -- by the end of the month are pretty slim. I've been stuck 29% of the way through Post-2000 Jazz, which leaves me with 1638 more artists in the file (plus 173 deferred groups), plus some relatively minor (but hard to estimate) mop up. No idea how long that will take, but the obvious answer is forever if I don't get started again.


I thought I had posted the first two links below, where various former writers and other workers at the Village Voice write about the past on the occasion of the Voice terminating its print edition, but they were still stuck in my scratch file. The others continue the thread.


I was reminded of the anniversary of 9/11/2001 today by a small article in the Eagle and a couple of items on the comics page. Theme was "never forget." So why the fuck is that? What exactly have sixteen years of obsessing over the outrage, picking at the scab, and flailing at our supposed enemies gotten us? We would have been better off to have treated it like a bad hurricane: grieved, consoled, rebuilt, moved on. And it's not as if Americans never forget. They had already forgotten why the people who hijacked and crashed those planes did so, leaving them with no better understanding of what happened than "hate our freedoms" and "axis of evil." Indeed, most Americans have forgotten lots of big things, like slavery and genocide against Indians, so why not this? The only real reason is that some people have agendas that exploit memory. Bush and company saw 9/11 as their ticket to launch a vast and endless war to reassert neocon supremacy. Most Democrats had compatible agendas, based largely on their supposed superiority at winning wars (e.g., Peter Beinart's book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror).

This fetish of victimhood on 9/11 mocks our annual remembrance of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: both supposedly signify how an innocent and peace-loving people got dragged into war by a dastardly attack on a "day of infamy," but Americans in 2001 could hardly be described as innocent or peace-loving -- certainly not by anyone aware of the US Defense budget. The other WWII event we still celebrate isn't the end of the war: it's D-Day, when US troops landed in France -- not nearly the turning point of the war that the Soviet victory at Stalingrad was, but the best we can lay claim to. The agenda of Pearl Harbor + D-Day is to make us feel good about war, and pass those Defense budgets. (Peace people also remember Hiroshima, and again there is an agenda: to remind us that nuclear holocaust is still a real possibility.)

For once, I'm not alone in voicing these views. See: Paul Krugman: The Day Nothing Changed.


New records rated this week:

  • Django Bates: Saluting Sgt. Pepper (2016 [2017], Edition): [r]: B
  • João Barradas: Directions (2017, Inner Circle Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Black Lips: Satan's Graffiti or God's Art (2017, Vice): [r]: B+(*)
  • Action Bronson: Blue Chips 7000 (2017, Vice/Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Don Bryant: Don't Give Up on Love (2017, Fat Possum): [r]: B+(*)
  • Brian Charette Circuit Bent Organ Trio: Kürrent (2017, Dim Mak): [r]: B+(*)
  • Damaged Bug: Bunker Funk (2017, Castle Face): [r]: B
  • Dave Douglas With the Westerlies and Anwar Marshall: Little Giant Still Life (2016 [2017], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mike Downes: Root Structure (2016 [2017], Addo): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bob Dylan: Fallen Angels (2016, Columbia): [r]: C+
  • Bob Dylan: Triplicate (2017, Columbia, 3CD): [r]: C+
  • Erica Falls: Home Grown (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gato Preto: Tempo (2017, Unique): [r]: A-
  • Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem (2017, Luna Park): [r]: B+(*)
  • LCD Soundsystem: American Dream (2017, DFA/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Lopato: Gendhing for a Spirit Rising (2017, Global Coolant, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Public Enemy: Nothing Is Quick in the Desert (2017, Enemy): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star (2017, Sub Pop): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines (2017, Sub Pop): [bc]: B+(**)

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

  • James Luther Dickinson: I'm Just Dead I'm Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) (2006 [2017], Memphis International): [r]: B+(***)
  • Joe King Kologbo & the High Grace: Sugar Daddy (1980 [2017], Strut): [r]: B+(***)
  • Shina Williams & His African Percussionists: Agboju Logun (1984 [2017], Strut, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Neil Young: Hitchhiker (1976 [2017], Reprise): [r]: B+(***)
  • Zaïre 74: The African Artists (1974 [2017], Wrasse, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Bulbul: Hirn Fein Hacken (2014, Exile on Mainstream): [r]: B+(**)
  • David S. Ware: Live in the Netherlands (1997 [2001], Splasc(H)): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Richard X Bennett: Experiments With Truth (Ropeadope)
  • Richard X Bennett: What Is Now (Ropeadope)
  • Florian Hoefner: Coldwater Stories (Origin): September 15
  • Emi Meyer: Monochrome (Origin): September 15
  • Debbie Poryes Trio: Loving Hank (OA2): September 15
  • Nestor Torres: Jazz Flute Traditions (Alfi): September 15
  • Ken Wiley: Jazz Horn Redux (Krug Park Music)

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Back in 2001, I knew that most of my friends in New York didn't like Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but I couldn't tell you why. (Well, I had heard about his stop-and-frisk policies, but that hadn't really sunk in.) I was visiting a friend, Liz Fink, in Brooklyn on 9/11, so I wound up spending a lot of time over the next week watching Giuliani, and I noticed something interesting. At every press conference, Giuliani managed to convey the right tones: sympathy, concern, dedication, and competent management in the face of crisis. He was, in short, both a professional and a human being -- a stark contrast to most of the country's politicians (most memorably GW Bush and Hillary Clinton), who had nothing tangible to do so they spent all of their time posturing. Even Liz granted my point. Of course, Giuliani's spell didn't last. After the immediate crisis waned, he started reading his press. It swelled his head, and he turned (returned?) to being an asshole, but it was interesting to watch at the time.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have given some other Republicans the opportunity to put their vicious ideological programs aside and come out as human beings. Governors Greg Abbott and Rick Scott seem to have mostly passed that test. Donald Trump failed, painfully and pathetically. (If you doubt me, read Josh Marshall: He Can't Even Fake It.) But even he managed to have one decent moment this week: he negotiated a deal with the Democratic leadership in Congress to pass $15.3 billion in aid to rebuild after Harvey, and to extend the federal debt ceiling to allow that money to be spent. Of course, there never was any doubt that Democrats would vote to extend the debt ceiling or to fund disaster relief. Trump needed the deal to bypass the Republican right-flank, with ninety House Republicans opposed. I haven't looked at the vote list, so don't know how many of the curmudgeons hail from Texas or Florida. I didn't see enough of Ted Cruz this week to answer Is Ted Cruz Human? but I understand he no longer thinks the reasons he voted against Sandy aid should apply to Harvey. It might not matter if Trump or Cruz are sociopaths if their politics showed some empathy and concern, but it doesn't -- making their personality defects all the more glaring.

With the Republicans solidly in control of government all across the disaster zone, the one silver lining is that none of them are quoting Ronald Reagan this week, who famously said:

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.

The fact is that when disaster strikes, no one can be heard saying "the markets are going to fix this in no time." Their first instinct is to look to the government for help, because deep down they understand that in a democratic republic, government belongs to, is accountable to, and works for the people and their general welfare. The old joke is that "there are no atheists in foxholes"; equally so, there are no libertarians in hurricanes. I'm not going to slam anyone for looking to socialize the costs of natural disasters. Rather, I'd argue that socialism would be a good thing, not just for such extraordinary events but for everyday life. And if you only come to realize that now, well, that's better than never.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Ross Barkan: Trump cut a deal with the Democrats. Is a new era upon us? Probably not. Trump takes his policy cues from Fox & Friends, plus whatever Paul Ryan throws his way. In theory he has some in-house experts, but they turn out to be guys like Nick Mulvaney, who lie and con him, then go out and brag about it to the media. Nothing any of them want can get any Democratic support at all -- which given how corrupt Democrats are regarded as being is a pretty astonishing statement -- so he has little option except to depend on the narrow Republican majority, and that is constantly endangered by a right-wing faction that doesn't care what they wreck so long as they can push the party to the right. The Harvey aid/debt ceiling deal worked because Democrats have no desire to do what Republicans did for eight years: sabotaging the government hoping folks would blame Obama. And Trump had to do it because Texas is his turf, because federal disaster aid mostly supports the business class that voted so heavily for him, because letting government spending halt in the middle of a disaster recovery would be insane, and because he couldn't trust Republicans to get the job done. There may be similar cases where sanity dictates that he offer something to get Democrats on board: if he really does want to legitimize DACA, that's a possibility, but it's going to be hard to do any broader immigration legislation without tripping over many red lines. Health care and taxes are other issues where the Republican desire to do something insanely destructive is too great to compromise. The other question is whether Democrats should make a habit of bailing Trump out of his own partisan chasms. Democrats have had a terrible track record with such "grand bargains" in the past, and they should be extra wary now.

  • Bryan Bender: Trump review leans toward proposing mini-nuke: Back around 1950, Robert Oppenheimer was asked why he was opposed to developing "the super" (the hydrogen bomb). His answer was because the targets were too small. In the following decades, ever-larger hydrogen bombs became all the rage, until their wholesale use threatened to cause something called "nuclear winter." At the same time, the US and Russia worked hard on miniaturizing nuclear weapons, producing mini-nukes that could be lobbed by artillery (hoping, like WWI's poison gas, that the wind didn't shift to blow the radiation back on your own troops). The fear about small ("tactical") nuclear weapons has always been that we wouldn't fear them enough to not use them. Precisely this reasoning made them prime targets for arms talks, with Bush I agreeing to remove tactical nukes from Europe and Korea, for the time de-escalating the Cold War. This news is especially alarming because Trump has long seemed to be fascinated with using such weapons: indeed, this article is about a review "which Trump established by executive order his first week in office" -- as if he had nothing better to do.

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates: The First White President: Of course, many other presidents have happened to be white -- a streak that ran up to 41 until Barack Obama was elected in 2008 -- but what makes Trump unique isn't the color of his skin so much as his resolve to restore the office's racial identity, especially by obliterating any trace of Obama: "The fact of a black president seemed to insult Donald Trump personally. He has made the negation of Barack Obama's legacy the foundation of his own." Various things here I'd quibble with -- the paragraph on Mark Lilla's "The End of Identify Liberalism," followed by three on George Packer's "The Unconnected," could support a whole post -- but this is a view that deserves respect. For instance, his overly succinct summary of the last decade:

    When Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, he believed that he could work with "sensible" conservatives by embracing aspects of their policy as his own. Instead he found that his very imprimatur made that impossible. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP's primary goal was not to find common ground but to make Obama a "one-term president." A health-care plan inspired by Romneycare was, when proposed by Obama, suddenly considered socialist and, not coincidentally, a form of reparations. The first black president found that he was personally toxic to the GOP base. An entire political party was organized around the explicit aim of negating one man. It was thought by Obama and some of his allies that this toxicity was the result of a relentless assault waged by Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Trump's genius was to see that it was something more, that it was a hunger for revanche so strong that a political novice and accused rapist could topple the leadership of one major party and throttle the heavily favored nominee of the other.

    I would add three notes to this: (1) conservatives were never serious about their wonk schemes, which were never more than red herrings meant to distract and derail real reforms; (2) the right-wing would have fought back against any white Democrat elected president in 2008 in much the same terms, although it may have resonated differently (oddly enough, the fact that Americans had elected a black president seemed to loosen some of the political inhibitions against overt racism, encouraging racists to come out into the open -- a trend Trump's election has only increased); (3) the "hunger for revanche" was real but not broad enough to elect Trump; that was only possible because the Democrat was so compromised and reviled, and Republicans were so united in their opportunism.

    Closing paragraph:

    It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at this sort of grandiosity. When W.E.B. Du Bois claims that slavery was "singularly disastrous for modern civilization" or James Baldwin claims that whites "have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white," the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump. The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president -- and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.

    The Atlantic's print magazine cover story is "The Trump Presidency: A Damage Report": Jeffrey Goldberg sets the tone: The Autocratic Element: Can America recover from the Trump administration?, interviews David Frum ("The thing I got most wrong is that I did not anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump operation . . . We'd be in a lot worse shape if he were a more meticulous, serious-minded person."), and introduces pieces by Eliot A. Cohen, Jack Goldsmith, and Coates.

  • Sarah Kliff: This is the most brazen act of Obamacare sabotage yet:

    The Trump administration has let funding for Obamacare's $63 million in-person outreach program lapse, leading to layoffs and confusion among nonprofits that enroll vulnerable populations in coverage. . . .

    The sudden funding halt comes at a critical time for the Affordable Care Act. Navigator groups were just beginning to ramp up outreach for the health law's open enrollment period, which begins November 1. Now, some have done an about-face: They've canceled outreach work and appointments with potential enrollees because they have no budget to cover those costs.

    No outreach should translate into fewer sign-ups, hence more adverse selection in the insured population, which threatens to cut into insurer profits, who will respond by raising prices, demanding more subsidies. Trump will argue that this proves Obamacare is imploding. Kliff also wrote Trump has found another way to undermine Obamacare. Kliff regularly includes links at the bottom to other health care pieces. Notable here is Elana Schor: Chris Murphy's stealthy single-payer pitch. Sen. Murphy is proposing that all individuals and business be able to buy Medicare through the Obamacare exchanges -- i.e., Medicare becomes the "public option," but more notable is that this allows an easy migration from business group plans.

  • Caitlin MacNeal: Haley Says North Korea 'Begging for War': Isn't this what psychologists like to call projection? That's when you attribute your own thoughts to someone else (projecting yourself onto the other person). This happens a lot, especially to people who lack self-awareness, even more so to those who lack respect, empathy, and concern for others, who can't be bothered with even trying to understand them. As a social trait, this sort of thing is annoying, but the misunderstandings it leads to rarely matter. Among the powerful, it can be dangerous, and in this case can lead to nuclear war. Of course, Haley is not the only one in Trump's administration spouting ignorant bluster. Mattis has promised to respond to "any threat" with "massive military response": the problem there is that "any threat" is a very low threshold, especially given that Trump's administration takes such umbrage over North Korea's missile and bomb tests, repeatedly describing them as threats. Most of all there's Trump, with his "hell and fury like never seen before" and "we'll see." Frankly, this is a crisis which wouldn't exist if the US simply ignored it, but having made such a big deal out of missile and bomb tests in the past, they see continued tests as an insult and challenge to their superpower egos -- again, they're projecting their own world-hegemonic ambitions onto another state, one that the US has tried to destroy for 67 years now (not so literally since 1953, more passive-aggressively, but while the conflict drifted in and out of American consciousness, it's always been a pressing fact-of-life in North Korea).

    Several other thoughts here: long ago American presidents generally appointed UN Ambassadors that reflected favorably on the country -- Adlai Stevenson and Andrew Young come to mind -- but at some point that changed, the result being a string of ambassadors whose job seemed to be to display contempt for the UN and the principles it was founded on (Madeline Albright, John Bolton, and Nikki Haley are examples). As this happened, American speeches at the UN ceased being honest attempts to engage with the world and were increasingly focused for domestic political consumption. Although several others have had notable politican careers, Haley is relatively unique in the baldness of her political ambitions -- indeed, one suspects that she came up with the idea of campaigning for the post by watching House of Cards, where First Lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) hopes to launch her own political career by getting her husband to nominate her for UN Ambassador.

    Some more pieces on North Korea:

    • Andrew J Bacevich: Seven Steps to a Saner US Policy Towards North Korea: A few quibbles, though. First, I don't see this, even with his later carve-out "apart from Fox and a handful of outliers": "The national media is obsessed with Trump and is determined to bring him down." Obsessed maybe: he's a buffoon and a public menace, which makes him news/entertainment-worthy, and they certainly love that, but I don't see the media pressuring or panicking Trump into starting a war. I also think he overestimates the value of deterrence and ignores the desperation induced by ever-tightening sanctions. The greatest risk is becoming too successful at boxing North Korea in, leaving them with no alternatives.

    • Robert Parry: How 'Regime Change' Wars Led to Korea Crisis: Specifically Iraq and Libya, which were wars the US felt safe to pursue because neither target had sufficient power -- atom bombs and the missiles to deliver them -- to deter US aggression. But more generally, from WWII on, the US goal in war has always been to unconditionally destroy its enemies and replace them with new states subverient to America.

    • Jacob G Hornberger: Sanctions Are an Act of War: I'd qualify this by saying that certain limited sanctions, like the BDS campaigns against South Africa and Israel, are a useful means of highlighting deplorable behavior without even suggesting the threat of war. On the other hand, US sanctions against North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and several others were clearly meant as low-intensity proxies of war, backed up by threat of destruction and designed in such a way that the targets may find no recourse. South Africa, for instance, was able to escape sanctions by allowing free and democratic elections, and lifting the sanctions did not depend on the result.

    • Ariane Tabatabai: What the Iran Deal Can Teach America About North Korea: "If credibility depends in part on a country's willingness to follow through on military threats, surely it also depends on whether it abides by diplomatic commitments." It seems pretty obvious that Obama's Iran Deal could serve as a model for North Korea: both are countries long isolated, marginalized, and threatened by the US, and both decided to defend themselves by developing nuclear power and missile technology into a deterrent against American attack; in both cases the US responded with sanctions and even graver threats. With Iran, this was resolved diplomatically, and there seems little reason why the same couldn't be done with North Korea (in fact, the same dispute flared up in the 1990s and was resolved by Jimmy Carter, acting independent of the Clinton administration; Carter's agreement was accepted by Clinton, but broke down as the US, especially under GW Bush, failed to keep its end of the deal, resulting in North Korea restarting its nuclear program). Unfortunately, Trump seems committed to scuttling the Iran deal, learning nothing from it. If he does so, he will signal to North Korea that the US cannot be trusted to follow through with its diplomatic commitments. Indeed, the US decision to attack Libya after it had agreed to dismantle its own nuclear program has already been noted by North Korea's leaders.

  • Sophia A McClennen: A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton emphasize their differences: Clinton finally finished her campaign memoir, What Happened; Sanders published his memoir Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In before 2016 expired, and now has a slimmed-down primer, Bernie Sanders' Guide to Political Revolution.

    The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national leaders.

    Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and cashing in. . . .

    And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those of the bulk of Americans: "On major issue after major issue, the vast majority of Americans support a progressive agenda." For Clinton, though, the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony. . . . She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the Democratic party that she can't even notice how pathetically uninspiring her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement dwellers on the campaign trail.

    Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton's book, Sanders offers his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice. When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a technique that privileges the cause, not the ego.

    This is one thing that separates Sanders from the political pack. I was talking to my cousin last week and she complained that with Elizabeth Warren it's always "I'll fight for you," somehow making the it all about her. She noted that Sanders wasn't like that, nor was Obama. None of us mentioned Clinton. Some things are too obvious to speak of.

  • Michael Paarlberg: Why Verrit, a pro-Clinton media platform, is doomed to fail: "The website has been blasted for its unsubtle propaganda. There is a reason it works for Republicans and not Democrats."

    Brainchild of Clinton hyper-loyalist Peter Daou, the "media venture for the 65.8 million" (referring to Clinton's popular vote tally) offers up treacly quotes and random factoids, readymade for social media and "verified" by the site, so that you can be sure Clinton really did say "America is once again at a moment of reckoning."

    Within days, it won the endorsement of Madame Secretary herself and the mockery of everyone else, due in part to its founder's fondness for all caps and getting in fights on Twitter. . . .

    Thus there's far less appetite among Democrats for the type of unsubtle propaganda that Verrit traffics. One can see it in the way Fox News trounces MSNBC in viewership: Republicans see Fox as the only news source they can trust in media landscape that does not align with their values. Democrats would rather just read the New York Times. . . .

    In theory, Democrats could be open to more ideological conflict, now that they are shut out of all three branches of government, the majority of statehouses, and have little to lose. And a smarter media outlet might be able to tap into that demand. But it would be one catering to a very different party than the Democrats currently are, one that sees itself as a social movement, with a broader vision for how the world should look, and a willingness to use media as a blunt instrument to get there. One that looks curiously like what Clinton's main rival for the nomination was pushing.

    But if there's one group that Daou hates more than Republicans, it's Bernie Sanders supporters.

    I followed Daou's blog for a while, citing him once in 2006, then maybe a dozen times in 2010-12, but I wasn't aware that he worked for Clinton in 2008, and haven't noticed him since 2012. I wouldn't have expected him as a "Hillary superfan," but clearly she does have some kind of cult (cf. Abby Ohlheiser: Inside the huge, 'secret' Facebook group for Hillary Clinton's biggest fans; Ohlheiser also got stuck with investigating Verrit, here: What even is Verrit, the news source endorsed by Hillary Clinton?), and the timing here coincides with Clinton's campaign memoir, which evidently features a number of attempts to blame Bernie for her loss. All of this is happening at a time when there are literally hundreds of stories each week about how Trump and the Republicans are scheming and acting against the majority of Americans: you'd think that would be reason enough to bury the hatchet and unite Hillary and Bernie supporters, but Daou seems more intent on smearing Bernie than on resisting Trump (see Who's Paying Peter Daou to Smear Bernie Sanders and the Left?). I wouldn't discount the power of money here, but I'll also note that it's pretty much inevitable that centrists will spend more of their time attacking and distancing themselves from the left, because that's how they curry favor with their well-to-do patrons. For another view: Jack Shafer: This Pro-Hillary Website Looks Like North Korea Agitprop.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 stories that defined the week, explained: Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean; Donald Trump ended DACA; Donald Trump changed his tune on DACA; Democrats stuck a deal with the White House. Other Yglesias links: The debt ceiling deal is a template for how Trump can get things done; Trump is souring on his top economic aide for the worst possible reason ("Gary Cohn is too tough on Nazis"); 5 different things people mean when they say we need to revive antitrust -- more like different aspects of the general problem of concentrating corporate power; Stanley Fischer announces resignation, opening yet another Fed vacancy for Trump ("good news for people who like risky banking"); Trump's arguments on DACA contradict his position on the travel ban; Trump isn't delivering his own DACA policy because he's cowardly and weak; The looming fight over "tax reform," explained ("in the end, it's about a tax cut for the rich"); The case for immigration ("America's openness to people who want to move here and make a better life for themselves is fuel for that greatness" -- how ironical, or dumb, does that make a anti-immigrant politician so obsessed with the nation's greatness?); Seattle should make a pitch to be Amazon's 2nd headquarters -- this skirts the real issue of why Amazon needs a second corporate headquarters in these times when every company is looking to make management leaner (and meaner), though he does offer this:

    And from the company's point of view, the best part is that it will also set off an irresistible race to the bottom as cities compete to shower subsidies on the company in hopes of luring the proposed 50,000 jobs spread across 8 million square feet of offices at an average compensation of $100,000 a piece.

    I'd like to see federal legislation to make it illegal (or at least prohibitive) for states and local entities to bid for corporate favors. Boeing, in particular, has engaged in this peculiar combination of bribery and extortion so regularly you'd think they had decided that their "core competency" was political influence peddling, not airframes. This process damages losing states and cities without notably helping the winning bidders.

    The "Case for Immigration" piece is long and covers a lot of good points. I suspect one could construct a counter-argument, a "Case Against Immigration," but it couldn't argue for economic growth -- indeed, it would try to make a virtue out of conservation that can only be achieved with zero or negative growth -- and it certainly wouldn't bruit the word "greatness" anywhere. Indeed, it would call for dismantling America's world hegemony, which both pushes and pulls immigration.


Took a quick look at some Hurricane Irma news before posting. The storm is moving north at about 14 mph, so its crawl up Florida's Gulf Coast is pretty slow. I saw some live broadcasts while the eye was over Naples about 6PM EST, and I've seen some later video showing Naples pretty severely flooded. I suppose it's good that the eye has moved inland: almost straight north through Fort Myers to about 35 miles east of Sarasota at 10PM EST, but the current forecast track has it shifting northwest to pass straight through Tampa, then briefly out to sea before landing again west of Ocala. It should weaken faster over land, regenerate some over water, but the storm is so large it's producing storm surges and tropical-storm-force winds along the east coast as well as the west. Looks like it will move into Georgia around 2PM Monday, and Tennessee 2PM Tuesday, stalling there and dumping a lot of rain.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28627 [28590] rated (+37), 369 [374] unrated (-5).

Some of this came out in the August Streamnotes, posted on Wednesday as I decided that waiting for the end of the month wouldn't net much more of major interest. Chalk that up as one of those "watched pot never boils" stories: after closing, I came up with the five A-list jazz albums to the right, plus a Swet Shop Boys EP I didn't know existed (see Christgau's Expert Witness -- by the way, third week in a row where he featured a record I had previously A-listed: Waxahatchee's Out in the Storm, Hamell on Trial's Tackle Box, and Swet Shop Boys' Cashmere; on the other hand, I panned Algiers' The Underside of Power with a B-).

Tips on the jazz albums came from all over, notably from Francis Davis returning to the Village Voice to write about Kirk Knuffke. The John Escreet album was one I was vaguely aware of (it came out in 2016 and got some Critics Poll votes) but didn't bother looking up until I saw it on Phil Overeem's latest 2017-to-date list. Similarly, Nate Wooley is on Chris Monsen's 2017 list; and DEK Trio (like Barry Altschul last week) has been recently reviewed by Tim Niland (to do list: Matt Lavelle, Matthew Shipp, Mette Rasmussen). On the other hand, Ernest McCarty Jr. & Jimmie Smith's Erroll Garner tribute came from my queue -- secret weapon there is the late pianist Geri Allen channeling the master so expertly you'll wonder if it was recorded posthumously in heaven.

Those records led me off on several tangents, which you can easily map out from the following list.

Also regarding the Village Voice, I added a bunch of recent Voice articles to Carol Cooper's website today. Interesting stuff, including a couple of tips I should follow up on.


Tweeted on Nikki Haley Says North Korea 'Begging for War':

Classic projection as Nikki Haley is the one begging for war, repeatedly tightening sanctions noose to provoke one.

It's getting hard to explain the Trump Administration without resorting to psychological concepts, because their disconnection from reality goes so far beyond quirks and ordinary neuroses. I stumbled across a guy the other day talking about an unprecedentedly deranged leader and it sure sounded like he was talking about Trump. Only context eventually pointed to Kim Jong-un, a person you can be virtually certain he knows absolutely nothing about. I wrote some more about Haley in the notebook today. Maybe I'll fold that into Weekend Roundup, if we get that far.

A secondary point: I entered the URL into the tweet like I usually do, but Twitter picked up a picture, the title, and a lead and put them into a box like I often see, but that never happens with my own posts. There must be some trick to that -- something websites do to tell Twitter what to use in a link. Wish I knew whatever that is.

[PS: Just after posting, I noticed this Max Blumenthal tweet:

Neocons rented the vacant space in Nikki Haley's head. Lindsey Graham was the broker, Sheldon Adelson the lender.

Tweet included a link to Jim Lobe: Nikki Haley: Neocon Heartthrob. Blumenthal's "vacant space" snark may be offensive, but Lobe notes that Haley's "most influential adviser" is Graham's former chief counsel, and that Adelson contributed $250k to Haley's "A Great Day" slushfund, five times as much as number two-ranked Koch Industries.]


New records rated this week:

  • Tim Berne's Snakeoil: Incidentals (2014 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Stanley Cowell: No Illusions (2015 [2017], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • DEK Trio: Construct 1: Stone (2016 [2017], Audiographic): [bc]: A-
  • DEK Trio: Construct 2: Artfacts (2017, Audiographic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • DEK Trio: Construct 3: Ovadlo 29 (2017, Audiographic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Chet Doxas: Rich in Symbols (2017, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(*)
  • John Escreet: The Unknown: Live in Concert (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: A-
  • Filthy Friends: Invitation (2017, Kill Rock Stars): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet: The Pythiad (2016 [2017], Origin Classical): [cd]: B-
  • Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders (2017, Cooking Vinyl): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kesha: Rainbow (2017, Kemosabe/RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kirk Knuffke: Cherryco (2016 [2017], SteepleChase): [r]: A-
  • Ernest McCarty Jr. & Jimmie Smith: A Reunion Tribute to Erroll Garner (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: A-
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: The Punishment of Luxury (2017, White Noise): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group: Three Minutes to Four (2017, Whaling City Sound): [r]: B+(***)
  • Saint Etienne: Home Counties (2017, Heavenly): [r]: B+(***)
  • San Francisco String Trio: May I Introduce to You (2016 [2017], Ridgeway): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Unhinged Sextet: Don't Blink (2016 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Swet Shop Boys: Sufi La (2017, Customs, EP): [r]: A-
  • Carl Winther & Jerry Bergonzi: Inner Journey (2016 [2017], SteepleChase LookOut): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nate Wooley: Knknighgh (Minimal Poetry for Aram Saroyan) (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: A-

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

  • George Freeman: 90 Going on Amazing (2005 [2017], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mono No Aware (2017, Pan): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Prine: September 78 (1978 [2017], Oh Boy): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • DEK Trio: Burning Below Zero (2014 [2016], Trost): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Prine: Prime Prine: The Best of John Prine (1971-75 [1976], Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • John Prine: Pink Cadillac (1979, Asylum): [r]: B
  • John Prine: Storm Windows (1980, Asylum): [r]: A-
  • John Prine: John Prine Live (1986, Oh Boy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Saint Etienne: Good Humor (1998, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Saint Etienne: Sound of Water (2000, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Saint Etienne: Finisterre (2002, Mantra): [r]: B+(**)
  • Saint Etienne: Travel Edition 1990-2005 (1991-2004 [2004], Sub Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Trio-X [Joe McPhee/Dominic Duval/Jay Rosen]: On Tour: Toronto/Rochester (2001, Cadence): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Trio-X [Joe McPhee/Dominic Duval/Jay Rosen]: Journey (2003, CIMP): [bc]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: Diablo en Brooklyn (Saponegro): September 22
  • Eric Hofbauer: Ghost Frets (Creative Nation Music)
  • Lauren Kinhan: A Sleepin' Bee (Dotted i)

Sunday, September 3, 2017


Weekend Roundup

At some point I need to write about the book I just finished, Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster). I didn't bother with this when it came out in hardcover last year, but I noticed the paperback about the time Gen. Kelly replaced Reince Priebus, which got me to wondering what is was people see in flag officers that makes them seem to be uniquely capable functionaries. This mindset seems to be especially widespread on the right, though perhaps by default as their more fundamental belief is that all other bureaucrats are incapable of doing anything worthwhile, or perhaps they mean just up to no good. Still, liberals have grown increasingly fond of brass, and politicians of all stripes trip all over themselves in prostrating themselves to America's sainted heroes.

Unfortunately, while Brooks sometimes gets caught up in such idolatry, she never offers much elucidation. The closest she comes is to point out that the military has increasingly tended to take over functions that previously belonged to the State Department because the military has so much more money to work with. Even that gets very little analysis beyond the "day everything changed" 9/11 cliché. But the disturbing thing about 9/11 wasn't what changed then but what had changed sometime earlier. The objective facts of 9/11 meant we should at least have considered the option of responding to crimes through law enforcement (FBI and Interpol, maybe drawing on "intelligence" from CIA and NSA) as opposed to declaring war and sending the military to invade distant countries. Clearly, Brooks' title described something real: in the mindsets of the Bush administration, and evidently with the Clintons before, and possibly much further back, the default worldview of America's politicians had become militarized. So how, and why, had that happened? Brooks doesn't tell us.

Well, she does provide a couple of hints, starting with a critique of "metaphorical wars" -- basically, political campaigns that attempted to recruit the sort of public unity and support, including self-sacrifice, that WWII had achieved: the "war on poverty" and "war on drugs" perhaps the most famous examples, with cancer, crime, AIDS, and terror getting various degrees of attention. Even going back to the 1950s, something as basic and benign as building interstate highways could only make it through Congress if rationalized as national defense. Brooks provides other examples where people (businesses and non-profits as well as politicians) tried selling us things by invoking the military -- e.g., we were told that obesity is bad because it reduces the recruitment pool of possible soldiers. What she doesn't seem to notice is that every one of these conceptualizations failed, often because they were laughably stupid, more so because they were inappropriate and misguided, and I suspect ultimately because, regardless of what you might think WWII proved, war never really accomplishes its original goals nor redeems its initial reasoning.

I've tried to formulate this before, and Brooks has only, albeit inadvertently, increase my conviction. The first thing to understand about war is that you lose the moment it begins. Arguably, you may cause the other side to lose more than you do, but the misfortune of others never compensates for your own losses, especially what the experience of war does to your own psyche. The second thing is that war isn't "an extension of politics by other means" but the abject failure of politics to resolve potential conflicts short of war.

Brooks spends much of her book delving into anthropology, trying to convince herself that war is a constant, inevitable feature of humanity, even though she'd like to subject it to a system of law to manage it better, to limit some of the atrocities that seem to mess up so many wars. Her big innovation here is to push the idea that war/peace represent a continuum with many intermediate "gray" areas as opposed to the dichotomy or negation we are used to thinking in terms of. Here's a sample quote (pp. 353-354):

What would it mean, in practice, to manage this churning, changing "space between" -- to develop laws, politics, and institutions premised on the assumption that we will forever remain unable to draw sharp boundaries between war and peace, and that we will frequently find ourselves in the space between?

This will be the work of many minds and many years. But the task is surely not impossible if we remind ourselves that we human beings can make and unmake categories and rules. And it is surely not inconsistent with the core principles enshrined both in America's founding documents and in human rights law: that life and liberty are unalienable rights, that no person should be arbitrarily deprived of these rights, and that no one -- no individual, no organization, no government, and no state -- should be permitted to exercise power without being held accountable for mistakes or abuses.

If we take these principles seriously, we might, for instance, develop better mechanisms to prevent arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse in targeted killings.

Thus she inches up to the edge of a chasm, then plunges in. Why isn't it obvious that "if we take these principles seriously" we wouldn't be doing any "targeted killings"? All you have to do is to reverse the case examples to see that the problem is the idea of targeted killing, not the likelihood of "arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse." In larger terms, the problem isn't that war is very probably compounded by all manner of mistake and abuse, but that war is practiced at all. After all, what is war but an elaborate moral charade meant to justify all sorts of slaughter and havoc? -- things that are sensibly prohibited under law in the domain of peace. And isn't Brooks' campaign to map out gray areas just a ruse for allowing war (and the military) to seep into civil society, spoiling peace?

One odd thing here is that while Brooks seems to be a big fan of international laws which prohibit many common practices of war and which promote broad notions of human rights, she doesn't seem to grasp that the intention behind those laws is to outlaw war. Moreover, that very point is obvious to the conservatives, nationalists, and militarists who instinctively reject such international law -- and at least in the former case, any notion of human rights based on equality. Way back in 1945 when the UN was founded, it was at least an aspirational goal of the liberals who then ran the US government to prevent future wars by establishing a mutually acceptable creed of equal rights for nations and for people within nations. Obviously, the real nations of the time had some work to do to achieve those aspirations, but at least they pretty much all recognized the need to avoid a repeat (or escalation) of the just-concluding world war. And they understood that by putting their best ideals forward, they could inspire one another to do better. However, since that date, many Americans, including virtual all working politicians, have discarded those ideals and instead embraced the US military -- its power to terrify and cower the rest of the world -- as the root of their security, and therefore their sense of justice.

I'm not really sure why that happened, but certainly the seeds were all present before the end of the Korean War (1953). Part of it was that many Americans found WWII to be exhilarating, the source both of community and prosperity. Part was the hatchet job done on the working class by the Red Scare and the Cold War. (Conveniently, many American workers were temporarily shielded by anti-communist unions, but we all know how that eventually turned out.) Part was the way we fought the Cold War, especially by embracing right-wing dictators against their own people. One thing America's emerging militarism cannot be blamed on was actual wartime successes by the US military: Korea was a bloody stalemate; Vietnam an unequivocal loss; Iraq an expensive, tainted and temporary technical win; Afghanistan not even that. Sure, the Soviet Union folded, but the nations we struggled hardest against have proven the most resistant to our hegemony -- notably including Russia. All the while, the US has sunk to the bottom of the list of "rich nations" in every measure of widespread prosperity -- something we should blame on extravagant military budgets and the right-wing political factions which benefit from continuous hostility and war.

It's probably unfair to blame all of this on Brooks and the liberal hawks of her generation -- the lawyers and policy wonks who felt so much shame over inaction in Rwanda and who counted Bosnia and Kosovo as big successes for a military juggernaut they idealized and came to love (Brooks actually marrying a Green Beret). It is especially sad that Brooks fell for this con, given that her mother (Barbara Ehrenreich) is one of the most incisive social and political critics of our time -- one who, among many other things, wrote her own insightful anthropology of war, the 1997 book Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War. The difference was that Ehrenreich strove to raise myths and primeval emotions to a level of consciousness, where we could rationally encounter them and consciously change. Brooks does the opposite, starting with reason and remythologizing it, turning war from a conscious option back into a quasi-religious belief.


Well, that's the gist of what I wanted to say. Someone should write a big book on how and why American political figures lost their faith and interest in international cooperation, law, justice, and peace. When I searched for "america turns against international law" the first piece that came up was from 2015: Alfred W McCoy: You Must Follow International Law (Unless You're American). It's not as if no one notices American contempt for international law, but it's so ensconced it's hardly even an issue for politicians here. At most it's a nuisance, an inconsequential way other people have of insulting us. The serious question of how this attitude limits our options in dealing with the world never seems to come up.

So I guess the best thing about Brooks' book is the title. Too bad she didn't write a better book on its subject.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Michael Arria: In Attacking Overtime Pay, Trump Is Hurting His Biggest Fans: In his campaign to make sure no good deed is allowed to stand, Trump continues to reverse Obama-era regulations, especially where they limit his favorite business interests:

    In 1975, Gerald Ford set the income threshold above which employees could be exempt from overtime to around $58,000 in today's dollars, but this number was never updated to reflect inflation or wage growth. That means the number is now $23,660. In May 2016 Obama announced that he was doubling the annual salary threshold to $47,476, effectively giving millions of salaried employees making less than that a raise. Obama's move was hardly radical. In fact, it wasn't even as progressive as Ford's. The new rule would have covered 34 percent of full-time salaried workers in the United States; in the 1970s, 50 percent of them were covered. Nonetheless, according to the Department of Labor (DOL), it was poised to raise wages for an estimated 4.2 million workers.

    More: Helaine Olen: The Rollback of Pro-Worker Policies Since Trump Took Office Is Staggering.

  • Eric Holthaus: Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like:

    Houston has been sprawling out into the swamp for decades, largely unplanned and unzoned. Now, all that pavement has transformed the bayous into surging torrents and shunted Harvey's floodwaters toward homes and businesses. Individually, each of these subdivisions or strip malls might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in aggregate, they've converted the metro area into a flood factory. Houston, as it was before Harvey, will never be the same again.

    Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the past three years, but Harvey is in a class by itself. By the time the storm leaves the region on Wednesday, an estimated 40 to 60 inches of rain will have fallen on parts of Houston. So much rain has fallen already that the National Weather Service had to add additional colors to its maps to account for the extreme totals. . . .

    Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.

    While Harvey's rains are unique in U.S. history, heavy rainstorms are increasing in frequency and intensity worldwide. One recent study showed that by mid-century, up to 450 million people worldwide will be exposed to a doubling of flood frequency. This isn't just a Houston problem. This is happening all over. A warmer atmosphere enhances evaporation rates and increases the carrying capacity of rainstorms. Harvey drew its energy from a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico, which will only grow warmer in the decades to come.

    Other links on Texas, Hurricane Harvey, and related issues:

  • Hank Johnson: President Trump is giving police forces weapons of war. This is dangerous: "The president has signed an executive order that will reopen the floodgates of military-grade weaponry entering American streets." Again, Trump is reversing an Obama executive order from 2015 -- not sure when the surplus program began, but it had already caused a lot of problems. Coming shortly after a Trump speech encouraging local police to abuse prisoners, Trump's "many sides" reaction to Charlottesville, and his pardon of Arpaio, this looks to be a step toward creating some kind of fascist police state, more focused on controlling a disgruntled population than on serving and protecting against crime. A big part of the problem is that the military has been massively involved in setting up and training police in Iraq and Afghanistan along this very model. Add to that the fact that many police officers in the US have military backgrounds, that a large percentage of veterans have PTSD issues, and that lax gun laws have greatly increased the risks of police work in the US. For more, equally ominous, see: Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Hurricane Harvey Is Proof We Need to Militarize Our Police Forces. Also consider another of Trump's favorite sheriffs: John Nichols: Scandal-Plagued Sheriff David Clarke Would Make a Bad Trump Administration Even Worse.

  • Mike Konczal: Well-off "helicopter" parents are super annoying, but they didn't create economic inequality: Reviews Richard Reeves' book Dream Hoarders, which charges the upper 20 percent ("the professional class") as the main beneficiaries and perpetrators of increasing inequality in America, especially for how their zealous parenting practices seek to hoard opportunity for their own children, rather than allowing meritocracy to rebalance itself. Most critics, including Konczal, would rather discuss inequality in terms of the top 1% (or even 0.1%), because that's where the changes have been most dramatic -- Konczal provides a chart of "share of GDP by income level, 1979 to 2014" showing no visible change from 79-94 percentile, slanting up to about a 35% rise at 98 and 90% at 99. Beyond demolishing Reeves' arguments, Konczal offers some practical proposals:

    Here are more practical ideas: We know how to start draining the rents from the upper middle class. An aggressive public option and governmental price-setting in health care would deflate medical sector rents. Free college would force private schools to compete on price rather than continue to feed off people's desperation to climb illusory status ladders. Deeper transparency in financial markets, more comprehensive prudential regulations, and enforcement of financial crimes would make it harder for financiers to profit off the systemic risk they create. Enforcing antitrust and public utility rules more aggressively would open up bottlenecks in economic activity. Higher progressive taxation reduces the incentives to rent seek in the first place. . . .

    If you want to go after the upper-middle-class's 401(k) deductions, you're going to have to strengthen Social Security. If you want to go after employer provided health care, it matters greatly whether or not there will be Medicare for All or a serious "public option" as an alternative. And if you want to go after college savings accounts, you need to have broadly accessible free public colleges.

  • Paul Krugman: Fascism, American Style: Fascism in each country has its own style: while Mussolini looked back to Rome, Hitler used two previous German Reichs, while Franco was fond of the Inquisition. America doesn't have anything quite like those, but Trump's slogan implies a similar mythic past. Still, what makes fascism a coherent political ideology isn't aesthetics. It starts by denouncing groups of people, and uses the hatred it generates as a springboard to power, moving on to use state violence to attack supposed enemies, while its elite cadres help themselves to the spoils. I haven't seen a lot of value in describing Trump as a fascist, mostly because I still see more mainstream Republican conservatives as more dangerous, but no doubt that he colors himself fascist, even when he doesn't have the more expert Steve Bannon to touch up the details. One thing that helps Trump out is that conservatives have already done much of the intellectual work in creating a view of a fallen past greatness Trump can promise to restore: think of Scalia's "originalism," the distorted Founding Father images invoked by the Tea Party, and most effectively how the cult of the "lost cause" was used to reestablish white supremacy (although most Americans have grown weary of making a fetish out of slavery). Krugman doesn't work this out. What pushed him into using the F-word was Trump's Arpaio pardon:

    Let's call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course, a white supremacist. But he's more than that. There's a word for political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.

    Trump's motives are easy to understand. For one thing, Arpaio, with his racism and authoritarianism, really is his kind of guy. For another, the pardon is a signal to those who might be tempted to make deals with the special investigator as the Russia probe closes in on the White House: Don't worry, I'll protect you.

    Finally, standing up for white people who keep brown people down pleases Trump's base, whom he's going to need more than ever as the scandals creep closer and the big policy wins he promised keep not happening.

    I haven't been reading Krugman's columns lately, nor his blog (which he seemed to be abandoning as his attention span moved to Twitter), but here are some recent columns:

    • Trump and Pruitt, Making America Polluted Again (Aug. 25).

    • What Will Trump Do to American Workers?

    • Trump Makes Caligula Look Pretty Good (Aug. 18).

    • Who Ate Republicans' Brains? (July 31):

      The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism -- that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought.

      A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics -- the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: "I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities." In another essay, he cheerfully conceded to having had a "cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit," because it was all about creating a Republican majority -- so "political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government."

      The problem is that once you accept the principle that it's O.K. to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit the extent of the lying -- or even to remember what it's like to seek the truth.

    • The Sanctimony and Sin of G.O.P. 'Moderates' (July 27).

    Meanwhile, Krugman's blog has a useful post on Monopoly Rents and Corporate Taxation (Wonkish); also How Bad Will It Be If We Hit the Debt Ceiling?, and the post-Bannon Whither Trumpism?:

    So if Bannon is out, what's left? It's just reverse Robin Hood with extra racism.

    On real policy, in other words, Trump is now bankrupt.

    But he does have the racism thing. And my prediction is that with Bannon and economic nationalism gone, he will eventually double down on that part even more. If anything, Trumpism is going to get even uglier, and Trump even less presidential (if such a thing is possible) now that he has fewer people pushing for trade wars.

  • Jim Lyons: The Rush to Develop Oil and Gas We Don't Need: The Trump administration is going apeshit in its eagerness to do favors for the oil and gas industry, even at a time when oversupply undercuts prices and companies are loathe to develop the properties they already have. Also see: Alison Rose Levy: Who's Behind Fossil Fuel Extraction? It's Not Just Republicans.

  • Danielle Ofri: 'No Apparent Distress' Tackles the Distress of the Sick, Poor and Uninsured: Book review of Rachel Pearson: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine, about what happens to people who can't get (mostly because they can't afford) decent health insurance:

    This is the blossoming truth of No Apparent Distress -- that a segment of American society has been casually cast aside, left to scavenge on the meager scraps of volunteer health services, and failing that, left to die. Such abdication is no mere oversight, as Pearson outlines. The president of U.T.M.B. later publicly stated that care for those without means was no longer part of the school's "core mission." The same can be said for much of the United States.

    Pearson describes a homeless man whom the students diagnosed with throat cancer. (Texas chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act so is now home to 25 percent of the adult Americans who fall into the coverage gap between private insurance and Medicaid.) It took eight cruel months until a hospital accepted the patient into its indigent program for treatment. To satisfy a requirement that the man live nearby, a relative was found who bought him a tiny trailer home. Just after the first scans were done, though, the hospital got wind of the trailer. This "asset" disqualified him as indigent and he was promptly kicked out of the program. The cancer was never removed or treated.

  • Matthew Rozsa: Missouri Republican: People who vandalize Confederate statues should be lynched: Well, that's certainly in the spirit of the people who put them up. I normally don't bother with stupid-things-stupid-people-say articles, otherwise I'd wind up linking to things like This pastor thinks that Houston deserved Hurricane Harvey because of its "pro-homosexual mayor".

  • Gershon Shafir: Why has the Occupation lasted this long? A slice from the author's new book: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World's Most Intractable Conflict. Mostly stuff you should know by now, but it's worth recalling that settlements in the Occupied Territories were driven from two distinct movements, each operating from their own peculiar logic. The first was the LSM (Labor Settler Movement), driven by habit from the earliest days of Zionism but couched in terms of defense and security, and implemented by a state and military controlled by Labor until 1977. The other was led by Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), a messianic cult led by Rabbi Kook, which was adopted by the Revisionist camp after Likud (Menachem Begin) came to power in 1977. The following quote sums up this change nicely, underscoring that the latter settler movement always intended to dominate the Palestinians, even though that formula precluded any possible peace. One should also note that because Labor was genetically disposed toward settlement, Labor politicians have never been able to check the expansion of the settlements, even if they realized how much they were an obstacle to peace and ultimately to the defense of Israel.

    In short, to gain national legitimation, Gush Emunim made the great legacy of colonization its own even as it reinterpreted it through a religious lens. After a conversation with Gush Emunim representatives in July 1974, Shimon Peres concluded: "We are living in two separate countries. You live in a country that needs to be settled, while I live in a country that needs to be defended." Porat rejected the assertion that the role of Zionism was to constitute a safe haven for Jews so they could hold their own in the world. Gush Emunim viewed Zionism differently, as "the process of redemption in its concrete sense -- the redemption of the people, and the redemption of the land -- and in its divine sense -- the redemption of the godhead, the redemption of the world." Just how far Gush Emunim had distanced itself from the idea of maintaining a "military frontier" may be seen from its rejection not only of the principle of security but also of the goal of peace. "A secular peace," said another founder of Gush Emunim, "is not our goal." Its starting point with regard to peace was religious and messianic, so it saw peace as attainable only in the end of days.

    Third, Gush Emunim colonization rejected demographic criteria for choosing the location of Jewish colonies. The odd "N"-shaped pattern of colonization during the Yishuv -- running from Upper Galilee down to the Bet Shean Valley and then diagonally across the Jezreel Valley (Marj Ibn-Amer) up to Haifa and Nahariya, and down again to Gedera -- followed the layout of the valleys and coastal areas, less secure during Ottoman times and consequently less densely inhabited by Palestinians. Gush Emunim colonization, in contrast, was aimed at the mountainous regions where the vast majority of Palestinians resided (see map 2). As Gush Emunim saw it, Jewish settlements up to the 1948 War had spread out over the "wrong" part of the Palestine, the coastal region that in antiquity was inhabited not by the Jews but by the Philistines. Gush Emunim wanted not only to correct this pattern and restore history by moving Jews into the lands they had held in biblical times but to join the ancient homeland to Israel within the Green Line. In the process, Gush Emunim tossed overboard the LSM's goal of creating an ethnically homogeneous colony. It advocated pushing settlement into the locations of ancient Jewish towns and villages that had a dense Palestinian population in order to undermine the possibility of territorial partition. It also raised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's stakes by leaving little contiguous territory for a potential Palestinian state, increasing friction, and producing higher levels of violence in which the settlers themselves played the role of both vigilantes and soldiers drafted into regional military units that protected their settlements.

    In case you've wondered about Jared Kushner's "peace mission" to Israel-Palestine, note that he's actually showed up for work, then refused to do any. Richard Silverstein explains: Trump Trashes Two-States . . . and 30 Years of U.S. Policy on Israel-Palestine. By giving up on the "two state solution" Trump and Kushner are admitting they're not even going to go through the motions of pretending that they have any interest or intent on resolving the conflict peacefully. Maybe they imagine that Abbas will eventually surrender to an Israeli diktat, but I doubt the Israeli leadership can even come up with one. As we've seen from fifty years now, they'd much prefer the status quo -- and that's not about to change as long as the US continues to provide them unquestioning support and cover:

    It's vitally important to understand the broader implications: there will be no advances in the peace process as long as Trump is president. We knew this implicitly. But now we see it plain as day. . . .

    I hate to repeat myself, as I've written something like this before: we are in for a wicked few years of chaos and violence given this policy vacuüm caused by Trump's absconding from a meaningful role. A people with no hope has nothing to lose. If you think you've seen violence, it can and will get worse. And in ways we can't now foresee.

    Even Peter Beinart, who first noticed the import of the quotation in the Post article, calls the Trump position "absurd." The only thing I could add is to call it criminally absurd. That is because of this atrocious policy position tens of thousands are likely to die. Among them will be scores, if not hundreds of Israelis (this last statement is meant for the hasbarafia who will likely cheer this development in the comment threads).

    I'll add that the world -- and I don't just mean the "Arab world" or "Muslim world," although there's that too -- already sees the US as culpable for Israel's repression, cruelty, and violence, and the more evidence the world sees, the more resentment will build up. At the same time Trump is more directly engaged in murderous wars against ISIS and other Islamist groups from Afghanistan through Syria to Libya and Somalia, while US proxies are committing mass murder in Yemen -- and Trump has largely ceded direction of those wars to narrow-minded generals. Moreover, Trump is closely aligned to Islamophobes in the US and Europe, who would like nothing better than to impose their injustice and bigotry in the harshest terms possible.

  • Eileen Sullivan/Mark Landler: Trump Says US Is Paying 'Extortion Money' to North Korea: Nobody knows what he's talking about, possibly because they were more terrified by his next line: "Talking is not the answer!" Over recent months I've taken some solace when I've taken the "nothing is off the table" cliché as meaning that talks are still possible, but Trump seems determined to exclude the only thing that might actually work, even though he really doesn't have any other option. As for "extortion," from the start of his campaign he's been clear that other countries should be paying the US more -- including South Korea and Japan, whose "defense" has the US has long subsidized.

  • Kenneth P Vogel: Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by Tech Giant: Decades ago the right-wing laid the foundations of their power by funding so-called think tanks to give their agenda a bit of intellectual spit and polish. In the 1990s, liberals realized they needed to play that game too, founding a number of groups, including the "non-partisan" New America Foundation in 1999. Google's Eric Schmidt is chairman of a board which includes finance capitalists, some fairly well-known middle-of-the-road authors (James Fallows, Atul Gawande, Zachary Karabell, Daniel Yergin, Fareed Zakaria) and some token conservatives (David Brooks, Walter Russell Mead, Reihan Salam), with liberal hawk Anne-Marie Slaughter president. [By the way, Rosa Brooks is a fellow there. One of her articles cited there, published back in October, is: The Importance of Working in the Trump Administration.] The fired researcher is Barry C. Lynn, director of their Open Markets project, author of two important books: End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation (2005) and Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction. As his New America bio notes:

    Lynn's writings on the political and economic effects of the extreme consolidation of power in the United States have influenced the thinking of policymakers and antitrust professionals on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Google was recently found guilty of violating EU antitrust law and fined 2.42 billion Euros ($2.7 billion) for rigging its search results in favor of its advertisers -- offhand, that sounds more like racketeering than antitrust, but it's their de facto search engine monopoly that makes such a racket possible. Lynn's statement on this appeared in a New America press release:

    The Open Markets Team congratulates European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager and the European competition authority for this important decision. Google's market power is one of the most critical challenges for competition policymakers in the world today. By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, Vestager is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend. We call upon U.S. enforcers, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and states attorneys general, to build upon this important precedent, both in respect to Google and to other dominant platform monopolists including Amazon. U.S. enforcers should apply the traditional American approach to network monopoly, which is to cleanly separate ownership of the network from ownership of the products and services sold on that network, as they did in the original Microsoft case of the late 1990s.

    Some more pieces on Google, New America, and Lynn's firing:

    Evidently Open Markets will be spun off as an independent outfit, Citizens Against Monopoly, so at least this gives them some much needed publicity. For more on Google, see Jonathan Taplin: Why is Google spending record sums on lobbying Washington?:

    Given the increased antitrust scrutiny that is coming from the Democrats' new "Better Deal" policy platform, Donald Trump's random tweets attacking Google's fellow tech giant Amazon for its connection to the Washington Post, and his adviser Steve Bannon's recent comments that Google and Facebook should be regulated as utilities, it is likely Google will only increase its lobbying expenditure in the next few months.

    The largest monopoly in America, Google controls five of the top six billion-user, universal web platforms -- search, video, mobile, maps and browser -- and leads in 13 of the top 14 commercial web functions, according to Scott Cleland at Precursor Consulting. . . .

    It is important to understand that Google is not politically neutral. Though its executives may signal liberal stances on gay rights and immigration, it is at heart a libertarian firm which believes above all that corporations should not be regulated by the government. Just as extreme lobbying by the bank industry led to a loosening of regulations, which then resulted in the great mortgage scam of 2008, Google's efforts to keep the government out of its business may have deep implications for the next 10 years. . . .

    But now, for the first time in their histories, the possibility of regulation may be on the horizon. Google's response will be to spend more of its $90bn in cash on politicians. K Street is lining up to help.

    It's probably dated by now, but the first taste that I got that Google was potentially dangerous came from Siva Vaidhyanathan's 2011 book, The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). I'm still less bothered by Google than I was by Microsoft when I followed the antitrust case closely circa 1999, but their profits, power, and potential for abuse are comparable. Moreover, Schmidt's chuminess with Obama and the Clintons doesn't make any of them better public servants. Also, one of the most sobering facts I've run across lately is how Trump's massive buy of last-minute YouTube advertising probably tipped the election -- that's one of Google's platforms, an effective monopoly that he had no problem selling to the highest (or in many ways, the lowest) bidder. Real competition would save us from that kind of power.

  • Odd Arne Westad: The Cold War and America's Delusion of Victory: Excerpt from the author's book, The Cold War: A World History. a broad picture with many things I'd quibble with (e.g., he says "Stalin's policies" made conflict with the US inevitable, and he dismisses Mao's entire rule as "out of tune with its needs").

    America's post-Cold War triumphalism came in two versions. First was the Clinton version, which promoted a prosperity agenda of market values on a global scale. Its lack of purpose in international affairs was striking, but its domestic political instincts were probably right: Americans were tired of foreign entanglements and wanted to enjoy "the peace dividend."

    As a result, the 1990s was a lost opportunity for international cooperation, particularly to combat disease, poverty and inequality. The most glaring examples of these omissions were former Cold War battlefields like Afghanistan, Congo and Nicaragua, where the United States could not have cared less about what happened -- once the Cold War was over.

    The second was the Bush version. Where President Bill Clinton emphasized prosperity, President George W. Bush emphasized predominance. In between, of course, stood Sept. 11. . . .

    As America entered a new century, its main aim should have been to bring other nations into the fold of international norms and the rule of law, especially as its own power diminishes. Instead, the United States did what declining superpowers often do: engage in futile, needless wars far from its borders, in which short-term security is mistaken for long-term strategic goals. The consequence is an America less prepared than it could have been to deal with the big challenges of the future: the rise of China and India, the transfer of economic power from West to East, and systemic challenges like climate change and disease epidemics.

    Gradually between the founding of the UN in 1945 and the mid-1990s American politicians lost all faith in international institutions and law, and that's ultimately a big story. The first stage was when the US started creating captive alliances to exclude the Soviet Union and launch the Cold War (Marshall Plan, NATO, etc.). The second was when the US formed alliances with imperial powers (like France in Vietnam) and local despots (like Iran's Shah and Indonesia's Suharto) against popular movements, democracy, and human rights. Along the way the US developed an instrumental view of the UN, trying to use it to advance exclusive interests and eventually finding it to be more of an obstacle than a subordinate. In this regard, Israel has been pivotal: the more Israel become ostracized in the UN, the more the US seeks to obstruct and marginalize the UN. By the 1990s, liberal hawks came to prefer US unilateral military action to international stalemate. The neocons brought all of these tendencies together, insisting that world order be dictated by the US as the "sole superpower." Early on US foreign policy was captured by globalized corporations and arms merchants, and while they didn't necessarily see eye-to-eye, their compromises turned the US into the dangerously conceited rogue state we see today. It's easy enough to see that anti-communism was at the root of all this, and that the contempt it held for workers has not only turned the US imperious abroad, it has flooded back into domestic politics, its promotion of inequality rendering government, business, and society ever more careless and cruel.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Four Stories That Actually Mattered This Week: Devastating floods hit Texas and Louisiana; Congress is facing a busy September; Trump is cutting Obamacare marketing to the bone; DACA is hanging in the balance. Other Yglesias posts: Mick Mulvaney brags that he tricked Trump into proposing Social Security cuts; Trump is looking to revive a discredited Bush-era tax gimmick; Paul Ryan's postcard tax return is really dumb; It's time for Democrats' wonk class to write some single-payer plans.

    The "postcard tax return" piece has some interesting points -- some gleaned from T.R. Reid's book A Fine Mess, a survey of how other nations run their tax collection systems. He points out that in Japan, for example, the government collects tax input information continuously and automatically adjusts withholding so that most people wind up paying exactly the right amount each year. At year end, the government sends out a notice of what it did, which taxpayers can amend, but otherwise they needn't file returns. Such a system is pretty easy for most wage earners, even with interest and other currently tracked earnings. I can imagine it being developed further to handle more complex cases, like small businesses. Yglesias points out that things like tax brackets have no real effect on form complexity. Virtually all of the complication in the income tax system comes from income determination, mostly deciding what expenses to allow in offsetting gross receipts. (Itemized deductions to personal income have largely been phased out in favor of a relatively generous "standard deduction," although it wouldn't be too hard to track them in real time either.) Moreover, the government could start an open source software project to implement all of this, adding accounting and personal finance features that would reduce the cost for businesses while collecting all the necessary inputs. Of course, politicians like Ryan don't want to do any of this: they want to keep taxation painful so it will be easy to rile people up against the tax system. And, of course, making sure the government doesn't do useful or helpful things for most people makes taxes look like expenses instead of investments.


The big breaking story as I was writing all of this is that North Korea has tested some sort of hydrogen-booster nuclear warhead, one reportedly small enough that it can be delivered by one of their recently tested ICBMs. This has resulted in a lot of typically unguarded and occasionally insane threats from Trump and company: e.g., Trump: North Korea Is a 'Rogue Nation' for Conducting a 'Major Nuclear Test'; After Reported H-Bomb Test, Trump Mulls Attacking North Korea; Trump: Maybe we'll end all trade with countries that trade with North Korea; Mnuchin Says He Will 'Draft a Sanctions Package' Against North Korea; Mattis: US Will Meet 'Any Threat' With 'Massive Military Response'; Trump Says He'll Meet With 'Military Leaders' to Discuss North Korea. Also note that Trump has lately become increasingly hostile to China and Russia, the most obvious diplomatic channels to Pyongyang -- e.g., US Plans More South China Sea Patrols to 'Challenge China'; Jim Mattis, in Ukraine, Says U.S. Is Thinking of Sending Weapons; US Seizes Russian Diplomatic Posts in San Francisco, Washington, New York; Russia to 'Respond Harshly' to Latest US Measures; Putin Warns US-North Korea Standoff Risks Starting Large-Scale Conflict. When asked whether he intends to attack North Korea, Trump's response was "we'll see." I've written enough about this I shouldn't have to rehash the risks and follies of US policy. Indeed, most knowledgeable people in Washington -- a group that excludes the president -- seem to grasp the basic issues, but their minds are stuck in the rut that sees the military as the only answer to every problem. So, I guess, we'll see.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Streamnotes (August 2017)

I suppose I should make a big deal out of the fact that the rated count since I started writing this Streamnotes column in late 2007 has now topped 10,000 records. But that's only a thousand per year, 85 or so per month, less than 3 per day. The metric measures time more than anything else. And even if the records were all new at the time, my sample of what's been added to the world's pile of recorded music during this time is well under 2%, probably under 1% -- so I've lost way more ground than I've gained.

Back in 2007, I did a little work for Rhapsody, and one of the perks was a free subscription. I figured I should take notes on what I heard there, hence the column. Well, it didn't even become a column until sometime later -- the notes originally appeared in my Notebook, until I realized I was checking out enough stuff to post something regularly. At the time I was doing Jazz Consumer Guide, Jazz Prospecting, and Recycled Goods, but RG was erratic after I stopped posting at Static Multimedia, and JCG ended after 2009 -- although I continued to get jazz promos, the rate has gradually declined (currently a bit less than half the 2009 level). In January 2014 I decided to consolidate everything under the Streamnotes umbrella -- even actual CDs (about half of the jazz below (25/51 of new jazz, but adding in the old jazz changes the share to 26/87, or 29.8%). The share of non-jazz that is streamed is, like most months, 100%.

So it's fair to say that streaming has not only changed my life as a reviewer, it's the main reason I've been able to hang on. I dropped "Rhapsody" from the title when they rebranded as Napster -- an early digital music purveyor that I never used and never felt any nostalgia for -- but they remain my main source, followed by Bandcamp (not bothering with records that only have a few cuts available), then by download links provided by publicists. I've never mastered the more arcane methods of downloading, so when I run into a wall I tend to back out. And it's been a long time since I bothered to pitch or beg a release -- only one I recall in the last couple years was a letter to the since-departed Joe Fields that got me two top-rated 2016 releases: Houston Person's Chemistry and JD Allen's Americana. (If Steven Joerg is reading, the new William Parker Quartets is at the very top of my wish list -- it's also at the top of Chris Monsen's favorites list, which also notes a new JD Allen release, Radio Flyer).

So, in a sense, this column is running on fumes. This month's 119 records is down from 136 in July and 149 in June, although it's slightly above the previous three-month lull: 111-115-114. And it is August -- never a pleasant month here in Wichita, although pace global warming we've gone all month without a single 100F day, and we've had enough rain to keep the grass green (most years it's brown). Still, always glad when August is over.


Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (10029 records).


Recent Releases

Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (2017, Eclectus): Standards singer (not the actress), one original here, from Dallas, third album since 2012. Nice voice and phrasing, stays away from overly familiar songs, nice sax touches. B+(**) [cd]

Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (2017, Cahara): Singer-songwriter, plays keyboards, seven albums since 2005, bills herself as smooth jazz but I recognize this as art-disco, the dance beat on the soft side and occasionally nodding toward MPB. Pleasant surprise. B+(**) [cd]

Barry Altschul 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (2016 [2017], Not Two): American drummer, a free jazz legend since his early 1970s records with Dave Holland, later with Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet, dropped from sight in the 1990s until 2010 when he appeared on saxophonist Jon Irabagon's Foxy, the first of a bunch of collaborations under one name or another (third as 3Dom Factor, with Joe Fonda on bass). Mostly notable for Irabagon's no holds barred sax, although the bass-and-drums duets are super too. A-

Arcade Fire: Everything Now (2017, Columbia): Alt/indie group from Montreal, fifth album since 2004, hugely popular and critically esteemed -- third album, The Suburbs, seemed to be a lock on album of the year polls until Kanye West spoiled their party. I'm not a huge fan but haven't found much cause to fault their albums. I might quibble about this being too ornate, but after five or six plays nearly every song has clicked. Still, probably won't play it again until EOY, but I have little doubt I'll enjoy it then. A-

Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (2017, Summit): Flutist, from Beaumont, TX, studied at UNT, moved on to San Francisco. Sixth album, long personnel list but typical groups have 5-6 musicians, the standout alto saxophonist Ruben Salcido. Nine covers, several (Piazzolla, Pascoal, Tjader) bringing the Latin tinge, others mainstream jazz (Davis, Mulligan, Ellis Marsalis), with a long "Out of This World" to close. B+(*) [cd]

Tim Berne's Snakeoil: Incidentals (2014 [2017], ECM): Alto saxophonist, influenced by Julius Hemphill, which shows up strongest here in his harmonics with Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet). Group name comes from their 2012 Snakeoil, with Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Matt Mitchell (piano/electronics), and Ches Smith (drums, vibes, percussion). Dense and turbulent, has some marvelous moments as well as puzzling ones. B+(***) [dl]

Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of the Emerging Species (2015 [2017], Shhpuma): Swiss-Portuguese quartet: Marco von Orelli (trumpet), Sheldon Suter (prepared drums), Luis Lopes (guitar), and Travassos (electronics). One 43:02 piece, plumbs sonic depth but rarely rises to demand your attention. B

Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (2017, Outline, 2CD): Soprano saxophonist. Group: Dawn Clement (piano), Mark Helias (bass), Bobby Previte (drums), plus Deborah Rush reading Dickinson poetry on the second disc only. I'm inclined to favor the music-only disc, but while I rarely register the words, somehow the music on the second disc seems even more vibrant. B+(***) [cd]

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All You Zombies Dig the Luminosity (2016-17 [2017], Avant Groidd): Group assembled by noted rock critic Greg Tate back in 2001, more of a jazz group then but with more lyrics their 13th album is exceptionally jazzy funk. Steven Bernstein (trumpet) and Avram Fefer (alto sax) are probably the best known musicians, but the core is guitars (4), bass, keys, violin, and drums -- not counting Tate, creditd with guitar, bass, and "beats & loops." B+(***)

Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro: Rosa Dos Ventos (2017, Anzic): The clarinetist joins a Brazilian choro group -- Dudu Maia (bandolim), Douglas Lora (7-string guitar), Alexandre Lora (pandeiro, hand pan, percussion). Clarinet tends to blend in with the strings. B

Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos (2017, Anzic): More Brazilian, a duo with Cohen on clarinet and Gonçalves playing 7-string guitar, on a set of "things" from Brazilian saxophonist Santos. The clarinet is somewhat delicate here, but still stands out framed against spare guitar. B+(**)

Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life (2017, Interscope): Fifth album since 2010, started as a young pop ingenue but shifted last time into a winning slowcore groove which works even better here, especially when she plaintively demands "the fucking truth" -- helps that she doesn't evince any of the genre's depressiveness, and employs the occasional rapper. Tails off a bit at the end, but only after a trio of songs that I take to be patriotic in the best sense -- about caring for each other. A-

Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (2017, Virgin): Mary Beth Patterson, "fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas," singer in the so-so indie band Gossip, went solo with an EP I liked in 2011. This is her first full-length solo effort, produced by Jennifer Decliveo as exceptionally straight and clear, perhaps even a bit simplistic, major league pop. B+(***)

Miles Donahue: The Bug (2015 [2017], Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, b. 1944, didn't record until around 1992, also plays trumpet and flugelhorn here, keyboards elsewhere. Even when he switches off you get strong saxophone from Jerry Bergonzi, guitar by Mike Stern on three tracks, piano (Tim Ray), bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]

Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (2017, Sub Pop): Radical punk band from Providence, formed by a tuba player and singer Victoria Ruiz. Third album, pounding beat, loud scream and indecipherable screed, probably smart but I like it best when topped with a little saxophone. B+(**)

The Fall: New Facts Emerge (2017, Cherry Red): Mark E. Smith's pioneering post-punk group, dating back to 1979, still featuring their trademark crunch and growl. While I'm a fan of the growl, the signature-sounding closing instrumental piece is this album's saving grace. B+(*)

Filthy Friends: Invitation (2017, Kill Rock Stars): Portland supergroup, only ones I'm familiar with are singer Corrin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), guitarist Peter Buck (REM), and bassist Krist Novolselic (Nirvana). First album, after group appeared on the politically themed Battle Hymns benefit album. Seems like a better-than-average hard rock group here, nothing more. B+(*)

Floating Points: Reflections - Mojave Desert (2017, Luaka Bop): British, someone with the memorable but not very original name Sam Shepherd, has a previous album and beaucoup short pieces, plays keyboards but works with larger groups. The dominant sound for much of this is guitar, reminding me of Pink Floyd spaced out under a vast nightsky. B+(*)

Billy Flynn: Lonesome Highway (2017, Delmark): Chicago blues guitarist-singer, originally from Wisconsin, seventh album since 1992, whips up impressive groove but somehow it all feels rote. B

Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet: The Pythiad (2016 [2017], Origin Classical): Soprano saxophonist, with a string quartet plus bass and singer Cheryl Wilson -- a combination I don't care for on many levels, one where the classical underpinnings make it hard to hear any jazz. B- [cd]

Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (2016 [2017], Origin): Pianist, started in the mid-1970s and has had a long and remarkable career, joined here by three young musicians I've never heard of -- Nathan Bellott (alto sax), Dean Torrey (bass), and David Frazier (drums) -- on four pieces ranging from 11:08 to 17:40. I'm especially struck by Bellott and, of course, the pianist. B+(**) [cd]

Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (2017, self-released): Percussionist, teaches ethnomusicology in Vermont, credits here include tanbou bèlè, congas, tupan; seems to be his first album although I've found a side-credit on a 1992 album by Kotoja -- a California-based Nigerian-American group. Sextet adds clarinet, trumpet, piano, bass, and drums, plus a singer shows up on one track that sounds rather Brazilian. B+(*) [cd]

Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders (2017, Cooking Vinyl): Gypsy punk band from New York with roots back in Ukraine, first emerged in 1998 and has some very notable records. This one scores high marks for energy and sometimes adds insight and humor. B+(**)

Laurel Halo: Dust (2017, Hyperdub): Born in Ann Arbor, based in Berlin, third album, disjointed electronica with (presumably her own) vocals. B+(*)

Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (2017, New West): Singer-songwriter Ed Hamell has been cranking out DIY folk tunes with punk intensity since 1989, includes a song here mostly about Trump ("The More You Know"), one about the fear even white folk have about getting shot by cops, and best of all an Australian "Mouthy B"'s critique of America (some choice lines: "I don't think your government cares about its people," "what's with all the flags? I've never seen such insecurity in all my life," "along with freedom 'heroes' is the most overused word in your national vocabulary"), as well as four "Froggy" songs. Cover shows a burning city behind a blasphemous Lady Liberty. Title song is about life coming with many hooks. A-

Hamell on Trial: Big Mouth Strikes Again: Hamell Live (2017, New West): Seems to be download only, with a code provided with the new studio album, but streams separately. Some redundancy (including another "Mouthy B"), some songs from earlier albums (like "The Happiest Man in the World"), some patter including a story about three grandmas coming up to him and asking whether he has any edgier material. He tries to satisfy them, even to the point of explaining "that's how you wave a towell." A-

Hard Working Americans: We're All in This Together (2017, Melvin): Todd Snider's hard working alt-rock band, with a few other guys I don't recognize from bands I've barely heard of (Widespread Panic, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Great American Taxi). Title cut actually works as a live band intro after their hardest guitar rave, followed by a souped up "Is This Thing Working?" and ending with a Chuck Berry anthem -- a fine encore. B+(***)

H. Hawkline: I Romanticize (2017, Heavenly): Welsh singer-songwriter Huw Gwynfryn Evans. Fourth album, has a high voice and a light, jangly feel that gradually grows on you. B

Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: Crooked Calypso (2017, Virgin EMI): Main singer-songwriter behind the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, probably my favorite bands in the waning days of the 20th century. Third album with Abbott, their most problematical one, with flashes that bring back fond memories but he's packed it with way too much pomp. Deluxe edition adds four long songs (25:26), changing little B+(*)

Fred Hersch: Open Book (2016-17 [2017], Palmetto): Solo piano. Three originals plus pieces from Monk, Jobim, Benny Golson, and Billy Joel. He reached a new plateau with 2014's Floating, and continues at that level, thoughtful, serene, touch as deft as ever. B+(***) [cd]

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can (2017, Bordello/Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, called the band on his first (1976) record the Cowboy Twinkies, didn't strike me as very important until his 2010 album A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), but has topped that good one three times since. A-

Jon Irabagon/John Hegre/Nils Are Drønen: Axis (2013 [2017], Rune Grammofon): Saxophone-guitar-drums trio, the latter two Norwegian. Two pieces, 17:43 and 18:56, focus on stress, eventually breaking free. B+(*)

Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017, ECM): Pianist, very highly regarded, used to lead a group called Fieldwork with Steve Lehman on alto sax and Tyshawn Sorey on drums -- they had three superb albums 2002-08 -- and essentially doubles that group here, adding Mark Shim (tenor sax), Graham Haynes (cornet/flugelhorn/electronics), and Stephan Crump (bass). I'm not sure the extra weight helps, but Lehman remains especially striking, as is the dense piano scaffolding. B+(***) [dl]

Max Johnson: In the West (2014 [2017], Clean Feed): Young bassist, b. 1990, fifth album, with Susan Alcorn (peddle steel), Kris Davis (piano), and Mike Pride (drums) -- the pianist making by far the biggest impression. B+(*)

Paul Jones: Clean (2017, Outside In Music): Tenor saxophonist, has at least one previous album. Postbop, all original pieces, core group a quintet with Alex LeRe on alto sax and Glenn Zaleski on piano, plus various extras including the SNAP Saxophone Quartet (5/14 tracks), the Righteous Girls (flute/piano, same 5), guest clarinet/oboe (same 5), cello (4 others), and bassoon (9). B [cd]

Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (2011 [2017], Hatology): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano), has a couple previous records. MVP here is guitarist Joe Morris, invariably the one you wind up focusing on. With Giacomo Merega (electric bass) and Jason Nazary (drums & electronics). A- [cd]

LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst: Metamorphosis (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Mostly Portuguese avant trio with Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Gonçalo Almeida (bass/keys), and Greg Smith (drums), the latter two dabbling in electronics. Their guest, who also appeared on their 2015 album, plays clarinet and bass clarinet -- Chris Speed was their guest back in 2013. Wound tight, makes me think it's the bassist's album, but the horns get the best breaks. B+(*)

Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (2016 [2017], Whaling City Sound): Drummer-led piano trio, with Kevin Harris on piano and Dave Zinno on bass. Zinno wrote two songs, one each for the others, plus pieces from Chick Corea, Richard Rodgers, and "unknown" -- "Down By the Riverside" is a highlight. B+(**) [cd]

Lean Left: I Forgot to Breathe (2015 [2017], Trost): Fifth album, the first subtitled The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo -- the former being Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) and Andy Moor, with Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Ken Vandermark on reeds. B+(**)

The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (2017, Ad Astrum): Nearly a big band -- 13 pieces, plus an extra guitar on a couple cuts, and singers, based in Chicago, founded by bassist Hannah Fidler and trumpeter Matt Riggen, citing the "activist tradition of such jazz composers as Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and Charlie Haden." Not quite, of course, and the lyrics never grab me. B+(*) [cd]

Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin' Thru (2016 [2017], Blue Note): Not exactly new -- this Quartet lineup dates back to Rabo De Nube, recorded in 2007: Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), Eric Harland (drums). His tenor sax is as lucid as ever, and Moran is an impressive accompanist. Flute feature has Indian airs and what sounds like guitar -- presumably bass. B+(***)

Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface (2017, Loma Vista): Indie rock group from Atlanta, fifth album since 2006, all serious and a bit heavy-handed. B

Rob Mazurek: Chants and Borders (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Trumpet player from Chicago, credited here with cornet, modular synth, sampler, and piano, with a group in Brazil that expands beyond Mazurek's São Paulo Underground group: Guilherme Granado (keyboards, synthesizer, sampler, electronics), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca, flute, soprano sax, electronics), Philip Somervell (piano, prepared piano), Mauricio Takara (drums). B+(**)

Rob Mazurek: Rome (2014 [2017], Clean Feed): Solo, credits read: cornet, piano, prepared piano, electronics. Recorded in Rome, which inspires some titles but probably has little to do with the music. Tends toward atmospheric but doesn't intend to stay there. B+(*)

Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (2017, Roc Nation): Chicago rapper, name shortened from Mensah, first studio album after a couple of well-regarded EPs/mixtapes. This rubbed me wrong from the start -- a boast about striking it rich while keeping one's integrity -- but the teenage sex yarns aren't so bad, not that I don't get he's some kind of cad. Still no interest in the drugs or suicide. B-

Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature (2015 [2016], ECM): Composer, has worked in music, dance, theatre and film since the 1960s, with a dozen records for ECM since 1981's Dolmen Music, mostly in their postclassical New Series. She sings here, often with others, against a fairly minimalist backdrop. B+(*) [dl]

Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (2017, Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, from Massachusetts, has at least one previous record. Quartet with piano, electric bass, and drums (Steve Langone). Wrote three originals (of 12 songs), covers ranging from Horace Silver to Michael Jackson. Fairly mainstream, but rich tone and easy swing. B+(***) [cd]

Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch): First album of new songs since 2008's Harps and Angels, not that he hasn't been busy during the Obama era: Discogs shows him with two Songbook volumes, two live albums, and five soundtracks -- by now, not just his meal ticket but his toolchest. The first three songs, with their historical-philosophical concerns, are so detailed it takes little effort to imagine the videos. The rest of the album, aside from the story of Sonny Boy the First, is unsentimental filler, and probably better for that. Christgau proclamed this an "album of the year contender" -- something I don't hear at all, but I massively underestimated Harps and Angels, doubting it for much the same offhandedness. A-

Pale Horse: Badlands (2015 [2016], 5049): Clarinet player Jeremiah Cymerman, group name taken from the previous album by this "apocalyptic chamber ensemble" with Christopher Hoffman on cello and Brian Chase on drums. Two LP-length tracks, total 34:02. Cites as inspiration "the work of composers Scelsi & Ligeti, the novels of Cormac McCarthy, the films of Wim Wenders and the hypnotic beauty of Swans." More modest than any of those, but more pleasing than his early raw noise. B+(*) [bc]

Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (2015 [2017], Creative Sources): German pianist, real name seems to be Oliver Schwerdt -- has a previous trio album with Axel Dörner and Christian Lillinger and a couple albums as Schwerdt. This is solo, short (31:46), named for two of the three pieces (the other is the 2:21 "Farewell"). Impressive, more for the rumble he generates than for the runs. B+(***) [cd]

Richard Pinhas/Barry Cleveland: Mu (2016, Cuneiform): Pinhas is a French guitarist, formed the "electronic rock" band Heldon in the 1970s, has also recorded as Schizo and Schizotrope, and has twenty-some records under his own name, three with Merzbow. Cleveland is another guitarist ("new age and experimental ambient"), and Michael Manring (bass, elbow bass) and Celso Alberti (drums, electronic drums, percussion) are also "featuring" on the cover, if not the spine. B+(**) [dl]

John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (2017, Concord): Marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 encounter between the crooner and Brazil's most famous songwriter (who played piano and guitar and contributed some backing vocals) -- not a very good album for either, with Claus Ogerman's arrangements part of the problem. Pizzarelli's catalog includes titles like Dear Mr. Sinatra and Bossa Nova, so I don't doubt his dedication. He takes some liberties with the arrangements, turning two pairs of songs into medleys and interposing bits of other songs. Daniel Jobim adds his voice, Helvio Alves and Duduka Da Fonseca manage the rhythm, and someone they don't mention plays some nice sax. B-

Platform: Flux Reflux (2017, Clean Feed): French clarinet player Xavier Charles, discography goes back to 1996, second album under this name, with Katrine Schiøtt (cello), Jan Martin Gismervik (drums), and Jonas Cambien (keyboards). All improvised, the focus more on deep sound than on flow. B

Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group: Three Minutes to Four (2017, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist Scarff has been a member of Aardvark Jazz Orchestra since 1993, and leads the group Natraj, which plays Indian classical music. Pianist Porter has played with AJO on several occasions, and has shown up on a couple Allen Lowe projects, but is probably better known as an author and educator. With John Funkhouse (bass) and Bertram Lehmann (drums). Can't say I hear the "east-meets-west jazz, where Indian raga merges with western classical" -- reminds me more of someone like Charlie Mariano, with a real sharp rhythm section. B+(***)

Dave Potter: You Already Know (2017, Summit): Drummer, first album, has a few side credits with Jason Marsalis (vibes), Miguel Alvarado (saxes), and Will Goble (bass), all present here. Mostly originals, one tune each by Marsalis and Alvarado, five covers, mostly jazz sources (Monk, Shorter, Golson, Watson). Cut in several sessions, using three bassists, three pianists, two trumpeters, but never more than quintets. Swings, bops, swings some more. B+(**) [cd]

Eric Revis: Sing Me Some Cry (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Bassist, played for Betty Carter and Branford Marsalis but has tended to be more avant on his own albums. Quartet here with Ken Vandermark (tenor sax/clarinet), Kris Davis (piano), and Chad Taylor (drums) -- an explosive combination, most often moderated by the bassist but extraordinary when he cranks them up. A-

Roots Magic: Last Kind Words (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Italian group, second album: Alberto Popolla (clarinet, bass clarinet), Errico De Fabritiis (alto/baritone sax), Gianfranco Tedeschi (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums), plus guests on organ/piano (4 tracks), cello (2), and dub effects (1). Plumbs a deep blues base drawing on Charlie Patton and similarly influenced jazz musicians like Julius Hemphill and Marion Brown, tuned up to a fine fury. A-

Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma: Songs for the Hangman's Daughter (2017, Rubinchik): Folk singer-songwriter, plays a range of instruments, born in Stillwater, OK, but "Texas-reared, and now living in New Orleans" -- clearly not one to shy away from audience prejudices. He sings about being bipolar ("it's a wonder I've yet to land in prison"), shows his regional colors when he decries "the war of northern aggression," claims to have mastered barbecue with kosher beef, covers "a fun old Bad Livers tune" (a band he was in). B+(**) [bc]

Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (2015 [2017], Euphorium, 2CD): German pianist, also records as Elan Pauer, goes long here with two substantial servings of solo piano, dense and crunchy, much like the Pauer record above. B+(***) [cd]

Matthew Shipp: Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zürich (2016 [2017], Hatology): Solo piano, recorded live at the Swiss festival, all originals except for "Tenderly." His usual impressive range from deep rumble through long lines to delicate touch. B+(***)

Skyzoo: Peddler Themes (2017, First Generation Rich/Empire, EP): Rapper Gregory Taylor, from Brooklyn, seven LPs, scads of mixtapes, third EP, eight solid tracks (30:36). B+(**)

Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (2016 [2017], Pi): Drummer, sometime pianist -- he played a big chunk of his 2007 2CD album That/Not -- I've even seen him lately on trombone, but here just drums. I mention this because this strikes me as very much a piano album (Corey Smythe), the percussion and bass (Chris Tordini) often all but vanishing. Sometimes the piano, too. I'd prefer something more in-your-face, and there's some of that here too. A- [cd]

Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (2016 [2017], Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, has a fairly short list of albums under his own name since 1997, but has a pretty long list of side credits. This format, with Chris Tordini on bass and Dave King on drums, pushes him out front, and he doesn't bother with the clarinet, so you get a consistent sound which grows in authority and panache. A- [cd]

Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (2017, Delmark): From Chicago, plays bass clarinet, quartet adds Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, contrabass clarinet), Joshua Abrams (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- terrific group, with Jackson complementing the leader's airy sound. Three originals, covers from Bird and Monk, two from Lennie Tristano and another from Warne Marsh, plus one called "Roused About" that I assume honors Charlie. A- [cd]

Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (2017, Six Degrees): Guitarist-singer from Mali, father was Ali Farka Touré, pioneer of Saharan/desert blues, a tradition he carries on and extends, mostly by rocking harder. B+(***)

Triocity [Charles Pillow/Jeff Campbell/Rich Thompson]: I Believe in You (2016 [2017], Origin): Reeds-bass-drums trio, Pillow credited with alto sax, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- last is certainly not least. He only has a couple previous albums, but appears in quite a few notable big bands (John Fedchock, Alan Ferber, David Liebman, Pete McGuinness, Bob Mintzer, Ted Nash, Maria Schneider, and others). Songbook and jazz standards (Monk, Parker, Davis), closing with "Cherokee" -- always a thrill. B+(**) [cd]

Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (2017, Odd Future/Columbia): Los Angeles rapper Tyler Okonma, started out in Odd Future collective, never seemed like he was quite ready but gets a major label deal here. Has managed to smooth off the rough edges, but that doesn't leave him with much. B

Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Escalator (2016 [2017], Not Two): Tenor sax/clarinet trio, drums and bass respectively, recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow. I'm afraid I find the clarinet annoyingly squeaky, but Vandermark is a tower of power in this context, and remarkably adept. B+(***) [bc]

Raphael Vanoli: Bibrax (2017, Shhpuma): Guitarist, based in Amsterdam, first record, solo. Metallic tones, patiently experimental. B+(*)

John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (2016 [2017], Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, leads a big band (16 pieces, only 2 saxes and 2 trombones, but 5 trumpets and 2 French horns) through a splashy set of Nelson pieces, with sharp solos and a certain postbop swing. B+(**) [cd]

Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (2016 [2017], Palmetto): Subtitle: "Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg." Snatches of Sandburg poetry as well, read by various members of the band and extras, as well as vocals (and guitar) by Dawn Thompson. With Ron Miles (cornet), Jeff Lederer (reeds), Martin Wind (bass), and Wilson on drums. Too many words for my taste, but sometimes remarkable music. B+(*) [cd]

Reggie Young: Forever Young (2017, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, first album but not so young, born in 1936, started out playing rockabilly in Memphis, part of the Bill Black Combo (led by Elvis Presley's first bass player, opened for the Beatles on their 1964 US tour). Best known for session work, including "Down in the Boondocks" (Billy Joe Royal), "The Letter" (Box Tops), Dusty in Memphis (Springfield), "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis), and "I Can Help" (Billy Swan). Nice relaxed groove album with keyboards, bass, drums, and sometimes a little cello. B+(*) [cd]

Bobby Zankel & the Wonderful Sound 6: Celebrating William Parker @ 65 (2017, Not Two): Alto saxophonist, a couple years older than the famous bassist -- on board here, an event in Philadelphia, along with Steve Swell (trombone), Diane Monroe (violin), Dave Burrell (piano), and Muhammad Ali (drums). Old-fashioned avant joust, something the bassist has presided over many times. B+(**)

Omri Ziegele: Where's Africa: Going South (2016 [2017], Intakt): Credit could be parsed several ways, including mention of Yves Theiler (keyboards, reed organ, melodica, vocals) and Dario Sisera (percussion, drums). Where's Africa is the name of a 2005 album -- a duo with pianist Irène Schweizer -- and was also used in the credit of a 2010 trio (with Schweizer and Makaya Ntshoko). Ziegele is Swiss, plays alto sax, Uzbek flute, and is credited with vocals. Not sure who sings (weirdly) and who raps (impressively), affectations which annoyed me at first as they interfered with the wonderful Township Jive-inflected groove. A- [cd]

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Albert Ayler Quartet: European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (1964 [2016], Hatology): Two sessions from the tenor saxophonist's banner year, a quartet -- Don Cherry (cornet), Gary Peacock (bass), Sunny Murray (drums) -- that toured Europe in the latter months of the year. Six tracks from Hilversum, three more from Copenhagen -- The Hilversum Sessions first appeared in 1980, The Copenhagen Tapes (also including a Club Montmartre date) in 2002. Strikes me as a bit hit-and-miss, which isn't quite the same as saying his avant-garde's become old hat. B+(**)

Albert Ayler Quartet: Copenhagen Live 1964 (1964 [2017], Hatology): This is the Club Montmartre set previously released on The Copenhagen Tapes, minus the three radio shots moved into European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 -- these releases are evidently part of an Ayler Estate effort to bring some order to the various long-circulating Ayler bootlegs. Same quartet. Same chaos. B+(**)

Albert Ayler: Stockholm, Berlin 1966 (1966 [2011], Hatology): Two dates, a week apart, same group: Donald Ayler (trumpet), Michel Sampson (violin), William Folwell (bass), Beaver Harris (drums). Tightly layered, especially with the violin, around a skeleton of gospel and circus music. B+(***)

Paul McCandless With the Paul Winter Consort: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (1970-2010 [2017], Living Music): Playing oboe mostly, some English horn (soprano sax and bass clarinet elsewhere, notably with Oregon from 1980 on), McCandless joined soprano saxophonist Winter's group for three 1969-72 albums, with several reunions from 1986 to 2010. Together they sound like medievalists trying to pass for new age, and the occasional vocals hardly qualify as either. C+ [cd]

John Prine: September 78 (1978 [2017], Oh Boy): Recorded Sept. 23, 1978 in Chicago, after his four justly famous Atlantics and first of three mostly forgotten Asylums (Bruised Orange). Originally released on numbered orange vinyl for Record Store Day 2015, now available for the masses. I first saw him a decade later when he was reduced by playing solo, which he carried off easily on wit, but this band, with organ and flashy guitar, hems him in, although they rock impressively on his lesser known songs (one appeared later on 1980's Storm Windows, two only show up here, including one tantalizingly close to Chuck Berry). B+(***)

Old Music

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live From Banlieus Bleues (2004, Trugroid): Cover reads Live 01 at Banlieus Bleues but website gives this title. This closes out the group's most intensive period, following six releases (7-CD) in three years. Personnel list omits credits, but aside from leader Greg Tate the names I don't need to look up are Vijay Iyer (keybs), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Matana Roberts (alto sax), and Mazz Swift (violin) -- figure most of the 16 for guitar and vocals, plus bass and drums. Slippery groove, not a lot of vocals but they can swing either atmospheric or funky. B+(***)

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: If You Can't Dazzle Them With Your Brilliance, Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth (2004 [2005], Trugroid, 2CD): Another live set, from performances in Spain, France, and New York. Unable to find a credits list, but the first concerts immediately follow Not April in Paris. "A Night in Tunisia" gives you something you can calibrate from, or try, as the multipart pieces run on and on. No idea what "blisluth" means. B+(***)

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006, Trugroid, 2CD): Personnel list runs to 37 names: 4 guitarists, 5 drummers, and 10 vocalists (counting "rhymes" and "recitation/oratory"), the goal "23rd century R&B," the grooves stretched and pliable. Like most of their records, especially the long ones, there are patches of brilliance and long stretches of enjoyable groove. B+(***)

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Chopped and Screwed: Volume 2 (2007, Trugroid): Remixes, the title referring to a technique DJ Screw developed in Houston in the 1990s based on slowing the beat down -- something I don't know enough about to judge how it was applied here. No evidence of a Volume 1. Personnel listed as Greg Tate, Jarid Michael Nickerson, and Mazz Wright, although horns are audible, as is some spoken word (rap?). B

Jeremiah Cymerman: Purification/Dissolution (2011-12 [2012], 5049): Clarinetist, fifth album since 2007, solo but also credited with amplifiers, synths, and electronics, which push this into the domain of avant-noise. Bit harsh for me. B [bc]

Jeremiah Cymerman/Christopher Hoffman/Brian Chase: Pale Horse (2013 [2014], 5049): Clarinet/cello/drums, two cuts at 21:45 and 16:26. Less of a noise album, but dense and mysterious, not anything you'd take for chamber jazz. B+(*) [bc]

Jeremiah Cymerman/Evan Parker/Nate Wooley: World of Objects (2013 [2014], 5049): The clarinetist returns to noise world through his "digital post-production." Saxophonist Parker is still unmistakable, especially on soprano, while trumpet player Wooley remains a journeyman. Not uninteresting, but my tolerance for this sort of thing is limited. B- [bc]

Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (1999 [2000], Nonesuch): Solo guitar, sometimes banjo, mostly originals but five covers offer framework -- two old country songs, two showbiz standards, a piece from John McLaughlin. Nothing exciting, but picks carefully. B+(*)

George Garzone: Moodiology (1998 [1999], NYC): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Boston, a legendary educator and mentor to many dozens of famous saxophonists, has most often recorded as the Fringe, a sax trio as ragged as its name. With Fringe rhythm section here -- John Lockwood on bass and Bob Gullotti on drums -- plus Douglas Yates (alto sax/bass clarinet), Claire Daly (baritone sax), Kenny Werner (piano), and Mike Mainieri (vibes). Exceptional chops, but the other horns sometimes add a sour note, and some of his cover ideas don't work out so well. B+(**)

George Garzone: The Fringe in New York (2000, NYC): The Fringe albums date back to 1978, and this is the only one with the star saxophonist's name on the cover, hence the credit. Mike Mainieri joins on vibes, which can tilt the group into something merely pretty -- especially when Garzone gives up his fierce tenor for pretty soprano. B+(**)

George Garzone: Among Friends (2009, Stunt): Especially pianist Steve Kuhn, who often takes over the album, also Anders Christensen (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). The leader's tenor sax is especially eloquent on the ballads. B+(***)

Jon Irabagon/Andrew Neff/Danny Fox/Scott Ritchie/Alex Wyatt: Here Be Dragons (2009 [2012], Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor sax/alto sax/piano/bass/drums, with Chris Cash (programming) a guest on one cut. Opens with the saxes neatly in sync, but the leader is hard to contain. B+(*)

Noah Kaplan Quartet: Descendants (2008 [2011], Hatology): Same group as on the new album. Guitarist Joe Morris is the main draw, with the leader playing more soprano sax, and taking the tenor slower. B+(**)

Joe Morris Trio: Antennae (1997, AUM Fidelity): Avant guitarist, discography starts around 1990. With Nate McBride on bass and Jerome Deupree on drums, loose yet jagged. B+(**)

Joe Morris/Mat Maneri: Soul Search (2000, AUM Fidelity): Guitar and viola duets, both electric, neither overpowering, closer in effect to Maneri's bent avant-classicism than to the guitarist's usual idiosyncrasies. B+(*)

Joe Morris: Singularity (2000 [2001], AUM Fidelity): As the title suggests, a solo album, with Morris playing steel string acoustic guitar instead of his usual electric -- adds more texture while better exhibiting his speed and dexterity. B+(**)

Joe Morris Bass Quartet: High Definition (2007 [2008], Hatology): No fear, just one bassist -- Morris, better known at guitar but has many recordings on double bass. Two horns: Alan Chase (alto, soprano, and baritone sax) and Tyler Ho Bynum on cornet, with Luther Gray on drums. Tails off a wee bit at the end, but most of the way the horns spin gloriously, while the leader's longtime drummer keeps the rhythm surprising. A-

Joe Morris: Mess Hall (2011 [2014], Hatology): Guitarist, emphasis on electric here, backed by Jerome Deupree on drums and (less obviously) Steve Lantner on keyboards. Five pieces from 9:01 to 11:52, dense and gnarly. B+(**)

Randy Newman: Live (1971, Reprise): Recorded at the Bitter End in New York, just singer-songwriter and his piano, after only two studio albums -- notably his likely best-ever 12 Songs (4 songs from there, 5 from his debut, 2 destined for Sail Away, 1 eventually reworked for 1977's Little Criminals, 2 more). B

Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003, Nonesuch): Reconstructed demos, just the songwriter pounding on his piano and barking out his lyrics -- except to songs you already know -- well, songs I know. Strikes me as long on history and "Political Science" (a title as well as a theme). "Rednecks" catches ever deeper in my craw, perhaps because he sings it with such gusto. He does "God's Song" the same way, and that's fine by me. B+(*)

Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 (2016, Nonesuch): Released five years after Vol. 2, itself eight years following Vol. 1, he's obviously in no hurry. He opens with two of his most famous/notorious songs, "Short People" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come," although he winds up picking a couple songs I don't recall (one with a surprisingly generous refrain: "it's just amazing how fair people can be"). Also one song I've been thinking about a lot as Trump and Pruitt lay waste to the environment: "Burn On," about the time the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Just piano and vocal, scaling "I Love L.A." back to human size, especially touching on "Guilty." B+(***)

Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook (2003-16 [2016], Nonesuch, 3CD): This box rolls up the three Songbook volumes, plus four extra songs at the end, including the caustic Bush-era "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" and the presumably satiric Obama-era "I'm Dreaming" ("of a white president") with lines like: "he won't be the brightest/but he'll be the whitest/and I'll vote for that." B+(**)

Flip Phillips: Swing Is the Thing (1999 [2000], Verve): Tenor saxophonist, original name Joseph Edward Flipelli, born 1915 in Brooklyn, came up in big bands including the Benny Goodman and Woody Herman outfits and was a Jazz at the Philharmonic regular. Died in 2001, so this was his last album: with Benny Green (piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Christian McBride (bass), Kenny Washington (drums), and guest spots for Joe Lovano and James Carter -- they bump up the energy level, but the leader's light tone swings everything else. B+(**)

Flip Phillips: Celebrates His 80th Birthday at the March of Jazz 1995 (1995 [2003], Arbors): Big party, as befits an eminent swing-to-bop saxophonist, surrounded here by near contemporaries and younger retro players -- eighteen names in the "combined personnel," including fellow saxophonists Scott Hamilton, Phil Woods, and Bob Wilber, plus Buddy DeFranco on clarinet, Randy Sandke on trumpet; three each pianists, guitarists, and bassists; two drummers. Gives the party a JATP flavor, especially closing with "Perdido." B+(***)

John Pizzarelli: Let There Be Love (2000, Telarc): Guitarist, working on becoming a standards crooner, with band going soft to keep from overwhelming his voice -- Ray Kennedy on piano, brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Tony Tedesco's credit is "brushes on book." Some guests (including father Bucky Pizzarelli) show up late but don't make much of an impression. B

John Prine: Prime Prine: The Best of John Prine (1971-75 [1976], Atlantic): Twelve songs from four albums worth owning on their own, released as soon as Prine left (was cut?) for Asylum. Christgau panned this: "Not as rewarding cut for cut as John Prine or Sweet Revenge, not as interesting conceptually as Diamonds in the Rough or Common Sense. Good songs, useless album." I wouldn't have bothered but I owned the album way back when -- probably bought it after I got my first taste on personal favorite Common Sense but before I wised up and grabbed the others. Superseded by the first disc of Rhino's Great Days, but somehow this is the one that stayed in print. So if you don't know any better: A-

John Prine: Pink Cadillac (1979, Asylum): Sixth album, second for Asylum, recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Studio by sons Knox and Jerry Phillips, with only five Prine originals -- Billy Lee Riley joins to duet on his song, and others include Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War With You," "Baby Let's Play House," and "Ubangi Stomp." I'm not sure that any of the rockabilly moves work -- for one thing the sound leaves much to be desired -- but the Tillman cover shows that he can always fall back on country tradition, and "Down by the Side of the Road" is top-shelf. B

John Prine: Storm Windows (1980, Asylum): Midway in a series of five albums between the four Atlantics and his two brilliant 1991-95 albums (The Missing Years and Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings), a solid album I might have taken for more had I been paying attention at the time. Only two covers, and his originals are much more appealing -- a couple I know from elsewhere (probably Great Days), others that couldn't be by anyone else. A-

John Prine: John Prine Live (1988, Oh Boy): Double LP, later a single CD, with 19 songs, recorded at five spots but the only dates provided are song copyrights -- all but two 1971-79 (1981, 1986). Mostly solo, acoustic guitar and vocals, which fits my memory of the period -- I didn't pick up a lot of the patter but did recognize "the happy enchilada song" bit. Steve Goodman joins in for one song, and Bonnie Raitt takes the lead on "Angel From Montgomery." B+(*)

Schweizer Holz Trio [Hans Koch/Urs Leimgruber/Omri Ziegele]: Love Letters to the President (2008, Intakt): Swiss wood, as in woodwinds: bass clarinet/soprano sax, soprano/tenor sax, alto sax/voice. With no rhythm to move them along, the horns are erratic, prickly, and sometimes a bit warbly. B+(*)

Matthew Shipp: Duos With Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (1997-98 [2011], Hatology): Alternates tracks from two of Shipp's Duo albums, Thesis with guitarist Morris (6/13 tracks), and Gravitational Systems with violinist Maneri (5/10). Neither were personal favorites, but the mix helps focus on the remarkable pianist. B+(*)

Chris Speed: Yeah No (1997, Songlines): The tenor saxophonist's first album, a title he later recycled as a group name. He also plays some clarinet, with Cuong Vu on trumpet, Skuli Sverrisson on bass, and Jim Black on drums. The two-horn freeplay starts in high gear, downshifts later. B+(**)

Chris Speed: Deviantics (1998, Songlines): Same group, with trumpeter Vu doing much of the slicing and dicing. B+(**)

Chris Speed: Emit (2000, Songlines): Same quartet, the leader playing some clarinet as well as tenor sax, drummer Jim Black also credited with melodica. Trumpet player Cuong Vu continues to claim the high ground. B+(***)

Chris Speed/Chris Cheek/Stéphane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil (2006 [2008], ESP Disk): I've been known to confuse the two Chrises: they were born a year apart, both mostly play tenor sax, have less than a dozen headline albums (starting in 1997-98) but play on many more. Cheek plays tenor and soprano here, Speed clarinet, Leibovici bass. Very minimal, soft harmonies with a little fuzz, no beat. A second disc, Jugendstil II, was released in 2010 with Lee Konitz replacing Speed. B

Chris Speed/Zeno De Rossi: Ruins (2011-13 [2014], Skirl): Duets. De Rossi is an Italian drummer -- not much under his name but he's recorded in a couple dozen groups, especially with Franco D'Andrea but the groups also include Full Metal Klezmer and Meshuge Klezmer Band. Speed plays some of his most powerful tenor sax in this stripped down framework. A-

Chris Speed: Really OK (2013 [2014], Skirl): Tenor saxophone trio with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums), same as his later Platinum on Tap, pushing him to the forefront to show off his chops. Seven originals, plus pieces from Coltrane and Coleman and "All of Me." B+(***)

Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: The Silence Behind Each Cry: Suite for Urs Voerkel (2001 [2002], Intakt): Alto saxophonist, born in Israel, studied in Boston and London, settled in Zürich. Group here is a nonet, named for a "workplace" (Google translates as "cheap farmer") in Zürich. Voerkel was a Swiss pianist (1949-99), honored but evidently uninvolved in this project, a four-part suite built around poems by Robert Creeley (sung operatically, presumably by Ziegele). B+(*)

Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: Edges & Friends (2004 [2006], Intakt): Octet, just two horns (Ziegele on alto and Jürg Wickihalder on soprano sax), with piano, cello, two each bass and drums. Eight pieces, again structured around poetry -- Robert Creeley, Dylan Thomas, Ziegele himself. The band can impress -- especially pianist Gabriela Friedli -- but I could do without the poetry. B

Omri Ziegele's Where's Africa Trio: Can Walk on Sand (2009 [2010], Intakt): Expands the Swiss alto saxophonist's duo with pianist Irène Schweizer from their 2005 Where's Africa, adding South African drummer Makaya Ntshoko, with Jürg Wickihalder adding his soprano sax to three cuts. Abdullah Ibrahim is a shared passion. B+(***)

Notes

Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo

Monday, August 28, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28590 [28563] rated (+27), 374 [378] unrated (-4).

August weekly rating totals: 18, 30, 25, 27, for a total of 100, down a bit given that typical months top 120. Streamnotes draft file currently has 111 reviews, so maybe the rated counts have missed a few things. I'll post Streamnotes by the end of the month, Thursday at latest. Maybe I'll find something more by then, but I currently have 14 new A- records. That's actually a bit above average -- e.g., see my 2016 list, which shows 142 new A/A- records last year (average month just under 12). My 2017 list currently shows 88 A- (no A) records so far, so I'm averaging 11/month. The split is currently 49 jazz, 39 non-jazz. In recent years, as far back as I've noticed, jazz runs up a big edge early then non-jazz catches up when I start looking at EOY lists. Last year's split wound up 74 jazz, 67 non-jazz.


Guitarist John Abercrombie died last week. You can find my grade list here. As I recall, I had Timeless on LP back shortly after it appeared. I was rather underwhelmed at the time, but came to appreciate him over the last 10-15 years, often when he made appearances on other folks' records. Could be I still have The Third Quartet underrated. It garnered a crown in the last edition of the Penguin Guide. When I initially panned it, ECM's publicist wrote me to ask if I was feeling OK. As it happened, I wasn't -- it was shortly after a very traumatic event. I eventually went back to the album, gave it another chance, and found much more there. Died at age 72.


One piece of news last week was that the Village Voice announced they would cease publication of its print edition, which had been distributed for free since 1998. The paper was founded in 1955, and had become famous enough that I bought a subscription when I was living in Wichita in 1968 or 1969. (Somewhat before I also had a subscription to the New York Free Press; no Wikipedia and very little Google on that -- did it only exist in 1968?) I mostly read politics and theater reviews then, but several years later, after I started reviewing records for the Voice, I was able to find Robert Christgau's 1969 articles stashed away in my parents' attic. I doubt I read the Voice regularly while I was at college in St. Louis, but after I dropped out, I started reading a lot of rock crit. wrote a little, and wrote to Christgau in 1975. He wrote back and asked me to write a review of a new Bachman-Turner Overdrive album (see my archive). I moved to New York City a couple years later and got to know him pretty well, but never developed much of a relationship with the Voice except through him. I stopped writing for the Voice in 1979, moved to New Jersey to write software, and on to Massachusetts, back to NJ, and finally returned to Kansas in 1999. In 2004 Christgau asked me to write a Jazz Consumer Guide for the Voice, which continued past 2006 (when Christgau was fired) until Rob Harvilla left in 2011.

The Voice continues online, and since Peter Barbey bought the paper from New Times (the company responsible for the mass firings of 2005-06) they've started to bring back some of the writers who made the paper so distinctive. It's been over a decade since I've even seen a print copy, but still this seems like another end-of-era moment. To mark this, the following are a couple links to articles with reminiscences by several writers/editors:


New records rated this week:

  • Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (2017, Eclectus): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (2016 [2017], Not Two): [r]: A-
  • Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (2017, Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Fred Hersch: Open Book (2016-17 [2017], Palmetto): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jon Irabagon/John Hegre/Nils Are Drønen: Axis (2013 [2017], Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (2011 [2017], Hatology): [cd]: A-
  • LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst: Metamorphosis (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (2017, Ad Astrum): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pale Horse: Badlands (2015 [2016], 5049): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Dave Potter: You Already Know (2017, Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Bobby Zankel & the Wonderful Sound 6: Celebrating William Parker @ 65 (2017, Not Two): [r]: B+(**)
  • Omri Ziegele: Where's Africa: Going South (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: A-

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

  • Paul McCandless: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (1970-2010 [2017], Living Music): [cd]: C+

Old music rated this week:

  • Jon Irabagon/Andrew Neff/Danny Fox/Scott Ritchie/Alex Wyatt: Here Be Dragons (2009 [2012], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Noah Kaplan Quartet: Descendants (2008 [2011], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Schweizer Holz Trio [Hans Koch/Urs Leimgruber/Omri Ziegele]: Love Letters to the President (2008, Intakt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Speed: Yeah No (1997, Songlines): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Speed: Deviantics (1998, Songlines): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Speed: Emit (2000, Songlines): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Speed/Chris Cheek/Stéphane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil (2006 [2008], ESP Disk): [r]: B
  • Chris Speed/Zeno De Rossi: Ruins (2011-13 [2014], Skirl): [r]: A-
  • Chris Speed: Really OK (2013 [2014], Skirl): [r]: B+(***)
  • Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: The Silence Behind Each Cry: Suite for Urs Voerkel (2001 [2002], Intakt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: Edges & Friends (2004 [2006], Intakt): [r]: B
  • Omri Ziegele's Where's Africa Trio: Can Walk on Sand (2009 [2010], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Douglas: Little Giant Still Life (Greenleaf Music): October 20
  • Tomas Fujiwara: Triple Double (Firehouse 12): October 20
  • Philipp Gerschlauer/David Fiuczynski: Mikrojazz: Neue Expressionistische Musik (Rare Noise): cdr, September 25
  • Dave Rempis: Lattice (Aerophonic): October 10
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cochonnerie (Aerophonic): October 10

prev -- next