Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Big news this coming week will be the Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. No one I've read has any idea what the Koreans (either North or South) are thinking going into the summit, nor do they seem to have any grasp on the Trump administration -- not just because Trump has been even cagier than usual (by which I mean his peculiar habit of masking ignorance with uncertainty and whimsy and passing it all off as unpredictability). Still, one piece I tried to read was Alex Ward: Trump just made 3 shocking statements about North Korea. I've cited Ward's pieces on Korea before, and expect something more or less sensible from him, but this isn't that. First problem here is that I can't find any statements, much less "shocking" ones, by Trump here. Actually, the most ignorant statements appear to be coming from Ward, such as: "Presidents don't habitually welcome murderous dictators to the White House"; and "Experts I spoke to said that's [a "normal" relationship with the US] something North has wanted for years because it would legitimize the Kim regime in the eyes of the world." Isn't it a little late to think that meeting with Donald Trump will legitimize anyone? Having been shunned by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Golden State Warriors, isn't Trump the one left with a desperate craving for legitimization?

The most shocking statement in the article is a subhed: "Kim has given little away. Trump has offered a lot." What exactly has Trump offered, other than his passive-aggressive willingness to meet, most recently couched in a vow to walk out of the meeting within ten minutes if he doesn't like the vibe? Ward cites an Ankit Panda tweet as "on table for June 12 should things go well, as of Trump's recent remarks":

  • declaration on end of Korean War
  • move toward normalization
  • agreement on moving toward a peace treaty
  • invitation for Kim Jong Un to the US
  • no sanctions relief until denuclearization (per Abe)

The first point is really a no-brainer. The War effectively ended 65 years ago, and nobody wants to restart it. Normalization should also be, and should move directly into some degree of sanctions relief -- certainly for trade of non-military goods. The US had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union long before it broke up, and with China long before they adopted any market reforms, and it's certain that even the constrained degree of normalization there helped bring about reform. The US hasn't been willing to engage with North Korea because Americans bear grudges over the 1950-53 war they couldn't win, because North Korea is a useful enemy to bolster defense spending, and because (unlike China, to pick an obvious example) businesses don't forsee a lot of profit opportunity there. In short, it has, thus far, cost the US very little to perpetuate a state of hostility, and until North Korea developed ICBMs with nuclear warheads, there never seemed to be any risk.

There really isn't much risk even now: Kim certainly understands that any offensive use of his new weapons will only result in the obliteration of his country. It's become abundantly clear that the only value anyone has ever gained with nuclear weapons is deterrence against foreign attack. Still, no one likes being tested, let alone intimidated, and dread makes a fragile foundation for peace. Closed, hostile relations are lose-lose. Open, equitable relations can be win-win: most obviously by opening up free trade. What's happened over the past two years is that North Korea first put on a show of force to get US attention, then followed that up with a series of conciliatory gestures opening up the prospect of normal relations and mutual economic growth. If the US had sensible people in charge of foreign policy, this whole process would be straightforward. Unfortunately, we have Trump, and Trump has Bolton, but even people who should know better (like Ward) keep falling back into unhelpful habits.

The big question this summit faces is whether Trump and Kim can figure out a way to sequence steps they ultimately seem to be willing to agree to: ending the official state of hostilities, normalizing relations (which both includes ending sanctions and deescalating military threats). The Bolton position insists on North Korea giving up everything before the US gives in on anything, and Bolton is ideally positioned to whisper in Trump's gullible ear.

I could write something about what I think should happen, but it won't. As Trump says, "we'll see."

Still not doing full website updates, although I've been making plodding progress fixing the massive breakage from the crash. One thing of particular note is that I lost various passwords for my wife's media accounts. I've restored a couple, but not all of them, and I'm getting annoying complaints for lack of the rest. Thus far a more conspicuous problem is that I'm running Firefox without an ad blocker, so for the first time in years I'm experiencing the entire torrent of hideousness that supposedly keeps the internet free. I guess I'll chalk it up to experience, but the irritation factor is immense, and I'm not sure how long before I break down and try to defend myself. Still, I can imagine some sort of add-on short of a blocker that would make it more tolerable: some way to point at an object and either delete or cover it up.

Keyboard still giving me aggravation, but I have a replacement ready to plug in: a mechanical (brown) switch gaming thing with red LED backlighting. Certainly the most expensive keyboard I've bought since my typesetting days, or maybe my old IBM Selectric.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias didn't flag any important stories last week, but he did post some:

  • Zeeshan Aleem: The G7 summit looked like it was going okay. Then Trump got mad on Twitter. Note photo of Trump sitting meekly with his arms crossed and hands tucked away, while Angela Merkel gets in his face, with Shinzo Abe and John Bolton looking shifty in the background. [PS: Saw a tweet with this picture, captioned: 'The Persuasion of the Imbecile' by Caravaggio.] As everyone knows, Trump is a world class asshole, but he's not the sort who'll pick a fight in person. One recalls that back during the campaign he made a publicity trip to Mexico to confront the president there over his wall idea but was so polite he didn't dare ruffle any feathers, only to return to a rally in Phoenix that night where he delivered one of his most racist and xenophobic speeches. So I guess it's no surprise that he waited until he was back in his comfort zone -- tweeting from the plane as he flew away -- to trash the G7 conference and his fellow leaders' lukewarm efforts to make nice. Or maybe it just took some private time with Bolton to buck the president up. For what happened next, see: Matt Shuham: G7 Nations Respond to Trump's Rejection of Joint Statement: 'Let's Be Serious'. Given that the former G8 kicked Russia out to show their disapproval of Russia's annexation of Crimea, maybe they'll soon become the G6. Actually, I think Trump is right here: Trump wants Russia invited back into the G7. This notion that nations are entitled to shun and shame other countries because it plays well in domestic polling is hacking the world up into hostile camps, at a time when cooperation is more important than ever. And right now the biggest divider is none other than Donald Trump, although he actually gets way too much help from many Democrats. For instance here's a tweet that got forwarded to my feed:

    Popular vote winner Hillary Clinton warned everyone that Russia was interfering in the election and that, if elected, Trump would serve as Putin's Puppet.

    Trump just ruined the G7 summit and pissed off our allies . . . She was right about everything.

    Actually, she's not even right about this: the G7/8 isn't necessarily a meeting of "our allies" -- the members are supposedly the world's major economies -- and more inclusive would be better than less. On the other hand, she wouldn't have withdrawn from Paris, or from the Iran agreement, nor would she have levied steel and aluminum tariffs, which Trump turned into points of contention, not just with "allies" but with everyone. For more on this, see: Susan B Glasser: Under Trump, "America First" Really Is Turning Out to Be America Alone. You might also note this data point: a poll of Germans reveals that only 14% "consider the US a reliable partner"; the figure for Russia is 36%, China 43%.

  • Katie Annand: I work with children separated from caregivers at the border. What happens is unforgivable.

    In addition to the nearly incomprehensible suffering the United States is imposing on these children, the administration's new policy, which separates children from parents, makes it much harder for the child to make a claim for US protection. As of last month, all parents are being referred for prosecution because they crossed into the United States without documentation. The parents are placed into US Marshals custody in an adult detention facility, while the child is rendered "unaccompanied" and deportation proceedings are initiated against the child alone. Their case is completely separated from their parents and little to no communication is facilitated between the parent and child.

    Parents don't know what's happening to their children, and vice versa. This has significant implications for the child's ability to make their case for US protection. Often, adult family members have information and documents that are vital to making their case. We see children who may not know why they came to the United States -- parents and caregivers often do not tell their children the full story, lest they be scared or traumatized.

    Also see: Ryan Devereaux: 1,358 Children and Counting -- Trump's "Zero Tolerance" aBorder Policy Is Separating Families at Staggering Rates.

  • Nicholas Bagley: Trump's legal attack on the ACA isn't about health care. It's a war on the rule of law. Also: Dylan Scott: The Trump Administration believes Obamacare's preexisting conditions protections are now unconstitutional.

  • Fiona Harvey: 'Carbon bubble' could spark global financial crisis, study warns: A "bubble," here as elsewhere, is an excessively high valuation of an asset, making it likely to rapidly deflate in the future, probably damaging the global financial system. There is good reason to think that oil and gas reserves are overvalued, mostly because demand is likely to decline in favor of non-carbon energy sources (especially solar). Harvey also wrote What is the carbon bubble and what will happen if it bursts?

  • Emily Heiler: The New Yorker's Jane Mayer recommends 3 books about money and American politics: Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class; F Scott Fitzgerald: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz; and Kim Phillips-Fein: Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal. I've read two of those -- not hard to guess which -- and they're pretty good, but better still is Mayer's own Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and I should also mention Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, and Thomas Frank: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. And while it's a bit dated -- as Michael Lewis later noted on his book on 1980s financial scandals, Liar's Poker: "how quaint" -- you can still learn things from Kevin Phillips: American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush (2004). For my part, I've been aware of the pervasive influence of money in politics at least since c. 1970, when I read G. William Domhoff's Who Rules America? (1967) and the Ferdinand Lundberg's The Rich and the Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today (1968, revising his 1936 America's 60 Families) -- and that was back in the golden age of American equality (Paul Krugman dubbed it "the great compression"). But once you start noticing the role money plays in politics, you find it everywhere.

  • German Lopez: Trump wants to execute drug dealers. But he granteed commutation to one because Kim Kardashian asked.

  • Jay Rosen: Why Trump Is Winning and the Press Is Losing: Sure, Trump's pre-emptive war on "Fake News" is mostly a prophylactic between Trump's supporters and the possibility that honest media might expose some of his lies and distortions, and more importantly the real effects of Republican policies on people's lives. "Nixon seethed about the press in private. Trump seethes in public." And it's not just Trump: "At the bottom of the pyramid is an army of online trolls and alt-right activists who shout down stories critical of the president and project hatred at the journalists who report them. Between the president at thetop and the baseat the bottom are the mediating institutions: Breitbart, Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, Rush Limbaugh, and, especially, Fox News." Of course, you know all that. But what about this:

    There is a risk that journalists could do their job brilliantly, and it won't really matter, because Trump supporters categorically reject it, Trump opponents already believed it, and the neither-nors aren't paying close enough attention. In a different way, there is a risk that journalists could succeed at the production of great journalism and fail at its distribution, because the platforms created by the tech industry have so overtaken the task of organizing public attention.

    Actually, there isn't much chance of brilliant journalism, for lots of reasons -- institutional biases, of coruse, but also issue complexity, received frameworks, the neverending struggle between superficiality and depth, and the simple question of who cares about what. For example, "There is a risk that Republican elites will fail to push back against Trump's attacks on democratic institutions, including the press" -- but why assume they should push back when they're leading the charge? It's always been the case that one's interests colored one's views. What is relatively new is the insistence that only views matter, that there are no objective facts worth considering. In the old days, one tried to spin the news. Now you just run roughshod over your opposition. And it's really not Trump who started this. The first real articulation of the idea came during the Bush years, when someone (Karl Rove?) made fun of "the reality-based community." From there, it was only a short step before Republicans started wondering why we should encourage people to get a higher education. Trump simply bought into the prevailing party line. As I said during the campaign, Republicans have been adept at "dog whistling" racism for many years, but Trump doesn't do that. He's just the dog.

    On the other hand, maybe you can make a case for brilliant journalism: Jon Schwarz: Seymour Hersh's New Memoir Is a Fascinating, Flabbergasting Masterpiece. Matt Taibbi also wrote: Seymour Hersh's Memoir Is Full of Useful Reporting Secrets.

  • Jeremy Scahill: More Than Just Russia -- There's a Strong Case for the Trump Team Colluding With Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE: Even before you get to the question of who got the most bang for their bucks.

  • Emily Stewart: Why there's so much speculation about Starbucks chair Howard Schultz's 2020 ambitions: Well, he's a rich Democrat, and as far back as the Kennedys the party has been jonesing for candidates rich enough to fund their own campaigns. Stewart mentions other rich and often famous rumored candidates like Mark Cuban, Bob Iger, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey. Clearly, the media is smitten with the idea, especially those who saw Trump's election as a popular rebuke to the Washington establishment. But hasn't Trump utterly discredited the notion that America would be better off run like a corporation? I suppose you could counter that Trump wasn't actually much good at running his business, whereas other entrepreneurs are more competent, at least to the point of recognizing when they need to hire skilled help. But frankly the record for successful businessmen moving into the presidency isn't encouraging. Stewart offers some examples:

    To be sure, Trump isn't the only US president to have experience in business. George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Herbert Hoover also had significant private sector experience on their résumés, and none, arguably, performed spectacularly well.

    Well, the Bushes were always hacks, who got set up in the Texas oil business thanks to political connections, and still didn't get much out of it. (G.W. Bush made most of his money as the front man "owner" of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, where the money came from real oil men.) Unlike the Bushes (Jack Germond liked to refer to them as "empty suits"), Hoover and Carter were very smart, knowledgeable, dilligent, and earnest, and terrible presidents. I've been toying with the idea that American political history breaks down to four eras each with a dominant party, demarcated by elections in 1800, 1860, 1932, and 1980 (Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and [ugh!] Reagan). Hoover and Carter lost reëlection bids in two of those (James Buchanan ended the 1800-60 era, although he bears no other resemblance to Hoover or Carter). Trump will probably wind up sinking the Reagan era, but had it not been for the haplessness of the Democrats under Clinton and Obama, either Bush could have been the endpost. (The former lost to Clinton after a single term, and while the latter scratched out a second term, his final approval ratings were in the 20% range -- the worst since polling began.)

    I find it interesting that the richest US president before Trump, relative to his time of course, was George Washington -- a president Trump bears no other similarity to whatsoever. In particular, while Washington's "I cannot tell a lie" legend is apocryphal, he did go to great lengths to make certain that he was viewed as honest and "disinterested" -- that his statements and actions as president were virtuous and free of any hint of corruption. Trump is his polar opposite, a reflexive liar who scarcely ever bothers to conceal his financial interests in his power. Moreover, although several factors have conspired lately to thrust the wealthy into public office -- Mitt Romney, for instance, has a net worth close to Washington's (relatively speaking), and John McCain and John Kerry married rich heiresses. That atmosphere lends credibility to the moguls listed in the article. On the other hand, while almost anyone else on the Forbes 400 list could mount a campaign as "a better billionaire," one doubts the American people will feel like buying another. But given the DNC's crush on the rich and/or famous, they'd most likely welcome the idea.

  • Alexia Underwood: 5 Anthony Bourdain quotes that show why he was beloved around the world: Very much saddened at news of Bourdain's death. I read three of his books -- Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Cullinary Underbelly, A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisine, and Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. I recognized a kindred spirit not just in taste but more importantly in appreciating the work that goes into preparing good food. That isn't unusual among food writers, but time and again he surprised me with his take on people and history. I recall the Kissinger quote here from the book, or something very like it -- he wrote a lot about Vietnam and Cambodia in that book. The only one of the five quotes here that seems off is the one about North Korea, but that's because he didn't go there, didn't meet people and cook and eat with them, so all he's got is the newsreel. Maybe what he's been told is right, but elsewhere he took the bother to find out for himself. And as he's discovered repeatedly, people pretty much everywhere come up with ingenious ways of coping even with terrible hardships. No reason North Koreans should be that different. I doubt I've seen his shows more than five times, but liked them well enough to imagine watching more -- just never found the time. But the one thing I've repeatedly observed is that he's shown it's possible to appreciate good food without taking on snobbish airs. That's mostly because he respects everyone and everything that goes into a meal.

    I went back to the notebook to see what I had written about Bourdain over the years. Not as much as I thought I remembered, but there is his The Post-Election Interview. I also found a quote I had copied down, from Medium Raw, which has suddenly taken on a new chill:

    I was forty-four years old when Kitchen Confidential hit -- and if there was ever a lucky break or better timing, I don't know about it. At forty-four, I was, as all cooks too long on the line must be, already in decline. You're not getting any faster -- or smarter -- as a cook after age thirty-seven. The knees and back go first, of course. That you'd expect. But the hand-eye coordination starts to break up a little as well. And the vision thing. But it's the brain that sends you the most worrying indications of decay. After all those years of intense focus, multitasking, high stress, late nights, and alcohol, the brain stops responding the way you like. You miss things. You aren't as quick reading the board, prioritizing the dupes, grasping at a glance what food goes where, adding up totals of steaks on hold and steaks on the fire -- and cumulative donenesses. Your hangovers are more crippling and last longer. Your temper becomes shorter -- and you become more easily frustrated with yourself for fucking up little things (though less so with others). Despair -- always a sometime thing in the bipolar world of the kitchen -- becomes more frequent and longer-lasting as one grows more philosophical with age and has more to despair about.

    Some more scattered Bourdain links:

Monday, June 4, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29786 [29759] rated (+27), 339 [344] unrated (-5).

Rated count better than expected, but mostly due to listening to old (often familiar) music -- only 11 new releases below. Could be that I listened to/rated/reviewed a few albums between last Monday's update and my catastrophic computer crash. If so, I'll have to go back and redo. But I did find a couple of bookkeeping discrepancies that added to the rated count.

Current computer status:

  • Old work machine dead. New power supply had no effect, so motherboard is dead. Haven't removed and tested disks each. They are RAID-1, so both should have same data, and I should be able to recover from either one, but there's some learning curve there. Also possible the surge fried one or both.
  • Using my "music/media" machine I built a couple years ago. It is same or better (albeit cheaper), with an 8-core AMD processor (FX-8350), ASUS 970 Pro Gaming ATX motherboard, 32 GB SDRAM (1866), ASUS Radeon 2GB video card (best I could find for less than $60), 2 TB SATA hard disk, 24X DVD burner. It's running Ubuntu 16.04, which is a big advance from 12.04 on the dead machine. It is surprisingly fast at most things. But the newer software presents its own problems.
  • I had the computers on two opposite desks, so I've just turned around rather than try to move computers. However, the new desk is messier, the keyboard and mouse are less convenient (newer but generally crummier -- slower and more accident prone), and the lighting worse, so I need to work on all that.
  • I've recovered and restored the data on my various web servers, and set up local vhosted copies of each of the websites. Most have suffered quite a bit of breakage -- sometimes configuration problems, but mostly due to changes from PHP 5 to PHP 7. The worst of these problems is that the interface code for Robert Christgau's CG database has to be rewritten. Thus far I've only done this for three files -- but they, at least, work, and the other 30-40 files should be similar. The more vexing problem is that all of my stuff assumes the ISO-Latin-1 character set, and recent software defaults to UTF-8. I've temporarily solved this problem in some cases, but still have a problem with the database that I need to figure out. The better solution long-term would be to convert everything to UTF-8, but "everything" is a lot. [PS: While working on this post, I tried running a routine grep command on one of my files, only to have it fail, complaining that my ISO-8859-1 file is "binary." Spent an hour looking for workarounds, to little avail. It seems to be getting to the point where UTF-8 is so baked into the system that we have no other option than to adapt/adopt.]
  • Until I'm confident that I have everything working locally, I'm only doing limited updates to the servers -- mostly just poking new blog posts (although I'll need to add some image files for this one, and I should update the book roll). That means things like the year-to-date and music tracking lists are stuck in pre-crash state. That means I've done the indexing for last week's Streamnotes locally but haven't shipped it up to the server. No estimate on when I'll be able to update fully. End of June might be a reasonable goal.
  • I'm not feeling a lot of need for the many files I've lost, but one exception is a spellcheck program I wrote, which I find much more useful than standard tools like ispell. (I need to try my hand at rewriting that.) The biggest problem is likely to be the loss of many years of mail and my accumulated address book. I woke up one day last week feeling bad about never getting around to responding to kind notes from friends and (especially) strangers after my sister died. Would be nice to hear from those people again.
  • I'm putting off indefinitely the task of trying to recover the old disks. Also to figure out what to do with the old computer carcass. (The old Antec box is very nice, but the layout boxes the power supply up in the bottom of the case, so it has to be vented out the back. Nearly all power supplies these days are designed with fans pointing up, the idea being to mount them in the top of the box, which makes more sense give that hot air rises.)

As some point I may push a few of the more volatile music files onto the server. (Maybe I should try writing an explicit pathname archival tool today, since that would be useful now and again in the near future? OK, that's done.)

A couple of notes on this week's music. Back in December, Cuneiform announced that they wouldn't be releasing any new music -- you can still buy their back catalog, and they've put it up on Bandcamp so you can actually listen to it. (They've always been a holdout from streaming services.) So I was surprised when the two new Thumbscrew releases showed up in the mail. Looks like they have some more digital-only releases, but these are (or soon will be) physical. And they're so good I went back and tried to play Mary Halvorson's other new record this year, Code Girl. I still don't like it, the problem a singer who grates on my nerves. Vocals also undermine the Phil Haynes double, but his No Fast Food album is possibly the best showcase in recent memory for Dave Liebman.

The unpacking queue has thinned out considerably in the last month, and not having time to do much research, I've resorted to using Napster's very limited "featured" offerings. That got me to Chvrches, Gift of Gab, Pusha T, and Kanye West. I wound up giving West's 7-track "album" an extra play after a Facebook friend raved about it, and another stressed how much better it got after multiple plays. I also followed links to reviews by Rob Harvilla. Meaghan Garvey, and Lindsay Zoladz, none of which turned out to be all that positive. I looked the album up on Metacritic, where its average score is 67 for 20 reviews (user score is 7.4 on 397 ratings). I wound up bumping the album one slot, but was already regretting that before "Ghost Town" finished.

I'm counting the 7-cut (21-23 minute) West productions as EPs. In the past I've often lowballed EPs, not because I think they lack value but because usually a record takes some time to make itself felt. Still, two of my A- grades this week are EPs (both six cuts, one a mere 21:16, the other a near-LP 28:40). Both are terrific, but also feel pretty substantial to me. Between the vinyl revival and the dominance of digital formats, that sort of length range is becoming common, making labels awkward.

As for my "old music," one of the scripts I tested was the one that prints out my grade database for a given artist. I used the Rolling Stones as my test case, and noticed the ungraded Black and Blue and a few albums I've never heard. Most were available on Napster, so I figured they'd make for easy listening while I was working on the website. Once I caught up with the missing items, I decided to go back and pick up the UK versions of early albums I knew from US editions. (One thing that inspired me here was Michael Tatum's review of Out of Our Heads -- US edition, although I had to look that detail up. By and large, the UK editions turned out not to be as good -- or maybe they just sounded a bit thin (on the computer) and dated? I didn't do any rechecking. I also didn't prepare cover images, even when they rose to A- or even A.

I imagine I'll follow similar strategies in coming weeks, and see where it all leads me. But I'll also take a look at Phil Overeem's latest list and see what else pops up. Played the new Sidi Touré album while writing this, realizing (again) there are old ones I should catch up with.

New records rated this week:

  • Chvrches: Love Is Dead (2018, Glassnote): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gift of Gab: Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again! (2018, Giftstribution Unlimited, EP): [r]: A-
  • Phil Haynes & Free Country: 60/69: My Favorite Things (2014 [2018], Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bongwool Lee: My Singing Fingers (2016 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • No Fast Food: Settings for Three (2016 [2018], Corner Store Jazz): [cd]: A-
  • Pusha T: Daytona (2018, GOOD/Def Jam, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Thumbscrew: Ours (2017 [2018], Cuneiform): [cd]: A-
  • Thumbscrew: Theirs (2017 [2018], Cuneiform): [cd]: A-
  • Kanye West: Ye (2018, Def Jam/GOOD Music, EP): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Ernie Krivda and Swing City: A Bright and Shining Moment (1998-2002 [2018], Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Professor Rhythm: Professor 3 (1991 [2018], Awesome Tapes From Africa, EP): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones [UK] (1964, Decca): [r]: A-
  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones No. 2 [UK] (1965, Decca): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads [UK] (1965, Decca): [r]: A-
  • The Rolling Stones: Aftermath [UK] (1966, Decca): [r]: A-
  • The Rolling Stones: Got Live if You Want It! (1963-66 [1966], Abkco): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons [UK] (1967, Decca): [r]: A
  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968 [1996], Abkco): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Made in the Shade (1969-74 [1975], Rolling Stones): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Black and Blue (1976, Rolling Stones): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Still Life (American Concert 1981) (1981 [1982], Rolling Stones/Virgin): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rolling Stones: Undercover (1983, Rolling Stones): [r]: B
  • The Rolling Stones: Flashpoint (1989-90 [1991], Rolling Stones/Virgin): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge (1994, Virgin): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rolling Stones: Bridges to Babylon (1997, Virgin): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Live Licks (2002-03 [2004], Virgin, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda/Gianni Mimmo: Triad (Long Song)
  • Satoko Fujii: This Is It! (Libra)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Impossible to put the usual amount of work into this weekly feature, but filling out and posting something of a stub is at least a step back toward normalcy, as well as something I can look back on for a timeline to this miserable period in the nation's storied but increasingly sorry history. The main problem is that I'm still waylaid by the crash of my main working computer. I've restored local copies of my websites, but the shift to a new computer, running newer software, has resulted in massive breakage. I'm making slow but steady progress there, but this website in particular is nowhere near stable enough for me to do my usual update. So while I'm doing the usual work locally, the only files I'm updating on the server are the blog posts.

A secondary problem is that my workspace has been disrupted, which among other things leaves me facing a different (even more cluttered) desk, using a different (and less comfortable) keyboard and mouse, with less satisfactory lighting, and other minor nuisances. Among other things, expect more typos: the keyboard touch is worse (although this one is less prone to dropping 'c'), a subtle change in emacs drops spaces where I expect to have to delete them (so I've caught myself deleting first characters of words), and a spellcheck script I wrote is gone and will have to be reinvented. Also note that where I used to keep twenty-some news/opinion sites permanently open, I've yet to re-establish the practice, nor have I looked up passwords to the few sites I have such access to, so my survey this week will be especially limited. I'm also running a browser without NoScript or even an ad blocker, so we'll see how long I can stand that.

Got email from Facebook reminding me that today is Bill "Xcix" Phillips' birthday. I usually don't bother with such notices, but last year I did, only to find out that Bill had died a few months earlier. So today's email reminds me that he's still dead, and how dearly I miss him.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest political stories of the week, explained: Puerto Rico got a credible estimate of Maria's death toll (approximately 4,600 excess deaths); Trump imposed tariffs on American allies; Roseanne got canceled; Dinesh D'Souza got a pardon. Other Yglesias posts:

  • Maureen Dowd: Obama -- Just Too Good for Us: Not my line or take. One problem is that we (by which I mostly mean the liberal punditocracy) spent so much effort into preëmptively congratulating ourselves on our foresight and good nature in electing Obama, we never bothered to consider whether we shouldn't wait until he did some things. (Case in point: the Nobel Peace Prize.) We did expect him to do things (good things), didn't we? And when he didn't, shouldn't we have been at least a little bit critical? Anyone can be naïve, but if after eight years you let the Clinton campaign shame you for doubting anything about Obama, you've moved on to foolishness and irrelevance. Dowd, quoting Obama adviser and new author Ben Rhodes (The World as It Is):

    The hunger for revolutionary change, the fear that some people were being left behind in America and that no one in Washington cared, was an animating force at the boisterous rallies for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

    Yet Obama, who had surfed a boisterous wave into the Oval, ignored the restiveness -- here and around the world. He threw his weight behind the most status quo, elitist candidate.

    "I couldn't shake the feeling that I should have seen it coming," Rhodes writes about the "darkness" that enveloped him when he saw the electoral map turn red. "Because when you distilled it, stripped out the racism and misogyny, we'd run against Hillary eight years ago with the same message Trump had used: She's part of a corrupt establishment that can't be trusted to change."

  • Norman G Finkelstein: Strong as Death: "Truth is that the Israeli army has no answer to non-violence resistance. . . . Therefore, the army's reaction is to open fire, in order to induce the Palestinians to start violent actions. With these the army knows how to deal." Note that Finkelstein has two recent books: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza, and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance With Israel Is Coming to an End.

  • Thomas Frank: Forget Trump -- populism is the cure, not the disease. A response to two recent books attacking "populism" as a right-wing assault on democracy: Yascha Mounk's The People vs. Democracy and William A. Galston's Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy. As a fellow Kansan, I've long sided with our populist heritage, so I agree with Frank that anti-populism is rooted in elitism, even when dressed up as an embrace of liberal democracy. After all, isn't the point of democracy to bend government to the will of the people?

  • Ed Pilkington: Trump's 'cruel' measures pushing US inequality to dangerous level, UN warns: Just to be clear, the complaint isn't about the rich getting even richer, but how Trump and his party are shredding what's left (after Reagan and Clinton and Bush) of the "safety net," making the poor more miserable and desperate.

  • Andrew Prokop: Why Trump hasn't tried to pardon his way out of the Mueller probe -- yet.

  • Ganesh Sitaraman: Impeaching Trump: could a liberal fantasy become a nightmare? Provocative title for a favorable book review of Laurence Tribe/Joshua Matz: To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment. My view is that impeachment is a purely political act, so unless/until you have the power to back it up there's no point talking about it. On the other hand, if I had a vote, and the question was put to a vote, sure, I'd vote guilty, even if the actual charges didn't exactly align with my own position (cf. Bill Clinton). By the way, I highly recommend Sitaraman's book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. I've since moved on to start Gordon S. Wood's Empire of Liberty, and have been pleased to find the two books in general agreement.

  • David Smith: How Donald Trump is weaponising the courts for political ends. Also by Smith: Trump goes it alone: running the White House not like a president, but a CEO. This hook would make more sense if it was widely understood how CEOs have evolved over the last 30-40 years. Where once CEOs were viewed as competent general managers of vast and complex enterprises, as their rewards have expanded tenfold relative to average employees, they've become increasingly imperious, egotistical, and desperate given how much "skin in the game" they have (mostly short-term bonuses and stock options). Their obsessions with busting unions and stripping regulations are of a piece with their insatiable power grab. On the other hand, Trump is actually worse than a modern CEO. He's an owner, so he's never been constrained by a board or stockholders (let alone the SEC).

    Harry Litman uses a different metaphor in President Trump Thinks He Is a King . . . and not one of your boring constitutional monarchs, either; more like the kind who could say, "L'état, c'est moi."

  • Li Zhou: Sen. Gillibrand said Bill Clinton should've resigned over Monica Lewinsky. Clinton disagrees. Well, he certainly should have resigned for something, but one thing about the Clintons is that they've always put their personal fortunes above their party and especially above the people who support that party.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Streamnotes (May 2018)

Back on Monday, when I posted Music Week, I figured I had a couple more days to add to my already substantial Streamnotes draft. But then disaster struck: my main computer seized up, losing (at least for now) what little additional work I had added. What happened was some kind of power surge worked its way through the UPS that supposedly protected the computer, into the computer's power supply and evidently on to the motherboard. Whether it also damaged the hard drives is yet to be determined, but replacing the power supply failed to light the motherboard's always-on LED, so something is probably seized up there. (On the other hand, there are no visible signs of physical damage, like popped capacitors or unseemly burn or smoke residue.)

Realizing that I couldn't repair/rebuild the computer anytime soon, I switched plans: I have a secondary computer which I use for listening to music and occasionally watching video. I rebuilt it a year or two ago, and it's actually a pretty solid machine: AMD 8-core CPU, ASUS motherboard, 32 GB RAM, 1 TB hard disk, a medium-low end video card. Most important, it's up to date, with Ubuntu 16.04 (vs. Ubuntu 12.04 on the dead machine). The outdated software has been a fairly serious problem: among other things, I wound up having to use the newer machine for Facebook and Twitter, and a Chromebook for Amazon (partly why Book Roundups have been rare lately).

The newer machine is running Firefox much faster than the dead one ever did. On the other hand, up-to-date software is causing me other problems, as websites which worked on the older versions have cracked in numerous ways. Most of my work, including my book drafts, has been hidden away on my website, so I figured I could get going again by retrieving data from the server. This is also true for a half-dozen other websites which I built and manage, so getting them back and running again will at least allow me to work going forward. I'm still out a fair amount of data, but the most critical parts (especially to other people) are on those websites.

I ran across a fairly daunting task last night, when I realized that PHP dropped the old mysql database interface module in favor of the "improved" mysqli module, necessitating a complete rewrite of all of the Consumer Guide database at Robert Christgau's website. I tried some band-aid solutions last night, and managed to successfully connect to the database, but that was it. I decided today I need to go back and RTFM ("read the fucking manual") until I actually understand how to use the new "object model." The code is scattered over about 30-40 files, and there is real risk that the rewritten to run under PHP 7 here will break on a server which is still running PHP 5.6.

So I decided to go after (hopefully) simpler problems today. In particular, realizing that today is the last day of May, I thought I should make an effort at posting May's Streamnotes column. The first problem was that when I initially brought up the blog roll, the only thing that appeared was the banner image. So I had to do some research on how to turn error messages on, then march through the wreckage. First problem was that the function split() had been dropped from PHP 7, in favor of explode(), but one of the arguments also had to be tweaked. I won't bore you with further details, but after a couple hours I managed to get the blog roll and individual posts looking right.

Then I figured I could prepare a new blog post, and copy that one file to the server, with a reasonable expectation that it would work. So I went through my usual motions of preparing a Streamnotes post, including opening next month's draft file and indexing this month's records. Of course, I couldn't see anything until I fixed a couple more split() calls, plus a more serious character set matter. But once I finish writing this introduction, all I'm going to upload is the blog file -- lest I inadvertently break something else. I'm not planning on doing a full update until I get a real handle on things.

One thing I can't do now is take the time to write up general comments on the records below. You can find some commentary in my various Music Week posts over the past week -- especially the one linked to above. I will note an exceptional number of A/A- records this month, and a pretty diverse set at that.

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 April 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (11180 records).

Recent Releases

3hattrio: Lord of the Desert (2018, Okehdokee): Folk group, from the southwest corner Utah near Zion National Park; banjo, fiddle, stand-up bass, sounding pretty rustic, although the bassist is a ringer from Florida who knows his way around the Caribbean. B+(**)

Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: An Angel Fell (2018, Strut): Tenor saxophonist, born Bruce Baker in Chicago, based in San Francisco, dates his group back to 1972 at Antioch College, where Cecil Taylor taught, but disbanded in 1977, not regrouping until 2012. Band is funky, with guitar and violin for texture, congas as well as drums. Sax is often terrific, but vocals disappoint. B+(**)

Bill Anschell: Shifting Standards (2017 [2018], Origin): Mainstream pianist, grew up in Seattle, spent a decade in Atlanta before moving back. Trio with Jeff Johnson (bass) and D'Vonne Lewis (drums), playing nine standards -- two from Gillespie, Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes," Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," the rest from the Berlin-to-Bernstein songbook, all smartly done. B+(***) [cd]

Anteloper: Kudu (2017 [2018], International Anthem): Duo, Jaimie Branch (trumpet, had a widely praised debut album in 2017) and Jason Nazary (drums, played in groups Bear in Heaven and Little Women). I don't know who is into electronics, but I figure that's the source of the dark atmospherics, with the trumpet blending in more often than standing out. B+(**) [bc]

Tiffany Austin: Unbroken (2018, Con Alma): Jazz singer, writes some lyrics, born in Los Angeles, based in San Francisco. Gospel voice, scats a lot, good horns, and a stellar Cyrus Chestnut/Rodney Whitaker/Carl Allen rhythm section. B+(*) [cd]

Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (2018, Atlantic): Rapper Belcalis Almanzar, first album after two Gangsta Bitch Music mixtapes and a chart-topping single, "Bodak Yellow," that won last year's Pazz & Jop song category. Big investment here: scads of songwriters, producers, guests, yet consistent, hooky, unpredictable. A-

Alice Bag: Blueprint (2018, Don Giovanni): Alicia Armendariz. lead singer in LA punk band the Bags (1977-80), later chronicled the LA punk scene, wrote an autobiography (Violence Girl: East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage: A Chicana Punk Story), and finally launched a solo career with her eponymous 2016 album. Opens with a foursquare rocker, even brings some punk rage, but the album falls off a bit midway. B+(*)

MC Paul Barman: (((Echo Chamber))) (2018, Mello Music Group): Rapper, several albums since Paullelujah! in 2002, for some reason feels the need to note that he's white in the second song here -- not really necessary as LA Weekly included him in their "Top 20 Whitest Musicians of All Time" list, but I can't fault him for feeling the need to make anti-racialist points that should be common sense by now. Fast, scratchy, high pitched, a lover of words, but not quite as funny as his best past work. B+(***)

Kenny Barron Quintet: Concentric Circles (2018, Blue Note): Timed to coincide with the pianist's 75th birthday, marking 50 years of recording -- actually longer, side credits going back to 1961 with Perry Robinson's Funk Dumpling (1962) an early triumph; his own records start in 1968, with Peruvian Blue (1974) an early landmark; his Stan Getz duos People Time (1991) and Swamp Sally (1995, with Mino Cinelu) are my favorites. New quintet adds Dayna Stephens (tenor sax) and Mike Rodriguez (trumpet) to his recent trio with Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums). Young group, well schooled in contemporary postbop -- all these years Barron has made the bulk of his living teaching, and is justly legendary, but academic jazz still has its limits. B+(**)

Berry: Everything, Compromised (2018, Joyful Noise): Rock band, principally guitarist/vocalist Joey Lemon and drummer Paul Goodenough, formed on Martha's Vineyard in 2002, shortly moving to Chicago. At some point they start sounding like late Beatles, minus hooks and catchy melodies and clever lyrics. Kind of like Badfinger, but badder. B-

Black Foxxes: Reiði (2018, Spinefarm): British alt-rock band, from Exeter, a tuneful guitar swarm. Some hear echoes of Smashing Pumpkins, Jeff Buckley, and Radiohead, but even with their incomprehensible title I don't find them anywhere near that pretentious. Melodramatic? Maybe. B

Terence Blanchard: Live (2018, Blue Note): Trumpet player, has done a lot of soundtrack work, pulled this from concerts in Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Dallas, in each case thinking of recent shootings, either by or of police. (The way I'm reading the hype sheet, they're providing dates of the shootings, not of the concerts.) Quintet called E-Collective, with Charles Altura (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano/synths), David "DJ" Ginyard (bass), and Oscar Seaton (drums). Dense, uplifting, doesn't show off his trumpet very well. B+(*)

Andrea Brachfeld: If Not Now, When? (2017 [2018], Jazzheads): Flute player, eighth album since 2001, started studying classical but followed her instrument into Latin jazz, where she has a couple of "lifetime achievement awards." That's less evident here, where she's backed by Bill O'Connell (piano), Harvie S (bass), and Jason Tiemann (drums). Mostly original pieces, some co-written by O'Connell (strong performance from him), ending with "Amazing Grace." B+(*) [cd]

Greg Burk: The Detroit Songbook (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): Pianist, Michigan native, bunch of records since 2005, trio here, with Matteo Bortone (bass) and John B. Arnold (drums), all originals, smartly executed. B+(**)

David Byrne: American Utopia (2018, Nonesuch): He has a distinctive sound, especially rhythmic, but not as spry as it used to be, which at worst steers him into self-caricature. First solo album since 2004, one that aims at more optimism -- it's part of "a larger multimedia project titled Reasons to Be Cheerful -- than seems warranted, not least by the music. Exception: "Everybody's Coming to My House." B

Jonas Cambien Trio: We Must Mustn't We (2018, Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist, trio adds André Roligheten (soprano/tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute) and Andreas Wildhagen (drums, plus a bit of trumpet), with guest trumpet on two tracks (Torstein Lavik Larsen). Opens strong with lots of rhythmic friction, varying thereafter as Roligheten works through his arsenal. B+(***)

François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Beyond Dimensions (2016 [2018], FMR): Alto sax-drums duo from Quebec, have produced a lot of albums since 1999, often trios with a guest pianist or bassist or, here, their fourth album with Polish acoustic bass guitarist Mazur. Some superb stretches, a shade less satisfying than their Oneness (2017) or Unknowable (2015). B+(***) [cd]

Playboi Carti: Die Lit (2018, AWGE/Interscope): Atlanta rapper Jordan Terrell Carter, had an eponymous mixtape last year that turned some heads, returns with first studio album. Same herky jerk, rhythmic appeal that repeatly snags you then lets you go. B+(*)

Dan Cavanaugh/Dave Hagedorn: 20 Years (2017 [2018], UT Arlington): Piano/vibraphone duets, the musicians meeting as undergrads 20 years prior. Several free improvs, also tunes from Ornette Coleman, Trent Reznor, Herbie Nichols, and an original arrangement of "Maple Leaf Rag." B+(*) [cd]

Cavern of Anti-Matter: Hormone Lemonade (2018, Duophonic): Berlin-based trio, third album, Holger Zapf's electronics plus two guys from electropop group Stereolab, playing their own twist on Krautrock grooves. B+(**)

Ceramic Dog [Marc Ribot/Shahzad Ismaily/Ches Smith]: YRU Still Here? (2018, Northern Spy): Guitarist Marc Ribot's group, second by the trio after eponymous debut, the others play bass and drums but also everyone dabbles in electronics and sings -- leads seem to be Ribot, with lyrics on half of the pieces, maybe more, plus guest horns on a couple. Not sure I get all the politics, or that it really matters. The anger is sure palpable, as is the Arab-Jewish fusion. A-

Chamber 3: Transatlantic (2016 [2018], OA2): I don't know of any formal definition of "chamber jazz," but usually look for a soft instrument (clarinet or violin/viola) and absence of drums. Principals here are Christian Eckert (guitar), Steffen Weber (tenor sax), and Matt Jorgensen (drums), but they're not even a trio -- Phil Sparks plays bass, though his name didn't make the front cover -- actually just a rather nice little postbop sax quartet. Disc is packed, and "When You Wish Upon a Star" is radiant. B+(*) [cd]

Chloe x Halle: The Kids Are Alright (2018, Parkwood/Columbia): Sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey, less than two years apart, harmonize everything, play sumptuous pop which probably wouldn't be recognized as r&b without an assist from the eyes -- even with guest spots for GoldLink and Joey Bada$$. Could grow on you. B+(**)

The Nels Cline 4: Currents, Constellations (2017 [2018], Blue Note): Guitarist, in a two guitar quartet with Julian Lage -- Cline and Lage did a duo album in 2014 -- backed by Scott Colley (acoustic bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). All Cline pieces except for one from Carla Bley. The rhythm section helps. B+(*)

Freddy Cole: My Mood Is You (2018, High Note): Nat King Cole's little brother, 86 now, his eerily reminiscent voice finely aged, takes a set of slow ones, not so much because he's wearing out as enjoying the sublime. With John di Martino (piano), Randy Napoleon (guitar), Elias Bailey (bass), and Quintin Baxter (drums), plus Joel Frahm on tenor sax -- hope Houston Person is OK, but Frahm is well poised to pick up his session work. B+(***)

J. Cole: KOD (2018, Roc Nation): Popular rapper, fifth studio album, all chart toppers. Title repeatedly spelled out, supposed to mean Kids on Drugs or King OverDosed or Kill Our Demons. B+(**)

Confidence Man: Confident Music for Confident People (2018, Heavenly): Dance pop quartet, fronted by a man and woman in white with pseudonyms, backed by two people totally in black, faces hidden behind hoods. Don't know where they're from -- one source says Missoula, MT, another Melbourne down under, their label website only showing UK dates. Reminds me of various things, especially from 1980s new wave disco, which doesn't offer great promise for future efforts, but for now those are all things I enjoy, and there's something to be said for living in the moment. A-

Ry Cooder: The Prodigal Son (2018, Fantasy): Three clever originals, the rest obscure covers, mostly blues/gospel, four by three gents known as Blind -- Willie Johnson, covering all the bases, doubles up. Took several plays to sink in, and still feels a little slick, but hardly glib. A-

Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (2018, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Greta Kline, famous actor parents (Kevin Kline/Phoebe Cates), acted some as a child, third album, started DIY as Ingrid Superstar and doesn't get fancy now that she's got label backing. Not exactly awkward, but not untroubled either, or uninteresting. B+(***)

Elysia Crampton: Elysia Crampton (2018, Break World, EP): Electronica, artist has a couple previous albums. Cover here says Ocelote but I've yet to see anyone used that as the title. Six songs, 18:45, big beats, hard and quasi-industrial. B+(*)

Czarface/MF Doom: Czarface Meets Metal Face (2018, Silver Age): The former originally a 2013 album by 7L & Esoteric (George Andrinopoulos and Seamus Ryan, 7 albums 1999-2010) and Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck, now joined into a "supergroup," now with four subsequent albums. Needless to say, their comic book/underground rap fusion was right up Doom's alley -- indeed, MF stands for "Metal Face." Of course, I'm not properly following the plot, but even at my superficial level this is great fun. A-

Dead Composers Club [Noah Preminger/Rob Garcia]: Chopin Project (2017 [2018], Connection Works): Compositions by Frederic Chopin, arrangements by Preminger (tenor sax) or Garcia (drums), with Nate Radley (guitar) and Kim Cass (bass). Being a classical music phobe, nothing I recognize here, nor anything that triggers my traditional gag reflex. The drummer certainly helps. B [cd]

Benoît Delbecq 4: Spots on Stripes (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): French pianist, with Mark Turner (tenor sax), John Hébert (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums), doing original material, prickly and rather abstract. B+(**)

Robert Diack: Lost Villages (2018, self-released): Drummer, from Toronto, first album, quartet with guitar (Patrick O'Reilly), piano (Jacob Thompson), and bass (Brandon Davis) -- giving the short-ish album a luxurious shimmer. B+(*) [cd]

Ron Di Salvio/Bart Plateau: The Puglia Suite (2017 [2018], Blujazz): Piano and flutes, respectively, a duo as far as I've noticed, Di Salvio the main composer. Sometimes I wonder if I'm being too hard on flute players -- I do tend to prefer deeper instruments -- but then there's this, which among other things reminds one how hard it is for flute to escape its role in classical music. B- [cd]

DJ Koze: Knock Knock (2018, Pampa): German DJ/electronica producer Stefan Kozalla, third album, a bit slow finding the groove this time. Mixed bag after that. B

Yelena Eckemoff Quartet: Desert (2015 [2018], L&H Production): Russian pianist, trained under the Soviets in classical music, moved to US in 1991 and took a shot at jazz in 2009. Back cover shows the diminuitive redhead surrounded by three giants with white (or no) hair: Paul McCandless (oboe, English horn, soprano sax, bass clarinet), Arild Andersen (double bass), and Peter Erskine (drums). Lovely pastorales, the piano and reeds alternately delightful. B+(***) [cd]

Kat Edmonson: Old Fashioned Gal (2018, MRI): Singer-songwriter from Houston, fourth album, harkens back to the jazz and pop of the 1940s (more or less). Cute voice, some clever lyrics, including a slam against pop-up ads. B+(*)

Adrean Farrugia/Joel Frahm: Blues Dharma (2017 [2018], GB): Piano/tenor sax duets, the pianist from Canada, teaches at York, two previous albums, not someone I've noticed before but he's forceful here, driving the rhythm, building on it. Frahm is a saxophonist I've often admired, but usually on other people's albums. He's masterful here, a delight. A- [cd]

Fickle Friends: You Are Someone Else (2018, Polydor): British indie pop group, Natassja Shiner sings, plays some keyboards. First album after two EPs and a dozen singles. Bright and bouncy. B+(**)

Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell (2018, Glorious Dead): Hip hop group from Brooklyn, second album after a couple mixtapes. Long, catchy, lot to sort out. B+(***)

Dave Gisler Trio: Rabbits on the Run (2017 [2018], Intakt): Swiss guitarist, backed by Raffaele Bossard (bass) and Lionel Friedli (drums), both names prominent on cover. Starts with an easy atmospheric piece, followed by hard groove with impressive drumming, then works back and forth. B+(***) [cd]

The Go! Team: Semicircle (2018, Memphis Industries): Indie pop band modeled on a high school cheerleader squad, with conceptmeister Ian Parton turning the vocals over to Ninja and adding the Detroit Youth Choir for depth. B+(**)

Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): Pianist, born in Venezuela, based in New York, three previous albums. All three have ties to Tyner, who wrote the first nine pieces and dropped in for some booklet photos. Tenth piece is by Coltrane. Last three are tributes, one each. B+(***) [cd]

Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything's Fine (2018, Mello Music Group): Rap duo, Tsidi Ibrahim (daughter of Abdullah Ibrahim and Sathima Bea Benjamin) and Gavin Tennille -- reports are they are engaged or married. Underground beats, often recycling to the title refrain. More his raps than hers, but his sly offhand delivery has never been better framed. A-

Danny Green Trio Plus Strings: One Day It Will (2017 [2018], OA2): Pianist, "Danny Green (6)" at Discogs, they don't show much discography but I've heard four previous records. The strings are a conventional quartet. They're usually the kiss of death, but are just about right here, adding depth and resonance without getting in the way. B+(**) [cd]

Bill Hart Band: Live at Red Clay Theatre (2017 [2018], Blujazz): Guitarist, from Onbatio, has taught in Atlanta for 25 years, sixth album since 1999, leads a sextet with Alex McGinnis on sax, Pat Strawser on keyboards, plus bass, drums, and extra percussion. B [cd]

Eddie Henderson: Be Cool (2018, Smoke Sessions): Trumpet player, well into his 70s now with a discography starting in 1973, substantial although he's rarely claimed the spotlight. Starts here like hard bop still has some tricks to show -- group is a quintet with Donald Harrison (alto sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Essiet Essiet and Mike Clark -- but soon moves into ballad territory, which (especially with Barron) also shines. B+(***)

Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe (2017 [2018], Palmetto): Piano trio, Hersch has a lot of these since 1985, including eight on this label. This one was recorded in Belgium, with John Hébert (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums). Seems about par for the course, with two covers each from Monk and Shorter on the ends, originals in the middle. B+(**) [cd]

Hieroglyphic Being: The Red Notes (2018, Soul Jazz): Jamal Moss, from Chicago's acid house movement, long instrumental vamps with a touch of jazz in the air. B+(***)

Tyler Higgins: Blue Mood (2016 [2018], Shhpuma): Guitarist, long list of instruments here including lap steel and celesta, backed by Paul Stevens on drums and piano, with Ellen Higgins voice (not that I particularly noticed). Harsher than ambient, but shades in that direction. B+(*)

Amos Hoffman/Noam Lemish: Pardes (2017 [2018], self-released): Guitar/oud and piano, respectively, based in New York and Toronto but with Israeli roots, in a quartet backed by bass and drums, plus a couple of guest spots (notably the cut with Jacob Gorzhaltsan on clarinet). B+(*) [cd]

Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories (2018, Dare2, 2CD): British bassist, first album (Conference of the Birds, 1972) was a landmark of the 1970s avant-garde, but he edged into the postbop mainstream over the years, winning many polls for his quintet and big band efforts. In some ways he returns full circle here, in a quartet with Evan Parker (tenor sax), Craig Taborn (piano, keyboards, organ, electronics), and Ches Smith (percussion). Still, nothing hair-raising here, with Parker at his most measured. Second disc dials it back further, in case you want to enjoy the bassist. A- [cdr]

Hookworms: Microshift (2018, Domino): British group from Leeds, third album, leans pop in a prog-ish sort of way, not as hooky as their first (especially) or even their second. B+(*)

Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog (2018, Saddle Creek): Indie band from Philadelphia, third album, singer-songwriter Frances Quinlan is key, having started as a solo act (as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis), with brother Mark Quinlan drums and a couple others. A bit fancy, as the lyrics stretch around slightly off-kilter melodies. B+(*)

Jon Hopkins: Singularity (2018, Domino): English electronica producer, keyboards, bright and shiny, mostly with a good beat, or some gentle ambience, which works too. B+(***)

Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens (2018, Sub Pop): From San Diego, post-hardcore group, three albums 2000-04, a live one in 2006, then they broke up, with John Reis moving on to Rocket From the Crypt. Reunited in 2011, but this is their first album from their second life. Dense grind, not something I ever want to hear again, but not bad for what it is. B

Kira Kira: Bright Force (2017 [2018], Libra): Part of Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii's record-a-month celebration of turning sixty, resoundingly answering my complaint about last month's entry by returning her piano to center stage -- at least I assume it's her, as the quartet includes a second keyboardist, Alister Spence, on "Fender electric piano, effects pedals and preparations" (actually, pretty easy to keep them straight). With Natsuki Tamura on trumpet (also inspired) and Ittetsu Takemura on drums. A- [cd]

Hayley Kiyoko: Expectations (2018, Empire/Atlantic): Singer-songwriter, dropped her last name (Alcroft), started out in a band called the Stunners before going solo, acts some, first album, electropop but more dream than glitz. B+(*)

Matt Lavelle/Lewis Porter/Hilliard Greene/Tom Cabrera: Matt Lavelle Quartet (2016 [2017], Unseen Rain): Trumpet player, also plays flugelhorn (natch) and alto and bass clarinets -- has a unique style on the latter. Backed by piano/bass/drums, freebop with the leader's Jekyll/Hyde horn shifts. Porter seems to want to split the distance between Kenny Barron and Oscar Peterson, and succeeds pretty niftily. B+(***) [bc]

Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: End Times (2014 [2017], Unseen Rain): Larger group, I count 16 musicians including Lavelle (credits: cornet, flugelhorn, alto clarinet, conduction) -- not a big band formula, nor an orchestral arrangement, but a powerful array of solo voices erupting out of the matrix -- Anders Nillson (guitar) and Jack DeSalvo (banjo) make an early impression. "12 Houses," by the way, is an Ornette Coleman reference. B+(**) [bc]

Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (2018, Verve): Soul singer, cut an album for Motown in 1982, a second album in 1991, a third in 2000 in Europe where she finally started to find some traction. Did an album of Brit Rock songs in 2010 which seemed like a waste, but turned to Dylan here, much more impressively. Probably helps that she steers away from songs you recognize -- mostly from the '80s, I gather. Gives them more charge and depth than Dylan ever did. A

Azar Lawrence: Elementals (2018, High Note): Tenor saxophonist, from Los Angeles, I thought his 1974 debut Bridge Into the New Age was brilliant, but he only released one album between 1976 and 2008 before mounting a comeback that has bounced from label to label. With Benito Gonzales (keyboards), Jeff Littleton (bass), Marvin Smith (drums), Munyungo Jackson (percussion), and a few guest shots. B+(**)

Mike LeDonne and the Groover Quartet: From the Heart (2018, Savant): Organ player, quartet probably dates back to his 2009 album The Groover: Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Joe Farnsworth (drums), although Mike Clark drums on two cuts. Those are all marquee names, with the guitarist adding especially tasty licks, but to limited appeal. B+(*)

Bongwool Lee: My Singing Fingers (2016 [2018], Origin): Pianist, from Seoul, South Korea, based in New York, studied classical music before discovering Oscar Peterson. Trio, first album, all originals except for "Bye Bye Blackbird," nicely done. B+(**) [cd]

Igor Lumpert & Innertextures: Eleven (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist from Yugoslavia (Slovenia), cut an album called Innertextures in 2004 and clearly likes the term. Mostly trio with Christopher Tordini (bass) and Kenny Grohowski (drums), plus occasional guests like Greg Ward and Jonathan Finlayson. B+(***)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Sparkle Hard (2018, Matador): Former leader of Pavement (1992-99), seventh album since 2000, most citing his band. At his best, he made music so improbable that it redeemed his obviously inept voice, but decades of recording and touring have narrowed the gap. B+(*)

Ben Markley Quartet: Basic Economy (2017 [2018], OA2): Pianist, several albums including a tribute to Cedar Walton, Director of Jazz Studies at University of Wyoming but seems to be most active in/around Denver. Adds alto saxophonist Greg Osby to his trio. Haven't heard much from him lately, but he's stellar here. B+(**) [cd]

Walter Martin: Reminisce Bar & Grill (2018, Family Jukebox): Singer-songwriter, fourth album, perhaps better known as bassist for the Walkmen, a band I've never had any use for. Don't have much use for him either, although he's not nearly so annoying, and more songs like "Ride Down the Avenue" make me wonder. B

Deanne Matley: Because I Loved (2018, self-released): Singer, from Calgary, wrote four (of twelve) songs here. Band touches all the bases, including a string quartet, but stays nearly tucked into the background. Ranee Lee drops in for "Necessary Evil." B+(*) [cd]

Solon McDade: Murals (2017 [2018], self-released): Bassist, from Edmonton, started out in the McDade Family Band (folk music), later the McDades, moving on to study jazz at McGill in Montreal. First album as leader, composed all the pieces, played by a bright postbop quintet with two saxes, piano, and drums. B+(**) [cd]

MJO Brothers Present: Hip Devotions (2017, Blujazz): "Meditative jazz improvisations devoted to sacred and secular song titles." Three Hanrahans: Curt (saxes), Warren (drums), and Timothy (bass), plus guitar and vibes, with "chant recordings" by the Racine Dominicans. First half tunes are by names I recognize: McLaughlin, Shorter, Coltrane, Ellington. Second half not so much. Both have stretches that are very pretty. B [cd]

Lello Molinari: Lello's Italian Job Volume 2 (2018, Fata Morgana Music): Bassist, both acoustic and electric, teaches at Berklee, has a previous album from 1992, a Vol. 1 from 2015. Lots of Italian names in the band -- Dino Govoni (reeds), Marcello Pellitteri (drums), Sal DiFusco (guitar) -- but don't know anything about them. Mixed up nicely, adding a Meena Murthy (violincello) on a couple cuts. B+(**) [cd]

Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (2018, Bad Boy): Third album, continuing her evolution from dancing android to flesh and blood pop star, conscious enough to opine that "everything is sex, except sex is power." Her funk channels Prince rather than George Clinton and James Brown, so it slides off the one, aiming for something more slippery. A-

Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco: You're Driving Me Crazy (2018, Legacy): Morrison continues to release records faster than he can write new songs. The last couple, delving into blues standards (Roll With the Punches and Versatile), have been duds. Here he goes with a jazz group: Joey DeFrancesco (organ), Dan Wilson (guitar), Michael Ode (drums), and Troy Roberts (sax, which Morrison also plays). Half originals, from the jazzy side he has long cultivated; the better known standards (like "Miss Otis Regrets") bigger reaches. Not terrific. Still, his timing and phrasing shames such highly touted male jazz vocalists as Elling and Porter. B+(***)

Mount Eerie: Now Only (2018, PW Elverum & Sun): Phil Everum, has been making albums under this moniker since 2005, with this the second since his wife, Geneviève Castrée, died in 2016. I'm not unsympathetic, and I don't doubt that 2017's A Crow Looked at Me and now this album have something to say about the grieving process -- indeed, I can't even excuse myself by noting how poorly my ears pick up lyrics, as his music offers scant camouflage. But the words are nearly as haphazard as the bare guitar-and-voice music. So art, maybe, but nothing I look for in music. B+(*)

Kate Nash: Yesterday Was Forever (2018, Girl Gang): English singer-songwriter, also acts, which kept her busy the last five years, between albums three and four. This one seems more scattered, but all four are terrific. A-

Meshell Ndegeocello: Yesterday Was Forever (2018, Naïve): Singer-songwriter, originally Michelle Lynn Johnson, plays bass and other instruments, "sparked the neo soul movement," lately has feigned toward jazz -- e.g., with her 2012 Nina Simone tribute. Covers here: only one I got immediately was "Atomic Dog," but seems like all have been stretched out to make them more sinuous (if not necessarily sensual). B+(*)

Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing (2018, Legacy): New songs, working harder to prove he ain't dead yet than he has in quite some time. Gives him a new perspective on life. A-

Angelika Niescier Trio: The Berlin Concert (2017 [2018], Intakt): German saxophonist, alto mostly, discography dates back to 2000. Trio, with Christopher Tordini on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. B+(***) [cd]

Nuance Crusaders: Reflections (2017, Blujazz): Compositions by Mark R. Baldridge, lyrics (not many) by Andrea Litzenberger, played by other musicians I've never heard of, split into two tiers -- a sax/piano/bass/drums quartet and extra guitar, sax, violin (OK, Diane Delin), and the Swing City Express Big Band. Group name some kind of oxymoron, not that I'm inspired to figure it out. B- [cd]

Orquesta Akokán: Orquesta Akokán (2018, Daptone): Afro-Cuban big band, "Akokán" a Yoruba word meaning "from the heart," recorded in Havana. B+(***)

Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band: Tramontana (2017 [2018], self-released): Colombian pianist, also in Banda Magda, with a sprawling international big band -- I count ten countries represented, 27 musicians. Plenty of Latin tinge, but not much more. B [cd]

Parquet Courts: Wide Awake! (2018, Rough Trade): Previously the most consistent Velvets-rooted alt/indie band in the land, here they try to mix things up to sometimes odd effect, not least by employing Dangermouse as producer. Still, half or more of the songs come through as loud and clear as anything this year. Not impossible that deeper exposure will tie up the rough edges. A-

Jeremy Pelt: Noir En Rouge: Live in Paris (2018, HighNote): Mainstream trumpet player, impressed early on with his chops, but I've rarely been impressed by his records. (NB: I've missed three well-received 2015-17 albums in the label drought.) With Victor Gould (piano), Vincente Archer (bass), Jonathan Barber (drums), and Jacquelene Acevedo (percussion). B+(**)

Matt Piet & His Disorganization: Rummage Out (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): Pianist, Chicago area, has a number of records since 2015 -- the one I noticed was a trio with Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy. This is a two-horn quartet with Josh Berman (cornet), Nick Mazzarella (alto sax), and Daisy (drums), with piano rumble filling in for the missing bass, as well as adding flourishes. B+(***)

Matt Piet/Raoul van der Weide/Frank Rosaly: Out of Step: Live in Amsterdam (2017, self-released): Avant piano trio, pianist and drummer from Chicago, bassist local. Improvised live, two pieces, intensely rhythmic. B+(***) [bc]

Matt Piet/Paul Giallorenzo: Wood, Wire, and Steel (2017, self-released): Two Chicago avant pianists, duets, both can work up a sweat, or wax elegant. B+(**) [bc]

Matt Piet & Tim Daisy: Strike One; Strike Two (2017, self-released): Piano-drums duets, two pieces (35:38), strikes hard. B+(***) [bc]

Matt Piet: The Bitter Angles of Our Nurture (2017, self-relesaed): Solo piano, one 40:32 piece. Strong performance, especially rhythmically. B+(**) [bc]

Prefuse 73: Sacrifices (2018, Lex): Electronica producer Scott Herren, bunch of albums 2001-11, but this is only second since. Gets catchier as it lumbers along. B

Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red (2018, Rough Trade, EP): New York rapper Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, first album turned some heads, but this set of eight tracks (20:14) is something else, with few raps and much singsong -- not so interesting, at least at first. B+(*)

Charlie Puth: Voicenotes (2018, Atlantic): Pop star, second album, strives to be soulful, claims to be danceable, sometimes is. B+(*)

Reggie Quinerly: Words to Love (2017 [2018], Redefinition Music): Drummer, from Houston, third album, piano trio (Orrin Evans) plus Jaleel Shaw on alto sax on 4/8 cuts, plus lyrics and voice -- either Milton Suggs or Melanie Charles, everyone reminding you they learned in church. B [cd]

Rival Consoles: Persona (2018, Erased Tapes): British electronica producer Ryan Lee West, fourth studio album plus bunches of EPs. Attractive beats and colors, a couple notches above ambient. B+(*)

Kristo Rodzevski: The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore (2017 [2018], Much Prefer): Singer-songwriter from Macedonia, based in New York, day job psychiatrist, also plays guitar, third album, gets classified as avant-garde jazz but sounds more like the Go-Betweens. The confusion is explained by the band: Mary Halvorson (guitar), Kris Davis (piano), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Brian Drye (trombone), Michael Blanco (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums and co-producer). OK, they're slumming playing such straightforward rock, except that's not all they do. B+(***) [cd]

Rolo Tomassi: Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It (2017 [2018], Holy Roar): British mathcore (progressive rock, hardcore punk, art punk, post-hardcore) band, singer Eva Spence and synth player James Spence the only constants since 2005. Not sure what the difference between this and death metal, say, except this is consistently listenable, not least because it regularly reverts to normal levels of volume and rage. Still, more of both than I generally care for. B+(***)

Saba: Bucket List Project (2016, Saba Pivot): Chicago rapper Tahj Malik Chandler, underground, nice flow, several pieces pivot back to bucket list concept. B+(**)

Samo Salamon/Tony Malaby/Roberto Dani: Traveling Moving Breathing (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): Slovenian guitarist, composer, produced, his name along on the spine, the three names in order on the cover. Not one of those albums where Malaby blows the lid off, but nice shadings and a few strong runs. B+(***) [cd]

Rob Schwimmer: Heart of Hearing (2018, Sunken Heights Music): Pianist, also plays Theremin and Haken Continuum (a variable pitch control surface, although software can split the space up into scales). Mostly solo, although there is a credit for Jay Anderson (bass) and Jeff Hirschfield (drums), and some voice. Some Chopin, and several "Hallucinations on Popular Songs." B- [cd]

Matthew Shipp: Zero (2018, ESP-Disk): Solo piano. Recognizable with his bold march through dense block chords, but doesn't do much to lively up the progression. Indeed, most song titles return to zero. B+(*)

Matthew Shipp Quartet: Sonic Fiction (2018, ESP-Disk): His regular piano trio -- Michael Bisio (bass) and Whit Dickey (drums) -- plus Polish saxophonist Mat Walerian (lto sax/bass clarinet/clarinet), whose led several recent albums with Shipp. Has some flair when they're all working together, but dull spots in between. B+(**)

Susana Santos Silva: All the Rivers: Live at Panteão Nacional (2016 [2018], Clean Feed): Portuguese trumpet player, prolific since 2013, solo here, also credited with tin whistle and bells, one 42:04 track, aiming at picking up resonance from the "marble acoustics and huge reverberation" of Santa Engrácia's Church in Lisbon. B+(**)

Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): Pianist from Venezuela, dozen or so albums since 1995. Terrific sax solo on the opener (David Binney), nice piano throughout, guests include Adam Rogers (guitar), Gretchen Parlato (vocals), and the Imani winds (flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, French horn), in declining order of interest. B+(*) [cd]

Sly & Robbie Meet Nils Petter Molvaer Feat. Eivind Aarset and Vladislav Delay: Nordub (2016 [2018], Okeh): Risks too many cooks, although reggae's premier rhythm section usually work within the borders of the Norwegian trumpeter's jazztronica -- the main difference being the extra resonance of acoustic drums. Aarset is Molvaer's usual guitarist, so I'm not sure why he gets billing while keyboardist/producer Jan Bang doesn't -- probably because Delay's electronics seek to square the circle. A-

Gary Smulyan: Alternative Contrafacts (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): Baritone saxophonist, broke in with Woody Herman in 1978, a dozen or so albums since 1991, often near the top of DownBeat's polls but I haven't heard much. Describes contrafacts as "a music making method that shares the chord progressions with other compositions" -- credits here include Mal Waldron, Jimmy Giuffre, Al Cohn, Ted Curson, Coleman Hawkins, one original. Trio with David Wong (bass) and Rodney Green (drums). Good showcase for his horn. B+(***)

Soccer Mommy: Clean (2018, Fat Possum): Sophie Allison, born in Switzerland but grew up in Nashville. First album after some DIY dating back to 2015. Acoustic guitar strum, tuneful, attractive, starts stronger than it ends. B+(**)

Soccer Mommy: Collection (2017, Fat Possum): Eight songs, 27:13, cheap keyboard and electric guitar on cover but her main instrument is acoustic guitar. One song recycled from her debut EP but time suggests it was recut and I'm not locating the others, so the suggestion that this is her label-signing DIY retrospective is unconfirmed. B+(*)

Sonar With David Torn: Vortex (2017 [2018], RareNoise): Swiss band (two guitars, electric bass, drums), handful of albums including two on Cuneiform and two on Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Rhythm Records (one with Markus Reuter). Classified math/art/prog rock, which doesn't mean much to me. This is instrumental with strong guitar riffing, probably the band's default but also guitarist Torn's preferred metier. B+(***) [cdr]

Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse (2018, Carpark): Band led by Sadie Dupuis, named after a comic book character, third album. Long on guitar, some attractive thrash, not much I can make sense of. B+(*)

Jon Rune Strøm Quintet: Fragments (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): Norwegian bassist, both acoustic and electric, leads a group with Thomas Johansson (trumpet), André Roligheten (tenor sax), Christian Meaas Svendsen (more bass), and Andreas Wildhagen (drums). Some strong ensemble work, plus bass duets. B+(**)

Hans Teuber & Jeff Johnson: Deuce (2017 [2018], Origin): Saxophone and bass duets, Teuber credited with tenor, alto, and alto flute. Couple standards, mostly joint compositions. Easy as these things go. B+(*) [cd]

Henry Threadgill: Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus (2017 [2018], Pi): Threadgill's Ensemble Double Up debuted in 2015, recording Old Locks and Irregular Verbs, the Jazz Critics Poll album of 2016. The idea was two alto saxes, two pianos, and two . . . well, one each: tuba, cello, drums. "Plus" adds a third piano -- unless the point is it takes two pianists (David Bryant and Luis Perdomo) to replace Jason Moran. Threadgill doesn't play (Curtis Macdonald and Roman Fíliu return on alto), but composed the tricky, slippery score. Not quite the tour de force of the previous album, but perhaps he was thinking ahead to his larger ensemble. A- [cd]

Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg: Dirt . . . and More Dirt (2017 [2018], Pi): Recorded over three days starting on the date of Double Up, the group expanded from 8 to 15, with composer Threadgill (alto sax, flutes) and producer Liberty Ellman (guitar) joining in, two trumpets, two trombones, bass, an extra drummer, but only two pianists (Davids Bryant and Virelles). Two pieces in multiple parts, alternately grand and fancy. Takes a while to sink in. A- [cd]

Tune-Yards: I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (2018, 4AD): Singer-songwriter Merrill Garbus, with Nate Bronner on bass and co-credited on all tracks. Fourth album, the first three huge critical favorites, especially among Christgau's followers -- second album, Whokill, won the Pazz & Jop poll -- but this one doesn't seem to be anyone's fave (Metacritic score 79 on 31 reviews, so not ignored). Alfred Soto panned it as "for fans only." I've never been one, embracing neither the glitchiness nor the warble, but I can't say this is inferior to her other work. Well, perhaps less personable. B

Kali Uchis: Isolation (2018, Virgin EMI): Pop singer, born in Colombia but raised in Virginia, real name Karly Loaiza, her stage name seems to have been a childhood nickname. First album after a mixtape. Doesn't really fit under any of the assigned genres (hip hop, Latin, funk/soul; I've also seen bossa nova, reggaeton, and trip hop mentioned). Joe Levy tried "vintage and futuristic." Not especially glitzy, but it does grow on you, not like anything you'd expect, but still cozy comfortable. A-

Marike Van Dijk: The Stereography Project Feat. Jeff Taylor and Katell Keinig (2018, Hert/Membran): Dutch alto saxophonist, seems to be based in Brooklyn, released a previous record called The Stereography Project in 2015 so I adjusted the title here. Two sets of songs, the first five written and sung by Taylor, the remaining six by Keinig, all arranged by Van Dijk, with two distinct groups. Plodding, Rather arty. B [cd]

Vin Venezia: Fifth and Adams (2015-16 [2018], Blujazz): Guitarist, haven't found any bio or previous albums but a picture shows gray hair. Recorded over three sessions with varied casts, including a duo with guitarist Mike Stern, another with percussionist Manolo Badrena, but most with David Budway (piano/organ), Harvie S (bass), and Richie Morales (drums), plus Bob Magnuson (tenor sax) on the opener. B [cd]

WoodWired: In the Loop (2017 [2018], UT Arlington): Duo, Drs. Cheyenne Cruz (bass clarinet) and Hannah Leffler (flute), based in Dallas, the former teaches at UT Arlington, the latter graduated from and teaches at UNT. Don't see any other credits but their website notes "their groundbreaking use of live electronics in a chamber music setting" -- sounds like drums to me, plus the occasional bird tweet. The two instruments sound good together, and the extra rhythm helps. B+(**) [cd]

Wussy: Getting Better (2018, Damnably, EP): Talk about stopgap efforts: four songs, all covers, 13:35, the title song from the Beatles, striking me first as a nobel gesture despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then ultimately as bitter irony. Don't know the other songs: "Runaway," "Nomenclature," "Retarded." B+(*)

Wussy: What Heaven Is Like (2018, Shake It): The Cincinnati group's shoegaze album: lots of jangly guitar drowning out the two vocalists, who elsewhere usually have something to say. Not that I have any complaints about the guitars. B+(***)

The Xcerts: Hold on to Your Heart (2018, Raygun): Scottish power pop trio, Murray Macleod the singer-guitarist, a bit over the top for my taste but not exactly lacking in chops and/or impression. B

Darryl Yokley's Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (2018, Truth Revolution): Tenor saxophonist, also plays some alto, from Los Angeles but based in Philadelphia, played in Captain Black Big Band. Second album, with Zaccai Curtis (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), and Wayne Smith Jr. (drums), with Nasheet Waits (drums) listed as "special guest." Draws inspiration from painter David Emmanuel Noel, also from Mussorgsky. Sounds like there are more horns than the credits show. I was losing track and interest, but the sax storm in "Genocide March" shook me. B [bc]

Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar (2018, Ninja Tune): Scottish trio, two black (one born in Liberia, the other second generation from Nigeria). I initially filed them as hip-hop, but they sing more than rap. I never warmed to their two previous albums or two earlier mixtapes, but this is pretty solid all around and not much like anything else. A-

YoungBoy Never Broke Again: Until Death Call My Name (2018, Never Broke Again/Atlantic): Rapper Kevin Gaulden, from Baton Rouge, age 18, first album after a stack of mixtapes starting April 2015. Still, nothing here suggests teen rap. B+(**)

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Eliane Elias: Music From Man of La Mancha (1995 [2018], Concord): Brazilian pianist, started singing mid-career but sticks with piano here, backed by Marc Johnson (bass) and Satoshi Takeshi (drums) or Eddie Gomez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums), with Manolo Badrena (percussion) on 8/9 tracks. The music is from the 1964 musical rendition of the Don Quixote story -- not all that familiar, but she gives it a strong ride. B+(*)

William Parker: Voices Fall From the Sky (1993-2018 [2018], AUM Fidelity, 3CD): Legendary bassist, has composed hundreds of pieces since 1971 (the earliest date here), occasionally songs with lyrics like his 1991-93 Song Cycle, which provides the earliest songs here. Results have been decidedly mixed -- by far my favorite is the Raining on the Moon group with Leena Conquest. The old recordings on CD-2 suggest a compilation, but nearly everything else has been recorded over 2017 sessions (lapping into January 2018), so the set is much more new than not. Parker uses various musicians and no less than 17 vocalists -- some I recognize from past efforts or from their own notable jazz careers (like Fay Victor), but many I don't. It would take me many hours to sort this all out, but the main thing I'm struck by in two passes is how much of it I never want to hear again: operatic sopranos, arch art-song, avant-warbling. Doesn't all grate, but enough does to make me want to move on. B [cd]

Liz Phair: The Girly Sound Tapes (1991 [2018], Matador, 3CD): Phair recorded as Girly-Sound three cassettes of solo demos -- just guitar and voice -- a couple years before her career took off in 1993 with the instant classic Exile in Guyville. There's a 25th Anniversary box, Girly-Sound to Guyville available cheap ($22) as 3-CD or expensive ($100) as 7-LP which combines the album with the demos, but streaming sources have this alternative: just the demos -- eleven recut for Exile in Guyville, more that trickled out on later albums. I played these in two long stretches, finding the first stretch compelling, still fresh and striking after a quarter century, the second a bit less so. [Amazon prices above; Matador's own store has cheaper prices, except that the demo-only The Girly Sound Tapes MP3 costs more than the 3-CD Girly Sound to Guyville. Caveat emptor.] B+(***)

Liz Phair: Girly-Sound to Guyville: The 25th Anniversary Boxset (1991-93 [2018], Matador, 3CD): Classic album on first disc, demo cassettes crammed into two more, and actually cheaper on CD than MP3. A-

Otis Redding: Dock of the Bay Sessions (1967 [2018], Rhino): Dead in a plane crash at age 26, four of his first five albums (1964-66) went top-10 r&b, but peaked at 54 on the pop charts, with his Carla Thomas duets (King & Queen) and his Live in Europe (both 1967) doing only slightly better. He cut many singles, but 21 and 25 were his highest places. Then, after his death, "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" hit number one, the album number four. More posthumous releases -- four through 1970, and a half dozen live albums -- trickled out. The Dock of the Bay album was thrown together to cash in on the single, mostly collecting singles dating back to 1965. This recapitulates the hit in the context of contemporary recordings -- I haven't seen any dates, so I don't know how tight the window is, but there isn't any patter or false starts: all twelve songs are in finished form, making this effectively a sampler of Redding posthumous albums: The Immortal Otis Redding (5 cuts), Love Man (3), and Remember Me (2). B+(***)

Old Music

Tommy Flanagan: Giant Steps: In Memory of John Coltrane (1982, Enja): Piano trio, with George Mraz (bass) and Al Foster (drums), playing six Coltrane tunes, starting with the infections "Mr. P.C." Slows down a bit for "Naima" but then ends on a rousing "Giant Steps." A-

Bettye LaVette: Tell Me a Lie (1982, Motown): Born in Michigan, raised in Detroit, cut a single in 1962 when she was 16, a few more over the decade, an album for Atco in 1972 that got shelved, and a decade later this one-shot. Huge voice, already sounds dated -- a plus on the soul ballads, if not the disco. B+(**)

Bettye LaVette: Child of the Seventies (1962-73 [2006], Rhino Handmade): "The Complete Atlantic/Atco Recordings": her previously unreleased 1972 Muscle Shoals album, two 1972 singles plus an unreleased one from December 1973, topped off with four tracks from 1962 singles, back when she was 16. The lost album is no great shakes, but not really because the singer came up short -- the Muscle Shoals crew is a little loose. The early singles aren't unforgettable, but they deserve notice. B+(*)

Bettye LaVette: I've Got My Own Hell to Raise (2005, Anti-): Her breakthrough album was A Woman Like Me, released on a small label in 2003. That got her a contract with a notable indie rock label, one with scant experience in r&b but willing to let her do her thing. B+(**)

Bettye LaVette: Worthy (2015, Cherry Red): Everything she sings sounds like a struggle, and most of the time she overcomes. B+(**)

Otis Redding: The Immortal Otis Redding (1967 [1968], Atco): Second posthumous album, short (30:01), eleven songs from three weeks of sessions just weeks before his death -- but only five on the new Dock of the Bay Sessions -- starting with the magnificent "I've Got Dreams to Remember" and ending with "Amen." Not sure why they sound so much better here. A-

Otis Redding: Tell the Truth (1967 [1970], Atco): Fourth posthumous album, following Love Man. "Demonstration" shows they haven't hit the bottom of the barrel yet, but the fact that they didn't bother with a fifth one until 1992 suggests they were beginning to harbor doubts. Still, some terrific stuff here. Who else has ever been able to credibly cover James Brown and Little Richard? B+(***)

Otis Redding: Remember Me: 22 Previously Unissued Tracks (1962-67 [1992], Stax): No dates on these tracks, but Redding joined Stax in 1962 and died in 1967 and several compilations I have dates for reflect that. Redding's leftovers got combed through pretty thoroughly after his death, so you might not expect much here. The last eight cuts are alternate versions, including two takes of "The Dock of the Bay," but the first fourteen would make a remarkable album -- indeed, they've been released separately as It's Not Just Sentimental. B+(***)

Gary Smulyan Quartet: Homage (1991 [1993], Criss Cross): Baritone saxophonist, probably his second album (after the Quintet The Lure of Beauty), album notes "featuring Tommy Flanagan" (piano), but also notable are Ray Drummond (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums). The rhythm section is right at home playing eight songs written by the homage subject, fellow baritonist Pepper Adams. B+(***)

Gary Smulyan: The Real Deal (2002 [2003], Reservoir): Mainstream quintet, two originals by the baritone saxophonist and a batch of standards and jazz covers, with Joe Magnarelli (trumpet/flugelhorn), Mike LeDonne (piano), Dennis Irwin (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums). B+(*)


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

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at

Monday, May 28, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29759 [29733] rated (+26), 344 [351] unrated (-7).

Rated count down a bit. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday cooking a fairly large Indian dinner to mark my late sister's birthday, so I took the time to enjoy old favorites. After that, I made a small dent in my CD queue, which had partly been impoverished by my picking out the most promising titles earlier this month. Still, I expected good things from François Carrier's latest -- largely delivered, although I detected a bit of unsteadiness compared to recent efforts -- and a 3-CD William Parker collection. The latter samples Parker's 1991-93 Song Cycle (with Ellen Christie and Lisa Sokolov), adds some later vocal pieces, and throws in two discs of new recordings. I find most of them hard to take -- an aversion to opera, art song, and avant warble I've long held.

I also sought out some recent Clean Feed releases -- long my favorite label but less so since they stopped servicing me. I also found a few recent HighNote/Savant releases on Napster -- back catalog isn't there yet, but one hopes -- and took a look at Chicago pianist Matt Piet's Bandcamp pages (but didn't bite on the 3-hour Live in Chicago). Also checked out Robert Christgau's latest picks (Frankie Cosmos and Speed Ortiz; I had already played his HMs), and Prefuse 73 (a friend was curious). Still, none of those struck me as A- records: Carrier came closest, and Piet impressed me as someone worth keeping an ear open for.

Expect a Streamnotes compilation by the end of the month. I currently have 19 new A/A- releases (plus one new compilation), which is actually well above average for a month. The 2018 A-list only totals 40 so far, so nearly half of them have come in May. Ignoring January (usually just previous year catch-up) that comes to 10/month, or 120/year. That's actually a bit down from 2017, which totals 144 new A-list records (including 5 added since the Jan. 31, 2018 freeze date).

I have 320 new records rated so far this year, so an average of 80/month, projected to 960 for the year. For 2017 the current total is 1177 (42 added since freeze date), so I'm down a bit this year. No real surprise given how the year has gone. The May Streamnotes draft file currently has 128 new records (including compilations), well above my average this (or practically any) year.

Not much unpacking this week, but after reports that Cuneiform had closed down back in January, I was very pleasantly surprised to see two new Thumbscrew (Mary Halvorson) records show up in my mail box.

New records rated this week:

  • Bill Anschell: Shifting Standards (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Tiffany Austin: Unbroken (2018, Con Alma): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Andrea Brachfeld: If Not Now, When? (2017 [2018], Jazzheads): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jonas Cambin Trio: We Must Mustn't We (2018, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Beyond Dimensions (2016 [2018], FMR): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Dan Cavanaugh/Dave Hagedorn: 20 Years (2017 [2018], UT Arlington): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Freddy Cole: My Mood Is You (2018, HighNote): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dead Composers Club [Noah Preminger/Rob Garcia]: Chopin Project (2017 [2018], Connection Works): [cd]: B
  • Kat Edmonson: Old Fashioned Gal (2018, MRI): [r]: B+(*)
  • Danny Green Trio Plus Strings: One Day It Will (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tyler Higgins: Blue Mood (2016 [2018], Shhpuma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Amos Hoffman/Noam Lemish: Pardes (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Azar Lawrence: Elementals (2018, HighNote): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mike LeDonne and the Groover Quartet: From the Heart (2018, Savant): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ben Markley Quartet: Basic Economy (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Deanne Matley: Because I Loved (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jeremy Pelt: Noir En Rouge: Live in Paris (2018, HighNote): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Piet: The Bitter Angles of Our Nurture (2017, self-released): [bc]: B(**)
  • Matt Piet/Paul Giallorenzo: Wood, Wire, and Steel (self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Matt Piet & Tim Daisy: Stroke One; Strike Two (self-released): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Matt Piet/Raoul van der Welde/Frank Rosaly: Out of Step: Live in Amsterdam (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Prefuse 73: Sacrifices (2018, Lex): [r]: B
  • Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse (2018, Carpark): [r]: B+(*)
  • WoodWired: In the Loop (2017 [2018], UT Arlington): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • William Parker: Voices Fall From the Sky (1993-2018, AUM Fidelity, 3CD): [cd]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gene Jackson Trio NuYorx: Power of Love (Whirlwind)
  • Jure Pukl: Doubtless (Whirlwind)
  • Ratatet: Heroes, Saints and Clowns (Ridgeway): June 22
  • Thumbscrew: Ours (Cuneiform): June 8
  • Thumbscrew: Theirs (Cuneiform): June 8

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I started assembling and writing some of this as early as Thursday this week, shortly after Trump cancelled his much hyped Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, and I haven't been able to catch up with such later news as Kim Jong-un Meets With South Korean Leader in Surprise Visit and US Officials Meet With North Koreans to Discuss Summit. It was a pretty good initial guess that John Bolton was at the root of the cancellation, first by poisoning the well with his insistence that North Korea surrender its nuclear weapons like Libya did in 2004, and finally by whispering into the gullible president's ear that if he didn't cancel, Kim would beat him to the punch. As I note below, if the two Koreas can proceed to their own deal, it really won't matter much what Trump and Bolton think. And by the way, I think it's safe to say that Trump's 3rd National Security Adviser won't be his last. While Bolton hasn't flamed out as fast as Anthony Scaramucci -- indeed, he may even outlast Michael Flynn (who resigned after a little more than three weeks) -- he's embarrassed Trump is a way that won't soon be forgotten.

Also on death watch is Rudy Giuliani, who's managed to make Trump look even guiltier while trying to polarize political reaction to the Mueller investigation, figuring that as long as he can keep his base from believing their lying eyes he'll survive impeachment, and as long as that happens he can pardon the rest.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: No "4 most important stories this week," or maybe just no clue how to explain them? My nominations for the top four stories: President Trump cancelled his planned summit with Kim Jong-un; Neither North Korea nor Iran are taking Trump's rejection and threats as provocations to belligerence; Trump hatched "spygate" to further politicize the Mueller investigation; Ireland voted to legalize abortion. Still, a busy week's worth of posts for Matthew Yglesias:

    • NFL owners are stifling speech, but it's not called "no-platforming" when you're rich and own the platform: "Real power over the flow of ideas rests with the wealthy." Argues that the rich -- and when we're talking NFL franchise owners, we're talking very rich -- don't always use their wealth to promote their political interests (clearly he hasn't worked for the Kochs) they can and do when it makes sense to their bottom line.

      The good news for free speech is that rich people generally like money, and this operates as a practical constraint on the extent to which they use their control of platforms for political purposes. NFL owners are a conservative-leaning bunch, for example, but they aren't going to subject fans to pregame lectures about the merits of tax cuts because they don't want to annoy the audience.

      But one luxury of being rich is you can sacrifice some financial upside for political purposes if you want to. A recent paper by Emory University political scientists Gregory Martin and Josh McCrain found that when Sinclair Broadcast Group, a legendarily right-wing network of local TV stations, buys a station, its local news programs begin to cover more national and less local politics, the coverage becomes more conservative, and viewership actually falls -- suggesting that the rightward tilt isn't enacted as a strategy to win more viewers but as part of a persuasion effort.[*]

      Martin and Ali Yurukoglu, meanwhile, found in a separate study that without Fox News's slanted coverage, the Republican presidential candidate's share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008. The Koch brothers have started using their financial clout to buy influence on college campuses, making generous contributions in exchange for a role in hiring faculty members. Google spends millions of dollars a year sponsoring academic research that it hopes will influence both mass and elite opinion in favor of Google-friendly policy conclusions, and it's obviously not the only wealthy business that does this.

      Most cases are, of course, going to be less extreme but still significant. An old quip by Anatole France notes that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." By the same token, the rich and the poor alike have the right to buy a chain of local television news stations or NFL franchises, but in practice, only the rich actually can control the flow of information.

      One should note [*] that Sinclair's substitution of national for local news is also a cost-cutting (profit-enhancing) feature, as local news is generally of interest only to its local market, whereas national stories can be sourced anywhere and reused everywhere. The Kochs, by the way, have been buying academic favors at least since the 1980s, when they founded Cato Institute and bankrolled James McGill Buchanan (see Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America; by the way, I saw a line just this week insisting that the Nobel Prize for Economics isn't given out to marginal cranks, but Buchanan disproves that).

      For more on the NFL, see: Benjamin Sachs: The NFL's "take a knee" ban is flatly illegal.

    • Donald Trump's posthumous pardon of boxing champion Jack Johnson, explained: "A case where breaking norms helps get the right thing done." By all means, read if you don't know who Johnson was (or think he's a white folksinger). I learned about the first black boxing champ back in the 1960s -- not just his boxing career and taste for white women but that he was also into fast cars -- especially through Howard Sackler's 1967 play The Greate White Hope (a stage and screen breakthrough for James Early Jones), soon followed by one of Miles Davis' greatest albums (A Tribute to Jack Johnson). Johnson's Mann Act conviction was unjust, but not unique (the same law was used to jail Chuck Berry in the 1950s), and indeed the period was so full of racial injustice that it would be mind-boggling even to try to recognize it all. On the other hand, if Trump's pardon of Johnson is anything more than a cheap publicity stunt, all it signals is Trump's identity with famous people, and his sense that pardoning a black man who died 70 years ago won't ruffle his base (especially after his much more consequential pardon of racist sheriff Joe Arpaio).

    • Why did anyone ever take Trump's North Korea diplomacy seriously? Sure, there's never been any reason to take Trump's understanding of either war or diplomacy with North Korea seriously. However, most US military experts really want to avoid war with North Korea, and that group clearly includes Secretary of Defense Mattis. On the other hand, Trump has glibly promised "to take care of" the pseudo-problem of North Korea's nuclear arsenal. I say "pseudo-problem" because it's pretty clearly only meant as a deterrent and/or bargaining chip, not as the offensive threat that Trump seems to think. As long as the US and its allies don't attack North Korea, there's no reason to think that North Korea will attack us -- it would, after all, be a purely psychotic thing to do. So the simplest solution would be to just ignore the supposed provocation, but Trump and the neocon hawks won't tolerate anything that might make the US look weak, or sensible. However, it has always seemed possible that North and South Korea could work out their own deal, which Trump would be hard-pressed not to go along with. One always hopes that sanity will prevail over war, so it was tempting to humor Trump as long as he raised that possibility. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called experts in America have been taking pot-shots at the prospect, some (like John Bolton and Mike Pence) because they want to keep any agreement from happening), and some (like Yglesias) because they regard Trump as a dangerous and/or delirious buffoon.

    • DOJ is giving a special partisan briefing on the Trump-Russia investigation to GOP Congress members.

    • Most Americans don't realize Robert Mueller's investigation has uncovered crimes: "17 indictments and five guilty pleas so far." Yet the chart shows that 59% of Americans don't think the investigation has uncovered any crimes. For more details, see Andrew Prokop: All of Robert Mueller's indictments and plea deals in the Russia investigation so far.

    • 3 winners and 3 losers from primaries in Georgia, Texas, Kentucky, and Arkansas: Winners: the DCCC (defeated Laura Moser in TX-7); Medicaid expansion; black Democrats. Losers: the GOP mobilization strategy; Our Revolution; Georgia Republicans.

    • Stacey Abrams just won a shot to be the first black woman governor in America.

    • Bank profits hit a new all-time record as Congress is poised to roll back post-crisis regulations

    • The media ignored the policy stakes in 2016 -- don't make the same mistake again in the midterms: This starts out sounding like a critique of the media problem, as even the less partisan media, through a combination of sloth and greed, favors cheap clickbait over wonkish policy matters:

      The policy stakes in the 2016 elections were high -- because the stakes are high in all elections -- and yet television news coverage of the election utterly failed to convey the stakes, with more attention paid to the Clinton email issue than to all policy issues combined.

      Trump as an actual president has received more critical scrutiny than he did as a long-shot candidate, but even so, the coverage thus far of the 2018 midterms has focused very heavily on Trump drama rather than the concrete stakes. But if the GOP holds its majorities -- not currently considered the most likely scenario, but one for which the odds are decent -- there are a range of policies very likely to move forward that will have enormous consequences for the everyday life of millions of people.

      Yglesias also notes that a Democratic Congress would present Trump with a very different set of opportunities: instead of relying on Ryan and McConnell to force straight party-line votes, he'd have to make some reasonable concessions to gain at least a few Democratic votes, which would make his administration less extremist and polarizing. The problem here is that the so-called moderation or unorthodoxy of Trump's campaign really seems to have been nothing but an act, and he may have revealed his true colors in tossing it aside. (Or it may just be that his understanding of real issues is so shallow that his instinct for pomposity and cruelty is all he really has to fall back on.)

    • Trump backs away from China trade war, while a Trump development gets a $500 million Chinese loan:

      Many Republicans in Congress are clearly aware that something fishy is happening with ZTE. And journalists are clearly noting that Trump is contradicting some very clear campaign promises on Chinese trade in general.

      But while the GOP-led Congress has extensive oversight powers that could be used to check Trump's conflicts of interest, they uniformly decline to use any of them, leaving America to depend on nothing more than Trump's say-so and goodwill for as long as the GOP retains the majority.

      And journalists who cover the Trump administration's infighting and intrigue seem inordinately reluctant to so much as mention the conflict of interest when covering these issues.

  • Noah Berlatsky: The Trump effect: New study connects white American intolerance and support for authoritarianism

  • Chas Danner: Ireland Votes Overwhelmingly to Legalize Abortion; also Barbara Wesel: A triumph for women and for Ireland.

  • Tara Golshan: John McCain's shocking concession on the Iraq War: it was a "mistake": Not that he ever harbored doubts, let alone opposed, the war at any time when his opposition could have made a difference. But on his death bed, he explains his change of heart: "I sacrificed everything, including my presidential ambitions, that it would succeed." Makes you wonder whether he has any other second thoughts about the many wars he championed. For instance, is he still upset that the US didn't go to war against Russia to support Georgia's claim to South Osetia? McCain's concession is reportedly in a new book he's had ghost-written for him. There's also a hagiographic documentary film, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which Matt Taibbi reviews in John McCain's Revisionist History Is a Team Effort. Taibbi writes a lot about McCain and Iraq, but doesn't seem to have gotten the memo on what a mistake McCain thinks it was. He does, however, note other mistakes McCain has admitted, like picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, but only to show how the movie glosses them over.

  • Eric Levitz: America's Version of Capitalism Is Incompatible With Democracy: This follows up on

  • Jedediah Purdy: Normcore, which I cited previously.

  • Josh Marshall: Stop Talking about 'Norms':

    But we need to stop talking so much about norms. Because it doesn't capture what is happening or the situation we're in. In every kind of communication, clarity is the most important thing. By talking so much about "norms" and the violation of "norms" we're confusing the situation and even confusing ourselves. . . .

    I've noted something similar about the language of "conflicts of interest." I have heard many people claim that that $500 million Chinese state loan to a Trump Organization partnership development in Indonesia is a "conflict of interest." Whether or not you think that is the best example there are many others to choose from: Jared Kushner hitting up the Qataris for loans for his family business empire while supporting a blockade of their country or pressuring foreign governments and political groups to use the President's DC hotel or a million other examples.

    These are not "conflicts of interest." A "conflict of interest" is a case in which the nature of a situation makes it impossible for a person to separate their personal interests from their public responsibilities (or to appear to do so). All recent Presidents put their private wealth into blind trusts. We assume they weren't going to try to make money off the presidency in any case. But they wanted to remove any question of it and avoid situations where their own financial interests would bump up against their public responsibilities. What we're seeing now are not conflicts of interest. They're straight-up corruption. It's like "norms." Defining "conflicts of interest" is meant to keep relatively honest people on the straight and narrow or create tripwires that allow others to see when people in power are crossing the line. Nothing like that is happening here. We have an increasingly open effort to make vast sums of money with the presidency.

  • Tom McCarthy: Rudy Giuliani admits 'Spygate' is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller. The first I heard of "spygate" (not yet so-named) was when Trump demanded that the DOJ investigate the FBI for infiltrating his 2016 campaign "for political purposes." My first reaction was, well, yeah, everyone who suspected the FBI of infiltrating their political organizations should also demand an investigation. Like most of Trump's charges against the FBI, this resonates because this is the sort of thing the FBI is famous for doing (although usually not targeting the likes of Donald Trump -- although there is little doubt but that J. Edgar Hoover kept files on politicians, including three who routinely renominated Hoover to head the FBI: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon). After all, when Tim Weiner wrote his history of the FBI, his chosen title was Enemies. Then I was reminded of the definition of a gaffe: when a politician inadvertently admits a truth that he isn't supposed to say. Since he joined Trump's lawyer team Giuliani has been an extraordinary fount of gaffes -- this being just one more example.

  • Jonah Shepp: Trump's Credibility Problem Is Now America's: At the end of WWII, the United States commanded fully half of the world's wealth. In a moment of extreme arrogance, George Kennan said that preserving that degree of dominance should be the goal of American foreign policy. It was inevitable that the ratio would fall, but Kennan's "containment policy" defined the Cold War and helped lead to the strangulation and collapse of the Soviet Union and its allies. By the time that happened, the US was scrambling to form NAFTA to achieve economic parity with the European Union, but the cloistered Cold War ideologues let their triumph go to their heads, proclaiming the US the World's Sole Superpower -- some dubbed it the Hyperpower -- and went on advocate strangling any would-be rivals in the crib (not that it wasn't already too late to head off China or Russia, or as we now see, North Korea). But the fact is, American power has been in decline ever since 1945 (or at least 1950, as the Korean War ground to a stalemate). Sure, the US was able to keep up a semblance of an alliance even to the present day, but that's mostly because the US pays most of the "defense" costs and runs trade deficits which help allied economies (and global corporations). Meanwhile, America's credibility suffered, first with its pro- and post-colonial wars, with its embrace of brutal and corrupt dictatorships, with trade arrangements to collect monopoly rents, and with its control of debt and imposition of austerity measures. Even America's vaunted military has turned out to be somewhere between useless and down right embarrassing. Remember when "shock and awe" was supposed to cower Iraq into submission? Those who survived discovered they could fight on, as they did, and in Afghanistan and elsewhere continue to do. Had Trump merely followed his "America First" campaign promises -- shaking "allies" down for more "defense" spending while reversing their trading fortunes -- the long-term decline already in place would have increased, but Trump's foreign policy has been astonishingly erratic and incoherent. Indeed, the only reason the world hasn't yet rejected and isolated the US as the rogue state it's become is that most "allies" are unable to grasp just what living in a post-American world might mean.

    For decades, the free world has operated under the assumption that the United States will act as its leader, using its might to advance not only its own interests but also those of its kindred nations and the international community writ large. Under Trump, the world is finding that we can no longer be trusted to engage in consultation, deliberation, or dialogue of any kind. Instead, we do whatever we want (or whatever he wants) with no real concern for the impact our decisions have on other countries, be they allies or adversaries. When other countries behave this way, we have a word for it: We call them rogue states. How long will our allies put up with this behavior before they simply stop believing a word we say? And how long will it take to repair that damage after the Trump era is over?

    Actually, the "free world" has been a myth almost from the start, and America's "leadership" has never been more than consensual ego stroking. Neither of those things are recoverable, nor really are they desirable. The problem with Trump isn't that he's shrinking America's role in the world, but that he's trying to present his retreat as arrogant self-indignation. It's sort of like the story in Atlas Shrugged, where the entrepreneurs go on strike expecting the world to collapse without them. But the rest of the world hasn't needed America for some time now. As Bush's Iraq War alliance crumbled, he coined the term "Coalition of the Willing" to describe its remaining token members. All Trump has done has been to remove America from the "Willing." Hopefully, the rest of the world will step up -- as, in fact, we see happening after US withdrawals from Paris, Iran, and Korea. Maybe, post-Trump, a chastened US will join them.

    Related to this, see Mark Karlin: "Making America Great Again" Assumes That It Once Was, an interview with David Swanson, author of Curing Exceptionalism: What's Wrong With How We Think About the United States; also by Karlin: The United States Is a Force for Chaos Across the Planet, an interview with Tom Engelhardt, author of A Nation Unmade by War. Engelhardt edits TomDispatch, where he's published more relevant articles:

    • Alfred McCoy: The Hidden Meaning of American Decline: McCoy recently published In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of American Global Power:

      As Trump has abrogated one international accord after another, observers worldwide have struggled to find some rationale for decisions that seem questionable on their merits and have frayed relations with long-standing allies. Given his inordinate obsession with the "legacy" of Barack Obama, epitomized in a report, whether true or not, of his ritual "defiling" of his predecessor's Moscow hotel bed via the "golden showers" of Russian prostitutes, there's a curious yet coherent logic to his foreign policy. You might even think of it as Golden Shower diplomacy. Whatever Obama did, Trump seems determined to undo with a visceral vehemence: the Trans-Pacific trade pact (torn up), the Paris climate accord (withdrawn), the Iran nuclear freeze (voided), close relations with NATO allies (damaged), diplomatic relations with Cuba (frozen), Middle Eastern military withdrawal (reversed), ending the Afghan war (cancelled), the diplomatic pivot to Asia (forgotten), and so on into what already seems like an eternity.

    • John Feffer: Korea's Two "Impossibles".

    • Karen Greenberg: Dismantling Democracy, One Word at a Time.

  • Richard Silverstein: Dead in the Water: Trump Middle East Peace Plan and Pompeo's Iran Plan B: I can't say that I was ever aware that Trump's minions even had plans for Israel-Palestine peace or post-JCPOA Iran. Wishes, maybe, but since Bolton (in particular) clearly involves any negotiations involving any degree of give-and-take as unacceptable signs of weakness, the question is whether they can force the solutions they prefer over the resistance of the forces they want to vanquish. In the case of Israel-Palestine, that's a moot point, because Israel doesn't want any kind of "peace process" -- in the past they've had to give lip service to American aspirations, but they've got Trump so wrapped up I doubt any pretense is necessary. As for Iran, all they have is vague hopes for sanctions and prayers for some kind of popular revolt -- as if they've forgotten that the last time that happened didn't bode well for American hopes. More links on Israel-Palestine and/or Iran:

  • Emily Stewart: Congress finally found something it can agree on: helping banks: A significant rollback of Dodd-Frank, considered "bipartisan" because 33 Democrats in the House and 16 in the Senate (plus Angus King) voted for it. Stewart also wrote:

  • Matthew Stewart: The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy: Long piece (plus some video), something I've barely skimmed and need to look at in more depth, but argues that there is an aristocracy in America ("toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable"), but that it's bigger than the 1% made famous by Occupy Wall Street, let alone the 0.1% Paul Krugman likes to cite. The 9.9% slice simply comes from the top decile not in the 0.1%. Also from The Atlantic, not yet read but possibly interesting: Ta-Nehisi Coates: I'm Not Black, I'm Kanye.

  • Alex Ward: The Trump-Kim summit is canceled: Includes Trump's letter. Ward also wrote South Korea is scrambling to figure out WTF just happened with the Trump-Kim summit. More links viz. Korea:

Monday, May 21, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29733 [29697] rated (+36), 351 [349] unrated (+2).

Got a rude shock from Twitter this afternoon when I went to announce that I had finally posted my Sunday Weekend Roundup column. After the initial shock wore off, I figured out that they didn't like my browser so decided to force me to use their "mobile" interface. It is, necessarily, more compact, dispensing with stats like how many followers I have, how many notifications I haven't looked at, and other features -- not least the form to enter a new tweet. When I found the icon, it threw away the rest of the screen. I imagine a lot of you interact with Twitter through your phones, so you're used to this, but after an experiment I stripped their ap from my phone. I'm no Luddite, but did find that the value added was far less than the nuisance received.

Turns out that my secondary computer still gets the regular user interface, so I can go there (as I've had to do for Facebook for several years now). I have 298 followers. Been stuck there for a few weeks, and thought of making a pitch here to push me over the 300 number. (Would be nice to break 300 followers before I break through 30,000 records rated, no?) Link is under Networking to the left, or here.

One other thing I noticed on Twitter today is that the proportion of advertisements in the feed has exploded -- as it did in Facebook maybe a year ago. It looks like they've taken a big step on the curve from enticing people with a free service to turning it into a major public nuisance. Of course, that's happening all over the Internet these days -- as if everyday life wasn't troubling enough. I reckon I'll have to stop being so offended if/when I start pulling shit like that myself, but for now I entitled to complain.

I've been reading Michael Ruhlman's Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, which follows a brief history of how grocery stores developed with a much longer investigation into the current business of one local chain Ruhlman is particularly fond of: Heinen's, in and around Cleveland (and Chicago). I've read a number of Ruhlman's books, going back to The Soul of a Chef (2000), most recently The Elements of Cooking (from 2007, but I read it, along with Judith Jones' The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, to take a break from something in 2016).

The thing that Ruhlman reminded me of is how much the technology and business of good has changed during my lifetime, and that it's mostly been for the better -- despite many other metrics that have been in more or less constant decline since I was born in 1950. Ruhlman attributes this to customer demand, and paints a picture of a vibrantly functioning capitalism constantly adapting to meet demands for broader and more exotic selection, fresher and less contaminated produce and meats, and (most of all) more convenient ways of obtaining tastier meals. Sure, his favored grocery chain seems to be working harder than most to satisfy those desires, but I can see faint echoes of that in the two chains that dominate my home town (Kroger and WalMart, so probably yours too). And it is true that when capital, competitive markets, innovation, and real personal demand come together capitalism can be a wondrous thing. I'm often haunted by the question of why, if business (especially finance) is so rotten and government so corrupt, so many people think their lives are better than ever. Good food helps explain that.

But Ruhlman also notes that profit margins in groceries are exceptionally thin -- something which has probably spared chains like Heinen's from the devastation of private equity firms. But I'd like to single out one more factor: taste. As Adam Smith knew, markets only work when they are transparent, which is to say when the buyer knows exactly what she is buying. As MBA students soon learn, the trick to increasing profits is to make products opaque, so people can never really understand just what they are buying. (This is why medicine has been such a long-term profit engine.) But everyone has a taste for good food, and that's what keeps the industry at least relatively honest. (Not that big processed food companies haven't exploited our weak spots for salt, sugar, and fat, but even that is relatively easy to see around.) Moreover, most of the workers and businessfolk throughout the food chain take pride in their products and services, in marked distinction to the widget-counters who dominate other industries.

Speaking of food, my late sister's birthday is tomorrow, so I'll be cooking for her son and some friends tomorrow. Last year she requested Indian for her birthday, so I figured I'd reprise that menu (with a couple of minor changes) this year: lamb and fish curries, several vegetable dishes (cabbage, greens, eggplant, green beans), cucumber raita, a simple rice pilaf, some warmed-up frozen paratha (I've made scratch, but hardly seems worth the trouble). Thought I'd go with Mom's legendary coconut cake for dessert this time. (Last year was a flourless chocolate cake with ice cream.) Need to wrap this up and go shopping -- such dinners usually take 3-5 grocery store stops, but this one should actually be relatively easy. And I'll miss a couple days of searching out new music. However, this past week offers a pretty broad selection, so enjoy.

[PS: Back from shopping, which proved not so easy. Took me four hours, four stores: Sprouts (most of the vegetables), Dillons (lamb, halibut, yogurt), Whole Foods (bulk rice, cabbage), and Asia Bazaar (ghee, bread, urad dal, a coconut). I expected to get by with just the first two, as I have almost all of the more esoteric Indian ingredients already in stock (maybe not urad dal, but I could have skipped it). However, Dillons disappointed me, among other things getting rid of their bulk goods section, and I didn't feel like buying a 5 lb. package of rice there. Also, no coconut, and when I got to Whole Foods I remembered I forgot the cabbage. I had enough ghee and bread, but by then I thought I might as well stop at Asia Bazaar to make sure I don't run out. Also found some nice okra there, which I hadn't planned on. Not sure how much cooking I'll get done tonight, so I may wind up having to cut dishes tomorrow.]

A couple of very brief notes on the music. I went into some Otis Redding back catalogue after noticing the new compilations. All of the B+(***) albums could have come in higher had I not recalled the other records I've heard so well. I had a couple of Redding's early LPs, but really fell for him again with the 3-CD The Otis Redding Story, which came out in 1989 and still remains definitive. Needless to say, it's pretty remarkable for a guy who only recorded six years to have amassed that much great music. I also have three of the four 1968-70 posthumous albums at A- (The Dock of the Bay and Love Man are the ones omitted below).

LaVette, of course, is relatively minor, but the new record made me want to dig deeper. Her best previous record remains A Woman Like Me (2003). Christgau gave a full A to the new record here, as well as reviewing two Wussy albums (one EP, one LP) that he likes much more than I do. I previously gave the EP, Getting Better, a B+(*) a while back. I like the album a bit more, but I'm more suspicious I've overrated it than under.

New records rated this week:

  • 3hattrio: Lord of the Desert (2018, Okehdokee): [r]: B+(**)
  • Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: An Angel Fell (2018, Strut): [r]: B+(**)
  • MC Paul Barman: (((Echo Chamber))) (2018, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(***)
  • Playboi Carti: Die Lit (2018, AWGE/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Benoît Delbecq 4: Spots on Stripes (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Adrean Farrugia/Joel Frahm: Blues Dharma (2017 [2018], GB): [cd]: A-
  • Flatbush Zombies: Vacation in Hell (2018, Glorious Dead): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bill Hart Band: Live at Red Clay Theatre (2017 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Hieroglyphic Being: The Red Notes (2018, Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (2018, Verve): [r]: A
  • Igor Lumpert & Innertextures: Eleven (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Sparkle Hard (2018, Matador): [r]: B+(*)
  • Solon McDade: Murals (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • MJO Brothers Present: Hip Devotions (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Mount Eerie: Now Only (2018, PW Elverum & Sun): [r]: B+(*)
  • Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism (2018, Naïve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nuance Crusaders: Reflections (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B-
  • Parquet Courts: Wide Awake! (2018, Rough Trade): [r]: A-
  • Matt Piet & His Disorganization: Rummage Out (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charlie Puth: Voicenotes (2018, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rival Consoles: Persona (2018, Erased Tapes): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rolo Tomassi: Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It (2017 [2018], Holy Roar): [r]: B+(***)
  • Matthew Shipp: Zero (2018, ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet: Sonic Fiction (2018, ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jon Rune Strøm Quintet: Fragments (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vin Venezia: Fifth and Adams (2015-16 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Wussy: What Heaven Is Like (2018, Shake It): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Xcerts: Hold on to Your Heart (2018, Raygun): [r]: B

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

  • Otis Redding: Dock of the Bay Sessions (1967 [2018], Rhino): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Bettye LaVette: Child of the Seventies (1962-73 [2006], Rhino Handmade): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bettye LaVette: Tell Me a Lie (1982, Motown): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bettye LaVette: I've Got My Own Hell to Raise (2005, Anti-): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bettye Lavette: Worthy (2015, Cherry Red): [r]: B+(**)
  • Otis Redding: The Immortal Otis Redding (1967 [1968], Atco): [r]: A-
  • Otis Redding: Tell the Truth (1967 [1970], Atco): [r]: B+(***)
  • Otis Redding: Remember Me: 22 Previously Unissued Tracks (1962-67 [1992], Stax): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bill Anschell: Shifting Standards (Origin)
  • Phil Haynes & Free Country: 60/69: My Favorite Things (Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): June 1
  • Ernie Krivda and Swing City: A Bright and Shining Moment (Capri): June 15
  • Bongwool Lee: My Singing Fingers (Origin)
  • Ben Markley Quartet: Basic Economy (OA2)
  • No Fast Food: Settings for Three (Corner Store Jazz): June 1
  • J. Peter Schwalm: How We Fall (RareNoise): advance, June 8

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Once again, a week with too damn much to report, and too little time to collect it all. Nothing on elections in Iraq (last week) or Venezuela (coming soon; US media already bitching like crazy over Maduro stealing the election and driving the "once prosperous" country ever deeper into ruin). Nothing on primaries in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, nor on prospects for November. A little bit on Korea, written before the US backed down and called off the war games that threatened to derail the talks. Fred Kaplan notes: One Month Before His Summit With Trump, Kim Jong-un Is the One Calling the Shots. (Considering John Bolton and Donald Trump as alternatives, that's really not such bad news.) Just a wee bit on the Mueller "witch hunt." Didn't even get around to the book I'm reading.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that you shouldn't miss this week, explained: Gina Haspel is America's new director of the CIA (six Democrats supported Haspel, who ran Bush-era torture programs, while two Republicans opposed, with McCain absent); Net neutrality won a vote in the Senate (52-47 to overrule the FCC, although the House is unlikely to concur); The North Korea summit is suddenly in trouble (Yglesias doesn't mention continuing US war games that North Korea objects to, but does note that John Bolton keeps insisting on things that North Korea is unlikely to ever agree to); There's an Ebola outbreak in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo):

    But if things get bad, the United States, traditionally a world leader in epidemic response, has greatly diminished capacity in this regard. . . . Inconveniently, the head of the National Security Council's global health security efforts abruptly left earlier this month as part of a Bolton-inspired shake-up. His whole team has been dismantled, and budget cuts have already forced US public health agencies to scale back their international work.

    Other Yglesias links:

    • It might take a black candidate to beat Trump's toxic racial politics: "Cory Booker's path out of the identity vs. economic politics quagmire. . . . Booker's solution is essentially the one Obama offered -- reassure voters of color by putting one of their own in charge, and then let the politician spend his time making his case to the white voters." I've long regarded Booker as a crony of Wall Street, so even if he does make the case while campaigning I have little hope that he won't revert to form in office. As with Obama, that doesn't strike me as a long-term winning formula, which is what the Democrats really need. For what it's worth, I think the class vs. identity debate within the Democratic Party is muddled and confused.

    • 4 winners and 3 losers from the primaries in Pennsylvania and Nebraska: Winners: Pittsburgh-area socialism, Democratic women, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, tattoos. Losers: Rick Saccone, Oregon, DCCC (although I don't get the slam against Oregon).

    • Trump helps sanctioned Chinese phone maker after China delivers a big loan to a Trump project: I'm not a fan of US sanctions against Iran and North Korea -- they're meant to buttress a harsh and vindictive foreign policy, and they depend on imperious overreach by the US government into foreign commerce. Still, it's viciously amusing to see Trump all wound up about lost jobs in China, especially since the obvious explanation is old fashioned graft.

    • Cruelty is the defining characteristic of Donald Trump's politics and policy: "John Kelly says separating kids from their parents is fine because of 'foster care or whatever'." But that's just one example.

      From new Medicaid rules that hurt people with disabilities to rewriting bank regulations to favor predatory lenders to siding with Dow Chemical's lobbyists over pediatricians to keep allowing the manufacture of a pesticide that poisons children's brains, the circle of people who are subject to harm by a regime that practices the law of the jungle is ever widening.

      Very few of us are as rich or powerful as Trump, his Cabinet, his circle of friends and family, or his major campaign contributors. All of us will lose out from an ethic that licenses the strong to oppress the weak. Foreign-born children are uniquely disempowered in the political system, so they bear the brunt for now. But almost all of us will need help or protection at some point.

      Also see Masha Gessen: Taking Children From Their Parents Is a Form of State Terror.

    • Why are we taking Donald Trump's Korea diplomacy seriously? "All he does is lie and break promises. This will be no different." Sure, but why be so pessimistic about it? Yglesias sounds like he buys the whole argument that it's all North Korea's fault that we don't get along swimmingly with them -- even going so far as to buy the argument that acknowledging their existence by merely meeting is some kind of huge concession. The fact is that whatever deal emerges will almost completely be shaped by the two Koreas, and the planets seem better aligned than usual for such an agreement. In this context, Trump may have an advantage over past US presidents: ignorance, inattention to detail, a weak understanding of America's imperial posture, and an eagerness to claim credit for things he did nothing to make happen. He also has some advisers who realize that the US has no good options with North Korea -- not least because the US has painted itself into a corner by insisting on denuclearizing North Korea without having any way to force the issue. (Ever escalating cycles of sanctions are a nuisance for North Korea, but they don't threaten the survival of the regime; moreover, they underscore how hostile the US is, and how important it is that North Korea have a nuclear deterrent against US aggression.) Admittedly, Trump has some aides like John Bolton who are prefer the use of military force, but the people who actually run the DOD harbor no delusions that such an attack could be launched at a tolerable cost. So if the Koreas present him with a fait accompli, would he really screw it just to humor Bolton? I wouldn't put it past him: hiring Bolton and withdrawing from the Iran deal certainly seem to be a secret desire for failure. But even as the smart money bets on Trump doing something stupid, I don't see any reason to cheer him on.

  • Zeeshan Aleem: Trump missed Congress's deadline for getting a NAFTA deal done. Now what? Not much, unless Trump decides to blow the whole existing deal up, which would, well, nobody knows what that would do. One thing it wouldn't do is restore pre-NAFTA jobs and demographics. This is partly because businesses that have been taking advantage of the arrangement for 25 years now aren't likely to roll over (or lose influence in all three countries), but also the pact's many losers (in all three countries) have moved on (or been trampled under). Any new deal will generate new winners and losers, so everyone advising the process have their own angles. As for Ryan's "deadline," that assumes Trump will come up with a Republican-favored deal, but the GOP is likely to be as divided as Democrats on any such change.

  • Zack Beauchamp: Santa Fe High: Texas lieutenant governor blames shooting on "too many entrances": "too many exits" too: "There aren't enough people to put a guard at every entry and exit." It's not clear to me that shootings have anything to do with entries/exits, but one real threat that you'd like to have more exits for is fire. Maybe fires are rarer these days than shootings, but they do happen, and they are things that school administrators properly worry about.

    There are a number of practical problems with this idea. If you have a mass shooter in the building, you don't want to trap people in the building. It's not obvious that security guards would be able to spot someone concealing a weapon even if they were at every door; in fact, there were two armed guards at Santa Fe on Friday. And closing most of the entryways to a school would create a serious fire hazard.

    More fundamentally, this all feels like an absurd kind of deflection.

  • Caleb Crain: Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy? Basically, a review of Robert Kuttner's new book, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? -- although he starts off with a long disquisition on Karl Polanyi and his 1944 book The Great Transformation ("as the world was coming to terms with the destruction that fascism had wrought"). For another review, see Justin Fox: How Rampant Globalization Brought Us Trump. One thing I've noticed is how reviewers tend to drop the key word "Global" from the title. Kuttner doesn't have a problem with the well-regulated mixed economies of Western Europe and America from the 1940s through the 1960s: they combined strong growth rates with broad distribution of wealth. Rather, he blames the political rise of global finance since the 1970s, by the 1990s capturing center-left parties (e.g., Bill Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in the UK), ultimately discrediting the left such that populist resentment often wound up falling for the far right.

  • Sean Illing: How TV trivialized our culture and politics: Interview with Lance Strate, author of Amazing Ourselves to Death: Neil Postman's Brave New World, as a surrogate for late media critic Neil Postman, most famous for his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Seems like I bought but never read that book -- or maybe I'm thinking of his 1992 book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by which time Postman was turning into something of a neo-luddite. The context for Amusing, of course, was Ronald Reagan, an actor who played the role of president, but unlike Trump today, Reagan at least tried to act presidential, since that's what the role expected. Trump lacks Reagan's craft and discipline as an actor, or even as a human being. Rather, taking Postman's title to its absurd conclusion, Trump channels Reagan less through "reality TV" than through the "zombie apocalypse" genre: with Trump we not only get the death of democracy, we get to watch it mindlessly devouring itself, as reality itself has become more horrific than the dystopias Postman could imagine in his lifetime (he died in 2003). Strate does note that "I think Postman held out great hope for education as a way of addressing these problems." Postman wrote several books about education, but the one I read and treasured as a high school dropout was Teaching as a Subversive Activity, written with Charles Weingartner in 1969. The authors there posited that the highest goal of teaching was to get students to develop acute "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, that was not on the curriculum of the high school I dropped out of, nor has it gained much currency since then. Indeed, the recent focus on nothing but test scores teaches "crap-detection" only by burying students in it. It's not like critical thinking has disappeared, but those in power have done their best to banish it to the isolated corners of society, and are reaping the fruits of their astonishing incompetence. In some sense it would be comforting to blame all this on the obliteration of words by images. Still, I'm somewhat more suspicious of the triumph of money over morals.

    For another take on Trump/Reagan see:

  • Susan B Glasser: Is Trump the Second Coming of Reagan? "[Brett Baier] knows that our current president is louder, cruder, and ruder than Ronald Reagan, 'a counterpuncher' from New York far different from the genial Republican predecessor."

  • Sarah Kliff: The new Trump plan to defund Planned Parenthood, explained: "Women's health clinics that provide abortions or refer patients for the procedure will be cut off from a key source of federal funding under new Trump administration rules expected to be released Friday."

  • Matthew Lee: Pompeo: 'Swagger' of State Department Is 'America's Essential Rightness': In his recent closed door pep talk, Pompeo reportedly said: "Swagger is not arrogance; it is not boastfulness, it is not ego. No, swagger is confidence, in one's self, in one's ideas. In our case, it is America's essential rightness. And it is aggressiveness born of the righteous knowledge that our cause is just, special, and built upon America's core principles." Maybe the words he understands even less than "swagger" are: "arrogance," "boastfulness," and "ego." He went on to underscore his confusion by adding: "we should carry that diplomatic swagger to the ends of the earth; humbly, nobly and with the skill and courage I know you all possess." OK, add "humbly" to the list of words he doesn't begin to understand.

  • Dara Lind: Trump on deported immigrants: "They're not people. They're animals."

    If Trump understands his own administration's policy, he's never acknowledged it in public. He sticks to the same rhetorical move every time: refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.

    This is who Donald Trump has been for his entire political career. The worst-case scenarios about his dehumanizing rhetoric -- that they would foment large-scale mob violence or vigilantism against Latinos in the United States -- have not been realized. But neither have any hopes that Trump, as president, might ever weigh his words with any care at all, especially when encouraging Americans to see human beings as less than human.

    Also see: Juan Escalante: It's not just rhetoric: Trump's policies treat immigrants like me as "animals".

  • Charles P Pierce: Can the Republic Recover from Donald Trump?: Good question, but the post is all question, no answer. I don't think this quite rises to the level of an assumption, but the default sentiment is that before Trump we had norms, and now clearly we don't. But wouldn't it be, uh, normal to revert to norms once the disruption is removed? I don't think that's how it works. To pick an obvious example, GW Bush did a lot of shit -- tax cuts, defense buildup, the War on Terror, "no child left behind," "tort reform," the pivot away from "Peace Process" to Sharon on Israel, packing the courts with right-wingers -- that Barack Obama never came close to reversing. In fact, he rarely tried, because even though there was voluminous evidence that nearly everything Bush touch made the world worse, he tacitly accepted that changed world order. To reverse what Bush did, Obama would have had to work much harder than Bush did to break it all. We can debate whether Trump is even worse than Bush, but one thing that is clear is that Trump's world is even more fragile than Bush's, because so much of what Bush (and Clinton and Bush and Reagan and, sad to say, Carter, Ford, Nixon, and LBJ) broke was never fixed. On the other hand, Trump's efforts to wipe out everything worthwhile Obama did have already been almost complete, achieved with remarkable ease. On the other hand, they haven't fixed anything. They've simply made everything worse. It's like we're struggling against the second law of thermodynamics, where it take enormous energy to order anything, but no effort at all to let it turn to shit.

    I don't normally read Pierce, but he seems to have been on quite a roll lately, at least title-deep:

  • Frank Rich: Trump's Jerusalem Horror Show: Structured as an interview, so it quickly wanders onto other topics, like Kelly Sadler's "joke" about John McCain dying and the Trump legacy of never apologizing for anything bigoted (or merely stupid), and praise for the late journalist Tom Wolfe. For what little it's worth, I don't think I ever read anything by Wolfe, but I was aware of him and always suspected that his "Radical Chic" was the opening salvo in the long term assault on liberal sympathies for the poor and downtrodden, dismissing them as elitist conceits, conveniently dismissing the problems themselves.

    For more on the Jerusalem embassy event, see: Michelle Goldberg: A Grotesque Spectacle in Jerusalem:

    The event was grotesque. It was a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don't convert will burn forever. . . .

    This spectacle, geared toward Donald Trump's Christian American base, coincided with a massacre about 40 miles away. Since March 30, there have been mass protests at the fence separating Gaza and Israel. Gazans, facing an escalating humanitarian crisis due in large part to an Israeli blockade, are demanding the right to return to homes in Israel that their families were forced from at Israel's founding. . . . The Israeli military has responded with live gunfire as well as rubber bullets and tear gas. In clashes on Monday, at least 58 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

    The juxtaposition of images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette tell us a lot about America's relationship to Israel right now.

    Somewhere in all of this people have forgotten why moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem matters in the first place. The British held a League of Nations mandate for Palestine since 1920, after the colony was carved out of the former Ottoman Empire. That was renewed by the UN on its founding in 1945, but the British tired of trying to rule Palestine, so threw the problem back to the UN to sort out by 1948. The UN convened a commission to "study" the issue, and they came up with a partition plan that would divide Palestine into three sections: a mostly Jewish segment across the Jezreel Valley, down the coast, and extended through the Negev to Eilat; an almost exclusively Muslim-Christian territory broken into three segments (Gaza, West Bank, West Galilee) plus the isolated city of Jaffa; and, finally, an "international" area centered on Jerusalem. Ben Gurion and the Zionists lobbied hard to secure UN approval of the partition plan, then took that mandate and launched offensives to capture Jerusalem, West Galilee, and Jaffa, and to reduce and concentrate Gaza. Meanwhile, Transjordan grabbed up the West Bank and East Jerusalem, dividing the city while leaving the Palestinians nothing. Subsequent UN resolutions, following international law, insisted that Palestinian refugees should be able to return in peace to their homes, and that the expansion of Israel following the 1967 war, especially the annexation of greater Jerusalem, was "inadmissible." The US has always supported (in word, anyway) the sanctity and applicability of international law, and in the 1980s the PLO reoriented itself to embrace a solution based on law.

    One might argue that the US has never been really serious about international law, especially as Americans have claimed the right to ignore any parts they find inconvenient (e.g., the refusal to join the International Criminal Court, and the decision to ignore POW status/rights in the Global War on Terror). But Eisenhower was willing and able to pressure Israel to return land seized in 1956 (although Johnson made no similar effort in 1967), and Carter got Israel to reverse its 1977 intervention in Lebanon (which Reagan fatefully allowed to resume in 1982). At least, GWH Bush and Clinton made something of an effort to get "two state" peace talks going, but since 2001 (when GW Bush and Sharon came to power) the US has steadily retreated, often just rubber-stamping Israeli decisions on war and foreign policy. (Obama did negotiate the Iran nuke deal over Israeli objections, but he did nothing effective to advance peace and justice in the area Israel controls.) With Trump, what we are seeing is a total surrender of American interests to Netanyahu's political agenda. The embassy move is hardly the worst submission, but given its long centrality has great symbolic portent. This is well understood in Israel and among Palestinians, but given how long and how thoroughly Americans have deceived themselves about Israel, it is scarcely commented on here. The fact that Israel can bomb Iranians in Syria and shoot marchers in Gaza with absolutely no concern for how bad such acts look is testimony to how completely Trump has surrendered to Israel (or maybe just to Sheldon Adelson, who speaks fluent Trump, sealing the deal with a $30 million check).

    More links on Israel-Palestine:

  • Zachary Roth: Is the System Rigged Against Democrats? Sure it is, right down to the New York Times substituting a Reagan campaign poster for the book cover or any other relevant graphic in this review of Davis Faris' slim book It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. Unfortunately, Faris focuses on re-rigging the system:

    To end gerrymandering, Faris says, they should scrap the winner-take-all method we use to elect members of the House and replace it with a system known as "ranked choice voting" that better reflects voter preferences. To fix the problem of Democratic underrepresentation in the Senate, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico should get statehood, and California should be split into seven separate states. Democrats should add seats to the Supreme Court and fill them with progressives. And they should reform voting laws to ban onerous voter ID requirements, re-enfranchise ex-felons and automatically register everyone to vote.

    I'm not unaware of structural factors which make the system less representative and less responsive to voter wishes, but the real problem Democrats face is getting voters to trust and support them, which is pretty much the same thing as getting Democrats to trust and support a clear majority of the voting public -- enough to overcome whatever structural deficits the party endures. Thanks to the Republicans' ideology, platform, and track record, that shouldn't be hard -- but, of course, given the pervasive influence of money, media, and mythology, it is. I wouldn't call this dirty, but one thing Democrats have to learn -- something that Republicans have definitely figured out -- is that it matters whether they win or not.

  • Dylan Scott: Who is the freeloader: the working poor on food stamps -- or corporations that don't pay them enough? Sen. Sherrod Brown starts with the insight that food stamps, medicare, etc., effectively subsize companies who underpay their workers by allowing people to work for less than they really need to live on, then tries to turn the tables on those companies. But he doesn't come up with a very good way of doing so, and his rhetoric about "corporate freeloaders" plays into the conceit that getting something for nothing is morally wrong. If you want to reduce welfare benefits, a more straightforward way to do that would be to legislate higher minimum wages. Even so, that leaves some problem cases, like earners trying to support larger families (more children or other dependents). In many cases, it would be preferable to provide more welfare benefits, and pay for them out of taxes on excessive profits and wages. Unfortunately, many liberals buy into the notion that welfare is a bad thing, and think they're scoring points with phrases like "corporate welfare." Doesn't the Constitution talk about "promoting the general welfare" as being one of the tasks of good government? Isn't the right's generic attack on government effectively an effort to reduce the general welfare?

    I think this confusion about welfare partly explains why the farm bill has become such a political football. See Tara Golshan: A House revolt over immigration just killed the farm bill -- for now. I don't really understand what immigration has to do with this, and indeed the reports are contradictory: evidently some Republicans want to force action on DACA, and others want to vote on a more restrictive anti-immigrant bill. For some time now, there has been a right-wing faction which opposed government efforts to stabilize agricultural markets -- rhetorically their complaints about "corporate welfare" have some resonance with liberals -- but this year they've managed to insert some poisonous "work requirements" into the food stamp program, moving Democrats into opposition. By taking advantage of mainstream Republicans' embrace of Trump cruelty, a few dozen Koch-funded fanatics are threatening American agribusiness. It's an interesting example of dysfunction within the GOP.

  • Emily Stewart: Donald Trump is raging over the Mueller investigation on Twitter; also by Stewart: Roger Stone acknowledges he might be indicted, and Donald Trump Jr. and Trump aides were reportedly open to foreign help in 2016 election beyond Russia (especially UAE and Saudi Arabia). I am of the camp that regards Mueller's investigation as largely a distraction, although it does tangentially touch on two more serious stories: the profound corruption of the US electoral process, and the deeply ingrained corruption of the Trump family and their cronies and enablers. Still, one thing remains amusing: how guilty Trump continues to look. As I recall, the thing that finally got to Nixon about Watergate wasn't the specific crime, but all the other things he was doing that could have been exposed in the investigation (of course, many "dirty tricks" did in fact come to light).

    There's been a big media push from Republican flacks complaining about how the Mueller investigation has now dragged on for an entire year, so that got me to wondering how long the Starr investigation into Clinton lasted? There's a chart of all past Special Counsel investigations in Amelia Thomson DeVeaux: Mueller Is Moving Quickly Compared to Past Special Counsel Investigations, and it shows that Starr's "Whitewater" investigation lasted a little more than six years. The upshot there was that Starr eventually caught Clinton in a lie that had nothing whatsoever to do with the original subject, but which provided House Republicans with an excuse to impeach Clinton (even knowing there was no chance the Senate would convict him). The Clinton/Starr experience convinced many of us that the Special Counsel law was an invitation to political abuse, and it has rarely been used since then. (The only time before Russia was the Valerie Plame leak, which was one of the shortest ever.) When Trump wails about the "greatest witch hunt ever," he's being very forgetful (as well as whiny).

  • Matt Taibbi: The Battle of Woodstock: "First in a series of diaries from the oddest House primary race in America" -- NY-19, where Taibbi is following Jeff Beals. Enter the DCCC. Hard to tell whether their ignorance or interest will turn out more self-defeating. Speaking of the DCCC and the Democratic Party old guard, see: Joe Biden Clarifies He's No Bernie Sanders: "I Don't Think 500 Billionaires Are Reason We're in Trouble, adding "The folks at the top aren't bad guys." Maybe not all of them, but ones like Sheldon Adelson, Charles Koch, Robert Mercer, Art Pope, and Betsy DeVos kind of skew the sample. Oh, also Donald Trump -- he may or may not be a billionaire, but he plays one on TV. Billionaires who donate to Democrats aren't exempt, either. Bill Gates was in the news last week making fun of Trump, but one shouldn't forget his effort to corner the Internet back in the 1990s, resulting in a conviction for antitrust violations.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29697 [29660] rated (+37), 349 [356] unrated (-7).

Once again, counted the list below and found my rated count short, so checked everything, adding four grades. Also noticed one item missing from the list. Still two short, but harder to check that direction, and will soon be forgotten anyway. Presumably the Year 2018 list is accurate. I've been adding quite a few records to the Music Tracking list, mostly based on various AOTY lists -- up to 772 records at the moment (OK, vs. 3690 for 2017, but 1742 for 2016; by the way, rated counts are: 279, 1179, 1167; if you figure we're 25% into 2018 -- counting January in the previous year as we're always playing catch up -- the track this year is for 1116 albums, down a bit but not much).

Confidence Man and Kali Uchis are currently ranked 1st and 5th on AOTY, and I might not have noticed them otherwise. (Not that their picks are a lock, as shown by 3rd-ranked Black Foxxes and number ten Hot Snakes -- I was also pointed toward the latter by Phil Overeem, and I've followed most of his tips.) I also noticed Kate Nash on AOTY's lists, but nowhere near the top. Top record I haven't heard yet is Saba's Care for Me (2), followed by the Xcerts' Hold on to Your Heart (6), and many more from 13th down.

The Ry Cooder record was reviewed by Robert Christgau here -- also Mount Eerie's Now Only, 14th on AOTY's list, which I'll get to in due course. As of this writing, Christgau's website is still down. This has been reported to the hosting company, who are reportedly working on it. We had another outage a few months ago, but they've generally been rare.

One thing that I should note is the confusing product choices surrounding the 25th anniversary of Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. I gave the preferred grade to the 3-CD box, but actually only listened to the MP3-only The Girly-Sound Tapes -- effectively solo demos for the album and the leading edge of Phair's career. The box combines a remaster of the classic album with the Tapes, and as best I can tell, the 3CD set (although not the 7LP box) is actually cheaper than the MP3 Tapes alone. I can say that I was seriously considering an A- for Tapes, but consumer guidance (and the desire just to picture one cover) steered me the other way.

A couple of links to recommend:

I was particularly pleased to see the mention of Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports ("a Carla Bley album in all but name").

I should also note that avant-guitarist Glenn Branca has died (1948-2018), but can't really say much about him. Legendary, but I never got around to listening to his records -- possibly because too many had "Symphony" in the title.

New records rated this week:

  • Anteloper: Kudu (2017 [2018], International Anthem): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Black Foxxes: Reiði (2018, Spinefarm): [r]: B
  • Greg Burk: The Detroit Songbook (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Byrne: American Utopia (2018, Nonesuch): [r]: B
  • J. Cole: KOD (2018, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Confidence Man: Confident Music for Confident People (2018, Heavenly): [r]: A-
  • Ry Cooder: The Prodigal Son (2018, Fantasy): [r]: A-
  • Robert Diack: Lost Villages (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • DJ Koze: Knock Knock (2018, Pampa): [r]: B
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Desert (2015 [2018], L&H Production): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Fickle Friends: You Are Someone Else (2018, Polydor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eddie Henderson: Be Cool (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe (2017 [2018], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog (2018, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jon Hopkins: Singularity (2018, Domino): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: B
  • Hayley Kiyoko: Expectations (2018, Empire/Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: End Times (2014 [2017], Unseen Rain): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Matt Lavelle/Lewis Porter/Hilliard Greene/Tom Cabrera: Matt Lavelle Quartet (2016 [2017], Unseen Rain): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Kate Nash: Yesterday Was Forever (2018, Girl Gang): [r]: A-
  • Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band: Tramontana (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Reggie Quinerly: Words to Love (2017 [2018], Redefinition Music): [cd]: B
  • Kristo Rodzevski: The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore (2017 [2018], Much Prefer): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Saba: Bucket List Project (2016, Saba Pivot): [r]: B+(**)
  • Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gary Smulyan: Alternative Contrafacts (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hans Teuber & Jeff Johnson: Deuce (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kali Uchis: Isolation (2018, Virgin EMI): [r]: A-
  • Marije Van Dijk: The Stereography Project Feat. Jeff Taylor and Katell Keinig (2018, Hert/Membran): [cd]: B
  • Darryl Yokley's Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (2018, Truth Revolution): [bc]: B

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

  • Liz Phair: The Girly-Sound Tapes (1991, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Liz Phair: Girly-Sound to Guyville (1991-93, Matador, 3CD): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Gary Smulyan Quartet: Homage (1991 [1993], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gary Smulyan: The Real Deal (2002 [2003], Reservoir): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Justin Brown: Nyeus! (Biophilia): June 29, packaging, no CD
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Beyond Dimensions (FMR)
  • Amos Hoffman/Noam Lemish: Pardes (self-released): June 1
  • Adam O'Farrill: El Maquech (Biophilia): June 1, packaging, no CD
  • William Parker: Voices Fall From the Sky (AUM Fidelity, 3CD): June 15

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I finally finished reading Katy Tur's Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. That would be the Trump campaign, which she covered from May 2015 to election night, choosing the most value-neutral terms she can stomach ("craziest"?). Pretty short on analysis and critical insight, but she found herself the target of Trump's ire and bullying often enough to develop a real distaste for the man -- especially during rallies where Trump whipped up the frenzied masses and threatened to unleash them on the press section. Still, she witnessed enough of Trump's effect on his adoring crowds to take them seriously -- just not enough to tell us much about them. That's partly because a large slice of the book is about her art and craft; i.e., how trivial TV "news" reporting really is. The book is organized with chapters on the road intercut with as many bits on election day and night, as it dawns on everyone that the unthinkable has happened. One memorable line: "To actually watch Trump's miracle come in is a shock like missing the last stair or sugaring your coffee with what proves to be salt. It's not just an intellectual experience. The whole body responds." The following page (p. 279) includes a bit on Michael Cohen (no longer "best known for an appearance on CNN back in August") celebrating at the victory party.

This is the third (or fourth or fifth) book on the election season I've read, after Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus and Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, and one might also add Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In (first part a memoir of the campaign, followed by a platform statement) and/or David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (more on the campaign, especially the DNC hacks, but carries into a critique of the Trump administration). None of these are likely to stand as history -- Taibbi has the best instincts, but threw his book too fast from already dated pieces without sorting out or understanding the whiplash. Nor have I seen much that looks promising.

I suspect that when historians finally develop the stomach to relive the 2016 campaign, they'll recognize in Trump's campaign rallies some variant on the common theme of religious revivalism mixed in with a surprisingly adroit scam of both mass and highly-targeted media, with the Kochs, Mercers, and (yes) Russians lurking in the background. On the other hand, most Democrats couldn't see how brittle and lacklustre Clinton's path to the nomination was, and therefore how vulnerable she was to a shameless demagogue like Trump. Much of this is hinted at in various chronicles and broadsides, but thus far most observers have been so committed to their particular views that they've overshot the mark.

On the other hand, each new week offers more insights into the strange worldview of Donald Trump and the increasingly strange world he is plunging us into. The two major stories this past week are Trump's repudiation of the Iran nuclear deal (oddly juxtaposed with official optimism for a similar deal with North Korea) and much more information about Trump attorney Michael Cohen's efforts to cash in on his client's election.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The week's 4 biggest political stories, explained: President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal; Trump set a date to negotiate a nuclear deal with Korea (June 12 in Singapore); Michael Cohen got caught with his hand in the cookie jar; Trump admitted he's not doing some stuff ("the White House admitted that despite those promises, there will be no 2018 infrastructure bill . . . Trump dropped promises to have Medicare negotiate cheaper rates"). Other Yglesias posts:

    • Drug company stocks really liked today's Trump speech on drug prices: Chart shows the SPDR S&P Pharmaceuticals index spiking after the speech (although note the momentary dip, as if it took a few minutes for the early tough talk to be discounted. "The president is very selective about which promises he keeps, with the "economic populist" ones seemingly always the ones to end up on the cutting room floor."

    • There's an easier way for California to build greener housing: just build more homes. Hard to read the chart here, but the states with 40+ tons or carbon dioxide per person are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and (I think) Louisiana. On the low end, with less than 10 tons, are District of Columbia, New York, California, Oregon, and (I think) Massachusetts.

    • Sheldon Adelson cuts $30 million check to help House Republicans win the midterms. "The $30 million the octogenarian casino billionaire is spending on the midterms may sound like a lot, but it's actually a drop in the bucket compared to what Adelson's heirs will gain thanks to the estate tax cut provisions of Trump tax bill alone. . . . The same goes for even richer people like the Koch brothers, who are planning to spend even larger sums in the midterms."

    • Michael Cohen's LLC got secret corporate payments. What about Trump's shell companies? More significant than the revelation that a crony like Cohen would seek to profit from his association with Trump is the revelation that a number of big name companies were eager to buy his "services."

      In a normal presidency, it would be very difficult to make large, secret cash payments to the president of the United States as a means of currying favor with him. You could donate to his reelection campaign, but that would have to be disclosed. And you could hire people who you believe to have a relationship with him in hopes that they can peddle influence on your behalf (as AT&T and Novartis apparently did with Cohen), but it might not work.

      But there would be basically no way to directly pay the president in secret. Trump has changed that. It's completely unclear how Avenatti came to be in possession of the documents that reveal the payments to Essential Consultants, but it came about due to some kind of leak. Had they not leaked, we would still be in the dark. And since no financial documents related to any of the many LLCs that Trump controls personally have leaked, we have no idea who is paying him or why. . . .

      If Trump disclosed his tax returns, as is customary for presidential candidates, then those returns would contain fairly detailed statements regarding the incomes of these various entities. It would, of course, still be possible to conceal the true source of income through the use of further shell companies. A firm that wanted to pay Trump could, for example, create an indirectly controlled intermediary shell company, give money to that shell entity, and then have the shell entity hire DT Aerospace (Bermuda) LLC or whichever other Trump-owned firm it likes. But if we saw Trump's books, we would at least see clear evidence of him getting paid by mystery entities that could then be investigated by Congress or by journalists on their own terms.

      Without the tax returns, however, we know nothing.

      The tax return issue has long since fallen off the front burner of the political debate. It has come to be viewed in some circles as an esoteric or pathetic hang-up of Trump's opponents. But it's quite clear that the Trump Organization continues to be aggressively profit-seeking, quite clear that companies and individuals with interests in American politics openly seek to court Trump's favor by patronizing his hotel and clubs, and now clear that at least some companies with significant regulatory interests have also sought to advance their policy agenda via secret cash payments to an LLC controlled by a Trump associate.

      More Cohen links:

    • Republicans are deploying troll feminism to try to get Gina Haspel confirmed: "Bad-faith arguments about gender representation from people who don't believe in it."

    • Stormy Daniels is crowding out Democrats' 2018 message.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich: Patriarchy Deflated.

  • Henry Farrell: The "Intellectual Dark Web," explained: what Jordan Peterson has in common with the alt-right: In response to Bari Weiss: Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web, a group of "thinkers" whose common thread seems to be an eagerness to rationalize various forms of bigotry. IDW, evidently taken from a website which follows and certifies them, strikes me as a silly name. Such people don't seem to be especially obscure -- the best known to me is Sam Harris, who promotes atheism by slandering Islam. (Chris Hedges featured him prominently in I Don't Believe in Atheists.) As Farrell points out, there is nothing new in their fancy for theories of racial and sexual superiority -- indeed, we're not far removed from a time when such pseudo-science was commonplace. For another reaction, see Michelle Goldberg: How the Online Left Fuels the Right, which doesn't really argue what the title suggests -- more like how hard it is for the left to be understood through the jaundiced views of the right.

    One suspects the same title writer had a hand in Gerard Alexander: Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think You Are. I'm not as touchy about petty slander of liberals as I am of the left, probably because as a teen, even though I had absorbed most of the liberal/progressive view of American history, I associated liberals with the Cold War and even more so the hot war in Vietnam, and I wound up devouring books like Robert Paul Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism. I mellowed later, partly as most of the liberal hawks turned into neocons, and partly because middle class society I grew up in no longer looked so oppressive. Still, I've always maintained a basic distinction between liberals and leftists: the former focus on individuals and their freedom, emphasizing equal opportunities over results; the latter think more of classes and aggregates, of social relations, and aim for equal results (within some practicable limits). Conservatives rarely bother with such distinctions: their cardinal principle is to preserve inequality from birth onward, so they view liberals and leftists as interchangeable, and this has led to an uneasy alliance between defined by a common enemy. Still, my disquisition is beside the point here. Alexander is one of those who group anyone resisting the conservative onslaught as liberal. And his point is that liberals aren't as effective as they should be, because they're kind of annoying:

    Liberals dominate the entertainment industry, many of the most influential news sources and America's universities. This means that people with progressive leanings are everywhere in the public eye -- and are also on the college campuses attended by many people's children or grandkids. These platforms come with a lot of power to express values, confer credibility and celebrity and start national conversations that others really can't ignore.

    But this makes liberals feel more powerful than they are. Or, more accurately, this kind of power is double-edged. Liberals often don't realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.

    In fact, liberals may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way. I'm not talking about the possibility that jokes at the 2011 correspondents' association dinner may have pushed Mr. Trump to run for president to begin with. I mean that the "army of comedy" that Michael Moore thought would bring Mr. Trump down will instead be what builds him up in the minds of millions of voters.

    I rather doubt that even the premise is true here. There are a lot of conservatives in academia, and behind the scenes right-wing donors (like the Kochs) have inordinate influence. Media and entertainment companies (increasingly the same thing) are owned by rich megacorps, backed by even richer bankers. The media isn't divided between left and right. It is either blatantly right-partisan or equivocally mainstream, attempting to balance "legitimate" politician viewpoints while covering news only to the extent it fits within the conventional wisdom and is entertaining. Needless to say, this dynamic has been very helpful for the right -- not just by bottling much of their base up in a propaganda bubble, where they can dismiss inconvenient news as the work of liberal elites, but by demanding their "enemies" grant them a degree of legitimacy that never need be reciprocated.

    As for the "army of comedy," it's pretty certain that no Trump fans are tuning in, so whatever umbrage they take comes secondhand, usually with context removed (see, e.g., the right-wing reaction to the Michelle Wolf event). I've watched Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers -- thanks to DVR, just the opening parts -- ever since the election, and I must say that they have helped to make this stretch of time more tolerable. They offer a useful but not-very-reliable daily news recap -- mostly stories I've already read about -- but more important for me is the solidarity with the audience: I'm reminded every weekday night that I'm not alone, that there are a lot of people out there as appalled by Trump as I am. (Indeed, proof of audience numbers is that fact that staid corporations allow those shows to air.)

    Alexander goes on to fault liberals for attacking racism with "a wide brush," to harping on "microaggressions," to their "tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority." Still, there's nothing pecularly liberal about these complaints. Conservatives hold almost identically opposite views -- what else can you make of their constant harping about "political correctness" and "liberal elites"? On the other hand, conservative umbrage is often about changing the subject -- e.g., try squaring the complaint that "liberal politicians portrayed conservative positions on immigration reform as presumptively racist" with Trump's "shithole countries" remark. Maybe it is possible to construct an anti-immigration platform that isn't racist, but it's damn hard to sell it to the American people on any other basis, and we have good evidence that many of the people who are pushing such a program are doing so for staunchly racist reasons. And consider this paragraph:

    Liberals are trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle. When they use their positions in American culture to lecture, judge and disdain, they push more people into an opposing coalition that liberals are increasingly prone to think of as deplorable. That only validates their own worst prejudices about the other America.

    Not only can you substitute "conservatives" for "liberals" there, doing so would make it even more true. Maybe the title should have been, "Conservatives, You're Not as Smart as You Think You Are"?

  • Conor Friedersdorf: It's Time for Trump Voters to Face the Bitter Truth: "Republicans elected a president who promised to take on D.C. -- instead, Trump has presided over an extraordinary auction of access and influence." It seems like it's only a matter of time before even Trump voters realize how extraordinarily corrupt Trump and his circle are, with Michael Cohen's influence peddling a prime example:

    Back in 2016, "established K Street firms were grabbing any Trump people they could find," Nick Confessore reported in "How to Get Rich in Trump's Washington," a feature for The New York Times Magazine. "Jim Murphy, Trump's former political director, joined the lobbying giant BakerHostetler, while another firm, Fidelis Government Relations, struck up a partnership with Bill Smith, Mike Pence's former chief of staff. All told, close to 20 ex-aides of Trump, friends, and hangers-on had made their way into Washington's influence business."

    Brian Ballard, a longtime Trump acquaintance, seems to have leveraged his relationship to the president most profitably. The Turkish government is among his firm's many clients. Politico says Turkey pays $125,000 per month. Why does it find that price worthwhile?

    George David Banks was a top energy aide to Donald Trump who came from the world of lobbying. But he quit his job in the White House when he couldn't get a security clearance. Here's what he told E&E News, an energy trade publication: "Going back to be a full-time swamp creature is certainly an attractive option." Then he rejoined his former post at the American Council for Capital Formation, a think tank and lobbying group. I guess he wasn't joking.

    Remember when Trump told you that he would release his tax returns and then never did? Remember when he said that if he won the election he would put his business interests aside? "Ever since Trump and his family arrived in Washington they have essentially hung a for-sale sign on the White House by refusing to meaningfully separate themselves from their own business interests," Bloomberg's Tim O'Brien notes. "That's certainly not lost on the companies that do business in or with Washington. They know that in Trump's swamp, you pay to play."

  • Tara Golshan: Trump may just blow up the farm bill over demanding food stamp work requirements. I've long seen the Agriculture bill as a compromise deal between rural politicians who want market supports for farmers and agribusiness and urban politicians who want to fund SNAP (the "food stamp" program). Both sides have been uneasy about such a deal -- stupidly, I think, especially when they resort to anti-welfare arguments. Some wish to cut back or kill off what they see as subsidies to corporate agribusiness, and I don't doubt that there are aspects of the bill that could be tightened up. But much of the business side of the bill is necessary to stabilize notoriously volatile markets, and that stability and solvency helps make food relatively affordable for everyone. Some libertarians oppose such efforts, but most conservatives are fine with business-as-usual, so the far-right has focused on blowing up SNAP, and their chosen vector is "work requirements" for recipients. In one sense that seems innocuous: most SNAP recipients do in fact work -- albeit for wages too low to feed their families. Actually, there are four key beneficiaries to SNAP: the recipients; their employers, as this helps to keep low-wage jobs viable; retailers, who cash food stamps at retail prices; and agribusiness (farmers but especially processed food companies), who benefit from the larger market. But while most Republicans approve of at least the last three, the "moral critique" of welfare has become such a reflex among the far-right -- not least because Democrats from Daniel Moynahan to Bill Clinton have lent credence to the chorus -- that all they can see is an opportunity to harass and hurt poor people. Not a big surprise that Trump should get caught up in their rhetoric. Among other things, there is probably no area of government that he understands less about than agricultural policy. (Not that there aren't other areas where zero applies, but given that rural areas voted so heavily for him, his lack of understanding and interest is especially glaring.)

    By the way, one of the most outspoken saboteurs of agriculture bills past was Tim Huelskamp, who represented the massive 1st District in west Kansas. He wound up upsetting farmers and businesses in the district so badly that they challenged him in the Republican primary and beat him -- the only case I know of where a right-winger has been purged by regular Republicans.

    For another comment on the agriculture bill and SNAP, see Paul Krugman: Let Them Eat Trump Steaks, where he notes:

    And yes, this means that some of the biggest victims of Trump's obsession with cutting "welfare" will be the very people who put him in office.

    Consider Owsley County, Ky., at the epicenter of Appalachia's regional crisis. More than half the county's population receives food stamps; 84 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2016. Did they know what they were voting for?

    In the end, I don't believe there's any policy justification for the attack on food stamps: It's not about the incentives, and it's not about the money. And even the racial animus that traditionally underlies attacks on U.S. social programs has receded partially into the background.

    No, this is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government. It's about privileged people who look at the less fortunate and don't think, "There but for the grace of God go I"; they just see a bunch of losers. They don't want to help the less fortunate; in fact, they get angry at the very idea of public aid that makes those losers a bit less miserable.

  • Jen Kirby/Emily Stewart: The very long list of high-profile White House departures: Cheat sheet, in case you need a reminder. Actually, not nearly as long as it should be.

  • Ezra Klein: American democracy as faced worse threats than Donald Trump. "We had a Civil War, after all." Point taken, but I have little confidence that, should Trump be deposed (even routinely in the 2020 election) that some/many of his supporters won't also elect "to exercise their Second Amendment rights." And after that, Klein's list starts to peter out. "We interned families of Japanese descent." Yeah, bad, but how is that really different from what INS is doing now? Or that we're currently running the largest and most intensive mass incarceration system in the world? "We pitched into the Iraq War based on lies." And Trump has recommitted us to the domain of truth? How can anyone write this the same week Trump tried to destroy the Iran nuclear deal? Or a year after Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords? I suppose Klein does us a service reminding us that "the era that we often hold up as the golden age of American democracy was far less democratic, far less liberal, far less decent, than [we think it was] today." Where he gets into trouble is in omitting those bracketed words, implying that today's political/economic/cultural order is more democratic, more liberal, and more decent than any time in America's past. One might credit some people with striving to make that true, but damn few of them hold any degree of power or even influence, and those people who do are pretty damn explicit about their campaign against democracy, liberalism, and decency (although they may prefer other words). The fact is nobody knows how bad it actually is, let alone how bad it's likely to get. The fact is that Trump has maintained the same 40% approval rate he was elected with, despite near-daily embarrassments. The Republicans hold structural advantages in Congress and the courts and all across the nation that they exploit ruthlessly and without shame. And the rich people who bankrolled them are only getting richer, with segment of the media in their pockets -- making sure that no serious changes are possible, regardless of how bad they screw things up.

    I don't mind that Klein is trying to put forth "the case for optimism about America." Nor do I doubt that he brings up things that could help to change the current course. And he's young enough to enjoy some hope that he'll live to see a change. But that's far from a lock, or even a good bet. Much of today's bad policy will only have incremental effect, slowly adding up until something serious breaks -- a causality that many won't notice even when it's too late. It was, after all, decisions early in the 1980s under Reagan that led to stagnant wages, inflated profits, and poisonous inequality. Al Qaeda and ISIS are direct descendants of the US decision in 1979 to back Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan, although that too can be traced back to American decisions from 1945 on to take a dominant role in Middle Eastern oil and, only slightly later, to turn against the Soviet Union and progressive movements everywhere. Alongside the Cold War, the late 1940s passage of Taft-Hartley started to turn the tide against labor unions, over time reducing them from a third to a twelfth of the private sector workforce. The failure to take climate change seriously is similarly rooted in the politics of oil, and in the corruption that the Reagan-era mantra "greed is good" promoted. Trump and virtually all Republicans have embraced this ideology and continue to promote it -- indeed, will so until it fails them, most probably catastrophically.

    I'm pretty suspicious of people like Yascha Mounk, interviewed by Klein in the audio accompanying this piece (and no, I didn't listen to the interview), but I do think Trump is "breaking norms" in ways that are simply treacherous. For instance, see Jen Kirby: Poll: most Republicans now think Trump is being framed by the FBI. Now personally, I'm pretty suspicious of the FBI, and I realize that they have a long history of abusing their power to hunt and hurt those they regard as enemies. Still, Trump is not the sort of guy who easily finds himself on the FBI enemies list. But more importantly, the source of this suspicion is clearly the Trump camp, in a cynical attempt to condition his followers to reject any actual evidence of wrong-doing. This is actually an old trick -- one Trump plied before the election when he argued that the system is rigged against him and vowed not to accept "fake news" reports of his loss.

  • Mark Landler: Clashing Views on Iran Reflect a New Balance of Power in the Cabinet: Article credits John Bolton as the decisive force behind Trump's abandonment of the agreement Obama and Kerry negotiated to resolve the supposed crisis of Iran's nuclear program (really just separating uranium isotopes), with Mike Pompeo the swing vote, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed ("but did not push the case as vocally toward the end"). More Iran links:

    • Peter Beinart: Abandoning Iran Deal, U.S. Joins Israel in Axis of Escalation, who sums up in a tweet: "There are now two Wests. One, led by the leaders of Germany, France + UK, which believes in liberal democracy and international law. And a second, headquartered in Washington + Jerusalem, which holds those values in contempt." By the way, Beinart previously wrote: Trump May Already Be Violating the Iran Deal.

    • Phyllis Bennis: Is Trump's Abandonment of the Iran Nuke Deal a Prelude to War? Given that Israel attacked alleged Iranian targets in Syria within hours of Trump's announcement, I'd have to say yes. Israel had spent the previous week warning about Iran's desire to attack Israel, so it seems likely that Netanyahu was hoping to provoke an attack. Had it come from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel could respond like they did in 2006. On the other hand, had it come from Iran itself, Israel would no doubt have appealed to Trump to do the honors -- given that US forces in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf were much closer to Iranian targets. I doubt that Trump actually wants to start a war with Iran, but subcontracting US foreign policy to Israel and the Saudis runs that risk. It was, after all, those countries which put all the pressure on Trump to break the Iran deal. Indeed, they put all the pressure on the US to address the so-called crisis of Iran's "nuclear program" in the first place, only to reject the only possible solution to their anxieties. For more on Israel, see Richard Silverman below. For more on the Saudis, see Ben Freeman/William D Hartung: How the Saudis Wooed Donald Trump.

    • Michael Klare: The Road to Hell in the Middle East.

    • Trita Parsi: Who Ordered Black Cube's Dirty Tricks? Hired by the White House, the Israeli company was tasked to "find or fabricate incriminating information about former Obama administration officials, as well as people and organizations that had a part in securing the Iran nuclear deal."

    • Paul R Pillar: Hold the Deal-Killers Accountable.

    • Matt Shuham: Promising Chinese Jobs, Trump Commits to Backing Off Iran Sanctions Violator ZTE: At least Trump cares about someone's jobs.

    • Richard Silverman: Bibi Gins Up Another War to Save His Political Ass: Within hours of Trump's deal breaking, Israeli planes bombed Iranian targets within Syria. And, well, "Bibi's polling numbers have shot through the roof since the last attack on Syria."

    • Jon Swaine: US threatens European companies with sanctions after Iran deal pullout.

    • Stephen M Walt: The Art of the Regime Change: The assumption of the deal breakers is that when the Iranian people realize that they can no longer enjoy the fruits of friendship with the US, they'll revolt and overthrow their clerical masters and replace them with a new regime that will show sufficient deference to the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Either that, or they'll do so after the US blows up a sufficient swath of the country. Neither, well, seems very realistic, not that the US lacks the capability to show them what real nuclear powers can do.

      Otto von Bismarck once quipped that it was good to learn from one's mistakes but better to learn from someone else's. This latest episode shows that the United States is not really capable of learning from either. And it suggests that Winston Churchill's apocryphal comment about the United States always doing the right thing should now be revised. Under Trump, it appears, the United States will always do the wrong thing but only after first considering -- and rejecting -- all the obviously superior alternatives.

    • Philip Weiss: By wrecking Iran deal, Trump politicized Israel: Not that that hurts Trump, but virtually every Democrat in Washington supported the Iran nuke deal, and now it's going to be hard for them to deny that Israel was the driving force behind wrecking it.

      If there was one bright spot in the day, it was the almost universal anger and anguish that followed Trump's speech, and the determination to try and undo his action by any means the rest of us can. Even the neoconservatives who have pushed this action seemed afraid of what it meant. Even Chuck Schumer, who had opposed his own president on the Iran deal three years ago because of the "threat to Israel," was against Trump.

      On the other hand, just this week Sheldon Adelson wrote the Republicans a $30 million check. Sure suggests "pay to play" is still live and well in the new Trump swamp. Also that the US can be steered into war pretty damn cheap.

  • Dara Lind: Donald Trump is reportedly furious that the US can't shut down the border:

    Nielsen, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, apparently tried to explain to the president that the federal government is constrained in what it can do by the law, but Trump reportedly wasn't having it. "We need to shut it down," he yelled at Nielsen at one point, per the Post report. "We're closed."

    Yelling at people is a management tactic for President Trump; sometimes his anger inspires long-held grudges, but sometimes it dissipates once he's gotten it off his chest. But he's spent the past month in an apparent panic about the border, and his outburst at Nielsen shows it isn't going away.

    The president's tantrum is totally divorced from policy reality: The government can't "shut it down," and Nielsen and Sessions appear to be working aggressively to do what they can to crack down at the border. But Trump's panic is the inevitable consequence of treating the current situation at the border as an unprecedented crisis -- which Nielsen's DHS, as well as the White House, has made a concerted effort to do.

  • Aja Romano: The fight to save net neutrality, explained: "Congress or the courts could still save net neutrality -- but don't get your hopes up." Important piece, originally written in December 2017 and newly updated.

  • Dylan Scott: The 6 most interesting parts of Trump's mostly disappointing drug price plan. I don't see anything here that fundamentally changes the pharmaceutical industry, with a couple things that could conceivably make their predation worse (e.g., "Allow certain Part D drugs to be priced differently based on different uses "). Most ominous is: "Undertake some vaguely defined changes to US trade policy to try to address the disparity between what the US pays for drugs and what other countries pay" -- i.e., get other countries to pay more for American drugs than current negotiated prices. This has actually been a long running trade agreement strategy, as US has always been willing to trade manufacturing jobs to coax other countries into paying more "intellectual property" rents. That's why the deals have often turned out to be lose-lose propositions for American workers.

    More on drug prices/profits:

    • Sarah Kliff: The true story of America's sky-high prescription drug prices. Well, mostly true. Kliff assumes that private pharmaceutical companies have to make profits in order to attract investments to develop new drugs. That's only sort of the way it works now: drug companies spend a lot more money on things like marketing than they do on r&d. Moreover, their r&d expenses are targeted on things with the highest return, not necessarily on the greatest need. For instance, an expensive continuing term treatment for a widespread problem like cholesterol or inflammation is better for business than a cure for a rare condition. On the other hand, a lot of medical research is already funded by government, and more would be even more effective -- not least because information can be shared, instead of hiding it in closed, competitive corporate labs. One can even negotiate a treaty whereby (virtually) all nations agree to invest a minimum amount to produce treatments that everyone can use. (That would answer Kliff's argument that US companies, motivated by undoubted greed, produce a disproportionate amount of the world's cures -- not that I'm sure that's even true.)

    • Paul Krugman: What's Good for Pharma Isn't Good for America (Wonkish).

    • Dylan Scott: The blockbuster fight over this obscure federal program explains America's drug prices: All about 340B.

  • Emily Stewart: Trump taps private equity billionaire for intelligence advisory role: Stephen Feinberg, co-CEO of Cerberus Capital, which owns shadowy defense contractor DynCorp -- one of their big cash cows was training the Afghan police force. Stephen Witt wrote a profile back last July: Stephen Feinberg, the private military contractor who has Trump's ear.

  • Todd VanDerWerff: The rise of the American news desert: "Predominantly white rural areas supported Trump. They also often lack robust local media." Sees local media as "a necessary counterbalance to national narratives," and notes that:

    The slow death of local media has contributed to the epistemic closure in conservative circles, especially in rural areas. That's led to the proliferation of so-called "fake news" stories, widely spread on Facebook, which are sometimes outright untrue and sometimes just a hugely misleading presentation of a true news story.

    No one has been sure how to puncture that conservative media bubble, to combat the narratives that lots of rural white voters have come to believe are true. It's impossible to contradict fake news with "real news" when the sources offering that real news aren't trusted.

    But local media outlets, which used to carry that sort of clout within their communities, are being economically strangled by an environment that increasingly requires turning to nationally syndicated programs and stories, rather than the sort of local focus that used to mark these outlets. . . .

    Conservatives have spent decades effectively discrediting the national media among their partisans. But that effort wouldn't have been as effective if there weren't space for it to flourish, in places where local news organizations have been strangled or cut to the bone.

    My first thought was that there is a national media desert as well, but then I thought of cable news and it started looking more like a jungle, where constant fear of snakes and spiders and the inability to see more than a few feet makes it impossible to grasp what's really going on.

  • Alex Ward: Pompeo: US and North Korea "in complete agreement" on goals of Trump-Kim summit: Of course, nobody know what he thinks he's talking about. The article posits a series of steps by North Korea (along with "robust verification," etc.), each to be followed by some sort of "reward" (mostly in the form of reduced sanctions) for their good behavior. That doesn't sound like a very fair deal to me, which matters because stable deals need to be based on mutual respect and fairness, not on who can apply the most pressure. Moreover, Ward buys into the company line that:

    North Korea has also historically been a very tough country to negotiate with, in large part because it routinely breaks the deals it agrees to. The US and other countries have been trying to come to a diplomatic, negotiated agreement with North Korea over its nuclear program since 1985. It's broken its commitments multiple times with the US, including walking out on a denuclearization deal in 2009.

    My impression is that the US is the one who has repeatedly sabotaged the various talks with North Korea (see, e.g., Six-party talks, which started in 2003 and ended without agreement in 2009). What's always been lacking has been American willingness to normalize relations with North Korea. Maybe Trump and Kim realize that's the only possible deal, and maybe they understand that neither country can afford to continue the impasse. Still, Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal should be proof that the US cannot be trusted to keep its promises.

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