Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Monday, May 23, 2022

Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37953 [37925] rated (+28), 114 [120] unrated (-6).

Count is down significantly from recent weeks (which would suggest that it is possible, but not quite probable, that I will pass 38,000 next week). Main reason for the slowdown is that my niece Rachel visited for a couple days last week, and I got very little listening in while she was here. Also lost a good chunk of a previous day shopping, and another chunk of a day with a medical thing. Also had a bit of trouble deciding what to listen to -- which led me to a number of less-than-promising albums that ranked relatively high in the metacritic file. (By the way, just discovered that a lot of records had been dropped. Many of the references can be fixed up easily enough, but very likely I'm still missing some. Results are at best approximate, but they give me some sense of what's out there, of what other people think, and whether I should care.)

Spent a fair chunk of time with my niece talking about death and what to do with the detritus we'll leave behind. We wrote up wills and filled out notebooks. She will be the executor. My basic attitude is that after death none of this is my problem anymore, but thinking about it brought some order to my current state assessment, as well as a challenge to my engineering skill. I can draw on what little I learned from my first wife's death, my parents, my father-in-law, Laura's sister, and my sister, as well as numerous other deaths of family and dear friends. Helps, I think, that my mind is uncluttered by religion. (We've been watching Under the Banner of Heaven, which presents the Mormon afterlife framed as a pretty picture but feeling more like an eternal burden.)

The money, assuming there still is some, is the easy part. The stuff is harder to deal with, and I was hoping for help there: who wants what, and what to do with the rest, especially stuff nobody wants. (I'm the sort reluctant to throw away anything that could be useful to someone else, but figuring out ways to distribute it is never easy.) The part we didn't spend much time on is what for lack of a better term we'll call "intellectual property": my writings, most of which are on my websites. I'm sure the estate will want to cut the financial bleed (to say nothing of the admin headaches) of my dedicated server, so I'll need to come up with a plan to roll back and consolidate, folding everything into a single website which could be kept publicly available. I guess that's my legacy, so something I'll need to work on.

I did manage to make one nice meal while my niece was here. She gave me little direction as to what to fix, so I went to the grocery store with only vague ideas. I picked up a chicken -- I've generally been oblivious to rising food prices, but was rather taken aback to pay $20 for a chicken -- and a scattering of vegetables, including an eggplant, zucchini, green beans, brussels sprouts, a bag of small potatoes, tomatoes, onions, asparagus, romaine lettuce. When I got home, I looked at the pile, and the most straightforward menu seemed to be: roasted chicken with samfaina, and salade niçoise. (I had the latter in mind when I stopped at World Market, and picked up some nice canned tuna.)

Samfaina is a Catallan ragout with onion, red bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, and tomato. You cook it down to marmalade consistency, then add the roasted chicken pieces: a very simple but magnificent recipe, with an easy parallel workflow, which only had to be reheated at the end. I boiled the whole bag of potatoes, keeping four for the salad. The rest I flattened, painted with duck fat, and roasted as a side, along with the brussels sprouts. I boiled the asparagus, then sauteed them with bacon and onion. I also made a batch of gougères to kick things off. I mixed the salad with the vinaigrette, then scooped it out onto a bed of romaine. So I wound up with only one dish on the stovetop, plus the gougères in one oven, the potatoes and brussels sprouts in the other. Should have been easy, but the pain caught up to me, and I was a mess at the end. Had a lot of food left over -- aside from the potatoes, which went fast.

For dessert, I made tiramisu (based on a sponge cake and a can of "double espresso") and chocolate mousse. For former was a bit runny (something wrong with the mascarpone), and the latter too stiff (but remedied nicely by folding in a large dollop of whipped cream). I got tired of trying to shave chocolate to garnish the tiramisu, so threw some chips into the mini-chopper -- an effective hack.

We spent some time going through some family memorabilia. Rachel has the idea of hiring a private investigator to try to figure out my mother's movements before she met my father in 1948-49. I dug up a batch of old postcards, which were mostly blank but some offered various addresses. Rachel looked up some census records, and found out something I didn't know: the 1930 census listed Mom, two of her older siblings, and her parents in Oklahoma. I had always assumed that Ben and Mary Brown stayed on their farm in Arkansas until he died in 1936, and that Mom (but no other siblings) was still with them. Then, after Ben's death, Mom and her mother (Mary) moved to Oklahoma, where they stayed with two older sisters (Lola and Edith). I suppose I thought this because Ben and Mary were buried in Flutey Cemetery in Arkansas, along with a number of other relatives (including two of my uncles, Allen and Ted).

But them moving to Oklahoma before 1930 makes sense of some other things I had heard, like that Edith, who was 20 when she married, had met her husband in Oklahoma. Lola (and Melvin Stiner) had moved to Oklahoma around 1926 (their first son had been born in Arkansas in 1925, but their second was born in Oklahoma in 1927). This also gave Mom a longer period in Oklahoma, including some teen years -- she was 17 in 1930. She had some trauma there, which would make more sense if she was younger. They were living in Creek County, which is where Lola and Melvin originally settled. (They later had a farm east of Stroud, close to the county line.) It's possible that Ben and Mary moved back to Arkansas before he died in 1936, but by then Edith was married, and Allen had moved to Kansas (he got married to a Kansas girl in 1939). Mom remained single until 1948, when she married Dad (she was 35; he was a month shy of 26).

What Mom did between 1930 and 1940, when the census showed her living in Augusta, KS, with her sister Ruby, is mostly unknown to us. We also have questions about the 1940s -- one of the postcards I found was dated 1943 and addressed to her in Atlantic City. Rachel recalls Edith bringing up a story about Mom in Chicago, which Mom shut down immediately, and refused to talk about when Rachel tried interviewing her shortly before Mom died. It seems likely now that Mom reinvented herself around 1941, when she started going by Bea (instead of Bessie, which her family never tired of calling her), and again after she got married, and turned into a classic 1950s housewife (and domineering mother -- that, at least, is something I know much about, but hadn't thought about it as a transformation until much later).

This new information means I'll have to do some editing on my memoir manuscript. I got stuck a year ago in trying to make the transition from my family background to my own memories (which should have been easier, but nevermind). A week or two ago, I started to try to make an end run around that block by jotting down annotated lists of things (like all the cars we've owned, or all the games we played), with people and events to follow. These discoveries convinced me I need to go back into the archives and transcribe what's there, sorting out all the people and places. (I know who Evelyn was, but who's Jack?).

I've been putting off a lot of things. Need to start again this coming week.

Seems like I'm running into more B records lately: things that I don't mind, may even enjoy for a while, but don't pique my interest, or seem worth pursuing further. Yet they rarely sink below that level. My current EOY list has a mere 9 B- records (2 this week), and nothing lower (well, one C+ among the archival releases). I'm sure I could find more if I went looking for them, but life's too short for that kind of waste.

Not many new jazz records from my demo queue this week. Everything I have left is scheduled for June or July release, so hasn't seemed like a priority.

Did a last-minute Speaking of Which yesterday, then updated it last night. Left a broken tag that messed up the format, but that's fixed now.

New records reviewed this week:

The Black Keys: Dropout Boogie (2022, Nonesuch/Easy Eye Sound): Blues rock duo, Dan Auerbach (guitar/vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums), 11th album since 2002, about as straight as rock gets these days. Gives them a niche, and makes sure they're stuck in it. B

Bladee/Ecco2k: Crest (2022, Year0001): Swedish rappers Benjamin Reichwald and Zak Arogundade Gaterud (latter was born in London, Nigerian father, moved to Stockholm at age 2), members of Drain Gang, third album together, others apart. B+(*)

Bonobo: Fragments (2022, Ninja Tune): Simon Green, British DJ/producer based in Los Angeles, 7th album since 2000. B+(*)

Cat Power: Covers (2022, Domino): Chan Marshall, 11th album since 1995, usually writes her own songs but this is her third album of other folks' songs (after The Covers Record in 2000 and Jukebox in 2008). Most intriguing song here is "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," but it's also one of the most disappointing. She does better with Nick Cave. B

Digga D: Noughty by Nature (2022, CGM/EGA): British rapper Rhys Herbert, "one of the pioneers of the UK drill scene," third mixtape at 21, has been in and out of jail, and subject to a CBO (Criminal Behavior Order) which among other restrictions allows police to ban his videos. B+(*)

Sture Ericson/Pat Thomas/Raymond Strid: Bagman Live at Cafe Oto (2019, 577): Tenor/soprano sax, piano/electronics, and drums. Slow start, but Thomas continues to impress. B+(**) [cd] [07-22]

Esthesis Quartet: Esthesis Quartet (2021 [2022], Orenda): Zoom-connected quartet -- Dawn Clement (piano), Elsa Nilsson (flute), Emma Dayhuff (bass), Tina Raymond (drums) -- one from each US timezone, finally met up in Los Angeles to record this. I don't see a vocal credit, but Clement has sung on previous albums. B [cd] [05-27]

Florence + the Machine: Dance Fever (2022, Polydor): English singer Florence Welch and backing band, fifth album since 2009, all bestsellers in UK and US. Jack Antonoff and Dave Bayley split the co-writing and production roles. Mechanical, but not much for dance. B

Girlpool: Forgiveness (2022, Anti-): Indie band from Los Angeles, dream pop (I suppose), Avery Tucker and Harmony Tividad plus hired help, fourth album, goes nowhere. B

Jessy Lanza: DJ-Kicks (2021, !K7): Canadian electronica producer, studied jazz (clarinet and piano), sings, three albums since 2013, plus her contribution to this remix series. B+(*)

Ingrid Laubrock + Andy Milne: Fragile (2021 [2022], Intakt): German saxophonist (tenor/soprano), based in New York, third recent duo album she's done with a pianist (the others were with Aki Takase and Kris Davis). B+(***)

Brennen Leigh: Obsessed With the West (2022, Signature Sounds): Country singer-songwriter from North Dakota, based in Austin, tenth album since 2002, gets a lift here from Asleep at the Wheel. B+(***)

Lyrics Born: Lyrics Born Presents: Mobile Homies Season 1 (2022, Mobile Home): California rapper Tom Shimura, lists 15 collaborators on the cover (starting with Dan the Automator and Blackalicious -- the late Gift of Gab is a huge presence here), seems to be a pandemic project, maybe some kind of touching-base podcast. Big beats and soaring riffs are plentiful, his signature. A-

Leyla McCalla: Breaking the Thermometer (2022, Anti-): Folkie singer-songwriter, born in New York, parents from Haiti, played cello in Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters, fourth solo album. Leans toward Haitian creole songs. B+(***)

David Murray/Brad Jones/Hamid Drake Brand New World Trio: Seriana Promethea (2021 [2022], Intakt): Cover a mass of big type where the small title gets lost, and the "with" used on the Bandcamp page to separate off the bassist and drummer is nowhere to be seen. Opens with bass clarinet before switching to tenor sax. Murray was very prolific, especially with DIW 1985-98, slowed down to about a record/year the following decade (mostly with Justin Time to 2009), then less frequently with Motéma (to 2018). This is his third album on Intakt -- after a duo with Aki Takase and a rather rough one with Dave Gisler and Jaimie Branch -- but his first where he belongs, leading a superb trio. A-

Michael Orenstein: Aperture (2021 [2022], Origin): Pianist, from Berkley, based in Los Angeles, first album, trio with extras on 5 (of 10) songs, using three saxophonists, vibes, and guitar. B+(**) [cd]

Redveil: Learn 2 Swim (2022, self-released): Young (b. 2004) rapper Marcus Morton, from Prince Georges County, Maryland, has a couple previous albums. Fairly slippery, but I lost patience. B [sp]

Eli "Paperboy" Reed: Down Every Road (2022, Yep Roc): Original name Husock, moved from Massachusetts to Mississippi in 2002, in a blues authenticity move which on his seventh album takes a detour here through the Merle Haggard song book. B-

The Smile: A Light for Attracting Attention (2022, XL): English rock band, described as Radiohead (Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood) with a better drummer (Tom Skinner, from Sons of Kemet). B+(*)

The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The 2022 Jazz Heritage Series (2022, self-released): Opens with "Alright, Okay, You Win" (vocal MSgt Paige Wroble), which after the arty shit I had just listened to sounded real fine. I guess they're not awful, no matter how much I loathe the concept. After that, you get guest spots for Sean Jones (trumpet), Ted Nash (sax), and Diane Schuur (vocals), and a bonus "Besame Mucho" with Jones and Nash. None inspired, none awful. It's a waste, but they've been known to spend your tax dollars on much worse. B- [cd]

Sharon Van Etten: We've Been Going About This All Wrong (2022, Jagjaguwar): American singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2009. Too many songs fade into background, but not all of them. B+(*)

Daniel Villarreal: Panamá 77 (2022, International Anthem): Chicago-based drummer, originally from Panama, makes a nice groove record. B+(**) [sp]

David Virelles: Nuna (2020 [2022], Pi): Pianist, from Cuba, moved to Canada, from there to New York. Appeared on Jane Bunnett's Cuban albums of 2001-02, on his own albums since 2008. Solo here, or duo with percussionist Julio Barretto (three songs). B+(**) [cd] [05-27]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Mavis Staples & Levon Helm: Carry Me Home (2011 [2022], Anti-): Helm was drummer and sometime singer for the Band, recorded some solo albums 1977-82, lost his voice to throat cancer in 1998, recovered for two 2007-09 albums, and died at 71 in 2012. Staples started in her family vocal group, went solo in 1969, and had in 2007 released her best album: the Ry Cooder-produced civil rights anthems, We'll Never Turn Back. Both brought full bands, Helm's including a Steven Bernstein-led horn section, to this session in Helm's studio, broadcast live, but unaccountably unreleased until now. They find common ground in twelve songs, starting with "This Is My Country" and ending with "The Weight." Only wonder here is that this isn't as great as it should be. B+(**)

Old music:

Brennen Leigh: Too Thin to Plow (2004, Down Time): Nice twang for North Dakota, mandolin too, mostly covers demonstrating good taste and smarts. Smartest of all is "Single Girl." Title, of course, refers to the Mississippi ("too thick to navigate"). B+(**)

Brennen Leigh: The Box (2010, self-released): Unfamiliar songs, don't know whether she wrote them, but they ease along, with a dark vibe. Best is the closer, "Unbroken Line." B+(**)

Brennen Leigh: Brennen Leigh Sings Lefty Frizell (2015, self-released): No one ever sung them better, but the band is superb, she acquits herself well on the half that are indelibly etched in my mind, and the other half are obscure enough she just has to handle them adroitly, which she does. B+(***)

Brennen Leigh: Prairie Love Letter (2020, self-released): Includes a couple songs about her early homes in North Dakota and Minnesota, and gets some help from Robbie Fulks. B+(**)

Guillermo Portabales: El Creador De La Guajira De Salon 1937-1943: Al Vaivén de Mi Carreta (1937-43 [1996], Tumbao): Cuban singer-songwriter, popularized the guajira style in these early recordings, some just with his own guitar, picks up a bit when he gets some backup, both vocal and percussion. Still, it is his voice which transcends the language barrier. A- [sp]

Guillermo Portabales: El Carretero (1962-70 [1996], World Circuit): Late recordings, some from 1962-63 in Miami, more from 1967-68 in New York, one song from a month before his death in 1970 (at 59). B+(**) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • None

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Speaking of Which

No desire, or even special reason, for doing this again this week, but Sunday afternoon I decided to jot down a somewhat humorous link (I think it was the Nia Prater, below), and it just snowballed from there. I may have been predisposed to work on this, because I work up with the thought that if Zelensky is Churchill, would there be a Clement Attlee coming around to put Ukraine back together again -- assuming there's ever an end to the war, which doesn't seem to be on Zelensky's agenda (or Biden's, or Putin's). Actually, Attlee was part of Churchill's coalition government during WWII, and probably had more to do with holding the country together than Churchill's big speeches. When forced to choose between leaders in 1945, they overwhelmingly picked Attlee, and that's how they got the welfare state that Thatcher worked so hard to destroy.

I also woke up with some thoughts on inflation, but didn't find a framework to elaborate them. (I considered Robert Shapiro's The Truth About Inflation, and wanted to work in something Paul Krugman said dismissing the impact of monopolies -- I think the point went something like: if companies really had monopoly pricing power, they would have already used it, so that can't be causing new inflation; but isn't exploiting your pricing power to its limit inherently risky, given that customers will push back even if they don't have good alternatives? On the other hand, if everyone else is raising prices, monopolies get some camouflage, and therefore less blame.

[PS: Added a couple items after initially posting. In particular, I wanted to respond to Mitt Romney's apocalyptic op-ed piece.]

Chas Danner: [05-22] Welcome to the Next COVID Wave. For more stats, look here. New case counts have risen steadily since dropping under 30,000 on March 21. Two months later, they're up to 108,610 (+54% 14-day). The hospitalized count is +34% (to 24,681). Deaths are still down (-15% to 312), but the total US death count topped 1,000,000 a couple days ago (and as they note, "many cases go uncounted in official reports, the true toll is likely even higher than these figures suggest"). Danner also notes: "But this wave of new infections is also significantly larger than official case counts suggest, since many cases are either being detected using at-home tests that are never reported, or are asymptomatic and not being detected at all." Also on COVID-19:

Liza Featherstone: [05-21] There Was a Lot of Good News in This Week's Primaries. No mention of the Republican primaries that totally dominated national news.

Chip Gibbons: [05-21] It's Always the Right Time to Call George W Bush a War Criminal. Well, even he's doing it.

Paul Glastris: [05-13] Memo to Democrats: Bust the Credit Card Cartel. Visa and Mastercard control over 80% of the market. Limiting their "spiraling fees" is presented as a win for small merchants, and that's who the big winners would be, but the effects could trickle down. Democrats might also take a look at usury laws (if they can find any). It's easy to figure out that payment systems (and for that matter all forms of retail banking) can be made a lot less expensive than they currently are. The only loser would be the big bank monopolies, which sounds to me like a plus. As I recall, the most intensely lobbied bill in ages was one between banks and retailers over ATM purchase fees. Billions of dollars rode on that law, and none of it was offered to customers.

Ed Kilgore: [05-19] Oklahoma Outdoes Itself in Race to Wipe Out Abortion Rights: You can check the article for the details. The one point I want to add is that this shows what can and will happen if/when Republicans are allowed to govern/rule without checks and balances. I used to think that the only thing that kept Reagan popular was that when he said popular-but-stupid things (which he did all the time) was that they had no immediate impact, so seemed harmless at the time. (We are still paying for many things the Reagan administration did, from undermining labor unions to ending the "fairness doctrine" to subsidizing jihadis in Afghanistan. The seeds of today's inflation crisis were planted by Reagan and the early-1980s Fed.) Republicans are very adept at telling [some] people what they want to hear, but are clueless about the disastrous consequences of turning their rants and cant into policy. (At least one assumes ignorance, since the only alternative explanation is misanthropy.)

Anne Kim: [05-20] Don't Laugh Off Rick Scott's Nutty Plan for America. The Florida Senator is in charge of the GOP's Senate campaign slush fund, so he wrote up a manifesto on what a Republican majority would like to do to America -- he called it his "11 point plan to rescue America." I wrote about this at some length here, a piece worth reviewing, especially if you still think that Donald Trump (or Ron DeSantis or Matt Gaetz) is the most deranged Republican in Florida. The point most folk have seized on is Scott's proposal to raise income taxes on everyone below the current income threshold, to make sure they "have some skin in the game." Of course, nearly all of those people already pay payroll taxes (a form of income tax the rich are exempt from), but even those who don't, who merely live here, have plenty of bare skin exposed to the malfeasances of the state.

Ian Millhiser: [05-19] A wild new court decision would blow up much of the government's ability to operate: "The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's decision in Jarkesy v. SEC would dismantle much of the system the federal government uses to enforce longstanding laws." As it happens, I spent a lot of time last week complaining about government not doing more to confront the rising tide of fraud[*] in America -- ranging from the constant harassment of unsolicited phone calls to friends who got scammed out of most of their retirement savings and virtually everything involving cryptocurrency. This ruling basically says the government can't do anything pro-active to stop fraud. Robert Kuttner also wrote about this ruling [05-20]: Another Sweeping Far-Right Court Ruling.

[*] I've been complaining about this since the Reagan 1980s, when I identified fraud as America's only boom industry.

Alex Pareene: [05-16] The Disastrous Legacy of the New Democrats: "Clintonites taught their party how to talk about helping people without actually doing it." Review of Lily Geismer's Left Behind: The Democrats' Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality. This is more up-to-date, but Thomas Frank hit most of the points in his 2016 book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People. Unfortunately, Frank's timing was off: appearing when it did, the book helped paint Hillary as crooked without considering the alternative. Frank's 2004 book (What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America) also backfired: he made a big deal about how Republicans talked up culture war issues but in the end only passed tax cuts and deregulation bills; the effect was that the culture war hawks started holding Republicans responsible for delivering, and they have (e.g., on abortion and guns).

We can now see that the New Democrats were intellectual captives of the Reagan right. They echoed the same free market/small government, which helped make them seem more sensible than they were. What Clinton, Gore, et al. thought they could do was run government in such a way that it would be more profitable for business, raising donations from the rich while making it seem benign enough they wouldn't lose too many of the people they depended on for votes. In many ways, what they did worked out exactly as planned. Economic growth was much stronger in the Clinton and Obama years than under any Republican president, and somewhat more widely distributed, but the rich did so well that inequality continued to spread. And Clinton and Obama managed to lose Congress after two years (while getting re-elected to a second term without regaining Congress), so they had excuses not to pass much-needed programs. And Republicans kept moving ever further right, not just economically but more ominously adopting culture war reaction, which helped to scare the Democratic base into staying loyal. Biden won the 2020 nomination on a tsunami of anti-Trump fear, but also because he was rooted in the Old Democrats, his flexibility made him acceptable beyond the still-powerful New Democrat elites.

Catherine Porter/Constant Méheut/Matt Apuzzo/Salam Gebrekidan: [05-21] The Ransom: The Roots of Haiti's Misery: Reparations to Enslavers: This goes some way to explaining why Haiti has remained one of the world's poorest countries.

Nia Prater: [05-18] Trump Wants Dr. Oz to Copy Him and Declare Victory Before the Race Is Called. Oz hasn't, at least so far, because he hasn't lost yet, and nothing says "loser" louder than emulating Trump's loss rant.

David Remnick: [05-20] Remembering Roger Angell, Hall of Famer: Author of many a New Yorker essay on opening baseball seasons, died at 101 on Friday. I read a couple of his books (long ago). Article includes select links.

Claudia Sahm: [05-22] Unemployment affects everybody too: "Inflation is high, and unemployment is low. What does that mean for Americans? If you listen to the talking heads, you'd think it's all about inflation. But that's wrong."

Alex Shephard: [05-20] Madison Cawthorn's Defeat Isn't Going to Change the GOP: Some people would like to think that even Republicans have enough sense of decency to turn on "an embarrassing extremist." Cawthorn easily qualified, but what did him in was that he ran up against other established power interests in the party. This reminds me of how Kansas Republicans turned on Tim Huelskamp. They didn't care when he emerged as a Tea Party firebrand, but he did cross a line when his libertarianism led him to vote against the subsidies that the farmers he represented. They replaced him with "moderate" Roger Marshall, who has since gone on to become one of the Trumpiest members of the US Senate. [PS: Charles P Pierce also understands this point [05-18]: Republicans in Disarray? Well, They Certainly Aren't Trying to Root Out the Crazy.]

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-20] Roaming Charges: Search, Destroy and Replace. Usual wealth of nuggets here, including a slam on Bernie Sanders for career-long support of the military-industrial complex. (Still, calling him a hawk is a bit unfair. Also unfair: "Biden was a pre-Clinton Clintonite without any of Bubba's political skills.") But this one is quote no one else seems to have noticed:

Alito: "the domestic supply of infants relinquished at birth or within the first month of life . . . had become virtually nonexistent."

So, he's trying to use his judicial power to create a more viable market for babies? And that's constitutional? Sounds more like trafficking.

Simon Tisdall: [05-21] Apocalypse now? The alarming effects of the global food crisis. Supply and demand for food is delicately balanced in the best of times. War in Ukraine has disrupted this balance. Those with enough money can adjust by paying higher prices. All those without enough money can do is to do without (although historically war is another common response). Climate change is another vector of disruption -- potentially much more severe, intractable even. George Monbiot [05-19] wrote essentially the same article: The banks collapsed in 2008 -- and our food system is about to do the same.

Mary L Trump: ]05-20] Mark Esper's Fascinating Revelations Would Have Been Far More So in Real Time: Also notes similarly belated testimony by John Bolton and Bill Barr ("had [they] spoken up when it mattered, history could be different"). But their decision not to speak up then was strategic: each entered the Trump administration with personal agendas, which they were free to pursue only as long as they obsequiously catered to Trump's vanity. Crossing that line would have risked aborting their agenda -- easy to come up with another dozen names who got nixed for sharing instances of or comments about Trump's gross incompetence. What's lost in all this is how truly horrible the private agendas of Esper, Bolton, and Barr really were.

Zeynep Tufecki: [05-19] We Need to Take Back Our Privacy: If/when the Republican-packed Supreme Court takes away the individual right to terminate pregnancy, where does that leave the constitutional right to privacy that Roe v. Wade was based on?

Ukraine: I'm still pleased with every report of Russia getting knocked back, but in real terms, Russia has gained significant ground in the south (including Kherson and Mariupol, important seaports, leaving only Odesa under Ukrainian control), and they haven't lost any ground in Donetsk or Luhansk -- if anything they've picked up a bit -- while over 20% of the people have fled abroad, and the rest of the country has been bombed. It's hard to see how this will ever end except through some kind of negotiated treaty. While the war is certainly costing Putin, Russia can afford to continue much longer than Ukraine or even the US can.

  • Masha Gessen: [05-18] Inside Putin's Propaganda Machine.
  • Fred Kaplan: [05-16] Why Finland Joining NATO Is More Shocking Than Anyone Realizes.
  • Mitt Romney: [05-21] We Must Prepare for Putin's Worst Weapons: There is so much deranged thinking here you have to pinch yourself to remember that this is a guy who nearly half of America wanted to control the nuclear arsenal -- an option he is only too eager to employ given the slightest provocation. He opposes any restraint in arming Ukraine, arguing: "Failing to continue to support Ukraine would be like paying the cannibal to eat us last." He wants NATO to intervene directly in Ukraine, and he's willing to expand the conflict to World War: "Further, we could confront China and every other nation with a choice much like that George W. Bush gave the world after Sept. 11: You are either with us, or you are with Russia -- you cannot be with both." So who's the cannibal now? By the way, why does anyone think that Putin calling the collapse of the Soviet Union the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" implies "his life's ambition" is to restore Russian power over the territories of the former Soviet Union? (And given his nationalism, isn't the Tsardom the more obvious goal?) Putin has done a lot of despicable, underhanded things in 20+ years of power, but if his goal was empire restoration, he's been awfully coy about it. Maybe the "catastrophe" was just an explanation of the adversity his predecessors left him with.
  • Tom Stevenson: [05-11] America and Its Allies Want to Bleed Russia. They Really Shouldn't. Details how the US has escalated its support for Ukraine, while shying away from negotiations, gambling that a longer war will weaken Russia, and that somehow that will be a good thing. This argument is basically what I was trying to say above, except that I think that boxing Russia into a corner is not just impractical, it's likely to blow up.
  • Lorenzo Tondo: [05-22] Ukraine rules out any ceasefire deal that involves ceding territory to Russia. I've long felt that loss of Russian-controlled territory in Donbas and Crimea would be a plus for the rest of Ukraine, both ending the conflict and giving them a free hand to reorient to Europe. In the best scenario, you could allow fair votes on alignment in each of the regions (possibly in more than Russia actually holds). The war, with all the refugees, makes such votes messier, but it's a small price to pay for ending a conflict which has hampered Ukraine since 2014. On the other hand, Putin has no need to cease fire without some face-saving concession. (Merely dealing on sanctions, which the US has little if any motivation to do, seems much less likely to work.) Zelensky (and his backers in Washington?) may feel like he's winning, but the war is destroying his country, while the sanctions are no more than inconveniences for most Russians.)
  • Edward Wong/Michael Crowley: [05-19] US Aims to Cripple Russian Oil Industry, Officials Say: The thing about this is that it's a pretty long-term project, suggesting that the US is looking to prolong the war, and to never really settle it, so that Russia (at least under Putin, or anyone else like him, which is to say any prospective Russian leader) can never hope for normal relations with the West. We should find that kind of thinking really disturbing. But then we should already be disturbed, as the article notes that Trump imposed sanctions on China, Vietnam, and UAE for purchasing or transporting Iranian oil.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37925 [37881] rated (+44), 120 [126] unrated (-6).

Only "new" A- record below came from Robert Christgau's May Consumer Guide, the quotes because it actually came out in 2019. Aside from Bobby Digital vs. RZA (see below), Scorpion Kings was the only new record reviewed this month I hadn't already weighed in on. (You might quibble about Ann Peebles' Greatest Hits: I have the 12-song 1988 MCA version at A, vs. Christgau's A- for the 16-song 2015 on Hi.) I had four (of six) Christgau A/A- picks at A- (Mary J. Blige, Kady Diarra, Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson), with slightly lower B+(***) grades for Oumou Sangaré and Wet Leg. I also had his B+/HM picks at similar grades (Linda Lindas, Taj Mahal/Ry Cooder, Muslims, Dolly Parton, the live Ann Peebles). It's rare that I'm out front on so many releases, and that our grades are so similar.

I wound up with six B+(***) new music grades this week (plus two new compilations of old music) -- probably not an exceptional number, but they loom large with the shortest A-list so far this year. Three of them got 2-3 plays: Heroes Are Gang Leaders (their Amiri Baraka Sessions was my top album of 2019); Kendrick Lamar (with a 98/10 rating at AOTY); and Arcade Fire, which probably came closest before I reflected that I had probably overrated their last two, given my lack of subsequent interest. (Actually, the closest was Scorpion Kings Live, which I hedged down for redundancy.)

In Old Music, the Akiyoshi-Tabackin and Armstrong records were recommended on a Facebook group, so I thought I'd check them out. I stumbled across the Crosby comp while looking for something more appetizing from Armstrong. I should have gone on to check out A Centennial Anthology of His Decca Recordings (a Christgau A).

I've just recently seen this bit of interview with Brian Eno on Russia and Ukraine [from 04-09]. I'm skeptical of the usefulness of the book he recommends -- Sebastian Haffner's Defying Hitler: A Memoir, but also a history of how the Nazis took power -- although I'm tempted to order a copy.

PS: Added Ann Peebles: Greatest Hits after deadline, because I mentioned it above. Same for the Crosby Centennial Anthology. Adjusted the rated counts, including some unpacking I had initially missed.

New records reviewed this week:

Arcade Fire: We (2022, Columbia): Canadian indie juggernaut, sixth album since 2004. I was surprised to find that I rated their last four albums A- (after a B+ for their 2004 debut, Funeral), given that I've had zero interest in playing any of them again, and zero anticipation of this album. Also surprised it sounds as good as it does, but not by my inability to decipher the lyrics, or wind up caring. But the structure makes me wonder: four multi-part sets with important-sounding titles ("Age of Anxiety," "End of the Empire," "The Lightning," "Unconditional"), followed by the title song. So could be their greatest ever, but I'll never know. B+(***)

Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead: Poetic (2022, Vision Ahead): Drummer, released the album Vision Ahead in 2018, kept the title as his group name for next two albums. With alto sax (Godwin Louis), guitar (Andrew Renfroe), electric piano (Taber Gable), and bass (Matt Dwonszyk). B+(*) [cd] [05-13]

Belle and Sebastian: A Bit of Previous (2022, Matador): Scottish group, formed 1996, five (of 7) current members date from then. This seems livelier than the last few, but runs pretty long. B+(**)

Erich Cawalla: The Great American Songbook (2022, BluJazz): Standards singer, plays alto sax, first album, but has been in The Uptown Band since 2005. I can't read the fine print, but one original, big band, a couple guest spots (like Randy Brecker), maybe some strings. B [cd]

Gerald Clayton: Bells on Sand (2022, Blue Note): Pianist, son of John Clayton and nephew of Jeff Clayton, sixth album since 2009, wrote 5 (of 10) pieces. Feature spots for MORO (vocals, 2 tracks), John Clayton (bass, 3), Charles Lloyd (tenor sax, 1, by far the best thing here). B [sp]

Cool Sweetness Sextet: Shoehorn Shuffle (2022, Storyville): Danish retro-swing group, leader seems to be Anders Jacobsen (trombone), who did most of the writing, joined by Mårten Lundgren (trumpet), Jens Søndergaard (tenor sax), Pelle von Bülow (guitar), bass, and drums. B+(*) [bc]

DJ Maphorisa X Kabza De Small: Scorpion Kings (2019, Blaqboy): South African record producers, associated with amapiano but neither on the Amapiano Now compilation that introduced the genre to me last year (although Teno Afrika was). The former is Themba Sonnyboy Sekowe. Unclear on discography, as there seems to be much more on streaming services than in Discogs (usually pretty quick to catalog house music). Christgau singled this one out, presumably after due diligence. Seems like a good start. Covers says "ep," but Spotify stream offers 12 tracks (one marked as a bonus), 76:40. A- [sp]

DJ Maphorisa/Kabza De Small: Scorpion Kings Live (2020, New Money Gang): Little here to suggest that live is any different from the studio, or indeed whatever computer they're splicing on. Aside from the remixes that bump the length to 93:24, they stick to the same 5:56-6:47 length for studio cuts. B+(***)

DJ Maphorisa X Kabza De Small: Scorpion Kings Live 2: Once Upon a Time in Lockdown (2020, Sound African): Cover isn't clear about Live 2, and this is the duo's third album (at least), but the individual names are still on the cover, each a growing brand name, at least in their part of the world. Much like the others, and if it seems a bit less, that's how repetition plays out. B+(**)

Ella Mai: Heart on My Sleeve (2022, 10 Summers/Interscope): Last name Howell, British r&b singer-songwriter, second album. B

Becky G: Esquemas (2022, Kemosabe/RCA): Rebecca Marie Gomez, from California, second album, after singles going back to when she was 15. In Spanish, sounds like reggaeton. B+(***)

Mary Halvorson: Amaryllis (2022, Nonesuch): Guitarist, Anthony Braxton protégé, wide range of albums since 2004 (some I like a lot, some very little at all), won a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," now gets a double-album major label debut. This one is a six-song suite (37:52) for sextet -- Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Patricia Brennan (vibes), Nick Dunston (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums), adding the Mivos String Quartet on three songs. The horns help, the rhythm typically quirky, the strings unnecessary. B+(***)

Mary Halvorson: Belladonna (2022, Nonesuch): Five songs (37:18), just guitar plus string quartet (Mivos). Halvorson started on violin before switching to guitar (credit Jimi Hendrix), but she's retained a fondness for strings -- one I rarely appreciate. I find they drag here, although the writing is clever enough to pique one's interest, and they have a strong moment toward the end. I expect EOY list compilers will want to combine the two. B+(*)

Stephen Philip Harvey Jazz Orchestra: Smash! (2021 [2022], Next Level): Conventional big band, leader a saxophonist but doesn't play here, offers an "homage to comic book adventures," with plenty of "boom" and "pow" as well as "smash." B [cd] [06-17]

Heroes Are Gang Leaders: LeAutoRoiOgraphy (2019 [2022], 577): Spoken word poet Thomas Sayres Ellis, with James Brandon Lewis (tenor sax) co-credited on the music, and ten more credited musicians and poets. Live set recorded in Paris, in support of their release that year of The Amiri Baraka Sessions, the source of 4 (of 5) tracks here. The studio album was partly recorded with Baraka before he died in 2014, a direct link turned tribute here. The studio album was my favorite that year, but this harder to follow. B+(***) [cd] [06-17]

Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope, 2CD): Los Angeles rapper, fifth album since 2011, first album went gold but second was the breakthroughs, as he followed Kanye West as the one rapper every critic had to take seriously. I tried, playing these 18 tracks (73:05) twice, and I'm more than normally perplexed, just doubtful that some of this stuff ever belongs on an A-list album. Then it ends with a song so good ("Mirror") you wonder what else you missed. B+(***)

Leikeli47: Shape Up (2022, Hardcover/RCA): Brooklyn rapper, wore a mask for her first two albums, reveals a bit of jaw line on the cover here (assuming that's her). Compelling as long as she keeps it hard. B+(**)

Randy Napoleon: Puppets: The Music of Gregg Hill (2022, OA2): Guitarist, grew up in Michigan, teaches at Michigan State, which gives him a connection to composer Hill and bassist Rodney Whitaker (who has his own Hill tribute, which Napoleon plays on). Aubrey Johnson sings, which I don't particularly enjoy. B [cd] [05-20]

Elsa Nilsson: Atlas of Sound: Coast Redwoods: 41°32'09.8"N 124°04'35.5"W (2022, Ears & Eyes): Flute player, not the classical violinist nor the Swedish pop singer (aka Tove Lo), although she is Swedish, based in New York, but draws inspiration here from a very specific location in the Trinity Alps of Northern California. Seems to be her first album, backed by piano (Jon Cowherd) and Chris Morrissey (bass). B [cd] [04-22]

Miles Okazaki: Thisness (2021 [2022], Pi): Guitarist, 10th album since 2006. Quartet with Matt Mitchell (keyboards), Anthony Tidd (electric bass), and Sean Rickman (drums). Four pieces average 10 minutes. B+(***) [cd]

Enrico Pieranunzi: Something Tomorrow (2022, Storyville): Italian pianist, many albums since 1975, leading his Eurostars Trio with Thomas Fonnesbaek (bass) and André Ceccarelli (drums). B+(**)

Quelle Chris: Deathframe (2022, Mello Music Group): Rapper Gavin Tenille, albums since 2011. Underground, lazy beats and sly rhymes. B+(*)

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Endless Rooms (2022, Sub Pop): Australian jangle pop band, third album, needs more jangle. B

RZA Vs. Bobby Digital: Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater (2022, MNRK, EP): Wu-Tang rapper Robert Diggs, appeared as "Bobby Digital" on a 1998 album. Seven tracks, 26:19, cover notes "Produced by DJ Scratch" (co-credited by Discogs). B+(**)

John Scofield: John Scofield (2021 [2022], ECM): Guitarist, many albums since 1978, but this is his first solo album. Five original pieces, eight standards, ending with "You Win Again." B+(*)

Sigrid: How to Let Go (2022, Island): Norwegian pop singer-songwriter, last name Rabbe, second album after a couple EPs. Catchy enough, a bit overpowering. B+(*)

Harry Skoler: Living in Sound: The Music of Charles Mingus (2021 [2022], Sunnyside): Clarinet player, first album 1995, most recent one (which I panned severely) 2009. No more direct relationship to Mingus than seeing him perform, but resolved to make this record after surviving a ruptured artery in 2018. He got some help arranging pieces for string quartet, and rounded up an all-star group: Kenny Barron (piano), Christian McBride (bass), Johnathan Blake (drums), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), and Jazzmeia Horn (vocals). The clarinet and strings play up how lovely the melodies could be, but losing the energy and anger that drove Mingus (and that he often used to terrorize his bands, which often played much bigger than they were). B+(**)

Sofi Tukker: Wet Tennis (2022, Ultra Music): Electropop duo, Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, second album. Choice cuts: "Larry Byrd," "Freak." B+(**)

Tierney Sutton: Paris Sessions 2 (2022, BFM Jazz): Standards singer, albums since 1998, this a return to the format of her 2014 Paris Sessions, recorded with French guitarist (and since 2019 husband) Serge Merlaud and bassist Kevin Axt. This adds a bit of flute from Hubert Laws ("recorded remotely from his home studio"). Slow and intimate, turns on the song selection, unfortunate to open ("Triste," a medley of "April in Paris" and "Free Man in Paris," "Zingaro") although "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" works better. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Rolling Stones: Live at the El Mocambo (1977 [2022], Polydor, 2CD): Rare live sets from a "tiny" (300-seat) club in Toronto, where they were billed as the Cockroaches, playing 23 songs (most of which anyone could identify, although I had forgotten a few, like "Melody" and "Luxury"). B+(***)

Cathy Segal-Garcia & Phillip Strange: Live in Japan (1992 [2022], Origin, 2CD): Standards singer, backed by piano. Discogs credits her with five albums from 2002, but this goes back a decade further. Not an especially distinctive singer, and the song selection (including three Xmas songs) leaves a lot to be desired. C+ [cd] [05-20]

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Question and Answer 1966 (1966 [2021], Rhythm & Blues, 2CD): Early British avant-jazz group, principally John Stevens (drums) and Trevor Watts (tenor sax), also Bruce Cale (bass), with Paul Rutherford (trombone) on the longer (June 22) session. Title derives from a 31:59 intermission at the end of the first disc where the band field rather technical questions from the audience. They resume with their most inspired playing to open the second disc. B+(**) [yt]

Neil Young: Royce Hall 1971 (1971 [2022], Reprise): Solo performance on January 30, in Los Angeles. B+(**)

Neil Young: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion 1971 (1971 [2022], Reprise): Another solo performance, two days later, also in Los Angeles. This one seems to be much bootlegged (Discogs lists 32 releases through 1975; the cover reproduces artwork from one, with the title "I'm Happy That Y'all Came Down"). I give this one a slight edge, mostly built on the edifice of "Sugar Mountain." B+(***)

Neil Young: Citizen Kane Jr. Blues (1974 [2022], Reprise): Another solo performance, this one at the Bottom Line in New York, also much bootlegged under various titles (Discogs lists 11). Songbook has moved on, including a fair slice of On the Beach. B+(**)

Old music:

Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band: Tales of a Courtesan (Oirantan) (1976, RCA): Japanese pianist, the first to study at Berklee, formed this 16-piece big band after she married sax/flute player Tabackin and moved to Los Angeles (dozen-plus albums 1974-82). This is one of the better known albums, exceptionally punchy, but seems like a lot of flute. B+(***) [yt]

Louis Armstrong: 'Country & Western' (1970, Avco Embassy): Last released album before he died in 1971, most sources include the artist name in the title like the quote was a nickname, and Discogs credits it that way. I often drop quote marks from titles, but let's keep the equivocation here. Armstrong was as much a genius as Ray Charles, but this one came too late. The pre-recorded tracks offer him little to work with (although "You Can Have Her" gets some brass swing going). Armstrong doesn't play, and his singing can get strained. You still get glimpses of his charm and humor, but on songs like "Running Bear" and "Wolverton Mountain" the yucks are inadvertent. B- [yt]

Bing Crosby: Bing Crosby and Some Jazz Friends (1934-51 [1991], GRP/Decca): He started singing in jazz orchestras in 1927, scoring hits with Paul Whiteman, Frankie Trumbauer, the Dorsey Brothers, even Duke Ellington (in 1930). His first movie appearace was in 1930, as a singer in King of Jazz, but by the time he moved to Decca in 1934 he had become a mainstream movie star. Still, he occasionally tapped his jazz roots. I remember being especially touched by a movie scene, where he heartily welcomes a line of black jazz musicians entering his palatial mansion -- here the biggest star in white America was paying homage to real talent. Not to deny his talent, which adds a smooth contrast to Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Connie Boswell here, but his timing and phrasing works equally well on his own, especially backed by Eddie Condon (four tracks here, vs. two max for anyone else) or Lionel Hampton (whose two tracks are highlights here). A-

Bing Crosby: A Centennial Anthology of His Decca Recordings (1931-57 [2003], MCA/Decca, 2CD): Fifth songs, most you know from other people, but during this quarter-century most Americans learned them from Crosby, with his incomparable talent for making us feel better about ourselves. One intersection with his Jazz Friends comp ("Yes, Indeed"). Four Christmas songs. He owns all four. A-

Jens Lekman: Oh You're So Silent Jens (2002-03 [2005], Secretly Canadian): Swedish singer-songwriter, often compared to Jonathan Richman, Stephin Merritt and/or Scott Walker. Early material, collected from self-released EPs after his 2004 debut album. I think I can hear why people like him, but I'm not comfortable with him yet. B+(**)

Jens Lekman: The Cherry Trees Are Still in Blossom (2002-03 [2022], Secretly Canadian): Reissue of Oh You're So Silent Jens, with a different title, same art work, some extras. B+(**)

Ann Peebles: Greatest Hits (1966-77 [2015], Hi/Fat Possum): Memphis soul great, a tier below Aretha Franklin (as her covers prove, not that she missed by much). I'm quite happy with her 12-track 1988 Ann Peebles' Greatest Hits, but no complaints about getting four extra songs here. A-

András Schiff: Ludwig von Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas: Volume III: Sonatas opp. 14, 22 and 49 (2006, ECM New Series): Pianist, from Hungary, based in Britain, has a large discography of classical music from 1973 on. As you probably know, I hate classical music, and even when I don't hate it, I don't appreciate it. Got this as a promo, and played it because it's been sitting around too long. Played it twice, and only got annoyed when I forced myself to write this interview. Otherwise, it's pleasant, disengaging background, aside from the occasional moments when it hits a point where you can imagine the maestro standing up to bask in the applause. Thankfully, there is none of that. B+(*) [cd]

Sufis at the Cinema: 50 Years of Bollywood Qawwali and Sufi Song 1958-2007 (1958-2007 [2011], Times Square, 2CD): One tends to think of Bollywood as Hindi cinema -- indeed, that's the redirection in Wikipedia -- centered in Mumbai, but this makes a case for music drawn from Urdu traditions, including the most famous Qawwali artist of all, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Hard to tell just how typical this is. B+(**) [cd]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Burton/McPherson Trio: The Summit Rock Session at Seneca Village (Giant Step Arts) [06-19]
  • Erich Cawalla: The Great American Songbook (BluJazz)
  • Jason Palmer: Live From Summit Rock in Seneca Village (Giant Step Arts) [06-19]
  • John Yao's Triceratops: Off-Kilter (See Tao) [06-10]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Speaking of Which

I started yesterday with two pieces that I thought I'd like to file for future reference, then suddenly found myself with enough of a mass to want to push it out immediately. Nothing systematic below, just a few things that grabbed my eye.

Abortion: [05-14] With fear and fury, thousands across US rally for abortion rights.

  • Rebecca Gordon: [05-15] I Had an Abortion and Now I'm Not Ashamed: Repost from 2019. A big part of the anti-abortion crusade has been to shame women who have had abortions, playing up any possible regrets. My first wife had an abortion (or possibly several, but one I was responsible for). I wasn't in any mental state to care for a child, but more pressing at the time was her chronic illness -- one that killed her 3-4 years later. My late sister had an abortion when she was very young, and unprepared to raise a child. I know of several other similar cases, including women who (like my sister) later had much wanted and loved children. I'm also old enough to have known women who were forced to give birth, only to have their babies trafficked to strangers. I also grew up knowing families with children with severe birth defects -- most of those families shouldered their burdens courageously, but the tragic consequences often took a severe toll. I find it shocking how successful the right has been at overturning this fundamental right. But a good part of that success is due to our reluctance to talk about it.
  • Sarah Jones: [05-13] The Abortion Converts: We used to be anti-abortion. Why did we change out minds? "The anti-abortion movement had to erase what it could not explain, minimize whatever challenged it, in order for the fetus to take precedence over the person who carried it. A perspective as rigid as ours was doomed to conflict with reality. Conversion is not the loss of belief, but rather its transference. Like myself, other converts found the anti-abortion view is incompatible with the mess and the pain of real life."

Karin Brulliard: [05-14] The Colorado River Is in Crisis, and It's Getting Worse Every Day.

Chas Danner: [05-15] Ten Dead After White-Supremacist Gunman Attacks Buffalo Supermarket. Also note: [05-15] The Slight Difference Between Payton Gendron's Radicalization and the Radicalization of the Average Fox Viewer. Of course, Gendron was not the only shooter in the news: [05-15] Shooter kills one and injures five at California church.

Jonathan Guyer: [05-13] The killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, explained. She was reporting for Al Jazeera, and wearing a vest that clearly marked her as "PRESS." There is little chance that she was killed by anyone other than an Israeli sniper, just as there is little chance that Israel will officially admit it, even less that the killer will be punished. Adding insult to injury, Israeli police attacked the funeral procession with batons and stun grenades. Oh, by the way, White House says it "regrets the intrusion" into Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral, but it doesn't condemn Israeli police actions. Also, Richard Silverstein wrote about this [05-11] here and [05-13] here and [05-13] here: "If you are Palestinian, you can't even die in peace." As Silverstein notes, "55 Palestinian journalists [Israel] murdered since 2000."

Margaret Hartmann: [05-09] The Drama-Lover's Guide to the New Trump Books: Useful compendium of some of the dumber and more outrageous revelations of the latest spate of insider Trump books, although one still suspects they're leaving most of the really bad shit out. Indeed, the really bad shit was rarely the embarrassing bloopers the Clown-in-Chief blurted out. The real problem was the behavior from underlings that Trump enabled, but which often went unseen because all journalists' eyes were glued on Trump.

  • Ben Jacobs: [05-14]: The Insurrection That Didn't Happen: Review of a book by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, This Will Not Pass, following three key Republican leaders after Jan. 6 (Kevin McCarthy, Liz Cheney, and Mitch McConnell), detailing how critical all three were of Trump at the time, and how two of them crawled back into Trump's good graces.

Ian Millhiser: [05-12] Two GOP judges just stripped social media companies of basic First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court will ultimately decide which crackpot theories they think they can get away with, but Republican judges in lower courts will test them.

Charles P Pierce: [05-13] I'm Not Convinced We'll Ever Get Back to Normal, Regulated Capitalism in This Country: Mostly about how the meatpacking industry defied lockdowns despite extremely high Covid rates early in the pandemic. What caught my attention was the subhed: "That disappeared into the depth of a business-school syllabus sometime in the 1980s." It's long been clear to me that the main purpose of BS education (especially MBA programs) is disabuse students of the notion that ethics has any role in business. Pierce's conclusion: "The intellectual rot afflicting our business communities and the economics professions in general is deep and well-established. Something has gone bad in a very big way."

Nathan J Robinson: [05-13] Why This Computer Scientist Says All Cryptocurrency Should "Die in a Fire": Interview with Nicholas Weaver.

Alex Shephard: [05-09] Donald Trump's Brazen Bid to Control MAGA Minds: Mostly about TRUTH Social ("a mess . . . but it still could work out to be a killer grift"). "There has never been an ex-presidency quite like this, in which a former president simultaneously lays the groundwork for another campaign while also attempting to make as much money as possible. The result is an ethical minefield."

Jeffrey St. Clair: [05-13] Roaming Charges: Caught in a Classic Trap.

Ukraine: Nothing very significant has changed in Ukraine since I wrote my 23 Theses on Ukraine, so I don't have a lot more to add. What has happened has been a lot more of the same: devastation and tragedy. The US and its "allies" have continued to pump more arms into Ukraine, and the Ukrainians appear to be using them effectively, not that much has changed along the battle lines. Both sides keep digging in, not least to their prejudices. The sanctions that were supposed to punish Russia have had little if any effect on Putin's will. Meanwhile, no progress has been made at negotiating an end to the conflict, or at least none is evident. And there is a very real risk that hawks both in the US and Ukraine think they can win something, so they have no interest in realistic negotiations. Thus far, Biden has been able to draw a fine line between firm resistance and reckless escalation. If his latest $33 billion (now $40 billion) aid package leads to talks that achieve something, it will be worthwhile. Of course, it could just as well adds fuel to a neverending conflagration. What I am sure of is that this whole war could have been avoided with a more sensible foreign policy, built around the need for cooperation and peace, and not on the now-discredited doctrine that "might makes right."

  • Richard Falk: [05-13] Ideological Silos of Left and Right: Missing the Point in Ukraine.
  • Paul Kane: [05-15] The list of anti-Ukraine Republican lawmakers is quickly growing: "Two months ago, three voted against the first pro-Ukraine bill. This week, 57 opposed a request for weapons and humanitarian aid." Meanwhile, Rand Paul is leading the opposition in the Senate, which won't stop the $40 billion bill, but has already slowed it down. They don't yet have a coherent critique of the war, but Democrats should worry that they'll get blamed as the "pro-war" party, as they did in 1968.
  • Anatol Lieven: [05-13] Finland and Sweden will join NATO at the expense of everything: I'm not as alarmed at this as Lieven is, but I don't see it as in any way helpful either: supporting anti-Russian sanctions might help apply economic pressure on Russia, but expanding NATO when the pressing need is to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine isn't helpful. NATO is predicated on raising the spectre of Russia as a threat, which is why Russia is so sensitive to NATO. Whether their fear is rational or not is beside the point: as Ukraine shows, the fear can lead to war. So we don't need more fear; we need less. (Fortunately, Turkey is muddying the issue for now.) I should also point out Lieven's [04-27] piece: The horrible dangers of pushing a US proxy war in Ukraine. The more Ukraine is able to militarily resist Russian aggression, the more American hawks want to pile on, to degrade and further humiliate Russia. The dangers of that approach should be obvious.
  • Matti Maasikas: [] When Reality Bites: Author, the EU Ambassador to Ukraine, is right that "it is not too soon to start thinking about what comes next," but we could use some better thinking. He starts with "Too soft a reaction to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas was just one of the mistakes the EU (and the West in general) made." Too soft? Instead of working out an arrangement where the disaffected regions could go their own way, Ukraine (supported by escalating US sanctions) locked in a civil war opposed by Russia, which eventually deteriorated to the point Putin decided to intervene militarily. Even now, the author insists, "first, we must help Ukraine win this war." Win? The damage so far goes way beyond anyone ever winning anything.
  • Casey Michael: [05-12] Ukraine's Corrupt Oligarchs Are Looking Toward the West to Rehab Their Reputations: "Some of the grifters who paved the way for the Russian invasion of Ukraine want to be seen as being on the right side of the war."
  • John Quigley: [05-09] I led talks on Donbas and Crimea in the 90s. Here's how the war should end. Key factoid here I wasn't aware of was that in the early 1990s there was a movement for independence for Crimea, even without any real support from Moscow.
  • David Wood: [05-10] The Trauma of Ukraine's Civilians Will Haunt Them, and Us, for Generations.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37881 [37831] rated (+50), 126 [127] unrated (-1).

Been feeling very down, but managed to pull myself together enough to write a Speaking of Which yesterday. I don't know whether it's a cop out to point out that the writing's been on the wall for quite some time. Who knew that resurrecting Cold War totems could lead to the sort of increasingly fevered confrontation we're seeing now between Russia and the US? Who knew that Republican politicization of the courts could lead to stripping away such fundamental rights as deciding for oneself whether to bear children? Who knew that a combination of tax cuts, financial voodoo, and attacks on labor unions might lead to the political distortions caused by the most extreme inequality in American history? Who knew that real progress on civil rights would be reversed by all that inequality? Well, anyone who was paying any attention, that's who.

One thing I didn't manage to mention yesterday is that there is going to be an actual referendum on abortion rights in Kansas on August 2. The Kansas State Supreme Court ruled a while back that abortion rights are guaranteed by the state constitution. Kansas Republicans want to get around that by changing the constitution. That requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature, which they could do thanks to advanced gerrymandering skills, and a majority vote in a statewide plebiscite. They chose to schedule that vote not in November when all the big state offices are to be decided, but on primary day -- traditionally one where only Republicans come out to vote, because it's rare to have competitive races in Democratic primaries, while Republican primaries are frequently and expensively contested. So this may seem like a hopeless cause, but it's worth remembering that abortion was legal in Kansas before Roe v. Wade. Even though Democrats are pretty hopeless here, and the Republican Party has increasingly been taken over by religious fanatics, there used to be a very popular line of moderate Republicans who could break with the party on this issue. Winning on this issue would be big.

While we're at it, I noticed a headline in the paper today: "Biden taps Democrats' abortion fury with midterm wipeout looming." It's on an article by Jordan Fabian, attributed to Bloomberg News. Who says the billionaire press has lost its knack for slanting headlines? I don't doubt that it's possible for Democrats to lose their majority in Congress in 2022, but we're mostly looking at gerrymanders, voter suppression, and the anti-Democratic bias of the Senate. It hardly seems fair to call a slight slip a "wipeout." Indeed, I'm skeptical that we'll even see a real slip. But large segments of the media expect Democrats to be punished whenever something goes wrong, while instantly forgetting all the bad things Republicans do. The logical basis for this (assuming there is one) is that the Republicans have cornered the punisher brand: if you really hate someone, send the Republicans in. But the net effect, in every election Republicans have won since 1980 (and why should we not include 1968 and 1972) is that you only wind up punishing yourself.

I have very little to say about this week's batch of records. The way things have been going, I was surprised to find two A- records in my jazz demo pile. I'll also note that I enjoyed some of the B+(***) records a lot, only to decide not to give them the extra play that might have put them over.

New records reviewed this week:

Poppy Ajudha: The Power in Us (2022, Virgin): British pop singer-songwriter, has some edge in the music, politics too. B+(*)

Deborah Allen: The Art of Dreaming (2022, BFD): Country singer-songwriter, had a couple minor hits in the 1980s (although none that I recall). Eleven years since her last (unless you count Rockin' Little Christmas, from 2013). Overblown, takes a song like "Lyin' Lips" to cut through that. B

Anitta: Versions of Me (2022, Warner): Brazilian pop singer Larissa de Macedo Machado, fifth album since 2013. Starts with two hot rhythm tracks (in Portuguese, presumably, although the rhythm is more reggaeton, then switches to English for a slim funk track that should be a hit ("I'd Rather Have Sex"), then throws out more looks and vibes, including a fair amount of hip-hop. B+(***)

Jon Balke/Siwan: Hafla (2021 [2022], ECM): Norwegian pianist, albums since 1991, one called Siwan in 2009 with texts from Al-Andalus with Arabic vocals, strings, and percussion. Second album since then to adopt the group name, this time with Algerian singer Mona Boutchebak. B

Martin Bejerano: #Cubanamerican (2021 [2022], Figgland): Pianist, born in Florida, father Cuban, fourth album since 2007, backed by bass, drums, and extra percussion (Samuel Torres), with Roxana Amed singing "Mi Cafetad." B+(**) [cd] [05-27]

Will Bernard: Pond Life (2022, Dreck to Disk): Guitarist, started in a group led by Peter Apfelbaum, was part of a band called T.J. Kirk (name-checks James Brown, Thelonious Monk, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk), dozen albums since 1998. I think of him as a mild-mannered fusion guy, but here he's hanging out in a much rougher neighborhood, with Chris Lightcap (bass) and Ches Smith (drums), plus Tim Berne (alto sax) and/or John Medeski (piano/organ, 4 tracks each, 2 in common, so just 2 tracks are trio, which he aces). A- [cd] [05-27]

Steven Bernstein & the Hot 9: Manifesto of Henryisms (Community Music Vol. 3) (2020 [2022], Royal Potato Family): "Henryisms" derive from New Orleans pianist Henry Butler (1949-2018), who played in Bernstein's Kansas City band, and was the leader of a 2014 album Bernstein arranged, Viper's Drag. The arrangements here distribute the "Henryisms" to the band, built around old pieces from Morton and Armstrong to Ellington. Oddly, the Hot 9 left doesn't include a pianist, but guests John Medeski and Arturo O'Farrill fill in. B+(***)

Camila Cabello: Familia (2022, Epic): Cuban-born pop singer-songwriter, came to US when she was six, started in girl group Fifth Harmony (3 albums 2015-17), third solo album. This is about half Spanish, half English, the former up front to establish the rhythm, but once you're in the mood, it's nice to be able to follow the lyrics. A-

Calexico: El Mirador (2022, Anti-): Band from Tucson, twelfth album since 1996 (although Discogs lists twice as many), Joey Burns (vocals/guitar) and John Convertino (drums) founders and constant members, with some Mexican influence, including the occasional song in Spanish. B+(*)

Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few: Lift Every Voice (2020 [2022], Division 81, EP): Saxophonist, plays soprano here, first appeared in Ernest Dawkins' Young Masters Quartet. Backed by piano, bass, and drums here, two songs (21:15). B+(*) [bc]

Congotronics International: Where's the One (2022, Crammed Discs, 2CD): Supergroup, combining members of Konono No. 1 and Kasai All Stars. Still love the junk instruments, but a little de trop. B+(**) [sp]

George Cotsirilos Quartet: Refuge (2021 [2022], OA2): Bay Area guitarist, handful of albums since 2003, this a quartet with piano, bass, and drums, doing original pieces. B+(*) [cd]

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters: Mercy Me (2022, Stony Plain): Blues guitarist, doesn't sing much (Diane Blue takes the occasional vocal), albums go back to 1983. Organ prominent, with some sax I don't see a credit for. The guitar intro to "Please Send Me Someone to Love" is tasty, and Blue nails the vocal. She also aces "The Sun Shines Brightly," which I take to be an answer record to "The Sky Is Crying," then ends with "Higher and Higher" (which is what happened to my grade). B+(***)

Yelena Eckemoff: I Am a Stranger in This World (2016-20 [2022], L&H Production, 2CD): Pianist, switched from classical to jazz when she moved to US in 1991. Pieces inspired by Biblical Psalms (this is identified as the "instrumental version"). Mostly with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Adam Rogers (guitar), Drew Gress (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums), with the occasional sub. B+(*) [cd] [05-20]

Fontaines D.C.: Skinty Fia (2022, Partisan): Irish band, slotted as post-punk for reasons unclear, third album, kind of a big deal. They do have a sound. B+(*)

Manel Fortiá: Despertar (2022, Segell Microscopi): Bassist, from Barcelona, based in New York, second album, wrote all the pieces for a trio with Marco Mezquida (piano) and Raphaël Pannier (drums). Pieces long on rhythm, the piano dazzling, even through the exceptional bits (where the others shine). A- [cd] [05-12]

Erik Friedlander: A Queen's Firefly (2021 [2022], Skipstone): Cellist, many albums since 1995, as well as quite a few with John Zorn. Quartet here, with Uri Caine (piano), Mark Helias (bass), and Ches Smith (drums). B+(***) [cd]

Anthony Fung: What Does It Mean to Be Free? (2022, self-released): Drummer, from Canada, based in Los Angeles, has a couple previous albums, wrote all but the Wayne Shorter tune here. Quartet with David Binney (alto sax), Luca Mendoza (piano), and Luca Alemanno (bass), plus guest spots. Especially good use of Binney here. B+(***) [cd]

Tee Grizzley: Half Tee Half Beast (2022, Grizzley Gang/300 Entertainment): Detroit rapper Terry Wallace, three albums, fourth mixtape. Hard beats, fast words, more cynical than I'd like: "It's too late to make a smart decision." B+(***)

Japanese Television: Space Fruit Vineyard (2022, Tip Top): British instrumental rock group, surf-to-space guitar (Tim Jones), second album. Not much to it, and what there is gets rather tedious. B-

Kehlani: Blue Water Road (2022, Atlantic): Last name Parrish, r&b singer-songwriter, third album after mixtapes and lots of singles. B+(***)

Koffee: Gifted (2022, RCA): Jamaican singer-songwriter, Mikayla Simpson, first album after a Grammy-winning EP and more than a dozen singles, short (10 songs, 29:06). B+(**)

Jinx Lennon: Pet Rent (2022, Septic Tiger): Irish punk poet, many albums since 2000, voice and words remind me of Craig Finn, except that Finn writes real tunes, while Lennon makes do with volume, beats, noise, and vitriol. He's super upset here, coming up with 25 rants -- even for punk, that runs long. B+(***)

Let's Eat Grandma: Two Ribbons (2022, Transgressive): British "experimental sludge pop" group led by Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, third album since 2016. B+(*)

Corb Lund: Songs My Friends Wrote (2022, New West): Country singer from Alberta, eleventh album since 1995. A pretty fair songwriter in his own right, some of his friends are even better, most famously Hayes Carll and Todd Snider, but he picks out gems from half a dozen more. A-

Yu Nishiyama: A Lotus in the Mud (2020 [2022], Next Level): Japanese composer/arranger, studied at UNT, teaches in New Jersey, not sure where he rounded up this crackling band. B+(*) [cd] [05-20]

Old Crow Medicine Show: Paint This Town (2022, ATO): Folk band based in Nashville, 12th album since 2000. They lay it on thick, tromping through their clichés, although I rather like the scuffed up "Hillboy Boy." B

Orville Peck: Bronco (2022, Columbia): Masked gay country singer-songwriter, from Johannesburg via Canada, second album. Deep, flexible voice ("a stunningly low baritone with a penchant for a pretty falsetto"), stretches it around dramatic arrangements, which work better than I'd expect (until it doesn't). B+(*)

Jeremy Pelt: Soundtrack (2021 [2022], HighNote): Trumpet player, immediately impressed with his chops, couple dozen albums since 2002. Less flash here, the title camouflage hiding a cornucopia of groove and mood pieces. B+(**)

Placebo: Never Let Me Go (2022, So/Elevator Lady): British rock band, principally singer-guitarist Brian Molko, debut 1996, nine year gap before this eighth album. B+(*)

Oumou Sangaré: Timbuktu (2022, World Circuit): Wassoulou singer from Bamako, the capital of Mali. Her parents were musicians, and she's been a big star since her debut in 1990. B+(***)

Secret People: Secret People (2019 [2022], Out of Your Head): Trio of Nathaniel Morgan (alto sax), Dustin Carlson (guitar/bass VI), and Kate Gentile (drums/vibes). Free rhythm, rather choppy, gets more interesting if you give it a chance. B+(**) [bc]

Aaron Seeber: First Move (2021 [2022], Cellar): Drummer, based in New York, first album, a live set at Ornithology Jazz Club in Brooklyn, the title track the only original, but he rounded up a name band: Warren Wolf (vibes), Tim Green (alto sax), Sullivan Fortner (piano), and Aaron Seeger (drums). B+(**) [cd]

Syd: Broken Hearts Club (2022, Columbia): Sydney Bennett, initially Syd Tha Kid, uncle a reggae producer, joined Odd Future collective, second album. Thin voice, stripped down beats. I liked her debut, then forgot about it. Probably same here. B+(***)

Tears for Fears: The Tipping Point (2022, Concord): British band, debut 1983, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith the regulars (although Smith checked out for most of the 1990s), seventh album returns them to the top-5 of the UK charts, which they hadn't done since 1993 (first US top-10 since 1989). Overblown but cushy, feels like there must be a story being told but nothing interesting enough to demand the effort. B-

Kae Tempest: The Line Is a Curve (2022, Republic): Formerly Kate, fifth album, has published a novel, three plays, and six poetry collections. The lit cred shifts this from rap to spoken word, the minimal beats neither hip nor hop, but the effect remains subtle and sonorous. Smart, too. A-

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway: Crooked Tree (2022, Nonesuch): Second-generation bluegrass singer-songwriter, from California, at 13 recorded an album of duets with her father (AJ Tuttle), soon joined the family band (The Tuttles). Third solo album. B+(***)

Cory Weeds Quartet: Just Coolin' (2021 [2022], Cellar Live): Tenor sax, with piano (Tilden Webb), bass, and drums. Nice mainstream effort. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Áfrika Negra: Antologia Vol. 1 (1981-95 [2022], Bongo Joe): Band from Sao Tome & Principe, on or off the coast between Nigeria and Congo, dates not totally clear but they recorded at least 10 albums 1981-95, broke up, reformed 2012. My first guess was geographical, a fusion of highlife with soukous highlights, but that's close enough the King Sunny Adé's juju. I doubt they'd hold up head-to-head, but at the moment they're sounding pretty great. A-

Chet Baker: Tune Up: Live in Paris (1980 [2022], Circle): Live set, originally released in 1981, group includes guitar (Karl Ratzer), flute (Nicola Stillo), bass, and drums. Three long pieces, stretches of rhythm with occasional patches of poignant trumpet. Baker doesn't sing, but scats aimlessly on the opener. B+(*)

Dexter Gordon: Soul Sister (1962-63 [2022], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, early work (1943-47) on Savoy and Dial marked him as a major figure, but he struggled (drugs and jail) until he signed with Blue Note (1961-65) and produced some of his greatest work. He moved to Europe during that period, first to Paris then Copenhagen. He continued to record for Prestige (1966-73), then (like many American expats) for the Danish label SteepleChase, which picked up a bunch of his older tapes. This picks up (I think for the first time) two sessions with different piano-bass-drums, one a radio shot from Oslo, the other a live set from Copenhagen. B+(***)

Pat Matshikiza/Kippie Moketsi: Tshona! (1975 [2022], As-Shams): South African jazz, leaders play piano and alto sax, backed by bass (Alec Khaoli) and drums (Sipho Mabuse), with Basil Coetzee (tenor sax) on the side. The longer pieces are classics of township jive, especially "Umgababa." A- [bc]

Pat Matshikiza Featuring Kippie Moketsi: Sikiza Matshikiza (1976 [2022], As-Shams): Septet, first two cuts are near-perfect township jazz, with the alto sax gliding over the piano rhythm. Second side strays a bit, ending with a blues. B+(***) [bc]

Kippie Moeketsi/Hal Singer: Blue Stompin' (1977 [2021], As-Shams): South African alto saxophonist (1925-83), started with Abdullah Ibrahim, featured with Pat Matshikiza (who plays piano on one track here). Singer (tenor sax) only appears on the title track here -- the title of his 1959 album. The other three tracks have Duku Makasi on tenor sax, the last two with Jabu Nkosi (piano) and Enock Mthaleni (guitar). B+(**) [bc]

Ann Peebles & the Hi Rhythm Section: Live in Memphis (1992 [2022], Memphis International): Soul singer, from St. Louis, started with Hi Records in Memphis in 1969, had some hits like "Part Time Love" and "I Can't Stand the Rain." Her Greatest Hits, spanning 1969-77, is essential, but some of the earlier LPs are also superb. Most of her hits are here, but not a sharp as the originals. B+(**)

Lionel Pillay: Shrimp Boats (1979-80 [2022], As-Shams): South African pianist, cover adds "Featuring Basil 'Mannenberg' Coetzee," the tenor saxophonist who only plays on the title cut (25:07). The other side (3 tracks, 22:27) were recorded later, a quintet with Barney Rachabane (alto sax) and Duku Makasi (tenor sax). B+(**) [bc]

Old music:

Ann Peebles: This Is Ann Peebles (1969, Hi): First album, produced a couple low-charting singles, plus another song that made Greatest Hits. Seems odd today that both sides end with Aretha Franklin classics, which were only a year or two old at the time. Promising that they don't miss by much. B+(***)

Placebo: Meds (2006, Virgin): Fifth album, probably should be in my list of unheard Christgau A-list albums, but he never assigned a grade to it (wrote an ungraded essay, included it in his 2006 Dean's List, but only 78 of 81). B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead: Poetic (Vision Ahead) [05-13]
  • George Cotsirilos Quartet: Refuge (OA2) [05-20]
  • Tetel Di Babuya: Meet Tetel (Arkadia) [06-24]
  • Esthesis Quartet: Esthesis Quartet (Orenda) [05-27]
  • Anthony Fung: What Does It Mean to Be Free? (self-released): [05-06]
  • Randy Napoleon: Puppets: The Music of Gregg Hill (OA2) [05-20]
  • Elsa Nilsson: Atlas of Sound: Coast Redwoods (Ears & Eyes) [04-22]
  • Michael Orenstein: Aperture (Origin) [05-20]
  • Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker: Scylla (Aerophonic) [07-08]
  • J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen: Transneptunian Planets (RareNoise) * [06-03]
  • Aaron Seeber: First Move (Cellar) [05-06]
  • Cathy Segal-Garcia & Phillip Strange: Live in Japan (Origin) [05-20]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Speaking of Which

I had little desire to open this up, and don't expect anything thorough, but there were a couple things I wanted to take note of.

I finally finished Louis Menand's The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, with mixed feelings about what was included and what got skipped or skimmed over, but it did bring back a lot of memories of the world I was born into. Appropriate that it ended with Vietnam. He notes:

Vietnam not only shattered the image of American invincibility. It meant that a whole generation grew up looking on the United States as an imperialist, militarist, and racist power. The political capital the nation accumulated by leading the alliance against fascism in the Second World War and helping rebuild Japan and Western Europe it burned through in Southeast Asia.

Unfortunately, he doesn't end there. He ends with two paragraphs about an English journalist named James Fenton, bemoaning how after the Americans left the Communists took over in 1975 they turned the country into a Stalinist hellhole. I couldn't help but think that maybe if they hadn't had to fight for 30+ years against Japan, France, and the United States, they wouldn't have turned out so hard.

That chapter starts out with the 1960s student movement, with Tom Hayden and Mario Savio even before the war became a galvanizing issue. That led to the revelations that the CIA had been funding student groups for propaganda purposes. Many people involved didn't know or care. Diversity of opinion even worked to advantage, as an illustration of freedom vs. the thought control practiced on the other side of the Iron Curtain. (The walls helped make the West look free, which is part of the reason Eastern Europe, and later Ukraine, turned so hard against Russia.) But how free are you when on critical matters the things you believe are on the approved list? Menand picks out an interesting quote from Christopher Lasch:

Both as symptom and as source, the campaign for 'cultural freedom' revealed the degree to which the values held by intellectuals had become indistinguishable from the interests of the modern state -- interests which the intellectuals now served even while they maintained the illusion of detachment. . . . The American press is free, but it censors itself. The University is free, but it has purged itself of ideas. The literary intellectuals are free, but they use their freedom to propagandize for the state. The freedom of American intellectuals as a professional class blinds them to their un-freedom.

I came along at a time when we were starting to see through the haze of ideology and the deceit of power. The workings of the CIA, and how they led to the disaster in Vietnam, were partly exposed, and efforts were made to reform, but the old culture returned, more devious and deluded than ever. It's impossible to dismiss US schemes to influence Ukraine, because that's exactly what the US has always done, or tried to do, at least since WWII. And when you hear people parrot US talking points, you can't tell whether they're paid to shill or just conditioned to go along with them. This leads to the massive irony that democracy is permitted to exist in countries where people can be trusted not to use it, and denied in countries where the leaders actually fear public opinion.

America is becoming like the world in that respect. We are divided between Democratic and Anti-Democratic parties. The latter is the one preoccupied with repression and thought-control, the one obsessed with purging schools of any hint of free thinking, the one that still hopes to cling onto power by training pious, obedient cadres. The former, or at least the nostalgic Cold War faction which still controls the levers of power, knows they don't have to be that controlling. They understand that diverse people can be trusted with a little freedom, because in the end most of them will agree on the right things anyway. And if, say, some strange idea takes root and becomes popular, they're flexible enough to absorb it and carry on.

The war in Ukraine has largely deadlocked, but there's still enough to note to give them their own section:

Edward Alvarez: [05-07] Why We Should Not Admire Zelensky: I suspect someone could write a critique which takes the Ukrainian leader to task on at least two points: his intransigence in the runup to the war, and his reticence to negotiate a cease fire leading to an agreement to partition Ukraine (preferably through plebiscites). This doesn't dig deep enough to be that article. Moreover, you'd have to raise the question of what (if any) options Putin offered. Even now, while it's possible to imagine a deal that both sides should be willing to accept, it's not obvious which side is dragging this out. It could be that Zelensky's success at begging for arms will swell his head, leading to demands that only prolong the war, I worry more about the donors, with much less risk, seeing continued war as a bonanza.

George Beebe: [04-29] Tell us how this war in Ukraine ends.

Stephen Kinzer: [05-02] These countries are willing to risk US ire over Russia-Ukraine: "The Global South is not intimidated and has increasingly refused to ally with the West on sanctions and condemnations."

Jen Kirby: [05-04] Are sanctions against Russia working? Hard to tell. Clearly, the sanctions put in place after Russia annexed Crimea didn't deter this war. If anything, they promoted it. Will more sanctions bring Russia to sue for peace? Litte evidence of that so far. Otherwise, it's mostly an exercise in arrogance (the belief that we are entitled to judge and punish malefactors) and gratuitous sadism (the actual effect of sanctions on most people).

Paul Krugman: [04-28] America, Again the Arsenal of Democracy: I like FDR more than most Americans, both because and in spite of knowing a good deal about him. Still, this is wrong on more levels than I can count, word for word in any permutation. Maybe not as wrong as Wilson's "war to make the world safe for democracy," when the US went to war to support the Tsar of Russia and the world's two largest colonial empires. But the bigger problem is that supplying arms to Britain and the Soviet Union didn't help end the war. Rather, it sucked the US in, by giving reason to Japan to attack Pearl Harbor, and to Hitler to declare war on the US. It may be that Germany and Japan were so hell-bent on empire that we would have had to fight them sooner or later regardless, but sooner was what we got for feigning peace while feeding war. Given the way WWII turned out, many people applauded FDR for his vision and bold leadership. Krugman ends his piece wondering whether Biden will get due credit for his staunch defense of democracy in Ukraine. Depends a lot on how much escalation he provokes from Putin, who under no conceivable scenario is going to capitulate as gracefully as Hitler. Also depends on whether Biden manages to save democracy in America, which at the moment seems like the taller order. [Also see Tooze, below.]

Anatol Lieven: [05-03] Reckless and ruthless? Yes. But is Putin insane? No. A distinction that doesn't offer much comfort. Putin's decision to start the war was based on several severe misconceptions: about what Russia could do, what the US couldn't, how welcoming Ukrainians would be, and why small bits of land and people mattered. And even if he admits he was wrong on those counts, his decision to double down rather than suing for peace is yet another hint he's not fully grounded.

Dave Lindorff: [05-03] War Secretary Austin Wants a Long War in Ukraine, Not a Quick Peace.

Paul McLeary/Lara Seligman: [05-05] 'There is no going back': How the war in Ukraine has pushed Biden to rearm Europe. Loose lips at NATO and the Pentagon. We have to ask, is this really something we want to be doing? St. Clair [see below] cites this bit:

"We think it's time to move on from this forward presence concept based on the tripwire approach," the NATO diplomat said, where a small number of NATO troops are stationed in Eastern Europe, to a larger footprint that could actually halt any Russian incursion. The idea is to move from "deterrence by punishment to deterrence by denial," the official said.

How is it possible to install a "deterrence by denial" force in such a way that it won't be interpreted by Russia as a first strike force? For that matter, isn't is stupid now to talk about deterrence of any stripe so soon after such theories failed to deter Russia from invading Ukraine? Here's another quote from a Pentagon "International Security Affairs" head: "The U.S. government's objective in this crisis relative to Russia . . . is that Russia ends this crisis as a strategic failure." But massive strategic failures on both sides hasn't ended the war yet. And if the US can't admit as much, why are they waiting for Russia to throw in the towel.

Rajan Menon: [05-05] Human catastrophe, flowing from Ukraine and across the globe. Most obviously, 12.8 million Ukrainians have been displaced, with 5.4 million leaving the country. Economic damages fans out from there: the displaced need to be fed and sheltered, even those who stayed are unable to go about their normal business; one-third of Ukraine's infrastructure has been damaged or demolished; sanctions against Russia affect costs elsewhere, and inflation spreads the pain even farther.

Adam Tooze: [04-18] Azovstal - Mariupol's final battlefield. History of the big steel plant in the news. Tooze also wrote a pretty detailed history of the conflict before it blew up: [01-12] Putin's Challenge to Western hegemony - the 2022 edition. More recently: [05-04] Is escalation in Ukraine part of the US strategy? Subhed: "The aim of the billions committed through the Lend-Lease plan could tip the geopolitical balance. History may be about to repeat itself." More pointed is this line: "It is a calculation so cold-blooded that it is little wonder that we want to dress it up in half-remembered histories of the second world war, in which the happy ending is assumed without the necessary sacrifices ever being spelled out."

Some other links and comments. Again, I'm not making any attempt to be thorough or systematic:

Rachael Bedard: [05-07] The Radical Life of Kathy Boudin: "She became infamous for her involvement in acts of political violence. Then she found her way out of the abyss."

Fabiola Cineas: [05-03] Florida's new election police unit is the scariest voter suppression effort yet.

David Dayen: [04-26] Will Inflation Break the News? "The greatest threat to democracy from media isn't disinformation, it's the paywall." I'm sorry for all you "content providers" out there who want to make a living off your earnest thinking and writing, but the marginal value of information is very thin, unless you're in a position to profit from it. But who makes a living from good citizenship? Dayen imagines people will cut back on their subscriptions as inflation eats into their income, and it's hard to argue otherwise. That's already true of entertainment (like Netflix), and most people get a lot more there than they will ever get from subscribing to Matt Taibbi or Matthew Yglesias or many others. I can imagine a day coming when I feel the crunch and give up most or all of my subscriptions (with the side bonus of never writing this column again). But is this any way to run a democracy? By the way, Dayen also wrote (no paywall, but you have to beat down a pop-up): [05-05] Means-Testing Student Debt Relief: Big Hassle, No Results.

Sean Illing: [04-24] Michael Lewis on why Americans don't trust experts. More reason to plug his book, The Fifth Risk. Who knew that the government employs competent people looking out for you?

Sarah Jones: [05-04] Why Are Conservative Men So Scared of Cat Ladies? Jones also weighs in on the Supreme Court: [05-04] The Supreme Court Is a Tool for Tyrants.

Robert Kuttner: [05-04] The Fed's Dilemma: They hiked short-term interest rates half a point, because that's the only hammer they have to attack inflation, even when it's not caused by low interest rates, when the main effect of an interest rate is to slow business down and put people out of work (at a time when the economy is already shrinking due to war and supply chain issues). Oh, and this is Jay Powell (Trump's Fed Chair) doing this. You know, the guy Biden was talked into renominating because he finally understood that the Fed's job wasn't limited to fighting inflation: growing the economy and increasing employment also matters. Until, evidently, you get that second term.

Jamie Martin: [04-28] The US Wants to Tackle Inflation. Here's Why That Should Worry the Rest of the World.

Ian Millhiser: [05-03] 4 things we know, and one big thing we don't, on the draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade. Millhiser covers the Supreme Court as comprehensively as anyone, so he's the obvious reporter/critic to look to. The "big thing" is whether a majority will continue to stand behind Alito's "maximalist" opinion. One option might be to concur with Alito's judgment but with a less sweeping opinion. One thing I've gotten from reading Millhiser is how sloppy and contorted the reasoning of right-wing judges has become lately as they try to invent legal theories to support their agenda. Another is that right-wingers seem to have unlimited resources to file ridiculous suits to harass others. Indeed, the recent avalanche of laws that depend on right-wing vigilantes for enforcement show their confidence in this tactic. Millhiser followed this piece up with:

  • Ian Millhiser/Li Zhou/Nicole Narea: [05-03] What happens next if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe.
  • Ian Millhiser: [05-03] The case against the Supreme Court of the United States: "The Court was the midwife of Jim Crow, the right hand of union busters, and the dead hand of the Confederacy, and is now one of the chief architects of America's democratic decline." The way I've often put it: we've been fortunate to have lived during a rare period where the Supreme Court sought to broaden our constitutional rights. Of course, by "we" I mean people more or less my age (71). The Court's been leaning back rightward at least since the 1980s, when Scalia and Thomas were installed with an explicit political agenda. But for much of US history the Court has had a malign influence, and the current majority is likely to become one of the worst ever.
  • Ian Millhiser: [05-06] If Roe v Wade falls, are LGBTQ rights next?

A few more links on Alito v. Roe v. Wade:

Jason Samenow: [05-08] Texas toast: Heat crushed records Saturday and will swell northward: Wichita hit 90F today for the first day this year, and forecast calls for 4-5 more 90+ days, so this is too close for comfort.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-06] Roaming Charges: Playing for Keeps: Opens with a sizable section on abortion politics, so I could have filed it there, but also includes significant points on Ukraine, and more. Includes this Trump quote (per Mark Esper): "We could just shoot some Patriot missiles [into Mexico) and take out the [drug] labs, quietly. No one would know it was us." Come on, no one would even suspect it was anyone else. Charles Pierce [05-02] has more from the Esper book: Mark Esper Didn't Think Voters Deserved to Know That Trump Wanted to Turn DC Streets Into My Lai? ("The Secretary of Defense thought this information would better serve his bank account two years later.")

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 54 albums, 8 A-list,

Music: Current count 37831 [37777] rated (+54), 127 [127] unrated (-0).

It's been a very frustrating week for reading the news, with one story after another provoking rage and a sense of doom. I hit some sort of breaking point on Saturday, when I felt the last iota of hope drain from my body. Previously, I might try to document these feelings in a blog post, but I don't feel like indulging in that much self-abuse. I will note that the story that pushed me over the edge was one about Kansas Republicans on the verge of passing a bill legalizing sports betting, taxing the bets at 10%, and dedicating 80% of the revenues to luring professional sports teams to Kansas. I hate betting in all forms, but recognize it's better legal and regulated than left as a cash cow for organized crime, and there's always public needs that could be addressed with additional tax revenues. (Same can be said for drugs, but that seems to be a bigger cognitive problem with local Republicans. When I was growing up, gambling was every bit the sin, but Republicans have come around, probably due to the way it fetishizes money.) The problem is the italicized bit: sports teams are invariably owned by some of the most ridiculously wealthy people in the world -- the KC major league teams are owned by the Hunt and Walton heirs -- so it's especially insane to dedicate a major tax revenue stream to their benefit. Evidently Democratic Governor Kelly is on board with this disgusting scheme. (I'll spare you the rant on the graft involved in Wichita's recent minor league ballpark disaster, which should be cautionary lesson enough.) At the same time, both parties are interested in cutting sales taxes on food, but no one is suggesting making up the difference with the sports-gambling revenues (let alone legalizing marijuana, which would be much more popular).

I'm already starting to forget many of the other outrages in the newspaper lately. An article finally popped up on how Elon Musk plans to recover his sunken investment in Twitter by firing employees and making other service cuts. (As an aside, I saw a graph Musk evidently put out placing himself on a left-right continuum over time. He stays in the same position, but extends the "woke left" line enormously, as if the left is getting more extreme, and is pulling the center past him, moving him from left-of-center to right-of-center. It doesn't take much genius to realize that what's really happening is that he's moving right, reflecting his increasing wealth, but can't see beyond his own ego.)

There's a whole bunch of economic news. Amazon is slipping because they overbuilt warehouses and shipping during the pandemic, and Apple is slipping due to supply chain issues, and Netflix stock collapsed when they lost a few subscribers (which they hope to remedy by kicking freeloaders off). All three companies were hugely overvalued, but we assume markets price stock correctly, so normal corrections look like catastrophes. Speaking of which, Twitter is even more overvalued, but having found a greater fool in Musk, but now, having locked in a price, the only thing they can do is squeeze and devalue. What we need to be doing is figuring out how to stand up free services that compete with big tech but don't do the data mining and brokering they do to make money off your attention. But nobody's talking about that (except Kim Stanley Robinson, but that's science fiction).

There's a story about crypto getting "the regulator they want," which probably means worse than no regulation at all. Then there's the bizarre stuff about GDP shrinking while the Fed is contemplating a half-point interest rate increase, which will lead to disastrous losses abroad as well -- at the same time global supply is being crippled by the Ukraine war and attendant sanctions. Meanwhile, those involved in Ukraine are doubling down, getting even more bloody-minded, which is great for the arms and oil industries, and ominous for everyone else. (Meanwhile, there was another paean to Madeline Albright today.)

And of course there are the usual run of political stories, most involving Trump's involvement in Republican primaries, because the news industry would much prefer talking about Trump than Biden, and have no interest whatsoever in issues other than the culture war flashpoints. (I think only once have I read something about Florida's infamous "don't say gay" bill that pointed out what I take to be the real problem: that the law incentivizes "parents" to file frivolous lawsuits against teachers and school boards. The right seems to feel that, having packed the courts, the best way to advance their claims is to flood them with suits.)

OK, that's too many words for explaining why I decided not to write about this shit anymore. But at least I didn't burn up two days digging up links you're unlikely to follow anyway (not least because so many of them are behind fucking paywalls). How can we have a democracy when information is so exclusively partitioned? A quick look around suggests maybe we don't.

Big piece of news since I wrote the previous section was the tornado that hit Andover, a suburb east of Wichita. It's now considered to be an EF3, on the ground for 21 minutes, during which time it moved 12.5 miles. No official deaths, but something 1,000 structures were damaged. Severe weather had been forecast, but our area (about one mile northwest of downtown) was clear enough that we were out walking the dog when the sirens went off. Storms typically track northeast in Kansas, so I wasn't personally worried: all the storm clouds were north and east of us, and the tornadoes (a second one appeared in Greenwood County) headed away from us. We got some rain and small hail a couple hours later, when the cold front that had triggered the tornado cells finally passed through.

I filled out my ballot for DownBeat's annual critics poll (notes here). I've been voting in it for at least 10 years now, but this was the first year where I was invited in the Veterans Committee. Voters there can pick up to 10 out of 25 nominees, where the winners are anyone who gets picked on 75% or more of the ballots. The winners join DownBeat's Hall of Fame, which is set up to add just 2 new members per year: one each from the Critics Poll and the Readers Poll. That creates a huge bottleneck, which the Veterans Committee doesn't alleviate so much as create another set of idiosyncratic criteria. (Most candidates have to wait 100 years past their birth, but some can get in 50 years after their death, which biases the VC to picking musicians who died young, like Booker Little and Scott LaFaro.) See the notes file for details, but my top choice was Jimmy Rushing.

I've been known to spend a couple days on the ballot -- there are 50 categories to vote for, some extremely competitive, others with hardly anyone of note, and some categories are just hard to judge (e.g., composer, arranger, producer -- but lately have tried to cut corners, especially later on. What slows me down is note taking and checking, so I can save a bunch of time if I simply vote for the same people year after year. Not the way I'd like to do it, but I'm not all that keen on ranking musicians at instrument positions anyway. I take the album categories more seriously, collecting all of their nominees and using them as a checklist to measure how much I've heard. A lot of this week's records are best jazz album nominees that I hadn't heard. They nominated 128 records this year. With this week's haul, I've managed to hear all but three:

  • Michael Formanek Drome Trio, Were We Where We Were (Circular File -22)
  • ICP Septet + Joris Roelofs + Terrie Ex, Komen & Gaan (ICP)
  • Barre Phillips, Thirty Years In Between (Victo)

I can't say I picked up any outstanding records in this exercise. I also have lists of nominees for jazz reissues, blues, and "beyond." Each has its own problems: jazz reissues are hard to find, at least from streaming sources (big boxes of audiophile vinyl seem to be the norm these days); I almost never hear more than 10-20% of the blues records; and while I hear much more of their "beyond," it's never a very coherent category.

I started last week listening to Specialty compilations (after Art Rupe died). After listening to the big box, I looked for a smaller compilation, and found two (almost identical). I went a bit further, but didn't get into the gospel that was an important part of the catalog. I also dug up some extra Mingus albums, after finding the new "lost album" somewhat wanting. A couple other "old music" items were related to recent product, but two more exceptions: Vi Redd was an unfamiliar name on DownBeat's Hall of Fame ballot, so I thought I should look her up. Ricky Ford released a B+(***) album I reviewed a couple weeks ago. I had a couple ungraded LPs by him, but couldn't play them at the time. My wife's ancient Technics turntable seems to have died, so I had to wait until I could buy a new one. I play so little vinyl these days I convinced myself the bottom-of-the-line Audio Technica would suffice. It's no great shakes, but does the job. In coming weeks, I need to see what else in the unrated list I can find on LP.

I screwed up my numbering when I posted my Book Roundup Sunday evening instead of tomorrow, as I had originally planned. That leaves a gap at 3018, but I doubt anyone will notice.

New records reviewed this week:

The Kevin Brady Electric Quartet: Plan B (2020 [2021], Ubuntu Music): Drummer from Dublin, has a couple previous albums (back to 2007), group here with Seamus Blake (sax), Bill Carrothers (electric piano), and Dave Redmond (electric bass), with five pieces by Brady, three by Carrothers. B+(***)

Tomasz Dabrowski: Tomasz Dabrowski & the Individual Beings (2021 [2022], April): Polish trumpet player, also credited with electronics, albums since 2012, septet with two saxophonists, piano/keyboards (Grzegorz Tarwid), bass, and two drummers. Group name, and much else, inspired to Tomasz Stanko. B+(***)

Chris Dingman: Journeys Vol. 1 (2022, self-released): Vibraphonist, albums since 2011, solo album seems to have been a pandemic project, with some overtones above the tinkle. B+(*) [sp]

Nick Finzer: Out of Focus (2021, Outside In Music): Trombonist, albums since 2012, mostly New York but teaches now at UNT. Much unclear about credits here: some solo or duo, two tracks with a quartet (Xavier Davis on piano), a 15-trombone finale -- the fourth Ellington piece. B+(*)

Bruce Forman With John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton: Reunion! (2021, B4Man Music): Guitarist, records (for Muse and Concord) start in 1981. This was advertised as The Poll Winners Revisited, a reference to the 1950s guitar-bass-drums trios of Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, and Shelly Manne, which "established the guitar trio as a viable jazz ensemble." B+(**)

Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart: Perpetual Pendulum (2021 [2022], Smoke Sessions): Organ-guitar-drums trio, a soul jazz staple, trio goes back to Goldings' first album (1991, a trio plus Fathead Newman on two tracks). B+(**)

Russell Gunn & the Royal Krunk Jazz Orchestra: The Sirius Mystery Opus 4 No. 1 (2020 [2021], Ropeadope): Trumpet player, started in 1990s incorporating electronics with a nod to hip-hop. Refers back to a 2016 album. Big band plus extras, spoken word as far out as Sun Ra. Four tracks, 33:55. B+(**)

Tigran Hamasyan: Stand Art (2022, Nonesuch): Pianist, from Armenia, moved to California at 16, eventually returned to Yerevan. Eleventh album since 2006, a collection of standards, with trio (Matt Brewer on bass and Justin Brown on drums), plus guest spots (Ambrose Akinmusire, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner). Most sources elide the title, but words are separate on cover. B+(*)

Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión (2022, Ovation): Pianist, born in New York, third group album since 2016, with Justo Almario (sax/flute), bass, drums, congas, and some guests (notably Joe Locke on vibes). B+(*)

Bob James Trio: Feel Like Making Live! (2022, Evolution): Pianist, released a debut called Bold Conceptions in 1963, followed it up with an avant-sounding ESP-Disk (Explosions), then settled into a long and undistinguished pop jazz career, in and out of the group Fourplay. B [sp]

Willie Jones III: Fallen Heroes (2020 [2021], WJ3): Drummer, seventh album since 2000, fair number of mainstream side credits. Opens with a solo piece here. Occasional spots for George Cables (piano), Sherman Irby (alto sax), and others. Renee Neufville sings. B+(*)

Anders Koppel: Mulberry Street Symphony (2021 [2022], Cowbell Music, 2CD): Danish composer, father a classical composer, started in 1967 in a rock group (Savage Rose), has gone on to compose for ballets, films, plays, and this at least counts as jazz, with its soloists -- son Benjamin Koppel (sax), Scott Colley (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) -- on top of the Odense Symphony Orchestra. The sax is the star, but he's got a lot to work with. B+(***) [sp]

Miranda Lambert: Palomino (2022, Vanner, RCA Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, ninth album, not sure there's a merely good album in the sequence. Covers a Mick Jagger song, three songs recycled from The Marfa Tapes, co-wrote the rest, most with Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby. Special treat: the B-52s backing up "Music City Queen." A-

The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band: Both Ways (2017 [2021], self-released): Fringe-folk supergroup, both leaders have multiple albums I love, so their collaboration should delight, but their eponymous 2013 album fell flat for me (though Christgau and others celebrated it). No idea why they shelved this sequel, but as "lost albums" go it hasn't sat long. But with only 3 (of 26) cuts on Bandcamp, and unavailable via streaming, all I did was a "limited sampling" note (++). It wound up the only album on Christgau's Dean's List I didn't hear, until a reader kindly sent me a copy. Lots of minor annoyances here, especially in the first half. But it does pick up with "The New Old Georgia Stomp" (song 17, a public Bandcamp cut), and it's ok-to-good from there out, including covers of the Beachnuts, Hawkwind, and Television, "Heroin" rewritten as "Internet," and a pair of anti-Trump songs (one on tax forms, another that with a "the cat grabbed back" refrain). Lewis's 2020 Tapes and 2021 Tapes ("shelter-at-home recordings & pandemos") are also locked down, so he seems to be the marketing genius preserving their obscurity. B+(**) [dl]

Taj Mahal & Ry Cooder: Get on Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (2022, Nonesuch): Traditionalists even in their youth, in the 1970s each found fame providing a gentle slant on old songs and new ones that sounded old. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to find out they had recorded together in 1965-66 in a group called Rising Sons, but the records disappointed. First glance at this album cover looks like an archival find, except the faces are old and grizzled, as we soon find also are the voices. B+(**)

Charnett Moffett Trio: Live (2021, Motéma, EP): Bassist, played electric as much as acoustic, died in April at 54. This was recorded last July, at Yoshi's, five songs (20:13), the cover continuing: "featuring Jana Herzen [guitar/vocals] with Corey Garcia [drums]." Opens with a smoky "Summertime," but when the striking vocals end, the set slides into background. B+(**)

Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time (2022, Legacy): Seventy-second studio album, released on his 89th birthday. Five original songs, co-authored by Buddy Cannon, including two memorable ones that reflect his seniority ("I Don't Go to Funerals," "Live Every Day" -- "like it may be your last, because some day it will be"). Two covers seem like mis-steps but grow on you: "Tower of Song" (Leonard Cohen, the "golden voice" line less of a joke) and "With a Little Help From My Friends" (Beatles). The rest fits in nicely. A-

Nikara: Nikara Presents Black Wall Street (2021, Railroad Hart): Last name Warren, which may or may not belong in the credit. From Brooklyn, plays vibes, sings (or someone does), Bandcamp tags: hip hop, jazz, r&b, soul. Has elements of each without settling anywhere. No band credits, but Kenny Barron is featured on two tracks. B+(*) [bc]

Mark O'Connor: Markology II (2017-20 [2021], OMAC): Started off as a champion bluegrass fiddler (first album was titled: National Junior Fiddling Champion), also plays mandolin and guitar (his instrument here, title referring back to a 1978 album). B+(*)

Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band: Soul Conversations (2021, Outside In Music): Drummer, from Florida, half-dozen albums since 2012, experience in several big bands, comes out swinging here, conventional big band with vibes (Stefon Harris) but no guitar (Takeishi Ohbayashi on piano), with vocals by Charles Turner III. B+(*)

Samora Pinderhughes: Grief (2022, Ropeadope): Singer-songwriter from Bay Area, based in New York, plays piano, arranges strings, first album, sister Elena Pinderhughes plays flute, saxes help (Lucas Pino, Immanuel Wilkins). I suppose there might be something subtle here I'm not recognizing. B

Bonnie Raitt: Just Like That . . . (2022, Redwing): Bluesy singer-songwriter, developed a strong following in the early 1970s but didn't really sell well until 1989's Nick of Time. Releases slowed down to every 3-4 years after 1991, the last three appearing after 7-4-6 year gaps. The extra time goes into the songs, and the production looks back to her youth. B+(***)

Scary Goldings: Scary Goldings IV (2021, Pockets): Fourth collaboration between LA-based jazz-funk group Scary Pockets -- unclear who's in them, but they've released a lot since 2017 -- and organ player Larry Goldings, presumably their fourth. Notable guest here is John Scofield (guitar, ft. on 6/10 songs). B+(*) [sp]

SFJazz Collective: New Works Reflecting the Moment (2021 [2022], SFJazz): Founded 2004, Discogs lists 21 albums, personnel has varied over the years, currently nine (including two singers: Martin Luther McCoy and Gretchen Parlato), who either wrote (8 pieces) or arranged (3, including "Lift Every Voice & Sing" and "What's Going On"). Chris Potter plays large, but I weary of the vocals, even when they're good for me. B+(*)

Becca Stevens: Becca Stevens & the Secret Trio (2021, GroundUp Music): Jazz/folk singer-songwriter, half-dozen albums since 2008, fair number of side-credits. The trio is Middle Eastern: Ara Dinkjian (oud), Ismail Lumanovski (clarinet), Tamer Pinarbasi (kanun). There is an odd delicacy to this, one I'm not very comfortable with. B

Trombone Shorty: Lifted (2022, Blue Note): New Orleans trombonist Troy Andrews, debut 2002, moved to Verve 2010, on to Blue Note 2017. His records have always disappointed as jazz. Ups the funk quotient here, bringing more voices to the fore, brass to the back. B

UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra: Last Dance: New Music for Jazz Orchestra by Ed Partyka (2020 [2022], Neuklang): Finnish big band, founded 1975 by Heikki Sarmanto and Esko Linnavalli, initials translate to New Music Orchestra, "Helsinki" inserted in 2018. Partyka is a trombonist from Chicago, has worked in big bands and led large groups. Four pieces, 47:58. B+(*)

Sachal Vasandani/Romain Collin: Midnight Shelter (2021, Edition): American jazz singer, several records back to 2007 released under first name only. Backed here by piano only, not much for such a plain voice. B-

Cory Weeds: O Sole Mio! Music From the Motherland (2019 [2021], Cellar Music): Canadian alto saxophonist, owns the Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver, the source of most of the records on his Cellar Live label, as well as a dozen of his own since 2010. Not sure what his claims to Sicily are, as the songs here mostly come from Americans (with names like Mancini, Marmarosa, Martino, Corea, and Chambers). But it's bright and bouncy, with organist Mike LeDonne's Groover Quartet -- Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Joe Farnsworth (drums). B+(**)

Corey Weeds With Strings: What Is There to Say? (2021, Cellar Music): Tenor sax this time, with piano (Phil Dwyer), bass, drums, and a phalanx of strings. B+(*)

Lucy Yeghiazaryan/Vanisha Gould: In Her Words (2021, La Reserve): Two vocalists, one from Armenia, the other California, alternating songs, backed by fractured guitar and wispy strings.

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Doug Carn: Adam's Apple (1974 [2021], Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Pianist, fourth album since 1971, last for this label, turns toward gospel, or social relevancs -- lots of voices (notably Jean Carn). B+(*)

John McLaughlin: The Montreux Years (1978-2016 [2022], BMG): Fifth installment in a series that started in 2021, 8 tracks from 5 festivals (82:00; CD drops the one from 1978), with various lineups: 1978 with L. Shankar; 1984 Mahavishnu; 1987 with Paco de Lucia; 1998 with Gary Thomas; 2016 4th Dimension Band. B+(**) [sp]

Charles Mingus: The Lost Album: From Ronnie Scott's (1972 [2022], Resonance, 3CD): Two sets, 2.5 hours of music, recorded for possible release by Columbia, but shelved in 1973 when they killed off their jazz division (keeping only Miles Davis). Mingus struggled after a big year 1964, and there is little from him until live sets pick up in 1970. His studio album for Columbia in 1972 (Let My Children Hear Music) is possibly his worst ever. In 1974, he put a new band together and released a couple of masterpieces, before ALS started to disable him, leading to his death in 1979. This is rather a mess, but not the sort of thing that careful editing could fix: indeed, on his centenary this reminds us that much of his genius was outrageous spontaneity. Not one of his great bands -- a septet with 19-year-old Jon Faddis on trumpet, saxophonists Charles McPherson and Bobby Jones, John Foster on piano (also sings a couple), Roy Brooks on drums (a rare set without Dannie Richmond) -- but few bandleaders could whip up more frenzy. Big booklet. B+(***) [cd]

George Russell: Ezz-thetics & The Stratus Seekers (1961-62 [2022], Ezz-Thetics): Two important albums by one of the most important figures in jazz history. The former, the namesake for this Swiss reissue label, is a sextet with Eric Dolphy (alto sax/bass clarinet) and Don Ellis (trumpet), David Baker (trombone), Steve Swallow (bass), and Joe Hunt (drums). The latter acknowledges that it takes two saxophonists to replace Dolphy. The albums are hard to peg, easy to underestimate, rich and varied and always a step ahead of you. A- [bc]

Irma Thomas: Full Time Woman: The Lost Cotillion Album (1972 [2022], Real Gone Music): Aka Soul Queen of New Orleans, first singles 1959, Wikipedia doesn't show much chart action but any comp of her 1961-66 Minit and Imperial sides is prime. She struggled in the 1970s, finally staged a "living legend" comeback in the 1990s, and is still ticking. This was recorded for Atlantic, but unreleased until 2014. Great singer, but not a very good album. B

Irma Thomas: Live! New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 1976 (1976 [2022], Good Time): Originally released in 1977 by Island, reissued several times since. Starts with the memorably titled "You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don't Mess With My Man)." Runs through several of her big 1960s hits ("Ruler of My Heart," "It's Raining"), followed by some 1970s hits by others ("Shame, Shame, Shame," "Lady Marmalade"). Highlight is the closer, "Wish Someone Would Care," where she really works the crowd. B+(***)

Eberhard Weber: Once Upon a Time: Live in Avignon (1994 [2021], ECM): German bassist, a signature artist for the label since his 1974 debut, hasn't recorded since a 2007 stroke. Since then ECM released a couple albums of reprocessed bass solos, but this is the first live album they've pulled off the shelf. It's a solo performance, but has a light touch and melodic flair that is exceptional. B+(***)

Barney Wilen: La Note Bleue (1987 [2021], Elemental): French tenor saxophonist, established himself in the late 1950s and 1960s, stopped recording after 1972, then started again in 1987 with a remarkable series of albums, including this one. Kicks off with a marvelous "Besame Mucho. [PS: Slightly confused about the editions. Mine has the original album plus three alternate takes not in Discogs, but not the 1989 live album tacked onto the box.] B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Dopplereffekt: Gesamtkunstwerk (1995-97 [1999], International Deejay Gigolo): Despite German alias/title, this is Detroit techno producer Gerald Donald's post-Drexciya project, collecting a series of EPs plus a couple stray tracks. Vocals presumably his partner, To-Nhan. Lyrics not a strong suit. B+(**)

Ricky Ford: Looking Ahead (1987, Muse): Tenor saxophonist, I probably noticed him first with Abdullah Ibrahim, recorded 10 albums (1979-89) for Muse, this is number eight, with James Spaulding (alto sax/flute) and John Sass (tuba) on 4 tracks, Kirk Lightsey (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and Freddie Watts (drums) on all eight. B+(**) [lp]

Ricky Ford: Saxotic Stomp (1988, Muse): Another sextet, with Spaulding and Lightsey returning, plus Charles Davis (baritone sax), Ray Drummond (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). Strong sax leads, as usual. B+(**) [lp]

Miranda Lambert: Kerosene (2005, Epic Nashville): Second album, follows a self-released eponymous joint when she was 18, but 3.5 years later she's on a major label, going platinum, and she's never had reason to look back. Does't quite have control of her production, but no shortage of voice or grit. B+(**)

Charles Mingus: Mingus (1960 [1961], Candid): Second album for Candid, recorded a month after Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. This expands on the quartet -- Ted Curson (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (alto sax/bass clarinet), and Dannie Richmond (drums) -- with a second trumpet, two trombones, two more saxes (Charles McPherson and Booker Ervin), and piano (Nico Bunink or Paul Bley). Opens with a 19:49 "M.D.M. (Monk, Duke and Me)." Second side starts with 13:23 of "Stormy Weather," then reflects on his psychiatric experience in "Lock 'Em Up (Hellview of Bellevue)." A- [sp]

Charles Mingus: Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert (1972 [1996], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Recorded at Philharmonic Hall on February 4, six months before the "lost" Ronnie Scott's session reviewed above, and released on 2-LP (87:49) later that fall, expanded to 130:36 for 2-CD. Same core group, except Joe Chambers on drums, plus lots of extras, including: trumpets (Eddie Preston, Lloyd Michaels, Lonnie Hilyer), trombone (Eddie Bert), French horns (Dick Berg, Sharon Moe), tuba (Bob Stewart), saxophones (Gene Ammons, Gerry Mulligan, George Dorsey, Richie Perri, Howard Johnson), even a second bassist (Milt Hinton), and vocals (Honey Gordon on three tracks; announcer Bill Cosby and writer Dizzy Gillespie on "Ool-Ya-Koo"). I also see solos for James Moody, and Randy Weston. Some great pieces, but doesn't feel like Mingus is really in charge. B+(**) [sp]

Charles Mingus: Three or Four Shades of Blues (1977, Atlantic): Late album, opens up with new takes of "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" and "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," plus three lesser pieces. Group with Jack Walrath (trumpet), Ricky Ford (tenor sax), and Dannie Richmond (drums), plus various piano and guitar, bass help although the solos are all credited to Mingus. B+(*) [sp]

Charles Mingus: Thirteen Pictures: The Charles Mingus Anthology (1952-77 [1993], Rhino, 2CD): Part of a series of 2-CD jazz comps, each a handsome book in a hard box, a clever move back when we thought of CD boxes as prestige items. Jazz has rarely seemed right for the "greatest hits" treatment: even at best, think of them as introductory samplers. I had to build a playlist here, but first surprise here is that this ranges way beyond the Atlantic sides the label owns, picking up such obvious peaks as "Haitian Fight Song" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" but atypical pieces like a Jackie Paris vocal and a Duke Ellington piano trio. It also packs two long pieces: "Meditations on Integration" (24:50), and "Cumbia & Jazz Fusion" (27:52, one of his last records, one that I panned, although it sounds pretty good here). A-

Vi Redd: Bird Call (1962, United Artists): Sings and plays alto sax, recorded two albums 1962-63, another with Mary McPartland in 1977, and has since picked up some awards, but I hadn't heard of her until she popped up on DownBeat's HOF ballot, at age 93. Mix of standards (including "Summertime") and bebop. Her vocals are fine, but her sax is more persuasive. The vibes (Roy Ayers) are often a plus. B+(***)

Vi Redd: Lady Soul (1963, Atco): Second album, organ (mostly Dick Hyman) and guitar (Bucky Pizzarelli or Barney Kessel) marks a move toward soul jazz. Shows more poise as a singer, but plays her saxophone less (Bill Perkins helps out). B+(**)

Rock 'n' Roll Fever! The Wildest From Specialty (1956-59 [1993], Specialty): The wildest was Little Richard, but this opts for obscurities -- Jerry Byrne's "Lights Out" is the one I'm most familiar with, followed by pieces from the bottom tier of artists with single-CD compilations (Don & Dewey, Larry Williams, Floyd Dixon), and a cover of Huey Smith's "Don't You Just Know It." B+(**)

Specialty Legends of Boogie Woogie (1947-51 [1992], Specialty): Song selection here is easy: look for songs with "boogie" in the title (18 of 19 here, not counting two "unidentified" pieces, leaving as the sole exception "Rock That Voot"), then make sure you hear the tinkle in the piano, even on what would otherwise be a plain jump blues. "Woogie" optional (3 titles). The star here is Camille Howard (8 pieces), followed by Willard McDaniel (4). B+(***)

The Specialty Story (1944-64 [1994], Specialty, 5CD): Art Rupe (né Goldberg) died on April 15, age 104. Among rock and roll's founding entrepreneurs, he's less famous than Sam Phillips, Leonard Chess, or Ahmet Ertegun, but starting in Los Angeles in 1944, with a later pipeline to New Orleans (thanks to Johnny Vincent), he released as many great records as anyone else in the business. His catalog got picked up by Fantasy, which in the early 1990s repackaged it into several dozen critically important CDs. I bought so many that I skipped this flagship box set as redundant, but on his death it looks perfect for a wake. You might fault it for focusing too much on stars you already know (e.g., 19 Little Richard tracks), or you might deem that a feature. A-

Specialty Records Greatest Hits (1946-58 [2001], Specialty): Single-CD selection, all hits, 20 songs from 10 artists, nicely balanced between early jump blues and later rockers, although the latter is dominated by Little Richard (5 songs). Essential music, but note that eight of those 10 artists also own an A/A- single-CD compilation (Jimmy Liggins has two). A

Rip It Up: The Best of Specialty Records (1946-58 [2021], Craft): Repeats 18 songs from Specialty Records Greatest Hits, but let's dock it for dropping two great ones: "Thrill Me" (Roy Milton and Camille Howard), and "Good Golly Miss Molly" (Little Richard). So you can also fault them for lack of imagination, but the label exists to restore indelible classics to vinyl, and that's what they do here. A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • George Cotsirilos Quartet: Refuge (OA2) [05-20]
  • Manel Fortiá: Despertar (Segell Microscopi) [05-12]
  • Secret People: Secret People (Out of Your Head) [04-29]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Book Roundup

These are basically leftovers from my April 3 Book Roundup. That one was the first in nearly a year (since April 18, 2021), so I made an effort to pick out the most important books, and I was able to pad the usual 40 entries out with a lot of related books. I even had, from my own reading, seven book cover pics I could share. On the other hand, I haven't read any of the books below. Some interest me. Some repulse me. I think it's worth knowing that the others exist.

Randall Balmer: Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right (2021, Eerdmans): Short (141 pp), but makes a simple point: that the political engagement of right-wing evangelicals was a response not to Roe v. Wade (abortion), but to Green v. Connally, a ruling that threatened the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory institutions (such as Bob Jones University, in 1976). Nor is this the first time someone has looked beneath ostensible arguments on the right to find racism underneath.

Glenn Beck/Justin Haskins: The Great Reset: Joe Biden and the Rise of Twenty-First-Century Fascism (2022, Forefront Books). Ridiculous paranoia from the TV/radio mogul, aided by Justin Haskins, identified as director of the Stopping Socialism Center at The Heartland Institute. Three chapters lay out the rationale for the "fascist" takeover of America: the pandemic, climate change, and modern monetary theory. The amusing twist is that the forces of fascism aren't the unwashed masses, but a conspiracy of "woke" globalized corporations and their coordinating groups like the World Economic Forum. Rest assured that Beck has a plan for "Derailing the Great Reset." I haven't read that far, but it probably involves buying a lot of T-shirts and mugs.

Gal Beckerman: The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas (2022, Crown): Argues that "radical ideas" -- could be novel ideas or innovations, but author is explicitly thinking about social and political movements -- are best (or only) developed in "quiet, closed networks that allow a small group to incubate their ideas before broadcasting them widely." That makes for a backhanded critique of social media, where everything is exposed and damned little of it matters.

Leslie MM Blume: Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World (2020; paperback, 2021, Simon & Schuster): The journalist was John Hersey, who managed to visit Hiroshima before the US Army locked it down, and famously reported on it in The New Yorker, the essay that became the book Hiroshima. Hersey went on to become a bestselling novelist, but he wrote another classic piece of quick journalism, The Algiers Motel Incident, in 1967 on the Detroit Riot.

Ray Dalio: The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail (2021, Simon & Schuster): Founder and cochairman of Bridgewater Associates ("the largest and best performing hedge fund in the world"), offers a sweeping history of everything, not so much to enlighten, especially not critique, but more as a betting guide for the excessively rich. Blurb list includes: Bill Gates, Henry Paulson, Mark Cuban, Jamie Dimon, as well as useful idiots like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and Henry Kissinger. Makes you wonder who he's conning now, to what purpose.

David M Drucker: In Trump's Shadow: The Battle for 2024 and the Future of the GOP (2021, Twelve): Instantly disposable fodder for political junkies only, trying to sort out what options Republicans have for a future when they're still stuck in their own past. Some other books assaying the Republican future:

  • Chris Christie: Republican Rescue: Saving the Party From Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden (2021, Threshold Editions).
  • Matthew Continetti: The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism (2022, Basic Books): AEI hack, a more ambitious intellectual history, but pitched over Trump.
  • Geoff Duncan: GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America's Conservative Party (2021, Forefront Books).
  • Newt Gingrich: Beyond Biden: Rebuilding the America We Love (2021, Center Street).
  • Samuel L Popkin: Crackup: The Republican Implosion and the Future of Presidential Politics (2021, Oxford University Press).

Caroline Elkins: Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire (2022, Knopf): Big book (896 pp), but lots of blood to cover. Even before there was a British Empire, England was littered with kings and aristocrats that met violent ends, struggles between clans, and efforts by the crown to put down popular revolts. The British Empire was one long pageant of violence, against the natives they marauded and/or enslaved, against rival empires, even against their own settlers. From before the 1763 war with France through the 1964 independence of Kenya, it's unlikely there was a single year when the British weren't fighting someone somewhere. So this book seems about right. Indeed, it seems like the logical progression for a writers who started out with Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. More on British history:

  • Padraic X Scanlan: Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain (2022, Robinson): Probably important enough to merit its own entry, but a prime example of an empire based on violence, which is Elkins' theme. Recent American scholarship has pointed out how profits from slave labor fueled industrialization. The same is likely true here, but also noted is how antislavery further expanded the British Empire.
  • Sathnam Sanghera: Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain (paperback, 2021, Viking): The British Empire is defunct, but its selective memory still imbues political and cultural thought, in ways few are conscious of, but a British-born Punjabi journalist seems to have some insight into that.

Steve Forbes/Nathan Lewis/Elizabeth Ames: Inflation: What It Is, Why It's Bad, and How to Fix It (2022, Encounter Books): File this short (168 pp) under "opposition research": a compendium of what rich Republicans are saying whenever wage workers start to get a leg up. Forbes inherited a business media empire before running for president, Lewis is a hardcore gold bug, and Ames probably wrote the book to order. One suspects the hyperbole is going to be off the charts when they start talking about "1970s's-style 'Great Inflation'" (a line coined by Robert Samuelson and rarely used by anyone else), but then they disclose that "some observers even fear a descent into the kind of Weimar-style hyperinflation that has torn apart so many nations." I'm not saying that inflation is good: it hurts some people and helps others (e.g., it allows people to pay off debts with inflated dollars, which reduces the return to the lenders. Since the former tend to be poorer than the latter, the rich scream bloody murder every time it ticks up, and plot to exact their revenge on everyone else.

Amy Fried/Douglas B Harris: At War With Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust From Goldwater to Trump (2021, Columbia University Press): It's hard to live if you can't trust the people around you to behave predictably, to follow laws and rules, and show you some respect and maybe even kindness. For better or worse, most of us grew up learning to trust government to act in the public interest, but conservative Republicans have repeatedly attacked the very foundations of public trust, and it turns out much harder to restore trust than to degrade it. This matters because many of the problems we face can only be addressed as public works.

Matthew Gabriele/David M Perry: The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe (2021, Harper): Title implies a radical departure from the traditional characterization of Europe's "Dark Ages" -- one that has partly fallen out of favor as historians have tried to blur the traditional demarcation between Medieval and Renaissance, but still, this book starts around 430 CE, with the Roman Empire crumbling but not quite fallen, and they allow the Middle Ages to end around 1321. Some more recent books on medieval European history:

  • Dan Jones: Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (2021, Viking): British historian (with a TV sideline), has written quite a bit on the Middle Ages, including: Summer of Blood: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (2009); The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England (2012); The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors (2014); Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter (2014); The Templars: The Rise and the Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors (2017); Crusaders: An Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Land (2019).
  • Marc Morris: The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England (2021, Hutchinson): British historian, books include: A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain (2008); The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England (2012); King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta (2015); William I: England's Conqueror (2016).
  • Neil Price: Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings (2020, Basic Books).
  • Peter H Wilson: Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire (2020, Belknap Press): 1008 pp.
  • Patrick Wyman: The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years That Shook the World, 1490-1530 (2021, Twelve).

David Gelles: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America -- and How to Undo His Legacy (2022, Simon & Schuster): During his tenure as CEO of General Electric, Welch was touted as a great business leader, an innovator even. But much of what he did was to bring back the lean-and-mean mentality of an earlier (pre-union) stage of capitalism, combined with cold analysis. I wouldn't say he "broke capitalism," but he did much to restore its bad name, and as such it's nice to see his name drug through the mud again.

Gary Gerstle: The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market (2022, Oxford University Press): Big picture historian -- has previous books on American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century and Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government From the Founding to the Present -- tries to construct a "rise and fall" scenario for neoliberalism after a couple chapters on the New Deal and the managerial capitalism it produced (or allowed). It's not clear to me that neoliberalism has fallen, as the business interests that benefited from it are still very much in power, but its intellectual cachet for everyone else is in tatters.

Garrett M Graff: Watergate: A New History (2022, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster): Big new book (832 pp) on a scandal which I suppose seems relevant again with the impeachment of Trump (twice), perhaps less so because it continues to shock than because we're starting to feel nostalgic for an era when a disgraced president resigned, in large part because his own party refused to follow lock step in the coverup. Other recent books on Nixon/Watergate:

  • Dwight Chapin: The President's Man: The Memoirs of Nixon's Trusted Aide (2022, William Morrow): Personal aide, then deputy assistant in Nixon White House. Doesn't seem to have done any jail time (as his boss, Bob Haldeman, did).
  • Michael Dobbs: King Richard: Nixon and Watergate: An American Tragedy (2021, Knopf).
  • Irwin F Gellman: Campaign of the Century: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Election of 1960 (2022, Yale University Press).
  • Shane O'Sullivan: Dirty Tricks: Nixon, Watergate, and the CIA (2018, Hot Books).
  • Geoff Shepard: The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President (2021, Bombardier Books). Deputy counsel on Nixon's Watergate defense team, still litigating. Also wrote: The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down (2015); even more paranoid is The Secret Plot to Make Ted Kennedy President: Inside the Real Watergate Conspiracy (2008), which identifies "a young lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee named Hillary Rodham" among the conspirators.

Karen J Greenberg: Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump (2021, Princeton University Press): Edited Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib, wrote The Least Worst Place (2009) on the Guantanamo gulag, summed up her worries on lawlessness in Rogue Justice (2016), so the main thing that this also incorporates is the contempt for democracy showed repeatedly by Trump and his administration.

Linda Greenhouse: Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court (2021, Random House): Sure, there are a lot of books about the hypothetical demise of American democracy, but this is a case study of what seems very likely be a significant turning point. With the Supreme Court effectively packed by Republican presidents -- in two critical cases elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote -- and a Senate where power is seriously skewed, conservative strategists are increasingly turning toward the courts to dictate policies that lack popular support and to disrupt ones that are popular. Related:

  • Jackie Calmes: Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Court (2021, Twelve).

Jane Harman: Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe (2021, St Martin's Press): Former US Representative (D-CA), ranking member of House Intelligence Commitee, supported Bush's Iraq war, "served on advisory boards for the CIA, Director of National Intelligence, and the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State."

Kyle Harper: Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History (2021, Princeton University Press): "A sweeping germ's eye view of history from human origins to global pandemics." Big subject, even for 704 pp., with the development of agriculture, the increasing population density of cities, and the migration of people and their animals (and their germs) to new territories playing major roles.

Katja Hoyer: Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire, 1871-1918 (2021, Pegasus): Surprisingly short (272 pp) for a story that comprises so many wars (albeit brief ones until the big loss of 1914-18), a madcap stab at colonial empire building in Africa and the Pacific, and the legal and bureaucratic innovations of perhaps the most famous political figure of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck.

Ian Ona Johnson: Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War (2021, Oxford University Press): My first thought was that this was about the 1939 "pact" between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which defined a partition of Poland, allowing Germany to grab most of Poland without risking a deeper war with Russia (which got German permission to do some grabbing itself, which turned out badly for Stalin both coming and going). But the book focuses more on an earlier "bargain" between Imperial Germany and the Bolsheviks, which led to the Russian Revolution, and subsequent armistice which ceded much Russian territory to Germany, as well as ending the two-front war Germany was fighting. Evidently, German-Soviet cooperation didn't end there, although I'm a little sketchy on the details.

Jonathan M Katz: Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America's Empire (2021, St Martin's Press): Butler was "the most celebrated warfighter of his time" -- from the Spanish War of 1898, the Philippines, the "gunboat diplomacy" occupations of Nicaragua and Haiti, up to the eve of WWII -- but he's better known for book he wrote about his experiences, called War Is a Racket.

Chuck Klosterman: The Nineties: A Book (2022, Penguin Press): Born in 1972, so I imagine he relates to the 1990s rather like I did to the 1970s, when everything seemed new and full of opportunity. The two decades are similar (yet distinct from earlier and later decades) in a couple respects: they offered relatively liberal interludes between wars (Vietnam into the 1970s, the Cold War into the 1990s) and later reaction/remilitarization (Reagan in the 1980s, Bush in the 2000s). While I was young enough to enjoy parts of the 1990s, it rather seems like a wasted decade now, and one I feel no nostalgia for. (Seth Myers, does a bit I find incongruous called "In My Time," where he waxes nostalgic for artifacts of his youth, which turn out to be from the 1990s. He was born in 1973.) Klosterman wrote his first book on glam metal (which suggests that at root he's a fellow rock critic; even if we don't like the same shit, it's a style thang), and followed that up with a couple novels and several essay collections, so this may be his bed for a magnum opus. Or it may just be a scrapbook, a bunch of things he lived through and thought were neat at the time. Some other Klosterman books:

  • Chuck Klosterman: Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota (2001; paperback, 2002, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto (2003; paperback, 2004, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (2005; paperback, 2006, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas (2006; paperback, 2007, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Eating the Dinosaur (2009; paperback, 2010, Scribner): "Klosterman's Lester Bangs-lite approach is frequently engaging."
  • Chuck Klosterman: I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) (2013; paperback, 2014, Scribner): Asks questions like "who is more worthy of our vitriol -- Bill Clinton or Don Henley?" Wrote a column for the New York Times called "The Ethicist."
  • Chuck Klosterman: But What If We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past (2016; paperback, 2017, Penguin Books).
  • Chuck Klosterman: X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century (2017; paperback, 2018, Penguin Books).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction (2019; paperback, 2020, Penguin Books)

Elizabeth Kolbert: Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021, Crown): New Yorker writer, wrote Field Notes From a Catastrophe (about climate change) and The Sixth Extinction (about how humans, not just through climate change, have decimated the biosphere). When I was young, the last 10,000 years of geological history was called the Recent, but the more common terms these days is the Anthropocene, where nature reflects the many changes wrought by human beings. Three essays: "Down the River," "Into the Wild," "Up in the Air."

Robert Kuttner: Going Big: FDR's Legacy, Biden's New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy (2022, New Press). Short (192 pp), meant to flatter Biden, to lift him to the stature needs demand, or at least to suggest the possibility. Kuttner has written a number of big books on politics and the economy -- the one I was most impressed with was The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity (2007) -- but this is more reminiscent of his quickie, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. Stripped of hope, today we're left with his 7th chapter, "Obama's Missed Moment." That leaves "America's Last Chance" as chapter 8. Here's hoping that optimism is contagious.

Christopher Leonard: The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy (2022, Simon & Schuster): Business reporter, previously wrote The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business (2014), and Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America (2019). His critique of the Fed echoes points more commonly aired on the right (Republicans have always railed against quantitative easing), but a core problem with depending on the Fed to regulate the economy is that their only real tool to simulate the economy is their ability to push money out to banks, who are then more likely to bid up assets than to make productive investments. Conversely, the Fed's only tool for fighting inflation is to raise interest rates (i.e., to inflate the cost of borrowing), in the hope that the resulting constriction will put people out of work, depress consumer demand, and eventually affect prices. Still, I've always assumed that a growing economy is better than a strangled one (as was the case 1979-82), so I figured quantitative easing must have been a good thing. But unwinding it may pose new problems. Also on the Fed:

  • Karen Petrou: Engine of Inequality: The Fed and the Future of Wealth in America (2021, Wiley).
  • Nick Timiraos: Trillion Dollar Triage: How Jay Powell and the Fed Battled a President and a Pandemic -- and Prevented Economic Disaster (2022, Little Brown): Wall Street Journal reporter writes another chapter on how the Fed saved capitalism. Blurb writers include David Wessell (author of a similar book lionizing Ben Bernanke), Alan Blinder (former Fed vice-chair), Jacob Lew (former Secretary of the Treasury), and Austan Goolsbee (former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers).

Mark R Levin: American Marxism (2021, Threshold Editions): Fox News star, has a bunch of bestselling, crowd-pleasing books. I'd be interested in a book on this subject, but not from this clown. Tell me more about Paul Sweezy, Eugene Genovese, Paul Piccone. But these titles are just exercises in confusion: "Hate America, Inc."; "Racism, Genderism, and Marxism"; "'Climate Change' Fanaticism."

Jonathan Levy: Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States (2021, Random House): Big (944 pp) single-volume history of America, its division into "ages" of: commerce (1660-1860), capital (1860-1932), control (1932-80), and chaos (1980-). The terms are somewhat arbitrary -- "control" and "chaos" refers to the role of the state in the economy, with increasing regulation stailizing a broader affluence, and decreasing regulation fracturing into greater inequality. "Commerce" and "capital" are covers for mercantilism and industrialization, with the shift from bonded- to wage-slavery, with capital accumulating as machines scaled up surplus value. But the periods precisely line up with my political era scheme, aside from combining the Jefferson-to-Buchanan era with its mostly colonial prehistory, because Jefferson's "second revolution" did little to alter the economy -- other than opening up the western frontier for expansion, a distinctive aspect of American capitalism, but not a new direction (after all, gobbling up native land was central from the start). One question the periodization raises is whether the political shifts were consequences of economic changes, or vice versa.

Eugene Linden: Fire and Flood: A People's History of Climate Change, From 1979 to the Present (2022, Penguin Press): This covers a fairly short period of time (not much more than 40 years), yet people today are more likely to be surprised by how much was known that far back, given how little we tried to do about it. Sections run decade by decade, examining each on its own scale: the reality of climate change; the scientific consensus about it; public opinion and political will; and business and finance. Linden previously wrote:

  • Eugene Linden: Affluence and Discontent: The Anatomy of Consumer Societies (1979, Viking).
  • Eugene Linden: The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Instability (1998; paperback, 2019, Simon & Schuster): First part examines nine clues in ten chapters, including one on infectious disease. Second part are "Scenes From 2050," including "Kansas: Trouble on the Farm."
  • Eugene Linden: The Parrot's Lament and Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity (1999, Dutton; paperback, 2000, Plume).
  • Eugene Linden: The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity (2002, Dutton; paperback, 2003, Plume).
  • Eugene Linden: The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations (2006; paperback, 2007, Simon & Schuster).

Nesrine Malik: We Need New Stories: The Myths That Subvert Freedom (2021, WW Norton): Chapter titles enumerate six myths: the Reliable Narrator, a Political Correctness Crisis, the Free Speech Crisis, Harmful Identify Politics, National Exceptionalism, Gender Equality. These are myths that have taken up residence in the minds of the right, filling them with fear and loathing.

Alfred W McCoy: To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change (2021, Haymarket Books): Longtime critic of America's empire, with pathbreaking coverage of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia and a major book on the Philippines (Policing America's Empire), among much more. Goes deep into history here, starting around 1300 and looking forward to 2300 (two chapters after "Pax Americana" are on China and climate change). For someone supposedly critical of American power, he seems oddly stuck in the notion that someone has to order the world.

Heather McGhee: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021, One World): An "expert in economic and social policy," "former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos," "now chairs the board of Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization." The obvious subject here is to try to quantify the social and economic costs of racism, including "for white people, too." That seems intuitively obvious, but clearly some people need it spelled out. One step is to explain "that life can be more than a zero-sum game." I wonder whether she goes further and explains that racism is a negative-sum game: one where one person's losses don't accrue to any other person; they're just wasted.

Sean McMeekin: Stalin's War: A New History of World War II (2021, Basic Books): Long (864 pp.), claims "Stalin -- not Hitler -- was the animating force of World War II." Which is totally wrong, as he seems to be reconstructing through Cold War prejudices. He even goes so far as to credit Stalin with nudging Japan into bombing Pearl Harbor, "unleashing a devastating war of attrition between Japan and the 'Anglo-Saxon' capitalist powers he viewed as his ultimate adversary." The result is one of the most distorted and deranged readings of history since, well, McMeekin's own The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2015).

J David McSwane: Pandemic, Inc.: Chasing the Capitalists and Thieves Who Got Rich While We Got Sick (2022, Atria/One Signal): ProPublica writer, follows the money (over $10 billion). "I have resisted the notion that capitalism itself is to blame for all of this." But isn't capitalism the system that ensures that whatever customers (in this case the government) are willing to spend will be sucked up by one firm or another, fraudulent or not? Good regulation, including transparency, may make the market more efficient and/or effective, but the isn't the drive to corrupt deep in the genes? And isn't it obvious that a political system built on, by, and for private money, is going to be easy pickings?

Neel Mehta/Adi Agashe/Parth Detroja: Bubble or Revolution? The Present and Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies (paperback, 2019, Paravane Ventures): My attitude toward cryptocurrency is fundamentally hostile: on the one hand, I'm annoyed that such a thing (or whatever it is?) even exists (or is even imagined to?); on the other, I suspect that everyone associated with it is up to no good. Of course, on a conceptual level, the same things can be said about money -- and one need hardly look beyond Wall Street to find copious examples it it being used for no good. But conventional money has proven to be very useful, even essential: without it, everything would have to be continuously revalued according to everything else, and little else would get done. But if conventional money works find, why invent crypto? One possibility is that it provides a means for criminals to transfer funds without alerting the government. Another is that it gives rich people something more they can speculate on. Maybe there are other uses, and other angles to be considered. Kim Stanley Robinson, in The Ministry for the Future, seems to regard blockchain as useful for limiting the ills of finance. I don't understand how he thinks that, and have little interest in figuring it out, but there's enough crap going around about cryptocurrency I figured I could collect a book list (looking for general books, and ignoring virtually everything that seems to be pitched toward investors).

  • Michael J Casey/Paul Vigna: The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything (2018, St Martin's Press; paperback, 2019, Picador).
  • Ric Edelman: The Truth About Crypto: A Practical, Easy-to-Understand Guide to Bitcoin, Blockchain, NFTs, and Other Digital Assets (paperback, 2022, Simon & Schuster). [05-22]
  • Jacob Goldstein: Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing (2020, Hachette Books; paperback, 2021, Atlantic Books): Places crypto in the long history of "made-up things" we use as money.
  • Matthew Leising: Out of the Ether: The Amazing Story of Ethereum and the $55 Million Heist That Almost Destroyed It All (2020, Wiley).
  • Anthony Lewis: The Basics of Bitcoin and Blockchains: An Introduction to Cryptocurrencies and the Technology That Powers Them (2018, Mango).
  • Isaiah McCall: Gold 2.0: Opening the Vault to the Secrets of Cryptocurrency (paperback, 2022, independent).
  • Ben Mezrich: Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption (2019, Flatiron Books): Author of a long list of "creative nonfiction," mostly celebrating people who became rich for dubious but clever exploits, such as Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (2002), Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets (2004), and Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs and the Greatest Wealth in History (2015).
  • Justin Rezvani: Unapologetic Freedom: How Bitcoin Defeats Censorship, Ensures Sovereighty, and Reclaims Our Liberty Forever (paperback, 2022, Justin Rezvani).
  • Laura Shin: The Cryptopians: Idealism, Greed, Lies, and the Making of the First Big Cryptocurrency Craze (2022, Public Affairs).
  • Knut Svanholm: Bitcoin: Everything Divided by 21 Million (paperback, 2022, Konsensus Network).

Ethan Michaeli: Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel (2021, Custom House): I read another book some time ago (possibly Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions) that broke Israeli Jews down into six or so groups, suggesting that one reason they never seriously tried to defuse the conflict with Palestinians was that a common enemy was the only thing that held them together. Further division echoing the biblical twelve shouldn't be too hard. I often look at Amazon reviews to get a sense of a book. Here I found a rare case where a 1-star review made the book seem more interesting (usually they just reveal the reviewer to be a moron): "Stay away from this book unless you like reading about falafel and Israeli salad under the disguise of a pseudo existential interpretation of contemporary Israeli society." But isn't breaking bread together a good way to get to know others? And that reminds me that Cramer had a whole section on Israeli "white meat" (pork, from pigs who spend their lives on platforms so their feet never touch Israeli soil). More on Israel/Palestine:

  • Ian Black: Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel 1917-2017 (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press).
  • Omri Boehm: Haifa Republic: A Democratic Future for Israel (paperback, 2021, New York Review Books): Conceding that "two states" is no longer possible, makes a pitch for binationalism.
  • Sylvain Cypel: The State of Israel vs. the Jews (2021, Other Press): A view from France, argues that Israel, with its "whiff of fascism," has become a liability and increasingly a threat for Jews in the diaspora.
  • Khaled Elgindy: Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians From Balfour to Trump (2019, Brookings Institution Press).
  • James L Gelvin: The Israel-Palestine Conflict: A History (4th edition, paperback, 2021, Cambridge University Press).
  • Jeffrey Herf: Israel's Moment: International Support for and Opposition to Establishing the Jewish State, 1945-1949 (2022, Cambridge University Press).
  • Tony Shaw/Giora Goodman: Hollywood and Israel: A History (paperback, 2022, Columbia University Press).
  • Daniel Sokatch: Can We Talk About Israel? A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted (2021, Bloomsbury): CEO of New Israel Fund, former director of Progressive Jewish Alliance, based in San Francisco, so seems to be one of the dwindling number of liberal zionists still trying to make it work.

Moisés Naím: The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century (2022, St Martin's Press): Wrote The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (2013), which argued that power has intrinsic limits, especially a dependence on competent followers. Here he seems to be backtracking (not that he approves). The interrim has seen a number of autocrats rise to greater power, but how stable are they really?

Evan Osnos: Wildland: The Making of America's Fury (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Former China correspondent, subject of his first book, wrote a big biography of Joe Biden for his second (one of a mere handful of 2020 campaign books on Biden, compared to many hundreds on Trump). This is more like a memoir, an attempt to make some sense of what happened to America between Sept. 11, 2001 and Jan. 6, 2021 ("two assults on the country's sense of itself").

Richard Overy: Blood and Ruins: The Last Imperial War, 1931-1945 (2022, Viking): British military historian, dates WWII from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, rather than waiting for Germany to invade Poland (1939) or for Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor (1941). Big subject, big book (1040 pp). One thing that is poorly remembered today is that the World Wars were fought (initially, anyway) by nations that believed empire was a supreme good, one they sought to expand. (The US and the Soviet Union were less interested in territory, and more into the slightly nebulous notion of hegemony.)

Gideon Rachman: The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World (2022, Other Press): The list seems ominous enough: Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Orban, Xi. But aside from Xi, how successful have they been? We seem to be riding a stronger authoritarian wave than we've seen since the 1930s (and how did that turn out?). But aside from Xi, everyone on the list got elected in something like a fair democratic election -- not that they haven't tried to use their power to lock themselves in and their opponents out. Their skill seems to have been the ability to sell bigotry to the masses while garnering support from the rich -- which is basically the definition Robert Paxton came up with in The Anatomy of Fascism. But fascists in the 1930s used their charisma to strengthen state power, whereas today's "strongmen" tend to weaken the state (except for repressive political purposes), shifting real power to a private sector that is primarily motivated by greed. It's hard to see them remaining viable enough to last, but like a vermin infestation they may be hard to clear out. Rachman previously wrote:

  • Gideon Rachman: Zero-Sum World: Politics, Power and Prosperity After the Crash (2010; paperback, 2011, Atlantic): To be fair, he's not arguing that zero-sum is the way the world works, but that zero-sum thinking gets in the way of cooperation needed to solve big problems, like climate change.
  • Gideon Rachman: Easternization: War and Peace in the Asian Century (2016, Bodley Head; paperback, 2017, Vintage).
  • Gideon Rachman: Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline From Obama to Trump and Beyond (2017; paperback, 2018, Other Press).

Matthew Rose: A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right (2021, Yale University Press): Short (208 pp) survey of five "thinkers": Oswald Spengler ("The Prophet"), Julius Evola ("The Fantasist"); Francis Parker Yockey ("The Anti-Semite"); Alain de Benoist ("The Pagan"); Samuel Francis ("The Nationalist"); with a final chapter on "The Christian Question." Might seem more important if there was more evidence of thinking on the right, at least among the supposedly literate talking heads.

Gordon S Wood: Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution (2021, Oxford University Press): Author of The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969), which I've long regarded as the standard book on the politics of the American Revolution. This is a set of lectures on the idea of constitutionalism during the Revolution, a subject no one knows better.

Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965 (2020; paperback, 2021, WW Norton): Covers a period cleanly defined by two immigration laws: the 1924 law extended racial exclusions and established a quota system which discriminated against countries that had provided most immigrants over the previous 30 years (notably Italy, Poland, and Russia, effectively ending Jewish immigration); and the 1965 law which ended the quota system and other racial and religions bans. The 1924 law was probably the peak moment of post-Civil War racism, while 1965 coincided with major civil rights legislation: the same forces coalesced behind both, drawing on a new understanding of what the nation had fought against in WWII.

Other recent books of interest, barely noted (I may write more on some of these later).

Matthew Algeo: All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia (2020, Chicago Review Press).

William M Arkin: The Generals Have No Clothes: The Untold Story of Our Endless Wars (2021, Simon & Schuster).

Jung Chang: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China (2019, Knopf).

Erwin Chemerinsky: Presumed Guilty: How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights (2021, Liveright).

Joshua L Cherniss: Liberalism in Dark Times: The Liberal Ethos in the Twentieth Century (2021, Princeton University Press).

Jennet Conant: The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster That Launched the War on Cancer (2020, WW Norton).

Geoff Dyer: The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux).

Erika Fatland: The Border: A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and the Northeast Passage (2021, Pegasus Books).

Marie Favereau: The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (2021, Belknap Press).

Jeffrey Frank: The Trials of Harry S Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 (2022, Simon & Schuster).

John Ghazvinian: America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present (2021, Knopf).

Marie Gottschalk: Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (paperback, 2016, Princeton University Press).

Jon Grinspan: The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865-1915 (2021, Bloomsbury).

Sergei Guriev/Daniel Treisman: Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century (2022, Princeton University Press).

Colin Jerolmack: Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town (2021, Princeton University Press).

John B Judis: The Politics of Our Time: Populism, Nationalism, Socialism (2021, Columbia Global Reports).

Robert D Kaplan: Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age (2022, Random House): Amazon review: "Lazy, superficial travelogue posing as historical insight."

Michael G Laramie: King William's War: The First Contest for North America, 1689-1697 (2017, Westholme).

Roger Lowenstein: Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War (2022, Penguin Press).

Bruno Maçães: History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America (2020, Oxford University Press): Portuguese geopolitics guru, based in Istanbul, previous books The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order and Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order.

David Mamet: Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch (2022, Broadside Books): Wide-ranging essay collection from a famous playwright and right-wing crank.

Mark Mazower: The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe (2021, Penguin Press).

Douglas Murray: The War on the West (2022, Broadside). Thin-skinned, xenophobic right-winger claiming victimhood 500+ years after Columbus. Previously wrote:

  • Douglas Murray: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (2017; paperback, 2018, Bloomsbury).
  • Douglas Murray: The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity (2019; paperback, 2021, Bloomsbury).

Kathryn Olivarius: Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom (2022, Belknap Press): On New Orleans, "where yellow fever epidemics killed as many as 150,000 people during the nineteenth century."

Reece Peck: Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).

Nathaniel Philbrick: Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy (2021, Viking; paperback, 2022, Penguin Books).

Ari Rabin-Havt: The Fighting Soul: On the Road With Bernie Sanders (2022, Liveright): Deputy campaign manager for Sanders in 2020.

Martin Sandbu: The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All (2020, Princeton University Press).

Vaclav Smil: Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).

Ray Takeyh: The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty (2021, Yale University Press).

Nicholas Wapshott: Samuelson/Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market (2021, WW Norton): Author previously wrote Keynes/Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics (2011).

Olivier Zunz: The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville (2022, Princeton University Press).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Music Week

April archive (finished).

Music: Current count 37777 [37739] rated (+38), 127 [128] unrated (-1).

Rated count down this week, although pretty solid by historical standards. Had a lot of trouble all week long deciding what to play next. Left a fair amount of dead air (like the moment of typing this line). A-list is even shorter this time: three, including an EP built around a 2020 single, "We Live Here" (see video). Having spent the week writing about Ukraine here and here and here, I admit that Bob Vylan's anger was cathartic. [Note: I've edited and added some material to those posts.]

Still, this wraps up a 4-week month where I found 16 A-list albums among 125 new releases, plus a fair amount of old music, where most of the major finds came from the Ogun Records Bandcamp. Ogun was founded by South African expat bassist Harry Miller and his wife Hazel Miller, who revived the label in 1986 after Harry's death. The label was home to fellow South African expats like Chris McGregor and Louis Moholo, as well as a tight circle of English avant-gardists they often played with (e.g., Keith Tippett, Mike Osborne, Elton Dean, Lol Coxhill).

Seems like I should have some more music items to mention. I don't like noting recent deaths, but Art Rupe (at 104) is important enough to make an exception. It finally occurred to me that filling up five hours streaming The Specialty Story would be a suitable wake, and more fun then I normally have. Also lets me put off trying to figure out the Lewis-Stampfel Both Ways album, which a curious reader sent me a zip of. (It was the only album on Robert Christgau's 2021 list I couldn't find to listen to.)

Speaking of Christgau, I've run across a number of links relating to his 80th birthday, but didn't manage to keep track of them. (One I still have in a tab is a reminiscence by Wayne Robbins.) We missed the first half of the Zoom session RJ Smith and Tricia Romano set up. I didn't come up with anything to contribute, but thinking of Robins, one story comes to mind. I had been writing for Bob for a year-plus, and talked to him for edits, but hadn't met actually met him. At the time, I was angling to get into Creem, and had a letter back from Lester Bangs was kind of iffy. I drove to Ann Arbor to see some friends, and on a lark decided to drop into the Creem office uninvited. I did, and couldn't get anyone to talk to me (not that I tried awful hard). When I mentioned this to Bob, he confidently told me that Wayne Robins (who was editor at the time) and Georgia Christgau (Bob's sister, who wrote Creem's film reviews) would like to meet me. A couple days later, they came to me in Ann Arbor. I still didn't get anything published there.

New records reviewed this week:

Dan Bruce's :Beta Collective: Time to Mind the Mystics (2022, Shifting Paradigm): Guitarist, Chicago-based Collective adds two saxophonists, trombone, vibes, keyboards, bass, and drums; looks like they have a previous album, although aside from Bruce the personnel then was completely different. B+(**) [cd] [04-29]

Charming Hostess: The Ginzburg Geography (2021 [2022], Tzadik): Klezmer-influenced vocal group from Oakland, principally Jewlia Eisenberg (who died at 50 in 2021), Cynthia Taylor, and Marika Hughes, released a cassette in 1996, four more albums through 2010, and finally this tribute to "Italian antifascist writers, activists and intellectuals Natalia and Leone Ginzburg." Plus a bunch of guests. Eisenberg wrote the songs, a range of songs that could fit light opera, aside from "All You Fascists Are Bound to Lose," which reminds me at least of Woody Guthrie. B+(**) [cd] [05-20]

Charley Crockett: Lil G.L. Presents: Jukebox Charley (2022, Son of Davy): Country singer-songwriter, based in Austin, 11th album since 2015. Fourteen covers, tweaked variously -- Roger Miller's "Where Have All the Average People Gone?" becomes "honest people." B+(**)

Alabaster DePlume: Gold: Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love (2022, International Anthem): Second album, plays tenor sax, guitar, and synths, also spoken word, while crediting another 21 musicians and singers. It's a lot to follow, and I can't claim to, but some stretches are sublime. B+(**)

Dopplereffekt: Neurotelepathy (2022, Leisure System): Detroit techno duo, active since 1995, principles seem to be Gerald Donald (formerly of Drexciya, identified here as Rudolf Klorzeiger) and his wife To-Nhan (I've seen various full names). This does remind me of Drexciya's "deep-sea diving," with swirls of color emanating from basic beats. B+(***) [bc]

Fly Anakin: Frank (2022, Lex): Virginia rapper Frank Walton, touted as his "proper debut album," but Discogs lists eight more since 2018, mostly shared credits. B+(**)

Chad Fowler/Matthew Shipp: Old Stories (2021 [2022], Mahakala Music, 2CD): Saxophonist from Arkansas, owner of his label, plays stritch and saxello here, in a duo with the pianist, the 14 pieces numbered chapters. B+(***)

Chad Fowler/Christopher Parker: Park Hill Saudade (2021 [2022], Mahakala Music): Another sax/piano duo, both growing up a block from each other in North Little Rock. B+(**)

Arun Ghosh: Seclused in Light (2022, Camoci, 2CD): Clarinet player, describes himself as British-Asian, several albums working toward a fusion of Indian and jazz, but this rarely rises beyond pleasantly atmospheric. B+(*)

Marquis Hill: New Gospel Revisited (2019 [2022], Edition): Trumpet player, more than a dozen albums since 2011's New Gospel, with six songs repeated here, in a live set that adds more connective material. Different group, an all-star sextet with Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Joel Ross (vibes, a major factor), James Francies (piano), bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Lisa Hilton: Life Is Beautiful (2022, Ruby Slippers): Pianist, 25 albums since 1998, possibly all trios, this one with Luques Curtis (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums). B+(*)

Mike Holober & Balancing Act: Don't Let Go (2022, Sunnyside, 2CD): Pianist, mostly composes and arranges for big bands, went with an octet for his 2015 album Balancing Act, returns with a similar group here -- same brass (Marvin Stamm and Mark Patterson) and reeds (Dick Oatts and Jason Rigby), changes at bass, drums, and voice (Jamile). B+(**)

Toshinori Kondo x DJ Motive: Zen (2018 [2022], Mohawks): Japanese trumpet player (1948-2020), probably best known (at least in these parts) for his worn with Peter Brötzmann (especially Die Like a Dog, which became the name of their quartet with William Parker and Hamid Drake). DJ Motive is a Japanese hip-hop producer, several albums and more singles since 2005. So this is mostly his work, with the trumpet adding a little color to the atmosphere. B+(*) [bc]

Pusha T: It's Almost Dry (2022, G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam): Rapper Terrence Thornton, formerly of Clipse, fourth studio album. Lots of hooks in the samples, most produced by Pharrell, and second most produced by Ye, who still know how to build on a sample. A-

Diego Rivera: Mestizo (2021 [2022], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, working with what's effectively become the label's house band: Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass), Rudy Royston (drums), with labelmate Alex Sipiagin (trumpet/flugelhorn) sitting in on two (of 10) tracks. Flashy, boppish, Latin tinge, the works. B+(***)

Seabrook Trio: In the Swarm (2021 [2022], Astral Spirits): Guitarist Brandon Seabrook, trio with Cooper-Moore (diddley bow) and Gerald Cleaver (drums), their second together. Swings a little. Doesn't get lost carried away Seabrook's usual noise factor. B+(***) [dl] [05-20]

Ches Smith: Interpret It Well (2020 [2022], Pyroclastic): Drummer, expands a trio with Craig Taborn (piano) and Mat Maneri (viola) to include Bill Frisell (guitar). Interesting players, all, but they strike me as distant and disjointed. B+(**) [cd] [05-06]

Spiritualized: Everything Was Beautiful (2022, Double Six/Fat Possum): British prog/synthpop band, debut 1992 when Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) split from the group Spacemen 3 (hence their "space rock" rep, reinforced by their best-known release, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, from 1997). B+(*)

Vince Staples: Ramona Park Broke My Heart (2022, Blacksmith/Motown): Los Angeles rapper, debut 2015, fifth album, seems to be settling into a nice groove and vibe, less downside than in the past, but not much upside either. B+(**)

Swedish House Mafia: Paradise Again (2022, Republic): Surprised to see this described as a supergroup, but principals Axwell (Ael Christofer Hedfors), Sebastian Ingrosso, and Steve Angello (Steven Fragogiannis) have individual discographies going back to 1998-2004. Group formed 2010, released a bunch of singles and a live album (2014), then nothing until resurfacing in 2021. Some guest spots or samples for variety and a bit of cheese. B+(**)

Bob Vylan: We Live Here (Deluxe) (2019 [2021], Venn, EP): British grime duo, individuals go by Bobby Vylan (vocals) and Bobbie (or Bobb13) Vylan (drums), single appeared in 2020, a fitting answer to you fascist scum out there, but I couldn't find their 2020 EP, until this expanded edition showed up (adds 2 cuts for 10, 23:26, including the 1:10 "Moment of Silence"). I'm tempted to call it the grimest record out of the UK since the Sex Pistols, but they have more self-respect than that. A- [sp]

Bob Vylan: Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life (2022, Ghost Theatre): First full album, 15 songs, 34:17, a newfound clarity as they've decided the words matter as much as the attitude, so you should hear them. Still, lots of attitude. I may not agree with the politics of "no liberal cunt is going to tell me punching Nazis is not the way," but this is art, and sometimes expression needs to be felt. A- [sp]

The Weather Station: How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars (2022, Fat Possum): Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, sixth album since 2009, could be a band but doesn't feel like it here, in a quiet volume of introspective songs. Her previous one, 2021's Ignorance, got a lot of critical support. This one much less so. B+(*)

Billy Woods: Aethiopes (2022, Backwoodz Studioz): DC rapper, mother an English lit professor, father a Marxist writer from Zimbabwe, lived in Africa 1980-89, 14 albums since 2003, not counting his better known work in Armand Hammer. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Pepper Adams With the Tommy Banks Trio: Live at Room at the Top (1972 [2022], Reel to Real, 2CD): Baritone saxophonist (1930-86), made the swing-to-bop transition, an early (1957) album was called The Cool Sound of Pepper Adams, wound up with 18 albums as leader, many more side credits (especially with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra). Nice live set here, stretching out at the University of Alberta, with what I take to be a local group. B+(***) [cd]

Tony Oxley: Unreleased 1974-2016 (1974-2016 [2022], Discus Music): British avant drummer, started in the late 1960s. First three pieces were are from 1973, a quintet with Dave Holdsworth (trumpet), Paul Rutherford (trombone), Howard Riley (piano), and Barry Guy (bass). The fourth piece is another quintet, from 1981, and the last one is a percussion duo with Stefan Hoelker. B+(*) [bc]

Old music:

Ricky Ford: Manhattan Plaza (1979, Muse): Tenor saxophonist, second album, first (of 10) for Muse. Quintet with Oliver Beener (trumpet), Jaki Byard (piano), David Friesen (bass), and Dannie Richmond (drums). B+(*) [yt]

Freddie Hubbard: Keep Your Soul Together (1973, CTI): Oddly enough, nothing in my database for Hubbard between 1971-85, other than a live shot released much later. He recorded 8 albums for CTI -- the first two, Straight Life and (especially) Red Clay are justly famous -- then recorded for Columbia 1974-80. This seems to continue the formula, near-fusion with electric bass/piano/guitar, Junior Cook on tenor sax. B+(**) [yt]

Imagination: Body Talk (1981, MCA): British disco/funk group, first album, title song a minor hit. Hooks are subtle, as are the songs without them. B+(**) [sp]

Imagination: In the Heat of the Night (1982, MCA): Second album, two more hits, only tails off toward the end. "Just an Illusion" made Christgau's 41-song lifetime playlist. B+(***) [sp]

Cecil McBee: Mutima (1974, Strata East): Early album, starts with a piece played on two basses, has a dozen credits scattered about but not totally clear who plays where. Dee Dee Bridgewater offers some vocals. B [yt]

Cecil McBee: Alternate Spaces (1979, India Navigation): Bassist, from Tulsa, doesn't have a lot under his own name (mostly 1975-86), but has played with everyone (both mainstream and avant), and left his mark on dozens of A-list albums. Opens with a bass solo, before the group enters: Joe Gardner (trumpet), Chico Freeman (saxes, flute), Don Pullen (piano), Famodou Don Moye (percussion). B+(**) [yt]

Cecil McBee Sextet: Music From the Source (1977 [1979], Inner City): With Chico Freeman (flute/tenor sax), Joe Gardner (trumpet), Dennis Moorman (piano), Steve McCall (drums), and Don Moye (percussion). Three tracks, recorded live at Sweet Basil's. B+(***) [yt]

Cecil McBee Sextet With Chico Freeman: Compassion (1977 [1979], Inner City): Recorded a day later, same lineup, except Freeman ditched the flute in favor of soprano sax, but his tenor dominates the proceedings. B+(***) [yt]

Cecil McBee: Flying Out (1982, India Navigation): With Olu Dara (cornet), John Blake (violin), David Eyges (cello), and Billy Hart (drums), a pronounced string bias, helps that he also plays some pretty impressive piano. B+(**) [yt]

Nina Simone: Remixed & Reimagined (2006, RCA/Legacy): Vocals probably date from 1967-72, although the larger RCA compilations run 1957-93. Remixes are new, some name I recognize, most I don't. The gravitas of her vocals sometimes benefits from recontextualization, and sometimes doesn't. B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Erik Friedlander: A Queen's Butterfly (Skipstone) [04-29]
  • Keith Hall: Made in Kalamazoo: Trios and Duos (Zoom Out) [06-24]
  • Mike Holober & Balancing Act: Don't Let Go (Sunnyside, 2CD) [04-15]
  • Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra: In the Valley (Stricker Street) [07-01]
  • Billy Mohler: Anatomy (Contagious Music) [06-10]
  • Sonic Liberation Front and the Sonic Liberation Singers: Justice: The Vocal Works of Oliver Lake (High Two) [06-10]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Speaking of Which

Having eschewed links for my 23 Theses on Ukraine piece Tuesday, I figured I should acknowledge a few other pieces sooner rather than later. I also received several questions on the article, so published my answers here.

Of course, we start off with Ukraine:

Andrew Bacevich: [04-16] Robert Kagan: American passivity led to the Russia-Ukraine crisis: "Always nimble, the pro-war raconteur is again making arguments for preventative war, just more obliquely." I wrote more about Kagan (and his wife, Victoria Nuland, a major player in the American weaponization of Ukraine) in the Q&A (link above). What Bacevich calls Kagan's "flexibility" is something far more sinister. Kagan is arguing that Putin wouldn't have attacked Ukraine if only the US had intimidated Russia sufficiently beforehand. How we could have done that short of nuclear war isn't explained, nor is why any lesser intimidation would have worked. Kagan is so wedded to the use of force, the only world he can imagine is one of masters and slaves.

Hannah Beech/Abdi Latif Dahir/Oscar Lopez: [04-24] With Us or With Them? In a New Cold War, How About Neither. It turns out that a lot of countries, especially in "the global south," want nothing to do with a pissing match between the US and Russia. I doubt this means specific approval of Russia's attack, but they recognize that the US has committed similar crimes, and that they can do little if anything about either. One thing I do give Biden some credit for is that he hasn't pulled out the either-you're-with-us-or-against-us ultimatum (which GW Bush asserted in the War on Terror). I suspect he hasn't done it because his people know it wouldn't work and could backfire.

Paul Elie: [04-21] The Long Holy War Behind Putin's Political War in Ukraine: I can't claim to understand this, but evidently since the Russian Orthodox Church was rehabilitated with the end of communism in 1991 the Russians have been plotting to control Ukraine, which gives them some kind of common cause with Putin. In 2018, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church broke off, as an alternative to Russian control.

Nicholas Grossman: [04-24]: Arming Ukraine Is the Path to Peace: Article blocked, so I'm just going from the excerpt, which mostly is an attack on Noam Chomsky, and a seriously stupid one at that. I can see an argument for arming Ukraine because you want to cripple the Russian invasion, to turn it back or simply to make it so painful Russia thinks twice before trying anything like that again, but that's no path to peace. The only way you get to peace is through negotiation, and the only viable basis for negotiation is justice, which is not determined by the relative balance of arms and terror.

Luke Harding: [04-16] How Zelenskiy's team of TV writers helps his victory message hit home.

William D Hartung/Julia Gledhill: [04-17] The New Gold Rush: How Pentagon Contractors Are Cashing in on the Ukraine Crisis. "Even before hostilities broke out, the CEOs of major weapons firms were talking about how tensions in Europe could pad their profits."

Mike Lofgren: [04-11] No, Russia's Ukraine Invasion Isn't "Our Fault": Identifying with America there, but I can accept the title. He does push his luck with the subhed: "Russia's aggression stems from its history and political culture, not NATO expansion or the post-Cold War settlement." The worthwhile part of the article is the one that explores Russia's history and political culture:

Since Peter the Great, Russia has presented itself as a great power and as sophisticated as western Europe. . . . This facade has never quite concealed deep-seated cultural insecurity, the feeling that poor Russia will forever remain backward and disrespected. This dichotomy animated debate among the 19th-century intelligentsia, dividing between Westernizers embracing Europe and Slavophiles who rationalized Russia's intractable differences with the West as the mark of spiritual superiority.

This schism carried into the Soviet era in the guise of a debate between the merits of world revolution versus socialism in one country, a difference of opinion brought violently to a halt by Stalin's xenophobia and denunciation of "rootless cosmopolitanism" (a largely anti-Semitic euphemism).

Today, Putin still benefits from the cultural backlash against the extreme economic insecurity of the post-Soviet 1990s. His rehabilitation of Stalin is complete, and those who document Stalin's crimes are persecuted. An inward-looking, defensive Slavophilia flourishes under the rubric of Eurasianism, a hodgepodge of geopolitical ramblings whose chief proponent is Putin's Rasputin-like court philosopher, Alexander Dugin.

This isn't quite right. "Socialism in one country" wasn't a theory that won out so much as a tactical retrenchment after revolutions in more advanced capitalist countries failed, leaving Russia isolated in a hostile world. One unfortunate side-effect was that Communist Parties in the West were reduced to acting as Soviet agents, which undermined any possibility of local success. Also, I'm not aware of any "complete rehabilitation" of Stalin, not that there is no nostalgia for the Soviet Union -- where, unlike modern Russia, the state was (in principle, if not always in fact) for the betterment of the masses -- and Stalin has some credibility for winning WWII. Dugin, by the way, is featured in Masha Gessen's The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. As I tried to explain in my "23 Theses" piece, I think psychology has a lot to do with why Putin invaded. Someone else, for instance, with no designs beyond his borders, could have decided that NATO was a purely defensive alignment, and simply ignored expansion. But Putin was too prideful and/or paranoid to ignore NATO expansion and other measures that impacted Russia (like sanctions, and support for Ukraine vs. Russian separatist regions). No doubt the war wouldn't have happened had Putin approached his disputes with the West more constructively. On the other hand, shouldn't the US and its allies deserve some kind of reproach for not anticipating how serious the conflict might get? And for not attempting to defuse the conflict? Once Putin started amassing troops near the Ukraine border, Biden went all stick, no carrot, and since the war started, Biden has escalated repeatedly, while ignoring the obvious need for talks around a cease fire.

The early part of Lofgren's article is mostly a counter to John Mearsheimer (presumably his Economist piece John Mearsheimer on why the West is principally responsible for the Ukrainian crisis, tucked safely behind a paywall). Mearsheimer stipulates up front: "There is no question that Vladimir Putin started the war and is responsible for how it is being waged." But then he goes into why Putin did so. I haven't read what he says, but have my own theories. I will say that although Mearsheimer is often sharp on critiquing American policy, his "realist" prescriptions don't offer much improvement. The goal of US foreign policy shouldn't be a narrow focus on national interests, but a broad effort to build cooperation between nations, because there's no safe way to enforce the New World Orders stategists are so enamored with.

PS: Another headline I noticed from Economist: [04-23] Poland's prime minister says the West's appeasement of Vladimir Putin must stop. First paragraph leads off with Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938, adding "the analogies with the present situation are striking." One might argue that Putin needs NATO to keep hawks like Mateusz Morawiecki reigned in, although it's also possible that the security offered by NATO is what allows the hawks to shoot off their mouths.

Josh Marshall: [04-21] Failing at the Basics: Cites a poll that says 54% of Americans think Biden hasn't been tough enough on Russia over Ukraine. I'd draw three inferences from this number: they don't understand what Biden has done, which has been pretty aggressive within some finely calculated restraints; they don't understand how dangerous going beyond those constraints could be; and they're hung up on a totally bullshit idea of toughness. Marshall sees this (like dozens of other things) as a failure of messaging, but the message he wants Democrats to pound home is how friendly Trump and many other Republicans have been to Putin over recent years (e.g., "why just three years ago they were helping Presidents Trump and Putin conspire against Ukraine and the United States").

Kevin Martin: [04-22] With Humanity on the Brink, Should We Trust Deterrence Theory, or Disarmament? Above all else, the lesson we need to draw from Ukraine is that the shibboleths of post-WWII defense theory simply don't work. You know the clichés: peace is guaranteed by strength, we cannot negotiate with enemies so the only way we can stop them is through deterrence. I suspect the list of things that Ukraine has proven wrong is quite long -- not least, almost everything we thought about sanctions. A rethink is in order, which would lead us back to the common sense notion that the way to prevent future wars is to forego the arms races that lead to them, and understand the value of mutual respect.

Alfred McCoy: [04-19] How to End the War in Ukraine: "A Solution Beyond Sanctions." McCoy's scheme is to use the European Court to order Russia to pay reparations for damage to Ukraine, and to collect those reparations by garnishing oil and gas revenues. It's hard to see how this would work, but the 20% rate he proposes would presumably leave Russia enough profit to not just shut delivery down. Still, it feels like a tariff, which is effectively a tax on European consumers. Hard to see where anyone comes out of that deal feeling whole.

Bill Scher: [04-12] Don't Let Putin's War Break the UN: Starts with Zelensky questioning why Russia hasn't been stripped of its permanent Security Council seat (with its veto power). Doesn't mention that Russia has already been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council (by the UN General Assembly, which isn't subject to vetoes, but carries much less weight than the Security Council). Explains the history of how that arrangement came about. The more basic point is that without Russia (or for that matter China and the US) there is no United Nations. The UN would cease to be a forum for resolving international conflicts (inefficient as it is), and instead be one for advancing them.

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-22] Roaming Charges: Runaway Sons of the Nuclear A-Bomb: Bullet points, but more intuitive insight than most: "Winning wars is no longer the point, prolonging them is -- that's where the money's made and what the fog of war is meant to obscure." Way down he quotes Walter Benjamin: "Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right [to material improvement], but instead a chance to express themselves." Sounds like a lot of Republicans these days, with the proviso that now (as then) only some people are entitled to express themselves, and only in certain ways. Evidently, St Clair also wrote [04-10] The Politics of Lesser-Imperialism [behind some kind of paywall], which takes to task the segment of the "anti-imperialist left" that is rallying behind Russian war propaganda because they think it counters the "greater imperialism" of the US.

It's a weird kind of anti-imperialism that writes amicus briefs for a regime that Lenin and Trotsky would have been toiling night and day to overthrow. Of course, the briefs themselves never dig too deep before hitting the bedrock of their own absurdity. Instead, they function as a kind of meme factory, endlessly the shallow tropes of the day, such as "false flags over Ukraine." In a month, the Ukraine war has yielded up so many allegations of "false flags" that the assertions themselves begin to seem like false flags: the bodies on the streets of Bucha were staged; the bombed Mariupol theater was being used by the Azov battalion; the Kramatorsk train station was hit by Ukrainian rockets. And on and on . . .

The US bears responsibility for all of the carnage now unfolding. All right. Likely true. To a degree. Now what? Overthrow the US? Godspeed. . . . The Left -- especially the international Left -- used to see capitalism as the unifying threat, the systemic enemy. But you rarely hear it talked about these days, even though its fangs are sharper than ever. Perhaps that's because the old socialist powers have cashed it in and joined the mad scramble to commodify all that remains. Communist China now boasts 1002 billionaires, 400 more than the cutthroat capitalists in the US. To paraphrase Mao: who's running with the imperialist dogs now?

Yes, we know NATO is bad news. I've been writing about NATO's belligerent and criminal actions for nearly 40 years now, including weekly dispatches on its wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. I've written about NATO's provocative creep ever-eastward. Its remorseless campaign to bully, bleed and isolate Russia at any cost. And yet. While the war in Ukraine had many co-authors, it only had one agent.

Putin may have been tempted, lured, baited or even duped into invading Ukraine. He may have been lied to by his own generals and spymasters. He may not be the grand strategists so many thought. But he alone pulled the trigger. His tanks crossed the border. His bombs destroyed city blocks, hospitals, train depots. His army is occupying foreign ground. . . .

But here's what's worse. In rationalizing Putin's crimes in Syria and Ukraine, the anti-imperialist left in effect validates America's own in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Matt Taibbi: [04-19] America's Intellectual No-Fly Zone: This starts off citing an interview, Noam Chomsky on How to Prevent World War III. Chomsky points out that the US has two options: either negotiate a settlement with Putin, which would mean unpleasant concessions to give Putin a self-respecting way out, or keep fighting until Putin submits (while hoping, presumably, he won't respond to existential threats with nuclear weapons). Biden's lack of interest in negotiation, as well as his charges of war crimes and his escalations at every turn, suggest the US has settled on the second approach, regardless of risk. It certainly is the one that plays best in the madhouse of US foreign policy rhetoric (which is full of praise for the braveness of Ukrainians, with much less concern for their lives). Taibbi enters to monitor the reaction to Chomsky, which is to judge him "a genocide-enabling, America-hating Kremlin stooge." [Would like to read more, but Substack subscription required.]

Anton Troianovski: [04-17] Atrocities in Ukraine War Have Deep Roots in Russian Military. Of course, it's not just Russians with deep roots.

Robert Wright: [04-11] The Blob has won the Ukraine framing war: I don't particularly like the term "Blob." It was coined by Obama adviser Ben Rhodes to deride other security/foreign policy mandarins he disagreed with, but it's not like he or Obama made much of a break with the main stream of thought that came out of American preëminence after WWII, navigated the Cold War, and took a turn toward increased militarism after the demise of the Soviet Union. Conservatives and liberals both took that turn, their different rationales converging on the steadfast belief that American might makes/reflects right, with so little concern for the possibility that something might go wrong that their skeptics could call themselves "realists." Not that there was never disagreement on tactics, but at critical junctures, like the invasion of Iraq, the Blob could be distinguished from everyone else. When Biden pulled out as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, we saw the Blob attempt to rise up to smite him, but all they had to work with was hindsight -- it's not like anyone could imagine invading again would work better this time. Besides, having gotten in a few blows, there would be more crises in the future, and now Ukraine has come along, fitting neatly into a story line they've been spinning ever since they got bored with the Middle East and started looking for more lucrative prey. Wright focuses on one particular framing of Ukraine: "this idea that America is fighting a global war on behalf of democracy and freedom." He points out "six big problems":

  1. It's a lie. The US has a long history of subverting democracy abroad, as well as arming autocrats to attack their own people (and in some cases, like Saudi Arabia now, or Iraq in the 1980s, to attack others).
  2. It warps our view of the world, sometimes blinding us to the very problems we claim to want to solve. Ukraine is not exactly the poster-child for democracy.
  3. It short circuits critical self-examination. "The more you make authoritarianism the crime, and the less you make invasion the crime," the more excuse you claim for America's own invasions.
  4. It undermines respect for international law. Which the Blob has long denigrated, partly out of fear of prosecution, but mostly because they can't stand the idea that their own operations could be limited by mere rules.
  5. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we're defending democracy in Ukraine, why not elsewhere? Sure, you can point to other cases where the Blob has stylized conflicts as being democracy vs. autocracy (Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Russia, to pick four cases where there are elections that are little if any more compromised as elections are in the US).
  6. It could doom the world to a future of chaos and suffering. "Regular readers of this newsletter know what's coming." Regular readers of my blog, too, so we'll let this one go at that.

One point that I will add is that Biden may be more inclined than the average Blobster to focus on democracy vs. autocracy, because that is a struggle that is being waged domestically as Republicans (the would-be autocrats) try to undermine and rig elections, much as they have managed to rig the economy in favor of owners against workers, of companies against customers, and corporations against mere citizens. Of course, stopping Russia in Ukraine won't help most Americans at all. As a letter put it: "Democrats are anxious to seize on an issue where they are not playing defense, as they are on inflation, gas prices, identity politics in elementary school, and crime."

Wright also wrote: [04-20] The Ukraine War Speech Code. The "code" is a prohibition against considering the possibility that NATO expansion had something to do with Putin's decision to invade Ukraine. As Wright puts it: "The party line being that if your assessment of the causes of this war is much more nuanced than 'Putin is a bad man,' you're dangerously misguided." Wright argues that if you want to blame Putin solely for invading Ukraine, you should phrase it in terms of international law, where no US provocation excuses what he did. (Nor does the incontrovertible fact that the US violated the same international law in invading Iraq in 2003. But haven't we reach the point where very few of us still think that was a good idea? Maybe more respect for international law would save us future embarrassments like that.) On the other hand, we should still talk about how the US prodded and provoked Putin to the point where he made his criminal decision, and how we didn't make a serious effort to defuse the situation through diplomacy before the war was launched, because that reflects back on US decision making: specifically, on why the Blob's core beliefs keep getting us into conflicts we can't figure our way out of.

The latest installment of Wright's Nonzero Newsletter [04-22] Earthling also makes some interesting points. There's a chart based on January polling of how people in Donbas might vote between various stay-in-Ukraine vs. align-with-Russia options, which indicates that a slight majority would vote to stay, but most of those were in formerly Kyiv-controlled areas. In Russian-controlled areas, a vote would tip the other way (and the present offensive is designed to increase Russian-controlled area, while driving others away). There's also a chart on who is to blame for the war. In the US about 60% blame Russia, and 20% blame the US. That's closer than I would have expected, especially given how one-sided the news coverage is. But my guess is that at least half of those are Trumpists. The only nation polled where more people blame the US than Russia is China.

For what it's worth, while looking for some insight into the Blob concept, I ran across these historical links:

  • David Samuels: [2016-05-05] The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign-Policy Guru: A profile of Ben Rhodes, at the time Obama's "deputy national security adviser for strategic communications." He is credited with coining the term Blob for figures in the "American foreign policy establishment," including: "Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East."
  • Alex Ward: [2010-12-08] The revenge of the blob: "Presidents Obama and Trump kept the nation's foreign policy establishment at arm's length. President-elect Biden has warmly embraced it."

  • Sarah Lyall: [2021-09-16] For Some, Afghanistan Outcome Affirms a Warning: Beware the Blob: "The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan exposed the shortcomings of views within the foreign policy establishment, also known as 'The Blob.'"
  • Robert Wright: [2021-10-11] Toward a Unified Theory of Blob-dom: This is where Wright lays out his Blob definitions.

Cathy Young: [04-13] What Really Happened in Ukraine in 2014 -- and Since Then: "A close look at the lies and distortions from Russia apologists and propagandists about the roots of the Ukraine War." Fairly deep review from 2014 forward, although the subhed pretty much admits that the "no tribal prejudices" motto isn't quite right.

And here are some other timely stories:

Karen Attiah: [04-20] Why Britain's deal with Rwanda on migrants is so repulsive: Boris Johnson's solution to immigrants seeking asylum is to round them up and dump them in an already-overpopulated, land-locked country in central Africa, one with a "well-documented history of human rights abuses." Still, I wonder how many white Ukrainians he'll deport there. Attiah also wrote [03-24] William and Kate's colonial Caribbean tour was cringeworthy.

Bloomberg: [04-21] Eight-hour blackouts hit India after hottest March since 1901: Article blames a shortage of coal, but isn't the real problem too much coal?

Paul Blumenthal: [04-15] What Jared Kushner's $2 Billion Saudi Payout Says About the Post-Presidential Hustle. In the long history of presidential graft, there's never been anything remotely like this.

Kyle Chayka: [04-21] Why Would Elon Musk Want to Buy Twitter? How about: "as a means for himself and others to continue influencing vast audiences without interference"? Related: Kevin T Dugan: [04-21] Elon Musk Enters His Rupert Murdoch Phase.

Leilah Danielson: [04-17] AJ Muste Was a Prophet of the 20th-Century US Left: I've often reminded that our late friend Diane Wahto used to sign her email with a quote from Muste: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."

Jason Ditz: [04-22] Turkey Seeks to Bar PKK From North Iraq Border: While you've been so bothered with Russia trying to intimidate Ukraine to stop them from disrespecting Russia (or whatever it is Putin thinks his principled stand is), Turkey has been doing the same thing in Iraq: crossing the border to attack Iraqi Kurds he regards as some kind of threat. You're not so bothered there, probably because it's been so lightly reported, but it's the same principle: big country using force to intimidate small neighboring country. It should be every bit as illegal, but when you're a big country, you figure you're above all that.

Molly Fischer: [03-28] Galay Brain: On Adam Tooze.

Shane Goldmacher: [04-17] Mar-a-Lago Machine: Trump as a Modern-Day Party Boss: "Hoarding cash, doling out favors and seeking to crush rivals, the former president is dominating the GOP, preparing for another race and helping loyalists oust officials who thwarted his attempted subversion of the 2020 election."

Sean Illing: [04-24] Michael Lewis on why Americans don't trust experts: "How a society that is so good at creating knowledge can be so bad at applying it." If you've read Lewis's book The Fifth Risk, you'll have a pretty good idea what he's on about, but you'll still want to read this for more examples. But if you're one of those Republicans who believes Reagan's joke about government is gospel truth, you won't have any fucking idea.

Michael Kruse: [04-16] The One Way History Shows Trump's Personality Cult Will End: "An expert on autocracy assesses how far America as slipped away from democracy." Interview with Ruth Ben-Ghiat.

Jane Mayer: [04-16] The Slime Machine Targeting Dozens of Biden Nominees: Spelunking another dark money right-wing organization, which goes by the initials AAF.

Bill McKibben: [04-22] This Earth Day, We Could Be Helping the Environment -- and Ukraine: A hedgehog, his one big idea about climate change lets him turn every topic back into his topic. So, he figures, Russia's war on Ukraine is financed by oil. Stop using oil (especially Russian oil, but why stop there?) and the war it funds will no longer be possible. If only we had thought of this before getting into such a mess.

Dana Milbank: [04-19] DeSantis saves Florida kids from being indoctrinated with math: In a supposedly transparent but otherwise mysterious process, Florida has rejected 54 math textbooks, most for allegedly including "critical race theory" or other "prohibited topics."

Ian Millihser: [04-19] The Trump judge's opinion striking down the airplane mask mandate is a legal disaster. We're fortunate so far that the Supreme Court conservative majority (except for Alito and often Thomas) still make an effort to cast their political decisions in terms that recognize legal understanding, but this is a prime example of a lower Trump judge just inventing stuff for political reasons. Millhiser also wrote [04-23] Ron DeSantis's attack on Disney obviously violates the First Amendment.

Rick Noack/Michael Birnbaum/Elie Petit: [04-24] France's Macron wins presidency, holding off Le Pen's far-right threat to upend Europe and relations with Russia. Breaking news as I'm trying to wrap this post up. Split is 59-41 percent, which is less than 5 years ago.

Charles P Pierce: [04-18] The Republican Undead Walk Among Us. Just Look at Scott Pruitt: "The ethically challenged former EPA administrator wants to join the Senate." Replacing Jim Inhofe. Who says you can't do worse? Pierce writes a lot of short pieces worth reading. Another that stands out [04-22] Marjorie Taylor Greene Was the Most Non-Credible Person I've Seen on a Witness Stand in Decades. Also [04-20] Mallory McMorrow Had Two Options After She Was Called a 'Groomer.' She Chose to Swing Back. Seth Myers could features her speech in his segment, "The Kind of Story We Need Right Now."

Nathaniel Rakich: [04-21] The Extreme Bias of Florida's New Congressional Map. The map in question produces 18 seats that are R+5 or more, vs. 8 seats that are D+5, and 2 competitive seats between.

Matt Shuham: [04-22] Bannon's GoFundMe Border Wall Buddies Plead Guilty While He Lives Free With Trump Pardon.

Richard Silverstein: [04-18] Ramadan and the Road to War . . . and Perdition, and [04-19] Biden Sends US Diplomats to Israel on Fool's Errand: Looks like Israel is gearing up for one of their periodic "mowing the grass" onslaughts in Gaza. The parallels to Ukraine are strong. Putin only wishes he could bottle up Ukraine like Israel has done to Gaza. But perhaps Israel wouldn't be so callous and overbearing if the US and its allies applied sanctions against Israeli aggression like they're doing to Russia. I'm less certain that sending defensive weapons to Gaza, like NATO is doing for Ukraine, would help, but that's mostly because Israel is a nuclear power (like Russia).

Adam Weinstein: [04-18] Deadly Pakistan strikes in Afghanistan reflect growing cross-border tensions: Like Turkey/Iraq, another case of cross-border aggression, supposedly rationalized by Afghanistan providing a sanctuary for TPP fighters against Pakistan.

Daily Log

Fragment on Blob cut from above:

On the downside, it blurs the (rather narrow) range of differences among the "American foreign policy establishment" (a more generous term which still conveys some sort of self-selected clique able to exert a consistent direction in administrations of both political parties). I tend towards a finer-grained taxonomy, chiefly: neocons (idealists in love with military power and little if any concern for how that impacts others), neoliberals (same, except they do claim to care, hence they're also known as "humanitarian interventionists"), and realists (non-idealists, who try to tie policies to material interests, not caring how they impact others except as that affects the possible success of the policies). This implies a 2x2 matrix, one dimension for ideologist vs. pragmatist, the other self-centered vs. respectful of others, but the Blob excludes the fourth corner (pragmatic but respectful of others). A proper taxonomy would find more variants: e.g., is Henry Kissinger a "realist," as neocons often charge, or something different, some kind of monarchist throwback, but for all practical purposes, he always winds up well within the Blob; or Ben Rhodes, who coined the term Blob to denigrate other people, but who winds up Blob-adjacent more often than not; or Peter Navarro, who we can use as a proxy for a Trumpist "America First" mindset that for Trump himself never developed beyond the stage of "irritable mental gestures." Still, the Blob coalesces at critical intervals, especially in the decision to invade Iraq.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

prev -- next