February 2011 Notebook


Monday, February 28, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17839 [17806] rated (+33), 845 [837] unrated (+8). In a complete daze. No idea how I managed to rate 30 records last week. Can scarcely remember any of them.

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Alpha Blondy: Cocody Rock (1984 [1988], Shanachie): B

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 8)

Starting to think about closing this round. I hear that there is yet another space squeeze in the Village Voice, so my column word count has to drop from 1600 to 1300. I have more than that already written, so no real reason not to wrap it up sooner rather than later. The only way I can dig out of this hole would be to file more frequently. I've often wanted to but never pushed hard, so I don't really know whether the Voice would go along. As usual, don't have a clear idea on pick hits or duds. Have a lot of rated records still unreviewed, so the next two weeks will probably focus more on them, as I pick and choose what to push up or hold back.

Well into this past week I was so frustrated with prospecting that I figured I'd blow off this week. Indeed, don't have much below. Even so, my rated count for the week topped 30, so I must be piling up a lot of Rhapsody Streamnotes. They'll run in about a week, after Downloader's Diary and Recycled Goods, but I'll include a couple of jazz items now -- usual caveats apply, but right now they're the most promising records below. Did get a package from Arbors, which included a Sportiello trio but not the Hamilton-Sportiello duo below.

Negroni's Trio: Just Three (2010, Mojito): Piano trio, fourth album since 2003. The pianist is José Negroni, from Puerto Rico; his son, Nomar Negroni, plays drums, and Marco Panascia plays bass. Fast, percussive, not much more. B+(*)

Ralph Bowen: Power Play (2009 [2011], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, can't find any record of when born but 1965 is a fair guess; 7 or 8 albums since 1992, more going back to 1985 if you count his group Out of the Blue. Mainstream player, imposing on tenor, plays a little soprano or alto (not specified which) here, not his strong suit. Quartet with pianist Orrin Evans, who does what the role requires but doesn't make his usual strong impression. "My One and Only Love" is a highlight. B+(**)

Harrison Smith Quartet: Telling Tales (2007 [2008], 33 Records): Tenor saxophonist, with soprano sax and bass clarinet for change-ups. From England, b. 1946. AMG lists one previous album, from 1998, but played in District Six for much of the 1980s with South African pianist Chris McGregor, and also shows up with the London Improvisers Orchestra. Quartet, with piano (Liam Noble), bass (Dave Whitford), and drums (Winston Clifford). B+(*)

Donny McCaslin: Perpetual Motion (2010 [2011], Greenleaf Music): Tenor saxophonist, you know, an awesome player when he builds up a full head of steam. Most tracks have Fender Rhodes (Adam Benjamin, sometimes on piano; two tracks add Uri Caine on piano, and one subs Caine on Fender Rhodes), electric bass (Tim Lefebvre), and drums (Antonio Sanchez or Mark Guiliana). Dave Binney produced, dabbles in electronics, and plays alto sax on one track. The Fender Rhodes/bass grooves go on way too long and rarely rise above the pedestrian. The sax is something else, but you know that. B+(*)

Barton McLean: Soundworlds (2010, Innova): Avant composer, b. 1936, student of Henry Cowell. The five pieces date from 1984-2009; don't know if those are composition or recording dates, since no separate recording dates are given, and the groups vary although most was worked out by McLean on his computer and/or tape recorder. Opener is a concerto with piano solo with Petersburgh Electrophilharmonia. Closer picks up some Amazonian and Australian bird samples. B+(**)

The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (1995-2010 [2010], Justin Time): Group formed in late 1980s by Roy Nathanson (alto sax), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), with Bill Ware (vibes) a long-time member. Cut six albums in 1990s, starting out as an avant-skronk group with occasional novelty vocals and winding up as a showcase for ex-Blondie Debby Harry. First new album since 1998, although Nathanson has had several increasingly vocal albums in the meantime. Mostly new, that is, because it ends with two live cuts from 1995 with Harry singing -- "One Way or Another" is a special treat. The other outlier is a cover of "Spanish Harlem" with Fowlkes and Susi Hyidgaard vocals and Spanish intro and outro chatter, cut in 2010. The rest were cut in 2009, with guest Marc Ribot on guitar and Sam Bardfield on violin -- the 1995 cuts included a lineup credit with Rob Thomas on violin. The one cover in that group is the title song, a 1978 hit for Peaches & Herb, the perfect joke for breaking a decade-long hiatus. Elvis Costello warbles another, strategically placed first. B+(***)

Terrence McManus: Brooklyn EP (2009 [2010], self-released): Solo guitar, five tracks, only 16:52, just a few bites, albeit tasty ones. Better is his duo with Gerry Hemingway, Below the Surface Of, and not just because drums make life better. B+(*)

World Saxophone Quartet: Yes We Can (2009 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): Live in Berlin, about two months after Obama took office as president of the United States. WSQ dates back to 1977, their initial album (Point of No Return) also released on a German label (Moers). Back then the foursome were Hamiet Bluiett (baritone), David Murray (tenor), Oliver Lake (alto), and Julius Hemphill (alto): four major players each in his own right, but Hemphill was arguably the leader, the one most focused on the harmonic possibilities of four saxophones and nothing else. With Hemphill's death in 1995, the survivors diversified, sneaking in drums, auditioning a wide range of fourth horns, even juking up a terrific collection of Political Blues. This one goes back to their roots, four saxes, nothing else. Not sure why Lake sat it out; his alto is replaced by Kidd Jordan. The other slot goes to James Carter, playing tenor and soprano; not only a great player in his own right, but early in his career he was played on Hemphill's sax-only Five Chord Stud, and briefly ran his own sax choir, recorded as Saxemble. As much as I admire the individuals in WSQ, I've always found the sax-only palette to be a bit narrow, and that's a limit here, which they work around ingeniously. B+(***)

Eric Reed: The Dancing Monk (2009 [2011], Savant): Mainstream pianist, recording steadily since the early 1990s, in a trio with Ben Wolfe on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums, plays ten Monk songs, with a little more dexterity and a lot less mystery than Monk himself. Interesting that music that was so idiosyncratic as to be unplayable in the 1950s now seems so routine. B

Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Two (2009 [2010], OA2): Trumpet/baritone sax respectively, met at North Texas State, nowhere near any coast. Quintet, with Scott Sorkin's guitar central and essential. B+(**)

These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Scott Hamilton/Rossano Sportiello: Midnight at NOLA's Penthouse (2010 [2011], Arbors): Duets, tenor sax and piano respectively. Sportiello is a swing pianist, b. 1974, modeled on Ralph Sutton and many others from Earl Hines to Bill Evans; has some solo albums, a couple of duos with bassist-vocalist Nicki Parrott, but has never been so completely at ease as here. Same for Hamilton, a very relaxed, easy swinging set. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble: The Tide Has Changed (2010, World Village): Saxophonist, alto is his mainstay but I hear a lot of soprano here, some clarinet. From Israel, b. 1963, based in London. Writes a lot of political screeds about Israel, which I mostly agree with but he has a chip on his shoulders I don't share. Names his band after the headquarters of the PLO in East Jerusalem. Combines traditional Jewish and Arab music, a dash of Weimar cabaret, some Coltrane-ish sax, accordion, some exceptionally lovely piano. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date, look here.

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Clint Ashlock Big Band: New Jazz Order (self-released)
  • Patti Austin: Sound Advice (Shanachie)
  • Billy Bang/Bill Cole: Billy Bang/Bill Cole (Shadrack)
  • T.K. Blue: Latinbird (Motema): Mar. 8
  • François Carrier: Entrance 3 (Ayler)
  • Laurence Cook/Eric Zinman: Double Action (Ayler)
  • Eldar Djangirov: Three Stories (Masterworks Jazz): advance, Apr. 5
  • Benjamin Drazen: Inner Lights (Posi-Tone)
  • Mathias Eick: Skala (ECM): advance, Apr. 12
  • Michael Feinberg: With Many Hands (self-released)
  • Flow Trio: Set Theory: Live at the Stone (Ayler)
  • Danny Frankel: The Interplanetary Note/Beat Conference (self-released)
  • Iro Haarla Quintet: Vespers (ECM): advance, Apr. 12
  • Atsuko Hashimoto: . . . Until the Sun Comes Up (Capri)
  • Lisa Lindsley: Everytime We Say Goodbye (self-released)
  • Mark O'Leary/Peter Friis-Nielsen/Stefan Pasborg: Střj (Ayler)
  • Other Dimensions in Music featuring Fay Victor: Kaiso Stories (Silkheart)
  • Bobby Sanabria: Tito Puente: Masterworks Live!!! (Jazzheads)
  • The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me (Arbors)
  • The Warren Vaché/John Allred Quintet: Top Shelf (Arbors)
  • John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Contagious Words (Acoustical Concepts): Apr. 5
  • Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful (ECM): advance, Apr. 12
  • Bob Wilber: Bob Wilber Is Here! (Arbors)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Kevin Drum: Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About: Big article, much basic but still worth repeating, like:

    Union leaders like John L. Lewis, George Meany, and Walter Reuther were routine sources for reporters from the '30s through the '70s. And why not? They made news. The contracts they signed were templates for entire industries. They had the power to bring commerce to a halt. They raised living standards for millions, they made and broke presidents, and they formed the backbone of one of America's two great political parties.

    They did far more than that, though. As historian Kim Phillips-Fein puts it, "The strength of unions in postwar America had a profound impact on all people who worked for a living, even those who did not belong to a union themselves." (Emphasis mine.) Wages went up, even at nonunion companies. Health benefits expanded, private pensions rose, and vacations became more common. It was unions that made the American economy work for the middle class, and it was their later decline that turned the economy upside-down and made it into a playground for the business and financial classes.

    Then Drum gets into the new left, blames them for driving the unions away from the "amnesty, acid and abortion" Democratic Party, then points out that when the Democrats couldn't count on the unions they turned to business and that was the end of pro-union legislative support. That's all a bit pat, especially unfair to the new left, and fails to note how much the unions hurt themselves by supporting the cold war, along with abandoning the drive to organize the poor. Even now, what Obama and all his friends wax nostalgic about is the vanishing middle class.

    If unions had remained strong and Democrats had continued to vigorously press for more equitable economic policies, middle-class wages over the past three decades likely would have grown at about the same rate as the overall economy -- just as they had in the postwar era. But they didn't, and that meant that every year, the money that would have gone to middle-class wage increases instead went somewhere else. This created a vast and steadily growing pool of money, and the chart below gives you an idea of its size. It shows how much money would have flowed to different groups if their incomes had grown at the same rate as the overall economy. The entire bottom 80 percent now loses a collective $743 billion each year, thanks to the cumulative effect of slow wage growth. Conversely, the top 1 percent gains $673 billion. That's a pretty close match. Basically, the money gained by the top 1 percent seems to have come almost entirely from the bottom 80 percent.

    The thing I find curious here is that the losses are greater than the gains. Looking at the chart, this is mostly because percentiles 96-99 did fairly well, while 81-95 on average lost. But what I also suspect is that the transfer from poor to rich was less than zero-sum: that the economy as a whole underperformed because the transfer was inefficient. I won't insist that the chart proves that point, but there are other reasons for believing it so.

    For more charts, also see: Dave Gilson/Carolyn Perot: It's the Inequality, Stupid. The most surprising to me was the staggering increase in payroll taxes as a share of federal tax revenue.

  • Steve Kornacki: The Moment Union-Busting Lost Its Sting: Useful background history on the PATCO (air-traffic controllers) strike and Reagan's mass-firing of union members. One interesting point is that PATCO had broken with most unions and endorsed Reagan in 1980. Another is that the airline pilots and mechanics could have honored the strike, but didn't. I think that the reason there was so little public sympathy for PATCO was that their demands were way out of line and that their repeated threats to shut down the airline system had turned them into a pariah. Still, the destruction of the union came as a shock, and had profound implications: from that day on it became much easier, and much more expected, for companies to undercut and destroy their unions. And that turned out to be a big part of the Reagan legacy -- one we've paid for ever since.

  • Andrew Leonard: The Koch Brothers as Wisconsin Puppet Masters: Someone noticed that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's "Budget Repair Bill" contains another provision besides the much-noted one abolishing the right of public employees to join unions and bargain collectively: something that lets Walker sell (or practically give away) "state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants." I don't know how many such plants exist, but presumably there are some otherwise there would have been no interest in ripping them off. Some people suspect Koch Industries is behind this. The Koch brothers have certainly spent money to get Walker and his cronies elected, and this is consistent with their overall philosophy, but I for one doubt that it's part of their business plan. Still, power plants are natural monopolies, and there are plenty of scumbags who would love to grab one of those things, especially cheap with a government that isn't likely to regulate them. John Quiggin's Zombie Economics has a whole chapter on the deserved death of the privatization idea. Still, just because an idea has been proven to be disastrous doesn't mean you won't still find Republicans touting it. That's the point of the whole book.

  • Sefi Rachlevsky: The Racist Entity That Is Taking Over Israel Must Be Toppled:

    The wretchedness of the law in the face of Rabbi Dov Lior has many meanings, and Lior's refusal to be interrogated over his support for "The King's Torah -- The Laws for Killing Gentiles" -- only marginally gets at the heart of the matter.

    Thirty years ago, the terrorist organization known as the "Jewish Underground" was set up with the purpose of killing Arabs. The group's head of operations, Menachem Livni -- who was convicted on multiple counts of murder before being pardoned by the regime -- testified at the time that the living spirit, the initiator, the religious instructor and the coordinator of the murders was Lior. [ . . . ]

    And so he continued: Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron in 1994, saw Lior as his rabbi and counselor. After the Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre, Lior declared that "Baruch Goldstein was holier than the saints of the Holocaust." The living spirit behind the religious edicts against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which lead to his 1995 assassination, was also, according to testimonies, Lior. Rabin's assassin frequented Hebron, where he used to see Lior.

    Rabbi Lior is not in prison. He currently serves as a municipal rabbi, the head of a Jewish court and the dean of a large IDF yeshiva. He also heads the Judea and Samaria rabbis committee. Thousands adhere to his commands, hundreds of thousands are taught his ideology, tens of thousands of shekels are paid to him by the Israeli taxpayer every month.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Crime Pays

I feel like I should write something about Boeing being awarded a $35 billion Air Force contract to convert obsolete 767 airliners into tankers. The tankers would replace the existing fleet of KC-135 tankers, based on vintage Boeing 707 airliners, in service since the late 1950s -- seems like a long time, but they've periodically been retrofitted with new wings, engines, electronics, and so forth. In fact, keeping them flying has been a boon to the Wichita economy -- their replacement will cost jobs in Wichita that could well be moved elsewhere, a downside no one has bothered to mention in the perpetual hype over how many new jobs new tankers will provide.

Some Wichita Eagle links:

  • Molly McMillin: Air Force awards Boeing tanker contract
  • Molly McMillin: Boeing touts number of tanker jobs: "A Boeing contract to build aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force would bring 7,500 jobs to Kansas and have an economic impact of $388 million a year, Boeing said Friday. [ . . . ] The initial contract for 179 new tankers is worth about $35 billion, but the deal eventually could be worth $100 billion as the Air Force replaces its fleet of about 600 Cold War-era tankers in what could be one of the largest Pentagon purchases ever."
  • Rob Hotakainen: How one lawmaker gave Boeing a boost in tanker contest: Norm Dicks (D-WA): "Boeing's win is a big victory for 70-year-old Dicks, the top-ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee. Dicks, known by some on Capitol Hill as "Mr. Boeing," has received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions for his political campaigns from company sources over his career."
  • Donna Cassata: Aircraft titans spark lobby blitz: "In the past year, Boeing has spent $5 million on print advertising to promote its version of the tanker and EADS has shelled out $1.7 million to boost its prototype, according to Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which typically monitors advertising for political campaigns."

The Eagle also ran a useful timeline on the history of the scam, but I haven't found a link on their website. A slightly better article on the lobbying efforts is at OpenSecrets: Eric Chiu: Boeing Wins Refueling Tanker Contract After Massive Sustained Political Influence Effort. This points out that EADS, the military spinoff of Airbus, spent $3 million on lobbying last year. Boeing spent more than $17.5 million.

People like to talk about jobs here, as indeed they do with every serving of military pork. Even Republicans who've waged a holy war recently against John Maynard Keynes and the very suggestion that any government spending program could create jobs -- there's a very musty classical economics theory by David Ricardo that says as much, and has been miraculously resurrected recently long after Nixon insisted that "we are all Keynesians now" -- get all misty-eyed over defense contracts. And Democrats like Dicks, or former Boeing favorite Richard Gephardt, go positively ga-ga. Still, if you buy the estimates at face value, those 50,000 jobs will wind up costing $700,000 apiece. You don't have to be Harry Hopkins to come up with a more efficient jobs program than that.

Then there's the question of why the hell do we need these things anyway? The main purpose of a tanker is to act as an airborne filling station for fighters and bombers, to help them go further without having to find a landing strip. The main reason for doing that is to start wars in faraway countries. Now that we've spent the last decade blundering around the far side of the globe blowing up wedding parties and generally making ourselves a public menace, what everyone should be asking is why do we want to spend a lot more money to do even more of that?

Then there is the political corruption angle. The initial idea for a new tanker fleet wasn't thought up by the Air Force -- they were much more obsessed with future generations of stealth attack aircraft. The idea came from Boeing, and the main thing that spurred it on was that Boeing had this whole manufacturing line tooled up for the 767, which would soon be rendered obsolete by a new generation of advanced technology airliners -- the so-called Dreamliner, which Boeing has yet to deliver after more than ten years of mismanagement. So Boeing figured that there would be easy profits if they could get the Air Force to buy up their obsolete technology. The problem was that the Air Force didn't have any money to do so, so Boeing came up with a crackpot scheme to finance the planes privately and lease them to the government, so they would only appear as an operating expense on the Air Force books -- a real fat one, to be sure. That scheme blew up, and ended with several Boeing officials going to jail, but eventually the lobbying produced a new round of bidding. EADS got involved in the second round. They figured that if the US wanted Europeans to fight and die in Afghanistan, they should get a shot at the Pentagon booty, and they wound up winning the contract -- only to have Boeing go bezerk pulling in political favors to rebid the whole deal. Indeed, Boeing has such a huge home-field advantage, in political clout, lobbying dollars, flag waving, etc., that it's surprising that this was even close. But Boeing also has a horrible record of producing the things they sell -- indeed, their core competency has moved from airframes to crony capitalism, which seems to be the only thing they're at all competent in these days.

I've written about this several times in the past. My father, my brother, a couple of uncles, and numerous friends and acquaintances worked for Boeing. It is a company that has at times accomplished remarkable things, but lately has become a prime example of everything wrong in American business, and America more generally, today. You'll find many of the same points made over and over here:

Also found pre-blog notebook entries dealing with Boeing and most often the tanker scam. Dates: 2003-04-03, 2003-05-24, 2004-01-28, 2004-07-19, 2005-02-23, 2005-03-09, 2005-03-20, 2005-06-10, 2005-06-20. I used to have a website where a lot of this older stuff was archived, but it's down for now.

The key points are: that we already have way more tanker capacity than we need; we certainly don't need any more, and over the long run should radically cut back; the lobbying process is intensely corrupting, both of our elected officials, of the so-called public servants working in the Pentagon, and ultimately of Boeing itself; Boeing has lost its corporate soul.

Of course, the tanker contract award won't be the last that is heard of this whole thing. EADS will protest, and Europe and Alabama will feel shafted -- has their ever been a politician more in the pockets of foreign capitalists than Sen. Richard Shelby? The ridiculous price tag will look like a ripe target for anyone looking for government waste -- both by Tea Partiers and possibly by a Pentagon that never really wanted the thing in the first place. And Boeing's become so inept at manufacturing that we'll see innumerable delays and cost overruns before any plane appears. Maybe the whole thing will be scuttled by a labor dispute over at Boeing's subcontractors in China. I bet I've read over a thousand pieces on this over the last decade-plus. I'm sick of it, and amazed that other critics of US military-industrial policy haven't taken it up. (Robert Scheer does write about it a bit in his The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.)

But right now Boeing is happy, thinking that crime really does pay. We'll see.

Expert Comments

One of today's picks was The Rough Guide to Sahara Blues, so we got into this:

Going back five hours ago, I want to take exception to the person who praised the Rough Guide CD booklets. For a long time I tried to review their records and always wound up fighting with the booklets, which even when they avoided design snafus like green type on red background hardly ever offered such basic information as when any given song was recorded. You'd think that a company that published book-sized record guides would know better, but while their books are less constrained on space and type size, same problem there.

And that's all separate from the personal problems I've had with the company. In a fit of pique I pulled Recycled Goods from its low perch at Static Multimedia, since Static didn't impress the publicist as worth keeping the records coming, and I didn't feel like I could cover my beat without them. The thing is that the people who put the samplers together have good ears and vast collections, and should be able to write useful liners if the company gave a hoot.

Still, the commenter is right in one sense. Without the booklet, you don't have any idea what you're listening to, or why. For a critic or a tourist who wants to learn something along the way, they're worthless.

MarkE6 wrote back:

I'm glad I don't have a musical background or write professionally about music. I can listen to the music for the pure joy of listening to it and not have to think about whether they're hitting the right note or be influenced by the artist's personality or how the record company or artist has treated me. Ignorance is bliss.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I don't feel like I'm getting very good information on whatever's happening in Libya these days, so haven't had much to say. One thing that I do think is that the longstanding antagonism the US has shown toward Libya ever since Gaddafi seized power and forced the US to give up its military presence in Libya -- Wheelus Air Force Base, founded in 1943 to bomb Italy and Germany, but kept as a major cold war installation -- in 1970. Gaddafi rightly saw the US presence as a remnant of the Euro-American colonial past and as an affront to Libyan independence and sovereignty, but the US never forgave the impudence. The US withdrew its ambassador in 1972 -- an act Gaddafi rightly called "childish" -- starting off a long series of affronts and acts of spurious revenge. A useful historical timeline is here -- a couple years old, and could use more detail, especially on dealings with US oil companies which are a nontrivial part of US foreign policy in the region.

It should be clear that Gaddafi's support for terrorism came more often than not in response to US (and Israeli) policies and acts. Also that the various instances of US and Israel shooting down Libyan aircraft and Reagan's 1986 bombings of Tripoli and Benghazi were themselves heinous acts of terrorism. I don't mean to make excuses for Gaddafi, but it is significant that the site he chose for his speech where he vowed to die a martyr was the ruins of the 1986 bombing. That little bit of stage decoration was one of many ways the US has inadvertently kept Gaddafi in power.

I don't know much about Gaddafi's rule of Libya: whether he has been a progressive force, or a kleptocrat, or what, or how repressive he has been, or what his day-to-day role has been since he gave up any official position in the government -- he seems to be a rare example of what you might call "dictator emeritus" (Fidel Castro may be another). I know a little more about Gaddafi's interference with neighboring African states, where his incursions into Chad and his involvement in Darfur appear to have been disastrous -- that all by itself provides plenty of reason to wish for his demise.

Despite Bush's 2006 efforts to restore normal relations between the US and Libya, the US has little actual influence in Libya, and as such is ineffective in trying to restrain Gaddafi from using brute force to put down the rebellion. (Compare with Egypt, where Mubarak was practically on the US dole. Syria is another country where the US has no constructive influence.) Moreover, Gaddafi is so readily and universally despised in the US that policy makers are fervently looking for ways to meddle, oblivious to the fact that we've already messed up Libya quite enough, thank you. At this point it's hard for me to see how any outside pressure the US can apply can do much good. One can, of course, reiterate how much we disapprove of violent repression, and we can promise that all past differences will be forgotten once Libya is a democracy. Maybe there are funds that should be frozen, but sanctions in the midst of chaos seem like a pointlessly self-gratifying gesture, and a "no fly zone" seems like the perfect way to remind Libyans of our past crimes.

Besides, I expect that on their own Libya's elites will split against Gaddafi. When the Iron Wall fell, each nation in eastern Europe broke its own way -- most violently in Romania, the nation with the most charismatic leader and the greatest personality cult, not that either saved Ceausescu. Rather, they clarified the choice.

By the way, as all Marines know, US military involvement in Libya predates WWII. It goes all the way back to 1804 under Thomas Jefferson, the first time US forces were used overseas. At the time, Tripoli was a poorly managed outpost of the Ottoman Empire, much engaged in piracy, much like Somalia today. It's not clear that the intervention actually accomplished anything, other than to be remembered in song. But with piracy in the news again today, we should reflect on how badly we fucked up Somalia in the past before we rush in to fuck them over again.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Expert Comments

Christgau asked if anyone is liking the Aaron Neville album. Had another message to pass along, too.

I'm liking the Neville album. I noticed it in the metafile results, way down in the dirt: got 4 mentions, plus 2 Pazz & Jop votes. Wasn't sure until he got to "I Am a Pilgrim," a song I know mostly from Merle Travis -- I think from an old twofer on Bear Family I bought in England, where Bear Family is normally priced. Haven't played El DeBarge again. Wrote a streamnote on that a while back. Seems like I always come out a notch or two below Christgau on him, so we're within normal bounds of (dis)agreement.

Thanks to sharpsm for the Kevin Drum Plutocracy Now tip. Will read it when I get some time, probably comment in Weekend Roundup. Also saw his blog, noting a post on countervailing powers (and James Galbraith -- btw, his Predator State is the one book to read even if you only plan on reading one). It's a concept I've been thinking and writing about quite a bit recently.

The contact page on my website assumes you're running Javascript -- hard to get by without it, even though it is a major contributor to the nuissance factor on the web. But it's real simple Javascript, so you can figure out what you need to know by just looking at the page source. Sorry to make it so difficult.


Re Thomas Friedman, search out: matt taibbi flathead; one of the most devastating book reviews ever written; also one of the most rocking.

Re Javascript: if you don't know what it is, you are undoubtedly using it, and it's not the problem (at least not this one); more likely a brain disconnect between the author of my contact page and the reader.

Re my service griping, I finally got in gear and wrote to Arbors and Not Two. Arbors are good people and I'm pretty sure that was just a slip-up. Not Two has a peculiar sense of self-importance (peculiar does not mean unusual here), but they've put together quite a roster, almost as good as Clean Feed.

Jazz Prospecting gets to be awfully frustrating, especially on days like today when I keep replaying records that have no future so I can cross them off my list.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17806 [17787] rated (+19), 837 [843] unrated (-6). Was home alone last week, didn't get much done on any front, including an unusually slight rated count.

Changed previous grades:

  • Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (2008, Lost Highway) [was: A-] A

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 7)

Should start thinking about closing this column out. Plenty of records in the bag already. Haven't felt like concentrating on the task. In fact, was so down on jazz midweek I thought I'd scratch this week, but came up with enough for now. Not much mail either, so I actually reduced the backlog for once.

One frustration remains having to chase things down. Not below, but I streamed a good jazz record from Rhapsody last week, one by an artist with a couple past A-list records, on a label (Arbors) I used to get regularly. Pictured to the right is a Ken Vandermark record. You'd think as much as I've writen about him I'd get new ones automatically, but I still don't have heard Vandermark 5's The Horse Jumps/The Ship Is Gone. In my book, the last V5 album that fell short of A- was Burn the Incline, back in 2000, more than ten records ago.

Yaron Herman Trio: Follow the White Rabbit (2010 [2011], ACT): Pianist, b. 1981 in Israel, studied at Berklee, fifth album since 2003. Trio with Chris Tordini on bass and Tommy Crane on drums, recorded in Leipzig, Germany. Four covers plus ten originals (one group-credited); covers include one from Nirvana and one from Radiohead. B+(*)

Norman Johnson: If Time Stood Still (2010, Pacific Coast Jazz): Guitarist, b. in Kingston, Jamaica; studied at Hartford Conservatory, was dean there for nine years. First album under own name, has scattered credits, mostly backing vocalists. Credits George Benson for inspiration, and Earl Klugh as an influence; sole cover is from Pat Metheny. Plays some nylon-string as well as electric and acoustic. Mostly stays in comfortable grooves with piano-bass-drums-percussion, dressed up with string on one cut, brass (Josh Bruneau and Steve Davis) on three, with Chris Herbert's sax on more, flute on one. B

Anthony Branker & Ascent: Dance Music (2010, Origin): Composer-arranger, b. 1958, evidently started off playing trumpet but just runs things here. Second album, mostly a sextet plus vocalist Kadri Voorand, who wrote lyrics to four Branker pieces. Not so danceable, but bold compositions, strong sax breaks, especially tenor Ralph Bowen. B+(**)

Gene Pritsker: Varieties of Religious Experience Suite (2010, Innova): Following spine here; cover has two blocks of type: on top, "Varieties of Religious Experience Suite Gene Pritsker's Sound Liberation"; below and larger, "VRE Suite." Pritsker is a guitarist and -- sometimes but not here -- rapper. Can't find much discography, but website claims Pritsker "has written over three hundred ninety compositions, including chamber operas, orchestral and chamber works, electro-acoustic music, songs for hip-hop and rock ensembles, etc." This group is string-driven, with two guitars, cello, bass and drums. Title comes from William James, who is namechecked in 3 of 8 titles; Tolstoy gets one more. B+(**)

Dadi: Bem Aqui (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Brazilian singer-songwriter, full name Eduardo Magalhăes de Carvalho, b. 1952 in Rio de Janeiro. Hard to find much info: has at least one previous album (Dadi, from 2005, released on a Japanese label) and some (maybe a lot) of session work -- was on a Mick Jagger record, and several by Marisa Monte. He plays guitar, keyboards, percussion, and sings. This one has been sitting patiently in my queue for over a year now. Got zero metafile mentions. All in Portuguese, one cover (Chico Buarque), only one solo credit among the remaining eleven songs, several shared with Marisa Monte or Arnaldo Antunes -- makes me wonder if he isn't some sort of Billy Joe Shaver-type songwriter recycling his hits-for-others. Reinforcing that is that everything here is catchy, the quirks engaging, the flow irresistible. A-

Mike Olson: Incidental (2009 [2010], Henceforth): Composer, from Minneapolis, plays keyboards but looking at his web site there is little there other than his compositional theories and focus. Six numbered pieces here. Haven't found any other albums by him. Large cast of musicians, including strings, flutes, bassoon, guitars, and the usual jazz horns. Fairly dense and gloomy; makes for an interesting framework. B+(**)

Eddie Gomez/Cesarius Alvim: Forever (2010, Plus Loin Music): Gomez is a bassist, b. 1944 in Puerto Rico, AMG credits him with 17 albums since 1976, plus more than a hundred credits, with Bill Evans looming large on the first page, also Chick Corea. Don't know much about Alvim: I've seen him described as "Brazilian-French"; AMG lists one more album (from 2000) and a few side credits, starting in 1982 playing bass with Martial Solal. (Discogs has three 1976-79 credits with Alvin playing bass with pianist Jean-Pierre Mas.) Plays piano here, not very splashy. Low key, intimate, rather lovely duet. B+(**)

Vijay Anderson: Hardboiled Wonder Land (2008 [2010], Not Two): Drummer, based in Oakland. Works with Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch (real good album on Clean Feed) and Aaron Bennett's Go-Go Fightmaster (haven't heard their record, but I've bumped into Bennett on Mezzacappa's record and an even better one by Adam Lane). First album under his own name. Two guitars (Ava Mendoza and John Finkbeiner), two reeds (Sheldon Brown on alto/tenor/soprano sax, Ben Goldberg on clarinet), and vibes (Smith Dobson V). Starts with slick textures, and the horns always remain rather soft, rarely standing out. Nice feature with the vibes. B+(**)

Doug Webb: Renovations (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, plays 'em all but is pictured with a tenor, and that's mostly what I hear. Lives in LA, where he's done a ton of studio work. Second album on mainstream-focused Posi-Tone -- has also recorded for avant-oriented Cadence/CIMP in a group with Mat Marucci. Quartet, with bass (Stanley Clarke), drums (Gerry Gibbs), and a changing cast of pianists. All covers, like "Satin Doll" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Big, bold sound, perfect for saxophone lovers. B+(***)

Chad McCullough/Michal Vanoucek: The Sky Cries (2009 [2010], Origin): McCullough plays trumpet/flugelhorn, is based in Seattle, has a previous record plus a later one in my queue -- I've been negligent getting to this one. Vanoucek is a pianist, b. 1977 in Slovakia; studied in Bratislava and The Hague. No idea how he hooked up with McCullough, but together they've "toured major venues in Washington, Oregon and Idaho." They split ten compositions, with a post-hard-bop quintet, Mark Taylor on alto sax, Dave Captein on bass, Matt Jorgensen on drums. Lively compositions with fluid piano leads. B+(*)

Tom Culver: Sings Johnny Mercer (2010, Rhombus): Singer, based in Los Angeles, second album, does a nice job on 18 Johnny Mercer songs, with enough grit and resonance to salvage even things like "Moon River." B+(*)

Serafin: Love's Worst Crime (2010, Serafin): Singer, from Canada, b. in Vancouver, grew up near Toronto, surname LaRiviere, third album. Touts a five octave vocal range that effectively made the opener "Comes Love" sound female, becoming more ambiguous later on. He wrote most of the songs -- the other covers are "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Don't Explain," and "Skylark." Has a cabaret feel, most seductive in the dark. B+(***)

Roger Cairns and Gary Fukushima: The Dream of Olwen (2010, AHP): Vocalist and pianist, respectively. Cairns was b. 1946 in Scotland; is based in Los Angeles; has two previous albums, his 2006 debut titled A Scot in L.A. All standards, Alec Wilder and Marilyn and Alan Bergman getting multiple calls. Very minimal, like Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, not quite that special. B+(*)

Lisa Maxwell: Return to Jazz Standards (2010, CDBaby): Singer, b. Nov. 29 sometime in the 20th century; second album, standards as advertised -- Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Loesser, the obligatory Jobim -- produced and arranged by pianist George Newall, replete with goopy, anonymous strings. Nice voice, all smiles. B

Stephan Micus: Bold as Light (2007-10 [2010], ECM): German composer, b. 1953, plays various zithers, flute-like things, and percussion instruments from all around the world. Has a couple dozen albums since 1976, most on ECM. Did this solo, including three cuts where he multitracked his own voice. Too exotic to fall into the New Age genre AMG assigned him to; too minimalist for AMG's Ethnic Fusion style. An interesting set of upset expectations. B+(**)

Dolores Scozzesi: A Special Taste (2010, Rhombus): Singer, b. in New York, don't really grasp her comings and goings but wound up from 2005 on producing cabaret programs, the first called "Stuck in the 60s." Covers not quite standards -- Bob Dylan gets two calls. Voice takes some getting used to but has authority. Mark Winkler produced. B

Free Fall: Gray Scale (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Ken Vandermark's clarinet trio, modelled on Jimmy Giuffre's famous trio, with Hĺvard Wiik on piano for Paul Bley and Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten on bass for Steve Swallow. Fourth album for the trio. I've always found this to be the hardest of Vandermark's groups to connect with, but then I was mostly baffled by Giuffre's Free Fall album -- unlike the Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd School Days, inspiration for one of his most boisterous groups. Still, this record has slowly gained on me, in part because the piano moves beyond prickly abstract to provide a multi-faceted structural underpinning, partly because of the way Vandermark can muscle up his clarinet, and partly because working all that tension out the group can occasionally just relax and enjoy the flow. Memo to self: should pull Free Fall out some time and give it another chance. A-

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Carlo De Rosa's Cross-Fade: Brain Dance (Cuneiform)
  • Paolo Fresu: Mistico Mediterraneo (ECM)
  • Tania Gill: Bolger Station (Barnyard)
  • The Brian Landrus Quartet: Traverse (Blueland)
  • Brad Mehldau: Live in Marciac (Nonesuch, 2CD+DVD)
  • Soren Moller: Christian X Variations (Audial)
  • Michel Reis: Point of No Return (Armored)
  • Jane Stuart: Don't Look Back (JSM): Mar. 8

Expert Comments (Continued)

This is of rather marginal interest -- something I originally jotted into the notebook for future reference but may be of enough interest to post here.

Continuing from Saturday's thread, Milo Miles tries to explain his position:

For me, there's a key difference between music topics and questions I don't find interesting ("Is rock dying?"), discussions about politics as it relates directly to art (and, sure, "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" has a political aspect) and even thoughtful and informative purely political comments like Tom Hull's on the one hand and overheated yammer about political/culture-war subjects that have nothing to do with music or art on the other.

Took me a while to parse this, but despite the compliment I can only conclude that I've wound up on the wrong side of what Milo is willing to find interesting and tolerable. Don't know what to say about that, other than that I don't often lay my politics out there. (Two comments in this thread.) Curiously, Milo's interest in "politics as it relates dirctly to art" is something I have no interest in at all.

This was followed by sangfreud:

Milo: Understand your dismay; not entirely sure why you jumped on my particular post, which did not have pernicious intent, and was fairly measured as far as I recall, enough at least so that Tom Hull included it in his thread summary. There are topics I don't find interesting either (e.g. endless lists of reshuffled xgau recommendations) but I read past them without comment. Well, that last was a comment, I guess, but you know what I mean . . .

My problem with sangfreud's main point -- about how we need to understand our opponents and respectably reason with them -- is that however right it seems in principle it's damn near impossible to do in practice. They're just too ensconced in their delusions, too warpped up in their defenses, too nuts. I look at Obama and see how much headway he's making, and realize that I don't even believe in half of the conciliatory crap he believes in.

Christgau later added:

Personally, I'm glad not everyone can let go of the political commentary here. I just don't have the time to write it, much less do research that hasn't just come my way in the course of my daily casting about.

For what it's worth, I've copied more of Milo's comments into my notebook than those from anyone else. I'd rather read him there than me, and I can always dump my thoughts elsewhere.

Cam Patterson wrote in to correct me: his list was "Reasons to live in the US"; not "why I live in the America," as I had put it. It would be easier to track these comments if they appeared in one file in chronological order -- Chris Drumm has started to straighten them out (see here, although note that the file is 1000 pages of RTF -- I had no problems saving the file and opening it using OpenOffice) but there's no way to keep up to date. So I got a bit sloppy there. Cam also pointed out that his list was a "tongue in cheek" response to an earlier post by japadsfdf -- a young Brit provocateur I've mostly ignored in this thread.

Later today, the comments veered into music guides. After dithering around a lot, I posted this:

Milo's post on discovering country music is one reason I'd rather read him here than me. I'll try to behave myself. A few small points:

Morthland's The Best of Country Music, as many have testified, is brilliant and (perhaps even better) useful. I bought a pile of them when they were first remaindered and gave them out as gifts. I saw him a few years back and proposed putting together a website of his work like the one I built for Christgau. I would still like to work on something like that. While he has no interest in updating let alone maintaining the book, I imagine it might make for a valuable community project.

I've always heard good things about Bill Malone's book(s), but never picked it up. I did find that the way to get a good handle on blues is to start with Francis Davis's The History of the Blues then work your way through the Smithsonian's 4-CD The Blues. I wouldn't say you have to get to the roots to understand things, but ignorance leads to a lot of misconceptions about blues.

Curious whether anyone sympathetic to metal has read and gotten much out of Mark Levine's Heavy Metal Islam -- the book the north African revolutions remind me more of than Gilles Kepel's Jihad (the one book to read if you want to know something about all that).

Also made a post comparing Expert Witness to Christgau's Dean's List:

I've added all of the Expert Witness reviews to my copy of the website, and I've updated most of the recent articles, including the Dean's List. As I last did in 2006, I added links from the Dean's List to the CG database, which made it clear that the following albums are in the Dean's List but have yet to appear in Expert Witness:

  • Tom Ze: Estudando a Bossa: Nordeste Plaza (Luaka Bop)
  • No Age: Everything in Between (Sub Pop)
  • The Rough Guide to Desert Blues (World Music Network)
  • El DeBarge: Second Chance (Geffen)
  • Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn (Columbia)
  • Les Savy Fav: Root for Ruin (Frenchkiss)
  • Konono No 1: Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs)

Expect these will appear before too long. On the other hand, the following 2010 albums have appeared in Expert Witness but didn't make it into the Dean's List:

  • The Extra Lens: Undercard (Merge)
  • Gold Panda: Lucky Shiner (Ghostly International)
  • Jazmine Sullivan: Love Me Back (J)

I also constructed a list of 2010 records Michael Tatum had graded A- or better that Christgau has not yet reviewed. Curious where he stands on these, but ultimately decided the list was too long to put up:

  • Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love (Matador)
  • The Books: The Way Out (Temporary Residence)
  • Calle 13: Entren Los Que Quieran (Sony Latin)
  • Chromeo: Business Casual (Atlantic)
  • El Guincho: Piratas de Sudamerica Vol. 1 (XL/Young Turks EP)
  • El Guincho: Pop Negro (Young Turks/XL)
  • Mary Gauthier: The Foundling (Razor & Tie)
  • Girls: Broken Dream Club (True Panther Sounds EP)
  • Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer (Elektra/Asylum)
  • Group Inerane: Guitars From Agadez Vol. 3 (Sublime Frequencies)
  • Jenny and Johnny: I'm Having Fun Now (Warner Bros)
  • Khaled: Liberte (Wrasse)
  • Los Lobos: Tin Can Trust (Shout! Factory)
  • Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops and Hooligans (Elektra/Asylum)
  • OFF!: The First Four EPs (Vice)
  • Liz Phair: Funstyle (Rocket Science Ventures)
  • Steve Reich: Double Sextet (Nonesuch)
  • Shakira: Sale el Sol (Sony Latin)
  • Ski Beatz: 24 Hour Karate School (DD172/Def Jam)
  • Richard Thompson: Dream Attic (Shout! Factory)
  • Weekend: Sports (Slumberland)
  • Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria (Soundway)
  • Roots of OK Jazz: Congo Classics 1955-56 (Crammed Discs)
  • The Rough Guide to Bhangra [Second Edition] (World Music Network)
  • Yes We Can: Songs About Leaving Africa (Out Here)

I could add yet another list distilled my own 2010 year-end list, leaving out jazz records as well as records already on Tatum's list:

  • The Left: Gas Mask (Mello Music)
  • Manu Chao: Radio Bemba: Baionarena Live (Nacional/Because)
  • The Henry Clay People: Somewhere on the Golden Coast (TBD)
  • Lyrics Born: As U Were (Decon)
  • 7L & Esoteric: 1212 (Fly Casual)
  • James Blood Ulmer: In and Out (In+Out)
  • LoneLady: Nerve Up (Warp)
  • T.I.: No Mercy (Grand Hustle)
  • The-Dream: Love King (Def Jam)
  • Smile Smile: Truth on Tape (Kirtland)
  • Dadi: Bem Aqui (Sunnyside)
  • Lower Dens: Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong)
  • Rakaa: Crown of Thorns (Decon)
  • King Sunny Ade: Bábá Mo Túndé (Indigedisc)
  • Lars Vaular: Helt Om Natten, Helt Om Dagen (Bonnier/Cosmos)
  • Reflection Eternal: Revolutions Per Minute (Warner Brothers)
  • Zs: New Slaves (The Social Registry)
  • Loudon Wainwright III: 10 Songs for the New Depression (Second Story Sound)
  • Sage Francis: Li(f)e (Anti-)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Sasha Abramsky: A Conversation With Marshall Ganz: Holocaust survivor, community organizer, early Obama advocate:

    President Obama, Ganz says ruefully, seems to be "afraid of people getting out of control." He needed the organizing base in 2008, but he and his inner circle were quick to dismantle it after the election. Yes, Ganz concedes, they kept Organizing for America, with its access to the vast volunteer databases, alive; but they made a conscious decision to neuter it, so as to placate legislators who were worried about the independent power base it could give Obama. Following a meeting of key members of the transition team, they placed it under the control of the Democratic National Committee. It became, if you like, something of a house pet. Yes, President Obama proposed, and continues to propose, many good policies; but, the community organizing guru concludes, the fire, the passion and the moral clarity were left out of his postelection rhetoric. [ . . . ]

    "He's not a bad man," Ganz says of the president. "His policy intent is not bad. But you don't have the opportunity to change history every day. The Obama campaign excited the whole world. It created an opportunity to build capacity and do real movement-building."

    In losing sight of that historic opening, and in tamping down the activist energies the campaign had unleashed, President Obama's inner circle lost a chance to change the country he leads. And then, intellectual polymath that he is, Ganz quotes the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides. "Hope is belief in the plausibility of the possible as opposed to the necessity of the probable."

  • Steve Benen: House Approves Brutal Budget Cuts: This is just the opening salvo on how all this budget nonsense is going to play out. It is, in short, what we got for letting the Republicans back in the corridors of power with the 2010 elections:

    As we talked about yesterday, it's hard to overstate how brutal these cuts really are. Overnight, 235 House Republicans voted to slash education, job training, environmental protections, food safety, community health centers, nuclear security, energy efficiency programs, scientific research, FEMA, Planned Parenthood, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control, among other things.

    The projected job losses from these cuts, we learned this week, could total 1 million American workers, all of whom would be forced into unemployment, on purpose, because Republicans think it'd be good for the economy. [ . . . ]

    Oddly enough, perhaps no one is happier with the vote than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- this one measure will be exploited for hundreds of hours of campaign ads, questioning the misguided principles of vulnerable Republican incumbents who were misguided enough to vote for this monstrosity.

  • Tom Engelhardt: Waist Deep in the Washington Quagmire: For all the budget-cutting mania, almost everything in the budget will be a hard fight. There's only one place where big money can be saved easily, and that is Afghanistan:

    Neither $553 billion nor $80.1 billion can buy Washington a brain. Right now, by all evidence, our leaders are still convinced that it's their job to run the world and fight distant wars until hell freezes over. They can't bear to think a new thought, or take a chance, or experiment on anything, or look at our planet in a new way. At the moment, the evidence indicates that they have the brainpower of the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz without that character's urge for self-improvement, and it's taking us down.

  • Paul Krugman: Thank You, Boeing: Relates Boeing's 787 fiasco to Oliver Williamson's theory of the firm, which seems true up to a point:

    In Boeing's case, they outsourced far too much, only to find that they were getting parts that didn't do what they were supposed to -- and also to find that the subcontractors were seizing a lot of the rents. They discovered, in effect, that there are times when it's better to rely on central planning than to leave things up to the market.

    Obviously this isn't always true. There's a tradeoff. But that's the point -- and it's this tradeoff that determines how big firms should be. Boeing has now provided a clear motivating example. Their loss, the economics profession's gain.

    One can argue here that Boeing had plenty of central planning on the 787, but that it was bad planning -- in particular that it was corrupted by political and ideological issues, something we're all too ready to point out when central planning is done by a government. Boeing was all too ready to farm so much work out for three main reasons:

    1. Boeing was constantly at war with their unions and workforce, and the main way they had to weaken those unions was to outsource work. One clear sign that Boeing was intent on launching class war was the decision to move the corporate headquarters from Seattle, where they employed so many people a good-sized city often felt like a company town, to Chicago, where managers could be assured they'd never have to face an unemployed worker. Another was when they took large, efficient factories like they had in Wichita and Tulsa, and repackaged them into a faux-independent firm like Spirit Aerosystems -- faux because Boeing continued to own a big chunk of Spirit to keep the stock price from crashing.
    2. Boeing had come to view itself as a political jobs merchant, so every time they scheduled a new project, they sent their lobbyists out to see which governments would bid the most for the privilege of hosting new high-tech aerospace jobs. They further bid those prospects off against whatever they could wring from their supplier chain, and took whatever deals gave they the best up-front advances. All this shifting work around meant they threw away most of the worker expertise they had built up over the years in favor of deals that looked good on paper, often with companies that had no track record of delivering the products Boeing would depend on.
    3. Customers, mostly national airlines, often tried to negotiate offsets, where in exchange for ordering airplanes Boeing agreed to relocate some pieces of work to the nation buying the airplanes: this was especially true of China and Japan, which were hoping to build up an experienced labor and engineering force that would eventually allow them to compete with Boeing. When Boeing started negotiating such deals, they assured us (and themselves) that as long as Boeing didn't outsource the wings no significant technology transfer would occur. With the 787 program, Boeing outsourced its crown jewels, the wings.

    The net result was a system that was highly biased to outsource, and those biases were set at such a high political level that no one could pose such important questions as: how do you maintain quality control over such a large supplier network; how do you manage change orders; how do you allocate overcosts; what risks do you run depending on vendors who in turn have their own labor issues, currency issues, vendor supply chains, and competing customers? Raising any of those questions in a highly charged political atmosphere could be viewed as obstructionism or even insubordination. Moreover, Boeing had routinely done similar things on military contracts and generally gotten away with it, but the big difference there is that with cost-plus military contracts the government would pick up the tab -- something not true for the 787.

    It also isn't clear how well thought out the 787 was before they went to outsourcing it. It occurred to me at the time that they rushed to announce it because they were losing a lot of market to Airbus, so the announcement of all this new technology in just a few years would freeze the market. They had been through a comparable disaster with the 747, which nearly bankrupted the company, but that was a long time ago. Managers typically rise through the ranks of American business by the confidence with which they can project strong affirmative answers, and whole generations had gotten away with that at Boeing. The last thing anyone wanted to hear was a naysayer, so they went into this oblivious to the risks and potential consequences. They were hardly alone, either in American politics or in business.

  • Andrew Leonard: Wisconsin's War on Human Liberty: New Republican Gov. Scott Walker versus the unions:

    The governor made national news on Friday when he announced that the National Guard stood ready to deal with any disruptions that might result should state workers do something radical -- like, say, go on strike -- in protest of Walker's initiative.

    That last move, which focused national attention on a dispute that had, until then, been mostly beneath the radar, may ultimately backfire. Republicans have majorities in both the state House and Senate but there appears to be some question now whether legislators are willing to go along with Walker's plan to alienate teachers, nurses and prison guards. (Firefighters, police officers and state troopers, incidentally, are exempt from Walker's decree, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, possibly because the state trooper's union and Milwaukee firefighter and police unions endorsed Walker in his campaign for governor.)

  • Robert Reich: The Real Republican Strategy: I'm not sure that it's quite this neat, especially now that we're seeing various policy wrinkles and fissures in party discipline, but this is certainly a central thrust:

    The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class -- pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.

    By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans hope to deflect attention from the big story. That's the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.

    Republicans would rather no one notice their campaign to generate further tax cuts for the rich -- making the Bush tax cuts permanent, further reducing the estate tax, and allowing the wealthy to shift ever more of their income into capital gains taxed at 15 percent.

    I'm more tempted to put it this way: the Republican plan is to do whatever it takes to turn everyone against everyone, because the only thing they need to worry about is chance that people might unite and use their votes and influence in government to assert a public good in opposition to private interests. Busting unions is one piece in this. Using the government to redistribute money from the poor to the rich, instead of the other way around, is even more central. And keeping everyone at loggerheads lets them pick off their enemies one by one. The strategy also has a neat bonus: by tricking Obama into thinking he can be the voice of moderation, they start with the big advantage of getting him to meet them half way.

Let yesterday's Expert Witness thread go -- the mob quickly moved on to rock movies, a subject not very fresh in my mind. Did want to make some points about unions. Beyond any doubting, the stronger the union movement was in America, the better off working people were -- even ones who didn't belong to unions. That was partly because the credible threat of unionization made non-union companies -- IBM was the most famous such example -- more sensitive to worker complaints. But it's also because unions -- at least once the movement put Samuel Gompers to rest -- cared about more than just dues-paying members: unions were in the forefront of civil rights and civil liberties issues for all Americans.

The collapse of the union movement was by no means inevitable in the US. We could very well have found ourselves akin to Germany with workers recognized as stakeholders on the boards of companies, but we had this one completely anomalous election in 1946 which swung Congress to the Republican Party, allowing them to pass Taft-Hartley. (The same Congress passed the first law dismantling parts of banking law, also over Truman's veto, and that in turn eventually led to the return of depression economics in the 2000s.) Taft-Hartley did two things: it immediately convinced the AFL-CIO that they wouldn't be able to organize effectively in the South, so they stopped trying; and over the long term it gave companies powerful tools to keep unions from organizing, and eventually to break unions, with no real risks even when their anti-union activities were technically illegal. The Republicans lost Congress as quickly as they had won. Had they been stopped, it's hard to see how they ever would have pushed such laws through.

Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley. Southern racists provided the extra votes the Republicans needed to override Truman's veto. However, Truman was not without fault. During WWII businesses had grown fat on government spending and wages were held in check by government wage-price controls. When those controls were lifted, unions sought a fair share of those gains, and often went on strike. When they did, the one person most likely to condemn and attack the strikes was Harry Truman. As such, Truman did as much as anyone to feed anti-union fervor, ultimately undermining both the working class and the Democratic Party. This was not the first time and sure not the last when the Democrats in power worked hard to undermine their supporters, making it possible for their enemies to walk all over them.

Personally, I don't think that unions were ever the right answer but they often provided a necessary check on the normal drives of business to dominate and consume labor. Back during the New Deal, the favored term was countervailing power. It was commonly observed that "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- and the way to minimize that corruption was to make sure that all power centers were balanced off by countervailing power centers. Unions were an elegant solution to corporate powers -- especially to the ever-larger corporations that dominated the US in the mid-20th century. Up through the 1970s, most company-union deals involved an equitable split of returns from productivity increases. Since then virtually all productivity benefits were captured by companies. It shouldn't surprise anyone that productivity increased faster in the period when both companies and workers benefited than in the subsequent era. Nor that in the former era wealth was more equitably shared.

The secret was to align worker and company interests: unions helps to do this, but employee ownership is even more effective. I became convinced of this working in high-tech startups -- even when the ownership distribution was limited the gains were little short of amazing. So that's where I think we should be moving, at least in the long-term. Still, here and now any gain for unions is a plus, and every attack on unions is an attack on the public welfare, and indeed on the community and nation as a whole.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Expert Comments

Since Robert Christgau's Expert Witness blog started appearing, his twice-weekly posts have been garnering a few dozen comments early on, up to as many as 500 more recently. More like a discussion group, with a dozen or so regulars contributing heavily, another dozen or two hangers on offering the occasional comment. I would be in the lower half of the latter group. I've also been logging my comments, along with some other notes, in my online notebook -- a file I don't expect anyone else to read but I find it a handy place to find things later on. (E.g., all of my blog posts wind up there, plus all of the Jazz CG notes, plus more or less junk, like some first drafts I gave up on.

Mostly on music, but with Wisconsin's Republican governor calling out the National Guard to smash public employee unions, the comments section took a political turn. I wrote two longish comments which I thought worth sharing here. Will throw in some more bits for context, and some further comments.

I keep peeling away layers as I go back. Christgau wasn't the first person to mention Wisconsin, but parenthetically replied:

(Personal to walter and japad: the governor of Wisconsin is right now trying to kill the American union movement, part of the larger Republican plan to impoverish anyone who works in the caring professions. These all tend to be Democrats, you see.)

This is quite an insight, getting both the scorched earth flavor of the Republican strategy, and its understanding that the victims are people who are likely to matter to us.


I feel bad when a brilliant and politically-conscious 68-yo still sees the difference between the two parties, when his 21-yo cynical fan doesn't -- I guess I'm doing something wrong, lumping the powerful Democrats with the ones who still vote for them. But a fraternity brother's (try not to judge, everyone at Dartmouth is a fraternity brother; my house happens to study English and dig Miles Davis) mom ran for the US House in New Hampshire. I couldn't vote for her -- and didn't. Democrat or not, she made her money (and I mean money) as a pharma lobbyist.

Robert Christgau responds, with what looks like an invite to me:

Nicky: it makes me very sad when a bright young person thinks marginal difference equals no difference. That's terrible math. Without wanting to really get into it (believe me, Hull for instance can write rings around me on this subject, and I just don't have the time), centrists are not reactionaries, and for the past 40 years, with Reagan's the election when it started to make a difference (and the air controller's strike a major turning point), it's reactionaries who have systematically and with malice aforethought undermined the freedoms and economic security of most Americans -- made most Americans' lives worse. Including yours, as you'll find out whenever you're compelled to earn your own living.

True, I do have a lot to say about centrism, but I didn't really follow up on that aspect. Christgau added another post linking to a recent Robert Reich blog post (I've substituted the link below for the one on Salon where I read it):

I know links are said not to work here, but I just read this piece by Robert Reich, who I tend to like more than Krugman because he's worked in government, meaning he has a better understanding of the possible, and because he hasn't suffered cranium expansion after being told he was a genius by a bunch of Swedes. It's called "The Republican Strategy" and is recommended especially to the non-Americans here because it sums up the basics of our current dilemma. [ . . . ] URL

I would have been tempted to argue that nobody in Sweden could possibly swell Krugman's head any further, but BurtM responded more sensitively:

Excellent Reich article. Hate to see what seems like a gratuitous shot at Krugman though. He's been fighting the good fight for a long time, and seems all too aware of the impossibility of getting done what so desperately needs to be done.

I finally wrote my post, adding more on Reich/Krugman although that wasn't the main point. The asides wound up in a second post due to some space constraint. They referred back to other comments, including Cam Patterson's one on "why I live in America."

Most of the thread was focused on Ferry-Eno when I went to bed last night, a subject I could have said any number of things on. Like, that the Manzanera-McKay band got a lot better without Eno's oblique strategizing (Christgau's "fifth wheel" comment was on target), and that Ferry made a point of re-recording about half of the first two Roxy Music albums, which invariably sharpened up the songs.

But when I got up this, uh, afternoon, the masses had moved on to politics. It's worth noting that what's happening in Wisconsin is also happening less dramatically in Ohio and elsewhere. Not so much in Kansas at the moment, where the Republicans are mostly obsessed with imaginary problems, like Illegal Democrats (sometimes called "aliens") voting or getting an education. It's also telling that the Wisconsin Republicans exempted those unions that endorsed Walker. One of the hallmarks of the new right movement ever since the 1970s has been an obsession with "de-funding" the Democratic Party -- the big thing with "tort reform" was that trial lawyers tended to favor the Democrats, although protecting corporate malfeasance was also something the Republicans were simpatico with. Unions are most obvious Democratic-leaning institutions to de-fund, but they're hot on the case of any group that winds up against them -- ACORN, for example.

Conversely, they work to increase the funding of their supporters. One way they do this is to sell government jobs to private contractors, which both undercuts the public unions and pays them campaign booty. The point of the K Street Project was to force anyone lobbying Congress to carry the Republicans' political agenda. That was the single most anti-democratic (small-d as well as cap-D) force of the last century. (It was, for instance, the reason Matt Taibbi keeps likening Tom DeLay to Stalin; well, that and the fact that Taibbi covered Russia for a decade, so is more conscious of the lingering effects of Stalin than most of us.)

I've already written something about the Reich post, and will put that up sometime tomorrow. I think the strategy is even uglier than Reich realizes. Reich is sometimes very good and sometimes very bad: he was the first to generalize from gated housing tracts to the political psychology of the rich being able to isolate themselves from the community; he also came up with the crap theory that the US would be able to replace all of the crummy manufacturing jobs we shipped overseas with much better jobs as "symbolic manipulators." The latter provided perfect ideological cover for everything Clinton did from NAFTA to repealing Glass-Steagall, which is why Reich got the Labor Secretary job. Locked in the Cabinet shows Reich to have been a conscientious administrator and political myopic -- the one thing you can't find in it is "a better understanding of the possible." Just this week Reich and Andrew Leonard have been grappling over marginal tax rate proposals, where Leonard's point is that Reich has no clue as to what's possible now. Indeed, Reich's primary value right now is his idealism.

Krugman, by the way, did some government work too, way back in the Reagan administration, when he was regarded as if not quite a conservative at least a sharp critic of Democrats like Reich and Clinton. He only became associated with the left as conservatives became more powerful, stupider, and more self-destructive, and finally made a big show of embracing liberalism because he wanted to make the point that the New Deal/Great Society was actually pretty good for almost all of us. I came out of the 1960s with an intense dislike of liberalism (cf. Robert Paul Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism), and he's done a lot to mellow me out -- actually the same way Wolff did, with stone cold logic.

Some asides: Loudon Wainwright III's Paul Krugman song, plus some other economics diversions, is on 10 Songs for the New Depression.

For Nicky: As Will Rodgers said, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." He'd have even less choice today.

For Cam: Camper van Beethoven: "And if you weren't living here in America, you'd probably be living somewhere else."

Robert Christgau responded kindly:

Told you guys Hull was way better at this stuff than me. I'm just glad he abstained from cutting me to pieces -- we're good friends, but he's generally to my left and always has more factual material at his disposal. As for solidstate, phooey. The fact that most union leaders live higher and more sleazily than I do is approximately as interesting as the fact that the same is true of an even larger percentage of politicians. Talk about duh. Unions are imperfect, but less imperfect by a factor of 100 than banking, and -- as Thomas Frank pointed out in, of all places, What's the Matter With Kansas -- the main place ordinary Americans can learn about the efficacy of group action, something the rich want desperately to convince them is against their best interests and also boring.

I would have been more defensive about the living standards of union officials. In my experience (and I must admit I never knew Jimmy Hoffa) they're not far out of line from the people they represent. Of course, you heard the same innuendo about "welfare queens" -- a species that to my knowledge has never been proven to exist. Anyone who wants to track down solidstatendc on why unions suck or japadsfdf on centrism can do their own digging. The anti-union spiel is particularly tiring, an example of the echo chamber endlessly beating propaganda into our brains. The only real question is: if not the union, who else will stand up for workers getting screwed over by the bosses? Find me a better solution, otherwise you're just asserting that the powerful are right to trample over the weak.

Sangfreud responded:

I'll take issue with one thing, though, and it gets to my point about how the Democrats need to understand Republican voters before it can win any of them back.

He followed that up with some stats about illegal immigration in Kansas, then wound up:

That might seem like an imaginary problem here in this bluest of states. But to voters who find their schools flooded with non-English speakers with special needs, and who are concerned about their children continuing to receive a good education, that is a real problem.

As long as Democrats continue to call Kansas' problems "imaginary," the people of Kansas are going to continue to vote Republican.

I responded with this:

Sangfreud: The "imaginary problems" I referred to include such current preoccupations of the state legislature as: a "voter ID" proposal which would require a passport or birth certificate to register to vote -- the total number of documented "voter fraud" cases in the last decade this is supposed to fix is one; a bill to deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, which the main backer admits is purely symbolic; and a new law further restricting late-term abortions, which is kind of unnecessary given that the only doctor in Kansas who performed such was murdered last year.

I don't doubt that there are quite a few illegal immigrant workers in the state, especially in the feedlots and meat packing plants in Garden City, Dodge City, and Liberal -- which are, by the way, the only towns in western Kansas that are gaining population, so the workers there are a mixed blessing. Elsewhere it's hard to tell: Wichita probably has its fair share, but you can go through life without ever noticing a thing.

I've tried pretty hard to understand conservatives, but you wind up with a lot of cognitive dissonance, often wrapped around a sense of superiority and disdain for everyone different from themselves. But I don't know how to sway even ones that I'm very close to and personally respect. It's not that I can't think of good logical reasons. It's not that I can't appeal to their better natures. It's just that for now at least they're trapped in their cult. So I don't hold much hope for a political movement to win them back. The bigger opportunity is that there are a lot of people who are innately skeptical of conservatives but don't vote because they don't trust anyone else either. You can largely explain the 2010 election by the people who dropped out from 2008. Those are the people you need to win back, or win for the first time, and making nice to the conservatives doesn't do that trick.

You're right that the Democrats have done a lousy job of teaching. That's partly because they don't share a coherent worldview. One hoped that Obama might seize the opportunity provided by teachable moments and shape a viable narrative, but he hasn't done so. Rather, his case for reelection is little more than that he's the last hope for reason against the demented Republican hordes. If we can't praise him, the least we can do is make plain how dire the alternative is.

PS: My first introduction to understanding conservatives was Eugene Genovese's The Political Economy of Slavery, which did a remarkable job of stressing the internal consistency of the slaveholders' ideology and sense of morality. Of course, today's conservatives have evolved somewhat. The main thing that hasn't changed is the sense that the order that favors them is the only one that is just and free.

The Democrats do have a problem fielding candidates in Kansas. They don't have an infrastructure that grooms candidates from the precinct level up like the Republicans do, and they don't have anyway near the level of access to media and funding.

Some other comments popped up. NickiFrooj:

Democrats are such prissy individuals. I don't see a broad mission statement from them -- and there hasn't been a good one, it seems, since Great Society. And that failed . . .

Again, personal experience begs to differ, not that I'm so sure it matters anyway. This is an example of the cognitive dissonance I talked about above.


Democrats need to educate. They need to let people know, without insulting them, that they are being played. They need to figure out some way of countering the Republican disinformation machine, without introducing their own.

No doubt this is true. One can even argue that this is what Obama is doing, although not with enough passion and conviction to convince the people who voted for him that he's really on their side. I just think Obama gives too much away on the rare occasions he argues anything, and his conciliatory approach turns off his supporters even more than an abrasive approach would turn off the other side.

Still, I don't think the path to peace is paved with war, and I do think the most essential goal is mutual respect, so we do have to find ways to make the means consonant with the ends. Just hard to do that when you're trying to engage people who hate you, reasoning with those who abjure reason, whose heads are so full of nonsense you can't even fathom where it's all coming from.

Should have mentioned that the specific comment stream is here, 169 deep at the moment and certain to grow larger by the next Expert Witness post. Much more that could have been quoted, including sharpsm:

It's also worth pointing out, as both Frank and Krugman do, that the period of greatest American prosperity -- roughly 1945 to the early seventies -- was also the time of peak union membership in this country. Not a coincidence.

Not sure how serious Milo Miles was in wanting to shut us all up, but hint taken.

Update: More from Christgau:

I started thie political tone here mostly because I've been thinking about little else since Wisconsin boiled over. I promised not to get into it but of course couldn't resist and though I'm always happy to read Hull on this stuff -- when I get around to improving the blogroll to our right tomhull.com will be the first addition, which will mean I'll visit more often myself -- I also understand Milo's dismay. Given his thumbs ratio I assume solid's anti-union boilerplate on the previous page requires no refutation from me, although I just have to note that if "taxpayer" meant what it ought to in this country Walker couldn't possibly get away with his power play. And now I will withdraw from the fray and return to music.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Expert Comments

Sangfreud mentioned Ari Up:

sangfreud: Jason Gross has a nice memoir on Ari Up over at Ye Wei Blog; scroll down past the EOY list.

By the way, I recently scanned through Jason's EOY list and played everything I hadn't heard of but could find on Rhapsody. Lots of pretty good albums -- Henry Clay People was the biggest find; also Smile Smile, the Upsidedown, some others. Codeine Velvet Club reminds me of some cheesy British prog groups from the 1970s that were perversely attractive but in the end you didn't even want to like.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Expert Comments

From Milo Miles:

Can you fully apprehend and enjoy popular music if you didn't live through the moment when it was new? Interesting question, with no single answer.

Let me resort first to a band that's been coming up quite often here. The New York Dolls changed my life in 1973 when I was 21 not least because they were roughly peers who showed me how I could enrich my style, my attitudes and my perceptions right now -- in my world that day.

But within a couple years, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington had also changed my life. One was way gone before one of his solos caused me to jump out of the bathtub and race sopping wet to lift the needle and play it again, and again, and again. The other one passed on about a year before his band language opened up to me and I began to hear his phases and foresaw, correctly, that I would end up with as many albums by him as anybody in my collection.

But Yardbird was pretty much esoteric knowledge. Wouldn't have mattered if I'd been 20 years older than I was. Cripes, his prime stuff for Savoy and Dial was utterly unavailable when I first became curious about him and I had to resort to French-import LPs on BYG to hear the sides.

Ellington is just as convoluted. It seems incomprehensible to me that his big band was considered somewhere in the upper-middle of the pack during the style's heyday. But he didn't become a done-deal major star until the Newport frenzy of 1956. Was that experiencing Ellington in his moment? Or was it just as good when "Harlem Air Shaft" erased my mind in 1975?

Last thing I want to mention is that certain fans far prefer (at least subconsciously) to experience music from a distance in time. Listening to it transports them to an imagined world where the flaws of this one no longer matter. Consider R. Crumb's dreams of mountain-musician life from the Harry Smith era. The '40s bebop dens and the dawn of the Fillmore age offer similar refuges.

From stanpnepa:

There is nothing like the Christgau website. While you can find far more titles at allmusic - their reviews are all over the place - written and evaluated by different people - multiple writers for each artist. No single person has been reviewing records with this kind of focus for 40+ years. It's a lifetime project that just keeps growing and we're glad to have it. Though maybe Kay Huntington isn't so happy it's up there?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Budget Blather

The main topic this week seems to be Obama's budget proposal, which is hugely disappointing in practically every way I can imagine. Yet the only way that directly matters is how it holds up against schemes even worse being bandied about by the House Republicans. As Andrew Leonard points out, even with last year's Democratic majorities Congress didn't actually wind up passing a budget, so the odds of that happening now are even slimmer. What Obama's presumably doing is staking out the ground he wants to argue over in the runup to the next election. Thus he wants to be able to point to lots of spending cuts. And while his budget arguably enables the Republicans to insist on deeper and more painful cuts, it's not like they're going to turn around and accuse him of counterstimulating the economy, since they've already locked themselves into that position.

Still, the whole debate as presently constituted is just disgusting. I've warned all along that it would be nothing short of insane to give the Republicans any perch of power in Washington, and we've already seen that prediction born out in the House. All I really have to say about it is I told you so, and I'm sure you'll be as sick of hearing it as I'll be of saying it two years from now. At this point, I don't even care if Obama's budget strategy works or not. I've never been an advocate of making things worse to get a better reaction, but if the American people are stupid enough to empower Republicans, they clearly need to be smashed around with a harder, sharper stick. I don't know how else to get through to people. (In retrospect, those of us who supported TARP made a mistake. Clearly now, we should have made sure that people realized that chasm wasn't just a colorful colloquialism. Instead, what we got was an even more concentrated banking system and nothing to help an economy that was, if you subtract the bubble of the financial system, already ailing.) Even if Obama does win the big budget cuts showdown on points, he's already sacrificed both principle and understanding to do so. Nothing good will come of it.

Meanwhile, some links that might have been interesting if we were actually in a situation where political policy mattered:

The Reich-Leonard flap about marginal tax rates is an example of one of those things we can't talk about because we have to stay focused inside the box, which is a place where we can't talk about taxing the rich.

You can't say that Boehner isn't completely insensitive about the employment effects of government spending cuts. He did, after all, keep the F-35 second engine scam in his budget, possibly because the GE plant that would make the engine is located in his district. That's just the sort of fatally compromisd message that fails to convince, as evidenced by the bipartisan House vote against the program. Also suggests that military spending isn't as sacrosanct as Obama seems to believe.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Porkalicious, in response to a dis on cream of mushroom soup:

One of the venerable family recipes is to take round steak, pound it, cut into small rectangles, dip in milk and flour and fry until crisp; then put the steak in a casserole, top with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom and a half-can of milk, cover and bake for an hour or more. Not something my mom's mom taught her, but nothing -- not pan-fried chicken, chicken & dumplings, ham hocks & red beans & cornbread, meatloaf -- tastes more like home to me. You could try improving on it, but that would be beside the point.

Music Week

Music: Current count 17787 [17745] rated (+42), 843 [847] unrated (-4). High rate count must mean a lot of Rhapsody, although I can't say that I was all that conscious of it. Can't say I've been conscious of much this past week.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 6)

Another week in the doldrums of the column cycle, plus in the middle of the month when I have few tasks to wrap up or bear down on, plus in the middle of a winter that fairly sucks -- will, I guess, be one to recall when global warming makes such things nostalgic.

Ernestine Anderson: Nightlife (2008-09 [2011], High Note): Veteran r&b singer, came up with Johnny Otis 1947-49, moved on to Lionel Hampton, and has been moving ever since. Cut some records 1956-60, then dropped out of sight until Concord revived her in 1976 with 12 albums through 1993, and now has 3 since 2003 on High Note, this one sampling two Dizzy's Club Coca Cola sets straddling her 80th birthday. Voice is a bit gruff; songbook is mostly blues. Should be ordinary but actually she gives a remarkable performance, with a big boost from the label's resident saxophone genius, Houston Person. B+(***)

Joey DeFrancesco/Robi Botos/Vito Rezza/Phil Dwyer: One Take: Volume Four (2010, Alma): Something the label and producer Peter Cardinali do: round up a set of musicians, bust them loose on standard songs with no rehearsals, everything done in one take. Lineup varies a little. Volume One had DeFrancesco, Guido Basso, Lorne Lofsky, and Rezza; Volume Two had Dwyer, Botos, Marc Rogers, and Terri Lyne Carrington; Volume Three went with Don Thompson and Reg Schwager. Volume Four returns with four repeaters from previous lineups. DeFrancesco does his usual organ shtick, although with out his usual guitarist he stands out a bit more, even with the Botos' contrasting keyboards. But Dwyer is key -- one of those broad-toned tenor saxophonists born to play soul jazz. B+(**)

Alison Ruble: Ashland (2009 [2010], Origin): Singer, second album, mix of traditional standards -- "S' Wonderful," "Let's Fall in Love," "Night and Day" -- and rock-era pieces, if only up to the early 1970s -- "Route 66," Dylan, King Crimson, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris. Arrangements by guitarist John McLean, flute and sax by Jim Gailloreto, Hammond B3, cello, bass, and drums. Pieces are handsomely framed and elegantly sung. B+(*)

Patti Austin: Sound Advice (2010 [2011], Shanachie): Soul singer, church-style although she actually got her first break with song-and-dance-man Sammy Davis. Checkered career, her RCA contract at age 5 doesn't seem to have left anything in her discography, then there were patches from 1976 with CTI, Qwest in the 1980s, and GRP in the early 1990s. She probably has more records than any soul singer who never appeared in Christgau's Consumer Guide. Probably one of the most famous singers I've never heard before this album. This one wasn't easy either: in some sort of "wardrobe malfunction" the disc I received, with her name and number clearly printed on it -- final product, not an advance -- has someone else's music on it: no idea who, but the lead instrument is some kind of electronic keyboard backed by chintzy Latin percussion and virtually no vocals (not that I bothered listening to much of it). Finally resorted to Rhapsody (although I won't flag it as such, since I do have the packaging, just didn't get the music). Mixed bag of things, including a sturdy "Lean on Me," but I found the cleanup slots (4-5-6 if you're not into baseball) to be rather disorienting: the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," McCartney's "Let 'Em In," and Dylan's morosely Manichaean "Gotta Server Somebody" -- annoying in any context, but certainly Christianist here. I've rarely hated a song more, although the grade doesn't really reflect that. B

BANN: As You Like (2009 [2011], Jazz Eyes): Acronym group, quartet: Seamus Blake (tenor sax), Jay Anderson (bass), Oz Noy (guitar), and Adam Nussbaum (drums). Anderson leads on points: he's credited with "recorded, mixed and mastered"; also wrote 3 of 5 new songs -- one each for Noy and Nussbaum, four covers (Jerome Kern, Thelonious Monk, David Crosby, and Joe Henderson). Anderson is a bassist from Canada: a couple of albums in the 1990s, a long list of side credits starting with Woody Herman in 1978. He keeps the rhythm loose and limber here. Nussbaum is the only American, same type of drummer. Blake is a saxophonist from England, a mainstreamer with a big, bold tone, always a welcome presence. Noy is an Israeli, probably a good deal younger, does some of his best work here. B+(***)

Roland Vazquez Band: The Visitor (2010, RVD): B. 1951 in California, drummer, AMG credits him with 7 albums since 1979's Urban Ensemble. His band is a big one -- four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, piano, guitar, electric bass, drums, congas, vibes. Vazquez composed and conducts but doesn't play. A lot of star power in the band, but it rarely stands out. B

Chico Pinheiro: There's a Storm Inside (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Guitarist-vocalist, from Brazil, 5th album since 2003. Mostly originals, a couple co-written with Paulo César Pinheiro; two English lyrics: Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and Stevie Wonder's "As" -- the latter a guest spot for Diana Reeves. The other name guest is saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Pinheiro's a talented guitarist and a tossaway vocalist, backed by large bands of evanescent texture -- on three cuts fortified with a large string section. Oddly brilliant, but I can't say I enjoyed it. C+

Laurie Antonioli: American Dreams (2009 [2010], Intrinsic Music): Singer, b. 1958 in California, based in Oakland; third album since 2005, including a duo with Richie Beirach. Wrote most of the songs -- co-credited with five others, so I figure her for the lyricist. Covers include "Moonlight in Vermont," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," and a dreadful "America the Beautiful." Arty high voice. Good band, usually picks up when she lets go. Especially notable is soprano/tenor saxophonist Sheldon Brown. B-

Patty Cronheim: Days Like These (2009 [2010], Say So): Singer-songwriter, b. 1960, probably based on New York, first album. Wrote 7 of 10 songs, covering "Summertime," "Superstition" (lists Stevie Wonder's Talking Book as a desert island disc), and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Has a slight scratch to her voice, which works well in a jazz context. Covers aren't especially notable, although her "Bye Bye Blackbird" is the best of three I've heard in the last week -- she lets it romp free instead of using it to end the Beatles' "Blackbird" on an up note. Originals are pretty solid, with "Don't Work Anymore" outstanding. And she gets terrific sax breaks from Dan Wall. B+(**)

Gabriele Tranchina: A Song of Love's Color (2008 [2010], Jazzheads): Singer, b. in Germany, based in New York, second album, the first self-released in 2003. Most songs are credited to pianist Joe Vincent Tranchina; one based on Hindu trad, another a trad Spanish lullaby. Multilingual: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, the latter leaning heavily on Jobim. Band mostly piano and Latin percussion: Bobby Sanabria, Renato Thoms, Santi Debriano on bass. B+(*)

Erika: Obsession (2009 [2010], Erika): AMG finds 10 entries for "erika"; no idea which one this one is. Booklet makes a point of always printing "ERIKA" all caps. Actual name: Erika Matsuo. Very striking on the right song -- opener "Night and Day" and the sure-fire "Moondance"; otherwise she leans heavily on Brazilian music: Jobim, of course, but also Nascimento, Djavan, Caymmi, Lins, nicely done -- the band includes Paulo Levi and Yosvany Terry on saxes, Romero Lubambo on guitar, Essiet Essiet on bass, and Nanny Assis on percussion. B+(*)

Yelena Eckemoff: Cold Sun (2009 [2010], Yelena Music): Pianist, from Russia, in New York since 1991. Most of her reputation is based on classical music, but this is jazz, a low-key but smart and sharp piano trio, with Mads Vinding on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. B+(**)

Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM: Our Secret World (2009 [2010], Word of Mouth Music): Guitarist, b. 1970 in Philadelphia, based in Berlin, Germany; tenth album since 1996 -- a prominent figure, but one I haven't followed closely. OJM is Orchestra de Jazz de Matosinhos, a Brazilian big band conducted by Carlos Azevado and Pedro Guedes, with Ohad Talmor also arranging. Most impressive when the guitar is cruising away from the band. B+(*)

Jerry Bergonzi: Convergence (2008 [2011], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1947 (Wikipedia) or 1950 (AMG, AAJ), website doesn't offer an opinion; has thirty-some records since 1983, the ones I've heard (i.e., since 2006) consistently excellent. This one has bass, drums, two cuts with piano, and a fair amount of overdubbed soprano sax, a self-interaction that pushes him to new heights. A-

Gord Grdina Trio with Mats Gustafsson: Barrel Fire (2009 [2010], Drip Audio): Grdina, from Vancouver, plays guitar and oud. He has an interesting string of recent records, none of which quite prepare you for the electric charge he shows here. The hint you do get is the presence of Norwegian saxophonist Gustafsson, who has a group called the Thing which specializes in free jazz blowouts of postpunk rock tunes and has a long history of jousting with Ken Vandermark in various groups, including the three-for-all Sonore. Also key is bassist Tommy Babin, whose highly flamable Benzene group pointed this way. Gustafsson comes out loud and ugly, but Grdina rises to the occasion. Then, surprisingly, he picks up the oud and cranks it to another level, with Gustafsson's noise tunnel trailing in his wake. A-

Joan Soriano: El Duque de la Bachata (2010, IASO, CD+DVD): Supposedly the rougher, cruder country version of merengue, fit for small-time royalty, the 7th of 15 children with scant education, just a fine sense of how to keep a guitar rhythm rolling, with a seductive voice. DVD gives you more personal sense, less music. B+(***)

Amina Figarova: Sketches (2010, Munich): Pianist, b. 1966 in Baku, currently Azerbaijan; studied in Baku, Rotterdam, and at Berklee; based in Rotterdam; 8th album since 1998. The piano leads are very striking, but most cuts add horns -- Ernie Hammes on trumpet, Marc Mommaas on tenor sax, Bart Platteau on flute -- which seem less focused. B+(*)

Shauli Einav: Opus One (2010 [2011], Plus Loin Music): Saxophonist, b. 1982 in Israel, based in New York, second album. Has a silky, slinky postbop sound; helps when it's offset by Andy Hunter's trombone. B+(*)

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Alexis Cuadrado: Noneto Ibérico (Bju'ecords): Mar. 15
  • Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Prairie Prophet (Delmark)
  • Eco D'Alberi: Eco D'Alberi (Porter): Mar. 15
  • Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya: Sotho Blue (Sunnyside)
  • Clarence "Jelly" Johnson: Low Down Papa (1912-20, Delmark)
  • Eartha Kitt: The Essential Eartha Kitt (1952-57, RCA/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Mar. 15
  • Vesa-Matti Loiri: 4+20 (1971, Porter): Mar. 15
  • Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Imaginary Sketches (Origin)
  • Eddie Mendenhall: Cosine Meets Tangent (Miles High)
  • Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Three-Part Odyssey (OA2)
  • Django Reinhardt: The Essential Django Reinhardt (1949-50, RCA/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Mar. 15
  • Cuong Vu 4-tet: Leaps of Faith (Origin)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Amjad Atallah/Daniel Levy: America, Welcome to the Era of Arab Democracy:

    The stark realization slowly dawning on Washington is that the United States cannot be on the right side of Arab democracy if it is on the wrong side of Palestinian freedom. Israel's security and peace treaties are certainly compatible with a recalibrated American policy in the region, but not the continuation of occupation and inequality for Palestinians. This shouldn't pose such a conundrum: the status quo has constrained the prospects for both the Arab and Jewish-Israeli publics. For all of its qualitative military edge and American backing, Israel does not feel secure, accepted or calm about its future.

    Things get messy though when America fails to apply its own values to the Middle East. Some are advocating for precisely that values-free option, apparently believing that the adage of Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East is not so much a lament as an aspiration.

  • Andrew Leonard: Stupid Republican Budget Tricks: No big surprise that among the government spending Republicans want to cut are funds for energy conservation and the EPA. Even fully budgeted, that spending would be a mere speed bump on the way to global warming. They have no way of reckoning the costs to be avoided by taking action. Even where the history of insurance rates for floods and other disasters should give them pause, such rates are vastly understated because when disaster strikes it's always the government -- even an underfunded one drowning in its own bathtub -- that emerges as the insurer of last resort. But the Wikileaks report cited here that Saudi Arabia is now at least privately admitting what's long been suspected: that they've overestimated their oil reserves by some 300 billion barrels. That basically puts us on the downside of peak oil, beyond which the only brake on gas prices will be how much pain they cause -- specifically how many consumers high prices can drive away from the market.

    Meanwhile, see another Leonard post: New Obama Strategy: Beat Up Poor People. Cutting subsidies that let poor people heat their homes even as fuel prices rise means that the first to suffer from rising oil prices will be the poor.

  • Michael Lind: How Reaganism Actually Started With Carter: This isn't a novel argument, and Lind isn't necessarily the best critic to be making it, but it bears repeating how many of Reagan's successful turns to the right were anticipated and enabled by the Carter presidency, both in his efforts to look more centrist in domestic policy by kicking the left and to look tougher in foreign policy by escalating the cold war -- you do recall who came up with the bright idea of sending the CIA into Afghanistan, don't you?

    It was Carter, not Reagan, who brought the religious right into national politics. Even though they turned against him later, Carter won the Southern evangelical vote in 1976 by advertising himself as a born-again Christian. Like Reagan later, Carter, the folksy farmer and veteran from Plains, Ga., appealed to the nostalgia of white Americans in the 1970s for a simpler, more rural, more traditional society.

    Carter, not Reagan, pioneered the role of the fiscally conservative governor who runs against the mess in Washington, promising to shrink the bureaucracy and balance the budget. Early in his administration, Carter was praised by some on the right for his economic conservatism. Ronald Reagan even wrote a newspaper column titled "Give Carter a Chance." The most conservative Democrat in the White House since Grover Cleveland, Carter fought most of his battles with Democratic liberals, not Republican conservatives.

    Carter, not Reagan, presided over the dismantling of the New Deal regulatory system in airlines, railroads and trucking. Intended to reduce inflation by reducing the costs of essential infrastructure to business, Carter's market-oriented reforms have backfired, producing constant bankruptcies and predatory hub-and-spoke monopolies in the airline industry, an oligopolistic private railroad industry that has abandoned passenger rail for freight, and underpaid, overworked truckers. [ . . . ]

    In defense spending, as in supply-side economics, Reagan continued what his predecessor in the White House had begun. The reversal in the post-Vietnam decline of American military spending began under Carter, following the shock of the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. From a starting point of 4.7 percent of GDP, Carter called for raising defense spending to 5.2 percent of GDP in his final budget for fiscal year 1981. The Carter administration called for defense spending to rise even further by 1987 to 5.7 percent of GDP -- only a little below the 6.2 percent where it peaked in 1986.

    The "Carter doctrine," which formally made the Persian Gulf a vital interest of the United States, began the transition from the Cold War focus on Europe and East Asia, where the U.S. had fought in Korea and Vietnam, to the Greater Middle East, where the U.S. since Carter has fought five wars -- Bosnia, Kosovo, two wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan -- as well as numerous minor conflicts like the intervention in Somalia.

    Lind goes further than I would, but it's a pretty overwhelming list, much more than just the parts I quoted. And it was certainly easier for Reagan to pick up and accelerate things Carter, with Democratic support in Congress, had started. Moreover, you can make the same arguments on Clinton and Bush. Would Bush had been able to invade Iraq if Clinton hadn't used Iraq as his private punching bag? Same for Clinton's free trade programs, budget balancing, "re-inventing government" hoopla, and financial deregulation. Then try to imagine what some future Republican will make out of Obama's legacy.

  • Gene Lyons: What the Right Won't Admit About Reagan: Salon's "The Real Reagan" series continues.

    Stark went on: Reagan (humanely) gave amnesty to millions of undocumented aliens. When terrorists bombed U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut, killing 283 Americans, he (wisely) pulled out of Lebanon's civil war.

    "He's a tax-raiser, an amnesty-giver, a cut-and-runner, and he negotiated with terrorists," Stark continued. "Why is he a hero to conservatives?"

    Limbaugh was beside himself. "Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes on Social Security? What websites do you read? Where did you pick that up?"

    "Look up the Greenspan Commission," Stark advised. "It's not too hard to find. It's a matter of history."

    He's right. Reagan increased payroll taxes in 1983. History records that, alarmed by spiraling deficits, he signed tax increases during six of his eight years in office. Even so, his administration tripled the national debt, to almost $3 trillion.

    Consistent with the GOP's faith-based War on Arithmetic, his acolyte Dubya then redoubled the debt to $10.4 trillion, leaving a $1.4 trillion yearly deficit.

    Note to the Tea Party: Had President Clinton's tax policies remained in place since 2001, the national debt GOP politicians pretend to agonize over would no longer exist.

    But Stark never got that far, because Limbaugh hit the mute button, then delivered a lengthy soliloquy about how liberals can't be reasoned with, only defeated. Is there a bigger faker in American life?

    "Ronald Reagan," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has ruefully observed, "would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today."

  • Jen Marlowe: The Freedom Reading List: First, from Tom Engelhardt:

    According to experts, the fortune amassed by Egypt's former president and his two sons (both billionaires) could reach $70 billion. That includes funds in secret offshore bank accounts and investments in residences and real-estate properties reaching from Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills to Wilton Place in central London and Egypt's Sharm el-Sheik tourist resort. Since Mubarak has been president for 30 years, he's put that little fortune together at a record clip -- something like $2 billion or more a year. He and his family are now worth approximately four times the gross domestic product (GDP) of Paraguay, five times the GDP of embattled Afghanistan, and more than ten times the GDP of Laos. He may be the richest man and they the richest family on Earth. All this happened, by the way, in the years when millions of Egyptians -- at least one in every 10 -- lost their farms, while more than 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.

    And let's just mention a few others in the cast of characters who let the good times roll and made a few bucks off the reign of the Mubarak family: steel magnate and ruling party insider Ahmed Ezz, for instance, managed to eke out a $3 billion fortune, while former Interior Minister Habib Ibrahim El-Adly scraped by with a near-rock-bottom $1.2 billion. And they are just two of at least five much-loathed Mubarak cronies who reportedly crossed the billion-dollar mark in these years.

    As for a trio of Washington lobbyists -- former Republican representative Bob Livingston, former Democratic representative Toby Moffett, and mover-and-shaker Tony Podesta -- who bravely hired themselves out to the Mubarak regime, they made chump change: reportedly a mere $1 million a year for their efforts. Who knows what Frank Wisner, the former ambassador sent to Cairo by the Obama administration to give Mubarak the boot, made working for Patton, Boggs, a company which proudly boasts of the litigation work it's done for Mubarak and company? Conflict of interest anyone?

    Meanwhile, don't forget the Egyptian military. It didn't do so badly in the Mubarak years either. After all, according to one expert, it owns "virtually every industry in the country," and it still managed to take in a handy $35 billion in "aid" from Washington since 1978.

  • Alex Pareene: Mitt Romney Rewrites Book to Make Himself Look Less Reasonable: Perusing the new paperback edition of his campaign platform, No Apology:

    Mitt Romney is the most nakedly, obviously, transparently phony politician in the nation, and you almost have to admire him for it. He will say anything to get elected president. He is on both sides of every issue. He's so awful at pretending to be a True Conservative Populist Dingbat, but so convinced that a pragmatic blue-state moderate Republican is unelectable, that if it weren't for his hundreds of millions of dollars you might feel bad for him.

    So the paperback version of his book No Apology is out, and he has excised and altered various passages that he had originally included in order to make himself look like a moderate pragmatist, because he realized that "Tea Parties" are still in fashion.

    As the Boston Phoenix reports, there are two significant changes: The book no longer offers even a qualified defense of the stimulus, and now it makes sure the reader knows that Mitt Romney really hates "Obamacare," even though it's basically a national version of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts healthcare plan. [ . . . ]

    Romney also added a new introduction in which he babbles about the Founding Fathers and literally uses the word "Constitution" 11 times. Romney's spokesman explained the alterations by saying "[a] lot has occurred over the last two years, and these updates reflect those happenings." The man is amazing.

EW Comments

Subject turned to television:

I pretty much hate TV, but live with someone who watches a lot of it and makes me watch some. Current rotation: Good Wife, Justified, Big Love, Glee. (I drew the line and revolted at Modern Life.) Never read a word by Elmore Leonard, but Justified's first season was the best thing I've seen since Deadwood; second season is just starting. (Excised "on TV" from the previous line, in deference to Carson, who strikes me as right about the best, even as I agree with Neil Postman about the rest.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

EW Comments

Greil Marcus came up and I had something to get off my chest.

One likely reason Marcus took a dislike to New York punk was that the early coverage of CBGBs, mostly in the Voice, was so rapturous it reeked of New York chauvinism and boosterism. I followed much of this from Kansas, then moved to New York around stage two, when Television, Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie, and Patti Smith had records as well as hype. I could see both sides of this, and fancied the idea that I was moving into the creative center of rock and roll. While those five (including Verlaine's and Hell's solo efforts) held up pretty well, the second tier bands were justly forgotten -- the ones I best recall from my years in New York were the Heartbreakers, Pere Ubu (from Ohio), and B-52s (from Georgia).

Of course, take what I say about Marcus with the proverbial grain of salt. I learned things from Mystery Train, but soon got to the point where everything he wrote drove me up the wall. Some of that may have been personal: among other things, I always thought he should have invited me to write a piece for Stranded (my record would have been a recent Jan and Dean collection, Gotta Take That One Last Ride -- how perfect that would have been). But also I had gotten into rock crit as an escape from the reflexive academicism of Frankfurter Kulturkritik, while Marcus seemed to be offering more of the same (without even the politics).

Cam quoted that bit about "reflexive academicism" -- a phrase I turned over four or five times, wanting to spit it out but not dwell on it. Any critic who has a system can just feed material through it like a meat grinder, coming up with predictable sausage. I could do that in my sleep with Marxist/Frankfurt School tools, as could many others, and that's what I got sick of. Same with structuralists and all sorts of specific viewpoints -- feminists were interesting at first until you got the big point at which everything else became derivative. I'm not sure what you'd call Marcus's system, but he works to the same effect.

And More Books

Second batch following the one I posted on Thursday -- thought I'd get this out Friday but events intervened, and even now I'm running late and will cut this short. Don't have enough right now for a third installment, but it shouldn't be long coming.

Peter L Bergen: The Longest War: Inside the Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda (2011, Free Press): Bergen's big claim to fame was personally interviewing Osama Bin Laden, which is probably why he keeps his focus on the prime suspect, even though the US military often gets sidetracked wiping out wedding parties. Also refusing to let dead dogs lie is Michael Scheuer, the former analyst of the CIA's Al-Qaeda unit, who must feel as intimately connected to Bin Laden as Bergen does, because he's written yet another book on the subject, this one titled Osama Bin Laden (2011, Oxford University Press).

Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Development economist, not a big fan of the neoliberal Washington Consensus prescription, which he's described as Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective and Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism -- I've read the latter and think it's a pretty fair summary.

Avner Cohen: The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb (2010, Columbia University Press): Previously wrote Israel and the Bomb in 1998, one of a number of books on Israel's nuclear program, evidently one of the more authoritative ones. I would expect this one to focus more on politics of deniability or ambiguity, whatever they call it, which mostly seems to be a concession to the US desire to insist on non-proliferation everywhere except Israel.

Robert Dallek: The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953 (2010, Harper): A revised look at history from Roosevelt's death to Stalin's death, a period that in the first four years moved from the grand alliance that utterly defeated fascism to a class war that split the world, polarized further in the second four years. You can slice this up various ways, but Truman -- savvy about domestic politics; naive, unimaginative, and reactive in foreign affairs -- had a great deal to do with the polarization that has ever since pushed us into war, inequality, and injustice.

Rochelle Davis: Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced (paperback, 2010, Stanford University Press): Some 400 of those villages were snatched by Israel in the 1948 war, their occupants driven into exile, in most cases the vacant villages erased, so this book at least starts to return them to history.

Philip Dray: There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (2010, Doubleday): Goes back to the early 19th century textile mills, plenty to write about, hefty at 784 pp but still necessarily brief -- e.g., shorter than EP Thompson's landmark The Making of the English Working Class. Probably useful, both to help labor find its bearings and to recognize where and when the wheels fell off.

Susan Dunn: Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party (2010, Harvard University Press): Roosevelt had huge Democratic majorities in Congress, but many of those Democrats were old-fashioned conservatives -- some old-fashioned in the sense of pining for the days of slavery. This digs up the story of how FDR backed some liberal Democrats in primaries against his conservative Democratic opponents in 1938 -- "the purge" was how the opponents successfully presented the events.

Barry Eichengreen: Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System (2011, Oxford University Press): Probably an important book. Eichengreen has staked out the international monetary system as his specialty, and the dollar is still the big kahuna there, just not one whose virtues are especially appreciated these days. Flaunting its status as the world's reserve currency, the US has been able to run trade deficits and float debt to an extraordinary degree. That's certainly been an exorbitant privilege for someone, and I'd like to know who.

Laila El-Haddad: Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between (paperback, 2010, Just World Books): The first release on blogger Helena Cobban's book imprint picks up the story of a blogger in Gaza, covering everyday life under unusual duress, including the occasional Israeli terror bombing. Also on the same imprint: Chas Freeman: America's Misadventures in the Middle East, Joshua Foust: Afghanistan Journal: Selections From Registan.net, Reidar Visser: A Responsible End? The United States and the Iraqi Transition, 2005-2010

Evan DG Fraser/Andrew Rimas: Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (2010, Free Press): The old adage is that an army travels on its stomach, so an analogy might be that empires rise and fall on their ability to feed themselves. Touches on Mesopotamia, China, medieval Europe, Malthus and all that. The authors previously wrote Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World (2008, William Morrow), the credits listing Rimas first there.

Martin Gilbert: In Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands (2010, Yale University Press): Churchill biographer, Israel-friendly, combined those biases to write Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship, which wasn't exactly true even if you think Churchill's Zionism was good for the Jews. There are numerous Israeli books that seek to hype up Islamic discrimination against Jews, both to give Mizrahi Jews a sense of historical oppression comparable to that of European Jews and to read the Israeli-Arab conflict back into the past. On the other hand, I don't get the sense that a contrary views, like Zachary Karabell's Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East (2007, Knopf), while more correct overall, glosses over a lot of dirt. Gilbert's book may be a useful historical corrective to both ends, although I suspect he has his own political ends.

Edward S Greenberg/Leon Grunberg/Sarah Moore/Patricia B Sikora: Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers (2010, Yale University Press): A subject long deserving attention: over the last decade, in particular, Boeing has been much more effective at wringing concessions from labor than in competing with Airbus, let alone in building planes. (Anyone seen a 787 Dreamliner lately?) The biggest symbol of this was when they moved their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago so that managers would be further removed from workers, but there are plenty more examples. Although Boeing is nominally America's biggest exporting company, much of what they've exported recently has been jobs. No lobbyists worked harder than Boeings to grant China most favored nation trade favors, and Boeing is only nominally an aircraft company: their real "core competency" is pulling strings in Washington, even if sometimes they're inept enough to land their officials in jail.

SC Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quannah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History (2010, Scribners): Not sure if "powerful" is the right word, but the Comanches were relatively effective at putting up a guerrilla struggle against encroaching US settlers, and their story has been rehashed far less than the Custer debacle (Nathaniel Philbrick's The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn is the latest). Steven Walt recommended this book while thinking about the Taliban.

Bernard E Harcourt: The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (2011, Harvard University Press): If laissez-faire economics produces so much freedom, why do we have so many prisons? That's probably not the only question here. One of the preconcepts of laissez-faire is the idea that there is natural order that functions even in the absence of government regulation. Harcourt previously wrote Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in the Actuarial Age, and Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy.

Ruth Harris: Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century (2010, Metropolitan Books): That would be the 19th century, although the 1895 L'affaire Dreyfus had profound implications for the 20th, including inspiring Theodor Herzl to come up with his program of colonialist Zionism, although France's ultimate rejection of the antisemitic attack on Alfred Dreyfus could have been developed in a wholly different direction. This looks to be the big (560 pp) book on a subject that has also been recently reviewed in Louis Begley: Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (2009; paperback, 2010, Yale University Press), and Frederick Brown: For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus (2010, Knopf).

William Hartung: Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (2011, Nation Books): I'm more familiar with Boeing because Boeing is closer to home, but Lockheed Martin is an even bigger cog in the military-industrial complex, mostly because it's more purely military. First thing I did when I saw this was to look up my cousin (a former Lockheed VP) in the index, but he slipped by. Probably too much real dirt to report on. Hartung previously wrote How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy?: A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration.

Steve Hendricks: A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial (2010, WW Norton): The CIA kidnapped a terrorism suspect in Milan, in Italy, in 2003, and flew him to Egypt to be tortured. This was illegal, and Italian prosecutors investigated the case, eventually indicting a number of CIA operatives, and thereby exposing the entire covert operation. Some of this was previously covered in Stephen Grey's more general book, Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (2006).

Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Inovation (2010, Riverhead): Pop science/history writer, gets to dabble in a bit of everything here on the theory that there is something to "innovation" more general than the specific innovations. Has dabbled in neuroscience before -- first two books were Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (2001) and Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life (2004), and he's tried to argue that Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005).

John Keay: China: A History (2009, Basic Books): Big, broad history; big subject (642 pp). Keay previously wrote the similar India: A History (2000), which I had initially been interested in but mixed reviews dissuaded me. Both subcontinents are vast and important and, certainly for me and most likely for you, barely understood, so such books should be welcome, at least if they are well done.

James Ledbetter: Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D Eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex (2011, Yale University Press): Fairly detailed account of Eisenhower's famous (and ultimately ineffective) farewell speech.

Derek Leebaert: Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy, From Korea to Afghanistan (2010, Simon & Schuster): Why do smart people wind up acting so stupidly when they enter America's foreign policy establishment? They believe in magic? "When we think magically, we conjure up beliefs that everyone wants to be like us, that America can accomplish anything out of sheer righteousness, and that our own wizardly policymakers will enable gigantic desires like "transforming the Middle East" to happen fast. Mantras of 'stability' or 'democracy' get substituted for reasoned reflection. Faith is placed in high-tech silver bullets, whether drones over Pakistan or helicopters in Vietnam." Leebaert previously wrote The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World, one of the few books that considers what the Cold War cost us.

Bethany McLean/Joe Nocera: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010, Portfolio): Business writers finally weigh in. McLean wrote The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. Hard to imagine how much of this was still hidden by the time this book came out.

Barbara Moran: The Day We Lost the H-Bomb: Cold War, Hot Nukes, and the Worst Nuclear Weapons Disaster in History (2010, Presidio Press): That would be 1966, when a USAF B-2 bomber crashed off the coast of Spain, losing four H-bombs.

Ian Morris: Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big (768 pp) book, claims to cover 50,000 years of history plus at least some slice of the future, puzzling out mankind's pecking order as if that's what the great game is all about.

Ilan Pappé: The Rise & Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis 1700-1948 (2010, University of California Press): The best known was Hajj Amin al-Husayni, appointed Mufti of Jerusalem by the British when they set up the future Jewish National Homeland. The Mufti later split from his British minders, led the 1937-39 revolt that resulted in Palestinian power being crushed, and fled to his notorious haven in Nazi Germany. The British, meanwhile, leaned toward the rival Nashbashibi family.

Ilan Pappé: Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): One of Israel's few historians specializing in the Palestinian side of the deal -- A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples is a book everyone cites, and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is the best short book on the expulsions -- so he has a stake in academic freedom and no doubt too much experience with those who attack academics who question Israeli orthodoxy.

Christopher A Preble: The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (2009, Cornell University Press). Strikes me as completely right, although many will find the idea of dominance making our lives more risky to be counterintuitive. Author is a Cato Institute fellow, so he must really go to town on the latter two points.

Robert D Putnam/David E Campbell: American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010, Simon & Schuster): Putnam wrote one of the most famous sociological studies in recent times: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). Campbell has written Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life (2006) and A Matter of Faith: Religion and the 2004 Presidential Election (2007). Large (686 pp) survey of religion and politics in America, how they interact.

Gary Rivlin: Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business (2010, Harper Business): One of those subjects that makes you realize how contrary to common sense so-called free markets can be: those least able to afford things often have to pay more for less, while those dealing with them exact premium profits.

Dani Rodrik: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of Globalization (2011, WW Norton): Development economics, tends toward unorthodox views. Andrew Leonard is a fan; has already flagged several interesting findings, including that most countries that have opened their markets up to globalization have built up large governments for effective regulation and safety nets -- something the US has failed to do, which is largely my our experience with globalization has been so unfortunate.

Gideon Rose: How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle: A History of American Intervention From World War I to Afghanistan (2010, Simon & Schuster): Editor of Foreign Affairs, hopes to be helpful to future interventionists by pointing out the follies and foibles of past efforts to clean up past interventions (not that Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter Korea, are really in the past). Max Boot, who has argued that we don't need to plan how small wars should work out because we're generally pretty lucky with them anyway, likes this book.

Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Arabic-speaking American journalist, has spent time embedded with US military forces but has also worked far off the beaten path -- his 2006 book, In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq was the first book to get a real sense of the anti-American revolt in Iraq. This picks up the story from then, covering the "surge" and the "awakening" movements in Iraq, and adding a lot more on Afghanistan. Big (608 pp), important book.

Mary Elise Sarotte: 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe (2009, Princeton University Press): Focuses less on what led to the fall of the Berlin Wall than on what came after, especially in Germany, where unification was just one of several possible paths.

Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010, Basic Books): A broad history of the struggle for eastern Europe between Germany and Russia, fought with unfathomable viciousness and brutality from 1939 to 1945, with significant preludes and legacies -- the book covers from 1933, when Hitler came to power, to 1953, when Stalin died.

Rebecca Solnit: Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): A history of San Francisco, built around 22 color maps. Not sure how it all works, or if it's too specific to a city I've developed no special fondness for. Haven't really gotten into Solnit either, although she's politically sharp and has written about many topics of seeming interest.

Seth Stern/Stephen Werniel: Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Based on a lot of long-awaited private papers. Brennan was on the Supreme Court 34 years, "arguably the most influential liberal justice in history." He's a big part of the reason liberals still look to the courts for protection of constitutional rights against conservative assaults -- something that hardly anyone familiar with the history of the Court would have expected before FDR packed the court with Brennan, Black, and Douglas.

Martin Van Creveld: The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel (2010, Thomas Dunne): Preeminent Israeli military historian and theoretician. Previously wrote the more prescriptive Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Security (paperback, 2005, St Martin's Griffin). This looks to be a general history, but Israel is so mired in militarism that he should be at home. I make him out to be what we'd call a realist here, so I expect he has something of interest to say -- just not enough to keep Ehud Olmert from contributing a blurb.

Michael Wolraich: Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual (2010, Da Capo Press): Another catalog of right-wing lunatic propaganda.

Steven E Woodworth: Manifest Destinies: America's Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War (2010, Knopf): I wouldn't say that the westward expansion of the United States was a cause of the Civil War but it certainly was something to fight over until the big fight came along -- not least because it was the one thing all sides could agree on. [Nov. 2]

James Zogby: Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why It Matters (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Pollster, one of the few (Americans, at least) actively engaged in Arab countries to try to figure out what the "Arab street" is thinking and wants. It might be interesting to see how well this polling holds up in light of the popular revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, etc.

Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:

John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2010, Picador): Responding to the financial collapse, looks more at the shortcomings of the dominant economic theories, what he calls "utopian economics"; excellent book on the subject. [link]

Josh Kosman: The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Is Destroying Jobs and Killing the American Economy (2009; paperback, 2010, Portfolio): Original subtitle: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis. Private equity firms are largely fueled by America's trade deficit -- the money is soaked up by foreign oligarchs and repatriated to buy up and devour US companies, sucking value out and saddling them with debt. The new subtitle is more to the point, although the old one is right too.

Nomi Prins: It Takes a Pillage: An Epic Tale of Power, Deceit, and Untold Trillions (2009; paperback, 2010, Wiley): Former Goldman Sachs director turned muckraking journalist, gives a shocking account of how the big banks helped themselves to trillions of government dollars to weather their financial crisis. [link]

Friday, February 11, 2011

EW Comments

From Milo Miles:

Well, it would be nice if it was in the online archives of the Boston Phoenix, but the last time I checked they weren't doing much with the print-era material. Hell, Salon only retains a fraction of what I did for them online these days. And, aside from a few scattered pages here and there, you would never know that, for several years, "rock.com" included an online magazine of reviews, interviews, travelogues and even a fantasy-adventure serial with a musical theme written by yours truly. So goes it. Down the crapper of history.

I can talk about the Number One piece a little bit. It was fun, if a bit of a fantasy itself. You had to pretend that B******d charts represented reality. I tracked down 30 years of Number Ones based on The B*****d Book of Number One Hits (found all but about five, as I remember), pored over them in order (even made a series of chronological cassettes) and then wrote about trends and types of tunes that made it to the top. Didn't talk about every number, of course, just key signposts.

The Golden Age of Number Ones turned out to be crica 1964-1966, when the most adventurous styles and the most consistently top-notch songs became ruling hits. There was a big falling off in the early '70s, but the first half of the '80s (the Prince/Madonna/Michael Jackson, etc. era) marked a small rebound of quality. (I thought I was able to end with a very apt hit: Los Lobos's version of "La Bamba.")

I concluded the majority of Number Ones fell into three (maybe too-obvious) categories: timeless wonderments that reaffirm your faith in popular taste; insanely catchy/quirky/hooky/insistent mind-eaters that do an end-run around all rational resistance; sonic putrefactions of the lowest order that make you want to jam knitting needles in your ears.

Oddly, the last category seems to change least over time. The mawkish muck of the '50s had more in common with its '80s equivalent than did the superb-quality stuff.

Mubarak's Dewey Moment

Wichita Eagle Mubarak Will Stay

The editors at The Wichita Eagle got a little overexcited when they laid today's newspaper out. They picked up the lead article from Hannah Allam and Shashank Bengali at McClatchy. Had they read the article they might have opted for a less embarrassing title, like "Mubarak Stays Put" or "Mubarak Hangs On" or they might have just scanned down to the fourth paragraph for "Crowds Say: Leave! Leave!"

Mubarak has been stuck in a Groundhog Day screenplay for the last three weeks. Every day he gets up, faces nearly universal crowds demanding his departure, fiddles and fumes then ultimately decides, hey, what's the point of being a dictator if you can't make up your own mind whether to stay or leave? And, you know, he kind of likes being dictator -- he's got a lot of pride and ego wrapped up in the role, you know -- so he hangs on, does to bed, and wakes up the next morning to face the same crowds (often more), making the same demands, forcing him to go through the same thought processes. And this happens day after day because he just can't figure it out, and get to the only answer that brings the script to any form of resolution.

One reason this took so long is that all the people around Mubarak have been treating him with kid gloves. He is, after all, their dictator, and they wouldn't have gotten where they were without constantly sucking up to him. As Machiavelli reminded his Prince, candid advice isn't something you can count on when you select your cronies by how readily they flatter you. On the other hand, it's really been clear that Mubarak was finished at least two weeks ago. His regime has really only been effective working in the shadows, picking off his enemies one or two at a time. Once people massed in serious numbers, his tools to suppress them -- the media, the bureaucracy, the military -- were certain to be ineffective.

Over the last couple of weeks a lot of people wondered about the military. We did, after all, see China brutally crush pro-democracy demonstrators, and survive with a pretty stable regime. We've seen a few other dictatorships crack down and get away with it. Algeria prevailed after a very long and brutal civil war. Myanmar put down demonstrators a couple years ago, but they're likely to bounce back. Iran's post-stolen-election demonstrations may have been on Mubarak's mind when he tried their tactic of attacking demonstrators with hired goons, but he couldn't sustain that assault.

Now, I'm not a fan of the Egyptian military, any more than I am of any other military you'd care to name. But I never felt that Mubarak had the option of turning the military on demonstrating crowds. To do so he would have to maintain complete command order discipline, and I would expect that to break at least at two levels: the conscripts, who are certain to identify more with the people than the government, and the junior officers, whose prospects give them little reason to stick with a vastly unpopular dictator. One recalls, for instance, that the only time Egypt's military intervened politically was to overthrow King Farouk, and that revolt was led not by the generals but by a charismatic colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

This points out at least two things that Americans -- especially the sort that think they know something about foreign policy[1]: (1) We almost never recognize how fragile dictatorships are, in large part because we always buy the bluff that the guy on top is in complete charge and never look at the balance of forces and interests that actually make any given regime functional; and (2) We insist on thinking of the military as a monolithic power implement rather than seeing it as its own balance of interests and motivations. In the last 30 years we've actually seen a lot of dictatorships crack and fail, including ones that we totally misjudged, like the Soviet Union, and ones that we totally backed, like the Shah, Pinochet, Suharto, and now Mubarak. The persistence of such regimes turns out to be the anomaly, aided equally by US support and opposition.

One thing I can't help but wonder is what the demonstrations would be like in Baghdad and Basra and Mosul right now had Bush not invaded and wrecked Iraq. Actually, there have been demonstrations, just not on Egypt's scale, resulting thus far in al-Maliki's announcement that he won't run for another term (probably prudent given that he lost the last election and is still ruling through some technicality that no one really understands). Iraq would have been a tougher nut to crack, but it isn't inconceivable that Saddam Hussein couldn't have been sent into exile like Mubarak and Ben Ali. But the US insistence on making democracy "the foreigner's gift" (to use Fouad Ajami's condescending phrase) not only precluded a peaceful transfer of power, it tainted any future government.

Of course, Mubarak's departure is just one milestone in Egypt. There is much more to follow, and there will most likely be a lot of meddling by the US and its odd bag of allies in the region, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia. But the least we can expect is the end of the "emergency" laws that underpinned the police state, the opening up of a free press, and elections, all of which move the playing field from the sheltered corridors of power the US favors to the participation of the people.

[1] Watching Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen Hadley on PBS last night was painful, and you could throw in Henry Kissinger on Charlie Rose a few nights back. These guys, after all, are the architects of US foreign policy since the late 1960s, and they are, to use a technical term, blinkered idiots. The main thing they agreed on was that the military would be key -- mostly because they can't imagine a world where you can't manipulate outcomes from behind the scenes. This is a big part of the reason these guys were repeatedly blindsided by events they had no idea how to control: Brzezinski, of course, was NSA during Iran, and Hadley was at or near the top for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon -- hard to choose between those two. Kissinger at least can claim some measure of success, if you consider Pinochet to be a success -- he was in due course thrown out as unceremoniously as Mubarak. Geniuses like these is why Justin Raimondo can argue that the US would be better off without any foreign policy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Last book list post was Nov. 17, two-and-a-half months ago. No wonder I have more than two posts worth of notes piled up. Late in the day, I figured I'd rush out a quickie post tonight where the main point is to drain the swamp, and I'll do another tomorrow with more recent/higher priority books. So below find a scattered set of things I thought interesting enough to write up in the first place, but that I've been picking around as other books caught my eye. Will do paperback reprints, etc., tomorrow.

M Shahid Alam: Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (paperback, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan): First I've heard of "exceptionalism" not applied to America, but the concept is probably universal, even if its significance is that it forms a part of the peculiar US-Israeli bond. Alam also wrote Challenging the New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on the "War Against Islam" (paperback, 2007, Islamic Publications International).

Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010, Free Press): Not that the result is colorblind; de facto the opposite.

David Bacon: Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008; paperback, 2009, Beacon Press): Journalist, former labor organizer, on both carrot and stick: what draws (or forces) workers to emigrate into situations where they lack rights and are certain to be exploited.

Nick Bilton: I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted (2010, Crown Business): Upbeat uptake on the world going to hell with technological change.

Alex Callinicos: Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World (paperback, 2010, Polity): The collapse of global capitalism, sure, but the Russian incursion into Georgia?

Rosanne Cash: Composed: A Memoir (2010, Viking): Singer-songwriter, noteworthy in her own right, even better known for being Johnny Cash's daughter.

David Coates: Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments (paperback, 2009, Continuum): Political scientist, wrote a similar book, A Liberal Tool Kit: Progressive Responses to Conservative Arguments (2007, Praeger), which this looks to be an update to. His laundry list includes: trickle-down economics, welfare, social security, health care, immigration control, religion, the war in Iraq, and economic prosperity.

Jeffrey L Cruikshank/Arthur W Schultz: The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (but True!) Story of Albert D Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century (2010, Harvard Business Press): Lasker was head of Lord & Thomas from 1903 on, owner of the Chicago Cubs before Wrigley; he claims to have been the guy who wedded advertising and politics back during Warren Harding's 1920 campaign. The authors may be impressed by all that, but one has to wonder how much good it all amounted to.

Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009; paperback, 2010, Spiegel & Grau): Based on interviews with six defectors, which doesn't seem to be an especially good sampling technique, but North Korea is a strange place, hard for outsiders to grasp.

Frans de Waal: The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society (2009, Crown; paperback, 2010, Three Rivers Press): Primatologist, argues that humans aren't selfish creatures, at least not biologically; also that traits we view as humane aren't exclusive to humans. Previously wrote Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are (2005).

David Farber: The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History (2010, Princeton University Press): I'm a bit puzzled about the "fall" part, since Democrats like Obama seem to be thoroughly in conservatism's thrall, if anything more earnest in their dedication to making the unworkable work. Portraits from Robert Taft to George W Bush; offers "rare insight into how conservatives captured the American political imagination by claiming moral superiority, downplaying economic inequality, relishing bellicosity, and embracing nationalism."

Bruce Fein: American Empire Before the Fall (paperback, 2010, CreateSpace): Foreword by Rep. Walter Jones, which puts this in Ron Paul territory, in a long but lately very marginal tradition of seeing a permanent army as the greatest threat to freedom.

Niall Ferguson/Charles S Maier/Erez Manela/Daniel J Sargent, eds: The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective (2010, Harvard University Press): I don't trust Ferguson at all, but the 1970s were a decade of profound economic turmoil at least in the US, and some of this may shed some light somewhere. But Judith E Stein: Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies strikes me as closer to the mark.

Bruce Herschensohn: An American Amnesia: How the US Congress Forced the Surrenders of South Vietnam and Cambodia (2010, Beaufort Books): And wouldn't we be so much happier if they hadn't, and we were still tied down fighting an endless war there? Like the one we're fighting in Afghanistan, ever since presidents Carter and Reagan decided to give Russia their taste of Vietnam?

David Kahane: Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at Its Own Game to Take Back America (2010, Ballantine): Saul Alinsky translated and paraphrased for young fascists.

Lierre Keith: The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability (paperback, 2009, PM Press): Ex-vegan, found her way back to meat through various lines of thought. Not sure how solid her research is, but I got so frustrated at a recent "peace" event that was overrun with vegetarianism that I'd like to see some counterarguments.

Kate Kenski/Bruce W Hardy/Kathleen Hall Jamieson: The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): A technical book on campaigning, not sure that the authors even care about the issues involved except insofar as they can be packaged. Jamieson's done this before, in Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Adversiting (1992; paperback, 1996, Oxford University Press).

Michael A Lebowitz: The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): Still committed to the old verities, like worker control of the means of production, that few of us accused of socialism still put much stake in. Also wrote Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2006, Monthly Review Press) and Following Marx: Method, Critique and Crisis (paperback, 2009, Haymarket Books).

Michael Mandelbaum: The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era (2010, Public Affairs): He must be thinking ahead, because as far as I know no one (other than cranks like the late Chalmers Johnson) can imagine the "Indispensable Nation" forced to live on a budget.

Andrew C McCarthy: The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America (2010, Encounter Books): "The real threat to the United States is not terrorism. The real threat is Islamism, whose sophisticated forces have collaborated with the American Left not only to undermine U.S. national security but also to shred the fabric of American constitutional democracy -- freedom and individual liberty. . . . a harrowing account of how the global Islamist movement's jihad involves far more than terrorist attacks, and how it has found the ideal partner in President Barack Obama, whose Islamist sympathies run deep." That's connecting three dots -- Islamism, the left, and Obama -- that are awfully distant from each other.

Nolan McCarty/Keith T Poole/Howard Rosenthal: Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches (2006; paperback, 2008, MIT Press): Three political scientists chart the polarization of the two-party system and tie it to increasing inequality.

Suzanne McGee: Chasing Goldman Sachs: How the Masters of the Universe Melted Wall Street Down . . . and Why They'll Take Us to the Brink Again (2010, Crown Business): I don't doubt it. The bank books keep rolling out.

Dmitry Orlov: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects (paperback, 2008, New Society): Probably just another of the publisher's peak oil doom books, but this time the analogy is especially scary because the Russian collapse, with its rampant free-for-all capitalism, actually did happen.

Judy Pasternak: Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed (2010, Free Press): The sordid history of uranium mining on Navajo lands.

James Wesley Rawles: How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times (paperback, 2009, Plume): Survivalblog.com editor, military background, competes with many other survival books, like Cory Lundin's When All Hell Breaks Loose. Part practical skills, part paranoia, I can see the motivation and interest, but I doubt that anyone can plan for longterm survival in events that totally dismantle the state and economy.

Mary Roach: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010, WW Norton): Science writer, tends to go for the humorous, as in her Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, explores what happens when gravity is suspended.

Maria Rodale: Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe (2010, Rodale): Makes the argument -- probably a good thing to have someone knowledgeable doing that. Rodale's publishing company has other irons in this fire, like Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener.

Chris Rodda: Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History, Volume I (paperback, 2010, BookSurge Publishing): I assume Rodda is a committed Christian, since anyone who was not would possess too much doubt about the whole religion thing to make such a stand. At 532 pp with the implication of future volumes, she must have a lot to say about the subject.

Ira Rosofsky: Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare (2009, Avery): About nursing homes -- shouldn't be hard to fill a book about what's amiss and what's agog, even if many of them are tolerably tolerable.

Alex Ross: Listen to This (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Scatteed essays by The New Yorker's classical music critic, although he might quibble since he doesn't approve of the term. Some pieces on Ellington and Chinese music peck at the mold. Seems like a critic I should take more interest in, especially since his The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is so well regarded.

Theodore Roszak: The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of America's Most Audacious Generation (paperback, 2009, New Society): This one shows my age -- Roszak's 1969 book The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition was a key revelation of self-identification at the time, even if it wasn't really all that deep -- as I recall, better than Charles Reich, not quite up to Philip Slater. I gather this book doesn't look back so much as carry on, which leads to a new appreciation of elders. I can't say as my key political views have changed much since 1969, but I sure have gotten older.

Joel Schalit: Israel vs. Utopia (paperback, 2009, Akashic Books): Born in Israel, grew up in US, lives in Italy now, in theory a combination which gives "him the intimate knowledge and necessary distance to focus on the gap between perceptions of Israel and its reality." No doubt Israel is a complicated country, but that shouldn't distract us from the simple issue of equal rights at the heart of the self-protracted conflict.

Larry J Schweiger: Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth (2009, Fulcrum): CEO of National Wildlife Federation, makes a plea for preserving at least some natural wildlife habitat. Foreword by Theodore Roosevelt, who certainly killed his share of the world's wildlife.

Peter Dale Scott: American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (2010, Rowman & Littlefield): The CIA drugs connection is an old one which Scott's been chasing since his 1972 book, updated in 2008, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11 and the Deep Politics of War. This type of analysis tends to get paranoid, but isn't that the point of the CIA? [November 16]

Victor J Stenger: The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (paperback, 2009, Prometheus): The socalled New Atheist bestsellers have been a disappointing lot, more often than not pulling prejudices out their ass than reasoning their way through the rather trivial problem. This one looks a shade better, not that I feel need of convincing.

Alex Taylor III: Sixty to Zero: An Inside Look at the Collapse of General Motors -- and the Detroit Auto Industry (2010, Yale University Press): An autopsy, going back 40 years, which provides plenty of opportunity to second guess everyone. Not least to bash the UAW.

Tim Wise: Color-Blind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat From Racial Equity (paperback, 2010, City Lights): The latest in a series of (mostly) short books on the strange, twisted persistence of white racism in a society that likes to pretend we're over all that: Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White (paperback, 2005, Routledge); White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son (paperback, 2007, Soft Skull Press); Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male (paperback, 2008, Soft Skull Press); Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama (paperback, 2009, City Lights).

Kate Zernike: Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America (2010, Times Books): New York Times reporter follows the Tea Party movement, paying scant attention to the money, partly because the show is too distracting, partly because, well, wouldn't it be uncouth and unconventional to wonder who's interests are served by all this nonsense?

Slavoj Zizek: Living in the End Times (2010, Verso): Four "riders of the apocalypse": global environmental crisis, imbalances within the economic system, the biogenetic revolution, ruptured social divisions. Is this the apocalypse? Or just interesting times?


STB mentioned a Uriah Heep review dropped from the CG '70s book, and wondered what more got dropped. There is a pretty long (but still incomplete) list on the Christgau website at /xg/bk-cg70/missing.php (225 records). I have some more of those stashed away, something I've been meaning to work on. In Uriah Heep's case, the review was reduced to a mere mention in the "meltdown" list. I should probably add the meltdowns, distinctions not cost-effective, and SFFR to the artist entries, like I did for the CG '90s book.

STB also wished for a bigger, more comprehensive CG '70s book. Were one serious about this, the first step would be to figure out what wasn't in the CG '70s book. The CG database has 3157 records released in the '70s, and you may (or may not) want to add whatever the endnotes cover, so try building a list of everything released and then knock out what Christgau covered. At least then the problem would be reduced to what Rumsfeld calls a "known unknown." Put that list into a database and let people you trust rate and annotate them and you should get something almost as good as working our host to death.

Context: same thing backwards:

Ha, I love that a. Xgau reviewed Uriah Heep, b. the review wasn't entirely negative and c. it got left out of the 70s book. Maybe somebody will dig up more lost early 70s CGs and find Amon Duul II in there!


I have no doubt that the 70s CG book is as thorough as what any sane human being could have come up with at the time, but I still want it to be twice as long. I want more disco, funk, prog, metal, reggae, Brazilian, country, singer-songwriters, imports, top 40 one-shots, jazz craziness, international psych weirdness, Abba-style euro junk (I know Xgau would violently hate Joe Dassin, but I'd still want to read his take on him). Imports aside, he was pretty thorough on punk and new wave - what he missed was mostly singles (singles! those should get a book of their own - how awesome would that be?)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Expert Comments

Same day I posted my latest Rhapsody Streamnotes, with its long-winded methodological intro on why snap judgments aren't so awful, Robert Christgau posted a pair of capsule reviews of records I had previously streamnoted. Assuming his extra dilligence makes him more right than my fly-by-night assessments, I got one right and one wrong.

Drake's Thank Me Later was the easy one, a high B+ in our respective schemes. Christgau packs more info, of course. Indeed, I would have been happy to call it a day had I come up with his first line:

Neither thug nor thug wannabe, he's plenty talented, but pretty shallow and without much focus as a mack.

Jazmine Sullivan broke differently, making it a pretty good case example of a record that takes more work than I do with Streamnotes to get a payback. I played it once or twice, with no more prep than having seen it on some EOY lists mostly in the company of other records I rather liked. And I liked some of it, but got turned off by something. My initial Streamnote:

Jazmine Sullivan: Love Me Back (2010, J): Soul diva, plenty of voice, can carry the right song -- "Luv Back" is pretty good -- but reaches for the gospel ululation [when] the music slows down a bit. Has her name on most of the songs, but never the only one. B

Tried replaying it this afternoon, but Rhapsody decided it didn't want to deal with me. Finally got it going tonight, and played it two more times. Noticed some things I hadn't noted before, and wrote up a revision:

Jazmine Sullivan: Love Me Back (2010, J): Not a natural, which makes even a slam dunk single like "Luv Back" feel like it had to be worked hard, but more songcraft than I initially gave her credit for, with one for street cred ("Redemption") and one for fantasy ("Don't Make Me Wait"). Also didn't deserve to be pegged for "gospel ululation" -- my major peeve ever since soul singers started being called "divas"; I was probably reacting to "Excuse Me," which even with Missy Elliott pulling the strings is a bit restrained, but I may have just been bummed by "Famous." [was: B] B+(**)

Maybe a few more plays would tip the balance between the songs I get something out of and the ones that wear on me, but it doesn't take many of the latter to drag a good record down. And actually, my revised grade brings Sullivan back to what we might consider a standard gradient: I don't care to try to quantify this right now, but I pretty consistently rate post-1990 black singers (as opposed to rappers) a shade or two lower than Christgau does. Not sure what all the reasons are -- the gospel tics, of course; also I find the productions both too cluttered and subtle, or maybe I mean subdued, but it could be other things too, including wishful thinking on Christgau's part.[1]

So we may be even now, but a two-slot post-Streamnotes jump is rare, and not just because I rarely bother checking myself. The biggest jump to date was Randy Newman's Harps and Angels, which I initially had at B+(**). Christgau gave it a full A, and after I picked up a copy I concurred.[2] That was embarrassing; this was more minor, at worst a gaffe. Might have helped had I heard her first album, Fearless: it's no better than the new one, but simpler, clearer, no worse. So what this shows is that more plays, plus a broader sense of context -- I'd guess that Christgau has heard three times as many soul/r&b albums since 2000 as I have, maybe four but that's a pretty good sized number, not to mention a lot of Usher -- helps. Still, no one can give everyone their due. That's why it's important to keep making adjustments, why every mark is part of a learning process, and why none should be taken as definitive.[3]

[1] Having stuck my neck out this far, I really wish I had the numbers, but it would take me several hours to work them up: a lot of what I'm generalizing from may just be Mary J. Blige, Babyface, R. Kelly, and maybe Jill Scott. But I also can't think of any counterexamples -- I liked this year's The-Dream more, but not the first one -- so that may be enough.

[2] Miraculously, the original streamnote still reads accurately enough:

Randy Newman: Harps and Angels (2008, Nonesuch): The words are slurred even when he isn't trying to pull his punches, and the melodies are the low lying fruit of years of oft inspired hack work. This is the closest thing to a real album he's done since Bad Love in 1999, which I suppose means he's trying to revive satire from its recent demise. He doesn't come up with much in "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" -- still, it's worth googling for the lyrics, which are hard to follow in this slight but charming stab at country music. A sharper line appears in "A Piece of the Pie," where he notes that if you're "living in the richest country in the world/wouldn't you think you'd have a better life?" B+(**) [Later: A]

[3] Even by someone as notoriously certain of himself as Christgau. I especially recall a couple of his weirder B+ records from the mid-1970s that wound up on my all-time list: John Hiatt's Overcoats and Hirth Martinez's Hirth From Earth. I'll always think those are ones he missed, but he may have had an inkling because he sent them to me for review.

[4] Probably should have posted at least an abbreviated version of this note as a comment to Christgau's blog entry, but (a) I haven't figured out MSN's Live ID yet, and (b) the last 150 or so comments (of 172 at the moment) have completely ignored any reference to the two reviewed albums, so it seems rude to change the subject back to the subject. The latter isn't unusual, although there are usually more "Mad props for the records Xgau just reviewed" posts (to use Cam Patterson's typology) which makes me think the fans aren't all that into these particular records.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Recycled Goods Pitch

First draft of a letter proposing Recycled Goods as a MSN Music blog:

Dear Sam Sutherland,

I've been looking through the MSN Music blogs lately. I have a column I've been writing since 2003 that could be adapted into a blog that would fit nicely into your mix. It's called Recycled Goods. When Michael Tatum was music editor at Static Multimedia he gave me carte blanche to write any kind of column I wanted. What I wanted was to do a monthly consumer guide to reissues and vault music. I wrote this monthly -- skipping a few, some my fault, some Static's -- until January 2008, at which point I decided it wasn't worth the effort, not least because Static didn't have enough clout even to get me the records I'd need to keep up the quality level. By that time I was writing Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, and that was consuming a lot of time and effort.

However, after a couple of months break I resumed the column, just posting it on my blog -- I had always archived it on my website. From then to the present it's been whatever I happened to have handy, leaning increasingly on sources like Rhapsody since I had given up hustling records to review. (I do still get a lot of jazz, and some world music which I had folded into the column from early on.) To date, I've written 82 columns, reviewing 2876 records. All of this is available online:

Recycled Goods led to me writing the shortlived Rearview Mirror column for Michaelangelo Matos at Seattle Weekly. It is archived here. It also inspired Robert Christgau to come up with his Recyclables. I've known Christgau since 1974, when I sent him some Consumer Guide-like samizdat and he responded by asking me to write a piece on Bachman-Turner Overdrive for the Village Voice. I wrote a number of pieces for him up to 1979, as well as co-editing a fanzine called Terminal Zone. I moved to New York in 1977, got to know him pretty well, and kept in touch with him after I moved away, first to New Jersey, then Massachusetts, back to NJ, and finally to Kansas, where I started.

I started getting seriously interested in jazz in the 1990s -- I blamed it on grunge and gangsta, but as much as anything it was a way of filling in holes in my silly quest to learn everything. I wrote a piece on some jazz comps for him in 1996. When longtime jazz critic Gary Giddins quit the Voice in 2004, Bob asked me to write a quarterly Jazz Consumer Guide column, which turned out to be an effective way to broaden the jazz coverage and mop up a lot of records that wouldn't have been covered any other way. I've published 25 Jazz CG columns, continuing in the Voice after Christgau was sacked. They're archived online too, along with all of the backup paperwork on the records I did and didn't write up.

Much more online: best place to start rumaging around is here (looking at it I see the need for some updates, like reference to the 2011 list). The music database is where I keep track of what I've heard (and what I've seen recommended but haven't heard yet), including more than 17000 letter-graded albums. The 2010 metafile is a pretty useful tabulation of what records showed up in year-end lists and/or got good reviews during 2010. The 2010 year list gives you a good sense of what I heard in the last year and what I thought of it. The point I'm trying to impress on you is that I know a lot about all kinds of music (well, except classical) and I'm very thorough and methodical about seeking it out and sorting it.

Of all these things, Recycled Goods is the most fun for me to write, at least when/if I'm able to get hold of the records I want to research. Publishing it on MSN would help me do it, as well as give you a quality feature with some built-in demand. I can see doing 2-3 posts per week, some featuring two records like Expert Witness, some writing longer on one (probably box) set, some stacking several brief notes together, or a series summary (cf. the "In Series" features in some Recycled Goods columns). Could also do some consumer news -- in paticular, I might do a release calendar, which could be a sidebar or a periodic post. I'm not locked into letter grades (cf. Rearview Mirror), but used to doing them and they help abbreviate the writing. I mostly see this as covering new releases, but could dig into the library now and then. Could on occasion do an artist spotlight, like Blender used to do, or maybe like my Rolling Stone Album Guide entries. A further option would be to fold in occasional guest columns by Michael Tatum. I publish his "Downloader's Diary" column, and we have various collaborative plans, including a future album guide.

Could say much more, but this is probably enough to chew on. Please look at some of my stuff, think about it, get back to me, any questions or further thoughts. Thanks.

I figured I should mail it in HTML format instead of plain text, so the many links would format more nicely. You'd think that Thunderbird, built on Mozilla so HTML is in its blood, would let you pick whether to send a given piece of email in HTML or plain text, but it decides using some arcane configuration variables and magic on the send end. Had to change my default configuration to get it to work, which means others may inadvertently get HTML mail until I set it back.

Rhapsody Streamnotes (January 2011: Pt 2)

Insert text from here.

The archival file is here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17745 [17715] rated (+30), 847 [831] unrated (+16). Seems like I have less and less to say about every week that goes by. Not a good sign, or good feeling.

  • Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts (1916-64 [2010], Tompkins Square): Sixteen scattered recordings, each cut to provide a prism back into the pre-recorded past -- old as they are, they sound far older. Scraps recorded in Africa, Indonesia, China, Japan, Hawaii, France; Byzantine liturgical music, Deep South gospel, bagpipes, a "Poor Convict Blues," what sounds like the earliest possible "La Bamba." Too scattered to generalize from, but as raw and arresting as the shock of the past. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 5)

Another chaotic, indeterminate week of Jazz Prospecting, slightly hampered by the need to wrap up February's Recycled Goods, and by occasionally checking out Rhapsody (including a bit of jazz below). No ideas or plans for wrapping this cycle up. Mostly pulling items from the lower (but still not the lowest) priority baskets, trying to cut down the backlog; didn't expect much, and wasn't surprised often -- Chase Baird seems like a guy with a future, and Melvin Vines is good fun. Been trying to run an album cover graphic but no A-list in the top section, just one in the low-rent Rhapsody arena -- records that don't actually qualify for Jazz CG, that I check out for curiosity and balance (and occasionally to snag a dud that otherwise would have eluded me).

Incoming picked up quite a bit this past week, which may prod me to get going -- but a lot of what's listed below are CTI reissues from last year, most likely of minor interest although a lot of critics were impressed by California Concert.

I'll probably post the rest of the Rhapsody haul tomorrow.

Mike Marshall: An Adventure 1999-2009 (1996-2009 [2010], Adventure Music): Mandolinist, started out in bluegrass with a 1987 album called Gator Strut, but eventually took a liking to Brazilian choro and set up shop, releasing a few dozen records by a wide range of Brazilian artists; this samples his own grooveful string-driven oeuvre, working back to his first Brazil Duets. B+(**)

Jovino Santos Neto: Vejao O Som/See the Sound (2009-10 [2010], Adventure Music, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1954 in Rio de Janeiro, played with Hermeto Pascoal 1977-92, Sergio Mendes, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim. Seven albums since 1997. Twenty duets with as many guests, some well known (Moreira, David Sanchez, Bill Frisell, Joe Locke, Anat Cohen, Paquito D'Rivera), others obscure (to me, anyway); five vocals, five horns (plus a harmonica), an accordion, a couple guitars and a couple more mandolins, one piano duo, some percussion. Varied as it is, it still flows nicely, avoiding the thinness that often mars duets. B+(**)

Tyler Blanton: Botanic (2010, Ottimo): Vibraphonist, first album, wrote all the songs. Joel Frahm gets a "featuring" cover credit, playing tenor sax on two cuts and soprano on five of the other six -- typically superb, the best thing on the album, but the vibes do make a nice contrast, and AMG's crediting the album to Frahm was larcenous. B+(*)

Chase Baird: Crosscurrent (2010, Junebeat): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1988 in Seattle, grew up in Salt Lake City then San Francisco, studied in Los Angeles. First album. Cites Gato Barbieri and Michael Brecker as influences/models -- bold, straightforward players, and Baird makes a strong impression in their wake. Group includes piano, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion -- possibly a bit much as the record loses momentum when the sax lays out. Could be a guy worth watching. B+(**)

Natalia Bernal/Mike Eckroth/Jason Ennis: La Voz de Tres (2010, Jota Sete): Album cover just lists the three last names, one per line; spine and elsewhere sticks with last names separated by slashes. All this underscores the tight group dynamic, but Bernal comes first not just alphatetically. A singer from Chile, based in New York, she wrote three songs and most likely picked the rest, some from her native Andes, most from Brazil -- most striking for me is the one US cover, "Tenderly." Eckroth plays piano/keyboards; Ennis 7-string guitar. B+(*)

David Caceres: David Caceres (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Vocalist-alto saxophonist, b. 1967 in San Antonio, TX; family includes several musicians, including Ernie Caceres, who played sax for Benny Goodman and Woody Herman. Studied at Berklee; teaches at University of Houston. Second album, with Gil Goodstein arranging and playing keybs on most of the pieces; Aaron Parks playing piano on others. Voice strikes me as a broad, sly smile, and his sax is even warmer. Margret Grebowicz duets on one piece. B+(*)

Karen Marguth: Karen Marguth (2009, Wayfae Music): Standards singer, raised in Livermore, CA; based in Fresno, CA. Fourth album since 2005. No background given, but most likely well into middle age. Six cuts are voice-bass duets, which she carries ably, and "Everything Happens to Me" is just mandolin -- gives it a Tiny Tim-like feel although her voice is no joke. The other nine cuts add guitar, electric piano, and drums, turned out nicely. B+(**)

David Cook: Pathway (2010, Bju'ecords): Pianist, based in Brooklyn, looks like he has one self-released album back in 2002, otherwise this piano trio is it. One cover, Ellington's "Come Sunday"; eight originals, crisp, thoughtful postbop. B+(*)

Plunge: Tin Fish Tango (2010 [2011], Immersion): New Orleans trio, "chamber-jazz group" as they call themselves, led by trombonist Mark McGrain, with Tim Green on sax, James Singleton on bass, and others as works out -- Tom Fitzpatrick and Kirk Joseph also play sax on this record. Been around a while -- AMG lists seven records since 1996. Dominant sound is the trombone growl, contained in their chamber framework, with the sax a bit lighter and sweeter. B+(**)

Melvin Vines: Harlem Jazz Machine (2010 [2011], Movi): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, b. 1952 in Toledo, OH; "mis-educated in the Ohio public school system for 12 years"; taught himself trumpet, inspired by Hugh Masekela. First album, as far as I can tell. Harlem Jazz Machine, a large unit with 8-10 players, has been touring since 2005, especially in Japan, home of Vines' wife, vocalist Kay Mori. Record starts with two Vines originals, one by pianist Chip Crawford, a Mori vocal on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy, then winds up with four covers from trumpet players -- Masekela (vocal by Makane Kouyate), Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan (twice). Impressive sax work by Yosuke Sato and/or Tivon Pennicot; snazzy Latin percussion by Roland Guerrero; Masekela's township jive is a highlight. B+(***)

Milton Suggs: Things to Come (2009 [2010], Skiptone Music): Vocalist, b. 1983 in Chicago, grew up in Atlanta but is back in Chicago, having studied at Columbia College and DePaul; second album. Has an old-fashioned crooner style with a hint of vocalese, feels much older than he looks. I didn't like his style at first, and found the nostalgic "Not Forgotten" almost morose, and I'm not sure I'll ever acquire the taste, but he does some remarkable things with it. Tasteful horns, everything neatly in place. B+(*)

David's Angels: Substar (2009 [2010], Kopasetic): David is presumably Swedish bassist David Carlsson, although the key person in the group is Sofie Norling, who sings and wrote all but two of the tracks. Other angel candidates are keyboardist Maggi Olin and drummer Michala Řstergaard-Nilsen. They are also joined here by well known trumpet player Ingrid Jensen. Pieces are slow and moody, some sort of churchly (or classical) chamber effect, which I've yet to break through. B

Fay Claassen: Sing! (2009 [2010], Challenge): Standards singer, b. 1969 in the Netherlands, 7th album since 2000. Backed by WDR Big Band Cologne, who do their best to remain anonymous, and fortified on four cuts by WDR Rundfunkorchester, who hardly bothered me at all. Wide range of material -- fellow vocalist heroes Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln; fellow feminists Miriam Makeba, Joni Mitchell, and Björk; a bit of Louis Jordan sass; the obligatory Jobim ("A Felicidade" no less); a tortuous "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing"; still, I was most struck by the two most pre-feminist cuts, a very antiquarian "Tea for Two" -- I hadn't really noticed the line about not disclosing that they had a telephone before -- and the submissive "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." No idea if there's a hidden message here, or it's just stuff they thought might be fun to try. B

Elisabeth Lohninger: Songs of Love and Destruction (2009 [2010], Lofish Music): Singer, b. 1970 in Austria, based in New York since 1994. Third album since 2004. Was immediately struck by how strikingly her voice reminded me of Joni Mitchell, but stupid me, it was just a Joni Mitchell song, "River" no less. Followed that with K.D. Lang, same trick, but my interest was waning. Then came one in Spanish, and a Beatles tune, but the album recovered some after that. Bruce Barth is a superb pianist for this sort of thing, and two guest spots each for Ingrid Jensen and Donny McCaslin shine things up. Choice cut is "No Moon at All," with Christian Howes violin. B+(*)

Kristy: My Romance (2010, Alma): Standards singer, full name Kristy Cardinali, from Montreal; first album, but popped up on Mario Romano's Valentina album recently. Cover throws a "featuring" credit to pianist Robi Botos. Nice voice, picks great songs, makes them feel comfy -- "You Don't Know Me" is an inspired choice. Second album I've seen lately to pair "Blackbird" with "Bye Bye Blackbird," but here as separate songs rather than mashed into a medley. Cut idea, but the Beatles' songs remain obdurately jazzphobic. I would have preferred more comfort food along the lines of "It Could Happen to You" and "Teach Me Tonight." B+(**)

These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman: Oblivia (2009 [2010], Tzadik): I've seen the artist-order presented both ways here. Feldman's name is to the left on front cover, but the print only runs from top to bottom, not from left to right, and other sources credit Courvoisier first. (The spine is usually more definitive, but rarely scanned.) Piano-violin duets, sharp and prickly. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Bedrock: Plastic Temptation (2009 [2010], Winter & Winter): Uri Caine's electric keyboard group, the main reason he polls so high on an instrument that's actually a small part of his toolkit. WIth Tim Lefebvre on electric bass and guitar, and Zach Danzinger on drums, probably others popping in here and there -- vocalist Barbara Walker with a big-time gospel sample is one. Two previous Bedrock albums broke my A-list, so I was keenly interested in this one. But Rhapsody cut short nearly all of the 18 cuts, turning this into an annoying hodge podge. Not fair, for sure, but I'll note this with a placeholder grade -- it's probably better but it's not inconceivable that it's worse. [B] [Rhapsody]

Neil Cowley Trio: Radio Silence (2009 [2010], Naim Jazz): English piano trio, third album. I figure Cowley has been most influenced by Esbjörn Svensson (aka EST), a much more prominent force in European jazz than over here. I got an advance of their first album, Dis-Placed, and wrote it up in an early Jazz CG, but they never bothered to send me anything more. Like the other albums, this one is sharply played, beat-wise, catchy, and just tough enough no one will mistake it for pop. Could aspire to popular, though. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Dmitry Baevsky: Down With It (2010, Sharp Nine): Alto saxophonist, b. 1976 in Russia; moved to New York in 1996, studying at New School. Second album. Half quartet, with Jeb Patton (piano), David Wong (bass), and Jason Brown (drums); four cuts add Jeremy Pelt for a classic bebop quintet. Indeed, this is classic bebop, with a couple of songbook standards, Ellington's "Mount Harissa," and everything else from 1950s boppers (Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins). Not sure he's doing anything Gryce didn't do, or for that matter Parker -- whom he reminds me more of, at least when Pelt is goosing him along, but his ballad tone is lighter and cleaner. Has one of the worst Flash websites I've ever seen; bet it cost him a fortune. A- [Rhapsody]

John Bunch: Do Not Disturb (2010, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1921 in Indiana; plane was shot down in WWII and he finished the war in a German POW camp. Played with Eddie Condon, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson; from 1966-72 was Tony Bennett's music director. Cut his first record in 1975; in the 1990s mostly recorded as New York Swing Trio with Bucky Pizzarelli and Jay Leonhart. Returns to that same piano-guitar-bass format here with Frank Vignola and John Webber, reprising the title song of his first album ("John's Bunch") and a bunch of standards, the most modern from Brubeck and Parker. Turns out to have been his final studio album, a long but relaxed 71 minutes. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Chet Baker: She Was Too Good to Me (1974, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • George Benson: White Rabbit (1971, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Tim Berne: Insomnia (Clean Feed)
  • Kenny Burrell: God Bless the Child (1971, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Jaki Byard: A Matter of Black and White: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 2 (1978-79, High Note)
  • California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium (1971, CTI/Sony Masterworks, 2CD)
  • Ron Carter: All Blues (1973, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live (1969-70, Columbia/Legacy)
  • Papa John DeFrancesco: A Philadelphia Story (Savant)
  • Deodato: Prelude (1972, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Paul Desmond: Pure Desmond (1974, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Mike DiRubbo: Chronos (Posi-Tone)
  • Lajos Dudas: 50 Years With Jazz Clarinet: The Best of Lajos Dudas (Jazz Sick, 2CD)
  • Scott Fields/Matthias Schubert: Minaret Minuets (Clean Feed)
  • Jim Hall: Concierto (1975, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto)
  • Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay (1970, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Milt Jackson: Sunflower (1972, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim: Stone Flower (1970, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Hubert Laws: Morning Star (1972, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Daniel Levin Quartet: Organic Modernism (Clean Feed)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: Sweet Thunder (Troubador Jass)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  • New York Electric Piano: Keys to the City: Volumes 1 & 2 (Buffalo Puppy, 2CD): Feb. 22
  • Angelica Sanchez: A Little House (Clean Feed)
  • Sean Smith Quartet: Trust (Smithereen)
  • Stanley Turrentine: Sugar (1970, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
  • Nicholas Urie: My Garden (Red Piano): Mar. 15
  • Colin Vallon Trio: Rruga (ECM): advance, May 10
  • Giancarlo Vulcano: My Funny Detective (Distant)
  • Ezra Weiss: The Shirley Horn Suite (Roark)
  • Samir Zarif: Starting Point (Mythology): Feb. 22
  • Tom Zé: Estudando a Bossa: Nordeste Plaza (Luaka Bop)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Tony Karon: Another Remarkably Stupid NYT Op Ed on the Middle East: Post is actually from August 2, 2010, not that you could tell it was so old from Karon's title. I picked it up mostly because I was struck by the picture. Not sure who the guy on the left is -- by dress presumably a Saudi, sitting as far as possible from Abbas, with Mubarak in his own throne. Not sure what the room or meeting occasion was, but most likely they were auditioning for the role of Israel's "peace partner" if and when Israel ever decides they actually want one. Abbas, even then, was the lamest of lame ducks, his term expired without further elections, since the latest Palestinian elections proved so embarrassing. Mubarak, at the time, could have given him pointers on how to win elections, but nowadays massive vote majorities are looking pretty thin. But not only is the picture revealing; Karon's 8-month-old words are little short of prophetic:

    There is, indeed, a regional shift underway, though: The Arab regimes on which the U.S. and Israel have relied to maintain regional stability and legitimize their endless peace process are not just tiring of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they're tiring, period. Spent. Their lack of legitimacy in the eyes of their own populations, exacerbated every time they're shown to be either complicit or powerless as Israel pounds or throttles the Palestinians or its other Arab neighbors, has finally caught up with them. Soon Mubarak, longtime guarantor of the peace process, will expire, and Egypt will be in turmoil. The Saudis face succession dramas of their own. And the Arab populations, in whose hearts the cause of Palestine -- rather than that of a bankrupt "peace process" -- burns brightly are beginning to assert their own independence, from a regional order that has favored the U.S. and Israel for the past four decades.

  • Juan Cole: Egypt: I Ask Myself Why:

    Why would authorities in a European county like Switzerland entertain the idea of trying George W. Bush for torture if he came to give a talk in that country;

    But, European countries are supporting Omar Suleiman for interim president of Egypt, even though he was the one who undertook the torture for Bush? Suleiman tossed some 30,000 suspected Muslim fundamentalists in prison, and accepted from the US CIA kidnapped suspected militants, whom he had tortured. Some were innocent. One, Sheikh Libi, was tortured into falsely confessing that Saddam Hussein was training al-Qaeda operatives, an allegation that straight into Colin Powell's speech to the UN justifying the Iraq War.

  • Paul Krugman: Their Own Private Europe: Quotes Republican Brain Paul Ryan:

    "Just take a look at what's happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn't act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody."

    It's a good story: Europeans dithered on deficits, and that led to crisis. Unfortunately, while that's more or less true for Greece, it isn't at all what happened either in Ireland or in Britain, whose experience actually refutes the current Republican narrative. [ . . . ]

    On the eve of the financial crisis, conservatives had nothing but praise for Ireland, a low-tax, low-spending country by European standards. The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom ranked it above every other Western nation. In 2006, George Osborne, now Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, declared Ireland "a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policy making." And the truth was that in 2006-2007 Ireland was running a budget surplus, and had one of the lowest debt levels in the advanced world.

    So what went wrong? The answer is: out-of-control banks; Irish banks ran wild during the good years, creating a huge property bubble. When the bubble burst, revenue collapsed, causing the deficit to surge, while public debt exploded because the government ended up taking over bank debts. And harsh spending cuts, while they have led to huge job losses, have failed to restore confidence.

    The lesson of the Irish debacle, then, is very nearly the opposite of what Mr. Ryan would have us believe. It doesn't say "cut spending now, or bad things will happen"; it says that balanced budgets won't protect you from crisis if you don't effectively regulate your banks [ . . . ]

    What about Britain? Well, contrary to what Mr. Ryan seemed to imply, Britain has not, in fact, suffered a debt crisis. True, David Cameron, who became prime minister last May, has made a sharp turn toward fiscal austerity. But that was a choice, not a response to market pressure.

    And underlying that choice was the new British government's adherence to the same theory offered by Republicans to justify their demand for immediate spending cuts here -- the claim that slashing government spending in the face of a depressed economy will actually help growth rather than hurt it.

    So how's that theory looking? Not good. The British economy, which seemed to be recovering earlier in 2010, turned down again in the fourth quarter. [ . . . ] And, as a result, there's no comfort in the British experience for Republican claims that the United States needs spending cuts in the face of mass unemployment.

  • Evan McMorris-Santoro: Rand Paul: Let's Stop Giving Israel All That Aid Money: Finally he's found something in his $500 billion of spending cuts that should be cut.

  • Alex Pareene: Donald Rumsfeld Was Right About Everything, Book by Donald Rumsfeld Claims: And who would know better than the one guy who knows everything?

    Reviled two-time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has finally written his memoir. It is titled Known and Unknown, after a typically obtuse quote he gave to the press while mismanaging the "global war on terrorism." In his memoir, Rumsfeld is settling various old scores, and, obviously, trying to convince everyone that he is not responsible for the various awful failures and fiascoes that occurred at the Pentagon during his tenure in the Bush administration. Like, for example, the whole "Iraq invasion and occupation" thing. According to Rumsfeld, he totally intended to do it right, but stupid President Bush wouldn't let him: [ . . . ]

    Rumsfeld also apparently devotes a lot of space to rewaging various long-forgotten bureaucratic disputes. There is something about George H.W. Bush, whom he clearly hates. Rumsfeld also wants everyone to know that former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was "bullying" and an "imperial vice president," which is hilarious for many reasons, including Rumsfeld's closeness to Dick Cheney and the fact that as Gerald Ford's chief of staff, Rumsfeld basically blocked Rockefeller from doing anything.

    Now let's enjoy the attempted rehabilitation of Rumsfeld in the press, where his awfulness has probably been entirely forgotten.

Salon is also running a series called The Real Reagan. It's coming out in dribs and drabs and doesn't (yet) have an organized center. The pieces I've seen thus far:

Pretty much everything in those pieces is worth reading and remembering, especially given the 24-7 right-wing propaganda efforts to ensconce the man as a saint, permanently emblazoned everywhere from Washington's airport to Mount Rushmore. But the most timely quote was from David Stockman, asked to contrast Reagan and Obama:

And that's very different from Obama. I can't see the man has a single principle. I think he is an utter opportunist, a pragmatist. The only change you can believe in is that he changes his mind every day and every week. If he believes that the upper 5 percent has way too much income and wealth -- which, frankly, I agree with -- then he should have dug in his heels and said, "I am not going to sign a bill to extend the tax cuts for the top tax bracket." What did he do? He folded like a lawn chair within two days. So I don't think there's any comparison at all. I thought his State of the Union speech was dreadful -- I called it a "ponderous procession of pieties and platitudes." He didn't ask the American public for one sacrifice, didn't warn us of one dark cloud on the horizon, and simply gave a lot of cheerleading hoopla that had almost no connection with the real choices that, unfortunately, we face.

That isn't quite fair. Obama can be separated from Reagan on many points, most especially that Reagan advanced the interests of his supporters, where Obama has repeatedly undercut them. But Obama's "ponderous procession of pieties and platitudes" hardly distinguishes him from Reagan, who hardly offered anything else.

Fragment from a letter to Robert Christgau:

I'm wondering about pitching Recycled Goods to MSN as a blog: 2-3 posts a week, one might just be a release list with minor annotation; others mixes of paragraph reviews and brief notes, series-oriented where applicable, with a business note now and then. Would drop the world music, except for occasional archival comps. Seems to be a hole in their coverage, and I've never really stopped writing up what I have -- just that the columns have become ridiculously hit-and-miss. Who should I write to? Any worries about me stepping on your toes or causing you problems?

Looked through their current blogs and was struck by the utter absence of comments on all but yours. Have been tempted to comment on occasion, but haven't managed to hack through the Windows Live account management software. Really hated that Jon Dolan line on Gang of Four: buyer's remorse is actually capitalism's norm, and nowhere more so than in recorded music product. When Cam mentioned the Pink Floyd concert piece, recalled that I was there; thought maybe I could credit the chocolate pig. When "Marquee Moon" came up, I recall that the first time I heard it was in your apartment, the first time you heard it. I was more impressed by your reaction than by the music, but I never heard them live. We did hear trio Talking Heads open for Bryan Ferry, just before '77 came out (first time I heard them too), and you liked them better than Ferry. Fwiw, I always thought that '77 had better songs but More Songs had better music. That was always my prototypical example of second-album complex: a band spends years building up a songbook, spend it all on the debut, become much more proficient musicians on the road full-time instead of waiting tables or whatever, then get rushed into the studio for a follow-up they haven't had time to write songs for. Lots of bands like that -- hardly any came up with a better second album.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (7): February 2011

Insert text from here.

Archive and indexes here.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Recycled Goods (82): February 2011

Text here.

El Intruso Critics Poll

El Intruso: Encuesta 2010 - Periodistas Internacionales: Jazz critic poll, run out of Spain. They invited me to participate this year, and I stiffed them -- lost track of time and didn't send a ballot in. This particular link gives you the categories in Spanish, but my ballot had them in English (so I don't have that excuse). Individual critic ballots follow for 32 critics -- looks like about 10 Americans, 20 Europeans (many of the latter I don't recognize). The set is more Europe-oriented than we're used to in US polls, and more avant-oriented too (e.g., top five labels are European, only ECM without a strong avant focus).

The most striking thing about the poll isn't the obvious slants toward Europe and the avant-garde -- you can look on those as necessary corrections. Rather, it's the dominance of relatively (in some cases very) young players. For instance, for the last twenty years trumpet has been a two-man slugfest between Dave Douglas and Wynton Marsalis, but these critics gave a landslide to three newcomers: Peter Evans, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Nate Wooley. Douglas got one vote (Francis Davis); Marsalis none. That was more/less true across the board. The drummers, for instance, were Paal Nilssen-Love, Tyshawn Sorey, Gerald Cleaver, and Nasheet Waits. The saxophonists: Rudresh Mahanthappa, Jon Irabagon, Darius Jones, Tony Malaby, and Martin Kuchen. I like all of them, but would have voted for more senior players -- as it is, the only winners from my generation are William Parker and Billy Bang.

I started to fill out a belated ballot for this post, then thought better of it. Found it impossible to balance, and a little creepy. May be why I procrastinated in the first place.

There is also a Musicians' Poll, but it's limited to picking top albums. Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings won (after finishing 5th in the Critics' Poll but winning "Músico del Ańo"). I haven't really sorted through the individual lists, although spot-checking them proves interesting.

Started to fill out a ballot and got this far. Decided it was ultimately too trivial to post, but not quite stupid enough to tear up.

Up to three votes in each category. I find voting for musicians by instrument a rather uncomfortable task, and tend to take pot shots at it rather than thinking it through and carefully balancing whatever. Some categories are intrinsically confusing for me. But I should have returned the favor with a ballot, so I'll try here:

  • Musician of the year: David S. Ware, Ivo Perelman, Antony Braxton; William Parker and Ken Vandermark are my perennial choices, would make sense here, as would Matthew Shipp, but Ware bounced back from near-death, and Perelman's 20th anniversary yielded three A- records; Mary Halvorson won, making me all the more peeved that I've been blacklisted by her publicist; what I've heard is sometimes brilliant, sometimes crap.
  • Newcomer Musician: Stephan Crump, Tommy Babin, Lisa Mezzacappa; hard to know where to draw the line here.
  • Group of the year: Vandermark 5, Microscopic Septet, Mostly Other People Do the Killing; wanted to include Tin Hat, and Digital Primitives; Adam Lane won, but his group was a retooled one-shot.
  • Newcomer group: RED Trio, 3ology, Dawn of Midi; wild shots in the dark.
  • Album of the year: Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (TUM), Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (Clean Feed), Adam Lane: Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed); didn't hear the Harris Eisenstadt record that won.
  • Composer: Myra Melford, Adam Lane, John Zorn
  • Drums: Andrew Cyrille, Gerry Hemingway, Matt Wilson; voters are drawn to a younger generation here, all quite impressive.
  • Bass: William Parker, Mark Helias, Moppa Elliott; lots of good young bassists: Ken Filiano and John Hébert seem to be everywhere, and always help out.
  • Guitar: Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Anders Nilsson; could have gone with Nels Cline instead of Ribot, or Liberty Ellman instead of Nilsson; lot of flux here.
  • Piano: Myra Melford, Matthew Shipp, Marilyn Crispell; the master list of pianists is twice as long as any other instrument, or more than that; I have no good reasons -- only the three listed -- for omitting Vijay Iyer or Jason Moran or at least a dozen others.
  • Keyboards/synthesizer/organ: Uri Caine; real thin group, especially compared to acoustic piano; haven't heard much by winner Alexander Hawkins, although I like what I've heard.
  • Saxophone: David S. Ware, Houston Person, Tommy Smith; another monster category, which most polls divide into four levels -- I'd say tenor sax is the essential voice of jazz; curiously, 4 of top 5 play alto, which is making a comeback these days; my list is just a sampling of tenors; I could just as well have picked three others, and can't question anyone who'd still list Rollins, Coleman, and/or Konitz.
  • Trumpet/Cornet: Steven Bernstein, Dennis Gonzalez, Bryan Lynch
  • Clarinet: Louis Sclavis, Marty Ehrlich, Perry Robinson
  • Trombone: Roswell Rudd, Ray Anderson, Steve Swell
  • Violin/Viola: Billy Bang, Jason Kao Hwang, Jenny Scheinman
  • Cello: Erik Friedlander
  • Others Instruments: Scott Robinson, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Kali Fasteau
  • Female Vocals: Lisa Sokolov, Patricia Barber, Fay Victor
  • Male Vocals: Freddy Cole
  • Best Live Band: no idea
  • Record Label: Clean Feed, AUM Fidelity, Smalltown Superjazz

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Time to post something on Egypt. Even if you like Mubarak's version of stability, which clearly a very large number of Egyptians don't, you should realize that there's no way he can credibly put his legitimacy back together. Also that the longer he stretches this out, the more damage he causes, and the greater the risks for all involved.

Kai Bird: Obama's "Shah Problem": Subtitle: "President Obama is doing what Jimmy Carter did with Iran in 1978. Uh-oh." Right now the differences strike me as more significant than the similarities, but if the US backs Mubarak to the bitter end, as was the case with the Shah, the end is very likely to be bitter. The US didn't install Mubarak in a democracy-wrecking coup, like the CIA did the Shah. The US has been taking pointers from Egypt on how to torture prisoners, whereas the US taught Iran's Savak. Still, protesters in Cairo have already noted that most of the tear gas cannisters Mubarak's goons have used on them were made in USA. And clearly the US has a lot of influence in Egypt, and that's the sort of thing that could easily blow back.

Bird as much as assumes that free elections in Egypt will bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power. That isn't anywhere near obvious to me, but it is generally the case that the harder the struggle the more it will push people to follow the pious. Iran is an example of that, but it is also an outlier given the exceptionally hierarchical organization of the Shiite clergy. Still, the easier the revolution, the less hard feelings, the less the urge for revenge and recriminations. The US has turned on unpopular clients in the past -- Marcos, Suharto, Musharraf are among the big names. The only thing Mubarak has going for him that they didn't is Israel, which is just the sort of issue most likely to blow back in America's face. I don't expect Obama to realize that a less supplicant Egypt would actually help move Israel toward the peace table, but he once wanted that feather in his diplomatic cap, and few things he could do would help more than to send Mubarak packing. Bird understands just that point, although he takes it further than I would:

[Obama's June 2009 Cairo] speech really said it all. But now the moment has come when President Obama must demonstrate that his words were not just words. One way or the other, hard consequences will follow. The end of the Mubarak era will also spell an end to Egypt's cold peace with Israel. No post-Mubarak government, and certainly not one populated with Muslim Brotherhood members, will tolerate the continued blockade of their Hamas cousins in Gaza. Israel will thus be faced with additional strategic incentives to end its occupation of the West Bank, dismantle its settlements and quickly recognize a Palestinian state based largely on its 1967 borders. But as the recent leak of Palestinian-Israeli negotiating transcripts demonstrates, the detailed contours of a final settlement are all in place.

Change is coming to the Arab world. It can no longer be held back. So the pragmatist and not just the idealist in Obama would be wise to make it clear that he really is on the side of the protesters in the streets of Cairo. It is time to stop hedging our bets.

Juan Cole: Why Egypt 2011 Is Not Iran 1979: This adds a lot of depth to my argument above, especially on differences in the economic forces underlying revolution and the relative strengths and resolve of the clergy.

So to recapitulate. The white collar and labor activists are far more central to the organization of the Egyptian protests than had been their counterparts in the Iranian Revolution. The Egyptian "bazaar" is much less tied to the Muslim clergy than was the case in Iran, and far less likely to fund clerical politicians. Whereas Iran's bazaar merchants often suffered from Western competition, Egypt's bazaar depends centrally on Western tourism. Secular parties, if we count the NDP, have an organizational advantage over the religious ones, since they have been freer to meet and act under Mubarak. It is not clear that the law banning religious parties will be changed, in which case the Brotherhood would again be stuck with running its candidates under other rubrics. And, Sunni Muslims don't have a doctrine of owing implicit obedience to their clergy, and the clergy are not as important in Sunni religious life as the Shiite Ayatollahs are in Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood, a largely lay organization, has a lot of support, but it is not clear that they could gain more than about a third of seats even if they were able to run in free elections.

This doesn't cover the differences in the international context. The 1979 revolution in Iran was radicalized by protracted struggle against the Shah's forces (visibly backed by the US, although American public opinion was initially pretty critical of the Shah), by the US embassy takeover, and by the war against Iran started by Saddam Hussein's Iraq (bankrolled by US allies in the Persian Gulf, and later by the US). A more prudent US policy should be able to avoid those tragic mistakes, but Cole's next post, Mubarak's Basij, found Mubarak retracing the Shah's steps (err, the Ayatollah's, acting much like the Shah):

When this pledge of transition to a new military dictator did not, predictably enough, placate the public either, Mubarak on Wednesday sent several thousand secret police and paid enforcers in civilian clothing into Tahrir Square to attack the protesters with stones, knouts, and molotov cocktails, in hopes of transforming a sympathetic peaceful crowd into a menacing violent mob. This strategy is similar to the one used in summer of 2009 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to raise the cost of protesting in the streets of Tehran, when they sent in basij (volunteer pro-regime militias).

Juan Cole: Mubarak Defies a Humiliated America, Emulating Netanyahu: After Mubarak's basij bloodied the remarkably peaceful demonstrations, Cole gets a little snarky. Assuming Obama must be somewhat uncomfortable seeing how quickly his pleas for non-violence from all sides were ignored by the dictator he personally conversed with after his public speech, Cole points out that Obama should be used to such abusive indifference from his so-called allies. After all, Netanyahu has been humiliating Obama ever since he took office.

The tail has long wagged the dog in American Middle East policy. The rotten order of the modern Middle East has been based on wily local elites stealing their way to billions while they took all the aid they could from the United States, even as they bit the hand that fed them. First the justification was the putative threat of International Communism (which however actually only managed to gather up for itself the dust of Hadramawt in South Yemen and the mangy goats milling around broken-down Afghan villages). More recently the cover story has been the supposed threat of radical Islam, which is a tiny fringe phenomenon in most of the Middle East that in some large part was sowed by US support for the extremists in the Cold War as a foil to the phantom of International Communism. And then there is the set of myths around Israel, that it is necessary for the well-being of the world's Jews, that it is an asset to US security, that it is a great ethical enterprise -- all of which are patently false.

On such altars are the labor activists, youthful idealists, human rights workers, and democracy proponents in Egypt being sacrificed with the silver dagger of filthy lucre.

Mubarak is taking his cues for impudence from the far rightwing government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which began the Middle Eastern custom of humiliating President Barack Obama with impunity. Obama came into office pledging finally to move smartly to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Netanyahu government did not have the slightest intention of allowing a Palestinian state to come into existence. Israel was founded on the primal sin of expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel, and then conniving at keeping them stateless, helpless and weak ever after. Those who fled the machine guns of the Irgun terrorist group to the West Bank and Gaza, where they dwelt in squalid refugee camps, were dismayed to see the Israelis come after them in 1967 and occupy them and further dispossess them. This slow genocide against a people that had been recognized as a Class A Mandate by the League of Nations and scheduled once upon a time for independent statehood is among the worst ongoing crimes of one people against another in the world. Many governments are greedy to rule over people reluctant to be so ruled. But no other government but Israel keeps millions of people stateless while stealing their land and resources or maintaining them in a state of economic blockade and food insecurity. [ . . . ]

The US-backed military dictatorship in Egypt has become, amusingly enough, a Bonapartist state[*]. It exercises power on behalf of both a state elite and a new wealthy business class, some members of which gained their wealth from government connections and corruption. The Egypt of the Separate Peace, the Egypt of tourism and joint military exercises with the United States, is also an Egypt ruled by the few for the benefit of the few.

The whole system is rotten, deeply dependent on exploiting the little people, on taking bribes from the sole superpower to pursue self-defeating or greedy policies virtually no one wants or would vote for in the region. [ . . . ]

The Obama administration thought it had an agreement from Netanyahu to freeze settlements, and sent Joe Biden out to inaugurate the new peace promise. But when Biden came to Israel, he was humiliated by an Israeli announcement that it would build a new colony outside Jerusalem on land that Palestinians claimed. Then when the 'settlement freeze' in the West Bank proper came to an end during negotiations, Netanyahu announced that it would not be extended.

In other words, Netanyahu has since early 2009 taken billions in American money but told the US government to jump in a lake. The Obama administration did nothing, nothing whatsoever to punish this outrageous behavior.

So it can come as no surprise that Obama, Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been humiliated by Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. They told him to transition out of power. Instead, he on Wednesday and Thursday initiated the Massacre of Liberation Square, which has wounded nearly 1,000 people, most of them peaceful protesters.

[*] Cole wrote a whole book on Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion and futile occupation of Egypt in 1797 (Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East). This was Europe's first attempt to run a Muslim country, and who better to do it than the enlightened liberals of the French Revolution? As with Bush in Iraq 206 years later, the invasion was easy and the exit was a slow, painful slog.

Rami G Khouri: The Middle East's Freedom Train Has Just Left the Station: One of the few true big picture statements:

To appreciate what is taking place in the Arab world today you have to grasp the historical significance of the events that have started changing rulers and regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, with others sure to follow. What we are witnessing is the unraveling of the post-colonial order that the British and French created in the Arab world in the 1920s and 1930s and then sustained -- with American and Soviet assistance -- for most of the last half-century. [ . . . ]

In January 2011, a full century after some Arabs started agitating for their freedoms from Ottoman and European colonial rule, and after many false starts in recent decades, we finally have a breakthrough to our full humanity.

Justin Elliott: Meet Mubarak's American Fan Club: While most Americans are intuitively sympathetic with the aspirations of people anywhere in the world for democracy, freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble and air grievances, etc., some Americans have risen above such noble sentiments to stand up for the dictator they know and love. Presented as a slide show:

  • Ralph Reed: "angered at ElBaradei's comparison of the Muslim Brotherhood to American evangelicals."
  • Thaddeus McCotter: Republican congressman from Michigan, who sees a reprise of "Iran's 1979 radical revolution."
  • John Bolton: Says, "We have a profound interest in the stability of the Israeli-Egyptian peace relationship. . . . These are not things you toss away lightly against the promise, the hope, the aspiration for sweetness and light and democratic government."
  • Rush Limbaugh: Badmouths ElBaradei for covering up Iran's nuclear program; sees nothing but terrorists in Egypt if Mubarak falls.
  • Leslie Gelb: Is alarmed "that the Obama administration was not standing by the authoritarian Egyptian regime in its moment of need." Thinks reforms are needed, but warns against doing so in response to popular pressure; as he puts it, "to be seen as bending to mobs, however peaceful and moderate they look now, could open up the floodgates -- in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere."
  • Pamela Geller: Says: "Mubarak has been a US ally for decades. We send three billion dollars a year to Egypt. And Egypt made a peace deal with Israel. But knowing Obama, he will throw another ally under the bus."
  • Richard Cohen: Clair-voyant, says: "The dream of a democratic Egypt is sure to produce a nightmare." More below.
  • Mike Huckabee: Noted bible-thumper goes apocalyptic, saying: "[T]he events of the past few days in Egypt have created a very tenuous situation, not just for Egypt, not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world, and the destabilization of that nation has the potential of cascading across the globe." Went half-way across the globe to deliver that important message -- speaking in Israel's Knesset.
  • Allen West: Republican congressman from Florida, allows as how Egyptians are different from you and he, saying: "Over there, sometimes it does require a stronger hand to keep those radical elements at bay," and "No Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Reagan in Egypt."
  • Andrew McCarthy: Says: "Say what you will about Mubarak, who has committed abominable abuses and stunted the growth of civil society -- albeit in the face of a non-stop terrorist threat that is more immediate and existential than anything we face in the U.S. Mubarak has also kept the peace with Israel, and he has been a real ally against terrorists." Strong words, given that McCarthy's latest book is about how "immediate and existential" the threat of Jihad is here in America.

They missed a few, including such obvious suspects as Ann Coulter, Tom Friedman, and Alan Dershowitz. More on a couple of these further down.

Robert Christgau, reviewing Todd Snider's fine new album, Live: The Storyteller, noted nervously:

Snider's promise: "If everything goes particularly well this evening we can all expect a 90-minute distraction from our impending doom." Pondering the Comcast power grab and the perils of democracy in super-Saharan Africa, I wasn't fully distracted.

Alex Pareene: Thomas Friedman Applies His Weird Analogies to Egypt: While such hard neocons as Max Boot and William Kristol are generally keeping to their cynical pro-democracy arguments, the soft neocons who don't seem to have any concerns other than what Israel wants are busy thinking up all sorts of creepy reasons why the US should shore up their guy in Cairo. Friedman, for instance, interrupted his sojourn to Davos to rush to his perceived center of crisis -- Tel Aviv -- and knock out an opinion column with all sorts of nonsense:

For example: "Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is in danger of becoming the Mubarak of the peace process." I guess Tom means that Netanyahu is "in charge" of the peace process, and he should've negotiated when he had the most leverage, instead of waiting until things get out of hand, like Mubarak apparently has, but I'm not sure that someone can be the dictator of a "process." Was he planning on handing off the process to his son?

Alex Pareene: Richard Cohen: Egyptian Democracy Will Be "a Nightmare": You may recall that when Pareene was ranking journalism's worse hacks, he insisted that Cohen was even worse than Friedman. At he time I found that hard to believe, but his case here is pretty awesome:

Nothing saddens Richard Cohen more than the sight of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians peacefully protesting. The longtime Washington Post columnist is sad because those childish Arab Muslims might end up with a democracy, but they don't know how democracy works. Here is how democracy works: We like it unless "the people" want something that complicates our current foreign policy objectives.

Cohen is just broken up about this. "Egypt, once stable if tenuously so, has been pitched into chaos." "The dream of a democratic Egypt," he says, "is sure to produce a nightmare." It is sure to. Such a nightmare it will be. Just not anywhere near as pleasant as these last 30 years of "stability" have been, for everyone. [ . . . ]

My take on all this is relentlessly gloomy. I care about Israel. I care about Egypt, too, but its survival is hardly at stake. I care about democratic values, but they are worse than useless in societies that have no tradition of tolerance or respect for minority rights. What we want for Egypt is what we have ourselves. This, though, is an identity crisis. We are not them.

No. We are not them, at all. Because they are Muslims. We all know Americans could handle democracy because we were super good at respecting the rights of minority groups. But the Egyptians are sometimes resentful of or even violent against minority groups, so no democracy allowed for them. [ . . . ]

Cohen is concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood -- which "runs the Gaza Strip" under the name "Hamas," he tells us -- will take control of Egypt and attack Israel, at which point "the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval." [ . . . ] They clearly want all-out war with the region's sole nuclear power. [ . . . ]

This column is so full of winning lines, I have to stop myself from quoting the entire thing. There is literally an "I like democracy, but" part: "Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too, are respect for minorities, freedom of religion, the equality of women and adherence to treaties, such as the one with Israel, the only democracy in the region."

I'm sorry, I can edit that one to more clearly express Cohen's actual point: "Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too . . . [is] respect for . . . Israel. . . ."

These are the last lines:

America needs to be on the right side of human rights. But it also needs to be on the right side of history. This time, the two may not be the same.

The "right side of history" might not be the "right side of human rights." Got it? Sometimes you have to be on the "wrong side" of "human rights," and history will totally understand.

Poor Egypt. Maybe you will be grown-up enough in the eyes of Richard Cohen to handle a democracy someday, but right now, it's just not in the cards.


One thing I don't have good links on is the status and composition of the Egyptian military. (The Hanna link above is one that I picked up after writing this paragraph.) Many observers keep reiterating that the revolt will be resolved by whatever side the military comes down on. This makes sense up to a point, for a lot of reasons I can't really spell out in short order. It also provides a degree of reassurance in Washington, which regards the Egyptian military as private property -- something we bought and paid for with that $1.5 billion/year in aid since 1980. But Egypt's military goes back further: they overthrew the British stooge King Farouk in 1952 and their influence from that point on was deep and pervasive -- so much so that Anouar Abdel-Malek's definitive book on Nasserite Egypt was called Egypt: Military Society (originally published in French in 1962; translated to English in 1968 and published by Random House; I read the book way back when, and much of what I know about Egypt comes from it, but it's also very old news).


Started to write an intro. Got this far and scratched it:

Time to post something on Egypt. My basic principles here are: no nation should interfere with the internal political processes of any other nation, but the US has been a particularly flagrant offender on this count, and it's way too late to pretend that the US hasn't already interfered massively in Egypt; short of interference, all nations should celebrate political movements that seek more free and equitable societies, with respect for individual rights and support for everyone's improving standards of living; and all nations should do what they can to expose and excoriate human rights abuses and corruption. I've grown very wary of revolutions, but Egypt's gone too far not to get something out of the struggle. Mubarak has made plain his illegitimacy by attacking his own people -- no surprise given the way he has ruled for thirty years. The longer he hangs on, the more savagely he fights back, the more irreconcilable he becomes. Egypt would clearly be much better off without his shadow hanging over the country. And while I don't share the fears of his fan club on the anti-Muslim, pro-Zionist fringes of the American right, I don't doubt that longer this stretches out the worse the prospects become.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Has Obama Abandoned Everyone?

The Wichita Eagle published a noteworthy excerpt from their blog, under the title "Has Obama abandoned poor?"

President Obama's State of the Union speech went more than an hour, but he couldn't find time for a sentence about poverty or the plight of the poor, noted columnist Charles Blow -- even though the percentage of 18- to 64-year-olds who were living in poverty in 2009 was higher than it had been in any year since 1959. "Even as my respect for this president as a shrewd politician has begun to rebound, my faith in him as a fervent crusader for the poor and disenfranchised has taken yet another nosedive," Blow wrote. "One's tone-deafness -- or blatant indifference -- to the poor has to be at Black American Express status to brag that 'the stock market has come roaring back' and 'corporate profits are up' and not even mention the unemployment rate or the continuing foreclosure crisis."

I suppose you could argue that the 2010 elections boxed Obama in, forcing him to play defense for the next two years, where he will be lucky to deflect Republican attacks on the middle class, but you'd have to concede that he's always been much more comfortable talking about middle class this-and-that (e.g., tax cuts) than what happens to the working (and often these days unemployed) people who are the majority of his presumed voters.

Still, he is president, and he can talk about what he wants to talk about, and if that makes Republicans jittery, maybe they'll have to spend some energy playing defense. Instead, they get to ignore what he says, all the better to conjure up things to attack him for. The Wichita Eagle also ran a Cal Thomas column today, titled "Obama's Words Don't Match His Intentions." I'm not sure how Thomas is able to divine Obama's intentions without paying any attention to what Obama says -- must be his special relationship with God, because it doesn't seem to be grounded in the real world.

I wish I could fathom Obama's intentions, but he manages to keep them opaque, letting his supporters imagine he has a game plan, and letting his detractors fantasize absurdly. Most recently, his various statements on Egypt have turned into a perfect muddle: one night he publicly urges all sides to be peaceful, then privately huddles with Mubarak just before the latter organizes squads of thugs to try to intimidate the mass demonstrators -- on their camels with machetes one can't help but be reminded of Darfur's janjaweed. In this whole affair he's raised more questions than he's answered: how much sway do we have over Mubarak, and which way are we swaying him? How do we reconcile Obama's public statements with Mubarak's acts? If he's powerless, why did he feel compelled to get involved? Sometimes it seems like he says things just because he likes the sound of his own importance. He just doesn't say things of import to anyone else, because they don't mean anything to anyone else.

Jan 2011