September 2011 Notebook


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Venn Diagrams

Illustration from Paul Krugman:

His original context concerns the Euro, but it actually does a nice job of encapsulating the Obama administration's view of the economy: they've locked themselves in the bubble of "things that are considered politically feasible" -- a definition that they've generously allowed to the Republicans to make, and then to remake in order to keep it constantly out of reach, and not coincidentally ever further from those "things that might actually work."

It bears repeating that the main reason the left is so ticked off at Obama isn't because he's abandoned so much of his campaign rhetoric and turned out to be a closet conservative. It's because he keeps doing things that won't work, selected mostly because they fall into his limited understanding of what is "considered politically feasible." And this has become even more frustrating as the Republicans have consolidated ironclad power to disrupt anything Obama proposes: the main error in the diagram is the suggested size of the "things that are considered politically feasible" -- in the real world that bubble is vanishingly small as it turns out that nothing is actually feasible.

What distinguishes the left from Obama is not just a stubborn insistence on defending principles against the constant assault from the right; it's also the belief that it's possible to do something even when the right seems to hold all the cards.

By the way, I think that the set of "things that might actually work" is broader than the set of things that the left actually wants and supports. It is possible, for instance, to stimulate the economy without making it substantially more equitable -- the approach I'd prefer. It is possible to regulate banking without massively shrinking the finance sector. It is possible to fix some of the most dysfunctional aspects of our health care system without adopting a single-payer model. It is possible to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan without dismantling the entire system of imperial overreach. In each of these cases I'd prefer the more radical solution, and I think such a solution would ultimately work better. But Obama is not only not doing the right thing; he's rarely does anything that would work, and on occasion he actually makes things worse. And worse for himself and his prospects, by not proposing and not selling policies that might actually work, he's let the self-appointed guardians of the "politically feasible" move the debate ever further into the realm of the ridiculous, half-baked nonsense spouted by the far right.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Better Than Medicare

Op-ed in the Wichita Eagle this morning, by Dr. Margaret Flowers: Medicare for all would save lives and money. Flowers is co-chair of the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a minor celebrity for getting arrested protesting in Washington trying to get single-payer back on the Democrats' agenda. (See her interview by Bill Moyers). She's in Wichita today, to give a talk at the Murdoch Theater tonight.

I'm going to quote the whole piece below, but break it up so I can get some words in edgewise. What she has to say is fundamentally right but incomplete and inadequate, so I want to build on that.

There's been quite a bit of talk lately about the contribution of health care costs to our national deficit, and understandably so.

When compared with health care in other advanced nations, the United States excels in only one area -- the amount of money spent per capita annually. Despite our high spending, we leave about a third of our population either uncovered or underinsured and thus vulnerable to unneeded suffering and medical bankruptcy.

Our health outcomes are relatively poor, placing us 37th in the world, and we rank the highest in preventable deaths -- more than 100,000 preventable deaths per year -- when compared with other advanced nations. It's clear we are getting poor value in return for our health care dollar.

I believe the "37th" figure is rank based on average longevity -- one of many measures where the US has mediocre performance. The rub there is "average" given how inequitably health care services are distributed among Americans. Of course, most Americans think they're well above average, and they're right that the stats are distorted by those who aren't. It's just that they have trouble understanding how easily, and how arbitrarily, one can slip and fall into the other. Reminds me of the DC sniper story: one moment you're out on a routine shopping trip, next you're cut down by an invisible assassin's bullet. Isolated individuals can get fired, lose their insurance, suffer a debilitating illness or accident, go bankrupt, almost as suddenly.

Health care costs, which are rising 2.5 percent faster than our gross domestic product, are a leading driver of our financial deficit. In fact, if our health care costs were comparable to those of other industrial nations, which provide nearly universal health care with better outcomes, we would have a budget surplus.

Last time I checked, the health care sector accounted for 18% of GDP, with 20% projected not too far off. Back when Clinton tried to pass his scheme in 1993-94 the number was 14%. It's a bit simplistic to translate these figure to the current budget quandry -- only part of the total health care bill goes to the government, and most of that goes to Medicare and Medicaid which are funded on a different set of books -- but the longterm prognosis is bleak: the industry is set on a path to devour the economy, and while it's not clear where the choke point is, it's clear that something has to give sooner or later. You can't sustain infinite growth indefinitely, yet the logic of the investors demands that they try.

It's worth noting that until 1990 Switzerland had virtually the same health care cost structure that the US had, with both pulling away from the rest of the world. But where the US continued on its profit-seeking path, Switzerland clamped down and forced its private insurance companies to be run as non-profits, and that simple act stabilized their cost structure. Switzerland still has the world's second most expensive health care system, but as a percentage of GDP is is virtually the same as it was in 1990. As T.R. Reid shows in The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, there are lots of ways to manage health care costs without giving up progress and quality, but the essential element of all of them is to limit profit-seeking.

Regrettably, the new federal health law, the Affordable Care Act, lacks proven cost controls and is predicted to cause U.S. health care costs to rise faster than if there had been no reform at all. It will also leave at least 23 million uninsured through 2019.

The ACA does provide some measure of cost controls -- enough to claim to be revenue-neutral while providing insurance for many more people than are currently covered. (I don't know where this "23 million uninsured through 2019" figure comes from -- that's way more than I had been led to believe, although it's always been clear that the ACA scheme wouldn't provide universal coverage.) The main problem is that by leaving most people without any sort of non-profit health insurance option the profit-seeking private insurance companies will have no competition and therefore very little restraint on their ability to increase costs.

Given our high health care costs, some members of the new "super-committee" in Washington, D.C., may attempt to reduce the deficit by cutting our public health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare. However, doing so would be a mistake, because it would increase poverty, worsen health outcomes and increase costs.

There are various approaches to containing Medicare/Medicaid costs -- all unpopular with vendors who are conditioned to feel the pinch even before it arrives -- but the most serious attacks on Medicare have been schemes to increase costs, mostly by pushing Medicare recipients into private insurance plans. The so-called Medicare Advantage plans were a prime example. Obama's offer to raise the eligibility age for Medicare is even more ominous. The rationale there is to move costs off the federal budget and onto people who will wind up paying much more -- in their lives even more than money.

How so? Since its enactment 46 years ago, Medicare has substantially lowered poverty and sickness among the elderly, helping not only seniors but also their families. And Medicare's cost of health care per beneficiary is rising more slowly than for those with private health insurance.

Medicaid and Medicare have not caused our rising health care costs, but are victims of our fragmented, market-based model of health care financing. And shifting more of the cost of health care from the taxpayer to the patient through higher co-pays and deductibles, for example, will only hurt the vulnerable and will not slow rising costs.

Medicare does bear some responsibility for rising health care costs, especially early in its history from 1965 into the 1980s: by agreeing to pay "customary" fees to hospitals and doctors they basically handed out blank checks, which vendors took advantage of to constantly roll up prices much faster than the inflation rate. By the 1980s, prices had risen so much that the government started to impose restraints. At the same time, the industry was becoming more profit-seeking, with vendors working persistently to game their way around the rules.

On the other hand, Medicare is vastly more efficient than private insurance companies, imposing much less overhead -- close to 3% vs. 30% for private insurance companies.

The only effective remedy is to jettison the costly and wasteful system of using big private health insurers as middlemen and to adopt a publicly financed and independently delivered Medicare for all. This is commonly known as a "single-payer" system.

An improved Medicare-for-all system has myriad benefits, including free choice of physician and hospital; administrative savings of about $400 billion per year, which is enough to provide comprehensive high-quality health care to all who are uninsured and underinsured; the ability to negotiate lower prices for drugs; the elimination of bankruptcy and foreclosure due to medical debt; a reduced health care cost burden on businesses; and the stimulation of the economy because families will have more money for discretionary spending.

An improved Medicare for all will save lives and money. It will place our nation on the path of becoming one of the best health systems in the world -- something of which we can all be proud.

There's no doubt that a single-payer insurance system would be the single most effective way to improve our current health care industry, and that it would be the single most important step to solving the longterm problems endemic to the current system. As we generally understand the term, it also represents an important commitment to universal health care, and all that implies -- the sense that as a people we share responsibility for each other's welfare, and that as a democracy we believe that the government exists to serve the people and take purposeful collective action for our behalf.

That last sentence, of course, is anathema to the faction of the American people known as Republicans. They've lately been obsessed with disempowering people -- with scaring poor people away from the polls (where they might vote their self-interest), with busting unions, with preventing people from appealing to the regulators and/or the courts for protection from corporate abuses. They're upset that banks should be limited from scamming customers, or each other. And they'd rather die than cramp the freedom of the health care industry to price gouge, overtreat, undertreat, or commit the occasional malpractice. They won't even allow Medicare to negotiate the price of drugs -- just send more blank checks.

The biggest advantage of single-payer is simplification: everyone gets the same insurance, so nobody has to market a bunch of differences; every vendor gets paid filing out one standard set of forms, instead of having to work up different coding schemes one for each separate insurance company each with its own schedules and formularies and pencil pushers dedicated to the easiest way to improve the company's bottom line: by denying benefits. You also get rid of the collection agencies pursuing bills the insurance companies denied, and the bankruptcy lawyers. This also eliminates the need for vendors to overcharge paying customers for those who don't pay, which starts to bring prices back in line with costs.

Universal coverage also solves a lot of problems. It means, for instance, when when you're wheeled into the emergency room, the first person you see is someone trying to help you, rather than trying to pick your pocket. (A big problem now is emergency rooms dodging patients so they don't get stuck with the bill.) It means that your car insurance costs will drop since one can safely assume that future medical costs will be covered. It means that malpractice damages will be reduced (for the same reason, although not having to cover the lawyer's premium is a bonus). It means that people can move more freely from job to job, can retire early, or can afford to start new businesses without worrying about losing their coverage.

So single-payer insurance with universal coverage would produce an enormous cost savings right from the start. It would also eliminate one of the main forces behind the persistent inflation of costs -- the private profit-seeking insurance companies -- and it would provide the basis for negotiating fair and manageable compensation for the vendors. But to get there, we have to get past the political obstacles, which is mostly the desire of a certain political party (and a few of its admirers in the "loyal opposition") to preserve a system of larcenous capitalism exploiting our deepest health fears, and their key ploys: that everyone should pay their own way, that no one (other than the companies) should organize, that progress is magically linked to free enterprise, that trampling on the prerogatives of billionaires will destroy "our way of life," that your democratically elected government is set on killing you first chance they get. It shouldn't take much thought to realize that all this is nonsense -- which is a good part of the reason they work so hard to keep you from thinking.

I meant to get the above done and posted before the lecture, but ran out of time. Big crowd. Bottom floor was about 80% full when we got there, so we went up to the balcony, which wound up about 30% full. Flowers dispelled most of my reservations. She advocated something more than current Medicare for all, calling for an Expanded & Improved Medicare which among other things would dispense with the co-payments and limits of the current program. (Those seem to be carved out mostly to support private secondary insurance programs. People who buy such insurance often feel like they're paying for their own insurance when they're actually just tipping a company that assumes virtually no risk.) Especially when reformers talk about cost control, people get nervous that their benefits will be cut -- ignoring that the cost controls of private insurance companies are far more restrictive, and much harder to appeal, than anything Medicare might do. Still, my recommendation is to pitch single-payer less as a way to manage costs and provide universal coverage than as the essential way to improve health care quality.

Flowers actually did a pretty good job of explaining why this is so. She pointed out that under the current system many people are overtreated, many are undertreated, and many are mistreated. A single-payer system would provide more consistent coverage, more consistently in line with evidence-based best practices, with greater transparency. She called for efforts to realign doctors' incentives with better outcomes -- no simple task, but the focus should be less on paying doctors more for the desired results than on disinteresting doctors from the financial impact of their treatment options. She called for better resource planning, noting that it is more effective to have centers in a given area specialize than to have them compete across the board, adding excess capacity which they then have a stake in filling up. She fielded a question on malpractice, correctly noting (as I did above) that bad outcomes wouldn't have to be budgeted ahead of time, and that there were other ways to limit the expense. She suggested paying centers to maintain a given level of capacity regardless of utilization instead of having them risk overbuilding then have to figure out how to make it pay off.

Someone asked about high technology driving costs up, and she covered various aspects of this, especially how patentability distorts pharmaceutical research. She pointed out that most of the real research is public-funded, especially by NIH. She didn't go as far as I would in eliminating patents and promoting more competitive sourcing, and she didn't point out how proprietary research has been used to hide drug defects, and how this in turn has led to massive class action suits that have cost companies billions of dollars (as well as patients thousands of lives -- another area where reform promises to improve quality).

She also pointed out that the health care industry, huge as it is, only affects a limited aspect of public health: much more important is a clean environment, safe workplaces, education, good food, security from crime and violence, the sense of shared responsibility that comes with an equitable society -- not her phrasing but that's the gist of it. So a political system that has been captured by corporate profiteers has not only turned health care into a system for reaping enormous profits but has done so by corrupting the very nature of democracy. Change the latter and fixing the health care system becomes easy; fail to do so and the system will lurch on until it falls apart, to our great horror.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18808 [18743] rated (+65), 852 [852] unrated (+0). Huge rated week, mostly due to triangulating the Impulse twofer reissues, assigning grades to individual old records as well as to the new sets. Since there were 15 such sets, I could have gotten as many as 45 grades -- actual number is a bit less because I already had some of the albums. Also did some 1978 research for yet another EW poll, which led to some remembered LP grades, as well as a few old things I belatedly checked out. But not much Jazz Prospecting, even though I got a lot of mail.

  • Robert Ashley: Private Parts (1977 [1978], Lovely Music): Two pieces, 21:32 and 23:56, each with calm spoken voice talking over fairly minimal synth and tabla. Reworked into the even better Perfect Lives (Private Parts)/The Bar in 1980. Reissued on CD in 1990 as Private Parts (The Album). A-

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Amazing Rhythm Aces: Toucan Do It Too (1977, ABC): B-
  • Amazing Rhythm Aces: Burning the Ballroom Down (1977, ABC)
  • B
  • Ducks Deluxe: Don't Mind Rockin' Tonite (1974-75 [1978], RCA): Combines large chunks of first two studio albums, released in US instead of releasing the second (Taxi to the Terminal Zone). Would have rated higher if it weren't so damn redundant. A-
  • Hose (1982 [1983], Def Jam, EP): Funk-metal one-shot produced by Rick Rubin, five cuts, the B-side covers of "Super Freak," "Fire," and "You Sexy Thing" -- all buried six-feet under in industrial slag. As I recall, Christgau sent me a copy, but never wrote up a CG review -- maybe it's buried in ACN somewhere. B
  • Munich Machine: A Whiter Shade of Pale (1978, Casablanca): B
  • Plastic Bertrand: Ca Plane Pour Moi (1978, Sire): B
  • Santa Esmeralda: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (1977, Hot Productions): Part of my Casablanca root, a swishy disco cover of the Animals' hit plus similar filler. B+

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 8)

Not really enough Jazz Prospecting this week to report, but I'll dump out what I have anyway. This has been a weird week, with a huge ratings spike -- 65 records -- but mostly from unconventional sources. Spent a big chunk of time on reissues -- more CTI, plus 15 Impulse twofers -- but I figured I'd hold them for Recycled Goods. For the Impulses I broke the grades down to individual albums, so that turned 15 into 45 (actually, a bit less). Also spent some time reviewing 1978, and that led to some more stuff.

Amina Alaoui: Arco Iris (2010 [2011], ECM): Singer, from Fez, Morocco; has studied classical music traditions in Morocco and France, philosophy and linguistics, with interests straying as far as Persian classical music. Has a handful of albums. Focus here is on Andalusian music, including fado and flamenco, which was driven back to North Africa by the Spanish Reconquista. With violin, oud, guitar, mandolin, percussion. B+(**)

Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble: Black Man's Blues/New York Collage (1977-78 [2011], NoBusiness, 2CD): The late, great violinist's first two albums -- the first so obscure I missed it when I assembled a discography for my 2005 Voice piece on Bang. A quartet for the first record, with Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor and soprano sax, William Parker on bass, and Rashid Bakr on drums. Rahman, an old friend of Bang's, picked up Islam in prison and recorded reluctantly but more often than not his cutting and slashing is terrific here. Both albums are hit and miss, with bits of spoken word spouting political critique -- "when the poor steal, it's called looting; when the rich steal, it's called profit" is one turn of phrase. Second album adds Henry Warner on alto sax and Khuwana Fuller on congas -- Warner's another player who shows up on rare occasions but always makes a big impression. Way back when I would probably have hedged my grade, seeing each album as promising but half-baked, but now they're indisputable pieces of history -- and not just because Bang and Parker went on to have brilliant careers. Also note that the label in Lithuania that rescued them cared enough to provide a 36-page booklet on the era and this remarkable music. A-

Randy Brecker With DR Big Band: The Jazz Ballad Song Book (2010 [2011], Red Dot Music): Also with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, who get smaller type on the cover and mostly lurk in the background, like an ugly set of drapes. The DR Big Band is a polished unit with some players -- especially in the reed section -- who can dish out an impressive solo. But Brecker takes most of the solos, and everythign else amounts to little more than a fancy frame around his trumpet. B+(*)

Echoes of Swing: Message From Mars (2010 [2011], Echoes of Swing): Retro-swing group, based in Germany, recorded this (their fifth) album in Austria. Quartet: Colin T. Dawson (trumpet, b. England), Chris Hopkins (alto sax, b. US but moved to Germany when he was young), Bernd Lhotzky (piano), and Oliver Mewes (drums). Dawson sings two songs -- the Chet Baker style on a Billie Holiday song ("Don't Explain") is a striking effect. Lhotzky rearranges some Chopin, and there's a piece from Dmitri "Schostakowitsch," but Teddy Wilson and Ellington are the more favored sources. B+(***)

Larry Vuckovich: Somethin' Special (2011, Tetrachord): Pianist, b. 1936 in what was then Yugoslavia, moved to San Francisco in 1951 and developed a taste for bebop. A dozen albums since 1980. Plays two solos here, a couple of trio cuts, the rest adding Scott Hamilton and/or Noel Jewkes on tenor sax -- Jewkes takes one cut on his soprano. A fine pianist, and of course Hamilton is special. Don't know Jewkes, but aside from the soprano cut it isn't automatically clear where Hamilton leaves off and he picks up. B+(***)

Westchester Jazz Orchestra: Maiden Voyage Suite (2011, WJO): Conventional big band, directed and conducted by Mike Holober, founded in 2003 with Holober joining in 2007. Second album. I don't doubt the musicianship -- they're close enough to NYC they can draw some jazz names -- but Herbie Hancock's compositions don't grab me. 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.

Uri Caine Trio: Siren (2010 [2011], Winter & Winter): Piano trio, with John Hébert on bass and Ben Perowsky on drums. I'm not much good at describing piano trios -- wish I had a booklet to crib from, or at least get some orientation -- but Caine is a superb jazz pianist (except when he's playing classical music, and sometimes even that's pretty good), very fast here. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Warren Vaché: Ballads and Other Cautionary Tales (2011, Arbors): Trad-leaning cornet player, reaches for the ballad songbook not so much because at 60 he's slowing down as he wants to enjoy the scenery. A few with just bass and drums, joining in pianist Tardo Hammer on 6 (of 12), trombonist John Allred on one of those, and tenor saxophonist Houston Person on three others. Person damn near steals the show. 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:

  • Sylvia Bennett: Sonrie (Out of Sight Music)
  • James Carter Organ Trio: At the Crossroads (Emarcy)
  • Cecilia Coleman Big Band: Oh Boy! (Interplay)
  • Chick Corea/Stefano Bollani: Orvieto (ECM)
  • Corrie en de Grote Brokken: Vier! (Brokken)
  • Andrew Cyrille & Haitian Fascination: Route de Frères (TUM): Oct. 25
  • Kris Davis: Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed)
  • FAB Trio: History of Jazz in Reverse (TUM): Oct. 25
  • Scott Fields: & Multiple Joyce Orchestra/Moersbow/OZZO (Clean Feed)
  • Ig Henneman Sextet: Cut a Caper (Stichting Wig)
  • Hybrid 10tet: On the Move (BBB)
  • Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio: Clustrophy (TUM): Oct. 25
  • Jan Klare/Jeff Platz/Meinrad Kneer/Bill Elgart: Modern Primitive (Evil Rabbit)
  • Luis Lopes: Lisbon Berlin Trio (Clean Feed)
  • Mark Alban Lotz & Istak Köpek: Istanbul Improv Sessions May 4th (Evil Rabbit)
  • Tony Malaby: Tony Malaby's Novella (Clean Feed)
  • Lisa Maxwell: Happy (Happy)
  • Brad Mehldau & Kevin Hays: Modern Music (Nonesuch)
  • Carol Morgan Quartet: Blue Grass Music (Blue Bamboo Music)
  • The New Universe Music Festival 2010 (Abstract Logix, 2DVD)
  • Bill O'Connell: Triple Play Plus Three (Zoho)
  • Olavi Trio & Friends: Triologia (Tum): Oct. 25
  • Mark O'Toole: The Crooner (self-released)
  • Alexis Parsons (Ellick)
  • Michael Pedicin: Ballads (Jazz Hut)
  • Ted Rosenthal: Out of This World (Playscape): Oct. 4
  • Side A [Ken Vandermark/Håvard Wiik/Chad Taylor]: A New Margin (Clean Feed)
  • Susan SurfTone: Shore (Acme Brothers)
  • Jim Van Slyke: The Sedaka Sessions (LML Music)
  • Giancarlo Vulcano: Unfinished Spaces (Distant)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Brian Beutler: GOP Leaders to Bernanke: Dude, Quit Trying to Fix the Economy: Headline from the link page, slightly toned down here. At least Boehner and McConnell didn't go as far as Rich Perry when he explained how Texans deal with miscreants like the Fed Chairman. Don't these folks understand that the only beneficiaries of the Fed's "quantitative easing" programs will be the banks? And that there's virtually no chance of anything trickling down, at least not to the point where voters might actually notice the economy improving? The only thing the Republicans have going in this election cycle is the tanked economy, and they realize they need to be extra vigilant to keep it that way.

    Paul Krugman adds a more technical explanation of what's got the Republicans so hot and bothered:

    Right now, however, people are holding monetary base at the margin simply for its role as a store of value, so conventional monetary policy doesn't do anything. The Fed is therefore trying to operate on a different margin, swapping short-term for long-term securities. The trouble here is that it's not at all clear that this has much traction. To a first approximation, long-term interest rates are determined by expected future short-term rates, and if that were the whole story, the Fed would be accomplishing nothing at all.

    Although it's certaily possible that the Republicans don't understand any of this, the more likely explanation is that they don't have to -- all they really want is to make sure that no one even looks like they're trying to fix the broken economy, because that might suggest that it's possible, which would leave all of their preferred policies wanting.

  • Melissa Harris-Perry: Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama: No point considering Obama's policy preferences or his repeatedly failing tactical positioning or the vast discrepancies between what he said before getting elected and what he says (much less does) now. Not when there's an answer at hand as pat as this: must be "a more subtle form of racism" on the part of those white liberals who only temporarily overcame their prejudices in 2006 and 2008. After all, you didn't find the party's left abandoning Clinton in 1996:

    In 1996 President Clinton was re-elected with a coalition more robust and a general election result more favorable than his first win. His vote share among women increased from 46 to 53 percent, among blacks from 83 to 84 percent, among independents from 38 to 42 percent, and among whites from 39 to 43 percent.

    President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans -- from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent.

    Poli sci types will tell you that the main reason Clinton did better in 1996 was that the economy was growing vigorously, and that itself is the main difference between then and now. The fact is that incumbent presidents presiding over economies in more or less as bad shape as this one have generally fared very poorly at the polls: Bush I and Carter are recent examples, Hoover is the classic standard, Cleveland couldn't even secure his party's nomination. The only exception I can think of was Monroe, who was unpopular but somehow unopposed -- which given the quality of current Republican candidates seems to be Obama's best historical hope. The only other hope Obama has is that voters will realize that the economic collapse was the fruit of the previous Bush administration, and that his inability to reverse the tide and get a strong recovery going is mostly due to Republican obstruction and indifference, and that his reëlection is the only chance America has to avoid an even worse fate. But for that hope to have any chance, Obama has to make the case, which means he has to start pinning the blame for the economy on the Republicans and the rich people they coddle and adore.

    The fact is, left-liberals never had the slightest desire to leave Obama. He left them, and he left the millions of poor and working and middle class people who voted for him -- evidently so he could brag to his campaign contributors about how he kept the Democratic Congress in check, how he made sure no banks would be nationalized, how he made sure health care reform wouldn't hurt the insurance companies or the big pharmaceuticals, how he made sure all the wars Bush started would wind on indefinitely.

  • Mike Konczal: Is the Georgia Works Program a Failure, How Could We Tell and Would We Even Care?:

    In his jobs proposal, President Obama called for a modification of unemployment insurance based on Georgia Works, a proposal the administration refers to as the "most innovative reform to the unemployment insurance program in 40 years." Georgia Works is a program wherein workers on unemployment insurance:

    have the opportunity to train with a potential employer for a maximum of 24 hours per week for up to eight weeks. The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) provides a stipend and workers compensation coverage to participating job seekers. Employers pay nothing to these trainees. GW$ provides employers the opportunity to train and appraise candidates at no cost. There is no obligation to hire any given trainee . . .

    Congressional conservatives such as Eric Cantor like the program, d so there's a good chance it might pass. [ . . . ]

    But we have to step back and think: What kind of labor contract do we want the government creating, encouraging, and setting boundaries on? I've been discussing how our laws, courts, and institutions create the free-floating notion of a "free" labor contract. For all the talk about "choice," this program nudges people into working for free in what are likely already difficult, exploitative markets. What are already high-churn industries will now have wages depressed even further from taxpayers subsidizing unpaid labor. And the ideas that derive from it -- that the problem with our economy is that workers are lazy and stupid rather than that the fact that there are no jobs, that employers should get more claims on work for free and that the spirit of indenture should be strengthened in the workplace -- are the ideas that liberals have to fight against in these dark times.

  • Paul Krugman: There Are Worse Things Than Inflation: The chart here compares real (inflation-adjusted) GDP in the 1970s and 2000s. The former was the decade Robert Samuelson dubbed the Great Inflation which he likened in its severity and effects to the Great Depression of the 1930s. (I read Samuelson's book, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence, commenting at the time on how my parents' experiences of the two decades were vastly different.)

    As you can see, although growth was erratic in the 1970s, there was a lot more of it than in the 2000s. Krugman comments:

    And as he also says, Volcker's condemnation of inflation as a solution is deeply puzzling. Inflation won't cure problems of low productivity -- but nobody said it would, and that's not our problem. It very much can reduce excessive leverage. And a stronger short-run economy is actually a better environment for fixing whatever structural problems we have than a persistently depressed economy.

    I understand why Krugman and a few other economists (including some markedly conservative ones) see inflation as a way of growing out from under the debt overhang problem, but I see problems too. One thing that made inflation more tolerable in the 1970s was that labor had enough leverage to keep up with rising prices, and that isn't the case any more. To make inflation work, we need policies that would promote an accelerating wage spiral -- not just an expansion of the money supply (which given current labor market weakness would do little more than inflate asset values).

  • Alex Pareene: Rick Santorum: Google Wouldn't Be This Mean to Joe Biden: Evidently Santorum has an image problem pretty unique to being Rick Santorum:

    Rick Santorum's last name is also a word for a byproduct of anal sex. That word was coined by activist and sex columnist Dan Savage, because Rick Santorum is a repulsive bigot and it was very funny. Years later, Rick Santorum is running for president, and he is mad that Google accurately directs people searching for his name to the sex definition. [ . . . ]

    If Rick Santorum wants to fix his "Google problem" he should consider being personally more popular and professionally more influential than the people who are making fun of him.

  • Paul Woodward: Obama to UN: yada yada yada -- Israelis applaud: Yet another stop on Obama's capitulation to the right tour:

    In case anyone is in any doubt that President Obama's comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, delivered to the UN General Assembly this morning, were nothing more than a string of worthless peace-process platitudes, then listen to the rave review he got from Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman: "I congratulate President Obama, and I am ready to sign on this speech with both hands." Prime Minister Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni were similarly pleased.

    As usual Israel and the United States are speaking with one voice: Israel's.

    Rick Perry's grandstanding on Israel helped push Obama to the right, but he didn't see any other option, and doesn't have the courage to challenge such an overwhelming political consensus -- if indeed he even understands why he should. On the other hand, one could note that the only thing since Obama took office that has gotten Israel's government talking about talking has been Fatah's UN gambit. A sober observer would have to chalk that up as a brilliant move at a time when nothing Obama has done has amounted to anything.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Increased Automation Won't Eliminate Employment but Bad Policy May Kill the Middle Class:

    Economic improvements in the developing world over the past 20 years seem to have acted as a large negative shock to the value of labor in rich countries. In principle, this could have made everyone better off through taxes and redistribution, but in practice, we did the reverse. That's terrible. We're now talking about raising the retirement age, even when rising productivity suggests we should if anything be doing the reverse. That's terrible. Our failure to upgrade our infrastructure is terrible. Our failure to invest in early childhood education is terrible. But none of these things are particularly terrible because of technological change. They're terrible because terrible public policy is terrible.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Good Hunting?

This from an AP piece by Matthew Brown which appeared (somewhat shorter) in the Wichita Eagle this morning, titled Victim in Mont. grizzly attack was shot by friend:

A hunter attacked by a wounded grizzly in a Montana forest was killed not by the bear, but by a gunshot fired by a companion trying to save him, authorities said Friday.

Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe said an autopsy determined 39-year-old Steve Stevenson of Winnemucca, Nev., died of a single gunshot to the chest. The cause of death was determined by a medical examiner with the Montana State Crime Lab.

The shot was fired by 20-year-old Ty Bell, also of Winnemucca, as he attempted to stop the bear's attack. No charges are expected, Bowe said. [ . . . ]

Bell and Stevenson were on a black bear hunting trip with two other people in a thickly-forested region along the Montana-Idaho border when the attack occurred Sept. 16.

The foursome had split into two-member teams, and early in the day Bell shot and wounded what he thought was a black bear, which are considered less aggressive than grizzly bears.

Bell and Stevenson waited about 15 minutes until they thought the bear had died, then tracked the 400-pound grizzly into thick cover, according to Stevenson's mother, Janet Price.

When the bear turned on the men, Stevenson yelled at the animal to distract it and keep it from attacking Bell, Price told The Associated Press last week. When the animal instead went after Stevenson, Bell fired multiple shots trying to kill the animal, Bowe said. [ . . . ]

It is illegal to kill grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, where the animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the case is also under investigation by federal wildlife agents.

One could use this to question the sanity of encouraging every fool in the country to carry guns, but more than anything else this reminds me of George W. Bush's foreign policy, albeit on a much more intimate scale. There, too, doing things one shouldn't do in the first place led to reckless endangerment and death, often by "friendly fire." There, too, "no charges are expected."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Expert Comments

Mo' 1983:

Still picking at 1983, at least as of last night, and found yet another 1982-recorded, 1983-released full A jazz album: Vienna Art Orchestra's From No Time to Rag Time (Hat Art). Hard call to tell whether it would have bumped Regeneration from my ballot. I've only heard five of their albums, so they're mostly still SFFR -- no Nightride of a Lonely Saxophone Player, no Nine Immortal Evergreens for Eric Dolphy, no Tango From Obango, not even their 1983 Vienna Art Choir sequel, From No Art to Mo(z)-Art. But I can also recommend the 1983-recorded, 1984-released The Minimalism of Erik Satie.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Memo to Whoever

Sometimes one gets an idea and just doesn't know what to do with it. I'm not normally in the business of dispensing tactical political advice. And I'm certainly in no position to do anything about this, but here's my idea:

Someone should set up a national campaign committee to Elect a Democratic Congress. This would go beyond the current House and Senate committees, which route money to individual candidates but don't make much effort to advance the party as a whole. Moreover, since 2012 is a presidential election year, the normal tendency is to let the presidential candidate lead the ticket. This would be a mistake, and not just because Obama seems headed toward defeat. It would miss a golden opportunity to build up the Democratic Party brand name as the one and only party dedicated to sane responsible governance. Focus especially on how Republicans have obstructed any efforts to stimulate and grow the economy, and how the Republicans have repeatedly hobbled the government's ability to serve and act in the public interest. Promise reforms, including the end of the Senate fillibuster rule that allows a minority to block essential legislation. Emphasize how diverse the Democratic Party is, how they represent everyone, how everyone gets a fair shake when the Democrats are in power: even if no Republicans got elected, no one could predict what an all-Democratic Congress would wind up doing. And, please, keep it separate from Obama's campaign. We've seen time and again that a Democratic Congress will bend over backwards to work with a Republican president, but we've never before seen anything like what this Republican-dominated Congress has done to the country just to spite a Democrat in the White House. The only way to prevent a repeat is to make sure that Democracy prevails in Congress, and to do that you need to make a partisan case, to get people to overlook individual traits and vote for the party that's going to put Congress back to work.

As I said, if this is the level of politics you are into, this is an idea worth pursuing. At this point it seems much more important to elect a Democratic Congress than it is to reëlect Obama. Moreover, it's something you can campaign for. Obama has backpedalled, compromised, and/or flat out surrendered on nearly every issue he was thought to stand for, the result being that the best he can promise is to be a bit less awful than his opponent. One can (and no doubt will) vote for such a person, but little or nothing more. A Congress focus would help to clarify these issues, to get people interested, to bring out the vote.

While I'm at it, I want to gripe about an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle today: Davis Merritt: Give Our Leaders Permission to Compromise. In particular, Merritt spends a lot of time whining about both parties as if they are equally stunted:

Democrats flame Republican officeholders, and Republican contacts with Democratic officeholders are equally ill-tempered.

On the flip side, Republicans demand that their officeholders not give an inch, and Democrats stiffen the spines of their officeholders in the same tenor.

But here's the problem: Officeholders are not at all interested in the opinions of people of the opposite persuasion and are all too absorbed by what their supporters have to say. The result: constantly reinforced legislative stasis and a lot of energy wasted shouting into the wind and preaching to the choir. [ . . . ]

Thus, in the face of an economic crisis that is grave but, with moral courage, fixable, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, is comfortable hewing to the mantra "tax increases are off the table," and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, continues to insist that entitlement programs are untouchable -- a classic false choice.

Actually, there is nothing fallacious about this choice. There is a general requirement that revenues and expenses be balanced -- not that it's not possible to run some degree of deficit year after year; indeed, we've often done just that -- so given our current and projected deficits it does make sense to raise revenues, cut expenditures, or both. In excluding revenue gains, Boehner insists on balancing the budget by cutting expenses, especially on social spending. The net effect of this is to reduce the living standards of the poor, the elderly, the disabled -- the sort of people more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. Pelosi's position is to defend that social spending -- indeed, she most likely would like to see more of it, as would most of the people who vote for Democrats. But neither side is saying we can have both lower taxes and higher social spending: Pelosi, like most Democrats, is on record as favoring higher taxes to pay for more spending. So this is a real issue. The only way Merritt can imagine it as a false one is to disconnect the rhetoric from reality and to generously assume that both parties are equally entitled to their views. (Unfortunately, Obama, whose grasp on reality seems to include nothing more than polls and the views of the punditocracy, shares Merritt's sense of fairness -- a worrisome point for anyone in the real world likely to pay for his compromises.)

One curious thing here is that while Merritt imagines that both sides are taking extreme positions, only one side is. The Democrats are asking for little more than preserving the historic levels of support for Social Security and Medicare, paid for by restoring tax rates on the rich to levels that are still below historic norms (at least over the last 70 years). While the Republicans are insisting on draconian cuts in spending to allow them to cut taxes on the rich even more. This range of options is so skewed that any compromise between the two positions would be a major surrender to the right, for no reason other than the right is so much more aggressive in its goals.

But let's go back to reality. The fact is that we're in the midst of a profound economic downturn with very high long-term unemployment and very little productive investment, with the rich sitting on hordes of cash that is not being put to good use. And this is on top of a long-term trend that has suppressed the labor market while engorging the already rich. There is a historically proven way of dealing with such crises -- one embraced by every Republican president since Hoover -- which is to crank up public spending to make up for the private sector's shortfall. But aside from a minor stimulus bill Obama squeaked through when the Democrats had control of Congress, we haven't been doing that. Indeed, the main point of the Republicans' budgetary stranglehold has been to keep public policy from improving, or even ameliorating, the economy -- presumably the theory is that Obama will be blamed for the prolonged economic slump and be defeated, allowing them to capture all three branches of federal government and restore the crony capitalism regime that the Bush administration had perfected.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Expert Comments

Belatedly weighing in on STB's 1983 poll:

Here's a contrasting 1983 list:

  1. R.E.M.: Murmur
  2. New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies
  3. U2: War
  4. Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones
  5. Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes
  6. Van Halen: 1984
  7. Pink Floyd: The Final Cut
  8. Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind
  9. Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues

Not my ballot. A week back 130 BPM posted a list of their top 100 albums of the 1980s, and this is the 1983 subset -- only 9 titles, leaving the year a little lean. I've found them to be better than average reviewing new music, but their look back at the 1980s suggests that none of those who worked up the list were out of their teens at the time.

My ballot:

  1. Lou Reed: Legendary Hearts (RCA) 22
  2. George Clinton: You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish (Capitol) 12
  3. James Blood Ulmer: Odyssey (Columbia) 12
  4. The Blasters: Non Fiction (Slash) 10
  5. Abdullah Ibrahim: Ekaya (Ekapa) 10
  6. Cyndi Lauper: She's So Unusual (Portrait) 8
  7. Jonathan Richman: Jonathan Sings! (Warner Brothers) 8
  8. Pablo Moses: In the Future (Alligator) 6
  9. B-52's: Whammy! (Warner Brothers) 6
  10. Roswell Rudd/Steve Lacy/Misha Mengelberg/Kent Carter/Han Bennink: Regeneration (Soul Note) 6

Worked this up from memory, which will probably be the case for any past year poll, but I did hack together a Year 1983 file []. Came up with 50 A- or better albums, only 11 of them jazz. Total rated list came to 145 (37 jazz) -- probably all personal lows, at least compared to any other year since 1974 (or possibly earlier). The early 1980s were not big jazz years, and what I picked up later was hit and miss. And I bought less music during my 1981-84 NJ period than the decade before or ever since.

Spent a lot of time on the "candidates" list, which helped find things I had misfiled -- most of my jazz is by recording date, not release, so my first pass was way off. Included a few compilations but generally skipped them. The Oh-OK and Maximum Joy sets pick up minor releases and turn them into something substantial. Also found some African releases which you know through later reissues -- Ndangariro and Induku Zethu will reappear in 1984.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Expert Comments

STB posted results for his EW Improves Upon P&J 1983 poll today:

  1. Marshall Crenshaw: Field Day 450 (34)
  2. R.E.M.: Murmur 378 (30)
  3. The Blasters: Non Fiction 308 (27)
  4. James Blood Ulmer: Odyssey 296 (25)
  5. Lou Reed: Legendary Hearts 283 (26)
  6. Cyldi Lauper: She's So Unusual 246 (29)
  7. DeBarge: In a Special Way 196 (17)
  8. Husker Du: Metal Circus 185 (16)
  9. Jonathan Richman: Jonathan Sings! 167 (17)
  10. Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues 152 (17)
  11. Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones 144 (17)
  12. The Go-Betweens: Before Hollywood 129 (9)
  13. Aztec Camera: High Land, Hard Rain 115 (11)
  14. George Clinton: You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish 102 (12)
  15. X: More Fun in the New World 100 (14)
  16. Womack and Womack: Love Wars 82 (9)
  17. DFX2: Emotion 79 (6)
  18. Madonna: Madonna 67 (10)
  19. African Music 61 (5)
  20. Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Doppelganger 47 (5)
  21. Paul Simon: Hearts and Bones 45 (4)
  22. Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes 42 (5)
  23. New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies 40 (4)
  24. UB40: Labour of Love 40 (3)
  25. Pablo Moses: In the Future 39 (5)
  26. Pylon: Chomp 33 (4)
  27. The Replacements: Hootenanny 32 (4)
  28. Jason and the Scorchers: Fervor 32 (3)
  29. Randy Newman: Trouble in Paradise 31 (3)
  30. Richard Thompson: Hand of Kindness 30 (3)
  31. The Minutemen: Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat 30 (3)
  32. Nile Rodgers: Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove 27 (2)
  33. King Sunny Ade and His African Beats: Synchro System 27 (2)
  34. Henry Threadgill Sextet: Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket 27 (2)
  35. The Police: Synchronicity 26 (3)
  36. The Minutemen: What Makes a Man Start Fires 25 (4)
  37. Jon Hassell: Aka/Darbari/Java 24 (2)
  38. U2: Under a Blood Red Sky 23 (4)
  39. U2: War 23 (3)
  40. ABC: Beauty Stab 22 (3)
  41. Tommy Flanagan: Thelonica 22 (3)

Other albums with more than one vote:

  • P-Funk All Stars: Urban Dancefloor Guerillas 21 (4)
  • Charlie Haden: Ballad of the Fallen 19 (3)
  • Elvis Costello: Punch the Clock 18 (3)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: Ekaya 18 (2)
  • The B-52s: Whammy! 17 (3)
  • Los Lobos: . . . And a Time to Dance 16 (3)
  • Rudd/Lacy/Mengelberg/Carter/Bennink: Regeneration 16 (2)
  • Philip Glass: The Photographer 15 (2)
  • George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet: City Gates 13 (2)
  • Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Love Over and Over 10 (2)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18743 [18719] rated (+24), 852 [846] unrated (+6). Lost a few days working on basement floor. Played some stuff I didn't get around to writing up. Playing phone tag with Village Voice, but no news there. More crises in Detroit, as well as worries here.

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 7)

Still no idea when Jazz CG will run: it seems to be stuck in a space crunch as the Village Voice continues to shrink. Been playing phone tag, and will pursue that further this week. Load is a bit light this week, but was nice to take a break and get some work done on the house. (And actually the grade average is up -- used that time to play some things I wanted to hear but didn't feel like writing about yet.) Hope to do more of that this coming week, especially since the weather has turned decent.

Antonio Adolfo/Carol Sabaya: Lá e Cá/Here and There (2010, AAM): Brazilian pianist, composer of a couple pieces here; AMG lists 17 records since 1992; Discogs has fewer records but they're almost all earlier, the first from 1969. Sabaya, his daughter, sings, a cool treat although Adolfo's piano excursions are every bit as delicious. Aside from Adolfo's originals, everything else has stood the test of time: "All the Things You Are," "A Night in Tunisia," "Time After Time," "Lullaby of Birdland," "'Round Midnight," a lot of Jobim and Cole Porter, sometimes segued together. B+(***)

AsGuests: Universal Mind (2010 [2011], Origin): Basically a duo -- Michal Vanoucek (piano) and Miro Herak (vibes) -- although they also perform as a quartet with bass and drums, and here they add strings (violin, viola, cello). Vanoucek is from Slovakia, b. 1977; I've run into him before. Herak is from the Czech side but is based in Slovakia. Has a fancy chamber jazz feel, speeding up with the vibes chime in. B+(*)

Deep Blue Organ Trio: Wonderful! (2010 [2011], Origin): Booklet says "Recorded December 18, 19 and 20, 2011" -- I'm pretty sure that's just wrong, not prophetic. Chris Foreman plays organ, Bobby Broom guitar, Greg Rockingham drums. Group has four albums since 2004. This one is all Stevie Wonder songs, although scarcely any register with me as such. Presumably that's because jazz guys like to change things around. On the other hand, I find the faint overtones vaguely annoying. B-

Joey DeFrancesco: 40 (2011, High Note): Hammond organ player, b. 1971, probably the most celebrated, no doubt also most prolific (AMG lists 28 albums) of his generation. Albums is named for his age -- something I missed when unpacking. Trio with Rick Zunigar on guitar and Ramon Banda on drums. Zunigar has three albums on his own -- one titled Organ Trio -- and side work with Stevie Wonder, but isn't much of a factor here. The leader, however, has a knack for conjuring up gritty tones, serving them up fat. B+(*)

Jack Donahue: Parade: Live in New York City (2010 [2011], Two Maples): Singer, based in New York, fourth album -- all covers here but I don't know about previous albums and his website suggests he writes some. Draws twice each on Jimmy Webb and Harold Arlen (one with Mercer, the other with E.Y. Harburg -- spelled Yarburg on the back cover). Backed with piano-bass-drums plus trumpet (Marcus Parsley) on one cut. Voice sticks with you, and he seems like a likable crooner. B

Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece: Duotone (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Sax/vibes respectively, Fowser pictured on the cover with a tenor, Gillece with mallets. Gillece wrote 8 of 10, Fowser the other two. Gillece has nothing under his own name, but he appeared on Fowser's two previous records. Quintet with Donald Vega (piano), David Wong (bass), Willie Jones III (drums). Straight mainstream postbop, faster than usual (a good idea). B+(**)

Darren Johnston's Gone to Chicago: The Big Lift (2010 [2011], Porto Franco): Trumpet player from San Francisco, plays in the Nice Guy Trio, also pops up in various avant-garde groups. This trip to Chicago is a fruitful example, hooking Johnston up with: Jeb Bishop (trombone), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Nate McBride (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums). The brass attack is neatly balanced, the vibes bright, the rhythm roiling. Mostly Johnston originals, plus one from Ornette Coleman and the closer from Duke Ellington, a "Black and Fan Fantasy" from an even deeper and darker jungle. B+(***)

Travis Laplante: Heart Protector (2011, Skirl): Tenor saxophonist, one of two saxes in the free noise band Little Women -- the other is Darius Jones, who makes better albums on his own. First album under his own name, solo; starts with long obscene drones, eventually working up some patterns. B+(*) [Oct. 18]

Lisa Lindsley: Everytime We Say Godbye (2010 [2011], self-released): Standards singer, b. in Ogden, UT; shares birthday with Sarah Vaughan but doesn't disclose the year -- far enough back to have raised and home schooled three daughters. Based in Bay Area. First album. Also has an acting resume, but nothing I recognize. Backed here by piano (George Mesterhazy) and bass (Fred Randolf). The lack of drums signals a desire to take these songs slow and easy, which may (or may not) be your idea of sultry. Didn't make much of an impression on me until she changed the pace with a bright and chipper "It's Only a Paper Moon." After that the slow treatment on "Why Don't You Do Right" did take on a smoky air, but "The Girl From Ipanema" felt belabored. B

Allen Lowe: Blues and the Empirical Truth (2009-11 [2011], Music & Arts, 3CD): Probably better known for his books and compilations -- the 9-CD American Pop: An Audio History From Minstrel to Mojo and the 36-CD That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History plus their separately published books, with a new 36-CD blues series in the works -- than for his original music. I first discovered him when Francis Davis tabbed his first two self-released 1990-92 albums as Pick Hits in an earlier edition of Jazz Consumer Guide -- critical admiration that continues as Davis wrote liner notes for this release. Based in Maine, mostly cut with a local group occasionally spiced with outside star power -- Marc Ribot, Matthew Shipp, Roswell Rudd, Lewis Porter -- this digs deeper than I could have imagined into blues form, blues notes, and blues psyche, turning every aspect over and inside out. Lowe plays alto, C melody, and tenor sax, and guitar. While most of the guitar is played by Ray Suhy or Marc Ribot, Lowe especially stands out on "Williamsburg Blues" -- his guitar with Shipp's piano. Three discs means some sprawl, comparable I'd say to 69 Love Songs in that neither the theme nor the invention ever wears thin. (Well, maybe a bit in the middle disc.) A-

Richard Nelson Large Ensemble: Pursuit (2011, Heliotrope): Guitarist, teaches at University of Maine at Augusta, has a couple previous albums. The Large Ensemble is a 13-piece group -- 4 reeds (including flute), 4 brass, viola, cello, guitar, bass, drums -- that does the five-part title piece. The album finishes with two 9+ minute quintet pieces. I didn't get much out of either, possibly as much due to recording dynamics (i.e., lack of) as of the music itself, which at least makes room for the guitar. B-

The Nice Guy Trio: Sidewalks and Alleys/Walking Music (2010 [2011], Porto Franco): Darren Johnston (trumpet), Rob Reich (accordion), Daniel Fabricant (bass). Second group album, with Reich composing the first five-part title suite and Johnston the latter, also in five parts. The accordion gives them an old world feel, part chamber music but earthier. I liked their first record quite a bit, but have trouble here with the added weight of string trio -- tends to overwhelm the former piece, fitting more discreetly into the latter. B+(*)

Greg Reitan: Daybreak (2011, Sunnyside): Pianist, originally from Seattle, based in Los Angeles. Third album, all trios with Jack Daro on bass and Dean Koba on drums. Wrote most of twelve songs, but covers Shorter, Zeitlin, Jarrett, and Evans. B+(*)

Tyshawn Sorey: Oblique - I (2011, Pi): Drummer, b. 1980, first caught my attention in bands with Vijay Iyer and/or Steve Lehman, especially Fieldwork. Released a composer's album in 2007, That/Not, which got a lot of attention (number two on Francis Davis's year-end list) -- I had to go to Rhapsody for a listen, was duly impressed, but couldn't spend much time with it. Between 2002-06 he composed a set of 41 compositions, ten of which appear here, in a quintet setting with Loren Stillman (alto sax), Todd Neufeld (guitar), John Escreet (keyboards), and Chris Tordini (bass). The pieces slip and slide around the free rhythm, not easy and never settling into any sort of norm. A-

Marcus Strickland: Triumph of the Heavy: Volume 1 & 2 (2011, Strick Muzik, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1979, has consistently impressed at least since 2006 -- I haven't the two 2001-03 FSNTs, which AMG doesn't think much of -- always seeming on the edge of breaking something big wide open. I guess this is it: it's certainly big, with one trio disc -- the second, the Ben Williams on bass and twin brother E.J. Strickland on drums -- the other adding pianist David Bryant. The quartet is spread out a bit more, and thinner as Strickland switches to alto for 5 of 10 tracks, and soprano on three -- plays tenor on four, the main reason the totals don't add up is that he plays everything (including clarinet and bass clarinet) on "Virgo." Probably safe to rank him the best soprano among his generation of tenor players -- it seems like an organic extension of his tenor rather than something he copped from Coltrane or Shorter (or Marsalis or Potter). Still, the first disc won me over; the second just kicked my ass. 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:

  • Afro Bop Alliance: Una Más (OA2)
  • Geri Allen: A Child Is Born (Motéma Music)
  • Anthony Branker & Word Play: Dialogic (Origin)
  • Dee Bell: Sagacious Grace (1990, Laser)
  • The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Last Time Out: December 26, 1967 (1967, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Nov. 11
  • Ralph Carney's Serious Jass Project: Seriously (Smog Veil)
  • Shirley Crabbe: Home (self-released)
  • Miles Davis Quintet: Live Europe 1967: Bootleg Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD)
  • The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Gypsy Rendezvous, Volume Two (Origin)
  • Amir ElSaffar: Inana (Pi)
  • Charles Lloyd Quartet with Maria Farantouri: Athens Concert (ECM, 2CD)
  • Yoko Miwa Trio: Live at Scullers Jazz Club (self-released)
  • Mozik (self-released)
  • Oz Noy: Twisted Blues Volume 1 (Abstract Logix): Nov. 19
  • Alan Pasqua: Twin Bill: Two Piano Music of Bill Evans (BFM Jazz)
  • Heikki Sarmanto Big Band: Everything Is It (1972, Porter)
  • John Stein: Hi Fly (Whaling City Sound)
  • Ira Sullivan & Stu Katz: A Family Affair (Origin)
  • Kayla Taylor: You'd Be Surprised (SMartyKat)
  • Turn Around Norman: We Turn Around (TAND)
  • Freddy V: Easier Than It Looks (Watersign Productions)
  • Sam Yahel: From Sun to Sun (Origin)


  • Plastic People of the Universe: Magical Nights (1969-85, Munster, 2CD)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Haven't had much time or inclination to post this past week. The good news is that I took the time to lay down a floor of rubber tiles that now covers the south third of the basement. When we bought the house the space was covered with some rather grungy carpet, but we cut most of that away leaving the concrete floor. We use the space for some exercise equipment. I've long been intrigued by rubber flooring, and its most common use seems to be for gyms, so it seemed like the logical choice. I went with tiles on the theory that they'd be easier to work with -- had to make a lot of cuts around the edges -- and the hope that the seams wouldn't be conspicuous. I have little difficulty discerning them, but I've mostly been looking at them on my knees. Other problem I've noticed is that the black really shows up dusty footprints. Still, looks like quite an improvement. I'm tempted now to try to fix up the rest of the floor.

Meanwhile, a few scattered links squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Steve Benen: Cantor Looks to Kill Half of American Jobs Act:

    A little more than half of the American Jobs Act is made up of tax cuts. Cantor, at least today, didn't reflexively rule out these provisions.

    Instead, what Cantor disapproves of are the parts of the proposal most likely to create jobs -- infrastructure investments, job training, unemployment aid, and assistance to states to prevent public-sector layoffs. It's as if the oft-confused Majority Leader looked at the plan, found the measures that would have the great impact to improve the economy, and immediately rejected them.

  • Paul Krugman: The Years of Shame:

    What happened after 9/11 -- and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not -- was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

    A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits -- people who should have understood very well what was happening -- took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

    The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

  • John Quiggin: Socialised Health Care as Feasible Utopia: Cites Erik Olin Wright's Envisioning Real Utopias, which leads to:

    Thinking about feasible utopia, on the other hand, it seems to me that the system of socialised health care in modern social democracies is not a bad model. That is, if all of society worked like the health care system at its best, we could regard the political project of social democracy as a success.

    Perhaps no country gets it perfectly right. In Australia for example, the basics (general practitioner services, pharmaceuticals, critical hospital services) are covered pretty well, but we don't do so well on mental and dental health, and there are lots of complaints about waiting lists for elective (=desirable, but not lifesaving) surgery. Still, outside the US, the big worry about going to doctors or hospitals is whether the treatment will be successful, not whether you will go bankrupt trying to pay for it.

    The big question is whether this model can be replicated more broadly. Health care has the special characteristics that, on the one hand, there isn't a big issue of consumer preferences (mostly, people want the treatment that has the best chance of a cure, though there is sometimes a risk-return trade-off) and, on the other hand, markets perform very badly.

    My takeaway on this: health care is perhaps the clearest example of a sphere in modern life where market economics is dysfunctional, so the main way we have to provide better health care is to counteract the profit-seeking market. As such, the best health care systems are the least capitalist. As such, they provide a real world example of how limiting (or excluding) capitalism can help to make life better.

    By the way, Chris Bertram objected to Quiggin's "the scope for expanding health services is effectively infinite" comment:

    I'm puzzled at the way economists tend to say this kind of thing John. After all, as I (along with everyone else) have things I want to do in my life other than receive health care, demand can't be infinite even at zero price (even, in fact, if we were being paid to receive it!).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Expert Comments

Ballot for STB's EW 1983 poll:

  1. Lou Reed: Legendary Hearts (RCA) 22
  2. George Clinton: You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish (Capitol) 12
  3. James Blood Ulmer: Odyssey (Columbia) 12
  4. The Blasters: Non Fiction (Slash) 10
  5. Abdullah Ibrahim: Ekaya (Ekapa) 10
  6. Cyndi Lauper: She's So Unusual (Portrait) 8
  7. Jonathan Richman: Jonathan Sings! (Warner Brothers) 8
  8. Pablo Moses: In the Future (Alligator) 6
  9. B-52's: Whammy! (Warner Brothers) 6
  10. Roswell Rudd/Steve Lacy/Misha Mengelberg/Kent Carter/Han Bennink: Regeneration (Soul Note) 6

My own master list is here. Spent a ridiculous amount of time adding candidates -- something I probably won't attempt again, but it did help to clarify the jazz picture. (My own records mostly track recording dates, so tended to be off.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18719 [18678] rated (+41), 846 [852] unrated (-6). So much for anticipating a slow week.

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Latimore: Latimore III (1975, Glades): B+
  • Trio: Trio and Error (1983, Mercury): B+

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 6)

Power has been flakey last couple of minutes, so I'll make this short and try to get it up before the world ends. No new news. Just another week of belatedly digging through the new jazz queue.

Christian Artmann: Uneasy Dreams (2010-11 [2011], self-released): Flute player, based in New York, for biographical background about all he says is that he was "raised on a heavy dose of Bach in Germany and Austria," and that he's studied at Berklee, Frankfurter Musikwertstatt, Princeton, and Harvard Law. Second album, with bass and drums, piano on most cuts, voice (Elena McEntire) on three, percussion on three. No label, but his artwork and packaging are very nice. Mostly original pieces, some short free improvs. I'm no flute fan, but he has an approach that I can't pigeonhole into any of the obvious styles, including the one for folks who grew up on too much Bach. B+(**)

Stephane Belmondo: The Same as It Never Was Before (2011, Sunnyside): Trumpet/flugelhorn player (also credited with bass trumpet and shells), b. 1967 in France. Second album, quartet with Kirk Lightsey (piano), Sylvain Romano (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). Wrote about half of the pieces, drawing one from Lightsey, others from Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder, also "Everything Happens to Me." B+(**)

Sarah Bernstein: Unearthish (2010 [2011], Page Frame Music): Violinist, based in Brooklyn, seems to be her first album although she has a big role in Iron Dog's Field Recordings 1. Duo, with percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. More vocals here, things with sensible lyrics, more spoken than not, reminds one of Laurie Anderson -- of course, the violin tips that direction. B+(***)

Freddy Cole: Talk to Me (2011, High Note): Crooner, b. 1931 but didn't get going until 1990 with an album that pleaded I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me. Twenty-some albums later, 50+ years after brother Nat died, coming off his best two albums ever, he hardly needs an introduction. Still, he takes a batch of obscure songs -- two Bill Withers tunes and "Mam'selle" are the only ones I recognize -- at a very leisurely pace, dressing them up with Harry Allen's tenor sax and Terell Stafford's flugelhorn; could hardly be smoother, or grab you more gently. B+(**)

Mark Dagley: Mystery of the Guitar (2011, Abaton Book Company): Guitarist, first album although he also played on something called El Gato with Frick-the-Cat, and he seems to have a much more substantial reputation as a visual artist -- mostly abstracts. Studied classical guitar, including a class with André Segovia. Played in a short-lived Boston punk band called the Girls (cf. Live at the Rathskeller 5.17.79, which I sought out for Recycled Goods but ultimately graded B). This is solo, folkloric in a rather oblique way, like no one else so much as John Fahey. B+(**)

Norman David and the Eleventet: At This Time (2011, CoolCraft): Soprano saxophonist, composer, wrote a textbook called Jazz Arranging; b. in Montreal, moved to US in 1970s, since 1979 in Philadelphia, where he's Artist-in-Residence at Temple U. Second album, after a 2001 quartet. The Eleventet comes in just shy of big band weight, with four reeds instead of five, two trumpets and two trombones instead of four each -- as flexible but puts less emphasis on section muscle. A few names: George Garzone, Dick Oatts, Tim Hagans, John Hébert. Strong solo spots, neatly arranged. B+(*)

Chris Donnelly: Metamorphosis (2011, Alma): Pianist, based in Toronto; second album, solo like the first, this time the 50:43 title piece broken into ten movements. Better when he was covering other people. Better when he played his own stuff but didn't have to hack it into an überconcept. Better when he wore clothes. B-

Agustí Fernández: El Laberint de la Memória (2010 [2011], Mbari Musica): Pianist, b. 1954 in Spain; AMG credits him with 12 albums, Discogs with 24, his own website claims 50 but doesn't list that many -- earliest one listed is 1987. This would be his eighth solo album, with a large percentage of the rest duos. Nothing fancy here, but every step seems meticulously thought out, precise and evocative. B+(***)

5 After 4: Rome in a Day (2011, Alma): Toronto, Canada group, looks like this is their seventh album -- website says five but I count six there (not including this one); don't have date info, and AMG (sharp as ever) only lists this one. Drummer Vito Rezza wrote 7 of 11 pieces; keyboardist Matt Horner 3, with one group improv. Johnny Johnson plays "woodwinds"; Peter Cardinali bass and organ, and gets credit for horn arrangements. Postbop, gets a little soft and slick as Johnson moves up-register from tenor and Horner switches to Rhodes or organ. B

The Four Bags: Forth (2010 [2011], NCM East): Chamber jazz group, combining trombone (Brian Drye), accordion (Jacob Garchik), guitar (Sean Moran), and clarinet/bass clarinet (Michael McGinnis). Fourth album since 2000. I reckon the lack of bass and/or drums seals them into the chamber realm -- no chance of getting swept away in the rhythm -- but they have an impressive sonic density, especially when Moran's guitar turns on the juice. B+(*)

Glows in the Dark: Beach of the War Gods (2010 [2011], self-released): Richmond, VA quintet: Scott Burton (guitar), Scott Clark (drums), John Lilley (alto & tenor sax), Reginald Pace (trombone), Cameron Ralston (bass). Burton writes, aside from the four group-credited "Violent Rome" pieces. Draws inspiration from soundtracks, which this on occasion slouches into. Otherwise they can mount an interesting presence. B+(*)

Donald Harrison: This Is Jazz: Live at the Blue Note (2011, Half Note): Alto saxophonist, b. 1960 in New Orleans, father was big chief of four different New Orleans Indian tribes, a family trade Harrison followed it, although he also picked up some bebop, worked his way through Art Blakey's boot camp, and most recently has been playing both sides in HBO's Treme. This is the postbop side, a trio with Ron Carter and Billy Cobham. Starts with two Carter pieces, then a 5:39 bass solo on "You Are My Sunshine" -- the sort of thing that doesn't come through well on record no matter how mesmerizing it may have been live. Picks back up again with "Seven Steps to Heaven," and closes strong on Harrison's "Treme Swagger." B+(**)

Nick Hempton: The Business (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, b. 1976, from Australia, based in New York; second album, a quintet with Art Hirahara (piano), Yotam Silberstein (guitar), Marco Panascia (bass), and Dan Aran (drums). Mainstream, high energy, rarely flags. Wrote 8 of 10, covering "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You" and "From Bechet, Byas, and Fats" (Rahsaan Roland Kirk). Gets strong support, especially from Silberstein. B+(**)

Iron Dog: Field Recordings 1 (2005-06 [2011], Iron Dog Music): Sarah Bernstein on violin and voice, Stuart Popejoy on bass guitar; website lists Andrew Drury on drums, but here drummer is Tommaso Cappellato on 3 of 6 tracks. "Sonic landscapes," "minimalist structures erupt[ing] into frenetic, metallic onslaughts" -- something like that, maybe not so frenetic, but striking. B+(**)

Benji Kaplan: Meditações No Violão (2011, Circo Mistico): Guitarist, from New York, visited Brazil in 2003 and got into the music. Second album, following a CDR in 2007. Solo guitar, 4 of 14 songs having "choro" in the title. Sounds very deeply Brazilian to me, soothing and enchanting. B+(*)

Harold Lopez Nussa Trio: El País de las Maravillas (2010 [2011], World Village): Full name: Harold López-Nussa Torres. Born and based in Havana, Cuba, although this, his fourth album since 2007, was recorded in France. Mostly piano trio, plus sax (David Sanchez) on 4 of 11 tracks. Definitely has that Cuban kick to the piano. B+(**) [advance]

Duda Lucena Quartet: Live (2011, Borboleta): Guitarist-singer-songwriter from Recife, Brazil; based in Charleston, SC, of all places. Wrote most of his previous album, but only one song here ("Sol" -- title song of said album), opting instead for the standards: Jobim, Djavan, Donato, Veloso, Gil. Quartet includes piano, bass, drums -- no one I recognize, but for all I know they could be big names in Charleston. Loose, informal, leader certainly knows his stuff. B+(*)

Mark Moultrup: Relaxin' . . . on the Edge (2003-10 [2011], Mark Moultrup Music): Keyboardist, vocalist, composer, arranger, originally from Detroit, now Chicago-based. Fifth album since 2001, all but one 2010 cut recorded in 2003. Cover photos from Yosemite. First cut is instrumental, dominated by Chris Collins' edgy postbop sax, not what I was expecting. Second cut took off with post-disco fusion keybs and choral vocals. Third shifted to melodramatic piano measured against the bass. Fifth song offers an ordinary hipster vocal complaining about the overcomplication of ordering coffee. Then back to more overorchestrated schmaltz. I suppose it says something that he manages most of the mess with his own keyboards. It's rare that one person finds so many distinct ways to make an awful record. D+

New York Standards Quartet: Unstandard (2010 [2011], Challenge): David Berkman (piano), Tim Armacost (tenor sax, etc., alto flute), Gene Jackson (drums), Yosuke Inoue (bass), listed in that order. Berkman has five albums since 1998 -- the first two an impressive debut, the others dribbling out slowly. Armacost has a similar pattern, five albums since his 1996 debut on Concord -- I haven't heard those. I hadn't noticed Inoue, from Japan, but he's been in New York for 13 years, with six albums. Jackson pops up all the time. Group has a previous Live in Tokyo (2008). I saw Benny Carter once and he introduced "How High the Moon" as "the jazz musician's national anthem," so it's especially poignant as the lead standard here. Other standards come from Benny Golson, Jimmy Van Heusen ("But Beautiful"), Bill Evans, and Warren-Dubin ("Summer Night"), but about half of the pieces are originals by the band -- I guess, the only thing jazz musicians like more than standards is rolling their own. B+(***)

Nadav Remez: So Far (2010 [2011], Bju'ecords): Guitarist, from Israel, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory. First album, with alto sax/clarine (James Wylie), tenor sax (Steve Brickman), trumpet on two tracks (Itamar Borochov), piano (Shai Maestro), bass (Avri Borochov), and drums (Ziv Ravitz). Wrote 8 of 9 pieces, the other by trad. The large group tends to crowd him out, but "The Miracle" is an exception where he builds up solid, solemn force. B+(*)

Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 2 (2010 [2011], Doxy/Emarcy): First volume seemed archival, spanning 28 years with scattered groups, not that the tenor sax changed much over time. This one sticks with three recent concerts, pulling one cut from each of two October, 2010 shows to sandwich four cuts from Rollins' 80th birthday bash on Sept. 10, 2010. The party cuts shuttled guest stars in and out: Christian McBride, Roy Haynes, Jim Hall (one cut with Rollins introducing but laying out), Ornette Coleman (also one cut, introduced enigmatically), and Roy Hargrove (two cuts). I'm tempted to complain about the talk, but he's always gracious, presumably even more so in his Japanese during the closer ("St. Thomas" -- only thing wrong there is that at 2:50 it's way too short). Also about dilution, but Hargrove makes a fine foil for "Rain Check," and I've yet to fully puzzle out Coleman's solo. But why complain? As Rollins himself said of Coleman Hawkins, it's impossible to think of him without feeling joy. A-

Samo Salamon Trio: Almost Almond (2006 [2011], Sanje): Guitarist, b. 1978 in Yugoslavia, now Slovenia. Twelve albums since 2002, counting one as Ansasa Trio. Trio with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. I've mostly heard him with saxophone in the past -- cf. Two Hours, with Tony Malaby -- where he fights his way to the front, but starting out there he's less aggressive here, steely at best, slipping into a crafted eloquence near the end. B+(**)

Scenes: Silent Photographer (2010 [2011], Origin): Trio: guitarist John Stowell, bassist Jeff Johnson, drummer John Bishop. Stowell has long struck me as an interesting, understated stylist, and his records -- both under his own name and as Scenes -- have generally been close to my HM line. This time Johnson outwrote him 4 to 3 -- the other three pieces are by Shorter, Hancock, and Coltrane. B+(*)

Karl Seglem: Ossicles (2005-10 [2011], Ozella): Tenor saxophonist, from Norway, 27th album since 1988 (AMG lists 15; also misspells his name two different ways in their brief bio). Draws on folk sources, playing against hardanger fiddle, incorporating various goat horns (one credit for antilope horn [sic?]), with a bit of African mbira. B+(***)

SFE: Positions & Descriptions: Simon H. Fell Composition No. 75 (2011, Clean Feed): Not sure what SFE stands for -- Simon Fell Ensemble? (Having a bad eye day, and the microprint on the foldout is all blurred.) Fell is a bassist, b. 1959 in England, has a couple dozen albums since 1985, some dedicated to numbered compositions. He's someone anyone who's spent much time perusing The Penguin Guide will know about, but this is the first of his records I've actually come across. Group has 15 members plus conductor Clark Rundell, offering a bit of everything: flute, two clarinets, alto and bari sax, trumpet, tuned percussion, harps, piano, guitar, violin, theremin, bass, drums, electronics. Wish I had a better sense of how this fits in. Doesn't strike me as cluttered or chaotic, but sure is complex. B+(***)

Freddie Washington: In the Moment (2009, RFW): Electric bassist; AMG lists him as Freddie "Ready Freddie" Washington, and if you don't know that good luck. First and only album, although his side credits listing runs to three pages, starting in 1977 with Patrice Rushen and 1979 with Herbie Hancock. Mild-mannered bass-led groove pieces, emphasis on mild. Some background vocals but nothing hysterical. 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:

  • Alex Brown: Pianist (Sunnyside)
  • Kevin Crabb: Waltz for Dylan (Crabbclaw)
  • Joel Forrester/Phillip Johnston: Live at the Hillside Club (Asynchronous)
  • Roy Haynes: Roy-Alty (Dreyfus)
  • Pamela Hines Trio with April Hall: Lucky's Boy (Spice Rack)
  • Jason Kao Hwang/Edge: Crossroads Unseen (Euonymous): Oct. 1
  • Jason Kao Hwang/Spontaneous River: Symphony of Souls (Mulatta): Oct. 1
  • The George Lernis Jazz Quartet: Shapes of Nature (self-released)
  • Pat Martino: Undeniable: Live at Blues Alley (High Note): Oct. 11
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Baboon Moon (Thirsty Ear): advance, Nov. 1
  • Houston Person: So Nice (HighNote): Oct. 11
  • Pilc Moutin Hoenig: Threedom (Motema)
  • Tan Ping: Paradise (Goody Heart Productions)
  • John Scofield: A Moment's Peace (Emarcy)
  • The Spokes: Not So Fast (Strudelmedia)
  • Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato: Anticipation (Capri): Oct. 18
  • Tin/Bag: Bridges (MabNotesMusic)
  • TRP (The Reese Project): Evening in Vermont (Rhombus): Sept. 19
  • John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Contagious Words (Acoustical Concepts)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week Links

For some reason it never dawned on me that today might hold any form of special significance. I'm not always the most cognizant person when it comes to what the date is: I've delegated that task to the computer and the cell phone. Still, I must have known that this September would have an 11th day, and I still possess the arithmetic skills to calculate that 2011 is ten years past 2001. But why does that matter? Indeed, why should it? I didn't particularly notice the tenth year of my mother's death, even though she dominated, defined, and gave meaning to my life for fifty years. Since then I've mostly been adrift, thrashing on this and that but unable to pull my life together with any sense of purpose. Ten years of that doesn't strike me as something to mourn or memorialize. It just seems pathetic.

Still, not as pathetic as the labors I've seen in both the Wichita Eagle and New York Times this morning, trying to recapture that primal sense of innocent victimhood the nation basked in, to mark "the day that changed everything," as if what happened next was nothing more than an involuntary response -- the US would rush off to war for no more reason than Pavlov's dogs salivate. The day turned fateful, but not on its own accord. It turned fateful because the powers that be -- the Bush administration, its "loyal opposition" including nearly all of the Democratic Party, the media and their designated punditocracy -- felt they had to respond with a kneejerk rush to war. As horrific as the attacks were, they were soon trivialized in comparison to the violence and hubris of the US response. The New York Times has some charts in their One 9/11 Tally: $3.3 Trillion that give you one way of seeing this: they calculate the "toll and physical damage" -- the sum of all the damage Al Qaeda did in attacking us -- at $55 billion ($24 billion of that was "value of life," or about $8 million per person -- a figure I won't quarrel with, but dare them to use in Afghanistan and Iraq). The rest of the $3.3 trillion (i.e., $3.245 trillion, or 98.3% of the total) is expense "we" incurred because of decisions "we" made, primarily to go to war in the Middle East to exact our revenge by punishing millions of people for the acts of 21 already dead terrorists (plus a few of their "handlers").

By the way, that $3.3 trillion includes $56 billion for "value of life" lost to US military forces -- a number more than double the loss to the Al Qaeda attacks -- but doesn't include any "value of life" lost to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, or any of the other targets of Bush's Global War on Terrorism. It also doesn't include infrastructure and economic losses to those nations, nor costs incurred by our "allies." The global bill for Al Qaeda's attacks is no doubt higher than the $55 billion we incurred -- there were a few dozen related attacks from Bali to Madrid to London so maybe we're up to $100 billion, but those attacks happened after the US went to war (dragging Spain and the UK along with it) so might not have happened had the US remained calm. But the global bill for the US response is far higher, almost unimaginably so.

These dollar figures are a crass way of looking at the costs of war. They offer a false sense of precision: one can easily plug in other costs and come up with other totals -- most of which exceed what the New York Times is reporting. Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes wrote a now-dated book estimating war costs of $3 trillion, or about double the Times' war figure. Stiglitz includes interest costs and at least recognizes opportunity costs, although it is impossible to know the real value of the latter. For instance, thanks to the wars George Bush was able to turn the 2004 election into a referendum on America's self-image as a nation at war -- an issue that trumped an economy that was mostly hot air in favor of the superrich. By winning in 2004, his deregulation mania kept the housing bubble expanding until it burst, unleashing the worst global recession since 1929, an enormous cost. He also drove the US ever deeper into debt, which set up the political atmosphere behind the current austerity craze, deepening and extending the recession at even greater cost. He also derailed any efforts to counteract global warming, an effect that is unimaginable. Aside from their huge direct and indirect costs, the relentless focus on war and terrorism, and the crony capitalism that it succors, has pushed US politics even further to the right. The Republican push to criminalize the right to unionize is one example; their push to restrict the franchise is another; their efforts to keep government from interfering in predatory pricing in banking and health care (to pick the two most egregious examples) is another. Tens of thousands of Americans die each year for lack of access to proper health care, a problem that could be fixed at a total cost savings by universal health insurance, but those figures don't show up in the Times' tally because they don't realize that the poisoned political atmosphere is fueled by our eager participation in foreign wars. (I read today that California spends more on prisons than on education. Isn't that a classic colonial occupier mindset? Absent 9/11, would that be so?)

Commemorating 9/11 is increasingly taking on aspects of the politicization of the Holocaust. Before World War II Nazi Germany instituted a horrific program of discrimination and abuse against its Jewish citizens -- one which the rest of the world (notably except for pacifists and communists) blithely ignored. As Hitler expanded Germany through war, his obsession with the Jews turned into a program of mass extermination, with his regime rounding up nearly all of the Jews under German control and shipping them to places like Auschwitz and Treblinka where they would be executed or worked to death. In all, Nazi Germany killed six million Jews -- the majority of the Jewish population in Europe. What they did was an unprecedented horror, so far beyond human experience that it was given a name from the Bible: the Holocaust.

In the 1950s the Holocaust was one of those dirty secrets no one much liked talking about. Germans who lived through the war, who admired Hitler and fought for him, didn't want responsibility; same for other Europeans who collaborated with Germany, or who acquiesced to Nazi rule. The US and Britain had little to take comfort in either: they hadn't objected to Hitler's demonization of the Jews (both countries were littered with anti-semites -- Henry Ford most famously in the US -- and both ran regimes of racial discrimination), they hadn't offered asylum for Jews, they hadn't shown any concern for the fates of Jews during the war, and after the war they were pre-occupied with countering communism, and after all Nazis were staunchly anti-communist. And in Israel there was a more complicated dynamic which worked against public discussion of the Holocaust (this would take a few long paragraphs to explain, but see Tom Segev: The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust, and Idith Zertal: Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood).

This all changed in the 1960s, as the postwar generation matured, Europe gave up its remaining possessions in the third world (which devalued the utility of racism). I first learned about the Holocaust through plays by Peter Weiss and Rolf Hochhuth and a book by "Nazi hunter" Simon Wiesenthal. In the mid-1950s Israel started to lay claim to the legacy of the Holocaust by approaching West Germany for "reparations" -- the point was as much to secure recognition for the legitimacy of Israel as the representative of the Jewish people. Then in 1961 came the highly politicized trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem (again, see Segev and, especially Zertal). After that, and after the triumphant 1967 war when Israel finally felt secure in her military prowess, and especially after the hysterical Menachem Begin came to power, Israel became more and more bound up in its cult of the Holocaust -- talk of "Auschwitz borders," books claiming that Palestinian terrorism constitutes A New Shoah -- the ultimate expression is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum that exits onto a panoramic view of Jerusalem, suggesting that Israel is the "happy ending" of the Holocaust.

If you go to Auschwitz you'll find a museum of the ordinary historical sort which notes that these things happened here. Yad Vashem isn't that sort of museum: it's a politicized theme park meant to inculcate a particular myth about the founding of Israel. After Israel put its brand on it, the "Holocaust Industry" (the title of a Normal Finkelstein book, but he only covers a few aspects of the story) hit the road. One place it was welcomed turned out to be Washington, DC, where president Jimmy Carter oversaw the founding of our own United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I suppose Carter had his reasons, but the main one stuck in my mind is how nice it is for the US to remember genocides that other countries were responsible for. But when I look at the museum's home page, it looks more than a little like a propaganda organ for "humanitarian" intervention all over the world -- just don't expect to find anything about injustices in America, let alone Israel.

My bias has always been that it's best to know about atrocities in the past. I'd even go so far as to argue that recognition of the past helps one to oppose repetition in the future. But you have to wonder when you look at how Holocaust museums are used to support military intervention and occupation, and you start to wonder if we might be better off dispensing with all that. For one thing, it's already resulted in the distortion of history: when I was growing up, it was common knowledge that Hitler had killed 10 million people in his concentration camps. Now all you ever hear about is the 6 million Jews -- 4 million victims have disappeared from consciousness because no one seems to have an organized interest in perpetuating their memory. (Sometimes we hear about Gypsies, and homosexuals, and the retarded; hardly ever mentioned are the pacifists and communists who were the first to oppose Nazism -- groups that during WWII our OSS used to refer to as "premature anti-fascists.")

And so I have to wonder what's really behind all this 9/11 commemoration hoohah. Early on, politicians and pundits rushed to embrace the destruction and claim the victims as martyrs to bolster their holy crusades, but aren't we getting tired, and a bit cynical, of all that? When I look at the 9/11 memorial plaza plans they look more sad than anything else. Still, I wonder if we wouldn't be happier just to cover it up with a parking lot, or maybe just build some modest shops and offices over the train station.

On the other hand, the Onion has their own theory why 9/11 matters now: see Nation Would Rather Think About 9/11 Than Anything From Subsequent 10 Years:

As media coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 ramps up this week, citizens across the United States collectively realized they would rather think about the terrorist attacks of 2001 than about anything else that has transpired in the subsequent decade. "The events of Sept. 11 were unspeakably tragic, but really, when you think about it, things have only grown more horrible and unbearable since then," said Phyllis Bennett of San Jose, CA, who considered 9/11 a notably less unpleasant topic than the Iraq War, the worldwide financial meltdown, Hurricane Katrina, the nation's debt burden, the deaths of 6,200 U.S. troops, China's rise into a global superpower, the housing market, relentless partisan bickering, millions of job losses, the war in Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation, unchecked climate change, declining household income, swine flu, or the 9/11 Truth movement. [ . . . ] While stating they felt "kind of terrible" about it, Americans expressed a longing to return to those "better days" of shared national agony in September 2001, when everybody truly believed things couldn't get any worse.

More to the point, see Tom Engelhardt: Let's Cancel 9/11:

Ask your­self this: ten years into the post-9/11 era, haven't we had enough of our­selves? If we have any respect for history or humanity or decency left, isn't it time to rip the Band-Aid off the wound, to remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness? No more invocations of those attacks to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our oh-so-global war on terror. No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money. No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear high and the homeland security state afloat. [ . . . ]

Isn't it finally time to go cold turkey? To let go of the dead? Why keep repeating our 9/11 mantra as if it were some kind of old-time religion, when we've proven that we, as a nation, can't handle it -- and worse yet, that we don't deserve it?

We would have been better off consigning our memories of 9/11 to oblivion, forgetting it all if only we could. We can't, of course. But we could stop the anniversary remembrances. We could stop invoking 9/11 in every imaginable way so many years later. We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are. We could, in short, leave the dead in peace and take a good, hard look at ourselves, the living, in the nearest mirror.

There follows a brief remembrance of how quickly politicians like Bush and McCain worked up the drumbeat of war, and how anyone who suggested otherwise were swiftly silenced; of how language like "Ground Zero" and "hallowed ground" was crafted and manipulated. Then another plea. Best comment (which is why I linked this one rather than the home copy), from Bruce Morgan:

Do the Germans still commemorate the Reichstag Fire?

And now for the usual week links:

  • Peter Frase: Because It's Friday, 14 Million People Ain't Got No Job: Assorted links, notably:

    The U.S. economy has about the same number of jobs now as it did in 2000, despite a much bigger population. Just imagine what things would be like if we had dealt with this by decreasing hours rather than shedding jobs, and if the income growth of the past ten years had gone to increasing wages instead of swelling the incomes of the top 1%.

    I'm still intent on spending more time on Frase's blog and digging back through the backlog. For instance (La loi, dans un grand souci d'égalité):

    This is where I made the connection with the balloonist lawsuits. The underlying theme here is that in a highly unequal society, greater complexity in the institutions of the state will generally favor the interests of the rich. The more complex the law is, the more victory in court comes to depend not on who is legally in the right, but on who can spend more money on their legal team. [ . . . ] The right has gotten a lot of mileage of out of the demand for small government. Maybe it's time for the left to make a bigger deal out of simple government.

    Also: The Return of the Politics of Debt:

    Indeed, widespread and large debt loads are one of the most important ways in which my generation differs from those that immediately preceded it. The need to service debts -- chiefly student loan debt, but also credit card debt in many cases -- shapes every decision people make in their early adulthood. People who might otherwise want to sacrifice some income in order to pursue their goals are forced into corporate careers in order to pay off their debts. This has direct implications for the left: more than once, older comrades have noted to me that it has become much more difficult to live in the kind of bohemian poverty that sustained an earlier generation of young radicals and activists.

    As a matter of political consciousness, it's important to drive home the point that insofar as we are burdened with debt, we are not free people -- not even in the impoverished sense in which Marx spoke of the "free" laborer. In the spirit of Corey Robin's call to reclaim the politics of freedom, it's time to demand freedom from debt.

    Then there's Frase's work on intellectual rent; e.g. Copying, Stealing, and the Moral Economy of Knowledge:

    Thompson goes on to observe that at this time, "bakers were considered as servants of the community, working not for a profit but for a fair allowance"; hence their behavior was constrained not just by what was legal or profitable, but by what was considered morally right.

    Moral beliefs about what is legitimate economic behavior are not unique to early capitalism, but exist even in a hyper-marketized age like our own. As Karl Polanyi argued, all economies are embedded in a broader set of social relations. And moral economies are very much in play in the debate over copying and stealing. In the Aaron Swartz case, for example, a lot of the outrage was about a moral assumption: that academic work done mostly for free, by professors who are often supported by taxpayer money, shouldn't be locked up behind an incredibly expensive paywall.

    In the general debate over intellectual property, I discern two antithetical moral economies, which I think lie beneath many of the contending positions.

    The first views the wealth of human culture and knowledge as something that is the shared cultural wealth of all of us. It recognizes that all new works of art and science are built on the foundation of older works, and go on to influence future works in their turn. It regards sharing, adapting, and improving older works as a positive value, and restricting access to existing culture as a negative value. Thus, in this moral economy, it is of the utmost importance that we be able to share and copy freely. [ . . . ]

    The contrasting moral economy holds that when someone participates in generating a new work of culture or knowledge, then that person has the inherent right to control the distribution and reuse of that information, and to receive payment for any profitable use to which that information may be put. Far from seeing pervasive restrictions on copying as a necessary evil, it sees them as exalting and honoring the hard work and creative genius of those who make new art and science.

    Of course, Frase has much more than this in previous articles, starting with his famous Anti-Star Trek piece. One point Frase repeatedly makes is that the main effect of IP is to create an artificial scarcity from which rents can be extracted (hence my newly coined term above, Intellectual Rents); as such the purpose is more to fund the rentier class than to stimulate or reward invention -- one proof of this is that IR are alienable, which permits them to be sold (often for a pittance) by their creators (assuming they're not already appropriated by some "work for hire" contract) to capitalists.

    Some day I'll write more about this (or gather up the reams I've already written), but the real argument -- floating rentiers -- is usually cloaked in two other arguments intended to make rent-seeking seem like something we who don't profit from those rents (i.e., we who pay those rents) should support. One is that the promise of IR generates creative goods that would not be generated otherwise. The other is that we are (virtually) all better off paying those rents than we would be defunding (or differently funding) the innovations. The former, I think, varies with the complexity of the goods: a big novel, for instance, would be less likely produced gratis, whereas patentable ideas are almost inevitable given an appropriate research and development framework. As such, I see some value for copyrights, but none whatsoever for patents -- even before considering how much more restrictive patents are, in that they restrict others even when the others reinvent and even improve upon the idea, whereas a copyright merely limits one from copying but doesn't impinge on someone else's right to create a new novel, etc.

    The second point asks whether we can find other ways to generate whatever value creative works have than to subject them to rents. Here a trivial amount of intellectual exertion will come up with lots of examples: science (at least until very recently), open source software, an unfathomable amount of free content on the Internet; such efforts can be funded by grants, rewarded by prizes, or given freely for any number of reasons. Getting the same value and making it available to many more people shouldn't be too tall of an order. Actually, I think we'd be getting more value: patents, in particular, stifle innovation by everyone else, and in a patent-seeking economy they deny capital to anyone working on nonpatentable ideas -- the pharmaceutical industry is rife with examples of patent law steering research one way and not the other.

    One of Frase's main themes is that he thinks we would be better off figuring out how to work less -- in particular, he chides the left for obsessing over jobs -- so he notices one aspect of IR that I hadn't paid much attention to: how all these extra rents add to our workload. A simple example is the Kansas Turnpike, which has far fewer exits than it should because each one has to be designed in a complicated way to route everyone entering or leaving by a tollbooth. The design inconveniences drivers as does stopping to pick up tickets and pay tolls, and the tolls create extra scarcity. We do get extra jobs paid from the tolls, but they are jobs that are primarily obstacles to efficient use of the highway. On the other hand, you could get rid of the tolls, tollbooths, and jobs, and run it like any other highway in the state, and that would be better for everyone (if we didn't penalize people so for not having one of those parasitical jobs).

  • Liliana Segura: Attica at 40:

    Four decades after the bloodiest prison massacre in US history, we have yet to accept the basic fact that prisoners are human.

    Annoying that when I clicked on this I found it behind a subscriber paywall. We subscribe to The Nation, but one reason for doing so is to support making their message more broadly available, which these paywalls inhibit. As a subscriber I can work around the nuissance, but it diminishes the utility of the link. Attica was an important event in my life: it happened during my first semester in college, and it disturbed my Intro to Philosophy professor so much he skipped his planned lecture on Charles Peirce to talk about it. Later I became friends with one of the lawyers who spent much of her professional life working on the case, and with one of the prisoners who was tortured in the aftermath -- turns out he was quite human after all. Eventually New York State did pay some damages, but it was broken out in a way to trivialize the amount that went to the prisoners (by then mostly ex-prisoners). As a crime victim myself, I have no trouble conjuring up inhuman images of criminals, so I can relate to the impulse. But dehumanizing prison systems don't just punish the malefactors; they dehumanize the jailors, the state, and society as well, reducing us to much the same level. Same for capital punishment: not that the guilty don't deserve to die but that we have a moral responsibility not to descend to their level -- there is no murder more cold-blooded than an execution as we practice them today.

  • Matt Stoller: What Democrats Can Do About Obama:

    Obama has ruined the Democratic Party. The 2010 wipeout was an electoral catastrophe so bad you'd have to go back to 1894 to find comparable losses. From 2008 to 2010, according to Gallup, the fastest growing demographic party label was former Democrat. Obama took over the party in 2008 with 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democrats. Within just two years, that number had dropped to 31 percent, which tied a 22-year low. [ . . . ]

    If would be one thing if Obama were failing because he was too close to party orthodoxy. Yet his failures have come precisely because Obama has not listened to Democratic Party voters. He continued idiotic wars, bailed out banks, ignored luminaries like Paul Krugman, and generally did whatever he could to repudiate the New Deal. The Democratic Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures. Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.

    Unfortunately, the best historical model Stoller can come up with is 1892-94-96, which started with the election of Grover Cleveland as president and the first Democratic Congress since before the Civil War. Then came one of the worst recessions in American history, a Republican rout in the 1894 congressional elections, and Democrats rejecting Cleveland -- a president so conservative Ron Paul keeps his picture on his office wall -- in favor of populist William Jennings Bryan. What Stoller doesn't mention is how the Democrats' conservative factions threw the 1896 election to McKinley, after which the Democrats only elected one more president before 1932. Bryan managed to get nominated three times, and lost all three elections. Again, when George McGovern was nominated in 1972, the conservative Democrats threw the election to Nixon. Most likely, the main thing that restrains prominent Democrats from challenging Obama isn't monolithic party control; it's that they recognize how often splits in the party -- in 1968 against Johnson/Humphrey, in 1980 when Kennedy challenged Carter, in 2000 when Nader polled crucial votes from Gore -- have opened the door for Republicans: a fate now even more fearsome than ever.

Update: Changed the segue from 9/11 to Holocaust commemorations.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Cult

I highly recommend that you read Mike Lofgren: Goodbye to All That, subtitled "Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult." Lofgren has evidently been working as some sort of staff person on the GOP side of Congress for the last 30 years -- his details on that are sketchy at best. I don't give him much credit either for his background or perspective, other than that he doesn't feel like defending the Democrats except as a side-effect of defending sanity. He starts off:

Both parties are rotten -- how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests -- no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

After that, he treads rather lightly on the psychosis -- although come to think of it that's a subject that someone should investigate a bit further. Rather, he focuses in on how Republican tactics have evolved into "war minus the shooting" -- a single-minded determination to gain political advantages regardless of the cost to the nation as a whole. He quotes John Judis:

Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today's Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.

I've been reading a lot of early American history recently, including Sean Wilentz's massive The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, so Calhoun and company are quite vivid on my mind -- so much so that I'm now wary that a South Carolina congressman might take a cane to a Massachusetts senator.

Lofgren then continues:

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s -- a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. [ . . . ] This constant drizzle of "there the two parties go again!" stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions -- if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the [2008] election of President Obama by 69 million voters.

Shortly after the 2010 elections I realized that virtually all of the widely touted Republican "gains" were the result of Obama voters not showing up to vote, but I've never seen those numbers reported in quite that way. Obama's described the loss as a "shellacking": the implication was that his party and policies got rejected by the middle of the political spectrum, not that he had lost the faith of the people who had voted for him by repeatedly selling them out to the moneyed interests of Washington. Of course, that's me talking; Lofgren puts it like this:

The reader may think that I am attributing Svengali-like powers to GOP operatives able to manipulate a zombie base to do their bidding. It is more complicated than that. Historical circumstances produced the raw material: the deindustrialization and financialization of America since about 1970 has spawned an increasingly downscale white middle class -- without job security (or even without jobs), with pensions and health benefits evaporating and with their principal asset deflating in the collapse of the housing bubble. Their fears are not imaginary; their standard of living is shrinking.

What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style "centrist" Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.

While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations' bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let's build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it's evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? -- can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. "Entitlement" has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is "entitled" selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them "earned benefits," which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the "estate tax," it is the "death tax."

Lofgren sums up the Republican platform in three points, where militarism and religion bring up the rear, but most important by a big margin:

1. The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America's plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction -- and even less spending reduction! -- than Obama's offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society's overclass.

Anyhow, read the piece. Pass it along. It may not convince your Fox-washed gun nut cousin -- not mine, anyhow -- but it's clearly written and thought out, and it shows that the author is not just reacting to the sour taste his Republican colleagues have left in his mouth, he's done some research on his own.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Expert Comments

STB's new poll is for 1983:

Fwiw, I went through my hack database and tried to sort out a master list of 1983 records. This isn't terribly easy or reliable because of the weird way I keep track of dates, but the results are at:

I've used this format before in trying to construct retrospective end-of-year lists. I won't try to explain the format, except that I've sorted out two sets of lines: above the dashes are records I've rated (or not: U), and below are the "shopping list" items that I don't have/haven't heard (but someone somewhere thinks I should). I count 127 above + 265 below. Next step for me would be to turn the top third into a proper year-end list file.

Two other resources: at use get_ydate.php; at Wikipedia search for music in 1983.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Book Roundup

Last ran this on June 21, although actually nearly everything here was left over then. I haven't been going to bookstores except to pick over Borders' bones. That has left me with more stuff than I can expect to read anytime soon, but it's also dulled my interest in whatever else is out there. So these are a bit old, and tend to be of minor interest. (Still, I managed to nab three of them at Borders: Jeff Madrick, Louisa Thomas, and Gordon Wood -- all on my shelf waiting for some time to open up -- plus one more I got at the library and actually did read: Matthew Moten's collection.) This leaves 26 in the scratch file, so let the research begin.

Peter Baldwin: The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike (2009, Oxford University Press): A contrarian view, arguing that the differences between Europe and the US are much ado about not very much. In particular, he finds health care outcomes pretty much equivalent, which suggests he's not factoring in cost or inequality, or losing something like that. Of course, there are similarities, such as the general level of technology, science, and culture -- which makes the differences all the more interesting.

Omar Barghouti: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books): Advocating for a global BDS campaign to put pressure on Israel to come to terms with the fact that Palestinians deserve human and civil rights like everyone else, something that Israel's occupation and settlements have denied. Modelled on the BDS efforts that helped to isolate and reform South Africa's Apartheid regime.

Charles Bowden: Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields (2010; paperback, 2011, Nation Books): A portrait of dystopia just across the border from El Paso. Not sure what the point or take is, but most likely the War on Drugs is implicated. Publisher seems to be fascinated by violence in the wake of globalization: other recent titles are Ian Thomson: The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica and Molly Molloy/Charles Bowden, eds: El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin.

Andrew Breitbart: Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World! (2011, Grand Central): Title all caps on cover, with "RIGHT" and "NATION" in blood red while everything else but "BREITBART" is white-on-black, including the scumbag's photo.

Susan A Brewer: Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (2009; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press): From McKinley to Bush (and Bush), how wars have been sold to the American people. I suspect that one thing you'll find is that the propaganda lines are all much the same -- more racist early on, but there's still plenty of that. Another is that the reasons change once you're in, and do so in predictable ways (with minor variations on whether you're winning or getting quagmired). See also: Alan Axelrod: Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda (2009, Palgrave Macmillan); also Stewart Halsey Ross: Propaganda for War: How the United States Was Conditioned to Fight the Great War of 1914-1918 (paperback, 2009, Progressive Press).

Douglas Brinkley: The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960 (2011, Harper): The dates start with John Muir's first visit to Alaska, a little more than a decade after Seward's Folly, and end with statehood. Brinkley is a journalist with a long and scattered bibliography, most recently The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, so he's on something of a wilderness roll.

Stephen L Carter: The Violence of Peace: America's Wars in the Age of Obama (2011, Beast Books): Parses what is new (and what is same old same old) in Obama's pontificating over war and direction thereof. Evidently aludes much to Michael Walzer, our most notorious justifier of just war theorizing, a theorist that gives Obama plenty of rope to hang himself. I don't trust Carter on this, but Obama hasn't earned any trust either.

Paul Clemens: Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant (2011, Doubleday): The Budd Stamping Plant, to be specific, although it's much like lots of other mothballed factories dotting a land where people used to make things. I'm reminded that the last book I read about working in a car plant was Ben Hamper: Rivethead: Tales From the Assembly Line, which came out in 1991. Clemens previously wrote Made in Detroit (2005, Doubleday; paperback, 2006, Anchor).

Ann Coulter: Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America (2011, Crown Forum): She's slowed down, but it's hard to make this stuff up: "Citing the father of mob psychology, Gustave Le Bon, Coulter catalogs the Left's mob behaviors: the creation of messiahs, the fear of scientific innovation, the mythmaking, the preference for images over words, the lack of morals, and the casual embrace of contradictory ideas." "Similarly, as Coulter demonstrates, liberal mobs, from student radicals to white-trash racists to anti-war and pro-ObamaCare fanatics today, have consistently used violence to implement their idea of the 'general will.'"

JR Dunn: Death by Liberalism: The Fatal Outcome of Well-Meaning Liberal Policies (2011, Broadside): A "novelist and military encyclopedist," concocts something he calls "democide" or "mass negligent homicide" and tallies up some 260 million dead bodies, the victims of liberal schemes, including the banning of DDT.

Francis Fukuyama: The Origins of Political Order: From Prehistoric Times to the French Revolution (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big picture history of everything, from a neocon whose brain is so large he transcends history he understands virtually nothing of. His subject, "political order," is one dear to his heart: how people with power screw others without. While it's easy to make fun of him, his 1995 book might have been onto something important: Trust: The Social Virtues and the Culture of Prosperity.

Andre Gerolymatos: Castles Made of Sand: A Century of Anglo-American Espionage and Intervention in the Middle East (2010, St Martin's Press): Britain literally handed their assets over the the US around 1970, so the Anglo-American continuity is even better established here than elsewhere. The motives of the two empires were slightly different, except as regards greed for oil. Hard to say who made the greater cock-up, but the arrogance and folly never ends.

Paul Gilding: The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Former Greenpeace director, tryies to lay out a schemes for a sustainable economy that can survive not just global warming but all the other resource constraint issues facing us.

Lawrence Goldstone: Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 (2011, Walker): The Supreme Court rulings that struck down the civil rights laws of the reconstruction and paved the way for Jim Crow segregation.

Leah McGrath Goodman: The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World's Oil Market (2011, William Morrow): On the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), where speculators set the price of oil. No surprise that the author finds dirt and grime there.

Istvan Hargittai: Judging Edward Teller (2011, Prometheus Books): Author previously wrote a collective biography on five eminent Jewish-Hungarians, Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006; paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press) -- Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John Von Neumann, and Teller; here he goes into much more depth on Teller, the implication that he would not only explore Teller's science but also his mania for Defense politics; not clear that he does. An alternative is Peter Goodchild: Edward Teller: The Real Dr Strangelove (2004, Harvard University Press); another is PD Smith: Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon (2007, St Martin's Press).

Robert Henson: The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms, the Science, the Solutions (3rd ed, paperback, 2011): A broad, general purpose primer on the issues and the controversies; recommended by Duncan Clark as the first book to read on the subject. Has some picture but nothing as slick as Al Gore has done.

Mike Hulme: Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press): The argument here seems to be that when we argue about climate change, we're actually arguing about something else: about what "the human project" is all about.

Mark Kurlansky: Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One (2011, Yale University Press): Kurlansky seems like a history factory, with far-ranging books like Salt: A World History, Cod: A Biography of the Fish, A Basque History of the World, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, a half-dozen more, but for a hack he's remarkably good -- I've read 4 of those 6 -- and his new books are as likely as not to fill in gaps in his established web of interests: for instance, his new book on the famous Jewish slugger follows his book on Jewish history (A Chosen Few: The Ressurrection of European Jewry) and a previous baseball book (The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro Macoris, itself following up his A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny).

Jeff Madrick: Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (2011, Knopf): Former New York Times columnist, has a pile of books at least some expressing doubts about where the US economy was headed before it fell into that chasm, tries his hand at a deeper and broader history, at least one deep and broad enough not to have forgotten Ivan Boesky.

Paul Midler: Poorly Made in China: An Insider's Account of the China Production Game (2009; paperback, 2011, Wiley): Comes out at a time when we've seen a rash of scandals about Chinese manufacturing quality lapses. Seems to me likely to be a phase, but I don't doubt that there are real reasons that will take considerable effort to overcome.

Gretchen Morgenson/Joshua Rosner: Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon (2011, Times books): Pulitzer-winning New York Times business columnist rehashes the same old story, "character-rich and definitive in its analysis," traits you need when you're this late to the party.

Evgeny Morozov: The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (2011, Public Affairs): Bravely battling "cyberutopians" -- those who foolishly think something good might come out of the Internet: nothing like beating up strawmen to show off your intellectual brawn.

Matthew Moten, ed: Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars (2011, Free Press): Various writers on various wars, starting with Yorktown and winding up with Iraq (by Andrew Bacevich) -- nothing in Afghanistan. It's always been easier to get into a war than to get out, partly because the imagination of what you wanted at the start rarely squares with the reality you're left with at the end. One chapter is called "The Cold War: Ending by Inadvertence" but like many of these wars (Korea is the most obvious example) it didn't really end even when the other side stopped fighting (and in the Cold War case dissolved). Maybe the title admits that for the US peace isn't even imaginable: there's only war and states "between." [link]

Dambisa Moyo: How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly -- and the Stark Choices Ahead (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Cover shows a $100 bill with a portrait of Mao in the middle. Moyo, originally from Zambia, previously wrote Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (2009; paperback, 2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux), which can't be immediately dismissed as a conservative excuse, but does look like she likes to be provocative. This strikes me as little else.

Joseph S Nye Jr: The Future of Power (2011, Public Affairs): Foreign policy mandarin from the Carter and Clinton eras, pontificating on the wonderfulness of American Power since WWII, fretting about the rising spectre of China, concocting a new approach he calls "smart power" -- no doubt a book all smart powermongers in Washington will be debating earnestly for weeks to come.

Walid Phares: The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (2011, Threshold): First book out presumably related to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, by a Fox News talking head who sees democracy in the Middle East as the fulfillment of Bush's vision and a rebuke to Obama's coziness with dictators. Too early for anyone to really understand what's happening, nothing to stop someone well stocked with prefab answers.

Ted Rall: The Anti-American Manifesto (paperback, 2010, Seven Stories Press): A desperate screed against the Zombie Empire, with occasional drawings that aren't funny enough to be cartoons, like the guy who dumped his peace sign in the trash and is throwing a molotov cocktail. Guess there is a "loony left" after all.

Paul Reyes: Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida's Great Recession (2010, Henry Holt): The Florida housing bust, from the viewpoint of a guy who picked up small change "trashing out" foreclosed houses -- cleaning them out to remove all evidence of their previous owners. That's a different view of the same old story.

Michael Riordon: Our Way to Fight: Israeli and Palestinian Activists for Peace (paperback, 2011, Lawrence Hill): Author makes documentary films. Here he talks to Israelis and Palestinians who have joined in nonviolent resistance against Israel's occupation and political destruction of Palestine.

Ben Shephard: The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (2011, Knopf): Focuses on the millions of Europeans driven from their homes during WWII -- refugees, or "displaced persons" -- and the postwar efforts to settle them. Big subject, little told except for Jews and Israel which turns out to be a small part of the story. A similar book could be written for Asia.

Harry Stein: I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican: A Surival Guide for Conservatives Marooned Among the Angry, Smug, and Terminally Righteous (paperback, 2010, Encounter): Previously wrote How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), but maybe didn't find as much "inner peace" as he originally thought, or maybe he's just real confused, still trying to blame liberals for being "angry, smug, and terminally righteous" when the right has all those traits on steroids.

Jonathan Steinberg: Bismarck: A Life (2011, Oxford University Press): The big cheese of 19th century European politics, united Germany, advanced if not invented the bureaucracy and the welfare state. Did so in the service of a monarchy that was due to self-destruct. The sort of guy every generation needs to go back and review or revile.

John Szwed: Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World (2010, Penguin): One of the best jazz historians working, has previously done biographies of Sun Ra and Miles Davis. Lomax wasn't a folkie so much as the guy who invented the mold: he came early enough he could imagine recording a world unspoiled by modern technology like his own recordings. Thought doing so was politically significant too.

Helen Thomas/Craig Crawford: Listen Up, Mr President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do (paperback, 2010, Simon & Schuster): Well, I doubt that, not just because this is squeezed into 208 pp, but glad to see Thomas keeping active after she got unceremoniously retired following a minor misstatement on Israel.

Louisa Thomas: Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family -- a Test of Will and Faith in World War I (2011, Penguin): A Thomas family history, evidently the author's a few generations removed, where two brothers rushed to join Wilson's War -- you know, the one that made the world safe for democracy -- and two dissented, one jailed for his conscience. The eldest, Norman, was a Presbyterian minister who later ran on the Socialist Party ticket for president. Evan I know less about, but he appears to be the namesake of the author's father, which could well be the same Evan Thomas who wrote The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898, a book which ends with TR bullying his own sons into fighting (and dying) in Wilson's War.

Sherry Turkle: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (2011, Basic Books): Author has written a number of books on how people relate to technology, including Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, and Simulation and Its Discontents. Easy to say that computers debase human relationships; harder to work out whether they're worth it.

Martin Van Creveld: The Age of Airpower (2011, Public Affairs): Israeli military historian, traces the history of air warfare from Italy's bombing of Libya in 1911 to NATO's bombing of Libya in 2011 (probably not quite, but the 100-year circle did get tied up awfully neatly). One could also neatly point to Israel's 1967 blitzkrieg as a highpoint of effectiveness -- WWII was more grossly destructive but also far messier, and the many US air war missions have more often than not proved fruitless.

Daniel Williams: God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (2010, Oxford University Press): Seems like a bunch of books on this subject out lately, one that can quickly grow tiresome.

Gordon S. Wood: The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States (2011, Penguin Press): I learned more about US history from John Garraty's book of interviews with old historians -- guys like Edmund Morris and C. Vann Woodward -- than I got from anywhere else, because after a career of work they finally got a chance to say what they thought. At the time, Wood was a young lion, having debuted with the best book ever written about the founding of the constitution -- something our Tea Partiers should bone up on; little do they know but they're really just a bunch of anti-federalists. Now Wood's an old-time master, so I'd say he's earned his right to reflect and interpret.

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

Joyce Appleby: The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton): Big general history of capitalism, going back to early industrialization and up to the 2007-08 financial crisis, attributed to deregulation.

Peter Beinart: The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Perennial): One of the more apologetic of the Iraq War liberal hawks, has plenty of ground to critique the lofty arrogance of America's foreign policy establishment; still, it seems to me that the faults are far more intrinsic, that even modest warmongers are bound to fail.

Justin Fox: The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (2009, Harper Business; paperback, 2011, Harper): Organized thematically, jumping around in time from one crash to another -- plenty to choose from there.

David Hirst: Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Major history of Lebanon, a complex state again and again meddled with by dangerous and conniving forces -- Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, far from least the United States.

Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010; paperback, 2011, Henry Holt): A rather slight collection of essays following the late author's brilliant Blowback trilogy.

Expert Comments

Someone asked about Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, and Charlie Rich:

With Merle Haggard, beware of re-recordings -- 43 Legendary Hits on BNA is especially awful. Capitol is usually safe, and their Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard [2007] is a good one if you're intent on stopping at one, but there's lots more, including a good 1981-87 stretch on Epic (see The Essential Merle Haggard: The Epic Years).

I'm finding A- records in my database for both Conway Twitty (25 Number Ones [2004]; the 2cd Gold [2006], The Definitive Collection duets with Loretta Lynn [2005]) and Charlie Rich (The Essential Charlie Rich [2cd, 2007]), but I suspect they're all pretty marginal.

Somehow, hearing Twitty-Haggard-Rich in the same breath makes me think of Don Williams, whose The Definitive Collection [2004] is definitive enough.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Rhapsody Streamnotes (September 2011)

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

STB posted results for his EW Improves Upon P&J 2009 poll today:

  1. Loudon Wainwright III: High, Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project 239 (17)
  2. Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You 232 (21)
  3. Brad Paisley: American Saturday Night 214 (18)
  4. Mos Def: The Ecstatic 194 (16)
  5. Leonard Cohen: Live in London 191 (15)
  6. Wussy: Wussy 180 (18)
  7. The xx: The xx 163 (16)
  8. K'Naan: Troubadour 157 (15)
  9. Tune-Yards: Bird-Brains 148 (13)
  10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz 121 (10)
  11. Black-Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. 113 (10)
  12. Amadou & Mariam: Welcome to Mali 101 (10)
  13. Lady Gaga: The Fame Monster 86 (7)
  14. Sonic Youth: The Eternal 82 (9)
  15. Nellie McKay: Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day 73 (8)
  16. Girls: Album 67 (5)
  17. Marianne Faithfull: Easy Come, Easy Go 66 (5)
  18. Allen Toussaint: The Bright Mississippi 61 (5)
  19. Willie Nelson/Asleep at the Wheel: Willie and the Wheel 55 (7)
  20. Mulatu Astake & the Heliocentrics: Inspiration Information 53 (6)
  21. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart 48 (5)
  22. Avett Brothers: I and Love and You 47 (5)
  23. God Help the Girl: God Help the Girl 46 (5)
  24. Bob Dylan: Together Through Life 45 (5)
  25. Glasvegas: Glasvegas 44 (4)
  26. Nirvana: Live at Reading 42 (5)
  27. Oumou Sangare: Seya 40 (5)
  28. Miranda Lambert: Revolution 39 (6)
  29. Dead Weather: Horehound 34 (4)
  30. Art Brut: Art Brut vs Satan 32 (5)
  31. An Horse: Rearrange Beds 32 (3)
  32. Flaming Lips: Embryonic 32 (3)
  33. Deer Tick: Born on Flag Day 31 (4)
  34. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca 29 (3)
  35. Withered Hand: Good News 27 (3)
  36. Lonely Island: Incredibad 26 (2)
  37. Mountain Goats: Life of the World to Come 25 (4)
  38. Lil Wayne: No Ceilings 25 (2)
  39. Peter Stampfel: Dook of the Beatniks 25 (2)
  40. Wilco: Wilco (The Album) 24 (3)

Other albums receiving two or more votes:

  • Moby: Wait 22 (4)
  • Fully Celebrated: Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones 23 (3)
  • Matthew Shipp: Harmonic Disorder 20 (2)
  • Shakira: She Wolf 13 (2)
  • Baseball Project: Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails 15 (2)
  • White Denim: Fits 12 (2)
  • Dark Was the Night 16 (2)
  • Jay Reatard: Watch Me Fall 12 (2)
  • Neil Young: Fork in the Road 15 (2)
  • Mastodon: Crack the Skye 11 (2)
  • David Bazan: Roots and Branches 16 (2)
  • Digital Primitives: Hum, Crackle and Pop 11 (2)
  • Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs 18 (2)
  • Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career 20 (2)
  • They Might Be Giants: Here Comes Science 19 (3)
  • Neko Case: Middle Cyclone 18 (2)
  • Vijay Iyer: Historicity 24 (2)
  • Drive-By Truckers: The Fine Print 15 (2)
  • Tegan and Sara: Sainthood 19 (2)
  • St. Vincent: Actor 20 (2)

I posted my ballot, formatted as below, and added:

Spent about five minutes on this, starting with my actual P&:J ballot, dropping Franco (compilation) and Jonatha Brooke (2008), scanning my next few records to pick the last two -- not previously my 11-12 but struck my fancy (but then so did Hairy Bones). I didn't scan very deep for late gainers -- didn't realize XX was eligible until I saw Alex's list (wouldn't have cracked the ballot, but should be much higher on list than I had it).

I did take a quick look at the 2010 list but the three A- records I found there were way off the mark. As sharpsm noted, I have Benjamin Herman's Hypochristmastreefuzz as a 2010. As I recall, it came out in Europe in 2009, then was reissued with the second disc in 2010. Just missed my 2010 top 10 but it should have cracked 2009 if I considered it there.

I restricted bold above for records not on the Dean's List. Among 2009 P&J voters I'm pretty sure I wound up with the closest "similarity scale" to Christgau's, but probably not here. Someone might try presenting a totals list excluding the Dean's List: only ones I noticed in top 40 were: Bob Dylan, Dirty Projectors.

Also noticed that my three jazz picks all showed up in the 2+ votes list (unlike Maria Schneider, the consensus jazz album of the year, oddly enough a Jazz CG dud). That leaves Mika, which I found while compiling meta2009.php, which will give you a pretty good idea what the (semi-)pros thought.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18678 [18642] rated (+36), 852 [856] unrated (-4). Pretty solid week, both for ratings and for postings. Recycled Goods (and Downloader's Diary) up; Rhapsody Streamnotes in the works. Healthy sized Jazz Prospecting. Heat wave finally broke yesterday. Even got some rain.

  • Paul Simon: Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin' (1974 [1987], Warner Brothers): Reissued in 2011 as part of Sony's hijacking of Simon's solo catalog -- probably figured it would be more comfortable in the company of his old duo recordings -- but when I wrote up an ACN on the series I found that this was the one I had missed. No big surprise: live profit-taking after only two solo albums by a guy who's never been a commanding live presence, with most of the songs predating his solo move. Fans could take this as legitimizing his claims -- something Art Garfunkel would have been hard pressed to do -- and confirmation of continuity. Not the last live album he'd do. Thin and lame even on his best solo songs, smarmy on run of the mill old fare, but even worse sinks into the hymnals -- at least until "Love Me Like a Rock" takes off like a revival. C- [Rhapsody]

  • True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax (1960s-70s [2011], Now-Again): Looking down on a north-up map of the US, Little Rock is indeed left of Stax's Memphis, but not so far that these guys -- Thomas East, John Craig, York Wilborn, Ren Smith; groups Right Track, Classic Funk, Conspiracy, and Leaders -- could have scored the busfare if they were better; still, Smith comes off pretty gritty, and the horns on "Psychedelic Hot Pants" are blistering; haven't seen the booklet, but it's a big one. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, Volume 2 (1960s-70s [2011], Now-Again, CD+DVD): Repeats much of the first volume's roster, their decline into the ordinary suggesting that none had much depth; however, two cuts from Lechance get down (a title, the other is "Gigolo" endlessly repeated over a deep funk groove) and the "full version" of Soul Mind and Body's closer engages all three. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Peter Tosh: Legalize It (1976, Columbia): Swagged this in order to add Tosh's two Legacy Edition reissues to Recycled Goods. Pretty safe guess, especially since I didn't have to be more specific. B+

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 5)

Got up this morning -- sure, it was closer to noon but still on the AM side -- and it was 72F outside, a temperature we pay good money to establish inside. Bright and sunny, too. Four days ago we broke the 1936 record for most 100F days in a year, and two days ago it still hit 100F to pile onto the record. Five day forecast shows a slight warming trend up to a high of 82F -- fourteen day forecast gets as high as 86F. Probably premature to declare summer over: the average high temperature for all of September is 82F, and we've hit 107F as late as September 26. The highest October day ever was 97F, on an October 2.

Still, I'm looking forward to being less cooped up over the next couple weeks. Need to clean out the basement and the garage. Bought some rubber flooring for part of the basement, so that's a project. Maybe do a little carpentry, too. None of this is particularly good for Jazz Prospecting, but I don't know where I'm going with that anyway. Healthy count this week, especially considering I've been bouncing back and forth getting Recycled Goods up last week and preparing Rhapsody Streamnotes for later this week -- most likely tomorrow, although I also have a really remarkable political piece to write about, and I've also been wanting to comment on Paul Starr's Freedom's Power, the last book I read on my recent freedom kick.

No news on Jazz Consumer Guide's fate (if there is one). I gather no news is the new norm at the Village Voice these days, for whatever that's worth. I'm as tired of and frustrated with it as ever, so I'm developing what Steve Landsburg calls a "principle of indifference" over it. Lack of confidence in the future gives me little reason to make the extra effort to seek out better records (which are often hard to come by but are certainly out there), so I'm wallowing in the ones that are hard up enough to seek me out. (Back in my business deal days, wasn't that always the problem: the people you want to talk to don't need you, and you don't need the people who wants to talk to you?) Still, occasionally you get a surprise, as with the Deborah Pearl album I hedged a bit below, or for that matter the Marty Williams. (Friedlander, on the other hand, wasn't a surprise: it's pretty much his average album.)

Down in the unpacking, you'll notice the new Sonny Rollins. Played it a couple times while I was cooking, then again for the guests. May be a full grade A, or may get a minus -- too much talk, for one thing, and while ending with "St. Thomas" is as surefire a bet as one can make, is it really that good? Album doesn't drop until next week, so I held back. It's one record I'm not anxious to move from my active queue to the archives.

Katie Bull: Freak Miracle (2009 [2011], Innova): Singer, from and based in New York, has at least three previous albums since 2000. Has plaudits on her website from Jay Clayton and Sheila Jordan. She takes similar liberties with her material -- mostly self-written, but the covers show her attack more clearly. Joe Fonda (bass) and Harvey Sorgen (drums) are longstanding band members; Jeff Lederer plays tenor and soprano sax and clarinet; piano is divided between Landon Knoblock and Frank Kimbrough. B+(*)

Brent Canter: Urgency of Now (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Guitarist, from Los Angeles, studied under Kenny Burrell, moved to New York. Second album, previous self-released. Organ quartet, with Adam Klipple or Pat Bianchi on organ, Seamus Blake on tenor sax, and Jordan Perlson on drums. Guitar stands out, but the framework is pretty conventional, and the only surprise with Blake is how little he brings to the party. B

Cloning Americana: For Which It Stands (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Postbop quartet, principally saxophonist Billy Drewes and bassist Scott Lee who split the writing chores (score 8-to-4 for Drewes, with one joint piece, plus one by pianist Gary Versace, none from drummer Jeff Hirshfield). Slippery modern postbop, with a message at the end sung tentatively by Drewes, concluding "We are all one." Back cover explains: "The above narrative is in response to the apparent decline in the basic social values of respect, compassion, and tolerance. Too many of those entrusted with the honorable task of promoting and sustaining these values are failing us, causing unnecessary inequality and suffering." Amen. B+(**)

Coyote Poets of the Universe: Pandora's Box (2011, Square Shaped): Denver group, fifth album since 2003; I figure them as a rock group with some jazz and world instruments -- Patty Shaw's saxes, Mark Busi's djembe and bongos, some fiddles, banjo, an oboe or flute -- and some spoken poetry although mostly Melissa Ingalls' vocals. I recall last time writing Christgau to recommend a choice cut. This time that would be "Quittin' Time" with its Lester Young namecheck and cover note: "adult language on this track," or as my friend Arthur translates, redeeming social content. B+(*)

Armen Donelian: Leapfrog (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1950 in New York, parents Armenian, his father barely escaping from the massacres in Ottoman Turkey. Has a dozen albums since 1980, a few more side credits, notably with Billy Harper and Mongo Santamaria. Postbop quintet with Marc Mommaas (tenor sax), Mike Moreno (guitar), Dean Johnson (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). Mommaas is a strong figure here, able both to slip in behind the piano and bull his way to the front. Still, the cut I like best is "Mexico" where he lays out, letting the guitar sway gently around the piano, a lush tropical breeze. B+(***)

Erik Friedlander: Bonebridge (2011, Skipstone): Cellist, more than a dozen albums since 1995; not sure that you can find anyone else in jazz history who's done more notable music with the instrument. Inevitably, cello suggests chamber music, with a focus on composition feathered out with multiple strings, which is what you get here with: Doug Wamble (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Mike Sarin (drums). B+(***)

High Fiddelity: Tell Me! (2004-10 [2011], High Fiddelity): German group, led by violinist Natalia Brunke, b. 1971 in Munich; first or second album -- she also has a string trio called Casablanca which as I understand it has a demo album but I can't tell how it is distributed. Group includes piano, bass, and drums, plus vocalist Marina Trost. The violin leads are quite charming. The vocals -- all in English, by the way -- could use more sass, especially on a title like "My Life Is So Damn Beautiful (Once You Left It)." B+(*)

The Human Element (2011, Abstract Logix): World fusion quartet: Scott Kinsey (synths, piano, vocoder), Arto Tunçboyaciyan (percussion, vocals), Matthew Garrison (bass), Gary Novak (drums). AT is by far the most accomplished member, b. 1957 in Turkey, has at least eight records since 1989, wrote 8 of 14 cuts here, plus carries a lot of weight with his vocals. MG may be the best known: the son of Coltrane Quartet bassist Jimmy Garrison, mostly (always?) plays electric bass, has 3 albums and a few dozen side credits. B+(*)

Itai Kriss: The Shark (2010 [2011], Avenue K): Flute player, b. in Israel, seems to be based in New York. First album, although he's also done something with a Latin group called Cachimba Inolvidable. Mostly quartet with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Omer Avital on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums; adds John Ellis's tenor sax for one cut, Avishai Cohen's trumpet for two, the latter carrying the day. The flute is bright and lively in a '50s boppish way, but it's still just a flute. B

Silvano Monasterios: Unconditional (2010 [2011], Savant): Pianist, from Caracas, Venezuela; moved to Miami in 1990, where he cut this. Has at least two previous albums. Upbeat, lush -- especially with Troy Roberts' sax running wild -- with more than a little Latin tinge. B+(*)

The New Universe Music Festival 2010 (2010 [2011], Abstract Logix, 2CD): John McLaughlin's label puts on a show. In recent years he's dropped the Mahavishnu title, returned to hard fusion, and grayed up so elegantly that his picture on the cover, well except for the guitar, looks like he just stepped out of a painting of the Founding Father. He gets the last set here, along with Zakir Hussain on tabla, stealing some of his thunder. The other groups are nearly all guitar-keyb-bass-drum outfits, with one violin, and percussionist Arto Tunçboyaciyan slipped in. The guitarist all take their cues from McLaughlin, the others rarely straying from early 1970s fusion icons. The "new universe" sounds much like an old and mostly disparaged one, but they're so set on making it work you have to give them some credit. I haven't seen this much purism since the Dixieland revival of the 1950s. B+(**)

Nils Økland/Sigbjørn Apeland: Lysøen: Hommage à Ole Bull (2009-10 [2011], ECM): Violinist, b. 1961 in Norway; 4th album since 2004. Apeland plays piano and harmonium in duets, or quite often you only hear one or the other. Ole Bull was a Norwegian violinist and composer from 1810-1880. The music draws on Bull, trad., Edvard Grieg (one piece), and adds four new pieces (one each, two together). Not much momentum, but immediate and arresting. B+(**)

Deborah Pearl: Souvenir of You: New Lyrics to Benny Carter Classics (2011, Evening Star): Singer, writes plays, studied at Barnard then moved to Los Angeles, where Benny and Hilma Carter "became like surrogate parents." Carter wrote "Souvenir of You" as a tribute to Johnny Hodges on his passing, so Pearl added a lyric as a tribute to Carter. Two cuts here sample Carter's 1992 big band record Harlem Renaissance so she gets to sing along with her late mentor -- Carter died in 2003 at 95; Hilma, who dated Carter in the '30s but didn't marry him until sometime in the '70s, is still alive (as far as I can tell, probably in her 80s). Pearl's first album. Aside from the two big band cuts, everything else is done with piano, bass and drums. No problem with the music, of course, but after sixty years of vocalese hackwork, I'm surprised how well the lyrics fit -- she describes them as figuring out a puzzle -- and "Doozy Blues" should go straight into the songbook of anyone who's ever been satisfied with a Jon Hendricks lyric. [A-]

Red Hot + Rio 2 (2011, E1 Music, 2CD): Twenty-some years after the first Red Hot + Blue record turned AIDS-fighting pop stars onto Cole Porter in one of the better songwriter-tribute records ever, I lost track of the series fifteen years ago when the first Red Hot + Rio came out. This one doubles down, swelling to two discs to give extra heft to its second volume status. No lack of authentic Brazilian stars here -- Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Joyce Moreno, Os Mutantes, also Seu Jorge, Carlhinos Brown, Bebel Gilberto -- often paired with well-meaning Americans ranging from David Byrne to Aloe Blacc, Of Montreal, and Beirut. I don't have full credits, but the rhythm section more often than not saves the show. Give it some time and you'll find some gems, like the one attributed to Toshiyuki Yasuda ("Aguas de Março"). B+(*) [advance]

Jonathan Scales: Character Farm & Other Short Stories (2011, Le Rue): Plays steel pan, an instrument common in Trinidad, functions here like vibes in a rhythmic flow of guitar, bass, and percussion. Third album. Attractively packaged in comic book/graphic novel art by Gregory Keyzer. Some guests appearances, adding soprano sax or flute or violin. No words, which is OK by me. B

Jane Stuart: Don't Look Back (2010 [2011], JSM): Standards singer (wrote 1 of 12 songs here; 1 of 13 on her previous album). Based in New York. Second album. Band includes Dave Stryker (guitar) and Dick Oatts (alto sax, flute) although I didn't notice them much. Two Lennon-McCartneys (a decent arrangement of the unjazzable "Eleanor Rigby"), two Dave Frishbergs, one Gershwin (a nice shot at "Summertime" which has been done and done and never wears out), one Porter, others more obscure. B+(*)

Tunnel Six: Lake Superior (2010 [2011], OA2): Sextet: two horns, piano plus guitar, bass and drums: Ben Dietschi (saxes), Chad McCullough (trumpet/flugelhorn), Andrew Oliver (piano), Brian Seligman (guitar), Ron Hynes (bass), Tyson Stubelek (drums). Only McCullough and Oliver are in my database. Only the drummer missed out on a writing credit (Dietschi, McCullough, and Seligman have two each). Group met at a Banff Centre jazz workshop, and recorded this in Portland. Pretty ingratiating as postbop goes, everyone well behaved and supportive. Couple dull spots but most bright and cheery. B+(**)

André Vasconcellos: 2 (2009 [2011], Adventure Music): Bassist, from Brazil; second album, following one in 2004 called Observatorio. Wrote 7 of 8 songs, the odd one out by guitarist Ricardo Vasconcellos (relationship undetermined). Mostly quintet, with tenor saxophonist Josue Lopez making a big impression, Allen Pontes on drums, David Feldman or Renato Fonseca on piano, Ricardo Vasconcellos or Torcuato Mariano on guitar. Strong pulse from the bass driving the flow, prime solo spots on piano and guitar. No samba, no choro, more like postbop but organic. B+(***)

Marty Williams: Long Time Comin' (2010 [2011], In Moon Bay): Standards singer, plays piano, based in Bay Area, website claims 10 albums but can't find him on AMG. Also says he's a "Apple Certified Logic Pro" -- don't know what that is but it could well pay better than music. Gritty, distinctive voice; doesn't sound like much at first but I found it gaining on me. Eclectic bunch of songs, including some that almost never work out well, like the Beatles' "Come Together," Jon Hendricks' vocalese to "Monk's Dream," Bobby Hebb's cheezy "Sunny," but he gets traction on most of them; the can't fail "Love for Sale," of course, but also "Falling in Love Again" and "The Look of Love" and even "Compared to What." 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.

The Return: The Gerry Beaudoin Trio With Harry Allen (2011, Francesca): Guitarist, AMG lists seven previous albums going back to 1992 but doesn't have this one, which may be digital only. Has a very light touch in a trio with bass and drums, doing eight tracks, none of which I recognize as standards. Tenor saxophonist Allen tries his best to fit in, which mostly means toning himself down to near invisiblity. B [Rhapsody]

Rob Brown/Daniel Levin: Natural Disorder (2008 [2010], Not Two): Brown plays brashly free alto sax, b. 1962, best known as a key to William Parker's pianoless quartet; has more than a dozen albums under his own name since 1989, mostly on obscure labels. Levin plays cello, b. 1974, has been prolific since 2003 with nine albums (on Clean Feed and Hat). Duo. Often engaging, especially when the cello pitches in, but a long stretch of solo alto wears thin. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Terri Lyne Carrington: The Mosaic Project (2011, Concord): Drummer, b. 1965, two 2002-04 postbop records seemed promising -- especially the second with Greg Osby -- but her 2009 More to Say was such soggy R&B that I dumped her into my pop jazz file. However, this one has gotten so many raves that I thought I should check it out. She makes use of 20 musicians, all female, most well known (e.g., horns: Ingrid Jensen, Anat Cohen, Tineke Postma; keybs: Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, Helen Sung; the eight vocalists include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Carmen Lundy, Gretchen Parlato, Diane Reeves, and Cassandra Wilson; also credited with "commentary": Angela Davis). Several brought their own songs; Carrington wrote 5 of 14, with Irving Berlin, Al Green, and Lennon-McCartney the outsiders. The horn solos always come up with something interesting, the keybs lean to fusion but aren't swallowed by it, the vocals are, well, credible. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Antonio Adolfo: Chora Baião (AAM)
  • Mindy Canter: Fluteus Maximum (Mindela Music)
  • Mike Cottone: Just Remember (Mike Cottone Music)
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Prophecy (1990-92, Flying Note)
  • Kali Z. Fasteau/William Parker/Cindy Blackman: An Alternate Universe (Flying Note)
  • Fourthought (Nambulo Music)
  • Bill Frisell: All We Are Saying . . . (Savoy Jazz)
  • Mac Gollehon: Odyssey of Nostalgia (American Showplace Music)
  • Oscar Peñas: From Now On (Bju'ecords)
  • Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 2 (Doxy/Emarcy): Sept. 13
  • Florencia Ruiz: Luz de la Noche (Light of the Night) (Adventure Music): Sept. 20
  • The Tierney Sutton Band: American Road (BFM Jazz)
  • Jeff Williams: Another Time (Whirlwind): Oct. 10


  • Lil Wayne: Tha Carter IV (Motown/Cash Money)
  • Scissor Sisters: Night Work (Downtown)
  • Neil Young: Archives Vol. 1 (1963-1972) (1963-72, Reprise, 10CD)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (14): September 2011

Insert text from here.

This is the 14th installment, monthly since August 2010, totalling 349 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Expert Comments

I started this on Ron Paul, Ayn Rand, etc., but gave up:

Early in this thread I wanted to respond to some comment about Ron Paul, before the drift transmogrified into Ayn Rand. If I were a single issue voter, that issue would be how to demilitarize the United States and roll back all of the imperial overreach, in which case Paul would be a much more principled and dependable candidate than, say, Dennis Kucinich, and probably more effective if somehow he got elected. (Both, by the way, voted for the post-9/11 resolution that gave Bush a blank check to wage war in Afghanistan or pretty much anywhere he saw fit, so there's room for improvement on both counts.) The last two Democrats to win started off with some antiwar cred but gave it up as soon as they took office and went on to start new wars and/or expand old ones. Libertarians like Paul have other attractions, like opposition to the drug war, which hardly anyone in the Democrats' political class dissents from. So I can see how Paul might seem like an attractive alternative: on several big issues he is practically the only alternative.

On the other hand, when he bothered to write a book, he didn't pick any of those issues. Rather, he wrote End the Fed. I haven't read the book, and I'm far from expert on his Paul's politics -- I hear, for instance, that he's anti-abortion even though I can't think of any way to reconcile libertarianism with that. Now, the Fed has so many problems I can sympathize with wanting to get rid of it, but not if your agenda is to restore hard money laissez-faire. I can't even wrap my brain around how bad this idea is. Even in the 19th century, in a world with barely a billion people, it resulted in one disaster after another. From the present, those ideas would require a massive shrinkage of the economy. We might as well revert to 19th century medicine as well: otherwise what do you do with excess people you won't have gold to back?

Paul's recent attacks on FEMA are more of a piece with his economic nonsense than with his foreign policy: he longs to return to the days when a hurricane could kill 8,000 people with no prospect of government helping the survivors. This draws into question whether he sees any role for people acting collectively through government, or whether he's just echoing the old states-vs-federal disputes, often spouted to permit states to run roughshod over their citizens. (Needless to add, Paul is against federal civil rights laws, too.)

Did post this one: Joe Yanosik asked about Carl Smith and Floyd Tillman, both included in the Columbia Historic Edition LP series in the early 1980s (and graded A- by Christgau, hence JY-certified).

Joe asked about more recent reissues of Carl Smith and Floyd Tillman than the 1980s Columbia Historic Edition LPs:

Columbia/Legacy released The Essential Carl Smith in 1991 -- the only one I know, a pretty solid A- I say. Same series (Columbia Country Classics) included good singles by Roy Acuff and Ray Price, a bad 2-CD Marty Robbins, and a superb 3-CD Johnny Cash. Series also included five volumes of VA; first two are classic. Looks like the Smith isn't in print, but some of the others are.

Columbia hasn't returned to Tillman, except for farming off a generous 24-cut The Best of Floyd Tillman to Collectors' Choice. Not as consistent as the much shorter LP, but still A- (imho).

Sangfreud asked why Christgau referred to The Legend of Blind Joe Death in the '70s SFFR when that title wasn't used on any Fahey album until a 1996 compilation. Good question.

On the Fahey question, what I know thus far is: in 1959 he self-released Blind Joe Death on no label in an edition hardly anyone heard; he reissued it (with some new recordings, or maybe re-recorded) in 1964 on Takoma, and again in 1967, the latter named Volume 1/Blind Joe Death. I've found cover scans of the 1959 and 1967 editions, but not the 1964. The 1996 The Legend of Blind Joe Death combines the 1964 and 1967 versions.

In 1965 Fahey recorded The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, a different album. Fearing a website typo, I checked the '70s book again, which indeed says The Legend of Blind Joe Death, so I haven't answered the original question. Makes me wonder about the 1964 release.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week -- a day earlier than usual, which opens up my usual Sunday slot for A Downloader's Diary (not that anyone forces me to only post once per day):

  • Steve Benen: Lagarde's Good Advice: While most pundits were anxious to hear the nothing Ben Bernanke had to last week's Jackson Hole shindig, IMF head Christine Lagarde had more to say:

    The world economic recovery is in new peril of derailing, the head of the International Monetary Fund said Saturday as she called on leaders in the United States and Europe to take aggressive and immediate action to address new cracks appearing in the global economy.

    The global economy is in a "dangerous new phase," said Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, speaking at a conference of top central bankers and economists. The world is endangered by "a growing sense that policymakers do not have the conviction, or simply are not willing, to take the decisions that are needed."

    More specifically, Lagarde, urging the relevant players to "act boldly," said governments on both sides of the Atlantic should follow a familiar path: address long-term fiscal issues while at the same time, focusing on job creation and economic growth in the short term. In the U.S., she also stressed the importance of aggressive efforts to improve the housing market, assisting underwater homeowners.

    Lagarde, like Bernanke and sane people everywhere, dismissed talk of "more upfront drastic belt-tightening."

    Of course, here in the U.S., Republicans' only real demand is for "more upfront drastic belt-tightening."

    The point here is not that Lagarde's vision is somehow new and unique. Rather, the point is, just the opposite is true. The debate is so painfully frustrating precisely because Lagarde's advice is, at least in the larger sense, identical to what economists, business leaders, the financial industry, the Fed, and the White House have all been saying for quite a while. While the details obviously matter a great deal, the broad strokes of the way forward are pretty obvious: focusing on boosting the economy in the short term, and focus on gradually improving the fiscal picture in the long term.

  • Justin Elliott: The Seduction of Howard Dean: I've gone on record as saying that possibly the worst thing Obama has done since being elected president was booting Howard Dean from his post as head of the DNC. Dean provided very effective leadership for the party leading to major gains in congressional elections in 2006 and 2008 as well as Obama's own victory. On the other hand, Obama has been all but oblivious to electing Democrats other than himself, which was a big part of the 2010 debacle. So this piece, detailing what Dean's been up to since he left political life, is not so much disturbing as sad: he's not only been working as a fuzzy lobbyist (not registered, just "consulting"), he's gotten tied up in some unsavory issues. His "spokeswoman" responded to the piece here. The response itself doubles down on Dean's work the anti-Iran MEK, which some time back the US designated as a terrorist organization but has lately played a role in fomenting war with Iran analogous to the role of Iraqis like Ahmed Chalabi in leading the US to war with Iraq. Most of the times I've run across MEK over the last 4-5 years they've been cited by Israel as the source of bogus intelligence on Iran's alleged WMD programs. To say the very least, they are an outfit that any aspiring politician in the US should stay away from.

  • Paul Krugman: Broken Windows, Ozone, and Jobs: One thing the Republicans keep repeating is that regulation is killing jobs -- an argument that doesn't make the least bit of sense, as Krugman explains:

    I've actually been avoiding thinking about the latest Obama cave-in, on ozone regulation; these repeated retreats are getting painful to watch. For what it's worth, I think it's bad politics. The Obama political people seem to think that their route to victory is to avoid doing anything that the GOP might attack -- but the GOP will call Obama a socialist job-killer no matter what they do. Meanwhile, they just keep reinforcing the perception of mush from the wimp, of a president who doesn' stand for anything.

    Whatever. Let's talk about the economics. Because the ozone decision is definitely a mistake on that front.

    As some of us keep trying to point out, the United States is in a liquidity trap: private spending is inadequate to achieve full employment, and with short-term interest rates close to zero, conventional monetary policy is exhausted.

    This puts us in a world of topsy-turvy, in which many of the usual rules of economics cease to hold. Thrift leads to lower investment; wage cuts reduce employment; even higher productivity can be a bad thing. And the broken windows fallacy ceases to be a fallacy: something that forces firms to replace capital, even if that something seemingly makes them poorer, can stimulate spending and raise employment. Indeed, in the absence of effective policy, that's how recovery eventually happens: as Keynes put it, a slump goes on until "the shortage of capital through use, decay and obsolescence" gets firms spending again to replace their plant and equipment.

    And now you can see why tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money -- but that's the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment.

    I'm actually not that bothered by this particular cave-in: Wichita's ozone pollution is very close to the threshold above which we'd have to do a lot of things that would be painful or at least annoying to fix, so changing the level would cause an instant political explosion here. On the other hand, if you leave the threshold where it is, in 3-4 years when the big new coal-fired power plant in west Kansas comes on line we will have been pushed over the limit by the Republicans who ramrodded the plant through the legislature and regulatory agencies. So pure blame politics, at least in this neck of the woods, suggests that Obama should duck this fight. I also don't think that regulation is a very good way to stimulate the economy, even though it certainly is one way. The big problem with it is that it pushes costs back onto the private sector -- which isn't so bad when we're talking about cash-hoarding companies, as Krugman does in his example, but it does hurt cash-strapped customers. It would, for instance, be an imposition for unemployed workers to have to pay to get their clunkers tuned up, let alone trade them in for new cars, although it would undoubtedly improve the economy if they could afford to do so.

    The other problem with the cave-in is that once again Obama missed an opportunity to educate people. Instead, his retreat just signified his acceptance of Republican claims that are utterly misleading.

  • Andrew Leonard: Solyndra's Industrial Policy Power Failure:

    For green technology fans, the news that the thin-film solar startup Solyndra is going belly up is one heck of a bummer. Purely in symbolic terms, the failure of the highly touted Silicon Valley showcase is a disaster. Headquartered in Fremont, Calif., Solyndra was backed by name-brand venture capitalists and received half a billion dollars in loan guarantees from the Obama administration. In a visit in 2010, Obama personally touted the company as a source of green jobs. Oops.

    Conservatives always warn liberals that "industrial policy" is misguided because the government doesn't have the capacity to successfully pick winners. Solyndra would seem to offer dramatic support for that view. But the real story isn't quite so simple. [ . . . ]

    And why did prices so fall so fast? Easy -- China's huge state subsidies for solar power manufacturing ramped up the domestic manufacturing capacity with lightning speed, allowing the country's solar power firms to seize global market share.

    So what's really happened here is that half-hearted industrial policy lost out to the real deal. Because if Solyndra's failure is taken as proof that the U.S. government can't pick winners, doesn't that mean that China's success proves the exact opposite?

  • The Onion: America Gets Set to Enjoy Month or So of Libya Seeming Like Symbol of Freedom: Allegedly satire, but "America's Finest News Source" actually has a pretty solid track record:

    Americans across the nation told reporters Wednesday that with the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi's despotic regime, they were preparing to savor the next month or so of Libya seeming like an inspirational symbol of freedom. "We've got a nice four weeks of thinking Libya represents a triumph of liberty before the situation begins to deteriorate and some new form of authoritarianism inevitably asserts itself," said Michigan-based architect Wes Reinhorn, adding that while he was looking forward to the nation potentially serving as a model for other Arab countries, he would eventually realize the situation in the region was very complex, and any hope he had of Libya transforming things for the better would presumably fade away by October. "We should all enjoy this stirring image of Libya as a beacon of democracy before Islamists or a new military strongman moves in to fill the power vacuum." Other Americans, however, said that after a month of looking to Libya as a symbol of freedom, they planned to simply stop paying attention to the nation altogether.

    When Kabul fell so easily in 2001, and again when Baghdad fell in 2003, I found myself referring to the short period of jubilation that pfollowed as the "feel good days of the war" -- advising that you might as well remember them, because they won't last. The fall of Tripoli was like that, and indeed all sorts of pundits are vying to claim Libya as a big American success and triangulate it into further misadventures.

    One critical thing that Americans (especially liberal ones) have a lot of trouble understanding is that even if this turns out to be on balance a good deal for the Libyan people -- which given Gaddafi is a real possibility but not a certainty -- if the US uses this experience as a justification for intervention in other countries the net effect will be disastrous. In fact, both neocon and liberal internationalists have repeatedly drawn the wrong lessons from past interventions to rationalize further acts of war, much to our national disgrace.

  • Alex Pareene: How Rich Perry Became a Millionaire:

    Rick Perry is a millionaire. Nothing odd about that -- lots of people who run for president are millionaires! -- but he's never really had a job outside of government and he didn't inherit his fortune. Where did his millions of dollars come from? The Fort Worth Star-Telegram answers that question: He's very good at making investments that look remarkably like examples of blatant corruption.

    There was the time Perry bought some random undeveloped land in 1993, and then it turned out that rich businessman Michael Dell needed that land to connect his new house to the sewer lines. Perry made $342,994 selling it to him. And he's made decent sums trading in stock in companies founded by Perry donors. [ . . . ]

    We have previously discussed Perry's generous granting of subsidies and other perks to people who give him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Perhaps all of those people were just lucky, too! Texas: America's luckiest state, if you're rich and politically connected.

  • Alex Pareene: Right-Wing Hack Says Helping Poor People Vote Is Criminal:

    Two days after Rolling Stone posted Ari Berman's very good piece on how the GOP campaign against ACORN and "voter fraud" is actually just part of a coordinated effort to stop minorities and poor people from voting at all, right-wing "investigative journalist" Matthew Vadum has now explicitly endorsed disenfranchising poor people for the sole reason that they're poor and will vote for people who will do things to alleviate their poverty. [ . . . ]

    Here is your pull quote:

    Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery.

    Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country -- which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote.

    Wow, "nonproductive segments of the population." The bit that likens the act of participation in the democratic process to a crime has gotten the most amount of attention, but the bit where Vadum adopts the language of eugenicists is the real low-light for me.

    Steve Benen has more on he War on Voting. I've already written some about the Kansas front of this war -- Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is actually a nationwide figure in the fight to restrict the ballot.

  • Louisa Thomas: Give Pacifism a Chance. Book author: Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family -- a Test of Will and Faith in World War I. Sketches out a history of antiwar movements, which has been done better in Mark Kurlansky: Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, which also shows greater commitment to the goal -- in large part because she lets her sympathy for soldiers color her thinking about how they've chosen to waste their lives. But I can't let this piece go without quoting the conclusion:

    But war has a way of coming home, eroding our democratic culture as well as our safety. American pacifists of the past knew that, and we need people like them today: people who don't believe war is inevitable, who will challenge what we assume and accept, and who will work to end it.

  • Paul Woodward: How Israel Got Away With Murder on the Mavi Marmara: The massacre took place on May 31, 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish boat headed toward Gaza with relief supplies, attempting to breach Israel's starvation blockade of Gaza. The commandos killed nine unarmed Turks on the boat. The UN investigated -- a more sensible response than what Israel invariably does when its own citizens are killed in such incidents: Israel launches counterattacks, ranging from Qibya in 1953 up to their full scale war against Lebanon in 2006. The UN report indulges Israel much more than I would, accepting that their blockade is "legal"; the UN only questions the appropriateness of shooting people multiple times in the back of the head.

Expert Comments

Milo Miles asked who's the greatest trumpet player alive. Cam Patterson wrote, "That's probably a question for Tom Hull, but I'll answer it anyway with the proviso that of course I'm an idiot," then mentioned he plays Nils Petter Molvaer more than any others, but also added Steven Bernstein and Roy Campbell. Sharpsm suggested Nicholas Payton, Dave Douglas, Wadada Leo Smith. I wrote:

Gotta be Clark Terry. Admittedly, since I hadn't heard anything from him in the last 4-5 years I had to check to make sure he's still alive -- he's past 90 now, you know. Also checked on Jack Sheldon and Joe Wilder, who are relatively minor figures but worth knowing about.

Next generation down, born in the early 1940s, is probably between Wadada Leo Smith and Tomasz Stanko. Both started in the 1960s and are still turning in stellar work. Warren Vache was born in 1951, mostly plays cornet, is a nice trad counter to the avant-gardists.

Dave Douglas is only 48, and is way ahead of his generation. I don't always like his records or his compositional ideas, but often I do, and nobody else has his chops, which rival Eldridge and Gillespie, maybe not Armstrong.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Recycled Goods (89): September 2011

Pick up text here.

EW P&J Poll 2009

Someone came up with the idea of Expert Witness commentators rehashing every Pazz & Jop Poll ever done. First year for the game is 2009, picked to be easy, and indeed it is.

After all, been there, done that, even more so on my official year 2009 list, but Jonatha Brooke's The Works was a 2008 album, and the Franco set was a reissue -- slippery slope if we include those, I'm thinking. I looked ahead to the 2010 list but didn't see any notable 2009 stragglers. I didn't look at the master list since my 2009 list closed out less than a year ago -- I'll have to do more work for earlier years. Looks like Loudon Wainwright gained a couple notches since my P&J ballot. Brooke and Franco left me with two open slots, which would have gone to Hairy Bones and Brad Shepik but I juggled things around a bit to kick a couple of obscure but more pop-friendly albums into contention. That left me with:

  1. Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You (Capitol) 22
  2. Leonard Cohen: Live in London (Columbia, 2CD) 12
  3. Willie Nelson/Asleep at the Wheel: Willie and the Wheel (Bismeaux) 10
  4. Matthew Shipp: Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear) 10
  5. Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome (161, 2CD) 10
  6. Oumou Sangare: Seya (World Circuit/Nonesuch) 8
  7. K'naan: Troubadour (A&M/Octone) 8
  8. The Fully Celebrated: Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (AUM Fidelity) 8
  9. Digital Primitives: Hum Crackle & Pop (Hopscotch) 6
  10. Mika: The Boy Who Knew Too Much (Casablanca) 6

Thursday, September 01, 2011

One for the Record Books

Front page story in the Wichita Eagle today is a wrap-up for the record-breaking heatwave this summer. Yesterday was Wichita's 50th day with temperatures of 100F or above, which ties the all-time record set in 1936. Yesterday wasn't even close: it hit 108F, a record for the date and a full 30 degrees above the average high. Of course, it takes one more day to break the tie, so the Eagle took a chance and preemptively proclaimed "Today is 51 days at 100° or above": actually, a pretty safe bet, with the forecast calling for 104F (according to the weather page) or 107F (the figure quoted in the article). Writing this a little after noon the current temp is already 100F. (The article is here, but I don't see the graphics or charts online.)

The 100 degree days were: May 9 (the earliest 100F day ever; 1 total for May); June 3-8, 19, 25-26, 29-30 (11 in June); July 1-3, 5, 9-12, 15-24, 26-31 (24 in July, tying the 1980 record); August 1-3, 5, 7, 16, 18-19, 23-24, 26, 28, 30-31 (14 in August); and today September 1 with tomorrow forecast for 100F. It is expected to cool off after that, with a high of 81F for Sunday, 79F for Monday. That may be the end of it, or may not: September is usually pretty hot here at least midway through. The longest streak was 10 straight days July 15-24, then followed by 8 more July 25-August 13 (so make that 18 of 19 days). By that point the grass was totally burnt out, but 8 sub-100F days from August 8-15 with frequent rain revived things a bit.

Of course, the heat wasn't only here: Oklahoma got hit as bad, and Texas maybe worse. Most days the weather map showed a big red blob, sometimes centered on Wichita but more often centered or shaded to the south. (Today's map shows most of Kansas and all of Oklahoma over 100, but only about half of Texas.) The heat has been accompanied by drought, just like the global warming models project. We've had 16.24 inches of rain, which puts us down 7.85 on the year.

The rest of the big articles in the Eagle today were about guns. Sedgwick County commissioner Richard Ranzau pushed through an order to permit concealed carry in most county-owned buildings (at least the court house is still off the list), saying: "As a result of this resolution, the citizens of Sedgwick County will not be any less safe than what they are today, but they will be freer. That, my friends, is a good thing." The state law has given landlords the option of prohibiting concealed guns on their properties, and quite a few took advantage of that when the law passed. Only about 30,000 permits have been handed out, so the gun-toters are at most a tiny percentage of the population, but they've been relentlessly against those limits. I haven't seen any researh showing that more guns in public has done much harm or any good, but I don't see how carrying a gun signifies freedom without also intimidating and endangering the public. (Article: here.)

Still, for the worst example of gun madness, see: Gunfights to ring through the streets of Cowtown on Saturday:

All day Saturday, the living-history museum is host to "the Age of the Gunfighter," which means the dusty streets of Cowtown will be filled with area gunfighter groups, period merchants, dancers, musicians and anybody else you would have encountered in the life of 1870s Wichita.

Promoters of Saturday's event promise visitors that this will be a "chance to watch more gunfights in one day . . . than ever took place in the Old West."

Read that last sentence again, carefully. The fact is that Kansas sheriffs were pretty aggressive about prohibiting guns from their towns in the 19th century -- a large part of the reason why it's possible to reenact more gunfights in one day than were actually enacted in the better part of a century. So the main effect here is to mythologize and romanticize a falsely remembered past, as well as to elevate gun-fueled slaughter to entertainment status. Good thing there's no one in Kansas insane enough to bring a real gun to the event and join in on the fun. Just the same, I'm going to pass and stay clear. I'm even a bit worried in that I live less than a half-mile from the theme park -- usually, by the way, an interesting place to visit. But then I'm one of those people who whenever he sees "celebratory gunfire" wonders where all those bullets will eventually land.

Aug 2011 Oct 2011