March 2012 Notebook
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Friday, March 30, 2012

From Aram to Assad and Then Some

I went to a presentation Rannfrid Thelle gave last night to the Wichita Peace Center about Syria. It was offered mostly as historical background ("From Aram to Assad"), PowerPoint bullets with archeological pictures from Rannfrid's 2006 visit to Syria. A couple dozen people were present, mostly the usual crowd, plus two ringers with Syrian connections pushing an anti-Assad, pro-revolution line (but, thankfully, well short of calling for armed intervention). They didn't quite hijack the presentation, but they reminded me how defenseless well-meaning people are when confronted with evidence of brutal repression. The urge to help is overwhelming, swamping the critical recognition that help is something we are unable to offer.

I know I find myself moved by reports of the Assad regime's violent suppression of demonstrations, but when I hear pleas for outsiders to step in and "protect the people," all I know for sure is that if the US were to intervene in any way, all we would do is kill more. It seems clear that the Assad regime has killed more people and done more damage than any of the other targets of Arab Spring -- with the possible, but not certain, exception of Libya, where the US did add to the body count. (And for that matter, Assad has killed more than Iran and Myanmar did in forcibly suppressing major demonstration movements over the last few years.)

No doubt the Assad regime has disgraced itself. However, it is far from the only government that has done such, so why focus on it? (One could, after all, cite the elephant-in-the-room, Israel, which has killed a comparable number of people under its sovereignty, albeit stretched out over a longer timeframe.) Syria moved to the forefront of the news partly because it flowed out of the "Arab Spring" revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, and partly because we in the US have long held a grudge against it. In particular, Bush's generals loudly threatened to invade Syria in 2003-04 if Syria in any way aided the resistance in Iraq: the goal then wouldn't have been to liberate the Syrian people from an oppressive regime, but to get rid of an inconvenient one and replace it with something more to our liking. Indeed, the US did just that in occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. The idea that we might selflessly liberate a country so that its people could run a free democracy was at best a propaganda afterthought.

Rannfrid did a generally good job in outlining Syria's history, but she missed one essential item: in 1948, Syria woke up on the wrong side of the bed and found itself locked into conflict with Israel. What happened was that the British quit their mandate in Palestine without having established any sort of agreement on the shape of its future independent government. In this void, the Zionist organization declared Israeli independence, and marshalled its army to secure as much territory as it could within Palestine, with no concern for the two-thirds of the mandate's population who were not Jewish, and who had agreed to no such division. As the Israeli militias advanced, the Palestinians appealed to the newly independent Arab states for help (like the Free Syrian Army currently begs for outside help). The Israelis like to describe this as all the Arab armies invading on Independence Day, another example of their accustomed blindness to the Palestinian presence.

Those Arab states had various agendas. Egypt, Transjordan, and Iraq were ruled by crony kings installed by Britain, and Transjordan was practically invited to invade by the Israelis in the hope that they would pick up the Arab West Bank and prevent an independent Palestinian state from being established. Israel's success, both in expanding its territory way beyond what the UN had offered -- without consent of the people actually living there -- and in driving over 700,000 Palestinians into exile proved to be deeply embarrassing to the junior officers caught up in the 1948-49 war. This, in turn, led to military coups in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria -- to a long series of such in Syria until Hafez Assad was finally able to stabilize control of the government.

Israel signed temporary armistice arrangements to end the war, but refused to sign peace treaties -- mostly because Israel was unwilling to readmit any refugees, but also because Israel was still unsatisfied with its borders. Up to 1967, Israel repeatedly provoked border incidents with Syria, then in June 1967 Israel used the closing of shipping to Eilat as a pretext to invading and snatching large chunks of territory from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Later that year, Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights that it had seized from Syria and depopulated. In 1979 Egypt was able to recover its lost territories by signing a unilateral peace treaty with Israel, which left Syria permanently maimed and powerless to cut its own deal. (Ehud Barak made a token effort at a deal in 2000, then backed away when it looked like Assad might agree.)

America's relationship with Syria has always been a reflection of its relationship with Israel. When Israel sought alliances in the west, Syria had no other defense option but to turn to the Soviet Union, which only hardened US antipathy to them. Syria's relationships with other Arab nations broke up over one issue or another. Syria occasionally made gesture to appease the US, like their enthusiastic endorsement of the 1990 Gulf War against Iraq, but they were easily forgotten -- in large part because for the US Israel always came first. The US at first welcomed Syria's intervention in Lebanon, then ultimately insisted that they leave. It's hard to think of any nation the US has had a more fickle and unprincipled relationship with, although Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan come close, for much the same reasons. That Bush decided not to invade in 2004 most likely had less to do with excuses than with lack of imagination about what to do with the carcass. That in turn may be because Israel seems to like the Assad regime: it's not only the devil they know, it's such a toothless wreck of a government they can bomb it on a whim and know there won't be any consequences.

One major reason the situation in Syria has become so grave is that the regime is so isolated from the rest of the world. It has only partly rebuilt its relationship with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it's unlikely that Russia has anywhere near the deep-seated relationship with Syria that the US was able to exploit in nudging Mubarak out of power in Egypt, even assuming Russia has any desire to do so. The only other countries with any links to Syria are China and Iran, and neither is very sensitive about the rights of pro-democracy demonstrators. One thing we've seen again and again is that the more isolated a nation is, the less its leaders have to lose in resorting to violent repression -- again, consider Iran, Myanmar, Libya. And in Syria's case, it's too late to fix that: now that the regime has so disgraced itself, the pressure is against anyone trying to build relationships.

Meanwhile, the anti-Assad opposition -- especially the exiles who are safe from retribution -- have only become emboldened, ever more militant. They plead for arms, for intervention, to fight not to depose the regime but to conquer it. We are, in effect, being asked to choose sides in a civil war we actually have no stake in and no comprehension of. Sure, we can grasp the brutality of the Assad regime, but not yet the brutality of an opposition that has already decided to resort to killing and maiming its opponents -- a process that the longer it persists the more dehumanizing it will become. Indeed, one theme that emerged in the meeting was the fear that a triumphant anti-Assad movement would take its revenge on the Allawite community that Assad came from and favors. Several people were reminded of Rwanda; my own thoughts gravitated to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad by Shiite militias as the US decided that the only way to keep Iraqis from uniting against the occupation was to turn them against each other. On the other hand, we had to sort through wild stories about Assad importing Iranian snipers, mass incarcerations, torture, and ritualistic killings. It's impossible to know what's actually true because access is so limited and propaganda is so free.[1]

The dehumanization of the other side is inevitably one of the first things that happens in war, and it's well under way in Syria. The longer and bloodier the struggle continues, the worse it will be for all sides. (The continuing turmoil in the so-called Libya success is an example of what happens when you militarize conflict.) It's dehumanization that leads to atrocities, which leads to more of the same. The sane way out is to back off from anything that implies violence, while maintaining a vigilant concern for any violation of basic human rights by any party. The most effective approach would be to shame the Assad regime into backing down, chilling out, and opening up. That involves engaging with the regime, no matter how distasteful that seems, and it involves rejecting any elements of the opposition who insist on fighting this out in the streets. The end result should be a democratic government where individuals can speak up and protest without fear, and the end result should have nothing to do with the ulterior motives of other countries.

Making this work will take some effort, and more carrots than sticks, but it has worked elsewhere, and the all-stick approach (so dear to John Bolton) has failed virtually everywhere. To take one example, Turkey had built up a pretty rotten human rights record, but over the last 10-20 years they've done much to turn that around. They still have a long ways to go, but the prospect of joining the European Union steered them toward reforms, and the odds of a military coup have gone way down. Latin America and the former Communist states provide more examples, and Myamnar, which only a few years ago brutally suppressed demonstrations, seems to be opening up to diplomatic efforts. The Middle East and North Africa remain in turmoil, but as more nations there become more legitimately democratic Syria will be more tempted to join them.

Aside from the short-sightedness of the Assad regime, the main obstacle to democratic reforms in Syria is Israel and its clumsy, incoherent puppet, the United States. The US has bases all over the region, which do little more than make it a target for local rage and offer opportunities for embarrassing adventures. Israel, meanwhile, has no desire for any form of peace that would entail concessions, like basic human rights, to its Palestinian subjects (let alone refugees). The whole Arab Spring movement makes Israel uneasy: Israel has long prided itself on being the region's "only democracy," but it is nothing of the sort, no longer "only" and hardly in any sense a democracy. What it is, however, is a rogue state -- with its targeted killings and nuclear blackmail -- the threat that generations of Arab dictators have used to rationalize their own corruptions. Solve the Palestinian problem[2], turn Israel into a normal nation, let the US pull back its tentacles, and the whole region will open up.


[1] Helena Cobban, citing Patrick Cockburn, makes this point effectively. Cobban goes on to counter the arguments for outside armed intervention: something you should bookmark and re-read every time you find yourself entertaining the thought that doing so just might work.

[2] The standard solution to the Israel-Syria conflict is for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria, which was pretty much (if not necessarily seriously) what Barak offered in 2000. I wonder if a simpler solution might be for Israel to buy the territory. It might work like a mini-Marshall Plan: I don't know what the price might be, but say $20 billion, offered as credits over 50 years, which works out to $400 million per year. Syria would cash in those credits by buying goods (anything but arms) from Israel, so this would be a domestic stimulus that also provided genuinely useful aid (which is pretty much what the Marshall Plan did, unlike USAID's scams to dump agricultural surplus). Just an idea. They could do similar things with settlements on Palestinian land. I would prefer for Israel to hand over the settlements with the understanding that any Jews who wish to stay become Palestinian citizens (with full and equal rights), but for a lot of (I'd say bad) reasons that ain't gonna happen. It may not be justice to convert your problems into money, but at least it makes them negotiable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Expert Comments

Robert Christgau:

Madonna has always been quite clear about her rejection of Catholicism. Takes guts, as you prove, and not a great sales ploy no matter what piffle her enemies spout about the evil liberal media etc., as Sinead O'Connor long ago proved. That's one reason ex-Christians like myself admire her. My own late mom abandoned Madonna-worship to marry my father and become a Protestant. That's one of the many things I'll always love her for. I'm into adoring mothers I can see and hear myself.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 19545 [19527] rated (+18), 889 [886] unrated (+3). Got a nice jump at the start of last week, otherwise I wouldn't have nothing at all. Spent Wednesday evening prepping a picnic paella dinner then drove to Independence on Thursday, to see my 97-year-old aunt and her three offspring (now 68-71, my closest cousins when I was growing up). Got roped into a basketball game with a very young grandson of one, who managed to heave three baskets in to my one before I slipped or tripped and wound up smashing into a car fender nose first. I was a sore, bloody mess. Had intended to drive on to Arkansas the next day, but limped back to Wichita instead. Slept most of Saturday, then hobbled out to the backyard on Sunday and painted a bit on the shed. Made more dramatic progress today, but had one of the worst allergy attacks in my life afterwards.

Didn't intend to present any Jazz Prospecting this week, but I count a baker's dozen discs below, including a couple good ones. Hard to recall them given all that has happened, and how far under the weather I am. (Was going to cite an article in the Eagle this morning about how bad allergies are right now, and how unusual that is for this time of the year: highs in the low 80s today, bright, sunny, lots of bugs.)


Sarah Elgeti Quintet: Into the Open (2010 [2012], Your Favourite Jazz): Plays tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, percussion; born in Germany, based in Denmark. First album. Group includes a second sax (Marianne Markmann-Eriksen on alto and baritone), guitar, piano (or Fender Rhodes), bass, and drums. Has some interesting postbop sequences, but also dips into bland pop. Ends with a remix that evens things out. B

Nobuyasu Furuya Quintet: The Major (2010 [2012], NoBusiness): Japanese tenor saxophonist, has a previous album on Clean Feed, again recorded this in Lisbon with what looks to be a local group. This one is released in Lithuania on limited edition (300 copies) vinyl, but I'm listening to a CDR. Impressive depth in a free jazz setting, much aided by Eduardo Lâla's trombone -- gives the group a New Orleans polyphony feel, but rougher than that. B+(***) [advance]

Dennis González/Yells at Eels: Resurrection and Life (2010-11 [2012], Ayler): Avant-trumpet player, from Dallas, has a long list of superb albums starting in the mid-1980s and getting a second wind around 2003, becoming even more prolific over the last few years. (I've reviewed a dozen of his records, but notice six more since 2009 that I didn't get but noted on my wish list.) Part of this burst is due to the maturation of his sons Aaron González (bass) and Stefan González (drums, vibes) in their joint group Yells at Eeels (along with trombonist Gaika James). This particular set adds ("featuring") drummer Alvin Fiedler, who frees Stefan to focus on the vibraphone -- the record is awash in tinkly chimes, not necessarily for the better, although the tight horns reward close listening, as does the bassist. B+(**)

David Greenberger with Jupiter Circle: Never Give Up Study (2011, Pel Pel): A writer, b. 1954, trained as a painter but got a job as "activities director" in a Boston nursing home, and built his "art" -- starting in 1979 with a self-published "zine" called Duplex World, extending to radio commentary on NPR and four records released late last year -- out of conversations with old people. The first person threw me off a bit, in part because the reading is so affectless, until the stories don't quite add up -- which takes a while here. Jupiter Circle provide unobtrusive musical backup. B+(**)

David Greenberger/Mark Greenberg: Tell Me That Before (2011, Pel Pel): More conversations from elderly centers, nursing homes, and suchlike -- a long list of credits is provided this time. Greenberg provides the background music -- also a long list of credits, including some bass guitar and drums credited to "DG" and guitar from "PC" (Paul Cebar). One track I should listen to again makes the point that creative people think up way more ideas than they can ever use, so the real skill is figuring out how to budget your time. B+(***)

David Greenberger/Bangalore: How I Became Uncertain (2011, Pel Pel): The elderly stories are short and pithy here, their frequent redundancy and cliché distancing them from Greenberger's first-person earnestness -- also the stories where the narrator identifies herself as a woman. Bangalore is a guitar-bass-drums band, more rock than the others, with Phil Kaplan's guitar sharp contrast. B+(***)

David Greenberger/Ralph Carney: OH, PA (2011, Pel Pel): Carney, who started out playing sax in the Akron rock group Tin Huey, became a long-term sideman for Tom Waits, and has a checkered solo recording career (including some Serious Jass), has done up music for a couple spoken word albums before, so he should be a natural here. However, his score is pretty scattered here, mostly keybs that get in or out of the way. As with the other discs, mostly Greenberger reading the stories of elderly people, but four cuts carry the concept one step further, with Mal Sharpe playing Greenberger interviewing subjects voiced by Greenberger. B+(**)

Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent (2011 [2012], Pi): Alto saxophonist, studied under Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean, leans toward the latter in this sax trio (Matt Brewer on bass, Damion Reid on drums), closing with McLean's "Mr. E." Also covers Coltrane, Duke Pearson, and "Pure Imagination" by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, mixed in with four (or five) originals. A

Don Mark's Fire Escape: In a New Light (2011 [2012], Niromi): Front cover adds: "Jammin' Rhythm & Jazz Fusion"; I'd try to work "honkin'" in there somewhere. Mark plays tenor sax; has three previous albums, described as "solo projects." Credits are scant and don't match his website, but band includes piano/keyboards, electric bass, and drums: groove enough to set the sax off wailing. All covers, with "St. Thomas" and "Song for My Father" outstanding, as always. B+(**)

Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Family Ties (2011 [2012], Leo): Tenor saxophonist from Brazil, released a cluster of six albums a year or two ago to celebrate twenty years recording: he had to differentiate those, but here he's back to his core strength, blowing fierce free sax. The bassist and drummer create an energetic background, but the focus is rarely away from the sax. Starts with a bit of kazoo, which doesn't channel enough wind, then raises his game. After the hard stuff, he's so relaxed he opens up and soars. A-

Rampersaud Shaw Martin Neal Krakowiak: Halcyon Science 130410 (2011, Barnyard): Canadian group: Nicole Rampersaud (trumpet), Evan Shaw (alto/baritone sax), Wes Neal (bass), Jean Martin (drums, laptop, trumaphone), Tomasz Krakowiak (percussion). Only Martin has much of a discography. Group improvs, interesting moments, nicely balanced, dense but not squawky. B+(**)

Stone Quartet: Live at Vision Festival (2010 [2012], Ayler): One of those ad hoc all-star groups that are so easy to form on the avant-garde, but remain collages of individual talents, in this case: Joëlle Léandre (bass), Roy Campbell (trumpet, flutes), Marilyn Crispell (piano), and Mat Manieri (viola). Two string instruments and no drums keep this within the parameters of chamber jazz. Two pieces: one 32:20, the other 9:20, pure improv. B+(**)

Justin Walter: Stars (2011 [2012], Walter): Trumpet player, b. 1978; looks like he has one previous album, plus an EP, plus side credits, mostly with experimental rock outfits like Nomo and His Name Is Alive (appearing on the latter's Marion Brown tribute). Dense postbop here, most cuts with trombone, two or three reeds, guitar, Rhodes, bass, and drums -- none of which emerges all that distinctly. B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Clarice Assad: Home (Adventure Music)
  • Lisa Marie Baratta: Summertime Jazz (self-released): April 27
  • Edmar Castaneda: Double Portion (Arpa y Voz): April 17
  • Andy Clausen: The Wishbone Suite (Table and Chairs)
  • Fly Trio: Year of the Snake (ECM): advance, June
  • Jared Gold: Goldenchild (Posi-Tone)
  • Anne Mette Iversen: Poetry of Earth (Bju'ecords)
  • Steve Kuhn Trio: Wisteria (ECM): advance, May 1
  • Willie Nelson: Heroes (Legacy): advance, May 15
  • Philippe Baden Powell: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series: Vol 2 (Adventure Music)
  • Amanda Ruzza: This Is What Happened (Pimenta): April 17
  • Donna Singer: Take the Day Off: Escape With Jazz (Emerald Baby)
  • Eyal Vilner: Introducing the Eyal Vilner Big Band (Gut String)
  • The Jens Wendelboe Big Band: Fresh Heat (Rosa): April 24

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back from Independence. Spent two nights at Ken's, with Jan and Lou Jean visitng. Only saw Aunt Freda the first afternoon: with Jan and Lou Jean present, she looked better and was more coherent than last time I saw her. I brought prep for a paella that came out quite well, plus a coconut cake that turned out to be a mess (albeit a tasty one).

Was playing basketball with Camden Friday morning -- getting beat 6-2 -- and I slipped and dove nose-first into the front fender on Ken's old Volvo, also landing on my left knee. The knee got a bright-red abrasion about 2.25-2.5 inches diameter. Had a bloody gash across the bridge of my nose, and banged up my lip (slightly left of center) bad -- small cut on the outside, lots of swelling on the inside. I was dazed but conscious. Felt around my nose, which didn't appear to be broken, but there was a lot of blood -- I assumed from inside (since I've had a lot of bloody noses over the years), but it was probably just the external cut. Becky was there, so she helped out, and called Ken. Jan and Lou Jean showed up before long. Treated the cuts with hydrogen peroxide and neosporin, and bandaged them.

I intended to drive on to Arkansas on Saturday. I hadn't slept well the Thursday night, getting up before 9AM, and didn't do much better Friday -- got up a bit after 9AM, back and neck stiff and store, knee very sensitive, lip bothering me. Decided to drive back home this afternoon instead of going on to Arkansas. Called Elsie Lee and told her I wouldn't be very good company. Sounds like her legs are bothering her bad today, so she didn't think she'd be very good company either. Nice drive back from Independence. Got home and took a much needed nap. Posted this on Facebook:

Back in Wichita tonight after a trip cut short by what I guess I can call an auto accident: I tripped or slipped and fell nose-first into a parked one. Knee and lip hurt worse than the nose, which seems to have more blood vessels than nerves. Expect to take it real easy for a few days.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Billie Appelhans

Wichita Eagle obit:

Billie Jean Elmore (Dorothy) Appelhans

Appelhans, Billie (Dorothy) Jean Elmore, 84, went to heaven to be with her husband, John on Friday, March 16, 2012. She was born on Dec. 24, 1927 in Wichita to William (Bill) Elmore and Hattie Zwonitzer Elmore. Her given name was Dorothy, but at an early age she earned the nickname "Little Bill" after her Dad. Eventually, that became Billie. She married John J. Appelhans, Jr. on June 12, 1946. Billie graduated from North High School in 1946. She was active in the alumni association, helping plan several reunions. She sold Tupperware for many years, and was co-owner of John A's Liquor Store. She was a member of the American Business Women's Associations (ABWA), serving in various leadership roles, including chapter president. Preceded in death by husband, John and one great-grandchild. Survivors: children, James Terry (Sandy), Rhonda Lynn, Linda Sue Joplin (Corby), Marilyn Jean Olvera (Mark), Michael John (Diana), all from the Wichita area; 13 grandchildren; 9 great-grandchildren. Memorials to Good Shepherd Hospice, 439 N. McLean Blvd #100, Wichita, KS 67203 or Presbyterian Manor, 4700 W. 13th St. N., Wichita, KS 67212. Memorial service 11 a.m. Thursday, All Faiths Mortuary, 2850 S. Seneca. Private family burial.

I see later that Steve Hull wrote in her guestbook:

We have wonderful memories of Billie. She seemed like the perfect mom to all of our neighborhood. She always looked at the positive side of every day. She was very proud of all of her family. I remember how happy her and John were with their new home. We were blessed to have her in our lives. Our warm feelings will be with all of you forever.


The End of Detroit as We Knew It

Rolling Stone had an article recently on abandoned, feral dogs running amok in the Detroit wasteland. There are whole coffee table books full of pictures of Detroit's abandoned buildings and mounting piles of refuse. I've never seen the worst of this except in pictures, so for me the most iconic Detroit image was driving by a shuttered block-long factory with a sign out front: available, 120,000 sq. ft., will subdivide. The meltdown hit Michigan early and hit it hard. The chasm or abyss that bankers in New York so feared could be glimpsed in all its dimensions in Detroit.



Kal Tillem, summer 2008, in living room chair

I've been to Detroit at least a dozen (maybe as many as twenty) times since 1990. My wife, Laura Tillem, moved there as a child in 1955, then a year later moved to Oak Park, one of the borderline suburbs just north of Eight Mile Road. She and her sister Amy grew up there, her brother and mother got sick and died there, and her father, Kal Tillem, lived in the Oak Park house until his death, at 92, in 2008.

Until 2008, we just went to Detroit to visit. I would get out and prowl around, searching out record stores from Roseville to Dearborn to Ann Arbor. In 2008 it was different: Kal had inoperable colon cancer and entered hospice care. Amy moved back in to take care of him, and Laura spent much of his last three months there. I drove up a few times, finally on the day he died, arriving in time for the funeral. We spent a week cleaning things up -- donated his clothes, most of his books -- and left Amy to take care of the rest. We gave her the choice of staying in the house in Oak Park, or returning to her apartment in Boston, in which case we would try to sell the house.

The housing market had by then collapsed: the house had been appraised at $45,000, but there were a dozen houses on the block for sale, and the one next door was a foreclosure that was being offered for $10,000. Amy decided to stay, so we arranged to move her things from Boston, and agreed to fix up the house. In October Jerry Stewart and I drove up there and spent a month working on the house. We built a chain-link fence around the back yard. We replaced nearly all of the windows with new vinyl, and wrapped the frames with aluminum trim coil. We rebuilt the kitchen: new vinyl sheet floor, new base cabinets and counter top, added a dishwasher and replaced the garbage disposal, installed a new gas range, put paneling up on the kitchen wall, added outlets and a light to the garage (I had already had a new garage door installed), fixed various leaks in the bathroom, chinks in the plaster, bad ceiling tiles, etc. We didn't do much in the way of finishing, especially painting. Amy assured us she could do that sort of thing. (But four years later none of that had been done. Having redone our own kitchen and bathroom in the meantime, I was taken aback by the rough state we had left things in.)


Amy Tillem, summer 2008, in the pre-rehab kitchen

I hadn't known Amy before visiting Detroit when her father was sick. She was ten years younger than Laura, but looked older, was frail, unable to work, on disability. I never saw her again after our work on the house -- talked a few times, passed some email back and forth, but she was basically a hermit. We did plan a trip to Detroit in fall 2010. We drove to Chicago, then up through Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula. The plan was to drive back through Detroit, but Amy wasn't feeling well, and decided she didn't want the company, so we spun west and came back through Minnesota.

That was about when she was diagnosed with Bell's palsy, a condition where a facial nerve is paralyzed, reducing control over facial muscles and therefore appearance. It usually clears up over weeks-to-months, but in Amy's case persisted. Finally, another doctor looked at the original CT scan and recognized a salivary gland tumor. The surgeon removed the tumor but wasn't sure he had gotten all of it, and by then the nerve was dead, her face permanently disfigured. Amy was then scheduled for radiation and chemotherapy, but had a lot of trouble keeping appointments. (She had, for instance, to see a dentist and have several teeth extracted to avoid problems with radiation. She had problems with Medicaid, with transportation, and with continuous pain.) Laura started shuttling back and forth to Detroit to help out, and when home spent lots of time on the phone tracking down social workers, finding doctors, arranging transportation, getting friends to visit, trying to keep Amy's spirits up.

The first time the chemotherapy was tried the oncologist noticed that it damaged Amy's kidney. After one more attempt with a reduced dosage, the oncologist gave up. The radiation was less obviously destructive at first, but may have turned out even worse. Amy was scheduled for five sessions a week for six straight weeks. Laura made three trips to Detroit during those weeks. (On the day of the last trip, I had chest pains and went to the emergency room. False alarm, but it turned out that I had a viral lung infection that had me down for a couple months.)

The radiation caused excruciating pain in Amy's mouth and throat, but more than that it made swallowing difficult. Amy's weight dropped alarmingly (82 lbs.). They installed a feeding tube, which Amy had trouble managing properly. She missed a few sessions. She was in and out of the hospital. They made up all but the last radiation session. A CT indicated that she was free of the cancer.

However, in the following weeks she was unable to take care of herself. She developed pneumonia and returned to the hospital. A week or two after she returned home, she developed pneumonia again. This time they released her to a rehab facility, where she had another bout of pneumonia. While she was there, someone broke into the house and stole the TV and computer. We bought and shipped replacements. Meanwhile, Laura had her own health crisis, and wound up with major surgery -- which meant the end of her trips to Detroit.

Amy's inability to take adequate care of herself eventually forced a choice between putting her in a nursing home or getting her hospice care at home. She chose the latter, which gave her more reliable home care, plus more aggressive pain management. Her condition oscillated: sometimes better, sometimes worse. In late December, the hospice nurse called Laura and urged her to get someone to stay with Amy. Laura hired a woman recommended by the social worker to stay overnight. After a while this was extended to 24-hour care, with three women rotating -- Amy called them her "angels."

In early February, the nurse called to tell us that they had decided to stop using the feeding tube -- evidently it was causing more problems than benefits. One of Amy's dearest friends flew to Detroit to be with her. We made plans to drive up. The following is a day-by-day trip log (written after we got back).


Thursday, Feb. 9: Amy passed away, about 1:30 PM our time (2:30 PM in Detroit). She was a few weeks shy of turning 57.

Friday, Feb. 10: We pack up the car and leave, a little after 2 PM. I packed up a lot of tools, including tarps and rollers and such for painting, so the trunk was jammed, with some overflow into the back seat. We dropped the cat off at the shelter on the way out of town. Ate dinner at Carrabba's just east of Kansas City, then drove across Missouri, finally stopping at Wentzville, about 30 miles shy of St. Louis. Was cold and windy, 18F when I got out to get gas.

Saturday, Feb. 11: Drove on from Wentzville, picking up M-370 around St. Charles. Stopped for breakfast at Bob Evans just before we hit I-270, then sailed around St. Louis and into Illinois. Lunch at Ruby Tuesday in Terre Haute, IN. Started looking for a motel around Auburn, IN. Wound up at a Ramada Inn just shy of the MI border. Could have gone further, but didn't really want to face the house around (or slightly after) midnight. Besides, was starting to snow a bit.

Sunday, Feb. 12: Got up and there was snow all around, but not on the car, so last night's flurries didn't amount to much. Detroit got a couple inches, but forecast was clear. We got to the house about 2 PM. Tony was there, housesitting. The other two "angels" -- Marilyn and Freda -- came over shortly, to meet us, swap stories, pick up checks, talk about who wanted what from the house. A realtor recommended by the lawyer came over, took the tour, gave us very grim news on what houses in the area were selling for. Found enough in the refrigerator for dinner. Figured we would sleep on the much-hated waterbed, but it wasn't fully warmed and the heater light wouldn't come on. And when I sat on the bed frame, it fell apart, and we couldn't hook it back together. We wound up sleeping on cushions and pillows on the floor, although Laura's night hardly counted as sleep.


Dumpster in front yard

Monday, Feb. 13: Rented a dumpster. We picked one that holds 10 cu. yds., mostly because it would be hard to park a larger one in the front yard without blocking the driveway. It's about 12 feet long, 6 feet wide, 5 feet high, doors opening in the back. I start by packing big things from the garage into it: a heavy steel bookshelf, three old doors, a couple tires. A neighbor kid helped lift the bookshelf, which I shoved to the left side, leaving enough space behind it to slide the doors in. I started stacking spare lumber on the right side, wedging screens and anything bit and flat along the sides. I figured we didn't have the luxury of just dumping stuff in: I would wind up spending most of the week carefully packing things into nooks and crannies.

Saw another real estate agent -- a friend of Gina's. Went to see a lawyer recommended by Laura's father's friend Joyce. Turns out that Joyce also had a friend looking for properties in the neighborhood to rehab and rent, so he arranged to come over Tuesday. Went to the funeral home, and settled the bill there. They didn't have death certificates done; promised to deliver them the next day, but we didn't get them until late Wednesday.

That evening we drained and dismantled the water bed. We had a small electric pump, and I bought a short garden hose. (We only found one, and needed two.) The pump didn't work. I was finally able to drain some of the water by siphoning through the hose. We had a couple of buckets and wound up carrying all of the water from the bedroom to the bath -- must have been a hundred trips. After three hours or so, I squeezed the last water out of the mattress, wadded it up, and tossed it into the dumpster. I tore the platform bed apart, and moved the pieces out. We had bought a rather nice queen size mattress, but it had been soiled and we were told it was unusable. It didn't look so bad to me, so we dragged it into the bedroom, and laid it on the floor upside down. We slept on it the rest of the week.

Tuesday, Feb. 14: The days start to all merge together here, so some of the above may have been Tuesday, and most of the below could have been offset a day or two. A place that takes furniture donations was supposed to show up, but they got phone numbers confused and didn't show up until Wednesday (or Thursday). They took a lot of stuff, and left a lot of stuff (some in the front yard).

The car wouldn't start. I hooked up a battery charger, which seemed to be working, then stopped. I removed the cables and tried again, and finally got a fully charged indication. But by then Laura agreed to give the car to Marilyn, and she arranged for someone to tow it away and work on it. Took two trips to the Secretary of State to clear the title and transfer it -- finally on Friday, taking the car on Saturday.

I filled up eight garbage bags with clothes. We took them to a store. I focused more on filling up trash bags for Friday pickup than filling the dumpster. I figured the dumpster wouldn't be large enough, so we needed to put out as much trash as possible. Thursday night, we dragged 26 large trash bags full of stuff to the curb, plus three recycle bins, plus three pieces of furniture. I used the dumpster for things that wouldn't fit safely in bags.

We called a bookstore to see if someone would come over and pick up books. We planned on giving them away, but the one guy who came picked out a dozen things and gave us $13. When Kal died we took a lot of books to the Oak Park Library, but didn't bother this time. What no one wanted went into the dumpster, mostly filling up empty space in the bookshelf unit.

Joyce's friend came over and looked at the house. Said he'd get back to us by Friday. We had an appointment with real estate agent Friday to sign papers, so were hoping for a deal.

Wednesday, Feb. 15: Got a couple inches of snow: not much, but enough to start the decay of the stuff in the dumpster. Warmed up enough in the afternoon to melt off. All week long it was basically 32-40F in the afternoons, cold when the sun went down. No standing snow or slush. I had to wear shoes instead of my Crocs, but didn't have to get out the boots. Compared to normal Detroit we got off pretty lucky. Still, I only worked on dumpster afternoons. Tried to save work inside for evenings.

We fobbed stuff on everyone who came by. Some things we gave dibs on, to be collected when we left, as we needed a few things to keep the place tolerable until then. We picked up food, and picked over leftovers, but didn't go out at night for fear someone would try to rip us off. Watched some TV, and had marginal access to internet. I could sit on the floor and check my mail using a laptop browser. I couldn't conceive of writing anything under those conditions.

Thursday, Feb. 16: Furniture people took their stuff. They didn't want the platform bed, so I chucked it into the dumpster. Same for a couple of wood bookshelves, which I knocked flat and loaded. We packed up a couple boxes of kitchen stuff to take to the clothes place. Trash would be picked up Friday morning, so we made a huge push to put out as much stuff as possible. Guidelines said we could leave up to three pieces of furniture out. We had a large couch with foam cushions, a smaller (but heavier) sleeper couch (with no mattress), and a stuffed but very ragged easy chair.


Two views of the dumpster, one before closing the door, one after

Friday, Feb. 17: Woke up early and to my horror all the trash was still on the curb. Went back to bed, and by 11am it was gone. Joyce's friend called with an offer on the house: $10,600. Pretty lowball, but highball would have been $20,000, and the offer was basically "as is." He decided the house needed a new roof. I'm not so sure of that, but we did have to make emergency repairs the previous winter, so it's not a bad idea. The more obvious things are that pretty much every room needed new paint; the living room ceiling needed some plaster; the kitchen floor had some rough edges. We grumbled a bit and decided to take the offer. His title company would put an offer together and get it to our lawyer on Monday.

We took Marilyn to the Secretary of State office and transferred the car title. Had lunch at the Breadbasket, the deli that Kal always took us to. Came back and packed more stuff in the dumpster.

Saturday, Feb. 18: Car finally towed away. Garage was bare except for an old, heavy table, which I broke down and loaded into the dumpster. More of the same. Still had quite a bit of space in the dumpster: basically a trough down the middle, plus some space on the back end which I planned on filling in after I closed the doors. Went out to a nice dinner with the Durfees that evening -- a place called Sweet Lorraine.

Sunday, Feb. 19: Finally took a look at the attic. The buyer had agreed that we didn't have to clean it all out, but I figured we should at least give it a shot. There was a window on one end. I opened it and started throwing things out. Didn't bother with things like glass or dishes that would obviously break. Some big things I tried to take apart and throw down piecemeal. Had a lot of trouble with a wheelchair, but finally got it. Emptied more than half of the attic. Laura worried about how it would all fit, but I packed it in. Closed the doors, and finished dumping stuff over the edge. I tried to avoid leaving light stuff on top, but when the guy hauled the dumpster away on Monday he had a fitted tarp that covered it all.

Monday, Feb. 20: Scheduled pickup on the dumpster. Went to lawyer's and signed the sale agreement on the house. Would still be several weeks before the sale closes, so we have to pay utilities. Buyer argued that we didn't need the security system. We left it in place and armed, but disconnected the phone so it won't call out. We took the cable equipment back. Got back to the house around 3PM and figured there was nothing more to hold us. Laura had wanted to go to the cemetery, drive through her original neighborhood, go to the art museum, etc., but now she just wanted to get out and go home.

I started packing the car. The trunk had been crammed full for the trip up, so everything extra we were taking -- a flat-screen TV, some framed pictures, an end table, a big pot and some kitchenware, various odds and ends -- would have to fit in the back seat. The "angels" came over and picked up some stuff. The buyer came over to take pictures of the house to help him plan out his repair/rehab work. He seemed happy with the deal, and didn't give us any aggravation over what we left behind -- a desk, the mattress, a small kitchen table, some odds and ends, some junk in the attic.

We backed out of the driveway about 5:30. Drove up Scotia to I-696, then west, south a bit, west around Ann Arbor, west halfway across Michigan to Marshall, then south into Indiana. Found a Culvers for a late dinner/snack in Fort Wayne, then headed on to Indianapolis. Got there around 11PM, and decided we'd be better off driving through town at night and starting the next day on the other side. Wound up in Cloverdale, about half-way between Indianapolis and Terre Haute.

Tuesday, Feb. 21: Hit the road early (for us), stopped for breakfast at Bob Evans in Terre Haute, then picked up an hour crossing into Illinois. Breezed past St. Louis early-afternoon, got some lunch at a Steak & Shake in Wentzville, and headed toward Kansas City. Hit the metro area around 5:30, which meant peak rush hour traffic, but more unpleasantly driving west/south/west/southwest straight into the setting sun -- easily the toughest stretch of driving the entire trip. Stopped for a snack in Ottawa, then headed home, pulling into Wichita a bit past 9PM. Quickly unloaded the car, dumping everything in the living room (where much of it remained two weeks later).



Bella, April 2011

Amy had a dog, Bella, which was the main reason we had to put up the fence. Very sweet, well-mannered dog, about 11 years old by the time all this was happening. Laura also loved the dog, so a lot of the machinations around this whole affair had to do with taking care of the dog. When Amy would go to the hospital, someone would have to take care of the dog. Laura could do that when she went there, but when she couldn't, she would put the dog in a kennel. When she went into rehab, Amy decided she couldn't take care of he dog. For a while, a friend of a friend kept the dog, but that didn't work out, so Bella went back to the kennel. Eventually, a friend found a home for the dog, so we thought that was finally settled. After we got back, we found out that Bella had died about a month after moving into her new home. Sad all around.

Closing date on the house is Thursday, this week. We're waiting for papers to sign, have notarized, and ship back. The buyer is already in the house, working on it, so there seems little chance that this will fall through.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 19527 [19507] rated (+20), 886 [877] unrated (-9). Light week. I lost three or four days, one cooking a very nice Spanish dinner (mariscada in almond sauce), the others painting on the shed and garage. Next week will be light too, as I'm planning a little trip to see some relatives between here and the ancient family stake in Arkansas.

Still, I started with some Jazz Prospecting left over from the previous light week, so there's enough to go with here. The Michael Moore albums showed up in late December, so technically count as 2011 releases -- a publicist would no doubt have jiggered the dates, but these came straight from the source. I was delighted to get them, but they've been a bear to sort out: with each adding seemingly insignificant facets to the whole, I might have been more impressed had he boxed them up and forced me to swallow them whole.


Available Jelly: Plushlok, Baarle-Nassau, Set 1 (2007 [2011], Ramboy): Michael Moore's longest-running group, dating back to an album of that name released in 1984. Moore writes most of the material -- 5 of 7 here, the covers a trad piece from Myanmar and a very striking "Isfahan" from Billy Strayhorn -- and releases it on his label. Sextet, with Tobias Delius (also of ICP) the second sax, Eric Boeren and Wolter Wierbos the brass, Ernst Glerum on bass, and Michael Vatcher on drums. The mischief is in the horns, flipping and flying in all sorts of directions, the harmony all the more humorous. A-

Available Jelly: Plushlok, Baarle-Nassau, Set 2 (2007 [2011], Ramboy): Could have been packaged into a 2-CD set in which case I'd just say, "more is more." Actually, the three Ellington covers had my hopes up, as did a closer called "Kwela for Taylor" (whoever that is), but the rowdiness level is down a bit. Terrific kwela, by the way. B+(***)

Jon Balke/Batagraf: Say and Play (2009 [2012], ECM): Pianist, b. 1955 in Norway, has a dozen albums since 1991, most ECM. Not much piano here. Batagraf is his percussion group: Balke's credits start with tougone, darbouka, and hand drums; Helge Andreas Norbakken adds sabar, talking drums, djembe, metal percussion; and Erland Dahlen just drums, with Emilie Stoesen Christensen's vocals and Torgeir Rebodello Pedersen reading poetry (4 tracks). Beats are mostly African, maybe filtered through Cuba and back again. B+(*) [advance]

Tim Berne: Snakeoil (2011 [2012], ECM): Alto (and sometimes baritone) saxophonist, a protégé of Julius Hemphill, took some time finding himself but must now be considered a major figure. First album as a leader on ECM, although he's appeared as a key sideman a couple times, most notably on David Torn's Prezens (2007). Quartet with Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano), and Ches Smith (drums, percussion) -- no bass (or guitar, the instrument of choice in Berne's trio). The horn interplay is complex, often scintillating. B+(***) [advance]

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack: Cracked Refraction (2010 [2012], Porter): Oboe player, also English horn; b. 1971 in Danbury, CT ("hometown of Charles Ives"), studied at Rice and Michigan, moved to Chicago in 1996, on to Oakland in 2003. AMG lists eight records since 2000, not counting "the art-punk monstrosity" Lozenge (and who knows what else). Started avant-classical, moved into avant-jazz mostly in his Chicago phase which culminated in the album Wrack, with violist Jen Clare Paulson and drummer Tim Daisy both then and now, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and bassist Kurt Johnson. Here Anton Hatwich takes over the bass slot, and Jason Stein's bass clarinet supplants the trombone. A front line of oboe, bass clarinet, and viola may sound like a nice chamber group, but as Wrack they break into all sorts of odd fractures, refracted through the many antipodes of the group. B+(***)

Michael Campagna: Moments (2010 [2012], Challenge): Tenor saxophonist, also plays flute (a lot of flute here). Graduated University of Miami; has taught in New York, and currently in Genoa, Italy. Second album, mostly quintet with trumpet (Michael Rodriguez), piano (Robert Rodriguez), bass (Hans Glawishnig), and drums (Eric Door), plus harp (Brandee Younger) on four tracks. Postbop, aims for evanescence but gets rather squishy with all the flute and harp. B

Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi: Think Thoughts (2011, self-released): Cover only has title, but previous album didn't even have that so is listed eponymously under the artist names. Back cover lists songs and some "Ft." guests but no credits -- John Escreet and David Binney are pretty obvious, and Vikram must be the rapper on the last track. Cole is a drummer, and most of the tracks are built on frenetic beats. Artadi sings. Despite a few jazz connections, figure this as soft-core art-punk. B+(**)

Josh Ginsburg: Zembla Variations (2011 [2012], Bju'ecords): Bassist, first album, composed all eight pieces, then assembled a quartet that could not just play along but add something: Eli Degibri (tenor and soprano sax), George Colligan (piano, fender rhodes), and Rudy Royston (drums). Colligan is well established but rarely plays this fast and free on his own. Degibiri is a young Israeli with a couple of records, none this impressive. B+(***)

Holshouser, Bennink & Moore: Live in NYC (2009 [2011], Ramboy): Accordion player Will Holshouser's name is spelled right on the front cover, but misspelled two different ways on the back. He's the bedrock here, with Michael Moore's reeds building on his tone, but the oustanding performance here is by drummer Han Bennink, whose rat-tat-tat sound distinct from the start and develops into a tour de force. A-

Michael Moore Quartet: Easter Sunday (2011, Ramboy): Plays alto sax and clarinet, originally from California but settled in Amsterdam and has become a prominent member of the Dutch avant-garde scene, including a spot with the ICP Orchestra. Issued a shotgun blast of six albums at the end of 2011, mostly culled from live tapes, the sheer number and consistency of which make it hard to grade on any sort of curve. This is a quartet with piano (Harmen Fraanja), bass (Clemens van der Feen), and drums (Michael Vatcher). Runs 70:24. All originals, except for an especially nice "It Might as Well Be Spring." B+(**)

Michael Moore Quintet: Rotterdam (2008 [2011], Ramboy): With Eric Vloeimans' trumpet complementing the leader's clarinet and alto sax, Marc van Roon on piano, Paul Berner on bass, and Owen Hart, Jr., on drums. All Moore compositions, recorded live, runs 67:33. Has a light and playful air, the horn interplay developing into something remarkable. B+(***)

Michael Moore Quartet: Amsterdam (2010 [2011], Ramboy): Same lineup as the later Easter Sunday: Harmen Fraanja (piano), Clemens van der Feen (bass), Michael Vatcher (drums, saw, percussion). There are stretches where Moore's clarinet scales the heights so deftly that I find myself thinking this must be the pick of the litter. Then I wonder. B+(***)

Luis Perdomo: Universal Mind (2010 [2012], RKM): Pianist, b. 1971 in Venezuela, based in New York. Picks up a lot of side credits, notably with Miguel Zenón. Fourth album, a trio with Drew Gress and Jack DeJohnette. Nice, tight set, but within the postbop frame, not against it. B+(**)

Pete Robbins Transatlantic Quartet: Live in Basel (2010 [2012], Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, b.1978, based in New York, AMG lists four albums since 2002. Quartet with guitar (Mikkel Ploug), electric bass (Simon Jermin), and drums (Kevin Brow), offering Ploug a lot of space. B+(*)

Matthew Shipp: Elastic Aspects (2011 [2012], Thirsty Ear): Nominally a piano trio with Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums, although much of this is done solo, and a couple pieces feature Bisio solos -- deep arco things that contrast with the hard percussive piano spots. B+(***)

Ben Wendel: Frame (2011 [2012], Sunnyside): Saxophonist, specifies plural here, plus bassoon and melodica. Third album, postbop with piano (split between Gerald Clayton, Tigran Hamasyan, and Adam Benjamin) and guitar (Nir Felder), bass and drums -- robust in the middle, with striking sax leads. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Amadou & Mariam: Folila (Nonesuch): advance, April 10
  • Joe Chambers: Moving Pictures Orchestra: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (Savant)
  • Dan Cray: Meridies (Origin)
  • Ari Erev: A Handful of Changes (self-released): April 17
  • Wayne Escoffery: The Only Son of One (Sunnyside): April 10
  • Lisa Hilton: American Impressions (Ruby Slippers)
  • Sara Leib: Secret Love (OA2)
  • Aruán Ortiz: Santiarican Blues Suite (Sunnyside): April 10
  • Dudley Owens Aaron Wright Band: People Calling (Origin)
  • Eric Reed: The Baddest Monk (Savant)
  • The Ben Riley Quartet: Grown Folks Music (Sunnyside)
  • The Duke Robillard Jazz Trio: Wobble Walkin' (Blue Duchess): April 17
  • Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem (self-released)
  • Andrew Swift: Swift Kick (D Clef): April 17
  • Take 6: One (Shanachie)
  • Tholem/Parker/Cline: The Gowanus Session (Porter): April 17
  • Twopool: Traffic Bins (Origin)

Purchases:

  • Chiddy Bang: Breakfast (Virgin)
  • Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (Aimless/Thirty Tigers)
  • Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball (Columbia)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Before we get to the usual scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, two front page items in the Wichita Eagle today:

  • Joby Warrick, Carol Morello, Krissah Thompson: Suspect and family were stressed by deployments: Another background piece on Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who massacred 16 Afghans the other day. More heart-warming stuff about what a fine soldier he was, great family guy, etc.; also financial strains: an underwater mortgage, passed up for a promotion; also his wounds, plus seeing a fellow soldier blown up just a few days before. Also this:

    Army comrades described him as a model soldier who was polite, professional and exceptionally cool under fire. A student of Middle Eastern history and customs, he often admonished younger GIs to treat noncombatants with courtesy and respect.

    "Some guys had a pretty negative attitude, but Bales wasn't like that at all," said Capt. Chris Alexander, who served with Bales in Iraq. "He said there was no need to be a jerk. Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet if you need to."

    The first two parts of his formula are advisible for anyone dealing with the public. However, it's hard to overstate how peculiar the third is, but then there's nothing else quite like being an American soldier occupying a foreign land.

  • Roy Wenzl: Jobs require technology; video games can help: Starts out:

    Kaitlin Albright likes to kill computerized people in video games. She is a native of Caldwell, Kan., a little town on the Oklahoma state line; she is a 19-year-old freshman at Wichita State University. She has killed people in video games since she was 2 years old.

    She is one of those kids that baffled parents complain about, because she's addicted (her own word) to these video games. She estimates that she has spent more than 10,000 hours of her life killing people or doing other fun things in games like Call of Duty, or the Assassin's Creed, or other games. Ten thousand hours, by the way, translates into 250 work weeks, or 5 years of work.

    "Killing people is fun," she says.

    When I read she's studying to become a neurosurgeon, my gut reaction was that'll give her more opportunities to kill people. Actually, that's better than becoming a drone pilot, which is the most direct application of her skills and mindset. She's pretty much the flipside to Bales: he was trained to be desensitized so he could kill people more efficiently, whereas the issue never arose for her -- the people she learned to kill so routinely never were real, so she could easily joke about it. The argument that video games makes people smarter has been made several times (e.g., Steven Johnson: Everything Bad Is Good for You; Tom Bissell: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter). I suspect that is precisely wrong as well: I don't doubt that kids who have them can sharpen their smarts playing video games, but I don't believe that one leads to the other. (I am pretty sure that my own vast exposure to television as a child contributed much to what I know, but I don't find much evidence of that in other people.)


And on to the usual links:


  • Gail Collins: Dogging Mitt Romney: Background on the story that won't go away (v. also the New Yorker cover stage right):

    I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter on the roof of the car.

    Seamus, the dog-on-the-roof, has become a kind of political icon. You cannot go anywhere without running into him. There are Seamus T-shirts and endless Web sites. This week, the story was a New Yorker cover, with Rick Santorum playing the role of the Irish setter. [ . . . ]

    At some point -- possibly in response to the excitement about being passed by tractor-trailers while floating like a furry maraschino cherry on top of the car, Seamus developed diarrhea. And Romney, who had designated all the acceptable rest stops before beginning the trip, was forced to make an unscheduled trip to a gas station. Where he kept the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the dog, then returned to the highway.

    "It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management," [Neil] Swidey wrote.

    People, does any of this sound appealing? Elect Mitt Romney and he will take the nation on the road to the future. Some of us will be stuck on the roof. The rest of us will be inside singing camp songs and waiting for the day when the master plan lets us stop to visit the bathroom. Plus, anybody who screws up on the way to the future gets the hose.

  • Mike Konczal: The 1% Had a Fantastic 2010: Good chance the 2011 numbers will be even more pronounced.

    Well we finally have the estimated data for 2010 by income percentile, and it turns out that the top 1% had a fantastic year. The data is in the World Top Income Database, as well as Emmanuel Saez's updated Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (as well as the excel spreadsheet on his webpage). Timothy Noah has a first set of responses here. The takeaway quote from Saez should be: "The top 1% captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery."

    This helps explain why the Republicans (and some Democrats) are so happy to do nothing more that might promote recovery: the economy for their favorite constituency has already recovered, and in relative terms was better than ever. Noah's takeaway line: "This is an economy that was in no hurry to share what little prosperity there was with the bottom 99 percent." More from Konczal:

    The Great Recession dropped income for the bottom 99% by 11.6%, completely wiping out the meager gains of the Bush years. And crucially, while 2010 was a year of continued stagnation for the economy as a whole, the 1% began to show strong gains, even when you exclude capital gains.

    As you can image, this has increased the percentage of the economic pie that the top 1% takes home. As Saez notes, "excluding realized capital gains, the top decile share in 2010 is equal to 46.3%, higher than in 2007." [ . . . ]

    It's also worth mentioning that, pre-Recession, inequality hadn't been that high since the Great Depression, and we are looking to rapidly return to that state. It's important to remember that a series of choices were made during the New Deal to react to runaway inequality, including changes to progressive taxation, financial regulation, monetary policy, labor unionization, and the provisioning of public goods and guaranteed social insurance. A battle will be fought over the next decade -- it's been fought for the past three years -- on all these fronts. The subsequent resolution will determine how broadly-shared prosperity is going forward and whether or economy will continue to be as unstable as it has been.

    So far, that battle has almost always gone to the 1%, in large part because Republicans have been able to obstruct virtually all changes (and in lesser part because Democrats especially fond of the 1%, like Obama, haven't challenged the gross inequities of the current system). But unless significant changes are made, there will be no recovery -- much less advance -- for the 99%. There's just not enough opportunity for growth when 93% of it is slurped up by the 1%.

    You might also look at the Dow Jones chart in Paul Krugman: Taking Stock. This would be even more revealing if you plotted jobs alongside it: a number that has remained relatively stagnant while stock prices have nearly doubled.

  • Paul Krugman: Ignorance Is Strength:

    One way in which Americans have always been exceptional has been in our support for education. First we took the lead in universal primary education; then the "high school movement" made us the first nation to embrace widespread secondary education. And after World War II, public support, including the G.I. Bill and a huge expansion of public universities, helped large numbers of Americans to get college degrees.

    But now one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right turn against education, or at least against education that working Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. [ . . . ]

    It's not hard to see what's driving Mr. Santorum's wing of the party. His specific claim that college attendance undermines faith is, it turns out, false. But he's right to feel that our higher education system isn't friendly ground for current conservative ideology. And it's not just liberal-arts professors: among scientists, self-identified Democrats outnumber self-identified Republicans nine to one.

    I guess Mr. Santorum would see this as evidence of a liberal conspiracy. Others might suggest that scientists find it hard to support a party in which denial of climate change has become a political litmus test, and denial of the theory of evolution is well on its way to similar status.

    But what about people like Mr. Romney? Don't they have a stake in America's future economic success, which is endangered by the crusade against education? Maybe not as much as you think.

    After all, over the past 30 years, there has been a stunning disconnect between huge income gains at the top and the struggles of ordinary workers. You can make the case that the self-interest of America's elite is best served by making sure that this disconnect continues, which means keeping taxes on high incomes low at all costs, never mind the consequences in terms of poor infrastructure and an undertrained work force.

    And if underfunding public education leaves many children of the less affluent shut out from upward mobility, well, did you really believe that stuff about creating equality of opportunity?

    So whenever you hear Republicans say that they are the party of traditional values, bear in mind that they have actually made a radical break with America's tradition of valuing education. And they have made this break because they believe that what you don't know can't hurt them.

    Probably too low for Krugman's radar, but Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has a signature program to shift funding from college prep classes to vocational training. The disturbing thing about this attack on higher education is that it reflects a significant hardening of the class strata in America. For most of my lifetime college has been touted as the path by which ambitious low- and middle-class progeny can move up in the world, and this was seen as an essential attribute of America (you know, "the land of opportunity"). Now, this Republican shift is saying: forget wasting your time on education, you're doomed to stay within the class you were born into. Meanwhile, the children of the rich go to elite colleges not to study but to be with their own kind, consolidating their class consciousness.

  • Rick Perlstein: Why Conservatives Are Still Crazy After All These Years:

    It suddenly feels like conservatism has gotten crazier than ever.

    Republican debate audiences cheer executions and boo an active-duty soldier because he is gay. Politicians pledge allegiance to Rush Limbaugh, a pill-popping lunatic who recently offered "feminazis" a deal: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." Thousands of "Oath Keepers" -- "Police & Military Against the New World Order" -- swear to disobey the illegal orders certain to come down the pike once Barack Obama institutes martial law. One major Republican presidential candidate talks up indentured servitude -- and another proposes turning schoolchildren into janitors. Only 12 percent of Mississippi Republicans believe Barack Obama is a Christian. Arizona Republicans push a bill to allow bosses to fire female employees for using birth control.

    And so on and so forth, unto whatever wacky new wingnuttism just flashed over the wires today.

    But are right-wingers scarier now than in the past? They certainly seem stranger and fiercer. I'd argue, however, that they've been this crazy for a long time. Over the last sixty years or so, I see far more continuities than discontinuities in what the rightward twenty or thirty percent of Americans believe about the world. The crazy things they believed and wanted were obscured by their lack of power, but they were always there -- if you knew where to look. What's changed is that loony conservatives are now the Republican mainstream, the dominant force in the GOP.

  • David Remnick: Threatened: A few years ago Remnick was a reliable apologist for Israel who could always find a silver lining no matter what Israel did, so this is an interesting turnaround:

    A visitor to Tel Aviv and other freethinking precincts might overlook the reactionary currents in the country, but poll after poll reveals that many younger Israelis are losing touch with the liberal, democratic principles of the state. Many of them did their military duty in the Occupied Territories; some learned to despise the Occupation they saw firsthand, but others learned to accept the official narratives justifying what they were made to do.

    Last year, a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute found that fifty-one per cent of Israelis believed that people "should be prohibited from harshly criticizing the State of Israel in public." Netanyahu encourages the notion that any such criticism is the work of enemies. Even the country's staunchest ally, the United States, is not above suspicion. The current Administration has coöperated with Israeli intelligence to an unprecedented extent and has led a crippling sanctions effort against Iran, yet Netanyahu, who visits Washington this week, has shown imperious disdain for Barack Obama. In fact, the President is a philo-Semite, whose earliest political supporters were Chicago Jews: Abner Mikva, Newton and Martha Minow, Bettylu Saltzman, David Axelrod. He was close to a rabbi on the South Side, the late Arnold Jacob Wolf. But to Netanyahu these men and women are the wrong kind of Jew. Wolf, for example, had worked for Abraham Joshua Heschel, the rabbi most closely associated with the civil-rights movement and other social-justice causes. Wolf brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak in his synagogue, marched in Selma, and, in 1973, helped found Breira (Alternative), one of the first American Jewish groups to endorse a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    Netanyahu has distaste for such associations; his gestures toward Palestinian statehood are less than halfhearted. (After he spoke of giving Palestinians their own state, his father, the right-wing historian Benzion Netanyahu, shrewdly observed, "He supports it under conditions that they will never accept.") To Netanyahu, the proper kind of ally is exemplified by AIPAC and Sheldon Adelson -- the longtime casino tycoon and recent bankroller of Newt Gingrich -- who owns a newspaper in Israel devoted to supporting him.

  • Nate Silver: Live Coverage: Alabama and Mississippi Primaries: A lot of interesting stat-think here, fascinating for someone like me who spent many years thumbing through old almanacs of county by county voting statistics. There are hints but no firm answers why Silver's own estimates gave the victorious Santorum a 12% chance of winning Alabama and a 2% chance in Mississippi. Demographics, maybe: it is clear from the map that the three counties in Alabama with the state's largest cities were the only counties that gave Romney a lead. (Mississippi was a little messier, but Jackson and Biloxi gave Romney leads.) On the other hand, do we really want to know why the dumbest white people in America chose as they did in the nation's most uninteresting political contest?

  • Matt Taibbi: Too Crooked to Fail: On Bank of America:

    At least Bank of America got its name right. The ultimate Too Big to Fail bank really is America, a hypergluttonous ward of the state whose limitless fraud and criminal conspiracies we'll all be paying for until the end of time. Did you hear about the plot to rig global interest rates? The $137 million fine for bilking needy schools and cities? The ingenious plan to suck multiple fees out of the unemployment checks of jobless workers? Take your eyes off them for 10 seconds and guaranteed, they'll be into some shit again: This bank is like the world's worst-behaved teenager, taking your car and running over kittens and fire hydrants on the way to Vegas for the weekend, maxing out your credit cards in the three days you spend at your aunt's funeral. They're out of control, yet they'll never do time or go out of business, because the government remains creepily committed to their survival, like overindulgent parents who refuse to believe their 40-year-old live-at-home son could possibly be responsible for those dead hookers in the backyard.

  • Gary Trudeau: Doonesbury: First panel in a series on the political obstructions the gentlemen legislators of Texas have placed in the way of a woman trying to get an abortion. You've probably heard about this because the series has set off another round of newspapers rejecting the strip. (A no-brainer here with the Wichita Eagle, which ran it for a while on the opinion pages then dropped it altogether.) Use "next" to flip through. The rape scene occurs four days in.

  • Paul Woodward: Did Israel provoke Gaza escalation to test Iron Dome?:

    Four days ago I suggested that the reason Israel assassinated the Popular Resistance Committee leader Zuhair Qaisi in Gaza may have had less to do with foiling an attack and much more to do with testing Iron Dome. Yousef at The Jerusalem Fund agrees, saying that a successful test of the missile defense system could go a long way to assuage the Israeli public's fears about retaliation from Iran following an Israeli attack. [ . . . ]

    In the glow of the test's successful outcome, Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak didn't even seem to think it was worth the effort to perpetuate the narrative that Qaisi had ever posed an imminent threat. After the militant leader's assassination, Barak said: "it is not completely clear what the plan was and where, or if it had been foiled."

    Jerry Haber (cf. Is Israel a Rational Actor?) suspects the same thing, although he holds out the alternative possibility that Netanyahu and Barak are just fucking nuts. The model assumes that if Israel attacks Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah will respond by attacking Israel, because they're just Iranian agents. That's certainly not true of Hamas, and unlikely of Hezbollah. More likely, I think, that they just wanted to stir the pot, including the fear level of their own people -- and that, rather than proof that their anti-missile defense system works, is the cover they need to start a war with Iran.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

War Hero Comes Home to Kansas

The Wichita Eagle front-page headline is "Soldier suspected in killings gets to Kansas," the piece attributed to Kansas City Star staff and wire reports. (I can't find the piece online, but it is apparently based on this piece.) It doesn't acclaim Staff Sgt. Robert Bales as a hero, but isn't everyone who signed up for the post-9/11 Global War on Terror a hero? They're automatically acclaimed when they die, as at least 6,398 have done, or when they're wounded (as Bales was, losing part of his foot), or when they receive medals (Bales is oft described as "much decorated"). So why not when they go berserk? The Army may prefer precise and unemotional control over its violence against Afghan villagers, but Bales' methodical killing of sixteen (mostly) children wasn't far out of the long line of atrocities other US "heroes" have committed. It just underscores how unfit the US military is for the difficult task of nation building, and therefore how hopeless what Obama can only describe as "the Mission" -- an abstract noun that has thus far proven impossible to define -- really is.

Some background on Bales is available here and here, and here. He is 38, was born in the Midwest, is married, has two children (3 and 4). He served three tours in Iraq, and was recently deployed to Afghanistan. He was trained as a sniper, which is to say someone who calmly and methodically picks out targets at distance, and kills them. The Pentagon describes his career as "unremarkable." A neighbor is quoted: "A good guy go tput in the wrong place at the wrong time." Happens all the time.

Problem is, if you're Afghan, this looks like stone cold murder. And if you're Afghan, you probably have a clear idea of what justice should look like -- and it's probably not that it would only be fair to ship the killer half-way around the world to a cozy cell in Kansas to let his shrinks and lawyers come up with arguments and excuses to try show that Bales is the victim here.

There is a case to be made that Bales was indeed a victim: of a president who decided to double down on the same military that had turned eight years of arrogance into abject failure, but Obama was stuck, like Rumsfeld complained earlier, with the army he inherited, and with a political culture that insists that America's heroes will prevail eventually (unless sabotaged by cowardly politicians). No one thought of the welfare of the troops before launching this war, but ever since politicians have been hiding behind their confused feelings, ignoring the fact that they were never fit for the purpose, that their deeply trained lethality ensures a string of atrocities. Anyone who seriously believes the popular counterinsurgency theories should start by building a new army; the real one doesn't work, even if some officers have learned to talk the talk.

Talking the talk, after all, has always been the easy part. What's hard is understanding you can't occupy a country you have no business in, no understanding of, and no awareness of your own alien nature. The US entered Afghanistan seeking revenge for 9/11, and never quite satisfied that itch. Overstaying its welcome, the US set up a puppet regime, then proceeded to delegitimize it by continued dominance -- Bush was too busy starting new wars to bother cleaning up after this one. Then came Obama, proving that America's best efforts were just as futile as America's worst efforts. Now he thinks he can tiptoe away without admitting fault or error, when the entire campaign has been nothing but wrong.

Bales' massacre is deeply embarrassing for Obama because there's no way to scrub away the stain. Either it was policy or not, the latter proof that we cannot manage our policy: we can't control our own troops, nor the Afghans we've trained, even less the Taliban. Even the right is abandoning this war: the carnage doesn't bother them, but they'd rather hate Muslims from a distance than try to divide and conquer them far away. And I suspect more and more we'll see the military itself turn on the mission: as good as it's been for budgets and careers, incidents like this show that the troops are wearing out, that the strain is cracking them up. Maybe they even like the idea of leaving Obama holding the bag. His statements this past week have been the most tone-deaf of his tenure.


Some more relevant links:

  • Afghans angry over removal of accused U.S. soldier whose name remains concealed:

    Afghan lawmakers expressed anger Thursday over the U.S. move to fly an American soldier accused of killing 16 civilians out of the country to Kuwait, saying Kabul shouldn't sign a strategic partnership agreement with Washington unless the suspect faces justice in Afghanistan.

    Negotiations over the agreement, which would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after most combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014, were tense even before the shooting deaths of the civilians, including nine children, in southern Kandahar province on Sunday.

    The killings came in the wake of violent protests last month triggered by American soldiers who burned Qurans and other Islamic texts. Over 30 people were killed in those demonstrations, and Afghan forces turned their guns on their supposed allies, killing six U.S. soldiers.

  • Rory Stewart: The West must get out of Afghanistan this year:

    Afghanistan is a tragedy: but it is not one the West can end. For a decade Nato has tried to fix a failed state and defeat the Taliban. This strategy required three things: preventing the Taliban from finding safe haven and supplies in Pakistan, creating an effective Afghan government, and winning the support of the Afghan people.

    None of this has worked. The house-to-house shooting of women and children by a US soldier yesterday feels like a terrible, final symbol. But it follows many dramatic public examples of failure. There was the anger after the burning of the Korans two weeks ago. There was the discovery, last year, that Bin Laden had been living next to a Pakistan military academy. There was President Karzai's statement last week supporting conservative social codes, targeted at women -- on International Women's Day.

  • Ahmed Rashid: A deal with the Taliban is the only way out:

    Increasing numbers of Afghans would agree with what the Taliban have been arguing for almost a decade: that the western presence in Afghanistan is prolonging the war, causing misery and bloodshed. [ . . . ] Moreover, faced with an increasingly corrupt and incompetent government, Afghans are seeing fewer improvements on the ground. So-called "nation building" has ground to a halt, simple justice and rule of law is unobtainable and a third of the population is suffering from malnutrition. The people blame not just the Americans but equally Hamid Karzai and his inner circle, which gives him conflicting and contradictory advice, leading him to flip and flop on policy issues.

  • Fred Kaplan: Game over in Afghanistan:

    The game is over in Afghanistan. An American presence can no longer serve any purpose. Or, rather, it can only extend and exacerbate the pathologies of this war. It is time to get out, and more quickly than President Obama had been planning. The consequences of leaving may be grim, but the consequences of staying are probably grimmer.

    Sunday's massacre in Kandahar province, in which a veteran U.S. Army staff sergeant sneaked out of his base at 3 a.m., strolled into a village, and methodically gunned down 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, is but the latest sign of a massive unraveling.

  • Stephen M Walt: Why Afghanistan was Obama's biggest mistake:

    A brutal reality is that counterinsurgency campaigns almost always produce atrocities. Think My Lai, Abu Ghraib, the Haditha massacre, and now this. You simply can't place soldiers in the ambiguous environment of an indigenous insurgency, where the boundary between friend and foe is exceedingly hard to discern, and not expect some of them to crack and go rogue. Even if discipline holds and mental health is preserved, a few commanders will get overzealous and order troops to cross the line between legitimate warfare and barbarism. There isn't a "nice" way to wage a counterinsurgency -- no matter how often we talk about "hearts and minds" -- which is why leaders ought to think long and hard before they order the military to occupy another country and try to remake its society. Or before they decide to escalate a war that is already underway.

    And the sad truth is that this shameful episode would not have happened had Obama rejected the advice of his military advisors and stopped trying to remake Afghanistan from the start of his first term. Yes, I know he promised to get out of Iraq and focus on Central Asia, but no president fulfills all his campaign promises (remember how he was going to close Gitmo?) and Obama could have pulled the plug on this failed enterprise at the start. Maybe he didn't for political reasons, or because commanders like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal convinced him they could turn things around. Or maybe he genuinely believed that U.S. national security required an open-ended effort to remake Afghanistan.

    Whatever the reason, he was wrong. The sad truth is that the extra effort isn't going to produce a significantly better outcome, and the lives and money that we've spent there since 2009 are mostly wasted. That was apparent before this weekend's events, which can only make our futile task even more impossible.


My Facebook comment, linking to this post:

Short post on the handling of the (belatedly named) Bales Massacre in Afghanistan. Hard to express how totally misguided the entire War on Terror has been, especially to get people to recognize that if we didn't have this cancerous military complex and ethic we would never have conceived of what we in fact have done.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Music Week

Music: Current count 19507 [19482] rated (+25), 877 [874] unrated (+3). Posted Rhapsody Streamnotes last week. I thought it hit a lot of the key records so far this year, and wound up supporting two records that have been given scant respect, but I got virtually no feedback on it. It also included two jazz reviews. Makes more sense to me to include jazz that I pick up on Rhapsody with the Streamnotes rather than listing them under Jazz Prospecting. For one thing, jazz is an integral part of a healthy musical diet, and slipping some into the Streamnotes acknowledges that. The other is that Jazz Prospecting is an on-and-off project these days. It's still probable that I'll get a jazz blog together, but I haven't managed to focus much on it lately. I wound up spending most of last week priming the pump for April's Streamnotes -- thus far I have four A- records lined up (see the year-end (in progress) list if you're curious), not counting the new Todd Snider (which is expected to show up here any moment now).

No Jazz Prospecting until next week. Don't really have enough of it, and more importantly I'm midway through Michael Moore's six live releases and having a tough time singling out any one -- excellent all, none really exceptional (although the first Available Jelly may have a slight edge). Should get that done, and more, next week.


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carter Calvert: Carter Calvert and the Roger Cohen Trio (self-released)
  • Devin Gray: Dirigo Rataplan (Skirl)
  • Ross Hammond Quartet: Adored (Prescott)
  • Billy Hart: All Our Reasons (ECM)
  • Anders Jormin: Ad Lucem (ECM)
  • Masabumi Kikuchi Trio: Sunrise (ECM)
  • Leslie Lewis with the Gerald Hagen Trio: Midnight Sun (Surf Cove Jazz)
  • Joe Locke/Geoffrey Keezer Group: Signing (Motéma): April 10
  • Aaron Novik: Secret of Secrets (Tzadik): advance
  • Alan Rosenthal: Just Sayin' (self-released)
  • Andy Sheppard/Michael Benita/Sebastian Rochford: Trio Libero (ECM)


Miscellaneous notes:

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • John Lee Hooker: His Best Chess Sides (1950-66 [1997], MCA/Chess): Borrowed this from Mark Sheppard and neglected to jot the grade down; should be comparable to his other Chess anthologies. A-

Comments

Submitted on Ed Kilgore: Santorum's Peak:

The total vote in the Kansas GOP caucus was 29,857, which works out to about 1.7% of all registered voters in Kansas. Santorum's "landslide" was supported by less than 1% of the electorate. I don't doubt that a full-blown primary would have produced much the same results, but the party leaders prefer to do their business behind closed doors, on the cheap. They don't trust voters, even though they've had pretty good success at manipulating them.

It's worth recalling that after the 2006 elections Kansas had a Democratic governor and 2 of 4 Reps. were Democrats. That was in large part due to Howard Dean's "50-state strategy," which Obama abandoned, resulting in the 2010 debacle. The Democrats don't seem to care much for democracy either.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Some links and comments, trying to get back onto some sort of weekly schedule:


  • Tom Engelhardt: The 0% Doctrine: During AIPAC week, Obama said some things that seem intended to derail Israel's drive toward war with Iran, but he also said some things that committed the US to take charge of implementing Israel's war -- a war that, we should remind ourselves, would be unthinkable if Israel would only agree to a fair resolution of its 64-year conflict with the Palestinian people living under its occupation. Obama reiterated the cliché about all options remaining on the table: US options include the world's largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, sufficient to turn every acre of Iran into a long-term nuclear wasteland, as well as the world's largest and most heavily armed invasion force (one that has already been used effectively on two countries bordering Iran), plus all sorts of less extreme options, like the current effort to strangle Iran economically through sanctions. What would trigger more drastic actions is evidence that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons -- evidence which thus far has been limited to Israeli hallucinations.

    Whether he meant to or not, in his latest version of Iran war policy President Obama has built on the Bush precedent. His represents, however, an even more extreme version, which should perhaps be labeled the 0% Doctrine. In holding off an Israeli strike that may itself be nothing but a bluff, he has defined a future Iranian decision to build a nuclear weapon as a new form of aggression against the United States. We would, as the president explained to Jeffrey Goldberg, be committing our military power against Iran not to prevent an attack on the U.S. itself, but a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

    And by the way, note that he didn't say, "We don't bluff." His formulation was: "I don't bluff." And that "I" should not be ignored. The Bush administration promoted a cult of presidential power, of (as they called it at the time) a "unitary executive." No one in the White House uses such a term these days, any more than they use the term "Global War on Terror," but if both terms have disappeared, the phenomena they named have only intensified.

    The Global War on Terror, with its burgeoning secret military, the elite special operations forces, and its growing drone air force, controlled in part by the CIA, should be thought of as the president's private war. In addition, as legal scholar Jonathan Turley wrote recently, when it comes to drone assassinations (or "targeted killings" as they are now more politely known), Attorney General Eric Holder has just claimed for the president the "authority to kill any American if he unilaterally determines them to be a threat to the nation." In doing so, added Turley, "Obama has replaced the constitutional protections afforded to citizens with a 'trust me' pledge." With terror in its crosshairs, war, in other words, is increasingly becoming the president's private preserve and strikes on the enemy, however defined, a matter of his own private judgment. [ . . . ]

    The irony is that the president has propounded a war-making policy of unprecedented extremity at a moment when there is no evidence that the Iranians are pursuing a bomb -- not yet at least. The "supreme leader" of their theocratic state has termed the possession of nuclear weapons "a grave sin" and U.S. national intelligence estimates have repeatedly concluded that the Iranians are not, in fact, moving to build nuclear weapons. If, however -- and it's a giant if -- Iran actually got the bomb, if a 10th country joined the nuclear club (with others to follow), it would be bad news, and the world would be a worse place for it, but not necessarily that greatly changed.

    What could change the world in a radical way, however, is the 0% doctrine -- and the trend more generally to make war the personal prerogative of an American president, while ceding to the U.S. military what was once the province and power of diplomacy.

    One thing we can be glad of is that Obama's 0% Doctrine only seems to apply to Iran. Had it been in effect when North Korea was on the verge of developing its bomb we would have been obligated to attack, launching a second Korean War. The North Koreans were better prepared to respond to such an attack, with thousands of artillery aimed at nearby Seoul (pop. over 10 million), plus hundreds or thousands of missiles that could hit more distant targets -- notably Japan. Such an attack would probably have resulted in a million or more deaths, yet was avoided by the US not having an insane policy based on political posturing to appease a foreign lobby.

    Fortunately, we've found out that we can live with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and for that matter a number of other nuclear-armed states we may or may not especially like. Despite the obvious danger, no one has actually used nuclear weapons since the US lost its monopoly on them -- and they've never been used against a nuclear-armed foe, like the US or Israel. So why should Iran be any different? I can't think of any serious reason. (If, for instance, you think they're obsessed with killing Jews, wouldn't you expect them to at least discriminate against their own Jewish community? I mean, long before the "Final Solution" became policy the Third Reich had established a horrific record of villifying and attacking German Jews.)

    Paul Pillar explores this question and sensibly concludes We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran. Pillar looks at all the arguments now in circulation as to why a nuclear-armed Iran would be disastrous, and carefully picks them apart. He looks at the arguments for going to war, and at some of the ways Iran could fight back. Even if such a war didn't escalate into a huge disaster for all concerned, "surgical" air strikes are unlikely to do more than marginally slow down Iran, and certain to increase Iran's resolve to develop a deterrent against further attacks:

    In return for all of these harmful effects, an attack on Iran would not even achieve the objective of ensuring a nuclear-weapons-free Iran. Only a ground invasion and occupation could hope to accomplish that, and not even the most fervent anti-Iranian hawks are talking about that kind of enormous undertaking. Panetta's estimate that an aerial assault would set back the Iranian nuclear program by only one or two years is in line with many other assessments. Meanwhile, an attack would provide the strongest possible incentive for Iran to move forward rapidly in developing a nuclear weapon, in the hope of achieving a deterrent to future attacks sooner rather than later. That is how Iraq reacted when Israel bombed its nuclear reactor in 1981. Any prospect of keeping the bomb out of Iranian hands would require still more attacks a couple of years hence. This would mean implementing the Israeli concept of periodically "mowing the lawn" -- a prescription for unending U.S. involvement in warfare in the Middle East. [ . . . ]

    Why would anyone, weighing all the costs and risks on each side of this issue, even consider starting a war with Iran? The short answer is that neocon habits die hard. It might seem that the recent experience of the Iraq War should have entirely discredited such proclivities, or at least dampened policymakers' inclination to listen to those who have them. But the war in Iraq may have instead inured the American public to the extreme measure of an offensive war, at least when it involves weapons of mass destruction and loathsome Middle Eastern regimes.

    Indeed, we see exactly the same fools pushing for war with Iran as led the charge into Iraq. The failure to learn anything from the last decade is as shameful as what the US did during those years.

  • Paul Glastris/Ryan Cooper/Siyu Hu: Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments: A laundry list, including some stretches (e.g., 13. Improved America's Image Abroad) and sleight of hand (e.g., 5. Began Drawdown of War in Afghanistan). Someone could take these apart point by point (e.g., top three were: Passed Health Care Reform, Passed the Stimulus, and Passed Wall Street Reform) but most are merely inadequate steps forward -- they showcase Obama's "realism" but also his essential conservatism, lack of understanding, lack of commitment to the people who elected him, and his inability or unwillingness to stick his neck out. And some (e.g., 21. Tightened Sanctions on Iran) mask major failures. Also note that none of the 50 (not even 21) refer to Israel/Palestine, the object of one of two special envoys Obama appointed among his first acts in 2009. Another item not on the list is Obama's signing of a law that helps the government prosecute embarrassing protesters.

  • Arthur Goldwag: The Right Wing's Pornography of Resentment: Faced with loss of advertisers, Rush Limbaugh apologized for a couple of words, but more telling than mere name-calling is the quote below:

    The sliming that Sandra Fluke has endured -- from Rush Limbaugh, of course, but also from his rabid cheering section like Atlas Shrugged's Pam Geller ("She is banging it five times a day . . . . Calling this whore a slut was a softball") and the blogger Ace of Spades ("A shiftless rent-a-cooch from East Whoreville") -- is bizarre and over-the-top enough.

    But even weirder was Limbaugh's proposition: If "Miss Fluke and the rest of you Feminazis" expect us to pay you to have sex, "we want something for it," Limbaugh said last week. "We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." (Those words were later erased from Limbaugh's official transcript of the show; Atlantic Wire preserved them.)

  • Ann Jones: Playing the Game in Afghanistan: This piece appeared before today's news that a US soldier went house-to-house in Kandahar to murder sixteen Afghan (mostly children). That's just one of many incidents showing how the US occupation in Afghanistan is self-destructing, losing "hearts and minds" not just of Afghans but of the US soldiers as well. It remains politically taboo to say anything critical of the US army and its heroic soldiers, but you have to wonder about an organization that isn't able to impress on its workers the critical importance of not burning korans or pissing on Afghan corpses. Also disconcerting is the tendency of late for Afghan soldiers to turn their guns on their trainers. The idea had been to hand the country off to reliable local troops (although I don't ever recall hearing the term Afghanization, perhaps recognition of how poorly the idea played out in Vietnam and Iraq), but Jones explains in several ways -- through history, economics, and "the Afghan sport of buzkashi" why that was bound to fail.

    Many people who know Afghanistan well, however, have warned from the beginning against this plan to train up an armed force. I'm among the naysayers, and I'll tell you why.

    First, consider what the plan proposes. The number of Afghan soldiers and police to be trained varies widely from one report to the next, but the last estimate I received directly from the Kabul Military Training Center called for 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police (who, incidentally, are also called "soldiers" and trained in a similar manner). That brings the total proposed Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to approximately four times the number of current coalition troops in the country.

    It costs the U.S. $12 billion annually to train the army alone and the estimated cost of maintaining it beyond 2014 is $4 billion per year, of which the Afghan government says it can pay no more than 12%. Clearly, Afghanistan does not need and cannot sustain such a security force. [ . . . ]

    Second, take just a moment to do something Washington has long been adverse to -- review a little basic Afghan history as it applies to Plan A. Start with the simplest of all facts: in the country's modern history, no Afghan national army has ever saved a government, or even tried. More often, such an army has either sat on its hands during a coup d'état or actually helped to overthrow the incumbent ruler. [ . . . ]

    Another objection to spending billions on training an Afghan National Army is this: you never know whom they will shoot. The problem is not the odd rogue soldier or Talib infiltrator. The problem is that the Afghan moral code is different from ours, though still apparently invisible to our military and political leaders. [ . . . ]

    In short, for their own safety and advancement, Afghans back a winner, and if he goes into decline, they ditch him for a rising star. To spot that winner is the mark of the intelligent survivor. To stick loyally to a losing cause, as any patriotic American would do, seems to an Afghan downright stupid.

    Now, apply this to the ANA as American and NATO troops draw down in 2014. Any army intended to defend a nation must be loyal to the political leaders governing the country. Estimates among Afghan experts of how long the ANA would be loyal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai start at two weeks, and remember, 2014 is a presidential election year, with Karzai barred by the constitution from seeking another term. In other words, Obama's Plan A calls for urgently building up a national army to defend a government that will not exist before our own combat troops leave the country.

    And if that election is riddled with fraud, as the last one was? Or inconclusive? Or violently contested? Has President Obama or Secretary of Defense Panetta or anyone else given any thought to that?

    These days, as Afghan men, mostly in army and police uniforms, shoot and kill NATO soldiers on a remarkably regular basis, the American military still publicly writes off the deaths as "isolated incidents."

    But the isolation may be an American one. The connections among Afghans are evident to anyone who cares to look. [ . . . ] While some commentators speak of Afghan treachery and others detect a Taliban plot to infiltrate the security forces, I suspect something quite different. Malcolm Gladwell might call it a tipping point. What we are watching unfold in Afghanistan is the desertion of chapandazan who have already found new khans.

  • Ed Kilgore: Beyond Mitt's Small Donor Problem: The most striking thing about the Romney campaign is the concentrated money behind it. To some extent I think this is happening because it can happen: with unlimited campaign funding it makes more sense to target bigger donors.

    It's pretty well known that the virtually certain 2012 presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, has financed his campaign so far with an exceptionally successful corporate fundraising effort and has built the largest, best-financed, and above all most abrasively negative Super-PAC operation ever known. But Mitt's failure to attract small-dollar donors is less well-known, and as Paul Waldman notes at the American Prospect today, the gap between Romney and the other candidates on this score are pretty shocking. The percentage of total money raised from contributions under $200 are as follows: Rick Santorum 49%; Newt Gingrich 48%; Ron Paul 46%; Barack Obama 42% -- and Mitt Romney 10%.

    I suspect that Obama will get less from small donors this time around, partly because his first term has vindicated the idea that big donors are making sound investments, and also because so much big money in the arena makes a mockery of democracy. Rarely has any candidate presented himself so blatantly and exclusively as a tool of the top one percent as Romney (well, Steve Forbes, of course, but he wasn't much of a contender).

  • Playboy Interview: Paul Krugman: Some choice quotes:

    To the extent that sacrifices need to be made, shouldn't the people who've made out like bandits this past generation be first in line? The problem with getting out of the slump is that we need to spend more. It's not that somebody needs to spend less. We have idle workers who have the skills and the willingness to work. We have idle factories. Dealing with this is not about saying somebody needs to suffer. It's saying that we need to be prepared to open the taps. We should not be using the language of sacrifice to talk about how we deal with the current slump. It's a little shocking that that shorthand rhetoric about "shared sacrifice," which is what people say when they want to sound serious, infiltrated the rhetoric from the beginning, even with a Democratic president. That's a major part of the reason we're still in this slump. [ . . . ]

    Obama is very much an establishment sort of guy. The whole image of him as a transcendent figure was based on style rather than substance. If you actually looked at what he said, not how he said it, he said very establishment things. He's a moderate, cautious, ameliorative guy. He tends to gravitate toward Beltway conventional wisdom. He's a certain kind of policy wonk, the kind that looks for things that are sort of centrist in how Washington defines centrist. He was talking about Social Security cuts during the 2008 primary. That's how you sound serious in our current political culture. He wasn't sufficiently distanced to step back and say that a lot of our political culture is completely insane. [ . . . ]

    I think the choice we made, really without understanding that we were making the choice, was to make Walmart jobs low paying. They didn't have to be. In a different legal environment, a megacorporation with more than a million employees might well have been a company with a union that resulted in decent wages. We think of Walmart jobs as being low wage with 50 percent turnover every year because that's the way we've allowed it to develop. But it didn't have to be that way. If the rise of big-box stores had not taken place under the Reaganite rules of the game, with employers free to do whatever they wanted to block union organizing, we might have had a different result. Part of the hysterical opposition to the auto-industry bailout was the notion that we were bailing out well-paid workers with union jobs. [ . . . ]

    What we know is that the New Deal era produced a big leveling; it basically turned us into a middle-class country, and it stuck. The question is not why it happened but why it stuck. It was unions. The thing about unions is they don't just negotiate higher wages for their members. They also have an effect on people who are not unionized. It's probably true that the union movement was a big factor in our having a largely middle-class country. The destruction of unions outside the public sector is an important factor in our no longer being a middle-class country. People say, "Oh, we can't maintain unions in the modern globalized economy." But then you see advanced countries where it works -- Canada has had some decline in unionization but nothing like ours. It was a political decision. The best generation of economic growth we've ever had was the 25 years or so after 1947, which was a period of high unionization and high marginal tax rates. This is just an excuse for what amounts to pushing down the standards of U.S. workers.

  • Jane Mayer: The Kochs vs. Cato: Background on the Kochs' lawsuit to take over the Cato Institute. They helped found it, put money into it, and figure they should own it. After all, they own everything else they put money into. They even have a technical term for this: freedom.

  • Alex Pareene: Sarah Palin's Hollywood Ending: On HBO's adaptation of Game Change, or at least the juicy parts on Sarah Palin.

    The film subscribes to the simplest theory of Sarah Palin: That she is childlike, vain and incredibly ignorant but also an essentially decent person and wonderful mother. The moments that come closest to "unfair" -- Sarah Palin doesn't know that the head of Great Britain's government is the prime minister, not the queen -- are basically plausible. This isn't Andrew Sullivan's conniving, dangerous pathological liar. It's an overwhelmed working mother whose most unhinged moments are explained by a crash diet. Her convention speech is largely stripped of its snarling attack lines, imagining a world in which it appealed to "the base" because of Palin's heartfelt commitment to special-needs children and not because she was very good at saying mean things about Obama. (The film actually repeats the bullshit story that her teleprompter broke midway through, and she kept going.) Even when the film has her take a major heel turn -- "if I am single-handedly carrying this campaign, I am gonna do what I want!" -- after "winning" her debate with Joe Biden (played by video footage of Joe Biden), she is still basically an innocent seduced by the adoration of riled-up crowds and national attention.

    One brief scene did reflect favorably on Palin: her contemptuous brush-off of putative future son-in-law Levi Johnston before he was paraded before the GOP Convention as a family values icon. The single most hideous trait of that convention was how they tried to spin Bristol Palin's unwed teen pregnancy into a vindication of pro-life principles, as if more unwed teen pregnancies was the movement's entire raison d'être. On the other hand, the candidate who got a free pass was McCain. Every day I'm thankful he got beat, and all the more so this week when he made headlines advocating arming dissidents in Syria.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Ecstasy of Ignorance

A bizarre thing happened after the Democrats won overwhelmingly in 2008, with a record turnout of American voters electing a black man as president, with an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress (including that much-touted "filibuster-proof" Senate majority): the Republican mainstream vanished from sight, and the party was taken over by the only mass force that still held a soapbox: talk radio and Fox TV. They orchestrated the faux protest movement marketed as the Tea Party, and they demanded and enforced the Republicans' no surrender/no compromise legislative strategy. The result has been a massive dumbing down of the party faithful, as their brains have become imprisoned in the contradictions of their knee-jerk rhetoric. One early indication was the insistence that government keep its hands off Social Security. Opposition to bank bailouts was matched by opposition to any kind of regulation of banks -- especially the kind that seeks to protect customers from credit card usury. Similar dynamics play out everywhere.

But the most extreme idiocies are no longer the exclusive property of the shock jocks: the long Republican presidential primary process has put the candidates out on the front lines. (Not that Rush Limbaugh hasn't tried to keep his edge, as when he insisted that if insurance companies cover the costs of birth control for women, they owe it to us to return the favor by posting tapes of themselves having sex.) But the overwhelming majority of really stupid things the right has said in the last few months has come from the mouths of front-running presidential candidates. Rick Santorum, for instance, has decided that people shouldn't go to college where they might be exposed to liberal ideas. And Mitt Romney knows that as president he won't have to care about the poor because they have their safety net. And everyone but Ron Paul wants to make sure we go to war with Iran, because diplomacy would only make us look weak. And Ron Paul wants to collapse the economy by returning to the gold standard.

A good example of this is a quote from Ryan Lizza: Life of the Party:

Santorum told the devout in Kalamazoo that the Obama Administration was a threat to their liberties, but that Romney would be only a minor improvement. "There's this angst in America," Santorum said. "Our freedoms are being taken away. Our economic freedom -- Obamacare!" The crowd booed loudly. During the debate over Obama's health-care bill, Santorum said, he bumped into the liberal broadcaster Juan Williams in the greenroom at the Fox News Channel studio in Washington. Williams, according to Santorum, said that he had just talked to someone at the White House, who told him why Obama was pushing so hard to pass the bill. "We believe Americans love entitlements, and once we get them hooked on this entitlement they will never let it go," the unnamed Obama official allegedly confided. (A spokesperson for Fox says that this is quite different from what Williams actually told Santorum.)

Santorum paused for a second to let the shock of this revelation settle in. "You see? That's how they see you," he said. "A group of people to be hooked. Like fish, like mindless fish who can just be snagged and then pulled around." And, like Obamacare, Santorum explained, Romneycare was aimed at hooking fish and snuffing out religious liberty. "So much for freedom! Governor Romney imposed on Catholic hospitals a requirement that they have to provide the morning-after pill," he said. The choice for Republicans, Santorum insisted, was just like the one they faced in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was ridiculed for being too extreme to defeat a sitting President. "The people in the Republican primaries realized that replacing Jimmy Carter with something just a little bit better wasn't enough!" he shouted. "We are great. We're Americans! We can do anything!" The crowd cheered.

Where to start? A nitpick, I guess: Fox flunky Williams is only Fox's idea of a liberal; a real liberal would never use the word "entitlement." A more apt word would be "right": we believe that Americans (all people, really) should have an equal right to high quality health care services -- something that doesn't exist today because there's more profit to be made by private agencies rationing health care in an opaque, unfree market, and those who make those profits have been able to corrupt the political system to work in their interests as opposed to the interests of the vast majority of Americans. "Obamacare" is another misleading term: the law Obama signed (officially, the Affordable Care Act) isn't a system, just a band-aid on an existing system that no one should want to lend their name to.

But what exactly makes Obamacare the one-word definition of taking away "our economic freedom"? The main effect of the law is to make it harder for insurance companies to deny coverage, and to (eventually) make it easier for people to afford to be insured. So how does more (and better) insurance impact economic freedom? For most of us, having health insurance frees us from the worry of an illness or accident we cannot afford. The alternatives are either to save ahead (the idea behind health savings accounts, which locks up a large amount of money for a worst case scenario which may never happen, and is in any case an option only available to people who have more money than they know what to do with), or hope that someone else will pick up the bill if illness or accident strikes. It's hard to see how either alternative would make one free. Of course, if you're a corporation selling health care services, free may mean something else to you: like being free to extort ever-higher prices, being free to advertise benefits and hide adverse outcomes, being free of regulation or recourse like malpractice suits. Unfortunately, the ACA doesn't do much to limit those freedoms, if that's what you want to call activities that in most other spheres of life are considered crimes.

The whole thing about Catholic hospitals smells too. Religious freedom is necessarily personal, otherwise religions would constantly battle to impose their beliefs on each other. A hospital that denied services to patients based on the religious principles of its owners would be the denier, not the observer, of religious freedom. Of course, this is a subtle point that wouldn't impress Santorum, who has repeatedly decried the separation of church and state -- showing that his misunderstanding of freedom of religion is total.

The fish thing is equally bizarre. What he's basically describing is his fear that a government that does things for the people might in turn be supported by those people. That would seem to be the very essence of democracy, so you have to wonder about someone who thinks that people who understand democracy and vote their interests are "mindless fish." From the dawn of democracy the rich have feared that their enfranchised lessers would use their votes to help themselves, but they've usually seen education as a way of training the masses to respect their betters. Bush's desire to turn schools into test-taking factories reflected this position, but conservatives like Santorum distrust any process that even suggests the possibility of learning and thinking, especially one that costs the rich money -- an unconscionable transfer since the rich have their own schools, as do Santorum's religious favorites.

Santorum's defense of extremism is, of course, crassly self-serving and otherwise ludicrous -- even the idea that a second helping of Reagan would be a good thing is a horrendous thought. But then he does do something classically Reagan-like, as he reduces his campaign take-home message to a self-flattering chant. Why, after all, try to present a logical argument, especially after deciding that reasoning is enemy turf, when you can just whip yourself up into a nonsensical frenzy?

Santorum is probably the most extremely dippy of the Republicans' remaining presidential candidates, but they're all more or less like that. They've given up on reason, and have no real plans other than to make the rich richer and to further reduce the safety net for everyone else. They hate government and campaign to take it over so they can wreck it further. And all they have to draw on is the emotional fever pitch of truisms that are ultimately no deeper than "we're great" -- plus a lot of money and a well-oiled media.


No big surprise, but Rick Santorum won the Kansas Republican caucuses today, with 51.2% of the vote, compared to 20.9% for Mitt Romney (so much for Kobach's endorsement), 14.4% for Newt Gingrich, and 12.6% for Ron Paul (so much for Koch's commitment to libertarianism). By the way, total vote in the caucus was 29,857, which works out to 1.7% of the number of registered voters in KS. Ain't democracy grand?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Expert Comments

I posted my extended 1969 ballot:

This is the list I sent in. I posted a top-30 on my blog, and there's a link there to a longer working list (actually, still working on it).

   1. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (Verve) 20
   2. The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M) 14
   3. The Flamin' Groovies: Supersnazz (Epic) 12
   4. The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed (Abkco) 10
   5. Miles Davis: In a Silent Way (Columbia) 10
   6. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poor Boys (Fantasy) 8
   7. Amalgam: Prayer for Peace (FMR) 8
   8. The Band: The Band (Capitol) 6
   9. The Original Delaney & Bonnie: Accept No Substitutes (Elektra) 6
  10. The Stooges: The Stooges (Elektra) 6
  11. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (Fantasy)
  12. Sly and the Family Stone: Stand (Epic)
  13. Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Reprise)
  14. Harry Partch: The World of Harry Partch (Columbia)
  15. James Brown: Soul on Top (Verve)
  16. Taj Mahal: Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home (Columbia)
  17. Aretha Franklin: Soul '69 (Atlantic)
  18. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Columbia)
  19. Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic)
  20. Eddie Gale: Black Rhythm Happening (Blue Note)
  21. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River (Fantasy)
  22. Miles Davis: Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia)
  23. Charles Wuorinen: Time's Encomium (Nonesuch)
  24. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin (Atlantic)
  25. John McLaughlin: Extrapolation (Polydor)
  26. Captain Beefheart: Trout Mask Replica (Reprise)
  27. Johnny Otis: Snatch and the ****s (Kent)
  28. Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air (Columbia)
  29. Elvis Presley: Suspicious Minds (RCA)
  30. Mississippi Fred McDowell: I Do Not Play No Rock 'n' Roll (Capitol)
  31. Otis Redding: Love Man (Atlantic)
  32. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends: Motel Shot (Atco)
  33. Johnny Cash: At San Quentin (Columbia)
  34. Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn (Blue Note)
  35. Albert King: King of the Blues Guitar (Atlantic)
  36. Sonny Sharrock: Black Woman (Vortex)
  37. Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia)
  38. Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (Blue Note)
  39. Tracy Nelson: Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country (Mercury)
  40. Les McCann/Eddie Harris: Swiss Movement (Atlantic)
  41. The Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (Warner Bros)
  42. Howard Riley: Angle (Columbia)
  43. John Jackson: Don't Let Your Deal Go Down (Arhoolie)
  44. Joe McPhee: Underground Railroad (CJR)
  45. Charles Tolliver: The Ringer (Black Lion)
  46. The Rolling Stones: Get Your Ya-Ya's Out! (Abkco)
  47. Illinois Jacquet: The Blues, That's Me (Prestige)
  48. Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson: Kidney Stew Is Fine (Delmark)
  49. Frank Foster: Manhattan Fever (Blue Note)
  50. Tammy Wynette: Stand By Your Man (Epic)
  51. Lee Morgan: Charisma (Blue Note)
  52. The Who: Tommy (MCA)
  53. Ahmad Jamal: At the Top: Poinciana Revisited (Impulse)

The top-5 finishers all made my top-10. Like Joe, I'm surprised Supersnazz didn't fare better. Also surprised to see Amalgam finish 20th, but I suppose I had something to do with that.

Milo appeared confused about Amalgam, so I responded:

Re Amalgam, from Jazz Consumer Guide (4), reviewing a 2002 reissue:

AMALGAM: Prayer for Peace (1969, FMR) The authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz have a soft spot for the English avant-garde of their youth. Their highest rating is a crown, which they reserve for a few personal favorites: 74 in the seventh edition, out of more than 13,000 records surveyed. Yet they give crowns to six English jazz albums from 1968-72 -- a famous one by John McLaughlin and five others unlikely to be known by any non-obsessive. They are interesting records -- that's why the Guide is so essential -- but this one stands out. The sound has amazing presence, the bass hugging you while the drums ping off your bones and Trevor Watts's alto sax cuts right through you. When he shifts from the dirgelike intro to full metal screech you can feel the earth move, but the record never flies out of control and never loses its touch or its humanity. A classic, but who knew? A

Of those six crown records, three date from 1969 (the others are John McLaughlin: Extrapolation, and Tony Oxley: The Baptised Traveler). The other three are: Howard Riley: The Day Will Come (1970), John Surman: Tales of the Algonquin (1971), and Barry Guy: Ode (1972). Not sure now why I included 1968. Riley's Angle is another terrific 1969 record.

Speaking of Penguin Guide crowns, their other 1969 pick was Anthony Braxton: For Alto. I've never been able to stand it, but it is a unique and infamous item. The German avant-garde was also getting started 1968-72, with two crown records: Peter Brotzmann: Machine Gun, and Alexander von Schlippenbach: Pakistani Pomade.

Milo asked: "Alright, Tom H., I gotta ask you -- do you think the Penguin Guide is really knocked down now?

On The Penguin Guide to Jazz: The old schedule was to knock out a new edition every two years, a string which ended with the 9th edition in 2008. For a while I tried to assemble charts with all the changes as they added new records and discarded out-of-print ones, but I never finished that for the 8th or 9th eds. (Search my website and you should be able to find those files, plus a crown chart, etc.) The practice of knocking off out-of-print records was pretty arbitrary but let them keep the size down (like under 2000 pages, and they did some more tricks in later editions).

Since then there have been no new editions, just the much reduced (er, more selective) The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. What changed was that Richard Cook died, leaving Brian Morton to carry on. I can certainly see why Morton hasn't tried to carry on alone. Less clear why he hasn't recruited a replacement for Cook -- suggests that Cook was the encyclopedist (as, of course, does Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia) and Morton, who continues to write, just fed him material -- but I really don't know.

I will say that although I found the guides immensely helpful -- I have a shelf with all nine editions -- I found my tastes and theirs drifting apart after I started working on JCG.

Cam Patterson responded: "I'd argue that when you understand your own points of divergence with a critical totem (Xgau's books included), that's when their value is maximal. I'd further posit that comfortably celebrating your differences is a good thing and is no critique on the merits of said totem." I took this in a different direction.

I think a lot of what I was getting at has to do with the power of suggestion. Early on, I'd read a 4-star rave in Penguin Guide, go get the album, and say, yeah, they're right. (All the while not really bothering with stuff they don't like.) But for the '06 and '08 eds., I already heard half or more of the discs, and had opinions on them, so I became dismayed when they liked things I'd discarded and disliked things I liked a lot, and I was surprised to find a lot more of both than I expected.

One possible reason for this is that we're both working very fast on very many records -- I don't have the numbers handy, but I think they were adding close to 1,500 records per two years, which is close to (probably a bit more) than I was prospecting. How much extra effort one spends on a record depends on how it initially strikes you, so slight differences in how we focus amplify slight differences in taste and interest into greater critical variances.

Chris Monsen offered a link to a piece he wrote in 2007 on The Penguin Guide to Jazz.

Robert Christgau added this:

While my attorneys' arguments regarding unauthorized top 10s diluting my brand were largely correct, a back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that defendant Yanosik did get my top three right, and in the correct order. My very approximate, largely non-relistened 1969 top 9 would go like this:

  1. velvets 14
  2. springfield 13
  3. burritos 13
  4. silent way 11
  5. stones bleed 11
  6. abbey road 10
  7. nashville skyline 9
  8. creedence willy 8
  9. the band 6

Tenth undetermined. Village Green and Unhalfbricking checked out and definitely not. Lewis & Lewis and Supersnazz checked out and in contention. Aoxomoxoa unheard. Hey Jude lost. Stand! a conundrum due to GH problem. Etc.

Great records down to eight. That's impressive.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rhapsody Streamnotes (March 2012)

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

Patrick posted the 1969 EWPnJ results (46 voters; my grades and top-30 ranks in braces):

  1. Rolling Stones: Let it Bleed 546 (42) [0] (yes, zero) {A+:4}
  2. Velvet Underground: Velvet Underground 444 (36) [3] {A+:1}
  3. The Band: The Band 383 (33) [8] {A+:8}
  4. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poorboys 280 (29) [4] {A:6}
  5. Flying Burrito Brothers: Gilded Palace of Sin 277 (27) [6] {A+:2}
  6. Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis 275 (28) [4] {A-:19}
  7. Miles Davis: In a Silent Way 271 (24) [8] {A:5}
  8. The Beatles: Abbey Road 231 (20) [5] {B}
  9. Sly and the Family Stone: Stand! 190 (22) [7] {A:12}
  10. The Kinks: Are the Village Green Preservation Society 149 (13) [4] {}
  11. Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline 145 (17) [8] {A-}
  12. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica 121 (12) [11] {A-:26}
  13. Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere 91 (12) [8] {A:13}
  14. Elvis Presley: From Elvis in Memphis 81 (8) [6] {}
  15. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River 68 (8) [9] {A-:21}
  16. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II 65 (8) [5] {B+}
  17. Delaney and Bonnie: The Original Delaney and Bonnie - Accept No Substitute 59 (6) [4] {A:9}
  18. The Who: Tommy 48 (5) [6] {A-}
  19. Fairport Convention: What We Did on Our Holidays 45 (4) [0] {}
  20. Amalgam: Prayer for Peace 42 (3) [0] {A:7}
  21. Joe Cocker: Joe Cocker! 37 (5) [1] {}
  22. Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise 35 (4) [3] {}
  23. Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking 34 (5) [6] {B+}
  24. Jerry Lee Lewis/Linda Gail Lewis: Together 30 (4) [2] {}
  25. Pharaoh Sanders: Karma 26 (3) [0] {B}
  26. The Kinks: Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire 25 (3) [7] {}
  27. Otis Redding: Love Man 25 (3) [3] {A-}
  28. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin 24 (3) [3] {A-:24}
  29. The Meters: The Meters 22 (2) [0] {}
  30. Firesign Theatre: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All? 21 (3) [0] {}
  31. Jorge Ben: Jorge Ben 21 (2) [0] {}
  32. Rod Stewart: The Rod Stewart Album/An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down 20 (4) [5] {B}
  33. Ray Charles: Doing His Thing 20 (2) [1] {}
  34. Sir Douglas Quintet: Mendocino 19 (2) [0] {}
  35. Jerry Butler: Ice on Ice 18 (2) [1] {}
  36. Janis Joplin: I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Ma 17 (3) [3] {B+}
  37. The Stooges: The Stooges 16 (3) [10] {A-:10}
  38. The MC5: Kick Out the Jams 15 (2) [6] {A-}
  39. Grateful Dead: Live/Dead 15 (2) [5] {A-}
  40. Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa 15 (2) [3] {}

Here is Joe Yanosik's "unauthorized" effort at compiling a 1969 Dean's List for Christgau, based on reviews, asides, and guesswork (presumably in rank order, but he didn't number them, so why should I?):

  • The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (MGM)
  • Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic)
  • The Flying Burrito Bros.: The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M)
  • Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia)
  • The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed (London)
  • The Band: The Band (Capitol)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poorboys (Fantasy)
  • Aretha Franklin: Aretha's Gold (Atlantic)
  • The Beatles: Abbey Road (Apple)
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience: Smash Hits (Reprise) [1968]
  • Sam & Dave: The Best of Sam & Dave (Atlantic)
  • Donovan: Donovan's Greatest Hits (Epic)
  • Miles Davis: In a Silent Way (Columbia)
  • The Firesign Theatre: How Can You Be in Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (Columbia)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis & Linda Gail Lewis: Together (Smash)
  • Tammy Wynette: Greatest Hits (Epic)
  • Flamin Groovies: Supersnazz (Epic)
  • Wilson Pickett: Hey Jude (Atlantic)
  • Sly & the Family Stone: Stand! (Epic)
  • The Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (Warner Bros.)
  • Howard Tate: Howard Tate (Verve) [1967? 1972?]
  • Joe Cocker: Joe Cocker! (A&M)
  • Arlo Guthrie: Running Down the Road (Reprise)
  • Dionne Warwick: Golden Hits/Part 2 (Scepter) [1970]
  • The Kinks: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (Reprise)
  • MC 5: Kick Out the Jams (Elektra)
  • Delaney & Bonnie: The Original Delaney & Bonnie (Elektra)
  • Joe Cocker: With a Little Help From My Friends (Epic)
  • Otis Redding: Love Man (Atco)
  • Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air (Columbia Masterworks)
  • The Kinks: Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (Reprise)
  • The Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa (Warner Bros.)
  • Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise (Mercury)
  • Janis Joplin: I Got Dem Ol Kozmic Blues Again (Columbia)
  • Fairport Convention: Fairport Convention (A&M)
  • Swamp Dogg: Total Destruction to Your Mind (Canyon) [1970]
  • Rod Stewart: The Rod Stewart Album (Mercury)
  • Sir Douglas Quintet: Mendocino (Smash)
  • Jerry Butler: Ice on Ice (Mercury)
  • The Who: Tommy (Decca)
  • Cream: Goodbye (Atco)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River (Fantasy)
  • Super Black Blues (Bluestime)
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Reprise)
  • Frank Zappa: Hot Rats (Bizarre)
  • Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep Mountain High (A&M)

Of the above, Swamp Dogg appears to be 1970 (and probably a top-10 album come then). Hard to say about Howard Tate: his eponymous album came out in 1972, on Atlantic; an album called Reaction came out in 1969 (AMG) or 1970 (Discogs), but also wasn't on Verve. His Get It While You Can was on Verve, appearing in 1967 in the US and 1969 in UK.

Individual ballots posted, ignoring votes for top-18 (down to Who).

  • Boris Palameta: Jerry Lee Lewis/Linda Gail Lewis: Together; Isaac Hayes: Hot Buttered Soul; Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking; John McLaughlin: Extrapolation; MC5: Kick Out the Jams; Butterfield Blues Band: Keep On Moving; Flamin' Groovies: Supersnazz; Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency!; Jerry Butler: Ice on Ice; Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise
  • bradluen: 2. Amalgam: Prayer for Peace; 10. Pharoah Sanders: Karma; 15. Otis Redding: Love Man; 16. Joe Cocker: With a Little Help From My Friends; 20. Johnny Winter: Second Winter; 22. Kinks: Arthur; 23. Grateful Dead: Live/Dead; 24. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country; 25. The Stooges
  • Cam Patterson: 1. Fairport Convention: What We Did on Our Holidays; 4. Joe Cocker; 5. Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise; 6. Strangers: The Instrumental Sounds of Merle Haggard's Strangers; 7. Pharoah Sanders: Karma; 9. Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country; 10. Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking
  • Christopher Monsen (Chris Monsen): 3. Amalgam: Prayer for Peace; 9. John Carter/Bobby Bradford: Seeking; Noah Howard: Black Ark; Jimmy Lyons: Other Afternoons; Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency; John McLaughlin: Extrapolation; Art Ensemble of Chicago: People in Sorrow; Aretha Franklin: Soul '69; Eddie Gale: Black Rhythm Happening
  • Fever Tree132: 7. Joe Cocker; 10. Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa; 12. Wilson Pickett: Hey Jude; 14. Jefferson Airplane: Bless Its Pointed Little Head; 17. Moody Blues: To Our Children's Children's Children; 18. Otis Redding: Love Man; 20. Janis Joplin: Kozmic Blues
  • Greg Morton (GMort): 6. Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers; 9. Rod Stewart Album; 10. Firesign Theater; Johnny Winter: Second Winter; Cream: Goodbye; Boz Scaggs; Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking; Grateful Dead: Live/Dead; Kinks: Arthur
  • Jacob Bailis: 9. Procol Harum: A Salty Dog
  • Jason Gubbels: John Carter/Bobby Bradford: Seeking; Merle Haggard: Same Train Different Time; Meters; Sun Ra: Atlantis; Anthony Braxton: For Alto; Kinks: Arthur; Caetano Veloso; Isaac Hayes: Hot Buttered Soul; Frank Zappa: Hot Hats [sic?]; Charlie Haden: Liberation Music Orchestra; Leonard Cohen: Songs From a Room; Aretha Franklin: Soul '69; Kevin Ayers: Joy of a Toy
  • JeffC77: 8. Grateful Dead: Live/Dead; Rod Stewart Album; The Stooges
  • jeff melnick (jmel64): Jerry Butler: Ice on Ice; Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise; Joe Simon: Simon Sings; Taj Mahal: Giant Steps
  • jimmyCook: The Stooges; MC5: Kick Out the Jams; Frank Zappa: Hot Rats; Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa; Doors: Soft Parade; Johnny Cash: At San Quentin
  • Joe Lunday: Fairport Convention: What We Did on Our Holiday; Rod Stewart Album
  • Joey Daniewicz: 7. MC5: Kick Out the Jams
  • John Smallwood (jcsmall63): 10. Joe Cocker; Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa; Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise
  • JY48NY: 9. Frank Zappa: Hot Rats
  • Liam Smith (DJ Protagonist): MC5: Kick Out the Jams; Otis Redding: Love Man; Led Zeppelin; Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking; Firesign Theater
  • Marcus2010: Otis Redding: Love Man; Ray Charles: Doing His Thing; Kinks: Arthur; Don Covay & J. Lemon Blues Band: House of Blue Lights
  • Mark Rosen (MuercoR): 8. Jorge Ben; 9. Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking; Stooges; Mina: I Discorsi
  • Mitch F - deaconmf: Otis Redding: Love Man; MC5: Kick Out the Jams; Stooges; Kinks: Arthur; Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country; Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep Mountain High; Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking
  • Paul Hayden: 6. Led Zeppelin; 9. The Stooges; Blind Faith; Jethro Tull: Stand Up
  • Richard Cobeen: Jerry Butler: Ice on Ice; Rod Stewart Album
  • Rodney Taylor (rstay): Jorge Ben; Gilberto Gil; Kinks: Arthur; Can: Monster Movie; Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa; Gal Costa; Miles Davis: Filles de Kilimanjaro; Led Zeppelin
  • Ryan Maffei: 6. Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left; 8. Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency; 9. Great White Wonder; 10. Beatles: Get Back
  • same thing backwards - patrick: Sir Douglas Quintet: Mendocino; Jerry Lee Lewis/Linda Gail Lewis: Together; Led Zeppelin; Roland Kirk: Volunteered Slavery; Isaac Hayes: Hot Buttered Soul; Stooges; Joe Cocker; Frank Zappa: Hot Rats; Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking; Joe Cocker: With a Little Help From My Friends; Boz Scaggs; Fleetwood Mac: Then Play On; Kinks: Arthur; Rod Stewart Album
  • Sarkastik Warrior Mike (ShadyShack): 4. Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking; 5. The Meters; 7. Janis Joplin: Kozmic Blues; 10: Grateful Dead: Live/Dead; Kinks: Arthur; Doug Sahm: Mendocino
  • scott coleman: Ray Charles: Doing His Thing; Wilson Pickett: Hey Jude; Janis Joplin: Kozmic Blues; Jerry Lee Lewis/Linda Gail Lewis: Together; Allman Brothers Band; Mavis Staples; Merle Haggard: Same Train Different Time
  • sharpsm: 2. Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise; 8. Sir Douglas Quintet: Mendocino; 9. Jaki Byard: Solo Piano
  • stanpnepa: 13. The Stooges; 14. The Rod Stewart Album; 15. Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise; Joe Cocker!; Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air; Flamin' Groovies: Supersnazz
  • Tom Lane: 9. Charlie Rich: Fabulous Charlie Rich [declared ineligible]; 10. Crosby Stills & Nash
  • ubik333: Joe Cocker; Procol Harum: A Salty Dog
  • Walter Cherretté (decherre): 7. Rod Stewart Album; 9. Joe Cocker; 10. Johnny Winter: Second Winter

My comments:

Swamp Dogg: Total Destruction to Your Mind (Canyon) - a 1970 release, afaict Howard Tate: Howard Tate (Atlantic) - a 1972 release

Monday, March 05, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 19482 [19444] rated (+38), 874 [874] unrated (-0). Posted Recycled Goods and A Downloader's Diary this past week. Rhapsody Streamnotes is up next -- probably tomorrow. Didn't get much done in February, so the month's haul will be light. Meanwhile, there's barely enough Jazz Prospecting to bother with, so I'll include it here.

A couple other things are worth noting. There's a 1969 EWPnJ poll going on, so I dumped out my database and tried scanning through the Discogs 1960s list (only about 5000 US records) to build up a 1969 Record List. The list is sorted alphabetically within grades, so isn't easy to read as a ballot. However, what I sent in looked like this (extended to 30 slots, since you miss a lot if you don't):

  1. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (Verve) 20
  2. The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M) 14
  3. The Flamin' Groovies: Supersnazz (Epic) 12
  4. The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed (Abkco) 10
  5. Miles Davis: In a Silent Way (Columbia) 10
  6. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poor Boys (Fantasy) 8
  7. Amalgam: Prayer for Peace (FMR) 8
  8. The Band: The Band (Capitol) 6
  9. The Original Delaney & Bonnie: Accept No Substitutes (Elektra) 6
  10. The Stooges: The Stooges (Elektra) 6
  11. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (Fantasy)
  12. Sly and the Family Stone: Stand (Epic)
  13. Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Reprise)
  14. Harry Partch: The World of Harry Partch (Columbia)
  15. James Brown: Soul on Top (Verve)
  16. Taj Mahal: Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home (Columbia)
  17. Aretha Franklin: Soul '69 (Atlantic)
  18. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Columbia)
  19. Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic)
  20. Eddie Gale: Black Rhythm Happening (Blue Note)
  21. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River (Fantasy)
  22. Miles Davis: Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia)
  23. Charles Wuorinen: Time's Encomium (Nonesuch)
  24. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin (Atlantic)
  25. John McLaughlin: Extrapolation (Polydor)
  26. Captain Beefheart: Trout Mask Replica (Reprise)
  27. Johnny Otis: Snatch and the Poontangs (Kent)
  28. Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air (Columbia)
  29. Elvis Presley: Suspicious Minds (RCA)
  30. Mississippi Fred McDowell: I Do Not Play No Rock 'n' Roll (Capitol)

Jazz Prospecting

Not a lot here, but enough to report, especially since I've started to dig into some of the better prospects I socked away for the trip then didn't get to. Still pondering what to do about a longer term gig/framework, although I'm wearying of thinking about it.


Juhani Aaltonen and Heikki Sarmanto: Conversations (2010 [2012], TUM, 2CD): By no means the only important figures in Finnish jazz, but the tenor saxphonist and pianist, respectively, were its first notable figures, their ambitions announced in their early-1970s group the Serious Music Ensemble -- not that there wasn't a certain amount of joking even there. Sarmanto's early 1970s groups drove fusion to the edges of avant excess, while his 1990s UMO Orchestra placed bets on jazz tradition. With Sarmanto and on his own, Aaltonen has always offered a clear and eloquent voice. And while I'm actually an admirer of his albums with strings and his frequent forays into flute, I'm pleased to note that he sticks to tenor sax here, simply accompanied, as soulful as ever. A-

Tony R Clef: Tuesday Afternoon (2011, Big Round): Guitarist, first record, AMG saw Purcell as the first composer and slotted it as classical, but he also does three Brazilian tunes, two relatively arty Beatles/Kinks tunes ("When I'm 64," "Sunny Afternoon"). Solo guitar, light and airy but distinctly picked. B+(*)

Scott DuBois: Landscape Scripture (2011 [2012], Sunnyside): Guitarist, has a couple albums, notably Banshees (2008). Quartet, with Gebhard Ullmann (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Kresten Osgood (drums). If I'm a bit more ambivalent about this one, it's probably because Ullmann, uncharacteristically, stays well within the lines. B+(***)

Floratone: Floratone II (2012, Savoy Jazz): File under guitarist Bill Frisell. All of the pieces are group-credited, with Matt Chamberlain (drums), Lee Townsend, and Tucker Martine -- the latter two are credited with "production" which ranges from sax-sounding synths to electronic beats to other disturbances of the aether, but there are also guests to account for (notably Ron Miles' trumpet and Eyvind Kang's viola). B+(***)

Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando (2011 [2012], ACT): From Iyer's liner notes: "today's context sounds like acceleration: rising inequality, populist revolution, economic crisis, climate change, moore's law, global connectivity. as the flow of information gets faster, denser and more intricately networked, our attention shifts to the larger forms, the slower tempos that gracefully evolve like the spiral arms of a hurricane." Some issues there: I'd say information is getting sucked into individual fractal wormholes, so the more you have the less good it does you, leading not to a bigger-picture view but to an ever tinier one. For that matter, those graceful slower tempos are less striking than the frenetic ones, but this piano trio is all about motion, not just speeding up and slowing down but dodging in and out. A-

Jeremy Pelt: Soul (2011 [2012], High Note): Trumpet player, b. 1976, early in his career was tabbed as a "rising star" due to his exceptional chops, but nine albums since 2002 don't offer much more than the whiff of talent. This seems at cross purposes at first, as he clearly wants to take it slow and aim for quiet storm, but saxophonist JD Allen would rather burn, and the rhythm section -- Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums -- is happier with Allen. Joanna Pascale contributes a vocal to the slow side. Pelt can hang either way. B+(**)

Tan Ping: Paradise (2011, Goody Heart Productions): Singer-songwriter, grew up in Taiwan, don't know much else. First album, brimming with hopefulness, good wishes, determination; not a cynical bone in her body. B

Wallace Roney: Home (2010 [2012], High Note): Major league trumpet player, 16th album since 1987. Basically a hard bop quintet with electric keybs, split between three drummers (none taking command). Once again, brother saxophonist Antoine Roney does most of the heavy lifting, with the trumpet weaving around expertly. Sound strikes me as thin, distant, murky. Perhaps more volume would open it up? B+(*)

Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: An Attitude for Gratitude (2011 [2012], Palmetto): Drummer, has a dozen albums since 1996, composed 3 of 11 pieces here, plus one each from group members Gary Versace (piano, organ, accordion) and Martin Wind (bass). The other group member is Terell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn), and he's the one who carries the melodies. Covers hop all over the place, from "Happy Days Are Here Again" to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" via John Scofield, Jaco Pastorius, Cannonball Adderley, and Hugh Hopper. I read a blindfold test with Wilson where I was struck by his ability to find merit in everything. He adds merit too. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Conrad Herwig/Richie Beirach/Jack DeJohnette: The Tip of the Sword (RadJazz)
  • Jim Holman: Explosion! (Delmark)
  • Anders Nilsson: Night Guitar (Soundatone)
  • Jeff Parker Trio: Bright Light in Winter (Delmark)
  • Karen Johns & Company: Peach (Peach)
  • Thea Neumann: Lady & the Tramps (self-released)
  • Enrico Pieranunzi: Permutation (CAM Jazz)
  • Ro Sham Beaux (Red Piano)
  • Andrea Veneziani: Oltreoceano (self-released): March 13


Miscellaneous notes:

  • Marvin Gaye: In the Groove (1968, Tamla): Not the major star he would be in a few years, but the voice and timing are there, and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was such a big step forward Motown repackaged the record under that name. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Clark Terry Quintet: Serenade to a Bus Seat (1957 [2007], Riverside/OJC): After duty with both Basie and Ellington, a straight hard bop set with one of the era's premier rhythm sections -- Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums -- and the ever-combative Johnny Griffin on tenor sax; Terry holds his own, and shines on "Stardust" when Griffin lays out. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • McCoy Tyner: Horizon (1979 [1980], Milestone): Fast, not least the piano leads, but excessively fleshed out with two saxes or flutes (George Adams and Joe Ford), John Blake's violin, and Guilherme Franco's congas; sweeps you away at first, but grows tiresome by the end. B [Rhapsody]

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Luciano Berio: Sinfonia (1969, Columbia): B+
  • Clarence Carter: The Dynamic Clarence Carter (1969, Atlantic): B+
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968, Fantasy): First album, 33:17, only eight songs since "Suzie Q" runs long -- can't begrudge that. Only two songs made their canon ("I Put a Spell on You" is the other), but everything else is instant-classic: the voice, the guitar, the beat, all feel like where the great river of rock originated. A [Rhapsody]
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (1969, Fantasy): A [Rhapsody]
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River (1969, Fantasy): A- [Rhapsody]
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Pendulum (1970, Fantasy): Some songs easily entered their canon, but the second tier songs lose their classic feel, and the closer loses the beat. Their first album that feels self-conscious: the beginning of the end. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Duke Ellington: Flaming Youth (1927-29, RCA): A+
  • The Fugs: It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest (1968, Reprise): B+
  • The Fugs: The Belle of Avenue A (1968 [1969], Reprise): Had LP but didn't remember it. Picked out the cuts from Electromagnetic Steamboat: The Reprise Recordings (which I also have). B [Rhapsody]
  • Marvin Gaye: M.P.G. (1969, Tamla): B+
  • Merle Haggard: Same Train, Different Time (1969, Capitol, 2LP): B+
  • Roy Harper: One of Those Days in England (Bullinamingvase) (1977, Harvest): B
  • The Masked Marauders (1969, Deity): B+
  • Harry Partch: The World of Harry Partch (1969, Columbia): A
  • The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World (1969, RCA): B-
  • Rod Stewart: The Rod Stewart Album (1969, Mercury): B [Rhapsody]

Sunday, March 04, 2012

1969

First stab at a 1969 Pazz & Jop ballot:

  1. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (Verve) 20
  2. The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M) 14
  3. The Flamin' Groovies: Supersnazz (Epic) 12
  4. The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed (Abkco) 10
  5. Miles Davis: In a Silent Way (Columbia) 10
  6. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poor Boys (Fantasy) 8
  7. Amalgam: Prayer for Peace (FMR) 8
  8. The Band: The Band (Capitol) 6
  9. The Original Delaney & Bonnie: Accept No Substitutes (Elektra) 6
  10. The Stooges: The Stooges (Elektra) 6
  11. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (Fantasy)
  12. Sly and the Family Stone: Stand (Epic)
  13. Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Reprise)
  14. Harry Partch: The World of Harry Partch (Columbia)
  15. James Brown: Soul on Top (Verve)
  16. Taj Mahal: Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home (Columbia)
  17. Aretha Franklin: Soul '69 (Atlantic)
  18. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Columbia)
  19. Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic)
  20. Eddie Gale: Black Rhythm Happening (Blue Note)
  21. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River (Fantasy)
  22. Miles Davis: Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia)
  23. Charles Wuorinen: Time's Encomium (Nonesuch)
  24. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin (Atlantic)
  25. John McLaughlin: Extrapolation (Polydor)
  26. Captain Beefheart: Trout Mask Replica (Reprise)
  27. Johnny Otis: Snatch and the Poontangs (Kent)
  28. Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air (Columbia)
  29. Elvis Presley: Suspicious Minds (RCA)
  30. Mississippi Fred McDowell: I Do Not Play No Rock 'n' Roll (Capitol)
  31. Otis Redding: Love Man (Atlantic)
  32. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends: Motel Shot (Atco)
  33. Johnny Cash: At San Quentin (Columbia)
  34. Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn (Blue Note)
  35. Albert King: King of the Blues Guitar (Atlantic)
  36. Sonny Sharrock: Black Woman (Vortex)
  37. Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia)
  38. Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (Blue Note)
  39. Tracy Nelson: Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country (Mercury)
  40. Les McCann/Eddie Harris: Swiss Movement (Atlantic)
  41. The Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (Warner Bros)
  42. Howard Riley: Angle (Columbia)
  43. John Jackson: Don't Let Your Deal Go Down (Arhoolie)
  44. Joe McPhee: Underground Railroad (CJR)
  45. Charles Tolliver: The Ringer (Black Lion)
  46. The Rolling Stones: Get Your Ya-Ya's Out! (Abkco)
  47. Illinois Jacquet: The Blues, That's Me (Prestige)
  48. Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson: Kidney Stew Is Fine (Delmark)
  49. Frank Foster: Manhattan Fever (Blue Note)
  50. Tammy Wynette: Stand By Your Man (Epic)
  51. Lee Morgan: Charisma (Blue Note)
  52. The Who: Tommy (MCA)
  53. Ahmad Jamal: At the Top: Poinciana Revisited (Impulse)

At the last moment, disqualified several records recorded in 1969 but believed not to have been released until later: Sonny Stitt: It's Magic (Delmark -05); John Surman: Way Back When (Cuneiform -05). Also a couple Velvet Underground live recordings. Also two records that originally came out as two separate LPs then were combined into one CD: Don Cherry: "Mu" First Part/"Mu" Second Part (Fuel 2000 -01); and Ralph Sutton: Rendezvous at Sunnie's 1969 (Arbors -05; originally released on Storyville as Live at Sunnie's Rendezvous, Vol. 1 & 2, but not sure how soon).

Also had two A+ and one A compilations I still regard as definitive in pretty much their original form: Aretha Franklin: Aretha's Gold (Atlantic); Sly and the Family Stone: Greatest Hits; and Buffalo Springfield: Retrospective. Could also have listed Duke Ellington: Flaming Youth (RCA), but it's never been reissued on CD, and there are a couple fairly good alternatives to it.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Recycled Goods (95): March 2012

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3181.

Expert Comments

Milo Miles talked to Bob Blumenthal; came back agreeing that Kenny Werner's Balloons was the jazz record of 2011.

Bob Blumenthal's 2011 year-end list is here: http://goo.gl/A6yfh -- as Milo noted, he has Kenny Werner's Balloons #1, Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project #3. I much prefer his #2, Tyshawn Sorey's Oblique-1, but Balloons is a fine record, and I don't mind Carrington's jazz-pop-gospel synthesis: at least it kind of came together this time, a big improvement from More to Say (the worst record I heard in 2009, edging out Manhattan Transfer's The Chick Corea Songbook).

Many more 2011 jazz lists in the vicinity.

Continuing on:

Continuing with random comments:

I belatedly started to pull together a 1969 list from my database: http://goo.gl/nHO6M; Haven't tried to sort a ballot out of it, but The Velvet Underground would be #1, easily. Expected to find more jazz, and may still if I stick with it. Was certainly a great year to be a jazz fan in England, but less so here -- in the middle of the Coltrane-Ayler train wreck, just as the previous generation was checking out.

Recycled Goods up chez moi. Mostly jazz, the best in the fine print.

Quoting Milo Miles: "Does further my impression that last year was mediocre for jazz."

More true than not. I bagged my usual count of A- records, but most barely cleared the cusp, and the ballot end of my list wasn't very satisfying. I was inclined to attribute this to my Jazz CG frustrations, but that's not the only possible theory. I've been real slow getting into this year, so I'm not worried that my pace this year is only 1/4 of last year's . . . yet. One record I can recommend is Vijay Iyer's Accelerando, but you're gonna hear that from everyone.

Chris Monsen replied:

I'll echo Tom Hull here: there were only two A's in my book (albeit very strong ones), though a good few high A- (I use number grades, but that's approx what hey would translate to), and a whole bunch of "regular" A-, of course. Never got around to the Kenny Werner record.

[Quoting Vijay Iyer recommendation . . . ] Count me in. I've also been enjoying Charles Gayle's Streets as well as Darius Jones' upcoming album.

I found the Gayle on Rhapsody, so will check out [pretty good].

Joey posted this link to Wussy: Funeral Dress II.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Downloader's Diary (18): March 2012

Insert text from here.


This is the 18th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 473 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Expert Comments

On Cab Calloway:

On Cab Calloway, I see Milo warning you away from "the Columbia and later sides," but a personal favorite is the 1939-47 Columbia compilation, Are You Hep to the Jive? (with the hat Milo complained about on the cover) -- possibly because "Everyone Eats When They Come to My House" could be my mother's family's anthem.

Aside from that, earlier probably is better. I especially like the cheap single on Jazz Legends, The Hi-De-Ho Man: 1930-33, but haven't heard the 4-CD 1930-34 JSP box. Calloway started out in a group called The Missourians, and JSP has a good 1929-30 compilation of their work.


Feb 2012 Apr 2012