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Friday, May 31, 2013

Working on a Riff

Spare paragraphs, written but unused:

The refugee issue is clear enough. We should recognize that each sovereign nation has responsibility for its borders and can limit immigration as it sees fit. Israel does not and will not recognize a right for any significant number of refugees, from 1948 or any other point in its history, to return. This is so ingrained there is no point even discussing it. As early as 1913, Zionist leader Arthur Ruppin set out the goal of creating a Jewish majority in Palestine. This was mostly to be accomplished through immigration, but driving native Palestinians out would also work. In 1936, the first British proposal for partitioning Palestine called for forced transfer, which would have moved some Jews out of Arab territories, and many more Arabs out of Jewish sections. Ben Gurion applauded the transfer proposal. The 1947 UN partition proposal didn't specify transfer, but when war broke out, Israel's military forces moved quickly both the expand the proposed borders and to drive Arabs out of Israeli territory. During the 1947-50 war, more than 700,000 Palestinians left their homes and were locked out of their country. Before the war, Palestine was 33% Jewish; after the war, Israel was 80% Jewish.

There is a lot more one can say about the "transfer" (or "ethnic cleansing") of Israel, but it is impossible to overstate how critical it was for Israel's success, or how much impact it has had on later history. The refugees persevered as symbolic pawns of the conflict. Even today, several generations later still live in the squalor of temporary camps to preserve the notion that some day the hostilities will end and they can go home -- a standard which gives Israel every reason to never end the conflict. We need to find a way to end the conflict without returning the refugees, either to Israel (which has steadfastly refused them) or to any new Palestinian state (which won't have the space or resources to absorb them). To accomplish that, we need a concerted international effort to resettle the refugees all over the diaspora. The key point here is that each refugee should be able to find a new home, where they are free and able to enjoy full rights of citizenship. And as the refugees are settled, as they choose and are accepted by countries, the UN refugee support mechanism can be dissolved.

The magic ingredient here is money, combined with diplomacy. In theory, refugees have always been entitled to some sort of compensation, but most Palestinians have refused any such thing in order to maintain their status as refugees, as victims of Israel's ethnic cleansing, . . .

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Budrus

Had a showing of Budrus at the Peace Center tonight. In the discussion after the show, one person made an unseemly comment, and someone who wasn't there but had heard about it raised the matter on a mailing list, and well, I responded (minus the specifics about who said what):

The authors of The One State Condition make a distinction between potential violence (threats, intimidation, what could happen if you crossed the wrong person) and eruptive violence (the breakouts of shooting and bombing, and I'd count bulldozers here), and show how Israel's occupation regime uses both (and indeed little else) to control Palestinians. The film shows this: the IDF attempts to force through a bureaucratic decision to run the wall through a Palestinian village instead of around it; when demonstrators object, the IDF constantly reminds them of the violence they can inflict, often trying to goad the demonstrators into letting them escalate the violence. The demonstrator's use of women, international witnesses, Israeli peace activists, and general non-violence are all designed to inhibit the IDF from escalating, but their success is mixed -- we see an awful lot of violence erupting from the IDF, especially gas and stun grenades, but also an awful lot of shooting (whether rubber bullets or "live" ammunition is hard to gauge). (We don't see other aspects of Israel's arsenal, like tanks, artillery, F-15s, or nuclear weapons, but rest assured they are part of the "potential violence" package.)

Both Budrus and Five Broken Cameras focus almost exclusively on what IDF intimidation and violence looks like from the receiving side, and both within the context of [very largely] non-violent protests against Israel's "security fence" project, which aside from adding to Israel's arsenal of potential violence is most immediately felt as an effort to grab land and further cripple the Palestinian economy (e.g., by destroying olive trees). Neither film helps you understand "big picture" strategy, and neither offers any real insight into Israeli politics or psychology -- which are, I think, more interesting questions. But what they do show -- e.g., that all the IDF has to do to justify shooting demonstrators is to declare the space they're in a "closed military zone" -- should suffice to raise serious questions.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rhapsody Streamnotes (May 2013)

Pick up text here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Downloader's Diary (30): May 2013

Insert text from here.


This is the 30th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 740 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Odds and Ends

Wrote this to Toyota, trying to get some help for a car repair:

I have a broken plastic door on the small compartment in the middle of the dashboard (2006 Corolla XRS). The replacement part (55521C) does not come with the spring wires needed to mount it, and in any case probably cannot be installed without removing the surrounding assembly (55411G). A blow-up illustration I got from the parts dealer shows this assembly is held in by clips on four corners, but it isn't clear how to access those clips or how to undo them. In particular, is it necessary to remove other parts of the dashboard to access them, and if so, how? The bezel around the gear shift (car has 6-speed manual transmission) seems like one possibility. Would appreciate any tips you can provide. Thanks.

Kym Wilson at Toyota wrote back:

Dear Mr. Hull,

We apologize for your concern with the center console handle in your 2006 Corolla.

We partner with our dealers to assist us as they are our technical experts. To address your inquiry, we recommend you contact Jessica Therrell, who is the Customer Relations Manager of record at Eddy's Toyota Of Wichita. Ms. Therrell can be reached by calling (316) 652-2222.

We have documented your email at our National Headquarters under file #1305290871. If we can be of further assistance, please contact us.

After trying to talk to Therrell, I replied:

This is no help. I spoke to Ms. Therrell three times today. Each time she forwarded me to a phone that didn't answer. When I did finally reach a person I was told that all they could do would be to schedule me for service. This repair isn't worth a $200 service call. It's barely worth the $25 part (what you charge for a cheap, fragile plastic door). All I was hoping for was that you would point me to a manual where you detail how to disassemble the center dashboard facade, but evidently your manuals aren't online. As it happens, I was able to poke around and pop the top two clips open, so I've freed the top of the assembly, but it's still stuck tight on the bottom. I've yet to find any way to pop the ashtray out. (By the way, I don't recall ever having a car where the user couldn't remove the ashtray, but then I don't recall any others just made out of plastic.) I'm just trying to be very careful to avoid making it worse. But it should be an easy repair once the assembly is free enough so I can line up the spring clips.

By the way, I'm assuming my car is out of warranty. We've had the car for 6-7 years, but it barely has 50,000 miles. As I recall, Toyota has the shortest warranty in the industry. I thought you had a reputation for quality, and indeed I have no mechanical complaints. But this isn't the first piece of cosmetic plastic I've repaired.


Replaced dining room dimmer with Lutron DIVA C-L CFL/LED Dimmer (DVCL-153P-WH). Capped the red/white wire used for 3-way switches. The old dimmer only worked with incandescents and halogens, so failed as soon as we started replacing the 50W halogen lamps in the overhead lighting with MR-15 LEDs (even though the latter were advertised as "dimmable").

Monday, May 27, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21466 [21440] rated (+26), 630 [629] unrated (+1). Average music week. Spent a lot of time with Carrier and Rempis, which in the end made a difference -- a break I don't cut everyone, but then not everyone has earned it.

Memorial Day today. Reading through the paper I'm deluged with pieces on dead soldiers. Boeing runs a full-page ad with a flag at half-staff and a list of iconic battles, starting with Normandy and Midway (in the wrong chronological order) and ending with Fallujah, the Iraq city Bush had destroyed in a fit of pique (postponed until after the election when he was beyond embarrassment). The editorial page advised us to check out Veterans Park down on Veterans Way, home of 17 war memorials (with more built nearly every year -- there was another article proposing a new one to honor Indian soldiers). Just once I wish someone would applaud real American heroes, like the Mennonites and Quakers, and for that matter God-ignoring socialists, who opposed all those wars. The Boeing ad listed Khe San, but a more poignant reminder of the Vietnam War would have been Kent State.


Updated the Jazz Prospecting archive for May. Monthly Jazz Prospecting totals for the last four months are { 52, 55, 55, 53 }. Those are all close to average months, but it is rare to string them together so consistently: in 2012 I varied from 29 to 90 per month, and only did 33 in January 2013. The average for 16 months is 51.375 (total 822). At some point I want to add the Rhapsody albums into the archive -- I have more than 10 jazz albums in this month's Rhapsody Streamnotes file. That will run later this week, along with A Downloader's Diary.


Black Host: Life in the Sugar Candle Mines (2013, Northern Spy): Drummer Gerald Cleaver gets first listing on the cover, has all the song credits except one joint improv and one piece by Bartok. The other names are draws: Darius Jones (alto sax), Cooper-Moore (piano, synth), Brandon Seabrook (guitar), and Pascal Niggenkemper (bass). Jones is a powerhouse who likes to get plug ugly (as on his Little Women albums) yet can make something sublime out of the chaos (see his own albums, although I still can't vouch for Book of Mae'bul), although the most striking solos are the guitarist's. B+(***)

Will Calhoun: Life in This World (2012 [2013], Motéma): Drummer, best known for playing in the rock/metal group Living Colour, although he's been gravitating toward jazz for a while now. Big group here, including Donald Harrison (sax), Wallace Roney (trumpet), Marc Cary (piano), Ron Carter and Charmett Moffett (bass), and some Africans (best known is Cheick Tidiane Seck). Four Calhoun originals, plus some pieces from the band, plus Monk, Coltrane, Shorter, Cole Porter, etc. Runs a bit light and slick. B

François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards/Steve Beresford: Overground to the Vortex (2011 [2013], Not Two): Alto sax, drums, bass, piano; Carrier and Lambert from Montreal, have played together regularly since the 1990s; the others from England, where this was recorded. Four long pieces, group credits (although Beresford is only listed on the last two -- no credits given, but the latter half is where the piano is most evident). Carrier is superb, as usual: always searching, often finding. A-

Hamilton de Holanda & André Mehmari: Gismonti Pascoal: The Music of Egberto and Hermeto (2009-10 [2013], Adventure Music): Brazilians, 10-string mandolin and piano, respectively -- De Holanda has a substantial discography, but this is the first I've seen from Mehmari -- playing Brazilian legends, guitarist Egberto Gismonti and pop star Hermeto Pascoal, who each make a cameo (the latter on Fender Rhodes). The piano dominates, and takes some chances. B+(**)

Martin Lozano Lewis Wiens Duncan: At Canterbury (2012 [2013], Barnyard): Toronto group, playing, by the way, at Canterbury Music Company in Toronto: Jean Martin (drums), Frank Lozano (tenor and soprano sax), Jim Lewis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Rainer Wiens (guitar, mbira), Christine Duncan (voice, theremin). Joint improv, mostly set out in subdued tones and speed, an invitation to focus on subtleties, which are not without interest. B+(*)

Christian McBride & Inside Straight: People Music (2013, Mack Avenue): Bassist, mainstream guy with 14 albums since 1994 making him one of the best-known players around. Splits piano-drums duties, adding Steve Wilson (alto sax, one cut soprano) and Warren Wolf (vibes). Wolf, Wilson, and the two pianist contribute half of the songs (4 of 8), the rest McBride. Wilson plays a light, airy sax, and the vibes are all froth on top of the bassist's trademark swing. B+(**)

Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer/Helge Lien: Memnon (2012 [2013], Ozella): Subtitled "Sound Portrait of Ibsen Characters, done sparsely with an arch-soprano voice and piano accompaniment. Dark and moody, of course -- an evident labor of love, just one with little appeal to me, though better when the piano breaks free, or when the voice sinks deep into the murk. B

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Phalanx (2012 [2013], Aerophonic, 2CD): Dave Rempis, first appeared in the Vandermark 5 on alto sax but is equally adept at tenor and soprano; one of the most impressive saxophonists to appear in the last decade. His main vehicle over the past five years has been this quartet, with two drummers (Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy) and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. I've only heard the previous records on Rhapsody or Bandcamp -- Flaten has a tremendous selection of his work on the latter -- and the one-two play regimen has invariably left them just shy of my A-lists, which is where this live double -- 53 minutes in Milwaukee and 75 in Antwerp -- started. Repeated play pushed it over the line, smoothing over the rough spots, easing me down during the lulls, certain that something exciting is just around the corner. A-

Cécile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (2012 [2013], Mack Avenue): Singer, b. in Miami, mother French, father Haitian; first album, wrote 2.5 (of 12) songs; some common standards, more obscure, one in French, other outliers include "Jitterbug Waltz" and "John Henry." Backed by piano (Aaron Diehl), guitar/banjo (James Chirillo), bass (Rodney Whitaker), and drums (Herlin Riley). B+(*)

Wheelhouse: Boss of the Plains (2010 [2013], Aerophonic): Chicago trio: Dave Rempis (alto/baritone sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Nate McBride (bass). Avant, of course, but not especially fast or noisy, the bass a steadying influence, the bari sax meant to be moody. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Offiong Bassey (Moonlit Media Group)
  • Beat Funktion: Moon Town (DO Music)
  • Andy Bey: The World According to Andy Bey (High Note)
  • Von Freeman: The Great Divide (2004, Premonition, LP)
  • The Harris Group: Errands (self-released)
  • John O'Gallagher: The Anton Webern Project (Whirlwind)
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band: That's It! (Legacy): advance, July 9
  • RJ & the Assignment: The Stroke of Midnight (self-released)
  • Mary Stallings: But Beautiful (High Note)
  • Jeff Williams: The Listener (Whirlwind)

By the way, the Von Freeman LP is a record I rated A- when it originally came out.

Expert Comments

Personal plug:

Listening? Been working this holiday, playing jazz singers: five of them today, not a bad one in the bunch (to my surprise), still none I'd seriously recommend buying. Jazz Prospecting, up now, has some avant-sax, something more to my taste.

The jazz singer list: Cécile McLorin Salvant, Joan Watson-Jones, Maria Shaheen, Molly Holm, Liz Childs.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links from the previous week:


  • Paul Krugman: The Closing of the Conservative Mind:

    Start with the proposition that there is a legitimate left-right divide in U.S. politics, built around a real issue: how extensive should be make our social safety net, and (hence) how much do we need to raise in taxes? This is ultimately a values issue, with no right answer.

    There are, however, a lot of largely empirical questions whose answers need not, in principle, be associated with one's position on this left-right divide but, in practice, are. A partial list:

    1. The existence of anthropogenic climate change
    2. The effects of fiscal stimulus/austerity
    3. The effects of monetary expansion, and the risks of inflation
    4. The revenue effects of tax cuts
    5. The workability of universal health care

    I've deliberately chosen a list here where the evidence is, in each case, pretty much overwhelming. There is a real scientific consensus on 1; the evidence of the past few years has been very strong on 2 and 3; there are no serious studies supporting the view that we're on the wrong side of the Laffer curve; one form or another of UHC operates all across the advanced world, with lower costs than the US system.

    So? You could, as I said, take the "liberal" position on each of these issues while still being conservative in the sense that you want a smaller government. But what the "reformish" conservatives Ryan Cooper lists do, in almost all cases, is either (a) to follow the party line on these issues or (b) to hint at some flexibility -- and thereby cultivate an image of being open-minded -- as long as the issues don't get close to an actual policy decision, but to always find a way to support the Republican position whenever it actually matters.

    I think what's happening on these five issues is that Republicans have wound up denying the science because they don't like the usual policies liberals propose to deal with these problems, so instead of thinking up alternatives that they find more palatable they deny everything. One thing that has pushed Republicans into a corner here is that after some conservative counterproposals have been accepted by liberals, figuring anything is better than no solution, they've had to retrench. Examples include cap-and-trade for managing carbon emissions, and "Romneycare/Obamacare" to provide universal health care coverage while preserving insurance industry profits. One thing this shows is that the conservative think tank proposals were often meant to be red herrings.

    The striking thing here isn't just that conservative denialism has been elevated to a matter of faith. It's their general obliviousness to problems and their effects -- and not just on the poor, who they make a point of hating, or on the middle class, whoever they are, but even on the rich, and more generally on business people they claim to support. For instance, they defend a health care industry that is set up to increasingly extort ever larger shares of the economy, putting every other industry at a competitive disadvantage. They oppose any effort to regulate consumer fraud by the banking industry, even though a large slice of those "consumers" are really investors. They oppose any efforts to limit fossil fuel depletion, even though the effect of that depletion is not only more pollution and climate change, it's also dramatically higher energy prices for everyone. They oppose any increase in taxes (well, except for regressive sales taxes) even when that means degradation of essential infrastructure (which business needs more than anyone), of the school system (which business depends on to train workers), and even police and fire (which are especially important government services for property owners).

  • Jamie Malanowski: I Stand With Rosen: Evidently James Rosen, of Fox News, "was named by the Justice Department as a possible criminal 'co-conspirator' for his alleged role in publishing sensitive security information." Malanowski regards him as "a meticulous reporter, a person of good judgment, the author of a deeply researched biography of John Mitchell that has convinced me that Nixon's Attorney General got a bum rap in Watergate," etc. So he doesn't sound like all that sympathetic a person to me, but he somehow got caught up in Obama's (or Holder's) anti-leak obsession, and when it comes to government secrets, my position is that we owe Bradley Manning a Medal of Honor. Malanowski writes:

    The Justice Department can go to hell. James is getting legally muscled because the government wants to stop leakers, and thinks the best way to stop leakers is to criminalize the people who report the leaks, that is, reporters. It is shocking that this action is being performed by the Obama administration; one had such higher expectations of Obama, although no more. Once again we see that power does corrupt. And this why we need people like Rosen, because when we have stars in our eyes we are often blind to the limitations of public officials in whom we have invested our hopes and aspirations. Our leaders are only human, susceptible to temptation, and therefore must be watched, watched, watched, by leakers, and by reporters.

    Add this to the AP debacle, and it seems clear that someone in the administration has gone badly off the rails. Obama needs to dump Eric Holder, and pronto. I stand with Rosen.

    I haven't followed the AP case closely, nor this, but Glenn Greenwald has. See his Justice Department's pursuit of AP phone records is both extreme and dangerous, and on Rosen, Obama DOJ formally accuses journalist in leak case of committing crimes. Greenwald compares these acts to the grousing against leakers by presidents Nixon and GW Bush, and finds that Obama has gone much farther in attempting to intimidate and coerce the press.

  • No More Mister Nice Blog: A Grand Unified Theory of Government-Created Tornadoes and the IRS Scandal: I don't exactly understand the various conspiracy theories but I just want to point out one more thing: if the government could create and direct tornados, the perfect place to test that capability would be Oklahoma City. For one thing, there is a lot of comparison data which would allow them to contrast this tornado against previous tornados: this is the third time in the last decade that a major tornado has followed the same south suburban track. (But I'll also note that a similar Haysville-to-Andover track has been hit by numerous tornados around Wichita.) But you also have to figure that nobody's more gullible about "acts of God" than Oklahomans. Also there's an economic angle, what with Sen. Coburn complaining about about all the federal disaster aid corrupting his constituents -- something you'll never hear from Kansas Sen. Roberts (no matter how much he wants to screw the rest of the world). But the real teaser is that the government did something like this before: back in the early 1970s when they wanted to know how supersonic flights across the US would affect people on the ground they used Oklahoma City for test subjects. Turned out that even Oklahomans couldn't stand being barraged with sonic booms, and the SST project was killed.

    A couple more relevant posts from the same blog: Why Republicans Can Politicize Disaster Relief and Democrats Can't; and Only Wingnuts Are Stupid Enough to Believe That a Guy Who Can't Get Anything Done Is All-Powerful..

  • David Sirota: There's no substitute for government disaster relief:

    Within hours of this week's tornado disaster in Oklahoma, I (like many others) received emails from the president of the United States and my U.S. senator. With impassioned language, they both claimed to care deeply about yet another community devastated by a cataclysm, and then said the best way for America to support private charities.

    The work of non-governmental organizations, no doubt, is critical, and contributing money to them is laudable. But there is something troubling about government leaders initially implying -- if subtly -- that a non-governmental response is as significant as a governmental one. And there is something even more disturbing about that message being sent at a time when budget cuts and sequestrations engineered by those very governmental leaders threaten to prevent a more effective response to such disasters in the future. [ . . . ]

    After all, while local, state and federal governments are just as imperfect as corporations and nonprofits, they are -- unlike those private sector counterparts -- popularly controlled institutions. That means in a democratic society they should be a primary way we collectively prepare for and respond to mass emergencies. Indeed, one of the most basic definitions of the term "civilization" -- as opposed to anarchy -- is a society that simply recognizes we're all in this together and consequently builds publicly run institutions to honor that truism.

    Though they refuse to publicly admit it, anti-government conservatives actually seem to realize this truism when they or their constituents are personally involved. Oklahoma provides an illustrative example.

    In the wake of the tornado, you haven't seen Oklahoma's right-wing legislators making anti-"Big Government" arguments to deride the fact that their state receives more federal tax dollars than it contributes. Instead, you will likely -- and rightly -- see them lobbying to bring back disaster relief funds from Washington. Likewise, you haven't see Oklahoma's arch-conservative demagogues like Republican Sen. Tom Coburn saying government shouldn't help respond to the latest tornado. Instead, he's now insisting "there's a legitimate role" for government to play.

    He's absolutely correct. It just shouldn't take a tragedy for him or anyone else to realize that this will always be the case, at least if America is going to remain a truly civilized society.

    I think Sirota overrates private charities. I, for one, would much rather pay taxes and expect that the government will respond appropriately to each and every disaster that comes along, including ones too obscure for me to notice, than to have to sort through all of the appeals from all sorts of more or less legitimate, more or less efficient charities, even if I wasn't pretty certain that most of them deliver very little real value. Moreover, Sirota misses some important reasons why it should be government that provides a backstop for disaster relief. One is that the federal government can always raise whatever funds it needs, whereas no private group, state or local government can. Another is that solid disaster relief halts economic downturns caused by disasters. (For an example of what happens when the government, mostly due to politics, isn't up to the task, look at post-Katrina New Orleans.) Economic stimulus not only put people to work and puts money in their pockets, it helps make them long-term employable.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Peter Frase: Post-Work: A guide for the perplexed: Uses Ross Douthat as his whipping boy, who sees wage-work as a bond that holds the proper order of society together (not that the case for slavery was ever much different):

    Although it's pitched in a kindlier, New York Times-friendly tone, Douthat's argument is reminiscent of Charles Murray's argument that the working class needs the discipline and control provided by working for the boss, lest they come socially unglued altogether. Good moralistic scold that he is, Douthat sees the decline of work as part of "the broader turn away from community in America -- from family breakdown and declining churchgoing to the retreat into the virtual forms of sport and sex and friendship." It seems more plausible that it is neoliberal economic conditions themselves -- a scaled back social safety net, precarious employment, rising, debts and uncertain incomes -- that has produced whatever increase in anomie and isolation we experience. The answer to that is not more work but more protection from the life's unpredictable risks, more income, more equality, more democracy -- and more time beyond work to take advantage of all of it.

    Also see Frase's Curious Utopias, which talks about "basic income" proposals.

  • Joseph Massad: The Last of the Semites: Article was originally posted on Al Jazeera, then pulled down after people like Jeffrey Goldberg charged it with being anti-semitic. For background, see Ali Abunimah; also Glenn Greenwald. I know people who liked this article, probably because they feel that Zionism is tainted by its early appeal to anti-semitism, and further tainted by the notable support given to Israel by people who are still effectively anti-semites, and it isn't often that someone makes those arguments. But the argument is carried too far: it's oddly amusing to claim that West Germany's "reparations" to Israel is a consistent extension of Nazi Germany's "pro-Zionist" policies (mostly the transfer arrangement that let German Jews flee for Palestine), but it isn't true, because there was no post-WWII extension of pre-WWII policies attacking Jews. Massad argues that Europeans and Americans only came to sympathize with Jews who perished in the Holocaust after they came to see Jews as "white." One could just as easily argue that while the Holocaust was fully shocking when it was discovered, the West didn't really own up to the history until the 1960s, when the civil rights movement and the anti-colonial movements were first successful. What happened then, and in subsequent decades, was that anti-semitism in America and Europe all but dissolved, contrary to the founding perception of Zionism -- that no matter where Jews went, they would wind up facing murderous hatred, so the only way they could live in security would be by establishing their own mightily armed nation. Nonetheless, and unnecessarily as it turned out, they built just such an armed nation.

    Massad is right that the pre-1948 Zionist movement leaders shamelessly catered to anti-semites. But what happened after 1948 was far stranger than he imagines. He does have one part of it, in that conventional Euro-American anti-semites still support Israel, but it's not just because Israel is open to receive unwanted Jews. It's also that Israel has come to embody so many traits of the old right: racism, militarism, colonialism. And Israel has largely succeeded in conflating itself with world Jewry, for better and worse. Advantages for Israel included being able to capture "reparations" from Germany and Switzerland for crimes committed against Jews who had no affiliation with Zionism. The equation has also allowed Israelis to treat anyone who opposes their political practices as anti-semitic. While such charges are often ridiculous, there certainly are people who started anti-Israeli and became anti-semitic. Indeed, Israel now seems to be trapped in a circular system of creating enemies to validate their original (and at least in America and Europe disproven) percept that they have to build unassaible military might to protect themselves against a perpetually hostile world. And so they do, becoming ever more paranoid, and ever more inhumane, in the process.

  • Jane Mayer: A Word From Our Sponsor: Subtitled: Public television's attempts to placate David Koch. Koch gets such deference because he is a big contributor, hence a board member, of WNET, the PBS station in New York, leading to a form of "self-censorship." One aspect of this is that it doesn't seem to be Koch attempting to flount his power; rather, it is WNET's management going out of its way not to offend him. That sort of deference and obsequiousness is actually more typical of how the ruling class works.

    Also relevant here is a piece in the Wichita Eagle: Roy Wenzl: Koch lawyer says Obama administration has tried to intimidate Koch Industries. Mark Holden, chief legal counsel for Koch Industries, bases his charge on a quote a from an Obama political adviser, economist Austan Goolsbee, which the article finally quotes after fifteen paragraphs of "he said" from Holden. The Goolsbee quote:

    So in this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multibillion dollar business. So that creates a narrower base because we've literally got something like 50 percent of the business income in the U.S. is going to businesses that don't pay any corporate income tax. They point out (in the report) you could review the boundary between corporate and non-corporate taxation as a way to broaden the base.

    Holden argues, "tax records are confidential. Goolsbee's comments raised the thought that Goolsbee or the White House had broken that confidentiality illegally, and reviewed the tax records." That isn't much of a thought. In fact, about the hardest way possible to identify Koch Industries as outside the corporate income tax system would be to snoop through their non-existent corporate tax records. On the other hand, if anyone wanted an example of a large company that doesn't pay corporate income tax, Koch would be obvious, as it is by far the largest such company in the US. You don't have to have a political vendetta against the Koch brothers to know that, although the fact that they've spent millions of dollars to subvert democracy certainly has increased their profile.

    Goolsbee has a point: if you narrow the tax base by exempting a bunch of companies from corporate income tax, you either have to tax everyone else more or give up valuable government services. Last year, the state of Kansas decided to exempt "small business" income from state income tax, a loophole that will help a few struggling entrepreneurs but will also exempt the richest person in the state from having to pay Kansas income tax. That person's name? William Koch.

  • Jaron Lanier: The Internet destroyed the middle class: Scott Timberg interviews Lanier, a computer scientist noted for his work in virtual reality, also the author of two books critical of computerized culture: You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future? I don't know whether those books are worth taking seriously, but his claim that "the internet destroyed the middle class" ignores the fact that the internet became significant at least a decade after conservative political forces started dismembering the middle class. I won't deny that the internet has added to the forces pushing wages downward, not least by increasing competition both on the producer and consumer end. On balance, I'm not sure that's a bad thing, but doing it at the same time as the safety net and basic support for education are being shredded could well be disastrous.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Massad's Connection

Started this, but got too deep and couldn't finish.

I have a few bones to pick with Joseph Massad's The Last of the Semites. The piece was originally given as a lecture in Stuttgart, Germany, then published by Al Jazeera English, then pulled down from the website. (For the background, see Ali Abunimah.) The piece does one useful thing, which is to remind us how early Zionists, especially Theodor Herzl, sought out the support of anti-semites to back their movement, how neatly Zionism dovetailed into the anti-semitic project of removing Jews from Europe, and how many early Zionist successes were attributable to anti-semitic support -- Massad specifically mentions the Balfour Declaration and the transfer agreement with Nazi Germany. Massad also correctly points out that the basis of Zionism was the belief that anti-semitism was an intractable problem in Europe, and therefore that Zionists tended to validate the anti-semitic worldview -- unlike those anti-Zionist Jews who were not so resigned, who stayed in Europe and worked for tolerance and equal rights, who sought reform in a more enlightened Europe. Massad points out that anti-Zionist Jews were disproportionally killed by the Nazis both because they stayed home and because they opposed the anti-semites who collaborated with the Zionists.

Where Massad loses it is around 1948 when Israel broke free of its colonial patron and went on the warpath. Massad theorizes that (white) Europeans and Americans overcame their anti-semitism as a matter of racial solidarity, whereas there were many other factors. Europe, in particular, was appalled by the devastation of two horrible wars in quick succession, with the Holocaust an inextricable part, the seed of a solidarity of victimhood. Moreover, many Europeans lost faith in religion, which reduced the gap between Christian and Jew. The US, of course, was a different story: Americans got a big kick out of the war, becoming the most militarist (and religious) nation of the post-WWII era, and gradually came to love Israel as a kindred spirit, the minor religious differences to be resolved in the apocalypse.

It's rather amusing to see Massad talk about postwar West German governments continuing "the pro-Zionist policies of the Nazis," but there was no continuity in the contexts. Postwar Germany retained none of the anti-semitic laws or customs of the Nazi era, so while their support for Zionism continued, their reasoning had changed. At worst it was lazy thinking that led them to pay "reparations" to Israel, the culmination of the Zionists' mostly successful efforts to close off any exit for displaced Jews except to Israel. Besides, like most "foreign aid" programs, it was mostly a covert subsidy for exporters.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Woke Up Screaming

Woke up screaming, around noon today: leg cramp, high up my thigh. My wife ordered me to stand on it. Good advice, but I couldn't find my way out from under the covers until she pulled them off. Finally swung my legs over the side, tilted out of bed and steadied myself leaning against a dresser or something. My mouth was parched, so I asked for some water. A couple sips dissolved the residue that had gummed my jaws together. I stumbled to the bathroom. The sharp pain subsided, leaving a sore knot. Put on some socks and pants, and ventured downstairs. Good thing we put that new stair rail in.

Not a typical day, but most days have something unpleasant sooner or later. The dry mouth is an everyday occurrence. Back in the winter I tried going without antihistamines, but my sinuses only got worse. Now that the skies are thick with pollen (plus whatever else the recent onslaught of storms dredged up) I'm doubling up on the over-the-counter meds. For many years I took a prescription super-dose of Allegra, but the insurance company dropped that from their formulary so we tried the loratidine and I eventually started supplementing it with benadryl. Nothing works. I haven't had a completely clear breath through my nose since 1986, on a vacation to Cape Cod.

Among the unpleasant tasks scheduled for today is another formulary problem: Blue Cross/Blue Shield [MA] and/or Express Scripts have decided that the two anti-cholesterol meds I take now require physician override paperwork, so my prescription renewal has been held up. (And because Express Scripts canceled my "auto renewal" on those prescriptions unawares to me, I'm real close to running out of both.) What they want, aside from my death, is to force all their "customers" to switch to generic atorvastatin (Lipitor), and when you look at the price tags of Crestor and Zetia you can see why. Those drugs are "protected" by patents which allow their "owners" to charge whatever the market will bear, and the pharmaceutical companies do just that, ruthlessly. Changing their formulary rules is one way that bulk buyers like Express Scripts can fight back against getting gouged, but in doing so they inflict real costs as well as hassles onto physicians and patients. In my case, to get the same results I'm currently getting will require recalibrating my statin dosage upwards -- several visits and tests -- and expose me to further side effects, not that any of those things matter to the insurer.


If I could wave a magic wand and fix one thing, it would be to get rid of patents. There are lots of bad things about patents, like how they increase the cost of innovation (obviously by involving lawyers), and how they disincentivize others from improving patented inventions, but the worst aspect is the "reward" of monopoly rights. Free markets work precisely because they are free of monopoly. One could come up with some regulatory scheme to limit patent rents: for drugs, you could assign royalties for generic duplicators, which would allow for some measure of competition around a higher cost point while still rewarding the patent holder's development efforts. But that would mostly make the patent process more political, and perhaps even more litigious. Better to get rid of patents altogether, then put public funds into "open source" research and development, which manufacturing companies could then build products on -- less potential gain, but also less cost and liability.

Patents work in various ways in other industries, but the effects are much the same: they subvert capitalism by promoting monopolies; they push research into dark secrecy, often hiding flaws until it's too late; they reduce incentives for others to offer improvements; they add legal costs, both to file patents and to defend against them; they can be assigned or sold to parasitical trolls; they lead to an increasingly inequal world where a few "owners" extort rents from everyone else. What they don't do is stimulate innovation, or even do a very good job of rewarding it. Many innovations occur to multiple people independently, and many more would if research spaces weren't so compartmentalized by corporate interests. And most patents fail to pass the basic test of unobviousness. In drugs, for instance, all it takes to get a patent is a new molecule -- something that chemists create all the time. Take away the patents, the monopoly pricing, the ridiculous marketing budgets, and all of that and you'd wind up with a world where Express Scripts had no reason to make doctors jump through hoops to get away with prescribing the drugs they regard as most fit for their patients. And that would be one less hassle for me on a day that has way too many of them.

Much of my politics, by the way, is driven by a desire to reduce the amount of unnecessary hassle I -- and by extension other people, since I figure that we're all pretty much alike -- have to deal with. One facet of this is that I don't get all worked up over "personal responsibility" -- the great bugaboo of the right. They think that people prove their personal worth by overcoming adversity, so they back policies that create a lot of it (like our current health care system, or our "education" and "justice" systems), although most of them wind up being races rigged by the rich for the rich.


Much of the day I try to process some music, and today hasn't been very productive. I woke up not only in pain but bleary-eyed, something that happens a lot. Today I have a lot of trouble copying down info from the microscopic print on CDs -- looks like my eyes will end my music review career before my ears do (although my grandfather and father lost most of their hearing by close to my age). Also had trouble concentrating: took me four plays of Christian McBride to get a little squib written down, even though the album was pretty obvious. Will Calhoun got two plays. Played Black Host twice and held it back for tomorrow. Listening to Daft Punk on Rhapsody as I write this.

One thing that slowed me down was interruptions. The HVAC guy came over for a Spring system check, so I watched what he did, thinking I could do all but the pressure test myself, and picking his mind on how to install a new condensate pump -- a project I keep procrastinating on although I've had all the parts for about a year now. Didn't start that but did knock off one little project that's been sitting around for a couple weeks. I have a little space in the downstairs half-bath between the vanity and the back wall; hard to get to, but wide enough I thought I could slip in one of those roll-out baskets they make for under-sink cabinets. I bought the unit and built and painted a bracket to hold it a couple weeks ago, but the space is so hard to reach it would be hell to secure -- and indeed it was, as every possible approach involved painful contortions. I couldn't get one wall anchor in, or get close enough to see why. (Probably hit a stud, which otherwise would have been good news.) And I left the wall side sitting loose on a pair of corner braces -- I would normally have screwed them tight but couldn't negotiate the angle. Still, pretty sure it's solid enough, so I felt like I got something done today.

And wrote this little "day in the life" screed -- more therapy for me than info for you. Some of this may just be inevitable wear and tear, but much of the hassle seems unnecessary. And the more I struggle with nuissances, the less good I get done.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21440 [21406] rated (+34), 629 [622] unrated (+7).

Lost some ground last week, after a good start which picked up some stragglers, finding some honorable mentions but nothing to add to the A-list. Rated count is up because I've adding things to the Rhapsody Streamnotes file -- including a fair amount of jazz I didn't receive. (Including three new AUM Fidelity releases that finally make me feel not so bad about being jilted and dumped from their mailing list.) No Clean Feed package yet -- probably time to complain. Did get a package from Lithuania with tantalizing obscurities, including a 1974 item with a very young William Parker on bass (Melodic Art-Tet).

Streamnotes will run after A Downloader's Diary, whenever that's ready, certainly by the end of the month. Trying to keep up with the incoming jazz, but not worried about it. More bothered by everything else that's slipping, including a way overdue update to the Christgau website, and lots of seemingly imaginary projects of my own. I did manage to finish my "stone moat" around the back of the house -- just in time for it to get roughed up by yesterday's tornado. We didn't suffer any building damage, so whatever it was wasn't a real ground-touching tornado but it stripped a lot of leaves and twigs and deposited them in swirling patterns on our roof -- something I've never seen before.


Perry Beekman: So in Love: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Cole Porter (2013, self-released): Guitarist-vocalist, based in Woodstock, NY; first album as far as I can tell, although he's "been playing in jazz clubs, and at private and corporate events throughout New York City for the past 25 years." Fifteen Cole Porter songs, backed by piano and bass. Hard to go wrong. B+(*)

Marc Bernstein & Good People: Hymn for Life (2012 [2013], Origin): Saxophonist, from New York but based in Denmark, lead instrument here is bass clarinet. Fourth album since 1999, quartet with Jacob Anderskov (piano), Jonas Westergaard (bass), and Rakalam Bob Moses (drums), plus featured singer Sinne Eeg. She has a remarkable voice, dark and smoky. B+(***)

Blue Cranes: Swim (2013, Cuneiform): Group, quintet with two saxes (Reed Walsmith and Joe Cunningham), keyboards (Rebecca Sanborn), bass (Keith Brush) and drums (Ji Tanzer); based in Portland, OR; handful of albums since 2007, including a remix of the last one (not counting an intervening EP). Long guest list this time, including strings on 5 (of 9) cuts. Big slabs of sound, nothing but volume to make you think they need more than one horn. B [advance]

Freddy Cole: This and That (2012 [2013], High Note): Nat's little brother, 14 years junior which makes him 81 now, finally found his mature voice a few years back and has been on a steady roll. Backed by pianist John Di Martino, with tasty guitar by arranger Randy Napoleon, and select sax and trombone spots. Scrounging a bit for songs he hasn't done before, but he even makes something of "Everybody's Talkin'." B+(***)

The Jay D'Amico Quintet: Tango Caliente (2012 [2013], Consolidated Artists Productions): Pianist, sixth album since 1983, the last three subtitled "Jazz Under Glass." First tango themed album, although he's done classical- and opera-themes. Expanded his trio to include Andrew Sterman on tenor sax and flute, and Richie Vitale on trumpet and flugelhorn -- nothing that will be mistaken as authentic. Nothing caliente here; don't know the Spanish for "lukewarm," but it's not even that. C+

Marko Djordjevic & Sveti: Something Beautiful 1709-2110 (2013, Goalkeeper): Drummer, from Serbia, studied at Berklee. Recorded first album as Sveti in 1995. Group now is a piano trio (Bobby Avey and Desmond White) with tenor sax added on half the tracks (Eli Degibri and Tivon Pennicott, three cuts each). All originals. B+(**)

Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Time Stands Still (2011 [2013], Not Two): One of pianist Fujii's many groups, with Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, and Akira Horikoshi on drums: their third and final album together -- Koreyasu died of a heart attack shortly after. Some typically fine moments from Fujii and (especially) Tamura, but overall a bit subdued, almost poignant in the end. B+(**)

Satoko Fujii New Trio: Spring Storm (2013, Libra): Japanese pianist, has a lot of albums but not many conventional piano trios. This one has Todd Nicholson on bass and Takashi Itani on drums. Some fine examples of her impressive block chording and much more in a more melodic vein. B+(***)

Laszlo Gardony: Clarity (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1956 in Hungary, came to US in 1983 to study at Berklee. Tenth album since 1986, a solo, all original material, inching up to a strong rhythmic vamp at the end. B+(***)

I Compani: Extended (2013, Icdisc): Dutch group, founded by saxophonist Bo van de Graaf around 1985, ten or so albums since then, their favorite subject the film music of Nino Rota, although another is Sun Ra, who provides the only non-Rota cover here, plus a song title. As the title suggests, the band has been beefed up here, to as many as 24 members, which can mean massive or mayhem but is usually slyly amusing. Weak spot is the vocals, a mix of art song and opera that easily rubs me the wrong way. B+(*)

Richard Lanham: Thou Swell (1998 [2013], RL Productions): Singer, started out with his brothers in a doo-wop group called the Tempo Tones -- YouTube has a video dated 1957, and Discogs lists one song on an obscure, undated compilation -- and went on to sing with King Curtis, did something with Wynton Kelly, joined another group called the Boateneers -- can't find any evidence of them -- and so forth, eventually recording this debut album, which in turn was shelved for fifteen years. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon arranged, the songs notably checking Ray Charles and Nat Cole, with some gospel and calypso worked in, all of which are to his taste. B+(*)

Ivan Lins: Cornucopia (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Brazilian singer-songwriter, b. 1945, scored his first hit in 1970 and has been a major figure ever since, with over 35 albums. This one is a major production, backed by the SWR Big Band, singer Paula Morelenbaum, Themba Mkhize's South African Choir, bassist Nilson Matta, and lots of extra percussionists. B+(**)

Miki Purnell: Swingin' to the Sea (2013, Sweet and Lovely Music): Standards singer, one original on this her debut album. From San Diego, where she maintains a day job as a family practice physician. Likes vocalese (titles like "Bluesette" and "A Night in Tunisia"), doesn't scat much, has a slightly girlish voice that grows on you. Guests Tamir Hendelman (piano) and Lori Bell (flute) produce. Nice, delicate reading of "The Nearness of You," and her "Swinging on a Star" is utterly delightful. B+(*)

Sherri Roberts: Lovely Days (2011-12 [2013], Blue House/Pacific Coast Jazz): Standards singer, fourth album, backed by pianist Bliss Rodriguez and nothing more -- she handles it well, but it doesn't feel like much, especially when the pace turns glacial on "Moon River." B

Wallace Roney: Understanding (2013, High Note): Trumpeter, has at least 16 albums since 1987, basically a mainstream hard bop guy although he's been dabbling with electronics the last few albums. No such electronics here: back to basics, and crank it up a bit. He'a also replaced his brother, saxophonist Antoine Roney, with Arnold Lee on alto and Ben Solomon on tenor. Mostly covers from the hard bop years, including two each from McCoy Tyner and Duke Pearson. One original each by Roney and Solomon. Nothing new here, but it does smoke. B+(**)

Anna Webber: Percussive Mechanics (2012 [2013], Pirouet): Plays flute and tenor sax, originally from British Columbia, studied at McGill and moved to New York. Second (or third) album, recorded in Germany, with clarinet/alto sax, piano, vibes/marimba, bass, two drummers -- no names I recognize -- the emphasis on jangly, off-center percussion. All original compositions. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Susanne Abbuehl: The Gift (ECM): advance, June 11
  • Laura Ainsworth: Necessary Evil (Eclectus): June 25
  • David Ake: Bridges (Posi-Tone)
  • Kenny Barron: Kenny Barron & the Brazilian Knights (Sunnyside)
  • Ketil Bjørnstad: La Notte (ECM): advance, June 11
  • Michel Camilo: What's Up? (Okeh)
  • The Convergence Quartet: Slow and Steady (No Business)
  • Correction With Mats Gustafsson: Shift (No Business): advance
  • Roger Davidson: Journey to Rio (Soundbrush, 2CD)
  • Gene Ess: Fractal Attraction (SIMP)
  • Joel Harrison 19: Infinite Possibility (Sunnyside)
  • Julia Hülsmann Quartet: In Full View (ECM): advance, June 11
  • Yoron Israel & High Standards: Visions: The Music of Stevie Wonder (Ronja Music)
  • Bob James & David Sanborn: Quartette Humaine (Okeh)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Somewhere (ECM)
  • Eugenie Jones: Black Lace Blue Tears (self-released)
  • Annie Kozuch: Mostly Jobim (self-released): June 25
  • Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope: Mirage (Blueland)
  • Aaron Lebos: Reality (self-released)
  • Steven Lugerner: For We Have Heard (NoBusiness/Primary): advance
  • Melodic Art-Tet (1974, No Business)
  • Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Live at Maya Recordings Festival (No Business)
  • Gary Peacock/Marilyn Crispell: Azure (ECM): advance, June 11
  • Carline Ray: Vocal Sides (Carlcat)
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (Mack Avenue)
  • Vandeweyer/Van Hove/Lovens/Blume: Quat: Live at Hasselt (No Business)


Changed previous grades:

  • Rilo Kiley: Under the Blacklight (2007, Warner Brothers): If Rkives are outtakes to this, I must have underestimated it -- not that there still isn't room for the outtakes to be better. [was: B+(***)] A-

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekend Roundup

After a lazy week, some more links to ponder:


  • Igor Bobic: Obama Promises to Hold IRS Accountable on 'Outrageous' Targeting: Given the history of the federal government harrassing left-wing political organizations, "outrageous" isn't the first word that pops into my mind regarding the revelations that some IRS personnel singled out "tea party" group applications for review of 501(C) status. My reaction was more like a giggle, but then I found out that none of the "targeted" organizations were actually denied. I'm not expert in the relevant law, but I do know that a peace organization I'm close to has both a 501(C) fund that is strictly non-political ("educational") and another funding stream that isn't tax exempt but can be used for more political activities (although in practice it isn't used for anything partisan or electoral). So it doesn't exactly surprise me that "tea party" groups would skirt that law: they are primarily political propaganda outlets, funded by rich right-wingers who can use the tax-exempt feature to stretch their self-interested bucks. Unlike most of the people who donate to our little peace group. (We haven't itemized deductions in many years, so our donations don't save us a dime on our taxes.) Obama is right that the IRS should be non-partisan, but his reaction shouldn't be an outrage that feeds into enemy talking points. (For instance, I see Glenn Beck now claiming that the "IRS scandal" is "all connected" with the Benghazi attack and the Boston bombings. On the Republicans' ability to keep these pseudo-scandals in the news cycle, crowding out real issues, see Julian Rayfield: Sunday Shows Round-Up: All About the IRS and Benghazi. As for real but ignored issues, see Conor Friedersdorff: The Biggest Obama Scandals Are Proven and Ignored -- a list Republicans don't care about or even applaud.)

    See Connie Cass: A Look at Why the Bengazi Issue Keeps Coming Back for a useful review of what happened there and who said what when. Of the various facts, the one that jumps out at me was that the "US consulate" in Benghazi was actually a CIA station, and aside from Ambassador Stevens the people involved were CIA agents and contractors, so the instinct to lie and cover up is deeply ingrained. The other key point is that the real political issue here was Obama's decision to intervene in Libya's civil war and help ouster Moammar Gaddafi. Obama promised not to put US military forces on the ground in Libya, but it seems inevitable that the CIA were active, routing guns and information to anti-Gaddafi forces -- some of which were bound to be anti-American Islamists (proving again how little the CIA learned from Afghanistan, where US clients included future leaders of the Taliban and indeed Osama Bin Laden himself).

    Of course, intervention in Libya isn't on the Republican's own "talking points": they'd rather attack the administration for trying to substitute "extremists" for "terrorists," mostly in the belief that their language is a more potent stimulus to further US-backed wars in the region. Even there, what they loathe Obama for isn't that he hasn't been belligerent enough for their taste -- excepting McCain and Graham, of course, who never met a war they didn't want to plunge into -- but that Obama isn't jingoistic enough.

  • Paul Krugman: How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled: Book review of: Neil Irwin: The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire (Penguin); Mark Blyth: Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press); and David A. Stockman: The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America (Public Affairs). But starts off with the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco -- the paper that claimed that when a nation's debt/GDP ratio crosses the 90% mark the economy sinks into catastrophe, but turned out to be wrong in so many ways:

    The real mystery, however, was why Reinhart-Rogoff was ever taken seriously, let alone canonized, in the first place. Right from the beginning, critics raised strong concerns about the paper's methodology and conclusions, concerns that should have been enough to give everyone pause. Moreover, Reinhart-Rogoff was actually the second example of a paper seized on as decisive evidence in favor of austerity economics, only to fall apart on careful scrutiny. Much the same thing happened, albeit less spectacularly, after austerians became infatuated with a paper by Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna purporting to show that slashing government spending would have little adverse impact on economic growth and might even be expansionary. Surely that experience should have inspired some caution.

    So why wasn't there more caution? The answer, as documented by some of the books reviewed here and unintentionally illustrated by others, lies in both politics and psychology: the case for austerity was and is one that many powerful people want to believe, leading them to seize on anything that looks like a justification.

    Here's a very good explanation of how recessions (depressions) happen, especially following a prolonged expansion of debt:

    All that was needed to collapse these houses of cards was some kind of adverse shock, and in the end the implosion of US subprime-based securities did the deed. By the fall of 2008 the housing bubbles on both sides of the Atlantic had burst, and the whole North Atlantic economy was caught up in "deleveraging," a process in which many debtors try -- or are forced -- to pay down their debts at the same time.

    Why is this a problem? Because of interdependence: your spending is my income, and my spending is your income. If both of us try to reduce our debt by slashing spending, both of our incomes plunge -- and plunging incomes can actually make our indebtedness worse even as they also produce mass unemployment.

    Krugman could have extended these paragraphs into a tutorial on how [Keynesian] macroeconomics has learned how to ameliorate and reverse recessions, but he wound up illustrating the principles negatively, by showing how actual central bankers ignored standard prescriptions and made their economies worse. The key insight is that if my income is someone else's spending, and others in the private sector aren't spending, that deficit can be made up by having government spend more. In other words, all it takes to avoid disaster is the political will to deliberately do something constructive about it. That will power was undone by a coalition of bankers and conservative politicians, partly because they fixated on threats (to them, anyway) that were mostly imaginary, and mostly because they didn't give a damn about the hardships their welfare forced on everyone else.

    Krugman notes how many advocates of austerity see it as a morality play -- as Andrew Mellon put it "to purge the rottenness" from the system (nor is this view limited to curmudgeonly bankers; see Alex Pareene: Kinsley Loves Austerity Because It Is "Spinach") -- and he finds examples in Stockman's book (a tirade against one "spree" after another). Krugman then adds:

    So is the austerian impulse all a matter of psychology? No, there's also a fair bit of self-interest involved. As many observers have noted, the turn away from fiscal and monetary stimulus can be interpreted, if you like, as giving creditors priority over workers. Inflation and low interest rates are bad for creditors even if they promote job creation; slashing government deficits in the face of mass unemployment may deepen a depression, but it increases the certainty of bondholders that they'll be repaid in full. I don't think someone like Trichet was consciously, cynically serving class interests at the expense of overall welfare; but it certainly didn't hurt that his sense of economic morality dovetailed so perfectly with the priorities of creditors.

    It's also worth noting that while economic policy since the financial crisis looks like a dismal failure by most measures, it hasn't been so bad for the wealthy. Profits have recovered strongly even as unprecedented long-term unemployment persists; stock indices on both sides of the Atlantic have rebounded to pre-crisis highs even as median income languishes. It might be too much to say that those in the top 1 percent actually benefit from a continuing depression, but they certainly aren't feeling much pain, and that probably has something to do with policymakers' willingness to stay the austerity course. [ . . . ]

    I'd argue that what happened next -- the way policymakers turned their back on practically everything economists had learned about how to deal with depressions, the way elite opinion seized on anything that could be used to justify austerity -- was a much greater sin. The financial crisis of 2008 was a surprise, and happened very fast; but we've been stuck in a regime of slow growth and desperately high unemployment for years now. And during all that time policymakers have been ignoring the lessons of theory and history.

    It's a terrible story, mainly because of the immense suffering that has resulted from these policy errors. It's also deeply worrying for those who like to believe that knowledge can make a positive difference in the world. To the extent that policymakers and elite opinion in general have made use of economic analysis at all, they have, as the saying goes, done so the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. Papers and economists who told the elite what it wanted to hear were celebrated, despite plenty of evidence that they were wrong; critics were ignored, no matter how often they got it right.

    It would take a much longer piece, but at some point it would be worth breaking out the things that constitute "immense suffering": the unfairness of so much unemployment; discrimination against all sorts of marginalized workers, especially the old (who policymakers expect to work longer and longer) and the young (who face extra difficulties in starting careers, and in many cases start with unprecedented debt burdens); and much more. Nor is public spending only needed to counterbalance the drop in private spending -- the need for infrastructure and public goods has never been greater, and the austerity fixation is crippling us (physically, mentally, aspirationally).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21406 [21383] rated (+23), 622 [617] unrated (+5). Not sure what accounts for the fall off, but then don't remember much of last week.

A-list records continue to accumulate at a dizzying pace, a far cry from a couple months ago when they were scarce as hen's teeth -- clever triangulators will note that in addition to the two featured in this rather short week there are two more in the unpacking list that were first uncovered on Rhapsody. Thus far I have 41 A-list records this year, so we're still not quite on track to getting to last year's 125, but not so far behind either.


Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop: The Flame Alphabet (2011 [2013], Not Two): Bishop is the Chicago-based trombone player who left the Vandermark Five about five years ago, and has kept busy since then mostly guesting on projects where he easily adds to the noise level -- his tour with Cactus Truck is fresh on my mind -- but here he takes the lead without the least bit of slop in a showcase of avant-trombone that would turn the heads of Steve Swell, or for that matter Roswell Rudd: a huge improvement over Bishop's previous album with Portuguese tenor saxophonist Amado's trio, Burning Live at Jazz ao Centro. And Amado is sharp as ever, ably backed by Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. A-

Jerry Bergonzi: By Any Other Name (2012 [2013], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Boston, has a long list of records since 1983 but has never sounded better than in his recent streak -- I have four of his last six albums at A-, the other two just a hair under. So I was surprised when this didn't kick in, but I blame Phil Grenadier's trumpet, which ties the sax up in unison work and takes solos that add up to very little. In his own spots the saxphonist is as brusque as ever -- there just aren't enough of them. Songs are all originals, but parenthetically refer to standards. B+(**)

Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moment & the Message (2012 [2013], Pi): Trumpet player, first album after quality side credits with Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Tomas Fujiwara, and -- most likely; still haven't heard the album -- Mary Halvorson. Quintet with Miles Okazaki (guitar), David Virelles (piano), Keith Witty (bass), and Damion Reid (drums). No second horn keeps his out front, while the guitar and piano players are rising stars, sparkling soloists with an intriguingly complex interplay. A-

Hush Point: Hush Point (2013, Sunnyside): Postbop pianoless quartet, the two horns John McNeil's trumpet and Jeremy Udden's alto sax, with Aryeh Kobrinsky on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. I initially assumed this would be McNeil's show -- he's about 30 years senior -- but Udden outwrote him 4-to-3, Kobrinsky pitched in, and they picked up two Jimmy Giuffre tunes that seem like a shared connection. The hornwork is tight and sly, the rhythm slippery. Nothing spectacular, but could well grow on you. B+(***)

Steven Lugerner: For We Have Heard (2013, NoBusiness/Primary): Plays double reeds, clarinets, flutes, saxes. Second album, after his ambitious 2-CD debut (also has a group record, Dads, by Chives). Quartet with Darren Johnston on trumpet, Myra Melford on piano, and Matt Wilson on drums. Strong soloists in their rare spots, but the compositions come first, with most of the album is woven around the leader's intricate reeds. B+(***)

Jackie Ryan: Listen Here (2012 [2013], Open Art): Standards singer, six or seven records since 2000; has a deep, flexible voice that over an album gains stature and authority. Arranged by bassist John Clayton, features pianist Gerald Clayton, with Graham Dechter on guitar and selected horn spots -- haven't heard much from him lately, but Rickey Woodard sounds splendid. B+(*)

Alex Snydman: Fortunate Action (2012 [2013], self-released): Drummer, lives in Los Angeles, debut album, mostly piano trio with two cuts adding tenor/soprano sax (Cari Clements). He uses three pianists -- Doug Abrams (4 cuts), Chris Pattinshall (3), and Miro Sprague (2) -- and two bassists, with the pianists writing a bare majority of the songs; Snydman has 3.5 credits, plus covers of Ellington/Strayhorn and Herbie Hancock. Despite the credits jumble, it all sounds remarkably consistent. B+(**)

Al Thompson Jr.: City Mainstream (2012 [2013], Alcalgar): Plays piano/keyboards, sings a bit, based in Connecticut. First album, a high energy groove thing, the horns stronger than anything the smooth jazz crowd favors -- gives it some appeal. B

Jacob Varmus: Terminal Stillness (2012 [2013], Crows Kin): Trumpet player, from San Francisco, studied at University of Iowa, based in Brooklyn. Second album, six tracks cut with guitar (Nate Radley), piano (Kris Davis), bass (Ike Sturm), drums (Brian Woodruff); two with accordion (Jacob Garchik), bass (Gil Smuskowitz), and drums; the closer Varmus himself on piano. B+(*)

Renée Yoxon/Mark Ferguson: Here We Go Again (2012 [2013], self-released): Singer and her pianist, based in Ottawa up in Canada, second album; original songs, slight edge to Yoxon with about half credited to both. Band selectively adds trumpet, trombone, sax, and/or guitar, and they flesh out the sound nicely. She likes to scat, and isn't bad at it. B+(*)


Some corrections on a recent Jazz Prospecting review:

Clipper Anderson: Ballad of the Sad Young Men (2008-10 [2013], Origin): Bassist, originally from Montana, based in Seattle since 1992. Third album, if you count an Xmas with Greta Matassa's name first, plus a lot of side credits going back to 1984. Anderson sings as well as plays bass, moldy standards done in the old Sinatra mold, except that he's not Sinatra, and Darin Clendenin's piano trio doesn't pack much punch. B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Chris Amemiya & Jazz Coalescence: In the Rain Shadow (OA2)
  • David Arnay: 8 (Studio N)
  • Lynn Baker Quartet: LectroCoustic (OA2)
  • Diego Barber/Hugo Cipres: 411 (Origin)
  • Black Host: Life in the Sugar Candle Mines (Northern Spy)
  • Will Calhoun: Life in This World (Motéma)
  • Ceramic Dog: Your Turn (Northern Spy)
  • Etienne Charles: Creole Soul (Culture Shock Music): advance, July 23
  • Corey Christiansen: Lone Prairie (Origin)
  • Amos Garrett Jazz Trio: Jazzblues (Stony Plain)
  • Christian McBride & Inside Straight: People Music (Mack Avenue)
  • Bernie Mora & Tangent: Dandelion (Rhombus)
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Phalanx (Aerophonic)
  • The Rosenthals: Fly Away (American Melody)
  • Colin Stetson: New History Warfare, Vol. 3: To See More Light (Constellation)
  • Wheelhouse: Boss of the Plains (Aerophonic)
  • Zs: Grain (Northern Spy)

Expert Comments

Someone asked about Hugh Masekela:

Hugh Masekela: seven albums makes me far from an expert, but the best I've heard is Home Is Where the Heart Is (1972), followed by Live at the Market Theatre (2006). Both are on Rhapsody, as is one or two anthologies of "The Chisa Years (the 1972 album was originally on Chisa). The Penguin Guide's top pick is Stimela (1994, VSOP, but the music dates from those same Chisa years, 1966-72; I've never seen it).

By the way, as far as South African jazz goes, my longtime favorite is Dudu Pukwana's In the Townships (1973, later on Earthworks CD).

By the way, Jazz Prospecting up. Jonathan Finlayson has probably cinched "debut of the year," although Peter Evans' Zebulon is still the year's most imposing trumpet album (unless Slippery Rock is). Just found out that one label has been trying to send me stuff ever since their founding via the Village Voice. Only record the Voice ever (well, since 1980) forwarded to me was a Fall Out Boy advance. Impatiently awaiting the new batch of Clean Feeds. At least I'm still on Rodrigo Amado's mailing list.

Before I finished, Milo Miles posted his answer:

Actually, that's a pretty good starting-place album [The Lasting Impressions of Ooga Booga]. Vintage others I also like a lot are Home Is Where the Music Is and Time. Pretty fond of the recent one Jabulani, too. The only one to avoid outright is Grazin' the the Grass greatest hits, which are inferior remakes.

Cam Patterson:

I finally got around to reading Gregg Allman's autobio Ain't My Cross to Bear, co-written with Alan Light. This isn't the great Allman Brothers history, although it contains some of that -- you won't get the details of Duane's accident, just the awkwardness of the survivors playing over Duane's body at his funeral (as far as I can tell, the last funeral Gregory has attended to this day, although death abides throughout), but you'll find out the personal relationships that brought the band together in the first place in a way no biographer could ever conjure. (First out of town gig that Gregg Allman ever played: the Stork Club in Mobile Alabama, which I can point you to today even though it's long gone.) And if this book isn't written well in the way that the Richard Hell book leads you to think about how that southern boy thought his way out of the narrow Kentucky box he grew up in, it's well written in the sense that it totally nails Gregg's conversational mannerisms. And it's equally naked in its honesty -- the author may not always be right, but I don't think he's lying about anything either.

The big problem, right away, is women. I'm not sure that Gregg Allman has had a satisfactory relationship with a female other than his mom in his whole life. He's respectful to his second-to-last (and longest at not quite 10 years) wife Stacey, who I know a bit. And Cher gets her turn, without any acrimony and with sacks of honesty on the author's part. (And the slightly awkward but incredibly generous shout-out to Chaz Bono makes you love both of them.) But most of the rest of his wives (they are numerous) are addicts, porn stars, or worse. And the remainder of the women mentioned are nameless and disregarded.

Contrasting with this is Gregg's (and Duane's) unreflective, effortless anti-war and anti-racist behavior. I guess their dad being a vet who was senselessly murdered may have seeded the first, but the inclusiveness of the Allmans is natural and honest and not usual for the time. There is no rationalization at all, and the Allman family clearly wasn't an inherent bastion of racial tolerance. But slipping through the cracks of the awful geographical attitudes of the time permitted an awesome opportunity for the Allman brothers (small "b") to expand beyond both the chitlin circuit and the lily-white Beatles/Byrds cover band syndrome that they played against.

So, as I said, I think that Gregg is being honest here, but the truth is a difficult metric. Does he dis the Grateful Dead (who he played with) because he doesn't get their music or their fans, or because Jerry Garcia famously called him a narc? And speaking of which, would Scooter Herring (who never met face to face with Gregg after his 18 months of incarceration) have written about his trial in the same way? Did Gregg really not turn anyone else (other than his bandmates, which he fesses to, and which would have definitely happened anyway) onto King H?

At the end of the day, that's what the book is about anyway, a 12-step journey that few who have sunk to Gregg's depths rise from. He got his new liver and he deserves the chance to be honest (and notably unselfrightious) about how he never got his act together until the very end, and then you wonder.

There are a couple of grace notes here. One is when Derek Trucks makes an appearance. The second is the extended denouement, which is long and rambling and contrasts with the fey coda that Hell tacked onto his own book. Gregg probably wrote this himself, and it's like what happens in "Layla" when the original song stops and the piano riff takes over, Skydog fluttering overheard. Long, jazzy, too long, and gorgeous, that's what it is.

Inspirational quote:

"I would imagine that Lynyrd Skynyrd had more hits than anyone else, but they sure ended up appealing to a real redneck bunch of folks."

When questioned about that "inspirational quote" Patterson added:

I've always had more Lynyrd Skynyrd albums than Allman Brothers albums, and I feel like LS has an impact like Hank Williams that the Allmans lack. But that impact comes at a price, and there is nothing about LS that is ecumenical. At the end of the day, we all need to look out for each other. The Allman Brothers, through hook and crook, did that, and LS did not. As someone who was born in the south, although I don't consider myself a capital-S Southerner, I feel like Lynyrd Skynyrd was a glorious dead end, as much of a dead end as Gram Parsons (who toured with a Dixie flag too). I'm just tired of that, tired of defending it, tired of trying to understand it.

What LS are up to now is something I don't care anymore to think about. I've got my journey and they've got theirs. What they did in the past is fabulous and immediate. That they recoiled to regional jingoism undermines what regional pride I might have.

From Matt Rice, on Facebook (adding my grades in brackets):

My 21 Favorite Albums of 2013

  1. Yo La Tengo: Fade [**]
  2. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City [-]
  3. Rilo Kiley: RKives [U]
  4. Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park [A-]
  5. The Uncluded: Hokey Fright [A-]
  6. Bettie Serveert: Oh, Mayhem! [***]
  7. Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose [A-]
  8. They Might Be Giants: Nanobots [***]
  9. Dawn Richard: Goldenheart [*]
  10. Pistol Annies: Annie Up [A-]
  11. Paramore: Paramore [B]
  12. Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold [A-]
  13. Jonny Fritz: Dad Country [**]
  14. Low: The Invisible Way [-]
  15. A$AP Rocky: LONG.LIVE.A$AP [**]
  16. Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse [B]
  17. Wussy: Duo [-]
  18. Tyler, the Creator: Wolf [-]
  19. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt [A-]
  20. Bombino: Nomad [***]
  21. Skrillex: Leaving [B]

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Another last-minute link grab:


  • Nicholas Blanford: Hizballah and Israel Spar as Syria's Conflict Threatens to Spin Out of Control: Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah (effectively Lebanon) should have yielded several clearcut lessons. One is that Hezbollah is a very effective defensive fighting force against Israeli land assaults. Another is that Hezbollah's cache of Iranian or Syrian rockets aren't worth a thing, either as a deterrent against Israeli attack -- if anything, their existence provoked that attack -- or as an offensive weapon. Yet Hezbollah is evidently so concerned about maintaining their Syrian weapons pipeline that they've joined Assad's Syrian army in fighting against the rebels. Hezbollah's presence in Syria, in turn, gives Israel all the excuse they think they need to fly into Syria and bomb targets they think are related to Hezbollah -- presumably pro-Assad forces, although they've also claimed to be neutral in the Syrian Civil War, and some Israelis have argued they would prefer Assad (you know, "the devil you know"; see Israel has no desire for Assad to fall) to stay in power, so they may not care who they bomb. Needless to say, both Israel and Hezbollah are making the mess in Syria worse, adding dangerous factors that make it very likely to spill over into Lebanon, while Israel is just stirring the pot in Syria, giving all sides more reason to hate it and plot revenge.

    Also see Robert Fisk talk about Syria, attesting to the extreme brutality of the war, also questioning the logic of Israel's intervention:

    Are they really bombing missiles going to the Hezbollah, the so-called Fateh-110 missile, which was first test-fired by Iran, what, 11 years ago? Conceivable. But when you consider the Syrians have also used these missiles, according to the Americans, last December against rebel forces, why would they use armaments, which they use against -- in this ferocious life-and-death battle against the rebels, why should they be shipping them out of Syria en route to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah don't appear at the moment to have any need for them, since they have thousands of other weapons, a weapon which I would have thought the government would want to keep in Damascus?

    Fisk also says something about the state of journalism:

    And I think one of the problems is, as I say, this parasitic, osmotic relationship between journalists and power, our ever-growing ability, our wish, to -- you know, to rely on these utterly bankrupt comments from various unnamed, anonymous intelligence sources. And I'm just looking at a copy of the Toronto Globe and Mail, February 1st, 2013. It's a story about al-Qaeda in Algeria. And what is the sourcing? "U.S. intelligence officials said," "a senior U.S. intelligence official said," "U.S. officials said," "the intelligence official said," "Algerian officials say," "national security sources considered," "European security sources said," "the U.S. official said," "the officials acknowledged." I went -- boy, I've got another even worse example here from The Boston Globe and Mail [ sic ], November 2nd, 2012. But, you know, we might as well name our newspapers "Officials Say." This is the cancer at the bottom of modern journalism, that we do not challenge power anymore. Why are Americans tolerating these garbage stories with no real sourcing except for very dodgy characters indeed, who won't give their names?

  • E Douglas Kihn: The Political Roots of American Obesity:

    It was during Reagan's first term that the phrase bean counter came into prominent usage. These were the efficiency experts whose job it was to increase profits for the major corporations, mainly by introducing speedups, job consolidations, forced overtime, the hiring of part-time workers -- along with artful and ruthless union-busting.

    This was also the beginning of the "War on Iran," the "War on Drugs," the war against the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador (all of them Marxists doubtless bent on rampaging through the streets of US cities) and a dangerous escalation of threats against the Soviet Union/Evil Empire.

    As social fear and insecurity rise, mental health declines.

    Apparently, so does physical health. According to a new study from Rice University and the University Colorado at Boulder in Social Science Quarterly, despite modest gains in lifespan over the past century, the United States still trails many of the world's countries when it comes to life expectancy, and its poorest citizens live approximately five years less than more affluent people. The United States, which spends far more money on medical care than other advanced industrialized countries, has the sickest residents in every category of unwellness.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fuzzy Red Lines

A little over two years ago the "Arab Spring" pro-democracy movement broke out in Syria, a nation that nearly everyone agreed could benefit from more political freedom, seeing as how it's been ruled by the Assad family since the 1960s and by one military clique or another even further back. Similar dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt fell quickly; struggles against the dictators of Yemen and Bahrein dragged out inconclusively; but in Libya and Syria demonstrators were met with violence and some fraction of the military establishment broke against the regime, plunging those nations into civil war. Demonstrations in Jordan faded quickly with a few token reforms. And nothing much happened in Saudi Arabia, probably the one nation in the region most in need of a democratic overhaul.

One prism into understanding how these movements played out is to map them against US influence in the region. US interests and actions in the Middle East have been schizophrenic since the late 1940s when US administrations found themselves not just allied but in love with two conflicting suitors: Israel, and Saudi-Arabian oil (although any oil would do, especially Iran's from 1953-79). One problem was that those paramours came with a lot of baggage: Israel was constantly at war with its Arab neighbors and its own [Palestinian] people, forging an elite militarist culture that thrives on conflict, foments hatred against everything Arab, and has turned most of world opinion against them -- the major exception America's own fundamentalist Christians and militarists. The Saudi ruling family, on the other hand, is joined at the hip to the most extremely reactionary Salafist Muslim clergy, and has spent billions of dollars attempting to export their religious orthodoxy throughout the Middle East and into Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it turned virulently anti-American. But America's true obsession was the Cold War, in service of which no tyrant or ideologue could be found too unsavory. The Israelis and Saudis became expert at camouflaging their own obsessions as anti-communist fervor, so the US could embrace them both.

But another facet of America's Cold War obsession was promotion of democracy, not so much for allies as for countries on the other (or no) side, but as a contrast to the "unfree" Soviet-style regimes. So when masses of people demand democracy, our natural tendency is to applaud. In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt -- secure military allies with tired and unsavory leaders -- Obama had little reason to resist, so the US subtly nudged their power structure to go with the flow. In Yemen, one of Obama's favorite drone-shooting ranges, and Bahrein, with its Shiite majority possibly tilting toward Iran, the US was more reserved. But Libya and Syria were rarely US allies, and most of the "brains" behind US policy in the region -- especially the "neocons" -- have spent most of their careers bashing their leaders, so the US had no interests in maintaining them, but also no influence or leverage that could be used to democratize them. Consequently, the more the US leaned against them, the less then had to lose by suppressing their revolts violently. In hindsight, the best way the US could have helped to democratize those nations would have been to develop normal relations with them. (It is worth noting that the only Soviet bloc states that didn't democratize are the ones the US fought wars against, followed by long, grudge-filled periods of isolation: China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba.)

As soon as Libya and Syria broke into civil war, the neocons -- most vociferously, Senators McCain and Graham, who never miss an opportunity to plunge us deeper into hell -- and their "liberal hawk" cronies started crying for the US to intervene. How anyone could think that inserting the US military into a conflict would save lives is beyond me. (The historical basis for that idea was probably the NATO intervention in Bosnia. After just two weeks of bombing, the Serbs accepted a ceasefire and signed the Dayton Accords ending a war between Serbia and Bosnia that had dragged on for more than two years. That intervention surely did save lives, at least if you don't factor in the subsequent Kosovo War, which was made all the more likely by the expectation that NATO would again intervene against Serbia -- as it did.) But you can't judge interventions by simply balancing deaths on one side versus the other. US intervention means that people who wouldn't have been killed otherwise are now being killed by the US -- a fact that won't be easily rationalized by the people the US attacked.

Obama did finally agree to intervene in Libya, but only after France and the UK had committed to do so. US firepower quickly degraded Libya's military power, and the civil war turned against Gaddafi, ending after about three months. Obama was careful not to land US troops, or to put the US into a position where the US would have any responsibility for postwar administration and reconstruction. Nonetheless, last September a group of Islamic jihadists attacked the US consulate in Benghazi -- the center of the anti-Gaddafi resistance, presumably the most grateful city for the US intervention -- killing four Americans, the sort of blowback that should always be expected. The Benghazi attack has since become a cause celebre for the Republicans, who have gone so far as to argue that Obama should be impeached for his "cover up" of the attack. (As far as I can tell, that "cover up" consisted of nothing more than Susan Rice making some erroneous statements the day after, confusing the violent attack in Benghazi with non-violent anti-American protests elsewhere. I would write more about this if I could make any sense out of it, but I can't. The one thing I can say is that attacking Obama for something bad happening after he intervened in Libya isn't likely to be the most effective way to convince him to intervene in Syria, where the number of bad things that can happen is much greater.)

Dexter Filkins has a long article, The Thin Red Line, on Syria, the pressures put on Obama to intervene there, and some of the risks. Filkins is one of those reporters for whom war is just business -- booming, as his book, The Forever War, shows. He recounts much of what I wrote above on Yugoslavia and Libya, while only glancingly mentioning less "successful" US interventions like Iraq and Afghanistan. The title refers to Obama's casual warning to Assad that Syrian use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" leading to US intervention. ("Red lines" have been much in the news lately, especially regarding Iran's "nuclear program" -- what degree of offense would "justify" Israel and/or the US to preemptively attack Iran.) Consequently, advocates of going to war with Syria are scouring the data for any evidence of poison gas use, under the theory that having drawn a red line there, Obama will have no choice but to intervene -- the entire credibility of the US is put at stake by Obama's careless use of jargon.

The Syrian Civil War has resulted in, to pick two recent estimates, between 70 and 120 thousand deaths, with more than a million refugees, and many more internally displaced. Those are substantial numbers, even if they are still less than the death-and-refugee toll of the Civil War in Iraq that was triggered and abetted by the US invasion and occupation. (At least no one was so stupid as to urge anyone to intervene to "save lives" in Iraq. Of course, enforcing a "no fly" zone against the US would have been difficult, but we are talking about genocide here, something the world has committed to tolerate "never again.")

Filkins reports on three options for US intervention: establishing a "no fly" zone; arming the rebels; and somehow securing Syria's chemical weapon sites. The "no fly" zone is regarded as more difficult than it was in Libya because Syria has more sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses, although they don't seem to cause Israel much trouble. The bigger problem is that in itself it's unlikely to have much effect -- e.g., on artillery and missiles. One suggestion is to use the "Patriot anti-missile system" to intercept Syrian SCUD missiles. (Is this the source of the adage that "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels"?) So it's very likely that a "no fly" zone will be a stepping stone to deeper involvement, as indeed it was in Libya.

Arming the rebels is relatively easy to do, and is already being done by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and possibly others. However, this gets real tricky real fast. There are multiple groups of rebels, and some of them are friendlier to the US than others, and the last thing you want is to send arms to Al-Qaeda-types in Syria -- which are a formidable part of the resistance -- who might wind up using the arms against American targets, so you want to pick and choose who gets what, but in doing so you're not only arming the rebels against Syria, you're arming them against each other. And while you might argue that a "no fly" zone is a neutral way to level the battlefield, arming select groups of the rebels ends any pretense at neutrality or disinterest. You now have a "dog in the fight": which is not only bad news for Assad, it's a challenge for anyone who is wary of American power in the region -- a short list which includes Iran and Russia, even before this revolt provided Syria with arms. The result is surely an arms race, escalating even further the level of violence.

Arming the rebels also means forgoing the alternative, which is to negotiate an arms embargo with Syria's suppliers, and enforce comparable limits on the rebels' suppliers. The desired effect would be to let the conflict degrade into a stalemate, which would give both sides reason to negotiate a power-sharing agreement and move toward a democratic scheme which protects interests allied with both sides. If the US goes in and arms the rebels, that option disappears. The rebels become more convinced in their eventual triumph, cementing their resolve to fight on. From that point the only way to long-term suffering is to shorten the war by increasing the rebels' firepower and leverage, which not only helps them defeat Assad, it also allows them to more completely dominate the social, ethnic, and tribal groups that had favored Assad. And it also makes more likely an internecine war between rebel groups -- as happened when the Russians finally quit Afghanistan.

Even Filkins admits that the third option -- securing Syria's chemical weapons -- is a fool's errand. Nobody knows how many sites there are, how many munitions there are, where they all are, or much of anything else about them. What you really need is a UN disarmament team to set up camp in Syria and track them all down, but for that to happen you have to stop the shooting, in which case you might as well solve the conflict. As for the US doing it directly, Filkins reports an estimate that it would take 75,000 troops: the basic scheme there is to conquer the country, then look for the illicit weapons -- for lessons on how this "works," see Iraq. Even if you could magically wipe the country clean of chemical weapons, it's unlikely that the conflit would be less deadly. They wind up being nothing more than a side-thought: a problem people should have thought of before starting a war that makes their use much more likely.

Obama has managed to frustrate virtually every side in the conflict. He never offered any pretense of neutrality, and has gone out of his way to offend Assad backers from Iran to Hezbollah. He's had better relations with Russia, but not much. Saudi and Qatari arms shipments inevitably smell of US approval, as does Israel's recent bombings of Syria -- one thing the latter does is to test Syria's air defenses, useful research for that "no fly" zone. The CIA is reportedly on the ground in Syria, feeding intelligence info to the rebels. On the other hand, it's hard to tell who's "winning" the war, and nothing Obama has done is likely to tilt the balance, so he's not winning points with the neocon crowd -- nor should he, given the way they've lashed out at him over Libya, which he finessed about as elegantly as any American president could.

As far as I'm concerned, Assad's extremely violent counterrevolt is inexcusable, ensuring his future as an international pariah. However, the more I read of the rebels, the less sympathetic I am to them, and the more I fear their possible triumph. Andrew Bacevich makes an interesting point:

Whatever Obama does or doesn't do about Syria won't affect the larger trajectory of events. Except to Syrians, the fate of Syria per se doesn't matter any more than the fate of Latvia or Laos. The context within which the upheaval there is occurring -- what preceded it and what it portends -- matters a great deal. Yet on this score, Washington is manifestly clueless and powerless.

History possesses a remarkable capacity to confound. Right when the path ahead appears clear -- remember when the end of the Cold War seemed to herald a new age of harmony? -- it makes a U-turn. The Syrian civil war provides only the latest indication that one such radical reversal is occurring before our very eyes. For Syria bears further witness to the ongoing disintegration of the modern Middle East and the reemergence of an assertive Islamic world, a development likely to define the 21st century.

Recall that the modern Middle East is a relatively recent creation. It emerged from the wreckage of World War I, the handiwork of cynical and devious European imperialists. As European (and especially British) power declined after World War II, the United States, playing the role of willing patsy, assumed responsibility for propping up this misbegotten product of European venality -- a dubious inheritance, if there ever was one.

Now it's all coming undone. Today, from the Maghreb to Pakistan, the order created by the West to serve Western interests is succumbing to an assault mounted from within. Who are the assailants? People intent on exercising that right to self-determination that President Woodrow Wilson bequeathed to the world nearly 100 years ago. What these multitudes are seeking remains to be seen. But they don't want and won't countenance outside interference.

If Assad falls, either democratically or by arms, the successor state will very probably be more conservative, more devoutly Islamist, and very likely more aggressively anti-American and anti-Israel -- in other words, it will be a state that most Americans who reflexively clamored for Assad's ouster will find disappointing. And as such it will ratchet America's frustration with the region even deeper. It will also be a war-torn wreck, with few prospects of reconstruction any time soon. Barring US occupation, it is unlikely to become as corrupt as Iraq or Afghanistan, but like those two disaster areas, its people has already fragmented into many conflicting identities, which will continue to tear at the social fabric even after the war ends. Moreover, as far as the US is concerned, Syria will always be on the wrong side of Israel, and for that matter the wrong side of Lebanon, and if those features fade it will revert to no meaning at all. The only reason McCain and Graham and their ilk care at all about Syria is that they smell war there, and they see in every war an opportunity for the US to assert its omnipotence.

I too see war in Syria as a test for the US, and especially as a test for Obama: the test is whether we can finally see clear to stay out of a conflict where in the long run we can only hurt ourselves. The US is so infatuated with itself that it is a sucker for the likes of McCain and Graham, and Obama has repeatedly allowed himself to be seduced by American power -- partly, no doubt, because the Republicans so delight in trash talking to him, taunting him as an apologist, impugning him for every irresolute doubt. Obama once said that he wants to change how America thinks about war, but he seems unable to even change how he himself thinks. Syria is a test of his ability to pit sanity against jargon, for rarely has a course of action -- intervention -- loomed so temptingly yet been so clearly fraught with folly.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Expert Comments

Someone makes an Adorno joke, and suddenly an avalanche of Adorno-bashing. I wrote:

Crawled out of bed this afternoon and found to my dismay . . . it's Adorno-bashing time again. It's been a long while since I read him -- I got a little too close to the flame 40 years ago and pulled away when the mojo became too, uh, automatic (a reaction Adorno himself should have approved of). Still, it bears repeating that fascism was (and is) nasty stuff, and searching for its roots and reverberations in intellectual history and popular culture has not been fruitless -- indeed, as JM Keynes (a fellow spirit in more ways than most realize) argued, what else is there? I'm more convinced than ever of the rottenness of our mass culture -- not that I don't occasionally enjoy it, and I certainly don't see any point in trying to escape it, but even so I'm filled with dread.

What I have been reading is Tony Judt's "Thinking the Twentieth Century" -- which provides plenty of opportunity to think about fascism. The section on Hayek suggests it would be witty to argue that both Hayek and Adorno took their anti-fascism to ridiculous extremes, in the former claiming that all economic planning leads to doom, in the latter that all popular culture does the same -- except, of course, that in Adorno's case that's only a strawman argument, whereas dangerous people actually believe in Hayek. I also finally realized that Judt's antipathy to the individualism of the new left was deeply rooted in his Trotskyist upbringing. Obviously, he was sheltered from a whole tradition that I, for one, feel deep in my bones. Doesn't mean he doesn't have a point about the political inefficacy of the new left, but he does suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding -- a blind spot even for a gifted historian. Take Adorno or Hayek out of history and you get nothing. (Keynes too, although his history is less past.)

I figured that's probably a dead end, but Jeff Hamilton wrote:

Yeah, I did an earlier post on Adorno, didn't like the tone it took toward our host, but didn't have time then to make the changes, so withdrew it. Xgau is, after all, welcome to his resistance, as is anyone.

But two points: one is that Adorno's writing lives, especially in a volume like Minima Moralia which has launched many a philosophical ship. Other is that we don't get feminism in its most bracing, radical insight without a figure like Shulamith Firestone, about whom a recent NYer reportorial biography by Susan Faludi was very interesting to me, not least because I teach Ellen Willis and was aware that together they led, for a short time in 1969, a NY feminist cadre called NY Radical Women. I don't read much anymore in Adorno's Dialectics, but Faludi's piece led me back to Firestone's Dialectics of Sex (1970), where several crucial Willis' ideas get their first airing. No one will doubt that Adorno had his critical effect on Brecht, Benjamin, & Dwight Macdonald. But how about Firestone's effect on Willis? It ought to be a subject of study, but instead Firestone was a hot-head and was trashed in within radical feminist circles. I share Tom Hull's "dread" of mass (or pop) culture -- not the first time I've said that here. Nor am I in any way in a position to deny it as a crucial part of what makes my life worth living. Critical negativity is something Adorno does not dodge, though in the connoisseurship on this site, it can be easy to resign oneself to sheepish cataloguing.

Looking at other posts, including a sheepish one from Joe Yanosik, I also wrote:

Two more comments unrelated to my last one:

I think it was completely appropriate for Joe to question the math on Bob's "30-40" assertion, even if there was no chance that Bob would document it himself. Those are pretty incredible numbers, especially relative to a pretty good benchmark album. Milo, Chris, and I all checked and responded that the numbers do indeed make sense, and Bob at least hasn't backed down. Moreover, while we may have minor differences of opinion and haven't all heard everything, our lists are pretty consistent. But that doesn't mean it's not worth asking the question.

One thing I do suggest is that since he is interested in pre-1970 music, Joe should broaden his list of gurus. "The Gramophone Jazz Good CD Guides" are very reliable. And Tom Piazza's "Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz" is very useful (over the top on Parker, but who isn't?) But pre-1970 (actually, about 1967) there isn't a lot of disagreement about what jazz records are most worthy of your attention -- later, of course, is a different matter.

My other comment is: I like Milo's suggestion of more George Coleman. One thing to keep an eye out for is Coleman's 1991 album, "My Horns of Plenty."

Christgau:

Willis and Firestone met in NY Radical Women but led Redstockings, insofar as "led" meant anything in those days. My memory is that for the two of them (and third "leader" Kathie Sarachild, who now owns the franchise--you could look it up--but according to Alice Echols's Daring to Be Bad moved to Gainesville early in the game) it functioned three-four months on the outside, conceivably six, but by then the women who thought anyone smarter than them was guilty of "classism" were on the rampage. That was the best thing about Faludi's piece as far as I'm concerned. Faludi was criminally irresponsible about schizophrenia, a mental disorder with a clear somatic cause that afflcted Firestone at least as much as sexism--there used to be a YouTube video about her hoarding you might check out. Having sat listening to records in the living room while Ellen and Shulie talked for hours on the phone in the bedroom, it's my guess that Shulie got more from Willis than v[ice]v[ersa], but I am prejudiced. Shulie had probably read more Marx and Engels. Ellen had no use for Adorno when I knew her but could have changed her mind in her much longer Aronowitz period. Probably not, though--Aronowitz reported at her funeral that she didn't really read much theory, preferred Victorian novels. I recently reread her Marcuse obituary in her first collection and recommend it. It's a pan.

Hamilton:

Thanks, Xgau, for that emendation of my radicals-comparison (btw, I wouldn't trade Willis for Adorno, no way). I keep a time-line for students of Willis' activities during the late 60s-late 70s period, and this will inform it. I had wished that a Willis-planned book on the radical Freudians Goodman/Marcuse/Reich had at least reached a stage where we might see some of it, but Aronowitz's remarks don't make that sound too hopeful.

Christgau:

My understanding, as I recall from public rather than private sources, is that early chapters of Ellen's book were completed--maybe she softened on HM, that obit was pre-Aronowitz as I calculate (I don't really know when that relationship began) and it was Aronowitz who introduced us both to Marcuse in 1966. Her daughter Nona's working on an omnibus that I suppose may include some of that stuff. Nona maintains an Ellen Willis website of some sort that I assume you're aware of.

Several things: I don't get Faludi's "criminal irresponsibility" re Firestone's schizophrenia. Maybe he knows something clinical that Faludi missed? He clearly knew Firestone, but mostly through Willis, which means probably not much after 1973 or so. I've long been partial to Bateson's "double-bind theory of schizophrenia," since that seemed to explain me when I was so diagnosed, but if schizophrenia has to be a long-term degenerative chemical imbalance then clearly I never was. On the other hand, Firestone seems to have had more than her share of double-binds.

Willis and Christgau were lovers in the early 1970s, maybe a bit earlier, and had a complicated intellectual relationship I don't know much about, mostly because I've never found Willis very interesting. (I've read little of her early writings on rock; mostly scattered pieces in the Voice on feminism. I'm also familiar with an exchange between Laura Tillem and Willis on Zionism, and I'm aware that Willis was a post-9/11 hawk -- as was Christgau.)

Christgau married Carola Dibbell shortly before I started working with him. Willis married Stanley Aronowitz, a lefty sociologist I met once when Paul Piccone invited him to St. Louis for a lecture, probably about the same time. (I met Willis once, in the Catskills, just a bare introduction.) Could be that I underestimate Willis -- Hamilton no doubt has read her more closely. I don't, by the way, have any real commitment to Marcuse. I've read a lot of Adorno and Benjamin, but not much Marcuse -- I blew off Piccone's assignment to read Reason and Revolution, and never did more than skim One Dimensional Man, nor did I ever pay much attention to what anyone had to say about Freud.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Recycled Goods (108): May, 2013

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3666 (3227 + 439).

Expert Comments

Christgau gave *** to the 1969 Miles Davis bootleg 3-CD box, the same grade I originally wrote down before I had second thoughts and nudged it up to A-, but he also noted, "There are probably 30-40 Miles albums I'd rather play." Joe Yanosik, predictably (Bob later estimated the chances at 95-98%), asked for the list -- at least for the pre-CG years, which would have to had provided 20 or so albums on top of those in the CG reviews. Milo Miles compiled such a list, hitting 20 by 1963's My Funny Valentine. I have a bunch of those down in the B+ range, and don't even recognize some (Blue Haze? Blue Moods? By any chance are those the 1952-54 Blue Notes I don't have? I know them simply as Volume 1 and Volume 2.) So I wound up writing:

I originally had the Miles Davis '69 bootleg at *** before nudging it up to A- (in fact, just found the old grade still in my database). It's very close to the line, and I gave it a bit of a bump for historical interest: it's one of the most avant-oriented records Davis ever did, and despite Holland they weren't really all that good at it -- gives it an air of failure, not that there isn't an intrinsic interest in listening to Shorter try to channel Ayler.

It's so close to the line I can take everything I have rated A- or better as "albums I'd rather play" and count them up, in which case I get 24 titles (with 32 cds) -- a lot of early stuff drops out from Milo's list (and I don't have the Blackhawks) plus (and there's a lot of redundancy here) I have eight boxes for another 47 cds. So Bob's 30-40 number is in the right ballpark.

BTW, average Jazz Prospecting yesterday; big Recycled Goods tonight, plus if you follow the links more on that Spin 1960s list feature. Not linked, but not that difficult to find, is a y1965 file that isn't ranked but follows up on your last big poll -- had I had it earlier, I might have voted.

Chris Monsen:

I reviewed the Miles album above to the equivalent of an A- for a Norwegian daily earlier this spring. I stand by that grade. I enjoy following the tentative steps ahead as well as the ruckus (though the poor sound on the last disc is no plus), and -- like our host -- have rarely found Corea more tolerable.

As for my personal take on the 30-40 bracket, let's try an experiment:

Prestige period: Walkin', Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', Steamin'. Maybe Quintet/Sextet. - That's 6

Columbia period: 'Round About Midnight, Milestones, Kind of Blue, E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, On the Corner - That's 13

Live albums (not counting Live-Evil again): Newport '58, Miles & Coltrane, At the Blackhawk, In Tokyo, Plugged Nickel, Black Beauty, Agharta, Pangea, Dark Magus -- That's 9

I can't stand any of the Warner discs. Sue me!

28 in total, 'though my rough'n'tumble list above may miss one or two (e.g. comps, boxes), so claiming there are 30 preferable MD's to In Europe wouldn't be too far a stretch for me either.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21383 [21338] rated (+45), 617 [615] unrated (+2).

Not sure how the huge rated bump happened, but the Rhapsody work doesn't stop with this coming week's rather robust Recycled Goods. Losing a bit of ground on Jazz Prospecting, but also pulled a couple old things out of the queue: the Zingaro was literally under a pile of papers on my desk, something I was vaguely aware of having missed. The old Moffett album was in the wrong queue, and being an advance with no spine was impossible to see without rifling through the discs. Also note two high-B+ piano records (Caine and Taborn).


Clipper Anderson: Ballad of the Sad Young Men (2008-10 [2013], Origin): Bassist, originally from Montana, looks like he's based in Spokane after various stretches in Portland and Seattle. Third album, if you count an Xmas with singer Greta Matassa's name first, plus thirty or so side credits, notably with fellow Montanan Jack Walrath. Anderson sings here, moldy standards done in the old Sinatra mold, except that he's not Sinatra, and Darin Clendenon's piano trio doesn't pack much punch. B

Lary Barilleau & the Latin Jazz Collective: Carmen's Mambo (2009-10 [2013], OA2): Conga player, b. 1958 in Seattle, still based there, first album as far as I can tell, cut in two sessions, with trombonist Doug Beavers the only other musicians straddling both. B

Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet: One From None (2011 [2013], Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist and trombone, leaders because they do the writing, 5-3 in favor of Bates if you're counting. Each as 3-5 records already, solid work, as is this. Band includes Michael Blake (sax), Russ Lossing (keybs), and Jeff Davis (drums). B+(***)

Geof Bradfield: Melba! (2012 [2013], Origin): Tenor saxophonist (also credited with soprano sax and bass clarinet here), fourth album since 2003, a tribute to trombonist and big band arranger Melba Liston (noting also that two songs are named after band leaders she worked for: Dizzy Gillespie and Randy Weston). Septet includes two brass (trumpet and trombone), Jeff Parker on guitar, and Ryan Cohan on piano, with Bradfield the sole reed player. The arrangements swing, the horns slide. Ends with a brief Maggie Burrell vocal. B+(***)

Cactus Truck with Jeb Bishop and Roy Campbell: Live in USA (2012 [2013], Tractata): Dutch sax-guitar-drums trio, guitarist Jasper Stadhouders also playing some bass; has a previous album, which got them this US tour, attracting trombonist Bishop and trumpeter Campbell to join in the mayhem. Three sets packed into one long CD, all but the tail end flat-out noisy, something I've never enjoyed unless I managed to find some coherent strand to organize the chaos around. No evidence of that here. B-

Uri Caine/Han Bennink: Sonic Boom (2010 [2013], 816 Music): Piano-drums duet, going by the order on the spine instead of the front cover. Recorded on the drummer's home ground -- "live at the Bimhuis" -- with Bennink's artwork both inside and out. Looks like joint improvs aside from "'Round Midnight," which isn't the only debt to Monk. The drummer is especially superb, and Caine gets hotter and harder as he learns the ropes. B+(***)

Tommy Flanagan/Jaki Byard: The Magic of 2: Live at Keystone Korner (1982 [2013], Resonance): Two major pianists, live, start out with duets on standards (first three: Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington), later on alternating solos. Bright and tinkly, Flanagan seems more at home with the material. B+(*)

Nick Fraser: Towns and Villages (2012 [2013], Barnyard): Drummer, based in Toronto, has at least one previous album under his own name, several as Drumheller, a dozen or so side credits. Quartet, modeled loosely on Ornette Coleman's recent two-bass quartet, this one with Rob Clutton on double bass and Andrew Downing on cello. They provide an ever shifting substrate for the horn: Tony Malaby on tenor (and soprano) sax gives a bravo performance, one of his finest ever. A-

Noah Haidu: Momentum (2012 [2013], Posi-Tone): Pianist, second album, a trio with Ariel de la Portilla and McClenty Hunter. Wrote 4 (of 9) cuts, covering Keith Jarrett and Joe Henderson along with more standard fare. Postbop, energetic, complex, hard to say more. B+(*)

The Bill Horvitz Expanded Band: The Long Walk (2011 [2013], Big Door Prize): Guitarist, has a handful of albums since 1997; wrote this for his late brother Phil Horvitz (1960-2005), performed by a 17-piece band including a lot of orchestral instruments (oboe, bassoon, French horn, tuba, violin, cello) -- mostly musicians I recognize. Interesting bits here and there. Can't find anything that suggests that pianist Wayne Horvitz is related, but he's in the band here. B+(*)

The Alex Levin Trio: Refraction (2012 [2013], self-released): Pianist, from Philadelphia, based in New York, third album, all standards, none remarkable but the appeal of hearing bits of great songs floating up from the mainstream piano jazz matrix is undeniable. Looks like they manage to make most of their living playing private engagements (first time I've run across Gig Salad). That's a niche they fit nicely. B+(*)

María Márquez: Tonada (2012 [2013], Adventure Music): Singer, from Venezuela, studied at Berklee, moved to San Francisco area; fifth album since 1985, second on this label. Folkish arrangements, mostly guitar, some accordion, although there are more upbeat pieces, even some brass. Has a distinctive voice, slowly grows on you. B+(*)

Charnett Moffett: The Bridge: Solo Bass Works (2011 [2013], Motéma): Bassist, has ten albums since 1987, many more side credits. This is all solo, and rather than searching out the far out sounds one can create with bass -- as, e.g., Peter Kowald and William Parker have done on their solo albums -- Moffett sticks to basics, picking and a little arco, and features a dozen proven melodies, adds in eight originals, and keeps them all short and to the point. B+(**)

Charnett Moffett: The Art of Improvisation (2009, Motéma): Checking on his new record, I noticed that I had never rated this old one, which I only got an advance promo of and file it in a queue that I almost never look at -- a risk that wouldn't have happened had they sent me a final copy. (Actually, this is two records back; never got the intervening Treasure in any shape or form.) Don't have the credits, so I don't know how chores were split up between two guitarists and three drummers, or which bass Moffett plays where -- my impression is that the fretless bass guitar gets a workout here. All originals, except for a Langston Hughes poem spoken by Angela Moffett and a warbly "Star Spangled Banner"; one more vocal is by Yungchen Lhamo -- no clue what the language is. The bass is always prominent, driving the groove, incorporating the world, and elaborating on it. B+(***) [advance]

Craig Taborn Trio: Chants (2012 [2013], ECM): Pianist, from Minneapolis; cut an early album for DIW in 1994, two "Blue Series" albums that established his reputation as one of the few distinctive electric keyb players in jazz, a couple avant exercises on European labels (Clean Feed and ILK), and a very well received acoustic solo for ECM. This trio, with Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver, should be his crowning success, but I keep coming up a bit short with it. B+(***)

Rich Thompson: Less Is More (2012 [2013], Origin): Drummer, third album, basically a hard bop quintet, with Gary Versace in piano and organ, the two horns Terrell Stafford and Doug Stone. One original, the title cut (although bassist Jeff Campbell also kicks in one), two Rodgers & Hart covers, most of the rest from a who's who of jazz in the 1960s (Kenny Dorham, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson). B+(*)

Carlos Alves "Zingaro"/Jean Luc Cappozzo/Jerome Bourdellon/Nicolas Lelievre: Live at Total Meeting (2010 [2012], NoBusiness): Violin, trumpet/bugle, flutes/bass clarinet, percussion, respectively, a prickly combination. Zingaro, b. 1948 in Portugal, came out of the postclassical avant-garde with a long discography. Cappozzo has a few albums, including one with Herb Robertson called Passing the Torch. Don't know the others, but the drummer is terrific, someone to watch out for. Three long improv pieces, difficult but dazzling, kept a smile on my face all the way through. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop: The Flame Alphabet (Not Two)
  • Anomonous (Prom Night)
  • Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1 (Teranga Beat)
  • Marko Djordjevic & Sveti: Something Beautiful 1709-2110 (Goalkeeper)
  • Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Time Stands Still (Not Two)
  • Satoko Fujii New Trio: Spring Storm (Libra)
  • Trilok Gurtu: Spellbound (Sunnyside)
  • Harifinso: Bollywood Inspired Film Music From Hausa Nigeria (Sahel Sounds)
  • Lynn Jolicoeur and the Pulse: World Behind Your Eyes (self-released)
  • Roger Kellaway & Eddie Daniels: Duke at the Roadhouse: Live in Santa Fe (IPO)
  • Kenya Special: Selected East African Recordings From the 1970s & '80s (Soundway, 2CD)
  • New York Art Quartet: Call It Art (1964-65, Triple Point, 5LP)
  • Nick Sanders Trio: Nameless Neighbors (Sunnyside)
  • Sedayeh Del (Pharaway Sounds)
  • Sweet Talk: Glitterbomb (Prom Night): advance
  • Frank Wess: Magic 101 (IPO)

Purchases:

  • Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses): The Low Highway (New West)
  • The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (Mute)
  • Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (Out Here)
  • Rilo Kiley: RKives (Little)


Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • The Shocking Blue: The Shocking Blue (1970, Colossus): Dutch group, fluke single but deeper and darker filler. B+

  • Ian Whitcomb: You Turn Me On! (1965, Tower): Fluke hit, decent filler, more notable for his book than for his music career, which shouldn't be judged too harshly. B+

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Didn't squirrel away any links last week, but came up with a few anyway.

  • Ed Kilgore: America Haters: A recent poll found that 29% of Americans agree with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect out liberties." The poll also found that 25 percent of voters "believe the American public is being lied to about the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting 'in order to advance a political agenda.'" The NRA had a convention last week where the incoming president called for a "culture war" but at least they stopped short of adopting a new slogan like, "Guns: they're not just for self-defense any more."

    Why is revolutionary rhetoric becoming so routine these days? Some of it stems from the kind of "constitutional conservatism" that raises every political or policy dispute to a question of basic patriotism or even obedience to Almighty God. But a big part of it can also be attributed to cynical opportunists who manipulate those fearful (usually without much cause) of tyranny for their own very conventional ends -- usually power and money.

    Wherever you think it's coming from, it needs to stop, and if it can't stop, it must be made disreputable as part of ordinary partisan politics.

    At a minimum, those who toy with the idea of overthrowing our government to stop Obamacare or prevent gun regulation need to stand up to the charge that they hate America. It will make them crazy to hear it, but it's the truth.

    This puts several observations together. One is that nearly everything conservatives put forward these days is objectively damaging to the lives and welfare of large segments of the American public. Austerity is a good example: it directly hurts everyone the government had previously attempted to help, plus it drags down the economy weakening the labor market -- i.e., the job security and prospects of everyone who works for a living. Another observation is that many of the people who support conservatives clearly do hate large segments of the American people. Add those up and you have to wonder whether conservative policies aren't just foolishly misguided but deliberately malevolent. And since then intend to hurt some Americans, how many targets does it take to add up to hating America?

  • Robert Kuttner: Austerity Never Works: Deficit Hawks Are Amoral -- and Wrong: An excerpt from his new book, Debtor's Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility (Knopf):

    In today's economy, which is dominated by high finance, small debtors and small creditors are on the same side of a larger class divide. The economic prospects of working families are sandbagged by the mortgage debt overhang. Meanwhile, retirees can't get decent returns on their investments because central banks have cut interest rates to historic lows to prevent the crisis from deepening. Yet the paydays of hedge fund managers and of executives of large banks that only yesterday were given debt relief by the government are bigger than ever. And corporate executives and their private equity affiliates can shed debts using the bankruptcy code and then sail merrily on.

    Exaggerated worries about public debt are a staple of conservative rhetoric in good times and bad. Many misguided critics preached austerity even during the Great Depression. As banks, factories and farms were failing in a cumulative economic collapse, Andrew Mellon, one of America's richest men and Treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932, famously advised President Hoover to "liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate . . . it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life." The sentiments, which today sound ludicrous against the history of the Depression, are not so different from those being solemnly expressed by the U.S. austerity lobby or the German Bundesbank. [ . . . ]

    The combination of these two trends -- declining real wages and inflated asset prices -- led the American middle class to use debt as a substitute for income. People lacked adequate earnings but felt wealthier. A generation of Americans grew accustomed to borrowing against their homes to finance consumption, and banks were more than happy to be their enablers. In my generation, second mortgages were considered highly risky for homeowners. The financial industry rebranded them as home equity loans, and they became ubiquitous. Third mortgages, even riskier, were marketed as "home equity lines of credit."

    State legislatures, meanwhile, paid for tax cuts by reducing funding for public universities. To make up the difference, they raised tuition. Federal policy increasingly substituted loans for grants. In 1980, federal Pell grants covered 77 percent of the cost of attending a public university. By 2012, this was down to 36 percent. Nominally public state universities are now only 20 percent funded by legislatures, and their tuition has trebled since 1989. By the end of 2011, the average student debt was $25,250. In mid-2012, total outstanding student loan debt passed a trillion dollars, leaving recent graduates weighed down with debt before their economic lives even began. This borrowing is anything but frivolous. Students without affluent parents have little alternative to these debts if they want college degrees. But as monthly payments crowd out other consumer spending, the macroeconomic effect is to add one more drag to the recovery.

    Had Congress faced the consequences head-on, it is hard to imagine a deliberate policy decision to sandbag the life prospects of the next generation. But this is what legislators at both the federal and state levels, in effect, did by stealth. They cut taxes on well-off Americans and increased student debts of the non-wealthy young to make up the difference. The real debt crisis is precisely the opposite of the one in the dominant narrative: efficient public investments were cut, imposing inefficient private debts on those who could least afford to carry them.

    The 1929 and 2008 crashes are more similar than most people recognize: if you look at charts of economic output, they start at almost the same trajectory and spread equally fast throughout the world. The difference is that the latter crash was arrested in early 2009, the result of three things: a much larger public sector which was (at least initially) free from the crash mentality; automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance and welfare; and extraordinary government intervention to prop up failing banks. Perversely, since so much of the recovery was pushed through the banking system, the rich were the first satisfied by the recovery, and they celebrated by engineering an economic pogrom against the middle class: they used the crisis to depress the labor market, and they lobbied for more austere government to cut services and put further pressure on wages. Consequently, the human costs of the current recession rival the 1930s -- the big stories of the last few weeks concern the number of long-term unemployed and the stigma against them, and a sudden increase in the suicide rate of Boomers -- but there is scarcely any viable political effort to help out. To me, the most striking difference between Obama and FDR was that the latter was pre-occupied with keeping both wages and prices up, whereas Obama doesn't seem to grasp that there is even an issue here.

  • Jordan Smith: The Real Reason Not to Intervene in Syria: Well, one real reason:

    More generally, a significant body of international-relations scholarship suggests that not only can outside intervention in humanitarian emergencies in places like Rwanda not ameliorate the situation -- it can actually make things worse. Even simply dispensing aid can prolong suffering, in what the former Doctors Without Borders leader Fiona Terry calls "the paradox of humanitarian action."

    Why are humanitarian interventions so difficult? Kuperman theorizes that when rebels are assisted by outside forces, they are unintentionally encouraged to become more reckless in fighting a regime or provoking it, resist negotiations, and expand their ambitions. Intervention can thereby produce a perverse situation of prolonging a conflict that results in more deaths. He calls this the "moral hazard of humanitarian intervention." Even the expectation or the mistaken belief of outside support can encourage rebels to continue fighting or resist settlements.

    Another real reason is that military interventions in other countries is a bad habit that the United States sorely needs to break. The reason is not just because it doesn't work out very well -- Afghanistan and Iraq are recent examples, but you can go back to 1898 and find more examples in Cuba and the Philippines, and most of the cases in between (especially including CIA operations) are more/less as unambiguous. But even if we (or, say, a more appropriate body, like the UN) could push a button and magically bring the conflict to a close, ask yourself what that solution would look like. It wouldn't be to tilt the arms balance so the rebels could take over, since doing that would only create a new regime at war attempting to suppress yet another segment of the Syrian public. No, such a solution would be to arrange a ceasefire, an amnesty, and a democratic path forward with sufficient minority protections. I don't know whether Obama has tried to do that, but many decades of hostilities between the US and Syria have resulted in the US having very little leverage there. (Egypt, for instance, was a different case: the US had a longterm military alliance there which helped to ease Mubarak from office.) Maybe Russia, China, and Iran could have more influence on the Assad regime, but the US doesn't have a lot of influence with them either.

    Smith goes on to write:

    The humanitarian impulse is a noble one, spurred by good intentions. But good intentions, even if they don't pave the road to hell, can sometimes take us a good way there.

    I would caution, though, that not every "humanitarian impulse" is a noble one. Individuals, perhaps, but nations rarely practice foreign policy to attain nobility. They usually have some sort of interest or agenda, and one should be especially suspicious of a nation that claims to be the advocate and defender of free markets, since the only acts expected in the market are ones that advance self-interests.

  • Ben White: Sidelining Palestinians in Israel Will Doom Prospects for Peace: Headline's a bit off as there are no "prospects for peace," but the real point to draw here is that the longer Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza continues, the more the brutality Israelis -- both the IDF and settlers often acting on their own -- is reflected back on the second-class citizens of Israel.

    In mid-April, the United States state department published its annual human rights review -- and the country report for Israel makes for interesting reading. An ally praised in public as the embodiment of liberal democratic values in a "tough neighbourhood" is described as practising "institutional discrimination" against its own Palestinian citizens (the so-called Israeli Arabs).

    Even in a far-from-comprehensive summary of Israel's systematic racism, the report notes discrimination in the education system, the land regime and housing, and the legal restrictions on a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza living with his or her spouse in Israel. [ . . . ]

    But it is not just discrimination and segregation that raise concerns. There are those in Israel who would like to be rid of Palestinian citizens altogether -- and see an opportunity to do so in the context of the "peace process."

    Responding to recent protests by Palestinian citizens to mark their expulsion in 1948, the former foreign minister and current chair of the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee, Avigdor Lieberman, called the Nakba commemoration events proof that "any arrangement with the Palestinians must include Israeli Arabs as well".


Apr 2013 Jun 2013