February 2014 Notebook
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Not sure of dates on this stuff:

  • Hotel, Days Inn, Sarasota FL
  • business card, O'Charleys Restaurant, Hattiesburg, MS
  • note: Holiday Inn Express notepad: 10745 SW 73rd Court
  • business card, Sushi Rock Suniland, 11293 S Dixie Hwy, Pinecrest
  • unknown gas station (Tom Thumb? store #0152), Bonifax, FL (2102 S Waukesha St) [19:01]: 9.370 gallons, $31.10 (date illegible)
  • Vic's 66 gas station, Henryetta, OK: 8.833 gallons, $29.76

Friday, February 28, 2014

Daily Log

Receipts:

  • Circle M Exxon gas station, Brinkley, AR 09:24, 8.481 gallons, $27.64

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Daily Log

Receipts:

  • BP gas station, Crestview, FL, 12:11, 9.328 gallons, $33.54
  • Fleetway gas station, Richland, MS, 18:15, 9.698 gallons, $30.54
  • Econo Lodge, Brinkley AR, 23:27

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Daily Log

Receipts:

  • Kangaroo Express gas station #1294 (where? Starke, FL), 16:58, 8.663 gallons, $30.14

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Daily Log

Stopped at Barnes & Noble in Boynton Beach. Bought:

  • Miami/West Palm Beach, Florida Map

Receipts:

  • Barnes & Noble, Palm Beach Gardens, FL: cupcake and caramel macchiato

Monday, February 24, 2014

Daily Log

Stopped at Barnes & Noble on Kendal Drive in Miami, FL. Bought:

  • Carl Hiaassen: Dance of the Reptiles

Receipts:

  • Shell gas station, Naples, FL [11:03], 8.598 gallons, $32.66

Naples to Kendall.

Receipts:

  • Bahama Breeze restaurant, Miami, FL [20:59]

Music Week

Music: Current count 22868 [22868] rated (+0), 596 [596] unrated (+0). In other words, no change. I've been on the road all week. Didn't take any new unrated music with me -- just three travel cases with familiar discs, about half left over from previous trips. (I thought I was going to take the new Allen Lowe set, but decided the packaging could neither be left behind nor survive the trip.) Also haven't played any Rhapsody, nor written much other than trip notes (and not much there either). I have been able to check mail nightly, but my ancient laptop isn't up for much more than that. Also, the proxy server schemes used by more and more hotels these days -- combined with my use of NoScript, but hey, it's my computer and I have my rights -- has been especially painful. (I was only able to get through Best Western's trap tonight by running Epiphany -- my usual choice is Firefox with NoScript -- and as soon as it connected the browser crashed.)

Don't know whether I'll be home next Monday -- probably, but not by much, and certainly won't have much in the way of ratings to report.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Daily Log

Homestead to Naples.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Daily Log

Receipts:

  • Ballyhoo's Seafood Grille, Key Largo, FL [16:17]

Friday, February 21, 2014

Daily Log

Start and end: Florida City, FL. Drove about 100 miles today. Had breakfast at IHOP. (Tip: I had the same Belgian waffle combo as last week, but got the waitress to microsave the syrup, so the waffle stayed warm instead of freezing up.) Picked up Laura and drove to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. Had lunch (way overpriced) and walked around a bit: saw a bunch of roseate spoonbills, an osprey nest with adult and chick, a small aligator. On the drive back, stopped several places, including a pond with black vultures, a mahogany stand, an elevated view of the sawgrass, and finally took the Anhinga trail. Saw turkey vultures, and several storks by the side of the road: at one point I saw three white backs out in the grasas -- first thought was sheep. Anhinga Trail had several dozen anhingas, mostly settled in trees, and a fair number of herons (some quite large) and turtles, plus at least a dozen alligators (various sizes, one swimming that must have been 8-10 feet long, one rather small pulled up on the grass near the walkway). Nearly dusk by the time we finished the last trail, so no time for the nearby Gumbo Limbo trail (similar, I suspect, to the mahogany stand, which had quite a few gumbo limbo trees). Also saw a couple baldcypress swamps -- most of the trees were white dwarfs that appeared dead but evidently defoliate for the dry winters.

Had dinner at Cracker Barrel. Was rather late by the time we got back.

Receipts:

  • Starbucks, Florida City, FL [11:48]

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Daily Log

Started West Palm Beach; ended Florida City. Drive 190 miles.

Tried to find a bagel place for breakfast/lunch, but couldn't locate it. Went to Applebee's instead -- not a good choice. Drove to Palm Beach to see and say goodbye to Laura's aunt and uncle. Very brief. Lots of traffic coming down to and past Miami. Tried jogging west to pick up I-75 and missed, so drove back roads until picking up ???.

Receipts:

  • Chevron gas station, Hialeah, FL [16:49]: 9.126 gallons, $31.57
  • Malanga Cafe, Pinecrest, FL [18:32]

A Downloader's Diary (36): February 2013

Insert text from here.


This is the 36th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 867 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter. Comments are open (subject to moderation).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Daily Log

Stopped at a Barnes & Noble in Palm Beach Gardens. Picked up a bunch of books, most tourist-oriented as I was looking for some guidance to this strange corner of the country:

  • Florida Recreation Atlas
  • Rough Guide to Florida
  • Zagat Miami/South Florida
  • Florida Trees & Wildflowers
  • Florida Birds
  • Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the . . .
  • Gigantic Book of Acrostics

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Daily Log

Laura made a two-day reservation at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport -- super-expensive in my opinion, but she assured me there were no good alternatives. I could check in at 3PM, but got there around 5PM and waited in the lobby. The real plus for me was that she could get a shuttle from the airport, saving me from having to navigate parking at the airport. It was hard enough to find the hotel, even with a phone smart enough to show maps.

Receipts:

  • Marathon gas station, Clewiston, FL [14:29]: 7.952 gallons, $28.82

Monday, February 17, 2014

Daily Log

Receipts:

  • Pilot gas station, Ocala FL: 9.192 gallons, $31.15
  • Day's Inn, Sarasota, FL, 19:56

Music Week

Music: Current count 22868 [22850] rated (+18), 596 [596] unrated (+0).

Wrapped this up on Thursday evening so I would be ready to post it on Monday (assuming Internet access). So everything here reflects about one half of a normal week, but then the next two weeks won't be normal at all: I'll be on the road, traveling around Florida, then eventually heading back to Wichita.

Most of the half-week's newly rated records already appeared in Rhapsody Streamnotes, but Thursday added a couple pretty good new jazz records. I'm a bit on the fence about James Brandon Lewis -- hard to say exactly why I gave him the edge and held it back from Jon Irabagon's latest, but the latter slips a bit from two superior albums, and the former is a new face backed by William Parker and Gerald Cleaver. Still, seemed firm enough until I played the Craig Handy disc and loved every minute of it. Only question there is whether further play bumps it up another notch.


Adding this bit on Monday: I'm in Florida, after a pleasant if uneventful drive and a lot of minor nuissances involving living on the road -- lousy, overpriced hotels; lousy food. Stopped and spent some time with a good friend I hadn't seen in nearly a year. Saw a lot of varying degrees of swampland, but thus far not much ocean. The aged laptop computer I brought along is very slow and erratic, so it looks like I'm going to get even less done than imagined.


New records rated this week:

  • Arild Andersen/Tommy Smith/Paolo Vinaccia: Mira (2012 [2014], ECM): bassist-led sax trio [dl]: B+(***)
  • Scott H. Biram: Nothin' but Blood (2014, Bloodshot): roots rocking bluesman [r]: B+(***)
  • Cities Aviv: Come to Life (2014, Young One): underground rap [r]: B+(*)
  • Craig Handy: Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (2011 [2014], Okeh): sax man goes back to r&b [cdr]: A-
  • Jon Irabagon/Mark Helias/Barry Altschul: It Takes All Kinds (2013 [2014], Irabbagast/Jazzwerkstatt): avant sax trio [cd]: B+(***)
  • James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (2011 [2014], Okeh): avant sax trio [cd]: A-
  • Eleni Mandell: Let's Fly a Kite (2014, Yep Roc): singer-songwriter [r]: B+(*)
  • Young Fathers: Tape Two (2013, Anticon, EP): Scottish beats, universal hip-hop [r]: B+(**)
  • Young Fathers: Dead (2014, Anticon): more doom and gloom [r]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Clancy Hayes: Swingin' Minstrel (1956-58 [1963], Good Time Jazz): banjo-playing trad jazz singer [r]: B+(**)
  • Rex Stewart/Dicky Wells: Chatter Jazz (1959, RCA): small swing group led by cornet-trombone duo [r]: A-
  • Clarence Williams: Dreaming the Hours Away: The Columbia Recordings Volume One (1926-28 [1998], Frog): classic jazz plus some blues singers [r]: A-
  • Clarence Williams: Gimme Blues: Washboard Bands 1926-1929 (1926-29 [2011], Frog): washboard band jazz [r]: B+(***)
  • Clarence Williams: Shake 'Em Up: The Vocalion, Brunswick, Victor, Paramount & Grey Gull Recordings 1927-1929 (1927-29 [1998], Frog): classic jazz starts to swing [r]: A-
  • Clarence Williams: Whoop It Up: The Columbia Recordings Volume 2 (1929-31 [1998], Frog): classic jazz [r]: B+(***)
  • Mary Lou Williams: Zoning (1974 [1995], Smithsonian Folkways): piano flash and motion [r]: A-
  • Mary Lou Williams Trio: At Rick's Café Americain (1979 [1999], Storyville): piano trio [r]: B+(***)
  • Lester Young, Roy Eldridge and Harry Edison: Laughin' to Keep From Cryin' (1958 [2000], Verve): easy swinging veterans [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Regina Carter: Southern Comfort (Sony Masterworks)
  • Lisa Hilton: Kaleidoscope (Ruby Slippers): March 11
  • Matt Newton: Within Reach (self-released): February 21
  • Dan Weiss: Fourteen (Pi): March 25

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Daily Log

Stopped at Barnes & Noble in Pensacola, FL. Picked up:

  • DW Eyewitness Travel Guide: Florida

Receipts:

  • Books-a-Million, Pensacola, FL: caramel macchiato

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Daily Log

Receipts:

  • RJ Express Mart gas station, Chopin, LA: 10.409 gallons, $35.38
  • Picayune Petro, Picayune, MS [11:36]: 10.628 gallons, $33.02

Friday, February 14, 2014

Daily Log

Receipts:

  • Heritage Inn, Picayune, MS: 19:59

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Daily Log

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (February 2014)

Pick up text here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Books

I knew I hadn't done a book thing in quite a while, but was surprised to check up and find the last one was on July 26. To try to force myself to do these things more regularly, I decided to limit them to 40 books each. This one actually runs a bit long (52 books) in an effort to clear out my backlog and get a fresh start. Not sure when I'll get the research done for the next one, but most likely the books are already out there.

By the way, I've actually read the Bacevich and Blumenthal books, as well as the three I list under new paperbacks (albeit in the illustrated hardcover editions). I recommend all five, especially Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence as a good general introduction to the inequality issue -- a topic Christopher Hayes' discussion of meritocracy feeds directly into.


Jack Abramoff: Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist (2011, WND Books): Out of jail after 43 months, not like he killed anyone, just redistributed millions of dollars from the public till to needy clients ("a corporation, Indian tribe, or foreign nation"), congressmen, and himself and his fellow fixers. And now he's had a change of heart, trying to raise himself to muckraker from muck. Problem is, he hasn't had a change of character. As an Amazon reader put it: "This book could be really good if Abramoff wasn't such a total narcissist."

Akbar Ahmed: The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (2013, Brookings Institution Press): One thing US intervention under the "global war on terror" guise has done is to break down traditional tribal hierarchies, as jihadists vie with elders as to how to defend communities against foreign (and to some extent anything modern counts) attack. Author is Pakistani but solidly wedged into the US foreign policy estate.

Kjell Aleklett: Peeking at Peak Oil (2012, Springer): An extensive review of the peak oil theory: the idea that the maximum point of oil extraction occurs when about half of all recoverable oil has been pumped, and is followed by declining production at elevated prices. US oil production peaked, as the theory predicted, in 1969, after which the US had to import oil to meet increasing demand (plus decreasing production). Recent advances in recovery technology have complicated things a bit, and the world (unlike the US in 1969) lacks a cheap external source to fill unmet demand, so the world production peak (predicted to have occurred some time in 2000-2010) has been a bit bumpy, but the basic facts remain: oil fields deplete, new ones become increasingly difficult to find and develop, and virtually no new oil is being created, so sooner or later we will run out, and along the way oil will become expensive, a painful way of weaning us from its use. All that and more should be in here.

Daniel Alpert: The Age of Oversupply: Overcoming the Greatest Challenge to the Global Economy (2013, Portfolio): Contends "the invisible hand is broken" by an "oversupply of labor, productive capacity, and capital relative to the demand for all three." Strikes me as true, largely the effect of technology on productivity but also growing inequality which converts those gains almost exclusively to capital. Not sure what an investment banker like Alpert wants to do about that, but demand could be increased by more equitable income distribution, and oversupply of labor can be reduced by increasing leisure time (which, if adequately supported, would also help out on the demand front).

Jonathan Alter: The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (2013, Simon & Schuster): Thought this might be one of those "centrist" tomes that balances loathing for the left against a few nitpicks with the right, but turns out this is just a campaign book, a recap of the 2012 election, where Obama's centrism worked because the right went crazy. Alter's previous books were on FDR's 100 days and on the 100 days he hoped Obama would have in 2009, so figure he's been disabused of some illusions.

Marc Ambinder/DB Grady: Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry (2013, Wiley): Several obvious questions here: how much of what Edward Snowden is now being hounded for leaking was known by the "inside" authors here? And how much of what they knew has been obsoleted by Snowden's revelations? I don't doubt that anyone who cared to look could have found various pieces of what the NSA has been up to, and this may help to understand it all. But most likely we're still far from understanding it all, so this and similar books are far from definitive. (I notice that Amazon wants to bundle this with Mark Mazzetti: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth and Jeremy Scahill: Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield -- two other key pieces to the puzzle.)

Scott Anderson: Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2013, Doubleday): Every decade or two someone returns to T.E. Lawrence for further confirmation of the insights they've finally tuned into after further mayhem in the Middle East, yet they always miss the basic point: what makes Lawrence an effective critic of British (and more recently American) intervention is that he was helplessly at the center of the problem: he was convinced he could make it work. This also focuses on Aaron Aaronson, Curt Prüfer, and William Yale.

Reza Aslan: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013, Random House): Wrote one of the more accessible histories of Islam, No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam, and a book critical of the Jihadist impulse, Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization. Here he attempts a historical inquiry into the life of Jesus. Long ago I read Marcello Craveri's The Life of Jesus, a similar attempt to flesh out a historical character about whom little is known and much is imagined. Aslan must know this as well as anyone, but judging from the cover, I have to wonder whether the association of Jesus with the Jewish zealot movement isn't imposing something from the modern mind's must justified fear of violent fundamentalism.

Andrew J Bacevich: Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013, Metropolitan Books): Continues the author's critique of American militarism -- cf. The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005), The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008), Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010) -- all useful books. Still, I think his argument here, that Washington has found it too easy to use (and abuse) the all-volunteer Army can be countered by restoring the draft, is misplaced. He surely recalls that having "citizen-soldiers" in Vietnam did little to prevent the politicians and brass from abusing them. Nor did the Army's later scheme to make itself unable to fight wars without calling up the reserves deter the Bushes. I don't doubt that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have done immeasurable damage to the troops, but you're never going to end American militarism by fetishizing the troops -- they ultimately have too much stake in perpetuating the system to buck it, even if many wind up its victims.

Peter Baker: Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (2013, Doubleday): Big (816 pp) instant history of the two Bush-Cheney terms, based on sympathetic insider interviews by a long-time White House correspondent. One angle seems to be questioning who called the shots when -- for much of this time Billmon commonly referred to the Cheney Administration, while only occasionally mentioning "Shrub." My impression is that after Cheney's chief of staff Libby was convicted the tables turned and we went from the Cheney menace to the Bush muddle, not that anything got better.

Max Blumenthal: Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013, Nation Books): The hidden, and rather embarrassing, story revealed by living a couple years in Israel, of talking to right-wingers in Knesset and in the streets, to peace activists, and to strange folk who invariably wind up "shooting and weeping" like David Grossman. I'm not sure he covers all the bases, but he shows, for instance, how the schools are used to train Jewish Israelis for military service, and how that reinforces right-wing political culture. The result is a grossly distorted society.

David Carey/John E Morris: King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone (2010; paperback, 2012, Crown Business): Puff book on the largest private equity company and its billionaire leader, and presumably a few words about his partner, Pete Peterson -- you know, the guy who wants to take your Social Security away. The authors buy into the great moral fallacy of our time: the belief that making obscene amounts of money is laudable no matter how you do it.

Thurston Clarke: JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President (2013, Penguin Press): Much speculation about what Kennedy would have done had he lived and been reëlected, especially given how poorly Lyndon Johnson fared with Vietnam. McGeorge Bundy later observed that LBJ's basic Cold War attitude was to make sure he wasn't perceived as weak, JFK's approach was to make sure he was right. The author argues that JFK's openness made him a different man at the end of his life than he was when he ran for president.

Jonathan Crary: 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013, Verso): Short book (144 pp) on how capitalism's need to sell you things has chewed up the clock. I suspect this might dovetail nicely with James Gleick's Faster, had Gleick thought his book through better instead of just letting it bum rush him.

Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager (paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial): Interviews with an anonymous hedge fund manager from September 2007 to late summer 2009: gives you a chance to view the panic from the inside, and also to lay out the perspective of a hedge fund trader, someone always on guard to exploit any given situation.

Barbara T Dreyfuss: Hedge Hogs: The Cowboy Traders Behind Wall Street's Largest Hedge Fund Disaster (2013, Random House): Another hedge fund disaster: Amaranth Advisors LLC, worth $9 billion one day, collapsed a few weeks later -- mostly the work of one trader's high-risk bets on natural gas prices. Hope there is some useful historical context. Amaranth collapse in 2006, before the crash; Galleon Group in 2009, after.

Terry Eagleton: Across the Pond: An Englishman's View of America (2013, WW Norton): One might think that the author's status as one of the world's foremost Marxist literary critics might have some bearing on how he views America, but most of the examples I see are stereotypically English views of generic Americans, easy to come by and more self-sure than is warranted. Other relatively recent Eagleton books (some reprints of older books, many university presses): How to Read Literature (2013, Yale); The Event of Literature (2012; paperback, 2013, Yale); Why Marx Was Right (paperback, 2012, Yale); On Evil (paperback, 2011, Yale); Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (paperback, 2010, Yale); The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2008, Oxford); Literary Theory: An Introduction (3rd edition, paperback, 2008, Minnesota); Trouble With Strangers: A Study of Ethics (paperback, 2008, Wiley-Blackwell); How to Read a Poem (paperback, 2006, Wiley-Blackwell); Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory (paperback, 2006, Verso).

Russell Faure-Brac: Transition to Peace: A Defense Engineer's Search for an Alternative to War (paperback, 2012, iUniverse): Short book (142 pp), but the basics seem obvious, requiring only a will to not do stupid and self-destructive things. Of course, coming out of a war culture, he probably has more stupidity to argue against.

Michael Fullilove: Rendezvous With Destiny: How Franklin D Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America Into the War and Into the World (2013, Penguin Press): The "five" were envoys sent by Roosevelt to Europe to lay the foundations for the future US alliances in WWII, and ultimately the transformation of the US from isolationism to internationalism and ultimately to our hallucination of sole superpowerdom -- something that may have been more true in 1946 than in 1990 (or 2001). There has been a sudden confluence of eve-of-WWII books, including: Susan Dunn: 1940: FDR, Wilkie, Lindbergh, Hitler -- The Election Amid the Storm (2013, Yale University Press); Lynne Olson: Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 (2013, Random House); David L Roll: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (2013, Oxford University Press); Maury Klein: A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II (2013, Bloomsbury Press).

Charles Gasparino: Circle of Friends: The Massive Federal Crackdown on Insider Trading -- and Why the Markets Always Work Against the Little Guy (2013, Harper Business): Fox business analyst, which is probably where the "massive federal crackdown" rhetoric comes from. More dirt on the Galleon Group case, which is probably better covered by Anita Raghavan: The Billionaire's Apprentice and Turney Duff: The Buy Side. Gasparino previously wrote Bought and Paid For: The Unholy Alliance Between Barack Obama and Wall Street, which is true enough, but hardly the only "unholy alliance" Wall Street has.

Rosemary Gibson/Janardan Prasad Singh: Medicare Meltdown: How Wall Street and Washington Are Ruining Medicare and How to Fix It (2013, Rowman & Littlefield): Given the alternatives it's tempting to give Medicare a free pass, but the program isn't immune from the profit-driven US healthcare industry, and the greed of the latter is as much a threat as the political right. So this is a real problem, but I'm not sure this book is much of a solution. Thumbing through it, the "Fifteen Medicare Facts That Will Astonish You" are mostly astonishing for their abuse of statistics. Gibson and Prasad also wrote Wall of Silence: The Untold Story of the Medical Mistakes That Kill and Injure Millions of Americans (2003, Lifeline Press), The Treatment Trap: How the Overuse of Medical Care Is Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do to Prevent It (2011, Ivan R Dee), and The Battle Over Health Care: What Obama's Reform Means for America's Future (2012, Rowman & Littlefield).

Henry A Giroux: America's Education Deficit and the War on Youth: Reform Beyond Electoral Politics (2013, Monthly Review Press): Blames "four fundamentalisms: market deregulation, patriotic and religious fervor, the instrumentalization of education, and the militarization of society." The other three are right-wing ideology, but the third is less a theory than a consequence. Conservatives want to shift the responsibility for success from society to the individual, which means there will be less wealth and what there is spread more inequitably. They figure this to be a good thing: if success is rarer we should appreciate it, and the virtues that help individuals accumulate it, more, but the net effect is to create a declining economy where education becomes an ever more dear tool. That strikes me as less a "war on youth" than gross indifference to the future of civilization. Giroux has also written: Disposable Youth: Racialized Memories, and the Culture of Cruelty (paperback, 2012, Routledge), and Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (paperback, 2013, Paradigm).

Doris Kearns Goodwin: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (2013, Simon & Schuster): Follow-up to her ridiculously acclaimed Lincoln book, Team of Rivals, taking another juicy slice of hyperbole and puffs it up to 848 pp.

Laura Gottesdiener: A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home (2013, Zuccotti Park Press): How predatory lending and foreclosure have wracked black America, contributing to the failure to build real economic security on top of nominal civil rights gains.

Richard N Haass: Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order (2013, Basic Books): Veteran foreign policy mandarin, realist division, but not realist enough to concede that the gig is up. But he does realize that American power has always been built on the American economy, so that's something worth paying some attention to, especially if you hope to remain a foreign policy mandarin.

Carl Hart: High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society (2013, Harper): A memoir, detailing the author's early interest in crack addiction as a user before he became a scientist and started researching others, rethinking how anti-drug laws work and what they are doing, especially given their racially-selective enforcement, and providing research on what drugs actually do, which is often not what you think.

Richard Heinberg: Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future (paperback, 2013, Post Carbon Institute): Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing promises to increase the amount of oil we can extract from already largely depleted oil fields, and to make the extraction of natural gas from widespread shale deposits economically attractive -- assuming you don't get too squeamish about the environmental risks, which for gas at least are considerable. Heinberg wrote a book in 2003 which declared The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies and followed that up in 2007 with Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, and he's sticking to his guns here. For less dismal views of fracking, see: John Graves: Fracking: America's Alternative Energy Revolution (paperback, 2013, Safe Harbor); Vikram Rao: Shale Gas: The Promise and the Peril (paperback, 2012, RTI International); Tom Wilber: Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale (2012, Cornell University Press).

Rawn James Jr: The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America's Military (2013, Bloomsbury Press): One of the first important breakthroughs in post-WWII civil rights, partly because it could be done by executive order, but also, I suspect, because becoming gun fodder wasn't much of a step up, and trying to maintain segregation in a modern military as large as the US wanted for its "cold" and not-so-cold wars would have been a nightmare. Indeed, one can argue that segregation only survived in the South as long as feudalism did.

Gregg Jones: Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America's Imperial Dream (2012; paperback, 2013, NAL): Taking the Philippines from Spain was the easy part. Crushing their war for independence was a much larger and more arduous ordeal.

Simon Lack: The Hedge Fund Mirage: The Illusion of Big Money and Why It's Too Good to Be True (2012, Wiley): Formerly worked at JPMorgan making investments in hedge funds, only to find out that despite occasionally spectacular stories they didn't in general work out.

Mark Leibovich: This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! -- in America's Gilded Capital (2013, Blue Rider Press): "There are no Democrats and Republians anymore in the nation's capital, just millionaires. That's the grubby secret of the place in the twenty-first century. You will always have lunch in This Town again. No matter how many elections you lose, apologies you make, or scandals you endure." So don't expect anything on the real problems America faces; just the surreal ones.

Michael Levi: The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future (2013, Oxford University Press): Bullish on US energy from all corners, covering the oil and gas booms as well as the ever-more-competitive renewables, seeing bright futures in both. The "battle" is likely to be more political than economic, as the Kochs and other oil partisans, for instance, would love to see solar and wind power stamped out. No indication that nuclear comes into play here at all.

Jonathan Macey: The Death of Corporate Reputation: How Integrity Has Been Destroyed on Wall Street (2013, FT Press): When you hire a banker to manage your money, he is supposed to work for you, to serve your interest. When he uses your money to buy his bank's toxic securities, he's taken your trust and used it to screw you. That, in a nutshell, is what banks have turned into since the "greed is good" age took over. Sure, mostly they screw other people, but as that becomes habitual it ceases to matter to them who they screw, or how. And the more they've gotten away with it, the more they do it: one of Macey's big points is the SEC, created to stop securities fraud, "got captured," becoming "toothless."

Sebastian Mallaby: More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Big book on hedge funds, starts with the originators and tries to cover the field, taking a positive view and covering the "heroes" when the "villains" have become all the more noteworthy. Probably useful for all this history, even if the ethics seem a little shaky.

Jerry Mander: The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System (paperback, 2013, Counterpoint): Former advertising executive, wrote Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television in 1977, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations in 1992, and cowrote with Edward Goldsmith The Case Against the Global Economy: And a Turn Toward the Local in 1997. In the post-Cold War period the suggestion that capitalism is obsolete is rank heresy, but it isn't so hard to see that a system dependent on infinite growth cannot be indefinitely sustained, or that the way we practice capitalism -- where the rich make up for their inability to grow adequately by hollowing out everyone else -- leaves much to be desired.

Geoff Mann: Disassembly Required: A Field Guide to Actually Existing Capitalism (paperback, 2013, AK Press): Short book (160 pp), reprising economic theory from Marx to Gramsci, looking at capitalism as a self-destructive as well as productive engine, and expecting the worst.

Richard Manning: Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape (paperback, 2011, University of California Press): Author of the marvelous Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie (paperback, 1997, Penguin) returns with a book on a project to create an "American Serengeti" where a large chunk of Montana is rewilded replete with buffalo, wolves, elk, grizzly, much as it was when Lewis and Clark first traipsed through it a scant two hundred years ago.

Leslie McCall: The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs About Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution (paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press): Research on a topic I can only speculate about. My impression is that throughout most of US history Americans were quick to condemn the rich, at least in bad times, but over the last 30-40 years that populist reaction has diminished -- at least partly due to the success the Cold War has had in characterizing and championing capitalism as freedom. On the other hand, the rich have taken advantage of this free pass, and are ripe for revulsion once again.

Greg Muttitt: Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2012, Free Press): Denials to the contrary, oil was always a big subtext of the US decision to invade Iraq -- how could it have been otherwise when Bush and Cheney were so steeped in the oil industry culture? It's played out more slowly than those who carried "no war for oil" placards, or for that matter the rosy-eyed warmongers in the Bush administration, ever imagined, but ten years later most of the big western oil companies are doing business in Iraq, and booking reserves that have become increasingly hard to find anywhere else. So it's good that someone's finally pulling this history together. And, by the way, the oil companies made out on both ends: early on knocking Iraqi oil out of the market caused shortages and higher prices, and later the companies got those reserves.

Sönke Neitzel/Harald Welzer: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying (2012, Knopf): Based on 800 pages of declassified transcripts of interrogations of German POWs, the book offers "an unmitigated window into the mind-set of the German fighting man" -- before the Reich fell, before the "Final Solution" was final.

Anthony Pagden: The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters (2013, Random House): I'm not sure that the enlightenment ever achieved notably enlightened political rule, but the various insights gained proved (at least until recently) intractable, and as such moved the reference points for those in power, a considerable feat. Why it still matters may owe to my parenthetical: although conservatives have always opposed enlightenment, they have rarely been so successful as lately, so the story bears repeating. Indeed, the squalor of the past dark ages should argue strongly against the future dystopia that today's right-wingers so have their hearts set on.

Christopher S Parker/Matt A Barreto: Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America (2013, Princeton University Press): Argues that the Tea Party isn't "simple ideology or racism" but draws on the psychological sense of losing one's country, a "fear that the country is being stolen from 'real Americans.'" And who believes that? Well, mostly racists and devotees of simple right-wing ideologies. It is ironic that they've never come closer to running the country than they are now, but their worst enemy is their own success, because all they truly offer is ruination. Also see: Lawrence Rosenthal/Christine Trost: Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party (paperback, 2012, University of California Press); Ronald P Formisano: The Tea Party: A Brief History (2012, John Hopkins University Press).

Anita Raghavan: The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund (2013, Business Plus): Focuses on South Asian emigré hedge fund traders, especially Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam, something the Malaysia-born author can relate to. For more on Galleon: Turney Duff: The Buy Side: A Wall Street Trader's Tale of Spectacular Excess (2013, Crown Business).

Jonathan Rowe: Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work (paperback, 2013, Berrett-Koehler): Short book (144 pp) on the importance of "the commons" not just to the economy but to wealth and well-being of all. Published posthumously with forwards and afterwords by Bill McKibben, David Bollier, and Peter Barnes. I see numerous testimonies that Rowe was "a unique and original thinker," so it's nice to have him collected in a book.

Jeffrey D Sachs: To Move the World: JFK's Quest for Peace (2013, Random House): Focuses on four speeches Kennedy gave during his last days, covering similar ground to Thurston Clarke: JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President. Sachs is an economist, best known for his contentious work on world development, so this is something of a pet project.

Jonathan Schlefer: The Assumptions Economists Make (2012, Belknap Press): It's hard to avoid the impression that most of what passes for economics is applied logic based on unexamined assumptions -- it's not that there is no empirical data, but it's so messy you need models to make sense of it, and most economists wind up believing their seductively logical models over their lying eyes. The point here is to examine the unexamined assumptions, starting with Adam Smith's "invisible hand."

Kevin Sites: The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You About What They've Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War (paperback, 2013, Harper Perennial): Interviews with eleven US soldiers who did time in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of memoirs from these wars -- way too many to list, and one thing they're unlikely to provide is any historical sense of how or why they were put into those wars. Karl Marlantes: What It Is Like to Go to War (2011, Atlantic Monthly Press; paperback, 2011, Grove Press) is similar on the Vietnam War. Nancy Sherman: The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton) tries to cover both Vietnam and the Bush Wars.

Tom Standage: Writing on the Wall: Social Media -- The First 2,000 Years (2013, Bloomsbury): Looks at pre-Internet analogues to "social media" -- for instance, the much older practice of graffiti. Author previously wrote An Edible History of Humanity, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, and most relevantly, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers.

Benn Steil: The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (2013, Princeton University Press): The system of monetary exchanges set up at the Bretton Woods conference held up from 1944 to 1973, a period of tremendous and widespread growth for both the US and Europe, so how it came about is bound to be an interesting story.

Chuck Thompson: Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Succession (2012; paperback, 2013, Simon & Schuster): You're more likely to hear southerners urging secession -- Rick Perry is one who made headlines, but then as a Texan he felt doubly entitled -- but when you look at the political and economic splits you get a sense of how much of a drag the South places on the rest of the country. I'm just worried that, living in Kansas, I might wind up on the wrong side of the border -- Gov. Brownback's whole agenda amounts to nothing more than Texas-envy, so he for sure would want to stick with the South.

Euclid Tsakalotos/Christos Laskos: Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the Eurozone and the World Economy (paperback, 2013, Pluto Press): Greek leftists, the former an economic professor who previously wrote 22 Things That They Tell You About the Greek Crisis That Aren't So, explain the Greek popular revolt against the Eurobankers' imposition of austerity programs, meant to solve a problem largely caused by the Euro.

Richard Wolfe: The Message: The Reselling of President Obama (2013, Twelve): Insider book on the 2012 presidential election from within the victorious Obama camp, a good chance for the author to compliment his own brilliance, if you're into that sort of thing. Wolfe's memoir of the 2008 campaign was Renegade: The Making of a President. Guess he couldn't use that title again.


Some recent paperbacks of books previously listed in hardcover:

Kurt Eichenwald: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars (2012; paperback, 2013, Touchstone): Figures the 18 months from 9/11/2001 to the invasion of Iraq tell us all we need to know about the emergence and development Bush administration's strategic thinking about war and terror, with a clarity that is only muddled by the subsequent 5-10 (and counting) years of grappling with the many failures and complications of such muddled thinking.

Christopher Hayes: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (2012, Crown; paperback, 2013, Broadway): Shows how the idea of meritocracy is a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it accustoms you to thinking that inequality is due to merit; on the other, Hayes shows how the meritocracy game can be rigged, and inevitably degrades into oligarchy. He also shows that we're so far gone down this road one scarcely bothers with meritocracy any more, even as a shallow excuse.

Timothy Noah: The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It (2012; paperback, 2013, Bloomsbury Press): Probably the first book to start with if you want to understand how incomes and wealth have diverged since 1973, with the rich and the superrich pulling ever further ahead while everyone else stagnates or worse.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 22850 [22805] rated (+45), 596 [595] unrated (+1).

Rated count is very high this week. I've been snowed in all week and have wound up sitting at the computer, listening to old jazz on Rhapsody. It goes fast, mostly because I don't dawdle but also because the records are often quite short. I've mostly stuck to the 1950s, although I couldn't resist playing the Bix Beiderbecke comp that previously escaped me when it popped up in a search. I did pass on some other records that would have moved me out of the zone. Just goes to show that there's much more to mop up even if Rhapsody's coverage of jazz is rather spotty.

A couple 2014 non-jazz items in the new records. I've started a 2014 prospect list file as a sort of cribsheet to keep track of things I might want to check out sooner or later: it sort of splits the difference between the various "wish list" files I've had in the past and the all-encompassing metacritic file. I have a sort of prioritization ranking built into it, but at present the code doesn't let you scope in and out. I've also tried to add genre info (although different sources use different schemas so don't expect consistency or precision) and possibly other notes. Thus far I've only consulted AMG and Metacritic for recommendations, but I'll probably expand the search a bit. Just don't want it to become a big time sink.

I expect I'll run a February Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. As the rated lists (below and for previous weeks) show, I'll have notes on a lot of good old jazz records and a few (mostly not-so-good) new records. I did two such columns in January, and probably could this month as well, but I doubt if I'll have a second February column. I'm trying to wrap things up before a long car trip later this week. I'm headed to Florida, and probably won't be back until the end of the month. I'll pack a boom box and a bunch of CDs, but they'll mostly be old friends rather than new work. I'll take a laptop, but I've never managed to get much work done on it, so can't promise much. Should have internet access, although it will be more intermittent than usual. What may be more productive would be to take a paper notebook and sketch out some schemas for various projects. One thing long drives are good for is the chance to think, and that, combined with the break to the routine, is much of what I'm looking forward to. Of course, warmer weather will be a plus.

I've finally put all of Christgau's Expert Witness capsule reviews into my local copy of the database. I expect I'll do a major update of his website before I leave. Still have some loose ends to tie down, then I have to figure out how to actually do the update -- some things have changed on the server end. I also hope to have a Downloader's Diary to post before I leave, but if not we'll wrap it up from the road. Tatum missed January, but has moved on to new 2014 releases, and is much more enthusiastic about them than I am so far. (My only "new" A- release below is technically a 2013 release, although what happens in December in Lithuania isn't always something we can get to within the calendar year here.)

One new record in my queue that I've been playing but haven't sorted out yet is Allen Lowe's Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings 1-4 (or: A Jew at Large in the Minstrel Diaspora). Just way too much to sort out quickly. It's the one new record I'll pack for the trip, but I doubt if I'll write it up until I get back.


New records rated this week:

  • Eddie Allen: Push (2013 [2014], Edjallen Music): postbop jazz-funk [cd]: B+(**)
  • John Brown: Quiet Time (2007 [2014], Brown Boulevard): bassist-led quiet storm [cd]: B+(**)
  • Steve Cardenas: Melody in a Dream (2012 [2014], Sunnyside): guitar jazz plus trumpet [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Wayne Escoffery Quintet: Live at Firehouse 12 (2013 [2014], Sunnyside): postbop sax with double keybs [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kidd Jordan/Alvin Fielder/Peter Kowald: Trio and Duo in New Orleans (2002-05 [2013], NoBusiness, 2CD): avant sax [cd]: A-
  • Parker Millsap: Parker Millsap (2014, Okrahoma): Okie folkie [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Paslay: Eric Paslay (2014, Capitol Nashville): Nashville singer-songwriter formula [r]: B
  • Amy Ray: Goodnight Tender (2014, Daemon): Indigo Girl goes country [r]: B+(***)
  • Snowbird: Moon (Bella Union, 2CD): former Cocteau Twin + singer Stephanie Dosen + remixes [r]: B
  • Adam Unsworth/Byron Olson/John Vanore: Balance (2009-11 [2014], Acoustical Concepts): jazz chamber orchestra [cd]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Gene Ammons: The Happy Blues (1956 [1991], Prestige/OJC): jam session with McLean and Farmer [r]: B+(***)
  • Gene Ammons All Stars: Jammin' With Gene (1956 [1986], Prestige/OJC): more jam session [r]: B+(**)
  • Gene Ammons: Funky (1957 [1986], Prestige/OJC): more jam session [r]: B+(*)
  • Gene Ammons' All Stars: The Big Sound (1958 [1991], Prestige/OJC): if you can call Jerome Richardson's flute "big" [r]: B+(*)
  • Gene Ammons and His All Stars: Groove Blues (1958 [1992], Prestige/OJC): same session, more Ammons [r]: B+(**)
  • Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt: Boss Tenors: Straight Ahead From Chicago August 1961 (1961 [1992], Verve): mainstream sax aplenty [r]: B+(***)
  • Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt: Boss Tenors in Orbit! (1962 [2002], Verve): more sax duos [r]: A-
  • Gene Ammons: Angel Eyes (1960-62 [1998], Prestige/OJC): two ballads with Mal Waldron, four more with organ and Frank Wess [r]: B+(**)
  • Bix Beiderbecke: Volume 2: At the Jazz Band Ball (1927-28 [1990], Columbia): dixieland goes big time [r]: A-
  • John Coltrane/Paul Quinichette: Cattin' With Coltrane and Quinichette (1957 [1990], Prestige/OJC): friendly saxes [r]: B+(***)
  • John Coltrane: Coltrane/Prestige 7105 (1957 [1987], Prestige/OJC): saxman makes the rounds (2-4-5-6) [r]: B+(***)
  • John Coltrane With the Red Garland Trio: Traneing In (1957 [1987], Prestige/OJC): hard bop quartet [r]: B+(***)
  • Miles Davis: Miles Davis and Horns (1951-53 [1989], Prestige/OJC): more cool than bop, add sax(es) and trombone [r]: B+(*)
  • Miles Davis: Blue Haze (1953-54 [1988], Prestige/OJC): session scraps without the "all stars" [r]: B+(***)
  • Miles Davis: Bags Groove (1954 [2008], Prestige/RVG Remasters): with Monk and Jackson or Silver and Rollins [r]: A-
  • Miles Davis: Blue Moods (1955 [1990], Debut/OJC): short ballad set [r]: B
  • Miles Davis and Milt Jackson: Quintet/Sextet (1956 [1989], Prestige/OJC): plus or minus McLean [r]: B+(**)
  • Miles Davis: Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (1954-56 [1989], Prestige/OJC): two quintets struggle with Monk [r]: B+(*)
  • Eric Dolphy Quintet: Outward Bound (1960 [1987], New Jazz/OJC): hard bop quintet pushing boundaries [r]: A-
  • Eric Dolphy: Out There (1960 [1989], New Jazz/OJC): loses the hard edge, replacing trumpet with cello [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Dolphy: Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot: Volume 2 (1961 [1992], Prestige/OJC): quintet with Booker Little and Mal Waldron [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Dolphy & Booker Little: Memorial Album: Recorded Live at the Five Spot (1961 [1989], Prestige/OJC): more from the same date, more poignant with both stars dead so young [r]: B+(***)
  • Tommy Flanagan/John Coltrane/Kenny Burrell/Idrees Sulieman: The Cats (1957 [1990], Prestige/OJC): four stars in search of a band [r]: B+(*)
  • Tommy Flanagan: Overseas (1957 [1999], Prestige/OJC): piano trio [r]: A-
  • Tommy Flanagan: The Tommy Flanagan Trio (1960 [1990], Prestige/OJC): piano trio [r]: B+(***)
  • Booker Little: Booker Little and Friend (1961, Bethlehem): entering the postbop era [r]: A-
  • Jack McDuff and Gene Ammons: Brother Jack Meets the Boss (1962 [1988], Prestige/OJC): soul jazz [r]: B+(**)
  • Ken McIntyre/Eric Dolphy: Looking Ahead (1960 [1986], New Jazz/OJC): two forward-thinking sax-flute players [r]: B+(*)
  • Charles Mingus: The Charles Mingus Quartet + Max Roach (1955 [1990], Debut/OJC): more like the George Barrow-Eddie Bert Quintet [r]: B
  • Oliver Nelson: Screamin' the Blues (1960 [1991], New Jazz/OJC): moan and wail, with Eric Dolphy [r]: A-
  • Oliver Nelson/Eric Dolphy: Straight Ahead (1961 [1989], New Jazz/OJC): turns into a blowing session [r]: B+(**)
  • Mel Powell: The Best Things in Life (1953-56 [1999], Vanguard): swing pianist with various groups [r]: B+(***)
  • Mel Powell: It's Been So Long (1953-56 [1999], Vanguard): pianist with small swing groups [r]: A-
  • Paul Quinichette/Shad Collins/Freddie Green/Walter Page/Jo Jones: For Basie (1957 [199], Prestige/OJC): little big band [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jeff Ballard Trio: Time's Tales (Okeh)
  • Lisa Ferraro: Serenading the Moon (Pranavasonic Universal): March 25
  • Tom Griesgraber/Bert Lams: Unnamed Lands (self-released)
  • Jon Irabagon/Mark Helias/Barry Altschul: It Takes All Kinds (Irabbagast/Jazzwerkstatt)
  • James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (Okeh)
  • Kristen Miranda: Double Time (self-released): March 15
  • The Jim Olsen Ensemble: We See Stars (OA2): February 18
  • Chris Parker: Full Circle (OA2): February 18
  • Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (Accurate): March 11

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:


  • Uri Avnery: Netanyahu's Pipe Dream: In their neverending search to make peace terms as unpalatable as possible, Israel's right-wing has put a lot of emphasis in demanding that others, especially Palestinians, recognize Israel not only as a de facto governing authority but as a, or more pointedly, the Jewish state. Avnery points out:

    A state is a reality. Ideologies belong to the abstract realm.

    When the United States recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, it recognized the state. It did not recognize its communist nature. [ . . . ]

    Some Israelis (including myself) would like to change the self-definition of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," omitting the word "Jewish." Some other Israelis would like to omit or demote the word "democratic." Neither of us believe that we need the confirmation of the Palestinians for this.

    It's just none of their business.

    I don't know what the real intention of Netanyahu is when he presents this demand as an ultimatum.

    The most flattering explanation for his ego is that it is just another trick to sabotage the "peace process" before it reaches the demand to evacuate the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. The less flattering explanation is that he really believes in it, that he is driven by some deeply rooted national inferiority complex that needs outside assurance of "legitimacy." Recognizing the "National State of the Jewish People" means accepting the entire Zionist narrative, lock, stock and barrel, starting from the divine promise to Abraham to this very day.

    Part of the problem is that "Jewish state" means different things to different people at different times, so asking someone else to acknowledge Israel in just those terms winds up being dangerously open-ended. Herzl's founding Zionist document was called The Jewish State, but the idea was described there is utopian terms. The actual Israel is far from the conflictless dream Herzl imagined: a state which divides its citizens up into Jews and others and treats them more or less inequally depending on other factors like where they live. One worries especially that the real reason the right-wing pushes the "Jewish state" declaration so ardently is that it provides cover for even more inequal treatment, aimed ultimately at pushing non-Jews into exile, extending the "ethnic cleansing" of 1948. This would, of course, be less of an issue if Israel returned to its 1967 borders, where the demographic balance is overwhelmingly Jewish. Conversely, as the right-wing seeks to consolidate political integration with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the privileging of Jews looms even more important. Many of their recent initiatives have been directed at non-Jewish citizens of Israel -- loyalty oaths, attacks on free speech, etc. (Max Blumenthal's book Goliath covers this well). As such, the "Jewish state" is increasingly part of the anti-democratic efforts of the far right.

    The polite thing to do at this point is to change the subject any time the phrase pops up. Obama made a serious mistake in using the phrase -- one of many reasons Netanyahu has making him think he's got the president eating out of his hand.

  • Tithi Bhattacharya/Bill V Mullen: Why is the American elite scared of BDS? As Max Blumenthal reports in Goliath, the reaction of Israel's dominant right-wing majority to BDS is to attempt to criminalize the speech of anyone who advocates boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions against Israel. As this piece shows, Israel's American cronies are, once again, following in lock step, even though the US traditionally has a much stronger tradition of free speech than Israel (e.g., it's in the constitution, whereas "democratic" Israel doesn't have a constitution). Much of this effort to muzzle academics comes from nominal liberals -- the two states considering bills to punish pro-BDS profressors are New York and Maryland -- but it's especially concentrated among university administrators. I would suspect that university administrators are a particulary soft touch for well-heeled pro-Israeli donors, but the authors suggest a deeper orientation:

    This history sets a clear pattern in which U.S. University administrators are keen to become first responders to ideological objectives of the government. Yet in many ways, events since 9/11 in the U.S. most clearly index the militarized U.S. University, and best explain the blowback in higher education against the ASA Boycott vote. [ . . . ]

    Universities were also retooled after 9/11 in specific ways to provide clear ideological direction to a new generation of students. More than 400 colleges and Universities established Homeland Security Programs, many receiving direct funding from the government. Duke University, whose President has condemned the ASA Boycott of Israeli Universities, offers a Counterterrorism and Public Policy Fellowship Program; the Fellowship, according to its website, "fulfills the Senior Service Education (SSE) requirements for military officers and other U.S. national security professionals."

    It is politically of a piece, then, that militarization of the US university has accompanied a tightening of relations between Israel's settler-colonial state and a U.S. state which provides it roughly two billion dollars a year in military assistance.

    For more on BDS, see:

    Also see Blumenthal's Goliath. And you could also take a look at Thomas Friedman's confused piece, The Third Intifada. Given his proven knack for trivializing things, Friedman has decided that non-violent protests and international pleas for recognizing the human rights of Palestinians and the enforcement of international law constitute another uprising, perhaps because Israel's response is the same as it was during the Intifadas: heavy-handed and violent.

  • Russell Brand: Philip Seymour Hoffman Is Another Victim of Extremely Stupid Drug Laws: Of course:

    People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even remotely deterred by prohibition. What prohibition achieves is an unregulated, criminal-controlled, sprawling, global mob-economy, where drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem.

    Countries like Portugal and Switzerland that have introduced progressive and tolerant drug laws have seen crime plummet and drug-related deaths significantly reduced. We know this. We know this system doesn't work -- and yet we prop it up with ignorance and indifference. Why? Wisdom is acting on knowledge. Now we are aware that our drug laws aren't working and that alternatives are yielding positive results, why are we not acting? Tradition? Prejudice? Extreme stupidity? The answer is all three. Change is hard, apathy is easy, tradition is the narcotic of our rulers. The people who are most severely affected by drug prohibition are dispensable, politically irrelevant people. Poor people. Addiction affects all of us but the poorest pay the biggest price.

  • John Cassidy: The CBO's Real Message: Six Million Jobs Are Already Missing: Republicans have seized upon something commonsensical in the CBO's employment report: that the ACA, by making it possible for people to buy health insurance without having a job (and by making health insurance much less costly for people who make very little money) will (most likely) result in two million workers leaving their jobs. This they're trying to frame as a burden to the economy, but it's basically a relief to workers, most of whom have been saddled with crappy, unsatisfying jobs they really didn't need or want except for the threat of illness-induced bankruptcy. (This is especially true of people who have some savings they can lean on. I know because I am one such person.) All this upsets Republicans because everything about ACA upsets them, but also because they really like forcing people to take crappy low-paying jobs -- something which makes me think conservatism hasn't really progressed much since its diehard defense of slavery. Cassidy:

    But, first, something the C.B.O. said that you probably missed, which is based on actual facts rather than on informed speculation: in the past five years or so -- and this has nothing to do with Obamacare -- some six million jobs (and workers) have already gone missing from the U.S. economy.

    That figure was in a separate report that the C.B.O. released on Tuesday, titled, "The Slow Recovery of the Labor Market." As someone who has written several times about the "missing millions" of workers in this recovery, I was, naturally, drawn to the new report, particularly to the estimate that the missing number is six million, which is about the population of Missouri.

    Based on history, all these people should be earning a living and paying taxes. Instead, they've dropped out of the work force, and . . . well, the truth is, we don't know exactly what they've done. Some of them have probably taken early retirement. Others may be working part time in the black economy. Many of them are almost certainly sitting at home, doing nothing. A few may be glad they're no longer working, but, from studies of how being jobless affects people, we know that many of them are feeling depressed and worthless. Their inactivity represents a tragic human and economic waste, but, for some reason, it's not one that the G.O.P. seems particularly indignant about.

    What makes the loss of those six million jobs bad news isn't that fewer people are enjoying the fruits of a healthy work ethic nor that more people are depending on others for their sustenance (and you can be damn sure that the taxpayers are picking up very little of the tab) nor that the overall effect depresses an already depressed economy. It's that so few of those people had any real choice in the matter: maybe some could have settled for lower-paying, less-productive jobs and simply refused -- count me in that group -- but most didn't even have that option, and as time has passed they've become less and less attractive to potential employers while many companies have continued to downgrade and degrade their job openings.

    By contrast, the ACA's liberation of "insurance slaves" is pretty good news all around. It gives many people a chance to choose time over money -- to retire early, to spend more time with children, to pursue non-lucrative projects like art or volunteer work, or even to take a risk and start a business. It also leaves real jobs unfilled, so many companies will have to recruit replacements, and maybe even pay and/or treat them better.

    Further relevant links:

  • Andy Kroll/Daniel Schulman: The Koch Brothers Left a Confidential Document at Their Last Donor Conference -- Read It Here:

    There's one main rule at the conservative donor conclaves held twice a year by Charles and David Koch at luxury resorts: What happens there stays there.

    The billionaire industrialists and their political operatives strive to ensure the anonymity of the wealthy conservatives who fund their sprawling political operation -- which funneled more than $400 million into the 2012 elections -- and to keep their plans private. Attendees of these summits are warned that the seminars, where the Kochs and their allies hatch strategies for electing Republicans and advancing conservative initiatives on the state and national levels, are strictly confidential; they are cautioned to keep a close eye on their meeting notes and materials. But last week, following the Kochs' first donor gathering of 2014, one attendee left behind a sensitive document at the Renaissance Esmeralda resort outside of Palm Springs, California, where the Kochs and their comrades had spent three days focused on winning the 2014 midterm elections and more. [ . . . ] The one-page document, provided to Mother Jones by a hotel guest who discovered it, offers a fascinating glimpse into the Kochs' political machine and shows how closely intertwined it is with Koch Industries, their $115 billion conglomerate.

    Many names follow, both of donors and "players." Any time the Kochs' political fronts are mentioned I feel obligation to point out that their aim isn't to influence elections -- it is to subvert democracy.

  • Stephen M Walt: The Top 10 Mistakes Made in the Afghan War: Not my list, which starts in 1979 -- actually in 1975, but 1979 was the point when US policy turned from malign neglect to subterfuge, sabotage, and terrorism in a campaign to destroy the most progressive government in Afghan history and arm the most reactionary Afghans imaginable. That said, the 2004 constitution and the 2009 "surge" were huge mistakes, and he's right that the first problem with the COIN strategy was that the US Army could never implement it (which is why Petraeus, whose star rose in the US by promoting it, abandoned it as soon as he took command in Kabul).

    Also on Afghanistan:


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Chase Madar: The Folly of Arming Israel: The largest recipient of US foreign aid, mostly in the form of military gear.

    Overall, the United States covers nearly one quarter of Israel's defense budget -- from tear gas canisters to F-16 fighter jets. In their 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces made use of M-92 and M-84 "dumb bombs," Paveway II and JDAM guided "smart bombs," AH-64 Apache attack helicopters equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire guided missiles, M141 "bunker defeat" munitions, and special weapons like M825A1 155mm white phosphorous munitions -- all supplied as American foreign aid. (Uniquely among Washington's aid recipients, Israel is also permitted to spend 25% of the military funding from Washington on weapons made by its own weapons industry.)

  • Dani Rodrik: When Ideas Trump Interests: Preferences, Worldviews, and Policy Innovations: PDF of an academic journal article. Reminds me of Keynes' warning about how the world is ruled by little but ideas, especially ones of defunct economists.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 22805 [22768] rated (+37), 595 [578] unrated (+17).

I'm dragging my feet on new jazz -- only five new albums below -- despite having gotten way too much in in the mail this past week. (Maybe the lack of response to my publicist letter means hadly any one bothered to read it.) I'm not complaining about all of it: Mike DiRubbo wrote me before sending and sent it anyway, and the French label Fou records were a pleasant surprise -- something I hadn't been aware of, plus I always regretted not getting more from Europe. Also curious that I've started to get Zoho again after having been shut out last year. Not listed below are download offers, and not just because I haven't taken advantage of them yet.

The rather high rated count mostly went into Rhapsody Streamnotes last week, and I've continued checking out old missed albums, with batches by Jimmy Smith and Mal Waldron below, and Eric Dolphy next in line. I held the new jazz reviews back so the grades appear here first, except for Ben Flocks -- so notable I felt I should push it out.

Minor formatting change in the rated records: I've started to sort out new releases from old ones. The Lurie counts as new because it is a new release, and the music has (as far as I can tell) never been released before. The Zé counts as new because it isn't all that old. I held Hard Working Americans back from RS because Tatum and others I respect like it more than I do -- thought I might give it another shot.

I should also mention that five of the Mal Waldron albums below (three A-, the others close) are included in Real Gone Jazz's Mal Waldron: Seven Classic Albums, which lists at $19.99 (most likely on 4-CD). I've yet to buy any of the Real Gone Jazz sets, so can't speak as to packaging (I've heard it's pretty shoddy) and the packages evade US copyright laws, but they seem to offer bargains. I went a little further into Waldron's later works than I've been doing recently -- his Soul Note recordings have always been tempting, and there's another budget box available there: Mal Waldron Quintets: The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note -- The Git-Go and Crowd Scene are my favorites there. One of the great jazz pianists of all time.


New records rated this week:

  • Ben Flocks: Battle Mountain (2013 [2014], self-released): tenor sax folklorist [cd] A-
  • Hard Working Americans (2014, Melvin/Thirty Tigers): Todd Snider's throwaway covers [r]: B+(**)
  • The John Lurie National Orchestra: The Invention of Animals (1993-94 [2014], Amulet): Lounge Lizard sax-and-percussion [r]: B+(***)
  • Ian O'Beirne: Glasswork (2013 [2014], self-released): sax appeal [cd]: B+(*)
  • Rudy Royston: 303 (2013 [2014], Greenleaf Music): drummer-led postbop [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Herb Silverstein: Monday Morning (2013 [2014], self-released): piano-playing MD [cd] B+(*)
  • Camille Thurman: Origins (2013 [2014], Hot Tone Music): hot sax and cool vocals [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tom Zé: Tropicália Lixo Lógico (2012, self-released): tropicalia as trash [dl]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Ray Draper Quintet: Tuba Sounds (1957 [2001], Prestige/OJC): bebop tuba with Jackie McLean and Mal Waldron [r]: B+(**)
  • Art Farmer/Gigi Gryce: When Farmer Met Gryce (1954-55 [1994], Prestige/OJC): bebop horns moving on [r]: A-
  • Art Farmer: The Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Gigi Gryce (1955 [1991], Prestige/OJC): advancing bop without hardening the beat [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Farmer/Benny Golson: Meet the Jazztet (1960 [1990], Chess): sextet with Curtis Fuller and McCoy Tyner [r]: A-
  • Earl Hines: Tour de Force Encore (1972 [1992], Black Lion): solo piano [r]: B+(***)
  • Sonny Rollins: Moving Out (1954 [1987], Prestige/OJC): saxophone colossus in training [r]: B+(***)
  • Sonny Rollins: Tour de Force (1956 [1989], Prestige/OJC): as the title says, excepting two Earl Coleman ballads [r]: A-
  • Sonny Rollins: The Sound of Sonny (1957 [1987], Riverside/OJC): one step forward, one step back [r]: A-
  • Frank Rosolino: Frank Rosolino Quintet (1957 [1993], VSOP): trombone-led cool quintet [r]: B+(***)
  • Howard Rumsey Lighthouse All-Stars: Sunday Jazz A La Lighthouse, Vol. 1: early West coast cool supergroup [r]: B+(**)
  • Howard Rumsey Lighthouse All-Stars: Sunday Jazz A La Lighthouse, Vol. 2: early West coast not-so-cool supergroup [r]: A-
  • Horace Silver: Horace Silver Trio (1952-53 [1989], Blue Note): piano trio + drum extravaganza [r]: B+(***)
  • Horace Silver Quintet: The Stylings of Silver (1957 [2002], Blue Note): classic hard bop quintet [r]: B+(***)
  • Horace Silver Quintet & Trio: Blowin' the Blues Away (1959 [1999], Blue Note): hard bop, but diluted as a trio [r]: B+(**)
  • Horace Silver Quintet: Horace-Scope (1960 [2006], Blue Note): hard bop [r]: B+(***)
  • Jimmy Smith: Groovin' at Small's Paradise (1957 [1999], Blue Note, 2CD): organ trio stretches way out [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Smith: Bashin': The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith (1962 [2007], Verve): split between big band and trio, more like the inconsistent [r]: B+(*)
  • Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery: Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (1966 [1997], Verve): soul groove framed by Oliver Nelson's big band [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery: Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes (1966 [1993], Verve): soul groove with less framing [r]: B+(*)
  • John Stein & the Mingotan Project: Emotion (2013 [2014], Whaling City Sound): cool guitar with tango themes [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron: Mal-1 (1956 [1991], Prestige/OJC): sophisticated hard bop [r]: A-
  • Mal Waldron: Mal/2 (1957 [1991], Prestige/OJC): more sophisticated bop [r]: A-
  • Mal Waldron: Mal/3: Sounds (1958 [1992], Prestige/OJC): with flute and cello, a touch of chamber jazz [r]: B+(*)
  • Mal Waldron: Mal/4: Trio (1958 [1995], New Jazz/OJC): piano trio [r]: A-
  • The Mal Waldron Trio: Impressions (1959 [1992], New Jazz/OJC): piano trio [r]: B+(***)
  • Mal Waldron: Update (1986 [1987], Soul Note): solo piano [r]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron Trio: Out Colline's a Treasure (1987 [1991], Soul Note): postbop piano trio [r]: B+(***)
  • Ben Webster/Don Byas: Ben Webster Meets Don Byas (1958 [1973], MPS): tenor sax titans [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ariel Alexander & Jon Bremen: Street Cries (self-released): March 4
  • Eddie Allen: Push (Edjallen Music): April 7
  • Mike Bardash Quintet: Polygon (Rhombus)
  • Mike DiRubbo: Threshold (Ksanti)
  • Lorenzo Feliciati/Colin Edwin: Twinscapes (RareNoise): advance, March 3
  • Violeta Ferrer/Raymond Boni: Federico García Lorca (Fou)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat: L'Oiseau (Fou)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat, Sylvain Guérineau & Joe McPhee: Quod (Fou)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat & Ramón Lopez: Ça Barbare, Là! (Fou)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat/Simon Hénocq: Nopal (Fou)
  • Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: The Shape of Doomjazz to Come/Saxophone Giganticus (RareNoise): advance, March 3
  • Hutchinson Andrew Trio: Prairie Modern (Chronograph): February 25
  • Mike Marshall/Turtle Island Quartet: Mike Marshall & the Turtle Island Quartet (Adventure Music): March 18
  • Ark Ovrutski: 44:33 (Zoho): March 11
  • Ulysses Owens Jr.: Onward & Upward (D Clef): March 4
  • Eric Revis: In Memory of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed): advance, March 23
  • Brandon Ross/Stomu Takeishi: For Living Lovers: Revealing Essence (Sunnyside)
  • Ben Stolorow/Ian Carey: Duocracy (Kabosha): February 25

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:


  • Jonathan Chait: Wall Street Journal: Okay, Obama Isn't Hitler, But He's Pretty Hitler-y: On the WSJ editorial doubling down on venture capitalist Tom Perkins' Kristallnacht complaint:

    The Journal's editorial underscores that the widespread mockery of Perkins, far from piling on a bewildered plutocrat, actually understates the broader problem. Perkins's letter provided a peek into the fantasy world of the right-wing one percent, in which fantasies of an incipient Hitler-esque terror are just slightly beyond the norm. The Journal editorial defines persecution of the one percent as the existence of public disagreement. Liberals are mocking Perkins, therefore Perkins is basically right. For Perkins to be wrong -- for the rich to enjoy the level of deference the Journal deems appropriate -- a billionaire could compare his plight to the victims of the Holocaust and nobody would make fun of him at all.

  • Chris Dillow: Why Inequality Matters:

    Instead, we lefties care about inequality not because we have some idea of what the Gini coefficient or share of the top 1% should be, but because we fear that three things that would make inequalities tolerable are -- to some extent -- missing.

    Firstly, inequalities don't all arise from fair processes. [ . . . ]

    Secondly, we fear that inequality has adverse effects. I'm not thinking so much here of its impacts on economic growth, social cohesion and other aspects of well-being; the evidence here is convincing if you're prepared to be convinced, and not if you're not. Instead, the danger is that inequality is, as Sean McElwee says, an "affront to democracy." [ . . . ]

    Thirdly, we've no great beef with inequality if it is combined with some form of risk-pooling. Even if our first two conditions were met, we'd favour some redistribution to mitigate the effects of bad luck -- be it the bad luck of a bad draw in the genetic lottery or of being hurt by a recession.

  • Mark Thoma: Sharing the Gains from Economic Growth:

    Nevertheless, this represents an important shift in the emphasis of economic policy. For the last thirty years or so, we have focused mainly on production -- on enhancing economic growth -- based upon the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. By lowering taxes on businesses and on the so-called job creators at the top of the income distribution, the economy would grow faster and the gains from growth would be widely shared. Sure, those at the top might do relatively better than others, but so long as everyone was gaining from growth that would not be a problem.

    But that is not what happened. Tax cuts and other policies favorable to business and the one percent did not produce a growth miracle as promised, and the economic gains that we did realize went mainly to those at the very top of the income distribution. The result was stagnating wages for the masses and staggeringly high gains for the few.

    Aside from consulting Smith and Ricardo, I don't see much here that fixes the problem, especially when Thoma talks about what Obama talks about. Thomas does admit: "Workers are not getting what they deserve according to economic theory and the societal norms we have adopted that say people should be paid according to their contribution to the productive process." He admits that declining union power has much to do with this. Then he adds:

    The unequal power relationship has allowed wages to stagnate while incomes at the top have soared. But whatever the cause, the mechanism that distributes income to various groups in society is broken, and this important problem needs to be better studied and better understood.

    That is why Obama's shift in emphasis from inequality to opportunity and his fear of being accused of class warfare is a mistake. We need better opportunity, particularly at the lower end of the income distribution, but we also need to be sure that when those opportunities are realized income rises with productivity.

    When it doesn't, correcting the problem through taxes and transfers or other means is not class warfare. It simply takes income that was undeserved according to societal norms, and sends it where it rightfully belongs.

    So unions were a traditional private-sector way of balancing incomes, but transfers might be more efficient. In particular, they're less likely to cause workplace strife and inflationary spirals.

    Also related: Andrew Fieldhouse: 5 Years After the Crisis: Why the Income Gap Is Widening: This has been reported before, but bears repeating:

    Recent U.S. income inequality data published by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty show that the top 1 percent of households by income has captured a staggering 95 percent of total income gains between 2009 and 2012, compared with 68 percent of gains between 1993 and 2012. Rather than sharing in the gains, the bottom 90 percent of households have seen income fall steeply -- by an amount equivalent to 16 percent of all the income gains between 2009 and 2012. By comparison, between 1993 and 2012, the bottom 90 percent lost income equivalent to 5 percent of gains.

    In other words, the vast majority of households have been falling behind even faster than before. Income gains have accrued almost exclusively to the very top of the income distribution, while the broad middle class and lower-income households are losing ground. [ . . . ]

    When aggregate demand is depressed below supply, slack in the labor market makes it easier for firms to cut employee compensation, thereby increasing profits and capital income as a share of total income. In the three years since the Great Recession officially ended, non-financial sector corporate profits have jumped 62 percent per unit of output, while employee compensation has fallen more than 1 percent per unit of output. Domestic corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product have jumped from 7 percent to 10 percent since the fourth quarter of 2007 (the eve of the recession). And as a share of corporate income, both pre-tax and after-tax corporate profits recently reached post-war highs.

    Lower-income workers also suffer disproportionately, as they lose already scant bargaining power to oppose nominal wage cuts or reduced hours. We've seen this play out in the Great Recession and its aftermath, with changes in real household income taking a bigger fall as you move down the income distribution.

    The final section of the piece is called "Monetary Policy is No Panacea": indeed, how could it be? What the Fed does is to push money out into the economy through the banks, so it has a long ways to go to trickle down, and the financial sector has become very adept at soaking all that money up.

  • Igor Volsky: 6 Ways Extreme Income Inequality Is Making Your Life Worse: Assuming, that is, you're not one of the extremely rich, although I suspect someone could do something with that case as well:

  • Income inequality forces Americans into debt.
  • Income inequality makes America sick.
  • Income inequality makes America less safe.
  • Income inequality makes America less democratic.
  • Income inequality undermines the American dream.
  • Income inequality is undermining long-term economic growth.
  • "The American dream" is a hack cliché, usually meaning greater upward economic mobility from generation to generation. The point about debt is true, but one can argue with how much of it is forced. The basic fact is that for a long time Americans compensated for lagging income growth by assuming more debt. That practice took a very severe hit in the 2007-08 collapse, and may not even be an option going forward. A second aspect is that as credit becomes harder for people to obtain, it quickly gets to be prohibitively expensive and even predatory.

  • Kathlee Geier: Walmart's holiday profits are way down. Food stamp cuts are a big part of the reason.

    The Financial Times reports that, according to estimates, fourth quarter sales and profits were down for Walmart, the nation's largest retailer. Previously, Walmart had announced that sales were expected to be flat, but now it's saying sales are likely to be "slightly negative." Official results are due out on Feb. 20.

    What's especially interesting is that Walmart is citing food stamp cuts as one reason for declining sales. Fully 20 percent of Walmart's customers use food stamps.

    The plain fact is that food stamps are not just a form of welfare for poor people, they're also a subsidy for corporations. They also help some companies get away with paying workers less: in fact, see the cartoon on the right, which also singles out Walmart.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • John Cassidy: Ten Ways to Get Serious About Rising Inequality: Ten ideas ("none of which are original"), not my laundry list but some are obvious, some are stretches, a couple I'm not sure what good they'd actually do.

    1. Establish a guaranteed minimum income for all American households.
    2. Abolish the payroll tax.
    3. Replace the payroll tax with a consumption tax.
    4. Raise the top rate of income tax.
    5. Tax wealth properly.
    6. Give ordinary Americans "homestead" grants.
    7. Nationalize the public-education system.
    8. Copy the Germans and greatly expand technical education.
    9. Abolish private schools and legacy admissions to private universities.
    10. Introduce a financial-transactions tax.

    The financial-transactions tax would not only raise money that could be spent more productively, it would slow down the rate of transactions, and might suppress the temptation to capture small gains through fast-triggered trading. I associate a lot of that with hedge funds and don't see how it helps the economy at all, although it does make a handfull of traders very rich. Of course, taxing their gains is another approach.

  • Tom Engelhardt: Ending the World the Human Way: A rant on climate change as "anti-news" -- not news because it's been rehashed so many times already, but not accepted as fact either because certain private interests prefer not to acknowledge it:

    What makes climate change so challenging is that the carbon dioxide (and methane) being generated by the extraction, production, and burning of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence, national versions of such corporations. The drive for profits has so far proven unstoppable. Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing to us. They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits) aren't poured into alternative energy research and development. And like those cigarette companies, they go right on. They are indeed intent, for instance, on turning North America into "Saudi America," and hunting down and extracting the last major reserves of fossil fuel in the most difficult spots on the planet. Their response to climate change has, in fact, been to put some of their vast profits into the funding of a campaign of climate-change denialism (and obfuscation) and into the coffers of chosen politicians and think tanks willing to lend a hand.

    In fact, one of the grim wonders of climate change has been the ability of Big Energy and its lobbyists to politicize an issue that wouldn't normally have a "left" or "right," and to make bad science into an ongoing news story. In other words, an achievement that couldn't be more criminal in nature has also been their great coup de théâtre.

    One thing that became obvious back in 1999 with the "Y2K" scare was that people don't have a good sense of what is or is not a threat to their lives or way of life. Terrorism, for instance, is one thing that people get excessively bent out of shape over, but it is much rarer and far less dangerous than incompetence -- an everyday problem we rarely think about. Lots of people tend to overreact to climate change. I first noticed then during a period when I was reading a lot about extinction crises in paleontology. It turns out that lots of people think that every extinction crisis was caused by climate change, even though few can explain plausible scenarios of how that may have worked. There can be no doubt that there have been large climate swings over the course of earth history. Nor can we doubt that those swings have pushed species hither and yon, have selected for adaptations, and have on occasion doomed species that couldn't move or adapt. Still, that rarely adds up to a major extinction event, except in the fevered imagination of people stuck on the idea. So when someone like Bill McKibben reaches for an "end of nature" metaphor, or Engelhardt "borrows" the notion of "anti-news," my bullshit detector goes off.

    Still, I'm not into denying the science. I don't see anything there that mankind cannot adapt to, but it does seem clear that people who are confined to specific parcels of land -- you know, property owners -- will feel the brunt of the impact of climate changes as assumptions about what a given piece of land is good for sometimes improve but often fail. You'd think that property owners -- which is to say the class of people a good deal richer than the likes of me -- would take notice and seek to limit climate chance, but land isn't the source of wealth it used to be, and most owners operate under the notion that land, being finite and fixed, can only appreciate, so it turns out they're not much of a factor.

    The people who are a factor are the oil men, and they make for a very peculiar political class. Oil is one of few commodities that is finite and exhaustible, so one would expect a public bias in favor of conservation: we should only use a minimum necessary amount of oil now so we can reserve some for future generations. In virtually every nation in the world oil is owned by the public, but in the US it is owned privately, and that fact urges owners to pump it as fast and completely as possible. Unlike most businessfolk, oil men are almost exclusively created by luck and law: the luck to own property that has oil underneath, and the law which lets them turn their luck into riches. But rather than acknowledge a system so tenuous, and ultimately so mindless, they have a remarkable intellectual bent which allows them to take credit for everything, to style themselves as self-made individuals, and to espouse a political ideology that is ultimately little more than self-worship. You may think that the issue of climate change is above left-right politics, but oil men are the backbone of the far right in this country's politics, and anything that limits their ability to convert their property into money must be an ultra-leftist conspiracy.

    Public ownership and stewarship of oil (and other minerals) would make it much easier to have a rational discussion over how fast we wish to deplete those resources, and what sort of risks to the climate and to the environment we are willing to tolerate. It may seem too late for that, but one could reform estate taxes to collect mineral rights as current owners pass away, and one can introduce taxes to compensate for the externalities of burning oil. Moreover, those are things we should do, not so much because climate change is such an overwhelming threat as because the basic principles make them good things to do. And if, in the process, we defund the conservative political movement, that too would be a blessing. It's founded on a lot of intellectual fallacies, but none so glaring than the notion that successful oil men (most notoriously at the moment, the Kochs) are most qualified to run the country.

  • Greg Grandin: The Terror of Our Age: The Spindletop oil field was discovered in 1901, so packed with oil it gushed through the first wells. But everyone who owned property over the field could drill into it, and they pumped so much oil out of it that first the price crashed then within three years the field was dry. That's the logic of the oil industry, but it wasn't new or unique to oil. Grandin has the same story from a century earlier, about killing seals:

    At first the frenetic pace of the killing didn't matter: there were so many seals. On one island alone, Amasa Delano estimated, there were "two to three millions of them" when New Englanders first arrived to make "a business of killing seals."

    "If many of them were killed in a night," wrote one observer, "they would not be missed in the morning." It did indeed seem as if you could kill every one in sight one day, then start afresh the next. Within just a few years, though, Amasa and his fellow sealers had taken so many seal skins to China that Canton's warehouses couldn't hold them. They began to pile up on the docks, rotting in the rain, and their market price crashed.

    To make up the margin, sealers further accelerated the pace of the killing -- until there was nothing left to kill. In this way, oversupply and extinction went hand in hand.

    This is from a new book by Greg Grandin: The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World (2014, Metropolitan Books). Same logic applied to seals and oil: you make your fortune as fast and ruthlessly as possible, and leave nothing for anyone else.

  • Joshua Frank: Inside Israel's Apartheid State: Interview with Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013, Nation Books).

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Kristallnacht Redux

I finally got around to reading, as opposed to reading about, billionaire Tom Perkins' Wall Street Journal rant about "the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich.'" I was under the impression it was an "op-ed" but the header calls it a letter, and it is fairly brief, weighing in at less than 200 words. It cites a WSJ editorial "Censors on Campus" which is behind some kind of paywall and not obviously relevant. Much of what Perkins complains about is hard to gauge. I don't read the San Francisco Chronicle, but I'd be real surprised to find that his charge -- "the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper" -- is true of that or any elite media in the US. (I read enough of the New York Times to recognize that its reputation for liberalism is vastly exaggerated, and that any suggestion that it is even further to the left is plain ludicrous.) Nor do I have an opinion on whether Danielle Steel is a "snob" -- nor do I much care.

Most of the commentary concerns Perkins' attempt to liken the objects of his contempt to Nazis:

Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich." [ . . . ]

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?

I have several points in response. The first is arguable, but I believe that Kristallnacht was very "thinkable" in 1930. The Nazi Part wasn't in control yet but it was gaining traction and power, and anyone paying attention would have noticed both that Nazis were savagely anti-semitic and had built a paramilitary organization of thugs (the "brown shirts") who gloried in violence. Treblinka may have been unthinkable in 1930, but mobs breaking windows and beating up Jews? That sort of thing had happened periodically in Russia and Romania, and the argument that it couldn't happen in civilized Germany was belied by every advance of Hitler.

The second point shouldn't be controversial at all: there is no "progressive war on the American one percent" nor can there be for the simple reason that those most critical of extreme inequalities of wealth and power are very largely the same ones who are most conscientiously opposed to war -- indeed, to violence of any sort. "War" is a word we take very seriously, and war is something that no one should be subjected to, either as victim or as combatant.

You might object that the "war on poverty" and the "war on drugs" were liberal trivializations of the word. Both phrases, the former as farce and the latter as tragedy, derive from a deep misunderstanding of WWII as "the good war." Several aspects of the history conspired to lend a superficial "goodness" to the most horrific six years in human history: the Axis powers were naked aggressors bent on regional (if not world) domination, and the racist brutality of the regimes became all the more glaring when they occupied foreign lands; the US government at the time was the most fair-minded and equitable in US history, so they organized the war as a unifying and all-consuming public good; the US was allied with the Soviet Union, so for once the anti-imperialist left supported the war effort; the war acted as a giant jobs machine which lifted the US out of the Great Depression to unparalleled (and relatively evenly distributed) wealth. Americans were fully engaged in the war, their feelings of satisfaction and moral superiority reinforced by a deluge of propaganda, and it helped that nearly all of the destruction took place elsewhere.

Americans were so enthused by that "good war" that they invented a long "cold war" with their Soviet allies to sustain the high. The same liberals who led us through WWII architected the "cold war" but they lost their bearings, turning against labor abroad (and ultimately at home), allying with tyrants against democrats as well as socialists, trading in their anti-imperialism for visions of world hegemony, their commitment to human rights reduced to economic neoliberalism. During the early days "defense" was cited to justify everything from education programs to building interstate highways. So if you wanted to put an end to something, why not declare war on it?

One catch was that WWII set up a standard for absolute victory that proved impossible to maintain -- either in real wars like Korea and Vietnam, or in metaphorical wars like poverty and drugs, let alone in bizarre combinations like the "global war on terrorism." Another was that these wars, unlike WWII, weren't run by the sort of people who could make the nation feel united, nor the sort who could be depended on to treat a vanquished country right. This was basically why Peter Beinart argued that the "war on terror" could only be "won" if led by liberals, but liberals aren't actually much better, except inasmuch as they're reluctant to get involved. WWII looks good in retrospect less because the US occupation of Germany and Japan was competent and benign than because the former regimes had totally discredited themselves.

But another problem is that war isn't a good solution to much of anything. It is vastly destructive. It perpetuates cycles of hatred and revenge. But even the so-called victors, in the rare cases where there are any, are permanently stained and scarred by the experience. Nor are we only talking about physically and/or mentally maimed vets here. Many of those brought up on violence move to the right, toward parties that institutionalize privilege and order, readily projecting violence.

Of course, there have been instances of armed revolts against the rich: notably during the French and Russian Revolutions. Still, one wonders if either of those revolts would have been so violent had the anciens régimes not been so autocratic and so repressive themselves. Democratic systems are never so brittle: they bend rather than break, and in the past the US has accommodated several waves of anti-rich rhetoric without physical menace (unlike, say, civil rights advocates and labor organizers).

Indeed, take a look at actual program proposals to reduce inequality in the US. The most basic one is to restore or increase progressive income taxation. Do that alone, even at very high levels, and you may narrow the gap a bit, but you'll wind up with exactly the same 1% at the top. Increasing estate taxes might even legitimize the rich by making wealth correlate more with achievement than just fortuitous birthright: so that may shuffle the membership slightly, but there would still be a richest 1% -- just not quite as far out of whack as now. Changing laws and regulations on banking might also affect the composition of the top 1%. Same with intellectual property, which is really just a government-granted license to exorbitant rents. One might also seek to limit rent-seeking by enforcing or even extending antitrust laws -- one gain there would be more efficient markets.

Some of the things on that policy list were previously law before business interests started to effectively band their political power together to obtain special favors from the government. Others are new but not so far fetched, and should result in a healthier economy. On the other hand, I don't know of anyone who is seriously pushing for much more extreme measures, like massive expropriation of property, forced income levelling, or reassigning the children of the rich to random families to prevent them from having unearned advantages. Nor do I have the slightest sympathy for robbing the rich or vandalizing their property. Indeed, I worry that efforts to criminalize poverty will blow back against the relatively rich.

This actually gets to be a rather complicated question. It is easy to establish the facts of inequality, but much harder to understand what they mean. In particular, how does inequality translate into real differences for people? It turns out to be very easy to list many ways: money gets you more options for education and jobs; it cushions you against all sorts of economic hardships; it gets you better advice and therefore makes you more knowledgeable about how the world works, and how best to navigate it. Levelling incomes should make those ways more equal, but there is another approach: to offer services equitably regardless of income. If the costs of education were fully socialized, for instance, the rich would have no advantages over anyone else, nor the poor any disadvantages. Lots of things could work like that, and the more (and more important) that did, the less important it would be to equalize incomes.

So why don't the rich lobby for more social programs that equalize opportunity and such? Actually, they lobby hard for the opposite, and not just because they expect a payback in less taxes and therefore more take-home income. They want less social spending because they want the inequality they benefit from to be more valuable and more of an advantage. That's just one of many points where the wealth of the already rich increases at the expense of others -- overcharging rents, depressing the wage market, and outright theft are others. I suspect that the reason the superrich have gotten so defensive is that they sense they may really be in the wrong here.


Here's an example: Paul Krugman cites a Forbes report that the top 40 hedge fund managers in 2012 took home a combined $16.7 billion, which is to say about the same total income as 300,000 high school teachers. Now, teachers teach, and nearly everyone who has accomplished much of anything can point back to an inspirational teacher. (Even I can point back to a couple who inspired me to drop out of high school, but that's a diversionary story.) But what do hedge fund managers do? Well, they're very adept at finding the loose change that fell into cracks in your sofa, except that they work on bank accounts and they use a lot of leverage, so any loose change they find blows up into substantial amounts of money. They probably contribute some value to the economy in finding that loose change, but everything else is zero sum: they mostly move money from other bank accounts into their own. And they have enough political clout to get special tax treatment, so they wind up keeping more of it (minus their lobbying expenses, of course).

One thing you cannot conclude from this data is that there is any just relationship between what one does and how much one makes. You may decide it's not practical to try to regulate incomes, but if you have any desire to live in a society which considers itself fair, you need to do something to reduce the disparities between a socially useful and necessary job and one that is essentially useless but somehow pays 7,500 times as much. One thing you can do is to tax some of the excess away. The other is to reduce the practical advantages of the higher income. Neither approach has to get you all the way there. There will always be differences in how well various people manage their money, so no balancing act can be perfect. Nor need it be, since the intent is more to establish the sense that society and its economic system are basically fair -- i.e., that people don't have legitimate reasons to feel cheated. A schoolteacher may very well feel that intangible rewards of the job, such as the satisfaction of teaching others, may outweigh some difference in wages. But the more the practical difference, the harder that is to swallow.


One fair question is why billionaires have become so sensitive to affronts lately. There was, for instance, a flap a while back by Jamie Dimon complaining about something Obama had said -- odd, considering that Obama had allowed major bankers like Dimon to escape the meltdown unscathed, returning to profitability way ahead of the rest of the economy. Josh Marshall has a piece speculating on why:

Let me state the phenomenon as clearly as possible: The extremely wealthy are objectively far wealthier, far more politically powerful and find a far more indulgent political class than at any time in almost a century -- at least. And yet at the same time they palpably feel more isolated, abused and powerless than at any time over the same period and sense some genuine peril to the whole mix of privileges, power and wealth they hold.

There is a disconnect there that is so massive and glaring that it demands some sociocultural explanation. [ . . . ] I see three basic roots, though I don't think my list is exhaustive.

One is the simple but massive run up in the concentration of wealth itself over the past two generations. There's a slice of the population, whether it's the top 1% or .01% or whatever, that doesn't just have more stuff and money. The sheer scale of the difference means they live what is simply a qualitatively different kind of existence. That gulf creates estrangement and alienation, and one of a particular sort in a democracy where such a minuscule sliver of the population can't hope to protect itself alone at the ballot box.

Let's call this socioeconomic acrophobia.

A second is tied specifically to the 2008 financial crisis. The last 35 years or so have seen a period in which the celebration of wealth and the wealthy has been near the extreme end of the pendulum swing that has moved back and forth over the course of American history. Let's not distract ourselves, for the moment, with whether this view is right or wrong. It's a pendulum swing as old as America. In this view, the super rich, the founders and most successful entrepreneurs, not only wow us by their genius and success but are also seen as the people driving forward the society and economy and prosperity for everyone. That's a nice climate to be wealthy in. [ . . . ]

Quite simply, these were and are folks who just weren't used to public criticism. The whole "masters of the universe" mythology was basically, sure we're massively wealthy. But we're also the ones keeping the globe we all live on from spinning off its axis. So let us enjoy our Hamptons estates and our private jets in peace and we'll do our jobs and you do yours. The crossfire hurricane that ripped apart that social contract stung a lot.

And then there's the other really important variable in the equation. [ . . . ] That kind of scare is not easy to forget. Mix it with the need to run to the political class hat in hand and that ocean of animus from the public at large and you get the makings of a political and psychological toxicity that breeds Perkinsonian nonsense at the extreme end and more pervasively the sense of embattlement and threat verging on persecution complex that I described above.

It is that mix of insecurity, a sense of the brittleness of one's hold on wealth, power, privileges, combined with the reality of great wealth and power, that breeds a mix of aggressiveness and perceived embattlement.

Third there is the simple fact of Obama himself. By various criteria you could argue that before Obama America hadn't had a progressive president in decades. [ . . . ] President Obama is far from being a Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman. But he is a progressive and sees the economy and the larger society's claims on the very wealthy differently than a Bush or a Reagan. And again, that was just not something any of these folks had experienced before.

But again, the answer is the confluence of these events, no one of them. [ . . . ]

Put it all together and you get the climate in which someone like Perkins writes something as ridiculous as he did. As I said up top, his Holocaust analogy is so hyperbolic and ridiculous that he's getting dumped on by almost everyone. But we miss the point if we see this in isolation or just the rant of one out-of-touch douchebag. It is pervasive. The disconnect between perception and reality, among such a powerful segment of the population, is in itself dangerous.

It's rather painful for me to read anyone try to defend Obama as a progressive -- Paul Krugman, also responding to Kristallnacht Redux, takes his own shot at it here -- when the most you can say for Obama is that he's not yet prepared to ditch every achievement of the New Deal/Great Society democracy: he didn't even try to bring revenues back to pre-Bush levels, he made no effort to restore Carter-Glass, all he could come up with was Republican think tank proposals for health care and carbon dioxide limits and he couldn't get the latter passed, meanwhile he's let Republicans push him around on spending issues even at the cost of extending a recession, and I can go on and on. He hasn't moved a thing to the left, and doesn't even seem to be aware of that direction. It's only that the Republicans have exited stage right, complaining shrilly about all the distance between them.

Meanwhile, I still blame the cold war, when America allowed itself to become the world's standard bearer not for democracy or freedom but for capitalism. When the Soviet Union collapsed, following the Reagan "greed is good" decade, neoliberal hubris shot sky high, as did the neoconservative fantasy of the US as the world's sole hyperpower. Both delusions should have crashed during the Bush era, but the intellectual rout was so complete that they limp on as zombies, devouring the brains of politicians with remarkable ease.

This is much different from the 1930s when lots of people intuitively understood that capitalism had failed, or from the 1950s when communist economies appeared to be gaining. Under those conditions, enough of the upper class was willing to allow reforms to occur, bending and mending the system instead of letting it shatter. But since the 1980s the rich see no countervailing powers, no challenging ideas, nothing to stop them from running amok, and that's just what they've done. The political system in the US has become utterly corrupt, with the Republican party taking right-wing positions to ridiculous extremes -- unless stopped, they threaten to destroy the very idea of public interest, the basic idea of countervailing powers, even the notion that our system is based on a sense of justice. It's all very scary, the great irony being that the unfettered power of the rich is building a world much poorer not only for us but for them as well.

And what do they have to show for their concerns? Hackneyed historical analogies they don't begin to understand.


Alfred Soto commented on Facebook:

This bears repeating: "The same liberals who led us through WWII architected the "cold war" but they lost their bearings, turning against labor abroad (and ultimately at home), allying with tyrants against democrats as well as socialists, trading in their anti-imperialism for visions of world hegemony, their commitment to human rights reduced to economic neoliberalism." Ira Katznelson's excellent book is a recent definitive word on the so-called unholy alliances between liberalism and Southern reactionaries and how it determined Cold War policy.

Soto is referring to Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013, Liveright). I haven't read this book yet, but it is likely that some day I will. I have read Katznelson's earlier book, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold Story of Racial Injustice in Twentieth-Century America (paperback, 2006, WW Norton), which laid out one of the major themes in the later book. With regard to the Cold War, the role of James F. Byrne looms especially large, although there were plenty of northern liberals who didn't share Byrne's disgraceful civil rights record who help create the Cold War and usher in the cult of militarism we still suffer from.


Jan 2014 Mar 2014