October 2017 Notebook
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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Streamnotes (October 2017)

Pick up text here.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28813 [28799] rated (+14), 405 [398] unrated (+7).

Rated count is the lowest of any week this year -- you probably have to go back to a travel week to find one lower, although this month has been consistently low: 18 last week, 15 the week before, 17 the week before that. Three major reasons/excuses for this week: I took a day off cooking dinner on my birthday (old family favorites, keeping it relatively simple this year); I spent three days playing pretty much nothing but a 5-CD box, American Epic: The Collection; and I hurt myself rather badly, probably strains from moving some heavy (for me, these days) equipment. I'm still feeling pretty crippled, which is why yesterday's Weekend Roundup was so late and short, and this too will be brief. Also brief will be tomorrow's October-ending Streamnotes -- brief because of the light rated weeks all month long, but I doubt I'll write much introduction either.

The equipment story: I finally replaced an old Yamaha receiver with a new Harmon-Kardon unit. The Yamaha had developed an annoying buzz, which I've suffered through for many months now. A friend came over and conclusively proved that it was the Yamaha's fault, and recommended the new unit. I'm very happy with it, but swapping it in wasn't easy. The whole setup is in a large piece of furniture I built back when I lived in New York, so close to forty years ago. It's taller than I am, much wider, deeper too, and weighted down with all of my residual LP collection (about 400 albums). It originally had three equipment shelves: one for the turntable, one for one of those wedge-shaped Nakamichi tape decks, and one on top for an integrated amplifier and tuner. The gear it was built for has expired and been replaced, with one shelf returned to albums, an old turntable resting on top of a CD changer, and now the new receiver filling half of the top.

The problem was moving it all away from the wall to get access to the wires in the back. I also had to add a power strip, since the new receiver doesn't have secondary outlets. And, of course, it all needed cleaning. I still don't have it all put back together. Meanwhile, we have another equipment crisis: local wi-fi has been increasingly flaky. I've planned on replacing it for quite some time, buying a new wi-fi router appliance but never installing it. Looks like I need to do that soon. Unfortunately, it involves getting down on the floor and moving cables. It also means reconfiguring the firewall/router, and ultimately decommissioning a very old Linux box (one I built in NJ before moving to Kansas in 1999). So, some point next week everything breaks, then we scramble to put it back together again.

I thought I might get away for a brief road trip this week, but the way things are going I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever go anywhere again. Might not be so bad if I could report progress on book projects, but all I can claim for last week are new ideas I haven't done anything about. For instance, I thought a bit about writing an essay in the form of "A Letter to the Democrats" -- partly reaction to reading Mark Lilla's short and unconvincing The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, and partly revulsion with much of what I hear from the all-too-loyal opposition party spokespeople in Washington. (Although, not that anyone cares, the Casey Yingling story here in Kansas could offer a rich lode of material.)

Meanwhile, I've made no progress even on the most pedestrian of all of my projects, the Jazz Guides. Still only 53% through the last of the monster database files.


New records rated this week:

  • Banda Magda: Tigre (2017, GroundUP Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Peter Bernstein: Signs LIVE! (2015 [2017], Smoke Sessions, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cortex: Avant-Garde Party Music (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dylan Hicks: Ad Out (2017, Soft Launch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Danny Janklow: Elevation (2015 [2017], Outside In Music): [cd]: B
  • Roberto Magris Sextet: Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery (2015 [2017], JMood): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nicole Mitchell and Haki Madhubuti: Liberation Narratives (2016-17 [2017], Black Earth Music): [cd]: A-
  • Paul Moran: Smokin' B3 Vol. 2: Still Smokin' (2017, Prudential): [cd]: B-
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet: Danza Imposible (2017, Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • American Epic: The Collection (1916-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy, 5CD): [cd]: A
  • American Epic: The Best of Blues (1927-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
  • American Epic: The Best of Country (1927-34 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal (2016 [2017], Rune Grammofon): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (2013 [2015], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Fats Domino: Alive and Kickin' (2000 [2006], Tipitina's): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Derek Bailey & Greg Goodman: Extracting Fish-Bones From the Back of the Despoiler (1992, The Beak Doctor): vinyl, November 1
  • Rahsaan Barber: The Music in the Night (Jazz Music City): November 3
  • Michelle Coltrane: Awakening (Blujazz)
  • John Gruntfest & Greg Goodman: In This Land All the Birds Wore Hats and Spurs (1984-2008, The Beak Doctor): vinyl, November 1
  • Taylor Haskins & Green Empire: The Point (Recombination): November 7
  • Markley & Balmer: Standards & Covers (Soona Songs)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: Kalamazoo (Troubadour Jass)
  • Frank Perowsky Jazz Orchestra: Gowanus (Jazzkey)
  • Daniel Rosenthal: Music in the Room (American Melody): November 14
  • Galen Weston: The Space Between (Blujazz)
  • Eric Wyatt: Look to the Sky (Whaling City Sound)
  • Dave Zinno Unisphere: River of January (Whaling City Sound)

Purchases:

  • American Epic: The Collection (1916-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy, 5CD)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Just the bare bones this week.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week: Congressional Republicans passed a budget; More sexual harassment shoes dropped; Retiring Republicans blasted Trump; Opioid abuse is officially an emergency. Other Yglesias posts:

    • There's less than meets the eye to the Trump stock rally: "German, French, and Japanese stocks are all doing way better."

    • Lou Dobbs's Trump interview is a masterpiece of sycophancy and nonsense: "precisely because the softball format leads to such easy questions, Trump's frequent inability to answer them reveals the depths of his ignorance better than any tough grilling possibly could."

    • Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain need to start acting like senators, not pundits.

    • Trump and a key Senate Republican are fighting on Twitter.

    • The real stakes in the tax reform debate:

      Democrats have grown more critical of inequality in recent years with Barack Obama proclaiming economic inequality to be the "defining challenge of our time." Energy in the party shifted even-further-left and fueled an unexpected level of support for Bernie Sanders and an unprecedented level of skepticism about the basic fundraising model of American politics.

      Even more surprisingly, in the GOP camp Donald Trump ran hard to the right on culture war issues while also promising a more egalitarian form of economics -- promising to be a champion of working class interests.

      But in office, while Trump has continued to obsessively feed the culture war maw, he is pushing a policy agenda that would add enormous fuel to the fire of inequality -- enormous, regressive rate cuts flying under the banner of "tax reform."

      Yglesias touts a report by Kevin Hassett, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, as "crucial because it's honest," but even "honesty" doesn't help much when you're extraordinarily full of shit:

      Hassett's contention, in essence, is that the best way to benefit the American worker is to engage in a global version of this subsidy game. Instead of targeted subsidies for new investments from one particular company, he and Trump want to offer a broad subsidy to all investment profits -- old profits and new profits, real returns on productive investments and returns on monopoly rents -- in the hopes of maximally catering to investor interests. By catering to the interests of the global investor class in this way, he thinks, we can do so much to boost the growth of the American economy that almost everyone will end up better off.

      Even if "almost everyone will end up better off" by cutting the taxes that rich people pay, that doesn't mean that tax cuts are "the best way to benefit the American worker." Direct redistribution to workers would be much more efficient. So would less direct approaches such as increasing labor's leverage. But the supposition that "almost everyone will end up better off" is itself highly suspect. The only way giving the rich more money "trickles down" is when the rich spend it to increase demand (which they don't do much of, although that does account for a few jobs here in Wichita building private jets) or when the rich invest more in productive capacity. The problem here is that even at present -- before Trump's tax cuts kick in -- the rich have more money than they know how to productively invest. A big part of the problem here is that by sucking up money that working folks and the government would be spending, their hoarding reduces aggregate demand, and as such reduces the return on investments in productive capacity. This effect is so large one has to wonder whether tax cuts generate any tangible growth at all, much less growth so substantial that "almost everyone benefits."

      Yglesias goes further and notes that "Doug Holtz-Eakin, a well-regarded former Congressional Budget Office director and current think tank leader, believes that eliminating the estate tax will create lots of jobs." The piece cited was written for the American Family Business Foundation, a political front group founded to promote repeal of estate and gift taxes, and is typical of the hackwork Holtz-Eakin has made a career out of.

    • Trump's latest big interview is both funny and terrifying: Before the Lou Dobbs interview, this one with Maria Bartiromo, also of Fox Business Channel. Subheds include: "Trump doesn't know anything about any issue"; "Bartiromo keeps ineptly trying to cover for Trump"; and "Trump gets all kinds of facts wrong."

      Over the course of the interview, Trump also claims to be working on a major infrastructure bill, a major welfare reform bill, and an unspecified economic development bill of some kind.

      Under almost any other past president, that kind of thing would be considered a huge news-making get for an interviewer. But even Fox didn't tout Bartiromo's big scoops on Trump's legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, "We're doing a big infrastructure bill," means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.

  • Dean Baker: The problem of doctors' salaries.

  • Julian Borger: Trump team drawing up fresh plans to bolster US nuclear arsenal.

  • Alastair Campbell: The time has come for Theresa May to tell the nation: Brexit can't be done: Fantasy from Tony Blair's former director of communications, but the facts are sound enough, just the political will is weak. Campbell has also written: My fantasy Corbyn speech: 'I can no longer go along with a ruinous Brexit'.

  • Alexia Fernández Campbell: Nurses returning from Puerto Rico accuse the federal government of leaving people to die.

  • Danica Cotto: Puerto Rico Says It's Scrapping $300M Whitefish Contract: Not clear how a 2-year-old company from Interior Secretary's Ryan Zinke's home town managed to win a $300M no-bid contract, but the more people look into it the more suspicious it seems. For instance: Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal. For more: Ken Klippenstein: $300M Puerto Rico Recovery Contract Awarded to Tiny Utility Company Linked to Major Trump Donor; also Kate Aronoff: Disaster Capitalists Take Big Step Toward Privatizing Puerto Rico's Electric Grid.

  • Thomas Frank: What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world: I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions about political philosophy from someone like Weinstein, who more than anything else testifies that people with power tend to abuse it, regardless of their professed values. Still, this is quasi-amusing:

    Perhaps Weinstein's liberalism was a put-on all along. It certainly wasn't consistent or thorough. He strongly disapproved of Bernie Sanders, for example. And on election night in November 2008, Weinstein could be found celebrating Barack Obama's impending victory on the peculiar grounds that "stock market averages will go up around the world."

    The mogul's liberalism could also be starkly militaristic. On the release of his work of bald war propaganda, Seal Team Six, he opined to CNN as follows:

    "Colin Powell, the best military genius of our time, supports the president -- supports President Obama. And the military love him. I made this movie. I know the military. They respect this man for what he's done. He's killed more terrorists in his short watch than George Bush did in eight years. He's the true hawk."

  • Ronald A Klain: He who must be named:

    For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane. Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies -- more Dale Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a "kinder, gentler" tenure; George W. Bush ran on "compassionate conservatism." . . .

    That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it. . . .

    Since Trump's victory, his meanness has been infectious. We have seen it in neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and elsewhere, students chanting "build that wall" at Hispanic peers, and a rise of racial epithets and anti-Semitic graffiti on college campuses. Puerto Rico, again, provides a current example. As The Post's Jenna Johnson recently reported, countless Trump supporters -- including some in Texas, who themselves took Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after Hurricane Harvey -- back the president's proposal to limit aid to Puerto Rico and believe that fellow Americans there should "fix their own country up."

    The obvious difference between then (1980-2000) and now is sixteen years of endless war, although it's worth noting that conservatism has always prided itself on being a hard way of life, a stance which never took much prodding to tip over into meanness. Indeed, even while feigning compassion conservative political pitches always started with playing on people's prejudices -- primordially racism, as Reagan made clear when he launched his 1980 campaign over the graves of slain civil rights workers. Klain calls for a list of recent presidents and wannabes to stand up to Trump's Politics of Mean. They should, of course, but it would be even more helpful if they owned up to how their own errors got us here.

  • Julia Manchester: National Weather Service 'on the brink of failure' due to job vacancies.

  • Rupert Neate: World's witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires' wealth swells to $6tn.

    Billionaires' fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in technology and commodities. The billionaires' average return was double that achieved by the world's stock markets and far more than the average interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street bank accounts.

  • John Nichols: Trump's FCC Chair Moves to Undermine Journalism and Democracy.

  • Mark Perry: Are Trump's Generals in Over Their Heads? "For many in Washington, they're the only thing standing between the president and chaos. But their growing clout is starting to worry military experts." One problem is that as more generals move into politics, the military itself (at least at the top) becomes increasingly politicized. I would add that the competency and maturity they supposedly possess are traits with little real evidence to back them up. Paul Woodward also adds:

    The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this administration as the indispensable "adult supervision" Trump requires, is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for his presidency -- exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this kind of Teflon political protection.

    Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the executive branch of government.

    Speaking of the alleged competence of generals, see Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious misconduct: That just since 2013.

  • Andrew Prokop: 6 charts that explain why American politics is so broken: "The Pew Research Center's political typology report, explained." Actually, I'm not sure he charts do explain "why American politics is so broken" -- for one thing, nothing here on the influence of money, which is by far the biggest breaker. They do show several disconnects, including "Most Americans -- including a good chunk of Republicans -- want corporate taxes raised, not lowered" and "It's only a vocal minority of Americans who are anti-immigrant." Nor do most of the typology groups make much sense, although "Country-First Conservatives" are defined exclusively by their hatred for immigrants. Still, worth noting that "Solid Liberals" are more numerous than "Core Conservatives" (16-13% among the general public, 25-20% among "politically engaged."

  • Charlie Savage: Will Congress Ever Limit the Forever-Expanding 9/11 War?

  • Joseph E Stiglitz: America Has a Monopoly Problem -- and It's Huge.

  • Nick Turse: It's Not Just Niger -- U.S. Military Activity Is a "Recruiting Tool" for Terror Groups Across West Africa.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Daily Log

Birthday yesterday. In past years, going back to the late 1990s, I've made "birthday dinner": pick a national cuisine and make 3-6 main dishes and up to a dozen small ones, for a dinner party that never seemed had enough people to eat it all. Back in Boston my most reliable guests were Liz Jones and Nina Schlosberg, coworkers back in Contex days, and the idea came out of one of our lunch dates. The first such was Chinese, the second probably Indian, the third most likely Turkish. In New Jersey I returned to Indian for the biggest dinner ever, both in terms of dishes and guests: Bob Christgau, Carola Dibbell, Georgia Christgau, Steven Levy, Elizabeth Fink, Richard Millen, and Laura. I scheduled a leftover dinner the next day for NJ friends, but it was poorly attended. (I concluded the idea had little appeal.) After moving to Wichita in 1999, I've made a few comparable dinners -- a Thai one stands out, Spanish, also an Ottolenghi (Israeli) -- but I've also cut corners a few times (made feijoada one year but didn't add enough side dishes to qualify as Brazilian), and skipped the odd year. (One year we bailed and had fried chicken at the Brookville Hotel.)

This year kind of snuck up on me: I knew the week was coming, but didn't realize until the Friday before that Wednesday could be the day, and that didn't give me much time. Besides, I had fixed at least four more-or-less comparably sized dinners in recent months: Japanese, Turkish, Korean, and Ashkenazi Jewish (Gefilte Manifesto). I came up with a list of a dozen or so possible themes, but by the time I got going, I would have had trouble both sorting out the menu and rounding up the guests. I considered a later date (not unprecedented), but Sunday or Monday I decided to make a tactical retreat: I'd fix a simpler dinner on my birthday with just a handful of my most dependably available guests. The menu would be old family favorites:

  • Fried Round Steak in Mushroom Gravy: Something my mother probably got of a Campbell's soup can (Cream of Mushroom), where you cut up round steak into small squares, dip in milk and flour, and brown them (I used light olive oil -- she would have used vegetable oil or, further back, shortening). Move the fried steak to a covered baking dish. Pour off excess oil, and dump a can of soup and a can of milk into the frying pan, scraping up all the droppings. Pour the gravy over the fried steak, cover the pan, and bake at 350F for one hour. I started adding chopped mushrooms to the pan before the soup, using baby portabellas and (rehydrated) dried porcini this time. I had about three pounds of steak, so used two cans of soup, and a bit less than two cans of milk.
  • Baked Beans with Bacon: Take a 9x13 baking dish, and add two large cans of Van Camp's Pork 'n' Beans (after draining off most of the tomato sauce). Add mustard (I used dijon), ketchup, brown sugar (I split this with maple syrup), and worcestshire sauce, to taste. (I added a little onion powder.) Top with thick bacon (I used about 2/3 pound). I baked uncovered in same oven at 350F for an hour, but the bacon wasn't browned enough so I cranked it up to 400F for another 15 minutes.
  • Green Beans: Boiled in water for 12 minutes and drained. I chopped up 1/3 pound of bacon and fried it until partly done. I poured off the excess bacon fat, then added one fine-chopped onion, and cooked with bacon until it was clearly softened. Add the green beans to the pan, plus 2-3 tablespoons of chicken stock to loosen everything up. I finally boiled most of the stock away.
  • Broccoli Salad: Cut up a head of broccoli, both flowerets and stems. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add stems. Cook one minute, then add flowerets. Cook 1-2 minutes further, then drain and shock with ice water. Cover golden raisins with hot water. Fry some bacon crisp. Put broccoli into bowl, adding raisins, black walnuts, and bacon. Mix mayonnaise and vinegar (recipe calls for balsamic, but I used apple cider and a dash of sugar), add to bowl, mix, and chill.
  • Coconut Cake: My mother's specialty: two-layers topped with an icing made by beating a cooked sugar syrup into whipped egg whites, with shredded fresh coconut.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28799 [28781] rated (+18), 398 [402] unrated (-4).

As predicted (feared), another short week with many distractions. Next week looks pretty similar, which means October's Streamnotes will very likely be the year's shortest -- lowest monthly count so far is 111 in May (114 in March, 115 in April, 119 in August; top count was 156 in January, followed by 153 in February, 149 in June, 144 in September). Current draft has 59 records, so that extrapolates to about 83. I'd need a week (plus a day) with 52 reviews to match my previous lowest monthly total this year.

Only three non-jazz albums below: Corey Dennison's blues album actually came in the mail; Wooden Wand was suggested by a tweet (actually an earlier album, not on Napster, so I tried the new one); Twitter also led me to the latest release by Awesome Tapes From Africa -- possibly the only label I actually follow there.

I haven't made a serious attempt to survey new non-jazz released in a couple months, so I have very little idea what to look for. Still, quite a few jazz albums in the queue, and many more I'm not serviced on. Unfortunately, I'm finding fewer than 50% of the new jazz I look for. I expect this will add up to my poorest coverage level since I started Jazz Consumer Guide in 2004.


New records rated this week:

  • Borderlands Trio [Stephan Crump/Kris Davis/Eric McPherson]: Asteroidea (2015 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: Memphis . . . Yes, I'm Ready (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kyle Bruckmann's Degradient: Dear Everyone (2017, Not Two, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Magic Triangle (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Corey Dennison Band: Night After Night (2017, Delmark): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mark Dresser: Modicana (2016-17 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Bob Ferrel: Bob Ferrel's Jazztopian Dream (2016 [2017], Bob Ferrel Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies Vol II (2012-17 [2017], Accurate): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ross Hammond + Jon Bafus: Masonic Lawn (2016 [2017], Prescott): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hans Hassler: Wie Die Zeit Hinter Mir Her (2015 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ahmad Jamal: Marseille (2017, Jazz Village): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Agrima (2017, self-released): [cdr]: A-
  • Alma Micic: That Old Feeling (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mike Stern: Trip (2017, Heads Up): [r]: B+(*)
  • Wooden Wand: Clipper Ship (2017, Three Lobed): [r]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Professor Rhythm: Bafana Bafana (1995 [2017], Awesome Tapes From Africa): [r]: A-
  • Ton-Klami [Midori Takada/Kang Tae Hwan/Masahiko Satoh]: Prophecy of Nue (1995 [2017], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sheryl Bentyne: Rearrangements of Shadows: The Music of Stephen Sondheim (ArtistShare)
  • The Billy Lester Trio: Italy 2016 (Ultra Sound): November 3
  • Roy McGrath: Remembranzas (JL Music): November 7
  • Kyle Motl Trio: Panjandrums (Metatrope): November 6
  • Gabriele Tranchina: Of Sailing Ships and the Stars in Your Eyes (Rainchant Eclectic)
  • Mark Wingfield/Markus Reuter/Asaf Sirkis: Lighthouse (Moonjune): November

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I didn't get a head start on this -- in fact, started after dinner on Sunday, so it's pretty quick and dirty, with a limited set of sources. Still, it's so easy to find such appalling stories that posts like this practically write themselves.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 political stories that actually mattered this week: We got a bipartisan insurance stabilization deal: thanks to Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), but: Republican leaders don't seem to want a deal, like Paul Ryan, with Trump both waxing and waning; The administration tested some new tax arguments, like "corporate tax cuts boost wages" and "math forces tax cuts for the rich"; Nobody knows what's happening with NAFTA, hence no real story here, but Trump's folks are blowing some smoke. Other Yglesias pieces this week:

    • The raging controversy over Trump and the families of fallen soldiers, explained: well, more like summarized, as it's hard to explain how tone-deaf Trump is in human interactions as straightforward (albeit no doubt unpleasant) as issuing condolences.

      Yet Trump has managed to completely and utterly botch this relatively simple job less than a week after creating a major diplomatic crisis with Iran for no particular reason. The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico appears to be, if anything, intensifying as citizens cope with a chronic lack of safe water. The president has willfully destabilized individual health insurance markets without any clear plan and is actively scuttling congressional efforts to stabilize the situation.

      Other serious challenges are lurking out there in the world, yet the Trump administration seemed incapable of issuing a simple condolence statement or answering a question about it without unleashing a multi-front political fiasco.

    • Trump aide says manufacturing decline increases abortions, death, and drug abuse: "He might be right." Reviews research on "China shock" -- what happens to areas hard hit by job losses due to cheaper imports. You can blame this on trade deals, but it's also indicative of the frayed safety net all across the country.

    • Republicans say they can't figure out how to not cut taxes for the rich: "It's really not very hard." If, say, you wanted to lower rates on the first $100k of income, that would reduce taxes on those who make more too, but you could offset that by increasing the rate further up the income scale. Or you could do it lots of other ways. And don't bother cutting the estate tax, something no one in the middle class has to pay -- that's only a benefit for the very rich.

    • Trump says a big corporate tax cut will boost average incomes by $4,000 a year.

  • Sarah Aziza: How Long Can the Courts Keep Donald Trump's Muslim Ban at Bay? Two federal judges issued injunctions against the third iteration of Trump's travel ban last week.

  • Julia Belluz: White House officials think childhood obesity is not a problem. Have they seen the data? Their campaign to wipe out Obama's legacy (in this case, Michelle Obama's) continues apace.

  • Aida Chavez: House Republicans Warn Congress Not to "Bail Out" Puerto Rico.

  • Jason C Ditz: What Are U.S. Forces Doing in Niger Anyway?: Four US Special Forces were killed in an ambush a couple weeks ago, finally pointing a spotlight on US intervention there (much like the Benghazi fiasco).

    Turns out that for five years Niger has been a toe in the expanding American footprint in Africa, and has become a hub of U.S. military activity (about 800 soldiers are serving as advisors and training local forces there now) and, according to Nick Turse, the location of a brand new $100 million drone base. Meanwhile, the region has become a crossroads of Islamist activity, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel. And now, apparently, ISIS. . . .

    Niger is far from the exception. In March 2012, the Pentagon confirmed that U.S. troops were attacked in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, and that a CIA officer was killed. This was the first time officials confirmed that the U.S. had ground troops operating inside Yemen at all. The revelation is even more stunning when one recalls that the White House publicly ruled out sending ground troops to Yemen several times in the years leading up to this admission.

    More war news from around the world:

  • Lee Fang/Nick Surgey: Koch Brothers' Internal Strategy Memo on Selling Tax Cuts: Ignore the Deficit: After all, deficits only matter when a Democrat is president and might use deficits for expanding services and/or growing the economy -- things Republicans oppose and, especially, want to make sure no Democrat gets credit for. But when Republicans are in power, well, as Dick Cheney said, "deficits don't matter."

  • Sarah Kliff: Medicare X: the Democrats' supercharged public option plan, explained: Specifically, Sens. Bennet and Kaine, a plan that makes less sense than Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all but would involve less turmoil by adding a Medicare-based plan to the Obamacare exchanges as a public option, increasing competition for private insurance plans.

  • Paul Krugman: Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies: A propos of the Trump's "new" arguments for slashing taxes, Krugman explains:

    Modern conservatives have been lying about taxes pretty much from the beginning of their movement. Made-up sob stories about family farms broken up to pay inheritance taxes, magical claims about self-financing tax cuts, and so on go all the way back to the 1970s. But the selling of tax cuts under Trump has taken things to a whole new level, both in terms of the brazenness of the lies and their sheer number. Both the depth and the breadth of the dishonesty make it hard even for those of us who do this for a living to keep track.

    He then comes up with a list of ten (see the article for details, although you're probably familiar with most of them already):

    1. America is the most highly-taxed country in the world
    2. The estate tax is destroying farmers and truckers
    3. Taxation of pass-through entities is a burden on small business
    4. Cutting profits taxes really benefits workers
    5. Repatriating overseas profits will create jobs
    6. This is not a tax cut for the rich
    7. It's a big tax cut for the middle class
    8. It won't increase the deficit
    9. Cutting taxes will jump-start rapid growth
    10. Tax cuts will pay for themselves

    One thing that's missing in this debate is what do we need taxes for. Some people argue that taxes should be limited to a certain percentage of GDP -- often the same people who don't understand why government spends more now than it did under Coolidge or McKinley. I think it's obvious that a lot of things that we need in today's economic world are necessarily more expensive than they were in past eras (especially things that didn't really exist back then). To figure this out, one needs some kind of multifactor analysis, and I think especially one has to ask what things are most efficiently produced and distributed through public channels. I think this list is large and growing, and may include things that surprise you. If this list is as large as I think, we need to be looking not at ways to cut taxes but at ways to grow them, and how to do so fairly and efficiently. As it is, the relentless focus on cutting taxes is an attack on public spending, and ultimately on the public taxes are meant to serve.

  • Jane Mayer: The Danger of President Pence: A profile of the vice president, one which raises plenty to be alarmed about, not least because his odds of being elevated to the presidency via the 25th amendment (the one that says all it takes is a majority of the cabinet to find Trump incompetent -- perhaps something Trump should have considered before giving Pence so much say in picking nominees). For more on the 25th, see Jeannie Suk Gersen: How Anti-Trump Psychiatrists Are Mobilizing Behind the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.

  • Anna North: A detained 17-year-old immigrant wants an abortion. The government went to court to stop her. Here's a case where the Trump administration isn't being run like a business -- try finding an angle where it makes sense for the government to prevent a detained emigrant from obtaining an abortion -- but more like a shady religious cult. For more cultlike behavior:

    Doe is not the only minor who's been affected by the policy, according to the ACLU. In March, according to court documents filed by the group, another minor at a shelter in Texas chose to have a medication abortion after getting a judge's permission for the procedure. After she had taken the first dose of the medication, ORR officials forced her to go to an emergency room to see if the abortion could be reversed. Ultimately, she was allowed to proceed with the abortion and take the remaining dose of the medication. In another case, the ACLU said, Lloyd traveled from Washington, DC, to meet personally with a young woman to try to convince her not to have an abortion.

  • Jon Schwartz: It Didn't Just Start Now: John Kelly Has Always Been a Hard-Right Bully: The former Marine General has had a tough week, not only failing repeatedly to keep Trump from embarrassing himself, but having his own Trumpian moment making baseless charges against Rep. Frederica Wilson. The best Trump mouthpiece Sarah Sanders came up with in Kelly's defense was It's "highly inappropriate" to question John Kelly -- because he's a general. Schwartz compresses "Kelly's worldview, as expressed in 2010" into this short list:

    1. No one outside of the military can legitimately question any of America's wars.
    2. No one who is in the military ever questions any of America's wars.
    3. America and its wars are and have always been good.
    4. America is under terrifying threat from incomprehensible lunatics.
    5. Our country is hamstrung by its sniveling "chattering class."

    I've run across many more links on Kelly and Wilson, but I'd rather point out this one: Alice Speri: Top Trump Official John Kelly Ordered ICE to Portray Immigrants as Criminals to Justify Raids.

  • Matt Shuham: Forbes: Trump Drops on 'Richest Americans' List as Net Worth Takes a Hit: Down $600 million to $3.1 billion, dropping 92 spots (from 156 to 248). No real analysis here as to why. Certainly, it's not because he's resolved his conflicts-of-interest and made it impossible to use his office to feather his own nest. And this looks extra bad with the stock market setting new record highs. On the other hand, leaving his day-to-day business decisions in the hands of Jr. and Eric may not ave been the smartest idea. And naming so many properties after himself has politicized them, which makes their value at least partly subject to his extraordinarily low popularity.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Daily Log

Second draft:

For all of my lifetime -- I was born in 1950, the same week as the maximum US advance in the Korean War was reversed by China's entry -- all I've ever heard from the bipartisan foreign policy mandarins in Washington is that any retreat from US interventions around the world should be opposed as a return to "isolationism," their term for those who had successfully opposed US membership in the post-WWI League of Nations. The implication was always that by rejecting Woodrow Wilson's grand stab at American internationalism the isolationists had doomed the world to WWII. In reality, America's post-WWII decision to maintain a large permanent military and to assert near-hegemonic influence all around the world -- a decision which rapidly calcified into the Cold War against the Soviet Union and "international communism" -- was a radical break from all previous American history, one that through the magic of bipartisan agreement was never seriously debated.

The Democrats, as the party of free trade going back as far as Jefferson, drifted easily into an internationalism based on "open doors" and reciprocal arrangements. Wilson went so far as to assert a right to self-determination that potentially opposed the great European (and the nascent Japanese) empires, although he was too much of a racist to stick to his high-minded rhetoric. Roosevelt went even further in globalizing his "four freedoms" -- the basis for the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reflecting the fact that universal agreement is only possible when based on equal rights and respect -- but he died too soon, leaving his legacy to the mercies of Truman and his racist Secretary of State, James F. Byrne.

Republicans, as the party of domestic manufacturers and their beloved tariffs, had a harder time joining the postwar consensus. While it is true that some Republicans had rallied to the cry of empire building, especially in the 1898 war (Lodge, Roosevelt, and Taft were especially prominent) and again in 1917, the party had provided most of the votes to rebuke Wilson and the League of Nations. Their post-WWII shift coincided with the desires of American business to invest abroad, and they loved the Cold War, not least because it provided a wedge against labor unions in America as well as abroad. Of course, it didn't hurt when arms manufacturers and oil companies shifted their political allegiance to the GOP.

The Cold War and its constituent Red Scare -- practically every war starts with an effort to purge opposition at home (much as the medieval Crusades started by attacking Jewish communities in Europe) -- effectively buried 170 years of American tradition under the disgraced rubric of "isolationism." While Democrats have occasionally echoed the high-minded rhetoric of Wilson and Roosevelt, they effectively purged the party of any substantially internationalist impulses when Henry Wallace's 1948 campaign lost so badly. Under Truman and Eisenhower, the US built institutions that paralleled the UN but were dominated by Washington, while at the same time reducing the UN to a forum for, whenever possible, advancing US rather than international interests. Subsequent US administrations, from Kennedy to Reagan, only strove to ratchet up anti-communist rhetoric -- based, to no small extent, on the increasing economic gap between the US and the USSR.

For Democrats, the only crack in this facade was due to the disastrous war in Indochina and the resulting antiwar movement. In the late 1960s, this led to a huge credibility gap between the party leadership, which has remained committed to America's neo-imperial consensus all the way from Kennedy to Obama and Clinton, and the anti-war, anti-imperial, and anti-racist rank and file. The latter have created an impressive critique of consensus foreign policy, ranging from Gabriel Kolko's The Politics of War (1968) and Noam Chomsky's American Power and the New Mandarins (1969) to Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World (2003) and Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire (2004) -- not sure why I didn't come up with more recent titles, but recent books I've read have most often been trapped in the weeds, like Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars (2013), or in their own confusion, like Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything (2016).

Still, I've seen very little that moves beyond finding fault in US foreign policy to figuring out how an even-handed internationalism, which seeks to solve problems by building up rather than bypassing international law and institutions. It occurs to me that a big part of this problem is that we've become so cynical after having spent seventy-some years viewing the UN as a zero-sum game, mattering only when it aligns with American interests, and hostile when it doesn't. Contributing to this is that the US has supported (and still does) so many regimes contrary to our own proclaimed ideals of liberal democracy. Part is that we've so tarnished those ideals that they hold little real sway here, even as rhetoric. (Few American figures have been more devoted to such rhetoric than Obama, yet voters opted to replace him with Trump's transparently empty jingoism.) Result is that leftists (as well as some conservatives who didn't lose their minds in Cold War rhetoric, or have managed to get over it) can argue for arbitrary withdrawal, but they have trouble pointing to a positive replacement for US intervention abroad.

This is not to say that there's been no division in Washington's consensus foreign policy. Early on, paranoid anti-communists (e.g., in the John Birch Society) insisted on withdrawing from any and all international institutions that included the Soviets. Their legacy has grown over the years, appearing in the long-term refusal to recognize communist governments in North Vietnam and North Korea, in Carter's boycott of the Moscow Olympics, and Reagan's (and most recently Trump's) withdrawal from UNESCO. As the Cold War wound down, the Birchers' extreme rejectionist attitude evolved into the gross neo-conservative idea that the US, as the world's sole "hyperpower," has to act unilaterally, especially to preserve its dominance and prevent the emergency of any rival powers. The neocons were able to implement much of their program during the early years of their Global War on Terror before losing credibility as their wars turned into protracted fiascos, but their ideas still hold considerable influence, partly because Republicans hold such affinity for the prerogatives of the rich and powerful, while establishment Democrats remain firm believers in the benevolence of American exceptionalism.

There are other currents, some beginning to question the consensus. The so-called realist school recognizes how dysfunctional America's military initiatives have become, but insists on judging them on the basis of national interests -- a nebulous concept that tends to count business investments and trade but to discount foreign suffering and injustice (unless, of course, they're bad for business). Semi-realist is the old Kissinger school, which emphasized great power dynamics. This fell out of fashion with the end of the Cold War, but is likely to rebound as China has emerged as a peer power, and several thinkers are now looking at a "multipolar" world -- more as threat than promise, as they don't have any constructive ideas of how to make it work. In the 1990s, many liberals were intoxicated by the idea of "humanitarian intervention" -- a way of repurposing the military after the Cold War threat faded which dovetailed nicely with neocon schemes even though the latter never had any pretense of helping anyone but themselves.

In all this, the UN is less concern than international law. Even neocons can see the occasional publicity value of getting the UN to rubber stamp their initiatives while they can simply ignore it when it doesn't. On the other hand, international law was invented to constrain nations, much like national and local law stops (or at least greatly lowers the likelihood of) individuals from engaging in anti-social (criminal) behavior. It's always been (and probably always will be) limited by lack of enforcement as effective as our police, courts, and jails, but even as is it's neither whimsical nor toothless -- otherwise, for instance, why would the US have reacted so negatively in rejecting the ICC (International Criminal Court)?

I can brainstorm many (probably good) ideas on how international law and institutions can be designed better and made more effective, but it's almost pointless doing so as long as so few Americans have any interest, or see any practical value, in the subject. Before this happens, we need to better understand the history and rationales for such widespread rejection of internationalism. So, I think someone who knows a lot about the subject should write a big book sorting out this history, and laying bare the various ways it has failed us and made the world a much more dangerous place. As I hope the above shows, I know a little about this, but I'm glossing over a lot of details, and it's not something I can imagine getting done (let alone going out and promoting). My first choice would be Phyllis Bennis, who's made a career out of criticizing American foreign policy from a framework of international law. But both times I've heard her speak, one thing I noticed was how she simply assumed the importance of international law without addressing the fact that most Americans don't begin to understand that (or agree). So I'd add that she needs to write this book to put her presentation on a much firmer foundation.

I should wind up by mentioning that this is a propitious time politically to steer the conversation back to the promise of international law and institutions. Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016 leaves a vacuum at the top of the Democratic Party. Her loss was at least in part due to popular dissatisfaction with how much she was involved in America's endless wars: in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president, as a Senator when she voted for Afghanistan and Iraq War resolutions, and as Secretary of State when she ran the ill-fated intervention in Libya and lobbied for increased US intervention in Syria. She's been a captive to the consensus all her political life (see her campaign photo-ops with Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger), frequently gravitating toward the side of hawkishness. Peter Beinart once argued that only liberals can win the War on Terror, but there's never been any evidence that Americans want to win that war bad enough to go to such extremes -- especially since most liberals (including Beinart but not yet Hillary) have lost interest. In short, the Democratic Party badly needs some new ideas to move away from dependence on the imperial military -- not just because the old ideas don't work, but also because perpetual war makes the country meaner and more violent, and increasing inequality dissolves our sense of social binding (even more than war brings us together).

Conversely, Trump has embraced the military over diplomacy to an unprecedented degree (see his State and Defense budgets, cuts to the former and increases to the latter), and has adopted a "go it alone" stance which seems less rooted in neocon megalomania than in a revival of the 1930s pro-Nazi "America First" movement (which his father supported). He presents what should be an easy target -- yet thus far the only tack Clinton Democrats have come up with is to try to rekindle the Cold War with Russia, a clear indication of how little they've learned, even from defeat.

Of course, a serious book would have to tackle Israel-Palestine -- the key issue where the US has lost any semblance of respectability at the UN, and the prime example of how the UN has failed to solve major conflicts, especially where some compromise from the US is necessary. One should also delve into the related area of trade and globalization. It is worth noting that before WWII what little foreign policy the US practiced was driven not by political concerns but by private interests: businesses mostly (even after WWII CIA coups in Guatemala and Iran were largely favors to United Fruit and Anglo-Iranian Oil), but also missionaries. Even now, companies like Exxon-Mobil practice their own independent foreign policies, while foreign-based multinationals like Sony and Philips own vast swathes of America. Even as conservatives rejected international treaties that might limit the American military, they've promoted trade deals that place private companies above national sovereignty -- abroad, of course, but also here.


First draft:

I've mentioned in the blog several times that I think someone should write a book on the politically dominant kneejerk reaction against international law and institutions, especially the UN -- how such ideas originated and evolved, and why they've become so dominant, even among Democrats who have supported such efforts as far back as Wilson. The key deflection point was when Americans started thinking of international organizations as tools instead of as forums -- the primacy of self-interests may even date back to the founding of the UN in 1945, but picked up momentum with the Cold War, especially as the US started forming organizations designed to exclude the Soviet Union (NATO, the Marshall Plan), and started a long series of clandestine and sometimes military interventions abroad (Italy, Greece, Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, many more). Of course, it took much longer for the US to give up any pretense of following or even working with internationals, and we still see efforts to use the UN to help enforce sanctions against countries the US bears grudges against like North Korea and Iran. The two Bush wars against Iraq are a prime case example, with he US still launching its war after having failed to obtain UN blessing. Israel-Palestine is another case, one where world opinion long ago turned against the US position, reducing the US to using its veto power to obstruct international resolution.

There is a long tradition of opposition to the UN and to any international forum that might impinge on unilateral US action -- most hysterically in the 1950s by the John Birch Society, which despite its marginality at the time set up the logic for such later steps as Reagan's 1982 withdrawal from UNESCO. It is not clear to me whether this post-WWII opposition has any real roots in the post-WWI "isolationism" which kept the US from joining Wilson's League of Nations (tracing back to the anti-militarism of Washington's Farewell Address, the hemispheric focus of the Monroe Doctrine, and/or the anti-imperialist movement c. 1898) or the "America First" neutrality movement (which had a distinctly right-wing air). It is interesting that after WWII "isolationism" became an all-purpose slur applied to anyone who opposed American military interventionism regardless of their position on the UN and other international laws/institutions.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28781 [28766] rated (+15), 402 [401] unrated (+1).

Second short-count week in a row, following a +17 last week. No surprise for me, as we played host for a visiting friend from Boston. I spent one day cooking a nice dinner -- Moroccan, main dish was cod marinated in chermoula and baked over potatoes and tomatoes; sides were a roasted eggplant salad, roasted red bell peppers with goat cheese, a carrot salad, an olive-orange-onion salad, and a sweet potato-olive salad; dessert was a mixed fruit salad with honey and orange blossom water. Next day we drove out to Quivira NWR, Cheyenne Bottoms, and back through Lindsborg. Ate at Country Crossing in Yoder on the way out, and Swedish Crown in Lindsborg on the way back. Third day we drove around Wichita, dining at Molino's (Mexican). Anyhow, knocked about half of my week out, and I never really got back into it.

I did manage a small bit of progress on the Jazz Guides. I'm up to 51% in the Jazz 2000's file, which puts me at Julian Lage, and gives me 1197 pages. One metric I've been using suggests that I have 157 pages to go (1354 total), but that doesn't account for group entries that I've set aside -- probably another 50-75 pages. The 20th Century Guide is still stuck at 749 pages, so I'm 54 short of 2000 combined. That'll probably be a milestone to mark with a tweet, hopefully later this week.

One minor note on the list below. I was reminded of the Mose Allison compilation, which Christgau had given an A- to, by its conspicuous (albeit alphabetical) slotting on Phil Overeem's latest list. The record isn't available on Napster, but I was able to line up 23/24 songs, and figured that's close enough. Not quite as good as I'd like, although I could imagine the booklet and a few more plays pushing it over the line. One thing I'm pretty sure of is that I could assemble an A- compilation, although I've yet to find any available record that quite makes the grade.

I expect I'll get closer to 30 records next week, although I'm likely to run into a few distractions. Also having trouble figuring out what to listen to on Napster, although my own new jazz queue is pretty deep right now, so there's that.

I should also note that some space has opened up on the server, so for a while I should be back to normal there. Still think I should move it all, but the immediate need is less urgent.


Laura Tillem had a nit to pick with my outrage at Trump and Tillerson for withdrawing the US from UNESCO yesterday. She blamed Obama. I'm not sure of the exact chronology or responsibility, but in 2011 the US stopped paying dues to UNESCO because they admitted Palestine as a full member. This was evidently mandated by a law passed by Congress -- I don't know whether it was signed by Obama, but wouldn't be surprised if it was. In 2012, Obama asked Congress to restore funding for UNESCO, and was turned down. In 2015 UNESCO passed a resolution that Israel took offense to -- something having to do with Jerusalem -- and at some point UNESCO designated the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as a World Historical site, and made the faux pas of designating it as part of Palestine. But disagreements happen with international organizations. What I was more concerned with was the American refusal to participate and engage, which is consistent and largely dictated by neocon (imperialist) doctrine. Indeed, it should be pointed out that Israel didn't announce that it's leaving UNESCO until after the US did, supposedly on its behalf. I might also note that the US-Israeli decision casts further doubt that either nation has any real commitment to "the two-state solution," which has been official policy, at least in the US, at least since the early 1990s. If the US actually supported its own policy, you'd expect it to help establish international recognition of a Palestinian state even before Israel formalized the deal. Instead, since GW Bush the US has routinely subordinated its own policies and interests to Israel -- a blank check surrender which Obama and Trump have continued.

There is, I think, an interesting book to be written about how the critique of internationalism and, especially, the UN, has grown from a fringe cult like the 1950s John Birch Society into a hegemonic idea that dictates American foreign policy, affecting both parties.


New records rated this week:

  • Rez Abbasi: Unfiltered Universe (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ellery Eskelin: Trio Willisau Live (2015 [2016], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Andrew Lamb/Warren Smith/Arkadijus Gotesmanas: The Sea of Modicum (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Rob Luft: Riser (2017, Edition): [r]: B
  • Liudas Mockunas: Hydro (2015-16 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Paint (2017, Hot Cup): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Johnny O'Neal: In the Moment (2017, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Teri Parker: In the Past (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa (2014 [2017], TUM): [cd]: A-
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (2014-15 [2017], TUM): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Yosvany Terry/Baptiste Trotignon: Ancestral Memories (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
  • Charles Thomas: The Colors of a Dream (2017, Sea Tea): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lizz Wright: Grace (2017, Concord): [r]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Mose Allison: I'm Not Talkin': The Soul Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1971 (1957-71 [2016], BGP): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop: Rev (Anzic)
  • Corey Christiansen: Dusk (Origin): October 20
  • Richie Cole: Latin Lover (RCP): October 20
  • Marc Devine Trio: Inspiration (ITI): October 13
  • Sinne Eeg: Dreams (ArtistShare)
  • ExpEAR & Drew Gress: Vesper (Kopasetic): November 15
  • Lorenzo Feliciati: Elevator Man (RareNoise): advance, November 17
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet: Live at Jazz Room Cortez (Cortez Sound): October 20
  • Adam Hopkins: Party Pack Ice (Ad-Hop Music)
  • Lisa Mezzacappa: Glorious Ravage (New World)
  • Diana Panton: Solstice/Equinox (self-released)
  • Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor/Lafayette Harris/Ken Filiano: Embrace (RareNoise): advance, November 17
  • Idit Shner: 9 Short Stories (OA2)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Every week since January has featured multiple stories about how Donald Trump (and/or the Republicans) are corrupting government, undermining democracy, degrading our short- and long-term economic prospects, and quite often endangering world peace. Still, most of those stories could be understood as some combination of the greed, demagoguery, and narrow-minded ignorance that constitutes what passes as the conservative world-view. But some things happened this week that makes me think Trump has crossed a previously unknown line into a qualitatively new level of, well, I'm groping for words, trying to avoid "evil," so let's call it derangement. The US withdrawal from UNESCO was the first such story, followed by the trashing of the agreement with Iran to terminate their "nuclear program," but then there was Trump's executive order to undermine Obamacare -- an act of pure spite following the Republican failure to repeal the ACA. As Ezra Klein's tweet explains:

Trump's new policy will increase premiums by 20%, cost the government $194 billion, increase the deficit, destabilize insurance markets, and increase the number of uninsured Americans. There is nothing it makes better; it's pure policy nihilism.

Sure, I've often felt like Republicans generated their policy ideas from a deep well of spite and vindictiveness, with scant concern for consequences because deep down they really didn't give a shit about anyone other than themselves (actually, a small subset of the fools they manipulating into voting for them). But usually you could also discern a positive slant, like their fondness for helping predatory businesses rip everyone else off. Trump certainly isn't beyond that, especially for his own businesses, but he mostly leaves such matters to his subordinates -- after all, their experience in business and lobbies gives them a command of detail he lacks, as well as motives he doesn't disapprove of.

That's should have left Trump free to focus on "big picture" items, but not understanding them either, he's been preoccupied with petty feuds and tone-deaf publicity stunts, but his hatred for Obama is so great that he'll gladly sign any executive order that wipes out any hint of his predecessor's legacy. That's the source of much of his policy nihilism, although he's occasionally broken new ground, as with his UNESCO withdrawal -- ending 72 years of more/less trying to work with the rest of the world's nations for the common good.

I suppose what this really means is that for the first time since he took office, I've come around to the view that Trump is actually worse than the run-of-the-mill Republicans in Congress and now in his cabinet and office. I've long resisted that view, partly because the media bend over backwards to excuse and legitimize the latter, and partly because even though I disapprove of Trump's obvious character flaws (e.g., racism, sexism, xenophobia, vanity, violence, mendacity, ostentatiousness, sheer greed) I prefer to judge people on what they do rather than what they think or believe. (Indeed, those flaws are pretty common in America, but most people have enough of a superego to try to limit their exposure and maintain social decorum -- Trump, as is becoming more obvious every day, does not.)

On the other hand, let's not forget that Trump started to wander off after giving his little rant about Obamacare, and it was Mike Pence who grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him back to actually sign the executive order. That's an image to keep in mind if, say, Trump is finally dispatched as too much of an embarrassment -- and here I have to agree with Steve Bannon that the odds favor a cabinet coup using the 25th amendment to Congress taking the more arduous road to impeachment.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Aaron Blake: Almost half of Republicans want war with North Korea, a new poll says. Is it the Trump Effect? Actually, a plurality, 46-41% in favor of a preemptive strike against North Korea. Other polls produce different results, possibly depending on how the question is phrased. I doubt if even 1% of the Republicans polled have any understanding of North Korea's preparations for responding to such an attack, hence of the risks and likely costs of starting a war there. On the other hand, one may expect Mattis, Tillerson, and the upper ranks of the uniformed to at least have some idea: thousands of pieces of artillery that can reach Seoul (population 10 million, metro area 25 million), the range of rockets that can reach further (up to the US mainland), a few dozen nuclear warheads (some with hydrogen boost), the vast array of defensive tunnels, one of the largest military forces in the world. The latest assessment I've seen is that the US would prevail in such a war (assuming China does not intervene, as it did in 1950), but it wouldn't be easy and the costs would be great. Tillerson was recently quoted as saying he'll continue negotiating "until the first bomb falls" -- it's hard to take much comfort in that given that Trump's been quoted as saying his Secretary of State is wasting his time. Moreover, see Choe Sang-Hun: North Korean Hackers Stole U.S.-South Korean Military Plans, Lawmaker Says, including a "decapitation plan" for an attack targeting Kim Jong-Un. Also note the report that Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in U.S. Nuclear Arsenal -- while beyond ridiculous, such a report would play directly into North Korea's paranoia. Indeed, Trump is playing Nixon's Madman theory much more convincingly than the Trickster ever did. (For a recent review, see Garrett M Graff: The Madman and the Bomb. Among other things, this article points out how elated Trump was in ordering the "Mother of All Bombs" dropped in Afghanistan, adding "All the previous worries about the potential of a deranged president to use a nuclear button irrationally have been multiplied.") Lately Trump has made a number of bold unilateral moves, evidently meant to reassure his base that he can act dramatically on their prejudices. The more he senses support for striking North Korea, the more likely he is to do it.

  • Tina Brown: What Harvey and Trump have in common: Harvey is Weinstein, the movie mogul and current poster boy for serial sexual abuse. Brown left her job at The New Yorker to work for him, and this is what she found out:

    What I learned about Harvey in the two years of proximity with him at Talk was that nothing about his outward persona, the beguiling Falstaffian charmer who persuaded -- or bamboozled -- me into leaving The New Yorker and joining him, was the truth. He is very Trumpian in that regard.

    He comes off as a big, blustery, rough diamond kind of a guy, the kind of old-time studio chief who lives large, writes big checks and exudes bonhomie. Wrong. The real Harvey is fearful, paranoid, and hates being touched (at any rate, when fully dressed).

    Winning, for him, was a blood sport. Deals never close. They are renegotiated down to the bone after the press release. A business meeting listening to him discuss Miramax deals in progress reminded me of the wire tap transcripts of John Gotti and his inner circle at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Queens. "So just close it fast, then fuck him later with the subsidiary rights." . . .

    Harvey is an intimidating and ferocious man. Crossing him, even now, is scary. But it's a different era now. Cosby. Ailes. O'Reilly, Weinstein. It's over, except for one -- the serial sexual harasser in the White House.

    For more Weinstein dirt, see Ronan Farrow: From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein's Accusers Tell Their Stories. As for Trump, see: Jessica Garrison/Kendall Taggart: Trump Given a Subpoena for All Documents Relating to Assault Allegations.

  • Daniel José Camacho: Trump's marriage to the religious right reeks of hypocrisy on both sides: Well, sure, but hypocrisy is an old friend of Christianity in every stage of American history, and you can probably find prime examples at least as far back as Constantine, who realized how useful the religion could be for sanctifying his own political power. Christianity is, above all else, a remarkably forgiving religion, as long as you attest to its power by begging for its mercy. In country music, for instance, whatever you do on Saturday Night can be atoned for and made right on Sunday Morning, and the latter is all that really matters to the clergy -- after all, confession confirms their authority. The political right has never had a problem with that. They love the idea of hierarchy so much they strive to emulate it on earth, ruled, of course, by themselves, conferring favors upon their favored clergy. Of course, if you don't buy into this arrangement, your cynicism may lead you to charge them with hypocrisy. Indeed, the whole scam is as easy to see through as "The Emperor's New Clothes," but that only makes the believers more angry and vindictive -- hence, the rise of the Religious Right parallels liberal secularization, with its increasing militancy (and, looking at Trump, I'm inclined to add desperation) bound up with a feeling of embattled isolation that right-wing media and politicians have cynically encouraged. Still, the problem is less Christian backlash against secular culture -- something that is real but deeper and more complex than the political backlash it is often confused with[*] -- than that con artists from Reagan to Trump have often managed to wrap their scams up in various traditional pieties, as if that excuses otherwise shameless behavior.

    [*] Note that Christianity predates capitalism, so contains a strain of anti-materialist sentiment that has never been fully reconciled with modern commerce. It even predates Constantine's state religion, before which it was resolutely anti-state and anti-war, so even today a large segment of the peace movement finds its inspiration in religion (and not just Christianity).

  • William D Hartung: Here's Where Your Tax Dollars for 'Defense' Are Really Going:

    The answer couldn't be more straightforward: It goes directly to private corporations and much of it is then wasted on useless overhead, fat executive salaries, and startling (yet commonplace) cost overruns on weapons systems and other military hardware that, in the end, won't even perform as promised. Too often the result is weapons that aren't needed at prices we can't afford. If anyone truly wanted to help the troops, loosening the corporate grip on the Pentagon budget would be an excellent place to start.

    The numbers are staggering. In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon issued $304 billion in contract awards to corporations -- nearly half of the department's $600 billion-plus budget for that year. And keep in mind that not all contractors are created equal. According to the Federal Procurement Data System's top 100 contractors report for 2016, the biggest beneficiaries by a country mile were Lockheed Martin ($36.2 billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General Dynamics ($12.7 billion), and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). Together, these five firms gobbled up nearly $100 billion of your tax dollars, about one-third of all the Pentagon's contract awards in 2016. . . .

    The arms industry's investment in lobbying is even more impressive. The defense sector has spent a total of more than $1 billion on that productive activity since 2009, employing anywhere from 700 to 1,000 lobbyists in any given year. To put that in perspective, you're talking about significantly more than one lobbyist per member of Congress, the majority of whom zipped through Washington's famed "revolving door"; they moved, that is, from positions in Congress or the Pentagon to posts at weapons companies from which they could proselytize their former colleagues.

    The weapons systems are the big ticket items, but there is much more, including some 600,000 private contractors doing all sorts of things, with little effective management, while companies like Erik Prince's Blackwater lobby to privatize more combat jobs.

  • Sean Illing: 20 of America's top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They're scared. Many interesting idea here; e.g.:

    Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, began her talk with a jarring reminder: Democracies don't merely collapse, as that "implies a process devoid of will." Democracies die because of deliberate decisions made by human beings.

    Usually, it's because the people in power take democratic institutions for granted. They become disconnected from the citizenry. They develop interests separate and apart from the voters. They push policies that benefit themselves and harm the broader population. Do that long enough, Bermeo says, and you'll cultivate an angry, divided society that pulls apart at the seams. . . .

    Due to wage stagnation, growing inequalities, automation, and a shrinking labor market, millions of Americans are deeply pessimistic about the future: 64 percent of people in Europe believe their children will be worse off than they were; the number is 60 percent in America.

    That pessimism is grounded in economic reality. In 1970, 90 percent of 30-year-olds in America were better off than their parents at the same age. In 2010, only 50 percent were. Numbers like this cause people to lose faith in the system. What you get is a spike in extremism and a retreat from the political center. That leads to declines in voter turnout and, consequently, more opportunities for fringe parties and candidates. . . .

    Consider this stat: In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats objected to the idea of their children marrying across political lines. In 2010, those numbers jumped to 46 percent and 33 percent respectively. Divides like this are eating away at the American social fabric. . . .

    But for all the reasons discussed above, people have gradually disengaged from the status quo. Something has cracked. Citizens have lost faith in the system. The social compact is broken. So now we're left to stew in our racial and cultural resentments, which paved the way for a demagogue like Trump.

    One thing I would stress here is that "the erosion of democratic norms" -- voter suppression, gerrymandering, obstruction tactics, tolerance for "dirty tricks," the ever-increasing prerogatives of money -- has largely been spawned within the Republican Party, which is to say the party most desperately committed to inequality, order, privilege, and hierarchy. The article offers stats about the growing number of Americans who look favorably on a military dictatorship, but neglects to break them down by party. Still, it's worth noting that Democrats have often played into the hands of anti-democratic forces, especially those who have been most successful at toadying for donors. Although Obama, for instance, campaigned against the baleful influence of money in 2008, he managed to raise so much more of it than McCain, so Democrats didn't bother to use their majorities to address the issue.

  • Sarah Jaffe: Bernie Sanders Isn't Winning Local Elections for the Left:

    "Bernie Wins Birmingham" is convenient shorthand for those who have no idea what actually goes on in Birmingham. But Bernie Sanders and the group his 2016 campaign inspired, Our Revolution, are not winning elections in places like Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, which in June elected a mayor who's promised, "I'll make Jackson the most radical city on the planet." Activists in Birmingham and Jackson and Albuquerque and Long Island are winning them -- left-wing activists who've toiled for years in the trenches, working with a new wave of organizers from Black Lives Matter and other insurgent groups, who bring social-media savvy and fired-up young voters into the mix.

    Still, the title leans too hard the opposite way. Bernie is helping, especially to provide a nationwide support framework. Conversely, helping build local power bases helps build the nationwide movement, either for Bernie (who certainly could have used some local help in Mississippi and Alabama during the 2016 primaries) or whoever vies most successfully for his movement. Conversely, although Hillary may have given up her dream of running in 2020, her crowd is still more focused on containing (or combatting) the left than on winning elections: see Bob Moser: Clintonian Democrats Are Peddling Myths to Cling to Power. Anyone who bothers to remember McGovern's tragic 1972 loss to Nixon should heap shame on those Democrats who betrayed their party's nominee for the most devious and crooked politician in American history -- much more numerous than the tiny fraction of Sanders supporters who couldn't stomach Clinton in 2016. The so-called New Democrats have discredited themselves doubly: first by repeatedly surrendering the Party's New Deal/Great Society legacy to increasingly regressive Republicans in the name of political expediency, then by losing to the vilest candidate the GOP could muster.

  • Fred Kaplan: Certifiable Nonsense: As usual with Slate, the link title is better: "President Trump's Most Dishonest Speech Yet," adding "His announcement on the Iran deal might also be his most dangerous speech yet." Certainly true about his dishonesty, even though there's lots of competition. But most dangerous? More dangerous than his taunting of North Korea, which actually has nuclear warheads as well as more powerful missiles? Well, the two are related:

    Pulling out would also damage our posture, and possibly trigger catastrophe, in other global hot spots. If our face-off with North Korea is to end without war, it will require some sort of diplomatic settlement. But who will want to negotiate with the United States, and who would believe any deal Trump would sign or guarantee he would make, if he pulls out of the Iran deal, even though Iran is abiding by its terms?

    Also see:

  • Sarah Kliff: Trump's acting like Obamacare is just politics. It's people's lives. This is the piece Klein linked to in his tweet above, so it starts by spelling out the bottom line. One key thing Trump's order does is to end payments to insurance companies protecting against losses due to adverse selection. This wouldn't be a problem in a single-payer system with truly universal coverage, but splitting the market into multiple segments means that some will be cost more than others. If insurance companies had to bear that risk, some would drop out and the rest would raise their prices. And that's exactly what they will do under Trump's executive order.

    Ending these payments raises premiums for anyone who uses Obamacare: older people, younger people, sicker people, and healthy people. And it puts an already fragile Obamacare marketplace at greater risk of a last-minute exodus by health plans who assumed that the government would pay these subsidies -- and don't think they can weather the financial hit.

    The Trump administration has, since taking office, cut the Obamacare open enrollment period in half. Instead of 90 days to sign up, enrollees will now get 45. The Trump administration has cut the Obamacare advertising budget by 90 percent -- and reduced funding for in-person outreach by 40 percent. Regional branches of Health and Human Services abruptly pulled out of the outreach events they have participated in over the last four years. . . .

    Trump's larger presidential agenda has focused on unwinding Barack Obama's legacy. He's more focused on destroying his nemesis than trying to replace, to fix, or to improve Obama's biggest accomplishments from the Iran deal to environmental regulation.

    On health care, there are going to be immediate and very real consequences for Americans. There are real people who stand to be hurt by an administration that has actively decided to make a public benefits program function poorly.

    Also see:

  • Michael Kruse: The Power of Trump's Positive Thinking: Yet another attempt to plumb Trump's psyche, trying to impose order on a mental process that strikes most of us as supremely chaotic:

    "I've had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in a nine-month period, that's ever served," he said this week in an interview with Forbes, contradicting objective metrics and repeating his frequent and dubious assertion of unprecedented success throughout the first year of his first term as president.

    The reality is that Trump is in a rut. His legislative agenda is floundering. His approval ratings are historically low. He's raging privately while engaging in noisy, internecine squabbles. He's increasingly isolated. And yet his fact-flouting declarations of positivity continue unabated. For Trump, though, these statements are not issues of right or wrong or true or false. They are something much more elemental. They are a direct result of the closest thing the stubborn, ideologically malleable celebrity businessman turned most powerful person on the planet has ever had to a devout religious faith. This is not his mother's flinty Scottish Presbyterianism but Norman Vincent Peale's "power of positive thinking," the utterly American belief in self above all else and the conviction that thoughts can be causative, that basic assertion can lead to actual achievement. . . .

    What Peale peddled was "a certain positive, feel-good religiosity that demands nothing of you and rewards you with worldly riches and success," said Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse, the author of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. "It's a self-help gospel . . . the name-it-and-claim-it gospel." . . .

    Peale, then nearly 80 years old, officiated Trump's wedding in 1977. In 1983, shortly after the opening of Trump Tower, Trump credited Peale for instilling in him a can-do ethos.

    The piece cites various critiques of various self-help pitches, some of which fit Trump to a tee, then notes that no one who has been studied has anywhere near the power Trump has, so "the Trump presidency is uncharted territory." Of course, Peale is only one significant influence on Trump's thinking and behavior. There's also Roy Cohn, a very different and much more nefarious mentor. And there's Trump's Nazi/KKK-aligned father, and probably a few more. Some writer could build a great novel out of such clay. Unfortunately, the real thing isn't a work of fiction.

  • Dara Lind: Leaked memos show Jeff Sessions's DOJ aims to undermine due process for immigrants. Sessions is one of those "public servants" in the Trump administration that's willing to overlook getting tweet-slapped by Trump because he has important agenda work to do. This is one prime example (others include ending civil rights and antitrust enforcement).

  • James Mann: The Adults in the Room: A piece on how the generals (Kelly, Mattis, McMaster) and Boy Scout (Tillerson) Trump has surrounded himself with are keeping the ship of state afloat, their "maturity" in sharp contrast to the president's lack thereof:

    Following the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the meaning of the words "adult" and "grownup" has undergone a subtle but remarkable shift. They now refer far more to behavior and character than to views on policy. This is where Kelly, McMaster, Mattis, and (to a lesser extent) Tillerson come in; "grownup" is the behavioral role that we have assigned to them.

    For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an adult. He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies, rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their own children. Thus the dynamic was established in the earliest days of the administration: Trump makes messes, or threatens to make them, and Americans look to the "adults" to clean up for him. The "adults," in turn, send out occasional little public signals that they are trying to keep Trump from veering off course -- to educate him, to make him grow up, to keep him under control. When all else fails, they simply distance themselves from his tirades. Sometimes such efforts are successful; on many occasions, they aren't.

    Leaving aside the question whether Trump's immaturity is a matter of his spoiled upbringing, sociopathy, or some kind of dementia (what we usually mean when we speak of people his age undergoing "a second childhood"), what I find most incongruous here is the notion that we should consider generals to be grown-ups. We are, after all, talking about people who dress up in uniforms with flashy medals, who prance about and play with guns or, at their rank, maneuver soldiers around battlefields. Those are all things that I enjoyed in my pre-teens but rapidly grew out of, especially as I became conscious of the very grim and senseless war my country was fighting in Vietnam. Ever since then, I figured those who pursued military careers to be stuck in some kind of adolescence, at least until PTSD disabuses them of their fantasies. Maybe generals are different, although I don't see why, and I doubt they often function well outside of the closed system that selected them. (Tillerson, of course, didn't fall for the military fantasy, but he got a taste of the worldview in the Boy Scouts, and his advancement through the ranks of Exxon was every bit as cloistered -- something we see in his performance as Secretary of State.)

    I also couldn't help but notice this piece: Eric Scigliano: The Book Mattis Reads to Be Prepared for War With North Korea. The book is T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War, originally published in 1963, evidently focused on the importance of putting "boots on the ground" while recognizing how little America's scorched earth air bombardment had accomplished. No idea what lessons Mattis draws from this, other than ego-stroking from a fellow Marine. As I recall, the first thing I read about Mattis (back in early Iraq War days) stressed what an intellectual he was, with his vast library of war books. I flashed then on Robert Sherrill's book title, Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music, and figured "military intellectuals" were likely to be similarly debased.

  • Donald Macintyre: Tony Blair: 'We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its election win': Only eleven years too late. I don't recall whether Blair has issued his mea culpa for the Iraq War or any of the dozens of other things he's famously screwed up, but it's worth noting this one. One thing we should always work toward is getting groups to lay down their arms and work to advance their cause through an electoral framework. The Hamas electoral victory in 2006 offered an opportunity to restart the "peace process" that Barak and Sharon aborted in 2000, with broader Palestinian representation than was ever possible under Arafat. Of course, Sharon wanted no part in any peace process, and Blair and Bush sheepishly went along, not simply adding more than a decade to the conflict but allowing Israel's illegal settlement actions to sink ever deeper roots into the West Bank.

  • Andrew Restuccia: Bannon promises 'season of war' against McConnell, GOP establishment: Specifically, "to challenge any Senate Republican who doesn't publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump." On the one hand, I'm tempted to say, "let the bloodletting begin"; on the other, while it will be easy to characterize Bannon's insurgents as extremists, his willingness to challenge oligarchy gives him a potential popularity that establishment Republicans as Mitch McConnell lack. Bannon argues here that "money doesn't matter anymore" -- while that's certainly not true, his "grass roots organizing" was able to negate Hillary's huge fundraising advantage. Seemingly unrelated, also note that:

    [Bannon] also appeared to hint that the administration was planning to soon declare that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, perhaps as soon as next week.

    But a senior administration official disputed that such an announcement was in the works for next week.

  • Philip Rucker/Ed O'Keefe: Trump threatens to abandon Puerto Rico recovery effort: Among the many things Trump has threatened to blow up this past week, one of the most vexing is the quasi-colonial relationship of the US to Puerto Rico. Trump has vacillated between taking responsibility for recovery and attempting to disown the island, to write it off like one of his bad debts. Here he declares Puerto Rico's infrastructure a disaster before the storm. There he lectures on the sanctity of debts accured by state and local government there. Political sentiment in the US generally favors aid, but I suspect his base is more antagonistic. The banks, on the other hand, would probably prefer a bailout before anything drastic happens. Puerto Ricans recently voted for statehood, which Republicans in Congress are likely to block if they think there's any reason -- like a racist, xenophobic president -- doing so might not add to the GOP majority. Indeed, Trump has already started to follow through on his threats to withdraw aid by allowing a temporary waiver to the Jones Act to expire.

    Meanwhile, a couple recent reports from Puerto Rico:

  • Gabriel Sherman: "I Hate Everyone in the White House!": Trump Seethes as Advisers Fear the President Is "Unraveling": Stephen Colbert's comment on this headline was: "This means up until now, he's been raveled." Inside you get lines like "One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike." And: "According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." All very gossipy. Too much smoke to tell where the fire actually is.

  • Emily Shugerman: US withdraws from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias': "The US helped found Unesco in the wake of the Second World War, with the aim of ensuring peace through the free flow of ideas and education." I found this shocking, even though it's long been clear that the US has its most anti-education and anti-free speech administration in history, and possibly its most anti-peace one as well. The most disturbing thing here is the extent to which anti-UN prejudice has permeated Republican ideology (and make no mistake about it, this is a purely partisan view). But even as a go-it-alone (i.e., isolationist) "America first" stance, it's pretty self-deprecating: if the stated rationale is true, this as much as admits that tiny Israel has taken charge of US foreign policy; the alternative theory, that "Mr Tillerson simply wanted to stem outgoings," also reflects poorly on the US, as much as admitting that "the richest country in the world" can't afford to contribute to preserving heritage and supporting education in poorer countries.

  • Pieces by Matthew Yglesias this week:


Special bonus link: Dalia Mortada: A Taste of Syria: A recipe for a Syrian dish, fatteh, "a hearty dish of crispy pita bread beneath chickpeas and a luscious garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce." I should note that the picture appears to have a sprinkling of ground sumac (or maybe Aleppo pepper) not listed in the recipe.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Daily Log

Saw this article in the Wichita Eagle today: Kaitlyn Alanis: Koch Industries to add disruptive innovation to business. I tweeted:

Princeling Chase Koch to head up Koch Industries' new clichés division, basically a VC outfit run by feudal lords.

"Disruptive innovation" was a very popular notion back when I was at SCO (1998-2000), with various management types having their own pet ideas of who was disrupting whom. I argued that free Linux was disrupting their Unixware business, and would kill it unless they figured out some way to make the transition to being a Linux shop. Top management, of course, disagreed. They even hired DI guru Clayton Christensen to address their annual meeting and reassure them that they were the real disrupters. Less than a year after they cut me loose, all SCO could do was try to sue Linux for allegedly copying bits of proprietary code. Needless to say, that didn't work either. But the whole episode left me with a distaste for Christensen, who lost his credibility when he turned from researcher to arbiter.

Nor was that the only time I've seen management types jump on a hot conceptual bandwagon without understanding it or even caring much. Way back around 1980, I recall Varityiper execs reading In Search of Excellence and waxing eloquent about how they were transforming the company into a paragon of excellence.


Sara Driscoll came to visit from Boston, arriving Tuesday and flying out on Friday. I took the Tuesday chill-down period as an opportunity to cook. I offered her various ethnic and main dish choices, and she picked Moroccan and fish. I found all the recipes I needed in the first section of Claudia Roden's Arabesque:

  • Roast Cod with Potatoes and Tomatoes (76)
  • Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Salad (42)
  • Carrot Salad with Cumin and Garlic (47)
  • Orange, Olive and Onion Salad (48)
  • Roast Peppers and Chickpeas with Fresh Goat Cheese (51)
  • Sweet Potato Salad (52)
  • Fruit Salad with Honey and Orange Blossom Water (126)

Nice thing was that only the fish was served hot, so everything else could be done in advance, at my leisure. I roasted the eggplant and red bell peppers the night before, and did some other prep (although now I can't remember just what: I probably boiled the sweet potatoes, and julienned and maybe parboiled the carrots, although both required further cooking to finish; I marinated the olives in olive oil and orange zest; I used canned chickpeas, so I may have drained and skinned them). I used frozen pacific cod, so the fillets didn't have any skin to slit. I mixed the goat cheese with some leftover Bulgarian feta, not called for in the recipe, but I was thinking of a similar Spanish tapa that used goat cheese and gorgonzola. The orange zest idea came from a Turkish variant of the orange-olive-onion salad, but I kept the cuts and herbs from the Moroccan recipe. The fruit was a mix of bartlett pears, fuji apple, pineapple, banana, peach, mejdol dates, and dried cranberries -- the latter wasn't in the recipe but seemed like an interesting idea. The recipe had a few other suggestions, but I'm not much of a fruit fan, so went with things I liked (or didn't mind).

On Wednesday, we took a fairly long drive into the country. Got up before noon and stopped in Yoder at Carriage Crossing for lunch, before driving on to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, southeast of Great Bend. We drove through the southern half, seeing pelicans, herons, coots and other ducks, but skipped the northern half to move on to Cheyenne Bottoms -- northeast of Great Bend. Windy out, not much actually on the lake, but more birds (especially herons) back in the marshes on the other side of the slightly elevated dirt road. When we finally circled around, we got on US-156 to K-4 then east to Lindsborg. I rather wanted to stop at Marquette, where my grandparents are buried, and Coronado Heights, but people were anxious to move on to dinner. We ate at the Swedish Crown in Lindsborg. Dark when we got out, so we hopped onto I-135 and the quick drive back to Wichita.

Drove around Wichita a bit the next day, winding up at Molino's for dinner -- one of our better (and more unusual) Mexican restaurants.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28766 [28749] rated (+17), 401 [404] unrated (-3).

Light week all around. I spent several days working on a fairly extravagant dinner. I had checked out a copy of The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods from the local library, thinking I'd try a few dishes before I had to check the book back in. I made fourteen of them, counting some basic ones that got folded into other recipes (like the Apple-Pear Sauce, which went into Grandma Fay's Applesauce Cake, and the Everything Bagel Butter, perfect for spreading on the Seeded Honey Rye Pull-Apart Rolls). The cookbook has recipes for basic DIY ingredients: the one recipe I botched was the Sauerkraut, needed for Wine-Braised Sauerkraut and Mushrooms, itself a component to the Braised Sauerkraut and Potato Gratin. So I wound up buying Bubbies Sauerkraut for the Gratin, but my Sauerruben came out perfect, so I think the Sauerkraut would have worked if I had been more careful to keep the cabbage submerged.

While cooking, I went back to the travel cases, so I listened to a lot of great music, even if I have little to report. In fact, the two A- records below were things I wrote a bit about last week, so it was all downhill from last Monday. After cooking, I wrote up recipes and notes on the meal, but they're in the notebook. I haven't been able to update the website, so you probably won't be able to find them. (But note: I see a bit of disk space opened up, so maybe I can wrap this up and get it up there before it closes again. If you see album covers, that's a good sign I managed an update.)

Next week is likely to be short as well. We have a guest midweek, so will be spending time with her -- showing off the town, and maybe some of the countryside, and cooking a bit (Moroccan tomorrow night).


New records rated this week:

  • Tony Allen: The Source (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Blue Note All Stars: Our Point of View (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yedo Gibson/Hernâni Faustino/Vasco Trilla: Chain (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gordon Grdina Quartet: Inroads (2017, Songlines): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Dylan Jack Quartet: Diagrams (2017, Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Pierre Kwenders: Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time (2017, Bonsound): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Ian O'Beirne's Slowbern Big Band: Dreams of Daedelus (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Wojciech Pulcyn: Tribute to Charlie Haden (2016 [2017], ForTune): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Tom Rainey Obbligato: Float Upstream (2017, Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference (2017, Young Turks): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tal Yahalom/Almog Sharvit/Ben Silashi: Kadawa (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Chévere (2017, Parma): [cd]: B

Old music rated this week:

  • Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: New Rules for Noise (2007, Spool): [r]: B+(***)
  • New Lost City Ramblers: Volume II: Out Standing in Their Field (1963-73 [1993], Smithsonian/Folkways): [r]: A-
  • Trevor Watts/Peter Knight: Reunion: Live in London (1999 [2007], Hi 4 Head): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Trevor Watts/Veryan Weston: Dialogues in Two Places (2011 [2012], Hi 4 Head, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Very little time to work on this, but here are a few things I noted. The big story of the week probably should be Puerto Rico, especially how poorly America's quasi-benevolent gloss on colonialism has wound up serving the people there, but that would take some depth to figure out -- much easier to make fun of Trump pitching paper towels. Aside from the Las Vegas massacre, the media's favorite story of the week was Tillerson calling Trump a "fucking moron," then quasi-denying it, followed by reports of his "suicide pact" with fellow embarrassed secretaries Mattis and Mnuchim. Meanwhile the Caribbean cooked up another hurricane, Nate, which landed midway between Harvey and Irma, reported almost cavalierly after the previous panic stories. How quickly even disaster becomes normalized these days!

Obviously, many more stories could have made the cut, if only I had time to sort them out. Still, this is enough bad news for a taste, especially since so much of it traces back to a single source.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Harry Enten: Trump's Popularity Has Dipped Most in Red States.

  • Thomas Frank: Are those my words coming out of Steve Bannon's mouth? "My critique of Washington is distinctly from the left, and it's astonishing to hear conservatives swiping it." I've long been bothered by how Frank's taunting of the right-wing base got them to demand more from their political heroes. It's also true that Frank's exposure of the neoliberal rot in the heart of Washington's beltway has played into Trump rhetoric. Indeed, it's probable that Frank's Listen, Liberal undercut Hillary much worse than anything Bernie Sanders ever said or did -- a distinction that Hillary's diehard fans don't make because most of Frank's readers supported Bernie. Frank points out that Republicans offer no real fixes for his critiques. So why don't Democrats pick up the same critique and flesh it out with real solutions? Probably because Hillary and company were so content with sucking up to their rich donors, but now that we know that doesn't work, why can't they learn?

  • Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Externalities of Mass Gun Ownership: This in turn cites David Frum: The Rules of Gun Debate, which points out a basic truth that hardly anyone wants to admit:

    Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides, more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades.

    Marshall goes on to point out that the sheer popularity of guns is making the problem worse for everyone -- he speaks of "externalities," although the game model is closer to an arms race. But Frum also notes:

    o in a limited sense, the gun advocates are right. The promise of "common sense gun safety" is a hoax, i.e. Americans probably will not be able to save the tens of thousands of lives lost every year to gun violence -- and the many more thousands maimed and traumatized -- while millions of Americans carry guns in their purses and glove compartments, store guns in their night tables and dressers. Until Americans change their minds about guns, Americans will die by guns in numbers resembling the casualty figures in Somalia and Honduras more than Britain or Germany.

    It's truly hard to imagine that this change will be led by law. . . . Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are endangering themselves and their loved ones.

    Specifically on Las Vegas, note I'm not going to criticize Caleb Keeter -- the guitarist who "has had a change of heart on guns."

  • Dylan Matthews: Trump reignites NFL protest controversy by ordering Mike Pence to leave a Colts game: Pence showed up for a Colts game to stand for the national anthem, then left in protest of players who took a knee during the anthem. Pure PR stunt, and a huge insult to NFL fans, who pay good money to watch the game, even if that means enduring the pre-game pomp. Worse, Trump is so locked into his echo chamber he thinks he's making a winning point.

  • Jeremy W Peters/Maggie Haberman/Glenn Trush: Erik Prince, Blackwater Founder, Weighs Primary Challenge to Wyoming Republican: Billionaire brother of Betsy DeVos, like her made his money inheriting the Amway fortune but built a lucrative side business providing mercenaries for the Global War on Terror, most recently in the news lobbying the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan -- if you wanted to write a new James Bond novel about a megalomaniacal privateer, you wouldn't have to spruce his bio up much. He hails from Michigan, but isn't the first to think Wyoming might be a cost-effective springboard to the Senate and national politics (think Lynne Cheney). Behind the scenes here is Steve Bannon, who's looking for Trump-like candidates to disrupt the Republican Party. He's likely to come up with some pretty creepy ones, but Prince is setting the bar awful high.

  • Andrew Prokop: Trump's odd and ominous "calm before the storm" comment, not really explained: This followed Trump's dressing down of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for trying to talk to North Korea (not to mention Tillerson's description of Trump as a "fucking moron"). As Prokop admits, there is no real explanation for Trump's elliptical remarks, but as I see it, he's doing a much more convincing act of Nixon's Madman Theory than the Trickster ever managed.

  • David Roberts: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more than we thought.

  • Dylan Scott: How Trump is planning to gut Obamacare by executive order.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Puerto Rico is all our worst fears about Trump becoming real:

    To an extent, the United States of America held up surprisingly well from Inauguration Day until September 20 or so. The ongoing degradation of American civic institutions, at a minimum, did not have an immediate negative impact on the typical person's life.

    But the world is beginning to draw a straight line from the devastation in Puerto Rico to the White House. Trump's instinct so far is to turn the island's devastation into another front in culture war politics, a strategy that could help his own political career survive.

    One problem Trump has, even if it doesn't explain his administration as a whole, has been the relative shortfall of news on Puerto Rico -- especially from the Trump whisperers at Fox (see Druhmil Mehta: The Media Really Has Neglected Puerto Rico). A lot of people, and not just immigration-phobes like Trump, have is seeing Puerto Rico as part of the USA, even though everyone there has American citizenship and are free to pick up and move anywhere in the country. Also see: Harry Enten: Trump's Handling of Hurricane Maria Is Getting Really Bad Marks.

    The notion that Trump hasn't done a lot of damage to the country yet is mostly delayed perception. His regulatory efforts have allowed companies to pollute more and engage in other predatory practices, but it takes a while to companies to take advantage of their new license. The defunding of CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) didn't immediately shot off insurance, but it will over several months. Those who lose their insurance may not get sick for months or years, but across the country these things add up. Trump's brinksmanship with North Korea hasn't blown up yet, but it's made a disaster much more likely. Some of these things will slowly degrade quality of life, but some may happen suddenly and irreversibly. That people don't notice them right away doesn't mean that they won't eventually. One thing politicians hope, of course, is that bad things happen they won't be traced back to responsible acts. Indeed, Republicans have been extraordinarily lucky so far, to no small extent because Democrats haven't been very adept as explaining causality. Yglesias returns to this theme in Trump's taste for flattery is a disaster for Puerto Rico -- and someday the world;

    The scary message of Puerto Rico -- like of the diplomatic row between Qatar and Saudi Arabia before it -- is that a man who often seemed like he wasn't up to the job of being president is, in fact, not up to the job of being president.

    At times, of course, his political opponents will find this comforting or even to be a blessing. His inability to involve himself constructively in the Affordable Care Act debate, for example, likely saved millions of people's Medicaid coverage relative to what a more competent president might have pulled off.

    But when bad luck strikes, the president's problems become everyone's problems. And in Puerto Rico we're seeing that the president's inability to listen to constructive criticism -- and his unwillingness to incentive people to give it to him -- transforms misfortune into catastrophe.

    This tendency to cut himself off from uncomfortable information rather than accept frank assessments and change course has impacted Trump's legislative agenda, peripheral aspects of his foreign policy, and now a part of the United States of America itself.

    If we're lucky, maybe the global economy will hold up, we won't have any more bad storms, foreign terrorists will leave us alone, and somehow we'll skate past this North Korea situation. Maybe. Because if not, we're going to be in trouble, and the president's going to be the last one to realize it.

    Yglesias says "we'd better hope Trump's luck holds up," but he doesn't sound very hopeful. I'm reminded of the famous Branch Rickey maxim, "luck is the residue of design." Rickey was talking about winning baseball games, but losing is the residue of its own kind of design. It was GW Bush's bad luck that the economy imploded on his watch, but his administration and his party deliberately did a lot of things that hastened that collapse, so it's not simply that they were unlucky.

    Other pieces by Yglesias last week: The 4 stories that defined the week: Dozens were massacred in Las Vegas; Trump flew to Puerto Rico; Tax reform is looking shaky; and Morongate rocked the Cabinet. One aspect of the latter story: "due to the structure of his compensation and certain quirks of tax law, [Tillerson will] be hit with a $71 million tax bill on the proceeds [of cashing out his Exxon stock] unless he stays with the government for at least a year." Other pieces: Meet Kevin Warsh, the man Trump may tap to wreck the American economy: to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve; After Sandy Hook, Trump hailed Obama's call for gun control legislation; Trump's reverse Midas touch is making everything he hates popular; After a year of work, Republicans have decided nothing on corporate tax reform.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Daily Log

Cooked dinner for last night. I checked a cookbook out from the local library, thinking I would see what I could do with it before the due date. The book is Jeffrey Yoskowitz & Liz Alpern: The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods. I have a couple other Jewish cookbooks, most notably Claudia Roden: The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, which has been my bible for Ashkenazi recipes (less so the much larger Sephardic section, which is rather redundant to my many middle eastern cookbooks, including Roden's own Arabesque), as well as a few Israeli cookbooks (especially Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem: A Cookbook). So I mostly looked for things I hadn't made before.

Since I had two weeks to work with, my first idea was to look at the pickles, most of which took 5-10 days to cure. I went out and shopped for cucumbers, green beans, cabbage and turnips, but didn't find suitable cucumbers, and the green beans went bad before I could use them. The Sauerkraut looked promising, but I picked a poor jar to hold it, and the cabbage wasn't totally submerged. After a few days it grew mold above the water line and became discolored, so I pitched it. I didn't have any such problems with the turnips, so the Sauerruben worked as advertised. That was the only early dish I kept, although I also made a small batch of Mustard Slaw, and a second batch for the dinner.

The dinner menu wound up as follows:

The gratin was partly botched: I forgot to cover the casserole with foil, so it wasn't clear from looking at it that the potatoes were a bit undercooked. The dough for the rolls may have been a bit dry. They didn't rise as much as expected, and came out a bit heavy, but very tasty. Hard to fault anything else. The chicken and the fish were the most popular; the gratin, salad, slaw and kugel the least, and the applesauce and gribenes were barely noticed. I didn't realize what the problem with the gratin was until I wrote up the recipe, but it seemed a bit off at the time. The other dishes were quite good -- especially the kugel, which was light in texture but very flavorful, although it looked rather dull, like turkey dressing. The rolls weren't much of a hit either, although I think I ate three.

I did the shopping on Tuesday, thinking I'd cook on Thursday. Due to a scheduling snafu, that got moved to Friday, so I skipped Wednesday and started cooking on Thursday. I started by making the apple-pear sauce. I roasted the squash, fixed the wine-braised sauerkraut and mushrooms, and cooked the cauliflower and mushrooms for the kugel. For mushrooms, I had some dried porcini, plus one package each of fresh shiitakes and oyster mushrooms, plus a pound of baby portabellas. I hydrated the porcini, then mixed them all together, splitting the combination into two batches for the two dishes. I made the horseradish sauce (which was supposed to sit for 24 hours before using) and the butter. I made the slaw, and finally baked the cake. Jerry Stewart came over and helped a bit in the afternoon, although I didn't really get going until evening, and wound down around 2AM.

On Friday I got up at noon, and Jerry again came over. I started the bread, then mixed up the terrine and popped it into the oven, followed shortly by the kugel. I took a package of chicken thighs (4), skinned them, and trimmed off most of the fat. I put the skin and fat into a non-stick skillet and put it on low heat for the schmaltz and gribenes. Meanwhile I put the skinned thighs in a pot, covered them with water, and slowly cooked them -- adding some sliced ginger to the stock. I cut up the chicken, trimmed some fat off and put it into the schmaltz pan, then browned the chicken pieces. They were a little too tight in the pan I used, so I decided to use a large roasting pan instead (too large, actually). I moved the chicken to the roasting pan and painted the pieces with the glaze. I sautéed the onion, carrots, and prunes in the original pan, added some water to loosen the brownings up, then added all that to the roasting pan.

Jerry shredded the cheese, sliced the potatoes, and assembled the gratin. He also chopped the kale and assembled the salad. I couldn't find any hazelnuts or almonds, so suggested using the cashews instead, and toasted them while the oven was warming up for the gratin and chicken. I formed the rolls and got them ready to bake, painting them with egg and seeds. I have two ovens, so used the gas one at 400F for the gratin and chicken, the electric at 350F for the rolls. When those three dishes were baking, we had a moment of calm after setting the table and putting everything else into serving bowls. Dinner was a little late because I was tardy getting things into the oven, but it went very smoothly after that.

I copied down the relevant recipes. I suppose there are more things in the book that would be interesting to try some time. There are a lot of low-level from scratch recipes: making butter, sour cream, cream cheese, farmers cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, matzoh, bagles, bialys, corned beef, pastrami -- things that require a lot of DIY commitment. On the other hand, I don't think I'll ever buy applesauce again -- the only I've ever actually liked has been homemade (and I'd say my old recipe is better than this one; I also doubt that the latke and chopped liver recipes here are better than the ones I use). Still, this book opened my eyes to a few things, which probably makes it worth owning.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28749 [28719] rated (+30), 404 [398] unrated (+6).

I wrapped up September's Streamnotes on Saturday. I couldn't update the website, so the only workable link at present is here. Inability to update means that eight cover pics of A- records won't be found. Same for the seven A- records in the list below (only one not in Streamnotes). Still no idea when I'll manage to straighten this mess out. There are so many things to do I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around it all.

The one new record was recommended by Phil Overeem, as he expanded his 2017 My Fav-O-Rite New and Old Records of 2017 list to 85. I'm not much of a Cajun fan, but the latest Lost Bayou Ramblers album hits the spot.

I tried closing the week on Sunday, but found a couple more incoming records on my messy desk, so I figured I should at least add them, and wound up updating the rated totals as well. One thing I notices was that I hadn't recorded the grade (A-) for Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite, so most likely that didn't get registered in its appropriate Music Week post. Things slowed down after posting on Saturday. I've been playing new jazz in FIFO order, but decided to let the September Intakt releases jump the line. Both -- an Irène Schweizer duo with Joey Baron and a second record by Tom Rainey's Obbligato quintet -- are somewhat less than I hoped for (well, expected), but still close enough I wound up sinking a lot of time in them. Schweizer has a lot of drummer duos on record, and the ones with Han Bennink and Pierre Favre are nothing short of astonishing. I've long admired Baron, but he doesn't bring out the same spark in the pianist. Rainey's record is tougher to decide -- I'm not really much good with subtle, and there's a lot of that here.

I tried to catch up with Robert Christgau's recent picks, and was most impressed by L'Orange. The 2015 album with Jeremiah Jae had the special mix of sound and words that Christgau recognized, but I was every bit as taken by the 2016 collaboration with Mr. Lif, in part because its Orwellian dystopia seems amusingly quaint next to the actual hell we're (mostly) living through. I woke up this morning to news of last night's mass shooting in Las Vegas, with TPM offering as its lead story: White House: 'Premature' to Talk Gun Control in Wake of Las Vegas Shooting. "Too late" would have been more like it, but with an average of one mass shooting per day (273 times in the first 273 days of this year, counting 4+ people shot as a "mass shooting"), timing doesn't really seem to be the question. (For a level-headed summary of the facts: German Lopez: Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts.)

I come from a family chock full of hunters, and I grew up with guns in my home and in the homes of most of my relatives. My father took a course on how to do taxidermy, so I also grew up surrounded by stuffed dead animals -- they were my specialty at school show-and-tells (the rattlesnakes were the biggest hits, but the badger and owl were the stars). The Idaho relatives are more likely to have stuffed bear and moose. One of them not only hunts; he makes his own antique rifles to get back closer to the pioneer spirit. My father and most of his generation served as soldiers, and that's still pretty common among the Arkansas-Oklahoma relatives. So I'm not someone who gets riled up easily over guns. Nor do I think it's government's job to protect us from every possible harm -- especially self-harm (one of those charts shows that guns kill many more people through suicide than murder -- I'd like to see the same chart include accidents and "justified" self-defense, which is surely the smallest slice of the pie). Still, I do have a problem with stupid, and there's way too much of that -- on both sides, but it's far from distributed evenly.

It's also important to realize that when people understand a problem, they can if not fix at least ameliorate it. In this regard, I noticed two tweets today. One pointed out that "The Onion has run this story verbatim five times since 2014, switching out only city, photo, and body count" (link). The story title: "No Way to Prevent This," Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens." The other was The Onion's own tweet: "Americans Hopeful This Will Be Last Mass Shooting Before They Stop On Their Own For No Reason." Probably the single most obvious point one can draw from the Las Vegas shooting is that it would have been much less destructive had a federal law banning assault weapons not been allowed to expire back when Bush was president. (The latest count I've seen is 59 dead, 525 injured. That takes a lot of bullets over a mere 15 minutes.) Sure, it's not like Congress authorized the massacre, but that Congress could have prevented it (and some lesser cases) had they maintained existing law. You can blame them not doing so on NRA lobbying ($3,781,803 donations to current members of Congress), but I think it has more to do with continuous war since 2001, habituating us to the notion that all we need to solve problems is more firepower.

I bring up the lapse of law because Congress has just allowed several other important laws to expire, replacing them with nothing but anarchy and cowardice. As Rep. Joe Kennedy III listed them:

  • Healthcare for low-income kids
  • Community health centers
  • Loans for low-income college students

This story is unlikely to make the network news, especially on a day with so much bloodshed, but over time they will affect many more lives than the shooter in Las Vegas, and some of those effects will be dire. Again, these are not new things that we cannot do. They are things that we have been doing -- things that we actually should be doing better -- but are stopping because we've elected a Congress that can't be bothered even maintaining a semblance of civilization. (Isn't there a quote somewhere, to the effect that taxes are what we pay for civilization? One reason these laws are lapsing is that Congress is preoccupied with slashing taxes -- no doubt figuring that if they focus on helping the wealthy civilization will take care of itself.)


Speaking of dead people, Tom Paley and Tom Petty passed in the last few days. [The Petty report may have been premature.] The former was a founder of the legendary folk group New Lost City Ramblers. Their early work, before Paley left in 1962, was their best. The latter is a well known rocker, although the first image that pops into my mind is the girl in Silence of the Lambs singing along to "American Girl" in the car on her way to being kidnapped.


New records rated this week:

  • Atomic: Six Easy Pieces (2016 [2017], Odin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Heart Knows (2017, Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Collective Order: Vol. 2 (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Fat Tony: MacGregor Park (2017, First One Up, EP): [bc]: A-
  • Four Tet: New Energy (2017, Text): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Ghost Frets (2016 [2017], Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4: Reminiscing in Tempo (2017, Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: The Night Took Us in Like Family (2015, Mellow Music Group): [bc]: A-
  • L'Orange & Mr. Lif: The Life & Death of Scenery (2016, Mello Music Group): [bc]: A-
  • Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda (2017, Rice Pump): [r]: A-
  • Matt Mitchell: A Pouting Grimace (2017, Pi): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chris Parker: Moving Forward Now (2017, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: The French Press (2017, Sub Pop, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Irène Schweizer/Joey Baron: Live! (2015 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lyn Stanley: The Moonlight Sessions: Volume Two (2017, A.T. Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Stik Figa: Central Standard Time (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(***)
  • Summit Quartet: Live in Sant' Arresi (2016 [2017], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Fred Thomas: Changer (2017, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nestor Torres: Jazz Flute Traditions (2017, Alfi): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan (2017, World Circuit): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vector Families: For Those About to Jazz/Rock We Salute You (2017, Sunnyside): [r]: A-
  • Ken Wiley: Jazz Horn Redux (2014 [2017], Krug Park Music): [cd]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Talk Tight (2015 [2017], Sub Pop, EP): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • James Brown: Cold Sweat (1967, King): [r]: A-
  • L'Orange & Stik Figa: The City Under the City (2013, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(*)
  • L'Orange & Kool Keith: Time? Astonishing? (2015, Mello Music Group): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Fred Thomas: Everything Is Pretty Much Entirely Fucked (2002, Little Hands): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fred Thomas: All Are Saved (2015, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Borderlands Trio [Stephan Crump/Kris Davis/Eric McPherson]: Asteroidea (Intakt): October 15
  • Cowboys and Frenchmen: Bluer Than You Think (Outside In Music): October 13
  • Jason Paul Curtis: These Christmas Days (self-released): November 24
  • Jeff Dingler: In Transit (self-released)
  • Hans Hassler: Wie Die Zeit Hinter Mir Her (Intakt): October 15
  • Steve Hobbs: Tribute to Bobby (Challenge): January 8
  • Bob Ferrel: Bob Ferrel's Jazztopian Dream (Bob Ferrel Music): October 6
  • Danny Janklow: Elevation (Outside In Music)
  • Alma Micic: That Old Feeling (Whaling City Sound)
  • Nicole Mitchell and Haki Madhubuti: Liberation Narratives (Black Earth Music)
  • Paul Moran: Smokin' B3 Vol. 2: Still Smokin' (Prudential): October 29
  • Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group: Three Minutes to Four (Whaling City Sound)
  • Adam Rudolph: Morphic Resonances (M.O.D. Technologies): October 20
  • Samo Salamon/Szilárd Mezei/Achille Succi: Planets of Kei: Free Sessions Vol. 1 (Not Two)
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet: Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • The U.S. Army Blues: Swinging in the Holidays (self-released)
  • Deanna Witkowski: Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns (Tilapia)
  • Mark Zaleski Band: Days, Months, Years (self-released): October 6

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Hard to get psyched up for this week, what with my website woes, having sunk a lot of time into yesterday's Streamnotes, and various other malaises. Two pieces of relative good news this week: the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal-and-decimate Obamacare failed to advance to a vote; and HHS Secretary Tom Price, one of the Cabinet's most obnoxious secretaries, was forced to resign. Hurricane Marie is much reduced and well out to sea, heading toward Ireland, and no new Atlantic hurricanes have been named. On the other hand, that just leaves the destruction Marie wrought in Puerto Rico in the media spotlight, with the Trump administration all but cursing the Spanish-American War (wasn't that the first great MAGA crusade?). Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing "tax reform" with no evident ability to make their numbers add up.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Karen DeYoung, et al: Trump signed presidential directive ordering actions to pressure North Korea: This included extensive cyberwarfare operations against North Korea. Not clear on exact chronology, but this suggests that much of the confrontation with North Korea was precipitated by Trump's direction.

  • Anne Gearan: The swamp rises around an administration that promised to drain it:

    Candidate Trump would have been appalled.

    "A vote for Hillary is a vote to surrender our government to public corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of our constitutional system," Trump said during an Oct. 29 speech.

    He went on to describe his broader belief that public corruption and cronyism were eating away at voters' faith in government -- a situation he would remedy.

    "I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and to heed the words I am about to say," Trump said. "When we win on Nov. 8, we are going to Washington, D.C., and we are going to drain the swamp." . . .

    Trump's critics say no one should be surprised that he hasn't followed through on his campaign promise. They argue that the mere idea of a flamboyantly rich New York real estate mogul as the champion of workaday lunch buckets in Middle America was silly.

    "The tone on this stuff gets set at the top," said Brian Fallon, spokesman for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and a former Justice Department official in the Obama administration.

    "Tom Price's wasteful jet-setting is not causing Trump embarrassment because it violates any kind of reform mind-set within the Trump administration. No such mind-set exists," Fallon said. "It is simply because Price got caught and is reminding everyone of how Trump has turned Washington into an even bigger swamp than it was in the first place."

    Of course, it was ridiculous to ever think that Trump, let alone a Congress run by Republicans, would so much as lift a finger to try to curtail the influence of money in Washington or more generally in politics. It was easy to tar Hillary on this account, given how much she seemed to prefer courting donors to voters, given how brazenly the Clintons had cultivated influence peddling (going back to Arkansas, when he was Governor and she sat on the WalMart board), and given how they had risen from bankruptcy to considerable wealth cashing in their chips after he left office in 2001. But while Democrats from Grover Cleveland to Barack Obama provided a measure of background corruption in government, it was the self-styled "party of greed" that hosted our most notorious corruption scandals: Grant's Credit Mobilier, Harding's Teapot Dome, Reagan's HUD scandals and Iran-Contra, and too many squalid affairs under Bush-Cheney to name. But never before have the Republicans nominated someone as rapacious and as shameless as Trump. Tom Price ran into trouble not by offending Trump's ethics but his ego, by acting like he's entitled to the same perks as the boss. If anyone ever doubted that "public corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of our constitutional system," Trump will show them.

  • David A Graham: Why Does Trump Keep Praising the Emergency Response in Puerto Rico? "The president's insistence that he's doing a great job sits uneasily with stories of desperation in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria."

    Part of this seems to be Trump's struggle to project empathy, which he displayed in the early days after Hurricane Harvey, where he excelled at the inspirational, rah-rah, we will rebuild aspects of presidential response, but found it very hard to show he felt the pain of Gulf Coast residents. (By contrast, he has expressed caution about what to do in Puerto Rico, tweeting, "The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!") Another part is Trump's tendency toward puffery: In all situations, for his entire career, his impulse has been to magnify and celebrate his own prowess and success, and so he's doing that here too. But that fake-it-till-you-make-it approach understandably rankles people like Yulín.

    Damning as this is, it's way too kind to Trump, already forgetting that he did a completely dreadful job of showing empathy in Texas -- although at least there he made a little effort to fake it. AT least he acknowledges that Texas is part of "his" America, something that he doesn't feel with Puerto Rico. A couple more sample pieces on how the Trump administration is handling the Puerto Rico crisis: Trump Attacks Critics of Puerto Rico Aid Effort: 'Politically Motivated Ingrates'; FEMA Administrator Swipes at San Juan Mayor, Those Who 'Spout Off' About Aid.

  • Sarah Kliff: Obamacare repeal isn't dead as long as Republicans control Congress: In fact, lots of horrible things will keep coming up as long as Republicans control Congress. A couple weeks ago my cousin asked me who I'd like to see the Democrats nominate in 2020, and my response was that it doesn't matter until Democrats can start winning state and local races, especially for Congress. One thing I continue to fault both Clinton and Obama on is their loss of Congress two years into their first terms, and their failure to build up effective coattails even when they won second terms. Hillary Clinton spent a ton of time raising money, but didn't build up any down-ticket strength to build her own candidacy on -- a big part of the reason she lost. Without Congressional support, neither Clinton nor Obama got more than a tiny percentage of their platforms implemented, and that failure in turn ate at the credibility of their promises -- something Hillary paid dearly for, which in turn is why we're suffering through Trump and the Republican Congress.

  • Paul Krugman: Shifts Get Real: Understanding the GOP's Policy Quagmire: I mentioned in the intro that Republican plans don't add up: they want big cuts in tax brackets, especially for corporations from 35% to 20%, and they want to eliminate the estate tax altogether, but even a few of those things would bust the budget. "Reforms" to simplify the code and eliminate current deductions could offset at least some of the cuts, but those all look like tax increases to those who currently benefit, and their lobbies are out in force to keep that from happening. Even busting the budget is a problem given the Senate's no-filibuster "reconciliation" path. So while everyone in the majority caucus is sworn to cut taxes, getting there may prove difficult.

    Right now it looks as if tax "reform" -- actually it's just cuts -- may go the way of Obamacare repeal. Initial assessments of the plan are brutal, and administration attempts to spin things in a positive direction will suffer from loss of credibility on multiple fronts, from obvious lies about the plan itself, to spreading corruption scandals, to the spectacle of the tweeter-in-chief golfing while Puerto Rico drowns. . . .

    One important goal of ACA repeal was to loosen those constraints, by repealing the high-end tax hikes that paid for Obamacare, hence giving a big break to the donor class. Having failed to do that, Rs are under even more pressure to deliver the goods to the wealthy through tax cuts.

    But deficits are a constraint, even if not a hard one. Now, Republicans have always claimed that they can cut tax rates without losing revenue by closing loopholes. But they've always avoided saying anything about which loopholes they'd close; they promised to shift the tax burden away from their donors onto [TK], some mystery group. It was magic asterisk city; it was "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree" on steroids. . . .

    So what were they thinking? My guess is that they weren't thinking. What we learned from health care was that after 8 years, Republicans had never bothered to learn anything about the issues. There's every reason to believe that the same is true for the distribution of tax changes, which Paul Ryan called a "ridiculous" issue and presumably nobody in his party ever tried to understand.

    So now the lies and willful ignorance are catching up with them -- again.

    An earlier Krugman post ( Unpopular Delusions and the Madness of Elites) notes some polling and adds:

    There really is no clamor, even among Republicans, for tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations. And overall public opinion is strongly against.

    Nor is there a technocratic case for these cuts. There is no evidence whatsoever that tax cuts produce great economic outcomes -- zero, zilch, nada. The "experts" who claim otherwise are all hired guns, and notably incompetent hired guns at that.

    Yet faith in and demands for tax cuts remains; it's the ultimate zombie idea. And it's obvious why: advocating tax cuts for the rich and inventing rationales for those cuts is very lucrative.

    also, in Voodoo Gets Even Voodooier:

    That said, Trumpcuts are an even worse idea than Reaganomics, and not just because we start from much higher debt, the legacy of the financial crisis, which cut deeply into revenue and temporarily boosted spending. It also matters that we start from a much lower top tax rate than Reagan did. . . . So even if you believed that voodoo economics worked under Reagan -- which it didn't -- it would take a lot more voodoo, in fact around 4 times as much, for it to work now.

    Which makes you wonder: how can they possibly sell this as a responsible plan? Oh, right: they'll just lie.

  • Peter O'Dowd: 18-Hour Vietnam Epic Is Lesson on Horror of 'Unleashing Gods of War': Actually, the interview isn't that interesting, except for a long quote on the Burns-Novick documentary from Daniel Ellsberg:

    I think there were some some major omissions that are quite fundamental that disturbed me quite a bit, although the overall thing is very impressive.

    First of all, the repeated statement that this was a civil war on which we were taking one side, I think it's profoundly misleading. It always was a war in which one side is entirely paid, equipped, armed, pressed forward by foreigners. Without the foreigners, no war. That's not a civil war. And that puts -- it very much undermines, I'd say, a fundamentally misleading statement at the very beginning in the first five minutes or so of the first session.

    I don't see anything in the Pentagon Papers, 7,000 pages, that could be called good faith by anybody, in terms of the American people, our values, our Constitution. This was a war, as I say initially, to keep Vietnam a French colony. And that was not admitted to the American people. It was well known inside. We preferred that they be at war, and there was never a year that there would have been a war at all without American money in the end. So I thought that was extremely misleading.

    I'll probably write some more about Vietnam later, but I do want to add one comment on the last episode, which features heavily the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. The design suggests a gash in the earth, one side lined with black marble engraved with the names of 58,318 Americans who died perpetuating this war. I find it impossible to look at this wall and not imagine extending it upward to include the three million Vietnamese who also died. It seems extraordinarily conceited, even more so misleading, to omit those names. Of course, if you want to preserve the gash-in-the-earth visual effect, you could dig a deeper hole instead of building the wall up hundreds of feet.

  • Alex Pareene: You Are Jonathan Chait's Enemy: Chait is complaining "about the 'dangerous consequences' of the left's use of the label 'white supremacist' to describe Donald Trump, the alt-right, and American conservatism in general," in what Pareene describes as "just another paint-by-numbers 'the greatest threat to free speech in the nation today is college students heckling an asshole' column."

    Chait is policing the way the left does politics because he does not want the left-wing style of doing politics to gain prominence.

    Something that is well-known to people who've read Chait for years, but may not be apparent to those who just think of him as a standard-issue center-left pundit who is sort of clueless about race, is that he is engaged in a pretty specific political project: Ensuring that you and people like you don't gain control of his party.

    Pareene's getting a bit touchy here, but he's not the only one suspicious that so-called centrists relish attacking the left while offering the right undeserved respect and legitimacy -- which in the long run works in their favor. The problem with centrism is that the track record doesn't show that taking such a conciliatory stance delivers much in the way of tangible benefits -- indeed, if anything it shows retreats while the right grows stronger and more aggressive. It seems time to ask whether stronger leftist critiques might turn out to be more effective, especially with people who don't start out with a strong political stance. For instance, why not refer to people as white supremacists who may merely be garden variety racists? -- especially people like Trump who seem so comfortable aligned with undoubted white supremacists like the KKK?

  • David Rothkopf: The NSC is 70 this week -- and the first thing it ever did was meddle in a foreign election: In 1947, created by the National Security Act, its first paper ("NSC 1") approved by Truman to covertly meddle in elections in Italy, "trying to counter the effects of the Soviets to support the rise of the Italian Communist Party," no mention of the popularity the PCI gained by resisting Mussolini and the German occupation. Of course, the CIA went on to do much more than merely game foreign elections; e.g.: Vincent Bevins: In Indonesia, the 'fake news' that fueled a Cold War massacre is still potent five decades later:

    Gen. Suharto, then the head of the army's strategic reserve command and relying on support from the CIA, accused the powerful Communist Party of orchestrating a coup attempt and took over as the military's de facto leader. Over the next few months, his forces oversaw the systematic execution of at least 500,000 Indonesians, and historians say they may have killed up to 1 million. The massacre decimated the world's third-largest Communist Party (behind those of the Soviet Union and China), and untold numbers were tortured and killed simply for allegedly associating with communists.

    The military dictatorship that formed afterward, led by Suharto, made wildly inaccurate anti-communist propaganda a cornerstone of its legitimacy and ruled Indonesia with U.S. support until 1998.

  • Alex Thompson/Ryan Grim: Kansas Won't Expand Medicaid, Denying a Lifeline to Rural Hospitals and Patients: Well, some, like the one in Independence, are already dead. Gov. Brownback, who vetoed the bill to expand Medicaid, has been nominated to a State Department post to hector the world on God, but Lt. Gov. Colyer promises to veto future bills as well, so no relief in sight.

  • Zeynep Tufekci: Zuckerberg's Preposterous Defense of Facebook: It's become clear that Russia created hundreds of clandestine Facebook accounts and used them and Facebook's advertising system to spread misinformation about the 2016 election. People are upset about that because they don't like the idea of a foreign power attempting to tilt an American election, possibly as a general principle but often just because it's Russia attempting to undermine Hillary Clinton and/or to elect Trump. Still, doesn't the US do the same thing to other countries? And don't both parties and their donors do the same thing to each other? I have no doubt that Facebook makes the general problem much worse, mostly because it allows unprecedentely precise, even intimate, targeting by whoever's willing to put the money into it. Advertisers have been trying to refine targeting for decades, but they've mostly been concerned with efficiency -- getting the most cost-effective set of buyers to consider a standard product pitch. Political advertising is different because votes are different from purchases, and, given limited choices, negative advertising is often more effective. Until recently, we could limit this damage by requiring disclosure of whoever is buying the advertising. Facebook undermines this paradigm in several ways: it helps advertisers hide their identity, and thereby avoid responsibility for any damages; it allows messages to be very narrowly tailored; its effect is amplified by viral "sharing"; it precludes any systematic effort to recall or correct misinformation. Americans have long been lulled into the lure of advertising, which offers to pay for entertainment and news while only demanding a small (and initially distinct) slice of your time. And we've basically gone along with this scheme because we haven't noticed what it's doing to us -- much like a lobster doesn't notice heating water until it's much too late. It's going to be difficult to unravel all these levels of duplicity and to restore any measure of integrity to the democratic process. But two things should be clear by now: the fact that someone like Donald Trump got elected president shows that our system for informing ourselves about the world is badly broken; and that as long as powerful forces -- I'd start with virtually all corporations, most Republicans, and many Democrats, and throw in a few more special interest groups (not least the CIA and the post-KGB -- believe that they benefit from this system there will be much resistance to changing it. Indeed, it probably has to be defeated before it can be changed.

    By the way, Matt Taibbi has a relevant piece: Latest Fake News Panic Appears to Be Fake News, wherein he suggests:

    The irony here is that the solution to so much of this fake news panic is so simple. If we just spent more time outside, or read more books, or talked in person to real human beings more often, we'd be less susceptible to this sort of thing. But that would take effort, and who has time for that?

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that really mattered this week: i.e., more than Trump's spat with the NFL: Obamacare repeal died again; Puerto Rico is in crisis; Republicans rolled out a tax cut plan; Roy Moore won the GOP nomination in Alabama. Other recent Yglesias posts: Trump is proposing big tax hikes on vulnerable House Republicans' constituents (ending deductability of state and local taxes [SALT], a big deal in upscale suburban districts); A House Republican explains why deficits don't matter anymore: Mark Walker says "It's a great talking point when you have an administration that's Democrat-led" -- this just confirms what we've already observed, as when Nixon declared "we're all Keynesians now" when he wanted more deficit spending to prop up his re-election economy, or Cheney declared "deficits don't matter," yet Clinton and Obama were constantly pounded over deficit spending; Trump keeps saying Graham-Cassidy failed because a senator's in the hospital; Nobody wants Donald Trump's corporate tax cut plan: "Americans overwhelmingly want large businesses to pay more taxes rather than less"; The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico, explained; Trump's plan to sell tax cuts for the rich is to pretend they're not happening; Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones's campaign against Roy Moore; Angela Merkel won in a landslide -- now comes the hard part; Donald Trump versus the NFL, explained.


Sep 2017 Nov 2017