November 2017 Notebook
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28909 [28874] rated (+35), 394 [391] unrated (+3).

The Best Albums of the Year usually starts around Thanksgiving. I was going to say that I hadn't seen any yet, but it turns out the first few are indeed out: Rough Trade (100); Decibel (40); Mojo (50); Piccadilly Records (100); and Uncut (75). AOTY is aggregating these lists here, where the order is currently (for laughs, I'll include my grades, where I've heard the record):

  1. LCD Soundsystem: American Dream [**]
  2. Aldous Harding: Party
  3. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN [A-]
  4. The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding
  5. Jane Weaver: Modern Kosmology
  6. Thundercat: Drunk [*]
  7. The National: Sleep Well Beast [***]
  8. Kelly Lee Owens: Kelly Lee Owens
  9. Paradise Lost: Medusa
  10. Queens of the Stone Age: Villains
  11. Slowdive: Slowdive [*]
  12. St. Vincent: Masseduction [A-]
  13. Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator [*]
  14. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice
  15. Oh Sees: Orc
  16. Nadia Reid: Preservation
  17. Ryan Adams: Prisoner [*]
  18. Spirit Adrift: Curse of Conception
  19. Richard Dawson: Peasant [B]
  20. Father John Misty: Pure Comedy [B-]

Note (as if you couldn't reverse engineer this factoid) that four of the lists are British (two record stores, two publications), and the other specializes in heavy metal. Expect much of this list to change as more representative critics chime in. I'd have to rate Kendrick Lamar's DAMN as the odds-on favorite -- AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 lists it first, barely ahead of Lorde's Melodrama [A-], with LCD Soundsystem at 6 and St. Vincent at 8. The other contender I see on AOTY's list is Vince Staples' Big Fish Theory [***] at 4. I expect that Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked at Me [*] (3), Valerie June's The Order of Time [**] (5), and Jlin's Black Origami [**] (7) to get a few nods but have a tougher time adding them up. Beyond that I don't see many contenders on AOTY's list -- maybe Arca (10) [B], Sampha's Process [*] (16), Algiers' The Underside of Power [B] (25). The Richard Dawson album is 15 at AOTY, but I'd be surprised if it has much US support. Further down the AOTY list you'll find The National (31) and Father John Misty (38).

The only jazz album in AOTY's top 50 is Vijay Iyer Sextet's Far From Over [***] (29). I suppose that makes it the famous to win this year's NPR Jazz Critics Poll (run by Francis Davis with some help from myself), although that's mostly because I have no idea which albums will be contenders. Diana Krall's Turn Up the Quiet [***] won Downbeat's Readers Poll. When I look at my own A-list, I see very little that jumps out as likely to get broad support -- maybe Steve Coleman's Morphogenesis, Jimmy Greene's Flowers, Hudson, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Agrima, Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry, Tyshawn Sorey's Verisimilitude, Wadada Leo Smith's Najwa, Craig Taborn's Daylight Ghosts, Miguel Zenón's Típico. But most years most of the top-20 come from my [***] and [**] lists, and I have no particular knack or (right now) inclination to try to sift them out.

With ballots for the Jazz Poll due December 3, I finally got around to sorting out my own 2017 Jazz and Non-Jazz lists. First thing I'm struck by is how unreliable the ordering of these lists is. One sign is that the order favors albums that came out early in the year, not because they've had longer to sink in but because they got to the top of the list first. A fact of my life is that I almost never go back and replay graded records any more (and when I do, I'm more likely to pick something old and classic, often from my travel cases). I expect I'm going to stir the order up quite a bit before I'm done, but whether that's from replay or just memory remains to be seen.

Health rated count this week, once again very jazz-heavy even when I'm streaming off internet -- last week's ratio was 30-2. That will probably hold up until I file my jazz ballot, then pivot as I see more EOY lists. At some point I expect I'll start running my own aggregate of 2017 EOY lists, like I did for last year. Main obstacle is that I expect the next 3-4 weeks to be heavily interrupted. First, I'll be cooking a small dinner for Thanksgiving. Then I'm in charge of fixing the Wichita Peace Center annual banquet -- last year we had eighty people, so unless I hear otherwise that's on plan this year. Then I'll need to do some work publishing the individual critic ballots for the NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Sometime in early December I'd like to work in a much-postponed trip to see relatives in Arkansas. In this rush, I'll probably go ahead and post a Streamnotes early this month, to get it out of the way.

Presumably I'll need to file a Pazz & Jop ballot in mid-December. By the end of December, I vow to finish two other long-delayed projects: compiling my existing reviews into two Jazz Guide files, and catching up Robert Christgau's website. Lot of work for a guy who's increasingly feeling his advancing age. As Stephen Colbert noted tonight: most presidents age visibly in office, but Trump is aging us.

One last note on unpacking: got a large batch of CDs (many multiple sets) from University of North Texas, which has the oldest and probably largest jazz education program outside of the Boston-NY corridor -- it doesn't produce as many famous names as Berklee and Juilliard, but as a working critic I've noticed a lot of fine musicians with UNT degrees. Still, good chance I got some of the artist attributions wrong there -- something I'll have to revisit with I finally get the magnifying glass out and try to decipher the fine print.


New records rated this week:

  • Rahsaan Barber: The Music in the Night (2017, Jazz Music City): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sam Bardfeld: The Great Enthusiasms (2017, BJU): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Sheryl Bentyne: Rearrangements of Shadows: The Music of Stephen Sondheim (2017, ArtistShare): [cd]: B-
  • Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band: Body and Shadow (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B-
  • Geof Bradfield: Birdhoused (2017, Cellar Live): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Brand New: Science Fiction (2017, Procrastinate! Music Traitors): [r]: B
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Out of Silence (2015 [2017], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • Bill Charlap Trio: Uptown Downtown (2017, Impulse!): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michelle Coltrane: Awakening (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • David's Angels: Traces (2016-17 [2017], Kopasetic): [cd]: B+(*)
  • DKV Trio: Latitude 41.88 (2014 [2017], Not Two): [bc]: A-
  • Christoph Erb/Jim Baker/Frank Rosaly: . . . Don't Buy Him a Parrot . . . (2014 [2017], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lorenzo Feliciati: Elevator Man (2017, RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Taylor Haskins & Green Empire: The Point (2017, Recombination): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Hear in Now [Mazz Swift/Tomeka Reid/Silvia Bolognesi]: Not Living in Fear (2012-14 [2017], International Anthem): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vincent Herring: Hard Times (2017, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Harold Mabern: To Love and Be Loved (2017, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Markley & Balmer: Standards & Covers (2017, Soona Songs): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kyle Motl Trio: Panjandrums (2016 [2017], Metatrope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Pan-Scan Ensemble: Air and Light and Time and Space (2016 [2017], Hispid/PNL): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Live in Brussels (2016 [2017], Leo, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jamie Reynolds: Grey Mirror (2015 [2017], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Whitney Rose: Rule 62 (2017, Six Shooter): [r]: B+(**)
  • Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor/Lafayette Harris/Ken Filiano: Embrace (2017, RareNoise): [cdr]: A-
  • Shelter: Shelter (2016 [2017], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Paula Shocron/German Lamonega/Pablo Diaz: Tensegridad (2016 [2017], Hatology)
  • Jen Shyu: Song of Silver Geese (2016 [2017], Pi): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Martial Solal & Dave Liebman: Masters in Bordeaux (2016 [2017], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(***)
  • Vinnie Sperrazza Apocryphal: Hide Ye Idols (2015 [2017], Loyal Label): [r]: B+(**)
  • Galen Weston: The Space Between (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Eric Wyatt: Look to the Sky (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams (2017, Slate Creek): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Michael Gregory Jackson: Clarity (1976 [2010], ESP-Disk): [r]: B
  • Woody Shaw: Song of Songs (1972 [1997], Contemporary/OJC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: The Time Is Right (1983 [1993], RED): [r]: B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: Imagination (1987 [1998], 32 Jazz): [r]: B+(**)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Kyle Motl: Transmogrification (2016 [2017], Metatrope): title previously reviewed as Solo Contrabass, label self-released; B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: Blackstone Legacy (1970 [1996], Contemporary): [r]: was B+(**), now B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs' Best of the TWO (UNT, 3CD)
  • Ernaldo Bernocchi: Rosebud (RareNoise): advance, December 8
  • Eva Cortés: Crossing Borders (Origin)
  • David Friesen: Structures (Origin)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Fukushima (Libra)
  • Paul Giallorenzo Trio: Flow (Delmark)
  • LEF: Hypersomniac (RareNoise): advance, December 8
  • Legacy: Neil Slater at North Texas (UNT, 4CD)
  • Gregory Lewis: Organ Monk Blue (self-released): January 5
  • Nice! Jay Saunders' Best of the TWO (UNT, 2CD)
  • One O'Clock Lab Band: Lab 2017 (UNT)
  • Phil Parisot: Creekside (OA2)
  • Perseverance: The Music of Rick DeRosa at North Texas (UNT)
  • Steve Slagle: Dedication (Panorama): January 4
  • John Stowell/Ulf Bandgren Quartet: Night Visitor (Origin)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I've often heard that "politics is the art of the possible" -- the quote is most often attributed to Otto von Bismarck, who continued: "the attainable -- the art of the next best." Bismarck is best known now as the architect of the modern welfare state, something he achieved with autocratic Prussian efficiency, his generally satisfactory answer to the threat of proletarian revolution. But the earlier generations he was better known as the founder of German militarism, a bequest which less pragmatic followers parlayed into two disastrous world wars. Then, as now, the "possible" was always limited by preconceptions -- in Bismarck's case, allegiance to the Prussian nobility, which kept his innovations free of concessions to equality and democracy.

After immersing myself into the arcana of mainstream politics in the 1960s -- I used to trek to the library to read Congressional Quarterly's Weekly Reports, I subscribed to the Congressional Record, and I drew up electoral maps much like Kevin Phillips -- I pivoted and dove into the literature of the politically impossible, reading about utopian notions from Thomas More to Ignatius Donnelly to Paul Goodman (whose Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals is a title I still fancy recapitulating). But I never really lost my bearings in reality. In college I worked on the philosophy journal Telos, which taught one to always look toward ends (or goals) no matter the immediate terrain, and I studied neo-Kantians with a knack for making logic work to bridge the chasm. Later I turned into an engineer, and eventually had the epiphany that we could rationally think our way through complex political and economic problems to not necessarily ideal but much more viable solutions.

From the start I was aware of the standard and many other objections to "social engineering." No time to go into them now, but my background in engineering taught me that I have to work within the bounds of the possible, subject to the hard limits of physics and the slightly messier lessons I had learned from my major in sociology. Without really losing my early ideals -- my telos is equality, because that's the only social arrangement that is mutually agreeable, the only one that precludes scheming, strife, and needless harm -- I came to focus on little steps that nudge us in the right direction, and to reject ideas that couldn't possibly work. Thinking about this has made me a much more moderate person, without leading me to centrism or the notion that compromise is everything.

A good example of a political agenda that cannot be implemented -- indeed, one that offers nothing constructive -- was provided a while back by Alan Keys, a Republican presidential candidate whose entire world view revolved around teenagers having sex and how society needs to stop them. Maybe his analysis has some valid points, and maybe there are some paternalistic nudges that can trim back some of the statistical effects (like the rate of teen pregnancy), but nothing -- certainly no tolerable level of coercion -- can keep teenagers from being interested in sex. Of course, Keys was an outlier, even among Republican evangelicals. Only slightly more moderate is Roy Moore, who's evidently willing to carve out an exception for teens willing to have sex with himself. You might chalk that up to hypocrisy, which is common among all Americans, but is especially rife among conservatives (who regard it as a privilege of the virtuous rich) and evangelicals (who expect personal salvation for the fervor with which they damn all of you). But Moore's own agenda for making his peculiar take on Christianity the law of the land is every bit as dangerous and hopeless as Keys' obsession with teen sex.

The most chilling thing I've read in the last week was a column by Cal Thomas, Faith in Politics, where he urges conservative evangelicals to put aside their frivolous defenses of Roy Moore and go back to such fundamentals as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, where "Luther believed governments were ordained by God to restrain sinners and little else." The striking thing about this phrasing is how cleverly it forges an alliance with the libertarian right, who you'd expect to be extremely wary of God-ordained governmental restraint. But sin has always been viewed through the eyes of tyrants and their pet clergy, a "holy alliance" that has been the source of so much suffering and injustice throughout world history.

News recently has been dominated by a seemingly endless series of reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and/or assault, on all sides of the political spectrum (at least from Roy Moore to Al Franken), plus a number of entertainers and industry executives. Conservatives and liberals react to these stories differently -- aside from partisan considerations (which certainly play a part when a Senate seat is at stake), conservatives are hypocritically worked up about illicit sex, while liberals are more concerned with respecting the rights of women. Yet both sides (unless the complaint hits particularly close to home) seem to be demanding harsh punishment (see, e.g., Mark Joseph Stern: Al Franken Should Resign Immediately Michelle Goldberg and Nate Silver agree, mostly because they want to prove that Democrats are harsher and less hypocritical on sexual misconduct; indeed, instant banishment seems to have been the norm among entertainers, which Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and Jeffrey Tambor having projects canceled, as well as more delayed firings of Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and Harvie Weinstein). This drive to punish, which has long been a feature of America's notion of justice, can wind up making things worse (and not just because it could trigger a backlash, as Isaac Chotiner and Rebecca Traister discuss).

I'm sure many women have many things to object to here -- the Weinstein testimonies seem especially damning, and I suspect the hushed up Ailes and O'Reilly legacies are comparable -- but I'm finding some aspects of the whole brouhaha troubling. Sex is a messy subject, often fraught and embarrassing to negotiate, subject to wildly exaggerated hopes and fears, but inevitably a part of human nature -- I keep flashing back on Brecht's chorus: "what keeps mankind alive? bestial acts." On the other hand, we might be better off looking at power disparities (inequality), which are clearly evident in all of these cases, perhaps even more so in entertainment than in politics. I can't help but think that in a more equitable society, one that valued mutual respect and eased up a bit on arbitrary punishment, would be bothered less by these problems.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest stories in politics this week: The House passed a major tax bill ("but the House bill, as written, doesn't conform to Senate rules and clearly can't pass"); Senate Republicans drafted a tax bill ("that does conform to Senate rules at the expense of creating an even starker set of financial tradeoffs"); Bob Menendez isn't guilty (I would have said something more like "dodged conviction via mistrial"); Things are looking worse for Roy Moore. Other Yglesias posts last week:

    • Senate Republicans' tax plan raises taxes on families earning less than $75,000. The chart, clearly demonstrating how regressive the plan is, is for 2027, without showing how one gets there. To satisfy the Senate's "budget reconciliation" rules many of the tax cuts have to expire in less than ten years, so this is the end state the bill aims for, probably with the expectation that some further cuts will be renewed before they run out (as happened with the Bush cuts). So on the one hand, this exaggerates the "worst case" scenario, it also clarifies the intent behind the whole scam.

    • Watch CEOs admit they won't actually invest more if tax reform passes: Gary Cohn feigns surprise that so few CEOs raised their hands.

      The reason few hands are raised is there's little reason to believe that the kind of broad corporate income tax cut Republicans are pushing for will induce much new investment. . . . The biggest immediate winners, in fact, would be big, established companies that are already highly profitable. Apple, for example, would get a huge tax cut even though the company's gargantuan cash balance is all the proof in the world that the its investments are limited by Tim Cook's beliefs about what Apple can usefully take on, not by a limited supply of cash or a lack of profitability.

    • Bill Clinton should have resigned: "What he did to Monica Lewinsky was wrong, and he should have paid the price." I've sympathized with versions of this argument -- Gary Wills has written much on how Clinton should have resigned, and I'm on record as having said that Had I been in the Senate I would have voted to convict him (less because I agreed with the actual charges than because I felt he should "pay the price" for other things he did that were wrong -- at the time I was most upset about Clinton's bombing of Iraq, something his Republican inquisitors applauded, prefiguring the 2003 Bush invasion). However, I was under the impression that whatever he did with Lewinsky was mutually consented to and should have remained private. Indeed, before Clinton (or more specifically, before the Scaife-funded investigation into Clinton) politicians' private affairs had hardly ever become objects of public concern. (I suppose Grover Cleveland, America's only bachelor president, is the exception.) Given that all US presidents have been male, you can argue that this public nonchalance is part of a longstanding patriarchal culture, but there's no reason to think that the right-wingers who went after Clinton were in any way interested in advancing feminism. Perhaps Clinton himself could have turned his resignation into a feminist talking point: Yglesias insists, "Had Clinton resigned in disgrace under pressure from his own party, that would have sent a strong, and useful, chilling signal to powerful men throughout the country." Still, I doubt that's the lesson the Republicans would have drawn. Rather, it would have shown to them that they had the power to drive a popular, charismatic president from office in disgrace using pretty flimsy evidence. While there's no reason to doubt he did it for purely selfish reasons, at the time many people were delighted that Clinton stood firm and didn't buckle under right-wing media shaming (e.g., that was the origin of the left-Democratic Move On organization). As for long-term impact, Yglesias seems to argue that had Clinton resigned, we wouldn't have found ourselves on the moral slope that led to Trump's election.

    • The tax reform debate is stuck in the 1970s: "The '70s were a crazy time," but he could be clearer about what the Republican tax cut scheme was really about, and vaguer about the Democrat response -- worry about the deficit came more after the damage was done (until they Democrats were easily tarred as advocates of "tax-and-spend"). And even though he's right that the situations are so different now that allowing companies and rich investors to keep more after-tax income is even less likely to spur job growth now, the fact is it didn't really work even when it made more sense. Here's an inadvertently amusing line: "The politics of the 1970s, after all, would have been totally different if inflation, unemployment, interest rates, and labor force growth were all low while corporate profits were high." I'd hypothesize that if corporate profits were artificially raised through political means (which is pretty much what's happened starting with the Reagan tax cuts in 1981) all those other factors would have been reduced. Increasing corporate profits even more just adds to the burden the rich already impose on us all.

  • Sean Illing: "The fish rots from the head": a historian on the unique corruption of Trump's White House: An interview with Robert Dallek, who "estimates that historical examples of corruption, like that of the Warren G. Harding administration, don't hold a candle to how Trump and his people have conducted themselves in the White House." One thing I noticed here is how small famous scandals were in comparison to things that are happening every day under Trump: e.g., Teapot Dome ("in which Harding's secretary of the interior leased Navy petroleum reserves in Wyoming and California to private oil companies at incredibly low rates without a competitive bidding process"). Isn't that exactly what Zinke is trying to do with Alaska's oil reserves? Wasn't that Zinke's rationale behind reducing several National Monuments? And how does that stack up against the monetary value of various deregulation orders (especially those by the EPA and FCC)? To get a handle on corruption today, you have to look beyond first-order matters like Trump family business and direct payoffs to the windfalls industries claim from administration largess and beyond to corporate predation that will inevitably occur as it sinks in that the Trump administration is no longer enforcing regulations and laws that previously protected the public. Even short of changing laws to encourage further predation (as Bush did with his tax cuts and "tort reform"), the Trump administration is not just profiting from but breeding corruption. Curiously, Dallek doesn't even mention the closest relatives: the Reagan administration, with its embrace of "greed is good" leading to dozens of major scandals, and the second Bush, which imploded so utterly we wound up with the deepest recession since the 1930s.

  • Cristina Cabrera: Trump Puts on Hold Controversial Rollback of Elephant Trophy Ban: In the "could be worse" department:

    The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service announced on November 16 that it was rolling back an Obama-era ban preventing the import of hunted elephants in Zimbabwe. A similar ban had also been lifted for hunted elephants in Zambia.

    The decision was met with overwhelming backlash, with both liberals and conservatives slamming the move as needlessly cruel and inhumane. The notorious photos of the President's sons posing with a dead leopard and a dismembered tail of a elephant from their hunting expeditions didn't help.

    According to the Service, it can allow such imports "only when the killing of the animal will enhance the survival of the species." African elephants are protected as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, and critics questioned the Interior Department's defense that allowing hunters to kill more of them would enhance their survival.

    To be fair to the Trump administration, "allowing hunters to kill more of them would enhance their survival" is also the common logic that binds together most key Republican initiatives, like their "repeal and replace Obamacare" and "tax cuts and jobs" acts. It's also basically why they made Betsy De Vos Secretary of Education. For more, see Tara Isabella Burton: Trump stalls controversial decision on big game hunting.

  • Alvin Chang: This simple chart debunks the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton sold uranium to Russia: The latest "lock her up" chorus, cheerleadered by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). I can't make any sense of his chart, but the simplified one is easy enough to follow (although it could use a dateline). Still, a couple of troubling points. One is why Russian state-owned Rosatom would buy a Canadian uranium country with operations in the US. Presumably it's just business, and Uranium One still sells (as well as produces) uranium in the US market. The other point is that the Clinton Foundation never has and never will cleanse itself of the stench of operating as an influence peddler with ties into the US government -- although it helps that Hillary is no longer Secretary of State or otherwise government-employed, and it will help more as Clinton's numerous political cronies move away from the family and its foundation.

  • Adam Federman: The Plot to Loot America's Wilderness: Meet Jim Cason, who "seems to be running the show" under Ryan Zinke at the Department of Interior, where he's actively cultivating what promises to be a hundred Teapot Dome scandals.

  • Brent D Griffiths: Trump on UCLA basketball players: 'I should have left them in jail': If run in The New Yorker, this article would have been filed under "Annals of Pettiness."

  • Gregory Hellman: House declares US military role in Yemen's civil war unauthorized: Vote was 366-30, declaring that intervention in Yemen is not authorized under previous "authorization of force" resolutions, including the sweeping "war on terror" resolution from 2001. The US has conducted drone attacks in Yemen well before the Saudi intervention in a civil war that grew out of Arab Spring demonstrations (although the Houthi revolt dates back even further). The US has supported the Saudi intervention verbally, with arms shipments, and with target intelligence, contributing to a major humanitarian disaster. Unfortunately, the new resolution seems to have little teeth.

  • Cameron Joseph: Norm Coleman: I'd Have Beaten Franken in '08 if Groping Photo Had Come Out: Probably. The final tally had Franken ahead by 312 votes, so Coleman isn't insisting on much of a swing. On the other hand, I don't live in Minnesota, so I don't have any real feel for how the actual 2008 campaign played out. Coleman won his seat in 2002 after Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash and was replaced by a shockingly tone-deaf Walter Mondale -- inactive in politics since 1984. Coleman's win was a fluke, and he was never very popular, but Franken had a very tough job unseating him in 2008 -- I suspect his real problem was Upton Sinclair Complex (the famous novelist ran for governor of California in 1934 and lost, in no small part because opponents could pick strange quotes from his novels and present them out of context). Franken's comedy career must have presented Coleman's handlers with a treasure trove of bad jokes and faux pas, so many that the "groping picture" might even have gotten lost in the noise. For his part, Franken bent over backwards to present himself as serious and sober, and six years later was reelected easily, by 10.4 points, an improvement suggesting many of the voters' doubts have been answered. I've never been much of a fan, either of his comedy or of how he cozied up to the military to gain a mainstream political perch. Still, I've reluctantly grown to admire his dedication and earnestness as a politician, a vocation that has lately become ever more precarious for honest folk. So I was shocked when the photo/story revealed, not so much by the content as by how eagerly the media gobbled it up. In particular, TPM, which I usually look at first when I get up for a quick summary of the latest political flaps, filed eight straight stories on Franken in their prioritized central column, to the exclusion of not just Roy Moore (who had the next three stories) but also of the House passing the Republican tax scam bill.

    A couple more links on Franken:

    In addition to Yglesias above, I'm running into more reconsiderations of Bill Clinton, basically showing that the atmosphere has changed between the 1990s and now, making Clinton look all the worse. For example:

  • Fred Kaplan: Trigger Warning: "A congressional hearing underlines the dangers posed by an unstable president with unchecked authority to launch nuclear weapons."

  • Azmat Khan/Anand Gopal: The Uncounted: Long and gruesome article on the air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, who and what got hit, paying some attention to the mistakes that are never expected but somehow always occur whenever the US goes to war.

    Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike -- 103 in all -- in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014. . . .

    We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

  • Mike Konczal: Republicans are weaponizing the tax code: Key fact here: "Corporations are flush with cash from large profits and aggressively low interest rates, yet they aren't investing." This belies any pretense that cutting corporate tax rates. Without any real growth prospects, the cuts not only favor the rich, the other changes are meant to penalize everyone else, moving into the realm of class war ("capital is eating the economy").

    The crucial thing to realize is that this tax reform effort reflects more than the normal conservative allergic reaction to progressive taxation -- going far beyond undoing the modest progressive grains achieved by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Three major changes stand out: These taxes are far more focused on owners than on workers, even by Republican standards. They take advantage of the ambiguity of what counts as income, weaponizing that vagueness to help their friends and hurt their enemies.

    And after years of pushing for a safety net that works through the tax code, in order to keep more social democratic reforms at bay, Republicans now reveal their willingness to demolish even those modest protections. Their actions make clear that a welfare state based on tax credits and refunds, rather than universal commitments, is all too vulnerable.

    More links on taxes:

  • Josh Marshall: There's a Digital Media Crush. But No One Will Say It: The key sentence here is "The move to video is driven entirely by advertiser demand." The reasoning behind this is left unexplained, but obviously it's because advertising embedded in videos is more intrusive than static space advertising. Part of this is that it's harder for users to block as well as ignore, for the same reason radio and television advertising are more intrusive than print advertising. They're also dumber, because they don't have to offer something useful like information to catch your attention. If past experience is any guide, it also leads to a dumbing down of content, which eventually will make the content close to worthless. This is all bad news for media companies hoping to make bucks off the Internet, and more so for writers trying to scratch out a living from those companies. But more than anything else, it calls into question the public value of an information system based on advertising. From the very beginning, media dependent on advertising have been corrupted by it, and that's only gotten worse as advertisers have gained leverage and targeting data. Concentration of media business only makes this worse, but even if we could reverse the latter -- breaking up effective monopolies and monopsonies and restoring "net neutrality" rules -- we should be questioning the very idea of public information systems built on advertising.

  • Dylan Matthews: Senate Republicans are making it easier to push through Trump's judge picks: Technically, this is about "blue slips," which is one of those undemocratic rules which allow individual Senators to flout their power, but few things in the Republican agenda are more precious to them (or their donors) than packing the courts with verified movement conservatives.

  • Andrew Prokop/Jen Kirby: The Republican Party's Roy Moore catastrophe, explained. A couple impressions here. For one, their listing of Moore's "extremist views" seem pretty run-of-the-mill -- things that some 15-20% of Americans might if not agree with him at least find untroubling. I suspect this understates his extremism, especially on issues of religious freedom, where he has staked out his turf as a Christian nationalist. Second, I've been under the impression that his sexual misdeeds were in the range of harassment (compounded by the youth of his victims, as young as 14), but at least one of the complaints reads like attempted assault -- the girl in question was 16, and when Moore broke off the attack, he allegedly said to the girl: "You are a child. I am the Dictrict Attorney of Etowah County. If you tell anyone about this, no one will believe you." I reckon it as progress that such charges are highly credible now. As for the effect these revelations may have on the election, note: "A recent poll even showed that 29 percent of the state's voters say the allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore."

    Also on Moore:

  • Corey Robin: Trump's Fantasy Capitalism: "How the president undermines Republicans' traditional economic arguments." Robin, by the way, has a new edition of his The Reactionary Mind book out, the subtitle Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump as opposed to the original Sarah Palin. For reviews, see John Holbro and Paul Rosenberg.

  • Grant Schulte/James Nord: Oil Leak Will Not Factor Into Decision to Expand Keystone Pipeline: Of course, because right after a 250,000 gallon oil leak time is no time to talk about how approving a pipeline could lead to more oil leaks. Also, note how the authors had to walk back one of their more outrageous claims:

    This version of the story corrects that there have been 17 leaks the same size or larger than the Keystone spill instead of 17 larger than this spill. One of the spills was the same size.

  • Matt Taibbi: RIP Edward Herman, Who Co-Wrote a Book That's Now More Important Than Ever: The book, co-authored by Noam Chomsky, is Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, originally published in 1988.

    The really sad part about the Herman/Chomsky thesis was that it didn't rely upon coercion or violence. Newspapers and TV channels portrayed the world in this America-centric way not because they were forced to. Mostly, they were just intellectually lazy and disinterested in the stated mission of their business, i.e., telling the truth.

    In fact, media outlets were simply vehicles for conveying ads, and a consistent and un-troubling view of the political universe was a prerequisite for selling cars, candy bars, detergent, etc. Upset people don't buy stuff. This is why Sunday afternoon broadcasts featured golf tournaments and not police beatings or reports from cancer wards near Superfund sites.

    The news business was about making money, and making money back then for big media was easy. So why make a fuss?

    It occurs to me that the big money isn't so easy any more, which helps explain the air of desperation that hangs over cable and internet news outlets these days -- their need to provoke fear and stoke fights, building up an air of loyalty. One even suspects that Fox gravitated to right-wing politics less because of its sponsorship than due to a psychological profile of a sizable audience that could be captured. As Taibbi concludes, "It's a shame [Herman] never wrote a sequel. Now more than ever, we could use another Manufacturing Consent."

    By the way, while Herman and Chomsky identified "anti-communism" as their "fifth filter," that should be generalized to denigrating anyone on the US list of bad countries or movements -- especially the routine characterization of Russia, Iran, and Venezuela as non-democracies, even though all three have elections that are arguably fairer and freer than America's 2016 election. One consequence of this is that American media has lost all credibility in many of these nations. For example, see Oleg Kashin: When Russians stopped believing in the Western media.

  • Zephyr Teachout: The Menendez trial revealed everything that's gone wrong with US bribery law: The corruption case against Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) ended in a hung jury mistrial, even short of the appeals process which has severely weakened most anti-corruption laws.

    I'm with the jury: Even after closely following the trial, I have no strong view on Menendez's guilt or innocence, given the laws they have to work with. I do have a view, however, that the Supreme Court has been playing a shell game with corruption laws. It has stripped anti-corruption legislation of its power in two areas: campaign finance laws and anti-bribery laws. The public is left with little recourse against a growing threat of corruption. Whatever happens with this particular case, this is no way to do corruption law. . . .

    It is fitting that the trial ended with a hung jury. The Court has struck down so many laws that would have made this case easier. If laws prohibiting Super PACs were still in place, we'd have no $600,000 donation. But in the very case enabling Super PACs, Citizens United, the Court suggested that bribery laws would be powerful tools to combat corruption threats -- and then went ahead and weakened those laws. . . .

    Was it friendship? Was it corrupt? Or was it our fault for creating a system that encourages "friendships" that blur the line?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Daily Log

Thinking about roasting a goose for Thanksgiving. As I recall, The Gefilte Manifesto has a recipe.

Meanwhile, I found the following roast goose recipes:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28874 [28842] rated (+32), 391 [396] unrated (-5).

Tis the season when most critics (and especially their publishers) start thinking about year-end lists. I expect that before the month is out I'll take my first pass at constructing this year's version of last year's Jazz and Non-Jazz lists. To that end, I started taking a belated look at AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 list, and picked out a few things to check out (most successfully, St. Vincent's 8th-rated Masseduction). I sought out several albums from Robert Christgau's recent Expert Witness albums (Pere Ubu's 20 Years in a Montant Missile Silo the only thing I've really liked there recently). I also made a point of looking up everything I had missed on Alfred Soto's Best albums of 2017 -- third quarter edition. Rather surprised I didn't find more there.

The present Year 2017 file lists 834 albums (28 of those pending grades). That's down from 1075 for 2016 by freeze time (January 28, 2017). Figuring I have 11 weeks left, and I've averaged 18.1 new releases per week over the first 46 weeks, that extrapolates to 1033 records: down a bit from last year, but not much. Down more from previous years, of course, but I won't bother dredging those numbers up.

I finally got a bit of work done on compiling the Jazz Guide(s): 21st Century up to 1267 pages (64% through the Jazz '00s database file, up to Ferenc Nemeth); 20th Century edged up to 750 pages as I found a couple stragglers. 21st Century should wind up 1450-1500 pages, hopefully by the end of the year. (So much for my earlier August-September estimates!) Thinking a bit about what should happen next. The drafts are collected using LibreOffice. Obviously, I can export them as PDF, and distribute them as I did the JCG-only version. I don't know the first thing about exporting to ebook formats, but I see there is a Writer2ePub extension, and also a "cross-platform free and open-source e-book reader and word processor" called Calibre. Both of those look promising.

It occurs to me that the collected writing would be more useful reorganized as a website. LibreOffice can export as HTML, but I'd need some way to explode the file into many webpages. It's possible that there is an extension somewhere to support that, but thus far is looks like a job for custom programming. That's something I'll need to look into and think about -- not that I haven't thought about pouring my database and reviews into a website for a long time now. It's just that I've always had trouble coming up with an album-based database schema to hang everything on. In recent years I've been gravitating more toward an artist-based schema, even though it doesn't normalize as nicely. That's probably the level I'd try to explode an HTML export of the Jazz Guides. One idea is to dispense with the database and just use Mediawiki, organizing the reviews by artist. In that case one could simply cut and paste from the book to the website. That would still be a lot of work.

More troubling for me is the amount of editing that the reviews require. The relatively easy part is stripping out the redundancy that occurs when discrete reviews are stacked up under an artist name. I expect to move dates, instruments, band associations, and other such attributes to a brief artist intro, cutting them out of the album reviews. In many cases that leaves virtually nothing but the credits and grade. It would be nice to flesh them out a bit, but that now appears to be a job for another lifetime, or for someone else. At this point, I'd be happy to let my framework stand as a starting point for someone else to build on, or maybe a whole community. Unclear whether anyone is interested.


One thing I neglected to mention last week was Downbeat's 82nd Annual Readers Poll (October 2017 issue). Biggest surprise for me was the late Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017) finishing second on the HOF ballot. I had him filed under rock (1970s) and hadn't rated (or heard) any of his albums. Wikipedia says he "was cited as an influence by a host of rock, metal and jazz guitarists" but the following list of twelve only includes one name I recognize as jazz (Kurt Rosenwinkel). I suppose I should do some research, possibly starting with Gordon Beck's Sunbird (1979; Beck's 1967 Experiments With Pops, with 3rd place finisher John McLaughlin, is a favorite) and two Tony Williams albums not yet in my database.

McLaughlin would have been a perfectly respectable choice. I've heard at least two dozen of his albums, with Extrapolation (1969) and Mahavishnu Orchestra's The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) early masterpieces. Fourth- and fifth-place finishers Les Paul and George Benson would have been disgraceful picks, although I can point to at least one superb record each is on.

The HOF winner, Wynton Marsalis, is a ho-hum choice: a solid hard bop trumpeter, probably better than Kenny Dorham or maybe even Woody Shaw but less exciting than Lee Morgan and not as versatile as Freddie Hubbard. He also became a huge celebrity, built an empire at Lincoln Center, and wrote some of the most ponderous compositions of the era. I've always liked him best when he was least serious. I credit him with three A- records: his soundtrack Tune In Tomorrow (1990); his Jelly Roll Morton tribute, Mr. Jelly Lord (1999); and his Play the Blues meetup with Eric Clapton (2011). Dorham and Shaw, by the way, have two A- records each, in shorter careers.

Elsewhere, the winners were on the stodgy side of mainstream -- the relatively hip picks were Chris Potter (tenor sax), Anat Cohen (clarinet), and I can never fault Jack DeJohnette (drums). Two flat out bad picks: Snarky Puppy (group), and Trombone Shorty (trombone). (Well, Gregory Porter too, but consider his competition.) I don't have time to go deeper down the lists, but for example, Marsalis won trumpet, and I'd have to drop to 13th to find someone I would have voted for ahead of him (in fact did: Wadada Leo Smith; Dave Douglas came in 15th; 4th-place Terence Blanchard gave me pause).

Only other down-ballot pick I'll mention is Geri Allen, who came in 3rd at piano. Would have been a pleasant surprise, but she died to get there, and still got beat by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, who haven't produced exceptional albums since the early 1970s (OK, I did rather like Corea's 2014 Trilogy).


New records rated this week:

  • 2 Chainz: Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (2017, Def Jam): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nicole Atkins: Goodnight Rhonda Lee (2017, Single Lock): [r]: B
  • Big Thief: Capacity (2017, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(**)
  • Corey Christiansen: Dusk (2015 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Anat Cohen Tentet: Happy Song (2016 [2017], Anzic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Richie Cole: Latin Lover (2017, RCP): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Miley Cyrus: Younger Now (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • ExpEAR & Drew Gress: Vesper (2015 [2017], Kopasetic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure (2017, Hyperdub): [r]: B+(*)
  • Howe Gelb: Future Standards (2016 [2017], Fire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tee Grizzley: My Moment (2017, 300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kelela: Take Me Apart (2017, Warp): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Billy Lester Trio: Italy 2016 (2016 [2017], Ultra Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: Kalamazoo (2015 [2017], Troubadour Jass): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roy McGrath: Remembranzas (2017, JL Music): [cd]: B
  • Lisa Mezzacappa: Glorious Ravage (2017, New World): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The National: Sleep Well Beast (2017, 4AD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Diana Panton: Solstice/Equinox (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pere Ubu: 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (2017, Cherry Red): [r]: A-
  • Pink: Beautiful Trauma (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lee Ranaldo: Electric Trim (2017, Mute): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rostam: Half-Light (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Romeo Santos: Golden (2017, Sony Latin): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sheer Mag: Need to Feel Your Love (2017, Static Shock): [r]: B+(**)
  • Idit Shner: 9 Short Stories (2017, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • St. Vincent: Masseduction (2017, Loma Vista): [r]: A-
  • Gabriele Tranchina: Of Sailing Ships and the Stars in Your Eyes (2017, Rainchant Eclectic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mark Wingfield/Markus Reuter/Asaf Sirkis: Lighthouse (2016 [2017], Moonjune): [cd]: B
  • Lee Ann Womack: The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone (2017, ATO): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlie Worsham: Beginning of Things (2017, Warner Bros. Nashville): [r]: B

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

  • Motörhead: Under Cover (1992-2014 [2017], Silver Lining Music): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks (sorry I forgot to post last week):

  • Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (Not Two)
  • Carn Davidson 9: Murphy (self-released)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Out of Silence (FMR)
  • Ori Dagan: Nathaniel: A Tribute to Nat King Cole (Scat Cat)
  • David's Angels: Traces (Kopasetic)
  • Die Enttäuschung: Lavaman (Intakt)
  • Brad Garton/Dave Soldier: The Brainwave Music Project (Mulatta): January 5
  • Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Nation (Moserobie)
  • Alexander Hawkins-Elaine Mitchener Quartet: Uproot (Intakt)
  • Nick MacLean Quartet: Rites of Ascension (Browntasaurus)
  • Negative Press Project: Eternal Life: Jeff Buckley Songs and Sounds (Ridgeway)
  • Jen Shyu: Song of Silver Geese (Pi)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Veterans of Jazz (self-released)

Peace Dinner

Initial mail for the Peace Dinner team:

After talking with Laura and Janice, I agreed to direct the Peace Center annual dinner on Friday, December 1, at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church.

I'll be sending out emails as planning and discussion develops. If you don't wish to receive these emails, let me know. You're under no obligation to help, but I will need help to pull this off. If you think of someone else who might be interested (especially in helping), please let me know.

I assume we can have access to the church kitchen that day from noon on, the night before (Thursday, November 30) from 6pm on, and briefly on Tuesday and/or Wednesday afternoon or early evening. I expect to do most of the shopping on Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and leave most of the groceries in the church Wednesday. I'll do some cooking at home on Wednesday (you're invited to join me and/or help with the shopping). More (perhaps most) of the cooking will be done at the church on Thursday evening, and it would be good to have 2-4 people join in there. Everything else will be fixed on Friday, and served when? 6pm? We could use 3-6 people on Friday, including setup of tables, and several people afterwards for cleanup.

The dinner will be mostly Indian. I felt that would be easier than last year given that many dishes benefit from being made ahead of time (allows the flavors to penetrate), then reheated. I'm assuming about the same number of guests (80?). I haven't tried to figure out how to scale the recipes yet, but will adjust them when I get firmer numbers.

Last year we served various appetizers on the tables. This menu doesn't offer a lot of appetizers, but at the table we can provide a variety of relishes, chutneys and pickles. I may make several of these, but for the most part I'll rely on store-bought products (mango chutney, lime pickle, etc.; note that we already don't have enough lead time for some of my favorite homemade chutneys/pickles). I'm also thinking about buying frozen paratha (flaky bread), heating it on a griddle, cutting it into 1/6 slices and serving it at the table. The bread will be good for mopping up curries. I'll also look and see if there is a viable option for buying lentil wafers (papad).

Most Indian food is spiced moderately to severely hot. All the main dishes below will be cooked with a minimum of red pepper (although lots of non-hot spices). The store-bought chutneys will be hotter, and for good measure I'll make a batch of Hyderabadi tomato chutney, which will be very hot. Diners can mix it in or skip it.

My main cookbook is Julie Sahni's "Classic Indian Cooking," and that's the only one I've looked at so far (exceptions noted). I have another dozen or so Indian cookbooks, so I may come up with other recipes that look promising. But here's a first pass:

  • A chicken curry, probably makhni or masala cooked with chicken tikka (small, boneless chunks). The chicken would initially be skinned, deboned, marinated and grilled, then cooked in a flavorful gravy.
  • A lamb curry, probably rogani gosht, which is chunks of lamb and potatoes in a thick gravy.
  • Baked tandoori fish, probably pacific cod, marinated in yogurt and spices, and baked just before serving in a hot oven. (Ideally this is grilled, but that isn't practical. Same for fried fish. Fish curries don't really lend themselves to advance cooking, so that isn't an option either.)
  • A basmati rice pilaf. I like to make patiala pilaf instead of plain rice: it's cooked with onion and whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves), but we could substitute powdered spices if the whole ones seem troublesome.
  • A sweet potato-chickpea curry (a somewhat unorthodox recipe I copied from Nigella Lawson, using red onions and flavored with coconut milk and tamarind, so a very substantial vegetarian dish).
  • Bharta: grilled eggplant with tomatoes.
  • Mattar paneer: green peas with cheese (which I'll probably buy not make).
  • Buttered smothered cabbage.
  • Crisp-fried okra.
  • Saag: spinach and greens with fried potatoes.
  • Kali dal: buttered black gram beans (urad dal), with a tadka (fried onions and cream); this shouldn't be too soupy.
  • Raita: yogurt, probably with cucumber and tomato (although there are other options) -- could be served at table, especially if more than one.

Not a lot of good appetizer options: samosas are big and complicated, fritters require frying. Cookbook has some others, which I won't bother listing here. Aloo chat is possible, basically Indian potato salad, usually flavored with tamarind. It wouldn't be hard and could be served with the relishes. Kachumber is a cucumber-tomato-mint chopped salad, one of the few raw salad options (not in Sahni). It's a pretty easy recipe to add.

Lots of other vegetable options: cauliflower with ginger is the one I came closest to adding. I originally wanted to do dum aloo, but it calls for whole potatoes (small ones, peeled, browned) and the lamb and saag also have potatoes (and we could make aloo chat), so that seemed excessively redundant. I've been looking for standard dishes that are discrete, identifiable, without a lot of gravy, so I skipped things like navratan korma (mixed veggies in a mild sauce). I'll consider some other dishes. I'm looking for more variety without having to scale a few things way up.

If you really want to cut down on the number of dishes, I'd start with the peas and okra. Still, I think, would be very good to have.

A lot of vegetable dishes are normally cooked in ghee (clarified butter). Let me know if you think that's a problem. Also, some also use yogurt (in some cases I can substitute coconut cream). The fish, lamb, and probably chicken use yogurt, but it's less common on vegetable dishes (non-optional for raita).

Okra would have to be cooked the day of, to keep crisp. Rice is also same day, as is fish. Pretty much everything else can be done a day or more in advance.

I'm willing to consider making fresh bread, depending on how much help and interest there is. Main options are chapati (unleavened flat bread, cooked on griddle) and naan (leavened flatbread, cooked in oven). Paratha requires multiple rolling to get the flaky layers, and poori needs to be cooked over an open flame to puff up correctly, so those are things that would be tougher to do in quantity.

Indian desserts are also problematical: mostly puddings, kulfi (ice cream), or gulab jamun (fried dough balls in syrup). We considered kheer (rice pudding). I also considered last year's muttabaq or (virtually the same amount of work) baklava. But I also mentioned that cake would be easier, and suggested my autumn spice cake, which is very good (topped with a cooked brown sugar frosting). We could also do a fruit salad with optional vanilla cream like we did last year. This is certainly still open, but that's the current thinking. I wonder about making homemade kulfi to go with the cake?

I'd like to have a menu page on the website. Possibly printed out with the program also. I'm hoping Jerry can take some pictures.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Matt Taibbi is a dedicated, insightful journalist and a terrific writer, but ever since the 2016 campaign started he's repeatedly gotten tripped up by having to meet advance deadlines for Rolling Stone that have left many of his pieces dated on arrival. His latest is especially unfortunate: A Year After Trump's Election, Nothing Has Changed. The factoid he chose to build his article around was a recent poll arguing that 12 months later, Trump would probably still win the 2016 election. The assumption is that Trump is still running against Hillary Clinton. Trump, of course, has been in the news every day since the election, and is already raising money for 2020 and making rally appearances in active campaigning mode. Aside from her self-serving, self-rationalizing book tour Clinton has largely dropped out of site, conceding she's not running again, and not scoring any points attacking Trump -- not that Trump's stopped attacking her, most recently accusing her of being the real "Russia colluder." Still, the poll in question shows Trump and Clinton in a dead 40-40 tie -- i.e., both candidates are doing worse than they did one year ago, but in the interest of sensationalism, the author gives Trump the tiebreaker ("Given that Trump overperformed in key, blue-leaning swing states, that means he'd probably have won again.")

As it happens, Taibbi's article was written before and appeared after the 2017 elections where Democrats swept two gubernatorial races (in VA and NJ), and picked up fairly dramatic gains in down-ballot elections all over the country. For details, start with FiveThirtyEight's What Went Down on Election Night 2017. Nate Silver explains further:

Democrats had a really good night on Tuesday, easily claiming the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, flipping control of the Washington state Senate and possibly also the Virginia House of Delegates, passing a ballot measure in Maine that will expand Medicaid in the state, winning a variety of mayoral elections around the country, and gaining control of key county executive seats in suburban New York.

They also got pretty much exactly the results you'd expect when opposing a Republican president with a 38 percent approval rating.

That's not to downplay Democrats' accomplishments. Democrats' results were consistent enough, and their margins were large enough, that Tuesday's elections had a wave-like feel. That includes how they performed in Virginia, where Ralph Northam won by considerably more than polls projected. When almost all the toss-up races go a certain way, and when the party winning those toss-up races also accomplishes certain things that were thought to be extreme long shots (such as possibly winning the Virginia House of Delegates), it's almost certainly a reflection of the national environment.

Silver also notes:

  • President Trump's approval rating is only 37.6 percent.
  • Democrats lead by approximately 10 points on the generic Congressional ballot.
  • Republican incumbents are retiring at a rapid pace; there were two retirements (from New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo and Texas Rep. Ted Poe) on Tuesday alone.
  • Democrats are recruiting astonishing numbers of candidates for Congress.
  • Democrats have performed well overall in special elections to the U.S. Congress, relative to the partisanship of those districts; they've also performed well in special elections to state legislatures.
  • The opposition party almost always gains ground at midterm elections. This is one of the most durable empirical rules of American politics.

The thing I find most striking about these election results is the unity Democrats showed. Mainstream Democrats still bitch about lefties who defected to Ralph Nader in 2000, but as someone who remembers how mainstream Democrats sandbagged McGovern in 1972 (and who's read about how Bryan was repeatedly voted down after 1896), I've long been more concerned about how "centrists" might break if anyone on the left wins the Democratic Party nomination. Yet last week saw a remarkably diverse group of Democrats triumphant. The lesson I take away from the results is that most voters have come to realize is that the problem isn't just Trump and some of his ilk but the whole Republican Party, and that the only hope people have is to unite behind the Democrats, regardless of whether they zig left or zag right. Especially after last week's flap over Donna Brazile's book Hacks, that's good news.

It's also news that belies Taibbi's main thesis: not so much that nothing has changed in the year since Trump's shocking election win as the charge that we're still responding as stupidly to Trump as we did during the campaign. On the former, the administration's worker bees have torn up thousands of pages of regulations meant to protect us from predatory business, major law enforcement organizations have been reoriented to persecute immigrants while ignoring civil rights and antitrust, and the judiciary is being stock with fresh right-wingers. The full brunt of those changes may not have sunk in -- they certainly haven't hit all their intended victims yet -- but even if you fail to appreciate the threats these changes have a way of becoming tangible very suddenly. And given how Republican health care proposals polled down around 20%, you may need to rethink your assumptions about how dumb and gullible the American people are.

Republican proposals on "tax reform" are polling little better than their effort to wreck health care. This polling is helping to stall the agenda, but Republicans in Congress are so ideological, and so beholden to their sponsors, that most are willing to buck and polls and follow their orders. What we've needed all year has been for elections to show Republicans that their choices have consequences, and hopefully that's started to happen now.

But whereas the first half of Taibbi's article can be blamed on bad timing, the second half winds up being even more annoying:

Despising Trump and his followers is easy. What's hard is imagining how we put Humpty Dumpty together again. This country is broken. It is devastated by hate and distrust. What is needed is a massive effort at national reconciliation. It will have to be inspired, delicate and ingenious to work. Someone needs to come up with a positive vision for the entire country, one that is more about love and community than blame.

That will probably mean abandoning the impulse to continually litigate the question of who is worse, Republicans or Democrats. . . . The people running the Democratic Party are opportunists and hacks, and for as long as the despicable and easily hated Trump is president, that is what these dopes will focus on, not realizing that most of the country is crying out for something different.

Well, I'm as eager as the next guy for a high-minded conversation about common problems and reasonable solutions, but that's not what politics is about these days (and probably never was). But let's face it, the immediate problem is that one side's totally unprincipled and totally unreasonable, and the only way past that is to beat that side down so severely no one ever dares utter "trickle down" again. They need to get beat down as bad as the Nazis in WWII -- so bad the stink of collaboration much less membership takes generations to wash off. Then maybe we can pick up the pieces.

As for the "hacks and opportunists," sure they are, but they're approachable in ways the Republicans simply aren't. I've seen good people, hard-working activists, come into Wichita for years and urge us to go talk to our Congressman, as if the person in that office (remember, we're talking about Todd Tiahrt, Mike Pompeo, and Ron Estes) was merely misinformed but fundamentally reasonable. I've met plenty of hacks and opportunists who are at least approachable, but not these guys. They've sold their souls, and they're never coming back.

By the way, Thomas Frank's article on the Trump Day anniversary runs into pretty much the same problem: We're still aghast at Donald Trump -- but what good has that done? Well, the American political system doesn't give you a lot of latitude to repair a botched election -- everyone in office has fixed terms, the option of signing recall petitions is very limited (and doesn't apply to Trump), impeachment is virtually impossible without massive Republican defections -- so sometimes being constantly aghast is all one can do. And while the last three US presidents had their share of intractably obsessive opponents, they pale to the numbers of people constantly on Trump's case. Frank wants to minimize our effect, not least because he wants us to consider bigger, wider, deeper, older faults that Trump makes worse but isn't uniquely responsible for.

Trump's sins are continuous with the last 50 years of our history. His bigotry and racist dog-whistling? Conservatives have been doing that since forever. His vain obsession with ratings, his strutting braggadocio? Welcome to the land of Hollywood and pro wrestling.

His tweeting? The technology is new, but the urge to evade the mainstream media is not. His outreach to working-class voters? His hatred of the press? He lifts those straight from his hero Richard Nixon. His combination of populist style with enrich-the-rich policies? Republicans have been following that recipe since the days of Ronald Reagan. His "wrecking crew" approach to government, which made the cover of Time magazine last week? I myself made the same observation, under the same title, about the administration of George W Bush.

The trends Trump personifies are going to destroy this country one of these days. They've already done a hell of a job on the middle class.

But declaring it all so ghastly isn't going to halt these trends or remove the reprobate from the White House. Waving a piece of paper covered with mean words in Trump's face won't make him retreat to his tower in New York. To make him do that you must understand where he comes from, how he operates, why his supporters like him, and how we might coax a few of them away.

The parade of the aghast will have none of that. Strategy is not the goal; a horror-high is. And so its practitioners routinely rail against Trump's supporters along with Trump himself, imagining themselves beleaguered by a country they no longer understand nor particularly like.

As an engineer, I've long related to the idea that you have to understand something to change it -- at least to change it in a deliberate and viable way -- but politics doesn't seem to work that way. For nearly all of my life, the most powerful political motivator has been disgust. And while that may seem like a recent bad trend, I pretty clearly remember characters like Dick Nixon, Barry Goldwater, and George Wallace. So it really doesn't bother me when people are simply aghast at Trump without understanding the fine points. Sure, at some point we need to get a better idea of what to do, but all the present situation demands is resistance, and as people line up to defend and demean Trump, those connections Frank wants us to learn are getting made.


My tweet for the day:

Wasn't #VeteransDay originally Armistice Day (a celebration of peace at the end of an unprecedentedly horrific war)? I guess when the US went to a permanent war footing, they had to rename it.


Some scattered links this week:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Daily Log

Matt Taibbi posted a link to his new column: "New column on the first anniversary of Trump's election, and why America hasn't evolved since and basically sucks." I tweeted a reply:

Nothing has changed? Bad timing. Trump misrule is producing increasingly tangible damage to many lives, and one effect, as shown by Tuesday's elections, is more Dem solidarity, not just left supporting neolibs but the latter more willing to look left.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28842 [28813] rated (+29), 396 [405] unrated (-9).

After many short weeks, back to semi-normal last week, a swing that would have been even more pronounced had I not gotten distracted over the weekend: cooked a fairly large dinner on Saturday, had guests and a birthday party to attend on Sunday. Monday, too, has largely been chewed up by technical problems, so I'm getting a late start on this post, and not including Monday's unpacking.

The short and scattered nature of yesterday's Weekend Roundup was one consequence of my weekend distractions. One thing I did there was to cite Donna Brazile's controversial Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC, as well as a rejoinder by Josh Marshall, before moving on to my own concerns. Shortly after I posted, I noticed Charles Pierce's own anti-Brazile rant: The Democratic Party Is Finding a Way to F*ck This Up, which starts off with this hideous preface:

I will go to my grave convinced that the 2016 Democratic primary process was the single most depressing political event I ever witnessed. . . . But the Democratic nominating circus was an endless slog that veered between a coronation and a smug, self-righteous quasi-insurgency that quickly developed a paranoid streak a mile wide. This set a perfect stage for the nearly omnipresent Russian ratfcking. The ratfckers didn't have to create divisions to exploit, they already were there.

I mean, sure, it was more depressing than 2008, when Hillary Clinton was denied the Democratic Party nomination and therefore was unable to blow the general election. But even though I was delighted with Obama's primary successes in 2008, Bernie Sanders' campaign was unprecedented, and his near-success even more thrilling. The Republican primaries had more faces, and some stylistic variation, but there ultimately wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the candidates. But there were real, significant differences between Sanders and Clinton, and they were things that mattered -- so how could one not get swept up in the opportunity?

I don't know, but I have a hypothesis, based on a few people I know who I think of as having more/less lefty (but pro-Hillary) politics and extrapolating to more establishment-oriented liberals. It involves two factors: one is a cynical belief that substantial progressive change is not possible; the other is blind faith in liberal meritocracy, which has anointed the long line of Democratic Party leaders from aristocrats like the Roosevelts and Kennedys to accommodating strivers like the Clintons and Obama. That cynicism lets such people dismiss Bernie with whatever epithet they fancy (for Pierce, "smug, self-righteous") even though there is no evidence for their assertions, while always giving Hillary the benefit of any doubts, even though her own track record is full of compromises and betrayals. Such people are very hurt, probably more by Hillary's loss than by Trump's victory, because the former calls into question their belief in American exceptionalism, whereas the latter mostly hurts other people.

Russia is their perfect villain, a way of blaming their failure not on other Americans but on some external evil. Still, I recently read David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, and I don't recall a single Russian operative in the entire book. The "ratfuckers" -- the people conspiring to engineer districts and electorates to their partisan advantage -- are Republicans, and they've been very effective at it. I don't doubt that Russia helped them out here and there, but the game plan was hatched in Republican circles, and they were the ones who mostly carried it out. Blaming Russia may make some Democrats feel better about themselves, but it mostly means they're continuing to turn a blind eye to their real enemies. And in their failure to recognize real enemies, they've not only been ineffective at defending against them -- they've lost credibility among the very people who suffer Republican rule the worst.

Pierce goes on to attack "SPW" ("Senator Professor Warren"), and to set up scapegoating the left if the Democrat Ralph Northam loses the Virginia gubernatorial race. He's right that the Democrats have various problems achieving unity, even in the face of the most obviously horrid Republicans in history, but it beats me how he thinks he's contributing to solidarity by trashing Bernie.

Since I posted, I've run across two more pieces on the Brazile Affair: Glenn Greenwald: Four Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in the Last Week Alone That Are False -- three attacking Brazile, two of those repeated by Pierce -- and Matt Taibbi: Why Donna Brazile's Story Matters -- But Not for the Reason You Might Think. The lesson Taibbi draws from the story is how the Clinton camp distrusted democracy -- they sought to rig the primaries not because they couldn't win otherwise, but because they didn't think they should have to submit to the voters.


New records rated this week:

  • Thomas Anderson: My Songs Are the House I Live In (2017, Out There): [r]: A-
  • Big Thief: Masterpiece (2016, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Robt Sarazin Blake: Recitative (2017, Same Room, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Mihály Borbély Quartet: Be by Me Tonight/Gyere Hozzám Estére (2016, BMC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Tel Aviv (2016 [2017], Not Two): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop: Rev (2013-16 [2017], Anzic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cowboys and Frenchmen: Bluer Than You Think (2017, Outside In Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Marc Devine Trio: Inspiration (2017, ITI): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jeff Dingler: In Transit (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Matthieu Donarier/Santiago Quintans: Sun Dome (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B-
  • Sinne Eeg: Dreams (2017, ArtistShare): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet: Live at Jazz Room Cortez (2016 [2017], Cortez Sound): [cd]: B
  • Dre Hocevar: Surface of Inscription (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B-
  • Adam Hopkins: Party Pack Ice (2015 [2017], pfMENTUM, EP): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jon Langford: Jon Langford's Four Lost Souls (2017, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(***)
  • Large Unit: Fluku (2016 [2017], PNL): [bc]: A-
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Frode Gjerstad: Nearby Faraway (2016 [2017], PNL): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Paranoid Style: Underworld USA (2017, Bar/None, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Adam Rudolph: Morphic Resonances (2017, M.O.D. Technologies): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Samo Salamon/Szilárd Mezei/Achille Succi: Planets of Kei: Free Sessions Vol. 1 (2016 [2017], Not Two): [cd]: B+(***)
  • A. Savage: Thawing Dawn (2017, Dull Tools): [r]: B+(*)
  • Slow Is Possible: Moonwatchers (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Trio S: Somewhere Glimmer (2017, Zitherine): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Deanna Witkowski: Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns (2017, Tilapia): [cd]: B
  • Mark Zaleski Band: Days, Months, Years (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mihály Borbély Quartet: Hungarian Jazz Rhapsody (2014, BMC): [r]: B+(***)

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Again, a very late start, so this is very catch-as-catch-can.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: I moved Yglesias' weekly summaries up top a couple weeks ago as I've found lately that he's become a pretty good chronicler of the Trump travesty, which especially as I've started to tune out myself makes for a useful intro to whatever happened recently. This week's stories: We finally saw the GOP's tax bill; Mueller revealed indictments -- and a guilty plea; Jeff Sessions is back in the spotlight: specifically, for Russia stuff, going back to his false testimony during his confirmation hearings; and, Jerome Powell will be the next Federal Reserve chair. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Republicans should admit to themselves they mostly don't want big change: "It's a cranky old person party, not a policy visionary party."

    • The Republican tax plan, in one chart:

      Big-picture summary is that over the first 10 years, the bill has:

      • $1 trillion net tax cut for business owners
      • $172 billion tax cut for people who inherit multi-million dollar estates
      • $300 billion net tax cut for individuals.
    • Republicans changed their minds and now want to cut the mortgage deduction.

    • Jerome Powell, President Trump's reported choice to head the Federal Reserve, explained: "Good news for people who like lax bank regulation."

    • Republicans promised a tax reform bill by today. Here's why they don't have one: November 1. "Nobody knew taxes were so complicated."

    • Booker calls on antitrust regulators to start paying attention to workers. Key word to add to your vocabulary is "monopsony":

      Antitrust law normally comes up in the context of monopoly power, the prospect that a company will control such a large share of output that it can raise prices or reduce quality. But it also applies to situations of monopsony power, in which market concentration offers undue leverage over workers or upstream suppliers. Antitrust regulators have consistently recognized the importance of the monopsony issue when it comes to cartels between separate companies -- suing a number of big Silicon Valley companies that had reached an illegal "no poaching" agreement to depress engineers' wages -- but has not in recent years appeared to recognize such concerns when conducting merger review. . . .

      Booker's letter starts with a premise that's now become common in progressive circles: that the American economy is becoming broadly more concentrated across a range of sectors. . . . At the same time, corporate profits as a share of the overall economy are at an unusually high level, the stock market is booming, and wage growth has been incredibly restrained even as the economy has recovered from the depths of the Great Recession.

    • Congressional Republicans are helping Trump with a big cover-up: Several things here, including:

      George W. Bush put his personal wealth in a blind trust. Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm. Barack Obama held all his assets in simple diversified index funds. There is a way in which a modern president with a modicum of integrity conducts himself, and Trump has refused to do it.

      Rather than liquidate his assets and put the proceeds in a trust, Trump has simply turned over day-to-day management of the family business to his two older sons -- sons who continue to serve as surrogates and part of his political operation, even while his oldest daughter and her husband serve as top White House aides. Ivanka Trump is reeling in Chinese trademarks while Eric and Donald Jr. do real estate deals in India. Trump is billing the Secret Service six figures for the privilege of renting golf carts at his golf courses. People with interests before the government can -- and do -- pay direct cash bribes to the president by joining his Mar-a-Lago club or holding events at his hotel in Washington, DC. . . .

      There's an interesting lesson in the fact that Paul Manafort is being brought down by criminal money laundering and tax evasion charges that are at best tangentially related to his work for Trump's campaign -- there's a lot of white-collar crime happening in America that people are getting away with. . . .

      Manafort's criminal misconduct only came to light because he happened to have stumbled into massive political scandal that put his conduct under the microscope in a way that most rich criminals avoid.

      By the same token, over the years Trump has been repeatedly fined for breaking federal money laundering rules, been paid millions in hush money to settle civil fraud claims, been caught breaking New Jersey casino law, been caught violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, been caught violating federal securities law, been caught violating New York nonprofit law, and -- of course -- been accused of multiple counts of sexual assault.

      Yet throughout this storied history of lawbreaking, Trump has never faced a major criminal charge. He gets caught, he pays a civil penalty, and he keeps on being a rich guy who enjoys rich-guy impunity -- just like Manafort.

    • Paul Ryan won't let indictments stop him from cutting taxes on the rich.

    • Trump's response to indictments: "why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"

    • The question that matters now: what will Republicans do when Trump fires Mueller? "Probably nothing."

  • Tom Engelhardt: Doing Bin Laden's Bidding: I read (or maybe misread) a turn of phrase today that describes America's "War on Terror" aptly: "flailing forward." I always thought freedom meant you can choose what to do, and therefore free people can refuse to do stupid things just because they get taunted. Maybe Bin Laden didn't appreciate how much destruction the US would wreak when he challenged the insecure egos of American power, but he was certainly baiting the giant to blunder into "the graveyard of empires" -- as Afghanistan was known even before 2001.

    Looking back, 16 years later, it's extraordinary how September 11, 2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando, Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions -- above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security state -- came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden's version of our world. . . .

    After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in 16 years of fruitless wars, most now "generational" conflicts with no end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering numbers. At the same time, he helped turn twenty-first-century Washington into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government for lunch. He gave the national security state the means -- the excuse, if you will -- to rise to a kind of power, prominence, and funding that might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process -- undoubtedly fulfilling his wildest dreams -- he helped speed up the decline of the very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself as the greatest ever.

    That, of course, is old news. The new news here concerns Niger, where four US special forces soldiers were recently killed despite hardly anyone in America realizing they were there. What's happened since is a recapitulation of the Afghanistan-Iraq-Libya disaster:

    And suddenly U.S. Africa Command was highlighting its desire for more money from Congress; the military was moving to arm its Reaper drones in Niger with Hellfire missiles for future counterterrorism operations; and Secretary of Defense Mattis was assuring senators privately that the military would "expand" its "counterterrorism focus" in Africa. The military began to prepare to deploy Hellfire Missile-armed Reaper drones to Niger. "The war is morphing," Graham insisted. "You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field."

    Rumors were soon floating around that, as the Washington Post reported, the administration might "loosen restrictions on the U.S. military's ability to use lethal force in Niger" (as it already had done in the Trump era in places like Syria and Yemen). And so it expectably went, as events in Niger proceeded from utter obscurity to the near-apocalyptic, while -- despite the strangeness of the Trumpian moment -- the responses came in exactly as anyone reviewing the last 16 years might have imagined they would.

    All of this will predictably make things in central Africa worse, not better, leading to . . . well, more than a decade and a half after 9/11, you know just as well as I do where it's leading. And there are remarkably few brakes on the situation, especially with three generals of our losing wars ruling the roost in Washington and Donald Trump now lashed to the mast of his chief of staff.

    Our resident expert on US Africa Command is Nick Turse, but while this was happening, he was distracted by A Red Scare in the Gray Zone.

  • Juliette Garside: Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world elite's hidden wealth. Also: Jon Swaine/Ed Pilkington: The wealthy men in Trump's inner circle with links to tax havens.

  • William Greider: What Killed the Democratic Party? Cites a recent report: Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. This appeared before publication of Donna Brazile: Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC, which details the remarkable extent the Clinton campaign controlled the DNC all through the primary season. Brazile's revelations are further monetized in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. Josh Marshall attempts to mount a counterattack in Donna Brazile Needs to Back Up Her Self-Serving Claims, insisting that "There's zero advantage to re-litigating the toxic 2016 primaries." Personally, I felt that Hillary Clinton had earned the right to tell her side of the story in What Happened, so I see no further harm in Brazile's Hacks. (I suppose I might draw a line if Debby Wasserman-Schultz manages to find a publisher.) Still, the one thing that keeps bugging me about all of the 2016 Democratic autopsies -- especially the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- is the nagging question: where did all of the money Clinton raised go? And why didn't she use more of it to build up the party she supposedly was the leader of?

  • Mike Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.

  • German Lopez/Karen Turner: Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting: what we know: "At least 26 people were killed . . . The shooter is also dead following a brief chase." Also: Texas church shooting: suspect named as at least 26 confirmed dead -- as it happened.

  • Noam Maggor: Amazon wants goodies and tax breaks to move its HQ to your city. Say no thanks. I want to underscore that the practice of giving tax breaks and incentives to companies that promise jobs is actually far worse than a zero-sum "race to the bottom." For evidence specific to Amazon, look no further than the perks they received to open a distribution center in Coffeyville, KS. Then try to find it. They've already closed it, moving on to greener pastures.

  • Mike McIntire/Sasha Chavkin/Martha M Hamilton: Commerce Secretary's Offshore Ties to Putin 'Cronies'. Also, Jesse Drucker: Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire's Twitter and Facebook Investments.

  • Simon Tisdall: Trump's Asia tour will expose his craving for the approval of despots: Not just despots. I got stuck watching Japan's Prime Minister blowing smoke up Trump's ass in their first press appearance. Trump's vanity clearly hasn't escaped the notice of world leaders.

  • Alex Ward: Bowe Bergdahl isn't going to prison. But he is getting a "dishonorable discharge" -- you know, like the shooter in Texas got. Among those who thought the sentence too lenient:

    Donald Trump made it a campaign issue in 2016, calling Bergdahl a "traitor," even suggesting that he should be executed. About an hour after the ruling by a military judge, Trump tweeted his thoughts: "The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military."

    Of course, Bergdahl isn't the only soldier Trump has disparaged for "getting captured."

  • Sarah Wildman: Saudi Arabia announces arrest of billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Without specifically commenting on Prince Alwaleed, Trump evidently approves: Mark Landler: Trump Tells Saudi King That He Supports Modernization Drive. Also by Wildman: Mueller has enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Daily Log

I've been reading Sean Wilentz's The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics, which came out in May 2016. I am, as always, impressed by the depth of his knowledge and insight into American politics from after the Revolution up to the Civil War -- the subject of his magisterial The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. So this collection of odd book reviews was catnip to me, even though a quick glimpse of his pan of Oliver Stone toward the end -- as I'm writing, I've just finished Theodore Roosevelt, with the ominous "The Liberals and the Leftists" next to come, but so far, so good. I've also read his The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008, which is not so great: competent, but little I didn't understand better merely by living through it all, but not as soft on Reagan as his setup implies.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up Alan Wolfe's New York Times Book Review critique of the new book. It reminds me first of why my wife holds Wilentz in such contempt:

Even before his book appeared, Wilentz, in a sort of advance copy of his argument, spent the bulk of the 2008 presidential campaign delivering one slashing criticism of Barack Obama after another. Obama, we were told, appealed to the Mugwumpish post-partisanship that makes elites feel good about themselves but is rarely helpful to ordinary people. Looking back, I cannot recall any left-wing intellectual more hostile to Obama than Wilentz. Turning racial politics on its head, Wilentz even managed to argue in The New Republic that Obama practiced "the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., praising states' rights."

The Politicians and the Egalitarians can be read as Wilentz's explanation for his credulity-straining position: Hillary Clinton was the politician and Obama the egalitarian. Egalitarians speak the language of an America struggling to live up to its ideals; so powerfully does egalitarian language resonate in this country, Wilentz points out, that even defenders of slavery relied upon it. (Slavery, they claimed, made white people of all economic classes equal in their freedom.) Down to the Reagan presidency, and even extending to the gross inequalities of today, Republicans do best when they couch their programs for the rich as benefits to the poor. Obama's efforts at post-­partisanship, in Wilentz's view, furthered this idealistic rhetoric of equality: Americans from all walks of life would reason together to find what is common among us.

However important egalitarianism may be, Wilentz continues, only those adept in the skills of politics can do something about actually advancing it.

Wolfe notes a couple books that I perhaps should track down:

  • Nancy L Rosenblum: On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship (2008; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): "pretty much says it all?"
  • Marty Cohen/David Karol/Hans Noel/John Zaller: The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): "No book has been more widely debated in recent campaigns . . . its thesis that party insiders play an outsize role in choosing candidates for president is being challenged in 2016 by Sanders and Trump, but it is also being confirmed by Clinton."

Looking these books up on Amazon suggested a number of related books I wasn't familiar with; e.g.:

  • Matthew Levendusky: The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans (paperback, 2009, University of Chicago Press)
  • Nancy L Rosenblum: Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America (2016, Princeton University Press)

On equality, Wolfe also cites Thomas Pikkety: Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth. I own both, but haven't read either -- just reviews, initially by Paul Krugman.


Oct 2017