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Monday, September 27, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (closed).

Tweet: Music Week: 52 albums, 8 A-list, half new records (many from my new jazz demo queue plus a bit of electronica), half reputable oldies (not my idea of sureshots, but more pleasant surprises than I expected).

Music: Current count 36323 [36271] rated (+52), 207 [220] unrated (-13).

Only four Mondays in September, so the monthly archive (link above) is closed with 188 albums. Breakdown is 77 new music releases, 15 new archival releases, 90 old albums, 5 limited sampling, 1 grade change. This week's albums were split 23-3-26, as I finally took a bite out of my demo queue. Most surprising stat of the month is only 4 new music A-list records (none this week). I have 63 in my 2021 Music Year list, so average so far is close to 8 per month (discounting January, which usually is mop up for the previous year, so first 8 months this year; at that rate, I'll wind up with a bit less than 100 A-list new music albums for the year. That's way down from 156 (+6 post-freeze) in 2020. This year's Tracking File shows 701 new albums (including archival) graded, vs. 1637 in 2020. So my pace for rated records this year is down 35.8% from last year, and my pace for A-list new music is down 39.5%.

I expected my listening to tail off when I decided not to compile a metacritic file this year, so that part is no surprise. I'm a bit surprised that A-list has dropped more than total, as I'm still listening to nearly every well-publicized, well-regarded new album out, but the variance may not count for much. But I'm still listening to a lot of records. I'm just cribbing more from old lists than new ones. The main one I've been using lately is of albums Christgau graded but I haven't. The list is longer, but I've been picking out the A* records -- a big part of the reason so many of these albums hit the spot. This week I scanned from Devo to Go-Betweens -- but wasn't able to find or construct items from Dramarama, Stoney Edwards, Fat Boys, The Fever, Franco, and Go-Betweens (2-CD Spring Hill Fair and The Peel Sessions). I had scanned through this section of the list before, so this time I was checking out things that hadn't appealed to me before. I started off surprised by how much I liked The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified and War on 45 -- two groups I'd never cared for before. (Ferron was another pleasant surprise.)

As I noted below, I've never bought comedy albums, but lately I have wondered whether I might enjoy streaming a few. Christgau reviewed them with some regularity in the early 1970s (but rarely since), so I didn't flinch when Firesign Theatre popped up. Made for a couple unpleasant days -- I do think I got better at hearing them over time, but mostly that just increased my certainty that I don't enjoy them. The few comedy albums I have heard (and some merely heard of) are in my Unclassified file, along with spoken word/poetry, children's music, and a few more things I never managed to classify. I wrote about Lenny Bruce here. Re-reading it, it occurs to me that if I had focused more on politics, I might have wound up more generous to Firesign Theatre (also Credibility Gap, maybe even Month Python).

I will note that while I played everything I could find in this week's section of the file, I did skip Bill Cosby last week. I can compartmentalize with the best of you, but that's one I didn't care to try. Next in my (not Christgau's) file was Redd Foxx, who might still be fun. But I figured I'd had enough for now, and wanted to move on to some music. Go-Betweens. Grateful Dead next.

I've neglected Robert Christgau's website this week. He has two pieces I haven't announced yet: Xgau Sez, and Favorite vs. Best vs. Whatever, on the Rolling Stone song poll. I'll get to that when I'm done here. Maybe I'll add write up my own take on the songs list -- not that I'm sure I can construct a ballot. My idea of singles is still rooted in the era when that's what I listened to on radio (something I rarely did in the 1970s, almost never since -- one time I recall was driving a rental car for hours around Boston in 1984; during that time, only 4 songs I liked came on, Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life" and three by Madonna).

Finished Ed Ward's deeply enjoyable two-volume History of Rock & Roll, only to be disappointed not to be able to turn the page to 1977. Reportedly there is a third volume written, but never published. Finished it late one night and was looking for something to take to bed, when I saw Read This Next shouting off from the shelf. I've often been tempted by meta-books (which is how it got on the shelf in the first place). Not sure whether it's good or bad that I haven't even heard of at least half of the 500 recommended books here. I've only read a few dozen, with a similar number I've seen movies or TV series based on. Probably worth a list.

Jimmy Kimmel runs a bit fairly often with clips of a dozen-plus TV heads declaring "I can't believe that it's already [insert month/season]." Well, I'm having trouble recognizing the end of September, mostly because it hit 94°F again today. I expect the first two weeks to be miserably hot here, but this year it's going down to the wire. I haven't gotten a God damn thing done this month. (Well, other than to have written up 188 records.)


New records reviewed this week:

  • Air Craft: Divergent Path (2021, Craftedair/Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Arab Strap: As Days Get Dark (2021, Rock Action): [r]: B+(**)
  • Baby Queen: The Yearbook (2021, Polydor): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Rose of Lifta (2019 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(*) [10-08]
  • Butcher Brown: #KingButch (2020, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • Butcher Brown: Encore (2021, Concord Jazz, EP): [r]: B
  • George Cables: Too Close for Comfort (2021, HighNote): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mike Cohen: Winter Sun (2021, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Graham Dechter: Major Influence (2018 [2021], Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Satoko Fujii: Piano Music (2021, Libra): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction (2021, ArtistShare): [cd]: B+(**)
  • India Jordan: Watch Out! (2021, Ninja Tune, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Timo Lassy: Trio (2021, We Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Adam Nolan Trio: Prim and Primal (2021, self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Alexis Parsons: Alexis (2021, New Artists): [cd]: B+(**) [10-01]
  • Lukasz Pawlik: Long-Distance Connections (2017-19 [2021], Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Houston Person: Live in Paris (2019 [2021], HighNote): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mauricio J. Rodriguez: Luz (2021, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Petite Fleur (2019-20 [2021], Storyville): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Renee Rosnes: Kinds of Love (2021, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Saint Etienne: I've Been Trying to Tell You (2021, Heavenly): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Sanford Big Band Featuring Hugh Ragin: A Prayer for Lester Bowie (2016 [2021], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Pauline Anna Strom: Angel Tears in Sunlight (2020 [2021], RVNG Intl.): [r]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years (1995-2009 [2021], BMG): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jim Snidero: Strings (2001 [2021], Savant): [cd]: A-
  • Pauline Anna Strom: Trans-Millenia Music (1982-88 [2017], RVNG Intl.): [r]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • 50 Cent: The Massacre (2005, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Credibility Gap: A Great Gift Idea (1973 [1974], Reprise): [r]: B+(*)
  • Devo: Greatest Hits (1977-84 [1990], Warner Bros.): [r]: B+(***)
  • Devo: Greatest Misses (1976-82 [1990], Warner Bros.): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Dismemberment Plan: The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified (1997, DeSoto): [r]: A-
  • The Dismemberment Plan: Change (2001, DeSoto): [r]: B+(**)
  • D.O.A.: War on 45 (1982, Alternative Tentacles, EP): [yt]: A-
  • The Doors: Morrison Hotel (1970, Elektra): [r]: B
  • The Doors: 13 (1967-70 [1970], Elektra): [r]: B+(***)
  • Marianne Faithfull: Come and Stay With Me: The UK 45s 1964-1969 (1964-69 [2018], Ace): [r]: B
  • Marianne Faithfull: Marianne Faithfull's Greatest Hits (1964-69 [1987], Abkco): [r]: B
  • Marianne Faithfull: Faithfull: A Collection of Her Best Recordings (1964-94 [1994], Island): [r]: A-
  • Marianne Faithfull: Vagabond Ways (1999, IT/Virgin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marianne Faithfull: Before the Poison (2005, Anti-): [r]: B
  • Freddy Fender: Canciones De Mi Barrio: Barrio Hits From the 50s and 60s [Roots of Tejano Rock] (1959-64 [1993], Arhoolie): [r]: B+(**)
  • Freddy Fender: The Best of Freddy Fender (1974-77 [1977], Dot): [r]: A-
  • Freddy Fender: Swamp Gold (1978, ABC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ferron: Testimony (1981, Philo): [r]: A-
  • The Firesign Theatre: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (1969, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • The Firesign Theatre: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • The Firesign Theatre: I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus (1971, Columbia): [r]: C+
  • The Firesign Theatre: Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974, Columbia): [yt]: B
  • The Firesign Theatre: Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death (1998, Rhino): [r]: B
  • The Firesign Theatre: Boom Dot Bust (1999, Rhino): [r]: B-
  • The Firesign Theatre: The Bride of Firesign (2001, Rhino): [r]: B-
  • The Go-Betweens: Metal and Shells (1983-84 [1985], PVC): [yt]: A-


Grade (or other) changes:

  • New Millennium Doo Wop Party (1954-61 [2000], Rhino): [cd]: [was: A-] A+


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Eunhye Jeong: Nolda (ESP-Disk)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Which: Much ado over whether a few donors can turn money-minded centrist Democrats into blowing up Biden's presidency, and/or whether a few Republicans filing impeachment articles will doom us all.

I wasn't planning on posting anything this week, but I tweeted after reading the Dougherty article below, and felt like I should expand on that a bit more.

I don't want to get into the weeds over Biden's approval poll dip, or into its associated (all too predictable) politics, but I was rather taken aback by a piece of email I got from something calling itself National Democratic Training Committee. Omitting the poll solicitation and the garish background colors, it looked rather like this:

BAD NEWS: REPUBLICANS CALL FOR PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN TO BE IMPEACHED

President Biden is UNDER ATTACK. Unless we can prove good Democrats are still standing by him, this could spell the END of Joe Biden's presidency.


Republicans are OVER-THE-MOON.

Their baseless calls for Biden's impeachment are working, and now his presidency is on the verge of COLLAPSE.


This is a C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E!!!


But without MASSIVE support from Democrats, Biden's presidency will be doomed.

Biden is working day and night to END the pandemic and SAVE our voting rights . . . while Republicans try to sabotage his presidency???

We must act quickly! Respond before 11:59 PM to give Joe Biden a fighting chance >>

I realize all they're really doing is phishing for donations for their organization (National Democratic Training Committee), which may (or may not) be worthy, but this level of hysteria is totally uncalled for, and counterproductive. Impeachment is a press release, not a practical threat. (Marjorie Taylor Greene filed impeachment articles the day after Biden was inaugurated. Four more Republicans filed articles last week, trying to make political hay out of Afghanistan. Two Texas Republicans added their articles over border policy. Also: Greene's impeachment rant goes off the rails.)

Impeachment cannot possibly proceed, let alone succeed, without significant Democratic defections. Even if the House acted, the Senate would fail to convict, the process would be viewed as purely political, and consequences would be few and far between. Assuming Biden's health holds up, his presidency is secure through 2024, and the only real threat is if Democrats lose Congress in 2022 (which is something that happened to the last two Democratic presidents). But that's still more than a year away, and unless you're running for office then, there's very little you can do about it now, so please chill, and save your energy for when it's needed. Above all, don't panic and back down. Republicans are unhinged, and their devotion to fringe insanity will ultimately undermine them. Don't help them by going insane yourself.


On my Facebook feed, a right-wing relative forwarded this meme:

In the 60s, the KGB did some fascinating psychological experiments.

They learned that if you bombard human subjects with fear messages nonstop, in two months or less most of the subjects are completely brainwashed to believe the false message.

To the point that no amount of clear information they are shown, to the contrary, can change their mind.

My first thought was to respond, "so you're working for the KGB now?" Her personal posts are harmless enough, but in spurts as much as 10-20 times a day she forwards right-wing troll memes, many designed to inculcate fear, others aimed to flatter totems of the right, and all massively mendacious and mean. I've replied to a few, like the one that tried to illustrate the evils of socialism by offering Facebook as an example (as I pointed out, "I think the word you're looking for is capitalism"). But I may have learned something from this one: namely, that the reason Russia's trolls favor the Republicans has less to do with currying favor with their fellow oligarchs than because they've both embraced the same model of psychological manipulation.

Further down, my relative forwarded another meme, which shows a donkey in a chemical protection suit, carrying a tank marked "Center for Democrat Control" and spraying "FEAR" all over. I didn't recognize the donkey at first, so my initial reading was that "FEAR" was being used to control Democrats. No Democrat would label it that; not that they would use "Center for Democratic Control" either, as democracies are opposed to control, but using "Democrat" as an adjective breaks the association of the Party with democracy -- something at least until recently that Republicans had to give lip service to. The donkey spoils the malaproprism, but it underscores how Republicans' worst fears are that Democrats will act just like they do.

It seems like Republicans are flipping on a lot of rhetoric these days, whatever it takes to make their side sound plausible. The big recent one is how vaccine refusal rests simply on "free choice" -- something they deny in their efforts to criminalize abortion.

Another meme: "Right now, TODAY . . . We have the very government our Founding Fathers warned us about." Only thing I can think of there -- at least it's one that was widely discussed at the time -- is the peril of having a standing army.


Carter Dougherty: Senate Democrats Have a Big New Corporate Tax Idea: Democrats want to pass a fairly major public works bill -- top line is advertised as $3.5 trillion over 10 years, which works out to a measly $350 billion/year, well less than half of what the Defense Department costs, but for things that are actually useful and valuable. (For more context, see: Peter Coy: It's Not Really a '$3.5 Trillion' Bill; also: Eric Levitz: $3.5 Trillion Is Not a Lot of Money; and Michael Tomasky: How the Media's Framing of the Budget Debate Favor the Right.) But to get it through the Senate reconciliation process (i.e., around the filibuster), they have to offset that cost with revenue increases. Reversing Trump's corporate income tax giveaway is an obvious candidate, but swing voter Joe Manchin has been balking at anything over 25% (up from 21%, or down from 35%, depending on your perspective). So Bernie Sanders has proposed a compromise, which "would impose a surcharge on corporate income tax if the company paid its CEO 50 times more than what its median employee earns." Dougherty applauds this as "a wildly popular idea just waiting for them." Sounds like a real dumb idea to me. Sure, CEO compensation is ridiculous, but there are more straightforward ways to deal with it: income tax, and you can also limit the deductibility of the corporate expense (since executive bonuses are basically profit-sharing, why not tax them twice, first as profits, then as income?). To raise any significant revenues, the surtax would have to be steep, which puts a lot of emphasis on the pivot point: why 50 times? Doesn't that suggest that CEO pay 40-49 times is OK? You don't have to go back very far to find years when that ratio was not just exceptional but unheard of. This also raises questions about what is CEO compensation (base salary, obviously, but CEOs also routinely get "performance" bonus, stock options, and all sorts of non-salary perks, treated variously). And why just CEOs? Aren't their also issues with COOs, CFOs, CTOs, board members, and others? The whole proposal is simply perverse.

All the more so because there is a simple alternative, one so obvious I'm shocked no one seems to be discussing it: make corporate income tax progressive. It should be easy to pick out brackets and a range of tax rates -- say, from 21% (or less) to 35% (or more). Given the concentration of profits in large companies, one could even lower the tax rate for a majority of corporations while increasing total revenue. Seems like that would be good political messaging. One might object that a progressive profits tax would discriminate against companies that are simply large and/or successful (have high profit margins). That sounds to me like a feature. High profit margins are almost always due to monopoly effects. It's very difficult to break up or even regulate monopolies, especially in marginal cases. Taxing them will make them more tolerable. And if the prospect of higher taxes leads some corporations to spin off parts to tax them separately, that too sounds like a benefit.

There are cases where flat taxes are appropriate, but income/profit taxes aren't one. It's OK to have flat taxes on consumption (sales and excise taxes), because that saves having to identify and qualify the spenders. But income/profit taxes are always identified, and the level is an intrinsic part of what's being taxed. Elsewhere I've proposed a scheme where unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains, gifts, inheritance, prizes) should be taxed at a rate which is progressive over the lifetime sum (see: here and here and here and here). Admittedly, it's fun to tinker with tax schemes, but the real questions are harder, as they turn on what income and what can be deducted. The big problem with corporate income/profit taxes is that many corporations are able to avoid/evade them -- in which case the marginal rate may be moot. On the other hand, it's just those questions that are least transparent and most subject to interest group lobbying. It's very hard to develop a fair tax system when every political office is up for auction, as is the case now.

[PS: A related story: House Bill Would Blow Up the Massive IRAs of the Superwealthy: The rationale behind IRAs is to allow people to postpone paying tax on retirement savings until they need them, at which point their incomes will probably come down, so they'll save a bit when they have to pay tax on their withdrawals. However, Peter Thiel (to take just one example) has used this loophole to shelter $5 billion. The proposal is to limit tax-sheltered savings to $20 million, which is still pretty generous.]

Anne Kim: A Case for a Smaller Reconciliation Bill: Of all the sources I read regularly, Washington Monthly has been consistently defending the more conservative Democrats in their efforts to go slow and small (if they have to go at all). I don't particularly agree with them, but I'm not especially bothered as well. I'd like to pocket a few real (even if ultimately inadequate) gains as soon as possible, like the "bipartisan" infrastructure bill and the whittled-down Manchin-approved fragment of the $3.5 trillion reconstruction package. Pass those and you can go into 2022 with a message that you've already produced important, tangible gains -- things that were never even attempted when Trump was president -- and all you need to do more is get more Democrats elected. As this piece advises: "Take a longer view, with a strategy and tactics geared toward building a sustainable governing majority." On the other hand, while I can see the centrists' impulse to take things gradually, they need to decide which side they're on, and act accordingly. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

PS: Seth Myers recently pointed out that Democrats in Congress are divided into three groups: progressives, moderates, and "Republicans" -- cue picture of Manchin (Follow the Money Into Joe Manchin's Pockets) and Sinema (Kyrsten Sinema Is Corporate Lobbies' Million-Dollar Woman). By the way, Steve M. has a theory about conservative/corrupt Democrats like Manchin and Sinema: No, Mr. Bond, They Expect the Democratic Party to Die:

I don't think she cares. She's being sweet-talked by corporate interests who've undoubtedly made it clear that whatever happens to her in the future, she'll never go hungry. She'll be taken care of if she carries out a hit on Biden and the rest of the Democrats. So she knows she has nothing to fear. She'll be fine.

This country is in deep trouble because even people who should know better can't grasp how dangerous the Republican Party is -- and it's also in deep trouble because of a failure to understand the stranglehold corporate America has on our politics. We need to see Republicans and the rich as the enemies of ordinary Americans. And we need to recognize that the damage the rich do isn't always done by means of the GOP.

By the way, I noticed that the former right-wing of the Democratic Senate, Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp, have been in the news recently, appearing as paid corporate lobbyists against the Biden bill, so the notion that Manchin and Sinema will, in cue course, dutifully lose their seats and wind up making more money lobbying, isn't at all far-fetched.

For more on this, see Krugman, below.

Ezra Klein: The Economic Mistake the Left Is Finally Confronting: Interesting article, although the title doesn't do it any favors. The "Left" is Biden's economic team, and the "Economic Mistake" is, well, what? Arthur Laffer-style "supply side" gimmickry? Opposition to same? Does it matter? The point is that they're looking not only at increasing demand (by government spending, plus putting more money into the hands of workers and the poor) but also at supply-side bottlenecks, hoping to limit friction that could produce inflation. Of course, one big item there (infrastructure) works both ways, which is why investments in infrastructure and education have such big returns. Klein cites two papers, one on the problem: Cost Disease Socialism (an even worse title) from the "center-right" Niskanen Center; and one on the solution: An Antidote for Inflationary Pressure by Biden advisers Jared Bernstein and Ernie Tedeschi. I'd add a few more points. Antitrust enforcement would help eliminate supply bottlenecks, by encouraging more companies to exist and add capacity. Eliminating patents and limiting other forms of "intellectual property" would prevent many monopolies from forming. And while government can encourage private companies to form and invest by guaranteeing future purchases, it could be more efficient to directly fund new ventures.

Paul Krugman: Are Centrists in the Thrall of Right-Wing Propaganda? Republicans are predictably acting out as nihilists, but:

More surprising, at least to me, has been the self-destructive behavior of Democratic centrists -- a term I prefer to "moderates," because it's hard to see what's moderate about demanding that Biden abandon highly popular policies like taxing corporations and reducing drug prices. At this point it seems all too possible that a handful of recalcitrant Democrats will blow up the whole Biden agenda -- and yes, it's the centrists who are throwing a tantrum, while the party's progressives are acting like adults.

So what's motivating the sabotage squad? Part of the answer, I'd argue, is that they have internalized decades of right-wing economic propaganda, that their gut reaction to any proposal to improve Americans' lives is that it must be unworkable and unaffordable.

Well, right-wing propaganda for sure, which includes the occasional nod to economists like Hayek and Friedman, although these days they rarely bother with rationalizations for their political preferences when shouting them louder will do. Keynes, who like Krugman held his occupation in exceptionally high regard, famously derided political opponents as "slaves of some defunct economist," but the less-quoted continuation is more true today: "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." Or for every stupid idea in circulation today, you can find some past "thinker" who articulated it first. (Sure, this is just a variation on one of my old aperçus: that every bad idea in Western thought can be traced back to some Greek.)

It's mind-boggling to recall this now, but back in the 1990s Reagan Republicans were widely regarded not just as crafty politicians but as serious thinkers. Not that the "Laffer curve" survived much more than the few months when it was useful for selling the Reagan tax cuts, but the idea was propagated so widely that some Democrats started buying into it, which is how we got Clinton and Obama -- Democrats who raked in huge donations on the promise that they could do more for the wealthy than even the Republicans could. That idea lost its lustre during the Obama years, and especially with Hillary Clinton's loss to Trump. But it's recent enough that it's no surprise that there are still Democrats trying to make the "Reagan Era" Clinton-Obama model working -- the one they've been fairly successful at for their own political careers. Besides, nothing has been done to reform the system that allows the rich to dominate elections and smother elected officials with lobby interests.

Indeed, the real surprise is that Biden, who followed the Reagan Era's zeitgeist as uncritically as anyone, and who was the overwhelming choice of the Clinton-Obama legacy minders in 2020 (at least once every other right-center candidate had been eliminated), should have broken the mold as definitively as he has. I attribute that to two things: one is that politics has ceased to be simply a vehicle for office-seekers to advance their careers on -- voters have started to demand services and representation, which means that Democrats have to consider more than their donors; and the other is that most serious thinking about practical solutions to increasingly dire real problems is concentrated on the left these days.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 41 albums, 4 A-list, typical week, not much to say about it.

Music: Current count 36271 [36230] rated (+41), 220 [231] unrated (-11).

I have nothing much to say about music (or anything else) this week. Lots of things been getting me down, although I had a respite over the weekend when niece Rachel came for a visit. I managed to come up with one decent Chinese, then totally blew my attempt at maqluba (rice never cooked; I've made it successfully before, but can't find the picture).

Only things I did manage to write during the week were a few Facebook rants, which I collected in the notebook.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Eivind Aarset 4tet: Phantasmagoria, or a Different Kind of Journey (2021, Jazzland): [cd]: B+(***) [09-24]
  • Adult Mom: Driver (2020 [2021], Epitaph): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lauren Alaina: Sitting Pretty on Top of the World (2021, Mercury Nashville): [r]: B-
  • Bomba Estéreo: Deja (2021, Sony Music Latin): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Bug: Fire (2021, Ninja Tune): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marc Cary: Life Lessons (2020 [2021], Sessionheads United): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Charley Crockett: Music City USA (2021, Son of Davy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sasha Dobson: Girl Talk (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chet Doxas: You Can't Take It With You (2019 [2021], Whirlwind): [cd]: B+(**) [09-24]
  • Gerry Eastman Trio: Trust Me (2021, self-released): [cd]: B+(*) [10-01]
  • Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound: The Other Shore (2020 [2021], Outnote): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Family Plan: Family Plan (2020 [2021], Endectomorph Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Alon Farber: Hagiga: Reflecting on Freedom (2020 [2021], Origin): [cd]: B
  • The Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust (2021, Yep Roc): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gordon Grdina/Jim Black: Martian Kitties (2020 [2021], Astral Spirits): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Lyle Mays: Eberhard (2020 [2021], self-released, EP): [cd]: B
  • Aakash Mittal: Nocturne (2018 [2021], self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Kacey Musgraves: Star-Crossed (2021, MCA Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Within Us: Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge (2021, MAMA/Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone (2021, Big Machine): [r]: A-
  • The Scenic Route Trio: Flight of Life (2021, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States (2021, Joyful Noise): [r]: B+(*)
  • Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell: Streams (2018 [2021], Not Two): [cd]: B+(***) [10-15]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Sheila Jordan: Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (1960 [2021], Capri): [cd]: B+(***) [09-27]
  • What Goes On: The Songs of Lou Reed (1967-2019 [2021], Ace): [dl]: A-

Old music:

  • Eivind Aarset: Électronique Noire (1998, Jazzland): [r]: A-
  • Eivind Aarset's Électronique Noire: Light Extracts (2001, Jazzland): [r]: B+(***)
  • Eivind Aarset: Connected (2004, Jazzland): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eivind Aarset: Sonic Codex (2007, Jazzland): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eivind Aarset & the Sonic Codex Orchestra: Live Extracts (2010, Jazzland): [r]: B+(**)
  • Autosalvage: Autosalvage (1968, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gene Chandler: The Duke of Earl (1962, Vee-Jay): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gene Chandler: The Girl Don't Care (1967, Brunswick): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Chi-Lites: (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People (1971, Brunswick): [yt]: A-
  • Carly Pearce: Carly Pearce (2018-19 [2020], Big Machine): [r]: B
  • Carly Pearce: 29 (2021, Big Machine, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Puss N Boots: No Fools, No Fun (2013 [2014], Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Puss N Boots: Sister (2020, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Air Craft: Divergent Path (Craftedair/Blujazz) [07-15]
  • Mike Cohen: Winter Sun (Blujazz)
  • Graham Dechter: Major Influence (Capri) [09-17]
  • Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Petite Fleur (Storyville) [09-24]

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Daily Log

Josi forwarded a Facebook meme, a picture of a guy, his hand on the shoulder of a boy, both in overalls, and a dog, standing in a wheat field gazing into a bright yellow and red sunset, with the caption: "I MISS THE AMERICA I GREW UP IN." Kathy Peck commented, "Me too . . . a lot . . ." My reaction:

I don't. I feel lucky to have gotten out alive. I won't deny that some things have gotten worse, but they're mostly extended consequences of problems we didn't understand or appreciate way back then.

Josi replied:

I agree with you Tom. I just wish there was more honesty and more compassion.

My rejoinder:

That's polarization for you. Some people these days are more honest and more compassionate than ever before, often without the snootiness and hypocrisy common among liberals of the 1950s & 1960s. On the other hand, there's Donald Trump, who would have been as fringe back then as Ayn Rand and George Lincoln Rockwell, but who commands a sizable (and shameless) public following today. That's clearly one thing that's gotten worse in my lifetime, but I feel a lot less alienated and isolated now than when I was growing up.

A couple days ago Marianne Pyeatt forwarded a Facebook meme: "Facebook is a PERFECT example of socialism. You get it for free. You have no say in how it works. The guy who runs it is rich. You have NO privacy, AND if you say one thing they don't like, they shut you up . ." I commented: "I think the word you're looking for is 'capitalism.'" Then someone replied to my comment:

Trump proved you wrong, he doesn't care how money you make, he would Not shut you or anyone else up, but if you check the liberals record: They are ready to shut anyone up who doesn't see their point of view!!! Proven, even they have brought into the news media to help with this agenda.

My riposte:

To go back to the original post, Facebook is a profit-seeking corporation, a very successful one, at least judging from the $30 billion in profits they've made over the last 3 quarters. To say "you get it for free" misses everything about it. You pay for it by producing free content, by revealing personal information about yourself (and your "friends"), and by spending time looking at their highly targeted advertising. Like most capitalists, the owners are rich (and mostly concerned with getting richer), they have control over their business, and they're free to reject content they don't like (not that they work very hard at it; they depend on "AI" algorithms -- artificial stupidity is more like it). The meaning (or focus) of socialism has changed over the years, but however you define it, Facebook is not an example. As for the Huett comment, the only thing Trump has proven is that if you're born to it, one can be obscenely rich without having any real skills, intelligence, or social cares. In my experience, the right is far more censorious than the left (or liberal, a distinction you don't seem to make). For instance, when Trump became president, he sought to purge all government websites of all mention of climate change, and he imposed all sorts of "gag orders" on government workers. It's worth noting that the original "gag order" was a law passed to prevent anyone in Congress from criticizing slavery -- which I would have thought was a settled issue by now, but the thrust of current right-wing efforts to ban "critical race theory" is the same.

Cale Siler posted a picture of a school classroom (although it's rather open) with two posters, one with six horizontal color bars (rainbow coalition?), the other with "BLACK LIVES MATTER." His words: "If God isn't allowed in schools, this shouldn't be either." Neither attacks, even mildly or indirectly, God. Here's the only substantive comment:

Leftism=Marxism, the fastest growing religion across our country and the modern western countries. It is a rabid obsession of the over educated high IQ fools with no Wisdom who lust for absolute Power and the very low IQ who are jealous and want to be lazy and steal everything from the productive.

I didn't post an answer: just too many errors there to try to straighten out in what's bound to become a flame war. I did jot the following down:

Your "want to be lazy and steal everything from the productive" line sounds like the Marxist critique of capitalists, who "appropriate surplus value" from labor. That's one of many insights from Marx and other thinkers who followed his thinking, but it seems unlikely that the number of self-identified Marxists has increased in the last 50 years, partly because the Leninist/Maoist reduction of Marx's theories on class struggle and revolution have fared so poorly, partly because non-Marxist thinkers (like John Maynard Keynes) have developed insights into how capitalism can be managed and reformed to provide greater and more universal general welfare. In any case, Marxism was never a dogma (much less a religion), based as it was on the fundamental notions of questioning all authority and learning through science and reason.

On the other hand, leftism (very generally considered) does indeed appear to be gaining ground, something that has much more to do with the obvious atrocities and disasters created and spread by pretty much everyone right-of-center. The core difference between right and left is that people on the right believe that there is a economic and social order that favors some people over others (typically: rich over poor, masters over servants, bosses over workers, police over citizens, the church over believers over non-believers, fathers over family, whites over non-whites, natives over immigrants), and that the privileged can and should use force to maintain their superiority, while people on the left believe that everyone deserves to be treated the same, with respect and dignity, even if that can only be accomplished by public supply of goods and/or services. There's not much more to it, but this single key difference is often expressed in opposite terms. For example, both sides can define their stance in terms of freedom, but for the right freedom is for the privileged to act with few constraints (the unprivileged are by definition unfree, but that is of no concern as long as the betters are not inconvenienced). On the other hand, the left is concerned with freedom from the oppression and prerogatives of the privileged (which pretty much negates the purpose of privilege), as well as freedom from material needs. As you can see, both sides fear the freedom of the other: that seems to be where the "lust for absolute power" line comes from, although no leftist has any such lust -- indeed, most see power as the enemy (as it is typically used by the right to protect privilege).

Most people tacitly agree with the principle of equality, but that isn't what's driving the growth of the left. The driving force is the increasing danger of the right. Some of this is old hat: in order to protect the privileged class(es), it's critical to break people up into distinct and hostile groups. Republicans have been doing this at least since Nixon's "southern strategy," claiming ownership of identities like white, male, native, rural (guns help here), Christian, patriotic, even non-union working class, the constituent parts of Kevin Phillips' "Emerging Republican Majority." Backed by the moneyed few, with their "think tanks" and propaganda media, that formula has served them well, but it's wearing thin. For one thing, it's been intensified through the logic of its rhetoric -- I blame some of this on Thomas Frank, for showing how Republicans routinely shortchange their base in favor of their moneybags, but it's probably more due to the rise of demagogues like Trump (a blotter who soaks up and spreads toxicity). For another, it's actively creating more enemies than it can win against -- at least without cheating. Finally, Republicans have built up a horrifying track record. While the media has cut them a lot of slack, more and more people are wising up to the damage they've been causing.

I could say more about right vs. left, but will leave it there for now. The rainbow thing (if that's what it is) doesn't mean much to me, but there's something most people on the right simply refuse to acknowledge about Black Lives Matter: it's a direct reaction to specific events when police or vigilantes kill black citizens, usually with callous disregard for human (or at least black human) life. No one is saying that black lives matter more than other lives, but we are saying that it this instance, someone needs to be reminded that black lives do matter. The protests associated with Black Lives Matter are a form of self-defense and of education, and are probably the most constructive way to do either. It is always going to be difficult to train police to discipline themsmelves to stop killing people, but the certainty that people will protest and apply political pressure at least in the most egregious police killings will hopefully act as a deterrent, resulting in fewer killings. And make no mistake: these protests are only triggered by a small number of police killings (several dozen times in recent years, as opposed to the 1,000 or so total police killings each year).

Art Protin posted a quote from Dwight D Eisenhower:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clousd of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

I've run across that quote before. I commented:

Economists call this "opportunity cost." There was a famous book called "Economics in One Lesson," but John Quiggin realized it failed to explain opportunity costs, so he wrote "Economics in Two Lessons." It's easy to overlook opportunity costs, because they're the road not taken, the option not exercised, their very possibility a mere fleeting thought. They don't occur to you until you reach the end of the road you did take, until you run out of options, and vaguely recall that you could have done something different. Opportunity costs are the abyss that eventually swallows you. Trump did a lot of bad things in the last four years, but they pale compared to four years utterly squandered on complete nonsense, even as decades of previous bad choices became impossible to ignore.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 36 albums, 9 A-list, an intro on the Attica anniversary, also a suicide watch for the nation, plus notes on the week's listening, from Lithuania to New Orleans, with a side helping of the late Jemeel Moondoc.

Music: Current count 36230 [36194] rated (+36), 231 [230] unrated (+1).

Today is the 50th anniversary of the massacre at Attica Prison in western upstate New York, ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who managed to have almost twice as many people killed as his grandfather John D. Rockefeller did in Ludlow. This is all documented in the HBO Max film Betrayal at Attica. Amy Goodman did a feature on Attica today, drawing most of her visuals from the film (with a lot of blurring and bleeping): see here and here. Also, here's a 2:14 clip just of Michael Hull's summation at the end of the show.

I wrote a fair bit about Attica in Friday's Speaking of Which. Also on the journey from 9/11 to the end of the road in Afghanistan -- or what should be the end, unless they decide to further indulge their neuroses and keep fucking with the country long after the troops left and their delusions were shattered. As you can still see in Korea, nobody holds a grudge as long or as obsessively as the U.S. of A. I wrote more on this in a bonus Sunday Speaking of Which. I think it's fair to say that America is on "suicide watch" now. Unless people definitively reject this Republican talking point bullshit, the country is doomed.[1]

Here's one example from today's news: Blinken pledges $64 million in aid to Afghanistan, vows to circumvent Taliban. This is a pittance compared to the billions of Afghan funds the US froze when the Taliban came to power, reminding us that the US would always put political considerations above the welfare of the Afghan people. This may feel like an end-run around the Taliban, but NGOs will only be tolerated in Afghanistan as long as they help stabilize the Taliban government. Blinken appears before Congress today to get savaged by Republicans for surrendering to the Taliban, so he'll be pushed to act tough and resolute, at a time when the US really needs to show some remorse, and some modesty.

[1]: Virtually everything that Biden gets slammed for these days is the culmination of problems that festered during the Trump reign. Which isn't to say that previous administrations, including Obama's, weren't also culpable, but things really go to hell when you put a Republican in charge. Covid-19, the pandemic-cratered economy, the disaster climate, and Afghanistan are prime examples. Deregulation, pollution, inequality, monopolies, racism are slower burn disasters, but all advanced significantly under Trump (as they did under Reagan and the Bushes, not that Clinton or Obama made any heroic efforts otherwise). But as costly as its direct acts were, the biggest charge against the Trump administration may turn out to be the squandering of four years. Economists call this opportunity costs, and they may wind up being staggering. That climate has moved from a long-term to an everyday concern shows how seemingly inconsequential delays can add up until they turn catastrophic.


Although I harbor an optimistic streak that leads me to repeatedly suggest ways the US could learn from its failures, I suspect that Nesrin Malik is right in Why the west will learn no lessons from the fall of Kabul:

The fall of Kabul will be another missed opportunity to reflect on a default setting of retaliate in haste and retreat at leisure. You will instead hear a lot in the media about what this says about us, about the fall or "defeat" of the west -- always the main character in the tragedy that has befallen only others. There will be more in the fine tradition of oratory in the British parliament that flourishes with the moral purpose of intervention, and you will hear a lot about betrayal of Afghan women. But you will hear little from those establishments about the reality of a war that, in the end, from Sudan to Iraq to Afghanistan, was about high-profile revenge enacted on low-profile soft targets. It was not about ending terror, or freeing women, but demonstrating Infinite Reach.


Rated count is down this week, although if you count the Braxton box as 13 and the Futterman as 5, the rated total would hit 52. Took me most of the week to work through Braxton, but it was great fun, and I was pretty clear what I wanted to say about it midway. The Futterman box was a closer call, and it almost certainly helped to have the actual CDs and box on hand. For many years I considered 30 records to be a banner week, but this year I've been streaming to a lot of old music, which building on prior knowledge takes fewer replays and less attention. Last week I noticed that Napster had Vol. 2 and 3 of Roy Milton in the "Legends of Specialty" series, so this week I decided to check out everything else in the series I had missed. Again, I heartily recommend the first volumes of Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Art Neville, Lloyd Price, and Little Richard. I especially love Specialty's Creole Kings of New Orleans, so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to its Volume Two. It's not as good, but makes me wonder why they never put out a Professor Longhair comp.

Christgau reviewed More Girl Group Greats in his September Consumer Guide (a B+). It's not on Napster, but I had no trouble constructing a playlist with everything, and decided not to be so picky. Very little in this CG I hadn't heard before: the Leroy Carr is one of three I know (all A-). I dismissed recent records by Lucy Dacus, Front Bottoms, Dylan Hicks, and Tune-Yards with various B/B+ grades, but agree with the A- for James McMurtry. I remember checking out the 2011 Front Bottoms album after Jason Gross EOY-listed it, and thought it was pretty good, though maybe a little slick. I haven't had much interest in even the catchier alt/indie bands since Christgau took me to a Sloan/Fountains of Wayne show I found totally boring, so the group is much more up his alley than mine (even if it took him longer to get to it). But I suppose I should replay the new one, and maybe some of the in-betweeners. But I'm really sick of Tune-Yards by now.

The other new stuff this week mostly comes out of a Facebook list from Sidney Carpenter-Wilson, plus some related discussion. Dan Weiss seems to really like the Turnstile album, but I have no idea why. The one I probably should have given a second spin to is YSL -- some very catchy stuff toward the end.

Alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc died last week. Most sources have him born in 1951, but the first obituary says he was 76 when he died (then gives Aug. 5, 1946 as his birth date, which works out to 75). I had two of his records listed as A-: New World Pygmies (2000) and Live at Glenn Miller Café Vol. 1 (2002), so I felt like checking out some more things. Much to my chagrin, the records on Eremite Bandcamp are only available as fragments, but I felt like checking out what I could, under "limited sampling" below.

I should note that jazz impressario George Wein has died, at 95. I don't have anything personal to add about Wein (or for that matter broadcaster Phil Schaap, who died a couple days ago), but I was touched by Matt Merewitz's exclamation, "What a life!" Actually, I do have one thing on Schaap: Liz Fink, who generally didn't do that sort of thing, used to do a hilarious impression of Schaap.

One more housekeeping item. When I wanted to make a generic reference to Music Week above, I wished I had some way to just pull out the Music Week blog entries. I thought about writing a new program, then it occurred to me that I could just add a little argument hack to my regular script. I did, and added the link to the nav menu under Blog, upper left, as well as a couple other titles I've used repeatedly.

Moved into the second volume of Ed Ward's History of Rock & Roll.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Benny the Butcher: Pyrex Picasso (2021, Rare Scrilla/BSF, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Eric Bibb: Dear America (2021, Provogue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Standards) 2020 (2020 [2021], New Braxton House, 13CD): [bc]: A-
  • Chubby and the Gang: The Mutt's Nuts (2021, Partisan): [r]: B+(**)
  • Homeboy Sandman: Anjelitu (2021, Mello Music Group, EP): [r]: A-
  • Mushroom: Songs of Dissent: Live at the Make Out Room 8/9/19 (2019 [2021], Alchemikal Artz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Polo G: Hall of Fame (2021, Columbia/Only Dreamers Achieve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sturgill Simpson: The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (2021, High Top Mountain, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cleo Sol: Mother (2021, Forever Living Originals): [r]: B+(***)
  • Turnstile: Glow On (2021, Roadrunner): [r]: B+(*)
  • We Are the Union: Ordinary Life (Bad Time): [r]: B+(*)
  • Young Stoner Life/Young Thug/Gunna: Slime Language 2 (2021, YSL/300 Entertainment): [r]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Marshall Crenshaw: The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw: Live in the 20th and 21st Century (1983-2018 [2021], Sunset Blvd., 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joel Futterman: Creation Series (2008 [2021], NoBusiness, 5CD): [cd]: A-
  • Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Detail-90 (1990 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971-88 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-

Old music:

  • Childish Gambino: Because the Internet (2013, Glassnote): [r]: B-
  • Creole Kings of New Orleans: Volume Two (1950-58 [1993], Specialty): [r]: A-
  • Floyd Dixon: Marshall Texas Is My Home (1953-57 [1991], Specialty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Paul Gayten & Annie Laurie/Dave Bartholomew/Roy Brown: Regal Records in New Orleans (1949-51 [1991], Specialty): [r]: B+(**)
  • Guitar Slim: Sufferin' Mind (1953-55 [1991], Specialty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Camille Howard: Vol. 1: Rock Me Daddy (1947-52 [1993], Specialty): [r]: A-
  • Camille Howard: Vol. 2: X-Temporaneous Boogie (1947-52 [1996], Specialty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tommy James: The Very Best of Tommy James & the Shondells (1964-71 [1993], Rhino): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy: Vol. 2: Rough Weather Blues (1947-53 [1992], Specialty): [r]: A-
  • Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers: Vol. 2: Dipper's Blues (1950-54 [1992], Specialty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Percy Mayfield: Vol. 2: Memory Pain (1950-57 [1992], Specialty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jemeel Moondoc: Muntu Recordings (1975-79 [2009], NoBusiness, 3CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Jemeel Moondoc Trio: Judy's Bounce (1981 [1982], Soul Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jemeel Moondoc Sextet: Konstanze's Delight (1981 [1983], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jemeel Mooncoc: The Zookeeper's House (2013 [2014], Relative Pitch): [bc]: A-
  • Jemeel Moondoc & Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickelodeon (2015 [2016], Relative Pitch): [bc]: B+(**)
  • More Girl Group Greats (1958-66 [2001], Rhino): [r]: A-
  • Lloyd Price: Vol. 2: Heavy Dreams (1952-56 [1993], Specialty): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Turner/Smilin' Smokey Lynn/Big Maceo/H-Bomb Ferguson: Shouting the Blues (1949-53 [1992], Specialty): [r]: B+(**)
  • T-Bone Walker/Guitar Slim/Lawyer Houston/Al King/Ray Agee/R.S. Rankin: Texas Guitar: From Dallas to L.A. (1950-64 [1972], Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

  • Jemeel Moondoc With Dennis Charles: We Don't (1981 [2003], Eremite): [bc]: +
  • Jemeel Moondoc Quintet: Nostalgia in Times Square (1985 [1986], Soul Note): [r]: ++
  • Jemeel Moondoc & the Jus Grew Orchestra: Spirit House (2000, Eremite): [bc]: ++
  • Jemeel Moondoc Vtet: Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys (2000 [2001], Eremite): [bc]: +
  • Jemeel Moondoc Quartet: The Astral Revelations (2016, RogueArt): [sc]: + [sc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Whit Dickey/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Village Mothership (Tao Forms) [10-15]
  • Irene Jalenti: Dawn (Antidote Sounds) [10-29]
  • Alexis Parsons: Alexis (New Artists) [10-01]
  • Mauricio J. Rodriguez: Luz (self-released) [07-09]
  • Matthew Shipp: Codebreaker (Tao Forms) [11-05]

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Which: Further thoughts on 9/11 and the graveyard of empire in Afghanistan, the linkages Republicans think they can beat Joe Biden with, and the hope that most people will finally see through their bad faith and vicious lies.

The real deluge of 9/11 anniversary/memorabilia articles didn't hit until Saturday, a day after I published my Speaking of Which roundup, so I missed a few that were worthy of reference and/or argument. Plus, I always have second thoughts the day or two after a post. A comment forum might be a good place for them, but that hasn't been practical. Sometimes I add a "PS" section, or a bit more often I might sneak a few extra comments into the next Monday's Music Week, but the former is rarely noticed, and the latter often missed. But this seems worthy of its own post.

I have one key point to make here, so let's make it bold: We've gotten used to living in a world where rhetoric routinely wins over facts and logic. If that's still true, Joe Biden has just walked into a trap which will destroy his presidency and his party. Unless, that is, people accord the Republicans no credibility and see through the trap. One hint that they might comes from Jennifer Rubin's column: Biden delivers straight talk -- and wins kudos.

Republicans are up in arms over vaccine mandates everywhere, and Biden has just taken ownership of that political issue, which only makes them more furious and frenzied. Why exactly Republicans have chosen to get so worked up over this issue -- defending the "right" of individuals to infect and possibly kill their fellow citizens -- strains credulity, especially given their relentless attack on so many other fundamental rights (like the right to decide when and if to become parents). Maybe they've become risk junkies? (That would be consistent with their guns fetish.) Or maybe it's just that having crafted so much of their political rhetoric to appeal to the dumbest and most gullible citizens, they are not being led by their patsies. (No one illustrates this better than Donald Trump.)

Rubin also praises Biden for fighting back against the Texas SB 8 law, which attempts to ban abortion by deputizing vigilantes to sue "offenders" for bounties. (By the way, that law got me wondering, why don't blue states pass a law which lays the basis for people who got Covid-19 to sue any unvaccinated people they came in contact with during the incubation period. That would be a bad law, for many of the same reasons SB 8 is, but at least those who got sick have a valid case for standing. The change is that instead of having to prove transmission and intent, you'd be able to base the suit on simple negligence.)

But I had a second "trap" in mind. This is the bald assertion that in withdrawing US troops, Biden "surrendered to the Taliban," and is usually accompanied by intimations of treason. I first ran across this in a column by the odious Marc Thiessen: Biden has no business setting foot at Ground Zero on the anniversary of 9/11, and I've seen it a bunch of times since. Thiessen's political agenda is obvious from his recent run of columns: Greenlighting the Taliban's takeover of Kabul is a national disgrace; Our military's sacrifice in Afghanistan was not in vain; and Biden's Afghan retreat has done irreparable damage to our alliances. The middle one of this series is the most repugnant, not least because it's the most dishonest. It is a line that every apologist for every war utters sooner or later as the toll mounts while the fantasies of glory fade. Even if the only things you ever read about the war are by shameless propagandists like Thiessen, all a sane person can deduce is that the cause is lost, if indeed there ever was a cause at all.

Of course, it's a bare-faced lie to say that Biden "surrendered" to the Taliban, or even that he passively "greenlighted the Taliban takeover." The negotiations spared the US from fighting the Taliban for over a year (during which US casualties in Afghanistan dropped to zero), while the Kabul government and military appeared to be holding its own. I always hated those "training wheels" metaphors, but at some point the US had to let go and see if the Kabul army could stand on its own. We now know that it couldn't, and that the collapse came from within, as most of a mercenary army hired by the US had no principled will to fight against the Taliban.

If Biden made a mistake, it was in not withdrawing sooner. The Kabul government was supposed to negotiate some kind of power-sharing framework with the Taliban, but cynically figured the Americans would be stuck as long as they held out, but they didn't really any other angle: just steal as much as they could, then clear out. Meanwhile, the Taliban did negotiate, with everyone else, allowing them to isolate and ignore Ghani, who wound up fleeing even before the last Americans left. Even if Biden was willing to side with the hawks and send troops back in, it's inconceivable the US could recover from this setback. More likely, the US would eventually have to fight its way back out, like the British in 1842.

The US war effort in Afghanistan has long survived on the fumes of denialism and magical thinking. It was the height of arrogance and vanity to think that a mission conceived as revenge and meant to be so horrifying it would deter further terrorist acts would ultimately be embraced by the Afghan people as a great venture in humanitarianism. Those fumes continue to intoxicate the hawks, whose last refuge is to blame their systemic failures on politicians like Biden, who finally found the courage to stand up to their delusions.

What remain to be seen is whether Biden and the hawkish elements of his own party -- forget the Republicans, who are proving themselves to be terminably stupid on this count -- can learn the lesson of failure in Afghanistan and back out of the entire "forever war" posture. The first indications are not promising, as Biden seems to have embraced an "over-the-horizon" strategy for killing "terror suspects" without having local bases. The problem here is not simply that bombing remote locations recruits more "terrorists" than it kills (partly because most of the people killed aren't terrorists by any sane definition). (How many of you remember that Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan three years before 9/11?) The other problem is that by disrespecting the sovereignty of the Taliban, the US will preclude any possibility of enjoying a normal relationship with Afghanistan, or of the Afghan people interacting constructively with the world. If the great fear is that Afghanistan may someday harbor a group that tries to attack the US -- as it did with Al-Qaeda -- the dumbest thing we could do is to use sanctions and subversion to turn them into more desperate enemies.

Yet this is exactly what we are seeing the foundation being laid for. For instance, the Washington Post editorial (i.e., not just the rantings of its token right-wingers like Thiessen and George Will): The Taliban shows what it means by 'inclusive.' The time for American wishful thinking is over. It's frightfully easy for Americans of all political stripes to malign the Taliban -- after all, that's been the official US propaganda line for close to 25 years. The Post also published Hamid Mir's I met Osama bin Laden three times. I'm sorry to say his story isn't over. The concrete recommendations in these pieces are actually pretty lame, which makes me wonder why try to be hostile just to make yourself feel better about losing?

The Post also published 6 former secretaries of defense: We must memorialize the fallen in the global war on terrorism. The only thing I want to hear from this sextet is their guilty pleas before a war crimes tribunal. This doesn't quite qualify as something more to charge them with, but it does say something about their character. In particular, their term "sacred war dead" strips humanity from the unfortunate souls whose lives were so cynically squandered by political opportunists and turns them into war fetishes -- really just a gilting of Thiessen's "not in vain" con. But also, it attempts to merge and sanctify the whole Global War on Terror schemata. I might be more sympathetic if I thought said war was over and done with, but it was designed to run forever, and so its monument is something that we'd bound to feed indefinitely.

I've long been stuck by the wisdom of a quote from Henry Stimson (FDR's Secretary of War during WWII, a period when the US depended on a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union): "The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way you can make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him." We might argue about whether the Taliban deserves our trust (or whether they should trust us), but the only way this situation ever gets better is if we bury the hatchet. We don't need to flatter them, nor them us. But we do need to recognize that it isn't our right or duty to pick their leaders or dictate their policies. And we also need to admit that we've believed in and tried to enforce that sort of interference for way too long. The US doesn't need to disengage from the world, but Americans do need to give up thinking they have a right to tell everyone else how to live. As recent history has shown, we don't even have the good sense to direct our own affairs.

I've digressed, but just to underscore how profoundly malignant this week's Republican talking points have become. The question, again, is will people fall for them. No doubt the Republican base will, as they've proven they'll fall for anything. But why should anyone else believe anything Republicans say? As one who doesn't, I can't answer that. But our future depends on the answer.


Notes on a few more scattered pieces. I don't have much to say about vaccine mandates, other than that the extreme communicability and relative peril of Covid-19 means that those who refuse to get vaccinated are recklessly endangering more lives than their own, and are showing utter disregard for the lives and well-being of others (as well as doubtful intelligence). I see no reason to credit such people with an ounce of the patriotism many see as their natural claim (nor is that the only political stance I see discredited by their refusal). I'm not in favor of forcing people to do things they find abhorrent, and I'm inclined to go light on enforcement, but I have no respect or sympathy for them.

Andrew J Bacevich: A modest proposal: Fire all of the post 9/11 generals; also Don't let the generals dictate the war's legacy, make them answer for it [July 23]. If you think he may be being harsh, consider this interview with Petraeus: "Q: How do you think the situation in Afghanistan ended up where it is today? A: It started with the Trump Administration . . . I just think it was premature to leave."

Jason Bailey: '25th Hour': The Best 9/11 Movie Was Always About New York. I mention this because I know Bailey (and felt like giving him a link) -- he moved to New York from my home town, Wichita -- and I listened to his podcast on 9/11 and the film (where Mike Hull, who also moved from Wichita to New York, has a good disquisition on what New York was like immediately after 9/11). But I barely recall seeing the Spike Lee movie.

Dartagnan: Republicans vow to prolong the COVID-19 pandemic as long as possible: A Daily Kos contributor, sums up the Republican reaction to Biden's mask mandate without mincing words. Much like Mitch McConnell strove to extend the recession Obama inherited in hopes voters would blame Obama, it isn't too far fetched that Republicans see Covid-19 as something they can ultimately get away blaming Biden for. (As I recall, a big part of the rationale for recalling Gavin Newsom in California was his handling of the pandemic.) Indeed, Biden's approval polls have fallen as Covid-19 has surged back and dampened the economic recovery, but will people really give the Republicans a free pass when they're working so hard to be spoilers? Here's a related story: Alabama Man has Heart Attack, 43 Full Hospitals Turn Him Down, Finds One 200 Miles Away, Dies There.

Ezra Klein: Gavin Newsom Is Much More Than the Lesser of Two Evils: The California recall election is Tuesday, September 14. I'm sick of hearing about it, but here you go.

Jim Lobe: How 9/11 enabled a preconceived vision of an imperial US foreign policy: Starts with the blueprint, a Defense Planning Guidance draft document written in 1992 ("literally a 'Pax Americana'") written by a couple of Defense Departments underlings who later became architects of the Global War on Terror: Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby. This document has been pretty well known for a long time, even if little discussed. I see Lobe also has a [04-30] piece that is news to me: Hawks seek revival with new group: they're calling it the Vandenberg Coalition, after the Republican Senator who advised Harry Truman that if he wanted to raise funds to counter Soviet influence he'd have to "scare the hell out of the American people" -- in other words, the driving force behind the Red Scare and the Cold War.

Julian Mark: Marine vet 'tortured' 11-year-old after killing her family, sheriff says. The girl 'played dead' and 'prayed.' This sort of thing never enters into those "cost of war" calculations. I don't know how to valuate it, but I am certain that the cost is real.

Dylan Matthews: 20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives: "The enormous costs and elusive benefits of the war on terror." The value, but also the limits, of this piece is its relentless effort to quantify everything. I'm increasingly convinced that the real cost is much more psychic, and that takes its toll often far away from the obvious points. Also note that "elusive benefits" was just there to suggest balance. I wasn't able to find any benefits in the text, even elusive ones.

Kathleen Parker: 9/11 broke us. And we are far from healed. This is what happens when someone with no discernible principles or insight is assigned to write something to commemorate an arbitrary event date: she writes the same column she always writes, about how partisan division has torn us apart, so "division became an end in itself, a self-righteous vision that culminated in the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol." I'm glad she was bothered by Jan. 6, but that was the work of one faction on one side of the partisan divide. Sure, it's tempting to bookend the two dates, as Spencer Ackerman does in his Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (links in previous post, but add this dissenting view: Blame the Kochs, the Murdochs, and The Turner Diaries for January 6, Not 9/11). Pace Parker, there is something real and substantial that has divided Americans: economic (and political) inequality. From 1945 (or 1933) to 1980, America became more equal, with a dominant middle class and serious efforts to improve the lot of the marginal poor. During this time, for instance, wages rose in lockstep with productivity. But then business revolted, and used their money to buy political favors, like tax breaks, deregulation, union busting, undermining the safety net, neglecting infrastructure, promoting monopoly, and routinizing war. The result was that wages have stagnated, and all productivity gains have been captured by the owners. Division was part of the sales pitch for this vicious political agenda. Many pundits like to cite 9/11 as a brief, glorious moment of unity in this polarized 40-year stretch. Parker laments its briefness, but the real lesson is the collective damage is even graver in the rare periods when both parties and most of the media agree. People like to say that "9/11 changed everything," but what really changed America was the Bush decision to go to war, which went unexplained, unexamined, and unquestioned because the opposition party failed to check assumptions built into the war mentality.

Robin Wright: The anguish over what America left behind -- and Afghanistan's future: It pains me how bad she's gotten. Consider this: "For the U.S., the forever war is over, but American military missions are not." Ergo, the "forever war" is not over. It's still very much on track to last forever, because it doesn't have any defined terminal goals. Or as she quotes Biden, "To those who wish us harm, know this: the United States will never rest. We will track you down to the ends of the earth, and we will make you pay the ultimate price." What ended in Afghanistan was the pretense that we could enter a country, occupy it, and get the people to love us because we set them free. No more "speaking softly" for America. From now on it's all "big stick." The thing is, the US is fighting "over-the-horizon" wars in another dozen countries, like Somalia (which we withdrew from in 1993) and Libya (since 2011, although we first bombed them in 1986), so there's not a shred of evidence of that being anything other than forever war. Nor is that the only howler here: "The reality of America's exit -- its mission unaccomplished in multiple ways -- would have been unimaginable when Bush spoke two decades ago." The real question is how could anyone not have imagined such an exit?

Friday, September 10, 2021

Speaking of Which?

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Which: This week's anniversaries, though it's hard to see how anyone could have judged America innocent on 9/11, 30 years after Attica. Comments on Afghanistan ("over-the-horizon"), the GOP appetite for destruction, Texas, air pollution, budgets.

As you probably know, this week is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and hence of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (although more like the 42nd anniversary if you count the "covert" action initiated by the CIA in 1979). There's been a fair amount of press on that, some noted below. And while the number of people who realize what a bad idea that war was has significantly increased in recent years, there are still a lot of important people who want to crank the war up again.

I was in Brooklyn that morning, with Laura Tillem for a visit with Liz Fink. From her apartment, we could see the streak of black smoke drifting east from the burning towers, against a bright blue sky, and we could look down on Grand Army Plaza and watch people trudging home from jobs in Manhattan. That's about three miles in from the bridges, so one of the first things I was struck by is that the adrenaline of pedestrians fleeing the scene had worn off. New Yorkers are used to difficulties, and this was worse than usual, but no need to panic -- unlike the politicians and media who quickly whipped up their "America under attack" chyrons.

Liz and Laura were glued to the TV, which I could hear from the other room, where I was thumbing through a book called Century, with often gory pictures covering the whole of the 20th century, from the Boxer Rebellion and Boer War to the bombing of the USS Cole. Liz predicted the TV would become unbearable in a couple days, but the bad ideas had yet to harden into even worse policies. Even before the second plane hit, Liz intuited who was doing it, and why. My reaction was that this was a moment for introspection: a wake-up call for Americans to reflect on and get right with God. Alas, there was little evidence of that. Even friends who were trusty leftists with long histories opposed to American militarism lost their minds.

Early afternoon we walked into Park Slope and ate in a Middle Eastern restaurant, doing brisk business -- probably the last day it was possible to do so without encountering American flags. We came back, and watched more TV. I remember John Major and Shimon Peres cackling about how at last Americans will understand what terrorism means, and will appreciate how much they can learn from British and Israeli expertise in such matters. Then there was Senator Hillary Clinton, on the Capitol steps, complaining about closing the session and daring the terrorists to take her out. It was already getting weirder. That evening, the media got some grainy video of a missile attack in Kabul, so they started celebrating "America strikes back."

We were locked down for most of a week. When the subways were clear, we rode into Grand Central Station to eat in the Oyster Bar. No sooner had we entered the Station than we saw a phalanx of firefighters marching to busses for the trip downtown. When the planes started flying again, Laura left for Wichita, and my sister-in-law flew into New York, having been stuck in Las Vegas. She brought horrible news: her daughter-in-law, my niece, was working in WTC and was one of those killed. I rushed down to my nephew's house, where everyone was stunned. A few days later Liz took a planned trip to California, leaving me alone in the apartment for another week or two (with the television never on, so I was sort of cocooned from the madness developing across the nation. In fact, I had never heard of "9/11" until a friend picked me up and drove me to where I had parked my car in New Jersey. But I can say that I attended an antiwar demonstration in Union Square Park, much like many I had been to (and many more to come). I had a project to do in New York -- that's when I built Robert Christgau's website -- and spent spare time prowling around bookstores looking for something to read to help me make sense of the world. I didn't find much at the time, and wound up reading a book on British "hill stations" in India. Intuitively, I knew this had something to do with colonialism.

This week is also the 50th anniversary of the Attica Prison massacre. I don't recall any discussion of its 30th anniversary 20 years ago, most likely because the civil case still hadn't been settled. Liz Fink joined the Attica Brothers defense team straight out of law school, shortly after the event, and stayed with the case until it was finally settled in 2005. There was some sort of a 40th anniversary, and this year there are more remembrances organized around the 50th anniversary. I watched the first two panels of Attica Is All of Us on the 9th, with two more coming up on the 13th. But what I really recommend you watch is the HBO Max documentary Betrayal at Attica, which draws a line from the lynchings and labor wars of the 19th century to recent killings by police, and finds Attica in the center, featuring narration by Liz Fink.

I had a rather troubled adolescence, but in 1971 I started to take control of my life. I got a GED, and entered college at Wichita State. I took a philosophy class, and when Attica happened my professor was so disturbed by the events that he put aside his plan and spent a whole session delving into what happened. That stuck with me, and various things caused it to reverberate over time. I have a cousin who taught political science at SUNY Buffalo, and she and her friends got involved in the Attica Brothers defense, so I followed the case more closely than I otherwise would have. Later I met and fell in love with Laura, and it turned out that her closest friend from college was Liz Fink. I got to know Liz fairly well over the years, and met several of her clients and fellow lawyers. When my nephew (Mike Hull) moved to New York in 2000, I introduced him to Liz. It took a while for them to click, but he's done several films and a lot of video editing, and offered to take Liz's Attica files and digitize and archive them. The film is derived from the archive, but the archive is public and will be a resource for anyone else who wants to find out what happened 50 years ago. But others will be hard-pressed to match the narrative power of Mike's film (or the economy and insight of Liz Fink). I should also mention that Mike has continued to interview participants, which will add to amount of information on Attica.

Robert Christgau wrote a terrific review of Mike's film, Out of the Box. I'm not finding many more reviews, but there are several reviews of Stanley Nelson's new Attica documentary (here and here and here). The latter is scheduled for the Toronto Film Festival, then later on Showtime (don't know when). Nelson is a famous documentarian (26 previous films, MacArthur Fellow, three Primetime Emmy Awards, etc.).


Afghanistan:

Matthieu Aikins, et al.: Times Investigation: In US Drone Strike, Evidence Suggests No ISIS Bomb: "It was the last known missile fired by the United States in its 20-year war in Afghanistan, and the military called it a 'righteous strike'" -- it killed 10, including "a longtime worker for a US aid group" and seven children. A little something for the Afghans to remember us by. Also see Ben Armbruster: New report: Post-9/11 US airstrikes killed upwards of 48,000 civilians: so the last airstrike wasn't exactly an exception to the rule.

Emran Feroz: The Enemies We Made: "Haunted by Predator drones in the sky and death squads on the ground." This is a big part of the US legacy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and despite all the democracy propaganda, this is the part the imperial mandarins want to keep going with their "over-the-horizon" plans. Feroz also wrote: The Whitewashing of the Afghan War.

Anand Gopal: The Other Afghan Women: "In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claimed to be helping them." Gopal's 2014 book No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes was one of the few I was tempted by, as it was one of the few to try to represent how a variety of Afghans saw the US occupation. He focused on three figures: a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed government, and a village housewife. This article focuses on the latter. While he's critical of the Taliban, it's hard to read this and see anything the US was able to do right.

Meredith McGraw: Trump wanted out of Afghanistan. Now he wants to bomb it. This long and rather confusing article tries to round up what Trump and his people are saying these days on Afghanistan. As for Trump himself, all you need to know is that he viewed troops-on-the-ground as separate and independent of bombing. He saw that keeping troops in war zones was a liability, but had no qualms about bombing, even after the troops were gone. He liked blowing things up, and was happy to go along with anything the Pentagon offered. He wasn't what you'd call a deep thinker, and he was easily steered by subordinates who had their own agendas (like McMaster, Bolton, and Pompeo).

Paul R Pillar: The biggest problems in how the Afghanistan story has been told: "Not considering the alternative, or whether there was one"; "believing an exact scenario can be predicted"; "focusing more on the dramatic than on the important."

Storer H Rowley: An "Over-the-Horizon" Strategy for Afghanistan: There are no words to express how bad this idea is. The overwhelming evidence is that drone strikes are counter-productive: they almost inevitably kill bystanders, generating more anti-American sentiment than any conceivable practical value; they alienate the host country, not least by mocking sovereignty; they tempt target groups to embrace their own "far enemy" strategy (as Al-Qaeda did in 2001). The US actually has considerable experience with "over-the-horizon" targeting, especially in Pakistan, as well as Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. The result in the latter cases has been to further destabilize their political systems, increasing the jihadist tendency. As for Pakistan, resentment against US drone strikes have been routinely dismissed, but ISI support for the Taliban has proven decisive. Syria is another case, showing how the US predilection for bombing has drawn the US into internal political strife, making peace even harder to find. The only other nation which behaves so arrogantly toward other nations is Israel, especially in Syria, which Israel bombs periodically, with seeming impunity. America's neocons have always suffered from a severe case of Israel-envy. At this point they would like nothing better than to treat Afghanistan like Israel treats Gaza: as an arbitrary punching bag. This is bullying on a national (or for the US global) scale. It is an assault on humanity, even our own.

Adela Suliman: Lindsey Graham says United States 'will be going back' into Afghanistan: "The Republican senator predicts a clash between the Taliban and Islamic State will force Washington to re-engage." Shows how little he knows: ISIS was able to take over a quarter of Iraq because Sunnis were excluded from the Shiite-Kurdish ruling alliance the US left in power, a crisis which led the latter to invite the US back, temporarily; ISIS-K, on the other hand, is a minor faction competing for the Taliban's own ethnic and religious turf, which should be easy enough to control as long as the Taliban doesn't ally with the US. In the unlikely event that the Taliban needs foreign assistance, their obvious ally is Pakistan, which has its own reasons for suppressing the "Pakistani Taliban." The bigger question is why Graham would entertain, much less fantasize about, such a request. Is he really that hard up for countries to invade?


Everything Else:

Brian Alexander: The GOP's War on Public Health Officials: Not among the examples here -- suggesting there are too many to enumerate -- Republicans in Kansas passed a law which strips our Democratic governor from being able to declare health emergencies, and another which allows counties to overrule state mandates. The former was quickly ruled unconstitutional, but the intent is that governments will never in the future be anywhere near as effective as they were in 2020. That's a gross error on the wrong side of history -- most of us who lived through it weren't all that impressed, but it takes a special kind of myopia to think that if only we hadn't had those lockdowns the economy would have boomed and we'd be so much better off now. As I recall, one country did try that strategy (Sweden), and had to admit it was a complete failure. It's bad enough that Republicans insist on doing stupid things here and now. It's even more insidious when they use their temporary power to future governments from ever correcting their errors. Nor is this a new strategy on their part. It's the key idea behind their obsession with packing the Supreme Court.

David Atkins: Donald Trump May Still Destroy the GOP, After All: You would think that the unique combination of toxicity and incompetence Republicans have embraced, especially given how vividly Trump exemplifies both, would have already sunk the GOP to levels beneath what Republicans suffered in the 1930s, but it hasn't happened. Atkins may be right that the longer Trump pushes his luck, but harder the party will eventually fall. But Trump's continued popularity within the party rests on two foundations: blind faith that he is a winner (even when he isn't), and dumb belief that it was Trump who finally saved the party from the insipidity of the Romneys, McCains, Ryans, and Bushes who have repeatedly failed the faithful, and who proved their treason by doubting their fearless leader.

Matthew Cooper: Democrats Are Better at Running FEMA. They Just Are. That's probably true of all branches of government, even ones that Republicans supposedly approve of (like the Defense Department), even ones that do nothing useful at all (like, uh, the Defense Department). After all, Republicans start with the assumption that government is bad, so it's easy for them to fall for self-fulfilling prophecies. In many cases, they even see that as a plus: if people see that government doesn't work well for them, they'll become doubters, which inclines them to fall for Republican propaganda. That's pretty obvious, but if government is really worthless, why do Republicans connive so to control it? Two answers: one is that it's a huge and potentially corrupt patronage machine, and that can be used to reward donors and even some followers, and that can be used to grip power ever more tightly; the other is that it keeps the Democrats from power, and using the patronage machine for their own purposes (or worse still, for public good). Still, FEMA is a special case, because its failures are so glaringly public -- partly because the media loves a good disaster, so this is a rare case where they are paying attention, and partly because the transition from planning to action is so abrupt (generously assuming that when you aren't in crisis you're preparing for future crisis, which doesn't seem to be the case when Republicans have been in charge). Cooper's data here could hardly be more clearcut, so why don't more people realize this? It's a point that's always been true, but as we're coming to recognize the link between global warming and increasingly intense disasters, it needs to be reiterated at every opportunity. Sure, we need to do something long term to limit and even reverse climate change, but even the most optimistic scenario (which I don't have any faith in, but still) is way out, ensuring that we'll have a lot of disasters in the meantime. And in those disasters, competent, honest government matters. To have any chance of that, we need to keep Republicans far from the levers of power.

Liz Featherstone: The Severe Weather Event We Routinely Ignore: Poor Air Quality: "Air pollution is just as fatal as hurricanes, and it profoundly affects our well-being. Yet we no longer treat it as a crisis." Also: How to Live in a Burning World Without Losing Your Mind.

Garrett M Graff: After 9/11, the US Got Almost Everything Wrong: "The nation's failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What's much harder to understand is how -- if at all -- we can make things right." Isn't the first step toward "making it right" to stop making it worse? I could write a whole book on this. While I would shade things a bit differently, Graff's article could work as my outline. Section heads:

  • As a society, we succumbed to fear.
  • We chose the wrong way to seek justice.
  • At home, we reorganized the government the wrong way.
  • Abroad, we squandered the world's goodwill.
  • We picked the wrong enemies.

Some more 9/11 anniversary comments:

  • Spencer Ackerman: How Sept. 11 Gave Us Jan. 6: Author of Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. I'm not especially comfortable with this tendency to view Trump as a malady that must have some external cause, but he's so reflexive it's hard to ascribe agency to him. But I do think it's true that decades of war have sorely distorted the American political system, in ways much more profound than the usual tally of lives and treasure wasted. Also see the interviews: Transcript: Ezra Klein Interviews Spencer Ackerman; and America is still stuck in the world 9/11 built.
  • Tariq Ali: The War on Terror: 20 Years of Bloodshed and Delusion. Notes that Chalmers Johnson published his critically important book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire a little more than a year before the 9/11 attacks. The term "blowback" was one that Chalmers had learned as a CIA analyst, but I doubt if it ever appeared in the CIA's daily briefings for the president, either as an explanation for the attack, or as a prediction for the planned American rampage.
  • Zack Beauchamp: The war on terror and the long death of liberal interventionism. Whenever the powers that be decide to invade some country, you can count on the warmongers to deploy a few liberals to claim the high moral ground and provide camouflage for those out to kill and maim, conquer and plunder. Even if their aims are sincere, the means inevitably redefine the ends: the only reason for projecting violence is intimidation and subjugation. Sooner or later said liberals realize they've been had -- sooner when the real power brokers, like Bush-Cheney, are sworn enemies of liberalism at home.
  • Matthew Cooper: The Lost Journalistic World of 9/11: "The terrorists maimed out cathedrals, as she [Nancy Gibbs] wrote in Time. But two decades later, we've done a pretty good job of defacing our institutions all by ourselves."
  • Michelle Goldberg: How 9/11 Turned America Into a Half-Crazed, Fading Power: "We launched hubristic wars to remake the world and let ourselves be remade instead, spending an estimated $8 trillion in the process. We midwifed worse terrorists than those we set out to fight." You know, one of my early insights into 9/11 was that it wasn't the airplanes that brought the towers crashing down; it was gravity. All the planes and fuel did was weaken the structure a bit; dead weight did the rest. The problem with the title is that America was already "a half-crazed, fading power" before 9/11. It's taken decades for some commentators to realize that, but the structural flaws were there from way back. If you recall Clinton's periodic bombing of Iraq, you should recognize a fading superpower which had become petty and vindictive. That's also a pretty apt description of the logic behind the Carter-Reagan support for the Afghan jihadis, or for that matter the blockades of Cuba and North Korea.
  • Suzanne Gordon: A September 11 Reckoning: Calculating the Full Cost of War: Despite numerous efforts, I fear that the full costs of the 9/11 wars will never be known, and will certainly never be agreed on. Focus here is on the staggering costs of health care for veterans -- a big chunk of the Stiglitz-Bilmes calculations -- but other costs are no less real for the difficulties in establishing baselines. For instance, 20 years of war correlate well with increasing gun violence and fetishism in the US, which accounts for more than 50,000 deaths per year. Worse still may be the wars' contribution to the rightward drift in US politics, which added to economic woes, infrastructure weakness, more inequality, the climate crisis and its attendant disasters, and much more.
  • Theodore B Olson: The tragic price of forgetting 9/11: I'm too much of a student of history to let anything be forgotten, but some people need to give it a break. Olson's screed is insane: "Twenty years ago, 19 savages commandeered four commercial airliners carrying unsuspecting civilian passengers and used them to take down New York's World Trade Center towers and crash into the Pentagon. . . . For years prior to 9/11, our people, institutions and military had been victims of terrorist attacks at home and abroad. Our responses had been, to put it charitably, tepid and ineffectual. . . . But the 9/11 attacks were too horrible, too shocking and too audacious for the shop-worn, mostly symbolic responses of the past. This time, we had to do something; we had to mean it. . . . But the Taliban and the terrorists with whom they collaborate do not forget. They are driven by a cruel, rigid, harsh and unrelenting religious zealotry. They dominate and oppress their own people, subjugate their women, and torture and behead anyone who dissents or departs from their barbaric regime. . . . Yet it takes immense resources, tenacity and, sadly, loss of lives to fight them. The effort and cost can be enervating. We grow tired; we want to wish them away. We start to forget. . . . We fantasize that if we just put our arms around them, they will be nice, civilized, decent. . . . So we talked ourselves into believing in a kinder, gentler Taliban. . . . Remember how well that worked with Hitler. . . . We will sadly soon realize: We can fool ourselves into thinking that we have made peace with terrorists. But terrorism has not made peace with us." What I couldn't forget was the myriad other uses of that "savages": a word that kicked off innumerable massacres. (For a refresher, check out Sven Lindqvist's "Exterminate All the Brutes".) Olson may cling to one memory, but he's stripped it of all context, and shown us how oblivious a person can be to the memories and perceptions of others.

Harvey J Graff: There Is No Debate About Critical Race Theory: Sen. Tom Cotton managed to pass an ammendment to the $3.5 billion infrastructure bill which "bans federal funds from going to K-12 schools that teach critical race theory. It passed 50-49." So while there may be no substantive debate about the theory itself, there is the matter of "bad-faith arguments from Republicans to sow dissension and fear."

Joanna L Grossman: The Texas Abortion Law Is a Nightmare for Pregnant Teens. I could link to a lot of articles on why SB 8 is a nightmare, but this does a particularly good job of describing the practical impact.

Adam Tooze: What if the Coronavirus Crisis Is Just a Trial Run? Economic historian, adapted this piece from his forthcoming book, Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World's Economy. He cautions us: "The challenges won't go away, and they won't get smaller. The coronavirus was a shock, but a pandemic was long predicted. Thee is every reason to think this one will not be a one-off." But he also points out (and Republicans will gag on this): "We can afford anything we can actually do. The problem is agreeing on what to do and how to do it. In giving us a glimpse of financial freedom, 2020 also robbed us of pretenses and excuses. . . . Now if you hear someone arguing that we cannot afford to bring billions of people out of poverty or we cannot afford to transition the energy system away from fossil fuels, we know how to respond: Either you are invoking technological obstacles, in which case we need a suitably scaled, Warp Speed-style program to overcome them, or it is simply a matter of priorities." Also see Zack Beauchamp's interview with Tooze, "Neoliberalism has really ruptured": Adam Tooze on the legacy of 2020.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Daiy Log

Sidney Carpenter-Wilson August 2021 Listening Report (checklist, my grades in brackets):

A-List
We Are The Union: Ordinary Life [*]
James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds [A-]
Kalie Shorr: I Got Here by Accident - EP [A-]
Turnstile: GLOW ON [*]
Ka: A Martyr's Reward [***]
Cleo Sol: Mother [***]
Emily Duff: Razor Blade Smile [A-]
Chubby and the Gang: The Mutt's Nuts [**]
Joseph Spence: Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing [A-]
Riders Against the Storm: Flowers For the Living [***]
Halsey: If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power [***]
Homeboy Sandman: Anjelitu - EP [A-]
Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States [*]
Tinashe: 333 [***]
Young Stoner Life, Young Thug & Gunna: Slime Language 2 [***]
East Axis: Cool with That [A]
Bob's Burgers: The Bob's Burgers Music Album, Vol. 2
B-List
Marshall Crenshaw: The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw: Live in the 20th and 21st Century [*]
Nas: King's Disease II [*]
Topaz Jones: Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma
Benny the Butcher: Pyrex Picasso [*]
The Killers: Pressure Machine
Navy Blue: Navy's Reprise
Honorable Mentions
Los Campesinos!: Whole Damn Body
Sturgill Simpson: The Ballad of Dood & Juanita [**]
Liars: The Apple Drop
Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take
Laura Stevenson
MAST: Battle Hymns of the Republic [**]
Lorde: Solar Power [**]
Serengeti: Have a Summer
Abstract Mindstate: Dreams Still Inspire
Red Velvet: Queendom
But Not For Me
Angel Olsen: Aisles - EP
Iggy Azalea: The End of an Era [A-]
Brian Jackson, Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Brian Jackson JID008 [*]
Glasvegas: Godspeed
Boldy James & The Alchemist: Bo Jackson
Lingua Ignota: Sinner Get Ready

Monday, September 06, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 56 albums, 12(+1) A-list, checked out some old albums by late greats Larry Harlow and Lee Scratch Perry, started sorting through my NoBusiness package, did some mop-up in the Bs.

Music: Current count 36194 [36142] rated (+56), 230 [226] unrated (+4).

Fell further behind the promo queue. Haven't paid much attention to it given that nearly everything there isn't scheduled for release until later in the Fall, but I did start to get into the recent NoBusiness package. Good stuff there if you're into free jazz, although I might have given the archival material the benefit of doubt. I guess I'm not as much of a flute hater as I thought.

Judging from Facebook discussions, lots of people love the Kenny Garrett album. I like it quite a bit when the sax is up front and running away from the pack. Wish there was more of that (as there is on most of this week's saxophone records).

Old music (and there's quite a bit of that this week) is mostly from the unheard Christgau A-list, basically Dave Bern to Childish Gambino. The latter's impressive Culdesac mixtape grade is hedged, because I had to switch streaming sources midway and I'm not sure I heard it all, but also because it's so rich and varied it should take several plays to get it sorted. I moved on to one of his later albums after the cutoff. It's all over the place, too, but nothing I ever want to hear again. The other old music clusters are for the late Larry Harlow and Lee Perry -- neither comes anywhere near qualifying as a deep dive, although I wasn't starting from scratch with Perry.

Finally, I noticed Specialty's Vol. 3 Roy Milton compilation, but had to hear Vol. 2 first. I highly recommend the initial Roy Milton & His Solid Senders, and found the others damn enjoyable as well -- I toyed with the idea of bumping them all up a notch, but got lazy and figured that was just me (jump blues ranks high among my favorite music). This reminds me I should track down all the rest of those early-1990s Specialty CD compilations. I'm aware of A/A- sets by Jimmy Liggins, Joe Liggins, Little Richard, Percy Mayfield, Roy Milton, Art Neville, and Lloyd Price. Also one of the all-time great New Orleans compilations: Creole Kings of New Orleans.

By the way, skipped one cover scan to the right: Chuck Berry's Gold is identical but for the cover to The Anthology. I figured I'd list them both, given that they have different titles, but I just preferred the earlier cover -- even though you're more likely to find that later reissue. I'm not going to look up examples, but UME has done this before in their Gold series. Probably no worse a practice than swapping an arbitrary title to make a token change.


Lead article in the Wichita Eagle this morning was about how Gov. Laura Kelly and leading Republican legislators had agreed on a bill to increase the pay of nurses increasingly stressed by Covid work. However, other Republicans are threatening to hold up the bill unless it includes a proviso that none of the money can be channeled through hospitals that require their staff to be vaccinated against Covid. This crosses some kind of line, of sanity for instance. I've generally held to the belief that most Republicans are decent people who happen to have some mistaken opinions -- indeed, I recognize that many have similar views of Democrats, but that's just one of the many things they are wrong about. But I think we have to recognize that a small but growing segment has turned malignant and sociopathic. Nor is their promotion of the pandemic the only example. Take guns, where they've moved way past defending the rights of honest, law-abiding citizens to guaranteeing that criminals will have unimpeded access.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Field (2019 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-
  • Dmitry Baevsky: Soundtrack (2019 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nat Birchall: Ancient Africa (2021, Ancient Archive of Sound): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Chvrches: Screen Violence (2021, Glassnote): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lao Dan/Deng Boyu: TUTU Duo (2019 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Caroline Davis: Portals, Volume 1: Mourning (2020 [2021], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kenny Garrett: Sounds From the Ancestors (2021, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Georg Graewe & Sonic Fiction Orchestra: Fortschritt Und Vergnügen (2020, Random Acoustics): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Halluci Nation: One More Saturday Night (2021, Radicalized): [r]: B+(***)
  • Walker Hayes: Country Stuff (2021, Monument, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marc Johnson: Overpass (2018 [2021], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021, Age 101): [r]: B+(***)
  • Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Rested Turquoise (2018 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Liudas Mockunas/Christian Windfeld: Pacemaker (2018 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Stitches (2021, Modern): [r]: B+(***)
  • Pink Siifu: Gumbo'! (2021, Field-Left): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Penelope Scott: Hazards (2021, Many Hats, EP): [r]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • John Coltrane: Another Side of John Coltrane (1956-61 [2021], Craft): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Hiatt: The Confidence Man in Canada (1989 [2021], Hobo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Itaru Oki Quartet: Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (1975 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lee Scratch Perry: The Specialist: The Pama Years (1969-71 [2021], Pama): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sam Rivers Quartet: Undulation [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 5 (1981 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-
  • Mototeru Takagi/Susumu Kongo/Nao Takeuchi/Shola Koyama: Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (1999 [2021], NoBusiness): [cd]: A-

Old music:

  • Dan Bern: The Swastika E.P. (2002, Messenger, EP): [r]: A-
  • Chuck Berry: The Anthology (1955-73 [2000], MCA/Chess, 2CD): [r]: A
  • Chuck Berry: Gold (1955-73 [2005], Chess): [r]: A
  • Big Brother and the Holding Company: Be a Brother (1970, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Black Flag: Damaged (1981, SST): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary J. Blige: Herstory, Vol. 1 (1992-97 [2019], Geffen): [r]: A-
  • Mary J. Blige: Love & Life (2003, Geffen): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kurtis Blow: The Best of Kurtis Blow [20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection] (1979-86 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles): [r]: B+(***)
  • Burning Spear: Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings From Studio One (1969-72 [2004], Heartbeat): [r]: A-
  • Burning Spear: Reggae Greats (1975-78 [1984], Island): [r]: A-
  • Burning Spear: People of the World (1986, Slash): [r]: B+(**)
  • Burning Spear: The Best of Burning Spear [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1975-91 [2002], Island/Chronicles): [r]: A-
  • Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers (1983, Alternative Tentacles, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers/Live PCPPEP (1982-84 [2003], Latino Bufferveil): [r]: B+(*)
  • Butthole Surfers: Electriclarryland (1996, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Childish Gambino: Culdesac (2010, Glassnote): [os]: B+(***)
  • Orchestra Harlow: El Exigente (1967, Fania): [r]: B+(***)
  • Orchestra Harlow: Hommy: A Latin Opera (1973, Fania): [r]: B
  • Orchestra Harlow: Salsa (1973 [1974], Fania): [r]: B+(***)
  • Larry Harlow: Greatest Hits (1971-79 [2008], Fania): [r]: A-
  • Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 2: Groovy Blues (1945-53 [1992], Specialty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 3: Blowin With Roy (1945-53 [1994], Specialty): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ismael Miranda Con Orchestra Harlow: Oportunidad (1972, Fania): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lee Perry: Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle (1973 [2004], Auralux): [yt]: A-
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry: Upsetter in Dub: Upsetter Shop Volume One (1970s [1997], Heartbeat): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry: Soundzs From the Hot Line (1970s [1992], Hearteat): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry: Meets Bullwackie in Satan's Dub (1990, ROIR): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry: From the Secret Laboratory (1990, Mango): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry + Subatomic Sound System: Super Ape Returns to Conquer (2017, Subatomic Sound): [r]: A-
  • The Upsetters: Clint Eastwood (1970, Pama): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Upsetters: Blackboard Jungle Dub (1971-73 [1981], Clocktower): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Rose of Lifta (Fresh Sound New Talent) [10-08]
  • Chet Doxas: You Can't Take It With You (Whirlwind) [09-24]
  • Gerry Eastman Trio: Trust Me (self-released) [10-01]
  • Family Plan: Family Plan (Endectomorph Music) [09-24]
  • Alon Farber: Hagiga: Reflecting on Freedom (Origin) [09-17]
  • Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction (ArtistShare) [09-17]
  • Remy Le Boeuf's Assembly of Shadows: Architecture of Storms (SoundSpore) [11-05]
  • Adam Nolan Trio: Prim and Primal (self-released) [08-19]
  • The Scenic Route Trio: Flight of Life (self-released) [07-22]
  • Matthew Stevens: Pittsburgh (Whirlwind) [10-01]

Friday, September 03, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Which: Kudos to Biden for completing the scheduled exit from Afghanistan, and for standing up to "the great and cowardly press freakout"; other news including rampaging Ida and degrading our rights in Texas and the R-packed Supreme Court.

Joe Biden completed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan Sunday night, and delivered a forceful address defending the evacuation and reiterating his commitment to end the war. Here are some articles I noticed and felt like commenting on. The Matthew Cooper piece has more on the speech.

David Atkins: Wars Can Be Won. Permanent Occupations Cannot. What he means is that the US military can devastate other military units, effectively allowing them to run roughshod over most other countries. On the other hand, the US is incapable of establishing viable, legitimate governance in lands they have overrun militarily. I'm tempted to point out some possible exceptions, but they don't apply to the US in Afghanistan -- never stood a chance, given the military mindset, and also given that the US has always been comfortable with paying off elites to obtain a shallow level of deference. But when you get down to it, the US (most especially the Republicans) aren't much good at governing their own country, let alone a foreign one, half way around the world, whose people they have nothing but contempt for. The basic principles here were worked out by Jonathan Schell in his 2003 book The Unconquerable World, but the epic failure of western colonialism was clear by the mid-1960s, when the French and British gave up on the last remnants of empire. I do have a quibble with the title: I insist that wars cannot be won, but only lost in varying degrees.

Ben Armbruster: New post-9/11 wars cost estimate: $8 trillion: "The US military role in Afghanistan is over, but the costs will continue to mount as the forever wars rage on" -- much of the future cost will be health care for US veterans. Direct spending for Afghanistan is $2.313 trillion. I don't know of any estimates for total cost to the world, although the article has found that "between 897,000 and 929,000 have been 'directly killed,' so at least considers that way the US military has impacted others.

Joe Cirincione: The dangerous rise of a new stab-in-the-back myth: "The foreign policy elite are focused on defending their reputations and privileges, not in confronting failure in Afghanistan." As noted, there was concerted effort to blame the US military failure in Vietnam on failing popular support -- Andrew Bacevich's 2005 book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War has a fair amount on this. [PS: Useless idiot Marc Thiessen has already jumped on this bandwagon, ending today's column: "Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines didn't fail. Their leaders did."]

Eli Clifton: Top defense firms spend $1B on lobbying during Afghan war, see $2T return. I doubt that includes the cost of the "revolving door" between the military and defense contractors, which is probably as critical a factor as direct lobbying.

Matthew Cooper: After Afghanistan Withdrawal, Biden Lashes Out at Critics. He had the courage of his convictions, stuck to his guns, and led his country out of a fruitless, pointless, and ultimately self-damaging twenty-year war. He should be proud. I'm proud of him (which is something I don't often, if ever, say about US presidents). If the early days of the evacuation looked chaotic, maybe that's because the US military plans to invade countries, but not to exit them. Americans compliment themselves on taking in over 100,000 refugees from Vietnam and Southeast Asia, but the US hardly flew any of them out of the country. Most cast off in boats, and were eventually rescued at sea. Biden flew 115,000 out in two weeks. Biden "ended a war more decisively than any president since Harry Truman accepted the Japanese surrender 76 years ago this week. . . . The president ended this war on his own terms. The University of Delaware grad thought he had more common sense than 'the best and the brightest' who deluded themselves into thinking that one more surge, one more drone assault, and we could stay forever. Joe Biden stood them down and didn't blink. His defiance counts as a victory."

Ross Douthat: Joe Biden's Critics Lost Afghanistan: Not someone I normally read, but Kathleen Geier was struck by how pointed this was as a critique of America's misadventure in Afghanistan, and she's right. No doubt his vitriol was encouraged by the opportunity to heap much of the blame on Obama, and (less justifiably) add "Biden deserves plenty of criticism" while extolling "the Trump administration in its wiser moments" (sorry, I must have blinked). Still, this is about right: "Our botched withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors."

Michelle Goldberg: The Afghanistan War Was Lost Before Biden Ended It. You get the feeling that despite knowing better she still wishes it had all worked out. She attacks Biden for "not clearing bureaucratic obstacles that kept Afghan allies waiting for visas," but exonerates him from the charge of "losing the war." But she could have made a more persuasive case for the deep origins of US failure in Afghanistan.

Jeff Greenfield: The Hidden Message in Joe Biden's Afghanistan Speech: "Biden's caution about the limits of U.S. power could launch a debate that many Americans have wanted for decades." I don't see a general debate breaking out, but admission that the Afghanistan War was a costly failure will certainly raise doubts about similar ventures. We've already seen some of that with Syria and Libya, although US involvement in Africa seems to escape scrutiny. What is needed now is an alternative to US military power projection. One approach would be to offer to scale back the US military, including bases ab road, as part of a deal for arms reductions elsewhere (e.g., in China and Russia).

Ezra Klein: Let's Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem. After noting the prevalence of groupthink in American foreign policy -- and admitting he got suckered into supporting the invasion of Iraq because he trusted that consensus -- he notes: "It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America's defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America's foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them." He also notes: "America's pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. . . . It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led tot he deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis."

Anita Kumar: As Biden ends mission in Afghanistan, a refugee backlash looms at home: I expect the Republican Party to split on welcoming Afghan refugees. On the one hand, Republicans have generally done well with immigrants from countries the US devastated with war and sanctions -- especially Cubans (think Senators Cruz and Rubio), but they've generally done well with any immigrants they could get a super-patriotic rise from. On the other hand, Trump cultivated an anti-muslim backlash which I expect to kick in here. And Trump's nominal (if practically meaningless) opposition to US wars in the Middle East offers an out from the "moral commitments" owed to US collaborators in the region, backed by the group's Christianist and racist prejudices. Xenophobia is a core tenet, and likely to remain a key one among Republicans.

Josh Marshall: Taking Stock of the Great and Cowardly Press Freakout of August 2021:

Three Presidents understood the futility of the mission. Only one had the determination to end it even at the cost of real political damage to himself. . . . But as many have argued this was a reality baked into the futility and failure of the mission itself. There was no pretty exit. That is what kept the US there for two decades. As has been the case for weeks, this is the crux of the 'there had to be a better way' crowd's argument: wanting out of a failed endeavor but unwilling to stomach let alone embrace the reality of that failure and eager to pass that messiness off on someone else.

Sandi Sidhu, et al.: Ten family members, including children, dead after US strike in Kabul. Leaving Afghanistan a little something to remember us for. Also see Dave DeCamp: Victims of US Drone Strike in Kabul Want Answers; e.g.:

The slaughter of the Ahmadi family is not an anomaly for US drone strikes. In 2015, documents leaked by Daniel Hale, who was recently sentenced to 45 months in prison, revealed that during a five-month period between 2012 and 2013, 90 percent of the people killed by US drones were civilians.

Matthew Warshauer: 9/11 wasn't the Pearl Harbor of our generation: "But it was a trap laid by Osama bin Laden only Washington could spring. And it did." Bin Laden may have "declared war" on the United States, but he didn't have any resources to fight a war, and he didn't risk any territory (or many of his own people) in his recklessness. Indeed, that's why when GW Bush decided to respond with war, he had to pick a real country, Afghanistan, as a proxy for the non-state Al-Qaeda, in order to have something the US military could beat. By the way, the big difference between 1941 and 2001 was America. I wouldn't say that the US was innocent in the lead up to WWII, but Roosevelt did wait until Japan and Germany declared war to respond in kind, which is one reason Japanese and Germans acknowledge their responsibility for the war, and tolerated an American occupation force that was nearly as clueless as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, Afghans and Iraqis felt like victims of America's global hubris, even before the 2001-03 invasions.

One last thing I want to add that I've seen hints at but don't have a solid article to point at is that it's quite possible that Biden will fall into the rut of America's previous botched wars and insist on ostracizing and isolating the Taliban, to the detriment of the Afghan people, and to the greater risk to world peace. North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Iran are all examples of America clinging to its grudges, forcing countries to continue to dig in and rally their people to defend against American imperiousness. We're seeing evidence of this as Biden freezes Afghan foreign funds, imposes sanctions on Taliban, and vows to continue drone attacks on ISIS-K targets (see Samuel Moyn: America Is Giving the World a Disturbing New Kind of War; on sanctions: US Wrestles With Taliban Sanctions as Afghan Crisis Looms). It is worth reiterating that Communist nations that the US had never directly fought almost universally reformed themselves along lines favorable to liberal democracy or at least capitalism. The US should give the Taliban a chance for peace and prosperity -- at least stop mucking up any possibility.


Finally, a few links and comments on other stories of note this week. I didn't flag a piece on Covid this week, but you can get the latest stats here. One of the articles I skipped over had a dire prediction that daily deaths could top 1,500 again. On September 2, the daily avg. was 1,521 (+67% over 14 days).

Benji Jones: Fires in the Amazon are out of control. Again. "Hundreds of wildfires have already scorched the rainforest this year, and the worst is likely yet to come." Thought I'd include an apocalyptic climate story that hasn't gotten much press attention.

Ezra Klein: The Way the Senate Melted Down Over Crypto Is Very Revealing: I've never understood cryptocurrency, and I don't understand it much better after reading this article. Part of it is that it's always seemed like something I could ignore. Indeed, for the most part all it seems to be is a self-involved betting game, like fantasy football, or derivatives. The political question is whether the government should consider regulating and/or taxing it, which seems like a fair question, especially if the answer isn't assumed. Some Senators care about that question, but they don't divide along left/right political lines, so that doesn't help much. One thing I really don't understand is why it takes so much compute power -- enough that some people consider it a factor in global warming (a point which will presumably be moot once we get to all non-carbon electricity, but wouldn't that point come sooner if we didn't waste it on things nobody needs?). The other thing that this article touches on is the potential for crypto to transform the internet. The idea here is that crypto can be used to enforce property rights on data (e.g., through NFTs), which in theory could make it easier to pay content producers for their wares. It does this by making data, which can be copied for zero marginal cost, scarce, and therefore expensive. That sounds to me like a terrible idea.

Carlos Lozado: 9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed. Washington Post book review editor, wrote a whole book on 150 books about Trump (What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era), offers a shorter digest of books on 9/11 and the wars that followed. Seems like I could write more on this, and possibly offer some alternatives, but for now here's the list ([x] are ones I've read, loosely graded for insight and utility; I cut back on my reading after 2008, while Lozado's list favors new books):

  • Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004) [A-]
  • Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006) [A-]
  • Peter Bergen: The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden (2021)
  • Richard A Clarke: Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (2004)
  • Jim Dwyer/Kevin Flynn: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (2004)
  • Garrett M Graff: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019)
  • Bob Woodward: Bush at War (2002)
  • Jane Mayer: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (2008) [A-]
  • David Cole, ed: The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable (2009)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture (2014)
  • Robert Draper: To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020)
  • Anthony Shadid: Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2005) [A]
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006) [B+]
  • Dexter Filkins: The Forever War (2008) [B]
  • Craig Whitlock: The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (2021)
  • The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (2007)
  • David Finkel: Thank You for Your Service (2013)
  • The Iraq Study Group Report (2006)
  • Spencer Ackerman: Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (2021)
  • Karen J Greenberg: Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump (2021)
  • The 9/11 Commission Report (2004)

The list of books I've read since 2001 or so is here. The last few years have understandably been preoccupied with Trump and his Klan, but two books I'm surprised not to find here are Andrew Bacevich's America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, and Steven Coll's Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The recent books by Ackerman and Watkins look promising, and Draper's book probably sums up a lot of detail I mostly sussed out in real time on the selling of the Iraq War.

Rick Perlstein: When America Had a Moral Panic Over Inflation. A historian who has written well over 1,000 pages on the 1970s takes a look at one of the decade's signature issues, and some of the many dumb things said about it, and about Paul Volcker, who usually gets credit for slaying the inflation dragon. One thing that's always bothered me is that while inflation is supposedly defined by the cost of goods, the measures used to suppress it are almost always aimed at wages. Another is that the way the Fed uses to "cool off" the economy is by raising interest rates (isn't that some kind of inflation?). I hadn't heard the Robert Solow quote on Volcker's recession, but it strikes me as right: "It's burning down the house to roast the pig."

Janet Reitman: 'I Helped Destroy People': "Terry Albury, an idealistic F.B.I. agent, grew so disillusioned by the war o terror that he was willing to leak classified documents -- and go to prison for doing it." I could have slotted this under the Afghanistan section, but the article is big and important enough to get its own heading. This point is pretty obvious, but should be spelled out: for every foreign war a country fights, there is a mirror war fought at home against one's own people. I suppose this goes back to the Crusades, when soldiers marching toward the Holy Land got some practice sacking Jewish villages along the way. No American war has ever been fought more viciously at home than WWI, with local committees to police anti-war dissidents, incarceration for anti-war leaders like Eugene Debs, censorship, and widespread attacks against German-Americans. In WWII, Japanese-Americans were picked up and carted off to concentration camps. (German and Italian nationals were also interned, but not US citizens of German or Italian descent.) Both World Wars ended in Red Scares, the Second kicking off the Cold War. After 9/11, the war rush was accompanied by pre-emptive attacks against anyone with a peaceful disposition. As the targets of those wars were Muslims, Americans became all the more Islamophobic, with the FBI both following and leading the prejudices. This article has a lot of detail on how and why that happened.

Bill Scher: It's Time to Raise Hell in Texas Over the Insane Abortion Law: I hope I don't have to explain why the law is insane. It seems unlikely to me that the Supreme Court will tolerate the free-for-all of citizen suits in cases where they have no conceivable standing, even if the majority is inclined to reverse Roe v. Wade, so the 5-4 vote against a stay seems very reckless. I said a while back that it was premature to start talking about reforming (or re-packing) the Supreme Court, as I thought it would be impossible to get a consensus until it became clear how deranged the current right-wing Court is. This is one of the rulings that will help build the case that we need a reformed Supreme Court with a majority of Justices respecting constitutional rights and freedoms. By the way, this isn't the only insane law to come out of the Texas Lege (as Molly Ivans put it) recently. They also passed a law to get rid of all gun registration requirements. They also finally passed their anti-voting law. Texas can't turn blue too soon. Also see:

Nick Shay: Hurricane Ida Turned Into a Monster Thanks to a Giant Warm Patch in the Gulf of Mexico: Fairly technical explanation of the "warm eddy" that Ida passed over, leading to extreme intensification. My impression is that most hurricanes that enter the Gulf of Mexico strengthen due to the warm surface waters (which I would expect to be warmer in shallower areas close to land), but I hadn't previously read about warm eddies, where the warm water can be as deep as 500 feet. As we've seen, Ida's damage to Louisiana has been extensive. More surprisingly is the amount of rain it has continued to dump all the way to Philadelphia and New York, which have experienced severe flooding. Also see:


Aug 2021