Latest Notebook Entries
Index
Latest

2018
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2017
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2016
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2015
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2014
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2013
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2012
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2011
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2010
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2009
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2008
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2007
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2006
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2005
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2004
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2003
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2002
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2001
  Dec
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30591 [30559] rated (+32), 300 [292] unrated (+8).

Once again, a long, slow slog through Weekend Roundup links pushed Music Week into Tuesday. I wrote a brief summary/introduction Monday evening, and was prepared to post then, but figured I'd roll this post into the same update. Then I found myself spending a few hours Tuesday afternoon adding links -- generally trying to limit myself to items posted by Sunday, but wound up adding a few new ones in the end.

For instance, since I already had a long list of Matthew Yglesias links, I added one called The 2018 electorate was older, whiter, and better educated than in 2016 that I ultimately decided was misleading: those are shifts that occur in every midterm election from the previous presidential election, because many fewer people vote in midterms. On the other hand, you get the exact opposite effect if you compare 2018 to 2014, 2010, etc. And that happened precisely because many more people voted in 2018 than in 2014, 2010, . . . in fact, you have to go back to 1966 to find a midterm election with higher voter participation (see Camila Domonoske: A Boatload of Ballots: Midterm Voter Turnout Hit 50-Year High). This year's turnout was 47.5%, down from 60.1% in 2016, but way up from 36.7% in 2014.

Still, I had to stop somewhere, so I left four Tuesday Yglesias links for next week: the most important is Democrats' blue wave was much larger than early takes suggested. Also especially interesting is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slams Amazon's imminent arrival in Queens. I'm not sure that the left much less Democrats in general have developed a coherent response to the repeated scamming of states and cities by big corporations like Amazon -- and the list goes on forever, ranging from the $4 billion Foxconn con in Wisconsin to the dozens of local outrages we fend with every year here in Wichita -- but this one has the makings of serious public exposure.

As for music, it's been a fairly typical week. Solid rate count, would have been higher except for a new 3-CD Art Pepper archive set, followed by an older (and even better) 4-CD set that I had only heard a sampler from at the time. Late last week I got Downbeat's December issue with their 83rd Annual Readers Poll results, so I started out by checking out leading albums I hadn't heard. I think I had only heard 5 of the top 10 new albums -- also (less surprising) 5 of the top 10 historical albums -- so I had some work to do there. Most of those were on last week's list (Chick Corea/Steve Gadd, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra/Wynton Marsalis, Joey Alexander, Kurt Elling, and further down Esperanza Spalding), although the only missing historical album I found was Jimi Hendrix's Both Sides of the Sky, which led me to the old one below.

First Rays of the New Rising Sun was the only non-jazz album on this week's list until Sunday, when ventured into a batch of country albums in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. I don't think the Pistol Annies album is as good as he says, but figure it's good enough, as are the others (Becky Warren, Mandy Barnett, and Robbie Fulks/Linda Gail Lewis -- the latter was an A- here some weeks ago).

I haven't done an update of the Christgau Consumer Guide database since late January: initially because it's takes enough work I tend to put it off, but then I suffered a one-two punch as first my local server than my public server crashed. When I pulled the data back from archive, I ran into a character set incompatibility that made it impractical to update the database (i.e., there was no point changing anything until the underlying problem was fixed). I floundered with it for a while, then put it off, working on other things instead. Finally I took another shot at it last week, and got to the root of the problem (a hidden flag in the server-side export utility that I hadn't run into before). Once I got a clean copy of the database, I started adding in more recent reviews. I'm up through September now, and will catch up in a couple days (maybe tonight).

I should be able to just update the database without reconciling the entire website. Since the server crash, I've been doing limited incremental updates every week (instead of waiting months, as was my previous custom). There are tradeoffs: I could wind up forgetting something, but I'm in the middle of a bunch of programming changes because a lot of functions have been dropped from PHP 7 (which is what I'm running locally, vs. PHP 5 on the public server). Until I get all of those things fixed (hundreds of changes) I don't dare do a full synch up. In the past I've always done database and website file updates at the same time, but they are independent enough I should be able to do each as needed. I guess we'll see.


New records rated this week:

  • Richie Cole: Cannonball (2018, RCP): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Andrew Cyrille: Lebroba (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Josephine Davies: Satori (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): [r]: A-
  • Josephine Davies' Satori: In the Corners of Clouds (2018, Whirlwind): [bc]: A-
  • John Escreet: Learn to Live (2018, Blue Room): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Hazeltine: The Time Is Now (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fredrik Kronkvist: Kronicles (2017 [2018], Connective): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Lightcap: Superette (2018, The Royal Potato Family): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Donny McCaslin: Blow. (2018, Motéma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings (2017-18 [2018], International Anthem): [r]: A-
  • John O'Gallagher Trio: Live in Brooklyn (2015 ]2016], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (2018, RCA Nashville): [r]: A-
  • Nikita Rafaelov: Spirit of Gaia (2016-17 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rudy Royston: Flatbed Buggy (2018, Greenleaf Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jerome Sabbagh/Greg Tuohey: No Filter (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • Yuhan Su: City Animals (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Subtone: Moose Blues (2018, Laika): [r]: B+(*)
  • Harry Vetro: Northern Ranger (2018, T.Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cuong Vu 4Tet: Change in the Air (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Becky Warren: Undesirable (2018, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Jeff Williams: Lifelike (2017 [2018[, Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau: Long Ago and Far Away (2007 [2018], Impulse): [r]: A-
  • Keith Jarrett: La Fenice (2006 [2018], ECM, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Art Pepper: The Art Pepper Quartet (1956 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto (1977 [2018], Widow's Taste, 3CD): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Jimi Hendrix: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1968-70 [1997], MCA): [r]: A-
  • Joakim Milder: Ways (1990-92 [1993], Dragon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Red Mitchell/Joakim Milder/Roger Kellaway: Live in Stockholm (1991 [1993], Dragon): [r]: B+(**)
  • Art Pepper: Blues for the Fisherman: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol VI (1980 [2011], Widow's Taste, 4CD): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The 14 Jazz Orchestra: The Future Ain't What It Used to Be (Dabon Music): January 1
  • Anguish: Anguish (RareNoise): November 30
  • Eraldo Bernocchi: Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It (RareNoise): advance, November 30
  • Magnus Broo Trio: Rules (Moserobie)
  • The Gil Evans Orchestra: Hidden Treasures Monday Nights: Volume One (Bopper Spock Suns Music): December 7
  • Adam Forkelid: Reminiscence (Moserobie)
  • David Friesen: My Faith, My Life (Origin, 2CD): November 16
  • Thomas Marriott: Romance Language (Origin): November 16
  • Joakim Milder/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Mathias Landraeus/Filip Augustson/Fredrik Rundkvist: The Music of Anders Garstedt (Moserobie)
  • Jay Thomas With the Oliver Groenewald Newnet: I Always Knew (Origin): November 16
  • Piet Verbist: Suite Réunion (Origin): November 16
  • Aida Bird Wolfe: Birdie (self-released): November 15

Purchases:

  • The Ex: 27 Passports (2018, Ex)
  • William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (2017, AUM Fidelity, 2CD)

Weekend Roundup

When I went to bed around 5AM after Tuesday's elections, the Democrats had won the House and beat Kris Kobach here in Kansas, but it seemed like a lot of close elections had broke bad. I heard Wednesday that a couple elections had flipped: Ned Lamont picked up the CT governorship, and more importantly, Scott Walker lost in Wisconsin. Tester pulled out his Senate seat in Montana. Nevada had looked promising on Tuesday, and firmed up, while Arizona got close, and even started to lean toward Democrat Krysten Sinema. Florida tightened up.

Still, could (should) have been better. Compared to 2014 and 2018, the Democrats did much better on several counts: they ran better candidates and contested more seats; and they did a better job of getting out their vote. Trump didn't get a popular opinion honeymoon after he took office. He was deeply offensive to most Democrats from the start, and everything he did prodded them to resist more fervently. That's what motivated people to run, to campaign, to organize, and ultimately to vote, and often to win -- although even some of the losses, like Beto O'Rourke in Texas, or Stacey Abrams in Georgia, were close enough they seemed like progress.

On the other hand, Trump and the Republicans haven't lost much ground. They've done a lot of things that in themselves are very unpopular -- the big corporate tax cut, for instance, and they dodged blame for ACA repeal only by failing to pass it -- but their base has held firm, they still have a lot of money, a strong captive media, and a very effective ground game. Of course, it helped that the economy hasn't capsized yet, that their reckless foreign policy hasn't led to major wars, that their corporate deregulation hasn't produced major disasters yet, and that only a few of their corrupt minions have been convicted or indicted. On the other hand, their global warming denialism is beginning to wear thin with major hurricanes and an unprecedentedly horrific fire season. Branch Rickey used to say that luck is the residue of design. Trump's political designs are so faulty that it's unlikely his luck will hold.

On the other hand, he did something in 2018 that Obama had failed to do in 2014 and 2010, which is that he campaigned relentlessly for his party in the months and weeks leading up to the election -- indeed, he never really stopped campaigning after 2016. He hasn't been all that effective, mostly because he isn't really very popular, but he did keep his base enthused, and (unlike in 2006, when everyone was sick and tired of Bush and Cheney) he got his base out to vote. It's going to take a lot of hard work to get enough people to realize how harmful Republicans are to most people's interests. And expect a lot of noise and distraction from Fox and friends along the way: the "caravan" story was as good an example of truly fake news as you can imagine. Hard to say whether how much it helped Republicans, but it sucked a lot of air from broadcast news during the last few weeks.

Democracy took a step forward last Tuesday. A small one. Hopefully the first of many.


Quick election results recap:

  • US Senate: Republicans gained two seats, for a 51-46 edge, with 3 undecided: Mississippi (runoff, R favored), Florida (R +13k), Arizona (D +33k [since I wrote this called for the Democrat]), so it will probably wind up 53-47 (counting Sanders and King with the Democrats). Only one-third of the Senate's seats are up for election each two years, and this year the Democrats were much more vulnerable (after exceptionally strong showings in 2006 and 2012). To put the net losses of 2-4 seats in perspective, Democrats won (counting AZ but not FL/MS) 24 seats to the Republicans' 10. Democrats won 57.4% of the Senate vote, vs. 41.0% for Republicans. This split was inflated because both of California's "top two" primary winners are Democrats. All four (counting FL) Republican pickups were in states Trump won -- 3 by 10+ points, 2 against Democrats who won in 2012 after Republicans nominated especially controversial "Tea Party" candidates. On the other hand, Democrats won 7 Senate seats (counting AZ) in states carried by Trump, plus defeated a Republican incumbent in a state Trump lost (NV).

  • US House of Representatives: Democrats gained 32 seats, with 10 still undecided, for a current 227-198 advantage. Democrats received 51.4% of the popular vote, vs. 46.7% for Republicans, for a margin of 4.7%.

  • Governors: Democrats gained 7, giving them 23; Republicans lost 6 (assuming FL and GA go Republican; the difference is that Republicans picked up previously independent Alaska). Popular vote favored Democrats 49.4-48.2%, as state races were less polarized than Congressional ones (e.g., Republicans won easily in MA, MD, and VT). Democrats gained: ME, MI, WI, IL, KS, NM, and NV. Republicans gained AK.

  • 538: What Went Down in the 2018 Midterms: Live blog until they got tired and signed off.

  • 538: The 2018 Midterms, in 4 Charts.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump voters stood by Trump in the midterms -- but there just aren't enough of them: Trump was elected president in 2016 with just 46% of the vote. Republicans got about the same 46% of the vote in the 2018 congressional elections, so a cursory analysis suggests that they held their own, while everyone else (including independent voters for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson) joined the Democrats. Probably not that simple: Republicans did better than 46% in 2016 congressional races, so they lost that edge this year. In particular, they lost ground in the Rust Belt and in the Latino Belt from Texas through Arizona and Nevada to California, while they hung on more effectively in a swath from Florida up to Idaho. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • The 2018 electorate was older, whiter, and better educated than in 2016: "Democrats hit some of their GOTV targets but missed others." OK, but isn't the relevant comparison 2014 to 2018? Turnout was up for a midterm (2018 and 2014), but down from the presidential election (2016). From 2016 to 2018, 18-39 turnout was -7,but from 2014 to 2018, it was +4. White was +2 vs. 2016, but -3 vs. 2014.

    • Matthew Whitaker's appointment is the latest Trump Tax the GOP is paying: "A nominee whose only qualification is his unfitness."

      Matthew Whitaker is, by any standard, a wildly unsuitable choice to serve as Attorney General of the United States.

      He's a small time crook who finished fourth in the Iowa GOP Senate primary back in 2014. He apparently got his job as Chief of Staff in the Justice Department because Trump liked his TV hits, experience that would at best qualify him to one the DOJ's chief spokesperson not to be chief of staff and certainly not to run the Justice Department. Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway's husband, a prominent Washington attorney, says Whitaker's appointment is illegal.

      The point, however, is that in a normal administration the question of legality would simply never arise here. The Justice Department is full of competent, professional, Senate-confirmed officials who would be more suitable than Whitaker on both substance and procedural grounds. It's commonplace in liberal circles to see Whitaker as an inappropriate selection in light of his previous comments about Robert Mueller's investigation, but the truth is the Mueller issue is his only conceivable qualification for the job. Trump's problem with the senior staff at the Justice Department is he has no way of knowing whether or not they share with Jeff Sessions and Ron Rosenstein a reluctance to fatally compromise the rule of law in pursuit of Trump's personal self-interest.

    • House Democrats must resist Trump's infrastructure trap.

    • House Democrats must resist Trump's infrastructure trap.

    • The tragedy of Amazon's HQ2 selections, explained: After announcing they'd like to auction off the location of a second headquarters site, they've evidently settled on two winners: one in Virginia's DC suburbs, the other in Long Island City, Queens, New York. Lots of problems.

    • Matt Whitaker suggested the attorney general might keep Robert Mueller's conclusions secret forever.

    • Debbie Stabenow reelected to the Senate.

    • Ned Lamont elected governor of Connecticut.

    • Trump's bizarre post-election press conference, explained.

      But shocking as it was in its way, it confirmed what we know about Trump. He is shameless, relentlessly dishonest, poorly informed about policy, disrespectful of the norms and principles of constitutional government, and fundamentally dangerous. He also continues to benefit from a benign economic situation and from a lack of crises abroad that make a serious impact on the typical American. For all of our sakes, we'd better hope that holds up because he does not appear to have the capacity to respond in a remotely appropriate way to any kind of adversity. . . .

      The price of this sort of conduct has already been high. An island destroyed, a wave of Trump-inspired bombings, a needless destabilization of relations with key allies, and a growing diminution of the standards of conduct that we accept for public officials. But for most Americans, day-to-day life has proceeded apace and that's put a floor under Trump's approval ratings that's been good enough to keep the whole Republican Party afloat given gerrymandering and a skewed Senate map. Losing the House would be a wake-up call for a normal president, but there is no waking up Trump -- only the hope that nothing goes too badly wrong while he lasts in office.

    • Tammy Baldwin reelected to US Senate: a progressive champion wins in Wisconsin.

    • Sherrod Brown reelected to US Senate: old-time labor liberalism triumphs over Ohio's rightward drift.

    • Why Stacey Abrams isn't conceding yet.

    • 4 winners and 2 losers from the 2018 midterm elections: Winners: "the favored quarter backlash"; Donald Trump; "the blue wall"; gerrymandering. Losers: Taylor Swift; "the live models." The explanation on Trump:

      And while losing the House is the death knell for the Republican Party's legislative agenda, Trump himself has rarely seemed to care that much about the GOP legislative agenda. Indeed, the death of the GOP legislative agenda could even be good news for Trump politically since much of that agenda was toxically unpopular. An expanded majority in the Senate, meanwhile, will let Trump do things he actually cares about, like replace Cabinet members and other executive branch officials who've displeased him, while continuing to keep the judicial confirmation conveyor belt that's so important to his base moving.

    • The lesson of the midterms: resistance works.

  • Radley Balko: Jeff Sessions, the doughty bigot:

    Jeff Sessions's final act as attorney general was perfectly on-brand. On the way out of office, he signed an order making it more difficult for the Justice Department to investigate and implement reform at police departments with patterns of abuse, questionable shootings, racism, and other constitutional violations. Sessions once called such investigations -- like those that turned up jaw-dropping abuses in places such as Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Chicago -- "one of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power." He has had only cursory criticism of the horrific abuses actually described in those reports (which he later conceded he sometimes didn't bother to read), which disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos. For Sessions, it is the federal government's investigation of such abuses that amounts to not just an unjustified "exercise of raw power," but a "most dangerous" one.

  • Bob Bauer: An Open-and-Shut Violation of Campaign-Finance Law.

  • Jonathan Blitzer: Jeff Sessions Is Out, but His Dark Vision for Immigration Policy Lives On.

  • James Carroll: Entering the Second Nuclear Age?: With his withdrawal from the INF treaty with Russia, and with big plans to renovate and rebuild America's nuclear arsenal, "Donald Trump welcomes the age of "usable" nuclear weapons." Also at TomDispatch:

    • Michael Klare: On the Road to World War III?.

    • William Hartung: The pentagon's Plan to Dominate the Economy:

      Industrial policy should not be a dirty word. The problem is: the Pentagon shouldn't be in charge of it. The goal of an effective industrial policy should be to create well-paying jobs, especially in sectors that meet pressing national needs like rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure and developing alternative energy technologies that can help address the urgent dangers posed by climate change.

    • Tom Engelhardt: Autocrats, Incorporation: Thoughts on Election Day 2018.

    • Arnold Isaacs: Misremembering Vietnam: Alt title: "Making America's Wars Great Again: The Pentagon Whitewashes a Troubling Past."

      The cliché that our armed forces are the best and mightiest in the world -- even if the U.S. military hasn't won any of its significant wars in the last 50 years -- resonates in President Trump's promise to make America great again. Many Americans, clearly including him, associate that slogan with military power. And we don't just want to be greater again in the future; we also want to have been greater in the past than we really were. To that end, we regularly forget some facts and invent others that will make our history more comfortable to remember.

    • Rory Fanning: Will the War Stories Ever End? Author of a book of his own war stories, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America (2014, Haymarket Books).

  • Maureen Dowd: Who's the Real American Psycho? A look back at Dick Cheney, occasioned by the screening of a new movie called Vice. As for the "psycho" question, such things take time and perspective. If you got sick eight years ago and got sick again now, you won't be able to make meaningful comparisons until (and if) you survive and recover. Between Trump ("a frothing maniac with a meat cleaver") and Cheney ("a professional assassin") the latter may still in theory be the more menacing, but the threat right now is so immediate and so open-ended that it's the one you have to deal with right now. Dowd, by the way, also recently wrote this clever piece on Saudi Arabia: Step Away From the Orb:

    Our Faustian deal was this: As long as the Saudis kept our oil prices low, bought our fighter jets, housed our fleets and drones and gave us cover in the region, they could keep their country proudly medieval.

    It was accepted wisdom that it was futile to press the Saudis on the feudal, the degradation of women and human rights atrocities, because it would just make them dig in their heels. Even Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, never made an impassioned Beijing-style speech about women in Saudi Arabia being obliterated under a black tarp.

  • Atul Gawande: Why Doctors Hate Their Computers: Fairly long piece on computerized medical records, which should be great to have but are a lot of work to maintain, and the slacker and sloppier you get about that, the less great they are. First point I take from this is that there is a lot of real work to be done to make the health care system work better beyond the obvious advantages of single-payer insurance -- something that tends to be forgotten in that argument. Gawande identifies several problems with the software, ranging from its impact on focus and communication to the increasing brittleness of sprawing code systems. One thing worth exploring is how open source might help, but you also have to look at how to finance development and support. Another dimension is the increasing use of AI. I believe that the only way to build trust in complex software is through open source, but what's needed can't be developed as a free hacker hobby.

  • Masha Gessen: After the White House Banned Jim Acosta, Should Other Journalists Boycott Its Press Briefings? Also: Margaret Sullivan: Words and walkouts aren't enough> CNN should sue Trump over revoking Acosta's press pass.

  • Adam Hochschild: A Hundred Years After the Armistice: Due to the world's fascination with round numbers, I'm reminded that our Nov. 11 Veterans Day originally started as Armistice Day, marking the end of what was then called the Great War but was soon eclipsed, now better known as World War I. A date that should remind all how precious peace is has since become a celebration of American militarism, as we thank the hapless soldiers and gloss over the politicians who put them in harm's way. One could write reams about that war, and indeed its centennary has brought dozens of new books out. Hochschild wrote one I read back in 2011: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, which focused on anti-war resisters in Britain (like Bertrand Russell -- as close to a hero as I ever had). The tag line on this piece is: "If you think the First World War began senselessly, consider how it ended." He recounts several stories of how allied generals (especially Americans, notably including white commanders of negro troops) continued to launch offensives after the armistice was agreed to up to the moment (11AM) it was to take effect, resulting in thousands of avoidable casualties. He also notes, in less depth, the insistence of French general Foch on making the armistice as punitive as possible, leaving a "toxic legacy" that lead to a second world war. Many more books have been written about the post-armistice Versailles Treaty, like Arno Mayer's massive Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking, but the best title to date is David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace. The excessively punitive Versailles Treaty is now widely acknowledge as a cause of WWII. (Arno Mayer has referred to the two World Wars as 30 Years War of the Twentieth Century.) More important in my mind is that Versailles failed to repudiate imperialism. In fact, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan extended their empires through war, especially whetting the appetites of the latter, while leaving Germany and others convinced that they needed to enlarge themselves to compete with the rich nations. By the way, Josh Marshall recommends The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End. Another interesting piece on the war: Patrick Chovanec: World War I Relived Day by Day.

  • Fred Kaplan: Could House Democrats Cancel the Pentagon's Blank Check? Perhaps, but it would take uncommon discipline, given that more than a few Democrats are deficit hawks and/or Pentagon Keynesians. Given narrow margins (and the absence of anything like the "Hastert Rule" for Democrats), Republicans could try to forge opportunistic alliances with either group. One thing for sure is that House Democrats won't be able to raise taxes, so there's very little they can do about deficits. On the other hand, spending bills originate in the House, so with a little discipline they can keep important programs funded and cut useless and even damaging ones. But, as I said, that's not something they've ever been much good at.

    Kaplan also wrote: Trump Retreats From the West: "The president's performance in Paris was a stunning abdication of global leadership." That sounds like good news to me -- not to deny that Trump did it pretty ugly. Maybe Trump was peeved at this: Macron denounces nationalism as a 'betrayal of patriotism' in rebuke to Trump at WWI remembrance. Then, Trump skipped a US cemetery visit abroad. The French army trolled him for avoiding the rain. But the fact is, Trump's "America First" fetish doesn't leave him much to offer the rest of the world -- where, as in everyday life, generosity is appreciated and peevishness scorned. On the other hand, for many years now US administrations have done little that actually helps either people abroad or at home that we'd all be better off if the US (especially its military) would back away. For more on Trump's Paris trip, see Jen Kirby: The controversies of Trump's Paris trip, explained.

  • Paul Krugman: What the Hell Happened to Brazil? (Wonkish): "How did an up-and-coming economy suffer such a severe slump?"

  • Robert Kuttner: The Crash That Failed: Review of the latest big book on the 2008 financial collapse, the "great recession" that followed, and various government efforts to clean up the mess: Adam Tooze's Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. Interesting sidelight of an illustration: William Powhida: Griftopia, based on Matt Taibbi's book.

  • Dara Lind: The asylum ban -- Trump's boldest immigration power grab yet -- explained.

  • Mark Mazzetti/Ronen Bergman/David D Kirkpatrick: Saudis Close to Crown Prince Discussed Killing Other Enemies a Year Before Khashoggi's Death.

  • Bill McKibben: A Very Grim Forecast: On Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report.

  • Yascha Mounk: Is More Democracy Always Better Democracy? Noted for future reference, no agreement implied. Author of a recent centrist manifesto: The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It. Reviews Frances McCall Rosenbluth: Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy From Itself (2018) -- arguing: "the most important ingredient of a functioning democracy . . . is strong political parties that can keep their rank-and-file members in check" -- and looks back to Marty Cohen/David Karol/Hans Noel/John Zaller: The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform (2008). Mounk's prime example of "too much democracy" was the 1972 nomination and loss of George McGovern, although for a token example Republican he cites Mark Sanford's primary loss to a Trump zealot (who last week lost Sanford's SC district). The main problem with Mounk's thesis is that organizations which lack effective democratic oversight almost inevitably wind up putting their leaders' elite interests ahead of their voters. At least with McGovern's Democratic Party reforms, the party was able to nominate a presidential candidate who reflected the majority view among rank-and-file Democrats to quit the Vietnam War. That sounds more to me like an example of democracy working -- especially more than 2016, when the party elites prevailed in picking a candidate who was even more unpopular. (Sure, Hillary Clinton polled better than McGovern, but consider her opponent.) As for the Republicans, you can fault their rank-and-file for favoring someone as odious as Donald Trump, but at least the limited democracy Republicans practice saved them from the party elites nominating Jeb Bush.

  • Rachel Withers: Trump responds to worst fires in California's history by threatening to withhold federal aid. Also on the fires: Robinson Meyer: The Worst Is Yet to Come for California's Wildfires; also Umair Irfan: California's wildfires are hardly "natural" -- humans made them worse at every step.

  • Benjamin Wittes: It's Probably Too Late to Stop Mueller: The morning after the election, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting AG, making it easier for Trump to terminate Robert Mueller's prosecution of Trump-Russia issues. Wittes takes stock:

    Eighteen months ago, I said, President Donald Trump had an opportunity to disrupt the Russia investigation: He had fired the FBI director and had rocked the Justice Department back on its heels. But Trump had dithered. He had broadcast his intentions too many times. And in the meantime, Mueller had moved decisively, securing important indictments and convictions, and making whatever preparations were necessary for hostile fire. And now Democrats were poised to take the House of Representatives. The window of opportunity was gone.

    In the 48 hours since Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, I have had occasion to wonder whether I was being overly optimistic a week ago. Whitaker is the kind of bad dream from which career Justice Department officials wake up at night in cold sweats. He's openly political. The president is confident in his loyalty and that he won't recuse himself from the investigation -- notwithstanding his public statements about it and his having chaired the campaign of one of the grand-jury witnesses. There are legal questions about his installation at the department's helm. And he's known as the White House's eyes and ears at Justice.

    By the way: Jerome Corsi says Mueller will soon indict him for perjury.

Finally, some more election-related links:

Daily Log

A while back my nephew Mike posted a menu:

MICHAEL HULL'S 42ND BIRTHDAY

Please enjoy a selection of Mike's Italian favorites. To be served in order of listing.

ANTIPASTO

CAPONATA, INSALATE CAPRESE, FICHI AL PROSCIUTTO
Eggplant caponata (cold), tomato & basil salad, figs with proscuitto

MOZZARELLA EN CARROZZA
Fresh mozzarella in sliced bread, lightly battered and fried

MONK GREENS, ENDIVES & ANCHOVIES
Sautéd mixed greens with garlic, toasted endive with light anchovy sauce

SPAGHETTI AL LIMONE
Fresh spaghetti in lemon cream sauce

INSALATE CAVOLO
Shredded Savoy caggabe salad

PASTA

PASTA GNOCCHI
Potato pasta balls in basil & pine nut sauce

RAGU ALLA NAPOLETANA
Rolled beef slow cooked in tomato sauce over fresh fettuccini

MEAT

CHICKEN/VEAL SALTIMBOCCA
Chicken and veal cutlets with prosciutto and sage, lightly breaded and fried

DESSERT

CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH CROCCANTE, ALMOND CAKE
Chestnut pudding with roasted almond praline
Almond cake

Coffee

Whiskey

11/05/2018 6 pm All Welcome

Haven't heard anything about how this came out, but it sounds very, very good. Main change I would make is that I wouldn't do chicken if I could get enough veal. I'd probably throw in a fish dish, or scampi, and cut back on the pasta. As I told him, I've never made fresh pasta (or for that matter, gnocchi). He tells me it's easy, and I suppose it isn't too bad if you stick to noodles and have a quality crank machine. Not sure how you'd make penne, especially after Mike quoted Hazan on how hideous the machines that extrude dough through nozzles are. (Just typed "penne maker" into Amazon and got a whole page of nothing but panini grills.) "Pasta shape machine" got me a couple of machines and attachments that might do the trick, but they're rather pricey: $269.99 for Philips HR2357/05 Noodle Pasta Maker; there's a cheaper Philips HR2372/05 for $146.34.


Jan Barnes posted on Facebook about her father and father-in-law as veterans. I added this comment:

Thought I should comment here just to slip Uncle Allen's picture into the thread. My father was drafted in 1945, but the war ended before they could ship him abroad. He hated his time in the Army, thought it was stupid and wasteful, and never identified as a veteran or had anything to do with veterans organizations. I find it sad that we've taken Armistice Day, the return to peace, and turned it into Veterans Day, celebrating a legacy of war. The US has engaged in war (sometimes "cold" but often much more) nearly every day of my life. That's something we should be ashamed of, not proud.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30559 [30524] rated (+35), 292 [293] unrated (-1).

October's Streamnotes came out last week. Four of the week's A- records made it into that column. Three of those had been pick hits in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness columns.

By the way, there is a new batch of XgauSez on Christgau's website.

More things I'd like to write about here, but absolutely no time to do so. I'm exhausted after Weekend Roundup once again took much too long to write, while once again I wound up not getting to scads of material worth reading. In particular, I wanted to say something about Downbeat's Readers Poll, which suggested some of the recent records this week. Also about my nephew's birthday dinner, which I'm afraid puts my own recent efforts to shame.


New records rated this week:

  • Eric Alexander: Song of No Regrets (2017, High Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joey Alexander: Joey. Monk. Live! (2017, Motéma): [r]: B
  • Joey Alexander: Eclipse (2017 [2018], Motéma): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Bottle Rockets: Bit Logic (2018, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (2017 [2018], Impakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards: Elements (2015-16 [2018], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • The Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band: Chinese Butterfly (2017 [2018], Stretch/Concord, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Dominique: Mask (2018, Orenda): [cd]: C
  • Kurt Elling: The Questions (2017 [2018], Okeh): [r]: B-
  • Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet: Time Like This (2018, Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy at the Apocalypse: Profiles of a Rushing Midnight (2018, Saustex): [r]: B+(*)
  • Idles: Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018, Partisan): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Handful of Keys (2016 [2017], Blue Engine): [r]: B+(**)
  • Maria Muldaur: Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty, Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker (2018, The Last Music Company): [r]: A-
  • Riton & Kah-Lo: Foreign Ororo (Riton Time): [r]: A-
  • Esperanza Spalding: 12 Little Spells (2018, Concord): [r]: B-
  • Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace (2018, Tropical Fuck Storm/Mistletone): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Colter Wall: Songs of the Plains (2018, Young Mary's): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Dexter Gordon Quartet: Espace Cardin 1977 (1977 [2018], Elemental Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Both Sides of the Sky (1968-70 [2018], Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • I'm Not Here to Hunt Rabbits ([2018], Piranha): [r]: A-
  • Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes: The Tour: Volume One (1976 [2016], High Note): [r]: A-
  • Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes: The Tour: Volume Two (1976 [2017], High Note): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • One for All: Too Soon to Tell (1997, Sharp Nine): [r]: B+(*)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume One (1977 [2000], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Two (1977 [2001], High Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Three (1977 [2001], High Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Four (1981 [2005], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Vaughan: After Hours (1961, Roulette): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Vaughan: The Best of Sarah Vaughan [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1954-66 [2004], Hip-O): [r]: B-
  • Sarah Vaughan: Live in Japan: Volume 1 (1973 [1991], Mainstream): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sarah Vaughan: Live in Japan: Volume 2 (1973 [1991], Mainstream): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of Emerging Species (Shhpuma)
  • Big Bold Back Bone: Emerge (Wide Ear)
  • Collective Order: Collective Order Vol. 3 (self-released): November 23
  • Julien Desprez/Luís Lopes: Boa Tarde (Shhpuma): cdr
  • LFU: Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly (Clean Feed)
  • Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Bruno Parrinha/Luís Lopes/Vasco Trillo: Lithos (Creative Sources)

Weekend Roundup

Last pre-election post. One measure of the impact of elections is that I've been writing about 50% more on politics since Trump and the Republicans won big in 2016, as compared to the previous four years under Obama. And it's not like I didn't have things to complain about with Obama -- although I wrote much more then about foreign affairs and wars, including a lot on Israel (which hasn't in any way changed for the better with Trump, but has been crowded out of consciousness). And the fact is, the ratio would be even greater if I had the time and patience to dig through everything that matters.

One thing I learned long ago is that elections don't fix problems, but if they go the wrong way they can make many of our lives worse off. You can't expect that the people you elect will do good things with their power -- in fact, power doesn't make anyone a better person -- but you can at least try to weed out the ones you know better than. I can't really blame people who thought they were doing us a favor in 2016 by retiring Hillary Clinton. I could have written a long book on why she should never have been considered for president, so I'm not surprised that many other people didn't like or trust her. Of course, that doesn't justify them voting for Trump. Elections are almost always about "lesser evils," and it helps to weigh them out carefully, even to lean a bit against your prejudices. While it was easy to see why people might think Hillary "crooked," you have to flat-out ignore tons of evidence to judge Hillary more crooked than Trump. Nor was that the only dimension: build a list of any trait you might think matters in a president, and if you're honest about the evidence, Trump will lose out to her. Electing him was a glaring lapse of judgment on the part of the American people.

Nor was it their first. My first election was 1972, when we had the change to elect one of the most fundamentally decent people who ever ran for high office, but by a large margin the American people preferred Dick Nixon. Given that Nixon was even less of an unknown than Reagan, the Bushes, or Trump, that's a pretty damning reflection on the American people. I've regularly been disappointed by elections. After my 1972 experience, I didn't vote again until 1996, when I was living in Massachusetts but couldn't ignore the opportunity to vote against Bob Dole (who was second only to Nixon among the villains I voted against in 1972 -- people forget what a rat bastard he was in his first couple of terms).

Still, worse than Trump's election in 2016 was the Republicans seizing complete control of Congress. Not only did this make Trump much more dangerous, it shows that voters haven't fully realized the monolithic threat that Republicans represent. I think a lot of the blame here belongs to Obama and the Clintons, who pursued their presidential campaigns with scant concern for the welfare of the rest of the party, largely by not leading the public to understand what Republicans were up to. In particular, Clinton focused her campaign on picking up Trump-averse Republicans in the suburbs with little concern for Trump-attracted working class Democrats. When the 2016 returns came in, Republicans who didn't particularly like Trump still voted for him due to party loyalty, as did independents who for various reasons (deplorable and sometimes not) happened to like Trump.

Even now, when I meet up with Democrats, they're more likely to want to talk about who they like for president in 2020 than winning Congress here and now. My answer is simple: whoever works hardest to put the party ahead of themselves, but no Democratic president is going to be worth a damn without a solid partisan base. I've never been a diehard Democrat, but Republicans have left us no other choice.


I wouldn't call these links recommendations, but here's a brief list of things I'm looking at to get a feel for the current elections:

Silver's piece above mentions a number of historical and current trends, and how they weigh on the elections. Obviously, one reason people are leery about predicting big Democratic gains is that Trump in particular and Republicans in general did better in 2016 than the polls suggested. That has people worried that Republicans are being systematically undercounted, and we won't know if that's the case until the votes are counted. Could just be a statistical fluke with no relationship to past or future elections. To the extent that any correction needed to be made, it's likely that pollsters have done that already. My own view is that Republicans have developed a very effective get-out-the-vote system, which Democrats (except for Obama, and then mostly for himself) never matched. (Clinton was especially lax in that regard.)

My own reservations about the Democrats' prospects are mostly due to respect for their "ground game" -- their ability to keep their base motivated, angry, hungry, and responsive to their taunts and jeers. The Democrats totally dropped the ball in 2010, and didn't fare much better in 2014. One thing you have to credit Republicans with is not letting up in 2018. And while Obama seemed aloof from his party, Trump has been totally committed to rallying his voters. Moreover, he does have a fairly robust economy to tout, and no big new wars to be mired in, and he was saved from blowing a huge hole in health care coverage. A lot of things he's done will eventually cost Americans dearly, but many of the effects are incremental. So he should be in pretty good shape, he's clearly trying hard, and his party machinery remains very efficient. Also, he's fortunate in having a playing field very tilted in his favor: the House is so thoroughly gerrymandered Republicans can lose the popular vote by 5-7% and still wind up with control, and the break on Senate seats favors the Republicans even more. The fact there is that even not counting California (where the top two open primary finishers are both Democrats, so there's no Republican on the ballot), the Democrats can win the popular vote by 10% or more without gaining a seat.

On the other hand, even though Trump has managed to hang on to virtually all of his supporters (and in many cases he's delighted them), he never has been very popular, and people who dislike him really detest him. By making the election so much a referendum on himself, he's drawing many young and disaffected people out to vote against Republicans, pretty much everywhere. Silver identifies two important points favoring the Democrats. One is that they've done a very strong job of raising money. Even more important (although the two aren't unrelated) the Democrats have recruited exceptionally strong candidates to contest virtually every election.

Some other briefly-noted stories on campaigns, polls, and some more general statements of principles:


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Journalists should stop repeating Trump's lies: Refers back to the author's Hack Gap piece, which should be required homework before voting in this election. Trump's claim that no other nation has "birthright citizenship" is a prime example of a lie that's been much repeated simply because Trump told it. Other Yglesias posts this week:

    • What's at stake in Tuesday's elections: Nice, concise statement of the implications of various outcomes. The one that's missing is the question of whether Trump, presented with a Democratic Congress, might veer off in a direction of bipartisan compromises, which could steer the Republicans out of the dead-end the party's far-right has trapped them in. As long as he's had Republican control of Congress, he's had no reason to reach across the aisle, and this has let the far-right effectively veto any attempts at compromise. But if there's no way a strict party vote can deliver him any results, he would likely find the Democrats more agreeable than the far-right. And one thing that is fairly certain is that, win or lose, Trump has gained strength as the party's leader. He has, after all, really pulled out all the stops to promote the party. Of course, he could just as well hold firm and run his 2020 campaign against the Democrat-obstructionists. Indeed, his base may prefer that stance, and he may prefer it. But there is middle ground he could gain if he actually did something constructive (infrastructure is a likely place to start). So he could emerge stronger after a defeat than a win.

    • What Democrats can learn from Larry Hogan: Also Charlie Baker, who looks to be "cruising to reelection in Massachusetts." Hogan and Baker are Republican governors in otherwise solidly Democratic states -- states that Democrats would start with if they really were looking to push a far-left agenda. I'm not sure what lessons Democrats should draw from this, but one for Republicans seems pretty obvious: that Republicans can win and even thrive in solid Democratic states by running candidates that are moderate, judicious, and not sociopathic. There's an element of luck to this, but also a deep-seated distrust of Democratic politicians, not least among the party rank-and-file. Massachusetts, for instance, has had many more Republican governors over the last 30 years than Democrats, but note that the latest Democrat, Deval Patrick, elected with impeccable progressive credentials, wound up so tightly enmeshed in business interests that he wound up as one of the villains in Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal! (eclipsed only by Andrew Cuomo among governors, Rahm Emmanuel among mayors, and the Clintons nationwide). It strikes me that there's a double standard here: people expect more from Democrats; when Democrats are elected, they get swamped in everyday administration tasks (which mostly means working with business lobbies); they can't figure out how to get their platforms implemented; people are disappointed and grow increasingly cynical. The best one can hope for in a Republican is quiet competence, and in the rare cases when a Republican can do that without embarrassment, he or she gets a free pass.

    • The cynical politics of John Bolton's "Troika of Tyranny": the subject of what was effectively a campaign speech delivered in Miami, a fairly transparent attempt to galvanize Cuban support for Republicans in Florida "even as President Donald Trump's closing argument in the 2018 midterms is demagogic fear-mongering about would-be asylum-seekers from Central America." Pre-Trump, Republicans distinguished between "good" and "bad" refugees from Latin America: the "good" ones fled from communism in Cuba, the "bad" ones from capitalism and US-allied "death squads" from elsewhere. Trump has managed to muddle this a bit, as his racist, xenophobic base tends to group all immigrants and all Latin Americans together -- a point that threatens the Cuban-Republican alliance. Still, not clear to me this works even as cynical politics. Obama's opening to Cuba actually played pretty well to Cuban-Americans, who saw opportunities as Cuba itself was becoming more business-friendly. Moreover, Trump's militant stands against Venezuela and Nicaragua do more to prop up the left-ish governments there than to undermine them. Nor is it likely that Bolton can parlay his strategy into visas for right-wingers to immigrate to the US, as happened with Cuba. And as policy, of course, this is plain bad. Also see: Alex Ward: John Bolton just gave an "Axis of Evil" speech about Latin America.

    • Ted Cruz and the Zodiac Killer, explained.

  • Jill Lepore: Reigns of Terror in America: A brief history lesson on what's new and not after last week's terrorizing shootings and would-be bombings. Mostly what's not:

    On Friday, May 9, 1958, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, in Atlanta, delivered a sermon called "Can This Be America?" Crosses had been burned and men had been lynched, but Rothschild was mainly talking about the bombs: bundled sticks of dynamite tied with coiled fuses. In the late nineteen-fifties, terrorists had set off, or tried to, dozens of bombs -- at black churches, at white schools that had begun to admit black children, at a concert hall where Louis Armstrong was playing, at the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. One out of every ten attacks had been directed at Jews, at synagogues and community centers in Charlotte, in Nashville, in Jacksonville, in Birmingham. In March, 1958, about twenty sticks of dynamite, wrapped in paper yarmulkes, had exploded in an Orthodox synagogue in Miami. The blast sounded like a plane crash. . . .

    America's latest reign of terror began not with Trump's election but with Obama's, the Brown v. Board of the Presidency. "Impeach Obama," yard signs read. "He's Unconstitutional." In 2011, Trump began demanding that Obama prove his citizenship. "I feel I've accomplished something really, really important," Trump told the press, when, that spring, the White House offered up the President's birth certificate.

    I'm still working my way through Lepore's big book, These Truths: A History of the United States -- currently 575 pages in (roughly 1956), 217 to go before the notes -- and even though I've been over this terrain many times before, I'm still picking up new (or poorly understood) pieces of information. For instance, she puts some emphasis on the development of print and broadcast media, of journalism and advertising and political consultants, and the effects of each on our democracy.

  • Mike Konczal/Nell Abernathy: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom: notably economic freedoms: "Freedom From Poverty"; "Freedom for Workers"; "Freedom From Corporate Power."

  • PR Lockhart: Georgia, 2018's most prominent voting rights battleground, explained. The governor's race there will largely be determined by who goes to the polls and who doesn't. The Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, is currently Georgia's Secretary of State, which gives him a direct hand in managing voter access, and he's been using his position to tilt the election his way. Same sorts of things are happening elsewhere, but Georgia has an especially long history of voter suppression, and Kemp is actively adding to that legacy. For the latest, also note: Emily Stewart: Brian Kemp's office opens investigation into Georgia Democratic Party days ahead of the election.

  • Gregory Magarian: Don't Call Him "Justice": A few more words on Brett Kavanaugh, whose new position on the Supreme Court only promises to debase the word "justice" even further.

  • David Roberts: The caravan "invasion" and America's epistemic crisis: Yglesias linked to this above, but I wanted to show the title, and the piece is worth examining closer. Especially the term "epistemic crisis" -- a blast from my past, applicable to all sorts of gross misunderstandings, including how the right-wing mythmongers take tiny germs of fact and reason and spin them into lurid fears and fantasies. Not to deny that sometimes they totally make shit up (like the ISIS jihadis alleged to have joined "the caravan"), but "the caravan" is basically a dramatization of a fairly common process, where the poor, threatened, and/or ambitious of poor countries like Guatemala seek a better life in a richer country like the US. One might think that an influx of poor people to a rich country might drag the latter down, or that the continued impoverty of immigrants might make them more prone to crime, but there is hardly any evidence of that.

    The thing I find most curious about "the caravan" is that it is so public -- more than anything else, it reminds me of civil rights marches, which makes it very different from past migration routes (more like the slave era "underground railroad": quiet and stealthy). Civil rights marches challenged relatively friendly federal powers to intervene and limit unfriendly local powers. Nothing like that applies here, with Trump's administration more likely to be provoked to harsher measures than to accept the migrants. Given the timing and publicity, a much more rational explanation would be that "the caravan" is a publicity stunt designed to promote and legitimize Trump's rabid anti-immigrant political platform. I'm surprised I haven't seen any investigation into such an obvious suspicion. Maybe it's that the liberal press assumes that everyone secretly wants to move here, so it doesn't occur to them to ask: why these people? and why now? Roberts sticks to the safe ground of "epistemic crisis":

    Trump does not view himself as president of the whole country. He views himself as president of his white nationalist party -- their leader in a war on liberals. He has all the tools of a head of state with which to prosecute that war. Currently, he is restrained only by the lingering professionalism of public servants and a few thin threads of institutional inertia.

    The caravan story, a lurid xenophobic fantasia that has now resulted in thousands of troops deployed on US soil, shows that those threads are snapping. The epistemic crisis Trump has accelerated is now morphing into a full-fledged crisis of democracy.

    Other "caravan" links:

  • Emily Stewart: Trump said there was a middle-class tax cut coming before the election. There's no way that's happening. "Instead of running on the tax bill they already passed, Republicans are trying to convince voters with a new (nonexistent) one."

  • Kenneth P Vogel/Scott Shane/Patrick Kingsley: How Vilification of George Soros Moved From the Fringes to the Mainstream.

  • Alex Ward: The US will impose new sanctions on Iran next week: "The goal is to change Iran's behavior. It's unclear if that will happen." There's hardly any evidence that sanctions do anything other than to lock in and harden existing stances. If the goal was to "change Iran's behavior," the key element would be laying out a path for that changed behavior to be validated, but the sanctions described are all stick, no carrot, and they're being imposed by a Trump regime that has already shown no consideration for Iran's steady compliance with the previous agreement. Moreover, the politics behind the new sanctions are almost totally being driven by Israel and Saudi Arabia. One obvious Saudi goal (shared by US oil companies and other major oil exporters, including Russia) is to keep Iranian oil off the world market -- an interest that will remain regardless of Iran's "behavior." It's a shame that Trump cannot conceive of the US having any broader interests (like peaceful coexistence) than the price of oil and the market for arms. Also see:

Friday, November 02, 2018

Daily Log

Bunches of little things to note over the last couple days.

I bought a new cell phone, a Samsung S9. I've only barely started to set it up. Also got a tablet, an Alcatel 3T 8-inch, which was almost free with a (cheaper) change to our monthly plan. Set them both up on local wi-fi (although the tablet only detected the slower wi-fi band, and seems very slow for web access). Much learning curve, I'm sure, on both.

One of the first things I tried was to access my website, which turned out to be down. First crash for the new server. H&D got it up and running fast, but no idea what caused the problem. I've been getting an email warning practically hourly from the server about rpcbind taking too long to run, so that's been one way to verify the server's up. I asked H&D to look into that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Streamnotes (October 2018)

Pick up text here.

Music Week

Music: current count 30524 [30499] rated (+25), 293 [287] unrated (+6).

Despite the late posting, cutoff was Monday afternoon (including Monday's incoming mail). Count is low mostly because I took time off to shop for and cook Birthday Dinner last week. Went with French, mostly dishes from the South country, definitely nothing gourmet or nouvelle cuisine-ish. Made a terrific cassoulet with duck, an even better veal marengo, a slightly inferior boeuf bourguinon, my usual ratatouille, and a simply divine gratin dauphinois, as well as a few spreadables (chicken liver, duck rillettes, salmon rillettes, herbed cheese, tapenade), and a pretty yummy flourless chocolate cake. Took three solid days: one shopping, two cooking. More extensive notes in the notebook.

During that time, I listened to golden oldies, including all of Rhino's The R&B Box. Before (and slightly after) I got stuck in Will Friedland's The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums, playing things he liked that I hadn't heard, and other things by artists listed that I thought might be worthwhile (mostly Frank Sinatra's Capitols). When I first picked up the book at the library, I had heard 19 of 57 listed albums (33.3%). Now I've raised that to 51 (89.4%), unable to find albums by Bobby Troup (Sings Johnny Mercer), Lena Horne (At the Waldorf Astoria), Barb Jungr (Every Grain of Sand), Carmen McRae (As Time Goes By), Jimmy Scott (Lost and Found), and Jo Stafford (Sings American Folk Songs). I don't have time to figure out a grade spread, but safe to say we don't agree on very many of these.

One thing I like to do when I'm doing these dives into old music is to knock off U-rated albums in my database, but I had trouble locating (much less finding time for) unrated boxes of Sinatra and Mel Tormé. (I also have an unrated Bing Crosby box somewhere. In fact, I should spend some time with Crosby, but as it happened I had heard Friedland's two Crosby selections, so I skipped over him.) Maybe someday I'll write my own vocals list. It should be very different, as only 13 albums on Friedland's list did A- or better for me.

Streamnotes due October 31. Need to get cracking on that. I should also note that Robert Christgau's new essay collection, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 came out last week.


New records rated this week:

  • Danny Bacher: Still Happy (2018, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop: Abundance (2013-16 [2018], Anzic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Colin Edwin & Lorenzo Feliciati: Twinscapes Vol. 2: A Modern Approach to the Dancefloor (2018, RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Fat Tony: 10,000 Hours (2018, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Marie Goudy 12tet featuring Jocelyn Barth: The Bitter Suite (2018, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Robyn: Honey (2018, Konichawa/Interscope): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Robyn: Robyn Is Here (1995 [1997], RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Robyn: My Truth (1999, RCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Robyn: Body Talk, Pt. 3 (2010, Konichiwa, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: Songs for Young Lovers (1954, Capitol, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: Swing Easy! (1954, Capitol, EP): [r]: A
  • Frank Sinatra: In the Wee Small Hours (1954-55 [1955], Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Frank Sinatra: Close to You (1957, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Frank Sinatra: Come Fly With Me (1957 [1958], Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Frank Sinatra: Come Dance With Me! (1958 [1959], Capitol): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: No One Cares (1959, Capitol): [r]: B-
  • Frank Sinatra: Nice 'n' Easy (1960, Capitol): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frank Sinatra: Sinatra's Swingin' Session (1960 [1961], Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Mr. Tophat Feat. Robyn: Trust Me (2016 [2017], Smalltown Supersound, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mel Tormé With the Marty Paich Dek-Tette: Lulu's Back in Town (1956, Bethlehem): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mel Tormé With the Marty Paich Dek-Tette: Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire (1956, Bethlehem): [r]: A-
  • Mel Tormé: Tormé (1958 [1959], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mel Tormé: I Dig the Duke/I Dig the Count (1961, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mel Tormé: Compact Jazz: Mel Tormé (1958-61 [1987], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mel Tormé: The Best of Mel Tormé [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1958-61 [2005], UME): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards: Elements (FMR)
  • Annie Chen Octet: Secret Treetop (Shanghai Audio & Video): November 9
  • Coyote Poets of the Universe: Strange Lullaby (Square Shaped, 2CD)
  • Jake Ehrenreich: A Treasury of Jewish Christmas Songs (self-released)
  • Christopher Hollyday: Telepathy (Jazzbeat Productions)
  • Adam Hopkins: Crickets (Out of Your Head)
  • Jason Kao Hwang Burning Bridge: Blood (True Sound)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Una Noche Con Rubén Blades (Blue Engine)
  • Lawful Citizen: Internal Combustion (self-released): November 9
  • Carol Liebowitz/Birgitta Flick: Malita-Malika (Leo)
  • Jack Mouse Group: Intimate Adversary (Tall Grass): January 1
  • Jorge Nila: Tenor Time (Tribute to the Tenor Masters) (Ninjazz): January 4
  • Chris Pasin: Ornettiquette (Piano Arts)
  • The David Ullman Group: Sometime (Little Sky)
  • David Virelles: Igbó Alákorin (The Singer's Groove) Vol I & II (Pi)
  • Way North: Fearless and Kind (self-released): November 2
  • Kenny Werner: The Space (Pirouet): November 2

Weekend Roundup

I haven't written much about the elections this year. Partly, I don't care for the horserace-style reporting, or the focus on polls as a proxy for actual news. FiveThirtyEight currently forecasts that the Democrats have a "1 in 6" chance of gaining control of the Senate, and a "6 in 7" chance of winning the House. The main difference there is that Democrats have a huge structural disadvantage in the Senate: only one third of the seats are up, and Republicans have a large margin among the carryover seats; most of the seats that are contested this year are Democratic, so the Democrats have many more opportunities to lose than to win; and the Senate isn't anywhere near close to uniformly representative of the general population. The House itself has been severely rigged against the Democrats, so much so that in recent years Democrats have won the national popular vote for the House yet Republicans won most of the seats (same as with the 2016 presidential election). Despite those odds, it seems likely that the Democrats will get a larger share of the nationwide Senate vote than the House vote. I'm not sure what the best thinking is on this, but it seems likely to me that the Democrats will have to win the nationwide House vote by 4% or more just to break even. The break-even point in the Senate is probably more like +10%, so a Democratic wave of +6-7% will give you those forecast odds.

Of course, one reason for not obsessing over the polls and odds is that Republicans have tended to do better than expected pretty much every election since the Democratic gains in 2006-08. I don't really understand why this has been the case, aside from the hard work Republicans have done to intimidate and suppress voters (but I doubt that's all there is to it). Early this year, I thought a bit about writing up a little book on political eras and strategy, but never got past the obvious era divisions: 1800, 1860, 1932, 1980; 2020 would be about right, especially since Trump has more in common with the dead-end presidents (Adams, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter) than the era-shifters (Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and, ugh, Reagan). Maybe I'll return to that after the election, with some more data to crunch.

Of course, the real meat of such a book would be a dissection of the Republican political machine: how it works, why it works, who pulls the levers, and why do so many otherwise decent people fall for it. (I don't see much value delving into the so-called deplorables, although two of them snapped and made the biggest news this week -- more on that below.) This should be easier now than it was just weeks or months ago, as Republican campaign pitches have become even more fraudulent and inflammatory as the day of reckoning approaches. Still, I'm not sure I'm up to this task. It's so easy to caricature Trump that most of his critics have failed to notice how completely, and even more surprisingly how deftly, he has merged his party and himself into a single, homogeneous force.

On the other hand, the Democrats are still very much the party of Will Rogers, when he famously proclaimed: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." Despite the recent polarization of political parties -- mostly accomplished by Republican efforts to detach Southern and suburban racists from their previous Democratic Party nests -- Democrats still range over virtually the entire spectrum of American political thought, at least those who generally accept that we live in a complex open society, one that accepts and respects differences within a framework of equal rights and countervailing powers. This contrasts starkly with the Republican Party, which has been captured by a few hundred billionaires, who have bankrolled a media empire which expertly exploits the fears and prejudices of an often-adequate segment of voters to support their agenda of enriching and aggrandizing their class, with scant regard for the consequences.

We see the consequences of unchecked Republican power every day, at least since the last general election delivered the presidency to Donald Trump, and allowed the confirmation of two more extreme right-wing Supreme Court Justices and many more lesser judges -- indeed, my Weekend Roundups for the last two years, including the one below, barely scratch that surface. But for all the talk of polarization, the practical situation today is not a stark choice between two dogmatic and opposed political extremes, but between one such party, and another that reflects the often flawed but still idealistic American tradition of progressive equality, an open and free society, and a mixed but fair economy: the traits of a democracy, because they are ideals that nearly all of us can believe in and agree on.

So despite the billions of dollars being spent to persuade you, the choice is ultimately stark and simple. Either you vote for a party that has proven itself determined to make America a cruder, harsher, less welcoming, less fair, more arrogant, more violent, and more rigidly hierarchical place, or you vote for Democrats, who may or may not be good people, who may or may not have good ideas, but who at least are open to discussing real problems and realistic solutions to those problems, who recognize that a wide range of people have interests, and who seek to balance them in ways that are practical and broadly beneficial. Republicans only seek to consolidate their power, and that means stripping away anything that gives you the option of standing up to them: pretty much everything from casting a ballot to joining a union. On the other hand, voting for Democrats may not guarantee democracy, but it will at least slow and possibly start to reverse the descent into totalitarianism the Republicans have plotted out.

This choice sounds so obvious I'm almost embarrassed to have to bring it up, but so many people are prey to Republican pitches that the races remain close and uncertain. Nor am I worried here just about the polls. I see evidence of how gullible otherwise upstanding people can be every time I look at Facebook. The main reason I bother with Facebook is to keep tabs on my family and close friends. While I have little cause for concern among the latter, my family offers a pretty fair cross-section of, well, white America. So every day now I see disturbing right-wing memes -- most common ones this week were efforts to paint alleged pipe-bomber Cesar Sayoc as a closet Democrat (one also argued that he isn't white). A couple weeks ago it was mostly misleading memes defending Brett Kavanaugh. It's very rare to find these accompanied by even a cursory personal argument. Rather, they seem to be just token gesture of political allegiance.


Probably the most important stories of the week were two acts of not-quite-random violence: one (mailed pipe bombs to a number of prominent Democratic Party politicians and supporters) seems to be a simple case of a Trump supporter acting on violent fantasies fanned by the president's reckless rhetoric; the other (a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh) erupts from a much older strain of anti-semitism, one that was much more fashionable back in the 1930s when Trump's father was attending pro-Nazi rallies in New York. Republicans, including Trump, were quick to condemn these acts of violence (although, as noted above, there has been a bizarre strain of denialism with regard to the pipe-bomber).

I have no doubt that these are the isolated acts of profoundly disturbed individuals. Of course, that's what politicians always say when their supporters get carried away and cross the bounds of law and decency. Still, I think there are cases where political figures set up an environment where it becomes almost inevitable that someone will act criminally. Two fairly convincing examples of this are the murders of Yitzhak Rabin in Israel (called for by prominent rabbis) and of George Tiller here in Wichita (killed on the second assassination attempt after years of being demonized by anti-abortion activists). I don't think either of this week's acts rises to that standard, but the fact is that violence against blacks, Jews, and others vilified by right-wing propagandists spiked shortly after Obama was elected president, and Trump deliberately tapped into that anger during and after the 2016 election. Indeed, right-wing rage has been a feature of American politics at least since it was summoned up by GW Bush in response to the 9/11 attacks, deliberately to put America onto a permanent war footing, something that seventeen years of further war has only increased. That random Americans have increasingly attempted to impose their political will through guns and bombs is no coincidence, given that their government has done just that -- and virtually nothing else but that -- for most of our lives.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The hack gap: how and why conservative nonsense dominates American politics: This at least starts to explain why, for instance, when Hillary Clinton referred to half of Trump's supporters as "a basket of deplorables" the comment was repeated ad nauseum along with the horrified reactions from both halves of the Trump party, but when Trump says "Anybody who votes for a Democrat now is crazy" hardly anyone ever hears of it:

    The reason is something I've dubbed "the hack gap" over the years, and it's one of the most fundamental asymmetries shaping American politics. While conservatives obsess over the (accurate) observation that the average straight news reporter has policy views that are closer to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, the hack gap fundamentally does more to structure political discourse.

    The hack gap explains why Clinton's email server received more television news coverage than all policy issues combined in the 2016 election. It explains why Republicans can hope to get away with dishonest spin about preexisting conditions. It's why Democrats are terrified that Elizabeth Warren's past statements about Native American heritage could be general election poison in 2020, and it's why an internecine debate about civility has been roiling progressive circles for nearly two years even while the president of the United States openly praises assaulting journalists. . . .

    Since there are exactly two significant political parties in the United States, it's natural to think of them as essentially mirror images of each other.

    But they're not, and one critical difference is that the Republican Party benefits from the operation of mass-market propaganda broadcasts that completely abjure the principles of journalism.

    Back in the 19th century, most newspapers in America were highly partisan, but around 1900 they gave way to mainstream papers which strived to establish clear facts that could inform all readers. As broadcast media developed, it was licensed by the government and required to serve the public interest and provide equal time on matters of controversy. This pretty much ended when Reagan's FCC got rid of the equal time rule. Right-wingers were quick to buy up newly unregulated media and turn them into pure propaganda outlets. The left might have wanted to follow suit, but none (by definition) could afford to buy up the formerly "free press," while liberals and centrists were generally content to stick with the mainstream media, even as its fact-bias tilted to the right to encompass the "reality" of the propagandists. This continuous rebalancing has had the effect of allowing the right to define much of the terrain of what counts as news. A prime example of this has been the nearly continuous mainstream press reporting on an endless series of Clinton "scandals" -- even when the reporting shows the charges to be false, the act of taking them seriously feeds the fears and doubts of many uncommitted voters, in some cases (like 2016) tilting elections:

    And yet elections are swung, almost by definition, not by the majority of people who correctly see the scope of the differences and pick a side but by the minority of people for whom the important divisions in US partisan politics aren't decisive. Consequently, the issues that matter most electorally are the ones that matter least to partisans. Things like email protocol compliance that neither liberals nor conservatives care about even slightly can be a powerful electoral tool because the decisive voters are the ones who don't care about the epic ideological clash of left and right.

    But journalists take their cues about what's important from partisan media outlets and partisan social media.

    Thus, the frenzies of partisan attention around "deplorables" and "lock her up" served to focus on controversies that, while not objectively significant. are perhaps particularly resonant to people who don't have firm ideological convictions.

    Meanwhile, similar policy-neutral issues like Trump's insecure cellphone, his preposterous claim to be too busy to visit the troops, or even his apparent track record of tax fraud don't get progressives worked into a lather in the same way.

    This is a natural tactical advantage that, moreover, serves a particular strategic advantage given the Republican Party's devotion to plutocratic principles on taxation and health insurance that have only a very meager constituency among the mass public.

    Yglesias cites some interesting research on the effect of Fox News and other cogs in the right-wing propaganda machine, showing that the margin of nearly all Republican victories "since the 1980s" can be chalked up to this "hack gap." One effect of this is that by being able to stay extreme and still win, Republicans have never had to adjust their policy mix to gain moderate voters. Indeed, they probably realize that extreme negative attitudes are, if anything, more effective in motivating their "base," although that also leads to them taking ever greater liberties with the truth.

    Other Yglesias pieces from the last two weeks:

    • The case for amnesty.

    • Democratic priorities for 2021: what's most important? Given all the people who are likely running for president in 2020, what do they hope to accomplish?

      In my view, the most important things to tackle right now are climate change, the state of American democracy, and the millions of long-term resident undocumented immigrants in the country.

    • Democrats need to learn to name villains rather than vaguely decrying "division": Yglesias doesn't get very specific either, but that's because what he says about Republicans fits damn near every one of them:

      But there is also a very specific thing happening in the current American political environment that is driving the elevated level of concern. And that thing is not just a nameless force of "division."

      It's a deliberate political strategy enacted by the Republican Party, its allies in partisan media, and its donors to foster a political debate that is centered on divisive questions of personal identity rather than on potentially unifying themes of concrete material interests. It's a strategy whose downside is that it tends to push American society to the breaking point, but whose upside is that it facilitates the enacting of policies that serve the concrete material interests of a wealthy minority rather than those of the majority.

      That's what's going on, and it's time to say so.

      Here in Kansas, Kris Kobach is running for governor, and his adds try to turn him into a normal "family man," while attacking his opponent, Democrat Laura Kelly, as "far left." I don't know the guy personally, so I merely suspect, based on his public behavior and manifest ignorance of law, that the former is a bald-faced lie. The charge against Kelly is no less than rabid McCarthy-ite slander: not that it would bother me if it were true, but she's about as staidly conservative as any non-Republican in Kansas can be. Meanwhile, Ron Estes' ads for the House stress how hard he's is fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare -- something there's no evidence of in his voting record. No mention of the real hard work he does in Washington, carrying water for the Kochs, Boeing, and the hometown Petroleum Club.

      Biden is right, of course, that the upshot of that divisiveness is deplorable and bad for the country. It would be much healthier for American society to have a calmer, kinder, more rational political dialogue more focused on addressing the concrete problems of the majority of the country. But while society overall would be healthier with that kind of politics, Donald Trump personally would not be better off. Nor would the hyper-wealthy individuals who benefit personally from the Republican Party's relentless advocacy of unpopular regressive tax schemes.

      The American people were not crying out for the Trump administration to legalize a pesticide that damages children's brains and then follow it up with a ruling to let power plants poison children's brains, but the people who own the pesticide factories and power plants are sure glad that we're screaming about a caravan of migrants hundreds of miles away rather than the plutocrats next door.

      Combating this strategy of demagoguery and nonsense is difficult, but the first step is to correctly identify it rather than spouting vague pieties about togetherness.

    • An extended discussion of the US-Saudi alliance shows Trump still has no idea what he's talking about.

    • After playing nice for one afternoon, Trump wakes to blame the media for bombings.

    • Trump's middle-class tax cut is a fairy tale that distracts from the real midterm stakes:

      There is a kind of entertaining randomness to the things Trump says and does. The president decides it would be smart to start pretending that he's working on a middle-class tax cut, so he just blurts it out with no preparation. Everyone else in the Republican Party politics knows that when Trump starts lying about something, their job is to start covering for him.

      But because Trump is disorganized, and most people aren't as shameless as Trump is, it usually takes a few days for the ducks to get in a row. The ensuing chaos is kind of funny.

      But there's actually nothing funny about tricking millions of people about matters with substantial concrete consequences for them and their families. And that's what's happening here. Trump is lying about taxes -- and about health care and many other things -- because he will benefit personally in concrete ways if the electorate is misinformed about the real stakes in the election.

    • Ebola was incredibly important to TV news until Republicans decided it shouldn't be.

    • California's Proposition 10, explained: This has to do with rent control. Yglesias once wrote a book called The Rent Is Too Damn High, so this is something he cares a lot about -- certainly a lot more than I do, although I sure remember the pain of getting price gouged by greedy landlords. Yglesias mostly wants to see more building, which would put pressure to bring prices down.

    • To defend journalism, we need to defend the truth and not just journalists:

      Trump is a bigot and a demagogue, but he is first and foremost a scammer.

      When Trump fans wanted to learn the secrets of his business success, he bilked them out of money for classes at his fake university. When Trump fans wanted to invest in his publicly traded company, they lost all their money while he tunneled funds out of the enterprise and into his pockets.

      He riles up social division by lying about minority groups to set up the premise that he's the champion of the majority, and then lies to the majority about what he's doing for them.

      He can't get away with it if people know the truth, so he attacks -- rhetorically, and at times even physically -- people whose job it is is to tell the truth. To push back, we in journalism can't just push back on the attacks. We need to push back on the underlying lies more clearly and more vigorously than we have.

    • Reconsidering the US-Saudi relationship: Argues that a US-Saudi alliance made sense during the Cold War, and that hostility between the Saudis and Iran makes sense now (the sanctions keep Iran from putting its oil on the market and depressing the price of Saudi oil), but points out that while the Saudis benefit from keeping the US and Iran at loggerheads, the US doesn't get much out of it. That Trump has fallen for the Saudi bait just shows how little he understands anything about the region (and more generally about the world).

    • The biggest lie Trump tells is that he's kept his promises: Well, obviously, "a raft of populist pledges have been left on the cutting room floor," starting with "great health care . . . much less expensive and much better." Also the idea of Mexico paying for "the wall." Here's a longer laundry list:

      There's a lot more where that came from:

      • As a candidate, Trump promised to raise taxes on the rich; as president, he promised tax changes that at a minimum wouldn't benefit the rich.
      • Trump promised to break up America's largest banks by reinstated old Glass-Steagall regulations that prevented financial conglomerates from operating in multiple lines of business.
      • Trump promised price controls on prescription drugs.
      • Trump promised to "take the oil" from Iraq to reduce the financial burden of US military policy.
      • Trump promised many times that he would release his tax returns and promised to put his wealth into a blind trust.
      • Trump vowed rollback of climate change regulations but said he was committed to upholding clean air and clean water goals.
      • Trump promised a $1 trillion infrastructure package.

      The larger betrayal is that Trump portrayed himself as a self-financed candidate (which wasn't true) who was willing to take stances on domestic and economic issues that his donor-backed opponents wouldn't. In terms of position-taking, that was true.

      I see less grounds for faulting Trump on this score. For one thing, I never heard or felt him as a populist -- so half of the above, as well as such vague and impossible promises as better/cheaper health care, never registered as campaign promises. A pretty good indication of my expectations was how sick-to-my-stomach I was on election night. What Trump's done since taking office is very consistent with what I expected that night. In fact, I would say that he's been much more successful at fulfilling his campaign promises than Obama was after taking office in 2009, or Clinton in 1993. This is especially striking given that both Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 had strong Democratic majorities in Congress, which they pissed away in bipartisan gestures. Trump had much less to work with, and had to awkwardly merge his agenda into that of the harder right Congressional Republicans, but he's gotten quite a bit through Congress, and gone way beyond his mandate with his executive orders. Moreover, things that he hasn't fully delivered, like his wall, wrecking universal health care, and resetting international trade regulations, he's made a good show of showing he still cares for those issues. Of course, he lies a lot about what he's doing, and what his acts will actually accomplish. And nearly everything he's done and wants to do will eventually blow back and hurt the nation and most of its people. But as politicians go, you can't fault him for delivering. You have to focus on what those deliveries mean, because history will show that Trump's much worse than a liar and a blowhard.

    • How to make the economy great again: raise pay.

    • The Great Recession was awful. And we don't have a plan to stop the next one. A couple of interesting charts here, comparing actual to potential output, as estimated over time since the 2008 recession started. Not only did the recession cause a lot of immediate pain, it's clear now that it has reduced future prospects well past when we technically recovered from the recession.

    • Progressives have nothing to learn from "nationalist" backlash politics: "Nativism is the social democracy of fools." Cites an op-ed by Jefferson Cowie: Reclaiming Patriotism for the Left.

    • Proportional representation could save America: Maybe, but it won't happen, mostly because no one with the power to make changes to make it easier for independents and third parties to share power will see any advantage in doing so. I once wondered why after 2008 no one in the Democratic Party lifted a finger to restrict or limit the role of money in elections, but the obvious reason was that even though a vast majority of rank-and-file Democrats (and probably a thinner majority of Republican voters) favored such limits, the actual Democrats (and Republicans) in power were by definition proven winners at raising money, making them the only people with good self-interested reasons for continuing the present system.

  • Jon Lee Anderson: Jair Bolsonaro's Victory Echoes Donald Trump's, With Key Differences: For the worse, he means. Actually, he's sounding more like Pinochet, or Franco, or you-know-who:

    Bolsonaro himself has promised retribution against his political foes, swearing that he will see Lula "rot" in prison and will eventually put Haddad behind bars, too. He has also pledged to go after the land-reform activists of the M.S.T. -- the Movimento Sem Terra -- the Landless Worker's Movement, whom he has referred to as "terrorists."

    In a speech last week, Bolsonaro called Brazil's leftists "red outlaws" and said that they needed to leave the country or else go to jail. "These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland," he said. "It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history." Later, referring to his supporters, he said, "We are the majority. We are the true Brazil. Together with this Brazilian people, we will make a new nation."

    Also see: Greg Grandin: Brazil's Bolsonaro Has Supercharged Right-Wing Cultural Politics; also Vijay Prashad: Bolsonaro of Brazil: Slayer of the Amazon; and Noam Chomsky: I just visited Lula, the world's most prominent political prisoner. A "soft coup" in Brazil's election will have global consequences..

  • Peter Beinart: The Special Kind of Hate That Drove Pittsburgh Shooter -- and Trump. In many respects the shooter is a classic anti-semite, but he specifically singled out the Pittsburgh synagogue for its support for immigrants, including Muslims. For more on this, see: Masha Gessen: Why the Tree of Life shooter was fixated on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Also of interest: Abigail Hauslohner/Abby Ohlheiser: Some neo-Nazis lament the Pittsburgh massacre: It derails their efforts to be mainstream.

  • Tara Isabella Burton: The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting comes amid a years-long rise in anti-Semitism; also: Why extremists keep attacking places of worship; also German Lopez: Trump's responses to mass shootings are a giant lie by omission, and The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting is another example of America's gun problem, to which I'd add "war problem."

  • John Cassidy: Donald Trump Launches Operation Midterms Diversion: Who wants to talk about pipe bombs sent to political enemies and mass shootings in synagogues (or in grocery stores) when you can send troops to the Mexican border to brace against the migrant hordes? Cassidy also wrote: The Dangerously Thin Line Between Political Incitement and Political Violence, Why Donald Trump Can't Stop Attacking the Media Over the Pipe-Bomb Packages, and American Democracy Is Malfunctioning in Tragic Fashion.

  • Michael D'Antonio: Cesar Sayocs can be found almost anywhere in America. Presidents should take heed:

    Trump campaigned using taunts and suggestions that all the Cesar Sayocs could have heard as calls to violent action. When a protester interrupted a rally, Trump announced that he would "like to punch him in the face" and waxed sentimental about the days when protesters would be "carried out on stretchers."

    He referenced a "Second Amendment" response to Hillary Clinton's possible election and offered to pay the legal bills for those who assault his protesters. . . .

    As president, Trump never pivoted from his destructive campaign mode to become a leader of all the American people. Just weeks ago, he praised fellow Republican Greg Gianforte for assaulting a reporter who had asked him a question. "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of . . . He was my guy," said Trump.

    The President's encouragement of violence, combined with rhetoric about the press being "enemies of the people" and political opponents being un-American, are green lights for those who are vulnerable to suggestion. Worse, when you think about the President's impact on fevered minds, is his penchant for conspiracy theories. With no evidence, he recently suggested terrorists were among immigrants now marching toward the United States.

    Previously, Trump has said that the hurricane death toll in Puerto Rico was inflated to hurt him politically, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, climate change is a "hoax" and millions of people voted illegally in 2016. Keep in mind, this is the President of the United States we're talking about, and though they are favored on the fringes of the internet, none of these ideas is supported by facts.

    Taken together, Trump's paranoid rants encourage people to believe that almost anything can be true. Can't find actual facts to support your belief that some conspiracy is afoot? Well, the absence of facts proves that the media is in on the game. An election doesn't go your way? As the President says, the system is "rigged."

    Consider Trump's paranoid blather from the perspective of a man who may already feel alienated, angry and afraid. You hear the President of the United States repeatedly assert that the dishonest press is hiding the real truth. He implies that his enemies are out to hurt him and he needs the help of ordinary citizens. Add the way that Trump encourages violence and seems to thrill at the prospect, and is it any wonder that someone would act? The real wonder is why it doesn't happen more often.

    I wouldn't have committed to that last sentence, but the rest of the quote is pretty spot on. I can think of lots of reasons why this doesn't happen more often. For starters, few people (even few Trump voters) take politics as personally as Sayoc and Trump do. Even among those who do, and are as disaffected as Sayoc, hardly any are ready to throw their lives away to indulge Trump's whims. It might even occur to them that if Trump really wanted to order hits on his "enemies," he'd be much more able to foot the bill himself. (He'd probably even have contacts with Russians willing to do the job.) But Trump himself doesn't do things like that: he's not that deranged, or maybe he just has a rational fear that it might blow up on him (cf. Mohammad Bin Salman, or for that matter Vladimir Putin). I think it's pretty clear that Trump attacks the media because he's afraid not of satire (the former meaning of "fake news") or opinion, but of the corruption, deceit, and dysfunction that media might eventually get around to reporting (if they ever tire of his tweets and gaffes). By turning his supporters against the media, he hopes to create doubt should they ever get serious about the damage he's causing.

    A second point that should be stressed is that you don't have to be president to incite someone like Sayoc to violence. Indeed, incited violence most often reflects a loss or lack of power. It is, after all, a tactic of desperation (a point Gilles Kepel made about 9/11 in an afterword to his essential book Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam). I fully expect we'll see an uptick in right-wing violence only after Trump leaves office -- much like the one following the Republican loss in 2008, but probably much worse given the personal animus Trump has been spouting. (Of course, Republicans who argued last week that Trump is being unfairly blamed because no one blamed Obama for a Charleston church massacre that occurred "on his watch" will spare Trump any responsibility.)

    For more on Sayoc, see: Dan Paquette/Lori Rozsa/Matt Zapotosky: 'He felt that somebody was finally talking to him': How the package-bomb suspect found inspiration in Trump.

  • Madison Dapcevich: EPA Announces It Will Discontinue Science Panel That Reviews Air Pollution Safety.

  • Garrett Epps: The Citizenship Clause Means What It Says: Adding to the last-minute campaign confusion, Trump's talking about using his executive powers to override the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. Also see: Aziz Huq: Trump's birthright citizenship proposal, explained by a law professor.

  • J Lester Feder: Bernie Sanders Is Partnering With a Greek Progressive to Build a New Leftist Movement: The guy who didn't get his name in the headline is Yanis Varoufakis, who left his post as an economic professor in Texas to become Greece's finance minister under the Syriza government, and left that post when Syriza caved in to the EU's austerity demands. Since then he's written several books: And the Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future, and Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism. The article sees this as a response to Steve Bannon's efforts to forge an international alliance of far-right parties, normally separated by their respective nationalisms. Reminds me more of the pre-Bolshevik Internationale, but maybe we shouldn't talk about that? But globalism is so clearly dominated by capital that resistance and constructive alternatives emerging from anywhere help us all.

  • Umair Irfan: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke might face a criminal investigation: Although they're going to have to come up with something more substantial than "He also compared Martin Luther King Jr. to Robert E. Lee" (the subhed -- why even mention that?).

  • German Lopez: The Kentucky Kroger shooting may have been a racist attack: I don't see much need for "may" here, even if the white shooter's "whites don't kill whites" quote is just hearsay.

  • Robinson Meyer: The Trump Administration Flunked Its Math Homework: On automobile mileage standards.

  • Dana Milbank: The latest lesson in Trumponomics 101:

    Tuesday morning brought a textbook illustration of Trumponomics.

    Under this economic theory -- defined roughly as "when it's sunny, credit me; when it rains, blame them" -- President Trump has been claiming sole responsibility for a bull market that began nearly eight years before his presidency.

    But this month, wild swings in the market threaten to erase the year's gains, and on Tuesday, Trump offered an explanation: The Democrats did it! The market "is now taking a little pause -- people want to see what happens with the Midterms," he tweeted. "If you want your Stocks to go down, I strongly suggest voting Democrat."

    Most attribute the swoon to higher tariffs set off by Trump's trade war and higher interest rates aggravated by Trump's tax cut. But Trumponomics holds otherwise. . . .

    When you start from a place of intellectual dishonesty, there is no telling where you'll end up. That is the very foundation of Trumponomics.

    For something a little deeper on Trumponomics, see: Matt Taibbi: Three Colliding Problems Leading to a New Economic Disaster.

  • Bruce Murphy: Wisconsin's $4.1 billion Foxconn boondoggle: "The total Foxconn subsidy hit $4.1 billion, a stunning $1,774 per household in Wisconsin." Article also notes that $4.1 billion is about $315,000 per job promised.

  • Andrew Prokop: The incredibly shoddy plot to smear Robert Mueller, explained. Read this if you're curious. Significant subheds here are "This was an embarrassingly thin scam" and "If this was just trolling, then it sort of worked." All I want to add that I thought Seth Meyers' take on this story was especially disgusting, but I could say that for all of his "looks like . . ." bits.

  • Catherine Rampell: Republicans are mischaracterizing nearly all their major policies. Why?

    Republicans have mischaracterized just about every major policy on their agenda. The question is why. If they genuinely believe their policies are correct, why not defend them on the merits? . . .

    [Long list of examples, most of which you already know]

    You might wonder if maybe Republican politicians are mischaracterizing so many of their own positions because they don't fully understand them. But given that Republican leaders have occasionally blurted out their true motives -- on taxes, immigration and, yes, even health care -- this explanation seems a little too charitable.

    Republican politicians aren't too dumb to know what their policies do. But clearly they think the rest of us are.

  • Brian Resnick: Super Typhoon Yutu, the strongest storm of the year, just hit US territories: That would be islands in the West Pacific, Tinian and Saipan, with sustained winds of 180 mph, gusting to 219 mph, a 20 foot storm surge, waves cresting at 52 feet. Just my impression, but this year has been an especially fierce one for tropical cyclones in the Pacific, including two that improbably hit Hawaii. Any year when you get to 'Y' is pretty huge.

  • David Roberts: Why conservatives keep gaslighting the nation about climate change: I've run across the term several times recently, and sort of thought I knew what it meant, but decided to look it up to be sure:

    Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

    I guess that makes it the word of the week. As the article points out, the tactics have changed as climate change has become more and more undeniable, but the goal -- not doing anything about it that might impact the bottom line of the carbon extraction companies -- has held steady (although maybe they'll come around to spend money on "adaptation," given the equation: "nationalism + graft = that's the right-wing sweet spot").

  • Alex Ward: Saudi Arabia admits Khashoggi's murder was "premeditated". Ward also wrote The US is sending 5,000 troops to the border. Here's what they can and can't do. Ward cites Dara Lind, explaining:

    It is completely legal for anyone on US soil to seek asylum, regardless of whether or not they have papers. People who present themselves for asylum at a port of entry -- an official border crossing -- break no US law.

    Ward also wrote: Trump may soon kill a US-Russia arms control deal. It might be a good idea. Uh, no, it's not. Even if you buy the argument that Russia has been "cheating" -- during a period when the US expanded NATO all the way to Russia's border -- the solution is more arms control, not less, and certainly not a new round of arms race. Tempting, of course, to blame this on John Bolton, who's built his entire career on promoting nuclear arms races. By the way, Fred Kaplan has argued Trump Is Rewarding Putin for His Bad Behavior by Pulling Out of a Key Missile Treaty.

  • Paul Woodward: Loneliness in America: Could have filed this under any of the shooters above (specifically refers to Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers), but obviously this is more more widespread, with much more complex consequences.

Also, saved for future study:


PS: Although I started this back on Saturday, in anticipation of posting late Sunday evening. Actually got the introduction written on Sunday, but the miscellaneous links just dragged on and on and on -- finally cut them off on Wednesday, October 31. After which I still had a Music Week post due on the intervening Monday, and a Streamnotes wrap up by the end of the month (i.e., today). Of course, it's my prerogative to backdate if I wish. But while I didn't make an effort to pick up late stories, inevitably a few snuck in here. So pretend I just had a long weekend. Feels like one.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Daily Log

Started this, but found it was chewing up too much time for too little value:

I was going to say that I've never seen any of these things accompanied by a coherent personal argument, but I found one today (from a cousin-in-law):

Please quit using the word IMMIGRANT to describe people trying to force their way into our country illegally. It is an insult to my mother and the millions of other law abiding CITIZENS who studied hard and followed all the rules of our country to become legitimate Immigrants. They learned English and swore to uphold our country and its laws and to support themselves and be productive citizens. We aren't "afraid" of immigrants, we aren't "racists," we simply can distinguish right from wrong which makes us rational adults.

Some things I would disagree with here, and some I'm simply unclear on. America has lots of immigrants who aren't naturalized citizens but have all the necessary documentation (e.g., "green cards") so aren't "illegal" (an unfairly charged term that most often refers to someone who simply didn't have the foresight to negotiate the proper bureaucracy). Before 1924, such paperwork didn't even exist, so none of my ancestors ever had visas or work permits, and few were officially naturalized (although I know that a great-great-grandfather from Sweden was). I should also point out that the much-reported "caravan" of refugees from Central America haven't done anything illegal (at least in the US). They actually have a legal right to present themselves to US border officials and apply for refugee (or other immigrant) status.

Another fragment I gave up on:

I mentioned above how obnoxious right-wing memes are, but I saw a centrist one yesterday that was every bit as wrong-headed. It posed as a "memorandum from the American people": "You are no longer allowed to talk about your opponent in any way, form or fashion. You are only allowed to tell us why YOU are right for this position and NOT why your opponent is not." . . .

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Daily Log

Birthday Thursday, 68. Got a fairly good examination by my cardiologist on Wednesday, although in most regards I'm in worsening shape. Mostly aches and pains moving around. Eyesight worse. Allergies as bad as ever. Having trouble getting to bed before 6AM, or sleeping past Noon -- but I do get a pretty solid five hours.

Spent all day cooking for my big Birthday Dinner tomorrow night. This year's theme is French country cooking. I ordered two cookbooks for the occasion: Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, and Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. The only proper French cookbook I had before this was Julia Child's Volume 1, which I'm should mention I have yet to cook anything out of yet. I have cooked a handful of French dishes in the past, but never made a point of cooking a whole French dinner.

When I came up with the idea, I thought I'd fill up the entire week with cooking, starting with things I could keep around a few days. As it turned out, although I had made a couple of early scouting trips, I didn't do any serious shopping until Wednesday. Even then, my menu was still a rough sketch of possible ideas. What I wound up serving Friday was:

  • Ready-to-bake French baguettes, with several spreads:
    • Mme. Maman's chopped liver (Greenspan)
    • Salmon rillettes (Greenspan)
    • Duck rillettes (Peterson)
    • Lyonnaise garlic & herb cheese (Greenspan)
    • Tapenade (Jenkins)
  • Cold trout in orange marinade (Hazan)
  • Boeuf bourgoinon (Bourdain)
  • Veal marengo (Greenspan)
  • Whole duck cassoulet (Bittman)
  • Ratatouille (Jenkins)
  • Gratin dauphinois (Bourdain)
  • Bittersweet chocolate-almond cake with amaretti cookie crumbs (Greenspan)

I bought stuff to make several other smaller dishes, but they fell by the wayside. I thought about making my own bread, but ultimately figured it would be too much work and pretty risky. The ready-to-bake loaves seemed like a nice compromise, although they actually turned out not to be very good. Only dish I was even moderately disappointed by was the beef, which barely made the two hours the recipe calls for -- I suspect another 30-45 minutes would have helped, if nothing else to concentrate the sauce. By contrast, I wound up cooking the veal a lot longer than called for, and it was spectacular.

Did pretty much all of the shopping on Wednesday. Thawed the duck out and cut the breast and legs off, reserving them for later use. I then roasted the rest of the duck along with an onion, carrots, and celery for an hour, then dumped them into the stock pot, simmering the stock for another 3-4 hours. I collected the fat for future use. Both steps could have used more time -- not least because I needed more fat. I wound up salvaging the loose boiled meat, and tried slow-frying the skin and any bits of fat I found, like I've done making gribenes. I wound up throwing the skin away, but did get a few more tablespoons of fat.

I also covered four cups of white (great northern) beans with cold water, soaking them overnight rather than following Bittman's recipe and soaking them one hour in boiling water. (Bourdain's recipe called for soaking overnight, and that's what I've usually done.)

Next day, Thursday, I was able to skim a bit more fat from the stock (though not as much as I expected). First thing I did Thursday was to make duck confit from the reserved legs and fat. Didn't quite have enough fat to cover the legs, so I added some from a jar I keep handy: originally started with duck fat, but mostly had bacon drippings added since. Confit cooks in the fat, ideally between 190-200F, for 90 minutes. I monitored this closely, but had a tough time keeping the temperature down. I expected the meat, once cooled, to come out softer than it did, but I'm not expert enough to really judge the results.

I made the spreads on Thursday. I had originally wanted to do Bourdain's pork rillettes recipe, but on re-reading I discovered it called for three days refrigeration before serving, and I didn't start soon enough to do that. Howver, I noticed a duck rillettes recipe in Peterson's book. Sure, it called for starting with confit legs, but I had about a cup of scrap meat (mostly neck and wings, bits from the back, and giblets) so I added some duck fat and spices, and it turned out to be really delicious.

I made the trout and all of the other spreads. Brief notes:

  • The trout came from an Italian cookbook (Hazan), but always struck me as a rather French recipe. Sprouts has trout filets, so I'm always tempted to pick them up -- they make a nice little dinner for two. I thought of using them for a main fish dish, but then I remembered the Hazan recipe, and figured it would be better to cook them sooner, and get the dish stored away. Basically: flour and sautee the filets. Make a sauce from olive oil, shallots, orange peel, vermouth, orange and lemon juice. I ran out of vermouth, so filled out the deficit with white wine.
  • The salmon rillettes were made from a piece of fresh salmon, poached in wine, and a similar-sized chunk of smoked salmon, all mashed up with butter.
  • Mme. Maman's chopped liver is you basic onions and chicken liver mash up. I added a little cognac (not called for in the recipe), two hard-boiled eggs, and blended it in the food processor (recipe seems to want you to chop by hand).
  • I made the cheese with whole milk ricotta, drained, with garlic and various chopped herbs (chives, parsley, tarrogon, maybe thyme).
  • I used black Greek olives for the tapenade, along with capers and a can of ventresca tuna (albacore belly). The olives didn't pack much taste, but but it got better (and blacker) when I added some Moroccan oil-cured olives.

I decided to only make a half-recipe of ratatouille, although I had bought two eggplant and four red bell peppers for a full recipe. The ratatouille recipe calls for peppers to be roasted and peeled, but the eggplant is simply cut into cubes and brined. I decided I'd roast one eggplant along with the peppers, and possibly make another spread of "eggplant caviar," but in the end didn't use them. Other little things I managed to get done on Thursday include making a couple cups of bread crumbs (from a nice loaf of herb bread), boiling and peeling pearl and cippoline onions for the beef and veal dishes. Finally, I cooked the ratatouille, and baked the cake.

The ratatouille half-recipe calls for the vegetables to be cooked one by one, then collected in a bowl: the red bell peppers roasted and peeled, the onion sliced, the eggplant cubed and fried, the two zucchini chunked and fried, then a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes with a bit of sugar and corriander. When the latter had thickened, I dumped the rest back in, added capers, and let it simmer much longer than called for.

The cake recipe called for an 8-inch round cake pan, but my smaller springform pan was 9-inch, so I did some math and decided to scale the recipe by 25% (close enough that 3 eggs became 4). Exotic ingredient was amaretti cookies, which I found at World Market, ground with almonds in the food processor. Added butter, eggs, cocoa (Hershey's Special Dark), sugar, salt, and 5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%). Scraped it into the pan and baked it. Came out with a large bubble raising one-third of the cake, so I pushed that back down with a spatula. Came out thinner and denser than I expected, looking like my recent Prague Cake disaster -- until I cut and served it, I fretted that I had made my second straight cake faux pas. I left the glazing until Friday, and wound up barely getting it done, but by then I had some space in the refrigerator to chill the glaze (2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, 1/4 c heavy cream, 1 tbs sugar, 1 tbs water; I forget now whether I poured the heated cream into the chocolate, as the recipe directed, or vice versa, as recommended by Bakewise). I ground up two more cookies and scattered the crumbs over the glaze before popping it into the refrigerator.

I got up Friday around noon, with three large pots left on the stove: the beans, the lamb mixture, and the ratatouille. I reheated them. The ratatouille was done, so when it was hot, I scraped it into a serving bowl. I cut the meat into chunks, and got the mandoline out to slice the potatoes (which worked pretty well, for once). I figured my smaller (chicken-sized) roasting pan would suffice for the cassoulet, but before I could assemble it, I had to fry the sausage and warm up the duck stock. A proper cassoulet sausage is thin, pork, with a lot of garlic. I looked at a lot of alternatives, but couldn't find anything uncooked that came close, so I bought a couple of cooked sausage candidates. I wound up going with Silva Bourbon, Uncured Bacon and Black Pepper Sausage, cut into half-inch slices and browned in duck fat. I don't particularly recall them in the finished dish, but they certainly didn't hurt. I assembled the cassoulet, starting with a layer of beans, then sausage and the slab bacon I cooked the beans with, then more beans, then the lamb-duck-tomato mixture, then more beans. I added two cups of duck stock, and covered the top with my bread crumbs.

I tried to work out a chart of when various things had to be done for the four hot dishes to come out at 6:30. The boeuf bourguinon had the longest cooking time (2 hours), and I barely got it on by 4:30. In retrospect, I think it could have used another hour. I also didn't quite believe that the 1 cup of red wine called for was enough, so I doubled that. I also added the pearl onions, which Bourdain didn't call for (but most other recipes do).

There were several things about the veal marengo recipe I didn't like -- especially the part where you put the dish in the oven to cook, as I wanted to do it all on the stove top. I used a large, deep skillet, figuring that was the right geometry. I floured and browned the veal (using inch-thick veal chops, so my cubes were around 1 inch). Set them aside, then sauteed the onions, added the tomatoes and tomato paste, and white wine, returning the meat. I covered it, and let it all cook gently. Meanwhile, I put the sliced potatoes (Yukon gold) into a pot of cream, garlic, and herbs, and simmered them for probably two times the 10 minutes the recipe called for. In another skillet, I tossed the cippoline onions in butter, added some wine, covered and steamed, then added the white mushrooms and boiled the vegetables dry. The recipe also called for boiling potatoes on the side, but I decided to skip that part, figuring them redundant next to the gratin dauphinois. I folded the onions and mushrooms into the veal pan, kept it covered, and let it all slowly cook together. Meanwhile, I put the cassoulet into a 375F oven for 30 minutes. I poured the potatoes and cream (picking out most of the green bits) into another baking dish, and topped with 8 oz. grated gruyere. I lowered the oven to 350F, and put the gratin in next to the cassoulet. Then I sauteed the duck breasts in the pan I had used for the sausage. I cut the duck into crosswise slices, and scraped the pan dripping over the cassoulet. A few minutes before the cassoulet was done, I pulled it out of the oven, tucked the duck breast in, and scattered more parsley on top. The idea was for the breast, sauteed rare, to still be medium rare when the cassoulet came out of the oven.

Finally, I glazed the cake, put it into the refrigerator, and popped the baguettes into the other oven. By then most of the guests had arrived, and things got crazy trying to set the table, round up chairs, arrange the food, and provide drinks, while I finished up. Zhanna brought some bread that was better than my baguettes, and she stopped me from serving the latter underdone. I served the cassoulet and the gratin dauphinois in their hot baking dishes, so people had to reach to get them. I put the beef and veal into serving dishes (only about half of the beef fit, so most of it sat out the meal in the pot).

Having grown up as I did, I always think these meals should be served family style: all the dishes in the middle of the table, with people reaching and/or passing as seems best. However, it does get awkward when you get ten people and more than ten dishes. I doubt there is any good alternative: we don't have a good space to organize a line, and the space is too crowded for people to get up and around. And I've never like the idea of plating the dishes: people should be able to pick and choose, as well as come back for more. (I do tend to plate the desserts, which often leads to issues about portion size.)

Everything turned out good (except perhaps the bread, but that was there mostly as structure under the spreads, although it was also useful for mopping up the plate). As I said, the beef could have benefited from longer cooking, and more reduction of the sauce. Bourdain suggests adding a couple spoonfuls of demi-glace, which I didn't have and couldn't find. (Would be a useful pantry project -- one technique is to freeze it in ice cubes -- but it's pretty hard around here to find the veal bones for the initial stock.) Among the very good dishes, the veal and the potatoes were really exceptional. So was the cassoulet -- I had tried this recipe once before, but was disappointed then; main improvement this time was that I did a much better job of getting the beans fully cooked (although I think I also did a better job handling the duck this time, and the homemade bread crumbs were superior). The only other recipes I had previously made were the trout and the ratatouille.

I served the cake with two pints of Haagen Dasz vanilla bean ice cream. No leftovers of either.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30499 [30473] rated (+26), 287 [286] unrated (+1).

Forgot to include the grade for the Myra Melford album reported last week, so I'm running it again here.

I've had a rough week, and it's left me pretty badly shaken. I used to think of myself as fairly handy, and started the week with several seemingly simple projects to do. One was to repair some office chairs. They have a standard gas lift cylinder to adjust the height. Over time, it can leak, causing the chair to sink under weight, often in startling little bursts. I've replaced them before, and never had any problem. The ends are slightly tapered, so the weight of sitting on the chair presses them into the base and seat frames. You can find YouTube videos that show how easy it is to extract the old cylinder and replace it with a new one. Typically, you use a hammer to tap the cylinder out of the base. It took me a few more blows than the video shows, but I did that part was easy enough. Separating the cylinder from the chair is a little more awkward, so they suggest using a pipe wrench. I tried that and failed. It was stuck so completely that my wrench cut deep gouges in the side of the cylinder without budging it. Nor did spraying WD-40 around the interface help.

So I thought, maybe I could tap it out, like the base. I unbolted chair from the metal frame the cylinder was stuck into, so I could hit it from the top. I pulled a clip and moved the handle out of the way. I clamped the unit into a WorkBench. I took a chisel I use for chipping apart masonry that's just a bit smaller than the top of the cylinder, centered it over the cylinder, and smashed it 20-30 times with a heavy mallet. It didn't budge, although it did start cutting into the top. Then I took a gear puller, wrapped it around the frame with the screw centered on the cylinder, and started tightening it with a wrench. No change (except perhaps that the screw, which has a point to help keep it centered, is now drilling into the middle of the cylinder). Only other idea I can think of would be to get a flat steel disc just a bit smaller than the top of the cylinder, and insert that under the screw to spread out the pressure more evenly. I thought about using small stack of quarters, but the amount of pressure I've already put on it would tear a hole in such soft metal. So right now, this looks like a total failure: having bought replacement parts, nothing I can do now but throw the chair away.

Second project was to install some covering over the gutter on the garage. We had new gutters and covers installed when we had the house covered with vinyl siding ten years ago, but the garage is detached and a separate deal. I found some material that looked promising at Home Depot, and ordered enough for my garage and my nephew's house (at pre-sale prices, I now see). Should have been a pretty simple installation on the garage -- one 22-foot run, not very high -- but it would up taking me three afternoons. The material had to be bent to fit, I had to cut one piece short, and trim both ends. I bought screws that didn't work very well. But mostly it was just a lot of aches and pains going up and down the ladder. At least I got that little project done. But that still leaves my nephew's house, which will be four times as much work (hopefully, with some help, and having learned some tricks).

The more serious problem struck Thursday evening. I figured it was tie to upgrade my main computer from Ubuntu 16 to 18. I've done this upgrade twice before, so expected it to be slow and disruptive, but uneventful. To be safe, I copied all my data off onto another computer, then shut my work programs down and ran the upgrade. It failed, leaving the machine in "unstable" state. The specific error concerned grub, which is the Linux boot loader. There is something called UEFI built into the motherboard software to provide a feature they call "Secure Boot," which will only allow kernels with certain signatures to be booted. The install program normally creates signed kernels, but due to a bug (reportedly since fixed, but somehow still in the upgrade package) it detected unsigned kernels on the system, and aborted the upgrade rather than install a boot loader that might not be able to boot up. I'm not clear on the exact implications of all that: basically, a bunch of stuff got installed, but not everything, so there are possible incompatible versions. More obviously, with the upgrade process aborted, it isn't clear how to identify and fix the problems, and how to restart and finish the upgrade.

What happened then was basically my mind froze up and I stopped, not knowing how to back out, and not daring to move forward. The computer itself was semi-functional: indeed, I'm using it now to write this post, and should be able to upload it before I'm done tonight (but between Thursday and now I've done next to nothing). After I'm through with this upload, I'll try rebooting, which may or may not work. Worst case is I have to put a new disc in and do a fresh install, then bring the old disc back and patch it all up. Best is that it will reboot, finish installing the packages it has downloaded, and be stable enough that it can look for updates and finally get a complete up-to-date system installed.

Couple other problems this week, but that's enough to chew on. My music work stopped with the computer on Thursday. Most of what's listed below comes from the Will Friedland The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums list. I started a couple weeks ago having only heard one-third of the 57 albums on the list. Now I've heard 47 of the albums: 6 I wasn't able to find on Napster, 4 more I haven't gotten around to checking on. I don't align very well with Friedland's taste here -- I've only rated 12 of 47 at A- or higher -- but three A- records this week all caught me by surprise (Judy Garland, Della Reese, and Kay Starr; the high B+ records by Anita O'Day and Maxine Sullivan were pretty much what I expected, but my previous Garland grades were { C+, C, B, B- }, and I had nothing graded by Reese or Starr).

When I resume, I'll probably go deeper on Frank Sinatra than the one I've missed (In the Wee Small Hours, which pretty much everyone regards as A/A+), not least because I actually own (but never rated) the 14-CD Capitol Records Concept Albums box). The others I need to look up are less promising: Mel Tormé (2 rated, 1 B+, The Mel Torme Collection: U), Sarah Vaughan (13 rated, 1 B+(*), 4 B+), and Margaret Whiting (1 rated: C+).

Didn't even think about Weekend Roundup yesterday, although I'm pretty sure there were some really terrible things to write about (especially with Trump's America Only foreign policy). Moreover, even if the computer comes back to life painlessly, I don't expect to get much done on it next week. I still have the gutters on my nephew's house to deal with. Also, I'm cooking "birthday dinner" this week, so will try to come up with something fabulous for that. Seems like that, at least, is still a project I can carry off. If not, I'll be even more bummed next week. Doesn't look like I'm cut out for getting old and decrepit.


New records rated this week:

  • Alchemy Sound Project: Adventures in Time and Space (2016 [2018], ARC): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Myra Melford's Snowy Egret: The Other Side of Air (2017 [2018], Firehouse 12): [cd]: A-
  • John Moulder: Decade: Memoirs (2009-17 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Tyshaw Sorey: Pillars (2017 [2018], Firehouse 12, 3CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Brad Whiteley: Presence (2016 [2018], Destiny): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Judy Garland: Judy at Carnegie Hall (1961 [2001], Capitol, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • .
  • Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence: Sing the Golden Hits (1960 [1990], MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dick Haymes: Rain or Shine (1956, Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peggy Lee: The Man I Love (1957, Capitol): [r]: B
  • Marilyn Maye: Meet Marvelous Marilyn Maye (1965, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marilyn Maye: The Happiest Sound in Town (1968, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(***)
  • Anita O'Day: Sings the Winners (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Della Reese: Della (1960, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Della Reese: Della Della Cha Cha Cha (1961, RCA Victor): [r]: A-
  • Jimmy Scott: The Source (1969 [1970], Atlantic): [r]: B
  • Jimmy Scott: All the Way (1992, Sire): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Short: Bobby Short (1956, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nina Simone: Nina Simone and Piano! (1969 [2011], RCA/Legacy): [r]: B
  • Jo Stafford: Capitol Collectors Series (1944-50 [1991], Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jo Stafford: Sings Songs of Scotland (1953-56 [1957], Columbia): [r]: B
  • Jo Stafford: I'll Be Seeing You (1959, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kay Starr: I Cry by Night (1962, Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Kay Starr: Capitol Collectors Series (1948-62 [1991], Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Maxine Sullivan and Her Jazz All-Stars: Memories of You: A Tribute to Andy Razaf (1956 [2007], Essential Music Group): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jack Teagarden: Think Well of Me (1962, Verve): [r]: B
  • Tiny Tim: God Bless Tiny Tim (1968, Reprise): [r]: B-

Monday, October 15, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30473 [30430] rated (+43), 286 [282] unrated (+4).

Another week with much more old music than new. One chunk of old music was an attempt to fill in a few holes after baritone sax great Hamiet Bluiett's death. Other A- Bluiett records my database:

  • Hamiet Bluiett: Live at Carlos 1: Last Night (1986 [1998], Just a Memory)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Young Warrior, Old Warrior (1995, Mapleshade)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Makin' Whoopee: Tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio (1997, Mapleshade)
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Selim Sevad: A Tribute to Miles Davis (1998, Justin Time)
  • Hamiet Bluiett/D.D. Jackson/Kahil El'Zabar: The Calling (2001, Justin Time)
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006, Justin Time)

I didn't follow up with World Saxophone Quartet albums I may have missed. I didn't care for their early work -- thought they needed something extra beyond the four-sax harmonics, as the few records I wound up liking proved. Still, Napster filed a couple under Bluiett's name, reminding me that I was missing some.

I was pointed to the rest of the "old music" by Will Friedland's new book, The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums. I made a list of the 57 albums reviewed at great depth there, found that I had only heard a third of them (19/57), and vowed to improve myself. Usually I went straight to the selected album, but sometimes I dug a little deeper -- e.g., wound up playing all of Blossom Dearie's Verve albums, a couple of extras from Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney, and a second Matt Dennis album (that got compiled into a single CD with the pick). On the other hand, I figured Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald would have turned into vast time sinks (plus I already have 15 Cole and 36 Fitzgerald albums graded; Ella at Zardi's was a vault music album from last year, and too good to skip). I felt more need to check out Billy Eckstine (4 records), but I've never been that much of a fan. As for Robert Goulet, his is a name I remembered from my youth but hadn't heard in as many years -- a mistake I'm not likely to repeat soon.

I'll try to knock off some more this week: Judy Garland, Eydie Gormé, Dick Haymes, Peggy Lee, Marilyn Maye, Carmen McRae, Anita O'Day, Della Reese, a dozen more. Friedland's list is skewed pretty strongly to the string-drenched pop of the first few years of the LP era -- basically the pre-rock and anti-rock I grew up rebelling against, so it's not very promising ground for me. Also not finding everything, so I'll probably stop close to 80% (missing so far: Lena Horne, Barb Jungr, Bobby Troup).

I did manage a milestone on one months-long project. I've spent a couple years now collecting bits of text from my on-line notebook. My first pass picked up all the capsule reviews of jazz albums, which I sorted into two book files: one on records from 2000 forward, the other on records recorded earlier (20th century). Those volumes added up to 765 pp (pre-2000) and 1650 pp (post-2000). I then went back through the notebooks and started pulling out all of the political notes (four volumes: 1590 pp 2001-08, 1768 pp for 2009-12, 1666 pp for 2013-16, and 858 pp since 2017), plus another file for various personal notes (memoir, health crises, dinners, deaths, plus some movies and tv: another 780 pp).

When I finished those, I realized that there were still a couple of major chunks of writing unarchived from the notebook: non-jazz capsule reviews (1863 pp) and miscellaneous music writings (e.g., intros to my CG posts, year-end notes, obits: 1735 pp). I finished my initial pass on Sunday, so the total for the nine volumes is 12,685 pages, which works out to about 5.4 million words.

While most of what I've written since 2001 is either in the notebook or accessibly linked from it, I still need to look at other files on the website and fold them in where appropriate. Biggest chunk here is probably the longer music reviews, but I also have fragments of book drafts and project plans, and other things. Would be nice if I can recover my email files -- lost in my early-summer server crash, but perhaps not hopelessly. Other things I need to do:

  • Make a pass comparing the misc. music notes to the political files, eliminating redundancies (e.g., political paragraphs stuck in the middle of Music Week posts).
  • Make a pass comparing the non-jazz capsule reviews with the jazz guides to eliminate redundancies.
  • I need to bring the earlier book files up to date, picking up more recent notebooks and Streamnotes posts.
  • The non-jazz capsule reviews are currently organized by date posted. They should be reorganized by genre and artist name.
  • The books currently exist as LibreWriter files, with at least some versions available on my website. I need to straighten that out, decide what I want to make available, and write up some sort of introduction to all that.
  • I also need to look into alternate formats. PDF files are one possibility, but they are much larger than the LW files. Perhaps more useful would be some sort of Ebook format. I'm aware of some free tools for conversion, but haven't used them yet.

Ultimately, I see these files as resources for constructing various other books and/or websites. Laura has read through the first of the political files (2001-08), but we haven't yet had any substantial discussions on where she thinks it should go. I have various scattershot ideas on these things, but won't try to develop them here and now. I understand that essentially no one will want to sit down and read any of these "books" straight through, I find that a fair amount of the writing has held up over time (some still useful, some even amusing). One good thing for me about this process is that it's given me something tangible (and relatively non-taxing) to do over the past two year. But now it's starting to come to a point where I need to move on: pick a project (or two or three) and focus on that. End of the year might be a good deadline for wrapping this up and figuring that out.


A couple more notes:

Allen Lowe (on Facebook) recommended a 20-CD box from Sony (Canada) called The Perfect Roots & Blues Collection. This looks like a series of CDs Sony/Legacy issued in the early 1990s. If so, I've heard (and own) nearly all of them, and I agree that they've been a really superb series. Even at Amazon's own price ($93.99) it's a bargain, but they have dealers in the UK offering it for much less.

When I looked it up, I noticed another tempting 20-CD box, Jazz From America on Disques Vogue -- jazz recorded by American artists in Paris late 1940s/early 1950s. RCA released a series of these in the early 1990s. I have a dozen or more, most quite good.

I've never bought any of Sony's massive boxes, so I can't speak as to packaging and documentation, but I did write a bit about The Perfect Jazz Collection back in November 2011. For me, and possibly for you, the problem's always been owning so many of the packaged albums the big boxes, even when quite cheap, are still not cost-effective. Still, one can imagine others these sets would be perfect for. Sony also has massive collections of Miles Davis and Johnny Cash, as you can well imagine.

I also want to point out two books that came out last week, that my wife, Laura Tillem, edited:

Both authors live here in Wichita, and are good friends of ours.


New records rated this week:

  • David Ake: Humanities (2017 [2018], Posi-Tone): [r]: B+(***)
  • Myra Melford's Snowy Egret: The Other Side of Air (2017 [2018], Firehouse 12): [cd]: A-
  • Kjetil Møster/John Edwards/Dag Erik Knedal Andersen: Different Shapes/Immersion (2014 [2018], Va Fongool): [r]: B+(*)
  • Aaron Parks: Little Big (2018, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (2018, Epitaph): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Anne Sajdera: New Year (2018, Bijuri): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jared Sims: The New York Sessions (2018, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alister Spence/Satoko Fujii: Intelset (2017 [2018], Alister Spence Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mike Steinel Quintet: Song and Dance (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Patrick Zimmerli Quartet: Clockworks (2017 [2018], Songlines): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Zardi's (1956 [2017], Verve): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Fred Astaire: The Astaire Story (1952 [2017], Verve, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred Astaire: Steppin' Out: Astaire Sings (1952 [1994], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tony Bennett and Bill Evans: Together Again (1976 [2003], Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Birthright: A Solo Blues Concert (1977, India Navigation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Resolution (1977 [1978], Black Saint): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: "Dangerously Suite" (1981, Soul Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Ebu (1984, Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hamiet Bluiett & Concept: Live at Carlos 1 (1986 [1997], Just a Memory): [r]: A-
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Sankofa/Rear Garde (1992 [1993], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: Live at the Village Vanguard: Ballads and Blues (1994 [1997], Soul Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hamiet Bluiett: With Eyes Wide Open (2000, Justin Time): [r]: A-
  • Rosemary Clooney/Duke Ellington: Blue Rose (1956 [2008], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rosemary Clooney: Rosie Solves the Swingin' Riddle! (1961 [2004], RCA/Bluebird): [r]: A-
  • Rosemary Clooney: Everything's Coming Up Rosie (1977, Concord): [r]: B+(***)
  • Rosemary Clooney: Sings the Lyrics of Johnny Mercer (1987, Concord): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nat 'King' Cole: St. Louis Blues (1958, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Doris Day and Harry James: Young Man With a Horn (1950 [1954], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Doris Day: Day by Day (1956, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Doris Day: Day by Night (1957, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Doris Day: 16 Most Requested Songs (1945-58 [1992], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Doris Day/Robert Goulet: Annie Get Your Gun (1963, Columbia Masterworks): [r]: B+(*)
  • Blossom Dearie: Give Him the Ooh-La-La (1957 [1958], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Blossom Dearie: Once Upon a Summertime (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Blossom Dearie: My Gentleman Friend (1959, Verve): [r]: A-
  • Blossom Dearie: Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green (1959, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Blossom Dearie: Soubrette: Blossom Dearie Sings Broadway Hit Songs (1960, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Dennis: Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (1954, Trend): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Dennis: Dennis, Anyone? (1955, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Dennis: Plays and Sings Matt Dennis: Live in Hollywood (1954-55 [2011], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Billy Eckstine: Billy's Best (1957-58 [1995], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Lullabies of Birdland (1947-54 [1955], Decca): [r]: A-
  • Benny Goodman/Rosemary Clooney: Date With the King (1956, Columbia, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Robert Goulet: 16 Most Requested Songs (1960-69 [1989], Columbia): [r]: C
  • Beaver Harris 360 Degree Music Experience: Beautiful Africa (1979, Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Blossom Dearie: Blossom Dearie (1956 [1957], Verve): [r]: [was: B+]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Amu: Weave (Libra)
  • Ethan Ardelli: The Island of Form (self-released): November 2
  • Bobby Broom & the Organi-sation: Soul Fingers (MRi)
  • Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (Impakt)
  • Richie Cole: Cannonball (RCP): October 26
  • Randy Halberstadt: Open Heart (Origin): October 19
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto (1977, Widow's Taste, 3CD): November 2
  • Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet: That's a Computer (Outside In Music): October 19
  • Kristen Strom: Moving Day: The Music of John Shifflett (OA2): October 19

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Weekend Roundup

The big story of the week seems to be the evident murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He had moved from Saudi Arabia to Virginia, but entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to "finalize some paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée." He never emerged from the consulate. The Turkish government has much evidence of foul play, and there are reports that "US intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to 'capture' Khashoggi" -- something they made no attempt to warn Khashoggi about.

Some links (quotes above are from Hill, below):

The week started with Nikki Haley's resignation as US ambassador to the UN, but a week later it's hard to find any mention of it. Then the Florida panhandle got demolished by Hurricane Michael. Then there was some sort of White House summit between Trump and Kanye West. Meanwhile, elections are coming.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Superior ruthlessness isn't why Republicans control the Supreme Court: "They had some good luck -- and, most importantly, they had the votes." After their losses in 2016, all the Democrats could do to derail the Kavanaugh nomination was to convince the public that he was a really terrible pick, and opinion polls show that they did in fact make that case. However, as we've seen many times before, Republicans are fine with ignoring public opinion (at least as long as they keep their base and donors happy), so they're eager to exploit any power leverage they can grab, no matter how tenuous. Democrats (in fact, most people) regard that as unscrupulous, which Republicans find oddly flattering -- backhanded proof that they hold convictions so firm they're willing to fight (dirty) to advance them. Some Democrats have come to the conclusion that they need to become just as determined to win as the Republicans -- e.g., David Faris's recent book: It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. Several problems with this: one is that there are still Americans that believe in things like fair play and due process, and those votes should be easy pickings for Democrats given how Republicans have been playing the game; another is that past efforts by Democrats to act more like Republicans haven't fared well -- they're never enough to appease the right, while they sure turn off the left. But what Democrats clearly do have to do is to show us that they take these contests seriously. I didn't especially like turning the Kavanaugh nomination into a #MeToo issue, but that did make the issue personal and impactful in a way that no debate over Federalist Society jurisprudence ever could.

    Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Trump's 60 Minutes interview once again reveals gross ignorance and wild dishonesty.

    • People don't like "PC culture" -- not that many of them can tell you what "PC culture" means (only that it consists of self-appointed language police waiting to pounce on you for trivial offenses mostly resident in their own minds). Refers to Yascha Mounk: Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture, which doesn't much help to define it either. To me, "PC culture" is exemplified by the God-and-country, American exceptionalist pieties spouted by Democratic politicians like Obama and the Clintons -- a compulsion to say perfectly unobjectionable things because they know they'll be attacked viciously by the right (or for that matter by center/leftists wanting to show off for the right) for any hint of critical thought. On the other hand, on some issues Republicans are policed as diligently -- racism is the one they find most bothersome, mostly because catering to the insecurities of white folk is such a big part of their trade. Of course, if we had the ability to take seriously what people mean, we might be able to get beyond the "gotcha" game over what they say.

    • Trump's dangerous game with the Fed, explained.

    • Trump's USA Today op-ed on health care is an absurd tissue of lies.

    • The case for a carbon tax: A carbon tax has always made sense to me, mostly because it helps to counter a currently unregulated externality: that of dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Two key ideas here: one is to implement it by joint international agreement (Yglesias suggests the US, Europe, and Japan, initially, but why wait for the US?), then grow it by charging tariffs against non-members; the other is to start low (to minimize short-term impact) and make the taxes escalate over time. Yglesias contrasts a carbon tax to David Roberts: It's time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels. This reminds me that major oil players have every now and then "advocated" a carbon tax, specifically when threatened with proposals like Roberts'. Unfortunately, it looks like the only way to get a carbon tax passed is to threaten the oil companies with something much more drastic. No one has much faith in reason anymore.

    • Immigrants can make post-industrial America great.

    • Trump's successful neutering of the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation has scary implications: Trump evidently got the rubber stamp, ruffle no feathers investigation of Brett Kavanaugh he wanted, showing that Comey replacement Christopher Wray can be trusted to protect his party.

      The White House got away with stamping on an FBI investigation. Think of it as a dry run for a coming shutdown of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

      It's easy to forget, but the existence of a Russia inquiry isn't a natural fact of American life. Barack Obama was president when it began, and then in the critical winter of 2016 to 2017, many Republicans, particularly foreign policy hawks, were uneasy with Trump and saw an investigation as a useful way to force him into policy orthodoxy. When Comey was fired, enough of that unease was still in place that many Republicans pushed for a special counsel to carry things forward.

      Trump, however, has clearly signaled his desire to clean house and fire Mueller after the midterms. And the Kavanaugh fight has shown us (and, more importantly, shown Trump) that congressional Republicans are coming around to the idea that independence of federal law enforcement is overrated. His White House, meanwhile, though hardly a well-oiled machine, has demonstrated its ability to work the levers of power and get things done.

      If the GOP is able to hold its majority or (as looks more likely, given current polling) pick up a seat or two, a firm Trumpist majority will be in place ready to govern with the principle that what's good for Trump is good for the Republican Party, and subverting the rule of law is definitely good for Trump.

  • Stavros Agorakis: 18 people are dead from Hurricane Michael. That number will only rise. Category 4, making landfall with winds of 155 mph, the third-most intense hurricane to hit the continental US since they started keeping count (after an unnamed Labor Day storm in 1935 and Camille in 1969) -- i.e., about as strong as the hurricane that the Trump administration couldn't cope with in Puerto Rico.

  • Ryan Bort: The Georgia Voter Suppression Story Is Not Going Away.

  • Juan Cole: 15 Years after US Occupied Iraq, it is too Unsafe for Trump Admin to Keep a Consulate There.

  • Joe Klein: Michael Lewis Wonders Who's Really Running the Government: Book review of Lewis's The Fifth Risk, which looks at what Trump's minions are doing to three government bureaucracies: the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. Mostly they are shredding data, and purging the departments of the workers with the expertise to collect and analyze that data. Lewis explains why that matters -- a welcome relief from those journalists who are satisfied with reporting the easy stories about stupid Trump tweets and hi-jinks.

  • Paul Krugman: Goodbye, Political Spin, Hello Blatant Lies: I try my best to avoid political ads, but got stuck watching a jaw dropper for Wichita's Republican Congressman Ron Estes, who spent most of his 30 seconds talking about how hard he's been working to save Medicare. Wasn't clear from what, since the only imminent threat is from his fellow Republicans, and his key votes to repeal ACA and cut corporate taxes and saddle us with massive deficits sure don't count. Estes isn't what you'd call a political innovator -- the main theme of his ads last time was that a vote for him would thwart Nancy Pelosi's nefarious designs on the Republic -- so most likely his ads this time are being repeated all across the nation. Also by Krugman: The Paranoid Style in GOP Politics.

  • Dara Lind: The Trump administration reportedly wants to try family separation again.

  • Anna North: Why Melania's response to Trump's alleged affairs was so weird:

    In some ways, it's a relief that the first lady is rarely called upon to perform the thankless task of trying to convince the country that her husband respects women. But it's also a sign of something darker: Plenty of Americans know the president doesn't respect women, and a lot of them don't care. They may even like it.

  • Sandy Tolan: Gaza's Dying of Thirst, and Its Water Crisis Will Become a Threat to Israel.

Daily Log

Been compiling my last two "books" from the notebook, and finally caught up to the present moment. Miscellaneous Music Writings comes to 1735 pages (718k words). Non-Jazz Capsule Reviews is 1863 pages (806k words). I need to make a second pass through the book files, and weed out bits from the music writings that really belong in either the political or personal books. Also cut out any jazz reviews from the capsule book. (I was pretty sloppy about that in the beginning, when the review posts were more scattershot). That will probably knock a hundred pages off each. I also need to take another look at the lists and such I dropped from the Misc. book, and be more consistent about what I include and what I don't. That'll probably add some material back.

Next step beyond that would be to go back to the non-notebook writings that should be considered. I figure I'll add the pre-2000 stuff in the appendix.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30430 [30390] rated (+40), 282 [280] unrated (+2).

Everything below is jazz. Most of it is new stuff I wasn't serviced on (unless someone sent me a download link which I didn't open; i.e., it was streamed, either from Napster or Bandcamp). Only a couple of CDs I did receive, mostly because I took so long making up my mind about the Jonathan Finlayson record (A-, but just barely). Most of my tips came from Phil Freeman's monthly Ugly Beauty column at Stereogum. Biggest find there was the trove of Japanese jazz from the 1970s (for once, the sampler is the place to start). The only old music was a Penguin Guide 4-star I had missed, by a saxophonist who showed up on at least three of this week's new discs (to best effect with Matt Penman).

I've walked Freeman's columns back to March, which gets increasingly into things I've already heard. One thing I didn't know was that Buell Neidlinger died back on March 16. He was the bassist in Cecil Taylor's 1956-61 groups -- in at least one case the album was initially under his name (New York City R&B). My database credits him with four A- records from the 1980s: Swingrass '83, Across the Tracks, Rear View Mirror, and Locomotive (all recorded 1979-87, but most got delayed releases -- Swingrass '83 was the first I noticed, and fell in love with.

The great baritone saxophonist Haimet Bluiett also died last week. I need to take some time and dive into his dicography -- I see, for instance, that Napster has Birthright, a PG 4-star from 1977. Some A- records I have heard: Live at Carlos I: Last Night; Young Warrior, Old Warrior; Makin' Whoopee: Tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio; The Calling. Bluiett also batted clean up in the World Saxophone Quartet, and he was particularly prominent on their best-ever Political Blues.

I did a little work on my project of collecting the last bits from my on-line notebook into book form. I'm up to February 2015 with a volume of miscellaneous music notes (1343 pp) and another of non-jazz capsule reviews (1515 pp). I doubt the former (which largely consists of introductions like this one) will be of any real interest, but think it would be handy to get it into searchable form. It turns out that 2011-13 were big years for misc. notes, mostly because that was when Robert Christgau's Expert Witness at MSN encouraged comments, and that resulted in a lot of community commentary. I jotted down pretty much everything I contributed -- often answering questions on recommended CDs, or extemporaneously venting on subjects like Charlie Parker.

I always figured my non-jazz capsule reviews were too spotty for any sort of reference book/website, but it turns out that there are enough of them to provide a decent starting point if other people got interested in adding to them.

I interrupted work on this to post another batch of Robert Christgau's Xgau Sez questions and answers. At some point I'd like to adapt that framework to offer a similar service here. I've struggled for many years to crank out pieces I think might be of public interest. It might be a relief to let other people direct me for a while.

I noticed this week that Tom Smucker has finally published a whole book on what's long been one of his favorite topics: Why the Beach Boys Matter. I have a copy on order. Ironically, my own original foray into rock criticism came from arguing with Don Malcolm over the Beach Boys. I'm surprised he never got around to writing his own book. Also noticed and ordered a copy of a new edition of Vince Alletti's The Disco Files 1973-78. I actually knew both Vince and Tom during my few years in New York, so I consider them old friends.

Posting of this got delayed as I was trying to figure out when I was done with Weekend Roundup. I had started intending to write something different on Brett Kavanaugh, but never really got past the preface. I have some sympathy for the argument that something that happened over 35 years ago shouldn't permanently tar a person. I think that many interactions between the sexes are confusing, and best forgotten. I think we should be more tolerant and forgiving of what are often just human foibles. On the other hand, I'm not sure that of my general sensitivities actually offer Kavanaugh much benefit. I could see why a normal person might not recall details or motives of the charges, but such a person would at least recognize the horror and pain behind the charges, and sympathized with the victim. Kavanaugh didn't do that. His blanket denial effectively repeated the original attacks. And his insistence that the charges were purely political, a "hit job" ordered by the Democrats, pure "borking," effectively said that he thought he should be exempt from his actions and consequences purely because of his politics.

As it turned out, Kavanaugh's final testimony was one of the most disgusting performances I have ever seen -- something that should have disqualified him all by itself. Before you can forgive sins, you first must recognize them and make amends. Kavanaugh didn't come close to doing that. Indeed, his entire career, and the broader agenda of the political movement he furthers, offers little more than repeated examples of the strong trampling the weak and the rich abusing the poor.


New records rated this week:

  • Joey Baron/Robyn Schulkowsky: Now You Hear Me (2016 [2018], Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jakob Bro: Bay of Rainbows (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mike Clark & Delbert Bump: Retro Report (2018, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Drums & Tuba: Triumph! (2018, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Espen Eriksen Trio With Andy Sheppard: Perfectly Unhappy (2018, Rune Grammofon): [r]: A-
  • Jonathan Finlayson: 3 Times Round (2018, Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Nick Finzer's Hear & Now: Live in New York City (2018, Outside In): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Vinny Golia Sextet: Trajectory (2017 [2018], Orenda/Nine Winds, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Devin Gray: Dirigo Rataplan II (2016 [2018], Rataplan): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Hofbauer/Rosenthal Quartet: Human Resources (2017 [2018], Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • José James: Lean on Me (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Kavuma: Kavuma (2017 [2018], Ubuntu Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Shai Maestro: The Dream Thief (2018, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave McMurray: Music Is Life (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ryan Meagher: Lost Days (2017 [2018], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ryan Meagher: Evil Twin (2018, PJCE): [r]: B
  • Allison Miller/Carmen Staaf: Science Fair (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe Morris/Ben Hall/Andria Nicodemou: Raven (2016 [2017], Glacial Erratic): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Moskus: Mirakler (2016-17 [2018], Hubro): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel: Where the River Goes (2018, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Penman: Good Question (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [r]: A-
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Anthem (2018, Decca): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mikkel Ploug/Mark Turner: Faroe (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • R+R=Now: Collagically Speaking (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant: The Window (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Christian Sands: Reach Further EP (2017-18 [2018], Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Christian Sands: Facing Dragons (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • JP Schlegelmilch/Jonathan Goldberger/Jim Black: Visitors (2018, Skirl): [r]: B+(*)
  • Elliott Sharp Carbon: Transmigration at the Solar Max (2018, Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chad Taylor: Myths and Morals (2018, Ears & Eyes): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Turner/Ethan Iverson: Temporary Kings (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Steve Turre: The Very Thought of You (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jeff "Tain" Watts: Travel Band: Detained in Amsterdam (2017 [2018], Dark Key): [r]: B+(***)
  • Walt Weiskopf: European Quartet (2017 [2018], Orenda): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chip Wickham: Shamal Wind (2017 [2018], Lovemonk): [r]: B

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

  • Tohru Aizawa Quartet: Tachibana Vol. 1 (1975 [2018], BBE): [bc]: A-
  • Takeo Moriyama: East Plants (1983 [2018], BBE): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Calm Waters Rolling Swells & Roiling Seas: A Whaling City Sampler (2004-17 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B
  • J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1984 (1969-84 [2018], BBE): [r]: A-
  • Ralph Thomas: Eastern Standard Time (1980 [2018], BBE): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mark Turner: In This World (1998, Warner Brothers): [r]: A-


Grade (or other) changes:

  • The Internet: Hive Mind (2018, Columbia): [r]: [was: B+(**)] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Claus Højensgård/Emanuele Mariscalco/Nelide Bendello: Høbama (Gotta Let It Out)
  • Jacobson/Friis/Maniscalco + Karlis Auzixs: Split: Body/Solo (Getta Let It Out): advance
  • Kyle Nasser: Persistent Fancy (Ropeadope)
  • Nikita Rafaelov: Spirit of Gaia (Gotta Let It Out)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Story of the week: It's official: Brett Kavanaugh just became the least popular Supreme Court justice in modern history. The Senate vote was 50-48, almost a straight party vote. The Republican advantage in the Senate is 51-49 (counting Angus King and Bernie Sanders as Democrats). Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed by 54-45, with all Republicans and three Democrats (Manchin, Heitkamp, and Donnelly). Opposition was clearly political: Republicans had made it so by their refusal to even hold so much as a hearing on Merrick Garland, Obama's moderate nominee for the seat, turning it into a spoil for the 2016 election winner. But other than being cut from the same political cloth, Gorsuch had no personal baggage that made his nomination controversial.

Republicans have dreamed and schemed of reversing the Court's "liberal bent" -- really just an honest belief that the Constitution protects individual and minority civil rights -- ever since Nixon's "southern strategy" nominated Clement Haynsworth and, failing that, G. Harrold Carswell in 1969. The Republican campaign took an even more extremist turn when Reagan nominated the blatantly ideological Robert Bork in 1987 (after having slipped Antonin Scalia by in 1986). But only with GW Bush did Republicans consistently apply a rigorous ideological litmus test to their nominees. (Bush's nomination of Harriet Myers was quashed by hard-liners who didn't trust her to be conservative enough. They were still livid that his father's appointment didn't turn out to be as reliably reactionary as Scalia and Clarence Thomas.)

Kavanaugh turned out to be a very different story (from Gorsuch), yet the result was nearly the same. Only one Democrat (Manchin) voted for Kavanaugh, while one Republican opposed the nomination (Murkowski, who wound up not voting in an offset deal with an absent Republican senator). The first problem Kavanaugh faced was that he would replace Anthony Kennedy, who's run up a dreadful record in recent years but was still regarded as a moderate swing vote between the two polarized four-member camps. Kavanaugh would tilt that balance 5-4, allowing conservatives to rule almost arbitrarily for their political sponsors. Second, he was a person whose entire career was spent as a political operative: most notably as part of the Ken Starr prosecution of Bill Clinton, and later in the Bush White House where he argued for ever greater presidential power (at least for Republicans). A big part of the early debate over his nomination concerned discover of the paper trail of his partisan activities against Clinton and for Bush. His supporters in the White House and Congress made sure that those documents were never made available, and as such the extent of his partisan corruption was never properly aired.

His record as a DC Circuit Court judge was also largely unexamined, although his ruling, since overturned, against a detained immigrant girl who wanted to obtain an abortion, is a pretty clear signal that his views on abortion show no respect for "settled law." This case also shows his contempt for immigrants and refugees, his willingness to apply the law differently for different classes of people, and his reticence to restrain abuses of government power (at least against some people). I've long believed that the proper role for the Supreme Court is to build on the best aspirations of the Constitution to make government serve all the people, to protect the rights of minorities and individuals from the all-too-common abuses of power. Through much of my life, the Court at least leaned in that direction -- often not as hard as I would like, but their rulings against segregation, to defend a free press, to establish a nationwide right to abortion and most recently to marriage, have been major accomplishments, consistent with the understanding of America I grew up with, as a free, just, and egalitarian nation (ideals we haven't always achieved, but that we most often aspired to).

So, when I'm faced with the question of whether a given person should be given the responsibility of serving on the Supreme Court, the only question that matters to me is whether that person will understand and shape the rule of law in ways that promote greater freedom, equality, and justice, or not. After a fair investigation, I see nothing whatsoever that suggests to me that Brett Kavanaugh is a person who should be entrusted with that responsibility. In fact, what evidence I've seen suggests that he would actually be worse than any of the four partisan conservative judges currently on the court. To my mind, that should have been enough to settle the matter -- although between the fact that Republicans tend to vote as an arbitrary pack, and the tendency of many "moderate" Democrats to defer to Republican leadership, that wouldn't have been enough to defeat Kavanaugh.

However, Kavanaugh's confirmation didn't solely hinge on whether he'd be a good or bad Justice. It wound up turning on whether he was guilty of sexual assault, and whether he lied under oath about that charge (and ultimately about many other things). With these charges, Kavanaugh's confirmation wound up recapitulating that of Clarence Thomas back in 1991. The charges are slightly different. Thomas was accused of making grossly inappropriate office comments, which was especially grievous given that he ran (or mis-managed) the Reagan administration office responsible for regulating such matters. The initial charge against Kavanaugh was that as a high school student he had committed a drunken assault on a girl, which stopped barely short of rape. (Others subsequently came forward to charge Kavanaugh with other acts of drunken, sexually charged loutishness, but none of those women were allowed to testify or further investigated.)

You can read or spin these charges in various ways. On the one hand, sexual assault (Kavanaugh) is a graver charge than sexual harassment (Thomas); on the other, Kavanaugh was younger at the time and the event took place at a party when he was drunk, whereas Thomas was at work, presumably sober, and effectively the boss of the person he harassed. It is unclear whether this was an isolated incident for Kavanaugh, or part of a longer-term pattern (which is at least suggested by subsequent, uninvestigated charges, plus lots of testimony as to his drinking). Still, the one thing that was practically identical in both cases is that both nominees responded with the same playbook: blanket denials, while their supporters orchestrated a smear campaign against the women who reluctantly aired the complaints, while trying to portay the nominees as the real victims. Thomas called the charges against him a "lynching." Kavanaugh's preferred term was "hit job." Neither conceded that as Supreme Court nominees they should be held to a higher standard than criminal defendants. In the end, in both cases, marginal Senators wound up defending their vote as "reasonable doubt" against the charges. There was, after all, nothing admirable about being charged or defending themselves in such a disingenuous way. Both cases have wound up only adding to the cynicism many of us view the Courts with.

I'll tack on a bunch of links at the end which will round up the details as we know them, as well as other aspects of the process, not least the political rationalizations and consequences. But one thing that I think has been much less discussed than it should be is that neither Thomas nor Kavanaugh promoted or defended themselves on their own. I don't know who was the first Supreme Court nominee to hire lawyers and publicists to coach in the confirmation process, but the practice goes back before Thomas. I was reminded of this when John Kyl was appointed to fill the late John McCain's Senate seat. At the time Kyl was working for a DC law form representing Kavanaugh for his confirmation, so Kyl instantly became Kavanaugh's most secure vote. That nominees need help managing their egos and loose tongues was certainly proved by Bork, who managed to alienate and offend 58 Senators (almost all of whom had previously voted for Scalia, not exactly known for his tact). Mostly this handling means to make sure that the nominee doesn't say anything substantive about the law that may raise the hackles of uncommitted Senators, so the handlers only get noticed in the breech of an inadvertent gaffe. However, when something does go wrong, the first decision is whether to fight or flee -- since Nixon fought for Haynsworth (and lost), over a dozen nominees have simply withdrawn, often when faced with far less embarrassing charges than Thomas or Kavanaugh. As we saw with Myers, a nominee with no natural Democratic support can be brought down by a handful of vigilant Republicans, allowing the fringe of the party to insist on a harder candidate.

With a 51-49 majority, it wouldn't have taken much more than two Republicans to force Trump to withdraw Kavanaugh, but in the end only Murkowski opposed, and she was offset by Manchin (not that Pence wouldn't have been thrilled to cast a 50-50 tiebreaker). A couple of Republicans waffled a bit, but Collins and Flake have a long history of feigning decency then folding, and most simply don't care how bad a candidate looks (e.g., they voted for Betsy DeVos). They're quite happy to win with a bare minimum of votes, even when the polls are against them (e.g., their corporate income tax giveaway), figuring they can always con the voters again come election day. The problem with replacing Kavanaugh with a less embarrassing candidate came down to timing: restarting the process would have pushed it past the election into lame-duck territory, and possibly into the next Congress, which will likely have fewer Republicans (although not necessarily in the Senate). Never let it be said that the Republicans have missed an opportunity to gain an advantage -- and there are few prize they covet more than control of the Supreme Court.


Further links on the Cavanaugh Nomination:


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, October 01, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30390 [30365] rated (+25), 280 [273] unrated (+7).

Week got wiped out several different ways. Helped a friend fix a huge Russian dinner on Friday. Shopped for that on Wednesday, having to hit up nine (or was it eleven?) stores along the way, then spent from Thursday afternoon to something like 4AM doing prep for another 6-7 hours of cooking on Friday. Wound up with way too much food, but much of it was magnificent. Only the dessert disappointed, an attempt at Prague cake which I now understand doesn't resemble the real thing at all.

Then Saturday I developed a fever with no other symptoms, and I basically shut down over the weekend -- so no Weekend Roundup, even following one of the more outrageous weeks of the Trump era. (Not like there won't be plenty more as bad or worse.) I started reading Jill Lepore's massive (or schematic, depending on your point of view) These Truths: A History of the United States. She starts by quoting the preamble to the US Constitution, and I realized it to offer not a practical description of the federal government but a vision statement of what that government should aspire to. The same, of course, could be said of the first lines of the Declaration of Independence, which Lepore also mentions.

What I then realized is that the standard for all three "separate and equal" branches of government should be their efforts to achieve these founding aspirations. We were fortunate, at least for the first half of my life, to have a Supreme Court that took those aspirations seriously, especially in its assertion of civil rights even while the other branches dragged their heels. Since Nixon, the right-wing has made a determined effort to overturn those rulings and to strip us of our rights, not least by stacking the courts with people who oppose the aspirations the nation was founded on. With the hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, we got a good view of just what kind of person would gladly do such things. Regardless of whether Kavanaugh has committed sexual assault and/or perjury, he's made it abundantly clear that he's unfit for the Supreme Court, or for that matter for the judgeship he currently holds.

Maybe I'll write more on that later in the week. My most immediate task is to get September's Streamnotes organized and posted. Thinking about the dinner, then not thinking at all, I totally missed the end of the month. I can backdate what I have, making it look like I did it on time and before doing this. The latter, at least, is mostly true.

I'm not sure what comes next. I can always return to compiling my last two books from the notebooks (non-review music notes, non-jazz reviews; I'm currently stalled in May, 2013). I could take a look at Pitchfork's The 2000 Best Albums of the 1980s -- the music decade I paid the least attention to at the time. Another possible source of unheard records is Will Friedland's latest book, The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums. I picked up the book at the library, and while there is zero chance that I'll read it through, the actual album list isn't prohibitively long (probably 40-50 albums, half already heard). On the other hand, the new jazz queue has grown a bit (26 albums at the moment), so I should pay some attention to that.


New records rated this week:

  • Dmitry Baevsky/Jeb Patton: We Two (2018, Jazz & People): [r]: A-
  • Tony Bennett & Diana Krall: Love Is Here to Stay (2018, Verve/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Black Art Jazz Collective: Armor of Pride (2018, HighNote): [r]: B
  • Geof Bradfield: Yes, and . . . Music for Nine Improvisers (2018, Delmark): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jonathan Butler: Close to You (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: C+
  • Noname: Room 25 (2018, self-released): [bc]: A-
  • Eddie Palmieri: Full Circle (2018, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(***)
  • Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble: From Maxville to Vanport (2018, PJCE): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ned Rothenberg/Hamid Drake: Full Circle: Live in Lodz (2016 [2017], Fundacja Sluchaj): [r]: B+(*)
  • Steven Taetz: Drink You In (2018, Flatcar/Fontana North): [cd]: B
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The Jazz Heritage Series 2018 Radio Broadcasts (2018, self-released, 3CD): [cd]: C
  • Fay Victor's SoundNoiseFUNK: Wet Robots (2017 [2018], ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Gene Ammons: The Gene Ammons Story: Gentle Jug (1961-62 [1992], Prestige): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gene Ammons: Gentle Jug Volume 2 (1960-71 [1995], Prestige): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gene Ammons: The Boss Is Back! (1969 [1993], Prestige): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bud Powell: Jazz Giant (1949 [1957], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bud Powell: Piano Interpretations by Bud Powell (1955 [1959], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bud Powell: The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 4: Time Waits (1958 [1999], Blue Note): [r]: A-
  • Bud Powell: Strictly Confidential (1964 [1994], Black Lion): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bud Powell: Salt Peanuts (1964 [1988], Black Lion): [r]: B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (Intakt)
  • David Dominique: Mask (Orenda): November 9
  • Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet: Time Like This (Intakt)
  • Aaron Goldberg: At the Edge of the World (Sunnyside): November 16
  • Aaron Parks: Little Big (Ropeadope): October 19
  • Subtone: Moose Blues (Laika): October 26
  • Harry Vetro: Northern Ranger (T.Sound): October 19

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Streamnotes (September 2018)

Pick up text here.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Daily Log

Back mid-summer, Zhanna Pataki proposed that we cook Russian food together at some point in the fall. She finally suggested Friday, September 28, so I agreed. Her plan was to do a basic menu:

  • Borscht: soup of cabbage, beets, potatoes, etc.
  • Chebureki: turnovers stuffed with ground beef
  • Salad: cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.

That would have been enough, but she invited me to add a little something to the meal, and, well, I got a bit carried away:

  • Machanka: roasted pork belly with gravy
  • Pelmeni: lamb-filled dumplings with adjika butter
  • Armenian roasted vegetables: cabbage, carrots, celery, anise, brussels sprouts, bell peppers, tomatoes.
  • Potatoes in Sour Cream: plus bacon and onions.
  • Moldovan eggplant salad: in a tomato-prune sauce, with pine nuts.
  • Lamb liver and red pepper salad
  • Riga rye bread
  • Smoked whitefish salad
  • Marinated red bell peppers
  • Spiced feta cheese
  • Prague cake

We had about three times as much food as we needed, especially since three guests didn't show up. I actually had a couple more recipes that I shopped for, but didn't bother making. (I have little doubt that the Armenian pumpkin dolmas would have been amazing, and I'm thinking I'll take a crack at them later in the week. However, I doubt anyone would have bothered with the Georgian red bean salad, and I didn't even have a specific recipe for the mushrooms I bought. I made stock for the gravy, and wound up with a lot left over, so I should come up with some kind of stew in the near future -- or maybe a beet-less borscht.)

I thought the machanka/gravy and pelmeni were especially amazing -- each would have been a first-rate main course. Not my intent, but the menu above is pretty much listed from best to worst. The only real problem was the Prague cake: the sponge cake basically collapsed, so it wound up way too thin (I had to cut three layers from less than one inch) and dry (the cocoa possibly burning a little). The custard between layers was OK, but I wound up pouring too much ganache on top, so that layer wound up thicker than a cake slice. Also, when it didn't seem to set up quickly enough, I put the whole thing into the refrigeraor, so wound up serving it hard and cold.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30365 [30328] rated (+37), 273 [277] unrated (-4).

Seemed likely to me that the rated count would fall this week, but I kept plugging at it, mostly picking records from Napster's Featured list, and they added up, even offering a couple surprises. Actually, early on I wrapped up the last of the Nate Chinen picks I could find, winding up with only 5 (of 129) records unrated (Ben Allison, Tim Berne, Wynton Marsalis, Hedvig Mollestad, Mike Moreno). I also checked out one of the late Big Jay McNeely's compilations -- picked the one with dates in the title, although I checked them against his singles discography to be sure. Don't recall why I didn't go further, but it wasn't easy figuring out when various things were recorded.

The Featured list did get me to new vault tapes from Stella Chiweshe, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerard, and Prince -- none extraordinary. I also noticed a Bikini Kill album -- one that I had already heard, but I took another look for two that I had missed that Christgau had A-listed, and found them (after having missed them previously). I actually wound up liking their early demo tape (Revolution Girl Style Now) even more. Also new on Napster is Posi-Tone, a mainstream jazz label run by Marc Free. I got their records for a while, but largely stopped paying them any heed when service went to download-only. Streaming is enough easier to get me interested again, and the Art Hirahara album is a big step forward -- I would say a big surprise, but I never doubted Donny McCaslin could play this well. (I've just never heard it on any of his own records.)

Best of the B+(***) records is probably Dafnis Prieto's album. I'm feeling a little guilty about not giving it another spin, but just not that up for Latin big band. (Could say the same thing for Eddie Palmieri's Full Circle, which could be one of his best.) Didn't pay much attention to the new jazz queue this past week -- partly due to a clutter/misfiling lapse, and partly because I've been playing Ben Webster's Soulville nearly every morning. Guess it's time to nudge that grade up to A+.

Rough week for me, both physically and mentally. Had to work on the old car to get it to start, and decided I also needed to wash it. Also wound up washing the not-quite-so-old car -- jobs that were easy a decade ago but grueling these days. Another task I finally tackled last week was installing new insulation on the coolant pipes on a mini-split air conditioner. Back in July when the main AC went out, we noticed that the insulation on the mini had worn out and split, causing it to ice up and reducing its effectiveness. Back then a friend helped me tear out the old and install new, but I couldn't find the right size material, and made a mess out of it, with the oversized material not fitting into the raceway.

I had to go shopping for new insulation tubes and possibly a new raceway. I eventually found some 3/8-inch split tubes with tape closure, so bought them. I tore the old mess out, installed the new insulation, and eventually was able to tuck it all inside the old raceway (with a few extra cuts). Took 4-5 hours, plus another trip to the hardware store, but finally got it done. Another day I was worn out at the end of. Also doesn't totally fix the cooling problem, but does make it a bit better. By the time I got it done, the heat spell had broken, so I may be able to put off getting it serviced until next year.

Mental stress is harder to explain. Did a couple of things on the server, but still way short of the necessary tasks. Did a minor update, including a new XgauSez, on the Robert Christgau website, but still haven't straightened out the links and filled in the missing stubs for Carola Dibbell. One of the XgauSez questions was about jazz albums of the 1950s/1960s, and Christgau referred to my website for suggestions. Best link I could offer him was this one, but it really doesn't answer the question. So after fretting several days, I started working on a better answer page, but that's turned out to be a lot more work than I've been able to do. I did a preliminary sort for the 1950s and 1960s, but only based on the one database file linked above. Took a lot of time to get next to nothing.

Also spent some time collecting music notes and non-jazz album reviews from the Notebook. Picked up about a year over the course of a week, bringing me up to February 2013. Close to 1000 pages in each volume (actually, 1015 + 1308). At least those projects are straightforward, things I can keep plodding at, and in fairly short order get done.

What bothers me more are the things I can't get started. I still have people I want to call about my sister's death back in March, and others I called them but haven't since. I've been hoping to visit family in Oklahoma and Arkansas since, well, it's been more than two years since I've gotten out of town. I've been meaning to reorganize my cookbooks, and clean out and update my spice racks -- bought new bottles for that more than a year ago. I'm bothered that I haven't even looked at the stack of library books I have due Wednesday (including Chris Hedges' America: The Farewell Tour and David Cay Johnston's It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America; probably nothing in those I don't already know, but I'm certainly could learn something from Ajax Hacks: Tips & Tools for Creating Responsive Web Sites -- well, pub date was 2006, so may be kind of obsolete.) Probably going to wind up sending them all back, only one (mostly) read.

Nor do I anticipate this week becoming suddenly productive. Actually, just the opposite. A Russian friend wanted me to help do some down-home cooking, so I'll be whipping up an assortment of zakuski, side dishes, and a dessert for Friday night dinner. Will probably do something horrible to my back, but otherwise should be fun . . . at last.


New records rated this week:

  • Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist: Together (2018, Summit): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eminem: Kamikaze (2018, Aftermath/Shady/Interscope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Billy F Gibbons: The Big Bad Blues (2018, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • Art Hirahara: Sunward Bound (2017 [2018], Posi-Tone): [r]: A-
  • Lyrics Born: Quite a Life (2018, Mobile Home): [r]: A-
  • Paul McCartney: Egypt Station (2018, Capitol): [r]: B-
  • Mike Moreno: 3 for 3 (2016 [2017], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(*)
  • Willie Nelson: My Way (2018, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dafnis Prieto Big Band: Back to the Sunset (2018, Dafnison): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Kristjan Randalu: Absence (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ratatet: Heroes, Saints and Clowns (2017 [2018], Ridgeway): [cd]: B
  • Scott Routenberg Trio: Supermoon (2018, Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Trygve Seim: Helsinki Songs (2018, ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Swamp Dogg: Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune (2018, Joyful Noise): [r]: B
  • Szun Waves: New Hymn to Freedom (2016-17 [2018], The Leaf Label): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Live (2016 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Doug Webb: Fast Friends (2018, Posi-Tone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bugge Wesseltoft/Prins Thomas: Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas (2018, Smalltown Supersound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mike Westbrook: Starcross Bridge (2017 [2018], Hatology): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Stella Chiweshe: Kasahwa: Early Singles (1974-83 [2018], Glitterbeat): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard: Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 (1965-69 [2018], Free Dirt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Prince: Piano and a Microphone 1983 (1983 [2018], NPG/Warner Bros.): [r]: B

Old music rated this week:

  • Bikini Kill: Revolution Girl Style Now (1991 [2015], Bikini Kill): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bikini Kill: Bikini Kill (1992, Kill Rock Stars, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bikini Kill: Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah (1992 [1993], Kill Rock Stars, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bikini Kill: The Singles (1993-95 [1998], Kill Rock Stars, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Terence Blanchard: Bounce (2003, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Cookers: Warriors (2011, Jazz Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Huggy Bear: Our Troubled Youth (1992 [1993], Kill Rock Stars, EP): [r]: B
  • Ahmad Jamal: In Search of Momentum (2003, Birdology/Dreyfus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lionel Loueke: Virgin Forest (2006 [2007], ObliqSound): [r]: B+(*)
  • Big Jay McNeely: The Best Of (1948-1956) (1946-58 [2010], Master Classics): [r]: B+(***)
  • Trygve Seim: Different Rivers (1998-99 [2000], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Loren Stillman + Bad Touch: Going Public (2012 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bugge Wesseltoft: New Conception of Jazz (1995-96 [1997], Jazzland): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bugge Wesseltoft: It's Snowing on My Piano (1997, ACT): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bugge Wesseltoft: New Conception of Jazz: Live (2000-02 [2003], Jazzland): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop: Abundance (Anzic): October 5
  • Colin Edwin & Lorenzo Feliciati: Twinscapes Vol. 2: A Modern Approach to the Dancefloor (RareNoise): advance, October 26
  • Myra Melford's Snowy Egret: The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12): November 2
  • John Moulder: Decade: Memoirs (Origin)
  • Anne Sajdera: New Year (Bijuri): November 2
  • Tyshaw Sorey: Pillars (Firehouse 12, 3CD): October 12
  • Mike Steinel Quintet: Song and Dance (OA2)
  • Brad Whiteley: Presence (Destiny): October 5

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Got a late start this week, figuring I'd just go through the motions, but got overwhelmed, as usual.

Was reminded on twitter that Liz Fink died three years ago. Also pointed to this video biography. I couldn't tell whether the dog snoring sounds were in the video, given that the same dog was camped out under my desk (not the poodle pictured in the video, the legendary Sheldon).


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Kavanaugh and Trump are part of a larger crisis of elite accountability in America: Two pretty good quotes here. The first gives you most of the background you need to judge Kavanaugh:

    An honest look at his career shows that it's extraordinarily undistinguished.

    Born into a privileged family that was well-connected in Republican Party politics, Kavanaugh coasted from Georgetown Prep, where he was apparently a hard partier, into Yale, where he joined the notoriously hard-partying secret society Truth & Courage, and then on to Yale Law School.

    Soon after graduating, he got a gig working for independent counsel Ken Starr -- a plum position for a Republican lawyer on the make because the Starr inquiry was supposed to take down the Clinton administration. Instead, it ended up an ignominious, embarrassing failure, generating an impeachment process that was so spectacularly misguided and unpopular that Democrats pulled off the nearly impossible feat of gaining seats during a midterm election when they controlled the White House.

    Kavanaugh clerked for Alex Kozinski, an appeals court judge who was well known to the lay public for his witty opinions and well known to the legal community as a sexual harasser. When the sexual harassment became a matter of public embarrassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Kavanaugh professed to have simply not noticed anything amiss -- including somehow not remembering Kozinski's dirty jokes email distribution list.

    Despite this inattention to detail, Kavanaugh ended up in the George W. Bush White House, playing a critical behind-the-scenes role as staff secretary to an administration that suffered the worst terrorist attack in American history, let the perpetrator get away, invaded Iraq to halt the country's nonexistent nuclear weapons program, and destroyed the global economy.

    Kavanaugh then landed a seat on the DC Circuit Court, though to do so, he had to offer testimony that we now know to have been misleading regarding his role in both William Pryor's nomination for a different federal judgeship and the handling of some emails stolen from Democratic Party committee staff. On the DC Circuit, he issued some normal GOP party-line rulings befitting his career as a Republican Party foot soldier.

    Now he may end up as a Supreme Court justice despite never in his life having been involved in anything that was actually successful. He has never meaningfully taken responsibility for the substantive failures of the Starr inquiry or the Bush White House, where his tenure as a senior staffer coincided with both Hurricane Katrina and failed Social Security privatization plan as well as the email shenanigans he misled Congress about, or for his personal failure as a bystander to Kozinski's abuses.

    He's been a man on the make ever since his teen years, and has consistently acted with the breezy confidence of privilege.

    The second quote wraps Trump up neatly. Every now and then you need to be reminded that however much you loathe Trump personally, his actual track record is even more nefarious than you recall:

    The most striking thing about Trump's record, in my view, is how frequently he has been caught doing illegal things only to get away without paying much of a price. His career is a story of a crime here, a civil settlement there, but never a criminal trial or anything that would deprive him of his business empire or social clout.

    Back in 1990, he needed an illegal loan from his father to keep his casinos afloat. So he asked for an illegal loan from his father, received an illegal loan from his father, and was caught by the New Jersey gaming authorities receiving said illegal loan from his father. But nothing really happened to him as a result. He paid a $65,000 fine and moved on.

    This happened to Trump again and again before he began his political career. From his empty-box tax scam to money laundering at his casinos to racial discrimination in his apartments to Federal Trade Commission violations for his stock purchases to Securities and Exchange Commission violations for his financial reporting, Trump has spent his entire career breaking various laws, getting caught, and then essentially plowing ahead unharmed.

    When he was caught engaging in illegal racial discrimination to please a mob boss, he paid a fine. There was no sense that this was a repeated pattern of violating racial discrimination law, and certainly no desire to take a closer look at his various personal and professional connections to the Mafia.

    If Trump had been a carjacker or a heroin dealer, this rap sheet would have had him labeled a career criminal and treated quite harshly by the legal system. But operating under the rules of rich-guy impunity, Trump remained a member of New York high society in good standing -- hosting a television show, having Bill and Hillary Clinton attend his third wedding as guests, etc. -- before finally leaning into his lifelong dalliances with racial demagoguery to become president.

    Over the course of that campaign, he wasn't only credibly accused of several instances of sexual assault -- he was caught on tape confessing -- but he won the election anyway, and Congress has shown no interest in looking into the matter.

    Other Yglesias pieces:

    More Kavanaugh links:

  • Michelle Alexander: We Are Not the Resistance: New NY Times opinion columnist, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010), the book that brought its subject into mainstream political discourse. Here she bravely tries to turn the table, arguing "Donald Trump is the one who is pushing back against the new nation that's struggling to be born."

    Resistance is a reactive state of mind. While it can be necessary for survival and to prevent catastrophic harm, it can also tempt us to set our sights too low and to restrict our field of vision to the next election cycle, leading us to forget our ultimate purpose and place in history.

    The disorienting nature of Trump's presidency has already managed to obscure what should be an obvious fact: Viewed from the broad sweep of history, Donald Trump is the resistance. We are not.

    Those of us who are committed to the radical evolution of American democracy are not merely resisting an unwanted reality. To the contrary, the struggle for human freedom and dignity extends back centuries and is likely to continue for generations to come. . . .

    Donald Trump's election represents a surge of resistance to this rapidly swelling river, an effort to build not just a wall but a dam. A new nation is struggling to be born, a multiracial, multiethnic, multifaith, egalitarian democracy in which every life and every voice truly matters.

  • Daniel Bessner: What Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Think About the South China Sea? Sub hed is more to the point: "the rising left needs more foreign policy. Here's how it can start." Basic point:

    Left-wing politics is, at its heart, about giving power to ordinary people. Foreign policy, especially recently, has been about the opposite. Since the 1940s, unelected officials ensconced in bodies like the National Security Council have been the primary makers of foreign policy. This trend has worsened since the Sept. 11 attacks, as Congress has relinquished its oversight role and granted officials in the executive branch and the military carte blanche. Foreign policy elites have been anything but wise and have promoted several of the worst foreign policy blunders in American history, including the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

    The left should aim to bring democracy into foreign policy. This means taking some of the power away from the executive and, especially, White House institutions like the National Security Council and returning it to the hands of Congress. In particular, socialist politicians should push to reassert Congress's long-abdicated role in declaring war, encourage more active oversight of the military and create bodies that make national security information available to the public so that Americans know exactly what their country is doing abroad.

    Bessner goes on to outline four areas: Accountability, Anti-militarism, Threat deflation, and Internationalism. That's a good start, an outline for a book which I'd like to see but could probably write myself. One thing that isn't developed enough is why this matters. US foreign policy has always been dominated by business interests -- the Barbars Wars, the War of 1812, and the "Open Door" skirmishes in East Asia were all about supporting US traders, the Mexican and Spanish Wars were more nakedly imperialist; even after WWII, CIA coups in Guatemala and Iran had clear corporate sponsors. Such ventures had little domestic effect -- a few special interests benefited, but unless they escalated into world wars few ordinary Americans were affected. That changed after WWII, when the anti-communist effort was broadly directed against labor movements, and wound up undermining worker representation here, concentrating corporate power and dragging domestic politics to the right, subverting democracy and increasing inequality. Finance and trade policies were even more obviously captured by corporate interests. Corporations went global, exporting capital to more lucrative markets abroad. US trade deficits were tolerated because the profits could be returned to the investment banks and hedge funds that dominated the elite 1%. Meanwhile, nearly constant war coarsened and brutalized American society, making us meaner and more contemptuous, both of other and of ourselves. Harry Truman started the Cold War and wound up destroying our own middle class. GW Bush started the Global War on Terror, and all we have to show for it is Donald Trump -- a seething bundle of contradictions, blindly lashing out at the foreign policy he inherited and totally in thrall to it. So sure, the Rising Left needs a new foreign policy, and not just because the world should be treated better but because we should treat ourselves better too.

  • Sean Illing: Americans have a longstanding love of magical thinking: One more in a long series of superficial interviews with authors of recent books. This one is with Kurt Andersen, whose Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire intrigued me as possibly insightful in the Trump era -- still, when I thumbed through the book, it struck me as possibly just glib and superficial, or maybe just too obvious. It's long been clear to me that in 1980 America voted for a deranged fantasy (Reagan) over sober reality (Carter), and since then it's been impossible to turn back -- not least because the Clinton-Obama Democrats have chosen to fight conservative myths with neoliberal ones. Andersen quote:

    I've been familiar with Trump for a long time, and I was one of the first people to write about him back in the '80s. I started paying attention to him before a lot of other people did. There's nothing there. He's a showman, a performance artist. But he's a hustler like P.T. Barnum.

    As I was writing this book in 2014 and 2015, I saw that Trump was running for president and I realized, about halfway through the book, that I had to reckon with this stupid -- but deadly serious -- candidacy.

    Watching it was strange, though. I was finishing the book and getting to the part about modern politics, and here's Trump about to win the nomination. It was as though I had summoned some golem into existence by writing this history, of which he, as you say, is the apotheosis.

  • Umair Irfan: Ryan Zinke to the oil and gas industry: "Our government should work for you": And Zinke's department, to say the least, already does.

    Irfan has also been following Hurricane Florence. See: Hurricane Florence's "1,000-year" rainfall, explained; and Hog manure is spilling out of lagoons because of Hurricane Florence's floods. Coal ash is another concern: Steven Murfson/Brady Dennis/Darryl Fears: More headaches as Florence's waters overtake toxic pits and hog lagoons; and, following up, Dam breach sends toxic coal ash flowing into a major North Carolina river; also: Kelsey Piper: How 3.4 million chickens drowned in Hurricane Florence.

  • Naomi Klein: There's Nothing Natural About Puerto Rico's Disaster. In many ways you can say the same thing about North Carolina's disaster, although Puerto Rico had to face a much more powerful storm with a lot less government aid.

  • German Lopez: There have been 263 days in 2018 -- and 262 mass shootings in America.

  • Dana Milbank: America's Jews are watching Israel in horror. Not a columnist I regularly read, least of all on Israel, but take this as a signpost that in Israel "the rise of ultranationalism tied to religious extremism, the upsurge in settler violence, the overriding of Supreme Court rulings upholding democracy and human rights, a crackdown on dissent, harassment of critics and nonprofits, confiscation of Arab villages and alliances with regimes -- in Poland, Hungary and the Philippines -- that foment anti-Semitism" is beginning to worry some previously staunch supporters.

    A poll for the American Jewish Committee in June found that while 77 percent of Israeli Jews approve of Trump's handling of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, only 34 percent of American Jews approve. Although Trump is popular in Israel, only 26 percent of American Jews approve of him. Most Jews feel less secure in the United States than they did a year ago. (No wonder, given the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents and high-level winks at anti-Semitism, from Charlottesville to Eric Trump's recent claim that Trump critics are trying to "make three extra shekels.") The AJC poll was done a month before Israel passed a law to give Jews more rights than other citizens, betraying the country's 70-year democratic tradition.

    On the other hand:

    Netanyahu is betting Israel's future on people such as Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel, featured at the ceremony for Trump's opening of the Jerusalem embassy. Hagee once said "Hitler was a hunter" sent by God to drive Jews to Israel. Pro-Israel apocalypse-minded Christians see Israel as a precursor to the second coming, when Jews must convert or go to hell.

    On the other hand, for the one Jewish-American who counts the most (to Trump, anyway): Jeremy W Peters: Sheldon Adelson Sees a Lot to Like in Trump's Washington.

  • Trita Parsi: The Ahvaz terror attack in Iran may drag the US into a larger war: On the same day that Trump Lawyer Giuliani Says Iran's Government Will Be Overthrown, gunmen attacked a parade in Ahvaz (southwestern Iran, a corner with a large Arabic population), killing 29. Iran's Rouhani blames US-backed Gulf states for military parade attack, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE -- the prime movers of the US-backed intervention in Yemen. This follows the September 7 fire-bombing of the Iranian consulate in Basra, Iraq, which in turn follows months of bellicose talk directed by the Trump administration (e.g., Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Giuliani) at Iran, following constant lobbying by Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel to get the US to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

  • Dick Polman: Donald Trump Might Be the 'Client From Hell': That's almost a commonplace by now, this article repeating all of the usual charges except the one that Trump doesn't pay his bills. Early on I doubted the investigation would ever get anywhere near Trump, but Sessions had to recuse himself after getting caught in a lie about not meeting any Russians, then Trump tried to intercede for Flynn and wound up throwing himself into the fray by firing Comey. Even so, Trump could have sat tight and let a few of his underlings get sacrificed. However, it's never just been a legal issue for Trump. It's also a political one, and he seems to intuitively grasp that he can spin the investigation as a "witch hunt" and rally his base with that. To some extent he's succeeded doing just that, and in so doing he's galvanized his base against an ever-expanding array of scandals. But his base, even having captured nearly all of the Republican Party faithful, is still a minority position. And to pretty much everyone else, he's managed to look guilty as hell. By looking and acting guilty, he's inviting further investigation. A lawyer who's any good would worry about the legal exposure, and keep it as far as possible away from the spotlight. On the other hand, Trump's main lawyer right now is Rudy Giuliani, a flack who like Trump is primarily interested in political gain.

  • Andrew Prokop: The Times's big new Rod Rosenstein story has major implications for Mueller's probe: Seems overblown as a story. Even if it's true, which I wouldn't bet on, it's a big jump from wondering whether the president is competent to using his office to unfairly plot against Trump. On the other hand, the firing of Andrew McCabe shows that there are powerful people in the Trump administration who are willing to use innuendo and gossip to punish DOJ employees they consider hostile to Trump.

  • Alex Ward: Trump's China strategy is the most radical in decades -- and it's failing. Also related: Dean Baker: Trump's Tariffs on Chinese Imports Are Actually a Tax on the US Middle Class. I think both of these pieces are overstated, but more important miss the main point. China has an industrial policy, while the US doesn't (well, except for arms and, barely, agribusiness). To boost exports, you need two things: supply, and an open market. The Chinese government works both sides of that equation, as indeed does the government of nation with a successful export-led growth program. So when China gains access to a market, China has made sure that it has companies producing products for that market. US trade treaties try to open markets for American exporters, but they do little to develop suppliers -- they expect capitalism to magically fill the supply gap, which could happens but most often won't. Nor is the problem there simply that the US doesn't have an industrial policy to make sure we're building products we can successfully export. It's also that US corporations are free to invest their capital elsewhere -- basically wherever they expect the highest return. And there is no real pressure on them to reinvest their profits in American workers -- either from the government or labor unions. So, Trump is right when he complains that China has been ripping us off for many years. However, he doesn't have the right tools for turning this around, and with his carte blanche for corporate power he refuses to even consider doing what needs to be done. But that doesn't mean that someone who cared about American workers couldn't do much better.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30328 [30295] rated (+33), 277 [271] unrated (+6).

Had a rough week, including a moment when all of the stress I had been accumulating seemed to implode, then emanate outward in a scream and a shudder. One thing that did break was my progress through the new jazz queue. I ran into an album that under the circumstances was unbearable. I imagine I'll go back to it later this week and give it a fair shake, but that wasn't going to happen last week. Instead, I slipped two CDs into the changes, choice encounters between saxophonist and pianist -- Lester Young and Oscar Peterson for starters, then Ben Webster with Art Tatum -- and that's remained my wake-up ritual ever since: long enough for breakfast, reading what's left of the local newspaper, and a little work on the jigsaw puzzle. Later in the day I'd pull up some jazz on Napster, or if I needed to get away from the computer, some r&b from the travel cases. Somehow managed to fix a nice dinner for the people who were kind enough to tear down and pack my late sister's big art project -- currently in a truck on the road to Vancouver, WA. Greek shrimp, green beans, salad, rice, and an applesauce cake, as I recall.

Wound up with mostly old jazz this week, in most cases starting with albums Nate Chinen picked as the "129 Essential [Jazz] Albums of the Twenty-First Century." I copied them down, checked my database, and figured out I hadn't heard nearly a sixth of them (21, so 16.2%). I've since knocked that down to five that don't seem to be on Napster. In some cases my curiosity led me to related albums, picking up two extra albums by Danilo Pérez and John Scofield, one by Cassandra Wilson, but none of those cases filled in all of the holes in my listening. The one exception was Trio 3 (Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille) -- not coincidentally the only of the 16 records to get an A- -- and they got me to take another look at the great Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer. I've made a couple of previous dives through her catalog, especially the piano-drum duos (I especially recommend the ones with Han Bennink and Pierre Favre), so much of what was left was solo -- something I rarely follow well let alone get into, but she's really special. Also gave me an excuse to dig deeper into her label, Intakt -- something I've long wanted to do.

One thing I did manage to do (in an unsatisfying, hacked up way) last week was set up WordPress for Notes on Everyday Life. I had previously built websites for this domain in 2004 based on Drupal and in 2014 based on WordPress, but both were eventually wiped out in server catastrophes. Neither was a major loss, in that the writing also existed in my notebook. So I was pleased that I found the "Intro" I wrote in 2014, but I got confused by the default widget setup so it's still not usable. I have a half-assed idea to fill it up with fragments from old notebooks, hoping that the category and tag system will bind those bits into more coherent wholes. Given that I've already gone through and collected the political writings, it should be relatively straightforward to start picking things out.

I have two more WordPress blogs to set up, including one for music writings. Would like some advice and direction on the latter, and ultimately some help. I've continued to collect music writings and non-jazz reviews into book form. I'm up to 2012 now, with close to 2000 pages in two books, so there's quite a bit of content that could be used as a starting point.


New records rated this week:

  • Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra: Flyin' Through Florida (2018, Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • John Kruth & La Società dei Musici: Forever Ago (2018, Ars Spoletium): [r]: A-
  • Joey Morant: Forever Sanctified (2018, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Al Muirhead's Canadian Quintet: Undertones (2018, Chronograph): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Logan Richardson: Blues People (2018, Ropeadope): [r]: B-
  • Cory Smythe: Circulate Susanna (2018, Pyroclastic): [cd]: B-
  • Jay T. Vonada: United (2017 [2018], Summit): [cd]: B+(***)
  • VWCR [Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley/Sylvie Courvoisier/Tom Rainey]: Noise of Our Time (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • David Binney: South (2000 [2001], ACT): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brian Blade Fellowship: Perceptual (2000, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chicago Underground Quartet: Chicago Underground Quartet (2000 [2001], Thrill Jockey): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers Orchestra/Irène Schweizer: Radio Rondo/Schaffhausen Concert (2008 [2009], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Always Let Me Go: Live in Tokyo (2001 [2002], ECM, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joëlle Léandre/Yves Robert/Irène Schweizer/Daunik Lazro: Paris Quartet (1985-87 [1989], Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Maggie Nicols/Irène Schweizer/Joëlle Léandre: Les Diaboliques (1993 [1994], Intakt): [r]: B
  • Danilo Pérez: Danilo Pérez (1992 [1993], Jive/Novus): [r]: B+(*)
  • Danilo Pérez: PanaMonk (1996, Impulse!): [r]: B+(**)
  • Danilo Pérez: Motherland (2000, Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Irène Schweizer: Wilde Señoritas (1976 [1977], FMP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Irène Schweizer: Hexensabbat (1977 [1978], FMP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Irène Schweizer: Wilde Señoritas/Hexensabbat (1976-77 [2002], Intakt, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Irène Schweizer: Live at Taktlos (1984 [1906], Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Irène Schweizer: Piano Solo Vol. 1 (1990 [1992], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Irène Schweizer: Piano Solo Vol. 2 (1990 [1992], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Irène Schweizer: Many and One Direction (1996, Intakt): [r]: A-
  • Irène Schweizer/Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake: Live Willisau & Taktlos (1998-2004 [2007], Intakt): [r]: A-
  • John Scofield: Blue Matter (1986 [1987], Gramavision): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Scofield: Hand Jive (1993 [1994], Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Scofield: Works for Me (2000 [2001], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Co Streiff/Irène Schweizer: Twin Lines (1999-2000 [2002], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Trio 3: Encounter (1999 [2001], Passin' Thru): [r]: A-
  • Trio 3 + Irène Schweizer: Berne Concert (2007 [2009], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Trio 3 + Geri Allen: At This Time (2008 [2009], Intakt): [r]: A-
  • Cassandra Wilson: Blue Skies (1988. JMT): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Belly of the Sun (2002, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alchemy Sound Project: Adventures in Time and Space (ARC)
  • Danny Bacher: Still Happy (Whaling City Sound)
  • Jake Ehrenreich: A Treasury of Jewish Christmas Songs (self-released)
  • Jonathan Finlayson: 3 Times Round (Pi): October 5
  • The Marie Goudy 12tet featuring Jocelyn Barth: The Bitter Suite (self-released): October 12
  • Devin Gray: Dirigo Rataplan II (Rataplan): September 21
  • Hofbauer/Rosenthal Quartet: Human Resources (Creative Nation Music): November 9
  • Jared Sims: The New York Sessions (Ropeadope): October 12
  • Alister Spence/Satoko Fujii: Intelset (Alister Spence Music)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Once again, way too much to report to cover in the limited time I left myself this weekend. Especially given that I had to take a few hours out to attend a talk by Lawrence Wittner on How Peace Activists Saved the World from Nuclear War. As Wittner, author of at least three books on anti-nuke protests, pointed out, the main factor inhibiting nuclear powers from using their expensive weapons was fear of public reproach, something that was made most visible by the concerted efforts of anti-war and anti-nuke activists. Needless to say, he pointed out that this struggle is far from over, and arguably may have lost some ground with Trump in power. Trump, indeed, seems to be triply dangerous on this score: fascinated with the awesome power of nuclear weapons, convinced of his instincts for holding public opinion, and indifferent to whatever harm he might cause.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Scattered pieces by Matthew Yglesias:

    • Who's overrated and who's underrated as a 2020 Democratic presidential prospect? The one piece I care least about, partly because I think that it's far more important for Democrats to elect federal and state legislators, and for that matter state and local administrators, than the president. Most issues can be ranked on two axes: importance and urgency. The presidential election isn't until 2020, even including the seemingly interminable primary season, whereas there are important elections happening real soon. But also, and one can point to at least 25 years of experience here, I'd much rather have a solid Democratic Congress than a crippled Democratic president (which is a charitable description of the last two, maybe three). But if you are curious, the current betting lines (and that's really all they are) rank: Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Cuomo, Opray Winrey, Tim Kaine, Chris Murphy. Nothing but minor nits in the article: Yglesias argues for Klobuchar vs. Gillibrand; Dylan Matthews for Michael Avenati vs. Winfrey; Ezra Klein advises "buy [LA mayor Eric] Garcetti, sell [CA governor Jerry] Brown." Previous editions of this article -- it promises to stick with us like a bad cough -- aimed higher, arguing that Harris is overrated vs. Sanders, that Biden and Kaine should be more evenly matched, and that Cuomo has pretty clearly blown his shot (he's since pretty definitively announced he's not running).

    • Andrew Cuomo has won himself another term, but his presidential aspirations are dead: "Somewhat ironically, it was actually Cuomo's presidential aspirations that, in retrospect, have ended up dooming his presidential aspirations. . . Cuomo zigged [right] when the national party zagged [left]." The good news for him was that he enjoyed a 20-to-1 fundraising advantage over challenger Cynthia Nixon, as well as solid support from what remains of the Democratic Party machine in New York. In short, he won his primary the same way Clinton defeated Sanders in New York in 2016. Also see: Matt Taibbi: Cuomo's Win: It's All About the Money.

    • George W. Bush is not a resistance leader -- he's part of the problem:

      The best way to think about Bush-style pseudo-resistance is that it's a hedge against the risk that the Trumpian political project collapses disastrously.

      In that case, Republicans are going to do what they've done so many times before and keep all their main policy commitments the same but come up with some hazy new branding.

      After the Gingrich-era GOP was rejected at the polls in 1998 as too mean-spirited, Bush came into office as a warm and fuzzy "compassionate conservative." When he left office completely discredited, a new generation of GOP leaders came to the fore inspired by the hard-edged libertarianism of the Tea Party and its critique of "crony capitalism." That then gave way to Donald Trump, a "populist" and "nationalist," who coincidentally believes in all the same things about taxes and regulation as a Tea Party Republican or a compassionate conservative or a Gingrich revolutionary.

      For better or worse (well, okay, for worse) the elite ranks of the American conservative movement are inspired by a fanatical belief that low taxes on rich people constitute both cosmic justice and a surefire way to spark economic growth. This assumption is wrong and also makes it impossible for them to coherently govern in a way that serves the concrete material interests of the majority of the population, leading inevitably to a politics that emphasizes immaterial culture-war considerations with the exact nature of the culture war changing to fit the spirit of the times.

      The disagreement over whether Trump is a jerk and the more nice-guy approach of Bush is better is a genuine disagreement, but it's fundamentally a tactical one. When the chips are on the table, Bush wants Trump to succeed. He just wants the world to know that if Trump does fail, there's another path forward for Republicans that doesn't involve rethinking any of their main ideas.

    • The controversy over Bernie Sanders's proposed Stop BEZOS Act, explained: "You need to take him seriously, not literally." The proposed act is just a way of showing (and with Amazon personalizing) the fact that one reason many companies can get away with paying workers less than a living wage is that many of those workers can compensate for low wages with the public-funded "safety net" -- food stamps, medicaid, etc. Such benefits not only help impoverished workers; they also effectively subsidize their employers. Of course, there are better ways to solve this problem, and indeed Sanders is in the forefront of pushing those ways. (Also see: James Bloodworth: I worked in an Amazon warehouse. Bernie Sanders is right to target them.)

  • Jon Lee Anderson: What Donald Trump Fails to Recognize About Hurricanes -- and Leadership: Before the storm hit, Trump tried to do the right thing and use his media prominence to make sure people were aware of the threat Hurricane Florence posed: as he most memorably put it, the storm "is very big and very wet." But aside from that one public service bit, everything else he made about himself, bragging about his "A+" damage control efforts in Texas and Florida last year, and blaming the disaster in Puerto Rico on Democrats and "fake news." I doubt that FEMA has ever done that great of a job, especially in an era where public spending is shrinking in addition to being eaten up by corruption (while at the same time disasters are becoming ever more expensive), but having the program run by people as insensitive and deceitful as Trump only makes matters worse.

    By the way, this has been a rather weird hurricane season, with more activity in the Pacific (including two major hurricanes impacting Hawaii, and, currently Typhoon Mangkhut ravages Philippines, Hong Kong, and southern China), while most Atlantic storms have been taking unusual routes (which partly explains why they've been relatively mild). It's not unusual for storms to follow the East Coast from Florida up through the Carolinas, but I can't recall any previous storm hitting North Carolina from straight east, then moving southwest and stalling before eventually curving north and back out to sea, as Florence is doing. (Wikipedia says Hurricane Isabel, in 2003, "took a similar path," but actually it came in from further south, with more impact in Virginia.) While Florence has caused a lot of damage to the Carolinas so far, one thing you should keep in mind is that winds there have generally been 70-80 mph less than what hit Puerto Rico a year ago. More rain and flooding, perhaps, but much less wind.

    More links on hurricanes, past and present:

  • Dean Baker: The bank bailout of 2008 was unnecessary. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke scared Congress into it. I think Baker's basically right, although at the time I didn't have a big problem with the $700 billion bank bailout bill -- nor, later, using some of the bailout funds to prop up the auto industry. I think it's appropriate for government to step in and prevent the sort of panics and collapse that big business is prone to, but I think it's even more appropriate to provide a strong safety net and a firm universal foundation for all the people who work and live in that economy. The problem is that propping up the banks kept the people who ran them into the ground in power, and once they were rescued, they actively worked against helping anyone else. Obama did manage to get a stimulus spending bill passed, but it was by most estimates less than half of what was actually needed to make up for the recession. (Coincidentally, it was capped at $700 billion, the same figure as the bank bailout bill. The banks, by the way, got way more than $700 billion thanks to Fed policies that basically gave them unlimited cash infusions, possibly as much as $3 trillion.) The recovery was further hampered by a Republican austerity campaign, whipped up by debt hysteria, partly on the hunch that keeping the economy depressed would make Obama, as Mitch McConnell put it, "a one-term president," and partly due to their ardor in shrinking government everywhere (except the military, police, and jails).

    Ten years after the collapse of Lehman, some more links:

    Matthew Yglesias' third Weeds newsletter made the following claim:

    President Obama's No. 1 job was to rescue the ruined economy he inherited, and he didn't do it.

    Yglesias, following an article by Jason Furman, argues that Obama failed because he didn't get Congress to pass an adequate stimulus bill. Congress did pass a $700 billion bill, but much of that was in the form of tax breaks, which turned out to have little effect. The size of the package was almost identical to the bank bailout bill passed under Bush, as if that was some sort of ceiling as to how much the government could spend on any given thing. (It's also very similar in size to the Defense budget, not counting supplemental funding for war operations.) I think it's more accurate to say that Obama did a perfectly adequate job of rescuing the banking industry, but once that was done it was impossible to get sufficient political support to rescue anyone else. Moreover, any hope that the banks, once restored to profitability, would somehow lift the rest of the economy out of the abyss, have been disproven. We might have known that much before, given the extent to which financial profits, even before the recession, were driven by predatory scams. There's no better example of the influence of money on politics, as well as its "I've got mine, so screw yours" ethics.

  • Zack Beauchamp: It happened there: how democracy died in Hungary. In 2010, Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party won a sufficient landslide to not only control Hungary's parliament but to rewrite its constitution, which they proceeded to do in such a way as to rig future elections in their favor, and make it nearly impossible for future governments to undo their policies. When I first read about this, I immediately realized that this would be the model for the Republicans should they ever achieve comparable power in the US. These days, Hungary looks like the model for a whole wave of illiberal despots, with Putin and Trump merely the most prominent.

  • James Fallows: The Passionless Presidency: Fairly long critique of Jimmy Carter's management style by a journalist who spent a couple years as one of Carter's speechwriters: mostly a catalog of idiosyncrasies he never felt the need to reconsider let alone learn from. Carter was one of the smartest and most personally decent people ever elected president, but few people regard him as a particularly good president, either based on results or popularity. It's long been recognized that he voluntarily sacrificed popularity with, for example, his recession-inducing battle against inflation, his appeal for conserving energy, and his Panama Canal treaty (to pick three backlashes Reagan's campaign jumped on. And lately we've had reason to question some of his goals and intentions, like his deregulation efforts, his undermining of trade unions, and his escalation of American "security interests" in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. Fallows dances around these issues, partly by never really concerning himself with the substance of Carter's presidency, or for that matter its historical context. One thing that struck me at the time was that Carter started out wanting to find a moral center for US foreign policy, but somehow that quickly decayed into a more intensely moralistic gloss on the policy he inherited (mostly Kissinger's realpolitik with some high-sounding Kennedy-esque catch phrases). The immediate result was a revival of the Cold War in ever more uncompromising terms.

  • Sean Illing: The biggest lie we still teach in American history class: Interview with James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, which came out in 1995 and has sold some two million copies. He says: "The idea that we're always getting better keeps us from seeing those times when we're getting worse." Also:

    For example, if we want to make our society less racist, there are certain things we'll have to do, like we did between 1954 and 1974. During this time, you could actually see our society become less racist both in attitudes and in terms of our social structures.

    If we want to make society more racist, then we can do some of the things we did between 1890 and 1940, because we can actually see our society becoming more racist both in practices and in attitudes. So by not teaching causation, we disempower people from doing anything.

    By teaching that things are pretty much good and getting better automatically, we remove any reason for citizens to be citizens, to exercise the powers of citizenship. But that's not how progress happens.

    Nothing good happens without the collective efforts of dedicated people. History, the way it's commonly taught, has a way of obscuring this fact.

    Also, when asked about "the age of Trump":

    I actually think our situation is far worse than it was in the past. For example, our federal government, under Nixon and Johnson, lied to us about the Vietnam War, but they never made the case that facts don't matter or that my facts are as good as your facts.

    They assumed something had to be seen as true in order to matter, so they lied in order to further their agenda.

    Trump has basically introduced the idea that there is no such thing as facts, no such thing as truth -- and that is fundamentally different. He is attacking the very idea of truth and thereby giving his opponents no ground to stand on at all. That's a very dangerous road to go down, but that's where we are.

    Illing also has a good interview with David Graeber: Bullshit jobs: why they exist and why you might have one.

  • Anna North: The striking parallels between Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas: People tend to forget that the main reason Thomas' offenses were so shocking at the time was that he was actually in charge of the government department that was responsible for policing sexual harassment in the workplace. He should, in short, have been uniquely positioned to know the law, and personally bound to follow it. Of course, as a partisan Republican hack, he could care less about such things, but the example gave us a fair glimpse not just into his personal character but into his future legacy as a jurist. Kavanaugh's"#MeToo" problem (see Bonan Farrow/Jane Mayer: A Sexual-Misconduct Allegation Against the Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Stirs Tension Among Democrats in Congress) doesn't strike me as of quite the same order, but there is a real parallel between how Thomas and Kavanaugh were groomed as political cadres infiltrating the Supreme Court. And confirming Kavanaugh will give him the opportunity to do something vastly more destructive to American women than he could ever have done in person. My main caveat is: don't think that all these guys care about is sexual domination; they're also really into money.

  • Nomi Prins: Cooking the Books in the Trump Universe. Or, as The Nation retitled this piece, "Is Donald Trump's Downfall Hidden in His Tax Returns?"

  • Jim Tankersley/Keith Bradsher: Trump Hits China With Tariffs on $200 Billion in Goods, Escalating Trade War.

  • Sandy Tolan: Was Oslo Doomed From the Start? I would like to think it could have worked, and maybe in Rabin hadn't been killed, and had Clinton taken seriously his role as honest broker, and had the UN (with US consent) weighed in on the illegality of the settler movement, but in retrospect it's clear that Oslo was a weak footing that faced very formidable opposition -- virtually all on the Israeli side (not that the deal lacked for Arab critics). The reason Oslo happened was Israel desperately needed a break and a breather from the Intifada. Rabin's vow to "break the bones" of the Palestinians had turned into a public relations disaster, at the same time as the Bush-Baker administration was exceptionally concerned with building up its Arab alliances. But also, Rabin recognized that Arafat was very weak -- partly because the Intifada had gotten along well without him, partly because his siding with Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War undercut his support from other Arab leaders -- and was desperate to cut any kind of deal that would bring him back from exile. Rabin realized that bringing Arafat back was the sort of ploy that would look like a lot while giving up next to nothing. In particular, Rabin could still placate the Israeli right by accelerating the settlement project. Meanwhile, the security services, the settlers, and the right-wing political parties plotted how to kill the deal, and any future prospect for peaceful coexistence. As Nolan notes:

    For me, each successive trip has revealed a political situation grimmer and less hopeful than the time before.

    What's made the situation so grim isn't the demise of "the two-state solution," which only made sense as a way as a stop-gap way to extract most Palestinians from the occupation without demanding any change from Israeli nationalism. What's grim is that more and more Israelis have become convinced that they can maintain a vastly inequal and unjust two-caste hierarchy indefinitely. They have no qualms about violence, which they rationalize with increasingly blatant racism, and for now at least they have few worries about world public opinion -- least of all about the US since Donald Trump, who's been totally submissive to Netanyahu, took office.

    Also see:

  • Max Ajl: Trump's decision to close the PLO Embassy says more about the future of the US than the future of Palestine.

  • Avi Shlaim: Palestinians still live under apartheid in Israel, 25 years after the Oslo accord.

  • Edward Wong: US Is Ending Final Source of Aid for Palestinian Civilians.

  • Jon Schwarz/Alice Speri: No One Will Be Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Oslo Accords.

  • James Vincent: EU approves controversial Copyright Directive, including internet 'link tax' and 'upload filter': "Those in favor say they're fighting for content creators, but critics say the new laws will be 'catastrophic.'" For more of the latter position, see Sarah Jeong: New EU copyright filtering law threatens the internet as we knew it. This sounds just extraordinarily awful. In a nutshell, the idea is to force all content on the internet to be monetized, with a clear accounting mechanism so that every actor pays an appropriate amount for every bit of content. In theory this should provide financial incentives for creative people to produce content, confident their efforts will be rewarded. In practice, this will fail on virtually every conceivable level. The most obvious one is that only large media companies will be able to manage the process, and even they will find it difficult and fraught with risk. Conversely, content creators will find it next to impossible to enforce their rights, so in most cases they will sell them cheap to a whole new layer of parasitic copyright trolls. The metadata required to manage this whole process will rival actual content data in mass, and lend itself to all sorts of hacking and fraud. And most likely, all the headaches will drive people away from generating content -- even ones formerly willing to do so gratis -- so the overall universe of content will shrink. It would be much simpler to do away with copyright and try to come up with incentives for creators that don't depend on taxing distribution. That could be combined with funding of alternatives to the current rash of media monopolies, reducing the ability of companies to convert private information into cash.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Daily Log

Bunch of stuff happened over the last several days. Also a lot of mental strain on the perennial "what is to be done?" question, so even if none of this is worth preserving, maybe it will help me sort things out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Daily Log

First stab at a NOEL post. Didn't really come together, got interrupted, shifted to Weekend Roundup.

Matthew Yglesias has resurrected his Weeds pop-up newsletter. I've found Yglesias to one of be the most consistently useful of Trump-era analysts, but one area where he's waffled on has been the top-line economic indicators. On the one hand, he sees Trump's decent numbers as being continuous with growth trends under Obama. On the othar hand, in his newsletter he credits Trump for stimulating the economy through tax cuts and deficit spending, while slamming Obama for not doing enough back in 2009 when the economy was severely tanking.

President Obama's No. 1 job was to rescue the ruined economy he inherited, and he didn't do it.

At least not all the way. He took office in late January 2009 amid catastrophic conditions, and by the time he passed the baton to Donald Trump eight years later, things were a lot better but a substantial output gap remained. That's why even though I think Trump's policies are detrimental to the long-term economic outlook of the United States, Trump was able to boost growth in 2018 with fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts and increased spending.

Why didn't the economy fully recover under Obama? Not enough fiscal stimulus. . . .

But from a forward-looking perspective, the key point isn't who specifically got it wrong -- it's that the Democratic Party collectively didn't get the job done when they had the votes and every incentive to want a full and rapid recovery.

Much of the quote I skipped over had to do with Blue Dog Democrats, a group which grew significantly in the 2006 election and worked to undermine relatively progressive policy proposals in 2009-11, when the Democrats still had majority control of Congress, but weren't able to do much with it. Not surprising that people who were around at the time, like Jason Furman (the . . .


   Mar 2001