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Monday, April 23, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29604 [29570] rated (+34), 362 [365] unrated (-3).

Made a decent sized dent in the new jazz queue, especially over the weekend when I found it easier to just pull something out than try to figure out what to look up on Napster. I did, however, chase down a few recommendations from Chris Monsen, Phil Overeem, and Robert Christgau. Though not on his list yet, I think it was Monsen on Facebook who mentioned that the Ex have a new record out. Someone wondered who they were, so I pointed out I had rated 24 of their records (7 A-). Probably inappropriate for me to rate the new one as high as I did on a single Bandcamp play, but the grade was pretty clear by midway, and only got better from there out. For more, see Bandcamp Daily's A Guide to (Nearly) Four Decades of Dutch Punks The Ex).

The Ex came out of a Expert Witness discussion on the best records of 2018 (so far). One name that popped up frequently and is both on Monsen's and Overeem's lists is JPEGMAFIA's Veteran. Hip-hop, very (as they say) experimental. I didn't get into it at all, but I had a somewhat easier time with his earlier Black Ben Carson. Also from that thread, Jeffrey Lewis' Works by Tuli Kupferberg. In some ways I think the older "A Loot-Beg Bootleg" sounds better -- just Lewis and two women who sometimes sing, versus the mass singalong on the new album -- but I've had a soft spot for Kupferberg, and even if he weren't dead he'd never be able to frame his work in better light.

I continue to have problems with Christgau's picks. I don't think there's been one I've said "yeah!" to since Shopping's The Official Body (2/23), although I liked Laurie Anderson's Landfall more than he did, and already had Amy Rigby's The Old Guys at A-. Some I reviewed respectably earlier but haven't replayed: Taylor Childers' Purgatory, Alvvays' Antisocialites, Yo La Tengo's There's a Riot Going On, and Rapsody's Laila's Wisdom. But few have been as disappointing as Jinx Lennon's Grow a Pair. And while I wasn't much impressed with Superchunk's What a Time to Be Alive, it tops Monsen's list. I also noted that Milo Miles raved about Mast's Thelonious Sphere Monk last week. And Overeem wrote a rave review of Tracey Thorn's Record. He also likes the Lewis Kupferberg album, plus two of my recent favorites: John Prine's The Tree of Forgiveness and Sons of Kemet's Your Queen Is a Reptile.

Of the B+(***) records below, one that stands out is William Parker's Lake of Light. It's a quartet of aquaphones, so sounds like harps and percussion under water -- a bit too weird for me, but maybe not for you.

The Armstrongs are just some mop up after last week's not especially recommended Pops Is Tops box. The Nightclubs would make a nice time capsule entry as it tracks the evolution of Armstrong's 1950s All Stars, although there are better examples of live Armstrong from the era, including all four CDs in The California Concerts. Ambassador Satch strays from his usual live show, as if he worried that Europeans were still expecting ODJB dixieland, so he decided to show them how it's really done. Probably the best "Tiger Rag" ever.

April ends next Monday, so it would seem a good idea to wrap up a Streamnotes post by Friday/Saturday. Despite my distractions earlier this month, the draft file currently holds 90 records (14 A- or A) so it's shaping up as a pretty solid month.

I want to note that I received a couple dozen personal letters over recent weeks, and I was touched and comforted by those who wrote -- some with fond memories, other from people I've never met but who clearly appreciate my work and care. I have yet to respond to any of those letters, for which I apologize. Sometime sooner or later I hope to, but for now I want all of you to know how thankful I am for your friendship and concern.

New records rated this week:

  • Chris Byars: New York City Jazz (2016 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy/Michael Thieke/Ken Vandermark: Triptych (2016 [2017], Relay): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy: Music for Lying Still (2017, Relay, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble: Animation (2017 [2018], Relay): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Ex: 27 Passports (2018, Ex): [bc]: A
  • Johan Graden: Olägenheter (2017 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tim Heidecker: Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker's Trump Songs (2017, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B
  • Lauren Henderson: Ármame (2016 [2018], Brontosaurus): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Monika Herzig: Sheroes (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Il Sogno: Birthday (2015 [2017], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jon Irabagon Quartet: Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (2016-17 [2018], Irabbagast): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roger Kellaway Trio: New Jazz Standards Vol. 3 (2017 [2018], Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair!!! (2018, Septic Tiger): [r]: B+(*)
  • James Brandon Lewis/Chad Taylor: Radiant Imprints (2018, OFF): [r]: A-
  • Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) (2018, Don Giovanni): [r]: A-
  • Dave Liebman/John Stowell: Petite Fleur: The Music of Sidney Bechet (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Maguire Twins: Seeking Higher Ground (2017 [2018], Three Tree): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Todd Marcus: On These Streets (A Baltimore Story) (2017 [2018], Stricker Street): [cd]: B
  • Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere (2018, Warner Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • Diane Moser: Birdsongs (2017 [2018], Planet Arts): [cd]: B
  • Michael Moss/Accidental Orchestra: Helix (2016 [2018], 4th Stream): [cd]: B+(**)
  • William Parker: Lake of Light: Compositions for AquaSonics (2017 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Rempis/Daisy Duo & Guests: Dodecahedron (2017 [2018], Aerophonic, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rogue Star (2017 [2018], Edgetone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Derek Senn: Avuncular (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Spectral [Dave Rempis/Darren Johnston/Larry Ochs]: Empty Castles (2017 [2018], Aerophonic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Frank Wagner: Frank Wagner's Floating Holiday (2016 [2018], MEII): [cd]: B
  • Dan Weiss: Starebaby (2018, Pi): [cd]: B
  • Håvard Wiik Trio: This Is Not a Waltz (2016 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(***)

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

  • Louis Armstrong: The Nightclubs (1950-58 [2018], Dot Time): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Louis Armstrong: Satchmo Serenades (1949-53 [2000], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Louis Armstrong: Ambassador Satch (1955 [2000], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis and the Good Book (1958 [2001], Verve): [r]: B
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong and His Friends (1970, Flying Dutchman): [r]: B+(*)
  • JPEGMAFIA: Black Ben Carson (2016, Trashfuck): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams: "A Loot-Beg Bootleg" (2014 [2016], self-released): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (Whaling City Sound): April 27
  • Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band: Tramontana (self-released): April 20
  • Kristo Rodzevski: The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore (self-released): May 25

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Another week where I ran out of time before I ran out of links. Indeed, one I couldn't get to is Chris Bertram: Is there too much immigration? I also noticed that John Quiggin has been publishing chapters to his forthcoming book Economics in Two Lessons on Crooked Timber.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week, explained: Michael Cohen had some fun in court; A baby went to the Senate floor (Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth's); Democrats got some good news in Senate polling; Mike Pompeo took a secret trip to North Korea. Other Yglesias posts:

    • There's no good alternative to building more homes in expensive cities.

    • Trump tweets: "The crime rate in California is high enough." California is a safer-than-average state. Trump thinks more immigrants, more crime, but opposite is true.

    • 11 House Republicans call for prosecutions of Clinton, Comey, Lynch, and others: The most charitable explanation is that the call is just meant "to try to muddy the waters in the media," but I should note that in some countries (e.g., Brazil and Russia) prosecuting political enemies has moved beyond the drawing board. I'm sure we could come up with a matching list of Bush cronies who Obama neglected to prosecute (although his DOJ did go after John Edwards). Still, prosecuting prosecutors for failing to prosecute cases that no reasonable person would view as winnable (n.b., the Edwards and Menendez cases failed), is pretty extreme.

    • James Comey isn't the hero we deserve. But he's the hero we need. The gist of Yglesias' argument is here:

      But to react to Comey's charges against Trump with a comprehensive assessment of his entire career is to miss the point. James Comey is a critical figure of our time not because of any particular decision, right or wrong, that he made during his tenure in government. He's important because he exemplifies values -- most of all, the pursuit of institutional independence and autonomy -- whose presence among career officials safeguards the United States against the threat of systemic corruption.

      The greatest safeguard we have against the dangers of Trump's highly personalized style of leadership and frequently expressed desire to reshape all institutions to serve his personal goal is that officials and bureaucrats have the power to say no. Comey, whatever else he did, said no to his boss and was fired for his trouble. America needs more government officials who are willing to take that stand. In many ways, Comey is not the hero the United States deserves. But in a critical moment, he may be the hero we need.

      Still, further down in the article Yglesias gives a pretty chilling account about Comey's prosecutorial mindset and institutional loyalties. Comey, for instance, holds up his prosecution of Martha Stewart (for "covering up a crime she didn't commit") as exemplary: "the Comey view is that true justice is treating Martha Stewart just as shabbily as the cops would treat anyone else." Also:

      Comey's handling of the 2016 campaign was essentially in the tradition of FBI directors acting on behalf of their agency's institutional goals. Knowing that the Obama administration was reluctant to fight publicly with the FBI over the matter while congressional Republicans were relatively eager, he slanted his decision-making on both the Russia and email investigations toward the interests of the GOP. As Adam Serwer writes, "the FBI is petrified of criticism from its conservative detractors, and is relatively indifferent to its liberal critics." And over the course of 2016, it showed -- when Mitch McConnell wanted Comey to keep quiet about Trump and Russia, he did. When Trump-friendly elements among the rank and file wanted him to speak up about Anthony Weiner's laptop, he did.

      On Comey, also see: Matt Taibbi: James Comey, the Would-Be J. Edgar Hoover. On the FBI's use of its own power to cover its own ass, see: Alice Speri: The FBI's race problems are getting worse. The prosecution of Terry Albury is proof. By the way, shouldn't the Espionage Act be reserved for disclosing secrets to foreign governments? Albury's "crime" was leaking documents to the press (i.e., the American people).

    • Richard Cohen's privilege, explained: Long-time Washington Post columnist, known for courageously standing up against "too much diversity" and complaints about the "privilege" enjoyed by white males like himself. I find much talk about "privilege" annoying myself, but then I don't sit on his perch ("and because the demographic of put-upon older white men does, in fact, exert disproportionate influence over American social and economic institutions, there continues to be a well-compensated and not very taxing job for him into his late 70s"). Yglesias provides some back story, but doesn't mention that Alex Pareene featured Cohen in his annual "hack lists" at Salon (tried to find a link but got blocked by Salon's "ad blocker" blocker -- probably why I stopped reading them, although I had less reason to when their better writers left).

    • Richard Clarinda and Michelle Bowman, Trump's new Fed appointees, explained: "Two boring, competent, well-qualified, industry-friendly picks."

    • Donald Trump's corruption means he'll never be a "normal" commander in chief: Mostly about Syria, more generally the Middle East, where Trump has numerous business entanglements. "We don't know who's paying Trump -- or whom he listens to."

    • Comey interview: "I thought David Petraeus should have been prosecuted".

  • Zack Beauchamp: Syria exposes the core feature of Trump's foreign policy: contradiction: Many aspects of Trump's foreign policy are mired in contradiction (or at least incoherence), but it seems unfair to single out Syria as a Trump problem. Ever since the civil war there started it has been a multifaceted affair. Since US foreign policy has long been driven by kneejerk reactions, even under the much more rational Obama the US found itself opposing both Assad and his prime opponents in ISIS, leading to a policy which can only be described as nihilism. What Trump added to this fever swamp of contradictions was sympathy for pro-Assad Russia and antipathy for pro-Assad Iran. Meanwhile, America's two main allies in the region (Israel and Turkey) have each doubled down on their own schizophrenic involvements.

  • Amy Chozick: 'They Were Never Going to Let Me Be President': Excerpt from Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, yet another journalist's campaign chronicle, a reminder of how pathetic her obsession turned out to be. Not clear who "they" were in the title, other than the American people, but had she really understood that truth, why did she run in the first place? Why, given the inevitability of defeat, did she keep us from nominating a candidate who actually could have defeated Donald Trump? I doubt that Chozick has any such answers. Instead, we find her apologizing for getting caught up in such distractions as parsing John Podesta's hacked emails instead of seeing the broader context, not least that the email dump was timed to take attention away from the leak of Trump bragging about assaulting women ("grab them by the pussy").

  • Robert Fisk: The search for truth in the rubble of Douma -- and one doctor's doubts over the chemical attack; also Patrick Cockburn: We Should be Sceptical of Those Who Claim to Know the Events in Syria: Of course, Trump jumped at the opportunity to bomb Syria before anyone really verified that reports of a chemical weapons attack were true. That is, after all, how American presidents prove their manhood.

  • Steve Fraser: Teaching America a Lesson: About the national effort to forget that class was ever a concept rooted in reality. From Fraser's new book, Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion (Yale University Press). Also at TomDispatch: Tom Engelhardt: A Tale of American Hubris.

  • Zachary Fryer-Biggs: Rudy Giuliani is Trump's new lawyer. His history with Comey could spell trouble.

  • William Greider: American Hubris, or, How Globalization Brought Us Donald Trump: Unpack this a bit: "It was 'free trade' mania, pushed by both major political parties, that destroyed working-class prosperity and laid the groundwork for his triumph." Unpack that some more, why don't you? What made "free trade" such a problem was decline in union power, especially due to a politically rigged union-free zone in the US South, combined with decreasing domestic investments in infrastructure and education (also politically engineered), plus growing pressure on the rich to seek new sources of wealth abroad. To blame all of that on "free trade" confuses mechanism with cause. Trump benefited not from free trade so much as from that confusion. More importantly, Democratic politicians suffered because it looked like they had sold out their base to rich donors. (As, indeed, they had.) Note that The Nation has another piece this week with the same pitch line: Michael Massing: How Martin Luther Paved the Way for Donald Trump. It's as if they wanted to make the leap from tragedy to farce in a single issue. In an infinite universe, I guess you'll eventually find that everything leads to Donald Trump. That's a lot of inevitability for a guy who only got 46.1% of the vote.

  • Umair Irfan/Eliza Barclay: 7 things we've learned about Earth since the last Earth Day: i.e., in the last year.

  • Jen Kirby: Mike Pompeo reportedly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: This is less interesting than the bilateral talks between North and South Korea, which actually seem to be getting somewhere, but does indicate that the planned summit between Trump and Kim may actually come to pass. Past efforts to bridge differences between the US and DPRK have generally been sabotaged by mid-level US staff -- one recalls the frantic efforts of Sandy Berger and others to derail Jimmy Carter's mid-1990s agreement. One might expect a neocon like Pompeo to throw a few monkey wrenches into the efforts, and indeed he may still, but it's also clear that Mattis and the DOD have no appetite for launching a war against North Korea, so maybe it's not such a bad idea to negotiate a little. Also see: Robin Wright: With Pompeo to Pyongyang, the U.S. Launches Diplomacy with North Korea.

    Wright also wrote: The Hypocrisy of Trump's "Mission Accomplished" Boast About Syria. Actually, Trump is establishing a track record of acting tough and making flamboyant and reckless threats then pulling his punches. It's sort of the opposite of Theodore Roosevelt's maxim to "speak softly and carry a big stick" -- only sort of, because he has expanded the murderous drone program, encourage Saudi Arabia to escalate their bombing of Yemen, sent more troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, so it's clear that he has no respect for world peace or human life. Moreover, his pugnacious stance is making the world more dangerous in many ways, not least by the contempt he projects on the rest of the world (and on a good many Americans).

  • Noah Kulwin: The Internet Apologizes . . . Picture shows a weeping cat, with a couple of tweets from "The Internet": "We're sorry. We didn't mean to destroy privacy. And democracy. Our bad."

    Why, over the past year, has Silicon Valley begun to regret the foundational elements of its own success? The obvious answer is November 8, 2016. For all that he represented a contravention of its lofty ideals, Donald Trump was elected, in no small part, by the internet itself. Twitter served as his unprecedented direct-mail-style megaphone, Google helped pro-Trump forces target users most susceptible to crass Islamophobia, the digital clubhouses of Reddit and 4chan served as breeding grounds for the alt-right, and Facebook became the weapon of choice for Russian trolls and data-scrapers like Cambridge Analytica. Instead of producing a techno-utopia, the internet suddenly seemed as much a threat to its creator class as it had previously been their herald.

    Fifth years ago I wouldn't have had a moment's hesitation as to the problem here: capitalism. That may seem like a quaint, old-fashioned analysis -- even I would be more inclined these days to speak of market failures and distortions -- but it's basically true and was totally predictable from the onset. For instance, the very first time I heard of WWW it was in the context of a question: how can we make money off of this? Sure, people may have had trouble imagining how pervasive, how all-consuming, it would be. And it may not have been obvious how few companies would wind up monopolizing such a huge slice of traffic. But from the start, every business plan imagined monopoly rents -- Microsoft's picked up their favored term ("vig") from the Mafia -- at the end of the rainbow. As practically everyone realized, the key to the fortune would be what economists called "network effects" -- hence every serious contender started off by offering something for free, figuring on hooking you first, eating you later. Had we been smarter, we might have placed some roadblocks in their way: antitrust, privacy regulations, free software, publicly funded alternatives. But that wasn't the American Way, especially in the post-Cold War glow of capitalist triumphalism. One great irony here is that while right-wingers like to complain about popularly elected government "picking winners and losers" in free markets, the reality is that the not-so-free markets are deciding who wins our supposedly free elections.

    After the intro, the article moves on to "How It Went Wrong, in 15 Steps," through the words of 14 "Architects" -- a mix of techies and businessfolk. The 15 steps:

    1. Start With Hippie Good Intentions . . .
    2. Then mix in capitalism on steroids.
    3. The arrival of Wall Streeters didn't help . . .
    4. . . . And we paid a high price for keeping it free.
    5. Everything was designed to be really, really addictive.
    6. At first it worked -- almost too well.
    7. No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable . . .
    8. . . . Even as social networks became dangerous and toxic.
    9. . . . And even as they invaded our privacy.
    10. Then came 2016. [Donald Trump and Brexit]
    11. Employees are starting to revolt.
    12. To fix it, we'll need a new business model . . .
    13. . . . And some tough regulation.
    14. Maybe nothing will change.
    15. . . . Unless, at the very least, some new people are in charge.

    Useful, although one could imagine alternative ways of threading the analysis. Step 12, for instance, says "we'll need a new business model," then offers: "Maybe by trying something radical and new -- like charging users for goods and services." New? That's the way thousands of exclusive newsletters aimed at business already work. What makes them viable is a small audience willing to pay a high premium for information. You could switch to this model overnight by simply banning advertising. The obvious major effect is that it would cause a major collapse in utility and usage. There would be a lot of other problems as well -- more than I can possibly list here. Still, true that you need a new business model. But perhaps we should consider ones that aren't predicated on capitalist greed and a vastly inequal society?

    The article also includes a useful list of "Things That Ruined the Internet":

    • Cookies (1994)
    • The Farmville vulnerability (2007) [a Facebook design flaw that made possible the Cambridge Analytica hack]
    • Algorithmic sorting (2006) ["it keeps users walled off in their own personalized loops"]
    • The "like" button (2009)
    • Pull-to-refresh (2009)
    • Pop-up ads (1996)

    I would have started the list with JavaScript, which lets website designers take over your computer and control your experience. It is the technological layer enabling everything else on the list (except cookies).

    Speaking of alternate business models, Kulwin also did an interview with Katherine Maher about "Wikipedia's nonprofit structure and what incentive-based media models lack": 'There Is No Public Internet, and We Are the Closest Thing to It'.

  • David Leonhardt: A Time for Big Economic Ideas: For the last forty years, the Republican "small government" mantra has sought to convince us that we can't do things that help raise everyone's standard of living, indeed that we can't afford even to do things that government has done since the 1930s. On the other hand, they've pushed the line that markets rigged so the rich get richer is the best we can hope for. And they've been so successful that even Leonhardt, trying to reverse the argument, doesn't come close to really thinking big. One of my favorite books back fifty years ago was Paul Goodman's Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals. A while back I opened up a book draft file with that as a subtitle. Haven't done much on it yet, but not for lack of big ideas.

  • German Lopez: The Senate's top Democrat just came out for ending federal marijuana prohibition: Chuck Shumer, who has a bill to that effect (as does Cory Booker). Lopez also wrote: John Boehner just came out for marijuana reform. Most Republicans agree. Being a Republican, Boehner did more than accede to public opinion. He figured out a way to get paid for doing so. I'm reminded of gambling, which when I was growing up was regarded as one of the worst sources of moral rot anywhere. However, as it became the fount of several Republican-leaning fortunes, the guardians of our moral virtue learned to embrace it. Indeed, lotteries have become a major source of tax revenues in many states (especially here in Kansas).

  • Andrew Prokop: Andrew McCabe's criminal referral, explained: This may give second thoughts to some of the people who ponied up a half-million bucks to help McCabe sue for his pension and other possible damages from his politically motivated firing. Still, this doesn't seem like much of a criminal case. The charge is that "McCabe lacked candor about his role in leaks about a Clinton investigation." The leak was one designed to correct a report that he wasn't being tough enough on Clinton. Clearly, whatever McCabe was, he wasn't a partisan Democratic mole in the FBI. On the other hand, his new friends probably figure that any lawsuit that forces the government to expose documents is bound to turn up something embarrassing for Trump and Sessions.

    Prokop also wrote: The DNC just sued Russia and the Trump campaign for 2016 election meddling. Hard to see what the value of this suit is, as it is critically dependent on on-going (and far from complete) investigations to establish linkage between the various parties. Moreover, I have two fairly large reservations. One is that I don't generally approve of using US courts to sue over foreign jurisdictions, especially cases highly tainted with prejudice. (The 9/11 lawsuits are an example.) The other is that I see this as a time-and-money sink for the Democrats, at a time when they have more important things to focus on: winning elections in 2018 and 2020. For more on the lawsuit, see: Glenn Greenwald/Trevor Timm: The DNC's lawsuit against WikiLeaks poses a serious threat to press freedom:

    The DNC's suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit -- that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it "willfully and intentionally disclosed" the DNC's communications (paragraph 183) -- would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of "economic espionage" (paragraph 170):

    This is effectively the same point Trump tried to make during his 2016 campaign when he argued that libel laws should be passed which would allow aggrieved parties like himself to sue for damages. Indeed, throughout his career Trump has been plagued by leaks and hacks (i.e., journalism). You'd think that the DNC would appreciate that we need more free press, not less. Makes it look like they (still) prefer to work in the dark.

  • Brian Resnick: Trump's next NASA administrator is a Republican congressman with no background in science: Jim Bridenstine, of Oklahoma, once ran the Air and Space Museum in Tulsa. Hope he realizes that unlike many government agencies, when/if he causes NASA to crash and burn it will be televised.

  • Emily Stewart: Nobody knows who was behind half of the divisive ads on Facebook ahead of the 2016 election: Half were linked to "suspicious groups"; one-sixth of those were linked to Russia.

  • Beyond Alt: The Extremely Reactionary, Burn-It-Down-Radical, Newfangled Far Right: A smorgasbord, written by a dozen or more writers with links to even more material. Certainly much more info than I ever wanted to know about the so-called alt-right. One aside mentions a symmetrical "alt-left," but notes that alt-leftists hate being called that. Right. We're leftists.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Roundup

It's been eight months since my last Book Roundup -- a major lapse on my part. I started working on this a few months back, then lost track again. At this point I suspect I'm far enough behind that I'll need two more columns just to catch up, but at this point I'm only 15 books into the next one, so don't expect them to come out bang-bang-bang like previous catch-ups. One thing that will slow down the pace a bit is that I've started to simply note the existence of additional books following the forty I've written something on. Usually this is because I don't have anything non-obvious to say. Often, it's just that the book is worth knowing about, but unlikely to be worth reading. Some I may return to eventually, should I change my mind.

Given my delays, I've actually managed to read several of these books: Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity, David Frum: Trumpocracy, Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal, and Sean Wilentz: The Politicians & the Egalitarians. I'm also about 400 pages into Steve Coll: Directorate S, and I've bought copies but haven't yet gotten to Jennifer M Silva: Coming Up Short, Amy Siskind: The List. I can't really say that any of these books are "must read," but I have learned things from each.

My main complaint about the Coll book is that by focusing on the CIA, ISI, and NDS (the Afghan counterpart) he's very rapidly skipped over the most ill-fated US decisions, like the conviction that the US can simply dictate Pakistan's behavior, and the blanket rejection of any possible Taliban role. But he also only barely touches on the CIA's continued support of their Afghan warlord clients even after the Karzai government was formed. I'm currently up to 2009, with McChrystal still in charge of the surging military, and Holbrooke still among the living (if not among the functional) -- two things I know will change soon.

Kurt Andersen: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire (2017, Random House): Big picture history of America, strikes me as like one of those creative writing assignments meant to let your imagination run wild -- probably helps that the author has a couple of novels to his credit. Still, shouldn't be hard to fill up 480 pp. with stories of America's tenuous love/hate relationship to reality. Nor has the election and regime of Donald Trump given us reason to doubt that we're living in a Fantasyland. And clearly Trump was on the author's mind -- probably the reason Alec Baldwin hired him as co-author of their cash-in book, You Can't Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody).

Benjamin R Barber: Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming (2017, Yale University Press): Political and cultural theorist, wrote a book I was impressed by back in 1971, Superman and Common Men: Freedom, Anarchy and the Revolution, and a couple dozen books since then: two that intrigued me but always seemed a bit too flip were Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World (1996) and Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (2007). Turned his eye toward cities with his 2013 book, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, to which this is a sequel, focusing on the relative energy efficiency of cities. Sad to read that he died, about a month after this book came out.

Ronen Bergman: Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations (2018, Random House): Big (756 pp) book by the Yedioth Ahronoth military analyst. I doubt there are many secrets here -- Israel has a long history of bragging about its secret agency exploits -- but the scale of the killings may come as a surprise. Some time ago, I spent time looking at a database of prominent Palestinians, and the sheer number of them killed by Israel was pretty eye-opening.

Max Boot: The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (2018, Liveright): Another attempt to find a scapegoat for the American failure in Vietnam, in this case arguing that if only American leaders had followed the advice of CIA operative Lansdale everything would have worked out for the better. This is an appalling argument in lots of ways. For one thing, Lansdale did have an outsized influence on the decision to cancel elections and stick by Diem's corrupt and vicious regime. Beyond that, Lansdale's successors were always going to view the war as a test of American resolve and power, and they were always going to be contemptuous of the Vietnamese and profoundly uninterested in their welfare. The real tragedy of the war in Vietnam was the failure of America's class of strategic thinkers to learn some humility and restraint following their imperial overreach, as is evidenced by repeated failures in numerous more recent wars.

Paul Butler: Chokehold: Policing Black Men (2017, New Press). One of several recent books on how the criminal justice system is stacked against black men, written by a former federal prosecutor who's been there and done that. Previously wrote Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice (2009). Also see: Angela J Davis, ed: Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (2017, Random House); Jordan T Camp/Christina Heatherton, eds: Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (paperback, 2016, Verso Books).

Ta-Nehisi Coates: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (2017, One World): A collection of essays, some new, including "Fear of a Black President," "The Case for Reparations," and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration" -- important work. Still, I never quite got the feeling that "we were in power" during Obama's two terms, even the first two years when Democrats had large majorities in Congress but let Max Baucus decide life and death issues; meanwhile Robert Gates was Secretary of Defense and Ben Bernanke chaired the Fed.

Steve Coll: Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2018, Penguin Press): Coll's second book about America's misadventure in Afghanistan (and schizophrenic alliance with Pakistan), bringing the story started in Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004) up to date. Of course, the post-9/11 US invasion and still ongoing occupation of Afghanistan hasn't exactly been a secret, but presumably this focuses more on the CIA role there rather than chronicling the ham-fisted DOD and their NATO proxies. No doubt an important book, but I expect it leaves much uncovered.

Peter Cozzens: The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West (2016, Knopf; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): Covers every front over a 30 year stretch, 1861-1891, during which white Americans fought numerous wars, brokered treaties (and often broke them), ultimately herding Native Americans into a few barren reservations and closing the frontier. Author worked for the State Department, and has written a number of military histories of the Civil War.

Larry Derfner: No Country for Jewish Liberals (2017, Just World Books): A Jewish journalist from Los Angeles, typically liberal, moved to Israel and surveys the intolerant, closed, often vicious society he encounters. I've maintained for some time now that constant war even more than greed and corruption (both plenty in evidence) has been responsible for so many Americans abandoning their liberal traditions. Same thing applies to Israel, even more so given the relative intensity of their militarism (a universal draft, for Jews anyway) and their incessant cult of victimhood.

EJ Dionne Jr/Norman J Ornstein/Thomas E Mann: One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported (2017, St Martin's Press): Quickie from three authors who've made careers explaining, as Dionne put it in his 1992 book, Why Americans Hate Politics -- the others are best known for their 2012 dissection of Congress, It's Even Worse Than It Looks. Dionne seems to be the unshakable optimist -- another of his titles is They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era -- but these days I find the assumption that there will still be "one nation after Trump" to be ungrounded.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (2018, Twelve): Seems to be a sequel to her 2009 book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, her critical instincts sharpened by another decade of getting older (78) and more acquainted with mortality. I've been expecting her to write a major book on the high cost of being poor in America -- a subject she's written several essays about recently. Hope she gets to that. I might also wish she'd explore the inner madness of the Trump voter, but she anticipated all that in her 1989 book Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class.

Jesse Eisinger: The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives (2017, Simon & Schuster): Investigates the fact that none of the bank executives responsible for the 2008 meltdown and ensuing recession were ever charged with crimes (although eventually a number of substantial fines were paid by newly profitable companies the public had bailed out, most often leaving their management in place). Nor is it just bankers who seem to be able to get away with whatever. Blames timid prosecutors, but to make sense of it all you'd have to work through the lax regulation companies are subjected to, and the widespread respect civil servants seem to have for money and well-heeled executives.

Neil Faulkner: A People's History of the Russian Revolution (paperback, 2017, Pluto Press): One-hundred years later, emphasizes the revolutionary parts of the Russian Revolution, the parts that tore down one of the most corrupt and decadent aristocracies in Europe and tried to build a broad-based alternative -- before violence and paranoia took its toll. In today's post-Soviet era we're inclined to see the revolution and its aftermath as continuous tragedy, which is only true if you forget the injustices of the world it swept away.

Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump (2017, William Morrow): Argues that Trump is not technically insane, but raises many pertinent questions about whether America as a whole. The opening section on truths Americans reject and myths they embrace is a garden variety liberal list, but this gets more interesting when he goes on to root our understanding of psychology in Darwin rather than Freud. Tricky terrain: I think easy psychological labels are misleading, yet don't doubt that deeply seated mental processes are serving us poorly when we think about politics these days.

David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (2018, Harper): Former Bush speechwriter, has of late argued that Republicans should pay more heed to the needs of their base voters and less to their moneyed elites, which makes him sympathetic with the popular impulse of Trump's campaign and critical of the reality of his administration. Useful mostly for detailing the myriad ways Trump is bound up in corruption, and unflinching in its criticism of other Republicans for condoning and enabling his treachery. Would be more trenchant if only he realized that corruption is the coin of the Republican realm -- not just a side-effect of a political philosophy dedicated to making the rich richer but a way of keeping score.

David Goodhart: The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (2017, Hurst): British editor of Prospect magazine, wrote a previous book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration, takes the Brexit vote and Trump's win as signposts for a right-wing revolt he deems to be populist. I regard those wins as flukes: possible only because serious economic interests were lucky enough to find themselves with enemies that could be blamed for all the evils of neoliberalism. Most elections don't break quite like that -- e.g., the post-Brexit UK elections.

Linda Gordon: The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition (2017, Liveright): The original KKK was formed in the 1970s to restore white supremacy in the South through the use of terror. Its work was largely done by the 1890s with the adoption of Jim Crow laws across the South and into parts of the North. In the 1910s Woodrow Wilson extended Jim Crow to the federal government, and the movie Birth of a Nation romanticized the old KKK, leading to a resurgence that grew beyond the South. This is the history of the latter movement, how it grew and why it crumbled (not that remnants haven't survived to the present day).

David Cay Johnston: It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America (2018, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, has written several books on how the economic system is rigged for the rich, and has also written a couple of books about one such rich person in particular: Donald Trump. Therefore, he started well ahead of the learning curve when Trump became president. Hopefully he goes deeper as a result. Probably a good companion to Amy Siskind: The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year.

Gilles Kepel: Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (2017, Princeton University Press): French political scientist and Arab expert, wrote Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2000 in French where the subtitle was Expansion et Déclin de l"Islamisme; 2002 in English with an afterward on how 9/11 seemed like a desperate ploy to reverse the decline -- thanks mostly to GW Bush it worked), with a steady stream of books since then. This covers recent terror attacks in France and their socioeconomic context. Also new is a thin book by the other famous French jihad expert, Olivier Roy: Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State (2017, Oxford University Press).

Sheelah Kolhatkar: Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (2017, Random House): About Stephen A Cohen and SAC Capital, although the former was never indicted for his hedge fund's insider dealing.

Robert Kuttner: Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (2018, WW Norton): Could have filed this with the warnings against right-wing populism, but this goes deeper, seeing the global expansion of capitalism since the 1970s, and especially the tendency of those same capitalists to game supposedly democratic systems, at the root of the crisis. The problem has less to do with authoritarian wannabes and their fans than with corporate managers and financiers seeking to exempt business from any form of public restraint. The results may still bear some formal resemblance to democracy, but not the kind where most people can force the system to treat them fairly. When you think of it that way, the question becomes "has democracy survived global capitalism"? One could answer "no."

Brandy Lee: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (2017, Thomas Dunne Books): The "consensus view of two dozen psychiatrists and psychologists [is] that Trump is dangerously mentally ill and that he presents a clear and present danger to the nation and our own mental health." Sounds about right, but then I recall having long ago become a fan of Thomas Szasz's work, particularly his The Myth of Mental Illness, and I myself have been diagnosed as mentally ill by various shrinks, both credentialed and not. Indeed, I doubt it would be hard to sketch out unflattering psychological portraits of anyone who's become president since 1900 (I'm hedging a bit on McKinley but Teddy Roosevelt was mad as a hatter, and half of his successors are comparably easy pickings). Indeed, there's little reason to expect that people we elect to the nation's highest (and presumably most coveted) office should be even close to "normal." On the other hand, Trump is certainly an outlier, especially in his lack of understanding how government works, perhaps even more importantly in his lack of concern for how his acts affect people. Psychologists have compiled a thick book of diagnoses for traits like that (e.g., see "sociopath"), but much of that behavior can also be explained by looking at his class background -- how he inherited and then played with his wealth, parlaying it for fame in his peculiarly own ego-gratifying terms. Moreover, psychoanalyzing him misses the fact that he rules through other people, who while having their own fair share of foibles have aligned thermselves with Trump more for political and/or ideological reasons -- and that, I think, is where we should focus our critiques. (Not, mind you, that I doubt Trump's stark-raving bonkers.)

Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (2017, Harper Collins). Short essay rushed out following the Trump election. Argues that liberals need to seek the moral high ground by focusing on universal rights and values instead of what he sees as their recent indulgence in cultivating "identity groups." "Identity politics" is a term much bandied about, near-meaningless with ominous overtones, probably because the right has been rather successful at fragmenting people into tribes and motivating them to vote to thwart the plans of rival tribes. On the other hand, literally everyone votes because of some identity they've developed -- which need not be ethnic or racial or religious, but could just as well be class or even a sense of the positive value of diversity. Liberalism would be an identity too, except that liberals have been running away from the label for 30-40 years now, which has only encouraged conservatives to pile on. Lilla at least is trying to reassert some universal values.

Angela Nagle: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump the Alt-Right (paperback, 2017, Zero Books): Short (156 pp) survey of "culture war" rants on the internet, mostly from the "alt-right" but takes a few jabs at supposed lefties for balance. Argues that there's way too much of this stuff, and (I think) that we'd be better off with more taste and mutual respect (as long as that doesn't seem like some sort of radical leftist stance).

Rachel Pearson: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine (2017, WW Norton): By "front lines" she means the leaky bottom of the safety net, where patients can get diagnosed but are left untreated because they too indigent or not indigent enough.

Kim Phillips-Fein: Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics (2017, Metropolitan Books): In 1975 New York City risked bankruptcy, and one famous newspaper headline read: "Ford to City: Drop Dead." Banker Felix Rohatyn intervened, staving off the crisis but forcing the city to adopt various changes, including ending its practice of free college. Phillips-Fein previously wrote an important book on the rise of the right in America: Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement From the New Deal to Reagan (2009), and sees this as yet another chapter in that rise -- all the more notable today as austerity is the right's standard answer to public debt.

Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018, Viking): Author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, continues expanding his case for optimism at a time when contrary evidence is so overwhelming it threatens to bury us. I think he has a point -- indeed, a number of them -- but one shouldn't fail to notice that anti-Enlightenment, anti-Progressive thinking has grabbed considerable political power (at least in the US), so much so that most Americans regard war as a permanent condition, and many see no problem with inequality hardening into oligarchy.

Robert B Reich: The Common Good (2018, Knopf): For better or worse, a true liberal. His most famous book, The Work of Nations (1991), was built around one of the worst ideas of our time -- one which, I might add, was the reason Bill Clinton hired him as Secretary of Labor -- and also offered one of the sharpest observations of how life was changing due to increasing inequality. The latter: how the rich were separating and isolating themselves from everyone else, most obviously by moving into gated communities and even more rarefied spaces (like Trump Tower and Mar-A-Lago). The former: his idea how Americans could survive the ongoing process of financial globalization, including the decline of manufacturing industries, by retraining workers to become what he called "symbolic manipulators." In point of fact, it was never possible for more than a tiny sliver of American workers to become "symbol manipulators," it was a convenient rationalization for neoliberals like Clinton to embrace globalization and growing inequality. One might argue that ever since Reich left Clinton's cabinet, he has been trying to do penance for his role there. He's written another dozen books, trying to defend key liberal ideas and save capitalism in the process. This at least is on a key idea that has taken a beating from conservatives: the idea that there is "a common good" as opposed to numerous individual goods that markets allow competition for. He also notes that the common good is built from "virtuous cycles that reinforce and build" as opposed to "vicious cycles that undermine it." We have been stuck in the latter for decades now, and it's cumulatively taking a huge toll. So this is an important concept, even if I don't particularly trust the messenger.

Richard Rothstein: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017, Liveright): Going back as far as the 1920s, argues that what we think of as de facto segregation has been significantly shaped by law and public policy, even after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 supposedly put an end to all that.

Jennifer M Silva: Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty (paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press): Short book based on one-hundred interviews with young working class adults in Massachusetts and Virginia, finding their opportunities limited and fleeting as the right-wing attack on unions and the welfare state has focused more on kicking the ladder out for future generations than on wrecking the lives of their elders. Silva also did interviews for Robert D Putnam's Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

Amy Siskind: The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year (2018, Bloomsbury): "A national spokesperson, writer and expert on helping women and girls advance and succeed" -- a noble career, no doubt, derailed by her decision to compile weekly blog posts on all the unprecedentedly strange things Trump and his minions have done as they were reported. Early on she came up with 6-9 items per week, but over time that list grew to as many as 150, a quantity that not only means much is slipping through the cracks even in our 24/7 news obsession, but which has overloaded and numbed our sense of outrage and even our ability to analyze. This compiles a year of those reports, a mere 528 pages. Good chance this will endure as an essential sourcebook for the year.

Ali Soufan: Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State (2017, WW Norton): Former FBI agent, famed for his expert interrogation of terror suspects -- he's the subject of a chapter in Lawrence Wright's The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State, and author of the book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda (2011).

Cass R Sunstein: #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (2017, Princeton University Press): Occasionally interesting MOR Democratic theorist, takes his shot here at trashing the internet for propagating self-selected, self-confirming nonsense that divides people into hostile camps incapable of empathy with or understanding of anyone but themselves. This, of course, has been pretty much the high-brow critique of media since Gutenberg, the main point that it detracts from people blindly following whatever experts are sanctified by whoever has the power to do that sort of thing. I suppose there's some truth this time around, but I'd look at the vested interests using social media for their propaganda (ok, they call it advertising) before concluding that "the media is the message."

Charles J Sykes: How the Right Lost Its Mind (2017, St Martin's Press): Former "longtime host of the #1 conservative talk-radio show in Wisconsin," now "a regular contributor to MSNBC," features a Trump-like hat on the cover and evidently focuses on how conservatives wound up flocking to Trump. Sounds like he's failed to make the necessary distinction between why the Right lost its mind and things the Right did after having lost its mind. The former would be an interesting book, although it actually isn't so mysterious: the only real political principle behind conservatism is the defense of wealth and privilege, and that's intrinsically a hard sell in a real democracy, so the Right has to hide their soul behind a lot of incidental sales pitches. The latter is just sad and pathetic, like so much recent American history.

Heather Ann Thompson: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (2016, Pantheon; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): A major history of the 1971 Attica prison uprising, its brutal suppression, and the decades-long legal fight that followed. When this happened my philosophy 101 professor at Wichita State was so disturbed he ditched his lesson plan to talk about what happened. Later I became friends with a lawyer who put most of her career into this case, the extraordinary Elizabeth Fink, so it feels like I've tracked this story all my life. The enduring lesson is how much contempt and disdain people in power have for the people they condemn as criminals, and how that hatred and fear can lead them to do things as bad or worse.

Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History (2017, Dey Street Books): NBC News correspondent assigned to cover Trump's campaign, where she evidently fact-checked, challenged, and generally made herself a nuissance, while visiting 40 states and filing 3800 live television reports. Sounds like it must have been much worse than "craziest" implies.

Richard White: The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (2017, Oxford University Press): A new volume in The Oxford History of the United States, originally planned by C. Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter back in the 1950s, with the first volumes appearing in 1982 (Robert Middlekauff on 1763-1789) and 1988 (James M. McPherson on the Civil War), and David M. Kennedy (whose 1929-1945 volume came out in 1999) taking over after Woodward's death. Each of the eleven period volumes (plus a 12th on US foreign relations) is close to 1000 pages, and the few I've looked at (3 remain unpublished) are remarkably imposing tomes.

Sean Wilentz: The Politicians & the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (paperback, 2017, WW Norton): A major historian, though much more reliable on The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln than on The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2000, offers a book of scattered essays, mostly book reviews. Useful for reminding ourselves how prevalent the egalitarian impulse is in American history, and how often pragmatic politicians fall short of even their own professed ideals.

Lawrence Wright: The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State (2016; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): Author of one of the best general histories of Al-Qaeda and 9/11, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006), updates the story with scattered pieces -- mostly profiles of more or less related individuals although nothing like a comprehensive update of the ensuing history.

Other recent books also noted without comment:

Alec Baldwin/Kurt Andersen: You Can't Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody) (2017, Penguin Press).

Krystal Ball: Reversing the Apocalypse: Hijacking the Democratic Party to Save the World (2017, Pelican Media).

Hillary Rodham Clinton: What Happened (2017, Simon & Schuster).

James Comey: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018, Flatiron).

Melinda Cooper: Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism (2017, Zone Books).

Corey R Lewandowski/David N Bossie: Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency (2017, Center Street).

Keith Olbermann: Trump Is F*cking Crazy (This Is Not a Joke) (2017, Blue Rider Press).

Leo Panitch/Sam Gindin: The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (paperback, 2013, Verso Books).

Yanis Varoufakis: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism (paperback, 2017, The Bodley Head).

Michael Wolff: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018, Henry Holt).

John Ziegelman/Andrew Coe: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression (2016; paperback, 2017, Harper).

Monday, April 16, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29570 [29549] rated (+21), 365 [371] unrated (-6).

Looks like rated count tanked, but four of the albums listed below are 2-CD, one 3-CD, and one is 4-CD. Granted, I didn't give the multiple sets (aside from Ivo Perelman) extra spins. My two new A- records got at least four plays. The only question I had about the other -- a 2-CD reissue of the first half of Anthony Braxton's 4-CD Willisau (Quartet) 1991 -- was whether it would rise to a full A, but I noted a couple of off spots, and figured my original A- grade would hold (albeit a high one). On the other hand, I carved out three separate grades for original albums collected in Louis Armstrong's Pops Is Tops: The Complete Verve Studio Albums and More. Finally an Armstrong box you don't need, although to the extend you can isolate the leader's vocals and occasional trumpet from Russ Garcia's orchestra, you might beg to differ. The album with Oscar Peterson isn't so great either. If you want to hear Satch singing show tunes, try challenging him, as Ella Fitzgerald did: see Ella and Louis and, even better, Ella and Louis Again.

The Arild Andersen album took a while because it never quite hit me as strong as Live at Belleville, his first album with tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith. The John Prine album was even more marginal. Touted as his first album of original songs since 2005's Fair and Square, one might have hoped that Trump raised up his political hackles like Bush did, but he chose to sing about something less depressing: death -- or at least it's less depressing given his spin on the afterlife. He looks bad, and sounds worse, but bears a message of forgiveness for damn near everyone. Feels a lot like You Want It Darker, which is about as much a decline from I'm Your Man as this is from The Missing Years. Folks get old and decrepit, and maybe you should appreciate them a little before they die.

Two near misses. After seven volumes of The Art of Perelman-Shipp last year, I was feeling a little fatigue in facing three more duo CDs. I played the third disc enough to be impressed, but was glad I didn't have to sort them all separately. I was even more impressed by George Coleman on the Brian Charette disc. He's showing remarkable vigor for an 82-year-old, but was somewhat better served on 2016's A Master Speaks. The other B+(***) this week is a bass duo recovered from 1994 -- a rather self-limiting format, but really doesn't sound like a bass duo at all. More like an interesting but oblique soundtrack.

Unpacking was very skimpy last week, but I folded Monday's mail in so it looks closer to normal below. Still, didn't factor those into the unrated count, so we're a bit out of sync. I have quite a bit of backlog.

One significant addition to the website is that I've resurrected a set of pages on my late sister's Sacred Space project, from 2002. I had these pages tucked into a corner of my website before they got trashed by my ISP. I was able to salvage the text files, but had to scrounge through my stuff to locate a CD-ROM with the images. At this point I've done little more than update the HTML. I still need to annotate the images (I'll need help for that; even more help would be to find better images, as many of these are awful fuzzy), add image links to the portal pages, and add links from the Checklist to the portal pages. I probably need to transpose most of the images, and make thumbnails so they can be presented more sensibly (instead of just by name).

I could also use some more historical details. The project was originally displayed at Wichita State University, and has had at least one other presentation, but has mostly been in storage. It was officially directed by Diane Thomas Lincoln (who died in 2012), but I recall Kathy talking about the portal concept much earlier, and I've always regarded her as the driving force behind the project. WSU had agreed to re-present the project this summer -- something Kathy was very much looking forward to.

New records rated this week:

  • Arild Andersen: In-House Science (2016 [2018], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Jakob Bro: Returnings (2016 [2018], ECM): [r]: B
  • Brian Charette/George Coleman: Groovin' With Big G (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin: Ninety-Nine Years (2017 [2018], Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gerry Hemingway/Samuel Blaser: Oostum (2015 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • The Doug MacDonald Quintet/The Roger Neumann Quintet: Two Quintets: Live Upstairs at Vitello's (2017 [2018], Blujazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Erin McDougald: Outside the Soirée (2018, Miles High): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Michael Morreale: MilesSong: The Music of Miles Davis (2016 [2018], Summit, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Meg Okura/Sam Newsome/Jean-Michel Pilc: NPO Trio Live at the Stone (2016 [2018], Chant): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Meg Okura & the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Ima Ima (2018, Chant): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Oneness (2017 [2018], Leo, 3CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness (2018, Oh Boy): [r]: A-
  • Jim Snidero & Jeremy Pelt: Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley (2017 [2018], Savant): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Spin Cycle [Scott Neumann/Tom Christensen]: Assorted Colors (2017 [2018], Sound Footing): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Louis Armstrong: Pops Is Tops: The Complete Verve Studio Albums and More (1957 [2018], Verve, 4CD): [r]: B
  • Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Willisau) 1991 Studio (1991 [2018], Hatology, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: After the Fall (1998 [2018], ECM, 2CD): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Kirk Lightsey/Harold Danko, Shorter by Two: The Music of Wayne Shorter Played on Two Pianos (1983 [2017], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barre Phillips/Motoharu Yoshizawa: Oh My, Those Boys! (1994 [2018], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Under the Stars (1957 [1958], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Louis Armstrong: I've Got the World on a String (1957 [1960], Verve): [r]: B
  • Louis Armstrong/Oscar Peterson: Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson (1957, Verve): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Yelena Eckemoff: Desert (L&H Production): May 4
  • Dave Gisler Trio: Rabbits on the Run (Intakt): May 20
  • Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe (Palmetto): May 11
  • Angelika Niescier Trio: The Berlin Concert (Intakt): May 20
  • Henry Threadgill: Double Up Plays Double Up Plus (Pi): May 18
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg: Dirt . . . and More Dirt (Pi): May 18
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The Jazz Heritage Series 2018 Radio Broadcasts (self-released)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Best of the Jazz Heritage Series Volume 1 (self-released)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Weekend Roundup

John Bolton started work as Trump's new National Security Adviser on Monday. On Friday, Trump ordered a massive missile attack on Syria. Those who warned about Bolton, like Fred Kaplan, have been vindicated very quickly. Presumably, what took Trump and Bolton so long was lining up British and French contributions to the fusillade, to make this look less like the act of a single madman and more like the continuation of a millennium of Crusader and Imperialist attacks on Syria. For a news report on the strike, long on rhetoric and short on damage assessment, see Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neft, Ben Hubbard: U.S., Britain and France Strike Syria Over Suspected Chemical Weapons Attack. Two significant points here: (1) the targets were narrowly selected to represent Syria's alleged chemical weapons capability (which raises the question of why, if the US knew of these facilities before, it didn't insist on inspections under Syria's Russia-brokered agreement to give up its chemical weapons -- more rigorous inspections could have kept the alleged chemical attacks from ever happening, as well as saving Syria from "retaliatory" strikes); (2) the US and its cronies consider this round of strikes to be complete (Trump even used the phrase "Mission Accomplished" to describe them).

I suppose the good news here is that while Russia is unhappy about the strikes, Trump and Bolton (and "Mad Dog") have limited themselves to a level of aggression unlikely to trigger World War III. On the other hand, what Trump did was embrace one of the hoariest clichés of American politics: the notion that US presidents prove their mettle by unleashing punitive bombing strikes on nations incapable of defense or response. The first example I can recall was Reagan's bombing of Libya in 1986, although there were previous examples of White House tantrums, like Wilson sending Pershing's army into Mexico to chase down Pancho Villa in 1916-17. After Reagan, GHW Bush launched grudge wars against Panama and Iraq, but the art (and hubris) of bombing on a whim was more fully developed and exploited by Bill Clinton, especially in Iraq. Clinton got so much political mileage out of it that GW Bush bombed Iraq his first week in office, just to show that he could.

Still, what makes it a cliché is not just that other presidents have done it. People who play presidents on TV and in the movies do it also, if anything even more often and reflexively. I first noticed this in The West Wing -- I didn't watch much TV during its 1999-2006 run, but it seems like nearly every episode I did catch saw its otherwise reasonable President Bartlett ordering the bombing of someone or other. Just last week President Kirkman of Designated Survivor unleashed a rashly emotional attack on a fictional country based on even shoddier intelligence than Trump's. A couple weeks ago in Homeland the US bombed Syria against President Elizabeth Keane's orders, simply because her Chief of Staff thought it would provide some useful PR spin. When all of pop culture calls out for blood, not to mention advisers like Bolton, it's impossible to imagine someone like Donald Trump might get in their way.

The usual problem with clichés is that they're lazy, requiring little or no thought or ingenuity. Politicians are even more prone to clichés than writers, because they rarely run any risk saying whatever they're most expected to. Some people thought that Trump, with his brusque disregard for "political correctness," might be different, but they sadly overestimated his capacity for any form of critical thought. On the other hand, Washington is chock full of foreign policy mandarins trapped in the same web of clichés, even as it's long been evident that their plots and prescriptions don't come close to working. And nowhere have knee-jerk reactions been more obvious than with Syria, where America's effort to fight some and promote other anti-Assad forces is effectively nihilist. Rational people recoil from situations where there is no solution. Trump, on the other hand, takes charge.

Some more links on the fire this time in Syria:

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: House Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress; Mr. Zuckerberg went to Washington; The FBI raised Michael Cohen's office (doesn't he mean "raided"?); James Comey started promoting his book. The latter point mentions what I would have picked as a key story: the pardon for Scooter Libby -- one of the dozen or so most obnoxious things Trump has personally done so far. Perhaps even bigger is the latest Trump assault on Syria. While the missile launch occurred after Yglesias was done for the week, the PR pitch lurked over the entire week. Other Yglesias posts this week:

  • Tara Golshan: Trump is calling backsies on exiting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: Significantly, he's being lobbied by Republicans, especially from agricultural states.

  • Umair Irfan: Scott Pruitt's actions at the EPA have triggered a half-dozen investigations. Also note that Pruitt's penchant for corruption preceded his move to Washington. See: Sharon Lerner: Why Did the EPA's Scott Pruitt Suppress a Report on Corruption in Oklahoma?

  • Mark Kalin: List-Making as Resistance: Chronicling a Year of Damage Under Trump: Interview with Amy Siskind, author of The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year. Where most journalists have tried to make their living off Trump's Twitter feed, Siskind prefers to chronicle what's actually been happening. Doubt she's got it all -- the book is a mere 528 pages -- but it should be a good start. For an excerpt, see Amy Siskind: Yes, We Are Like Frogs in Boiling Water With Trump as President.

  • Carolyn Kormann: Ryan Zinke's Great American Fire Sale.

  • Paul Krugman: What's the Matter With Trumpland? Mostly true as far as he goes, but the key point isn't the liberal platitude that the most successful areas are those with the most educational opportunities and cultural attraction for educated workers (including immigrants). It's that declining areas have been making political choices that make their prospects even worse.

    That new Austin et al. paper makes the case for a national policy of aiding lagging regions. But we already have programs that would aid these regions -- but which they won't accept. Many of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the great bulk of the bill -- and would create jobs in the process -- are also among America's poorest.

    Or consider how some states, like Kansas and Oklahoma -- both of which were relatively affluent in the 1970s, but have now fallen far behind -- have gone in for radical tax cuts, and ended up savaging their education systems. External forces have put them in a hole, but they're digging it deeper.

    And when it comes to national politics, let's face it: Trumpland is in effect voting for its own impoverishment. New Deal programs and public investment played a significant role in the great postwar convergence; conservative efforts to downsize government will hurt people all across America, but it will disproportionately hurt the very regions that put the G.O.P. in power.

    I doubt it's disproportionate. After all, wealthier "blue states" have much more to lose, but it's certainly the case that nothing Trump and the Republicans will actually do will help to even out regional economic differences. Actually, we've been through this debate before. In the 1930s southern Democrats saw the New Deal as a way out of their impoverishment, but from about 1938 on most of the leading southern Democrats broke with Roosevelt, fearing that too much equality would upset their racial order, even if (perhaps even because) it raised living standards. Of course, they didn't reject all federal spending in their districts. They became the most ardent of cold warriors. (On the New Deal, see Ira Katznelson: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. As for the cold warriors and their money train, James Byrne, John Stennis, and Carl Vinson were major figures.)

    Krugman also wrote Unicorns of the Intellectual Right, to remind us about the "intellectual decadence" and "moral decline" of right-leaning economists:

    In macroeconomics, what began in the 60s and 70s as a usefully challenging critique of Keynesian views went all wrong in the 80s, because the anti-Keynesians refused to reconsider their views when their own models failed the reality test while Keynesian models, with some modification, performed pretty well. By the time the Great Recession struck, the right-leaning side of the profession had entered a Dark Age, having retrogressed to the point where famous economists trotted out 30s-era fallacies as deep insights.

    But even among conservative economists who didn't go down that rabbit hole, there has been a moral collapse -- a willingness to put political loyalty over professional standards. We saw that most recently in the way leading conservative economists raced to endorse ludicrous claims for the efficacy of the Trump tax cuts, then tried to climb down without admitting what they had done. We saw it in the false claims that Obama had presided over a massive expansion of government programs and refusal to admit that he hadn't, the warnings that Fed policy would cause huge inflation followed by refusal to admit having been wrong, and on and on.

  • German Lopez: Trump is already trying to call off his attorney general's war on marijuana.

  • Alex Ward: Mike Pompeo, your likely new -- and Trump-friendly -- secretary of state: When Pompeo first ran for Congress, I had him pegged as a straight Koch plant with a quasi-libertarian economic focus, which I actually found preferable to his predecessor (Christian Fascist and Boeing flack Todd Tiahrt). However, his resume included a West Point education, and he soon emerged as a hardline neocon militarist. What brought him to Trump's attention was his demagogic flogging of Hillary Clinton and the Benghazi!!! pseudo-scandal. I can't imagine Trump nominating anyone who isn't "Trump-friendly," so I wouldn't get too agitated about that. Right now the problem with Pompeo isn't that he's simpatico with Trump; it's that his nomination shows that Trump is buying into Pompeo's neocon worldview -- although I'd also worry that Pompeo's tenure at CIA has made him even more contemptuous of law and diplomacy than he was before. Also see: Ryan Grim: Mike Pompeo Could Go Down if Senate Democrats Decide to Fight.

  • Jennifer Williams: Trump just pardoned Scooter Libby: If you recall the case (way back in 2007), you'll recall that Libby was the only one convicted by a special prosecutor investigation into the politically motivated unmasking of a CIA agent -- an act that Libby doesn't seem to have been involved in, but Libby's perjury and obstruction prevented those actually guilty from ever being charged. At the time, GW Bush commuted Libby's three-year prison sentence, evidently afraid that if he didn't, Libby would switch sides and rat out other Bush operatives. Libby wound up paying a fine and spending two years on probation, but that's well in the past right now, so the pardon at this point barely affects Libby's life. So it's hard to read this as anything other than a blanket promise to his underlings that even if they do get caught up in his scandals and convicted, as long as they don't implicate Trump the president will protect them. It is, in other words, a very deliberate and public way of undermining the Mueller investigation. I'm not sure if it violates US law on obstruction of justice, but UK law has a term that surely applies: perverting the course of justice. For more, see: Dylan Scott: Democrats are kind of freaking out about Trump's Scooter Libby pardon and what it means.

    By the way, I'm not sure that the two are linked, but Libby was Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, and Cheney never had the same sort of influence over the Bush Administration after Libby left. Of course, the other explanation is that Cheney's dominance early on had backfired, especially after the 2006 election debacle. Cheney also lost a key ally when Donald Rumsfeld got sacked, and was further embarrassed as his approval ratings sank under 20%.

  • Gary Younge: Trump and Brexit Are Symptoms of the Same Failure to Reckon With Racism: Having lived both in UK and US, Younge seems the failure to deal with racism as leading not just to dysfunction but to dementia, with Brexit and Trump just two flagrant examples.

    The argument about which country is, at present, the most dysfunctional is of course futile, since the answer would render neither any less dysfunctional. Britain set itself an unnecessary question, only then to deliver the wrong answer. Those who led us out of the European Union had no more plans for what leaving would mean than a dog chasing a car has to drive it. Not only do we not know what we want; we have no idea how to get it, even if we did.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29549 [29517] rated (+32), 371 [367] unrated (+4).

Fairly normal week in terms of overall rated count, but above average in A-list records. That's basically because I finally got a chance to pay some attention to some leads (e.g., Phil Overeem convinced me to listen to the Sonny Rollins reissue, and reminded me to take another look for No Age). Note that the Nik Bärtsch Ronin album doesn't drop until May 6. When I was trying to close March Streamnotes I was rather desperate to find a couple more A-list albums, and the Bärtsch download seemed like a prospect -- but I couldn't find time to dig it up. A few years ago I tried holding back reviews of albums I got to ahead of release date, but found that nobody much cared, so I gave up on the extra complication.

Miles Davis/John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sons of Kemet, and a few lesser items appeared on the album ballots for Downbeat's Critics Poll. I cast a ballot last week, while collecting usual notes. As it happens, I was feeling pretty miserable at the time, so after I got through the new/old album questions, I pretty much coasted, in most cases voting for whoever I voted for the previous year. Even more so, the sections in the notes where I list "first pass" picks from their offered ballot went unchecked and unchanged. On the other hand, it doesn't look like whoever at Downbeat put this year's ballot together put a lot of work into revision either.

I'm not a big fan of trying to rank musicians, so I'm not bothered by my reduced diligence this year. (I have less objection to sorting them out into broad tiers, like the ones I've noted for their Hall of Fame nominees.) The one category I did give some serious thought to was Hall of Fame, where I voted for: Roswell Rudd (5), George Russell (3), and Anthony Braxton (2). I've voted for Russell every year since I started receiving invitations, and if you don't know why, take that as your homework assignment. I've voted for Braxton off-and-on, and would say that he's the most deserving living musician who hasn't been voted in yet (now that Lee Konitz finally got the nod). This year is the 50th anniversary of his first albums, Three Compositions of New Jazz and For Alto, and while those aren't personal favorites, I have him down for 20 A/A- albums, and that's just the tip of a very massive iceberg.

As for Rudd, he died last year, and one thing I've noticed in past critics polls is how they tend to flock to whoever was the most famous musician who died in the past year. (Indeed, I think Konitz finished 2nd or 3rd to just-dead guys a half dozen times or more.) Rudd's long been a personal favorite -- I count 10 A+/A/A- records under his name, and he's played on close to ten more filed under other names -- so I figured I should join in on this expected wave. Problem is, Downbeat didn't list his name on their ballot, and winning on write-ins is probably impossible.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the Baseball Hall of Fame back in the 1990s, and much of what I learned applies here too. The key questions you have to ask is how large a set of candidates from the past you wish to honor, and how many comparable newcomers appear each year. The Rock and Roll HOF grows at a rate of 5-or-6 per year (down from 10/year when founded in 1986), which is probably too much -- aside from the question of whether they're picking the best ones, which judging from the 11 2017-18 inductees I'd say they aren't (the most credible picks are Tupac Shakur and Nina Simone, not that I would have picked either. On the other hand, Downbeat's HOF grows at a rate of 2/year: one picked by the Critics Poll, the other by their Readers Poll. While the DBHOF started earlier (1952) and has recently added a few extras through a Veterans Committee, the current total is still just 150. That strikes me as both too few and falling well behind the rate at which new jazz musicians of that calibre are appearing. I explain this more in the notes file.

Of course, one problem is that few of the DB critics are into avant-jazz. (Just one bit of proof there: Christian McBride regularly wins as best bassist, while William Parker regularly languishes down in the 7-10 spots.) Still, once in a blue moon someone on the cutting edge manages to get recognized there. One of the first died last week: pianist Cecil Taylor, 89. I'm afraid I'm not a huge fan, but he has done some amazing work. I saw him once, and left early, figuring he'd keep recycling stuff I've already heart for the rest of his second set. Still, I wasn't upset or disappointed. And I've heard a bunch of albums by him that I seriously recommend. From my database, all A- or above:

  • Jazz Advance (1956 [1991], Blue Note)
  • Love for Sale (1959, Blue Note)
  • The World of Cecil Taylor (1960, Candid) [A]
  • Air (1960, Candid)
  • Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come (1962 [1997], Revenant 2CD)
  • Silent Tongues (1974, Arista/Freedom)
  • One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye (1978 [1980], Hat Art 2CD)
  • The Eighth (1981 [2006], Hatology)
  • Olu Iwa (1986, Soul Note)
  • The Feel Trio: Looking (Berlin Version) (1989 [1990], FMP)
  • The Feel Trio: Celebrated Blazons (1990 [1993], FMP)
  • The Willisau Concert (2000 [2002], Intakt)

That a dozen records, out of forty I've heard, out of two or three times that many he released. I'm not sure you really need that many, but then I'm "not a big fan" -- those who are never seem to be able to get enough. The Penguin Guide, for instance, credits Taylor with more 4-star albums than any other jazz artist (including Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and the even more prolific Anthony Braxton). Unlikely he'll ever be matched -- though it wouldn't hurt to look into some of his successors, especially Irène Schweizer and Satoko Fujii.

New records rated this week:

  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Awase (2017 [2018], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Nat Birchall: Cosmic Language (2018, Jazzman): [r]: B+(***)
  • Martin Blume/Tobias Delius/Achim Kaufmann/Dieter Manderscheid: Frames & Terrains (2016 [2018], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine: The Poetry of Jazz (2012-14 [2018], Origin): [cd]: A-
  • Anat Cohen/Fred Hersch: Live in Healdsburg (2016 [2018], Anzic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lucy Dacus: Historian (2018, Matador): [r]: B+(*)
  • Victor Gould: Earthlings (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary Halvorson: Code Girl (2016 [2018], Firehouse 12, 2CD): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Modern Mal: The Misanthrope Family Album (2017, Mal): [r]: B+(*)
  • Patricia Nicholson/William Parker: Hope Cries for Justice (2017 [2018], Centering): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Danielle Nicole: Cry No More (2018, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • No Age: Snares Like a Haircut (2018, Drag City): [r]: A-
  • Peripheral Vision: More Songs About Error and Shame (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Roberta Piket: West Coast Trio (2017 [2018], 13th Note): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chris Platt Trio: Sky Glow (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Marvin Pontiac: The Asylum Tapes (2017, Strange and Beautiful): [r]: A-
  • Noah Preminger: Genuinity (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra: Without a Trace (2015-17 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Jay Rodriguez: Your Sound: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (2018, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alex Sipiagin: Moments Captured (2016 [2017], Criss Cross): [r]: B
  • Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile (2018, Impulse!): [r]: A-
  • Superorganism: Superorganism (2018, Domino): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Surman: Invisible Threads (2017 [2018], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited (2018, Passin' Thru): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition (2018, Southern Domestic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Pablo Ziegler Trio: Jazz Tango (2017, Zoho): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Derek Bailey & Company: Klinker (2000 [2018], Confront, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Final Tour [The Bootleg Series Vol. 6] (1960 [2018], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): [r]: A-
  • Wynton Marsalis Septet: United We Swing: Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas (2003-07 [2018], Blue Engine): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Sonny Rollins: Way Out West [Deluxe Edition] (1957 [2018], Craft): [r]: A
  • We Out Here (2018, Brownswood): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:

  • Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Seraphic Light (AUM Fidelity): May 18
  • Detroit Bop Quintet: Two Birds (TQM): April 20
  • Robert Diack: Lost Villages (self-released): April 13
  • District Five: Decoy (Intakt): April 27
  • Mary Halvorson: Code Girl (Firehouse 12, 2CD)
  • Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories (Dare2): advance, May 11
  • Kira Kira: Bright Force (Libra): April 27
  • Lello Molinari: Lello's Italian Job Volume 2 (Fata Morgana Music): May 1
  • Reggie Quinerly: Words to Love (Redefinition Music): April 20
  • Samo Salamon/Tony Malaby/Roberto Dani: Traveling Moving Breathing (Clean Feed)
  • Rob Schwimmer: Heart of Hearing (Sunken Heights Music): June 1
  • Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs (Sunnyside): April 20
  • Hans Teuber & Jeff Johnson: Deuce (Origin): April 20
  • Alexander Von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 50 Years (Intakt): April 20
  • Woodwired: In the Loop (Uta)
  • WorldService Project: Serve (Rare Noise): advance, April 27

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Meant to write an intro, but ran out of time. So let's cut to the chase.

Some scattered links this week:

Monday, April 02, 2018

No Music Week

No real point doing a "Music Week" post this week. I spent pretty much all of the week playing old favorites from the travel cases, so the rated count for the week was a mere +2. I also haven't catalogued the week's incoming mail -- not that there's much to report. So I'll roll those into next week's post, which should be back to normal.

I was preoccupied last week with my sister Kathy's memorial, on Saturday afternoon, and a family-and-friends get-together on Sunday. I tried to do what I could to help out, which mostly meant cooking a lot of food. For the reception following the service, I baked six cakes (sweet potato bundt with a glaze; oatmeal stout with a broiled topping; applesauce with raisins and walnuts in a loaf pan; and three 9x13 sheet cakes: fall spice, carrot, and chocolate) plus two pans of brownies.

For a savory snack alternative, I fixed Barbara Tropp's Chinese Crudités. I filled up three half-sheet baking pans with piles of vegetables cut into bite-sized chunks, some steamed (cauliflower, brussels sprouts), most blanched (asparagus, baby corn, broccoli, carrots, green beans, snap peas, zucchini) or raw (green/red/yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumber). I bought a bag of brussels sprouts, way more than I needed, so I roasted half of them and added them to the tray. The vegetables could be dipped in four Chinese sauces: a rather spicy sesame, a very garlicky peanut, dijon mustard, and sweet and sour.

We also made a Moroccan fruit salad (apples, nectarines, pears, pineapple, banana, mejdol dates, macerated in orange juice and honey), a similar berry salad (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), and vanilla cream.

For the Sunday get-together, I ordered barbecue meats from Hog Wild and made four large side dishes: baked beans topped with bacon; a Russian potato salad with smoked salmon, olives, capers, and dill; a sweet and sour cole slaw (nothing creamy), and mast va khiar (a Persian cucumber-yogurt with scallions, golden raising, black walnuts, and mint). I figured there'd be enough leftover dessert, and there was (barely). Several people helped with the cooking, especially Josi Hull on Friday and Mike, Morgan and Kirsten Saturday night.

Even before the cooking, much of the week was spent shopping and reconnoitering. I bought some very large bowls and baking sheets, and more cake pans than I actually used. Also things like tongs for serving and various containers for moving food around. I dumped a lot of tasks onto Josi, like picking up plates and plasticware and ice. The church people helped as well, especially with coffee and tea.

Ram planned out the memorial service ("celebration of life), and wrote and printed up the notes. He also set up a website with a selection of Kathy's writings, a (very partial) gallery of artwork, and a form for submitting "memories and reflections," promising to compile the latter into book form. (I started to collect some notes on my website as well.) The service was, well, unlike any I had ever attended.

Kathy joined the UU Church shortly after she moved back to Wichita, following a few months when she stayed with me in New Jersey. As children, we attended Disciples of Christ churches -- they were evangelical but not fundamentalist, preferring the New Testament (especially the Gospels) to the Old. As a young teen, I got very involved in the church, but a few years later I turned against it and the rest of the family lost interest, if not in religion at least in church-going. I flipped over into an extreme rationalism, but to the extent I ever bothered to try to understand it, Kathy flopped the other direction. Like me, she went through a period of examining all of the world's religions, but where I wound up rejecting them all, she found ways to synthesize them.

The one religion she felt the closest affinity to was Wicca, and she discovered that there was a sizable faction of Wiccans at the First UU Church in Wichita (sometimes, I gather, at odds with the other main faction, Humanists). Kathy joined First UU in 1991 (actually after she had started leading moon dances) and was very active off and on. I knew a little bit about Unitarians because I went through a phase where I looked into the history of early Protestant sects, especially Puritans, and I've read some modern feminist essays on medieval witchcraft, but I've never spent any time on Wicca, even having an expert in the family. So the rituals, chants, and song about the Goddess that opened and closed the service were lost on me. One of the songs, I think, was from a book Kathy wrote/compiled.

In between were a couple dozen tributes/memoirs by various people Kathy had touched. My brother Steve recalled the first time he saw Kathy, through a hospital window. My nephew Mike remembered Kathy as the first person to reveal that unorthodox opinions and unconventional lifestyles were even possible. (Kathy had an unofficial gay marriage ceremony when Mike was a teen, but the relationship didn't last long. She had a shorter still heterosexual marriage much earlier, but the father of her son was a casual acquaintance I never met, who played no role in Ram's life.) My cousin Ken Brown recounted how close our families were.

When Kathy got pregnant, she came to stay with us in New Jersey. After a few months, I got a job in Massachusetts, and we decided Kathy should return to Wichita. When she got here, she moved in with two other pregnant women, Cassandra and Lydia, and the three had baby boys within days of each other, the six (and eventually a few more) forming an extended family even long after they moved apart. Cassandra, Lydia, and a third woman I didn't know spoke about this unique relationship, and the third woman sang a Lakota funeral song -- a remarkable moment.

Many more people spoke about Kathy's full moon dances and other spiritual/community efforts. One colleague from the WSU art department spoke, as did several former students. One student Kathy effectively adopted was Matt Walston, who's become a notable artist in his own right. Kathy and Matt had talked about death, and one wish Kathy had was that Matt make a "death mask" from her face. (Matt had some experience at making masks, like this one.) Matt made molds and distributed several papier maché masks, while his wife, Carrie Armstrong, gave emotional testimony. Laura talked about how much she was amazed by Kathy's art. Only one speaker wandered off subject, ending the session on a bit of an off note.

There was some discussion of the "Sacred Spaces" project, which Kathy had been a driving force behind c. 2002. It's long been in storage, but WSU had agreed to exhibit it this summer, and Kathy had been talking to Mike about shooting a film around it. Several people vowed to make sure that still happens. I used to have a gallery of photos from the exhibit up on my site, but they got wiped out in a spat with the ISP. I just found the original CDR, so I'll make an effort to get them restored soon.

One thing we screwed up was not making any sort of announcements at the end of the service. Matt had set up a room with some of Kathy's art and a plaster death mask people could paint on, but most people weren't aware of that. It also took a while to set up my food, so many people took off before they got a chance to enjoy -- and I missed a number of people I wanted to talk to. Nonetheless, about 85-90% of the food was eaten. My estimate is that we had about 160 people present (the chapel holds 125, so the others had to sit on folding chairs in the foyer, and it looked like 30-40 people there).

The Sunday get-together was anticlimactic. Some people didn't know about it and had travel plans to get away. I figured it would drag on well past the advertised 1 PM start, so we didn't make much of an effort to get there early, and it turned out that most of the people who came had left by the time we got there. (I had sent the food ahead, so nobody missed us that bad.) We got there at 3:30, and stayed until 6 or so. I got back in time to cobble together a Weekend Roundup last night. But not early enough to do a Music Week today. Next time. Also, sometime this week I'll try to fill out a Downbeat Critics Poll ballot (assuming it's not too late yet -- I didn't even consider working on it when I got the ballot request).

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I was prepared to skip this weekly exercise completely: I spent most of the last week preparing for my sister's funeral (or "celebration of life" as the official title went) and related social gatherings. But with the last such event ended this afternoon, and with various guests taking their leave, I found myself wanting to do something "normal." Not that much of what follows can be considered "normal" in any other regard. I recently read Allen Frances' Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump, which fell rather short of its titular ambition. Although there are occasional references to commonplace psychology, he mostly focuses on ubiquity and persistence of "delusional thinking" -- mostly defined as failure to recognize a long list of liberal political creeds. I don't have much quarrel with his platform planks, but I'm more suspicious of economic/class factors than psychological ones. Where I think insight into psychology might be helpful is in trying to model human behavior given the complexity of the world and our various limits in apprehending it. It's certainly credible that psychological traits that were advantageous in primitive societies malfunction in our changing world, but how does that work? And what sort of adjustments would work better?

Some scattered links this week:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Daily Log

Trying to decide between crudités and canapés. Found this list of 50 quick canapé toppings:

  1. Goat cheese, top with chopped canned beets, an orange segment, fresh mint
  2. Fig jam, top with gorgonzola and prosciutto.
  3. Fig jam, top with goat cheese, chopped walnuts.
  4. Butter, top with thin-sliced bread-and-butter pickles.
  5. Hummus, top with olive tapenade.
  6. Sliced figs, drizzle with honey, sprinkle with sea salt.
  7. Mash avocado with salt and lime juice; spread, top with shrimp.
  8. Ricotta cheese, top with chopped roasted red peppers, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  9. Rub with garlic clove, top with sliced plum tomatoes; sprinkle with sea salt.
  10. Butter, top with thin sliced radishes, sprinkle with sea salt.
  11. Toss canned tuna with lemon juice and zest, olive oil, chopped parsley and salt; spread.
  12. Gorgonzola, top with sliced pears.
  13. Chopped grapes, wrap with prosciutto.
  14. Pesto and shaved parmesan cheese.
  15. Pesto, crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes.
  16. Pesto and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.
  17. Mashed avocado, top with crumbled bacon and sprouts.
  18. Ricotta cheese, drizzle with olive oil, add dash of salt and pepper.
  19. Brush with olive oil; add thin slice of manchego, top with chorizo.
  20. Chop rotisserie chicken meat and toss with barbecue sauce, top with chopped pickles.
  21. Mayonnaise with wasabi paste; top with lump crab meat.
  22. Mayonnaise and wasabi paste; toss chopped sushi-grade tuna with sesame oil.
  23. Whip cream cheese and chopped dill; top with thin smoked salmon.
  24. Taleggio cheese, top with candied pecans or walnuts.
  25. Apple butter, top with crumbled blue cheese and chopped fresh sage.
  26. Saute finely chopped mushrooms in butter, season with salt and thyme, top with shaved parmesan cheese.
  27. Saute thinly sliced onions in butter until carmelized; spread with brie cheese, top with apple slices and carmelized onion.
  28. Thinly sliced apples and grated cheddar cheese; broil until melted.
  29. Butter, top with thinly sliced ham and a cornichon slice.
  30. Cranberry sauce, top with thin ly sliced turkey, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.
  31. Saute thinly sliced fennel and golden raising in olive oil.
  32. Combine cream cheese and chopped chipotle chilies in adobo sauce; top with thinly sliced smoked turkey.
  33. Fresh tomato pulp; sprinkle with sea salt and fresh basil.
  34. Combine refried beans with chopped green chilles; top with pepper jack cheese and broil until melted.
  35. Combine sour cream and cream cheese with horseradish; top with thinly sliced roast beef.
  36. Halve asparagus tips lengthwise, steam and season with salt; spread egg salad and top with asparagus tip.
  37. Wilt baby spinach, toss with crumbled bacon; top with chopped hard-boiled eggs.
  38. Toss finely chopped romaine with Caesar dressing and grated parmesan; top with anchovy.
  39. Brie cheese, top with thinly sliced ham and a dollop of grainy mustard.
  40. Mascarpone; top with crumbled bacon and chopped grapes.
  41. Whip cream cheese with lemon zest, top with fresh raspberries.
  42. Nutella, top with orange marmalade.
  43. Mascarpone, top with thinly sliced melon and prosciutto.
  44. Orange marmalade, top with thinly sliced smoked turkey and smoked mozzarella cheese.
  45. Saute thinly sliced apples in butter until soft; top with sliced ham.
  46. Creamy peanut butter; top with sliced bananas, drizzle with honey.
  47. Whip peanut butter and marshmallow fluff; top with shaved chocolate.
  48. Cream cheese; top with hot pepper jelly.
  49. Ricotta cheese; drizzle with honey; dash of pepper.
  50. Whip mascarpone and confectioners sugar; brush with espresso, spread, top with shaved chocolate and cocoa powder.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Streamnotes (March 2018)

Pick up source here.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29517 [29490] rated (+27), 367 [378] unrated (-11).

Tough week for me, although next week should be even rougher -- certainly harder to get anything done: memorial service for my sister is Saturday, March 31, and various family and friends will be arriving from Wednesday on. I'm going to try to wrap up Streamnotes early so I won't have to deal with it late in the week. In any case, it will be one of my shortest in many months, probably years. Also the grade curve seems to have slipped severely: A-list currently just two long each for new and old music, with a roughly even break. Possible, I suppose, that my personal malaise is dragging down my grade curve. Also possible I'm just not finding good tips. I will say that I gave Christgau's grade A jazz pick (Mast) four plays before I gave up on it. And I didn't find last year's Monk vault tape, Les Laisions Dangereuses 1960 any better. As for the Ornette Coleman twofer, the two Impulse albums it collects are the only official Colemans I still haven't heard.

By the way, Ram Lama Hull has set up a website for Kathy Hull, including a gallery of some of her artwork. A memorial service will be held for her at 1:00 PM at First UU, 7202 E. 21st St. N., Wichita, KS 67206.

New records rated this week:

  • Heather Bennett: Lazy Afternoon (2018, Summit): [r]: B
  • Chris Dave: Chris Dave and the Drumhedz (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B
  • Caroline Davis: Heart Tonic (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dogwood: Hecate's Hounds (2018, [r]: B+(**)
  • Bill Frisell: Music IS (2017 [2018], Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gwenno: Le Kov (2018, Heavenly): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Heavyweights Brass Band: This City (2018, Lulaworld): [cd]: B+(***)
  • MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk (2018, World Galaxy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Adam Nussbaum: The Lead Belly Project (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Aruán Ortiz Trio: Live in Zürich (2016 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Previte: Rhapsody (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [cdr]: B
  • Steve Reich: Pulse/Quartet (2018, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Kang Tae Hwan: Live at Café Amores (1995 [2018], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bill Warfield Big Band: For Lew (1990-2014 [2018], Planet Arts): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Barry Altschul Quartet: For Stu (1979 [1981], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Barry Altschul Quartet: Irina (1983, Soul Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Barry Altschul Quartet/Quintet: That's Nice (1985 [1986], Soul Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Paul Bley/John Surman/Bill Frisell/Paul Motian: The Paul Bley Quartet (1987 [1988], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Surman: Such Winters of Memory (1982 [1983], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Surman: Withholding Pattern (1984 [1985], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Surman: Private City (1987 [1988], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Surman Quartet: Stranger Than Fiction (1993 [1994], ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Surman: A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe (1994 [1995], ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Surman/Jack DeJohnette: Invisible Nature (2000 [2002], ECM): [r]: A-
  • John Surman: Free and Equal (2001 [2003], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Surman/Howard Moody: Rain on the Window (2006 [2008], ECM): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Roger Kellaway Trio: New Jazz Standards Vol. 3 (Summit)
  • Otherworld Ensemble: Live at Malmitalo (Edgetone): April 3
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rogue Star (Edgetone): April 3

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Weekend Roundup

With Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster recently purged, Mike Pompeo promoted to Secretary of State, torture diva Gina Haspel taking over the CIA, and veteran blowhard John Bolton given the laughable title of National Security Adviser, the closest the administration can come to a moderating voice of sanity in foreign affairs is the guy nicknamed "Mad Dog." Trump continues to replace his first team of "yes men" with even more sycophantic wannabes, doubling down on his search for the least critical, least competent hacks in American politics. On the other hand, it's not as if delegating policy to the Republican Party apparatchiki was doing anything to accomplish his vision of "making America great again." Over the last few weeks he's not only made major strides at cleaning house, he's pushed out several of his signature trade initiatives. He seems determined to double down until he blows himself up -- and surely you realize by now the last thing he cares about is how that affects anyone else.

I don't say much about trade below, although I've probably read a dozen pieces complaining either about how ineffective his tariffs will be or how they'll lead to trade wars and other mischief that will make us poorer. The first thing to understand about trade is that business has already adjusted to whatever the status quo is, so anything that changes it is going to upset their apple cart, much faster than it's going to help anyone else out. So all restrictions on trade seem bad to someone prepared to shout out about it. On the other hand, business is eager to promote expansions to trade that offer short-term benefits, especially before anyone who's going to be hurt can get organized. So I take most of what I read with a grain of salt: not just because the dialogue is polluted by interested bodies but because it's kind of a sideshow. The question that matters is not whether there's more trade or less, but what is the power balance between capital and labor (and consumers, sure, but they're often touted by capitalists as the real beneficiaries of lower-priced imports, something capitalists wouldn't bother us with if they didn't stand to be bigger winners). The problem with TPP wasn't that it reduced trade barriers. It was that it reduced the power of people to regulate corporations, and that it sought to increase corporate rents through "intellectual property" claims.

Aside from raising tax revenues, the purpose of tariffs is to protect investment by organizing a captive, non-competitive market. However, in a world where there is already more steelmaking capacity than there is market, American steel companies won't make the investments to increase steel production. Rather, they'll reap excess profits while the tariffs last -- which probably won't be for long. Of course, that's not even what Trump's thinking. He thinks he's penalizing foreign misbehavior (like subsidizing investment then dumping overproduction). Maybe the real problem is that Americans aren't doing the same things? But there's a reason for that: we do all our business through private corporations, which workers and citizens have no stake in, so we don't even have the concept of directing investment where it might yield broad benefits.

On the other hand, note that if China decides to impose tariffs on American goods, they're likely to back those up with strategic investments to build competitive industries, temporarily protected behind those tariffs. For an example of the kind of piece I've been ignoring (but spurred some of my thinking above), see Eduardo Porter/Guilbert Gates: How Trump's Protectionism Could Backfire. Somewhat more amusing is Paul Krugman: Trump and Trade and Zombies. Also see Paul Krugman Explains Trade and Tariffs.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The week's 4 most important political stories, explained: John Bolton will be the national security adviser (replacing H.R. McMaster; quote: "Bolton apparently promised Trump 'he wouldn't start any wars' as a condition for getting the job, so maybe he won't"); Trump switched trade wars (first, the steel tariffs got gutted by carving out exceptions for a bunch of countries which make up a large majority of US steel imports; then Trump announced new tariffs on Chinese goods); We have an omnibus ($1.3 trillion in government spending, including a little for the wall and a lot for the military); Facebook is in hot water over data leaks (above and beyond the mischief they do of their own). Other Yglesias pieces this week:

    • The partisan gender gap among millennials is staggeringly large: "Women born after 1980 favor Democrats 70-23."

    • The case against Facebook: actually, several cases, including that it "makes people depressed and lonely," and that it's poisoning society:

      Rumors, misinformation, and bad reporting can and do exist in any medium. But Facebook created a medium that is optimized for fakeness, not as an algorithmic quirk but due to the core conception of the platform. By turning news consumption and news discovery into a performative social process, Facebook turns itself into a confirmation bias machine -- a machine that can best be fed through deliberate engineering.

      In reputable newsrooms, that's engineering that focuses on graphic selection, headlines, and story angles while maintaining a commitment to accuracy and basic integrity. But relaxing the constraint that the story has to be accurate is a big leg up -- it lets you generate stories that are well-designed to be psychologically pleasing, like telling Trump-friendly white Catholics that the pope endorsed their man, while also guaranteeing that your outlet gets a scoop.

    • Everyone loves nurses and hates Mitch McConnell.

    • The myth of "forcing people out of their cars"

    • Donald Trump's threat to the rule of law is much bigger than Robert Mueller.

  • Fred Kaplan: It's Time to Panic Now: "John Bolton's appointment as national security adviser puts us on a path to war." Bolton may or may not be the most consistent, most inflexible of neocon warmongers, but where he has really distinguished himself is in obstructing any option other than war. If he can't bully the other side into submission, he'll launch an attack, convinced of American omnipotence and oblivious to any evidence to the contrary. The job of National Security Adviser is to offer the president a range of options. Bolton sees no range, and Trump must know that. If Trump's been frustrated by being surrounded by advisers who argued against launching a "preventive" war with North Korea, he won't have any problems with Bolton.

    For more background on Bolton, see David Bosco: The World According to Bolton [PDF, originally from 2005]. More Bolton pieces:

  • Jen Kirby: The March for Our Lives, explained: "Thousands turned out for rallies in Washington, DC, and hundreds of cities across the United States."

  • Nomi Prins: Jared Kushner, You're Fired: "A Political Obituary for the President's Son-in-Law."

  • Matt Taibbi: The Legacy of the Iraq War: Fifteen year anniversary piece of Bush's invasion of Iraq. I would put more stress on Bush's earlier invasion of Afghanistan, and indeed the whole premise that the overbloated US military should be trusted, if not to defend us from attacks like 9/11 at least to avenge them. On the other hand, Taibbi goes the extra step in showing how the misuse of the military in the Global War on Terror is rooted in the much older multi-faceted war the US fought against the workers and peasants of the world, the one we sanitize by calling it the Cold War. He also ends memorably on Trump:

    It was for sure a contributing factor in the election of Donald Trump, whose total ignorance and disrespect for both the law and the rights of people deviates not one iota from our official policies as they've evolved in the last fifteen years.

    Trump is just too stupid to use the antiseptic terminology we once thought we had to cook up to cloak our barbarism. He says "torture" instead of "enhanced interrogation" because he can't remember what the difference is supposed to be. Which is understandable. Fifteen years is a long time for a rotting brain to keep up a pretense.

    We flatter ourselves that Trump is an aberration. He isn't. He's a depraved, cowardly, above-the-law bully, just like the country we've allowed ourselves to become in the last fifteen years.

    Posted before Trump's Bolton pick, but the likeness is pretty glaring. Also looking back on America's recent wars: Andrew Bacevich: A Memo to the Publisher of the New York Times. One thing here is that I don't see how you can complain about the Times' contribution to "having tacitly accepted that, for the United States, war has become a permanent condition," without noting a single thing that the Times has published on Israel in the last, oh, sixty years.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Daily Log

Finally got around to sending out a letter to my various email contacts regarding Kathy's death and memorial service:

By now, I reckon most of you have heard the tragic news that my sister, Kathy Hull, died on March 12, around 4:30 AM. on March 6, around 9:30 AM, she was struck by a car while in a crosswalk between the parking lot and her office at Wichita State University. The car was moving about 15 mph. Kathy was knocked to the ground, and his the back of her head on the pavement, fracturing the skull and causing various internal brain bleeds. She was stabilized and put into the SICU at Wesley Hospital. Her prognosis was never clear, but the bleeding was deemed inoperable. She suffered respiratory complications, and underwent a branchoscopy to clear her lungs. She was mostly conscious, only sometimes coherent, but toward the end seemed to be getting better. The case worker was talking about moving her to a rehabilitation hospital in Nebraska that specializes in traumatic brain injury. Then her heart stopped during a routine respiratory treatment, and they were unable to revive her after 30 minutes.

There will be a memorial service for her on Saturday, March 31, at First UU Church, 7202 E. 21st St. N., Wichita, KS 67206, at 1 PM, with a reception following. There is no cemetery part. She has been cremated, but only after Matt Walston took impressions for molding death masks. There will be a get-together the following afternoon at what is now Ram Lama Hull's house, 2228 S. Main, Wichita, KS 67213 -- the same house my parents bought a year before I was born. I'll be supervising the food for both events.

Mike Hull came to Wichita last week and started photographing Kathy's art and taping interviews with family and friends, so her death may well yield more art. She was a remarkable and very distinctive artist, and had been in a particularly fruitful period -- among other things looking forward to a showing of her massive Sacred Spaces project later this year. We will, over time, make a concerted effort to collect and display her work, as well as remember her life. Over the next few days I'll put up a crude web page at with some useful links.

I've rummaged through the address book for names, picking out the few I'm pretty sure who at least met her. Figured I'd bcc to avoid clutter (and accidental reply-alls), but that runs the risk of getting discarded. If you know of anyone who should receive this, please pass it on. If you have any more questions or just want to commiserate, write back or call. Sorry I've been tardy in getting the word out. Even before this it's been a pretty depressing period, and I haven't felt up to much of anything. Perhaps, like my first wife's death, this will be a wake-up call to start living again.

Names I picked out from address book: Pat Baird, Dorlan Bales, Jan Barnes, Dorothy Billings, Connie Bonfy, Janice Bradley, Dan Brown, Devoe Brown, Kathryn Brown, Ken Brown, Max Brown, Susan Brown, Jane Burns, Kyle Burns, Georgia Christgau, Robert Christgau, Leah Dannar-Garcia, Carola Dibbell, Sara Driscoll, Ingeri Eaton, T.J. Edmonds, Gretchen Eick, Jerry Feder, Julian Fleron, Lou Jean Fleron, Barbara Gingrich, Naomi Glauberman, Deborah Gordon, Bart Grahl, Shan Haider, Don Hull[-], Josi Hull, Kirsten Hull, Mike Hull, Rachel Hull, Ram Hull, Steven Hull, Kathy Jenkins, Linda Jordan, Harold Karabell, Jim Lynch, Don Malcolm, Sonia Mayrath, Brenda Metcalf, Susan Moir[-], Bill Morgan, Maher Musleh, Connie Pace, Russ Pataky, Mike Poage, Arthur Protin, Rhonda Pyeatt, Eleanor Roffman, Judy Kay Siler, Frank Smith, Jerry Stewart, Michael Tatum, Rannfrid Thelle, Laura Tillem, Elias Vlanton, Bronwen Zwirner.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29490 [29476] rated (+14), 378 [368] unrated (+10).

Miserable fucking week. I've developed an itch over much of my body, which dermatologist couldn't identify but it treating symptomatically: various steroid and non-steroid creams and lotions. Marginally better today, but on top of everything else has kept me from feeling like doing much of anything all week. One exception was that I did some cooking.

My nephew Mike, his wife Morgan and sister Kirsten flew into town to try to document my late sister's artwork, which they mostly did in my basement. First night they were working late and getting hungry, so I threw together a quick pad thai -- one of the few dishes I always have ingredients for, and takes less than an hour to prep and cook (mostly prep). I was originally hoping to do a more substantial dinner on Monday before they were to leave, but wound up fixing two more smaller dinners in the meantime: Saturday was shakshuka (eggs poached in Tunisian tomato sauce) and pan-roasted potatoes. Sunday was baked fish topped with tomato, olives and capers, along with roasted potatoes. (I had a bag of Yukon golds to work through). Also made an oatmeal stout cake. Those were just 4-5 people.

For Monday I planned on doing Greek, and finally did some shopping. We wound up crowded with ten adults and a two-year-old baby. I made baked shrimp with feta cheese, roasted brussels sprouts and various root vegetables (red potatoes, sweet potato, carrots, fennel, shallots) with a lemon-caper dressing, green bean ragout, fried lamb liver tidbits, horiatiki salad, and saganaki (fried kefalograviera cheese; also made a batch with haloumi). Also leftover cake.

Mostly listened to oldies last week, except for late nights on the computer. Even then, mostly picked pop records from recent Christgau reviews -- but two A and two A- records fell short for me, each getting two (some three) plays. I didn't find the latest Chopteeth album, but checked out two old ones. Only three records from my jazz queue, and they all got multiple chances.

Unpacking includes records I forgot to list last week.

Kathy's memorial service will be March 31, so things will start to get crazy again as that approaches. I'll probably post a Streamnotes early next week to get it out of the way, but it will be much shorter than usual.

New records rated this week:

  • Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (2018, Matador, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ezra Furman: Transangelic Exodus (2018, Bella Union): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hal Galper Quartet: Cubist (2016 [2018], Origin): [cd]: A-
  • Sergio Galvao/Lupa Santiago/Clement Landais/Franck Enouf: 2X2 (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lucas Niggli: Alchemia Garden (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Superchunk: What a Time to Be Alive (2018, Merge): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On (2018, Matador): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Black Panther: The Album (Music From and Inspired By) (2018, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band: Chopteeth (2008, Grigri Discs): [r]: A-
  • Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band: Live (2010, Grigri Discs): [r]: B+(***)
  • Walter Norris/George Mraz: Drifting (1974 [2007], Enja): [r]: B+(**)
  • Walter Norris/Aladár Pege: Winter Rose (1980, Enja): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Surman: Upon Reflection (1979, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Surman: The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon (1981, ECM): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:

  • Chamber 3: Transatlantic (OA2): March 16
  • Johan Graden: Olägenheter (Moserobie)
  • Lauren Henderson: Ármame (Brontosaurus): March 30
  • Monika Herzig: Sheroes (Whaling City Sound)
  • Il Sogno: Birthday (Gotta Let It Out -17)
  • Jon Irabagon Quartet: Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (Irabbagast): May 15
  • Martin Küchen & Landaeus Trio: Vinyl (Moserobie)
  • Dave Liebman/John Stowell: Petite Fleur: The Music of Sidney Bechet (Origin): March 16
  • Johan Lindström Septett: Music for Empty Halls (Moserobie)
  • The Maguire Twins: Seeking Higher Ground (Three Tree): March 30
  • Diane Moser: Birdsongs (Planet Arts)
  • Michael Moss/Accidental Orchestra: Helix (4th Stream): March 24
  • William Parker: Lake of Light: Compositions for AquaSonics (Gotta Let It Out): May
  • Sonar With David Torn: Vortex (RareNoise): advance, March 30
  • Joshua Trinidad: In November (RareNoise): advance, March 30
  • Frank Wagner: Floating Holiday (MEII)
  • Håvard Wiik Trio: This Is Not a Waltz (Moserobie)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Started this on Sunday, but too many distractions kept me from wrapping it up in a timely fashion. As I've noted already, my sister, Kathy Hull, died last week. We've had visitors and all sorts of chores to do, and I've been plagued by my own health problems. One thing that I did notice was that the sense of horror I felt on hearing the news was one I had experienced several times before: when, for instance, my first wife died, and most recently when Donald Trump was elected president. A big part of that sensation is the dread of facing a future not of unknown and unimaginable consequences but of quite certain pain and loss. The news since election day has merely born out that expected dread. Numerous examples follow, and I'm sure I'm missing at least as much more. One thing I suppose I should take comfort from is that when we finally have a memorial for Kathy (on March 31), we will have fond memories and a lot of art to celebrate. When Trump's term ends we're unlikely to recall a single shred of redeeming value.

Of course, the two events are not comparable in any regard except personal emotional impact on me. The key point is that the shock of the 2016 election, the immediate apprehension of what the American people just did to themselves, hit me pretty much as hard, with much the same body chemistry. Of course, the grief tracks have been/will be different. We will adjust to the impoverished world without her, but the blow has been struck, both final and finite. On the other hand, Trump and his Congress and Courts have barely started to take their toll, which will only grow over time and won't stop when his term ends. On the other hand, there are things that can be done to alter or even reverse the course Trump has set us on. And there is at least one thing I can take comfort in: I've spent literally all of my adult life in opposition to whoever has held political power, as indeed I would still be had Hillary Clinton won, but since the 1970s I've never been in such large or dynamic company. It's also nice to feel no need to defend Clinton when she says something tone-deaf (like her note that she won the urban areas that had fared best under her party's neoliberal advancement) or any of the other petty scandals she's prone to.

By the way, this week is the fifteenth anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq. I took another look at what I wrote on March 18, and much of what I wrote then holds up; especially:

As I write this, we cannot even remotely predict how this war will play out, how many people will die or have their lives tragically transfigured, how much property will be destroyed, how much damage will be done to the environment, what the long-term effects of this war will be on the economy and civilization, both regionally and throughout the world. In lauching his war, Bush is marching blithely into the unknown, and dragging the world with him.

I probably tried too hard to rationalize the Bush case, and I spent a lot of time fantasizing that Iraqis might wise up and figure out how to play the PR game in ways that might limit the destruction. That didn't happen first because the seemingly easy military victory unleashed an extraordinary degree of American hubris, and partly because it took very little resistance to change the American stance from would-be benefactor to occupier and schemer. My other mistake was in failing to see how much the US failure in Afghanistan, which was already obvious even if less observed, prefigured the very same failure in Iraq. Not that I was unaware of Afghanistan. Indeed, I've always known that the prime mistake Bush made after 9/11 was driving into Afghanistan.

Even though this isn't appearing until Tuesday, I've tried to limit the stories/links to last Sunday. Some later ones may have crept in -- especially on the Cambridge Analytica story.

Some scattered links this week:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Daily Log

Working draft for a short obituary for the Wichita Eagle:

Kathy Hull, 60, died on March 12, 2018, after having been hit by a car on the WSU campus. She was an artist, writer, dancer, musician, and educator, having worked for 27 years in the Art Department at WSU. She was preceded in death by her parents, and is survived by her son Ram Lama Hull -- a notable artist in his own right -- by her brothers Tom and Steve Hull, and by dear friends, many of whom she considered family. A celebration of her life will be held on March ??, ?:?? pm at First UU, 7202 E 21st St N, Wichita. Memorials to Trust Women.

Wichita Eagle ran an article on Kathy today: Nichole Manna: WSU staff member dies after being hit by car:

Kathy Hull, a visual resources coordinator in Wichita State University's art school, has died after being hit by a car on March 6, according to the university's newspaper, The Sunflower.

Hull's death was announced during a Faculty Senate meeting Monday afternoon.

Graphic design professor Kirsten Johnson said Hull had inoperable bleeding of the brain, the newspaper reported. She was hit by a car while crossing between Wilner Auditorium and McKnight Art Center. The newspaper reported Hull had been in the crosswalk at the time of the collision.

Johnson called for the installation of speed bumps on campus.

Hull worked at the university for 27 years. Her son told The Sunflower that Hull had a leadership role in creating an art exhibit in 2002 called Sacred Spaces. It featured paper cranes, mosaics and painted doorways to represent the five major world religions. He said this was one the highlights of her career.

Joe Kleinsasser, spokesperson for the university, said Tuesday morning that the accident is still under investigation. Once complete, that information will be shared with the district attorney's office.

The driver of the car was a student, he said.

The reporting here was obviously mostly derived from the Sunflower article: Jenna Farhat: Staff member hit by car on WSU campus dies:

A staff member who was hit by a car on Tuesday died this morning.

Kathy Hull, visual resources coordinator in the Wichita State art school, went into cardiac arrest this morning as a result of complications from her injury, according to her son.

Kirsten Johnson, a graphic design professor, announced Hull's death during a Faculty Senate meeting Monday afternoon.

Johnson said Hull suffered from inoperable bleeding of the brain after she was hit by a car at a crosswalk between Wilner Auditorium and McKnight Art Center.

Ram Lama Hull said his mother was receiving respiratory therapy when her heart failed.

"They attempted to keep her alive, but after thirty minutes I was asked to make the decision to keep trying or to let her pass," Ram Lama Hull said in a Facebook message.

"In years prior, she had been very clear about what she'd want me to do in this kind of situation so I honored her wish to be allowed to die.

"She remembered the attempts to keep her own parents alive and didn't want that," Ram Lama Hull said.

While addressing the Faculty Senate, Johnson recalled when a history professor was hit by a car on campus about two years ago. The woman survived but "had to go through major rehab." The incident was cited by campus police as a reason when they began issuing traffic tickets last semester.

"I'm sick and tired of this. This is the second time we've had people hit in the crosswalk," Johnson said.

Johnson called for the installation of speed bumps on campus.

"I've never heard anything from administration," Johnson said. "And now Kathy has died."

Johnson said Kathy Hull worked at WSU for 27 years and helped the art history slide library transition to digital formatting.

"She was liked by the students and also by us (faculty)," Johnson said.

Kathy Hull's son said one of the highlights of his mother's career at WSU was her leadership role in creating an art exhibit in 2002, called Sacred Spaces. The exhibit featured paper cranes, mosaics, and painted doorways representing the five major world religions.

He said his mother loved sacred geometry as an art form.

As I understand it, the Sunflower had an article last week on the accident, but it greatly understated the gravity of Kathy's injury. Ram, who used to work on the Sunflower, protested at the time.

As I understand it, Becky Tanner of the Eagle is writing a longer, more personal obituary article. I know that Ram and Mike, at least, have spoken to her.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29476 [29452] rated (+24), 368 [368] unrated (+0).

Nothing to say about music this week. I woke up last Tuesday to the news that my sister had been struck by a car while walking from the parking lot to her work at Wichita State University. The car was not going especially fast, but knocked her to the ground, and she smashed the back of her skull on the pavement. The skull was cracked, and a CT scan showed multiple brain bleeds. The Wesley Hospital ER stapled the skull together, stabilized her, and put her in the Intensive Care Unit. When we saw her, she was conscious, incoherent, agitated, very frustrated. She developed respiratory problems, which they cleared up (mostly) with a 3-hour bronchoscopy operation. After that, she seemed to be improving, becoming calmer and more coherent, although she had bad periods as well. I never got any meaningful review of her brain scan tests. They were mostly described as "unchanged," and the bleeds were deemed inoperable, so they focused on palliative care. There was much discussion of transferring her to a "brain trauma hospital" in Nebraska, possibly early this week.

Last night, around 4AM, Kathy's heart stopped. This occurred during some form of respiratory therapy. Multiple attempts to revive her failed. A friend was staying overnight at the hospital with her, and tells me that they had "about half the floor in her room" and spent about 30 minutes before giving up. I don't know any more than that. The hospital called her son, Ram, who called me about 4:30 AM. Our brother, Steve, had come to Wichita on Wednesday, and planned on going in early morning. He found out when he woke up, and called me. I couldn't go to sleep, so I picked up and we talked about 7 AM.

I sent email to a couple of people before I went to bed. Ram posted something very brief on Facebook. I shared it, then added my own note. He'll be talking to a funeral director tomorrow, so we'll have a better idea of schedule then. I need to call some people, and to catch up with Ram and Steve, but in my current daze I figured I'd knock this out and get it out of the way. I've had a miserable week, with my own problems as well as this. Feeling shocked and helpless now.

New records rated this week:

  • Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra: Live at the Bird's Eye (2012 [2017], self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nubya Garcia: Nubya's 5ive (2017, Jazz Re:freshed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peter Kuhn: Dependent Origination (2016 [2017], FMR): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Peter Kuhn Trio: Intention (2017 [2018], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • Emma-Jean Thackray's Walrus: Walrus EP (2017, Deptford Beach, EP): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Free Spirits Featuring John McLaughlin: Tokyo Live (1993 [1994], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Christof Lauer: Christof Lauer (1989, CMP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Christof Lauer/Wolfgang Puschnig/Bob Stewart/Thomas Alkier: Bluebells (1992, CMP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Christof Lauer: Fragile Network (1998 [1999], ACT): [r]: B+(***)
  • Christof Lauer/NDR Big Band: Christof Lauer & NDR Big Band Play Sidney Bechet: Petite Fleur (2013 [2014], ACT): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra: Between Nothingness & Eternity (1973, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra: Apocalypse (1974, Columbia): [r]: C+
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra: Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1974 [1975], Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra/John McLaughlin: Inner Worlds (1975 [1976], Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Joe Maneri Quartet: Dahabenzapple (1993 [1996], Hat Art): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Maneri Quartet: In Full Cry (1996 [1997], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe Maneri/Mat Maneri: Blessed (1997 [1998], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Maneri Trio: The Trio Concerts (1997-98 [2001], Leo, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • John McLaughlin: Devotion (1970, Douglas): [r]: B+(**)
  • John McLaughlin: The Heart of Things (1997, Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • John McLaughlin/Zakir Hussain/T.H. "Vikkur" Vinayakram/Hariprasad Chaurasia: Remember Shakti (1997 [1999], Verve, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Shakti/John McLaughlin: Shakti With John McLaughlin (1975 [1976], Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Shakti With John McLaughlin: Natural Elements (1977, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Shakti With John McLaughlin: A Handful of Beauty (1976 [1977], Columbia): [r]: B+(***)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Didn't mean to write much this weekend. Just figured I'd go through the motions, starting with the usual Yglesias links, to have something for future reference, and to check how the update mechanism works on the transplanted website. Guess I got a little carried away.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that really mattered this week: Trump slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum; Gary Cohn says he's quitting: the top White House economic adviser, formerly of Goldman Sachs; Trump will (maybe) do a summit with Kim Jong Un; Red-state teachers are getting angry: in West Virginia, most obviously, with Oklahoma and Arizona in the wings. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Globalists, explained: Evidently, some people view "globalist" as an anti-semitic term. Today's example: Trump describing the departing Gary Cohn as a "globalist." An older term is "cosmopolitan," although I've found the German more interesting: "weltbürgerlich" -- citizen of the world. Such allusions seem to be endemic with the alt-right, even more so with Trump, but I'm not sure that it's useful at all to dwell on them. Nearly everything that Trump and his ilk say that can be read as anti-semitic is also wrong for other reasons, and people miss that when they get hung up on anti-semitic stereotypes. One word that doesn't appear here is "neoliberal," which is actually a better description of Cohn -- including Cohn's differences from the Trumpian nationalists -- but doesn't seem to be part of their vocabulary.

    • The real danger to the US economy in Trump's trade policy: "It's not the tariffs; it's what happens next.".

    • The DCCC should chill out and do less to try to pick Democrats' nominees: "There's very little evidence that "electable" moderates do better."

    • Trump's trade demand to China is pathetically small: "The US-China trade deficit rose $28 billion last year. Trump is asking for a $1 billion cut." Actually, that understates the plan, as The actual trade deficit is $375.2 billion -- "a drop in the bucket." Moreover, the plan is just an ask: "Trump is asking the Chinese to find a way to cut it by less than 0.27 percent but acting like he's a tough guy."

    • Cory Booker's new Workers Dividend Act, explained: "A Bloomberg analysis shows that of America's $54 billion corporate tax windfall, so far $21.1 billion has been kicked to shareholders in the form of 'buybacks,' almost twice as much as has gone to employees in higher compensation and far more than has been spent on capital investments or research and development." Booker's bill seeks to rebalance that by giving people who work for companies that do stock buybacks a piece of the profit. That's nice for them, but doesn't help anyone else. It is, at best, a tiny step toward equality, piggybacked on a larger step in the opposite direction.

    • The 17 Democrats selling out on bank regulation is worse than it looks. I don't see a list or a vote total, so I'm not sure just who he's blaming, but the bill in question is the Republicans' gift to the industry that sunk the economy in 2008, a more/less significant rollback of the relatively feeble reform package known as Dodd-Frank. For more on the bill, see: Emily Stewart: The bank deregulation bill in the Senate, explained; also Ross Barkan: The rich and the right want to dynamite Dodd-Frank -- and Democrats are helping them do it:

      It's worth considering when bipartisanship can still exist in this deeply polarizing moment. It cannot live where there is a growing national consensus, as over the severity of climate change or the scourge of mass shootings.

      It cannot live in any kind of economic matter that benefits the working class or the poor, even after Donald Trump managed to shred rightwing economic orthodoxies on his way to the presidency -- never mind that he's governing like a Koch brothers pawn.

      Democrats and Republicans can only come together to feather the nests of the rich and powerful. Weakening Dodd-Frank confirms the worst suspicions of any cynical voter -- that the political class really is colluding to screw them over.

    • Trump's tariffs are a scary look at what happens when he actually tries to govern: Good point, but I certainly wouldn't go this far:

      The Trump era has, so far, gone better than anyone had any right to expect. It's true that as problems arise -- flu, drug overdoses, Hurricane Maria, school shootings -- Trump invariably fails to rise to the occasion. And, from time to time, he for no good reason opts to pour salt in America's racial wounds. His immigration policies are making us poorer and meaner, while his health care and tax policies make our economy more unequal.

      But on a day-to-day basis, life goes on.

      Despite the frightening concentration of incompetence in the West Wing, many critical posts -- most of all at the Departments of Defense and Treasury and the Federal Reserve -- appear to be in the hands of basically capable people. Trump's habit of relentlessly deferring to GOP congressional leadership on policy issues is disappointing if you were a true believer in Trumpism, but sort of vaguely reassuring if you found the idea of installing a narcissistic rage-holic in the Oval Office alarming.

      I'd submit that there's a lot more on the negative side of the ledger, and little if anything on the positive. I'll also stipulate that most folks won't understand the negative side until it comes crashing down on them like a ton of bricks, but the number of people who this has happened to already is non-trivial (especially immigrants of various degrees, and most people in Puerto Rico). Policies by their very nature have slow triggers, but that doesn't mean that today's decisions won't catch up with us sooner or later. And while it's true that some of Trump's administrators don't seem to be competent enough to destroy departments they loathe -- Rich Perry, Ben Carson, Betsy De Vos -- others are more than capable -- Ryan Zinke at Interior, Scott Pruitt at EPA, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. That Mattis and Mnuchin lack the same streak of nihilism has more to do with the usefulness of their departments to rich donors than relative sanity.

  • James K Galbraith: Trump's steel tariffs are mere political theater: Points out something I haven't seen noted elsewhere: similar tariffs have been implemented twice before, first under Reagan and again by GW Bush. Neither had any real effect, least of all on rebuilding the American steel industry. Nor did they generate much controversy, as they were mere "political theater" by politicians who were otherwise reliable neoliberals. If Trump's generating more controversy, that's probably because he's ideologically less trustworthy -- not that he actually understands or believes in anything.

  • Jeff Goodell: Welcome to the Age of Climate Migration: "Extreme weather due to climate change displaced more than a million people from their homes last year. It could soon reshape the nation." Key takeaway here: it's already happening, and it's measurable.

  • Jane Mayer: Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier. Long piece, dovetails with and expands upon what I know about the various Russia scandals.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Running for the White House Exits: Who Would Want to Work for President Trump Anyway?

  • Matt Shuman: At Political Rally, Trump Repeats Call to Give Drug Dealers the Death Penalty: Disturbing on many levels, partly because his ego seems to require the periodic stoking, partly because he clearly figures that what would appeal most to his base is public blood-letting. Curious, too, that he actually cites China as his authority on how effective the death penalty is at stopping drug traffic. (Of course, he could just as well have cited the Philippines' Duterte, who like trump believes "act first, due process later.")

  • Matt Taibbi: Trump Is a Dangerous Idiot. So Why Are We Pushing Him Toward War? Provides many examples of people with serious foreign policy credentials (i.e., a track record of having been wrong many times in the past) doing just that: two that especially stick in my crawl are David Ignatius and Kenneth Pollack ("of the American Enterprise Institute").

    Meanwhile, in the States, the only thing about Donald Trump that any sane person ever had to be grateful for was that he entered the White House claiming to be isolationist and war-averse. That soon proved to be a lie like almost everything else about his campaign, but Jesus, do we have to help this clown down the road toward General Trump fantasies?

    We have the dumbest, least competent White House in history. Whatever else anyone in America has as a goal for Trump's remaining time in office, the single most important priority must to be keeping this guy away from the nuclear button. Almost anything else would be survivable.

    Which is why it makes no sense to be taunting Trump and basically calling him a wuss for negotiating with Kim Jong Un or being insufficiently aggressive in Syria.

    To get a glimpse of what passes for thinking in Pollack's brain, take a look at his Learning From Israel's Political Assassination Program, a review of Ronen Bergman's huge (753 pp.) book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations. Israel has undertaken such "targeted killings" throughout its history, but the rate (and indifference to "collateral damage") increased dramatically after 2001. The US has followed suit:

    There have been many who have objected, claiming that the killings inspire more attacks on the United States, complicate our diplomacy and undermine our moral authority in the world. Yet the targeted killings drone on with no end in sight. Just counting the campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Bush administration conducted at least 47 targeted killings by drones, while under the Obama administration that number rose to 542.

    America's difficult relationship with targeted killing and the dilemmas we may face in the future are beautifully illuminated by the longer story of Israel's experiences with assassination in its own endless war against terrorism. Israel has always been just a bit farther down this slippery slope than the United States. If we're willing, we can learn where the bumps are along the way by watching the Israelis careening ahead of us.

    Pollack admits that "targeted killings" are a mere tactic in the larger effort to suppress terrorism, and that there's no reason to think they're particularly effective. He goes on to blather a lot about COIN theory, without recognizing that Israel has never been in the least interested in "winning hearts and minds." Israel's sole goal, at least since Independence and arguably a good deal earlier, has been to establish an ethnocracy and maintain it by overwhelming force. They understand that they cannot convince Palestinians to agree to a debased and subservient status, but they persist in believing that they can maintain their two-tier society by imposing domination and terror.

    Pollack does fault Israel for being unwilling to accept the "land-for-peace" option to actually resolve the conflict, but he fails to understand why. For "land-for-peace" to work, two things have to happen: the reason Israel might be willing to give up land is to rid itself of Palestinians, thus ensuring a stronger Jewish majority; having secured demographic dominance, Israel could then afford to offer its remaining Palestinians equal rights, ending the conflict. It is this latter point, equality, that Israelis cannot abide. They would rather endure perpetual conflict than to give up their superiority.

    I doubt Bergman's book reveals much "secret history." Israel has been bragging about their assassination program for many years, and now that the US is wrapped up in its own murderous program, they must feel little public relations risk. On the other hand, the US does at least go through the motions of presenting itself as "a beacon of freedom and justice" -- a stance which is instantly discredited by its murder program (not that many people outside America still believed it). For a better review of Rise and Kill First, see: "Rise and Kill First" Explores the Corrupting Effects of Israel's Assassination Program.

    Taibbi also wrote The New Blacklist: "Russiagate may have been aimed at Trump to start, but it's become a way of targeting all dissent." He notes the existence of an outfit named Hamilton 68, which tracks everything that seems to be approved by Russia's propagandists (especially through their bots), on the theory that whatever Russia promotes should be opposed. "In fact, unless you're a Hillary Clinton Democrat, you've probably been portrayed as having somehow been in on it, at one time or another."

  • Peter Van Buren: What critics of North Korea summit get wrong: Well, first he disposes of the idea that simply meeting confers legitimacy on North Korea. He also makes a plausible case for starting the diplomatic process with a photo-op of the leaders in general agreement. He doesn't delve into the fact that the shakier of the leaders is Trump, both due to his massive ignorance and his relatively weak grasp on America's military and security establishments -- the clearest evidence there is how cheerfully he concedes policy direction to the generals (e.g., in Afghanistan).

  • Alex Ward: The past 24 hours in Trump scandals, explained: Seems less like a headline than a feature column that could be rewritten each day. This particular one came out on Thursday, March 8, and covers Trump being sued by porn star Stormy Daniels, and Erik Prince lying about meeting Russians in the Seychelles to discuss setting up a back channel between Trump and Putin, and Trump attempting to influence people Mueller has interviewed in the Russia probe. Tomorrow, and next week, and next month, you'll get a slightly different list of scandals, but as long as the media limits them to things Trump actually knows and does, they'll most likely stay at this trivial level. The real scandals go much deeper, but unless Trump tweets about them, how will White House reporters know?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Daily Log

Every Monday I knock out a Music Week post, with a list of the week's rated records, an unpacking list, and an intro of some sort. I've been feeling especially miserable for a week or more -- a persistent upper back ache, and chronic itching over much of my body, with an odd tingle on the margin between the two complaints -- so I cut my intro short. But when I went to post it, along with the usual website update, I found I couldn't access the server. In fact, the website had vanished.

I've had intimations this might happen. I've used the virtual server at since SCO shut down their original OCSTON server -- probably 2001. I've had occasional problems with the server company, where the MySQL server would hang up, or I'd run out of disk space. Around 2005 I started a blog using the Serendipity software, which was built on the MySQL database engine. At one point blog performance got so bad I created a flat file cache of recent posts, something I called my "faux blog." At one point Addr shut me down due to a virus infection in the blog. I managed to repair that and get them to allow me back in. They were never very responsive or supportive, but I managed to hobble along. And in one important respect, I was stuck with them: at some point the blog grew too large to get a proper database dump, so I lost my ability to move it easily.

Last year, when I ran into disk space problems, I found that their support mechanisms -- everything from phone to chat to web forms -- had stopped working. For all practical purposes, there was no one on their end, although the servers remained up and accessible, and they kept billing me. That finally broke on Monday. I suppose it's possible they may get rebooted, but that's starting to look unlikely.

So I went to bed Monday realizing that I would have to rebuild my website somewhere else. The obvious choice for elsewhere is the dedicated server I lease from Hosting & Designs, even though I can't say as I'm any happier with their service than I've been with Addr. I host 6-8 websites on that server, and it's fair to say it's underutilized. Also fair to say I'm not very adept at managing it. In particular, I've put off doing a necessary software update for many months now. I'll need to do that and some general maintenance before I get too involved in adding my website. I'll need either to set up a new account or figure out how to hang a new domain/website under an existing one. I'll have to archive all the flat files on my local machine and transplant them to the server. And I'll have to change the registrar nameserver records as well as my own DNS.

And that still leaves open the question of what to do about the blog. There's no easy way to rebuild that, especially since I haven't been able to get a valid dump for many years. Given those difficulties, I wonder whether it makes sense to continue using Serendipity. I've been using WordPress on all of my current server accounts, so that's the direction I've been leaning in -- just haven't made the jump for my own blog, not least because it's so much larger. Perhaps the best way would be to start a new blog going forward, while going back and trying to restore as many old blog pages as possible using "faux blog" flat files. As I recall, that would come to about 2300 pages, but obviously I don't need them all operational to start.

Anyhow, when I went to bed Monday night, those were thoughts running through my head -- not that I was looking forward to following them. Then I got up Tuesday a little after noon to find out that my sister had been hit by a car and rushed to the hospital. We had very little information at first, finally resolving to go to the hospital and find out what we could. By the time we left, we heard that Kathy was stable and in intensive care at Wesley, and that her son Ram was there.

When we got there, we found out that Kathy had been walking across the street between the parking lot and her job at the Wichita State University art department when she was struck by a car moving about 15 mph. The car knocked her down, and she hit the back of her head hard on the pavement, cracking the skull in at least two places, and causing internal bleeding. At hospital, they stapled the skull back together, and did a CT scan to measure the bleeding. They determined that she had no other fractures, but she had abrasions and they put her in a neck brace. They then moved her to the surgical ICU, where we found her. She was mostly conscious but sometimes incoherent. She had trouble breathing throughout the time I spent with her, and was clearly agitated and uncomfortable, and probably in pain. They didn't give her anything for the pain, as they wanted to be able to assess her cognitive state. They scheduled a second CT scan for 12 hours after the first. I left about that time, so don't know what that scan showed.

   Mar 2001