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Monday, October 18, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, October archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 47 albums, 13 (or 14) A-list, mostly old records (again), with some comments on method and madness.

Music: Current count 36480 [36433] rated (+47), 159 [188] unrated (-29).

Picked up a couple new (and one old) music tips from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide: October 2021. I can note that I previously reviewed both Dave albums, Homeboy Sandman's Anjelitu, and Kalie Shorr's I got Here by Accident, all four at A-. Also Baloji at B+(***). While I had missed this particular Howlin' Wolf edition, the same 20 songs are also available in the same order on The Definitive Collection (released 2007), previously graded A+. It's depressing to compare the pitiful one below to the one I wrote back then:

Howlin' Wolf: The Definitive Collection (1951-64 [2007], Geffen/Chess): "Hidden Charms" was just a song, one about his girl. Chester Burnett had nothing to hide except his name. He was a big man, "three hundred pounds of heavenly joy," "built for comfort, not for speed." And he was bold. His voice sounded like gravel, but he could sing with it as well as bark, growl, and howl. He may not have been a great guitarist, but Hubert Sumlin was -- when Buddy Guy joined the band he played bass. Despite his mass, he had a light touch, an uncanny rhythmic cadence that dropped the words gracefully into place. Chess helped, too. Coming up from Memphis he was howlin' at midnight; soon he was sittin' on top of the world. A+

Otherwise, last week was like the week before, except even more depressing. Going through a sad, miserable patch, but at least I do take a little pleasure in crossing previously unplayed CDs off my "unrated" list -- at least as I cross them off my list, especially ones I didn't much enjoy listening to. Still, two of those records made the A-list this time (Ian Dury, Bert Williams). The other "old music" records -- most of the ones not marked [cd] -- continued my scan through the unheard Christgau-graded albums list, starting with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, up to Dwight Yoakam this week. Deep down in the alphabet there, but still only 73% through (lot of various artist compilations to follow). Also, I'm aware of a few records I skipped that I can find on Napster or YouTube (shit I've really been avoiding -- Robert Cray is the name I'm most conscious of, probably because there's like three albums by him).

By the way, I don't seriously believe that anyone needs all three Cleanhead A- albums this week. I think he's terrific, but damn little difference between them, and any one will give you a good sample. (I probably prefer Clean Head's Back in Town.) By the way, he's also on two somewhat more varied records I'm also a fan of: Cleanhead and Cannonball, as in Adderley, and Blues in the Night Volume 2: The Late Show, filed under Etta James, and marginally better than Volume 1: The Early Show.

I wound up showing covers of two albums not reviewed below. The alternate Howlin' Wolf is really the same record, and when I looked up the review (above), I found I already had the cover scan handy. The Double Dee & Steinski EP didn't actually have a cover: it was just a sleeve with the label showing through, not that you'd ever find a copy anyway. The pictured Steinski comp starts off with those three pieces, then adds two more hours of brilliance. It's a desert island disc (well, two).

Reviewing old compilations always presents maddening, perhaps even impossible, trade-off questions between multiple editions. When I pointed out the Howlin' Wolf equivalence, Robert Christgau left his review unchanged, but tweeted:

To spare myself an insane amount of discographical nitpicking, I chose to base this week's Howlin' Wolf pick solely on what was in my shelves. But note that indefatigably punctilious Tom Hull has determined that Chess's 2007 Wolf Definitive Collection is identical to His Best.

Punctilious as I am, I also work mostly from my own shelves, plus a few things that are readily streamable. So sometimes I pull obsolete (out-of-print) compilations off my shelf. Since I've been checking up on old Christgau grades, I look for the releases he reviewed, even if they are long out-of-print, superseded by more recent editions -- even if that requires assembling an approximate playlist. That doesn't seem like ideal consumer guidance, but some kind of compromise is necessary. One odd artifact this week is that I've ignored the 2004 release dates on my Jethro Tull reissues in favor of their original dates, since that seems like a better baseline. I own a copy of A + Slipstream, but since the latter is just a live DVD, I limited the review to A. On the other hand, it's possible that on occasion I devalue an old LP compilation in favor of later CDs. That's likely with Don Williams below, as I at least partly explain in the review.

The Ezz-Thetics reissues continue to bug me. After I reviewed four a couple weeks ago, a reader pointed out that the series is curated with great care, with detailed liner notes from reputable critics. I review two more below, and find them slightly more useful than the original releases. I will get to more later.

I had to make my own scan of the Bert Williams, a release that seems to have escaped notice on the Internet. Archeophone's three volumes are probably the preferred source, not least for sound quality, but my single disc fills the bill nicely. I didn't write it as such, but that final trio of A-list albums (Williams, Betty Wright, Yo Yo) says much about the trajectory of race in America (and you can fill in a few gaps with Wynonie Harris, Howlin' Wolf, Cleanhead Vinson, and Marion Brown. Bought a new HP all-in-one printer in hopes of doing some scanning with it, but hadn't tried it, and it turned out xsane couldn't work with it. Very unhappy about that, and I blame HP -- for business tactics I hitherto mostly associated with Apple.

Started reading Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future -- the first novel I've tackled in close to 20 years. I've long said that when I finally get so disgusted with the world I give up, I'm going to give up and switch to fiction. I'm not sure if that's what this signals. For one thing, it's been touted as a superb wonk book. I've been writing a bit on annotation for a KSR article in Financial Times (paywalled, but I secured a samizdat copy). I'm despairing of getting it into publishable shape, but we're not so very far apart: he's both more pessimistic (maybe I mean panicky) and more optimistic (a faith in geoengineering I'm not convinced of), but we share common ground in believing that survival depends on fundamental changes in attitudes and beliefs, especially toward each other.

That would be difficult in any case, but the degree of stupidity and vileness exhibited lately on the US right is mind boggling. I haven't written a Speaking of Which in nearly a month in large part because words seem so insufficient. Another problem, by the way, is that my sources have been drying up, increasingly blockaded by paywalls. Latest seems to be Politico. I've never put much stock in them, but occasionally issues are so obvious they break through their studied bipartisanship. I don't see how an informed electorate is possible when everything's pay-to-play.

This week is countdown to my 71st birthday. I usually make a big dinner, and a month ago was looking forward to this one. As of today, I have no fucking idea what I'm going to do. (Well, the minimum is probably cake.) Have some other projects around the house to work on, so might be a good time to take a break from the usual grind.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Thomas Anderson: Ladies and Germs (2021, Out There): [r]: A-
  • Mickey Guyton: Remember My Name (2021, Capitol): [r]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Albert Ayler Quintet: 1966: Berlin, Lorrach, Paris & Stockholm. Revisited (1966 [2021], Ezz-Thetics, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Marion Brown: Capricorn Moon to Juba Lee Revisited (1965-66 [2019], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: A-

Old music:

  • Keola Beamer: Wooden Boat (1994, Dancing Cat): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bingo: Songs for Children in English With Brazilian and Caribbean Rhythms (2005, Soundbrush): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Contemporary Piano Ensemble: The Key Players (1993, DIW/Columbia): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Don Dixon: Chi-Town Budget Show (1988, Restless): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Double Dee & Steinski: The Payoff Mix/Lesson Two/Lesson 3 (1985, Tommy Boy, EP): [r]: A
  • Ian Dury & the Blockheads: Live! All the Best, Mate (1990 [2000], Music Club): [cd]: A-
  • Shirley Eikhard: The Last Hurrah (2000, Shirley Eikhard Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Shirley Eikhard: End of the Day (2001, Shirley Eikhard Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Shirley Eikhard: Stay Open (2002-03 [2003], Shirley Eikhard Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Dan Fogelberg: The Essential Dan Fogelberg (1973-90 [2003], Epic/Legacy): [cd]: C+
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] ([2008], Verve Forecast): [cd]: B
  • Gimme Indie Rock V. 1 (1984-99 [2000], K-Tel, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Golden Gate Quartet: Travelin' Shoes (1937-39 [1992], Bluebird/RCA): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Barry Harris: Live at Maybeck Recital Hall Volume Twelve (1990 [1991], Concord): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Wynonie Harris: Rockin' the Blues (1944-50 [2001], Proper, 4CD): [cd]: A-
  • Tish Hinojosa: Dreaming of the Labyrinth/Soñar del Laberinto (1996, Warner Brothers): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Robin Holcomb: Robin Holcomb (1990, Elektra): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Howlin' Wolf: His Best (1951-64 [1997], MCA/Chess): [r]: A+
  • Ella Jenkins: Little Johnny Brown (1971 [2001], Smithsonian/Folkways): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jethro Tull: Live: Busting Out (1978 [2004], Chrysalis, 2CD): [cd]: B-
  • Jethro Tull: Stormwatch (1979, Chrysalis): [cd]: C+
  • Jethro Tull: A (1980, Chrysalis): [cd]: C+
  • George Jones: The Definitive Collection 1955-1962 (1955-62 [2004], Mercury/Chronicles): [r]: A
  • Kartet: The Bay Window (2006 [2007], Songlines): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Alan Morse: Four O'Clock and Hysteria (2007, Inside Out Music): [cd]: B
  • Genesis P-Orridge & Astrid Monroe: When I Was Young (2001 [2004], Important): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mike Rizzo: Webster Hall's New York Dance CD v.6 (2003, Webster Hall NYC): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Daryl Stuermer: Go (2007, Inside Out Music): [cdr]: B-
  • Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind (1996, Young God/Atavistic, 2CD): [cd]: B
  • UTD [Urban Thermo Dynamics: DCQ/Ces/Mos Def]: Manifest Destiny (2004, Illson Media): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson: Clean Head's Back in Town (1957, Bethlehem): [r]: A-
  • Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson: The Original Cleanhead (1970, BluesTime): [r]: A-
  • Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson: Kidney Stew [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1969-78 [1996], Black & Blue): [r]: A-
  • Bert Williams: "It's Getting So You Can't Trust Nobody": The Songs of Bert Williams Volume One (1901-22 [199X], Vaudeville Archive): [cd]: A-
  • Don Williams: The Best of Don Williams, Volume II (1975-78 [1979], MCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Womack: Greatest Hits (1972-89 [1999], Capitol): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Stevie Wonder: Original Musiquarium I (1971-82 [1982], Motown, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stevie Wonder: In Square Circle (1985, Tamla): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stevie Wonder: Jungle Fever (1991, Motown): [r]: B+(**)
  • Betty Wright: Danger High Voltage (1974, Alston): [r]: A-
  • Betty Wright: Live (1978, Alston): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yo Yo: You Better Ask Somebody (1993, EastWest): [yt]: A-
  • Dwight Yoakam: Just Lookin' for a Hit (1986-89 [1989], Reprise): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: Poof (2021, Pi): [r]: [2/5]: +

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Leon: Aire De Agua (Out of Your Head) [08-27]

Daily Log

Saw this meme on Facebook:

The price of gasoline consists of four factors: taxes, distribution and marketing, the cost of refining, and crude oil prices -- which are not determined by the president.

Joni Bradley added: "Let us quit blaming Biden for all kinds of things." I suppose if I really thought about it, I could find something to fault Biden for, but reading the crap spewed out by Republicans, I simply don't feel like it. Still, the meme failed to understand many basic tenets of business and economics, so I took a stab at correcting the record:

The price of gasoline is determined by demand and supply. When supply is constricted (by OPEC quotas, by wars and sanctions, by hurricanes and other disasters, by depletion of existing fields, by transportation snafus as seems to be the case in the UK recently), prices rise. When demand drops (most dramatically by recessions, but longer-term by the switch to electric cars), prices drop. Your first three cost factors are relatively fixed (although taxes vary a lot by region; Europe has taxed gasoline heavily at least since the 1950s, which is why European cars have always been much more fuel-efficient than American cars), so price volatility gets pushed back to crude oil prices (which is where the real windfall profits reside). Politicians can affect both supply and demand sides, but mostly indirectly. (There are some exceptions, such as filling up and drawing down the US Strategic Reserve. Taxes is another way in theory, but aside from California there have been no significant tax changes in decades.) Bush and Trump drove gasoline prices up through wars and sanctions (Trump less so because under Obama the US became a net exporter for the first time since 1969, and because demand was already slacking), only to see prices collapse when both ended in major recessions. Gasoline prices have been rising under Biden because the economy is recovering. That's actually good news. And while recovery was likely to happen in any case, having a sane and responsible person as president must be counted a plus.

Many more tangents on this I could have wandered off on.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, October archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 63 albums, 9 A-list, hardly anything new this week, just lots of old stuff, including CDs I bought 20 years ago and am only now getting to (some are actually pretty good).

Music: Current count 36433 [36370] rated (+63), 188 [203] unrated (-15).

Almost no new jazz (or new anything else) this week. I continued with the Christgau unheard list, moving from B.B. King to Merle Travis, although I couldn't find most of the A-list records in the bottom half of that list. (This is my second pass, and while I skipped a lot of A-N albums in the first pass, I had made a more diligent effort further down.) Note that 4 of this week's A-list items are albums I didn't buy because I had previously heard/rated most of the music from other editions (Fela, Lovin' Spoonful, Roy Orbison, Merle Travis). I've noted some of those other editions below.

The other thing I did last week was to rifle through a shelf unit which (at least originally) had old CDs from my unheard list, and played what looks like a random selection. I had bought a ton of CDs early in the 2000s, especially in "going out of business" sales, and many of them languished. I've been keeping track of "unheard albums" since 2003, when the total was over 900. Eventually I got it down to the low 200s, but as I've streamed more, I've scrounged less, and I was getting frustrated at my inability to drop the unrated number below 200. Well, I made a dent in that list this week. To my surprise, three of those albums made this week's A-list, in very different ways (folksinger Ewan MacColl, Mardi Gras Party, and a hip-hop mix). The remaining unrated albums are listed here. Where they are in the house is anyone's guess, but I figure this is at least in part a housekeeping task.

One excuse I have is that the new promo queue has shrunk to the point where I only have one album past its release date (and that was one I received last week, by a group I had never heard of). That doesn't count downloads, which I don't keep very good track of. Actually got a fair amount of unpacking last week, mostly into November. I'll do them when I get around to it. Things are pretty messy right now.

Wichita suffered a catastrophe last week: the city water system broke down, leading to a "boil water alert." The pumps were shut down by an electrical failure. Then when they started up again, the restored pressure broke a 42-inch main a couple miles east of us, flooding streets and dropping pressure again. We spent a few days working around the various restrictions and warnings, thinking about how critical it is to have a safe, reliable source of water. And contemplating how callous and stupid Republicans (and a couple Democrats) are in their opposition to sorely needed infrastructure investments.

Wichita (and most of Kansas) set a record high temperature on Saturday. I've set up a fairly fancy weather station here, so we're keeping a close watch. Got 1.55 inches of rain yesterday. We've generally been pretty lucky this year: hot but not exceptionally so, a bit drier than usual but not quite enough to call it a drought, and the jet stream has been well to the north, so we haven't seen much smoke from the fires out west.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Jü: III (2021, RareNoise): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jo Berger Myhre: Unheimlich Manoeuvre (2021, RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets: Walkabout (2013-19 [2020], Yep Roc): [r]: B

Old music:

  • Fela and Afrika 70: Zombie (1976 [1977], M.I.L. Multimedia): [r]: A-
  • Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 1: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardships (1924-37 [1998], Yazoo): [r]: A-
  • B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King (1969-71 [1973], ABC): [yt]: B+(***)
  • B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King (1967-85 [1999], MCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • B.B. King: Blues Summit (1993, MCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • B.B. King: His Definitive Greatest Hits (1963-93 [1999], Polygram): [r]: A-
  • B.B. King: Deuces Wild (1997, MCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • B.B. King: Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan (1999, Geffen): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ali Hassan Kuban: From Nubia to Cairo (1980 [1989], Piranha): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fela Ransome Kuti and His Koola Lobitos: Highlife Jazz and Afro-Soul (1963-1969) (1963-69 [2016], Knitting Factory, 3CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lady Saw: Passion (1997, VP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (1975-85 [1992], Shanachie): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Gift of the Tortoise (1994, Music for Little People): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tony Lakatos/Al Foster/Kirk Lightsey/George Mraz: The News (1994 [1995], Jazzline): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jim Lauderdale: Pretty Close to the Truth (1994, Atlantic): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Linx: Intuition (1981, Chrysalis): [r]: B+(**)
  • Living Things: Ahead of the Lions (2004 [2005], Jive/Zomba): [r]: B+(***)
  • Love: Da Capo (1967, Elektra): [r]: B+(***)
  • Love: Four Sail (1969, Elektra): [r]: B+(**)
  • Love: Out There (1969, Blue Thumb): [r]: B-
  • Love: False Start (1970, Blue Thumb): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Lovin' Spoonful: Greatest Hits (1965-68 [2000], Buddha): [r]: A-
  • Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit: The Rose of England (1985, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nick Lowe: Untouched Takeaway (1995-2000 [2004], Yep Roc): [r]: B
  • Luna: Slide (1993, Elektra, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: Nuthin' Fancy (1975, MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gimme Back My Bullets (1976, MCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: One More From the Road (1976, MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors (1977, MCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gold & Platinum (1972-77 [1979], MCA, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yo-Yo Ma: Classic Yo-Yo (1992-2001 [2001], Sony Classical): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ewan MacColl: Black and White: The Definitive Collection (1972-86 [1990], Green Linnet): [cd]: A-
  • Mardi Gras Party (1971-90 [1991], Rounder): [cd]: A-
  • The Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar: Apocalypse Across the Sky (1992, Axiom): [r]: B+(***)
  • Johnny Mathis: The Ultimate Hits Collection (1956-86 [1998], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Moby Grape: Moby Grape (1967, Columbia): [yt]: B+(**)
  • Moby Grape: Wow (1968, Columbia): [yt]: C+
  • Moby Grape: Moby Grape '69 (1969, Columbia): [yt]: B-
  • M.O.P.: Handle Ur Bizness (1997, Relativity): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bill Morrissey: North (1986, Philo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bill Morrissey: Bill Morrissey (1991, Philo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bill Morrissey & Greg Brown: Friend of Mind (1993, Philo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pablo Moses: I Love I Bring (1975 [1978], United Artists): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Motörhead: No Remorse (1979-84 [1984], Bronze): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Walter Norris Quartet: Sunburst (1991, Concord): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Roy Orbison: 16 Biggest Hits (1960-64 [1999], Monument/Legacy): [r]: A
  • Annette Peacock: I Have No Feelings (1986, Ironic): [yt]: B-
  • Annette Peacock: An Acrobat's Heart (2000, ECM): [r]: B
  • Ken Peplowski: The Other Portrait (1996, Concord): [cd]: B
  • Ralph Peterson Quintet: Art (1992 [1994], Blue Note): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Prodigy Present: The Dirtchamber Sessions: Volume One (1998 [1999], XL): [cd]: A-
  • Dr. Krishna Raghavendra: RARE Pulse (2001, GEMA): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Remember Shakti [John McLaughlin/Zakir Hussain/U. Shrinivas/V. Selvaganesh]: The Believer (1999 [2000], Verve): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Remember Shakti: Saturday Night in Bombay (2000 [2001], Verve): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Rogers: The Complete Chess Recordings (1950-59 [1997], MCA, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nate Ruth: Whatever It Meant (2002, Soundless): [cd]: B
  • Jeremy Steig/Eddie Gomez: Outlaws (1976 [1977], Enja): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Swayzak: Himawari (2000, Medicine): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Swayzak: Dirty Dancing (2002, !K7): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Train Don't Leave Me: Recorded Live at the 1st Annual Sacred Steel Convention (2000 [2001], Arhoolie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Merle Travis: Sweet Temptation: The Best of Merle Travis (1946-1953) (1946-53 [2000], Razor & Tie): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sylvie Courvoisier/Mary Halvorson: Searching for the Disappeared Hour (Pyroclastic) [10-29]
  • Adam Forkelid: 1st Movement (Prophone) [10-09]
  • Jazz Daddies: Moontower Nights (self-released) [09-06]
  • Karen Marguth: Until (OA2) [10-15]
  • Cameron Mizell & Charlie Rauh: Local Folklore (Destiny) [10-29]
  • John Moulder: Metamorphosis (Origin) [10-15]
  • Randy Napoleon: Rust Belt Roots: Randy Napoleon Plays Wes Montgomery, Grand Green & Kenny Burrell (OA2) [10-15]
  • Jacob Schulman: Connectedness (Endectomorph Music) [11-14]

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Daily Log

Robert Christgau, in his review of Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, The Ministry for the Future, refers to an essay by KSR published in Financial Times. The piece is behind a severe paywall, but I wangled a copy, and thought I would offer a partial annotation (which should be fair use). It reads more like lecture notes than an essay. I thought I'd pull some quotes (in bold below) out, then add my comments.

What does it feel like to live on the brink of a vast historical change? It feels like now.

We've been living in the midst of vast historical change for about 150 years now, so you'd think we'd be getting used to it by now. The main developments are technological. Starting around 1870, accelerating dramatically around 1900, and more sporadically every 20-30 years since, the main innovations were:

  • Oil, a vast and portable store of energy, which made it possible for people to do previously unimagined quantities of work (something we're constantly reminded of as we measure engines in horsepower).
  • Electricity, a form of energy which can be transmitted instantly, and controlled and focused in infinitesimal amounts.
  • Materials, especially metals, which can be extracted, refined, and machined precisely, and plastics, which can also be built to extraordinary precision.
  • Information, which can be collected at a mind-bogglingly vast level, stored indefinitely, and transferred instantly anywhere.

The effect of these technological changes is that today, unlike 150 years ago, we live in a wholly synthetic world, a bubble of human design, which has given most of us longer, healthier, more comfortable, and better entertained lives than was imaginable just a few generations before. One simple measure of this change is that the number of human beings the Earth can support has increased in this period sixfold (from 1.276 billion in 1870 to 7.753 billion in 2020).

The only comparable degree of change in human history started about 10,000 years ago with agriculture, as humans managed to domesticate a few plants and animals, dedicating land to their cultivation, building water works to nurture them, markets for trade, and armies to defend from marauders (or do some plundering on their own). But that played out over thousands of years: high estimates for world population 10,000 years ago were 5-10 million, growing to 28 million 6,000 years ago (when the first "cradles of civilization" were evident), 72 million 4,000 years ago (with the growth of small regional empires), 188 million 2,000 years ago (with large empires in China and the Mediterranean), 295 million 1,000 years ago, and 461 million 500 years ago (the start of the European conquest).

So, pace KSR, the "vast historical change" has already happened, quite recently and suddenly. The sense that we are "on the brink" may still be real. Great changes are mixed blessings, and it is reasonable to worry that we have not properly accounted for the risks and potential downfalls of the last 150's years of blinding progress. Climate change is the worry on KSR's mind, but it's not the only one.

The first great change (to agriculture) forced humans to adjust in many ways, which took time and was often painful, but happened so long ago we can hardly imagine what life was like as scattered primitive hunter-gatherers. Many of the adjustments dealt with interpersonal relations, which were largely codified through the development of religions (occurring in parallel in the various "cradles of civilization," mostly in the first millennium BCE), and later through civil codes. But there were also ecological crises, ranging from mass extinctions and loss of biodiversity to irrigation failures, plagues, and climate-related crises.

One thing we should have learned from history is that humans are quick to accept the gifts of progress, reluctant to anticipate downsides and side-effects, blind to catastrophic long-term trends, and stubbornly resistant to change (especially to their privileged sense of social order). While the last 150 years of technological progress has profoundly affected virtually everyone, adjustment has proceeded slowly, fitfully if at all. Indeed, we are often stuck trying to understan new information through ideological concepts from earlier eras.

One thing I will note here is that this 150-year spurt of incredible technological progress was built on top of an intellectual revolution that goes back 500 years, past the Enlightenment to the Renaissance, with the rise of secular thought, science, rationality, free speech, civil law, and an economic system which distributed decision-making, allowing self-motivated entrepreneurs to competitively maximize their commercialization of new technologies. The latter has downsides we've been slow to recognize, like putting short-term profits over long-term concerns, increasing inequality, and capturing political power for the protection of its privileged owners.

Humanity now stands on the brink of not just change, but disaster. And because we can see it coming, just as clear as a black storm on the horizon, our attempts to dodge disaster and create a healthy relationship with our only home will bring huge changes in our habits, laws, institutions and technologies. . . . Unlike the people living in the years before the first world war, we won't be sandbagged by catastrophe. The 2020s will not be filled with surprises -- except perhaps at the speed and intensity of the changes coming down. With its atmosphere of dread foreboding, our time more resembles the years preceding the second world war, when everyone lived with a sensation of helplessly sliding down a slippery slope and over a cliff.

Two big topics here. One is the extent to which we understand the coming crisis. The other is how painful those "huge changes in our habits, laws, institutions and technologies" -- indeed, what pains we're willing to accept, either to change or by resisting change.

It certainly is the case that some people understand the way the world works, including the way humans function on Earth, much better now than ever before -- although in this age of specialization, even very smart people have serious blind spots. Still, I wonder whether alarmists (like KSR) focus on climate change not because it's the biggest issue we're facing but because it's so clear and simple -- hence relatively easy to grasp (which, of course, makes one wonder all the more about the deniers). I don't wish to detract from the importance of climate change as an issue, but it's possible that there are other more/less equally important issues, some of which are being neglected because they don't kick you in the teeth like a hurricane, drought, floods, or massive fires.

I also suspect that one reason a lot of people are so concerned about climate change isn't that they understand the science, but instead have this deep-seated romantic notion that pristine nature is perfect (those so inclined would say: "the way God intended"). Recent (as geologists use the term, which is to say for most of the last 18,000 years) climate is one of many the Earth has supported, with others equally viable. Life adapts, and humans are considerably more adpatable than most. So I hate it when I hear people talk about "saving the Earth": it's a reflection of their own self-importance to think that the Earth needs their help; rather, the dire need is to save our peculiar perch on the Earth, not because we cannot adapt to a radically changed Earth -- indeed, we have already changed its surface extensively to suit our purposes -- but because the costs of adaptation are painfully high. This is basically because the synthetic world we've constructed is much more fragile than the natural world we originally evolved into, and because we've stressed that synthetic world by expanding our population to the limits of its carrying capacity.

The second topic can be illustrated by a model. Let's say, we have to negotiate a turn to get from point A to point B. We need to figure out how sharply we can turn, and how fast. The problem is that we have a lot of inertia to overcome: physical, economic, and psychological. That inertia is why even political figures who are committed to the idea of stopping the rise in carbon dioxide levels so often talk about goals for 2030 or 2050 or further out. When KSR talks about changing technologies, he's hoping scientists and engineers will come up with a painless cure, something that will suck the excess heat out of the air.

It's completely unrealistic to think we can ignore that inertia and just suddenly, arbitrarily solve the greenhouse gas problem. On the other hand, if we try to make the change of direction slow and painless, we'll never get to where we need to be. Political systems try to balance off private and public interest groups, but in the right has long disparaged the very idea of a public interest, and the American political system has long been dominated by money interests, especially business (and especially oil).

But historical analogies will take us only so far in understanding our current situation, since we have never before been able to wreck our own means of existence.

That really started with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but that threat was more tangible because they blow up so spectacularly, and more manageable because the number of people with their fingers on the triggers has always been so small. It would be simple to free us from that threat, and it is stupid that we haven't done so. Climate change is harder to visualize, because it works slowly, methodically, via the accumulation of many small, individually innocuous acts. Even so, many people have learned to reflexively blame global warming for increasingly frequent and disastrous weather effects, so the issue is rapidly gaining immediacy -- even if few currently see it as an existential threat.

Scientists coined the name the Anthropocene to signal that this moment in history is unprecedented. There are so many of us, and our technologies are so powerful, and our social systems so heedless of consequences, that our damage to Earth's biosphere has increased with stunning speed.

Until recently, the term anthropocene had a whiff of hubris to it, the suggestion of man's God-given dominion over the Earth. However, the term has quickly spread, signifying not just humanity's effects on the biosphere, but on geostratigraphy itself. If humans were soon wiped off the face of the earth, intelligent visitors would have no trouble identifying the Anthropocene layer in the rocks ("possible markers include microplastics, heavy metals, or the radioactive nuclei left by tests from thermonuclear weapons" -- distinctions which delineate the last 75 years from the rest of the Holocene, hence KSR's "stunning speed").

By the way, what I've been referring to as inertia KSR describes as "immense biological and geophysical momentum." He notes that: "We can't just gather our diplomats and call it off, declare peace with the biosphere." (But we could do that with nuclear weapons. The stumbling block is that key political leaders don't even have that modicum of vision and will.)

Supply chains that we rely on for life itself can be disrupted by hoarding, which is to say by loss of trust in our systems. In the US, it was toilet paper and cleaning supplies -- but if it had been food, then boom: panic, breakdown, famine, the war of all against all. That's how fragile civilisation is; that's how much individuals are forced to trust each other to survive. A prisoner's dilemma indeed, all of us locked together on this one planet. We either hang together or we hang separately: Franklin's law.

Few people had given any thought to supply chains before the pandemic, but the economy crashed on the front edge of the pandemic in 2020 not because lots of people were getting sick, but because early lockdowns broke supply chains, a failure that propagated throughout the world economy faster than the virus did. I'm not especially prescient on these things, but I remember a few years ago an earthquake in Taiwan closed down an industrial park which housed all three of the companies worldwide that made a critical electrical component. Supply chain risk has gotten markedly worse in recent years, as factories have squeezed out extra profits from "just-in-time" parts delivery, and also because the search for bargains has driven less efficient suppliers out of markets, leading to further concentration.

That's only a part of what KSR is getting at, but it's a particularly vivid example of how the relentless search for efficiency, which is driven by demand for higher returns to capital, increases risk and fragility. While I agree that loss of trust is a paramount issue of our times, the problem with supply chains is that we don't distrust suppliers as much as we should (because we're not good at evaluating risk, especially when myopia promises profits).

Another lesson from the pandemic, one we should have known already: science is powerful. We need to learn to put it to better use than we do, but if we were to do that, lots of good things would follow. Aiming science is the work of the humanities and arts, politics and law. We have to decide as a civilisation what tasks are most important for us to take on now.

It's tempting to say: "science got us into this mess, so how can we look to more science to find a way out?" Wouldn't backing up be more prudent? But in simple terms, that would mean forcing 8 billion people to revert to a world that was hard-pressed feeding 1 billion. And food is just one of many blessings of 150 years of staggering technological progress we'd be unwilling to give up -- that we'd be willing to fight and kill each other to protect. So, sure, we have to plow on through, but we can't do it the same ways we've done it in the past. We need to understand that letting the profit motive dictate what gets done, what is available, and to whom, has warped everything with its perverse incentives. And where we can't directly limit the bad side-effects, we need to rig incentives differently.

Most of the rest of KSR's essay is dedicated to tinkering with incentives, but he remains locked in certain conventional ways of thinking.

Monday, October 04, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, October archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 47 albums, 10 A-list, 4/18 new music, 1/4 new compilation, 5/25 old albums (3/7 by Jimi Hendrix), an active week of diving deep into divers artists and niches, plus some thoughts on singles lists, science fiction, the approaching apocalypse.

Music: Current count 36370 [36323] rated (+47), 203 [207] unrated (-4).

Spent much of the week whittling down the unheard Christgau list, this week starting at Grateful Dead and working my way to Jaojoby (B.B. King next, playing now). Took a couple side trips along the way. I was excited to hear that Hat Hut's Ezz-Thetics reissue label has a Bandcamp page, then chagrined to find that many of their "Revisited" sets were purloined from other labels (probably aided by Europe's 50-year copyright limit). Hat was an important label for new jazz from the early 1970s on, so they have a lot of important music in their vaults, but they've always had certain business quirks. Another diversion was Michaelangelo Matos publishing a 2021 top-ten ballot on Facebook, so I checked out the half I hadn't heard (or for that matter heard of). The Matos list also led me to find a couple Burnt Sugar albums I had missed.

My other big diversion (a/k/a waste of time) this week was to play around with singles lists. What I have so far is tucked away in the notebook, but I'll probably move it into a standalone file if I ever get it close to presentable. (Temporary link here, but this is very short of ready, and also the numbers are for counting, not rank -- each list is alphabetical by artist.) My methodology was to start by looking at the Rolling Stone list (via Rock NYC and the ballots by Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell and Chuck Eddy, and pick out what seemed most indubitable. Then I started looking through my database to find various artists compilations I liked. I would then pull them up on Discogs or Wikipedia for song lists, and pick a few more titles from them. Once I decided I wanted something from an artists, I would go on to Wikipedia to look at artist discographies (especially singles, which are usually presented with chart numbers).

Two insights occurred after I got started: (1) I decided to break up the list by decades, otherwise comparisons became difficult (too many apples-to-oranges) and would ultimately just prove my period prejudice: as someone born in 1950, the 1960s and 1970s were my peak exploration period, where everything was new and much of it exciting. I've continued to follow (and enjoy) new music since then, but after I stopped writing rockcrit in 1980 (and listening to radio a few years earlier, and stopped buying singles) I thought about it differently. If I tried to balance out a life-spanning singles list, it would wind up being about 80% pre-1980 (and 60% pre-1970), which says something about singles vs. albums -- the latter really came into their own around 1967-70 -- but mostly that I'm just an old fart. (2) is that after starting to pick one song per artist (per decade), I decided it would be worthwhile to add a few alternatives -- in case I wanted to refine my choices later on, or simply because some songs were too good to omit, and I started to get greedy.

I initially decided to leave jazz out completely -- no disrespect, but they became different things, with different aims, about the time LPs split off from singles in the 1950s. I may revise this to make vocals the dividing line. That would leave some rock instrumentals out, but not many were ever likely to be considered ("Rebel Rouser"? "Pipeline"? "Honky Tonk"?) And post-1970 I've picked the occasional album-only track (I think the first one I jotted down was Mott the Hoople's "I Wish I Was Your Mother"). I'm doing this almost exclusively from a memory that since the late 1970s has almost exclusively been formed from listening to albums, so it's no surprise that many of the songs that stuck in my cerebellum like singles used to were never marketed as such. (Note that not every critic has experienced this the way I have: in the late 1970s 12-inch singles became favored by DJs; in the 1980s MTV started the flood of video singles; and from the late 1990s the Internet has done much more to break singles than radio, which for all I know is nothing but senseless blather these days. Younger critics started with these media, much as I started with AM radio.)

So far I mostly have records from 1955-70, not just because that's my prime period, but also because that's where I've looked most intensively. I'm starting to think the 1960s and 1970s need to be broken into two halves, both due to quantity but also due to the rapid rate of change in those two decades, with 1964 and 1976 especially pivotal dates. As I recall, the first halves of both decades were much disparaged, although looking back I find them to be especially fertile (albeit as extensions of the previous half-decade).

One side effect was noticing one of Capitol's 2002 "Crescent City Soul" compilations that I had missed. I had to construct a playlist to review it, but it was worth it. (Still, not as good as the Minit-based Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet.) Tried to do the same with David Toop's Sugar and Poison, but couldn't find all the songs.

I also depleted enough of my promo queue that I inadvertently reviewed records as far out as November 12. (I've been sitting on the Fiedler and Balto albums for longer than I could stand.) Haven't done anything yet with the latest Phil Overeem list, but nice to see William Parker's Painter's Winter high on the list (higher than Mayan Space Station, which got first notice).

I finally bought a copy of a novel: Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, based on Robert Christgau's review, although I had previously linked to the New Yorker essay Christgau cites. (Has it really been that far back? First piece linked to there is titled, "As death toll passes 60,000, Trump's team searches for an exit strategy." As you probably know, the US death toll passed 700,000 last week.) I quoted Robinson there:

Margaret Thatcher said that "there is no such thing as society," and Ronald Reagan said that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." These stupid slogans marked the turn away from the postwar period of reconstruction and underpin much of the bullshit of the past forty years. . . .

Economics is a system for optimizing resources, and, if it were trying to calculate ways to optimize a sustainable civilization in balance with the biosphere, it could be a helpful tool. When it's used to optimize profit, however, it encourages us to live within a system of destructive falsehoods.

I'm beginning to wonder whether the only forum for serious discussions of viable solutions to ongoing crises isn't science fiction. I've long wanted to collect my more harebrained ideas under a recycling of Paul Goodman's 1962 title, Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals, but it's getting hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Indeed, in the minds of certain "centrist" Dems all variants are equally impossible, precisely because they are held to be inconceivable.

I also ordered William T. Vollman's Carbon Strategies for reference. I've thumbed through the two volumes at the library, and can't imagine reading them through, but thought they might be useful as references (although I have to wonder whether the deep discounts at Amazon don't imply that they're already obsolete).

I've added a link at the bottom of every blog post to "Ask a question, or send a comment." This links to my old Ask a Question form, which I've hacked a bit on. You can now choose "Question" or "Comment." The former gives me input for my Questions & Answers page. The latter sends me a comment without expectation of answer. I'm not going to be a stickler on that point. There's also a new form field for "URL Context." Eventually I'll figure out how to set this form from the referer context, but I don't have that working yet. In the future, I could add this link to many more pages, and could even develop some kind of comment system. But for now, these changes haven't been given much of a test. I appreciate your feedback, and would like to see more. Thanks.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Angels Over Oakanda (2018-21 [2021], Avantgroidd): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Whit Dickey/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Village Mothership (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): [cd]: A- [10-15]
  • DMX Krew: Loose Gears (2021, Hypercolour): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hernâni Faustino: Twelve Bass Tunes (2020 [2021], Phonogram Unit): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Thomas Fehlmann: Böser Herbst (2021, Kompakt): [r]: A-
  • Joe Fiedler's "Open Sesame": Fuzzy and Blue (2021, Multiphonics): [cd]: B+(***) [11-12]
  • Kazemde George: I Insist (2019 [2021], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(***) [10-22]
  • Julia Govor: Winter Mute (2021, Jujuka, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eunhye Jeong: Nolda (2021, ESP-Disk): [cd]: B+(**) [09-24]
  • Rochelle Jordan: Play With the Changes (2021, Young Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kuzu: All Your Ghosts in One Corner (2020 [2021], Aerophonic): [cd]: B+(***) [10-05]
  • José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro: Thoughts Are Things (2021, Phonogram Unit): [cd]: A-
  • Bryan Murray & Jon Lundbom: Beats by Balto! Vol. 2 (2021, Chant): [cd]: B+(***) [11-07]
  • Q'd Up: Going Places (2021, Tantara): [cd]: B [10-08]
  • Rebellum: The Darknuss (2021, Avantgroidd): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Matthew Stevens: Pittsburgh (2021, Whirlwind): [cd]: B
  • Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & The MaXx: Live (2018 [2020], MNJ): [r]: B+(**)
  • Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan: Plastic Wave (2020 [2021], Odin, 2CD): [bc]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Albert Ayler: New York Eye and Ear Control Revisited (1964 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: B+(*)
  • John Coltrane Quartet: Newport, New York, Alabama 1963 Revisited (1963 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: B+(***)
  • John Coltrane: Chasin' the Trane Revisited (1961 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: A-
  • Mike Taylor: Trio, Quartet & Composer Revisited (1965-68 [2021], Ezz-thetics): [bc]: B+(*)

Old music:

  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Live From Minnegiggle Falls (2004 [2007], Avant Groidd): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All Ya Needs That Negrocity (2008-11 [2011], Avant Groidd): [bc]: A-
  • Thomas Fehlmann: 1929: Das Jahr Babylon (2018, Kompakt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Grateful Dead: Dozin' at the Knick (1990 [1996], Grateful Dead, 3CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Grateful Dead: Crimson White & Indigo (1989 [2010], Grateful Dead/Rhino, 3CD): [r]: B
  • The Guess Who: The Greatest of the Guess Who (1969-75 [1977], RCA Victor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience: Radio One (1967 [1988], Rykodisc): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock (1969 [1994], MCA): [r]: A-
  • Jimi Hendrix: Hendrix in the West (1968-70 [2011], Experience Hendrix/Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune (1969-70 [2010], Experience Hendrix/Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight (1970 [2002], Experience Hendrix/MCA, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection (1967-70 [2001], Experience Hendrix/Universal, 2CD): [r]: A
  • Jimi Hendrix: Fire: The Jimi Hendrix Collection (1967-70 [2010], Experience Hendrix/Legacy): [r]: A
  • His Name Is Alive: Stars on E.S.P. (1996, 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Hollies: In the Hollies Style (1964, Parlophone): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Hollies: The Hollies' Greatest Hits (1965-72 [1973], Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hüsker Dü: Everything Falls Apart (1982 [1983], Reflex): [r]: B+(**)
  • Irakere: Irakere (1978 [1979], Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ronald Shannon Jackson: Pulse (1984, Celluloid): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Decode Yourself (1984, Island): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ronald Shannon Jackson: Red Warrior (1990, Axiom): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Jacksons: The Jacksons (1976, Epic): [r]: B
  • The Jacksons: Destiny (1978, Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Jacksons: Triumph (1980, Epic): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Jacksons: Victory (1984, Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jaojoby: Aza Arianao (2001, Label Bleu): [r]: B+(**)
  • Let the Good Times Roll: 20 of New Orleans' Finest R&B Classics 1946-1966 (1949-1966 [2002], Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Shirley and Lee: Let the Good Times Roll (1952-59 [2000], Ace): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Hernâni Faustino: Twelve Bass Tunes (Phonogram Unit)
  • Jü: III (RareNoise) * [09-24]
  • José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro: Thoughts Are Things (Phonogram Unit)
  • Jo Berger Myhre: Unheimlich Manoeuvre (RareNoise) * [09-24]
  • Mareike Wiening: Future Memories (Greenleaf Music) [11-12]

Daily Log

Here's the Michaelanelo Matos 2021 EOY list (scraped from his FB post, my grades in brackets):

  1. Rochelle Jordan, Play with the Changes [***]
  2. Julia Govor, Winter Mute [**]
  3. Madlib, Sound Ancestors [*]
  4. Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime [A-]
  5. LSDXOXO, Dedicated 2 Disrespect [**]
  6. Burnt Sugar, Angels Over Oakanda [***]
  7. Thomas Fehlmann, Böser Herbst [A-]
  8. Sault, Untitled/9 [***]
  9. The Hold Steady, Open Door Policy [**]
  10. DMX Krew, Loose Gears [**]

Friday, October 01, 2021

Daily Log

Started a singles list here. On October 12, 2020, Moved it somewhere else.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (closed).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

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

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

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

Old music:

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

Grade (or other) changes:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Eunhye Jeong: Nolda (ESP-Disk)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

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

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

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


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

Republicans are OVER-THE-MOON.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on this, see Krugman, below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 20, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (in progress).

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

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

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

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

Old music:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Daily Log

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

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

Josi replied:

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

My rejoinder:

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

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

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

My riposte:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Protin posted a quote from Dwight D Eisenhower:

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

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

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (in progress).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

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

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

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

Old music:

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

Further Sampling:

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

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 10, 2021

Speaking of Which?

Blog link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Else:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more 9/11 anniversary comments:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Daiy Log

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

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

Monday, September 06, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (in progress).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

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

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

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

Old music:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Friday, September 03, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Daily Log

Looking for Lee "Scratch" Perry recommendations, which led me to these links:

Dan Weiss asked for "your non-xgau lee Perry reommendations - never understood how he didn't love heart of the congos." Albums mentioned in comments (my grades in brackets, as a check off list):

  • Super Ape [A-]
  • Return of Super Ape [**]
  • Heavy Rain - "as good as Rainford"
  • Blackboard Jungle Dub
  • The Congos: Heart of the Congos [B+]
  • Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread [A-]
  • Scratch and Company: Chapter 1 - "paired with Blackboard Jungle as Scratch Attack on CD
  • The Trojan Upsetter Box
  • Africa's Blood [*]
  • Double Seven
  • Arkology [A-]
  • Max Romeo & the Upsetters: War ina Babylon [B+]
  • Junior Murvin: Police and Thieves [A-]
  • Kung Fu Meets the Dragon
  • "his stuff with Junior Byles"
  • Open the Gate (Lee Scratch Perry and Friends)
  • Out of Many -- the Upsetter
  • Soundz from the Hot Line
  • Lee Scratch Perry Presents . . . African Roots
  • Super Ape Returns to Conquer

Monday, August 30, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, August archive (finished).

Tweet: Music Week: 49 albums, 10 A-list (3 new, 7 old), opens with another note on the politics surrounding Afghanistan, which I have more to say about than the recent deaths of Charlie Watts, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Larry Harlow.

Music: Current count 36142 [36093] rated (+49), 226 [221] unrated (+5).

A couple weeks ago I wrote a critical comment on an egregiously bad piece by Matt Taibbi (on what he called The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama). Next week, Taibbi wrote a pretty good piece on the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan: We Never Learn. He always cultivated this idea that he could prove his independence by attacking "both sides" -- e.g., in The Great Derangement, he added a chapter attacking "9/11 truthers" as a left-wing analog to the right-wing crazies who gave him so much to write about -- but lately his ravings about mainstream media and centrist Democrats have become increasingly arbitrary and gratuitous, especially given how far off the deep end right-wing media and politicians have plunged. But the fact that many Democrats are wed to the dysfunctional fantasies of the military-security-mercenary complex gives him a chance to put his contrarianism to good use. And now, he's managed to merge his best insights with his worst instincts, in To Stop War, America Needs a Third Party.

Look, I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. We had just moved to Kansas, and it was clear the Democrats didn't have the slightest interest in campaigning in Kansas. When I voted, the thought occurred to me that Nader might even outpoll Gore here. Well, I was wrong. Without trying, Gore got 11 times as many votes as Nader (399,276 to 36,086; although in Douglas County, the Gore/Nader ratio was down to 4). Even so, Gore lost to Bush by 20.8 points, had Gore received all of Nader's votes, the margin would only have dropped to 17.4. I've never blamed Nader for Gore losing, and I get irritated when other people do. Gore ran the campaign he chose to, figuring he would make up more center votes (and cash) than he could possibly lose to a left that New Democrats had nothing but contempt for. Even as the true horror of the Bush administration became evident after 9/11, I've never doubted that Gore would have gone to war as readily as Bush did. (Well, maybe not Iraq, which Bush had a peculiar hard on for, but Afghanistan was the original mistake.) While Nader wasn't especially concerned with foreign affairs, I'm pretty sure that he would have held back, preventing the 20-year debacle that's only now becoming obvious to many people. So, at least in that respect, the divide between Nader and Gore was more important than the difference between Gore and Bush.

Taibbi is right that both parties have deeply invested in the imperial military mindset. In some ways, the failure of Democrats to find any sort of alternative foreign policy is more galling. Republicans' core belief in using military power to cow poorer nations is consistent with their faith in using police and courts to trample poor and dissident people at home. Both intend to fortify and protect privilege classes, and are not tempered by concerns for democracy, freedom, or individual rights. You'd think that Democrats would understand that by now. (They've been slow on the uptake, but Republican efforts to rig elections finally seem to have caught their attention.)

You'd also expect that they'd reflect back on the principles and promise of international institutions, which they worked hard to establish under and after FDR. Yet even now we see Biden acting rashly and unilaterally to order the wanton death of drone strikes while still committed to exiting Afghanistan.

But Taibbi is dead wrong about third parties. What I realized in 2000 was that the people we needed to convince to support a progressive agenda had already committed to one party (the Democratic), in large part because the other (the Republicans) were clearly committed to causing them harm. That fundamental truth has only become more obvious since 2000. The other change is that the neoliberal clique that took over the Democratic Party with Clinton can and has been challenged, both in primaries and through public organization. We've made progress, but still need to make the case to rank-and-file voters, the media, and even the elites -- especially on war, which is hard to do as long as Americans are being deployed in conflicts, with inevitable casualties and hardships, and a tendency to get wrapped up in their putative heroism. It's hard to heal while you're still getting beat up.

It's painful to listen to bystanders and opportunists decry Biden's airlift from Kabul. Many of the loudest complainers shared responsibility for the slow-moving train wreck, so much so that it's rather astounding that they can still feign surprise. Before the 13 soldiers killed in a freak suicide bombing, the US had enjoyed a respite from conflict for over a year -- a result that was only possible thanks to negotiating with the Taliban. The hawks who wish to renege now (the same ones who complain about the present chaos) have no idea how bad the situation could deteriorate if the Taliban decided they'd have to once again fight Americans for their freedom. One can always nitpick, but I'm actually impressed that Biden is handling this as well as he has -- and I'm disgusted with those who think otherwise.

I have very little to add about the recent deaths of Charlie Watts and Lee Perry. I've read much less about the death of Larry Harlow, a major figure in the development of salsa in New York. But I haven't listened to him much myself. My grade list for Perry is here.

A lot of old music this week, as I fell back on the unheard Christgau A-list, going back to the top after I lost my place. Some records there I skipped over during my first pass.

Finished Rana Foroohar's Don't Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech, with mixed feelings I should probably try to articulate at some point. I'm especially bothered by her evident belief that stronger patent laws would increase competition, at least by making it easier for some other company to challenge the FAANG giants. I think that's exactly wrong. I also doubt her assertion that information is the new oil -- the comparison to railroads isn't quite as far off. Oil converted to energy which turned into a huge increase in the amount of work people could do, so it mostly added to the world's wealth. Information may help companies exploit people more efficiently, but it's ultimately more redistributive than not. That's why I expect we'll see diminishing returns from information technology.

On the other hand, I think the case that Foroohar makes about how the big FAANG companies depress innovation is valid. I'd like to see them partially broken up, but I don't think competition is a solution in and of itself. A lot of things that these networking companies do shouldn't be done at all. That can be addressed through a combination of regulating harmful activities, replacing useful ones with open source software, and subsidizing common infrastructure.

Afterwards, I picked up Ed Ward's The History of Rock & Roll: Volume One 1920-1965. As with similar books, a lot of emphasis early on is put on labels and entrepeneurs, which makes an interesting contrast after reading about the FAANG monopolies. But rock & roll is a pretty good example of what capitalism is actually good for.

August had five Mondays and nothing better to do, so this month's Streamnotes compilation is one of the largest ever.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Iggy Azalea: The End of an Era (2021, Bad Dreams/Empire): [r]: A-
  • Alan Broadbent/London Metropolitan Strings: Broadbent Plays Brubeck (2021, Eden River): [r]: B+(*)
  • Greg Burk/Ron Seguin/Michel Lambert: Sound Neighbors (2020, Tonos): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Greg Burk: Simple Joys (2019 [2021] Tonos): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Xhosa Cole: K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us (2021, Stoney Lane): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Lorraine Feather: My Own Particular Life (2019-21 [2021], Relarion): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bob Gorry/Pete Brunelli/Peter Riccio: GoBruCcio (2021, NHIC): [cd]: B+(**) [09-01]
  • Halsey: If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power (2021, Capitol): [r]: B+(***)
  • Inawhirl: Streugebilde (2020 [2021], Trost): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Jake Breaks: Breaksy (2021, Wide Hive): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ka: A Martyr's Reward (2021, Iron Works): [yt]: B+(***)
  • James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds (2021, New West): [r]: A-
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Dots: Pieces for Percussion and Woodwinds (2021, Wide Hive): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 8: Brian Jackson (2021, Jazz Is Dead): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nelly: Heartland (2021, Columbia, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kevin Sun: <3 Bird (2021, Endectomorph Music): [cd]: A-
  • Tinashe: 333 (2021, Tinashe Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jim Yanda: A Silent Way (2019 [2021], Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Peter Brötzmann: Love Comes Like Sour to Milk (1993, Trost, EP): [bc]: B
  • Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings (1966 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: B

Old music:

  • ABC: Beauty Stab (1983, Mercury): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Allman Brothers Band: Live at Fillmore East (1971, Capricorn): [r]: B
  • The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band -- Live [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1971 [2007], Mercury/Chronicles): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes On Forever: A Collection of Their Greatest Recordings (1969-73 [1975], Capricorn): [yt]: B+(***)
  • The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1969-79 [2000], Polydor): [r]: B+(***)
  • Amadou & Mariam: Je Pense À Toi: The Best of Amadou & Mariam (1998-2002 [2005], Circular Moves/Universal Music Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Archers of Loaf: Archers of Loaf Vs. the Greatest of All Time (1994, Alias, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Archers of Loaf: The Speed of Cattle (1992-94 [1996], Alias): [r]: B+(*)
  • Archers of Loaf: Vitus Tinnitus (1997, Alias, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ashford & Simpson: So So Satisfied (1977, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ashford & Simpson: Send It (1977, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ashford & Simpson: Stay Free (1979, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ashford & Simpson: Solid (1984, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bad Religion: All Ages (1982-94 [1995], Epitaph): [r]: B
  • Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force: Planet Rock: The Album (1982-84 [1986], Tommy Boy): [r]: A-
  • Bang on a Can: Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing (2005, Cantaloupe): [bc]: A-
  • Count Basie: The Best of Early Basie (1937-39 [1996], MCA): [r]: A
  • Count Basie: Count Basie and His Great Vocalists (1939-50 [1993], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Count Basie: Frankly Basie: Count Basie Plays the Hits of Frank Sinatra (1963 [1993], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Count Basie: Basie Jam (1973 [1975], Pablo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Count Basie/Joe Turner: The Bosses (1973 [1974], Pablo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Count Basie/Oscar Peterson: Count Basie Encounters Oscar Peterson: Satch and Josh (1974, Pablo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Count Basie/Zoot Sims: Basie and Zoot (1975 [1976], Pablo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Count Basie: Get Together (1979 [1986], Pablo): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Bats: Compiletely Bats (1984-86 [1987], Communion): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Delta 5: Singles & Sessions 1979-81 (1979-81 [2006], Kill Rock Stars): [r]: A-
  • Ella Fitzgerald/Count Basie/Joe Williams: One O'Clock Jump (1956-57 [1999], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A. (1968, Plantation): [r]: A-
  • Jeannie C. Riley: Yearbooks and Yesterdays (1969, Plantation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Frank Sinatra/Count Basie: Sinatra-Basie (1962, Reprise): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Field (NoBusiness)
  • Lao Dan/Deng Boyu: TUTU Duo (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound: The Other Shore (Outnote) [09-10]
  • Joe Fiedler's "Open Sesame": Fuzzy and Blue (Multiphonics) [11-12]
  • Joel Futterman: Creation Series (2008, NoBusiness, 5CD)
  • Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Detail-90 (1990, NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Lionel Loueke: Close Your Eyes (2018, Sounderscore) [10-22]
  • Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Rested Turquoise (NoBusiness)
  • Liudas Mockunas/Christian Windfeld: Pacemarker (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Bryan Murray & Jon Lundbom: Beats by Balto! Vol. 2 (Chant) [11-07]
  • Itaru Oki Quartet: Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (NoBusiness)
  • Sam Rivers Quartet: Undulation (1981, NoBusiness)
  • Mototeru Takabi/Susumu Kongo/Nao Takeuchi/Shola Koyama: Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (NoBusiness)
  • Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971, NoBusiness)
  • Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell: Streams (Not Two) [10-15]

Friday, August 27, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Which: Approaching deadline, the withdrawal from the Afghanistan misadventure gets nervous and kvetchy, with warmongers and opportunists clinging to their mikes like those poor wretches thinking they could hang onto departing aircraft.

My interest in writing something this week has waxed and waned. At first I wanted to point out how pleased and proud I am that Biden has stuck to his guns on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite the barrage of sniping not just from the usual quarters (Republicans for partisan purposes, warmongers of all stripes) but from a mainstream media that loves to add fuel to whatever panic is taking hold at the moment. Then an anti-US, anti-Taliban fringe group [also see: Anatol Lieven: Who are the Islamic State in Afghanistan] dispatched a suicide bomber near the Kabul airport, killing 170 civilians and 13 US troops, and Biden vowed revenge (while still defending withdrawal). Someone should take him aside and remind him that "revenge is a dish best served cold," lest he throw out a brave and conscientious stand in a fit of anger. ISIS wants the US there, in range as targets, driving more and more people into their desperate ranks. It was stupid to let Osama Bin Laden bait us into "the graveyard of empires" in 2001, and it would be even stupider to repeat that mistake now. [PS: Biden did order a drone strike in Nangahar Province, allegedly on an ISIS target.]

While Biden hasn't (yet) back-peddled from the August 31 withdrawal date, it's coming on Tuesday, so we'll know more then -- one reason I wanted to hold off writing. Meanwhile, pressure to do something stupid is building: e.g., Leon Panetta, a CIA Director and Secretary of Defense under Obama, says "Bottom line is that our work is not done in Afghanistan. We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS." I don't know how he could possibly imagine that could work. The US is tied up just now trying to get the few Afghans willing to help the US out of the country. How can they possibly support a new infusion of troops without any kind of local support? The only chance I see to hunt down "those responsible" for the attack is to subcontract it to the Taliban. I have no idea whether they would be amenable to that, but from a practical point of view, it's more important to get them to disband terror groups than to satisfy America's revenge cravings.

Speaking of irrational revenge fits, Josh Marshall has another good piece on the origins of the US invasion of Afghanistan: Remembering the Origins of the United States' 20 Year War in Afghanistan, in turn keying off an opinion piece by persistent warmonger Robert Kagan: It wasn't hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear. While it may be true that fear was the big selling point, I remember a lot of hubris. I also remember Arthur Vandenberg telling Harry Truman that if he wants to arm to confront Russia in what became the Cold War, he'd first have to "scare the hell out of the American people." That's what he did, aided by Republicans who had their own reasons for trumping up the Red Scare. But after the Gulf War of 1990-91, America's leading hawks (including Kagan) were convinced that the US military could have done so much more to clear out Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but were held back by cowardly politicians. The hawks stylized themselves as Vulcans (see James Mann's book, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet), and organized their Project for a New American Century (PNAC). (By the way, the first thing they did was to prepare a plan for Netanyahu to undermine the Oslo Accords, which promised to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their most fervent dream was that the US should be free to attack its enemies with the same impunity Israel had gotten away with.)

Marshall corrects a lot of things Kagan glosses over. Along the way, he quotes Max Boot as writing: "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets." That sounds a lot more like hubris than fear, but it also sounds incredibly stupid and racist. British rule reduced India from about 20% of world GDP to less than 5% -- meanwhile, the English working class weren't exactly wallowing in luxury. Imperialism may have benefited someone, but claiming it advanced humanity is ridiculous.

As it happens, I've been thinking about Boot's 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. The book was an important part of the neocon argument, specifically meant to overthrow the Powell Doctrine (which argued that wars should only be fought if you had: overwhelming force, clear objectives, and an exit plan; the 1990-91 Gulf War was Powell's triumph, but the aftertaste was bitter). Boot offered thumbnail histories of several dozen US military adventures that he classified as "small," excluding wars fought on home ground (including the many Indian wars), the two World Wars, and the ones in Korea and Vietnam that got big and ugly. From his subset, he argued that the US doesn't need to worry about small wars (resources, objectives, exit plan), because they all work out OK in the end. Within 2-3 years, Afghanistan and Iraq destroyed what little plausibility his argument ever had, but a more critical eye on the wars he touted should have raised doubts.

Take, for instance, Pershing's long march through Mexico following a border raid by Pancho Villa in New Mexico (it was originally called the "Punitive Expedition"). This lasted about a year, needlessly provoked the Mexicans, and in the end accomplished absolutely nothing (other than that it convinced a young officer named Dwight Eisenhower that the US needed better highways). It's a pretty close analog to the effort to catch Bin Laden (or Panetta's proposed punishment of ISIS-K), except that it was much closer, and didn't bother trying to over throw the Mexican government, or getting stuck with rebuilding the ruins it created. But sure, it could have been worse. They could still be looking for Villa, while turning millions of Mexicans into refugees.

By the way, amidst all of the articles about Afghans trying to flee the Taliban, I haven't seen a single piece about the more than two million Afghan refugees that the US wasn't able to settle and protect during the last 20 years. Most are in Pakistan or Iran, so it will be interesting to see whether the net number of refugees rises or drops once the Taliban settles in.

Marshall's article includes a graph of US troop levels in Afghanistan over time. Offhand, it appears as though the security situation deteriorated as US troop levels increased, at least up to 2009, when the military panicked and Obama ordered a "surge" up to 100,000 troops. The model there was the supposedly successful "surge" in Iraq, although what little success could be found there had more to do with turning Sunni leaders against an increasingly erratic Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, partly through bribe and partly because the US offered some protection against Shiite death squads (also encouraged by the US). No such magic switch was found in Afghanistan, so while the "surge" may have checked a Taliban offensive, it made no headway.

Beyond that, McChrystall's counterinsurgency program was defeated not by the Taliban but by American soldiers, who refused to accept the added risk of limiting civilian casualties. While Petraeus had supported McChrystall in theory, he quietly scuttled the program when he took over. After that, the only hope was "Afghanization," which worked even worse than "Vietnamization" had done to provide camouflage for a US withdrawal.

Some more Afghanistan links:

Also, a quote from Jeffrey St. Clair: Roaming Charges: Hour of the Goat, which says much of what I originally wanted to say:

One of the reasons Biden is having such a hard time making the case for the US's exit from Afghanistan is that he is congenitally inarticulate and he has no one around him who can make the case for him. Nearly everyone in both parties has been corrupted by this war: voted for it, funded it, planned it, rationalized it, stood silent as it started, very early on, to go bad, closed their eyes to drone killings, torture, and an occupation with no end. Even Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul. They own this war and the war ended up owning them. Aside from Barbara Lee, there aren't any heroes in this 40-year-long fiasco. But if Biden can stand firm as he's ambushed from all sides, not retreat from his retreat, and finally bring the occupation to an end, he'll go down in the history books a lot more credibly than the jackals who are assailing him.

St. Clair also notes a tweet from a @toddstarnes: "For every American who is killed, a city in Afghanistan should be wiped off the face of the Earth." The Romans used to talk about "decimating" villages. Hitler proclaimed bounties like this, up to 100-to-1. Morally Starnes is no better; mathematically, he's even worse.

A couple more brief notes on recent pieces:

Robert Christgau: Out of the Box: A substantial and very favorable review of the HBO Max documentary Betrayal at Attica. I should probably write more about this piece and the movie itself, which I watched again yesterday, but want to get this out without further delay. By all means, do watch the movie.

Luisa S Deprez: How Republicans Stoke Anti-Government Hatred: Refers to a new book by Amy Fried/Douglas B Harris: At War With Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust from Goldwater to Trump. Needless to say, it's a lot easier to break trust than it is to restore it. Trust in government matters because it's the one institution that is capable of helping people without having a side angle or ulterior motive (mostly based on money, something obviously biased to them that has). The main reason many people don't vote their economic interests is that they don't trust politicians to deliver, ergo distrust in government favors those with money, especially those whose money buys them personal connections to politicians. Adolph Reed extends this argument: The Whole Country is the Reichstag.

Henry Giroux: For Stanley Aronowitz: Radical labor historian, died a week or two ago. I read and admired his 1973 book False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness, and met him around then, when Paul Piccone brought him to Washington University for a lecture.

Hugh Iglarsh: The New Ozymandias: Twilight Reflections on the Obama Presidential Center. From this angle, the photo of the model of the "Great Tower of Nothing" looks especially garish.

David Klion: The 9/11 Museum and Its Discontents: "A new documentary goes inside the battles that have riven the institution." I'm not sure I even knew it existed, let alone had sold a half billion dollars worth of tickets since 2014. I find the whole thing rather creepy. "This is the story of 9/11 a visitor is left with: They attacked us for no good reason, we mourned, we rallied, and eventually we got the bastards [i.e., Bin Laden]."

Robert Kuttner: Biden Should Retire Fed Chair Jay Powell. When Trump replaced Janet Yellen (and I don't recall any Republicans suggesting he shouldn't pick his own Fed Chair), he was given a list of two candidates, and picked Powell. On paper, he looked like much the better candidate, and turned out to be better than expected, at least on monetary policy. (Not that he was loose enough for an inveterate debt-hog like Trump.) I always felt that Obama made a big mistake in renominating Ben Bernanke instead of picking a Democrat, but there was a big campaign to boost Bernanke, and Obama was a born sucker. There's another campaign this year to give Powell another term, and some economists I like (like Mike Konczal and Dean Baker) seem to be behind it, so I was interested to see Kuttner argue otherwise. He does so mostly on regulatory issues, and he's probably right there. One of the big problems with the Fed is that, while hawks on interest rates can choke the economy and put lots of people out of work, low interest rates mostly get sucked up by speculators and used to inflate the price of assets.

Ian Millhiser: A new Supreme Court case could blow up decades of US diplomacy: This is the case where a Texas judge ordered Biden to reinstate a Trump-declared "Remain in Mexico" immigration policy. Millhiser argues that "Kacsmaryk's decision is dead wrong," then gets even more upset.

Timothy Noah: The Blueprint for Corporate Power Turns 50: On Lewis Powell's famous letter to the US Chamber of Commerce, which urged corporate leaders to corrupt politics in favor of their class interests.

Aaron Rupar: How Ron DeSantis's Covid response became the model of what not to do.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Daily Log

Someone on Facebook asked me if Mike is "any relation?" I replied:

Mike Hull is my brother's son. He grew up here in Wichita. He picked up some political and cultural biases from his family, but more important were the friends he formed at Wichita North High School. The district there straddles Wichita's "historic black neighborhood," so many of his closest friends are black, including later collaborators. Another of his closest friends is Jason Bailey, who is one of the world's great film nuts. Jason started writing and producing films with his high school friends, including Mike, who went on to write and produce his own. The films are pretty good, but never got into the commercial mill -- I don't know if you can even find them these days. Mike moved to NYC shortly after I moved back to Wichita, and Jason followed him a few years later, initially planning on studying film at NYU. He has a bunch of books on film now, and does a podcast with Mike called Fun City Cinema, where they talk about movies. I introduced Mike to people I knew in NYC, including Bob Christgau and Elizabeth Fink, but not much came of that until later, when Fink and him bonded, leading to this movie. Mike did a lot of work as a film editor in NYC (did the CBS News), while doing various side projects, mostly documentaries. He's been shopping this one around for several years, so we hope the deal with HBO Max will be a breakthrough. It really is an extraordinary film.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Daily Log

Tweet: I published one of my Q&A posts: the question was about Obama and his legacy, a result of my recent post on Matt Taibbi's trash post about Obama's 60th birthday bash, but it goes deeper into how he lost control, and why Trump came out the other end: link.

Posted an answer to a question about Obama and his legacy.

The following was occasioned by seeing a bunch of ballots for a Pitchfork poll, asking select critics for 25 albums for the last 25 years. Needless to say, they didn't ask me.

Top 25 non-jazz albums 1996-2020:

  1. Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You (2009, Capitol)
  2. Iris DeMent: The Way I Should (1996, Warner Bros.)
  3. Buck 65: Talkin' Honky Blues (2003, WEA Canada)
  4. Cornershop: Handcream for a Generation (2002, Beggars Banquet)
  5. John Prine: In Spite of Ourselves (1999, Oh Boy)
  6. Manu Chao: Clandestino (1998, Ark 21)
  7. Amy Rigby: Diary of a Mod Housewife (1996, Koch)
  8. DJ Shadow: The Private Press (2002, MCA)
  9. The Coup: Party Music (2001, 75 Ark)
  10. Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (2006, New Door)
  11. K'Naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher (2008, IMCulture)
  12. Beck: Odelay (1996, DGC)
  13. Lyrics Born: Real People (2015, Mobile Home)
  14. Los Lobos: Colossal Head (1996, Warner Bros.)
  15. Maria Muldaur: Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy: Good Time Music for Hard Times (Stony Plain)
  16. OutKast: Stankonia (2000, LaFace)
  17. Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998, Polygram)
  18. The Ex: 27 Passports (Ex)
  19. Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (2007, Anti-)
  20. Jimmie Dale Gilmore: One Endless Night (2000, Rounder)

Top 25 jazz albums 1996-2020:

  1. James Carter: Chasin' the Gypsy (2000, Atlantic)
  2. David Murray: Long Goodbye: A Tribute to Don Pullen (1997, DIW)
  3. Sonny Rollins: This Is What I Do (2000, Milestone)
  4. Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (2006, Sound Grammar)
  5. Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2010, TUM)
  6. Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (2015, Intakt)
  7. Sonic Liberation Front: Ashé a Go-Go (2004, High Two)
  8. Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Heads (2013, Amulet)
  9. Steve Lehman: Mise en Abîme (2014, Pi)
  10. Billy Jenkins: True Love Collection (1997, Babel)
  11. Doc Cheatham/Nicholas Payton: Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton (1997, Verve)
  12. Vandermark Five: Target or Flag (1998, Atavistic)
  13. Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (2014, Hopscotch)
  14. Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (2016, Pi)
  15. William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (2017, AUM Fidelity)