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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)

Monday, August 23, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, August archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 57 albums, 7 A-list, notes on recently departed, Tom T. Hall and Don Everly, digging through oldies crates from all over the map, and a few more words on Afghanistan -- notice how "our side" chose them over us?

Music: Current count 36093 [36036] rated (+57), 221 [218] unrated (+3).

Tom T. Hall died last week. Obituaries tended to overlook his 35 albums, but invariably mentioned the number one single he wrote in 1968, "Harper Valley PTA," for Jeannie C. Riley. Growing up in Wichita, I knew a little bit about country music -- mostly from watching, with bemused detachment, Porter Wagoner -- but I wasn't a fan. My brother and I got turned away at the door of a Grand Ole Opry show downtown, the doorman correctly surmising that we wanted the car show next door. I managed to catch a set by Ronnie & the Daytonas there: the first time I saw live music, and probably the only time until I saw Sly & the Family Stone in St. Louis.

That's was shortly after the first time I heard of Hall. I went to a party thrown by one of the Sociology professors. When I introduced myself to a guest, he responded: "I got all your records." I had a little speech problem, and never managed to say Hull clear enough not to be transcribed as the more common Hall. When I did finally hear Hall -- probably at the behest of George Lipsitz, who was taking time before going to graduate school, and was very much into country music at the time (although I also recall him introducing me to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and to Johnny Otis).

I only slowly got into country music, picking up occasional albums over the 1970s -- from Hall: We All Got Together and Faster Horses, finding In Search of a Song later -- finally making a serious effort in the 1990s to catch up with (damn near) everything I had missed. The best Hall compilation ever came out in 1988: The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs, 20 of them, originally on 2-LP, later on 1-CD. In 1995, I finally felt confident enough to write something about a new (and disappointing) Hall box, combined with a more favorable review of the 3-CD Roger Miller box. (Of course, I remembered Miller vividly from his mid-1960s TV show and crossover hits.) I called this Kings of the Road, and submitted it to The Voice, but elicited no interest (other than, I suppose, that a year later Robert Christgau invited me to review Rhino's series of jazz compilations, which I called Jazz for Dummies).

One thing I'd have to correct from the Hall piece is my claim Hall "hasn't recorded anything very interesting since [1976]." I finally got around to Hall's 1978-80 RCA releases below, and a couple of them are pretty good. I wanted to dive into his early Mercury records, but I only found In Search of a Song on Napster, plus Ballad of Forty Dollars on YouTube. There are some post-1978 Mercury albums on Napster, so I may return to them.

Another son of Kentucky died last week: Don Everly. He seemed like an earlier generation, but he was a year younger than Hall, and his brother Phil (d. 2014) was younger still. They started off in their teens in the Everly Family group, then as a brother act had their first big hits in 1957 ("Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie"), when Phil was 18. Beyond radio singles, my first introduction was 1964's The Very Best of the Everly Brothers -- disparaged now because they re-recorded their pre-1960 Cadence hits to juice up their less famous Warners songs, from "Cathy's Clown" to the ultra-maudlin "Ebony Eyes." I replayed it, and also Rhino's Cadence Classics, but didn't have much luck digging further, and didn't look into their solo careers or their reunion -- they were famous for not getting along.

Before Hall died, I mostly picked unheard records of Christgau's graded list, from Youssou N'Dour to Lobi Traoré. A couple reggae albums were suggested by a Sly & Robbie list of their favorites, but further down the list got hard to find. Tried to catch up with the demo queue, picking off the things with the earliest release dates, but wound up losing ground. Got a package from NoBusiness today. They'll be listed next week.

Bought a package of "shaved pork" last week. Seemed like the perfect thing for bulgogi. It's cut so thin you can't grill it. I dumped it into a cast iron skillet and boiled the marinade off. Pretty intense. Picture here

I saw a tweet recommending Josh Marshall: Notes from the Press Paroxysm as the Evacuation Flights Continue. I hadn't looked at TPM when I was writing up my Speaking of Afghanistan post last week because, well, most of what they publish is behind their firewall never struck me as worth the cost. (Also, I find it especially aggravating that much of what they hide consists of letters from readers, which presumably cost them nothing.) Still, it's a good article, both for pointing out that there is a substantial but rarely reported level of ongoing negotiation between the Taliban and virtually everyone, and for the term "press paroxysm." When I flipped through the Wichita Eagle this morning, I was appalled at the level of ignorance and cynical exploitation in everything they published on Afghanistan (and not just from columnists like Marc Thiessen, whose very existence is an affront to intelligence and human decency).

I tracked down a couple of earlier Marshall articles. You Wouldn't Know It From the US News Coverage, But . . . points out that the top US-backed Afghan politicos are all actively engaged in negotiating with the Taliban: Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, even (from Doha) Ashraf Ghani -- who precipitated this Taliban offensive by refusing to negotiate while US troops remained, and who affirmed the government collapse by fleeing Kabul. On the media, see: The Fall of Kabul, Washington and the Guys at the Fancy Magazines. The latter talks about the "feeding frenzy" reporters are prone to: seeing a politician flounder, they're more than happy to jump in and take a few shots. (Kind of like how my dog gives chase only after she sees the other animal turn away.) Anyone who expects sober analysis from such creatures is bound to be disappointed.

For what it's worth, I'm delighted that Biden has taken a firm stand for withdrawal, showing both courage and a grounding in reality. He has far from an unblemished reputation on Afghanistan, but there's little value in bringing that up now that he's learned the lesson, except to underscore that the lessons are clear enough to convince even him. What I worry about is that in the current din we won't learn what we need to from this 20-year failure. Even if their complaints aren't accepted, the endless repetition of their shared delusions crowds out the clear thought we need.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 1: Sonar (2020 [2021], Orbit577): [r]: B+(*)
  • Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 2: The Middle (2020 [2021], Orbit577): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 3: After Life (2020 [2021], Orbit577): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tom Cohen: My Take (2021, Versa Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Paul Dunmall & Mark Sanders: Unity (2020 [2021], 577): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Go! Team: Get Up Sequences Part One (2021, Memphis Industries): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jared Hall: Seen on the Scene (2018 [2021], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • L.A. Cowboy: The Big Pitch (2021, Reconcile): [cd]: B
  • Lorde: Solar Power (2021, Universal): [r]: B+(**)
  • Francisco Mela: MPT Trio: Volume 1 (2020 [2021], 577): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lady Millea: I Don't Mind Missing You (2021, Reconcile): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dave Miller Trio: The Mask-erade Is Over (2021, Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Steve Million: What I Meant to Say (2019 [2021], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mankwe Ndosi and Body MemOri: Felt/Not Said (2021, Auspice NOW): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Trineice Robinson: All or Nothing (2021, 4RM Music Productions): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kalie Shorr: I Got Here by Accident (2021, Tmwrk, EP): [r]: A-
  • Alfie Templeman: Forever Isn't Long Enough (2021, Chess Club): [r]: B+(**)
  • Waterparks: Greatest Hits (2021, 300 Entertainment): [r]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Cold Wave #1 (2017-20 [2021], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cold Wave #2 (2015-20 [2021], Soul Jazz): [r]: A-
  • Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett/Philip Gibbs/Pete Fairclough: Onosante (2000 [2021], 577): [r]: A-

Old music:

  • Dave and Ansell Collins: Double Barrel (1971, Big Tree): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Everly Brothers: Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958, Cadence): [yt]: B+(**)
  • Tom T. Hall: Ballad of Forty Dollars and His Other Great Songs (1969, Mercury): [yt]: B+(**)
  • Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971-75 [1975], Mercury): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits: Volume I & II (1967-75 [1993], Mercury): [r]: A-
  • Tom T. Hall: New Train Same Rider (1978, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tom T. Hall: Places I've Done Time (1978, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tom T. Hall: In Concert! Recorded Live at the Grand Ole Opry House (1979 [1983], RCA Victor): [r]: B
  • Tom T. Hall: Saturday Morning Songs (1979, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tom T. Hall: Ol' T's in Town (1979, RCA Victor): [r]: A-
  • Tom T. Hall: Soldier of Fortune (1980, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jackie Mittoo and the Soul Vendors: Evening Time (1968, Coxsone): [r]: A-
  • Youssou N'Dour: Djamil Inédits 84-85 (1984-85 [1985], Celluloid): [r]: B+(*)
  • Youssou N'Dour: Eyes Open (1992, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile: Lii! (1996, Jololi): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Negativland: Helter Stupid (1989, SST): [r]: B-
  • Yoko Ono: Season of Glass (1981, Geffen): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Between My Head and the Sky (2009, Chimera): [r]: B+(*)
  • Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Take Me to the Land of Hell (2013, Chimera): [r]: B+(***)
  • Earl Scruggs & Tom T. Hall: The Storyteller and the Banjo Man (1982, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sly and Robbie: Sly and Robbie Present Taxi (1981, Mango): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Smither: I'm a Stranger Too! (1970, Poppy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Smither: It Ain't Easy (1984, Adelphi): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Smither: Small Revelations (1996 [1997], Hightone): [r]: B+(***)
  • Omar Souleyman: Highway to Hassake: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1994-2006 [2007], Sublime Frequencies): [bc]: A-
  • Omar Souleyman: Dabke 2020: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1999-2008 [2009], Sublime Frequencies): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Omar Souleyman: Jazeera Nights: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1996-2009 [2010], Sublime Frequencies): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Spoonie Gee: The Godfather of Rap (1987, Tuff City): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tinariwen: The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2000 [2002], World Village): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tinariwen: Amassakoul (2004, World Village): [r]: B+(***)
  • Aaron Tippin: Ultimate Aaron Tippin (1990-97 [2004], RCA Nashville/BMG Heritage): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lobi Traoré: Ségou (1996, Cobalt): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Lobi Traoré: Rainy Season Blues (2009, Glitterhouse): [r]: B+(**)
  • Warren Vaché: Iridescence (1981, Concord): [yt]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jake Breaks: Breaksy (Wide Hive) [05-11]
  • Greg Burk/Ron Seguin/Michel Lambert: Sound Neighbors (Tonos -20)
  • Greg Burk: Simple Joys (Tonos) [06-28]
  • Lorraine Feather: My Own Particular Life (Relarion)
  • Kuzu: All Your Ghosts in One Corner (Aerophonic) [10-05]
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Dots: Pieces for Percussion and Woodwinds (Wide Hive)
  • Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Within Us: Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge (MAMA/Summit) [09-17]
  • Lukasz Pawlik: Long-Distance Connections (Summit) [07-13]
  • Q'd Up: Going Places (Tantara) [10-08]
  • Sidemen: Sidemen (Summit) [06-15]
  • Jim Yanda: A Silent Way (Corner Store Jazz, 2CD) [08-20]

Friday, August 20, 2021

Speaking of Afghanistan

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Afghanistan: Quite a few words on the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the 20+ years of misconceptions and mistakes that led to this moment, a few hints on how Americans can make the situation less awful, and a bit of cautious but rational optimism. [xx Meanwhile, we should work on that lack of self-knowledge, which cripples us as well as damaging the world.]

I didn't expect the Taliban to take over Kabul so quickly. In retrospect, I can come up with three reasons, and one more point which is nothing but a hunch:

  1. The Taliban never was very popular in Afghanistan, at least outside of the Pashtun regions in the south and east. It took three years for the warlords to overthrow the Soviet-backed regime once the Russians left. (The Communist government in Kabul lasted longer than the one in Moscow.) The Taliban emerged several years later, took over the Pashtun regions, then struggled elsewhere. When the US entered in 2001, there were still parts of the country not under Taliban control, and the Taliban government quickly collapsed as the US invasion began.

  2. Most of the warnings of an imminent Taliban takeover came from hawks trying to reverse the American withdrawal. It was natural to assume they were exaggerating given their ulterior motives.

  3. Ultimately, all Americans turned out to be poor estimators of what most Afghans thought and wanted. This turned out to be true, not just for those blinded by hubris and/or propaganda, but also for those of us who thought we knew better.

  4. And this is the hunch: given that the Taliban wasn't going to give up the fight, the easiest way to end the constant killing and mass destruction was to surrender. Americans, so steeped in "live free or die" bluster (and centuries of military triumphalism, not that there's much evidence of that since I was born in 1950), may find this hard to swallow, but history offers lots of examples where terms matter much less than peace.

There had been a lot of strange talk over the last couple months about how, with US troops finally withdrawing (but threats of US air support for the still-US-backed Afghan government) about the advent of a new (and potentially lengthy) civil war. But for most Afghhans, war has been a constant plague for 42 years (dating from the Soviet "invasion," although resistance to the Communist regime had started earlier, only escalating in 1979 when the US took advantage of the situation), driven by foreign designs which inevitably provoked local resistance.

While the Taliban shared in responsibility for the violence, the US withdrawal gave them an opportunity to promise an end to the war. Afghan President Ghani refused to negotiate, but many lower officials and clan figures were willing to deal, ceding political power to the Taliban in exchange for security -- something the US and its proxies never could provide. The resulting change of power is more like a coup than a revolution, let alone a pitched battle. And while media and politicians in America are all "hair on fire" with their dashed expectations, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way things have turned out. In particular:

  1. Even if Biden wanted to (and he clearly does not), there is no way the US can return to Afghanistan, conquer the land, and stand up a new proxy government. They did that once, and the best they could do (over 20 years and several trillion dollars) fell apart the instant they left. All the US can hope to do at this point is damage control, and to do that they have to work with the Taliban.

  2. The great fear is that the Taliban will try to settle old scores by taking reprisals against the population. There is reason to think this will not happen, or at least will be limited. First, they've gained most of their territory by negotiating for security. Their credibility depends on honoring those agreements, as do their hopes of extending their power to parts of the country that have historically been opposed to the Taliban. Also, reprisals will fuel more refugees, which in turn will detract from their legitimacy.

  3. The late-1990s Taliban suffered greatly for two reasons: they proved incompetent at running the government; and they never managed to gain international recognition as a legitimate government. Their recent diplomatic efforts suggest they are likely to avoid the isolation of the late 1990s. Regardless of what happens with the US and Europe, they are likely to gain recognition early on by China and Russia, by Iran and Turkey, and (of course) by their former allies in Pakistan and the Arabian states.

  4. The 20 years of US occupation produced some tangible progress for at least some Afghans, even if not enough to legitimize the proxy government. I expect that the Taliban will want to build on those gains -- e.g., in education and public health -- which means that they will need to come to some sort of accommodation with the urban professional class. Their statements thus far are ambiguous, but it seems unlikely (especially if they continue to consolidate power without having to resort to violence) that they will return to the extreme Deobandi/Salafist postures of the 1990s Taliban.

  5. The fact that the US has already begun negotiations with the Taliban suggests that the US is not fated to repeat the die-hard grudges held against North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Iran. Still, US policymakers have a long ways to go to realize that they can work productively with parts of the world they cannot control.

Let's start off with a long quote. I was pretty critical of Matt Taibbi last week, but his piece this week makes some good points, especially the last line here:

Every image coming out of Afghanistan this past weekend was an advertisement for the incompetence, arrogance, and double-dealing nature of American foreign policy leaders. . . .

The pattern is always the same. We go to places we're not welcome, tell the public a confounding political problem can be solved militarily, and lie about our motives in occupying the country to boot. Then we pick a local civilian political authority to back that inevitably proves to be corrupt and repressive, increasing local antagonism toward the American presence.

In response to those increasing levels of antagonism, we then ramp up our financial, political, and military commitment to the mission, which in turn heightens the level of resistance, leading to greater losses in lives and treasure. As the cycle worsens, the government systematically accelerates the lies to the public about our level of "progress."

Throughout, we make false assurances of security that are believed by significant numbers of local civilians, guaranteeing they will later either become refugees or targets for retribution as collaborators. Meanwhile, financial incentives for contractors, along with political disincentives to admission of failure, prolong the mission.

This all goes on for so long that the lies become institutionalized, believed not only by press contracted to deliver the propaganda (CBS's David Martin this weekend saying with a straight face, "Everybody is surprised by the speed of this collapse" was typical), but even by the bureaucrats who concocted the deceptions in the first place.

The look of genuine shock on the face of Tony Blinken this weekend as he jousted with Jake Tapper about Biden's comments from July should tell people around the world something important about the United States: in addition to all the other things about us that are dangerous, we lack self-knowledge.

That's a pretty succinct sketch of America in Afghanistan, but written generically so it also has obvious parallels with Vietnam (and Iraq -- a bit less of an embarrassment given that they wound up with a government we consider some kind of ally, but one which ultimately asked us to leave). Still, the coups, incursions, and occupations which didn't descend into quagmires exhibited many of the same traits: the main difference was that resistance there wasn't organized sufficiently to provoke Americans into showing true colors. In every case Americans see themselves as benign, although they're mostly self-interested and self-absorbed, oblivious to the harms they import on friend and foe alike.

Even though this week's events show clearly that Americans totally misjudged Afghanistan, you still see commentators clinging to the same conceits and delusions, especially in the sudden concern to evacuate as many Afghans as possible, saving them from the terrifying clutches of the Taliban. I don't doubt that there are people in need of saving, but let's be clear: this is a story which reflects the core story line we told ourselves: Taliban = bad, America = good. I'm not saying the US shouldn't take in refugees, but I'm not saying we should either. I understand the sense of obligation -- everyone should clean up after themselves -- but the greater moral lapse was launching the war in the first place. Accepting refugees is part of the price of colonialism, which is only made possible because there are always locals willing to trade old masters for new ones, to serve the invaders, to flatter and enable them. And, of ocurse, when they fail, they expect to be saved. They may be right, but they're still apologists for bad policy in the first place.

One thing I've always been critical of is how the US made no effort to negotiate a transfer of power in Vietnam that would have offered guarantees against reprisals for Vietnamese who supported the US, but were willing to stay. It's possible that the US will do better this time: the collapse of the provisional government was so fast that the US is having to negotiate with the Taliban just to get Americans out of the country. What would be better than carting off as many Afghans as one feels responsible for would be an agreement where the Taliban promises not to engage in reprisals, but the US (and other countries) have the right to offer exile to anyone who gets prosecuted by the Taliban.

I've talked about this idea before: an international treaty which establishes a "right to exile," where people who are jailed in one country can be claimed by another country, allowing them to continue their lives in exile. There would, of course, be much resistance to this from the United States, where we insist on the right not just to punish our own citizens for political crimes but to kidnap and imprison foreign nationals (or to just assassinate them -- note that for a "right to exile" to work, one would also have to outlaw capital punishment and extrajudicial killings).

Someone should write a book that carefully and critically sifts through the media hour-by-hour and day-by-day reporting on 9/11. I was in Brooklyn at the time, with Laura Tillem and Liz Fink, and they were glued to the TV while the towers fell, and the immediate human tragedy metamorphosed into a national (and international) political crisis. I spent most of the day loosely connected, one ear picking up the broadcasts, while I thumbed through a picture book called Century, which in my mind put the day's events into the context of the very bloody 20th century. I remember bits and pieces from the news. Most relevant here were the chyrons: by mid-day they were announcing "America under attack"; that evening, they came up with some grainy video from Kabul, showing a rocket explosion, so they changed the chyron to read "America strikes back." By the time the Kabul video appeared, it was widely reported that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Still, it was the media that assumed that the American response would be war, and they wasted no time cheering it on.

It took Bush-Cheney a month to launch its war, but the media blitz had answered one question: would launching a war be a popular move? There was no need for war, and every reason to expect that war would be ineffective and would cause longer-term repercussions that could easily spiral out of control. The number of people involved in 9/11 numbered in the dozens, with all the actual bombers already dead. Pakistan readily agreed to help find and prosecute the others. The Taliban balked, which hardly meant that negotiation was impossible. But Bush-Cheney, secure in the knowledge that the political media was gung-ho for war, rejected negotiation and plunged right in.

They knew that the Taliban was weak and unpopular, and that its hold on Afghanistan was fragile. The Northern Alliance still ruled the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, and still drew on international support to fight the Taliban. Just days before 9/11 Bush-Cheney decided to side with them, which made the subsequent decision to invade all but automatic. It didn't exactly go smoothly -- Alliance leader Mahmoud Shah Massoud was killed, as was US favorite Abdul Haq. But the CIA entered with buckets of cash and hired a bevy of mercenary warlords, while the Taliban and Al-Qaeda slipped away, to regroup and fight another day, leaving the US stuck with the rump of a failed state and a lot of jaded, war-weary people.

I referred to the rapid advance of US-backed forces as the "feel good days of the war." They didn't last long, but the high sufficed to get Bush-Cheney looking for bigger and richer game in Iraq. Meanwhile, the initial goal of mopping up Al-Qaeda had failed, and the exit of the Taliban left a vacuum filled by the warlords -- the same people whose mismanagement had made the Taliban possible -- plus some slapdash political veneer, and finally the US military. After that, it all went wrong, for more reasons than I can count. But one was certainly that Bush-Cheney were too committed to stripping public resources and undermining democracy at home to be bothered with building a competent, popular government half way around the world.

Some more recent pieces on Afghanistan (no attempt to be comprehensive or representative here):

  • Tariq Ali: Debacle in Afghanistan. Author previously (in 2008) wrote Afghanistan: Mirage of the Good War: "The problem was . . . the Western state-building project itself, by its nature an exogenous process -- aiming to construct an army able to suppress its own population but incapable of defending the nation from outside powers; a civil administration with no control over planing or social infrastructure, which are in the hands of Western NGOs; and a government whose foreign policy marches in step with Washington's. It bore no relation to the realities on the ground." Given how circumscribed the project was, is it any wonder that the anointed Afghans did little but help themselves to the spoils, planning to skip out as soon as the gig is up?

  • Eric Alterman: Altercation: How Low Can They Go? The Media's Afghan Coverage.

  • Zhou Bo: In Afghanistan, China Is Ready to Step Into the Void: And why not? There's little the US can do that China cannot, and little the US can do to China to express displeasure. And Chinese investments come with fewer strings, and less greed for returns (key line here: "China has patience"), than Americans or Europeans expect. And if the Taliban turn out to be really repressive, China won't mind. China might even give them some pointers. By the way, don't expect Pakistan to bow to US pressure now the way it did in 2001. China has become a more reliable anti-India ally than the US ever was, and that's the main thing Pakistan cares about. I also expect that US hostility will drive Russia, Iran, and Turkey into becoming friends of Taliban.

  • Patrick Cockburn: The Choice Facing Afghans: Do a Deal With the Taliban or Flee; also It is Government Weakness, Not Taliban Strength, That Condemns Afghanistan.

  • Laura Jedeed: Afghanistan Meant Nothing: Veteran, did two tours in the country, "all I feel is grim relief."

  • Fred Kaplan: America's Failure in Afghanistan Started 20 Years Ago: "It started in November 2001 . . . when an international conference decided the new Afghanistan would be led by a centralized government in Kabul following the principles of democracy and a civil society." Oh, that's what it was supposed to be? He makes it sound like the Afghans weren't ready for democracy, but perhaps the problem was that its centralized design was preferred by the US to install and control Hamid Karzai, viewed at the time as a friendly and pliant leader. I've long thought that a federal system would have worked better in that it would allow power to be more evenly distributed to localized ethnic groups. But that was only the start of the problems. The division of spoils among warlords fixed not democracy but feudalism as an operating principle. And excluding the Taliban from the political process made it possible for them to regroup outside the system, free from the taint of American-financed corruption, with no obligation to practice the democracy they were denied. Kaplan winds up quoting Michèle Flournoy, who admits that "the United States and its allies got it really wrong from the very beginning," and adds: "The bar was set based on our democratic ideals, not on what was sustainable and workable in an Afghan context." She doesn't explain what the latter might be, but the US tried rigged elections, bribery, and sheer force, and they didn't work any better. Kaplan also wrote: The One Big Thing Biden Got Right About Afghanistan: That it never stood a chance of working. A week ago, he also wrote: Trump's New Big Lie: Afghanistan. I don't get the point of saying "Biden has handled the situation badly." Even if one had anticipated the accelerated timetable for withdrawing not just troops but nationals and allies, it was very difficult to admit as much. It may even be the case that panic has let the military focus.

  • Jen Kirby: Who are the Taliban now? One of the few pieces I've seen that at least considers the possibility that the Taliban have evolved over their 20 years out of power, although the author (like most Americans) is clearly predisposed to cling to "but they're still the Taliban." That's certainly possible, but one thing I've learned in reading about Islam is that the religion can be flexible and tolerant when it suits its practitioners. The two big questions in weeks to come will be how tolerant the Taliban is of diversity internally, and how much legitimacy the Taliban will seek and achieve internationally. I think the two are related, with the key being how much resistance they encounter, both among Afghans and around the world.

  • Eric Levitz: Afghan Refugee Crisis Will Test the Strength of GOP Nativism: Not really. As long as they think it makes Biden look bad, Republicans may give him some guff over his failures, but anti-immigrant wing (well, more like the body) of the party won't want to welcome Afghan refugees, no matter how much they sacrificed to help America's stupid war aims (and not just because they're Muslims, although that's part of it). You're starting to see some of this, especially with Tucker Carlson. Expect more. At some point Trump will chime in, with "I like immigrants who aren't losers."

  • Anatol Lieven: The general lied and the fantasy died: "H.R. McMaster and other apologists for the failed policy in Afghanistan would like us to focus on anything but their complicity in it today." Also: Why Afghan Forces So Quickly Laid Down Their Arms: "Opposing Afghan factions have long negotiated arrangements to stop fighting -- something the U.S. either failed to understand or chose to ignore."

  • Ezzatullah Mehrdad/Sudarsan Raghavan: Anti-Taliban fighters claim victories as first stirrings of armed resistance emerge: "Claims that could not be independently verified," but a reminder that although the Taliban have taken all of Afghanistan's major cities, there are still pockets where they're not in control. I expect that the more violent resistance there is to the Taliban takeover, the more repressive the regime will become, the more unpopular, and the less successful. No doubt anti-Taliban guerrillas will attract sympathy from many Americans, but US government support would consign Afghanistan to many more years of futile war.

  • MME staff: President Ashraf Ghani in UAE on 'humanitarian grounds': I was going to make a joke about how fleeing gives him a chance to reunite with his foreign bank accounts, but the reports are more prosaic; e.g.: "Ghani had escaped with $169m in cash in bags before Kabul fell to the Taliban." [PS: Ghani denies taking cash: Ashraf Ghani says he fled Afghanistan to avoid being lynched.]

  • Viet Thanh Nguyen: I Can't Forget the Lessons of Vietnam. Neither Should You. One of America's finest novelists and critics, fled Saigon with his family when he was 4 years old, so not surprising that his lessons are not the same ones I drew from that same war.

  • Andrew Prokop: Why Biden was so set on withdrawing from Afghanistan: "Even in 2009, he didn't believe the military had a strategy for victory." As I recall, Biden was pushing a strategy he called "counterterrorism," while the military (especially General Petraeus and McChrystal) had come up with an ambitious "counterinsurgency" strategy, which would focus on building trust and winning hearts and minds. Obama went with McChrystal, then fired him after Michael Hastings' book (The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan) came out: not, as was often written, because McChrystal had made disrespectful remarks about Obama, but because the military had revolted, deeming the new strategy too risky to their security. (Note that McChrystal's second, Michael Flynn, was even more insolent, but Obama went on to promote him to run DIA.) Obama appointed Petraeus to take over McChrystal's command, but by then Petraeus had given up on counterinsurgency. It's doubtful that Biden's alternative approach would have done any good, other than by reducing the American footprint, which was what was really driving Afghans to embrace the Taliban.

  • Aaron Rupar: The dark irony of who TV news talks to about Afghanistan: "Cable news is dominated by the same Afghanistan hawks who created this mess." No surprise here: "Fox News has been by far the worst offender in this regard."

  • Grace Segers: Biden Finally Unifies Congress -- Against His Afghanistan Withdrawal Debacle: This just goes to show that politics in America has nothing to do with policy but is totally subject to rhetoric. If it sounds good, it must be right. It makes you wonder why politicians even try to win. After all, if you do, you're stuck defending yourself in the real world, while the losers get to second guess you every which way.

  • Liz Sly: Afghanistan's collapse leaves allies questioning U.S. resolve on other fronts: Sure, why not pile on? I wish I could chalk this up to lack of resolve. That might suggest that US security mandarins are developing a sense of limits. But really, they made a bet that failed, and has left them with no other options (OK, Steve Coll suggests "bombing Afghanistan to smithereens," but he doesn't explain how that might help). They did everything they knew how to do to stand up a friendly government with a well-equipped army. And, frankly, neither would have been viewed as more legitimate had the US continued to prop them up. As I've seen written several times recently, time was on the Taliban's side, not the Americans'. Either it works, or it doesn't, and it didn't.

  • Jeffrey St. Clair: Roaming Charges: When the Empire of Graveyards Falls in the Graveyard of Empires.

  • David Wood: "If Killing People Would Win This, We'd Have Won a Long Time Ago". Quote comes from Marine Colonel. Also quoted is an infantryman: "Those targets in Afghanistan will never end, because there's an infinite supply of enemy and a finite supply of us."

  • Robin Wright: Does the Great Retreat From Afghanistan Mark the End of the American Era? More likely the era ended when America got suckered into entering and taking over Afghanistan. After all, that was Bin Laden's plan all around. 9/11 was just bait, an audacious challenge to those "world's sole hyperpower" boasts. (By the way, I expected something better from Wright than this lament, but after she details all the times she went there with this or that general, you can see where her prejudices lie.)

  • Matthew Yglesias: Biden (and Trump) did the right thing on Afghanistan: "The war was lost long ago -- if it was ever winnable." No, it never was, but reading this shows more superficial reasons than the truism that wars only have losers, even if you can distinguish relative degrees. What's clear is that the US had no idea what "winning the war" might mean. I'm not even sure that they wanted to catch Bin Laden. (When Obama finally did, it changed nothing.) All they really wanted to do was to throw a gigantic temper tantrum -- to show the world that this is what you get for 9/11. How else do you explain the rejection of the Taliban's surrender offer? Omar's culpability was far less than Hirohito's, but the swelled heads in Washington couldn't see that. One more link jumps out at me here: "Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military": I guess Rumsfeld was right: you go with the Army you have, not the Army you want or need.

Finally, here's a list of books I've read on Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a few more general "war on terror" books, but not ones specifically on Iraq or other Arab countries (which would more than double the list) or Israel or American militarism (which would double it again). These are probably longer on background, with a relative shortfall of books on the Afghan government (and its corruption) and the evolution of the Taliban.

  • Robert D Kaplan: Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan (1990; paperback, 2001, Vintage)
  • Gilles Kepel: Jihad: The Trail of Politican Islam (2000, Belknap Press)
  • Ahmed Rashid: Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (paperback, 2000, IB Tauris) -- updated 2010.
  • Tariq Ali: The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002, Verso)
  • Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004, Penguin Books)
  • Anonymous [Michael Scheuer]: Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (2004, Potomac Books)
  • Rory Stewart: The Places in Between (paperback, 2006, Harvest Books)
  • Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage Books)
  • Tariq Ali: The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008; paperback, 2009, Scribner)
  • Ahmed Rashid: Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (2008, Viking)
  • Gregory Feifer: The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan (2009, Harper)
  • Seth G Jones: In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan (2009, WW Norton)
  • Jon Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009, Doubleday)
  • Gretchen Peters: Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda (2009, Thomas Dunne)
  • Nicholas Schmidle: To Live or to Perish: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan (2009; paperback, 2010, Henry Holt)
  • Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2011, Nation Books)
  • Michael Hastings: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Story of America's War in Afghanistan (2012, Blue Rider Press)
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf)
  • Andrew Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016; paperback, 2017, Random House)
  • Steve Coll: Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2018, Penguin Press)
  • Matt Farwell/Michael Ames: American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan (2019, Penguin Books)

I probably have 100 books on Afghanistan in my Book Notes file. I started to pull out a select list of books that struck me as interesting, but they're pretty uneven, and not many are recent. Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes is one of the most promising, but I kind of gave up reading about Afghanistan after the Hastings and Chandrasekaran books in 2012. I expect there will be a rush to write up what's happening now, as most recent books have fallen behind. Meanwhile, Craig Whitlock's The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (Simon & Schuster) is due Aug. 31, and Spencer Ackerman's more general Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (Viking) came out last week. Also on the schedule for November 30 is Tariq Ali's The Forty Year War in Afghanistan and Its Predictable Outcome (Verso), probably undergoing some minor touch up right now (it's an essay collection, no doubt including the articles linked to above).

One last thought: I found it pretty gratifying a few days back when Seth Meyers repeatedly referred to "the disastrous war on terror," as if that's not just established fact but common wisdom. He even posted a picture of Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the Afghanistan War authorization. On the other hand, I was dismayed in this article search to see another piece talking about how "9/11 brought us all together." I've rarely felt more separated and divided from other Americans than after 9/11 as war fever swept the nation. Still, not totally separated, as I was able to find a demonstration against the madness. (I was in New York at the time, but my wife had returned to Wichita, and she, too, found a friendly demonstration -- the beginning of our circle of friends after moving here in 1999.) There was nothing nostalgic about launching the war in Afghanistan. It was a recipe for disaster, and nearly everyone can see that today.

Daily Log

Afghanistan/Pakistan books of possible interest I haven't read:

  • Sarah Chayes: The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (2006; paperback, 2007, Penguin Books)
  • Ann Jones: Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (paperback, 2007, Picador)
  • Jules Stewart: Crimson Snow: Britain's First Disaster in Afghanistan (2008, Sutton)
  • Mick Simonelli: Riding a Donkey Backwards Through Afghanistan: How I Successfully Spent $400 Million of Your Taxpayer Dollars to Build the Afghanistan National Army (paperback, 2009, Mill City)
  • Thomas Barfield: Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (2010, Princeton University Press)
  • Nick Turse, ed.: The Case for Withdrawal From Afghanistan (paperback, 2010, Verso)
  • David Wildman/Phyllis Bennis: Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer (paperback, 2010, Olive Branch Press)
  • Rodric Braithwaite: Afghansty: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (2011, Oxford University Press)
  • Anatol Lieven: Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011, Public Affairs)
  • Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan (2012, Viking)
  • William Dalrymple: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 (2013, Knopf)
  • Barnett R Rubin: Afghanistan From the Cold War Through the War on Terror (2013, Oxford University Press)
  • Jack Fairweather: The Good War: Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan (2014, Basic Books)
  • Anand Gopal: No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (2014, Metropolitan)
  • Sarah Chayes: Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (2015, WW Norton)

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Daily Log

Got several comments back following last Friday's Speaking of Which, on Matt Taibbi on Barack Obama. Frank @IN_Communist wrote:

  1. Taibbi is a bad-faith reactionary who increasingly doesn't even bother to pose as a leftist, similar to Greenwald & Dore. So I agree w/ a good portion of what you say. But I disagree w/ calling Obama the "antithesis" of Trump. Obama is too conservative and capitalist to be that.

  2. As you note, Obama is a believer in trickle-down economics. He is a capitalist ideologue viewed as a non-ideological pragmatist with some progressive leanings only because of how rotten and consumed by capitalist ideology our society is.

  3. I believe his presidency will largely be remembered as a continuation of the Reagan era. But you are right, that obviously doesn't excuse people turning to Trump. Thinking it does is a mistake too many on the left are making, under the influence of people like Taibbi.

  4. To be clear, Obama's major flaws don't even really *explain* people supporting Trump, let alone excuse it. Sure, there were some Obama-Trump voters, but Trump's appeal was always primarily based on scapegoating the most marginalized people.

Mostly reasonable points, although I still think it helps more to view Obama and Trump as antitheses than to dwell on the few things they have in common, especially ones well outside of the Overton Window (e.g., soft spot for capitalism). But I will grant that it's not exactly transitive: Trump is much more the antithesis of Obama than vice versa, probably because he actually viewed himself as such.

Obama as integral to the Reagan-to-Trump era is a point I've been making for some time now, so it's nice to see it agreed to. My bit on Obama supporting "trickle-down" isn't conventional thinking. He almost certainly disagrees with the Laffer hypothesis (about tax cuts paying for themselves through growth), but I'm referring to a broader point: the idea that helping the rich get richer will in some way ultimately benefit the non-rich. Obama did eventually give some lip-service to worries about increasing inequality, but he did damn little to stem it.

I looked through Frank's Twitter feed, but didn't find much more of interest. "Dore" is Jimmy Dore, but he started as a comedian, and seems to host a talk show.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Music Week

Expanded blog post, August archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 35 albums, 8 A-list, mostly old catalog with a few recent Consumer Guide picks; plus a short note on Afghanistan that doesn't include the words "I told you so," but you know I did.

Music: Current count 36036 [36001] rated (+35), 218 [220] unrated (-2).

Looks like a decent week, but count is off from recent weeks, especially given how much of what follows is old music. Had a couple days last week where I essentially gave up and just listened to oldies. Got a bit of a lift mid-week when Robert Christgau published his August Consumer Guide -- I'm linking to the time-locked website version, where everyone can at least get a list of records reviewed (there's a link there to the And It Don't Stop newsletter, where the text is paywalled). Five records below from this month's batch. Others I had previously checked out [my grades in brackets]:

  • Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (Darkroom/Interscope) [A-]
  • Robert Finley: Sharecropper's Son (Easy Eye Sound) [B+(***)]
  • The Goon Sax: Mirror II (Matador) [B+(**)]
  • Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (Heavenly Sweetness) [A]
  • Los Lobos: Native Sons (New West) [B+(*)]
  • Mach-Hommy: Pray for Haiti (Griselda) [B+(***)]
  • Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (Invada, EP) [B+(***)]

That leaves two albums unheard: Mach-Hommy's HBO (Haitian Body Odor), and Star Feminine Band. I replayed Mach-Hommy's Pray for Haiti, but left my grade unchanged. (Needless to say, all this was before Haiti was wracked by another earthquake, soon followed by a tropical storm.)

I cheated a bit in building a playlist for the Ace Directions in Music compilation (substituted a Miles Davis take of a Wayne Shorter song for the latter's own Super Nova version). The swap almost certainly didn't hurt the album, but not having the booklet, I'm missing the compiler's explanation for his choices, not least why he talks about the emergence of "electric jazz" instead of "fusion." Either way, it wasn't much of a "new age of jazz" -- which isn't to say that no new and interesting things were happening then, just that they are poorly represented in this compilation.

This week's "old music" continued my scan through the list of albums Christgau graded but I hadn't. My fault I went so deep into 1960s Manfred Mann -- just a personal itch I had to scratch. On the other hand, I barely touched Sparrow -- surprised to find so much on Napster. Next up: Youssou N'Dour, but most of what I missed is pretty hard to find.

Seems like I've been neglecting my new promo queue, but only 5 records there have been released (3 just this week). August is always a lax month, which is part of the reason I've been slipping.

I should probably write something on Afghanistan, but I don't see much urgency at the moment. (E.g., this relatively sane Aug. 13 article still thinks "a possible Taliban capture of Kabul itself could be a matter of months, perhaps even weeks.") I, too, didn't expect the Taliban to take over so quickly and completely. After all, the Soviet-backed regime held out three years after the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the 1990s Taliban never quite consolidated control before the US intervened. That suggests several things, of which the least well documented in the possibility that today's Taliban may be much more skillful politically than the old one was. The most striking thing about the current sweep is that most towns have been taken over without fighting, and we haven't seen anything like the massacres that occurred in the 1990s when the Taliban conquered cities like Herat. This suggests that the Taliban have much more popular support (or at least tolerance) than we have been led to believe. It also underscores how ready the mercenary army stood up by the US and NATO were to switch sides. That means that any effort by the US to re-impose order will have to start from scratch. Given that degree of failure after 20 years, that should be a sobering thought.

Needless to say, a lot of neocon idiots are piling on Biden for "losing Afghanistan." That makes for seductive rhetoric, but there's no reality to it. The venture was doomed from the start, both because we didn't care about (let alone understand) the Afghans, and because we didn't understand (let alone care about) ourselves.

New records reviewed this week:

  • Emily Duff: Razor Blade Smile (2021, Mr. Mudshow Music): [r]: A-
  • Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: Conversations (2019 [2021], Spicerack): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nas: King's Disease II (2021, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pearring Sound: Socially Distanced Duos (2020 [2021], self-released): [cd]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Simigwa (1975 [2018], Mr. Bongo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Directions in Music: 1969 to 1973: Miles Davis, His Musicians and the Birth of a New Age of Jazz (1969-73 [2021], BGP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Amy Rigby: A One Way Ticket to My Life (1987-97 [2019], Southern Domestic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Joseph Spence: Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing (1965 [2021], Smithsonian/Folkways): [r]: A-

Old music:

  • Emily Duff: Maybe in the Morning (2017, Mod Prom): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Emily Duff: Hallelujah Hello (2019, Mr. Mudshow Music): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Manfred Mann: The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (1964, HMV): [r]: B+(*)
  • Manfred Mann: Mann Made (1965, HMV): [r]: C+
  • Manfred Mann: Mann Made Hits (1964-66 [1966], HMV): [r]: B
  • Manfred Mann: The Best of Manfred Mann: The Definitive Collection (1963-66 [1992], EMI): [r]: B
  • Manfred Mann: As Is (1966, Fontana): [r]: B
  • Manfred Mann: Chapter Two: The Best of the Fontana Years (1966-69 [1994], Fontana/Chronicles): [r]: B-
  • Manfred Mann: Hit Mann! The Essential Singles 1963-1969 (1963-69 [2008], Raven): [r]: B+(**)
  • Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Glorified Magnified (1972, Polydor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Get Your Rocks Off (1973, Polydor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Messin' (1973 [1998], Cohesion): [r]: B+(**)
  • Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited: Mr. Music (1985, Earthworks): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): [r]: A-
  • Mary McCaslin: Prairie in the Sky (1975, Philo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mary McCaslin: Old Friends (1977, Philo): [r]: A-
  • Mary McCaslin: Broken Promises (1994, Philo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary McCaslin: Better Late Than Never (2006, Mary McCaslin Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Mekons: F.U.N. '90 (1990, A&M, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: Collector's Item: All Their Greatest Hits (1972-75 [1976], Philadelphia International): [r]: B+(***)
  • Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes Featuring Teddy Pendergrass: Blue Notes & Ballads (1972-75 [1998], Epic/Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Mighty Clouds of Joy: It's Time (1974, ABC Dunhill): [yt]: B+(***)
  • The Mighty Clouds of Joy: The Best of the Mighty Clouds of Joy Volume 2 [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (2005-10 [2016], Motown Gospel): [r]: B
  • [Mighty] Sparrow: King of the World (1984, B's): [r]: A-
  • Mighty Sparrow: More Sparrow More!! (1969, Ra): [r]: A-
  • Mighty Sparrow: Hot and Sweet (1974, Warner Bros.): [r]: A-
  • Nas: God's Son (2002, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nas: Untitled (2008, Def Jam): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sheila Jordan: Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (Capri) [09-27]

Friday, August 13, 2021

Speaking of Which

Blog link.

Tweet: Speaking of Which: I'll grant that there are many reasons to be critical of Obama, also that his 60th birthday bash made his class affinities even clearer, but doesn't excuse Matt Taibbi calling him "a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time."

Wasn't going to write anything this week, but I got ticked off by Twitter today, and couldn't fit the depths of my outrage into a measly 280 chars.

Matt Taibbi: The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama: I've only read the "excerpt from today's subscriber-only post" -- not a great look for a guy who's accusing other people of selling out -- and probably wouldn't have gone that far had I not been irritated by seeing him plug the piece seven straight times in his Twitter feed, to his 542.7K followers (of which I am, with increasing regret, one). (I don't think I've ever tweeted about one of my posts more than once, not wanting to impose on my modest but growing 542 followers.) And I still probably wouldn't have mentioned it except for this line:

Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time -- he fooled us all. . . . He sold us out, and it's time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America.

So, six months after Donald Trump left office, after four years of presiding over the most corrupt, mendacious, inept, and cruel administration in American history, Obama is the one remembered as "a common swindler" and "one of the great political liars of all time"? These statements defy history and logic by a mind-boggling degree. But they depend not just on overlooking most of what Trump did in the last four years, but also on blaming Obama for the rest of Trump's malign legacy.

Look, I've been pretty critical of Obama not just in retrospect but from the early days of his presidential campaign. You can read what I wrote in two large compilations of my notebook blog for the years 2009-2012 and 2013-2016 -- with bits on the campaign in the 2001-2009 volume, as well as an accounting of the Trump years 2017-2020 (these files are in Open Office format, a free word processor program, but you should also be able to import then into Microsoft Word, if that's the tool you prefer or are stuck with; they are pretty long). In assembling those files, I was a bit surprised at how critical I was of Obama (and how early), because I don't remember bearing him any ill will -- indeed, I had no qualms voting for him over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, nor did I have any doubt when he ran against the war-monger John McCain in 2008 or the vulture capitalist Mitt Romney in 2012, so I think I can claim a fair and reasoned appreciation of him.

Early on I criticized him for his lack of critical insight and vision. Later on I faulted him for not recognizing Republicans for the lethal madness they had embraced, and for not doing enough to build up a Democratic Party capable of defending against them. At all times, he remained a staunch and naive believer in American dreams and fantasies. That may have contributed to the "hopeless cynical mess that is modern America," but wasn't it Trump who made fun of Obama for ending every speech with "God bless America"? Sure, Obama's platitudes failed to solve America's problems, but America didn't have to respond with his antithesis.

In the long run, Obama's legacy comes down to two things. He will be remembered for running a relatively competent and legal administration, at least compared to Republicans fore and aft. And we'll lament the opportunity costs, eight years desperately in need of solutions that never came, and that ended in vicious recoil. If Biden seems radical today, it's because so many years of inaction and folly have made sensible policies that much more urgent now.

Still, even though Biden's agenda and tactics today are rooted in a sharp critique of Obama's agenda and tactics, no one makes a big deal out of that. Obama, Clinton, and for that matter Carter, are respected but obsolete former Democrats, carrying on with their lives while they still have them. Carter, perhaps because he grew up in a more public-minded era, or maybe just because he got rich before he got into politics, has had a very honorable post-presidential career, while the others come off looking like grifters, even though their actual tenure in office was respectably free of corruption. Even Taibbi gives them a bullshit out ("getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American"; most Americans, including many of us whose roots in this country go back centuries, have nothing resembling that birthright). I'm inclined to be less generous: I hate the tendency to equate "American dream" with becoming rich and famous, and have serious doubts about the moral virtue of such a quest.

Still, why single Obama out for approbation that should apply to his entire class? If for hypocrisy, why assume that Democrats should eschew the material riches Republicans are expected to aspire to? Just because Obama's Democratic Party had a modicum of respect for workers, a whit of care for the poor, and a modest aspiration to opening up opportunities, doesn't contradict the warm support they habitually doled out to business. (It's the zero-sum Republicans who believe they're getting ahead by hurting others.) Obama may have been the last politician in America to truly believe in trickle-down: the silly notion that when you help the rich (e.g., by bailing out bankers), you're helping everyone. In one way Obama was exemplary: his failures are directly attributable to his faulty convictions.

Still, Taibbi's dumbest mistake is in using Obama to excuse Donald Trump. There's no excuse for that. Only shame.

Reminder: if you haven't already, go to HBO Max to see Betrayal at Attica. Brilliant film, featuring interviews with the indomitable Elizabeth Fink, and testimony from the resilient Frank Smith. I'm proud to have known both of them. And by the way, if you think "black lives matter" and "blue lives matter" are antithetical, you weren't in the courtyard at Attica that day, or in the courts thereafter.

Also, just found Amy Rigby's song released on Jan. 19, 2021, remembering Four Years of U. Webpage proclaims "We made it! (except for those who didn't)." Let me dedicate this to Diane Wahto, who once bravely proclaimed "we survived one George Bush; we can survive another." She did, but didn't make it through four years of Trump. Also to Kal Tillem, who didn't quite make it through the second Bush.

PS: When I went to post this, I saw a Taibbi tweet which read: "9% of Obama's 2012 voters voted for Trump, so yes, some of them were." I mention this because something in the excerpt I read made me wonder what that specific number was. I would have guessed a bit less, and put the number of Romney-to-Clinton voters even less.

Looked at Twitter next morning and my feed started off with yet another self-plug for Taibbi's column, under this: "Barack Obama's destiny was greatness, but then he became everything he promised to never be. On his vanishing legacy:". Stats: 282 retweets, 40 quote tweets, 1,468 likes. Some comments (mine after dashes):

  • SchoolShrink: An excellent piece. There are no words to describe how much I wish Obama had lost to Mitt Romney in 2012. I kept blaming his problems on Republican obstructionism Little did I know that he was politically right of George W. Bush. With the audacity of hope, we had blinders on. -- Short, faulty memories on Bush and Romney, who campaigned far to the right of his past or subsequent records. Not what he means, but the biggest blinder is thinking that a "leader" can overcome institutional bounds. Bush and Trump may have held heterodox views, but they stocked their administrations with hardcore, far-right conservatives. No reason to think Romney wouldn't have done the same. A big part of Obama's problem was that he recycled Clinton's neolibs even more completely than Clinton recycled Carter's. I think that was probably where Obama's head was at, but he would have had to work very hard to do otherwise. Similarly, every president has inherited a deep security state, which has made it impossible to change direction, even though Obama seemed to want to, at least back in 2008. I'll also note that Obama did better things in his second term: he gave up on trying to work with Congress, and started issuing more executive orders, and his new Secretary of State was willing to break new ground, where his old one wasn't. The down side is that anything that could be done by presidential fiat could also be undone, so Trump was able to wipe out all of Obama's second term accomplishments, but the laws Obama passed in his first term have proven more durable.

  • samantha: The fact Dems lost massive number of governorships, the Senate and House during his tenure shld attest to that. But no, when it comes to Obama, the hype always wins over the reality. -- Note that Obama wasn't the first Democratic president to have lost Congress after two years, and never put a serious effort into regaining Congress, even as part of his successful re-election campaign. Bill Clinton did exactly that, turning the party into his private patronage group -- which it still was to ensure Hillary Clinton's nomination in 2016. Contrast that with Harry Truman, who lost Congress in 1946, and campaigned against it in 1948.

  • Tabby: At last! Thank you @mtaibbi. This was evident all along but most journalists preferred to drink the koolaid. -- Really? The suggestion is that Obama was always an insipid, avaricious fraud, but journalists conspired to cover that up because they were so smitten with him. That doesn't correspond with my memory. If anything, they found him too boring, and wanted to poke him into reaction. (Except for the "Fox journalists," another species altogether, who were in a constant state of hysterical rage, yet somehow failed to discover the faults Taibbi has latched onto.)

  • Kris Legion: He did exactly what he was suppose to do. He did exactly what he really was.

  • Reeve Barker: His legacy isn't vanishing. It's becoming clearer.

  • Mark Lyons failed entropy warrior: Define irony: Matt Taibbi writing about writing about a vanishing legacy.

  • Joseph Arnold: Matt Taibbi will fight until his dying breath to complain about the good that has been done and scold because the perfect was missed.

  • Into the mystic: His destiny was greatness. Bwahahaha! You writing a novel, dude? -- The old adage is: the higher you climb, the harder you fall. The corollary is the more you want to tear someone down, the higher you have to pump them up first. Unfortunately, Taibbi saddled Obama with the most inflated, vacuous word in the language. Has he been paying any attention in the last four years?

  • Deena Stryker: If Obama disappointed, then greatness was not his destiny.....

  • Jamie: JFC, I think his birthday bash let a lot of us down. To a significant degree. But to call him a liar and a swindler and vacuous and question his legacy is simply way off base.

  • csofie: [Meme, caps reduced:] Say what you will about President Obama -- but his class and eloquence really made the deportation of 2.5 million illegal immigrants, the bombing of 7 Muslim countries, the whitewashing of torture under Bush, the continuation of the drug war, the rampant prosecution of government whistleblowers, and his expansion of government surveillance, go down smooth. -- Underscores my point that Obama went along with the institutional "norms" established by his predecessors. Nothing on this list was newly instigated by Obama, although he arguably was more diligent and effective (especially on deportations and drone warfare). Also note that nothing on this list appeared among the non-stop attacks from Fox. Maybe if liberals hadn't felt so under attack, they would have been more self-critical.

I added this one:

  • Tom Hull: Haven't you noticed that greatness is the most vacuous of words? Sure, it helps to prop him up so you can knock him down. But his real fault is earnestness. He always believed this American dream nonsense. Made him president, living it as ex.

Marianne shared this meme: "It's not the governments job to protect my health. It's the governments job to protect my rights. It's my job to protect my health. When you trade liberty for safety, you end up losing both." Sheesh. Moved me to comment:

Actually, protecting health is one of the most basic things government does, at least in America. The FDA keeps a lot of bad food and drugs off the market. Local health inspectors keep restaurants from making you sick. The EPA keeps companies from dumping toxic substances into the air and water. The CDC monitors diseases, and helps us avoid them or get over them. The government provides sewage treatment plants to keep us from living in filth -- probably the single biggest boost to human lifespan ever. I don't know what "rights" you think you're losing for being able to live longer and healthier lives, but without public-minded efforts of government, your would enjoy your "rights" much less.

From No More Mr Nice Blog:

I've told you over and over and over again for years that this country is divided into two groups: Republicans and Americans. On guns, on abortion, on the minimum wage, on climate change, on the Iraq War in Bush's second term, on Trump, and now on COVID, Democrats and independents have largely been in agreement. It's Republicans who are the outliers. It's Republicans who stand in the way of consensus. It's Republicans who won't let us have nice things.

Let's see if we can reduce this to a tweet:

From No More Mr Nice Blog: "This country is divided into two groups: Republicans and Americans. On [long list] Democrats and independents have largely been in agreement. It's Republicans who are the outliers." URL

Looks like 2 retweets, 15 likes, and 4 new followers after the Obama/Taibbi tweet ("I'll grant that there are many reasons . . .").

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Daily Log

I finally kicked back against one of Marianne Cowan Pyatt's idiot right-wing posts. This listed the "18 RINO Senators voted on Saturday in favor of the Democrat Party's infrastructure bill, something Democrats never allowed to reach President Trump's desk. The RINOs gave Joe Biden a rare win at a time when the illegitimate president is sinking in the polls and continues to struggle with his diminishing faculties." I replied:

Good for them! Shows that at least some Republicans are willing to do something to make up for our nation's long neglect of infrastructure investment. Trump campaigned on the need for infrastructure spending, then never lifted a finger to deliver. Now if only some Republicans would come around on the rest of the Democrats' infrastructure plans. Thank God for Joe Biden.