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Monday, June 10, 2024

Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 42460 [42421] rated (+39), 31 [36] unrated (-5).

I published a pretty long Speaking of Which Sunday night (209 links, 12260 words). I fixed a couple typos, added a few more items, and a lot of words today -- the latter mostly came from extensive quotes of two articles I had flagged to include but didn't get to in time. I've also been including links to music pieces, which lately have mostly been mid-year lists I've factored into my metacritic file.

I lost a couple days of listening time when I fixed a couple of small dinners, one mostly Chinese, the second more Italian. I rarely cook, let alone entertain, these days, so it's nice to see that I still have some skills.

When I did manage to listen, I racked up records fast, possibly because I did more EPs than usual (7), and also because quite a few records inspired minimal commentary.

I mentioned it in Speaking of Which, but let me add an extra plug for the return of Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary, this one (52). In the aforementioned metacritic file, I'm giving his grades the same weight I give Robert Christgau's and my own's (although I haven't added many in yet).

New records reviewed this week:

Altus: Mythos (2024, Biophilia): Quintet, based in New York, inspired by "the Greek myth of Prometheus and the Yoruba myth of Oludumare," of Dave Adewumi (trumpet), Isaac Levien (bass), Neta Raanan (tenor sax), Nathan Reising (alto sax), and Ryan Sands (drums). B+(***) [cdr]

Oren Ambarchi/Johan Berthling/Andreas Werlin: Ghosted II (2024, Drag City): Australian guitarist, started as a drummer, very prolific since 1999, trio here with bass and drums, following Ghosted from 2022. Four pieces, from 7:36 to 13:15, "jazz-funk heads, polyrhythmic skeletons, ambient pastorals, post-kraut drones and shimmering soundtrack reveries." B+(***) [sp]

Bab L' Bluz: Swaken (2024, Real World): French-Moroccan "power quartet," second album. B+(*) [sp]

Evan Nicole Bell: Runaway Girl (2024, Humingbird, EP): Guitar featured on cover and, well, everywhere, kicking off with an Albert King blues, but that's probably not her destiny, just a kicking off point. Three songs plus a longer mix, 17:15. B+(*) [sp]

Blue Lab Beats: Blue Eclipse (2024, Blue Adventure): UK jazztronica duo, producer NK-OK (Namali Kwaten) and multi-instrumentalist Mr DM (David Mrakpor), fourth album, some sources have label as Decca or Blue Note. Guest vocals, some rapped. B [sp]

Aziza Brahim: Mawja (2024, Glitterbeat): Sahrawi singer and actress, born in a refugee camp in Algeria, got a scholarship when she was 11 to study in Cuba, eventually wound up in Spain. Fifth album since 2012, nice, steady flow. B+(**) [sp]

Cakes Da Killa: Black Sheep (2024, Young Art): Rapper Rashard Bradshaw, from New Jersey, got some notice for 2011-14 mixtapes, less so for later albums, this the third. B+(**) [sp]

Madi Diaz: Weird Faith (2024, Anti-): Singer-songwriter, born in Connecticut, mother Peruvian, father Danish (Eric Svalgård), home-schooled, went to Berklee, moved to LA, first album 2007, this is her sixth. I'm rarely so captivated by a set of confessional and meditative songs that I pay enough attention to gather in the details. The song that earned the album a replay was "KFM," for "kill, fuck, marry." One might also note the Lori McKenna co-credit, and the Kacey Musgraves feature. A- [sp]

John Escreet: The Epicenter of Your Dreams (2023 [2024], Blue Room Music): Pianist, albums since 2008, "a powerhouse band reflecting the thriving L.A. scene," with Mark Turner (tenor sax), Eric Revis (bass), and Damion Reid (drums). B+(***) [cd]

Maria Faust Jazz Catastrophe: 3rd Mutation: Moth (2023 [2024], Bush Flash): Alto saxophonist, from Estonia, based in Copenhagen, albums since 2008, Jazz Catstrophe released a big band album in 2013, this "mutation" appears to be a trio, with guitar (Lars Bech Pilgaard) and drums (Anders Vestergaard) but sounds bigger. Am I missing something? A- [sp]

Sierra Ferrell: Trail of Flowers (2024, Rounder): Bluegrass singer-songwriter from West Virginia, plays fiddle as well as guitar, self-released two albums before landing on Rounder for 2021's Long Time Coming. This one's nearly as good. B+(***) [sp]

Margaret Glaspy: The Sun Doesn't Think (2024, ATO, EP): Singer-songwriter with a strong track record, coming off her excellent 2023 album Echo the Diamond, with a new one scheduled for August. Meanwhile: five songs, 20:09. Practically demos, just guitar and voice, yet somehow enough. B+(***) [sp]

Ariana Grande: Eternal Sunshine (2024, Republic): Pop singer-songwriter, went platinum with her 2013 debut, seventh album, four years after her sixth. B+(**) [sp]

The Haas Company [Featuring Andy Timmons]: Vol. 1: Galactic Tide (2024, Psychiatric): Following the publicist's hype sheet, I originally had artist and title swapped. This makes more sense, although the cover typography is less than clear, and the spine is less than that. Leader seems to be drummer Steve Haas (first listed credit), and Timmons plays heavy fusion guitar, but keyboardist Pete Drungle is credited with "musical direction." Band also uses bass (Kirwan Brown or Al MacDowell) and sax (Pete Gallo), with a couple guest spots. Powerhouse fusion. B [cd]

Marika Hackman: Big Sigh (2024, Chrysalis): English singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2015 (after two EPs). No shortage of post-pandemic stress here, a slow start that gradually gains strength and stature. B+(**) [sp]

Jake Hertzog: Longing to Meet You (2024, self-released): Guitarist, leads a postbop quartet with sax (Matt Woroshyl), bass (Perrin Grace), and drums (Joe Peri). B+(**) [cd]

Home Counties: Exactly as It Seems (2024, Submarine Cat): British group, sextet, first album after an EP (or two). Pretty catchy, not that that matters much. B+(*) [sp]

Simone Keller: Hidden Heartache (2022 [2024], Intakt): Swiss pianist, side credits since 2009, including Kukuruz Quartet, first album on her own, subtitle "100 Minutes of Piano Music from the Last 100 Years in the Context of Social Inequality and Unequal Power Relations," which makes me wish I had followed it better, but I'm not that much into close, critical listening. Mostly solo, but scattered side credits for oud, bassoon, trombone, and toy piano. Composers include Julius Eastman -- Kukuruz did a whole album of his work -- and Lil Hardin Armstrong. B+(**) [sp]

Lola Kirke: Country Curious (2024, One Riot, EP): Born in London, raised in New York, she has much more on her acting resume (since 2011) than in her discography (four titles, most EPs like this, 4 songs, 12:13, leading off with an LA twist on "All My Exes." [PS: Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? adds the title song for 15:43. Discogs includes both EPs under the Country Curious title.] B+(*) [sp]

Jon Langford & the Men of Gwent: Lost on Land & Sea (2023, Country Mile): The Waco Brothers return as a Welsh bar band. B+(**) [bc]

The Bruce Lofgren Group: Earthly and Cosmic Tales (2024, Night Bird): Guitarist, has a Jazz Orchestra album from 1999, side credits back to 1972 (ranging from Buddy Rich to Loggins & Messina). Group includes clarinet, cello, vibes, bass, percussion, on eight originals plus covers of Van Dyke Parks and Stevie Wonder. Not unpleasant. B [cd]

Lucy Rose: This Ain't the Way You Go Out (2024, Communion): English singer-songwriter, last name Parton, fifth album since 2012. B+(*) [sp]

MIKE & Tony Seltzer: Pinball (2024, 10k, EP): Rapper Michael Bonema, born in New Jersey, grew up in the Bronx, has released quite a bit since 2015, first album with producer Seltzer, who also has credits back to 2015. Short album: 11 tracks, 21:29. B+(*) [sp]

Mk.gee: Two Star & the Dream Police (2024, R&R Digital): Singer-songwriter Michael Gordon, from New Jersey, plays guitar and piano, first studio album after two EPs and a mixtape. No obvious category here, the rhythm a bit funk, or maybe just a bit odd, with nothing sticking too far out, but he keeps you wondering. B+(**) [sp]

Willie Nelson: The Border (2024, Legacy): Age 91, 75th studio album, title song (plus an old one) by Rodney Crowell, four originals (with producer Buddy Cannon, who co-wrote one more). Voice seems a bit off, but the songs are first rate, especially the meta "How Much Does It Cost?" A- [sp]

Nubiyan Twist: Find Your Flame (2024, Strut): British jazz-funk group, fourth album since 2015. B+(*) [sp]

Yvonnick Prené/Geoff Keezer: Jobim's World (2023 [2024], Sunnyside): French chromatic harmonica player, based in New York, debut 2013, duo here with the pianist, playing five Jobim tunes, two more Brazilian standards, and two originals. B+(*) [sp]

Bruno Råberg Tentet: Evolver (2023 [2024], Orbis Music): Swedish bassist, first album 1976, steady since he named his label after his 1998 album Orbis. Tentet doesn't count "special guests" Kris Davis (piano/prepared piano on 6 of 10 tracks) and Walter Smith III (tenor sax on 4). B+(**) [sp]

Rapsody: Please Don't Cry (2024, Jamla/Roc Nation): Rapper Marlanna Evans, from North Carolina, fourth album since 2012. Much to enjoy here, but it's a long and winding road. B+(**) [sp]

Raze Regal & White Denim: Raze Regal & White Denim Inc. (2023, Bella Union): James Petralli, leader of the garage rock band White Denim (2008-21?), co-wrote this batch of songs with the guitarist, who was a childhood friend and has side credits since 2009 (Stalkers, Planes of Satori, Once & Future Band, Nolan Potter's Nightmare Band). B [sp]

A. Savage: The Loft Sessions (2024, Rough Trade, EP): Parquet Courts frontman, initial stands for Andrew, has a couple of solo albums other group fans like much more than I do. Four songs, 13:58, scattered covers I didn't recognize and don't know what to make of. B+(*) [sp]

Shygirl: Club Shy (2024, Because Music, EP): British dance-pop singer-rapper Blane Muise, has a 2022 album, several EPs since 2018, and remixes of most of them. Six tracks, 15:32. B+(*) [sp]

Ballaké Sissoko/Derek Gripper: Ballaké Cissoko & Derek Gripper (2024, Matsuli Music): Kora player from Mali, dozen-plus albums since 2000, surprised not to find him in my database so far. Duo here with the South African guitarist, who has a comparable career since 2003 (also under my radar). B+(***) [sp]

Connie Smith: Love, Prison, Wisdom and Heartaches (2024, Fat Possum): Country singer, had a string of hits on RCA from 1964-72 (although I can't recommend The Essential Connie Smith, from the label's usually dependable best-of series), continued with Columbia and Monument through 1978, dabbled a bit in gospel, had enough of a rep to get comeback shots in 1998 (on Warner Nashville), 2011 (Sugar Hill), and 2021 (Fat Possum). Second album on the latter, framed retro, twelve covers that probably go way back (the ones I recognize sure do, including "End of the World," "The Fugitive," "The Wayward Wind," and an obscure Loretta Lynn gem), sung and played right fine. B+(**) [sp]

Vince Staples: Dark Times (2024, Def Jam/Blacksmith): Rapper from Long Beach, sixth album since 2015, all hits but none huge, some critical rep as well but I've always found turn offs despite his skills. But no real annoyances this time. B+(***) [sp]

Oded Tzur: My Prophet (2023 [2024], ECM): Tenor saxophonist, from Israel, based in New York since 2011, fifth album, third on ECM, quartet with Nitai Hershkovits (piano), Petros Klampanis (bass), and Cyrano Almeida (drums). A warm tone against the ECM chill. B+(**) [sp]

Faye Webster: Underdressed at the Symphony (2024, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter from Atlanta, self-released debut in 2013, fourth album since. Has a light touch I find appealing. B+(*) [sp]

Amber Weekes: A Lady With a Song: Amber Weekes Celebrates Nancy Wilson (2024, Amber Inn): Standards singer, has a couple previous, not especially compelling, albums. As for Wilson (1937-2018), I've only lightly sampled her work, and never been all that impressed. Still, when the song is up to snuff, Weekes can deliver it. B+(*) [cd]

Kelly Willis/Melissa Carper/Brennen Leigh: Wonder Women of Country (2024, Brooklyn Basement, EP): Most sources flip the group and title names, but this way makes more sense. Three country singer-songwriters, Willis produced a series of solid albums in the 1990s, the others started headlining recently (although Carper, who also plays bass, has credits back to 1996). Six songs, 17:57, no reason to doubt they could do much more. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Power of the Heart: A Tribute to Lou Reed (2024, Light in the Attic): Reissue label, has recently been sifting through Reed's archives, supplements their offerings with this collection of covers, presumably new versions although many of the artists go well back -- starting with Keith Richards, doing "I'm Waiting for the Man." Leads off with rockers, odder matches in the middle -- Mary Gauthier doing "Coney Island Baby" for 7:13 is actually pretty great -- then tails off toward the end. B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

  • None

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bruna Black/John Finbury: Vã Revelação (Green Flash) [05-14]
  • Kiki Valera: Vacilón Santiaguero (Circle 9 Music) [05-31]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Speaking of Which

I'm posting this after 10PM Sunday evening, figuring I'm about worn out, even though I've only hit about 80% of my usual sources, and am finding new things at a frightening clip. I imagine I'll add a bit more on Monday, as I work on what should be a relatively measured Music Week. There is, in any case, much to read and think about here. Too much really.

I have two fairly major pieces on Israel that I wanted to mention before I posted Sunday night, but didn't get around to. They're big, and important, enough I thought about putting them into their own post, but preferred to stick to the one weekly post. I didn't want to slip them into the regular text as mere late finds, so thought I'd put them up here first, easier to notice. But I already wrote a fairly lengthy intro, which I think is pretty good as an intro, so I finally decided to put the new pieces after the old intro, and before everything else.

I thought I'd start here with a quote from Avi Shlaim, from his introduction to one of the first books to appear the Oct. 7, 2023 attacks from Gaza against Israel and Israel's dramatic escalation from counterterrorism to genocide (Jamie Stern-Weiner, ed.: Deluge: Gaza and Israel from Crisis to Cataclysm):

The powerful military offensive launched by Israel on the Gaza Strip in October 2023, or Operation Swords of Iron to give it its official name, was a major landmark in the blood-soaked history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was an instant, almost Pavlovian response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. The attack caught Israel by complete surprise, and it was devastating in its consequences, killing about 300 Israeli soldiers, massacring more than 800 civilians, and taking some 250 hostages. Whereas previous Hamas attacks involved the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel, this was a ground incursion into Israeli territory made possible by breaking down the fence with which Israel had surrounded Gaza. The murderous Hamas attack did not come out of the blue as many believed. It was a response to Israel's illegal and exceptionally brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories since June 1967, as well as the suffocating economic blockade that Israel had imposed on Gaza since 2006. Israel, however, treated it as an unprovoked terrorist attack that gave it a blank check to use military force on an unprecedented scale to exact revenge and to crush the enemy.

Israel is no stranger to the use of military force in dealing with its neighbors. It is a country that lives by the sword. Under international law, states are allowed to use military force in self-defense as a last resort; Israel often employs force as a first resort. Some of its wars with the Arabs have been "wars of no choice," like the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948; others have been "wars of choice," like the Suez War of 1956 and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Wars are usually followed by the search for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict. When one examines Israel's record in dealing with the Arabs as a whole, however, the use of force appears to be the preferred instrument of statecraft. Indeed, all too often, instead of war being the pursuit of politics by other means, Israeli diplomacy is the pursuit of war by other means.

Also, a bit further down:

Deadlock on the diplomatic front led to periodic clashes between Hamas and Israel. This is not a conflict between two roughly equal parties but asymmetric warfare between a small paramilitary force and one of the most powerful militaries in the world, armed to the teeth with the most advanced American weaponry. The result was low-intensity (but for the people in Gaza, still devastating) conflict which took the form of primitive missiles fired from inside the Gaza Strip on settlements in southern Israel and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counter-insurgency operations designed to weaken but not to destroy Hamas. From time to time, Israel would move beyond aerial bombardment to ground invasion of the enclave. It launched major military offensives into Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Israeli leaders used to call these recurrent IDF incursions into Gaza "mowing the lawn." This was the metaphor to describe Israel's strategy against Hamas. The strategy did not seek to defeat Hamas, let alone drive it from power. On the contrary, the aim was to allow Hamas to govern Gaza but to isolate and weaken it, and to reduce its influence on the West Bank. Israel's overarching political objective was to kep the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government geographically separate so as to prevent the emergence of a unified leadership. In this context, Israel's periodic offensives were designed to degrade the military capability of Hamas, to enhance Israeli deterrence, and to turn the civilian population of Gaza against its rulers. In short, it was a strategy of managing the conflict, of avoiding peace talks, of using the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah as a sub-contractor for Israeli security on the West Bank, and of containing Palestinian resistance within the open-air prison of the Gaza Strip.

Shlaim opens the next paragraph with "This strategy lay in tatters following the Hamas attack," but that's just a momentary reflection of Israeli histrionics plus a bit of wishful thinking. The latter was based on the hope that Israelis would recognize that the old strategy had backfired, and needed to be revised. But the histrionics were at most momentary, and quickly evolved into staged, as Netanyahu and his gang realized the attacks presented a opportunity to escalate the conflict to previously unthreatened levels, and in the absence of meaningful resistance have seen little reason to restrain themselves.

Israel has a very sophisticated propaganda operation, with a large network of long-time contacts, so they sprung immediately to work, planting horror stories about Hamas and Palestinians, while pushing rationales for major war operations into play, so Israel's habitual supporters would always be armed with the best talking points. That they were so prepared to do so suggests they know, and have known for a long time, that their actions and programs aren't obviously justifiable. They know that their main restraint isn't the threat of other powers, but that world opinion will come to ostracize and shame them, like it did to South Africa. It's not certain that such a shift in world opinion will sway them -- the alternative is that they will shrivel up into a defensive ball, like North Korea, and there would certainly be sentiment in Israel for doing so (here I need say no more than "Masada complex").

Israel has, indeed, lost a lot of foreign support, including about 80% of the UN General Assembly. But though all of that, the US has remained not just a reliable ally to Israel, but a generous one, and a very dutiful one, even as Israel is losing support from the general public. Netanyahu is Prime Minister by a very slim and fractious coalition in Israel, but when he speaks in Congress, he can rest assured that 90% of both parties will cheer him on -- a degree of popularity no American politician enjoys.

I meant to include these two major pieces, but missed them in the rush to post Sunday night.

Adam Shatz: Israel's Descent: This is a major essay, structured as a review of six books:

While most of these books go deep into the history of Zionist attempts to claim exclusive representation for the Jewish people -- a topic Sand previously wrote about in The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) and The Invention of the Land of Israel (2012) -- and that features further down in the review, the first several paragraphs provide one of the best overviews available of the current phase of the conflict. I'm tempted to quote it all, but especially want to note paragraphs 4-8, on why this time it's fair and accurate to use the term "genocide":

But, to borrow the language of a 1948 UN convention, there is an older term for 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group'. That term is genocide, and among international jurists and human rights experts there is a growing consensus that Israel has committed genocide -- or at least acts of genocide -- in Gaza. This is the opinion not only of international bodies, but also of experts who have a record of circumspection -- indeed, of extreme caution -- where Israel is involved, notably Aryeh Neier, a founder of Human Rights Watch.

The charge of genocide isn't new among Palestinians. I remember hearing it when I was in Beirut in 2002, during Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp, and thinking, no, it's a ruthless, pitiless siege. The use of the word 'genocide' struck me then as typical of the rhetorical inflation of Middle East political debate, and as a symptom of the bitter, ugly competition over victimhood in Israel-Palestine. The game had been rigged against Palestinians because of their oppressors' history: the destruction of European Jewry conferred moral capital on the young Jewish state in the eyes of the Western powers. The Palestinian claim of genocide seemed like a bid to even the score, something that words such as 'occupation' and even 'apartheid' could never do.

This time it's different, however, not only because of the wanton killing of thousands of women and children, but because the sheer scale of the devastation has rendered life itself all but impossible for those who have survived Israel's bombardment. The war was provoked by Hamas's unprecedented attack, but the desire to inflict suffering on Gaza, not just on Hamas, didn't arise on 7 October. Here is Ariel Sharon's son Gilad in 2012: 'We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima -- the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.' Today this reads like a prophecy.

Exterminationist violence is almost always preceded by other forms of persecution, which aim to render the victims as miserable as possible, including plunder, denial of the franchise, ghettoisation, ethnic cleansing and racist dehumanisation. All of these have been features of Israel's relationship to the Palestinian people since its founding. What causes persecution to slide into mass killing is usually war, in particular a war defined as an existential battle for survival -- as we have seen in the war on Gaza. The statements of Israel's leaders (the defence minister, Yoav Gallant: 'We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly'; President Isaac Herzog: 'It is an entire nation out there that is responsible') have not disguised their intentions but provided a precise guide. So have the gleeful selfies taken by Israeli soldiers amid the ruins of Gaza: for some, at least, its destruction has been a source of pleasure.

Israel's methods may bear a closer resemblance to those of the French in Algeria, or the Assad regime in Syria, than to those of the Nazis in Treblinka or the Hutu génocidaires in Rwanda, but this doesn't mean they do not constitute genocide. Nor does the fact that Israel has killed 'only' a portion of Gaza's population. What, after all, is left for those who survive? Bare life, as Giorgio Agamben calls it: an existence menaced by hunger, destitution and the ever present threat of the next airstrike (or 'tragic accident', as Netanyahu described the incineration of 45 civilians in Rafah). Israel's supporters might argue that this is not the Shoah, but the belief that the best way of honouring the memory of those who died in Auschwitz is to condone the mass killing of Palestinians so that Israeli Jews can feel safe again is one of the great moral perversions of our time.

A couple paragraphs later, Shatz moves on to "Zionism's original ambition," which gets us into the books, including a survey of how Israel's supporters have long sought to quell any Jewish criticism of Israel, eventually going so far as to declare it anti-semitic. I find this particular history fascinating, as it provides some counterweight to the claim that Zionism was intrinsically racist and, if given the power and opportunity, genocidal. Just because this is where you wound up doesn't mean this is where you had to go.

Again, there is much to be learned and thought about everywhere in this article. Let's just wrap up with a few more choice quotes:

  • But the tendency of Israeli Jews to see themselves as eternal victims, among other habits of the diaspora, has proved stronger than Zionism itself, and Israel's leaders have found a powerful ideological armour, and source of cohesion, in this reflex. [This has made them] incapable of distinguishing between violence against Jews as Jews, and violence against Jews in connection with the practices of the Jewish state.

  • Today the catastrophe of 1948 is brazenly defended in Israel as a necessity -- and viewed as an uncompleted, even heroic, project.

  • The last eight months have seen an extraordinary acceleration of Israel's long war against the Palestinians.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu is a callow man of limited imagination . . . [but] his expansionist, racist ideology is the Israeli mainstream. Always an ethnocracy based on Jewish privilege, Israel has, under his watch, become a reactionary nationalist state, a country that now officially belongs exclusively to its Jewish citizens.

  • But this was no accident: conflict with the Arabs was essential to the Zionist mainstream. . . . Brit Shalom's vision of reconciliation and co-operation with the indigenous population was unthinkable to most Zionists, because they regarded the Arabs of Palestine as squatters on sacred Jewish land.

  • This moral myopia has always been resisted by a minority of American Jews. There have been successive waves of resistance, provoked by previous episodes of Israeli brutality: the Lebanon War, the First Intifada, the Second Intifada. But the most consequential wave of resistance may be the one we are seeing now from a generation of young Jews for whom identification with an explicitly illiberal, openly racist state, led by a close ally of Donald Trump, is impossible to stomach.

  • For all their claims to isolation in a sea of sympathy for Palestine, Jewish supporters of Israel, like the state itself, have powerful allies in Washington, in the administration and on university boards.

  • For many Jews, steeped in Zionism's narrative of Jewish persecution and Israeli redemption, and encouraged to think that 1939 might be just around the corner, the fact that Palestinians, not Israelis, are seen by most people as Jews themselves once were -- as victims of oppression and persecution, as stateless refugees -- no doubt comes as a shock.

  • Operation Al-Aqsa Flood thrust the question of Palestine back on the international agenda, sabotaging the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, shattering both the myth of a cost-free occupation and the myth of Israel's invincibility. But its architects, Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, appear to have had no plan to protect Gaza's own people from what would come next. Like Netanyahu, with whom they recently appeared on the International Criminal Court's wanted list, they are ruthless tacticians, capable of brutal, apocalyptic violence but possessing little strategic vision. 'Tomorrow will be different,' Deif promised in his 7 October communiqué. He was correct.' But that difference -- after the initial exuberance brought about by the prison breakout -- can now be seen in the ruins of Gaza.

  • Eight months after 7 October, Palestine remains in the grip, and at the mercy, of a furious, vengeful Jewish state, ever more committed to its colonisation project and contemptuous of international criticism, ruling over a people who have been transformed into strangers in their own land or helpless survivors, awaiting the next delivery of rations.

  • The 'Iron Wall' is not simply a defence strategy: it is Israel's comfort zone.

There is a lot to unpack here, and much more I skipped over -- a lot on US and other protesters, even some thoughts by Palestinians -- but for now I just want to offer one point. If Israel had responded to the Oct. 7 "prison break" with a couple weeks (even a month) of indiscriminate, massive bombardment, which is basically what they did for the first month, then ended it with a unilateral cease-fire, with the looming threat to repeat if Hamas ever attacked again, their wildly disproportionate response would have more than reestablished their "deterrent" credibility.

Those who hated Israel before would have had their feelings reinforced, but those who hadn't hated Israel wouldn't have turned against Israel. (Sure, some would have been shocked by the intensity, but once it ended those feelings would subside. The UN, the ICJ, the ICC wouldn't have charged Israel. The word genocide would have gone silent. The protests would have faded, without ever escalating into encampments and repression. Israel could have washed its hands of governing Gaza, leaving the rubble and what, if anything, was left of Hamas to the international do-gooders, and simply said "good riddance."

The Shatz article helps explain why Israel didn't do that. It is strong on the psychology that keeps Israelis fighting, that keeps them from letting up, from developing a conscience over all of the pain and hate they've inflicted. But it misses one important part of the story, which is the failure of the Biden administration to restrain Israel. Over all of its history, Israel has repeatedly worked itself into a frenzy against its enemies, but it's always had the US to pull it back and cool it off, usually just before its aggression turns not just counterproductive but debilitating. You can probably recite the examples yourself, all the way up to GW Bush and Obama, with their phony, half-hearted two-state plans. Often the restraint has been late and/or lax, and no Israeli ever publicly thanked us for keeping them from doing something stupid, but on some level Israelis expected external restraint, even as they plotted to neutralize it. So when they finally went berserk, and Biden wasn't willing to twist arms to tone them down, they just felt like they had more leeway to work with.

So the piece missing from the Shatz article is really another article altogether, which is what the fuck happened to America, who in most respects is a decent human being, and the rest of America's political caste (some of whom aren't decent at all), couldn't generate any meaningful concern much less resistance against genocide vowed and implemented by Israel? There's a long story there, as deep and convoluted as the one behind Israel, but it should be pretty obvious by now if you've been paying any attention at all.

The second piece I wanted to mention is:

Amira Haas: [06-04] Starvation and Death Are Israel's Defeat. I'm scraping this off Facebook, because the original is behind a paywall. My wife read this to our dinner guests recently, which made me a bit uneasy, because I don't like the use of the word "defeat" here (see my Ali Abunimah note below), although I suppose there could be some language quirk I'm missing, like the difference between "has lost" and "is lost." Israel has not lost the war, but Israel is very lost in its practice. Still, I take this mostly as a cri de coeur, and am grateful for that.

Israel was defeated and is still being defeated, not because of the fact that at the start of the ninth month of this accursed war, Hamas has not been toppled.

The emblem of defeat will forever appear alongside the menorah and flag, because the leaders, commanders and soldiers of Israel killed and wounded thousands of Palestinian civilians, sowing unprecedented ruin and desolation in the Gaza Strip. Because its air force knowingly bombed buildings full of children, women and the elderly. Because in Israel people believe there is no other way. Because entire families were wiped out.

The Jewish state was defeated because its politicians and public officials are causing two million three hundred thousand human beings to go hungry and thirsty, because skin ailments and intestinal inflammation are spreading in Gaza.

The only democracy in the jungle was overwhelmingly defeated because its army expels and then concentrates hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in increasingly smaller areas, labeled safe humanitarian zones, before proceeding to bomb and shell them. Because thousands of permanently disabled people and children with no accompanying adults are hemmed in and suffering greatly in those targeted humanitarian areas.

Because mounds of garbage are piling up there, while the only way to dispose of them is to set them on fire, spouting toxic emissions. Because sewage and excrement flow in the streets, with masses of flies blocking one's eyes. Because when the war ends, people will return to ruined houses chock full of unexploded ordnance, with the ground saturated with toxic dangerous substances. Because thousands of people, if not more, will come down with chronic diseases, paralyzing and terminal, due to that same pollution and those toxic substances.

Because many of those devoted and brave medical teams in the Gaza Strip, male and female doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and paramedics and yes -- including people who were supporting Hamas or on its government's payroll -- were killed by Israeli bombs or shelling. Because children and students will have lost precious years of study.

Because books and public and private archives went up in flames, with manuscripts of stories and research lost forever, as well as original drawings and embroidery by Gazan artists, which were buried under the debris or damaged. Because one cannot know what else the mental damage inflicted on millions will bring about.

The defeat, forever, lies in the fact that a state that views itself as the heir of the victims of genocide carried out by Nazi Germany has generated this hell in less than nine months, with an end not yet in sight. Call it genocide. Don't call it genocide.

The structural failure lies not in the fact that the G-word was affixed to the name "Israel" in the resounding petition filed by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. The failure lies in the refusal of most Israeli Jews to listen to the alarm bells in this petition. They continued supporting the war even after the petition was filed in late December, allowing the petition's warning to become a prophecy, and for doubts to be obliterated in the face of additional cumulative evidence.

The defeat lies with Israel's universities, which trained hordes of jurists who find proportionality in every bomb that kills children. They are the ones providing military commanders with the protective vests, of repeated cliché: "Israel is abiding by international law, taking care not to harm civilians," every time an order is given to expel a population and concentrate it in a smaller area.

The convoys of displaced people, on foot, in carts, on trucks overloaded with people and mattresses, with wheelchairs carrying old people or amputees, are a failing grade for Israel's school system, its law faculties and history departments. The debacle is also a failure of the Hebrew language. Expulsion is "evacuation." A deadly military raid is an "activity." The carpet bombing of entire neighborhoods is "good work by our soldiers."

Israel's monolithic nature is another reason for and proof of utter defeat, as well as being emblematic of it. Most of the Jewish-Israeli public, including opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu's camp, was taken captive by the notion of a magical total victory as an answer to the October 7 massacre, without learning a thing from past wars in general and from ones against the Palestinians in particular.

Yes, the Hamas atrocities were horrific. The suffering of the hostages and their families is beyond words. Yes, turning the Gaza Strip into a huge depot of weapons and ammunition ready to be used, through an imitation of the Israeli model, is exasperating.

But the majority of Israeli Jews let the drive for revenge blind them. The unwillingness to listen and to know, in order to avoid making mistakes, is in the DNA of the debacle. Our all-knowing commanders did not listen to the female spotters, but they mainly failed to listen to Palestinians, who over decades warned that the situation cannot continue like this.

The seeds of defeat lay in protesters against the judicial overhaul rejecting the basic fact that we have no chance of being a democracy without ending the occupation, and that the people generating the overhaul are the ones striving to "vanquish" the Palestinians.

With God's help. The failure was inscribed back then, in the first days after October 7, when anyone trying to point out the "context" was condemned as a traitor or a supporter of Hamas. The traitors turned out to be the real patriots, but the debacle is ours -- the traitors' -- as well.

In looking this piece up, I found another at Haaretz worth notice for the title:

Dahlia Scheindlin: [06-10] Will the real opposition stand up: Is anyone trying to save Israel from Netanyahu, endless war and isolation? "Benny Gantz's unsurprising departure from the Netanyahu government won't strengthen the opposition, because Israel barely has one worthy of the name."

The Shatz piece doesn't have links, but a casual reference there to "philosemitic McCarthyism" led me to search out this piece:

Susan Neiman: [2023-10-19] Historical reckoning gone haywire: "Germans' efforts to confront their country's criminal history and to root out antisemitism have shifted from vigilance to a philosemitic McCarthyism that threatens their rich cultural life."

That, in turn, led me to Neiman's recent review of Shatz's book The Rebel's Clinic: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon:

Susan Neiman: [06-06] Fanon the universalist: "Adam Shatz argues in his new biography of Frantz Fanon that the supposed patron saint of political violence was instead a visionary of a radical universalism that rejected racial essentialism and colonialism."

Initial count: 209 links, 12260 words. Updated count [06-10]: 235 links, 15800 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): on music.

Top story threads:

Israel: As I'm trying to wrap this up on Sunday, I must admit I'm getting overwhelmed, and possibly a bit confused, by the constant roll call of atrocities Israel is committing. There appears to be not just one but several instances of mass slaughter at Nuseirat refugee camp. There is also "late news" -- later than the earliest reports below -- including the Benny Gantz resignation, that are captured in various states of disclosure below. While I've generally tried to group related reports, that's become increasingly difficult, so my apologies for any lapses in order. These are truly trying times. And yet the solution of a simple cease-fire is so blindingly obvious.

America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

  • Janet Abou-Elias: [06-06] Who's minding the stockpile of US weapons going to Israel? "Congress has further weakened constraints on a special DOD arms reserve, which is spread over multiple warehouses and lacks a public inventory."

  • Michael Arria: [06-06] The Shift: Netanyahu is going back to Washington: "Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech to Congress will be his fourth, giving him the most of any foreign leader. He's currently tied with Winston Churchill at three. He was invited by the leadership from both parties. Who says bipartisanship is dead?" More on the Netanyahu invite:

  • Matthew Mpoke Bigg: [06-05] Here's a closer look at the hurdles to a cease-fire deal: "Neither Israel nor Hamas have said definitively whether they would accept or reject a proposal outlined by President Biden, but sizable gaps between the two sides appear to remain." NY Times remain masters at both-sidesing this, but Israel is the only side that's free to operate deliberately, so lack of "agreement" simply means that Israel has refused to cease-fire, despite what should be compelling reasons to do so. More on the Biden (presented as Israel) proposal:

    • Ali Abunimah: [05-31] Biden admits Israel's defeat in Gaza: Author seeks to poke Biden in the eye, but quotes Biden's actual speech, adding his annotation. Mine would differ, but the exercise is still worthwhile. I'd never say Israel has been defeated in Gaza, except perhaps to say that Israel has defeated itself (although I'd look for words more like degraded and debilitated, as I hate the whole notion that wars can be won -- I only see losers, varying in the quantities they have lost, but less so the qualities, which afflict all warriors).

      I haven't been following his publication, but I've been aware of Abunimah for a long time. He's written a couple of "clear-eyed, sharply reasoned, and compassionate" books on the subject: One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impassed (2007: not remotedly agreeable to Israel, but not wrong either, and would have "avoided all this mess" -- quote's from a Professor Longhair song, about something else, but hits the spot here); and The Battle for Justice in Palestine (2014; my Books note was: "tries to remain hopeful")

    • Fred Kaplan:

  • Sheera Frenkel: [06-05] Israel secretly targets US lawmakers with influence campaign on Gaza War: "Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs ordered the operation, which used fake social media accounts urging U.S. lawmakers to fund Israel's military, according to officials and documents about the effort."

  • Ellen Ioanes: [06-05] What happens if Gaza ceasefire talks fail. "Nearly 40 Palestinians in Rafah will die each day due to traumatic injuries if Israel continues its incursion, according to a new analysis." How they came up with that figure, which they project to 3,509 by August 17, boggles the mind. Israel has been known to kill more than that with a single bomb. And note how they're breaking out "traumatic injuries" into a separate category, presumably to separate them out from starvation deaths and who knows what else? For that matter, "traumatic" is about a pretty tame generic word for blown to bits and/or incinerated, which is what Israel's bombs are actually doing, as well as burying bodies under tons of rubble. When we commonly speak of trauma, usually we mean psychological injuries -- something which in this case no one has come close to quantifying.

    And can we talk about this passive-voiced "if talks fail." Biden announced what he called "Israel's plan," and Hamas basically agreed to it, so who is still talking? The thus-far-failing talks Ioanes alludes to here are exclusively within Israel's war cabinet, where failure to agree to anything that might halt the war is some kind of axiom.

  • Alon Pinkas: [06-06] Biden wants an end to the Gaza war. But he is finally realising Netanyahu will block any attempts at peace. This has been more/less the story since about a month into the war. although it took Biden much longer to dare say anything in public, and he's still doing everything possible to appease Israel. If, after a few weeks of their savage bombing of Gaza, Israel had unilaterally ceased fire, no one would doubt their deterrence. Everyone would have understood that any attack on them would be met with a disproportionately savage response. They could then have turned their backs and walked away, simply dumping responsibility for Gaza and its people, which they have no real interest in or for, onto the UN. The hostages would have been freed, even without prisoner swaps. The ancillary skirmishes with Hezbollah and the Houthis would have ended. Months later, no one would be talking about genocide, or facing charges from the ICC. Israel's relations with the US would be unblemished. And Israel's right-wing government would still have a relatively free hand to go about its dispossession of and terror against Palestinians in the West Bank. This didn't happen because Biden didn't dare object to Israel's genocidal plans, because he's totally under their thumb -- presumably due to donors and the Israel lobby, but one has to wonder if he just doesn't have a streak of masochism. Even now that he's writhing in misery, he still can't bring himself to just say no.

  • Mitchell Plitnick: [06-08] The Biden administration must stop Israel before it escalates in Lebanon: "There are dangerous signs Israel intends to escalate attacks on Lebanon and raise the stakes with Hezbollah. If it does, the risk of a regional war grows enormously. The only way out is to end the fighting in Gaza." More evidence that the theory of deterrence is a recipe for disaster. To rally American support, Israel has tried to paint its genocide in Gaza as a sideshow to its defense against Iran, the mastermind behind the "six front" assault on Israel -- because, well, Americans hate Iran, and are really gullible on that point. To make this war look real, Israel needs to provoke Hezbollah, which is easy to do because Hezbollah also buys into the theory of deterrence, so feels the need to shoot back when they are shot at. This is close to spiraling out of control, but a ceasefire in Gaza would bring it all to an abrupt close. A rapprochement between the US and Iran would also be a big help, as it would knock the legs out from under Israel's game-playing.

  • H Scott Prosterman: [06-06] How Trump and Netanyahu are tag-teaming Biden on Gaza.

    Before these men served, no Israeli leader had ever dared to interfere in US electoral politics. Trump openly campaigned for Bibi. It's almost as if they ran on the same ticket in 2020. The political survival of both men is dependent on generating political outrage among their bases, because they have nothing else to run on.

  • Philip Weiss:

    • [06-02] Weekly Briefing: The political and moral consequences of hallowing Trump's verdict while nullifying the Hague: "Joe Biden wants it both ways. He wants Democrats to stop criticizing genocide but he also wants the Israel lobby's support. Thus, he has a ceasefire plan in one hand, and an invitation to Netanyahu, a war criminal, to speak to Congress in the other." Pretty good opening here:

      Joe Biden is trying to end the war in Gaza. He's not trying that hard. But he's trying.

      Biden knows that the Democratic base is on fire. He knows that for a certain bloc of voters in American society -- Genocide is not acceptable. Sadly, most people will go along fine with a genocide. That's what history tells us and what the U.S. establishment is demonstrating right now. Samantha Power wrote a whole book about the Sarajevo genocide and launched a great career but now she's a top Biden aide and just keeps her head down. It's not fair to single her out -- because all the editorial writers and politicians have a similar stance. It's a terrible thing that so many civilians and babies are being killed by American weaponry in Gaza, but hey, look what Hamas did on October 7. That's the ultimate in whatabboutery. What about Hamas? While we are burning up civilians.

    • [06-09] Weekly Briefing: 274 Palestinian lives don't matter to the Biden administration: "A week culminating with the massacre of 274 Palestinians in Gaza provided further evidence -- though none is needed -- that anti-Palestinian bias is simply a rule of American politics, and today maybe the leading rule."

    • [06-09] 'Allow me to share a story that touched me deeply' -- Harry Soloway on Palestinian resistance.

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Yuval Abraham/Meron Rapoport: Surveillance and interference: Israel's covert war on the ICC exposed: "Top Israeli government and security officials have overseen a nine-year surveillance operation targeting the ICC and Palestinian rights groups to try to thwart a war crimes probe."

  • Yousef M Aljamal: [06-07] Israel's progression from apartheid to genocide: "The unfolding genocide in Gaza is the latest chapter in Israel's attempt to remove Palestinians from their land. All those calling for a ceasefire should join in the longer-term efforts to dismantle Israeli apartheid."

  • Michael Arria: [06-03] San Jose State University professor says she was suspended over her Palestinian activism: "Last month Sang Hea Kil, a justice studies professor at the San Jose State University, was placed on a temporary suspension because of her Palestine activism."

  • Ramzy Baroud: [06-06] End of an era: Pro-Palestinian language exposes Israel, Zionism.

  • Reed Brody: [06-06] Israel's legal reckoning and the historical shift in justice for Palestinians.

  • Chandni Desai: [06-08] Israel has destroyed or damaged 80% of schools in Gaza. This is scholasticide: This is another new word we don't need, because it just narrows the scope of a perfectly apt word we're already driven to use, which is genocide. The lesson we do need to point out is that genocide isn't just a matter of counting kills. If the goal is to ending a type of people, it is just as effectively advanced to destroying their homes, their environment, their culture and historical legacy. Counting the dead is easy, but much of the devastation is carried forward by its survivors, and those impacts are especially hard to quantify.

  • Connor Echols/Maya Krainc: [06-04] House votes to sanction ICC for case against Israeli settlers: "The bill, which is unlikely to pass the Senate, would punish US allies and famous lawyer Amal Clooney."

  • Richard Falk:

  • Abdallah Fayyard: [06-05] It's not Islamophobia, it's anti-Palestinian racism: "Anti-Palestinian racism is a distinct form of bigotry that's too often ignored."

  • Joshua Frank: [06-05] It's never been about freeing the hostages: "Israel's scorched-earth campaign will cruelly shape the lives of many future generations of Palestinians -- and that's the point."

  • Philippe Lazzarini: [05-30] UNRWA: Stop Israel's violent campaign against us. How violent?

    As I write this, our agency has verified that at least 192 UNRWA employees have been killed in Gaza. More than 170 UNRWA premises have been damaged or destroyed. UNRWA-run schools have been demolished; some 450 displaced people have been killed while sheltered inside UNRWA schools and other structures. Since Oct. 7, Israeli security forces have rounded up UNRWA personnel in Gaza, who have alleged torture and mistreatment while in detention in the Strip and in Israel.

    UNRWA staff members are regularly harassed and humiliated at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Agency installations are used by the Israel security forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups for military purposes.

    UNRWA is not the only U.N. agency that faces danger. In April, gunfire hit World Food Program and UNICEF vehicles, apparently inadvertently but despite coordination with the Israeli authorities.

    The assault on UNRWA has spread to East Jerusalem, where a member of the Jerusalem municipality has helped incite protests against UNRWA. Demonstrations are becoming increasingly dangerous, with at least two arson attacks on our UNRWA compound, and a crowd including Israeli children gathered outside our premises singing "Let the U.N. burn." At other times, demonstrators threw stones.

    PS: The day after this op-ed was published, Israel replied as directly and emphatically as possible: [06-06] Israel strike on Gaza school kills dozens. Israel claims "the compound contained a Hamas command post." Perhaps Netanyahu should brush up on The Merchant of Venice, where the "wise judge" allowed that Shylock could take his "pound of flesh" but could spill no blood in the process. Of course, Netanyahu is unlikely to get beyond the thought that Shakespeare was just being antisemitic. On the other hand, the notion that one wrong does not allow you to commit indiscriminate slaughter isn't novel.

  • Natasha Lennard/Prem Thakker: Columbia Law Review refused to take down article on Palestine, so its board of directors nuked the whole website.

  • Eric Levitz: [06-03] Israel is not fighting for its survival. I mentioned this piece in an update last week, but it's worth reiterating here.

  • Branko Marcetic: [06-03] The corporate power brokers behind AIPAC's war on the Squad: Their investigation "reveals the individuals behind AIPAC's election war chest: nearly 60% are CEOs and other top executives at the country's largest corporations." I haven't cited many articles so far on AIPAC's crusade against Democrats who actually take human rights and war crimes seriously, but they are piling up. Bipartisanship is a holy grail in Washington, not because either side treasures compromise but because a bipartisan consensus helps to exclude critics and suppress any further discussion of an issue that those in power would rather not have to argue for in public. Cold War and trade deals like NAFTA are other classic examples, but support for Israel has been so bipartisan for so long it defines the shape of reality as perceived all but intuitively by politicians in Washington. But apartheid and genocide are unsettling this equation, disturbing large numbers of Democratic voters, so AIPAC is reacting like its Israeli masters, by cracking the whip -- the same kneejerk reaction we see when university administrators move to arrest protesters. Both are turns as sharply opposed to the basic tenets of liberal democracy as liberal Democrats routinely accuse Republicans of. That both are driven primarily by the extraordinary political influence of money only exposes the sham that our vaunted democracy has become under oligarchy.

  • Qassam Muaddi: [06-03] Against a world without Palestinians: "If the world as it is cannot abide Palestinian existence, then we will have to change the world." This piece makes me a bit queasy, but I recognize that is largely because I've never accepted the conditions under which it was written, and always preferred to think of Palestinians as just another nationality, like all others, with its harmless parochial quirks. But the effort to deny them recognition, and to erase their memory, has been a longstanding project in Israel.

    In early days, this was done through pretense (see A land without a people for a people without a land and denial (see Golda Meir's oft-repeated There was no such thing as Palestinians). Norman Finkelstein wrote about all that in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (1995; revised 2003), especially his critique of Joan Peters' 1984 book, From Time Immemorial.

    Another book that was very insightful at the time (2003) was Baruch Kimmerling: Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians -- reissued in 2006 with the new subtitle, The Real Legacy of Ariel Sharon. Kimmerling's precise meaning is still operative, although since then the methods have become much cruder and more violent. Sharon, of course, would turn in his grave at the suggestion that he engaged with tact. I'll never forget the expression on his face when Bush referred to him as "a man of peace." Even if you dispute that the Gaza war fully counts as genocide, it is impossible to deny that politicide is official policy.

    I'm sure there are more recent books on the subject, like Rebecca Ruth Gould: Erasing Palestine: Free Speech and Palestinian Freedom (2023), which deals specifically with the canard that "pro-Palestinian" statements should be banished as anti-semitic. But another aspect of this piece is the notion that the Palestinian survival is redemptive, potentially for everyone. I can't say one way or the other, but I will say that this reminds me of a book I read very shortly after it came out in 1969: Vine Deloria, Jr.: Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. As an American, I find it completely natural to think of Zionism as a settler-colonial movement, as was European-settled America. There are many aspects to this: if I wanted to launch a career as a scholar, I'd research and write up some kind of global, comparative study of how other settlers and natives viewed the American-Indian experience. (Sure, there's enough for a book just on Israel, but I'd also like to see some bit on Hitler's use of America's "frontier myth.")

    Suffice it for now to draw two points here. The first is that what permanently ended Indian violence against settlers was the US army calling off its own attacks, and restraining settlers from the free reign of terror they had long practiced. Indians were "defeated," sure, but they would surely have regrouped and fought back had they been given continued cause. The second is that "Custer died" is pretty damn generous given all of the sins it's been allowed to redeem.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [06-02] Netanyahu is back and leading the polls, all thanks to the ICC: "In Israel, a potential arrest for crimes against humanity can help boost the popularity of a politician. That itself is a telling indictment."

  • Edith Olmsted: [04-27] Pro-Israel agitator shouts 'kill the Jews,' gets everyone else arrested: "Around 100 protesters were arrested on Saturday at a pro-Palestine encampment at Northeastern University, but not the one whose hate speech got everything shut down."

  • James Ray: [06-05] Do you condemn Hamas? How does it matter? This was a question every concerned thinking person was asked at the moment of the October 7, 2023 attacks, although there was never any forum by within which disapproval of Hamas could have affected their acts. There were, at the time, many reasons why one might "condemn Hamas," ranging from the pure immorality of armed offense to the political ramifications of provoking a much more powerful enemy, including the probability that Israelis would use the attacks as a pretext for unleashing much greater, potentially genocidal, violence of their own. But even acknowledging the question helped suppress the real question, which is whether you approve of the way Israel has exercised power over Gaza and wherever Palestinians continue to live.

    Many of us who have long disapproved of Israel's occupation were quick to condemn Hamas, only to find that our condemnations were counted as huzzahs for much more devastating, much more deadly attacks, a process which continues unabated eight months later, and which will continue indefinitely, until Israel's leadership (or its successors) finally backs off, either because they develop a conscience (pretty unlikely at present) or some calculation that the costs of further slaughter can no longer be justified. Given this situation, I think it no longer makes any sense to condemn Hamas, as all doing so does is to encourage Israel to further genocide.

    I'm not even sure there is a Hamas any more -- sure, there are a couple blokes in Syria who once had connections with the group, and who continue to negotiate to release hostages they don't actually have, but for practical purposes what used to be Hamas has dissolved back into the Palestinian people (as Israel makes clear every time they allegedly target "high value" Hamas operatives while killing dozens of "human shields" -- something which, we should make clear, Israel has no right to do). If, at some future point, the war ends, and Palestinians are allowed to form their own government -- which is something they've never been permitted to do (at least under Israeli, British, Ottoman, or Crusader rule) -- and some ex-Hamas people try to reconstitute the group, that would be a good time to condemn them. Otherwise, focus on who's responsible for the devastation and violence. It's not Hamas.

    In this, I'm mostly responding to the title. The article is a bit more problematical, as it does a little arm-chair analysis of "when armed struggle becomes material necessity." Clearly, a number of the Palestinian groups listed here decided that it did become necessary, and they proceeded to launch various attacks against Israeli power, of which Oct. 7 was one of the most dramatic (at least in a long time; the revolt in 1937, and the war in 1948, were larger and more sustained; the 2000-05 intifada killed slightly fewer Israelis over a much longer period of time). Still, before one can condemn the resort to armed struggle, one needs to ask the questions: Were there any practical non-violent avenues for Palestinians to redress their grievances (of which they had many)? It's not obvious that there were. (Short for a long survey of who missed which opportunities for opportunities for peace -- as the oft-quoted Abba Eban quip comes full circle.)

    I was thinking of a second question, which is how effective have all those efforts at armed resistance been? The answer is not very, and the prospects have probably diminished even further over time, but that's easier for someone far removed like myself to say than for someone who's directly involved. But in that case, the question becomes: how desperate do you have to be to launch a violent attack against a power that's certain to inflict many times as much violence back at you? If you've been following the political dynamics within Israel, especially with the rise of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, but also for the long decline of Labor (starting with the assassination of Rabin) through the rise of Netanyahu, with the marginalization of the corrupt and pliant PA and the exclusion of Hamas, Palestinian prospects for achieving any degree of decent human rights have only grown dimmer. During this period, I believe that most Palestinians favored a non-violent appeal to world opinion, hoping to shift it to put pressure on Israel through BDS. However, thanks to Israel's machinations, Hamas maintained just enough privacy and autonomy in Gaza to stage an attack, with nothing other than fear as a constraint, so they took matters into their own hands. I feel safe in saying that a democratic Gaza would never have launched such an attack. Which is to say that responsibility for the attack lay solely on Israel, for creating the desperate conditions that made the attack seem necessary, and for not allowing any other peaceable outlets for their just grievances.

    One should further blame Israel for post-facto justifying the Hamas attack. This is a point that Israelis should understand better than anyone, because they have been trained to celebrate the uprising of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto, even though it was doomed from the start. I don't want to overstate the similarities, but I don't want to soft-pedal them either. Such situations are so rare in history as to necessarily be unique, but they do excite the imagination. Although Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, they seem to be doing more than anyone to build Hamas up, to restore their status as the Palestinians who dared to fight back. Because Israel has never really minded a good fight. It's peace they really cannot abide -- and that is what makes them responsible for all of the consequent injustice and violence, the first of many things you should blame Israel for.

    And as Hamas -- at least as we understand it -- wouldn't exist but for Israel, when you do condemn Hamas, make sure it's clear that the blame starts with Israel.

  • Hoda Sherif: [06-06] 'The generation that says no more': Inside the Columbia University encampments for Palestine: "Students at Columbia University continue to disrupt business as usual for Gaza and have birthed a radical re-imagining of society in the process."

  • Yonat Shimron: [04-29] How unconditional support for Israel became a cornerstone of Jewish American identity: Interview with Marjorie N. Feld, author of The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism.

  • Tatiana Siegel: [06-06] Hollywood marketing guru fuels controversy by telling staffers to refrain from working with anyone 'posting against Israel': The Hollywood "black list" returns.


  • Charlie Savage/Jonathan Swan/Maggie Haberman: [06-07] If Trump wins: Nothing new here that hasn't been reported elsewhere, but if you find the New York Times a credible source, believe it. (I should write more on this piece next week.)

  • David Corn: [06-06] Trump's obsession with revenge: a big post-verdict danger.

  • Michelle Cottle/Carlos Lozada: [06-07] The 'empty suit' of Trump's masculinity: With Jamelle Bouie and David French.

  • Chas Danner: [06-06] Trump can no longer shoot someone on fifth avenue. Well, his "New York concealed carry license was quietly suspended on April 1, 2023, following his indictment on criminal charges," leading him to surrender two guns, and move one "legally" to Florida. If he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue, he could be charged with illegal possession of a firearm, but if he could previously get away with murder, it's hard to see him more worried now.

  • Maureen Dowd: [07-28] The Don and his badfellas. She has fun with this, but seems to get to an inner truth:

    Trump is drawn to people who know how to dominate a room and exaggerated displays of macho, citing three of his top five movies as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "Goodfellas" and "The Godfather."

    As a young real estate developer, he would hang out at Yankee Stadium and study the larger-than-life figures in the V.I.P. box: George Steinbrenner, Lee Iacocca, Frank Sinatra, Roy Cohn, Rupert Murdoch, Cary Grant. He was intent on learning how they grabbed the limelight.

    "In his first big apartment project, Trump's father had a partner connected to the Genovese and Gambino crime families," said Michael D'Antonio, another Trump biographer. "He dealt with mobbed-up suppliers and union guys for decades.

    "When Trump was a little boy, wandering around job sites with his dad -- which was the only time he got to spend with him -- he saw a lot of guys with broken noses and rough accents. And I think he is really enchanted by base male displays of strength. Think about 'Goodfellas' -- people who prevail by cheating and fixing and lying. Trump doesn't have the baseline intellect and experience to be proficient at governing. His proficiency is this mob style of bullying and tough-guy talk."

  • Abdallah Fayyad:: [06-04] Trump's New York conviction is not enough: "If the federal government wants to uphold democracy and the rule of law, it can't leave convicting Trump to the states."

  • Phil Freeman, in a [06-01] Facebook post, summed up Trump's post-verdict appearances almost perfectly (assuming you get what by now must be a very esoteric reference):

    Donald Trump is officially in his "Lenny Bruce reading his trial transcripts to audiences that came in expecting jokes" era. Hope everyone's ready for five solid months of rambling, self-pitying speeches about how unfair everyone is to him, 'cause that's what's coming, from today till November 5.

  • Matt Ford: [06-09] The right's truly incredible argument for weakening consumer safety: "A baby products company and an anti-woke activist group are trying to weaken a critical consumer watchdog agency. If one of their cases reaches the Supreme Court, we're all in trouble."

  • Michelle Goldberg: [06-07] Donald Trump's mob rule: Starts with an anecdote from Peter Navarro, currently in prison for contempt of Congress, describing how his Trump ties "make him something of a made man," both with guards and inmates. "One of the more unsettling things about our politics right now is the Republican Party's increasingly open embrace of lawlessness. Even as they proclaim Trump's innocence, Trump and his allies revel in the frisson of criminality."

    There's a similar dichotomy between Trump and his enemies: He represents charismatic personal authority as opposed to the bureaucratic dictates of the law. Under his rule, the Republican Party, long uneasy with modernity, has given itself over to Gemeinschaft. The Trump Organization was always run as a family business, and now that Trump has made his dilettante daughter-in-law vice chair of the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party is becoming one as well. To impose a similar regime of personal rule on the country at large, Trump has to destroy the already rickety legitimacy of the existing system. "As in Machiavelli's thought, the Prince is not only above the law but the source of law and all social and political order, so in the Corleone universe, the Don is 'responsible' for his family, a responsibility that authorizes him to do virtually anything except violate the obligations of the family bond," [Sam] Francis [a white nationalist who has become posthumously influential among MAGA elites] wrote. That also seems to be how Trump sees himself, minus, of course, the family obligations. What's frightening is how many Republicans see him the same way.

  • Sarah Jones: [06-06] The anti-abortion movement's newest lie: Are they going after contraception next?

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • [06-06] GOP primaries prove Trump has thoroughly dominated the party.

    • [06-08] Trump doubles down on plan for huge spending power grab.

      But arguably some of the most important second-term plans involve Team Trump's dark designs on the so-called swamp of the federal bureaucracy. Their interest in tearing down the civil service system is well-known, along with a scheme to fill vacant positions created by mass firings of non-partisan professional employees and their replacement via a so-called Schedule F of political appointees chosen for all the top policy-making jobs in the executive branch. The purpose of placing these MAGA loyalists throughout the bureaucracy isn't just to ride herd on such bureaucrats as remain in federal departments and agencies. These new commissars would also serve as Trojan Horses charged with advising the Trump high command on how to eliminate or disable executive branch functions the new order dislikes or can do without.

  • Ben Mathis-Lilley:

  • Kim Phillips-Fein: [06-04] The mandate for leadership, then and now: "The Heritage Foundation's 1980 manual aimed to roll back the state and unleash the free market. The 2025 vision is more extreme, and even more dangerous." This is part of an issue on Project 2025, which includes pieces like:

  • James Risen:

  • Greg Sargent: Trump's bizarre moments with Dr. Phil and Hannity should alarm us all.

  • Alex Shephard: [06-06] The billionaires have captured Donald Trump.

  • Matt Stieb: [06-09] The time Trump held a national security chat among Mar-a-Lago diners: "When he strategized about North Korea on a golf-resort patio, it was an early indication of how crazy his administration would get."

  • Ishaan Tharoor: [05-31] Netanyahu and Putin are both waiting for Trump: "Some foreign leaders may be holding out for a Trump victory." It's not just that they can expect to be treated more deferentially by Trump. It's also that they have a lot of leverage to sabotage Biden's reëlection chances, which are largely imperiled by the disastrous choices Biden made in allowing wars in Ukraine and Gaza to open up and to drag on indefinitely.

  • Michael Tomasky: It's simple: Trump is treated like a criminal because he's a criminal.

And other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Jeet Heer: Showing contempt for young voters is a great way for Democrats to lose in November: "Hillary Clinton's arrogance already lost one election. And if Joe Biden follows her example, it can easily cost another."

  • Annie Linskey/Siobhan Hughes: [06-04] Behind closed doors, Biden shows signs of slipping: "Participants in meetings said the 81-year-old president performed poorly at times. The White House said Biden is sharp and his critics are playing partisan politics." My wife found this very disturbing, but I find it hard to get interested, beyond bemoaning the obvious obsession of much of the media and some of the public with his age. Perhaps some day I'll write out my thoughts on aging politicians, but I don't feel up to it now, and expect I'll have many opportunities in the future. But I do have a lot of thoughts, which lead to a mixed bag of conclusions: about Biden (who I've never liked, and am very chagrined with over certain key policies), Democrats (who are so terrified, both of Trump and of their own rich donors, that they're unwilling to risk new leadership), the presidency (where the staff matters much more than the head or face), and the media (which has turned that face into some kind of bizarre circus act, relentlessly amplifying every surface flaw), and maybe even the people (we suffer many confusions about aging). Also on this:

    • Angelo Carusone tweeted about this piece: "The person who wrote that deceitful WSJ attack piece on Biden age is the same reporter who a few years ago (while at WaPo) had to delete a tweet for taking a jab at Biden as he visited his late son, wife and daughter's graves."

    • Greg Sargent: [06-06] Sleazy WSJ hit piece on Biden's age gets brutally shredded by Dems: "After a new report that dubiously hyped President Biden's age infuriated Democrats, we talked to a leading media critic about the deep problems with the press this sage exposes."

  • Blaise Malley: [06-05] 'We are the world power': Biden offers defense of US primacy: "In TIME interview, president talks up foreign policy record, offers few details on what second term would hold."

  • Nicole Narea: [06-04] Biden's sweeping new asylum restrictions, explained: "Biden's transparently political attack on asylum put little daylight between him and Trump." Some more on immigration:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

  • Paul Krugman: Famed economist and New York Times token liberal columnist, I've paid very little attention to his columns of late, but thought a quick catch-up might be in order. His more wonkish pieces, especially on the recurring themes of inflation and budgets, are informative. And while he seems especially loathe to criticize Biden from the left, he is pretty clear when he focuses on the right.

Ukraine War and Russia:

  • Connor Echols: [06-07] Diplomacy Watch: What's the point of Swiss peace summit? It's not to negotiate with Russia, which won't be attending. Zelensky has a "10-point peace plan, which demands the full expulsion of Russian troops from the country and the prosecution of top Kremlin officials," which suggests he still thinks he can "win the war." I seriously doubt that, while I also see that Ukrainians have much more to lose if the war is prolonged.

  • Dave DeCamp: [05-30] France may soon announce it's sending troops to Ukraine for training.

  • Joshua Keating: [06-05] The US tests Putin's nuclear threats in Ukraine: "Allowing Ukraine to fire Western weapons into Russia strengthens an ally, but risks violating an unknown red line." I thought the "red line" was pretty loudly proclaimed. They're basically testing whether Putin is serious (which has usually been a bad idea, but the idea of him escalating directly to nuclear arms is pretty extreme, even for him). Also, it really isn't obvious how taking occasional pot shots inside Russia "strengthens Ukraine." Russia has more capability to strike Ukraine than vice versa, so once you factor the reprisals in it's unlikely that there will be any net gains, or that such gains could actually be realized through negotiation. And since negotiation is really the only avenue for ending this war, that's where the focus should really be.

  • Constant Méheut: [06-09] Ukrainian activist traces roots of war in 'centuries of Russian colonization': "One Ukrainian researcher and podcaster is a leading voice in efforts to rethink Ukrainian-Russian relations through the prism of colonialism." Mariam Naiem. I don't doubt that there is some value in this approach, but I can also imagine overdoing it. We tend to view colonialism through a British prism, perhaps with variations for France, maybe even Spain/Portugal, each of which varied, although the power dynamic was similar.

  • Theodore Postol: [06-05] Droning Russia's nuke radars is the dumbest thing Ukraine can do: "Attacks on the early warning system actually highlights the fragility of peace between the world's nuclear powers."

  • Reuters: [06-05] Russia to send combat vessels to Caribbean to project 'global power,' US official says: "Naval exercises spurred by US support for Ukraine are likely to include port calls in Cuba and Venezuela, says official." Nothing to be alarmed of here. (My first thought was how Russia sent its Baltic Sea fleet all the way around Africa in 1905, only to have it sunk in the Sea of Japan, an embarrassment that triggered the failed revolution of 1905.) But it does show that the era where only "sole superpower" US was arrogant enough to try to project global naval power is coming to a close. Also:

    • Guardian: [06-06] Russia nuclear-powered submarine to visit Cuba amid rising tensions with US. By the way, The Guardian remains a reliable source for news and opinion with an anti-Russian slant, as evidenced by:

    • Pjotr Sauer:

    • Léonie Chao-Fong: [06-05] Putin says Trump conviction 'burns' idea of US as leading democracy: Funny guy.

    • Patrick Wintour: [06-08] 'We're in 1938 now': Putin's war in Ukraine and lessons from history. The Guardian's "diplomatic editor," this could become a classic in the abuse of history for political ends, although he offers a nice feint in this:

      As Christopher Hitchens once wrote, much American foolishness abroad, from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq, has been launched on the back of Munich syndrome, the belief that those who appease bullies, as the then British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, sought to do with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, are either dupes or cowards. Such leaders are eventually forced to put their soldiers into battle, often unprepared and ill-equipped -- men against machines, as vividly described in Guilty Men, written by Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard after the Dunkirk fiasco. In France, the insult Munichois -- synonymous with cowardice -- sums it up.

      But then he quotes Timothy Snyder, and reverts to the stereotype that Putin is Hitler's second coming, an expansionist so implacable that he will continue besieging us until we finally gather up our courage and fight back. The problem here isn't just that Putin is not Hitler, but that this isn't even a valid portrait of Hitler, who had specific territorial ambitions that were conditioned by his times and place -- when "the sun never sets on the British Empire," presided over by a country no larger or more developed than Germany, while the vast land mass to Germany's east looked to him like the American West, promising Lebesraum for the superior Aryan race. Putin may conjure up the occasional odd fantasy of Peter the Great or Vlad the Impaler, not something we can take comfort in, but in an unconquerable world, nationalism is a self-limiting force, which falls far short of the ambitions of Hitler or the inheritance of Churchill.

  • Ted Snider: [06-04] Why Zelensky won't be able to negotiate peace himself: "The way out is to transcend bilateral talks to include moves toward a new, inclusive European security architecture."

America's empire and the world:

Other stories:

Associated Press: [06-06] Charleston bridge closed as out-of-control ship powers through harbor: In South Carolina, another 1,000ft ship, narrowly avoided knocking down another major bridge, as happened in Baltimore recently.

Kyle Chayka: [05-29] The new generation of online culture curators: "In a digital landscape overrun by algorithms and AI, we need human guides to help us decide what's worth paying attention to." This isn't meant as an advertisement, but perhaps it is an idea for one:

The onslaught of online content requires filtering, whether technological or human, and those of us who dislike the idea of A.I. or algorithms doing the filtering for us might think more about how we support the online personalities who do the job well.

Ivan Eland: [06-03] Finding a foreign policy beyond Biden and Trump: "There has to be an option that would allow the US to engage and protect its interests without aggressive primacy."

Tom Engelhardt: [06-04] Making war on Planet Earth: The enemy is us (and I'm not just thinking about Donald Trump).

AW Ohlheiser: [06-06] Why lying on the internet keeps working. Reviews, or at least refers to, a forthcoming book: \ Renée DiResta: Invisible Rulers: The People Who Turn Lies Into Reality, with what I suppose is a second-order subhed: "If You Make It Trend, You Make It True."

Kelsey Piper: [06-07] Where AI predictions go wrong: "Both skeptics and boosters are too sure of themselves."

Tejal Rao: [06-07] His 'death by chocolate' cake will live forever: "The chief Marcel Desaulniers, who died last month, had an over-the-top approach to dessert, a sweet counterpoint to the guilt-ridden chocolate culture of the time."

Music and the arts:

Mike Hale: [06-05] 'Hitler and the Nazis' review: Building a case for alarm: "Joe Berlinger's six-part documentary for Netflix asks whether we should see our future in Germany's past."

Tom Maxwell: [04-12] How deregulation destroyed indie rock across America: "On the corporate capture of regional radio stations." What happened with The Telecommunications Act of 1996, enacted by Newt Gingrich and signed by Bill Clinton: "The act . . . became a checkered flag for a small number of corporations to snap up commercial radio stations across the country and homogenize playlists." Excerpted from Maxwell's book, A Really Strange and Wonderful Time: The Chapel Hill Music Scene: 1989-1999.

Michael Tatum: A Downloader's Diary (52): June 2024.

Midyear reports: I've been factoring these into my metacritic file.

My nephew Ram Lama Hull dredged up a 2016 Facebook "memory" where he wrote "I'm likely voting 3rd party, and encourage everyone in Kansas to do the same." He didn't say who, but had a libertarian streak as well as the family's left-leanings. However, this year he writes:

I've changed my stance. I still stand by this as a general principle, but I voted Democrat in 2020, and will do so in 2024: even if my vote doesn't shift the electoral college results, I want to do my part to push for a Democratic mandate in the popular vote.

I added this comment:

I moved back to KS in 1999. In 2000, I voted for Nader, figuring that the Gore campaign was so invisible he might not even get as many votes as Nader. Bush won bit (58.04%), while Nader only got 3.37%, less than one-tenth of Gore's 37.24%. I drew two conclusions from this: one is that Kansas has a very solid minority that will show up as Democrats no matter how little effort one makes to reach them. (You can also see this in Moran's Senate results, where he rarely cracks 60% despite outspending his opponents as much as 100-to-1.) And second, if you ever want to get to a majority, you have to first win over your own Democrats. I'm very upset with Biden at the moment over his foreign policy (not just but especially Israel), but by now I've become pretty used to lesser-evilism.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 42421 [42377] rated (+44), 36 [31] unrated (+5).

I had a really miserable night and morning. I often complain about my eyesight, but get along ok, as long as I don't try to read CD booklets (one excuse why my reviews have gotten sparer) or try to file CDs alphabetical-by-artist (one reason everything is such a mess). I went to the eye doctor in April, and he told me I should consider cataract surgery. They set up an appointment, but couldn't with their preferred partner get one until June 3, and then couldn't get me an afternoon appointment. I knew it was coming up this week, but didn't realize it was Monday until the day before. I had put off paperwork and research, figuring it could wait until my usual posts, then had to rush out Speaking of Which, to get a bit of time to prepare.

I hate morning appointments: not only does it cut into my normal sleep schedule, simply knowing that I will have to get up early keeps me from getting any sleep at all. It also didn't help that we had thunderstorms rolling through into the morning. When the alarm went off, I was exhausted and exasperated. Then my wife found a phone message saying that the surgeon's office had a power outage, so they had moved all of their appointments to a different location, ten miles farther east, so a 5-minute drive would become 35-40 minutes. My wife called and canceled the appointment. When I finally got up, I called them. They offered me the same appointment time in the distant place, but wouldn't allow me the time to get there. So we rescheduled, pushing the fateful date back to July 29, but at least I got an afternoon appointment.

I probably shouldn't dread this like I do. We know lots of other people who have had the surgery and come out better for it -- Some with adverse side-effects, but as far as I know, all of those were temporary. And I'm less ignorant about what's involved than I was 24 hours ago -- although much of it does seem to depend on the actual examination. I'm not able to go back to sleep, so will spend the rest of the day feeling jet-lagged and irritable. But before long I should rest up, and put it out of mind, at least until the next panic on July 28.

The early start means I should get this posted at a reasonable hour, although other factors could lead me to use the rest of the day. I've added two small items to Speaking of Which as of 3pm, and more are likely. I also have some catch up bookkeeping to do. And I would like to fiddle with the metacritic file a bit. [PS: One thing I did manage to do was to count albums listed by Christian Iszchak and Steve Pick in their respective Substacks.

Seems like a very high ratio of B+(***) to A- this week (21-2), suggesting that some of those could have benefited from a bit more attention. (I did give two plays for at least a third of the 21; another third could just as easily have landed lower, but got the benefit of doubt; Anycia, Ferragutti, and Popul are the ones I may still wonder about.)

It always pains me when I see zombie birthday notices on Facebook friends, but "Bill Xcix Phillips's birthday is today" always hits me hardest, not only because he was a dear friend and great mentor but because I first heard of his passing when I wished him a "happy" in response to one of those notices. Facebook is a hideous thing in oh so many ways, but these residual bits of long-distance connection are what keep pulling me back in.

New records reviewed this week:

Allie X: Girl With No Face (2024, Twin Music): Canadian electropop singer-songwriter Alexandra Hughes, third album since 2017, but her career started a decade earlier, perhaps why this seems darker and gloomier than pop utopia. B+(***) [sp]

Anycia: Princess Pop That (2024, United Masters): Rapper, first album, 14 tracks (27:20), nice complement to Tierra Whack. B+(***) [sp]

Chief Keef: Almighty So 2 (2024, 43B): Chicago rapper Keith Cozart, fifth studio album since 2012 (Finally Rich, his only record to go platinum), plus many mixtapes, this a sequel to one from 2013. I've never paid much attention to him, so I wasn't aware of this hard drill attitude. B+(***) [sp]

Jamale Davis: Run With the Hunted (2024, SteepleChase): Bassist, has a couple previous albums, this one with John Mosca (trombone), Dario Terzuolo (tenor sax), Mferghu (piano), and Ben Zweig (drums/pandeiro). B+(**) [sp]

On Ka'a Davis: Here's to Another Day and Night for the LWA of the Woke (2024, Tzadik): Guitarist, has a couple previous records going back to 2001, trio here with Ali Ali (trumpet) and Donald Sturge McKenzie II (drums). Shades of Sonny Sharrock, but it can wear thin. B+(*) [sp]

Ekko Astral: Pink Balloons (2024, Topshelf): DC-based postpunk band, "pioneers of 'mascara moshpit' music," or "a complex mesh of bubblegum noise punk and no-wave art rock, Jael Holzman the singer, with extra guitar and percussion, first album. Sounds pretty great until they slow it down and pump it up. B+(***) [sp]

Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti & Frank Rosaly: Mestizk (2023 [2024], International Anthem): Singer from Bolivia, married to the drummer, who I always thought of as a Chicago underground guy but I now find identifies as Puerto Rican, the pair of them based in Amsterdam these days. Helping out are various names familiar from other label projects. B+(***) [sp]

Myriam Gendron: Mayday (2024, Thrill Jockey): Canadian folkie singer-songwriter, from Quebec, mostly in French, drums help. B+(**) [sp]

Gilbert Holmström: Peak (2023 [2024], Moserobie): Swedish tenor saxophonist, b. 1937, debut as leader in 1965 with a free jazz quintet, led a fusion group in the 1970s called Mount Everest. Not a lot of records over the years, but they're fairly evenly spaced out. This, at 86, is a quintet with trumpet (Erik Kimestad), piano (Mathias Landæus), bass, and drums, playing four freebop originals and two Ennio Morricone themes. A- [cd]

Daniel Humair/Samuel Blaser/Heiri Känzig [Helveticus]: Our Way (2022 [2024], Blaser Music): Drums, trombone, bass, really Blaser (42) communing with the elders (85 and 66, in effect three generations). Bandcamp page doesn't list the group name, but it's clear at top of cover, with musician surnames at bottom. Trio have a previous album together, sans group name (1291). Both albums mix new pieces with trad Swiss and jazz classics, this one focusing on Ellington and Monk. B+(***) [sp]

Izumi Kimura/Barry Guy/Gerry Hemingway: Six Hands Open as One (2023 [2024], Fundacja Sluchaj): Japanese pianist, based in Ireland, first album (2010) drew on trad pieces from both homelands, eight albums since with shared credits, second with this trio, but Guy (bass) appears on three others, plus she has a duo with Hemingway (drums). B+(***) [cd]

Old Man Luedecke: She Told Me Where to Go (2024, Outside): Singer-songwriter from Nova Scotia, tenth album since 2003, put his banjo aside and recorded this in the Bahamas. So, kind of a vacation. B [sp]

Mach-Hommy: #Richaxxhaitian (2024, Mach-Hommy): Rapper from New Jersey, Haitian descent looms large, EPs start in 2011, albums from 2013 (with one 2004 exception), prolific since then. B+(***) [sp]

Rob Mazurek: Milan (2023 [2024], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, long based in Chicago, where one of his major groups is called Chicago Underground, goes solo here while playing a variety of instruments -- piano, flute, electronics, percussion, voice. B+(**) [sp]

Jesus Molina: Selah (2024, Dynamo Production): Pianist, from Colombia, studied at Berklee, fifth album since 2017. He has considerable chops and range, at various times experimenting with electronics, strings, chorus, and can turn on the Latin tinge, but doesn't depend on it. Results mixed. B [sp]

Kacey Musgraves: Deeper Well (2024, MCA Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2013, including a couple that went platinum. This was mostly written with two collaborators (Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk), fourteen songs simply produced, frames her voice nicely, well thought out with surprising depth. A- [sp]

Old Mountain: Another State of Rhythm (2023 [2024], Clean Feed): Portuguese group, principally Pedro Branco (piano) and João Sousa (drums), with two bassists (João Hasselberg and Hernâni Faustino), reportedly their third album (but none yet in Discogs), this one featuring tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. Opens with an abstract based on "Good Night Irene," followed by originals. B+(**) [sp]

Fabiana Palladino: Fabiana Palladino (2024, Paul Institute/XL): British pop singer, songwriter I assume, first album, although singles credits go back to a 2011 feature for Ghostpoet, has some kind of relationship with the elusive Jai Paul (he had a 2013 album that was leaked to much fanfare in 2019). B+(***) [sp]

Bolis Popul: Letter to Yu (2024, Deewee): Belgian electropop producer, Boris Zeebroek, mother Chinese, may explain his first band name, Hong Kong Dong. First album as leader, although he shared a slugline with Charlotte Adigéry for Topical Dancer, one of 2022's best albums. B+(***) [sp]

Pouty: Forget About Me (2024, Get Better): This is Rachel Gagliardi, co-founder of the bratpunk duo Slutever in 2010 is singer-songwriter here, first album under this alias, nine songs (26:11), not so bratty or punkish these days -- but pouty? sure -- her previous rants turning into questions, like "is there anything left to give a shit about?" B+(**) [sp]

Pylon Reenactment Society: Magnet Factory (2024, Strolling Bones): Pylon was an Athens, GA postpunk/new wave band, less famous than the B-52s, but recorded EPs and two very respected albums 1979-83, with various reunions up to Randall Bewley's death in 2009, but only one more album (1990's Chain). This is a new group with original singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay, doing a pretty good job of extending their original sound. B+(***) [sp]

Terre Roche: Inner Adult (2024, self-released): Middle sister in the Roches, started as a duo with Maggie Roche in 1975, adding younger sister Suzzy in 1979 for a dozen-plus albums up to 1995, after which she has a couple solo albums, also a book or two, which may or may not include this title (label/publishing details unclear to me). B+(**) [sp]

Omar Souleyman: Erbil (2024, Mad Decent): Syrian dabke artist, started as a wedding singer, several albums since 2006, based in Turkey since 2011. Undaunted. B+(***) [sp]

Split System: Vol I (2022, Legless): Garage rock band from Melbourne, Australia. This appears to collect three EPs, all from 2022, so is equivalent to a new release. Very sharp and consistent, within its limits. Eleven tracks (31:46). B+(***) [sp]

Split System: Vol II (2024, Legless): Eleven more fast, sharp, short tracks (33:03). B+(***) [sp]

Swamp Dogg: Blackgrass: From West Virginia to 125th St (2024, Oh Boy): Little Jerry Williams when he cut his first record at 12 in 1954, he grew up to be an Atlantic producer in the 1960s, and Swamp Dogg in 1970, with Total Destruction to Your Mind, an album so deep he spent decades afterwards trying to crack jokes. His latest was called I Need a Job . . . So I Can Buy More Auto-Tune. But while he's always had a fair bit of country in him, he waited until he turned 80 to indulge it here. B+(***) [sp]

TGB: Room 4 (2022 [2024], Clean Feed): Portuguese trio, stands for Tuba (Sérgio Carolino), Guitarra (Mário Delgado), Bateria (Alexandre Frazão); fourth album since 2004. B+(**) [sp]

Peter Van Huffel's Callisto: Meandering Demons (2022 [2024], Clean Feed): Baritone saxophonist, Canadian, with Belgian roots, living in Berlin, with various albums since 2007 -- Gorilla Mask is one of his groups. Quartet here with Lina Allemano (trumpet), Antonis Anissegos (piano/electronics), and Joe Hertenstein (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Kamasi Washington: Fearless Movement (2024, Young): Tenor saxophonist, started in Gerald Wilson Orchestra (2005-11), also Throttle Elevator Music (2012-21); prominent side credits like Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels, Thundercat; fifth solo album: The Epic, from 2015, was a crossover smash, and this one is getting similar buzz, especially with features guests like George Clinton and André 3000. I have mixed views on much of this, but no doubt that he can be a tremendously imposing saxophonist. Massive: 12 tracks, 86:16. B+(***) [sp]

WoochieWobbler: Is My Future Bright? (2024, 3455092 DK, EP): Six songs, 12:34, I know nothing about the artist(s), but figures as atmospheric hip-hop ("lush, preachy"). B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Stan Getz: Unissued Session: Copenhagen 1977 (1977 [2024], SteepleChase): Starts with a studio session recorded just after the live sets that were released as Live at Montmartre, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2: Stan Getz Quartet, filled out with a couple extra live tracks. Quartet with Joanne Brackeen (piano), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). B+(**) [sp]

The Jazz Dispensary: The Freedom Sound! The People Arise (1963-76 [2024], Craft): Jazz Dispensary seems to be a store and/or a label for "top shelf vinyl," although I also see their records out on Craft, which is a reissues company that supplements its LPs with digital releases (sometimes also CDs). This "Record Day Special" picks up some interesting tracks from what we might call the Black Power period, with tracks from Joe Henderson, Gary Bartz, Azar Lawrence, and Ran Blake, with a couple of earlier obscurities (A.K. Salim, The Dungills). B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

Gary Bartz Quintet: Libra (1967 [1968], Milestone): The alto saxophonist's first album, with Jimmy Owens (trumpet/flugelhorn), Albert Dailey (piano), Richard Davis (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums). B+(*) [yt]

Gary Bartz NTU Troop: Home! (1969 [1970], Milestone): Third album, live from Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore, another quintet -- Woody Shaw (trumpet), Albert Dailey (piano), Bob Cunningham (bass), Rashied Ali (drums) -- first in 1969-74 series to use this group name. Four originals and an Ellington cover. B+(**) [yt]

Gary Bartz Quintet: Reflections on Monk: The Final Frontier (1988 [1989], SteepleChase): Plays alto and soprano sax, "Quintet" on spine but not front cover, which lists names: Bob Butta (piano), Geoff Harper (bass), Billy Hart (drums), Eddie Henderson (trumpet). Songs by Thelonious Monk, aside from a 2:04 bit of Bartz, and extra lyrics, one song each for Jenelle Fisher and Mekea Keith (not my favorite part). B+(***) [sp]

Ran Blake: The Blue Potato and Other Outrages . . . Solo Piano by Ran Blake

(1969, Milestone): He's made a career out of minor little records like this. B+(**) [sp]

The Dungills: Africa Calling (1963, Vee-Jay): Discogs list this as African, but elsewhere I see them desribed as a "Chicago family act." Recorded this one album together, with one song included in a Jazz Dispensary compilation. B- [sp]

Billy Gault: When Destiny Calls: The Music of Billy Gault (1974 [1975], SteepleChase): Pianist, only has this one album, from a period when he was playing with Jackie McLean (he wrote the title track to Ode for Super). Six more of his songs here. Relative unknowns in the group: Billy Skinner (trumpet), Bill Saxton (tenor sax), James 'Fish' Benjamin (bass), best known is Michael Carvin (drums), but that just focuses on the piano -- and the vocalists (Ellen DeLeston and Jon Lee Wilson), who come off as awkward and sometimes poignant. B+(**) [sp]

Daniel Humair: Quatre Fois Trois (1996-97 [1997], Label Bleu): Swiss drummer, started 1960, leads four trios here for 2-3 tracks each (total: 66 minutes; there's also a 1998 edition with a second CD that I haven't heard): Jean-François Jenny-Clark (bass) & Dave Liebman (sax); Marc Ducret (guitar) & Bruno Chevillon (bass); Michel Portal (bass clarinet) & Joachim Kühn (piano); George Garzone (tenor sax) & Hal Crook (trombone). B+(***) [sp]

Daniel Humair/Jerry Bergonzi/J.-F. Jenny-Clark: Open Architecture (1993, Ninety-One): Drummer listed up top, same font size but different color from the alto saxophonist and the bassist. Bergonzi is an American who spent most of his 1990s in freewheeling trios on European labels (especially RED), before taking a more mainstream course after 2000. B+(**) [sp]

Daniel Humair/Samuel Blaser/Heiri Känzig: 1291 (2020, Outnote): Multigenerational drums-trombone-bass trio, Swiss, called themselves Helveticus on their follow up, but cover here just lists the three surnames. Originals from all three mixed in with trad jazz (ODJB, Bechet, Ory, "High Society") and Swiss folk tunes. B+(**) [sp]

Larry Levan: The Sleeping Bag Sessions (1982-86 [2017], Sleeping Bag): Famous DJ/producer (1954-92), in 2006 Rhino released a 2-CD compilation of his work, Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story, with other compilations surfacing here and there. Sleeping Bag Records was a UK label (1981-92), which I remember as having a Jamaican influence, but looking at their catalog now, the biggest name was rap group EPMD, followed by Mantronix and Joyce Sims. This is one of the few items available under Levan's name: seven mixes of four songs, 44:21. B+(**) [sp]

Jackie McLean Featuring Gary Bartz: Ode to Super (1973, SteepleChase): Quintet, two dynamic alto saxophonists cut loose in Copenhagen with Thomas Clausen (piano), Bo Stief (bass), and Alex Riel (drums); five tracks, ending with 12:01 of "Red Cross." B+(***) [sp]

Swamp Dogg: Little Jerry Williams Anthology (1954-1969) (1954-69 [2000], SEDG): Juvenilia, starting at age 12 but extending to maturity at 27, by which time he was a producer at Atlantic with a little bit on the side, which he then reconceptualized as Swamp Dogg for his proper 1970 debut (the brilliant Total Destruction to Your Mind). Aside from the title, the cover adds "AKA Swamp Dogg," which is close enough for me -- not unlike those rappers who drop their real names into their titles. This collects 28 songs, dates not provided, but leads off with "1965 Kingsize Nicotine Blues," so they didn't go with chronological. Still finding himself. One highlight is his Little Richard impression on "Hum Baby." B+(***) [bc]

Swamp Dogg: I Need a Job . . . So I Can Buy More Auto-Tune (2022, Don Giovanni): Second title of his to mention Auto-Tune (after 2018's Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune). I have no opinion on the aesthetics or economics of the audio processing technology. B+(**) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jared Hall: Influences (Origin) [06-21]
  • Jihee Heo: Flow (OA2) [06-21]
  • Big Walter Horton: In Session: From Memphis to Chicago 1951-1955 (Jasmine)
  • Clarence Penn: Behind the Voice (Origin) [06-21]
  • Anthony Stanco: Stanco's Time (OA2) [06-21]
  • Eddie Taylor: In Session: Diary of a Chicago Bluesman 1953-1957 (Jasmine)
  • Jody Williams: In Session: Diary of a Chicago Bluesman 1954-1962 (Jasmine)

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Speaking of Which

I never bother looking for an image for these posts, but sometimes one pops up that just seems right. I picked it up from a tweet, where Ron Flipkowski explains: "Trump bus crashes into a light pole today on the way to Staten Island rally for Trump." Dean Baker asks: "How fast was the light pole going when it hit the Trump bus?"

I need to post this early, which means Sunday evening, rather than the usual late night, or not-unheard-of sometime Monday. I did manage to check most of my usual sources, and wrote a few comments, going especially long on Nathan Robinson on Trump today. But no general or section introductions. Maybe I'll find some time later Monday and add some more links and/or comments. If so, they will be marked as usual. Worst case, not even Music Week gets posted on Monday.

Initial count: 184 links, 9173 words. Updated count [06-05]: 194 links, 9598 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): Nathan Robinson on Trump; on music.

Top story threads:


America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

Israel vs. world opinion:

Election notes:

Trump: Guilty on all counts!

  • Intelligencer Staff: Donald Trump found guilty on all counts: live updates. Titles will change with updates: on [05-31] this turned into "Trump will appeal: Live updates." This seems to have picked up the baton from what has long been the best of the "live update" posts on the trial:

  • Sasha Abramsky: Trump's "tough guy" act is put to the test: "The former president's felony conviction follows weeks of Trump repositioning himself as a politically persecuted martyr -- and an American gangster."

  • Maggie Astor: [06-02] Lara Trump, RNC leader, denounces Larry Hogan for accepting Trump verdict: So much for Reagan's "11th commandment."

  • Zack Beauchamp: [05-30] Why the ludicrous Republican response to Trump's conviction matters: "Republicans are busy attacking the legitimacy of the American legal and political system." Not that there's no room for critiquing how it works, including who it favors and why it's stacked against many others, but Republicans have staked out many positions as the party of criminality. In Trump they have their poster boy.

  • Ryan Bort: [05-31] Trump is cashing in on his criminal conviction.

  • Ben Burgis: [05-31] The rule of law being applied to Trump is good.

  • Sophia Cal: [06-02] Guilty verdict fuels Trump's push for Black voters: Because they know what it feels like to be victimized by the criminal justice system? It's going to be hard to spin this as anything but racist.

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • [05-30] Trump's conviction means less than you might think: Once again, his instinct is to argue with imaginary readers, about whom he knows bupkis. It could just as easily mean more than you think. Sure, "a lot depends on what happens next." And, I dare say, on what happens after that. He dwells on analogies of negligible value, like foreign leaders who wound up in jail (but thankfully skipping over ones who returned to power, like Lula da Silva, or Berlusconi -- a better match for Trump), but has an amusing paragraph on one of Trump's heroes, Al Capone. But before making that obvious point ("life isn't fair, nor is the legal system," but it's better to get a habitual criminal on a technicality than to let him get away with everything), Chait gets the story straight:

      In a global sense, Trump's conviction in a court is not just fair but overdue. He has been flouting the law his entire adult life. Trump reportedly believed he enjoyed legal impunity due to his relationship with Manhattan's prosecutor, though the basis for that belief has never been established. The extent of his criminality has oddly escaped notice, perhaps overshadowed by his constant offenses against truth and decency, or perhaps because people tend to think stealing is a crime when you aim a gun at a clerk but not when you create phony companies and bilk the Treasury.

      Once he ascended to the presidency, Trump's criminality only grew. He issued illegal orders constantly, flummoxing his staff. He attempted (with unrecognized partial success) in turning the powers of the Justice Department into a weapon against his enemy, which was in turn an expression of his criminal's view of the law: as an inherently hypocritical tool of the powerful against the weak.

      The incongruity of the Manhattan case as the venue for Trump's legal humiliation is that it did not represent his worst crimes, or close to it. The case was always marginal, the kind of charge you would never bring against a regular first-time offender. It was the sort of charge you'd concoct if the target is a bad guy and you want to nail him for something.

    • [05-31] Does the conservative rage machine go to 11? "Republicans are now so angry, they want a candidate who will threaten to lock up his opponent." You understand, don't you, that they're just working the refs, like they always do. They're also normalizing the behavior they claim to be victimized by. They don't see a problem with prosecuting political opponents. They just think they should be immune, while everyone else is fair game.

    • [05-30] Bush torture lawyer John Yoo calls for revenge prosecutions against Democrats: "Poor, innocent Donald Trump must be avenged."

  • Ryan Cooper: [05-31] Alvin Bragg was right, his critics were wrong: "A jury of his peers agreed that Donald Trump deserved to be prosecuted in the Stormy Daniels case."

  • David Corn: [05-30] Trump loses a big battle in his lifelong war against accountability: "His 34 guilty convictions turn this escape artist into a felon."

  • Susan B Glasser: [05-31] The revisionist history of the Trump trial has already begun: "The ex-President's war on truth has an instant new target: his guilty verdict."

  • Margaret Hartmann:

  • Elie Honig: [05-31] Prosecutors got Trump -- but they contorted the law. Former prosecutors and persistent naysayer, admits "prosecutors got their man," but adds: "for now -- but they also contorted the law in an unprecedented manner in their quest to snare their prey."

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-31] How Trump will campaign as a convicted criminal. Premature to write this now, at least until sentencing, and even then there must be some possibility that he'll get some temporary relief from some appellate judge. Eugene Debs ran for president in 1920 when he was in jail, but he couldn't campaign (and his vote totals were way down from 1916 and especially 1912). McKinley never left his front porch in 1896, so that might be a model -- lots of surrogates, backed with lots of money -- if he's stuck at home, but why would a judge allow a convict a free hand to keep doing what got him into legal trouble in the first place? Do drug dealers get to keep dealing until they've exhausted appeals? I've never heard of that. But then I've never seen a criminal defendant treated as delicately or deferentially as Trump before.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-31] The best -- and worst -- criticisms of Trump's conviction: "The debate, explained." This is very good on the technical aspects of the case, and pretty good on the political ones. On purely technical grounds, I could see finding for Trump, although I still have a few questions. The charges that Bragg and/or Merchan are biased and/or conflicted amount to little more than special pleading for favorable treatment. Still, it's hard to avoid the impression that, regardless of the exact laws and their customary interpretations, this case derives from a deeply unethical act that had profoundly damaging consequences for the nation. Cohen already did jail time for his part in this fraud, so why should we excuse Trump, who he clearly did his part for?

    All along, Trump has acted guilty, but unrepentant, arrogantly playing the charges for political gain. There has never been a case like this before, not because Trump used to be president, but because no other defendant has ever pushed his arrogance so far. It's almost as if he was begging to get convicted, figuring not only that he would survive his martyrdom, but that it would cinch him the election. I might say that's a bold gamble, but insane seems like the more appropriate word.

  • Errol Louis: [06-01] The courage of Alvin Bragg's conviction: "Despite the many doubters, the Manhattan DA's steady methodical approach to prosecuting Donald Trump prevailed."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [05-31] Trump is no outlaw, just a grubby, sad criminal.

  • Anna North: [05-31] We need to talk more about Trump's misogyny: "Stormy Daniels reminded us that it matters."

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-30] The felon frontrunner: How Trump warped our politics: "This is the moment Trump's critics have been dreaming of for years. But something isn't right here." There's something very screwy going on here, but this article isn't helping me much.

  • Hafiz Rashid: [05-31] Jim Jordan launches new idiotic crusade after Trump guilty verdict: He wants to subpoena the prosecutors to "answer questions" before his House committee. Scroll down and find another article by Rashid: Trump's most famous 2020 lawyer is one step closer to complete ruin: "Things are suddenly looking even worse for Rudy Giuliani."

  • Andrew Rice: [05-31] What it was like in court the moment Trump was convicted: "Suddenly, the whole vibe changed."

  • Greg Sargent: Trump's stunning guilty verdict shatters his aura of invincibility.

  • p>Alex Shephard: Trump's historic conviction is a hollow victory.

  • Matt Stieb/Chas Danner: [05-31] What happens to Trump now? Surprisingly little. If you ever get convicted or a felony, don't expect to be treated like this. He's still free on bail, at least up to sentencing on July 11 ("just four days before the Republican National Convention starts"). Meanwhile, his political instincts seem to be serving him better than his lawyers are: "Though the campaign's claims have not been verified by FEC filings yet, they say Trump raised an historic $34.8 million in the hours since his conviction."

  • Michael Tomasky: Susan Collins's really dumb Trump defense reveals the GOP's sickness: "The only thing that was more fun yesterday than watching the Trump verdict come in was watching Republicans and assorted right-wingers sputter in outrage."

  • Maegan Vazquez/Tobi Raji/Mariana Alfaro: [06-02] After Trump's conviction, many Republicans fall in line by criticizing trial.

  • Amanda Yen: [06-01] Trump Tower doorman allegedly paid off in hush-money scandal has advice for Trump: Based on a New York Daily News exclusive interview with Dino Sajudin. Scroll down and you also see: [06-03] Trump trial witnesses got big raises from his campaign and businesses.

  • Li Zhou/Andrew Prokop: [05-30] Trump's remaining 3 indictments, ranked by the stakes: "A quick guide to Trump's indictments and why they matter."

More Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Heath Brown: [06-01] An insurrection, a pandemic, and celebrities: Inside Biden's rocky transition into the White House: An excerpt from a new book, Roadblocked: Joe Biden's Rocky Transition to the Presidency.

  • David Dayen: [05-29] The three barriers to Biden's re-election: "Price increases, a broader economic frustration built over decades, and an inability to articulate what's being done about any of it."

  • Gabriel Debenedetti: [05-30] Does Trump's conviction mean this is a new campaign? "Biden's team hopes it will start a month of contrasts that reframe the race." This is going to be tricky. For instance, all I had heard about Robert De Niro's speech outside the trial was about how he was attacking "pro-Palestinian protesters" -- a claim that has been denied, although the denial seems to have been about something else. One painful memory I have was how in the late months of his 1972 campaign, George McGovern latched onto Watergate as his big issue, and sunk like a rock.

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-30] Biden needs disengaged, unhappy voters to stay home: My first thought was that this is dumb, useless, and if attempted almost certain to backfire. The idea that the more people you get to vote, the more than break for Democrats, dates mostly from 2010, when a lot of Obama's 2008 voters stayed home and Republicans won big. However, the 2010 turnout was almost exactly the same as 2006, when Democrats won big. So while presidential elections always get many more voters than midterms, the partisan split of who's disengaged and/or unhappy varies. However, it probably is true that unhappy and/or ignorant (a more telling side-effect of being disengaged) voters will break for Trump, as they did in 2016 and 2020, so there is one useful piece of advice here, which is don't provoke them (e.g., calling them "baskets of deplorables"). Of course, that's hard, because Republicans are using everything they got to rile them up, and it's not like they won't invent something even if you don't give them unforced errors. So the real strategy has to still be to engage voters on the basis of meaningful understanding and building trust.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-28] One explanation for the 2024 election's biggest mystery: "A theory for why Biden is struggling with young and nonwhite voters." Subheds: "Biden is losing ground with America's most distrustful demographic groups; The Biden 2024 coalition is short on 'tear it all down' voters; Why the Biden presidency might have accelerated low-trust voters' rightward drift."

  • Bill Scher: [05-23] Another Biden accomplishment: 200 judges and counting. Scher also featured this in his newsletter: [05-23] How Democrats are winning the race for the lower courts.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

  • Marina Dias/Terrence McCoy: [05-28] The climate refugee crisis is here: "Catastrophic flooding in southern Brazil has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Many say they won't go back."

  • Heather Souvaine Horn: You'd be amazed how many people want big oil charged with homicide: Yes, I would, not least because it suggests they don't understand what homicide means (cf. Israel, which is committing homicide on a massive scale, enough so that it has its own word). "A new poll shows overwhelming support for holding oil and gas companies accountable via the courts." Now, that makes more sense. It may not be the right way to do it, but it's a more immediately accessible mechanism than moving politically to write new regulations to address the problems more directly.

  • Umair Irfan: [05-29] How one weather extreme can make the next one even more dangerous: "We're in an era of compound natural disasters."

  • Mitch Smith/Judson Jones: [06-02] From Texas to Michigan, a punishing month for tornadoes: "More than 500 tornadoes were reported, the most of any month in at least five years, uprooting homes and disrupting lives in cities small and large." May is the most common month for tornadoes, with an annual average of 275.

Economic matters:

  • Dean Baker:

  • Idrees Kahloon: [05-27] The world keeps getting richer. Some people are worried: "To preserve humanity -- and the planet -- should we give up growth?" Review of Daniel Susskind: Growth: A History and a Reckoning, also referring back to other books on growth and degrowth. I've long been sympathetic to degrowth arguments, but I don't especially disagree with this:

    As our economy has migrated toward the digital over the material and toward services over goods, the limits to growth have less of a physical basis than World3 had anticipated. In fact, the most serious limits to growth in the U.S. seem to be self-imposed: the artificial scarcity in housing; the regulatory thickets that tend to asphyxiate clean-energy projects no matter how well subsidized; the pockets of monopoly that crop up everywhere; a tax regime incapable of cycling opportunity to those most in need. The risk of another Malthusian cap imposing itself on humanity appears, fortunately, remote. Meanwhile, the degrowthers' iron law -- that economic growth is intrinsically self-destructive -- has become less and less plausible. "One can imagine continued growth that is directed against pollution, against congestion, against sliced white bread," Robert Solow, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at M.I.T., declared in a rebuttal to "The Limits to Growth" half a century ago.

    It should be obvious that some economic activities are not just useful but essential, while others are wasteful or worse. Whether the sum is positive or negative doesn't tell us which is which, or what we should be doing. The other obvious point is that growth does not balance off inequality, even though many on the Democratic of the spectrum favor pro-growth policies in the hope that they might satisfy both donors and workers. But the usual impact is just more inequality.

  • Whizy Kim: [05-29] What's really happening to grocery prices right now: "Target and Walmart are talking about their price cuts. How big of a deal is it?"

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:

Other stories:

Memorial Day: When I was growing up, folks in my family called it Decoration Day. We visited cemeteries close to the family, or more often sent money to relatives to place flowers on family graves -- many of which served in the military, but few who were killed in wars (which were few and infrequent before 1941, and perpetual ever since). So I always thought of the holiday as an occasion for remembering your ancestors -- not to glory in their wars, or to snub folks who got through their lives without war. Although, I suppose if you have to think about war, it's best to start with the costs, starting with the dead. But they don't end with our cemeteries.

Michael Brenes: [05-31] How liberalism betrayed the enlightenment and lost its soul: A review of Samuel Moyn: Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times.

Dana Hedgpeth/Sari Horwitz: [05-29] They took the children: "The hidden legacy of Indian boarding schools in the United States."

Eóin Murray: [06-01] Without solidarity, the left has nothing: Actually, the left would still have a persuasive analysis of how the world works (along with a critique of the right's failures and injustices), combined with the appropriate ethics. The problem is translating that analysis into effective political action, and that's where the book reviewed here, Astra Taylor and Leah Hunt-Hendrix: Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea comes into play.

Rick Perlstein: [05-29] My political depression problem -- and ours: "Granular study of the ever-more-authoritarian right didn't demoralize the author as much as reaction from the left." I'll keep this open, and no doubt write about it some day, probably closer to the election, because I figure there's no point in me panicking about that right now.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [05-31] Trump's worst crimes remain unpunished: "Trump's policies killed many people in the United States and around the world. Hush money is the least of his crimes. But an honest confrontation of his worst offenses creates complications for a political class that commits crimes routinely." I wouldn't say the hush money case is "the least of his crimes." Even if we limit ourselves to the indicted ones -- not even the tip of a very large iceberg -- I'd rank it above his sloppy handling of classified documents. The hush money case is a good example of how Trump does business, using legal chicanery to dishonestly manipulate what we know about his business and person. (Admittedly, the documents case also provides crucial insights into his pathological character. I wouldn't say that, in itself, should be illegal, but for someone with his political profile, the cover up matters.)

    But for sure on the main point, and not just because no American can ever be prosecuted for the worst things presidents can do -- the criminal justice system in America is designed to protect the property and persons of the rich, and only marginally to regulate and discipline the rich themselves (who are threats to themselves as well as to the public, but are accorded many courtesies denied to less fortunate offenders).

    Still, I wouldn't lead with the number of people who died, either by his command (e.g., through drone strikes) or his incompetence (his mishandling of Covid-19 looms large here, but I'd also factor in how his policies toward Israel and Ukraine contributed to wars there, and I'd consider a few more cases, like Iran and North Korea, that haven't blown up yet, but still could). But that's mostly because I'm more worried about how he's corrupted and steered public political discourse. And that's not just because I fear the end of democracy -- if you follow the money, as you should, you'll see that that ship has already sailed -- but because he has, for many (possibly most) people, soiled and shredded our sense of fairness and decency, including our respect for others, and indeed for truth itself.

    While Trump doesn't deserve sole credit or blame for this sorry state of affairs -- he had extensive help from Republicans, backed by their "vast right-wing conspiracy," who saw his cunning as an opportunity to further their graft, and by naïve media eager to cash in on his sensationalism -- he has been the catalyst for a great and terrible transformation, where he sucked up all the rot and ferment the right has been sowing for decades, stripped it of all inhibitions, and turned it into a potentially devastating political force.

    I've never been a fan of "great man" history, but once in a while you do run across some individual who manages to do big things no one else could reasonably have done. My apologies for offering Hitler as an example, but I can't imagine any other German implementing the Holocaust -- fomenting hatred to fuel Russian-style pogroms, sure, but Hitler went way beyond that, exercising a unique combination of personal ambition, perverse imagination, and institutional power. Trump, arguably, has less of those qualities, although clearly enough to do some major damage.

    But the comparison seems fanciful mostly because we know how Hitler's story ended. Try putting Trump on Hitler's timeline. Four years after Hitler became chancellor was 1937, with the Anschluss and Kristallnacht still in the future -- war and genocide came later, and while there were signs pointing in that direction, such prospects were rarely discussed. One can argue that Trump made less progress in his first term than Hitler in 1933-37, mostly due to institutional resistance, but also lack of preparation on his part -- Hitler had a decade after the Munich putsch failed, during which he built a loyal party, whereas Trump found himself depending on Reince Preibus and Mike Pence for key staffing decisions. The one advantage Trump gained in four years out of power is that he's prepared to use (and abuse) whatever power he can wangle in 2024. So one shouldn't put much trust in his past failures predicting future failure. He wants to do things we can't afford to discount.

    By the way, Robinson points out something I had forgotten, that he had previously written a whole book on Trump: Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity, which came out a bit too late, on Jan. 17, 2017, but was reprinted with an afterword in time for the 2020 election, under a new title: American Monstrosity: Donald Trump: How We Got Him, How We Stop Him (which only seems to be available direct from OR Books). By the way, since I was just speaking of Hitler, let's slip the following 2018 article in out of order:

  • [2018-07-04] How horrific things come to seem normal: This tracks how Hitler was covered in the New York Times, from November 21, 1922 (p. 21, "New popular idol rises in Bavaria") to 1933:

    Here's a final tragic bit of wishful thinking from his appointment as chancellor in 1933: "The composition of the cabinet leaves Herr Hitler no scope for the gratification of any dictatorial ambition."

    Let's hope future historians are not driven to compile a similar record for Trump -- although I wouldn't be surprised to find books already written on the subject.

  • [05-28] No leftist wants a Trump presidency: "Let's be clear. The right poses an unparalleled threat. Left criticism of Democrats is in part about preventing the return of Trump."

  • [05-30] The toxic legacy of Martin Peretz's New Republic: Interview with Jeet Heer, who "has written two major essays about the intellectual legacy of the New Republic magazine's 70s-2000s heyday" (actually 1974-2012): From 2015 The New Republic's legacy on race; and [05-14] Friends and enemies: "Martin Peretz and the travails of American liberalism." Heer actually likes Peretz's memoir, The Controversialist: Arguments With Everyone, Left, Right and Center.

  • [05-29] Presenting: The Current Affairs Briefly Awards!: "The best, the worst, and everything in between." I won't attempt to excerpt or synopsize this. Just enjoy, or tremble, as the case may be.

  • [04-15] Why new atheism failed: I was surprised to see him publish outside his own journal, then surprised again to find that this is a "subscriber only" article. It's probably similar to this older one: [2017-10-28] Getting beyond "new atheism"; or for that matter, what he has to say about the subject in his books, Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments, and The Current Affairs Rules for Life: On Social Justice & Its Critics.

Li Zhou: [05-31] The MLB's long-overdue decision to add Negro Leagues' stats, briefly explained. The statistics come from 1920-48, so there is still a large patch of history between 1870-1920 that is unaccounted for, and the official seasons were much shorter (60 vs. 150 games), so counts are suppressed. We can't replay history, but this helps understand it.

Also, some writing on music/arts:

Ryan Maffei: {03-28] Somebody explain the early '80s to me (in popular-musical terms, of course). Facebook thread, collecting 205 comments. I don't have time to focus on this, but wanted to bookmark it for possible future reference. The 1980s were my personal desert years. In 1980 I moved from NYC to NJ, gave up writing for jobs writing software, bought very little beyond Robert Christgau's CG picks -- maybe 50-75 LPs a year, only moving into CDs relatively late (well after moving to Massachusetts in late 1984). In the mid-1990s I started buying lots more CDs, and doing a lot of backtracking (before my initial heavy 1970s period, also all jazz periods), but never really filled in the numerous holes in my 1980s, so I still have some unquenched curiosity this may help with. By the way, this comment, from Greg Magarian, was the one that caught my eye:

Just love. I can't pretend to be dispassionate; '80-'89 for me were junior high, high school, college. Every day was discovery. All flavors of UK punk fallout. Following Two Tone and UB40 into original ska and reggae. US indie rock flowering everywhere and coming to stages near me. MTV exposing me to everything from MJ to Faith No More. Record store bargain bins that tricked my white urban ass into exploring soul and country. Coaxing my friends on a hunch at the multiplex to ditch The Karate Kid for Purple Rain and being changed forever. Checking out any early hip-hop 12-inch I could get my hands on. Bad Dylan and good Springsteen. 60s nostalgia as a romantic ideal. Warming up to superstar albums through their five or six durable singles. Making mixtapes for girls. Borrowing records to tape from friends and friends of friends and dudes whose apartments I stumbled into.

Li Zhou: [05-29] The Sympathizer takes on Hollywood's Vietnam War stories: "HBO's new miniseries centers Vietnamese voices -- and reframes the consequences of war." I can't say as I enjoyed watching it, but I suppose it wrapped up better when the two time tracks finally converged, and I got used to the annoying tick of showing events in multiple varying versions to reflect the vagaries of memory. Zhou likes that it introduces Vietnamese voices to a genre that's seen a lot of American navel-gazing, but it's still impossible to show any generosity to Vietnamese communists -- The Three Body Problem was even harsher in its depiction of Chinese communists. My wife tells me the novel is brilliant, and that there's more story left, so I expect another season. I read Viet Thanh Nguyen's Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, and he's clearly a very smart and basically decent guy.

Listening blogs:

Mid-year reports:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Music Week

May archive (final).

Music: Current count 42377 [42349] rated (+28), 31 [27] unrated (+4).

Recovering from my off week, I wrote a pretty substantial Speaking of Which, posted late Sunday but not nearly as complete as I wanted. I expect to add a few more things today, which will probably delay posting this until late. Still, I should get this prepared before it gets too late.

One possible problem is that we're at the end of the month, so I need to open a June Streamnotes file, as well as wrap up the May file (177 albums over five weeks). (Ugh! Looks like I didn't wrap up April either. Caught up now bringing the Streamnotes rated count to 23921. Turns out I had a previous, more generous, review of Serengeti's Kaleidoscope III not logged in the database. This work killed enough of the day to push this post back to Tuesday.

What else needs to be said here?

Last week, I did a Music Week update, and posted notices elsewhere, asking for input on a domain name renewal, and less directly on the possibility of other people using my writings as a starting point for a music reference website. I got zero feedback on the latter. I did get one letter regarding the narrow domain name issue. The advice there was to drop it, and the reasoning made sense to me, so I took if auto-renew. It will probably disappear before before you read this. I still need to do some clean up work on my end. So "Terminal Zone" is dead for now, and the website project is shelved.

I finally broke down and opened up a 2024 metacritic file, which will eventually turn into the EOY aggregate file. I started by looking at AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2024 list, and assigning one point for album ratings 80+ from most sources: I don't see much value in loading up on metal specialists (AOTY tracks 6 that I have ignored so far, but metal albums reviewed elsewhere are tracked) the active list is here. Eventually I'll get to pages that are organized by source and sorted by release date, starting with the sources I'm most likely to follow anyway. Later on I'll probably consult Metacritic for additional sources -- they sometimes read ungraded reviews and assign scores which can be used here.

Next step would be to start scanning through untracked sources, especially ones that covers genres that I'm interested in but are gerrymandered against at AOTY, like jazz, hip-hop, country, world, and electronica. Ones with clearly graded reviews are best, but I've been known to count everything mentioned by some reviewers. Also, as usual, I'm adding my grades (a nudge for my favorites, but also, I think, useful info), with more to come. Also coming soon are mid-year best-of lists, which will appear as '+' as opposed to '*' for positive reviews. (Most midyear lists aren't ranked, and the numbers are at best provisional, so I think I'll skip them. EOY lists will eventually replace them.)

I figure this is a spare time project, not something I'll make a point of trying to keep up-to-date. It's useful for me primarily for prospecting (which is one reason I bother little with metal, or for that matter classical). I may not even keep it going -- although having the framework together is a big step toward doing the EOY aggregate, and also helps with Jazz Critics Poll. As my book projects continue to flounder, the odds of me doing that again improve.

The metacritic list exercise led to most of the records below -- not that I needed the list to check out Swift and Eilish, but it provided a nudge. Good as their albums are, the others that made A- are probably a bit better, and sweeter to find. (Well, Murray didn't come from the list, and never needed to.) The high B+ grades are also good records, and could very well click for you.

Not much from the demo queue. I'm keeping it sorted by release date, and the remaining CDs are June-July releases, so I'm trying not to rush them. One the other hand, a hint for publicists: send me a note when something becomes available on Bandcamp or Spotify and I'm liable to cue it up before deleting the mail (I did that three times while writing this, and will give this one a second spin).

New records reviewed this week:

Yaya Bey: Ten Fold (2024, Big Dada): R&B singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, fifth album since 2016. Nice flow, has some grit. B+(***) [sp]

Borderlands Trio [Stephan Crump/Kris Davis/Eric McPherson]: Rewilder (2023 [2024], Intakt, 2CD): Bass/piano/drums, third group album, joint credits, title piece split into "I" (51:49) and "II" (53:04). B+(***) [sp]

Britti: Hello, I'm Britti (2024, Easy Eye Sound): New Orleans singer-songwriter Brittany Guerin, first album, produced by Dan Auerbach. B+(**)

Isrea Butler: Congo Lament (2023 [2024], Vegas): Trombone player, lead in the Count Basie Orchestra ghost band, credits Ike Quebec and Bennie Green albums for inspiring this quintet with Doug Lawrence (tenor sax), Dave Loeb (piano), bass, and drums. Seven covers: two from Green, one Quebec, a Stanley Turrentine, the standards including a delightful "Pennies From Heaven," and a Ma Rainey blues to close. B+(***) [cd] [06-01]

Rachel Chinouriri: What a Devastating Turn of Events (2024, Elektra): English singer-songwriter, family from Zimbabwe, first album after a couple of EPs. B+(***) [sp]

Cindy Lee: Diamond Jubilee (2024, Realistik Studios): Per Wikipedia: "the drag queen hypnagogic pop project of Canadian musician Patrick Flegel, former guitarist and lead singer of Women." Fifth album, 32 songs, over two hours. Lots of things here, probably could be edited into a good album, maybe two, but as is it doesn't sustain the interest it first elicited. B+(*) [yt]

A.G. Cook: Britpop (2024, New Alias): British electronica producer, initials for Alexander Guy, best known under the alias PC Music but third album under this moniker, a long one (three parts: "Past," "Present," "Future"; 24 tracks, 99:43 total). B+(**) [sp]

Charley Crockett: $10 Cowboy (2024, Son of Davy): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, plays guitar, more than a dozen albums since 2015. Easy does it. B+(**) [sp]

DIIV: Frog in Boiling Water (2024, Fantasy): Post-punk/dream pop/shoegaze band from Brooklyn, fourth album since 2012, singer-guitarist Zachary Cole Smith and guitarist Andrew Bailey from the original band, two others from 2013/2015. B+(*) [sp]

Billie Eilish: Hit Me Hard and Soft (2024, Interscope): First two names, skipping Pirate and surnames Baird (mother) and O'Connell (father), also discarded by brother Finneas, who seems to be the composer in their songwriting team, but she's undoubtedly the persona, an artist with a knack for seeing the wonder of the peculiar world she lives in: home-schooled, DIY-recorded, Grammy winner at 17, third album here at 22, most likely another smash -- but once again, I'm slow on the uptake, nudged on by nuggets of genius peeking out from soft and sly but seemingly unremarkable pop schist. Not totally sure here, but I'm probably saving myself some paperwork on down the line (like I had to do last time). A- [sp]

English Teacher: This Could Be Texas (2024, Island): British group, from Leeds, Lily Fontaine the singer, first album after a 2022 EP, much touted, not unreasonably. B+(***) [sp]

Beth Gibbons: Lives Outgrown (2024, Domino): English singer-songwriter, voice of Portishead in the 1990s, treats this as her debut solo album, although she has a 2002 duo with Rustin Man and is featured on a 2019 recording of Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3. Some remarkable music here. Songs to match. A- [sp]

Jon Gordon: 7th Ave South (2023 [2024], ArtistShare): Alto/soprano saxophonist, albums start in 1989, "revisits the 1980s heyday of jazz in Greenwich Village," with a fairly large group -- nine musicians, a choir, vocals on three tracks (including a cover of "Here, There, and Everywhere"). Sax is engaging, but otherwise a mixed bag. B+(*) [cd]

Hawkwind: Stories From Time and Space (2024, Cherry Red): British space rock group, debut 1970, slowed down after 1982 (releases in 1985, 1988, 1990) but with never more than a 5-year break (2000-05) and only one more (2012-16) more than two years. Vocalist Dave Brock (guitar, keybs) remains from the original group, with Richard Chadwick (drums) from 1990, one from 2016, the other two from 2021. Nothing in my database since Robert Calvert left in 1979. This sounds about right, but not enough to matter. B [sp]

Julia Holter: Something in the Room She Moves (2024, Domino): Singer-songwriter, from Milwaukee, eleventh album since 2007 (including three early DIY efforts), crafts atmospheric art-pop that I've never particularly related to, although this one has some appeal. B+(*) [sp]

Kelly Moran: Moves in the Field (2024, Warp): Composer, usually filed as modern classical but started in a no-wave punk band, is filed in my database as electronica, but Wikipedia also mentions jazz, dream pop, and black metal. This is acoustic piano, solo, ten pieces, very nice. B+(***) [sp]

David Murray Quartet: Francesca (2023 [2024], Intakt): Tenor sax great, includes a bit more than his usual bass clarinet special, other names on the cover: Marta Sanchez (piano), Luke Stewart (bass), Russell Carter (drums). Sounds great, if a bit more relaxed than usual. (Of course, no sooner than I write that line, he rips off a monstrous solo.) A- [sp]

Rosali: Bite Down (2024, Merge): Singer-songwriter, last name Middleman, fourth album since 2016. B [sp]

Wadada Leo Smith & Amina Claudine Myers: Central Park's Mosaics of Reservoir, Lake, Paths and Gardens (2021 [2024], Red Hook): Trumpet and piano duo. Pretty slow. B+(*) [sp]

Sprints: Letter to Self (2024, City Slang): Irish garage punk band, singer-guitarist Karla Chubb, has a couple EPs before this debut album. Substantial songs, has the sound down perfect. A- [sp]

St. Vincent: All Born Screaming (2024, Virgin): Singer-songwriter Anne Clark, born in Tulsa, grew up in Dallas, studied at Berklee, seventh studio album since 2007. B+(**) [sp]

Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department (2024, Republic): Tenth studio album, not counting the redundant rerecordings, this one coming on the heels of one of the highest grossing tours ever. Not a lot of glitz here, which must mean she's focused on the songwriting. I'm not quick enough on words to qualify that, but I really like the tone and pacing, and don't note anything amiss. Note that I only listened to the basic album, not the extra disc (The Anthology). A- [sp]

Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties: In Lieu of Flowers (2024, Hopeless): Solo project by Wonder Years frontman Dan Campbell, third album since 2014. Has a fairly quiet folksinger phase, which rather often swells to power ballad and beyond -- a trick I quickly tire of. Sample lyric: "if there's a way of fucking up, I'm going to find it." B- [sp]

Conchúr White: Swirling Violets (2024, Bella Union): Singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland, second album. He has all of the songcraft and much of the sensibility of the singer-songwriters known as Withered Hand and Bon Iver and several more that have already slipped my mind. Probably has the same appeal, not that I care that much for any of them. B+(***) [sp]

Kathryn Williams & Withered Hand: Willson Williams (2024, One Little Independent): UK singer-songwriters, latter's real name is Dan Willson, has a few albums since 2009, Williams' longer discography goes back to 1999. I've never run across her before, but he has a reputation as a skilled songwriter with religious airs. This seems nice enough. B+(*) [sp]

Chelsea Wolfe: She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She (2024, Loma Vista): Singer-songwriter from California, seventh studio album since 2010, blends folk, gothic and metal, I guess into "darkwave." This is dark indeed, dense, but not unpleasing. What it all means is beyond me. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Cannonball Adderley Quintet: Berliner Jazztage, November 2nd 72 (1972 [2023], Lantower): Alto saxophonist (1928-75), an exceptionally popular hard bop star. I recommend his early Emarcy sets (1956-58, collected as Sophisticated Swing) and Somethin' Else (1958, on Blue Note, with Miles Davis), but I have nothing in my database after his 1958-63 series with Riverside ended, but he recorded more for Capitol through 1972 and Fantasy up to his early death. Like most of his records, this features his brother Nat on trumpet -- a giant in his own right, and a more prolific composer. Also George Duke (keyboards, wrote the 19:06 opener, "Black Messiah"), Walter Booker (bass), and Roy McCurdy (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

Jacques Greene: ANTH01 (2010-13 [2021], LuckyMe): Electronics producer Philippe Aubin-Dionne, from Montreal, alias from a street crossing (like Sleater-Kinney), compilation mostly from 2010-13 singles but I haven't been able to date the end points. B+(***) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Anthony Branker & Imagine: Songs My Mom Liked (Origin) [06-21]
  • Gilbert Holmström: Peak (Moserobie) [05-24]
  • Alex Kautz: Where We Begin (Sunnyside) [07-05]
  • Izumi Kimura/Barry Guy/Gerry Hemingway: Six Hands Open as One (Fundacja Sluchaj) [04-01]
  • Rob Parton's Ensemble 9+: Relentless (Calligram) [06-07]
  • Kenny Reichert: Switch (Calligram) [06-07]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Speaking of Which

[Updated 2024-05-28. New sections and major edits flagged, like this.]

I woke up one morning last week flooded by what felt like deep thoughts. Of course, I never got around to writing them down, and most have proven fleeting, but one stuck with me as important enough to use an an introduction here. It's that, in negotiations, one should always try to do the right thing. In games, that means seeking out the maximum positive sum (or, if you are starting in deep trouble, as is often the case, the minimum negative sum).

You may have trouble quantizing, but any mutual gain will do, as would a mutual loss that doesn't seem disparate. They key is that both sides should feel some satisfaction, even if it's only relative to where one entered negotiations. This matters because not only does one have to solve a current problem, but one hopes to prevent a future recurrence. Any negotiation that ends with one side feeling aggrieved is likely to be rejoined later, when prospects become more favorable.

The simplest model I can think of here is what we might call the social contract. In unequal situations, one side may be able to dominate and take from the other, who being demeaned will be resentful and seek to redress the situation, possibly flipping roles only to be targeted again. Humans do not readily submit to other humans, so it takes extra effort not just to obtain but to maintain unequal ranks, while the rewards for doing so diminish. Hegel understood this well enough in theory, but he also had the real world example of American slavery to draw on.

Yet many people, especially in positions of power, still think they can use their power to force the submission of others, thereby preserving their advantages. They may get away with it for a fairly long time, but never without cost, and sometimes at great risk of revolt and revolution. This desire to dominate was long thought to be as essentially human as rebellion, but it can be tempered by reason if one is willing to think things through. Unfortunately, the sort of people who start and fight wars are sadly deficient in that respect.

Real world cases can be tricky. You need to sort out what really matters, and understand how various options will play out. On the other hand, you need to steer away from positions that will cause future resentment. A good rule of thumb here is that anything that exploits a power advantage or intends to preserve or develop one is likely to backfire. Unfortunately, most thinking by US and other powers is based on the assumption that power provides leverage for imposing unequal settlements. This delays negotiations, and leads to bad agreements.

Specifics vary from case to case. I write about Ukraine most weeks. The battleground is deadlocked, with both sides capable of extending the war indefinitely. Ukraine's maximalist goal of retaking all of its pre-2014 territory is unrealistic. Russia's goals and minimum requirements are less clear, in part because the US is fixated on weakening and degrading Russia on the theory (groundless as far as I can tell) that Putin is obsessed with expanding Russian territory and/or hegemony. I think it's more likely that Putin is concerned to halt or limit US/EU threats to Russia's security and economy, which have been manifested in NATO expansion, EU expansion, and sanctions against Russian business interests. If that's the case, there are opportunities to trade various chits for favors in Ukraine, especially ones that longer-term will reduce US-Russia tensions.

That doesn't mean that Putin will be willing to give up all of Ukraine. Crimea and Donbas had Russian ethnic majorities before the broke away in 2014, and given the chance would almost certainly have voted to join Russia. As a nationalist, Putin is concerned with the fate of Russian ethnic minorities beyond his borders -- such people had been secure in the Soviet Union, but became vulnerable when the SSRs broke away and themselves became more nationalist. Besides, having made the move into Ukraine, and having conquered and held additional territory (which is now also heavily Russian), he's very unlikely to walk away empty-handed.

All this suggests to me that a deal would be possible -- perhaps not win-win but one that lose-loses a lot less than continuing the war -- if we start looking for a more equal settlement, as opposed to the current strategy of hoping the next offensive adds some leverage while nearing the other side to exhaustion. Not only has that thinking failed both sides utterly, the prospect of an inequitable settlement would only serve to encourage future conflicts.

Same principles should apply elsewhere, and will inform my comments when I get to them.

I'm getting to where I really hate website redesigns, all of which are immediately disruptive, making it harder to find things. While you expect to get past that after a bit of learning curve, it often turns out to be a permanent condition. The Wichita Eagle changed to a more "web friendly" design recently, as opposed to their previous newspaper page scans (which they still have now, but buried in the back, behind lots of spurious junk). I suppose regular articles are a bit easier to read, and flipping past them is a bit faster, but still, I'm almost ready to quit them -- which would be a loss for Dion Leffler, and various restaurant and road openings and closings, but not much more.

One of my regular stops is Vox, and their redesign is so disruptive I'm bothering to mention it here. (They explain some of this here, but they merely assert that the "sleek, updated design [makes] it easier for you to discover and find all of the journalism you love." It doesn't.)

Posting this end-of-Sunday, not really complete, but there's quite a bit here. I'll add some more on Monday.

Initial count: 185 links, 11,242 words. Updated count [03-28]: 217 links, 14,446 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): Louis Allday; Fred Kaplan; Sarah Jones; on music.

Top story threads:


  • Mondoweiss:

  • Middle East Monitor: Live Updates: Famine imminent in northern Gaza amid Israel's closure of crossings, media office warns: Plus numerous other stories.

  • Wafa Aludaini: [05-25] The slaughter of Palestinian scholars in Gaza is a deliberate Israeli tactic.

  • Ruwaida Kamal Amer: [05-21] Cementing its military footprint, Israel is transforming Gaza's geography: "As Israel expands a buffer zone and erects army bases in the Strip, Palestinians fear the permanent loss of their homes and land."

  • Kavitha Chekuru: Hundreds of Palestinian doctors disappeared into Israeli detention.

  • Emma Graham-Harrison: [05-28] Tanks reach centre of Rafah as attacks mount and Israel's isolation grows.

  • Ryan Grim:

  • Tareq S Hajjaj: [05-27] Rafah massacre: how Israel bombs displaced Gazans in their tents: "The Israeli army bombed Gazans in their tents in the 'safe zone' where it told them to go. Eyewitnesses told Mondoweiss most of the dead were burned alive or decapitated and dismembered. Many of them were children." I don't want to pile on a late-breaking story, but:

  • Shatha Hanaysha: [05-23] Jenin resistance defiant as Israeli army kills 12 Palestinians in raid. I'm not much into celebrating resistance against a force as overwhelmingly powerful, insensitive and cruel as the IDF, but it is human nature to resist such force, by whatever means are available ("necessary," the term one first thinks of here, implies hope and purpose that aren't always easy to see).

  • Fred Kaplan: I included these links, meaning to write more about them, but ran out of time on Sunday, leaving them as stubs. Again growing weary on Tuesday, I'll add a couple brief notes, but there is much more I'd like to say. (Maybe you can find it elsewhere in this or previous weeks' posts? [PS: Ok, I wound up writing quite a bit anyway.])

    • [05-13] Why Israel and Hamas still do not have a cease-fire: "There are only three ways out of the war." Nothing very deep here. His three ways are universal rules for all wars: one side wins; both sides give up and settle; some more powerful third party gets fed up and threatens to knock heads, forcing a settlement. You can provide an easy list of examples, as long as you're willing to count lots of costs as some kind of win. The problem is that these scenarios assume you have war between two relatively autonomous sides, and that if victory is not possible, both sides are willing to accept the continued existence of the other.

      Those assumptions are simply wrong. There is no Hamas army, or Palestinian army. It is not even clear that Hamas exists, at least beyond some public figures outside of Gaza, their assertion that they hold a small number of Israelis, and occasional bursts of small arms fire and the occasional rocket, which are no threat, and evidently no inhibition, to Israel. That Hamas only exists to give Israel an excuse -- one that at least its still-gullible allies in the US and elsewhere will cling to -- for its systematic demolition and depopulation of Gaza. In other words, this isn't a war. It just looks like one because Israel is fighting it with advanced weapons of war, none of which Hamas or any other Palestinians possess: planes, missiles, drones, heavy artillery, tanks, ships, surveillance, AI-based targeting, a huge number of trained fighters, an advanced military-industrial complex, and a steady stream of billions of dollars of reinforcements from the US, and if all that fails they still have a nuclear arsenal.

      If Hamas had those things, you could legitimately call this a war, and you'd find that Israel suddenly has reasons for wanting it to end. That's when the risks to both sides are high enough that they start negotiating. However, when it's just Israel shooting fish in a barrel, why should Israel negotiate? Worst case scenario is you run out of fish, but that's not something Israelis have ever had to worry about. And no matter how much we decry their intents and practices as genocidal, Israelis are very different from the Nazis who set the standard for genocide. Israelis may think they were chosen by God -- some do, some don't, the difference scarcely matters -- they don't see themselves as a master race, and don't seek to drive others into slavery. They see themselves as eternal victims, so the best they can hope for isn't a Final Solution -- it's simply to drive the others away, to push them back and out from their safe fortress (their Iron Wall, Iron Dome, etc.). Nor do they worry that they are training others to hate them, to come back and seek revenge, because they know deep down that others will hate them anyway, that this condition is eternal, as is their struggle to defend themselves.

      We can kick around various hypotheticals, but the bottom line is that this war only ends when Israel decides to stop prosecuting it, either because the costs exceed what they're willing to pay, or because they grow sick and tired, and ashamed, of the slaughter. Neither of those are likely to happen as long as the US is willing to foot the bills and run diplomatic interference. If the US and Europe were to seriously threaten to flip against Israel, they might decide that the conflict isn't worth the trouble, and start to make amends. That's probably the best-case scenario: nothing less will get Israel's attention. Nothing more is practically possible -- no nation, regardless of how powerful they think they are, is going to overthrow Israel by arms. (The US tried that with Afghanistan and Iraq, and failed. Russia tried that with Ukraine, and failed. China tried that with Vietnam, and failed. Every case is slightly different, but none of those had the nuclear weapons Israel has. And while the US has pushed sanctions to their limit against North Korea, they've thought better than starting a major war.)

      Israelis may not mind being sanctioned back into a shell, like North Korea has endured. They're certainly psychologically prepared for it. But they've also been living la dolce vita for many decades, largely on the American taxpayer's dime, so may be they will see that they have real choices to make, and being ostensibly a democracy, they may even be able to make their own.

    • [05-21] Why Netanyahu's war cabinet is existentially divided: "The Israeli prime minister refuses to plan for life after the war in Gaza."

    • The simplest explanation is that he doesn't want the war to end, ever. Israel has fought continuously since 1948 (or really since 1937), along the way building up a military, a police and spy system, courts, and a civil society that knows how to do nothing else. They've cultivated a psyche that is hardened by fear and hate, one that only experiences pleasure in inflicting pain on others. They need those others. If they didn't exist, they'd have to hate them -- and in many case they have. If they didn't have those others, they'd turn their hate on each other, because that's what the psyche demands. If Hamas still exists today, that's because Israel needs Hamas as its pretext for fighting Palestinians in Gaza. And if Israel is slow-rolling the genocide in Gaza, it's because it gives them cover for ethnic cleaning in the West Bank. Hitler set an impossible standard in thinking he could reach a Final Solution. Netanyahu wants something far deadlier, which is Permanent Revolution. But we still call it genocide, because to the victims it looks much the same.

  • Ken Klippenstein/Daniel Boguslaw: [04-20] Israel attack on Iran is what World War III looks like: "Like countless other hostilities, the stealthy Israeli missile and drone strike on Iran doesn't risk war. It is war."

  • Akela Lacy: The AIPAC donor funnels millions to an IDF unit accused of violating human rights: "The battalion has a dedicated US nonprofit to support its operations -- whose president is supporting AIPAC's political agenda."

  • Haggai Matar: [05-20] Israeli military censor bans highest number of articles in over a decade: "The sharp rise in media censorship in 2023 comes as the Israeli government further undermines press freedoms, especially amid the Gaza war."

  • Loveday Morris: [05-26] Far-right Israeli settlers step up attacks on aid trucks bound for Gaza.

  • Orly Noy: [05-23] Why Israel is more divided than ever. I wish, but I doubt it. Author is chair of B'Tselem, a group that has done heroic work in documenting the human rights abuses of the occupation.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [05-27] Netanyahu's response to the ICC invokes another genocidal biblical reference: "Netanyahu's rant against the ICC quoted a biblical verse that warns against the dangers of not completely wiping out your enemy's society. It doesn't take much to figure out what this means for Israel's genocidal war on Gaza."

  • Prem Thakker: The State Department says Israel isn't blocking aid. Videos show the opposite.

America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

Israel vs. world opinion: From demonstrations to ICC indictments, and backlash again.

  • Nasser Abourarme: [05-25] The student uprising is fighting for all of us: "Palestine has ignited our planetary consciousness once again, and it is the student movement that refuses to let genocide become our new normal.".

  • Louis Allday: [05-24] Four points on solidarity after the Gaza genocide: I don't agree with this, and I'm rather disappointed that Mondoweiss would print it. Allday writes: "We must support the struggle of the Palestinian people to abolish Zionism, no matter the means they choose to do it." I'm inclined to be cautious about articulating what other people think and feel, but I object to every clause in that sentence, and to each of the four points the author goes on to make -- "Palestinians have a right to armed resistance"; "Zionism is irredeemable"; "we will not police our slogans"; and "'Israel' must come to an end." The problems here are grammatical, logical, moral, and political. I hate to trot out Lenin, not least because I never actually read his book, but this reminds me of a style of thought he dismissed as "an infantile disorder."

    To go back to the sentence: "the Palestinian people" assumes a unity that does not exist and therefore cannot be supported without contradiction; "abolish Zionism" is a category disorder (you can do lots of things to Zionism, like reform or reject or ridicule it, but you cannot abolish it); and it always matters what means you use, because your means define you as much as your ends. As for the points:

    1. "Palestinians have a right to armed resistance": I believe that people should have both negative ("freedom from") and positive ("freedom to") rights, but armed resistance is neither. The best you can say for it is that it's a bad habit humans have picked up over the ages, made only worse by advanced technology. I can see why some people may feel they have no better option than to resort to it, and I can see why some Palestinians think that, and I see little point in condemning them when they have no better options, and I can't see that Israel has closed or frustrated all other options. So I see little point in blaming Hamas for their violent uprising, as it mostly reflects Israel's responsibility for the conditions. But I refuse to dignify it by calling it a right. For the same reasons, I deny that Israel has a "right to defend itself" -- if anything, Israel's claim is worse, because they do have other less destructive options. Self-defense may get you an acquittal or pardon in court, but we don't have to pretend it's some kind of right to justify that. It could just be grounds for mercy. No one has a right to mercy, but some powers, especially when concerned with their own legitimacy, grant it anyway. By the way, it's fine with me if you reject armed resistance on purely moral grounds. My view here is a bit more nuanced, but in some book I read a pretty emphatic "thou shalt not kill," and that sounds to me like a pretty sound rule to live by.
    2. "Zionism is irredeemable": I'm pretty well convinced that the way Israelis are behaving today flows quite logically from the way Zionism was originally articulated by Pinsker and Herzl and rendered into political form by Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky, and Kook (each of those, plus a dozen lesser known figures, has a chapter in Shlomo Avineri's The Making of Modern Zionism. So I would be inclined to chuck the whole conceptual legacy out, but that doesn't mean that it cannot be reformed. While I have no personal investment in Zionism, there are other isms I can imagine recovering from their tarnished pasts. And in any case I'd never say that any group of people, including fascists and white supremacists (mentioned here because they appear in the text), who are absolutely irredeemable.
    3. "We will not police our slogans": This one is probably what got me thinking of Lenin. If you can't police yourself, you certainly don't deserve to police anyone else.
    4. "'Israel' must come to an end": I don't technically disagree with "the Zionist entity commonly known as Israel is a settler colonial project sustained by U.S. imperialism for its own purposes," but I would never put it in those terms, because I don't want people to take me for a moron. I hardly know where to start here, but in any case I'll wind up with a political point, which is that this isn't going to happen, not even close, isn't even desirable, and any efforts to bring it about will only make you look stupid and cruel, reflecting adversely on any decent thing you might reasonably aim at.

    I suppose I've known all along that this kind of "thinking" exists, but so far I've only run across rough sketches of it in obvious Israeli propaganda, so I've been reluctant to credit it at all. (Could this be a plant? That's always been a suspicion with "Palestinian" resistance literature, because "false flag" operations run as deep in Israeli history as tactical hasbara.) I've occasionally thought of writing a piece on "Why I've never identified as pro-Palestinian (but don't care if you do)," which would review the checkered history of Palestinian nationalism, including the oft-repeated arguments that Jews can and should be expatriated from Israel, and explain why I find them every bit as reprehensible as Israel's not-merely-rhetorical efforts to control, incarcerate, expel, and/or kill Palestinians. One could include charts to show how much of each both sides have done, and how they stack up. (Palestinians aren't innocents in this regard, but the ratios are pretty sobering.) It's quite possible to describe yourself as pro-Palestinian and not buy into all of the dead baggage of the nationalists, so I don't assume that identifying yourself as that implies that you're simply out to flip the tables. But that's not a linkage I make for myself.

    What I'd like to see is everyone live wherever they want, with equal rights, law, and order for all within whatever state they live in (one, two, many?). Also, as a safety valve, with a right to exile, both for Israelis and Palestinians (and ideally for everyone else). I imagine that if given the chance most Palestinians (though maybe not the leaders of Hamas or Fatah) would welcome such a world, but most Israelis are still wedded to their dreams of self-rule achieved through forever war against the antisemitic hordes, so they will reject it as long as they can. And no one can force Israel to change, so the best we can do is negotiate a bit, appeal to what's left of their humanity, shame them for their obvious crimes, negotiate a bit more, find "do the right thing" compromises that give and take a little but in the right direction. They're not crazy, and they're not stupid. (Although I'm not so sure about some of the Americans.) They have some legitimate concerns, which deserve respect, but we also have to be firm that we will not let them con us (as they try to do incessantly, and have often gotten away with). This is a noble task that will require diligence and sensitivity and skill -- traits the author here, and anyone anywhere near his wavelength, manifestly lacks.

    One more point: "solidarity" doesn't mean you should follow the other lemmings into the abyss. It means you should look for common themes between your complaints and the complaints of others, to see if you can join forces in ways that help you both. Chances are, you share opponents who are already at work keeping you divided and conquered, and you can improve your tactics based on your shared experiences.

    "Empathy" is a much rawer emotion, where you experience some other's plight as impacting yourself. While it's good to be able to imagine how other people feel, the emotion can sometimes overwhelm, leading you to sympathize with counterproductive rhetoric and tactics. Empathy can motivate commitment, which is one reason movement put so much effort into garnering it, but solidarity requires thinking, analysis, deliberation, and calculated action. Empathy can lash out, and temporarily make you feel good, but it rarely works, especially against opponents who are practiced in dealing with it. On the other hand, solidarity can work.

  • Linah Alsaafin: [05-23] Why students everywhere have been jolted awake by Israel's brutality.

  • Michael Arria:

  • Ramzy Baroud: [05-23] With Biden's bear hug of Israeli atrocities, world's view of American democracy craters.

  • M Reza Benham: [05-24] Lifting the veil: Demystifying Israel: Recalls a movie, The Truman Show, where the lead character was trapped and filmed in a stage set he took to be the real world, until he discovered otherwise.

  • Ghousoon Bisharat: [05-24] 'The international legal order needs repair -- and Gaza is a part of this': "Al Mezan director Issam Younis explains the obstacles and opportunities for Palestinians following major interventions from the world's top courts."

  • Juan Cole:

  • Jonathan Cook: [05-24] The message of Israel's torture chambers is directed at all of us, not just Palestinians: "'Black sites' are about reminding those who have been colonised and enslaved of a simple lesson: resistance is futile."

  • Owen Dahlkamp: [05-24] Inside the latest congressional hearing on campus antisemitism: "Students for Justice in Palestine called the hearing 'a manufactured attack on higher education' as Republicans criticized universities for negotiating with protesters."

  • Harry Davies/Bethan McKiernan/Yuval Abraham/Meron Rapoport: [05-28] Spying, hacking and intimidation: Israel's nine-year 'war' on the ICC exposed. This is a major article. Should be a big story. Davies also wrote:

  • Moira Donegan: [05-24] Congress's latest 'antisemitism' hearing was an ugly attack on Palestinian rights: "The real purpose of this nasty political farce is to pressure US universities to crack down on criticism of Israel."

  • Richard Falk: [05-22] Why ICC bid for arrest warrants is a bold and historic move: "Unsurprisingly, the announcement has fuelled a misplaced rhetoric of outrage from Israel and its allies."

  • Michael Gasser: [05-22] A tale of two commencements: How Gaza solidarity encampments are changing the way we see university education: "Indiana University's 'Liberation Commencement' was a celebration of the students' brave commitment to fighting powerful institutions and their involvement in challenging Zionism and the Palestinian genocide."

  • Amos Goldberg/Alon Confino: [05-21] How Israel twists antisemitism claims to project its own crimes onto Palestinians: "What Israel and its supporters accuse Palestinians of inciting, Israeli officials are openly declaring, and the Israeli army is prosecuting."

  • Murtaza Hussain: Can a US ally actually be held accountable for war crimes in the ICC?

  • Ellen Ioanes/Nicole Narea: [05-21] Why ICC arrest warrants matter, even if Israel and Hamas leaders evade them: "The role of the International Criminal Court and the limits to its authority, explained."

  • David Kattenburg: [05-24] UN expert: 'Very little hope' of Israel abiding by ICJ order to stop Rafah invasion.

  • Nichlas Kristof:

    • [05-24] Biden's chance to do the right thing in Gaza: "In a speech in Warsaw two years ago, President Biden declared that 'the great battle for freedom' is one 'between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.' Now we'll see whether he meant it." No evidence of that yet. Previously wrote:

    • [05-18] Invading Rafah doesn't help Israel.

    • [04-19] What happened to the Joe Biden I knew? "During the Darfur genocide and humanitarian crisis two decades ago, then-Senator Joe Biden passionately denounced then-President George W Bush for failing to act decisively to ease suffering. Biden expressed outrage at China for selling weapons used to kill and maim civilians, and he urged me to write columns demanding the White House end needless wretchedness." As you may recall, "genocide in Darfur" was a big Israeli talking point at the time, as the Israelis never missed an opportunity to portray Arabs as mass killers, and Sudan counted as an enemy of Israel. Silly Kristof for thinking that Biden actually cared about humanity, when he was, as always, simply doing Israel's bidding.

    • [03-16] President Biden, you have leverage that can save lives in Gaza. Please use it.

  • Akela Lacy: October 7 survivors sue campus protesters, say students are "Hamas's propaganda division": Say what?

  • Natasha Lennard: University professors are losing their jobs over "New McCarthyism" on Gaza.

  • Eldar Mamedov: [05-22] More European countries recognize Palestine: "The moves by Ireland, Norway, and Spain point to a Europe-wide frustration with futility of the current process." It's hard to recognize a "nation" that doesn't legitimately exist, but these moves to at least Israel has lost all credibility to millions of people it has effectively rendered stateless and homeless.

  • Paul Rogers: [05-28] These inhumane attacks on Rafah are no accident. They're central to the IDF's brutal, losing strategy.

  • Imad Sabi: [05-22] In memory of an Israeli lawyer who never lost her moral purpose: "Tamar Pelleg-Sryck worked tirelessly to defend Palestinian detainees like me in a profoundly unjust system."

  • Bernie Sanders: [05-23] The ICC is doing its job.

  • Tali Shapiro: [05-20] Israel's extortion leaflets and NameCheap: How to do corporate accountability during a genocide: "Arizona-based internet domain company NameCheap ended all service to Russia over the invasion of Ukraine but has now registered an Israeli website targeting Palestinian children. Activists are calling out the company's complicity in war crimes." Psychological warfare has been around at least since WWII, but is rarely commented on. For instance, did you know this?

    On Friday Israel dropped another set of leaflets on Gaza. Israel's use of leaflets for its psychological torture of the besieged Palestinian population is well known in these genocidal days.

    Ominous, gloating, taunting, and sadistic messaging is the lingua franca of these leaflets, which Israel claims is a humanitarian effort to evacuate the civilian population. Some of the most common leaflet content are calls to contact Israel's secret service with information on Hamas or the Israeli hostages. The purpose of these particular leaflets is twofold: the coercion of protected civilians to obtain information (which is a violation of the law of armed conflict); but most of all, to undermine the trust and cohesion of a community under siege and annihilation.

    Friday's leaflets took the intel-gathering genre to another level, when the army included messaging of extortion and a list of children, among them toddlers as targets, with the threat to reveal personal information such as criminal records, extramarital affairs, and queer identities.

  • Abba Solomon/Norman Solomon: [05-26] The dead end of liberal American Zionism: "In 2024, the meaning of 'pro-Israel, pro-peace' is macabre: J Street supports US military aid to Israel as it carries out a genocide. Liberal American Zionism has revealed itself to only be a tool for the subjugation of the Palestinian people." The authors refer back to a 2014 article they wrote -- The blind alley of J Street and liberal American Zionism -- and they seem entitled to an "I told you so" today. Just as I've never described myself as pro-Palestinian, I've also never claimed to be pro-Israeli, but I can see where other people might wish to combine their pro-peace and pro-nationalist sentiments. The problem is that they have to make a complete break not just with the Netanyahu gang -- as undoubted pro-Israelis like Schumer and Pelosi have done -- but with the entire apartheid/militarist regime. I can imagine some people coming to that view purely from their sympathy and concern for Israel, because it's obvious to me that not just the genocide but the entire history of occupation is something that Israelis should be ashamed of and shunned for. Anyone like that, even with zero regard for suffering of Palestinians, wouldn't deserve to be called a "tool for the subjection of Palestinians." But if you see J Street as some kind of AIPAC-Lite, meant to promote a sanitized Israel for squeamish American liberals, its mission is dead now, because the fantasy Israel it tried to present has been irreversibly exposed.

  • Christopher Sprigman: [05-23] Why universities have started arresting student protesters. "Over the past couple of months, more than 2,000 students have been arrested at colleges and universities around the US for protesting Israel's bombardment of Gaza." For starters, "It isn't because today's pro-Palestinian students are particularly violent or disruptive." This article kicks around several theories, but the obvious one is that Israel doesn't have a rational defense of genocide, so they hope to bury the charges under a bogus story of antisemitism and stir up a bit of violence then can easily blame on Palestinians. Why university administrators would go along with this is a story that probably has a money trail.

  • Ishaan Tharoor:

  • Simon Tisdall: [05-25] Call to prosecute Benjamin Netanyahu for war crimes exposes the west's moral doublethink: Someone at the Guardian needs remedial help in writing headlines: the article criticizes Biden, Sunak, and others for their attempts to undermine and impugn the ICC, not the Court for doing its job (finally).

  • Marc Tracy: [05-23] Ari Emanuel condemns Netanyahu, drawing boos at Jewish group's gala.

Election notes:

The Libertarian Party: Not normally worth my attention, but they had a convention last week, and some ringers showed up (originally I filed these under Trump):

Trump, and other Republicans: Let's start off with another quote from Richard Slotkin's A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America (pp. 385-386):

MAGA-constituencies have therefore embraced extreme measures of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and legislative control of election certification. In this regard, MAGA is building on values and practices already rooted in the conservative movement. As political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have argue, since the 1990s the GOP has been "ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." Its agenda has been formulated as a canon, most tenets of which predate Trump: Grover Norquist's No-Tax Pledge, the Kochs' No Climate Change Pledge, the NRA's absolute rejection of gun safety, Right to Life's rejection of abortion under any circumstances, the anti-immigration bloc's No Amnesty Pledge. Its "Southern Strategy" dealt in dog-whistle racism to rouse resistance to social welfare programs. It has generally opposed the extension of social welfare programs and voting rights.

Trump exaggerated those tendencies by an order of magnitude, and his cult of personality gave them shape, color, and the aura of insurgent populist heroism. Government was not just a problem to be minimized, but an administrative state to be deconstructed. Dog-whistle racism became explicit in the defamation of Mexican and Black people, and in the display of sympathy for White Power vigilantes. Climate change was not just a hoax, but a "Chinese hoax." Faced with global pandemic, inescapable evidence of dangerous climate change, a public outcry for racial and social justice, and defeat at the polls, Trump chose repression over recognition.

But Trump also shifted the focus of conservative politics from the neoliberal economic policies of Reagan and the two Bushes to the culture war policies of Pat Buchanan.

That paragraph goes on with Christopher Rufo and Ron DeSantis and the war against woke. One should note that Trump is no less neoliberal than Reagan or the Bushes: he'd just prefer to saddle Clinton, Obama, and Biden with blame for the side-effects of policies Republicans have consistently supported since Nixon. Granted, Trump is a bit heretical with the odd tariff, but the economic effects are trivial, the targets are jingoist, and the beneficiaries dovetail nicely with his graft.

By the way, I meant to include more from the end of Slotkin's book, but that will have to wait until next week.

Actual trial news is skimpy: the defense rested quickly (without Trump testifying), and the judge took the rest of the week off to prepare for final arguments and jury instructions on Monday. Still leads off here, followed by other articles:

  • Nia Prater: [05-21] What happened in the Trump trial today: The defense rests: I've been using this "running recap of the news" for much of the trial, but it's fallen off Intelligencer's front page for lack of an update. [PS: updated 4:57PM 05-28, now "Closing time."] Presumably it will get one when final arguments are given. Meanwhile, it's still a good backgrounder. Also (again, thin this week):

  • Eric Alterman: [05-17] How can this country possibly be electing Trump again? "How the media has failed, and what the Democrats need to do."

  • Jamelle Bouie: [05-24] Trump's taste for tyranny finds a target:

    Trump's signature promise, during the 2016 presidential election, was that he would build a wall on the US border with Mexico. His signature promise, this time around, is that he'll use his power as president to deport as many as 20 million people from the United States.

    "Following the Eisenhower model," he told a crowd in Iowa last September, "we will carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history."

    It cannot be overstated how Trump's deportation plan would surely rank as one of the worst crimes perpetrated by the federal government on the people of this country. Most of the millions of unauthorized and undocumented immigrants in the United States are essentially permanent residents. They raise families, own homes and businesses, pay taxes and contribute to their communities. For the most part, they are as embedded in the fabric of this nation as native-born and naturalized American citizens are.

    What Trump and his aide Stephen Miller hope to do is to tear those lives apart, rip those communities to shreds and fracture the entire country in the process.

  • Jonathan Chait: [05-23] Karl Rove frets RFK Jr. is stealing 'wacko' voters from Trump: Isn't that rather like Willie Sutton's rationale for robbing banks? Not much substance here, mostly just a chuckle as Chait is firmly Team Biden. But it occurs to me that if RFK Jr. really wanted to do some damage to Biden, what he has to do is flip 180° on Israel, and wrap that up with his anti-empire, anti-militarist views into a serious critique of the mostly-shared Biden/Trump geopolitics. The one thing a third-party candidate most needs is an urgent issue where the two major parties are joined at the hip, and that issue right now is genocide. (And sure, that won't help him with Trump voters, but he still has crazy for them.)

  • Callum Jones: [05-28] Vivek Ramaswamyu uses Buzzfeed stake to demand staff cuts, conservative hires.

  • Juliette Kayyem: [05-23] Trump's assassination fantasy has a darker purpose: "The ex-president's stories of his own victimization make violence by his supporters far more likely."

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-24] Trump guilty verdict would feed election-denial claims. Well, so would an acquittal, or a hung jury. That die was set when he was indicted. Trump certainly thinks that the indictments are proof of a vast conspiracy to get him, and millions of people are happy to believe whatever he says, which guarantees that charging him with anything will get turned into a political circus and raise all sorts of questions about impartial juries and free speech and the political inclinations and entanglements of judges, all of which are certain to be played to the hilt for Trump's political purposes. I could imagine prosecutors with good political instincts deciding that it's not worth all that much trouble to go after Trump, especially on the specific cases they have here.

    That they waited nearly three years after he left office before moving certainly suggests that they were reluctant to take on this fight. They didn't go after Nixon after he resigned -- Ford's peremptory pardon gave them a convenient excuse, but wasn't binding on state prosecutors, and could have been challenged in court. But Nixon never so much as hinted at running again, while Trump is. So, sure, the optics do suggest that he's being prosecuted to derail his campaign, but so is his defense designed to promote his campaign. I have no idea who's winning, or will win, this very strange game. From a purely political standpoint, I've never been sure it was good strategy. (I am pretty certain that the Ukraine impeachment was a bad move, but the Jan. 6 one was well-founded, and that McConnell missed an opportunity there to get Trump disqualified under the 14th amendment, precluding a 2024 run, and probably sparing Trump the indictments -- which all in all would have been a good deal for everyone.)

    Still, I understand that prosecutors like to (no, live to) prosecute, and I have no doubt that they have very strong legal cases. And I do like that in the courtroom, Trump has to come down from his high horse and show some submission to the court. It is one thing to say "nobody's above the law," but that Trump has to show up and shut up, even if he nods off and farts a lot, gives us a graphic illustration of the point. But as for Kilgore's point, the only thing that would stop feeding election-denial claims would be for media like himself to stop airing them.

  • Nicholas Liu: [05-23] Louisiana Republicans declare abortion pills a "dangerous substance," threaten prison and hard labor: "Under the proposed law, people found in possession of the pills could face up to five years behind bars."

  • Clarence Lusane: [05-19] Black MAGA is still MAGA: "Trump's racism and authoritarianism should be disqualifying."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [05-24] Trump's "Biden the assassin" fantasy is pure projection.

  • John Nichols: [05-24] The soulless hypocrisy of Nikki Haley: "Haley has abandoned her opposition to Trump for political expediency." Seriously, did you ever think for a minute that she would "never Trump"? Still, doesn't (yet) strike me as much of an endorsement. Sort of like me sheepishly admitting I'll vote for Biden, despite some really serious issues I have with him. Also see:

  • Timothy Noah: [05-23] Here's what Trump and the GOP really think about the working class.

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-21] Why Trump's running mate could be the most important VP pick of our time: I don't really buy this, but it would take another article to explain all the reasons why. VPs matter very little unless one gets promoted, in which case they're usually mediocre (Coolidge, Truman) to disastrous (Tyler, Andrew Johnson), the exceptions being Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson (who, like Coolidge and Truman, won a term in their own right). True that Trump's odds of finishing a second term are below-average, but he'd be hard pressed to pick a VP even worse than he is, or one much better.

  • Matthew Stevenson: [05-24] Trump's three penny media opera: The machinations of TMTG, the Trump Media shell corporation.

  • Robert Wright: [05-24] Why Trump is worse than Biden on Gaza (and maybe much worse).

  • The New Republic: What American Fascism would look like: "It can happen here. And if it does, here is what might become of the country." A weighty topic for a special issue, but how seriously can we take a publisher when all the art department could come up with is a bronze-tone Donald Trump head with a somewhat more tastefully clipped Hitler mustache? The articles:

    The first piece in this batch I read was the one by Brooks, partly because I found the title confusing -- do liberals really fantasize about the military? I mean, aside from herself? -- but she's actually pretty clear, if not especially satisfactory, in the article: the military won't rise up to hand Trump power, or otherwise instigate a coup, but if Trump does gain power more or less legitimately and issues clear orders, there is no reason to doubt that they will act on his behalf. The notion that they might act independently to stop Trump is what she dismisses as "liberal fantasy."

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Christopher Cadelago/Sallyl Goldenberg/Elena Schneider: [05-28] Dems in full-blown 'freakout' over Biden. Mostly seems to mean party operatives and fundraisers. I don't know if these reports are credible, but the writers are certainly freaking out:

    "The most diplomatic thing I hear from Democrats is, 'Oh my God, are these the choices we have for president?'"

  • Kate Conger/Ryan Mac: [05-24] Elon Musk ramps up anti-Biden posts on X. One of the authors also contributed to:

  • David Dayen: [05-21] Pelosi may back industry-friendly House crypto bill: "The industry has become a major spender in political campaigns, and the most prodigious fundraiser among Democrats is taking notice." I hate crypto, and this is one of the reasons. Democrats have to raise money just like Republicans do, but when they do they manage to look extra dirty, and nothing's dirtier than crypto.

  • Gabriel Debenedetti: [05-25] When Joe Biden plays pundit: "A close reading of what the president really thinks about 2024 -- at least what he's telling his donors." There's an old joke that Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road repair (which is really just recovering from and preparing for winter). Politicians also have two seasons: one, which never really ends, where they appeal to donors, and another, for several weeks leading up to an election, when they try to appeal to voters. Then, as soon as the votes are counted, it's back to the donors. Successful politicians may try to juggle both, but donors are more critical -- they basically decide who can run and be taken seriously, plus they're always in touch, whereas voters only get one shot, and even then can only choose among donor-approved candidates -- so they get most of the attention. Having wrapped up the nomination early, Biden has time to focus on the donors, raising his war chest. His anemic polls can wait until September, when the voters finally get their season.

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • [05-21] The Biden campaign has a Trump-fatigue problem. Don't we all have a Trump-fagigue problem? Come November, the big question on voters' minds should be what can I actually accomplish with my vote? In 2016, middle-of-the-road voters seized the opportunity to get rid of Hillary Clinton. This time, they have to seriously ask themselves whether they want to finally rid themselves of Donald Trump? Sure, lots of people love him, but they've never been close to a majority. Some people prefer him, but do they really want all the attention and scandal and agita and strife? And while he's sure to claim yet another election was stolen, how many times can he whine before people shrug and leave him to the wolf? Sure, he could threaten to run again, but even William Jennings Bryan was done after losing thrice. Plus he still has those indictments. He has to fight them in order to keep running, but if he gives up the run, it's almost certain he could plea bargain them for no jail time -- and really, how bad would house arrest, which is probably his worst-case scenario, at Mar-a-Lago be?

    • [05-24] Is Biden gambling everything on an early-debate bounce? My read is that the June debate is meant to show Democrats that he can still mount a credible campaign against Trump. If he can -- and a bounce would be nice but not necessary -- it will go a long way to quelling pressure to drop out and open the convention. If he can't, then sure, he'll have gambled and lost, and pressure will build. But at least it will give him a reference point that he has some actual control over -- unlike the polls, which still seem to have a lot of trouble taking him seriously.

  • Joan Walsh: [05-20] Biden fared well as Morehouse. So you didn't hear about it. The upshot seems to have been that the administrators as well as the protesters were on best behavior, and that Biden (unlike some politicians in recent memory) didn't make matters worse.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Economic matters:

  • Luke Goldstein: [05-22] The raiding of Red Lobster: "The bankrupt casual restaurant chain didn't fail because of Endless Shrimp. Its problems date back to monopolist seafood conglomerates and a private equity play." Isn't this always the case? Cue link to:

  • John Herrmann: [05-24] How Microsoft plans to squeeze cash out of AI: "The same way it always has with most everything else -- by leveraging our PCs."

  • Michael Hudson: [05-24] Some myths regarding the genesis of enterprise. Author has a series of books on economic development in antiquity, most recently The Collapse of Antiquity, as well as the forthcoming The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism. Two pull quotes from the latter:

    The decline of the West is not necessary or historically inevitable. It is the result of choosing policies dictated by its rentier interests. . . . The threat posed to society by rentier interests is the great challenge of every nation today: whether its government can restrict the dynamics of finance capitalism and prevent an oligarchy from dominating the state and enriching itself by imposing austerity on labor and industry. So far, the West has not risen to this challenge.

    There are essentially two types of society: mixed economies with public checks and balances, and oligarchies that dismantle and privatize the state, taking over its monetary and credit system, the land and basic infrastructure to enrich themselves but choking the economy, not helping it grow.

Ukraine War and Russia:

  • Connor Echols: [05-24] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine pushes for direct NATO involvement in war: "As Kyiv's battlefield position worsens, the West faces a dangerous choice." As I understand it, they're talking about providing trained NATO personnel to run defensive anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, which would counter the long-range bombing threat and stabilize the current stalemate. That doesn't sound like such a bad idea, as long as it is used to support a reasonable negotiation process. This war was always going to be resolved through negotiations, and has lasted so long only because both sides have unrealistic goals and are afraid of compromise. On the other hand, without a negotiation process, this would just be another hopeless escalation, threatening a wider and even more severe war.

  • Jonathan Chait: [05-23] Trump tells Putin to keep Wall Street Journal reporter hostage through election: "Putin 'will do that for me, but not for anyone else.'" As Chait notes, "by openly signaling to Putin that he does not want Gershkovich to be freed before the election, [Trump] is destroying whatever chances may exist to secure his release before then." As Robert Wright noted (op cit), Republican presidential candidates have a track record of back-channel diplomatic sabotage (Nixon in 1968, Reagan in 1980), but few have ever been so upfront and personal about it. One might even say "nonchalant": like his assertion that he alone could end the Ukraine war "in a day," this seems more like evidence of his own narcissism than political calculation. (Even if he were to placate Putin, Zelensky and his European fan base wouldn't fold immediately.) This got me looking for more pieces on Trump, Russia, and Ukraine:

    • Isaac Arnsdorf/Josh Dawsey/Michael Birnbaum: [04-07] Inside Donald Trump's secret, long-shot plan to end the war in Ukraine. For what it's worth, I think the land division is pretty much a given -- the notion that "to cede land would reward Putin" is just a rhetorical ploy to fight on endlessly, while the ruined, depopulated land is as much a burden as a reward -- but there is still much more that needs to be carefully negotiated, including refugee status, trade, sanctions, arms reduction, and future conflict resolution. I would like to see plebiscites to confirm the disposition of land, preferably 3-5 years down the line (well after refugees have returned or resettled; probably after Ukraine has joined the EU, allowing open migration there; allowing both sides to show what they can do to rebuild; but probably just confirming the present division -- as anything else would make both leaders look bad). Needless to say, Trump has no skills or vision to negotiate any such thing, as his "one day" boasts simply proves. Unfortunately, Biden hasn't shown any aptitude for negotiation, either.

    • Veronika Melkozerova: [04-18] Why Donald Trump 'hates Ukraine': "The once and possibly future president blames the country for his political woes."

    • Lynn Berry/Didi Tang/Jill Colvin/Ellen Knickmeyer: [05-09] Trump-affiliated group releases new national security book outlining possible second-term approach. The group calls itself the America First Policy Institute:

      The book blames Democratic President Joe Biden for the war and repeats Trump's claim that Putin never would have invaded if Trump had been in office. Its main argument in defense of that claim is that Putin saw Trump as strong and decisive. In fact, Trump cozied up to the Russian leader and was reluctant to challenge him.

      I wouldn't read too much into this. The group appears to be about 90% Blob, the rest just a waft of smoke to be blown up Trump's ass. Trump would probably approve of Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy motto ("speak softly but carry a big stick"), but like everything else, his own personal twist -- a mix of sweet talk and bluster -- is much more peurile, and unaffected by reason and understanding, or even interests beyond his personal and political finances. North Korea is the perfect example, with Trump's full, ungrounded range of emotions accomplishing nothing at all, which was the Blob position all along. Same, really, for Ukraine. Regardless of his rants and raves, when pressed Trump will tow the line, as in [04-18] Donald Trump says Ukraine's survival is important to US.

    • Jeet Heer: Will Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu bless Donald Trump with an October Surprise? "Unlike Joe Biden, the former president benefits from international turmoil."

  • Joshua Keating: [05-22] How worried should we be about Russia putting a nuke in space? About as worried as we should be if the US or any other country did it.

America's empire and the world: I changed the heading here, combining two previous sections (with major cutouts above for Israel and Ukraine), as it's often difficult to separate world news from America's imagininary empire and its actual machinations.

Other stories:

Daniel Falcone: [05-24] In Memoriam: H Bruce Franklin (1934-2024): Historian (1934-2024), see Wikipedia for an overview of his work and life, including political activism starting with opposition to the Vietnam War. His books started with one on Melville, with others on science fiction, prison, fish, and most of all, war. His most recent book, Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War (2018; paperback 2024), looks especially interesting, as much as memoir as history. This reprints an interview from 2018. I also found for following by Franklin (several adapted from Crash Course):

  • H Bruce Franklin: [As are the following uncredited pieces.] [2022-08-31] Why talk about loans? Let's quote some of this:

    Vice President Agnew (not yet indicted for his own criminal activities) was even more explicit. Speaking at an Iowa Republican fund-raising dinner in April 1970, Agnew argued that there was too high a percentage of Black students in college and condemned "the violence emanating from Black student militancy." Declaring that "College, at one time considered a privilege, is considered to be a right today," he singled out open admissions as one of the main ways "by which unqualified students are being swept into college on the wave of the new socialism."

    Later in 1970, Roger Freeman -- a key educational adviser to Nixon then working for the reelection of California Governor Ronald Reagan -- spelled out quite precisely what the conservative counterattack was aimed at preventing:

    We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat. That's dynamite! We have to be selective on who we allow to go through higher education. If not, we will have a large number of highly trained and unemployed people.

    The two most menacing institutional sources of the danger described by Freeman were obviously those two great public university systems charging no tuition: the University of California and the City University of New York. Governor Reagan was able to wipe out free tuition at the University of California in 1970, but that left CUNY to menace American society. The vital task of crippling CUNY was to go on for six more years, outlasting the Nixon administration and falling to his appointed successor, Gerald Ford.

  • [2022-01-19] Ready for another game of Russian roulette?

  • [2021-12-03] Ocean winds: Bringing us renewable fish with renewable energy. One of his many books was The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America (2007).

  • [2020-08-14] August 12-22, 1945: Washington starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan's surrender, "allied" troops (including British and French) entered and started their occupation.

  • [2020-08-06] How the Fascists won World War II.

  • [2019-09-20] How we launched our forever war in the Middle East: In July 1958 Eisenhower sent B-52s into Lebanon.

  • [2014-08-03] Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and American militarism: A review of Paul Ham: Hiroshima Nagasaki.

  • [2014-07-16] America's memory of the Vietnam War in the epoch of the forever war.

  • [2003-01-16] Our man in Saigon: A review of the film The Quiet American, based on the Graham Greene novel.

  • [2000] Vietnam: The antiwar movement we are supposed to forget.

  • [1991] The Vietnam War as American science fiction and fantasy.

  • [2022-09-01] H Bruce Franklin's most important books: Interview of Franklin with Doug Storm. When asked about "the Second World War as a good war," Franklin replied:

    No, unfortunately, we lost that war. We thought we were fighting against militarism, fascism, and imperialism. If so, we lost. We lost partly because of how we fought that war, using air attacks on civilian populations as a main strategy. This strategy climaxed with us exploding nuclear bombs on the civilian population of two Japanese cities. That is how we lost the good war.

Connor Freeman: [05-21] The passing of a Republican anti-war, anti-AIPAC fighter: "A veteran himself, Rep. Pete McCoskey railed against the Vietnam War, and continued to question US interventions until his death on May 8."

Sarah Jones:

Max Moran: [05-19] I don't think Jonathan Chait read the book on 'Solidarity' he reviewed: "The New York Magazine pundit spent 2,900 words criticizing a book with no resemblance to the one which prompted his piece." I previously wrote about the Chait piece here.

Virtually none of [Solidarity] is about how liberals need to pipe down and praise leftists more. I don't think intra-elite discursive norms come up at all, except in passing. As far as I can tell, Chait only got the idea that the book's "core tenet" is liberal-policing from one-half of one paragraph of a Washington Post feature about the book, in which Hunt-Hendrix mentions Chait and his contemporary Matt Yglesias as examples of public figures whom she hopes read the book's fourth chapter on conservatives' "divide-and-conquer strategy." That chapter mostly discusses organized right-wing efforts like the Southern Strategy, not the topic preferences of contemporary pundits.

This may come as a shock to Chait, but I don't think that Hunt-Hendrix or Taylor think about him -- or figures like him -- very much at all. Their book's actual argument is that individuals, and even groups of individuals cohered around a common identity, are not the protagonists of history. To Hunt-Hendrix and Taylor, it's only when dedicated groups of people stand up, sacrifice, and risk blood and teeth for other dedicated groups of people, who then return the favor, that society advances and complex problems can be solved. The point is mutual interdependence, in all its messiness and beauty. By contrast, Chait's singular focus on the nobility of liberals standing up to leftists not only has nothing to do with the book's argument, it's self-centered in a way directly opposed to the real thesis of Solidarity. Chait doesn't seem to realize this.

By the way, Jonathan Chait has a new piece that is even more at odds with reality and common sense: [05-28] Anti-Israel protesters want to elect Trump, who promises to crush protesters: "Why Rashida Tlaib is joining the one-state horseshoe alliance." I'm not up for debunking or even debugging this concoction, where even the facts that aren't wrong -- very clearly Trump would be even worse for peace than Biden; most likely if Tlaib "called for the voters to punish Joe Biden at the ballot box" she meant in Democratic primaries, not by voting for Trump, which would be self-punishment -- they are assembled in ways that are utterly disingenuous. I did try looking up "one-state horseshoe alliance," but all I found was a theory, which looks rather like an EKG of Chait's brain.

Anna North: [05-24] Birth control is good, actually.

Christian Paz: [05-24] 3 theories for America's anti-immigrant shift: "A recent poll suggests a reversal in a decades-long trend of the public warming to immigrants. What's causing the shift?" The theories are:

  1. It's the politicians
  2. It's the economy
  3. It's the "law-and-order" mindset

In other words, it's the politicians, who sometimes try to deflect attention to the other bullshit points. And it's only certain politicians, although they have relatively a free run, because it's an issue without a strong countervailing lobby. A lot of us aren't bothered by immigration, but wouldn't mind slowing it down, especially if that shut up the Republicans. Of course, nothing will, because the split is precisely the kind Republicans can exploit, and thereby put less committed Democrats on the defensive. Needless to add, but Republicans couldn't get away with this if the media wasn't helping them at every step.

Rick Perlstein: [05-22] Influencers against influencers: "The TikTok generation finds its voice."

Jeffrey St Clair:

Liz Theoharis/Shailly Gupta Barnes: [05-21] Don't grind the faces of the poor: "The moral response to homelessness."

Also, some writing on music:

Dan Weiss:

  • [05-20] What was it made for? The problem with Billie Eilish's Hit Me Hard and Soft: "She's overwrought and over you."

  • [05-26] Take my money, wreck my Sundays: The 30 best albums of 2024 so far (#30-21): First sign I've seen of "so far" season, with two sets of allegedly better albums coming later in the week: 3 here I haven't heard yet, 1 of those still unreleased; Lafandar (22) currently my number 1 non-jazz, but only 1 more album on my A-list (Maggie Rogers), and some well below (Still House Plants at B-), but 3 more on Christgau's A-list that I shortchanged (Rosie Tucker, Yard Act, Vampire Weekend). I hope the author here ("RIOTRIOT," aka Iris Demento, aka Dan Ex Machina, not to be confused with either of the same-named drummers) won't charge me with deadnaming again.

Phil Freeman posted this on Facebook:

Was interviewing an artist roughly my own age yesterday and at one point one of us said to the other, "If you think America is the most divided it's ever been right now, all that tells me is that you weren't alive in the Seventies, when you had all the chaos of the Sixties but none of the hope."

Several interesting comments followed, including:

  • Chuck Eddy: I was born in 1960, and I definitely can. I guess I'm mainly going with my gut here -- the '70s definitely didn't *feel* anywhere near as verging on Civil War to me as current times do. Could be that's just a byproduct of being much older now, combined with where I was then vs now, but I don't think so. (As for Reagan, I mainly associate him with the '80s, but then again I never lived in California. That terrorist acts seemed to largely come from the Left then rather than the Right might play into my gut feelings as well.)

  • James Keepnews: And yet, how quickly Nixon's support evaporated when it became clear he would be impeached, whereupon he resigned in advance of that happening (the House still voted to impeach him after he left office). Two impeachments in and some criminal convictions to come, and Trump's supporters are only more rabidly supportive of him, and at least poll as a majority of American voters -- that's extremely different from anything that occurred during the 60's/70's in the US.

  • Sean Sonderegger: Nixon was terrible but he also created the EPA. Reagan was much worse but doesn't really come close to Trump.

  • Jeff Tamarkin: I was in my 20s throughout most of the '70s and I despised Nixon, as most people my age did. I despised the right-wingers who voted for him and what they stood for. But never once did I think of Nixon as the leader of a gigantic cult or of his voters as cult members who would support him regardless of what he did or said. I never thought Nixon could destroy democracy and the United States itself, with the blind support of millions. Trump is the most dangerous president we've ever had and the greatest threat to our future. The way he's stuffed the Supreme Court with radical maniacs alone is threatening as hell as hell. I'll take a breath of relief the day he finally keels over from stuffing too many cheeseburgers down his orange face.

I finally wrote my own comment:

I don't remember the '70s as being devoid of hope. I thought we won most of the big issues -- if not all the elections, at least most of the hearts and minds. Nixon signed the EPA not because he wanted to but because he realized that fighting it was a losing proposition, and Nixon would do almost anything to not lose. The conservative movement that gained ground in the '80s was mostly clandestine in the '70s. The late '60s, on the other hand, felt more desperate. Of course, it was easier to be hopeful (or desperate) in your 20s than in your 70s. Objectively, Trump may be worse than his antecedents, but they're the ones that prepared the ground he thrives on -- such direct links as Roger Stone and Roy Cohn not only tie Trump to their history but to the very worst characteristics in that history. But those characters have always existed, and done as much harm as they were allowed to do. The nation has been perilously divided before -- you know about the 1850s, but divides were as sharp in the 1930s, 1890s, and 1790s as in the 1960-70s. You can make a case that the right is more ominous now then ever -- the secession of 1861 was more militarized, but was essentially defensive, while the right today seeks total domination everywhere -- but I can still counter with reasoned hope. The future isn't done yet.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Music Week

Updated May 23, 2024, 19:02 CDT

I slipped up and failed to include "unpacking" when I posted this. Added below.

One more thing I meant to write about is that my domain registration for is up for auto-renewal on May 28. I won't bother giving you a link, as the page is currently blank. (I thought I had a stub page. It actually had some material years ago, but it got wiped up in a server disaster, and I never got it restored.) Once upon a time, I thought my music and politics posts have somewhat diverging audiences, so it might be better to promote them as two separate websites (possibly with different collaborators). My first step there was to register domain namess for Terminal Zone and Notes on Everyday Life.

Those domain names came from publications I was heavily involved with in the 1970s. Notes on Everyday Life was a left-political tabloid with broad cultural interests -- "everyday life" potentially covered everything -- started at Washington University (St. Louis) by Elias Vlanton, Kevin Dougherty, and Harold Karabell, and they roped me in early on. Over a couple years we published a dozen or so issues, with an ever-changing cast of contributors.

One of those was Don Malcolm, who initially wanted to write about the Beach Boys, and he's the main reason or at least the catalyst for getting me into writing about music. He wrote a column, "Mainline," later collected as Overdose -- a compilation that included my initial batches of CG-like record reviews. (Those writings are preserved here). He followed that up with Terminal Zone, which I did major work on, but we split after a single issue. (I think Malcolm published a second, and maybe a third, issue, before his interests moved onto baseball -- there's more shared publishing history there, but I lost my interest in baseball well before I started thinking about web publishing.)

Anyhow, the question now is whether I keep a domain name I'm not using, and haven't used for ages, or let it expire. The money isn't a big deal -- although the fewer domain names I host websites for, the less I need to lease a dedicated server, and that is a tad expensive, as well as no small amount of management headache. I've dropped or reassigned a couple domains in recent years, and I'm glad I did.

On the other hand, renewing the domain name keeps open the possibility of eventually using it for something worthwhile. I don't feel much (if any) desire to promote myself as a music writer these days, but I do still fantasize about reorganizing my fairly substantial stash of music writings into a website framework that other people can take over and build on -- in effect, the seed for an open source project. I've been kicking variants of that idea around for years, with no great urgency or commitment. At this stage, it's unlikely to happen, unless someone else steps forward and wants to make it happen. It's not necessary to keep my sentimental name, let alone the domain name, but that -- plus the server plus the writings plus the fact that I still have most of my wits and skills and am often willing to lend a helping hand -- makes it the prospect a bit more credible.

I would appreciate any thoughts here. The name itself is of sentimental value to me, but meaningless to almost everyone else, so dropping the domain name won't preclude future website development. (So if the name sucks, that would be a good reason not to invest further in it.) Offers of help are welcome, but I'm unlikely to be very proactive for a while. (I have lots of other things in flux, but I'm feeling less down on myself as a critic than I was back in January, when I was more optimistic about book writing.)

I'm guessing that the most likely scenario is I kill the week waiting for responses that never come, so the domain gets renewed but remains unused for another two years. But I thought I should at least post the thought. Use Contact or Q&A to respond. Notices will follow on Twitter and Facebook (which I'm old-fashioned enough to reserve for personal friends, although my posts there are usually public). If you run across this after the deadline, chances are the opportunity hasn't been permanently lost.

One more note: I've had a request to be able to link directly into my Greil Marcus commentary from the the May 20 Speaking of Which, so I've started to add a few anchors: the Marcus note is here, and you can also jump straight to the music links. No idea how often I'll do this in the future, but it will make it possible to call out particular sections in tweets and comments.

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 42349 [42312] rated (+37), 27 [22] unrated (+5).

We had a friend from Boston visiting this weekend, Friday to Tuesday. Most of the original planning didn't pan out: people we wanted to invite over for dinner left town, museums and restaurants we expected to be open weren't. We took a day trip into the area in central Kansas my grandmother hailed from, but we were a couple weeks too early to see wheat ripen. I figured we could stop at a legendary Swedish restaurant in Lindsborg, only to find it "closed permanently," so we wound up at Applebee's. So in some ways it was a bust, but the company was much appreciated, and appreciative.

I had written a bit of Speaking of Which before our guest arrived, and added bits here and there when I had a spare moment. I figured there was enough to post Sunday night, but didn't get it done until late Monday (118 links, 7602 words). I added some more after our guest left today, as well as blocking out this Music Week post.

I suppose I should point out that I finally carved out a section there for links to pieces on music. Not much in it this week, but it should go into the template. I still haven't played the Taylor Swift album, or even the new Billie Eilish. Not much strikes me as a priority these days. Speaking of Which also has a long comment on a Greil Marcus "answer," but it has nothing to do with music.

I hadn't expected to get much music reviewed this week, but when you promise a weekly post, you're not promising any quantity (or quality, really). I'm surprised I came up with as much as I did. Not at all clear what to do next.

New records reviewed this week:

John Ambrosini: Songs for You (2024, self-released): Jazz singer, plays piano, seems to be his first album (only Discogs credit is for an eponymous 1997 group album, The Trees), wrote two songs, the rest coming from what we may dub the rock-standards era: Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, James Taylor, Stephen Stills, Walter Becker with Donald Fagen or Rickie Lee Jones. Draws on Randy Breker, David Binney, and Joel Frahm for horn spots. Well done, but the familiar songs are not all old friends, and it still seems odd to standardize songs from such an auteurish era. B [cd] [06-01]

Bruno Berle: No Reino Dos Afetos 2 (2024, Psychic Hotline): Singer-songwriter, from Maceio, in northeast Brazil, fourth album since 2014, sequel to his 2022 release. Laid back and slightly off-kilter. B+(***) [sp]

The Bobby Broom Organi-sation: Jamalot Live (2014-19 [2024], Steele): Guitarist, pulled this together from two tours (the latter opening for Steely Dan), both trios with Ben Paterson (organ) and Kobie Watkins (drums), playing songs you know: "Superstition," "Layla," "Tennessee Waltz," "Jitterbug Waltz," "House of the Rising Sun," and a medley in 2019. B+(*) [cd] [05-24]

Carl Clements: A Different Light (2023 [2024], Greydisc): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano here; also bansuri, from his interest in Hindustani classical music), has several albums since 2004 (nine per website). Quartet with piano (Chase Morrin), bass (Bruno Råberg), and drums (Gen Yoshimura). Original pieces, some quite impressive. B+(***) [cd] [05-23]

Amalie Dahl's Dafnie: Står Op Med Solen (2023 [2024], Sonic Transmissions/Aguirre): Saxophonist, has a previous group album, one more; group includes trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums. B+(***) [sp]

Adam Forkelid: Turning Point (2023 [2024], Prophone): Swedish pianist, fourth album since 2005, quartet with guitar (Carl Mörner Ringström), bass (Niklas Fernqvist), and drums (Daniel Fredriksson). Original pieces, smart and steady. B+(***) [cd]

Mikko Innanen Autonomous: Hietsu (2021 [2024], Fiasko): Finnish saxophonist, in a live set named for the venue in Helsinki, with Håvard Wiik (piano), Ajntti Lötjönen (bass), and Peter Bruun (drums), with some extra strings (and contrabass guitar). B+(**) [bc]

Abbey Masonbrink: Rising (2024, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Kansas, first album, plays banjo but not bluegrass, with producer Rod Pope (Get Up Kids) going for a denser, more electronic mix. Returns to form with a somber, piquant "I Saw the Light." B+(**) [sp]

Modney: Ascending Primes (2023 [2024], Pyroclastic, 2CD): Violinist Josh Modney, based in New York, has a couple previous albums, most ambitiously the 3-CD Engage (2018). This one is pretty ambitious as well, starting solo and ascending to "undectet" (11-piece orchestra). Unfortunately, I played the second disc first, and didn't discover the first until I was more than done with the second. Not that I'm not impressed, but violin can rub me the wrong way, so there's a lot here I simply don't enjoy. But I still feel like its monumental-ness deserves some kind of credit. B+(*) [cd]

John Moreland: Visitor (2024, Thirty Tigers): Country singer-songwriter from Tulsa, debut 2008 but breakthrough was 2015's High on Tulsa Heat. Slows down here, and reflects. "We don't grieve, and we don't rest. We just choose the lie that feels the best." B+(***) [sp]

Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet: Four Guitars Live (2023 [2024], Palilalia): Guitarist, from Florida, started in rock groups, notably one from 1992-96 he co-led with then-wife Adris Hoyos called Harry Pussy. He released a solo album in 1996, then many more after 2011, along with avant-jazz collaborations (especially with Chris Corsano). His largest project, Music for Four Guitars, appeared in 2022, with Wendy Eisenberg, Ava Mendoza, and Shane Parish. Here they take their 30:58 set on the road, stretching it to 58:14. A- [sp]

Katie Pruitt: Mantras (2024, Rounder): Singer-songwriter from Georgia, filed her first record under country but that's less obvious here. B+(**) [sp]

Ren: Sick Boi (2023, The Other Songs): Welsh rapper/beatmaker Ren Gill, formerly of Trick the Fox and The Big Push, third album. Quick off the mark, but in for the long haul. A- [sp]

Maggie Rogers: Don't Forget Me (2024, Capitol): Singer-songwriter, the kind I have trouble with because I don't like having to pay close attention, but the music and voice are agreeable enough to lessen the chore, and the work pays off more often than not. Third major label album, after two self-released efforts that her discography makes an effort to distance from (although they seem to be available in a juvenilia compilation). Probably worth revisiting the earlier work. A- [sp]

Ann Savoy: Another Heart (2024, Smithsonian Folkways): Originally Ann Allen, from St. Louis, married Cajun accordionist Marc Savoy and joined his Savoy Doucet Cajun Band, also appearing in Magnolia Sisters, and leading a couple albums with Her Sleepless Knights. This seems to be the first with just her name on the credit line. It is a modest endeavor. B+(*) [sp]

Serengeti: KDIV (2024, Othar): Chicago rapper David Cohn, many records since 2003, looks like he's released several since the last I noticed in 2021. KD is his recurring character (or alter-ego?) Kenny Davis (this 18-track album is also available on Bandcamp as Kenny Davis IV). A- [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Congo Funk: Sound Madness From the Shores of the Mighty Congo River: Kinshasa/Brazzaville 1969-1982 (1969-82 [2024], Analog Africa): Some big names here, like Franco and Rochereau, as well a sampling from the north bank of the river, selected to emphasize the influence of James Brown. B+(***) [sp]

Grupo Irakere: Grupo Irakere (1976 [2024], Mr Bongo): Legendary Cuban jazz group, founded by pianist Chucho Valdés in 1973, second album, band toured Eastern Europe in 1977, and gained further international notice when Columbia released an album in 1978, followed by notable defections in 1980-81 (Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval). The band continued through 1997, when Valdés left, to be replaced by his son, Chuchito (to 1999). Excitement everywhere. A- [sp]

Todd Snider: Songs for the Daily Planet (Purple Version) (2020 [2024], Aimless): Pandemic project, possibly inspired by Taylor Swift's decision to re-record all of her old records, except that not being Taylor Swift, he decided to give them away as free downloads, and saved some money by just doing acoustic guitar solo versions, but they come out longer as he tells stories and talks around. The cover has some extra print: "Aimless Records Presents" above the cover image, and "Recorded at the Purple Building" below, but I think (Purple Version) suffices. This was his first album, from 1994. B+(**) [sp]

Todd Snider: Step Right Up (Purple Version) (2020 [2024], Aimless): Reminiscing his way through a remake of his second album. B+(**) [sp]

Todd Snider: Viva Satellite (Purple Version) (2020 [2024], Aimless): Project continues through his third and final MCA album, Viva Satellite. Solo guitar and voice, with spoken intros stretching the original 14 songs out to 84 minutes. B+(*) [sp]

Old music:

Jackson Blues, 1928-1938 (1928-38 [1991], Yazoo): Original LP collected 14 tracks from 10 artists in 1968, the dupes three tracks each for Tommy Johnson and Ishman Bracey. B+(**) [sp]

Ville Lähteenmäki Trio: Introducing (2022, Ultraääni): Leader plays bass clarinet, claims the compositions, titled "side A" and "side B," with Nicolas Leirtrø (contrabass) and Trym Saugstad Karlsen (drums). B+(***) [bc]

Ville Lähteenmäki Utopia: Russian Body Language (2020, Art First): Also found this earlier album, probably the bass clarinetist's first, a cassette release recorded and mixed by guitarist Lauri Kallio, with bass, drums, vibes (Mikko Antila), and extra alto sax on one track (Johannes Sarjasto). Most free, some heavy, some light. B+(***) [sp]

Mississippi Moaners: 1927-1942 (1927-42 [1991], Yazoo): Isaiah Nettles, of Carlisle, Mississippi, recorded four songs in 1935, two released as The Mississippi Moaner, one here along with 13 more songs, one per artist, in this interesting compilation of Delta blues obscurities. B+(**) [sp]

The Rough Guide to Delta Blues [Reborn and Remastered] (1928-40 [2016], World Music Network): Generous (25-track) sampler from the northwest corner of Mississippi, noting legends like Son House, Charley Patton, and Skip James, but quickly moving on to the lesser-knowns that make anthologies like this necessary. Starts with the last-recorded piece, Bukka White's "Special Streamline," because even archivalists like to open with a bang. A- [sp]

The Rough Guide to Delta Blues (Vol. 2) (1928-40 [2022], World Music Network): Plenty more where the previous volume came from, giving 22 first-volume artists a second song (opening again with 1940 Bukka White), adding four more (Big Joe Williams, Mississippi Matilda, Louise Johnson, Mississippi Mud Steppers). Some finds here, like "It's Killin' Me" (Willie Lofton), but overall it loses a step. B+(***) [sp]

The Rough Guide to Ragtime Blues [Reborn and Remastered] (1925-38 [2017], World Music Network): Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, and Blind Willie McTell anchor this collection, where "rag" can mean any number of things. B+(***) [sp]

The Rough Guide to Barrelhouse Blues [Reborn and Remastered] (1928-48 [2018], World Music Network): Piano players, a nice selection, with boogie woogie specials like Jimmy Yancey, Pete Johnson, and Albert Ammons pushing into the 1940s. B+(***) [sp]

Serengeti: The Glennon EP (2020, self-released, EP): With nothing in my database since the disappointing 2021 Have a Summer, I'm playing catch up. Five tracks here, 11:46, produced by Glennon Curran. Still, not much here. B- [sp]

Serengeti: Kaleidoscope III (2022, Audio Recon, EP): Nine tracks, 16:01, produced by Rob Kleiner. B [sp]

Serengeti: We Saw Mad Turtles (2022, self-released, EP): Four tracks, 10:12, produced by Arborist. Getting a bit denser. B [sp]

Serengeti: Ajai II (2023, self-released): Short album (10 tracks, 28:37), follows his 2020 release Ajai, produced by Child Actor. B+(*) [sp]

Todd Snider: Step Right Up (1996, MCA): Second album, following his 1994 debut Songs for the Daily Planet, some folk, some country, some flat out rock, can amuse but that's not yet a big part of his repertoire. At least until "Tension" appears, one of his greatest songs (I probably know it from one of the Storyteller live albums). That's where he's found his calling. B+(***) [sp]

Todd Snider: Viva Satellite (1998, MCA): Third album, last for MCA, reportedly got him fired, probably for following their advice and rocking harder -- not something I object to on any sort of principle, but I find the deviant "Guaranteed" much more interesting than the powerhouse "Out All Night". Still, I can't say that his unplugged remake is any better, so maybe not one of his better batches of songs (although "Double Wide Blues" is a keeper). B+(**) [sp]

Todd Snider: Happy to Be Here (2000, Oh Boy): After MCA, Snider landed on John Prine's Oh Boy label. First (well, only) time I heard him was as a solo act opening for Prine, but that was around the time of his third Oh Boy album, Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms, so I'm catching up with its predecessors. This was recorded solo, then extra bits were dubbed in (including some awkward horns). B+(***) [sp]

Todd Snider: New Connection (2002, Oh Boy): Some more songs I recognize, like "Statistician's Blues" and "Beer Run," no doubt from elsewhere. B+(**) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Altus: Mythos (Biophilia) * [06-07]
  • Etienne Charles: Creole Orchestra (Culture Shock) [06-14]
  • Fox Green: Holy Souls (self-released '22)
  • Fox Green: Light Darkness (self-released) * [06-12]
  • Jon Gordon: 7th Ave South (ArtistShare) [05-03]
  • Mike Holober & the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: This Rock We're On: Imaginary Letters (Palmetto) [06-14]
  • Janel & Anthony: New Moon in the Evil Age (Cuneiform) * [06-28]
  • Janel Leppin: Ensemble Volcanic Ash: To March Is to Love (Cuneiform) * [06-28]
  • Flavio Silva: Eko (Break Free) [06-07]
  • Ryan Truesdell: Synthesis: The String Quartet Sessions (ArtistShare) [0l6-21]
  • Juanma Trujillo: Howl (Endectomorph Music) * [07-12]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Speaking of Which

We've had company this weekend, a welcome distraction from the usual news-and-music grind. I predicted I wouldn't post this week, but went ahead and opened the draft file before our guest arrived, and wrote a fairly long comment on an especially deranged post by Greil Marcus, so that's the centerpiece of the section below that I call "Israel vs. world opinion" -- or, as I know it, owing to the keyword I use to search out this particular section, "@genocide." The expected shortfall of time led me to mostly just note article titles, and more often than usual to quote snippets.

Still, by Sunday evening, I figured I had enough I should go ahead and post what I have, noting that it's incomplete -- I've yet to make my usual rounds of a number of generally useful web sites -- and allowing that I might do a later update. However, by the time I got back to it Sunday night, I was too tired to wrap up the post. So this is basically Sunday's post on Monday, abbreviated, but there's still quite a bit here.

Initial count: 118 links, 7602 words. Updated count [05-21]: 155 links, 9283 words. Local tags: Greil Marcus; Aryeh Neier; on Trump (Slotkin quote); on music.

Top story threads:


America's Israel (and Israel's America):

  • Geoffrey Aronson: [05-16] There is no 'plan for Palestine' because Israel doesn't want one: "Washington is dealing on a completely different plane than Tel Aviv, which has never supported Arab sovereignty, period." He talks about the two obvious wars: the war on the ground (to destroy Gaza), and the one for world opinion (at least to keep US support lined up), but also a third, poorly defined, "war after the war." The plainest statement of the latter is a quote from Danny Ayalon: "If the PLO wants to quit, Israel will look for international or local forces to take charge of the PA, and if they can't find them and the PA collapses, that will not be the end of the world for Israel." You might be able to find more optimistic quotes -- fantastical pablum from Americans, disingenuous accord from Israelis try ing to humor the Americans -- but nothing to take seriously. Israel has never sanctioned any version of democratic self-rule for Palestinians, and it's going to take much more arm-twisting than Americans are capable of before they do. On the other hand, without political rights, Palestinian leadership will never be able to negotiate a viable, lasting deal with Israel. Which is, of course, exactly as Israel would have it, because they don't want any kind of deal. All they actually want is to grind Palestinians into dust.

  • Michael Arria: [05-15] Biden is sending Israel another $1 billion in weapons: "The move comes days after a State Department report that documents likely international humanitarian violations by Israel." I thought I read somewhere that this package would be for longer-term supplies, so doesn't violate the dictate against invading Rafah, but the details here suggest otherwise: "The package includes roughly $700 million for tank ammunition, $500 million for tactical vehicles, and $60 million in mortar rounds." That's exactly what they would be using in Rafah.

  • Mohamad Bazzi: [05-09] Will Biden finally stop enabling Netanyahu's extremist government?

  • Medea Benjamin/Nicholas JS Davies: [05-19] Forget Biden's "pause": Israel is destroying Gaza with a vast arsenal of US weapons.

  • Julian Borger: [05-17] Supplies arrive in Gaza via new pier but land routes essential, says US aid chief.

  • Eli Clifton: [05-16] Biden's Gaza policy risks re-election but pleases his wealthiest donors: "Courting rich pro-Israel supporters at the expense of a significant swath of voters may cost the president in November."

  • Dave DeCamp: [05-16] House passes bill that would force Biden to give paused bomb shipment to Israel. Also:

  • Connor Echols: [05-13] Only our enemies commit war crimes: "A half-based report highlights the double standard US officials use for Israel."

  • Melvin Goodman: [05-17] Friedman, Biden and US weapons sales to Israel. "Friedman" is NY Times columnist Thomas, who led the parade of Israeli mouthpieces denouncing Biden's "pause" of delivering some bombs to Israel. Interesting factoid here:

    Biden did not want to make a public announcement because he didn't want a public blowup. It was the Israelis who leaked the news in order to embarrass Biden and notify their U.S. supporters; this forced Biden to go public on CNN in order to stress that the United States would not be a part of any major military operation in Rafah. Friedman was either being disingenuous or didn't understand the background of Biden's comments.

  • Yousef Munayyer: Israel policy could cost Biden the White House -- and us democracy.

  • Mitchell Plitnick:

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [05-17] Follow the missiles.

    The US has long been Israel's largest arms merchant. For the last four years, the US has supplied Israel with 69% of its imported weapons, from F-35s to chemical munitions (white phosphorus), tank shells to precision bombs. Despite this, the Biden administration claims not to know how these weapons are put to use, even when they maim and kil American citizens.

    This piece includes a pretty detailed chronicle of the "war" from October 7 to the present.

  • Jason Willick: [05-20] If Biden thinks Israel's liberals are doves, he's dreaming: "Prominent progressive Yair Golan says Netanyahu is a 'coward' for not taking out Hamas earlier." I have very low regard for Willick, but don't doubt that he's tuned in here.

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Nikki McCann Ramirez: [05-20] International criminal court seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas leaders: This just broke, so I'm pinning this one piece at the top of this section, but will stop there. Expect more next week. I will say that while Hamas leaders have much less reason to accept the legitimacy of the ICC or to expect a fair trial, it would be interesting to see them try to defend themselves in court, where I think they have a much more reasonable case than Israel's leader do. It would also set an example for Netanyahu and the Israeli leaders to follow -- one they will do anything to avoid following.

    One of the stranger immediate reactions was this tweet from Aaron David Miller:

    The ICC decision, especially if warrants are issued, has strengthened Netanyahu; lessened prospect of Biden's pressure on Israel; ensured Israel won't cooperate with the PA, validated Netanyahu's circle the wagons, and helped prolong war. A dangerous and destructive diversion.

    This is basically the same argument that says prosecutors shouldn't indict Trump because doing so will only make his followers even more upset. It shows no faith that the judicial process can work credibly. Miller was a State Department negotiator for Israel/Palestine from 1988-2003, accomplishing nothing permanent, before moving on to one of those comfy think tank posts where he continues to be trotted out as an "expert" on why Israel is always right and there's nothing you can do about it. Nathan J Robinson commented on Miller's tweet: "In fact, I notice that very few of the negative responses to the ICC deal with the actual evidence that Israel violated the laws of war." This is another example of the old lawyer line, "if you don't have the law and you don't have the facts, pound the table."

  • Zaina Arafat: [05-14] The view from Palestinian America: "In Kholood Eid's photographs of Missouri, taken six months into the war in Gaza, the quiet act of documenting life is a kind of protest against erasure."

  • Michael Arria: [05-17] Morehouse says it will shut down commencement if students protest Biden speech. Related here:

  • Robert Clines: [05-18] The 'ancient desire' to kill Jews is not Hamas's. It's the West's. Author is a historian who has written on this before; e.g., in A Jewish Jesuit in the Eastern Mediterranean: Early Modern Conversion, Mission, and the Construction of Identity.

  • Juan Cole: [05-17] South Africa v. Israel on Rafah genocide: Endgame in which Gaza is utterly destroyed for human habitation.

  • Zachary Foster: Hard to tell how much he has in his archive, but here's a sample:

  • Yuval Noah Harari: [05-13] Will Zionism survive the war? One of Israel's most famous intellectuals, author of the bestselling Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, followed up with some dabbling in futurology. I haven't really looked at his work, so I have no real idea much less critique of what he's all about. This, at least, is a thoughtful piece, wishing for a kinder, gentler Zionism, but ultimately warning of something even darker than the bigotry he attributes to Netanyahu:

    After 2,000 years, Jews from all over the world returned to Jerusalem, ostensibly to put into practice what they had learned. What great truth, then, did Jews discover in 2,000 years of study? Well, judging by the words and actions of Netanyahu and his allies, the Jews discovered what Vespasian, Titus and their legionnaires knew from the very beginning: They discovered the thirst for power, the joy of feeling superior and the dark pleasure of crushing weaker people under their feet. If that is indeed what Jews discovered, then what a waste of 2,000 years! Instead of asking for Yavneh, Ben Zakkai should have asked Vespasian and Titus to teach him what the Romans already knew.

    Harari's piece elicited some commentary:

    • Yoav Litvin: [05-16] Yuval Noah Harari's odyssey into a parallel Zionist universe: "Pseudo-intellectual idol to the masses, Yuval Noah Harari's imaginary Ziounism is so far-fetched he may as well be living on another planet."

    • Robert Booth: [2023-10-24] Yuval Noah Harari backs critique of leftist 'indifference' to Hamas atrocities: "Sapiens author among 90 signatories to statement of dismay at 'extreme moral insensitivity.'" This was typical of the insistence that excoriated anyone who mentioned Israel without starting with an explicit condemnation of Hamas -- which Israeli leaders took as approval for their genocidal war, even if the rest of the statement advised caution or reflection.

      He highlighted a letter signed by the actors Tilda Swinton and Steve Coogan and the director Mike Leigh calling for "an end to the unprecedented cruelty being inflicted on Gaza" without specifically condemning the Hamas assault, although it condemned "every act of violence against civilians and every infringement of international law whoever perpetrates them."

      "There is not a single word about the massacre [of 7 October]," Harari said.

      One of the few other signatories mentioned is David Grossman, who has a long history of instinctively rallying to Israel's war drums, only to later regret his fervor.

    • Yuval Noah Harari: [04-18] From Gaza to Iran, the Netanyahu government is endangering Israel's survival: "Israel is facing a historic defeat, the bitter fruit of yeras of disastrous policies. If the country now prioritizes vengeance over its own best interests, it will put itself and the entire region in grave danger."

  • William Hartung: [05-14] Democracy versus autocracy on America's campuses.

  • Ellen Ioanes:

  • Sarah Jones:

  • David Kattenburg: [05-16] South Africa returns to the ICJ to demand a stop to the Israeli genocide in Gaza: "South Africa returned to the ICJ to argue for an immediate halt to Israel's genocidal assault on Gaza warning that a full Rafah invasion is 'the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people.'"

  • Eric Levitz: [05-15] Make "free speech" a progressive rallying cry again: "Protecting radical dissent requires tolerating right-wing speech." Examples here involve anti-genocide protests and their backlash, specifically "how Israel hawks have coopted social justice activists' ideas about speech and harm."

  • Greil Marcus: [05-10] Ask Greil: May 10, 2024: As someone long and rather too intimately familiar with his political views, I'll start by saying that he's the last person on earth I wanted to hear spout off on Hamas and Israel. I'll also note that what he wrote here is almost exactly what I expected him to write, not that I don't have difficulty believing that any intelligent, knowledgeable, and generally decent person could actually believe such things. But I was struck by how eloquent his writing was, and by how clearly he focused on the single idea that keeps him from being able to see anything else:

    The Hamas massacres removed the cover of politeness and silence and disapproval that has if never completely to a strong degree kept the hatred and loathing of Jews that is an indelible and functional part of Western civilization, a legacy of Western civilization, covered up. Now the cover is off, and we are seeing just how many people hate Jews, have always hated Jews, and have waited all their lives for a chance to say so.

    We should be clear here that the people he's accusing of having "always hated Jews" aren't Palestinians or Arabs, but Americans, few of whom have ever shown any prejudice against Jews, but whose sense of equanimity has brought them to demonstrate against six months of relentless war Israel has waged against the people it previously corralled into the tiny Gaza Strip. What Marcus has to say about that war is wrong in fact and even worse in innuendo, but such rote reiteration of Israeli propaganda points doesn't help to explain why Israelis have acted as they have.

    For example, Marcus writes: "Every death of a person in Gaza is a win for Hamas." So why does Israel keep giving Hamas wins? Arguably, it's because Israel wants to make and keep Hamas as the voice of Palestinian resistance, because they want an opponent they will never have to negotiate with, one that they can kill at will, excusing all the collateral damage that ensues. The only way that makes any sense is if you assume that all Palestinians are Hamas, or will be Hamas, because their true souls are bound up in thousands of years of hatred for Jews, which would drive them to join Hamas (or some other Judeocide cult) sooner or later, even if they were unable to point to specific offenses of the Israeli state. Of course, there is very little evidence that any of this is true, let alone that the IDF is the only force preventing this paranoid worst-case logic from playing out.

    But Marcus doesn't really care about any of those details. He only cares about one thing, which is the idea, evidently locked in by childhood trauma -- his story of getting his hand stabbed with a pencil, and the coincidence of something similar having happened to his father also as a child -- that the only thing protecting him, his family, and the Jewish people he exclusively identifies with -- from genocide is the existence of a tiny but mighty Jewish State thousands of miles away from where he actually lives (and has lived without further incident for seventy-some years now). He may think he cares about others, but the moment any of them -- even fellow Jews who do respect and care for non-Jews -- dares to criticize or even doubt Israel, they are dead to him.

    It should be noted that Marcus is not uncritical of Netanyahu -- unlike, say, the leaders of AIPAC and ADL, who can be counted on to do the bidding of whoever Israel's Prime Minister is, as their real concern is political, ensuring that the US is the submissive partner -- but he buys the party line on Hamas, Palestinians, and Iran completely, and he has not the slightest doubt of Israel's war strategy, whatever they say it may be. And since the party line says that any doubt or criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and since all antisemitism is aimed at the annihilation of all Jews, any such deviation must be treated as a matter of life-and-death.

    I hate reducing political choices to psychology, but his trauma story makes that much clear. Marcus is hardly alone in surrendering judgment to trauma, but not everyone who supports Israel in such a blinkered fashion has that excuse. Christian Zionists seem to be really into the Armageddon story, which Israel advances but does not turn out well for Jews. They overlap with two more explicit groups of Israel boosters: kneejerk militarists (like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton), who have been especially vocal in support of genocide, and MAGA-fascists, who love the idea of mob violence against Palestinians. None of those groups have the slightest concern about antisemitism, other than perhaps relief that their pro-Israel stances seems to point the charges elsewhere.

    While it's possible that some American Jews are as misanthropic as the pro-Zionist groups I just mentioned -- the Kahanist movement, for one, actually started in America -- most Jews in America are liberal and/or leftist, both to protect their own freedom and to enjoy the social benefits of a diverse and equitable society. And they are common and visible enough within liberal and/or leftist circles that nearly everyone else of their persuasion has close, personal ties with Jews, and as such have come to share their historic concerns about antisemitism.

    But we've also opposed the denial of civil rights in the US and in the apartheid period of South Africa, so we've been greatly troubled by evidence of similar discrimination in Israel. Current demonstrations recognize that Israel's leaders have crossed a line from systematic discrimination and denial to massive destruction and starvation, a level of violence that fits the legal definition of genocide. Those demonstrating include people who have long been critical of Israel -- the expulsion of refugees and Israel's refusal to allow them to return to their homes dates from 1948. Given how long a movement against Israel's occupation and caste system has been growing, it is only natural that the first to come out against genocide are those who have long opposed that system -- many people who are fond of Palestinian flags, but also explicitly Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace.

    But the demonstrations also welcome people who have long sympathized with Israel but who are deeply disturbed by the recent turn of events. I would not be surprised to see people who identify as exclusively with Israel as Marcus does come out to demonstrate against genocide, the rise of mob violence in the West Bank, the underlying apartheid regime, the increasingly extremist right-wing settler movement, and the militarist security establishment that have taken hold in Israel, and attempt to direct whatever influence America has toward steering Israel back onto a path that can eventually lead to a just and lasting peace. Because if anything has become clear over the last six months, it's that the current leadership clique in Israel is driving the nation's reputation to ruin. And their constant equation of antizionism and antisemitism is damaging the reputation of Jews worldwide. So even if the latter is all you care about, it behooves you to press Israel to ceasefire and to start making amends. There is no way they can kill their way out of the pickle they've gotten themselves into.

    One more point, and it's an important one. While I doubt that the sort of trauma that Marcus claims is common among American Jews, it is much more common among Israelis. Partly this is because they are more likely to have experience terror attacks (direct or, much more often, through others they emphasize with), but also because Israel's political powers have deliberately orchestrated a culture of fear and dread. (For example, see Idith Zertal's 2005 book, Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood. Tom Segev's The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust is also useful here, as is Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. Americans, especially Jews and their liberal/left sympathizers, are not immune to this effect. There is a Holocaust Museum in Washington not because Americans have any particular insight into the history but as a tool for keeping us in line.)

    I've been following these psychological currents for a long time. They're a big part of the reason why I believe the current war will eventually take a huge psychic toll on the people who were stampeded into supporting it, much like WWII did to Germany and Japan (albeit with no prospect of Americans and Russians settling the score). My view here was largely informed by Tom Segev's 1967, which showed quite clearly an extraordinary division within Israel, between an elite that was supremely confident in their ability to destroy the united Arab armed forces, and a people who were driven to abject terror by the widely advertised prospect of doom (a return of the Holocaust). The sudden victory produced tremendous uplift in both camps: the elites became even more arrogant, achieving levels of hubris unmatched since the heights of Axis expansion (US neocons, marching into Baghdad while dreaming of Tehran and Pyongyang, had similar fantasies, but never even realized their Israel envy); while the masses succumbed to the right-wing drift of fear and fury as their leaders repeatedly flailed and double down on force as the only solution.

    By the way, Marcus also strongly endorsed the following truly hideous piece:

    • Bret Stephens: [05-07] A thank-you note to the campus protesters. What he's thankful for is that demonstrators have done things that people like him could characterize as the work of "modern-day Nazis," although his conviction is such that he hardly needs facts to spin tales any which way he wants. So his "thank you" is really just a literary device, all the better to fuck you with.

  • Emad Moussa: [05-07] Israel is a broken society. And it's not just Bibi to blame: "Israel's allies are snubbing Netanyahu to cloak their complicity in genocide."

  • Timothy McLaughlin:

  • Aryeh Neier: Is Israel committing genocide? A founder of Human Right Watch, who (as he explains at great length), has always been very cautious about using the word genocide, and whose group has always been very scrupulous about citing Hamas crimes as balancing off Israel's more extensive human rights abuses, finally has to admit that what Israel is doing in Gaza does in fact constitute genocide. This is worth quoting at some length:

    In late December, when South Africa brought to the ICJ its accusation that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza, I did not join some of my colleagues in the international human rights movement in their support of the charge. . . . I thought then, and continue to believe, that Israel had a right to retaliate against Hamas for the murderous rampage it carried out on October 7. I also thought that Israel's retaliation could include an attempt to incapacitate Hamas so that it could not launch such an attack again. To recognize this right to retaliate is not to mitigate Israel's culpability for the indiscriminate use of tactics and weapons that have caused disproportionate harm to civilians, but I believe that Hamas shares responsibility for many of Israel's war crimes. . . . And yet, even believing this, I am now persuaded that Israel is engaged in genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. What has changed my mind is its sustained policy of obstructing the movement of humanitarian assistance into the territory.

    As early as October 9 top Israeli officials declared that they intended to block the delivery of food, water, and electricity, which is essential for purifying water and cooking. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's words have become infamous: "I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly." The statement conveyed the view that has seemed to guide Israel's approach throughout the conflict: that Gazans are collectively complicit for Hamas's crimes on October 7.

    Since then Israel has restricted the number of vehicles allowed to enter Gaza, reduced the number of entry points, and conducted time-consuming and onerous inspections; destroyed farms and greenhouses; limited the delivery of fuel needed for the transport of food and water within the enclave; killed more than two hundred Palestinian aid workers, many of them employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the principal aid provider in the blockaded territory before October 7; and persuaded many donors, including the United States, to stop funding UNRWA by claiming that a dozen of the agency's 13,000 employees in Gaza were involved in the October 7 attack or have other connections to Hamas.

    I started using the word genocide much earlier, because it was clear to me from the very beginning of the October 7 that Israel was primed and intent on committing genocide, and that the only thing that might stop them would be world opinion and their own (mostly callused) consciences. Indeed, within 24 hours, many prominent Israeli figures, and more than a few American ones, were talking unambiguously about genocide. So perhaps I figured raising the charge was one of the few things reasonable people of good and fair will could do to elicit that conscience. Even now, that the charge has been amply documented, the one obvious thing that Israel can still do to start to clear its name is to cease fire, to stop the incursions, to permit aid to enter Gaza, and to allow for a future political system there that does not involve any form of Israeli control.

    I have no problem with condemning the Hamas attacks on October 7, or for that matter much of what Hamas has done over the last thirty-plus years, on moral and/or political grounds, but I don't see much urgency or import in doing so. I've thought a lot about morality and politics this year, and reluctantly come to conclude that one can only condemn people who had options. I started with thinking of Brecht's line, "food first, morals later." What better options did Hamas (or any Palestinians) have? Nothing that seemed to be working.

    Israel, on the other hand, has had lots of options. They liked to chide Palestinians for "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace," but just when were those opportunities? And if they were opportunities, why did Israel withdraw them? It's long been clear to me that Israel is the one that wants to keep the conflict going forever.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [05-18] Unpacking the Israeli campaign to deny the Gaza genocide: "A recent media flurry over the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza amounts to nothing more than genocide denial. This campaign to discredit the Gaza health ministry is simply a strategy to allow the Gaza genocide to continue." One note here:

    Israel knows fully well that there is a difference between a body count and full identification. It took it many weeks to identify the bodies of the dead after the Hamas-led October 7 attack, and in mid-November, Israel actually reduced its rough estimate of 1,400 to around 1,200, and later to 1,139. The reduction of roughly 200 bodies from the count was due to hundreds of bodies being burned beyond recognition -- where 200 were then said to have been Palestinians and not Israelis, as earlier assumed. This was undoubtedly due to Israel's own indiscriminate bombing on October 7, also killing an unknown number of its own citizens.

    Counting bodies, whether they are burned beyond recognition or not, is a much more straightforward task than actually identifying them, and with Israel's methods of heavy bombing of civilians, the latter can become an enormously complex task. Gaza has been undergoing genocide since October 7, while Israel has since counted and identified its dead under relatively peaceful circumstances. Israelis may say that they have been at war since then, but the war on Gaza has had little bearing on the functioning of Israeli forensics teams. Gazans have to count their dead under fire constant fire, with Gaza's health system all but decimated, not to mention with thousands still under the rubble.

    That Israel should simply exclude any count of Palestinian dead is itself telling. It is still not clear how many of the Israeli dead on Oct. 7 were actually killed by Israeli "friendly fire."

  • Ilan Pappé: [05-21] I was detained at a US airport and asked about Israel and Gaza for 2 hours. Why? Israeli historian, based in UK, has written a bunch of important books on Palestinian history and Israeli politics, the best known The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)

    , followed by The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories. Also notable are shorter primers: The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge
    (2014); (2017); Ten Myths About Israel (2017; a new edition is scheduled for 17 September 2024).
  • Rick Perlstein: [05-15] Can we all get along? "A Q&A with Eman Abdelhadi, a Palestinian University of Chicago professor, about encampments, dialogue, and mutual respect."

  • Vijay Prashad: [05-17] A semester of discontent: The students who camped for Palestine.

  • Philip Weiss: [05-19] Weekly Briefing: Biden is risking reelection over Gaza to please donors, the mainstream media reports.

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans: I'm reading Richard Slotkin's A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America, which covers the whole sweep of American history, but mostly as a prelude to current political disorders, what at least one writer below has started calling the Trumpocene. Here's a sample that nails a key point, then drives it home with examples (pp. 297-299):

Narcissism is an enduring pattern of behavior marked by obsessive concentration on the self, an excessive demand for admiration, and a lack of compassion or empathy. When a narcissist's need for approbation is not met, he or she will typically feel deeply aggrieved, even persecuted. Narcissists then seek power so they can control those around them, including family and colleagues. But no degree of domination ever completelysatisfies their need, so the power drive becomes authoritarian and (in the absence of empathy) verges on the sociopathic.

Trump exhibits all of these traits. His Twitter feeds and speeches are rife with variations on "only I can fix it": "I am the only one who can Make America Great Again. . . . Nobody else can do it." "Nobody will protect our Nation like Donald J. Trump." "5000 ISIS fighters have infiltrated Europe. . . . I TOLD YOU SO! I alone can fix this problem!" "I am hoping to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does." His followers read that self-assurance as a mark of authenticity -- he truly believes even the most extravagant claims he makes about himself. . . .

The effectiveness of Trump's speaking style owes a good deal to his narcissism. In press interviews, rally speeches, and Twitter rants, he follows no logic but his own free associations. In 2019 Trump was asked about his failure to get funding for his "beautiful" border wall, and the separation of parents and children crossing the border. He begins with a statement contrary to fact (implying he has actually built his wall), tosses a word salad, and ends with a "definition" that reads like a joke: "Now until I got the wall built, I got Mexico because we're not allowed, very simply, to have loopholes and they're called loopholes for a reason, because they're loopholes." His speeches are full of banalities endlessly repeated -- how great he is, how he'll increase jobs or destroy North Korea "like you've never seen before," he's going to fix it, fake news, Crooked Hillary -- but his followers respond with enthusiasm.

Let's start, again, with his porn star hush money trial.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Harold Meyerson: [05-14] Swing voters prefer Democrats. Just not Joe Biden.

  • Ramesh Ponnuru: [05-14] Democrats could sweep the 2024 elections -- and make major policy changes. Need I note that this column is by a right-winger, hoping to panic Republicans into rallying behind Trump. The giveaway is "make major policy changes." I can imagine Democrats sweeping the 2024 elections, but doing anything significant with their win is the tough one. In any imaginable scenario, there will still be enough Democrats tightly bound to lobbyists and their interests, blocking any real reform, much as Manchin and Sinema did with recent Democratic Senate "majorities."

  • Stephen Prager: Democrats, contempt will not win you the election: Photos here of Hillary Clinton and John Fetterman.

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-15] Biden's surprise proposal to debate Trump early, explained.

  • Bernie Sanders: [05-15] We're in a pivotal moment in American history. We cannot retreat: "Clearly, our job is not just to re-elect Biden." This is basically a stump speech, but a remarkably decent and sensible one. It reminds me of the opportunity mainstream Democrats forsook when they got scared and abandoned Sanders for Biden in 2020.

    • Ed Kilgore: [05-17] Bernie Sanders makes incredibly gloomy case for reelecting Biden. Well, that's the case Biden has left himself with, and there's little point pretending otherwise. There are many little things that Biden could have done better, but his foreign policy mistakes are glaring, starting with his disinterest in defusing conflicts with unfriendly states like Iran and North Korea, his provocations of China and Russia, his unwillingness to negotiate peace in Ukraine, and especially his utter failure to mitigate Israel's genocidal mania, those are the sort of mistakes with grave consequences that can ruin him. You can't just pretend this isn't happening.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Other stories:

Reza Aslan: [04-15] Religiosity isn't done changing our world: An interview with the author ("one of the foremost scholars of religion in America") about "Jesus the revolutionary, Palestine, and the continued growth of religion in the world."

Fabiola Cineas: [05-15] Why school segregation is getting worse.

Alec Israeli: [05-19] Slavery, capitalism, and the politics of abolition. A review of Robin Blackburn: The Reckoning: From the Second Slavery to Abolition, 1776-1888. This is "the capstone volume to Blackburn's decades-long project chronicling the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas," following The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 and The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800, as well as related studies like The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln.

John McPhee: [05-13] Tabula rasa: The fourth article in a series (links in article) on writing. Starts with a discussion of Wordle, which is not one of his more inspired subjects, but informs you that he likes to start with "ocean" but has tried less likely words that I must admit never occurred to me.

Katya Schwenk: [05-18] The law may be coming for Boeing's fraud: "At the end of the Trump administration, Boeing cut a sweetheart deal to avoid prosecution for deceiving regulators about a faulty flight system that caused crashes. New allegations of greed and negligence may finally bring the company to justice."

Julia Serano: [04-23] The Cass Review, WPATH files, and the perpetual debate over gender-affirming care. Noted, not that I have anything meaningful to say on the subject. Pull quote: "Gender-affirming care is the only thing that has positively helped trans youth thus far, and abandoning it now isn't a passive or neutral solution -- it's an active and conscious decision to subject these children to antiquated social and medical interventions that have already been scientifically shown to be ineffective if not downright harmful."

Jennifer Szalai: [05-08] Can a 50-year-old idea save democracy? A review of Daniel Chandler: Free and Equal: A Manifesto for a Just Society, which "makes a vigorous case for adopting the liberal political framework laid out by John Rawls in the 1970s."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [05-13] Class consciousness for billionaires: "We used to think the rich had a social function. What are they good for now?" We did? I remember reading a biography of Jay Gould when I was quite young, and it pretty much permanently disabused me of the notion that rich people contributed anything of value to society, and left me with even more contempt for the people who inherited their money (and, in this case, frittered it away to nothing very quickly). Review of Guido Alfani: As Gods Among Men: A History of the Rich in the West. By the way, the publisher page led me to another book, more promising I thought, so I looked for a review:

Also, some writing on music:

Richard Brody: [05-14] New releases make old jazz young again: on Alice Coltrane, The Carnegie Hall Concert; Sonny Rollins, Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings; Art Tatum, Jewels in the Treasure Box: The 1953 Chicago Blue Note Jazz Club Recordings; and Charles McPherson, Reverence (actually a new recording, though the saxophonist is 83).

Robert Christgau: [05-15] Consumer Guiide: May, 2024.

Christian Iszchak: [05-17] An acute case: 17 May 2024.

Brad Luen: [05-19] Semipop Life: Moving past years.

Amanda Petrusich: [05-17] The anxious love songs of Billie Eilish.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 42312 [42249] rated (+63), 22 [29] unrated (-7).

Major time sink last week was filling out the DownBeat Critics Poll ballot. I took notes, and they're here, but probably need to be cleaned up a bit more. One thing that slowed me down was that I copied off all of their nominee lists. I could write a sociology dissertation on "How to Lie with Polls," where the most obvious way is the questions you pick and those you leave out, so this is data I've often wished I had kept (although whether I do anything with it remains to be seen).

One thing I have done ever since they started inviting me was to copy down their album lists, figuring I could use them as checklists. Before I got into this year's lists, I calculated that I had heard 84.4% of their new jazz album nominees, 57.5% of their historical jazz albums, 22.5% of the blues albums, and 78.3% of their "beyond" albums. Most of the albums in this week's haul came from the unheard parts of those lists, including a lot of blues guitar-slingers I never bothered with before and probably won't again.

After submitting the DownBeat ballot, I resumed work on Speaking of Which. Sunday night I was mostly done, but still meant to write something on a particularly offensive Jonathan Chait piece, so decided to hold it an extra day. By the time I posted Monday evening, it was 228 links, 11,661 words. I've added a bit more today, flagged as usual.

The extra day added to the rated count (+11 to be precise), as I rarely bothered to give even high-B+ albums a second play. Jimmy Holmes and his protege Robert Connelly Farr were two I wondered about. Much in the long Wes Montgomery and Keith Jarrett sets sounded terrific, but I wound up demurring, partly because I previously had Full House at B+, and Köln Concert at A- (with no other Jarrett solo coming close).

One nice bit of news is that after complaining about Cox's lack of service at some length last week, I got an unsolicited tweet-message from them pointing me to a web page with an email address to appeal blocked mail. I wrote them. They cleared the block a couple days later, and fixed my problem: I can now send email that references my website.

A couple days later, I found another problem, this time with Gmail. Turns out anything I send from my server to a Gmail account gets automatically rejected as "likely suspicious due to the very low reputation of the sending IP address." I've run across this before, and (needless to say) they, too, make it very difficult to get anything resembling service. I've yet to try troubleshooting this particular problem -- which, among other things, means making sure my server isn't committing the offenses charged. It's a pretty low-grade problem right now, but will matter more if/when I revive the Jazz Critics Poll.

I should also note that last week's much-hyped storm front almost completely spared Wichita. We had a cold front that was sweeping southeast across Kansas, and on its edge there developed an almost straight line of storms from Texas into Nebraska. But the actual storm cells were moving north-northeast up the edge of the front. Just before the front passed through Wichita, the line broke, with two larger storms coalescing, one passing north of Wichita, the more southern storm passing to our south and east. The latter did produce tornadoes, but mostly in Oklahoma. There were more tornadoes later that night, around Kansas City and up into Iowa.

I expect to get very little work done in what's left of this week, and none over the weekend. We have company coming, which almost certainly means I won't be posting Speaking of Which then (although I probably will open a draft file in case I do stumble on something I'd want to link to). It will also be tempting to skip a Music Week, although there's no minimum there: if I do post, it will be much shorter than this one.

New records reviewed this week:

Matt Andersen: The Big Bottle of Joy (2023, Sonic): Canadian blues guitarist-singer-songwriter, regular albums since 2004. I don't see credits, but the backup singers loom large here. Actually, it's all big and joyful. B+(**) [sp]

Anitta: Funk Generation (2024, Republic): Brazilian "baile funk" singer-songwriter, Larissa de Macedo Machado, debut 2013, this follows a similarly named 2023 EP, repeats the first single "Funk Rave," expanded to 15 short, hard-hitting tracks, 35:14. B+(***) [sp]

Nia Archives: Silence Is Loud (2024, Hijinxx/Island): British jungle DJ/producer, last name Hunt, has several EPs since 2021, first album takes a big step toward turning her into a dance-pop star. A- [sp]

Duane Betts: Wild & Precious Life (2023, Royal Potato Family): Son of Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts (1943-2024), namesake obvious. First album under his own name but he's been playing in Allman and/or Betts bands since 2005, and quite capably recycles their trademark sound. B+(*) [sp]

Pat Bianchi: Three (2023 [2024], 21H): Organ player, debut 2002, tenth or so album, back-to-basics trio with Troy Roberts (sax) and Colin Stranahan (drums). Opens and closes strong with "Love for Sale" and "Cheek to Cheek." B+(***) [sp]

Muireann Bradley: I Kept These Old Blues (2021-23 [2023], Tompkins Square): Irish folkie, plays guitar, first album, sings twelve old blues, three from Mississippi John Hurt, three following arrangements by Stefan Grossman (plus one John Fahey). B+(***) [sp]

Edmar Castañeda World Ensemble: Viento Sur (2023, self-released): Harp player, from Colombia, ten or so albums since 2005. Not much info available, but I gather the singer is his wife, Andrea Tierra, and the band includes Felipe Lamoglia (sax), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Helio Alves (piano), Grégoire Maret (harmonica), and Itai Kriss (flute), plus percussionists. B+(***) [sp]

Layale Chaker & Sarafand: Radio Afloat (2023 [2024], In a Circle): Violinist, sings some, group with (Jake Charkley (cello), Philip Golub (piano/keyboards), Sam Minais (bass), and John Hadfield (drums). The occasional vocals lend this a Middle Eastern air, while the variety in the instruments frees the violin up as the engaging solo lead. A- [cd] [05-17]

Gary Clark Jr.: JPEG RAW (2024, Warner): Blues singer-songwriter, got a lot of hype with his 2012 major label debut, can't say as I was much impressed. Title acronym for "Jealousy, Pride, Greed, Rules, Alter Ego, Worlds." Five (of twelve) songs feature guests, with Stevie Wonder and George Clinton the big names. B- [sp]

Chris Duarte: Ain't Giving Up (2023, Provogue): Blues-rock singer-songwriter from Texas, regular albums since 1987, like so many his calling card is his guitar. B+(*) [sp]

Tinsley Ellis: Naked Truth (2024, Alligator): Blues-rock singer-songwriter-guitarist based in Atlanta, started in the Heartfixers in 1982, went solo in 1988 and has 20+ albums since. Wrote nine songs here, covers Son House (quite credibly), Willie Dixon, and Leo Kottke. B+(**) [sp]

William Lee Ellis: Ghost Hymns (2023, Yellow Dog): Folkie singer-songwriter from Memphis, plays guitar, opens solo with a front porch blues, picks up some banjo and fiddle for the Jesus-namechecking second song, called "Flood Tale." Both of those songs grabbed me immediately, but then he wandered into other less immediately appealing fare. Still worth the thought. B+(***) [sp]

Empirical: Wonder Is the Beginning (2022 [2024], Whirlwind): British group, half-dozen albums since 2007, led by bassist-composer Tom Farmer, with Jason Rebello (piano), Shaney Forbes (drums), Lewis Wright (vibes), and Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), plus Alex Hitchcock (tenor sax, 3 tracks). B+(**) [sp]

Ethel & Layale Chaker: Vigil (2022 [2024], In a Circle): As best I can tell -- my eyes have gotten so bad it pains me to search out the recording date and credits, let alone decipher the microscopic booklet -- Chaker is a violinist and composer of half of this, and Ethel is her group -- three more violins and a cello -- members of which composed most of the rest. So a strings group, certainly qualifies as chamber jazz. B+(***) [cd] [05-17]

Robert Connelly Farr: Pandora Sessions (2023, self-released): Guitarist, growler, from "Bolton, Mississippi, home of Charley Patton, Sam Chatmon & the Mississippi Sheiks," a protege of Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, plays "thunderous back alley blues" that are "menacing, guttural." Indeed, the sound is very striking at first, but then sort of shrinks, folding back on itself. B+(***) [sp]

Lawrence Fields: To the Surface (2023 [2024], Rhythm 'N' Flow): Pianist, from St. Louis, "long-awaited" debut album -- he has side credits back to 2007, including Joe Lovano and Christian Scott -- a trio with Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and Corey Fonville (drums), originals plus one cover ("I Fall in Love Too Easily"). B+(**) [sp]

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton: Death Wish Blues (2023, Rounder): Blues singer-songwriter-guitarist from Kansas City, a dozen or so albums since 2009, some with co-credits (like 2011's Girls With Guitars), this her first with Dayton, a rockabilly/outlaw country artist with more records going back to 1995. They're rough enough to get on each other's nerves, but the exception, a Fish ballad "No Apology," is an oasis of calm in the enveloping chaos. B+(**) [sp]

Sue Foley: One Guitar Woman: A Tribute to the Female Pioneers of Guitar (2024, Stony Plain): Blues guitarist, singer, has written most of her songs since her 1992 debut (Young Girl Blues), mostly covers here, drawing songs from Elizabeth Cotten, Maybelle Carter, Rosetta Tharpe, and others. B+(***) [sp]

Roberto Fonseca: La Gran Diversión (2023, 3ème Bureau/Wagram): Cuban pianist, a dozen or so albums since 1999. A full roster of Cuban musicians, including vocalists, with a guest spot for Regina Carter (violin). Cover depicts a party. Music bears that out. B+(**) [sp]

Amaro Freitas: Y'Y (2024, Psychic Hotline): Brazilian pianist, from Recife, fourth album since 2016. Nine tracks, some solo, some with a guest or two, including Shabaka Hutchings (flute), Brandee Younger (harp), Jeff Parker (guitar), and Hamid Drake (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Gov't Mule: Peace . . . Like a River (2023, Concord): Southern rock jam band, founded 1994 as an Allman Brothers spinoff, Warren Haynes (guitar/vocals) and Matt Abts (drums) founders still carrying on. This one is especially long. B- [sp]

Makiko Hirabayashi Trio: Meteora (2022 [2023], Enja): Japanese pianist, based in Copenhagen since 1990, side credits since 1996, several own albums since 2006. Trio with Klavs Hovman (bass) and Marilyn Mazur (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Hiromi's Sonicwonder: Sonicwonderland (2023, Telarc): Japanese pianist, last name Uehara, studied at Berklee, debut album 2003, a dozen more since, has classical skills, likes electronics, wrote jingles before moving into (and sometimes out of) jazz. This one jams Adam O'Farrill (trumpet) into the sonic tapestry, which helps. Some vocals. B+(*) [sp]

Munir Hossn/Ganavya: Sister, Idea (2023, Ropeadope, EP): Duo, recorded in Miami, the former a guitarist/vocalist from Brazil, the latter a vocalist/bassist (last name Doraiswamy, born in New York but raised in Tamil Nadu), each with a couple of independent previous albums. Seven songs, 19:46. B+(*) [sp]

Hovvdy: Hovvdy (2024, Arts & Crafts): Indie rock duo from Austin, Charlie Martin and Will Taylor, fifth album since 2016, tuneful, easy going, slight, just a whiff of country. B+(*) [sp]

Ibibio Sound Machine: Pull the Rope (2024, Merge): London-based afro-funk band, led by vocalist Eno Williams (UK-born, of Nigerian parents), the band including a guitarist from Ghana and a percussionist from Brazil. Choice groove: "Dance in the Rain." B+(**) [sp]

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram: Live in London (2023, Alligator, 2CD): Blues singer-songwriter from Clarksdale, Mississippi, plays guitar, has two previous studio albums. Pretty young (23), but solid. Run time: 107.12. B+(*) [sp]

Eric Johanson: The Deep and the Dirty (2023, Ruf): Louisiana-born blues-rock singer-songwriter, guitarist, moved to New Zealand after Katrina but returned to New Orleans in 2010, has a half-dozen albums since 2017. B+(*) [sp]

Rickie Lee Jones: Pieces of Treasure (2022 [2023], BMG/Modern): Fifteenth studio album, going back to her eponymous debut in 1979, with its jazzy freak hit single, produced by Russ Titelman, who returns here for this collection of ten standards. They picked great songs, but slowed them way down, exposing the cracks in her voice, but little else. B- [sp]

Live Edge Trio With Steve Nelson: Closing Time (2023 [2024], OA2): Trio of Ben Markley (piano), Seth Lewis (bass), and Andy Wheelock (drums), with the vibraphonist most prominent as guest. Highlight is a Horace Silver cover (of course). B+(**) [cd] [05-17]

John Lurie: Painting With John (2021-23 [2024], Royal Potato Family): Founder of the Lounge Lizards, a jazzy fusion group which recorded four studio and more live albums 1981-98; also did a shtick as Marvin Pontiac, and recorded a few soundtracks, including Fishing With John for an unscripted TV series he did in 1991. This collects music from his more recent TV series, with three seasons on HBO Max. Scattered pieces, most miniatures, some narrated, most minor but often interesting, ends with a Lounge Lizards delight. Spotify counts 56 songs, "about" 75 minutes. B+(***) [sp]

The Taj Mahal Sextet: Swingin' Live at the Church in Tulsa (2023 [2024], Lightning Rod): Folk blues great, first record 1968, no recording date I can see here, but one source had him at 81 in 2023, which is info enough. Six originals, four covers (three blues, one Hawaiian). Seems to be in strong voice, buoyed by a strong band. B+(***) [sp]

Dom Martin: Buried in the Hail (2023, Forty Below): Blues-rock singer-songwriter-guitarist, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, third album, ten originals plus a power ballad rendition of Willie Nelson's "Crazy." B+(*) [sp]

Dave McMurray: Grateful Deadication 2 (2023, Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist, from Detroit, started with Albert King, was in Was (Not Was) and Griot Galaxy, first solo album 1989, second 1996. Got the idea of doing a Grateful Dead tribute after meeting Bob Weir in 2019, released one in 2021, and here's a second. Pleasant-enough songs, some I recognize despite having no interest in the band since the early 1970s, helped with organ and a bit of grit in the sax. Some vocals, not sure whether they hurt or help. B+(*) [sp]

Coco Montoya: Writing on the Wall (2023, Alligator): Blues guitarist-singer-songwriter, from California, albums since 1995. Raw but unexceptional power. B [sp]

Simon Moullier: Inception (2022 [2023], Fresh Sound New Talent): Vibraphonist, from Nantes, France (although web bio doesn't mention that, or anything specific other than "being mentored" at Berklee), fourth album since 2020, trio with bass (Luca Alemanno) and drums (Jongkuk Kim), on one original and eight wide-ranging jazz standards (including a Jobim). B+(**) [sp]

Nat Myers: Yellow Peril (2023, Easy Eye Sound): Roots-blues singer-songwriter-guitarist from Kentucky, happens to be Korean-American, an irony that is not lost on him. First album. Good songs throughout, but "Pray for Rain" is exceptional. A- [sp]

Parchman Prison Prayer: Some Mississippi Sunday Morning (2023, Glitterbeat): Gospel recordings from inmates in a maximum security prison in Mississippi. B+(**) [sp]

Ben Patterson Jazz Orchestra: Groove Junkies (2023 [2024], Origin): Conventional big band, leader/composer plays trombone, graduated from UNT, spent over a decade in the USAF Airmen of Note, has at least two previous albums as leader, his whole career leading right here. He has every reason to be pleased with this one, although I'm not fully convinced by the big Latin jazz number. B+(**) {cd] [05-17]

Nicholas Payton: Drip (2023, PayTone): Trumpet player, from New Orleans, plays keyboard and flugelhorn here, fairly laid back funk tracks with guest vocals. B [sp]

Jessica Pratt: Here in the Pitch (2024, Mexican Summer): Singer-songwriter from San Francisco, based in Los Angeles, fourth album since 2012, has a reputation but I disliked the only previous album I've heard. I don't dislike this rather low key "album of hypnogogic folk music," but didn't find the mysteries intriguing enough to give it a second listen either. B [sp]

John Primer & Bob Corritore: Crawlin' Kingsnake (2024, VizzTone): Mississippi bluesman, played with Magic Slim before going out on his own in 1991, picked up the harmonica player in 2013, and they've been solic ever since. B+(***) [sp]

Jason Robinson: Ancestral Numbers (2023 [2024], Playscape): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano here, also alto flute), albums since 1998, composed everything here, thinking about his ancestors. Quintet with Michael Dessen (trombone), Joshua White (piano), Drew Gress (bass), and Ches Smith (drums). Interesting throughout, but took me a while to work through all of it. A- [cd] [05-14]

Still House Plants: If I Don't Make It, I Love U (2023 [2024], Bison): British art/experimental rock trio, singer is Jess Hickie-Kallenbach, third or fourth album, has very positive reviews from Guardian and Pitchfork, but not much notice elsewhere. I could see her as some kind of jazz singer, only loosely tethered to the off-kilter guitar/drums, but not the kind -- pace "remarkable voice" -- I like. B- [sp]

Natsuki Tamura/Jim Black: NatJim (2023 [2024], Libra): Japanese trumpet player, husband to pianist Satoko Fujii, has more albums with her but quite a few on his own, like this dynamic but choppy improv duo with drums. B+(***) [cd] [05-17]

Ralph Towner: At First Light (2022 [2023], ECM): American guitarist, has recorded regularly for ECM since 1973, also extensively in the group Oregon. Solo here, nice and easy. B+(*) [sp]

Angela Verbrugge: Somewhere (2017-18 [2024], OA2): Standards singer, from Canada, first album, starts a bit flat, and the title song has little to recommend itself, but gets better -- I especially love the one en français, curiously the only one she wrote, and oddly billed as a "remix." B+(**) [cd] [05-17]

Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra: Time Capsule (2023, Planet Arts): Trumpet player, has led big bands since 1990, this his second album with this particular group. Opens with a splashy Chrissi Poland vocal. Only a few more vocals, but everything is splashy. B+(**) [sp]

Randy Weinstein: Harmonimonk (2023 [2024], Random Chance): Harmonica player (both chromatic and diatonic) plays seven Monk tunes, 37:46, with various backing, but not much on any given song. B+(**) [cd] [05-15]

Dan Wilson: Things Eternal (2023, Brother Mister/Mack Avenue): Guitarist, second album, leads a quartet with electric piano (Glenn Zaleski), bass (Brandon Rose), and drums (David Throckmorton), with guest organ on two tracks, vocals on three -- a crossover pop move that works better than expected. B+(**) [sp]

Mark Winkler: The Rules Don't Apply (2024, Cafe Pacific): Jazz singer, twenty-some albums since 1980 including duos with Cheryl Bentyne, yet when you look him up in Wikipedia you get some South African writer. Looks for postmodern standards -- "I.G.Y." sounds especially great here, and he does well by "Got to Get You Into My Life" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come" -- and writes some lyrics, mostly celebrating jazz. Recorded in five groups, but dates not given. B+(**) [cd]

Warren Wolf: Chano Pozo: Origins (2023, self-released): Vibraphonist, from Baltimore, tenth album since 2005, including a decade on Mack Avenue (also playing with Christian McBride). Very little info on this, but back story seems to be that it's a tribute to his late father, who nicknamed his son after the legendary Cuban percussionist. B+(*) [sp]

Xaviersobased: Keep It Goin Xav (2024, 34Ent): Young (20) rapper Xavier Lopez, from NYC, first album. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Terri Lyne Carrington: TLC & Friends (1981 [2023], Candid): Drummer, from Massachusetts, father and grandfather were musicians (latter played with Fats Waller and Chu Berry), was tutored by Alan Dawson, recorded this when she was 16 but had some major league friends: George Coleman (tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Buster Williams (bass). She wrote one song, but otherwise went with sure covers, slipping Billy Joel between two Sonny Rollins tunes on the second side, "St. Thomas" and "Sonny Moon for Two" (with her father guesting as the second tenor sax). They're all having terrific fun. A- [sp]

Jimi Hendrix Experience: Hollywood Bowl, August 18, 1967 (1967, Experience Hendrix/Legacy): Another installment, we're long past surprises now, let alone amazement, but the quirks are still fun to listen to. Set list: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band" to open, two blues, four originals, "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Wild Thing" to finish. B+(**) [sp]

Keith Jarrett: Solo-Concerts Bremen/Lausanne (1973 [2023], ECM, 2CD): Originally a daunting 3-LP box, but this did much to establish Jarrett's reputation as a dazzling pianist before his 1975 solo The Köln Concert became a mega-seller. As with the latter, the CD length got dispensed of the need to slice his long solos up, here giving us the two-part Bremen in 63:10 and the single Lausanne set in 64:53. B+(***) [sp]

A Moi La Liberté: Early Electronic Raï, Algerie 1983-90 (1983-90 [2023], Serendip Lab): Algerian folk music, electrified during the 1980s, spreading from Oran to Paris, accelerated by the civil war (1991-2002), during which several singers became international stars. For me, the introduction was Earthworks 1988 sampler, Rai Rebels, followed by individual albums by Cheb Khaled, Chaba Fadela, and others. This goes a bit earlier, perhaps a bit deeper. B+(***) [bc]

Wes Montgomery: The Complete Full House Sessions (1962 [2023], Craft, 2CD): Hugely influential jazz guitarist, cut this album live at Tsubo in Berkeley, California, released in 1962 with six songs, 43:14, with one of his strongest groups: Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). The 1987 CD picked up three alternate takes, and a 2007 reissue found a few more. This adds a couple more, giving us 14 takes of the original six songs. B+(***) [sp]

Tell Everybody! 21st Century Juke Joint Blues From Easy Eye Sound (2017-23 [2023], Easy Eye Sound): Blues label sampler, label founded by Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) in Nashville, major find to date has been Robert Finley, with most of the artists here not even represented by albums (as far as I can tell; dating previously released songs is also hard, but I did find a couple). B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes: Cypress Grove (2019, Easy Eye Sound): 72-year-old blues singer-guitarist from Bentonia, Mississippi, inherited the Blue Front Cafe ("on the Mississippi Blues Trail") from his parents, but only started recording in 2006. Wrote three (of eleven) songs here, his favorite cover source Skip James. B+(***) [sp]

Rickie Lee Jones: Rickie Lee Jones (1979, Warner Bros.): Singer-songwriter, first album, led off with a memorable jive single, "Chuck E's in Love," which took the album platinum, and finished in top 25 in Pazz & Jop that year -- I was reminded of this, because it's the only one of the top-40 I missed hearing. She's had a steady career ever since, but her sales declined, with nothing after album four (1989) charting top-100. B+(*) [sp]

Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (1981, Warner Bros.): Second album, also went top-ten but the singles stiffed. She does manage to generate some swing on the title cut, but the credits she should have gotten more (rhythm from Victor Feldman, Russell Ferrante, Chuck Rainey, Steve Gadd; horn spots from Randy Brecker, David Sanborn, and Tom Scott; Donald Fagen on synth). B [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Adam Forkelid: Turning Point (Prophone) [03-05]
  • Dave Rempis/Tashi Dorji Duo: Gnash (Aerophonic) [06-25]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Speaking of Which

Started this mid-week, but spent most of two days working on that stupid DownBeat Jazz Critics Poll, so I'm picking it up again Saturday afternoon.

Late Sunday evening I pretty much completed my rounds, but still wanted to circle back and write something about Jonathan Chait and "punching left," so figured that could wait for Monday. That'll probably push Music Week back another day, but in times like these, who care about that? (With a normal cutoff, rated count would have been +52.)

One thing I did manage to do was to spend some time reviewing, ostensibly to catch accumulated formatting errors, but the exercise let me write some section intros and identify some places where I should seek out more reports. I'm always in such a rush to get this over and done with that I rarely consider how much better it could be with a little editing.

I wound up spending much of Monday on the long Chait comment. That lead to a couple other section, but no time for a significant review. On to Music Week tomorrow. Perhaps there will be a few minor updates here as well, but don't expect much next week.

Initial count: 228 links, 11661 words. Updated count [03-15]: 238 links, 12105 words.

Top story threads:


Israel and America: The relationship got rockier as Israel rejected a cease-fire/hostage deal Biden was banking on, and insisted on going through with their ground operations in Rafah, where many refuges from elsewhere in Gaza had fled. Biden, in turn, held back certain arms shipments, leading Israel to turn up domestic pressure on American politicians.

Israel vs. world opinion: Includes reports on US campus protests/encampments, sometimes met with police violence as Israel would rather suppress dissent than to face criticism.

Antisemitism: Looks like we have enough this week to break this out separately, especially the notion that any criticism of Israel, even for crimes against humanity as grave as genocide, should be rejected as promoting anti-semitism. So says a bill passed a week ago by the House, a view that Biden embraced in his big Holocaust Museum speech.

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Alex Abad-Santos: [05-08] Eurovision is supposed to be fun and silly. This year is different. "Eurovision doesn't want to be about Israel-Palestine, but amid protests and boycotts, it might not have a choice."

Sam Adler-Bell: [05-06] Between victory and defeat: "How can the left escape burnout?" Review of Hannah Proctor: Burnout: The Emotional Experience of Political Defeat.

Perry Bacon Jr/Kate Cohen/Shadi Hamid: [05-09] Are politics replacing religion in American life? "And what is gained and lost as our country stops going to churches, synagogues and mosques?"

Claire Biddles: [05-10] Steve Albini believed in a democratic music industry: Albini (1962-2024), who was best known as an engineer and rock producer, died last week. Here's a discogrpaphy.

  • Amanda Petrusich: [05-11] The beautiful rawness of Steve Albini.

  • Steve Albini: [1993-12] The problem with music: "Imagine a trench filled with decaying shit." An old article, belatedly pointed out to me. Very technical on how the business works, or worked then. No real idea how much it has changed. Well, the technology is probably better/cheaper, but the economics are unlikely to be any less brutal. Self-releasing and -promoting is one path increasingly taken.

Jonathan Chait: [05-10] In defense of punching left: The problem with 'Solidarity': Less a review of than a polemic against the recent book by Leah Hunt-Hendrix & Astra Taylor: Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea. I bought the book, and will get to it in due course, but I hardly needed them to caution me against "punching left" or especially to point out that Chait is a prime example of a liberal pundit who seems to show much more passion and take much more delight in not merely criticizing but flat-out attacking the left than he ever shows when he reacts to the right. He's far from alone in this regard, and he's nowhere near the worst, but I've had to call him on it numerous times of late. It happens often enough I could probably collect the cases and turn them into a full essay like the Anti-Dühring.

I don't have the appetite to attempt that here, but can't help but leave a few scattered notes. First thing to point out is that here, at least, he is careful to present well-organized and respectable arguments. He is very clear on what he believes. Even where I disagree, I find no reason to doubt his sincerity or integrity. I do have some doubts about his characterization of the book and of the left in general. I haven't read this one, but I've read most of Taylor's books, and have rarely found fault in them, and often been impressed by her brilliance. As for the rest of the left, there is a wide range of reasonable opinion, especially as you move away from the core principle, which is that we favor equality and mutual aid, and oppose hierarchy and forced order.

A personal aside may be in order here. My politics firmed up in the late 1960s when, largely driven by opposition to the Vietnam War, I discovered the New Left -- which had no truck with the old left, but still embraced core left principles, and came equipped with a sophisticated critique of capitalism, its liberal ideology, its conservative detritus, and its fascist activists. Within the New Left, I was relatively sympathetic to anarcho-libertarians (probably because I had absorbed some of the hyper-individualism and anti-statism that ran deep in the American West) but I also had a keen sense of the value of unions and solidarity (my father was in the union, although he was not very heroic about it). I've been pretty consistent in those views for more than fifty years, but I've evolved in several respects. The most relevant here is that I've become more tolerant of well-intentioned liberals -- except when they go to work for the war party (as Chait did in endorsing the Bush war in Iraq).

One suspicious thing Chait writes here is this:

One important distinction between the two tendencies is that liberals tend to understand policy as a search for truth and politics as a struggle to bring a majority around to their position, while leftists understand politics as a conflict to mobilize the political willpower to implement the objective interests of the oppressed.

Leaving the first clause aside for the moment, the second is equally true of conservatives if you replace "oppressed" with "rich and powerful." It's less clear what the replacement would be for liberals, but it's probably something more self-interested than "truth." Historically, liberals fought against aristocracy by appealing to universal benefits as rights -- probably what Chait meant by "truth" back there -- but as they gained power, they started to find they had more common bonds with the owners, who tempted them to turn on the workers. This habit of "punching left" emerged as early as the revolutions of 1848, where workers supported liberal challenges to aristocracy and autocracy, only to be betrayed.

The left is no less concerned with truth than liberals think they are, but we do have cause to be wary of people who spout high-minded rhetoric but don't deliver results beyond their own elite aspirations. We don't deplore "punching left" because we're thin-skinned and unwilling to debate reason, but because we see it as a signal to the right that liberals are happy to serve the right by marginalizing and controlling the left.

And please note here that under "punching left" I'm not talking about airing out differences over tactics -- the ever-roiling debates over when to compromise on what and with whom -- or even over principles. I'm talking about cases where liberals like Chait deliberately distort arguments to support right-wing programs and to impugn the integrity and principles (and sometimes even sanity) of the left. For example, Chait writes:

An additional problem is that each activist issue-group can itself be pulled left quickly by its most committed members. (The stakes for staying on good terms with the left on Israel have quickly escalated from opposing the occupation to opposing Israel's existence in any form to, increasingly, refusing to condemn the murder of Israeli civilians). The dynamic is magnified when every component of the left is expected to endorse the demands of every other.

The parenthetical is essential here, as a cascading series of ridiculous assertions backed by nothing more than the escalating torrent of rhetoric. As someone, typically of people on the left, opposed to war, I certainly condemn the murder of Israeli citizens; likewise, I have no problem whatsoever with an Israel that provides equal rights to everyone who lives there (or for that matter who has a reasonable claim to return there); and my one complaint on the occupation is that it deprives people of those equal rights -- one might imagine a counterfactual where occupation of the West Bank might have afforded Palestinians more equitable rights than they enjoyed under the Jordanian monarchy, but that is not what Israel did ever since the 1967 war.

The before and after sentences are simply Chait's way of complaining that extreme-leftists use "solidarity" as a means of ever-radicalizing thought control, driving them away from the "truth" and "enlightenment" of his pristine liberalism. That he refuses to be bullied like that is, well, respectable, but that he thinks that's what is happening is paranoid and more than a little vile. Maybe the old CP had that kind of disciplined followers, but today's left is as scattered and unorganizable as Will Rogers' Democrats. I take it that the point of Solidarity (the book) is to try to convince people that a little effort at coherence would be of practical value, but I find it impossible to believe that veterans of Occupy Wall Street open democracy meetings -- David Graeber wrote about them in The Democracy Project -- can fancy themselves as the new bolsheviks. (The only "new bolsheviks" are whoever's crafting right-wing talking points these days -- it used to be Grover Norquist's weekly roundtable -- which are then picked up and dutifully repeated by Fox News, politicians, social media, and whoever else is on the party line.)

PS: Even before I finished the above, Chait attacked again: [05-13] No, your pet issue is not making Biden lose: "It's inflation, not Israel or class warfare." Chait and Ed Kilgore (see his article above) are like tag-team wrestlers, jumping in one after another with their assertions that hardly anyone really cares about genocide in Gaza, so, like, nothing to look at here, just "the desire of a tiny number of left-wing activists to leverage the issue," and that "siding with the unpopular protesters would not address the source of Biden's unpopularity." (Bill Scher is another one, over at Washington Monthly.)

The question of why Biden is so unpopular is complicated and, as far as I can tell, poorly understood by anyone (myself included). But I can tell you two things of which I am fairly certain.

One is that even being proximate to a disaster leaves you with an odor that is hard to shake, and there is no way to spin any possible outcome of Israel/Gaza as anything but a disaster. Everyone involved looks bad, some for what they did, some for what they didn't do, some for just witnessing, the rest for ignoring the obvious. Israel has set impossible goals for itself, and even if they could achieve those goals, they wouldn't solve their problem, which is ultimately that they've turned their whole country, and everyone associated with them, into a colossal embarrassment. It's going to take decades, and that means decades of new people, to recover. Biden will never erase this stain from his reputation. All he can do now is to change course, and start to make amends.

The other thing is that, unlike inflation or class warfare, Israel is something he can actually do something about. Israel cannot afford to continue this war, at this level, without American support, and Biden can stop that. Netanyahu has a very weak hold on power, and Biden can nudge him down and out. Israel's leadership may be evil, but they're not stupid. They can see there's no way out of this. They're just playing on borrowed time, because no one has stepped in to put an end to this insanely horrible war. But Biden can do that. And the real problem with Chait, Kilgore, et al., is that they're trying to give Biden cover, allowing him to waste time and dig himself an ever deeper grave. This has turned into the world's deadliest "Emperor's New Clothes" parable. If you can't see that, all I can do is pity you.

And while writing these last paragraphs, this tweet came in:

  • David Klion: Speaking for myself at least, I am not happy about this. I do not want Trump to be president again, and I do believe he would be worse in all respects including on Palestine. That's why I've been sounding the alarm about Biden's indefensible approach to Palestine for 7 months.

Steve Chawkins/Hailey Branson-Potts: [05-08] Pete McCloskey, antiwar candidate who took on Nixon, dies at 96. I remember when he was first elected to the House, and quickly established himself as one of the Republicans' firmest opponents of the Vietnam War.

Bryce Covert: [04-09] The toxic culture at Tesla: "The factory floors at America's top seller of electric vehicles are rife with racial harassment, sexual abuse, and injuries on the job."

Thomas B Edsall: [05-08] The happiness gap between left and right isn't closing: "Why is it that a substantial body of social science research finds that conservatives are happier than liberals?" This isn't a new discovery (or should I say conceit, as it's invariably advanced by conservatives?): the article here links back to a 2012 piece by Arthur C Brooks: Why conservatives are happier than liberals, and more recently to Ross Douthat: [04-06] Can the left be happy?. (Liberals and leftists may well concede the point as individuals but point to studies of whole societies, which always show that more people are happier in more equitable societies.) Steve M asks the key question on the Edsall piece: If right-wingers are happy, why are they so angry?

Edsall devotes most of his lengthy column to the question of whether liberals are miserable because they think the world treats certain groups poorly. He seems to agree that that's the case.

He points out that conservatives also have problems with the world as it is. However, they don't turn sad -- they just get angry: [examples]

So research suggests that they're angrier than liberals, but they're also happier than liberals. Edsall seems to accept the notion it's possible to stew in anger while feeling quite happy.

So, why not? Don't people get some kind of adrenalin rush out of fighting? Even I got some kind of charge as the anti-genocide demonstrations turned more confrontational. And while I perhaps should be worried about the repression, it mostly just makes me want to fight back. It's not that I don't understand the dialectics of violence and non-violence well enough, but one does get sick and tired of being lectured that "when they go low, we go high." That doesn't seem fair.

Right-wingers seem to be able to escape the inhibitions of reason and taste, and just indulge their passions. They've found a way to take pleasure in other people's pain. We're not like that. We can anticipate, and rue, consequences of our actions. We see problems before they're widely acknowledged, and sure, that makes us sad -- especially given the blissful ignorance of those who fancy themselves as conservatives (or, back when I was growing up, as establishment liberals) -- but it also makes us determined, and that requires us to temper the anger that comes with recognizing injustice. But humans are wired to pursue happiness, so sometimes we do that too. And when that does happen, forgive us. We mean well, and would do better if only we weren't so often confronted with happy-angry mobs who hate us and most everyone else.

Abdallah Fayyad: [05-06] America's prison system is turning into a de facto nursing home: "Why are more and more older people spending their dying years behind bars?"

Jacqui Germain: [05-13] Student debt stories: High interest, debt strikes, generational debt, and more.

Constance Grady: [05-07] Why the Met Gala still matters: "Turns out the first Monday in May is the perfect value for celebrity image-making." I generally like Vox's "explainers," not least because they offer a suitably balanced hook upon which to hang more specific articles. But whatever degree of wry amusement this hideous event may have held for me in the past, that moment has long passed.< By the way:/p>

Aljean Harmetz: [05-12] Roger Corman, 98, dies; prolific master of low-budget cinema.

John Herrman: [05-05] Google is staring down its first serious threats in years. Subheds: A monopoly at risk; The AI search dilemma; Search is a nightmare now.

Harold Meyerson: [05-06] Who created the Israel-Palestine conflict? "It wasn't really Jews or Palestinians. It was the US Congress, which closed American borders 100 years ago this month." Blaming the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 is kind of a cheap shot, but bear with him. Before 1914, 85% of Jewish emigres moved to the US, vs. 3% to Palestine. After 1924, the number of Jewish immigrants to the US fell, as the bill designed, to a trickle.

Nicole Narea: [05-12] America's misunderstood border crisis, in 8 charts: "For all the attention on the border, the root causes of migration and the most promising solutions to the US's broken immigration system are often overlooked."

By the way, this is just a stray thought that occurred to me and seemed worth jotting down -- although I can't begin to do it justice here. The US immigration system covers two distinct cases, and their mix does much to confuse the issue. On the one hand, we have immigrants seeking opportunities (mostly economic), coming from stable and even wealthy nations as well as more troubled ones (from which the advantages may seem more obvious). On the other, we have refugees seeking asylum. In theory, the latter could be just as happy somewhere (anywhere?) else. As one of the charts here shows, applications for asylum have trended up since 2014 (except for a 2020-21 Covid dip, but sharply thereafter), so they're a bit part of why immigration (especially "the border") has become a hot blowback issue.

If we actually had, or wanted, some kind of "rules-based international order," a pretty simple way of dealing with the global refugee problem would be to implement a "pay-or-play" scheme, where rich countries could pay poorer countries -- presumably that's the way it would actually work -- to provide sanctuary as needed. Refugees would have rights, including an option of applying for legal immigration to any country willing to consider them. The expense would provide some motivation to negotiate terms for returning refugees, and for curtailing the wars and discriminatory processes that generate most refugees, as well as economic and climate impacts. If we do nothing to better manage migration, the latter will almost certainly make the current crisis even worse.

I'm not a big fan of "pay-or-play" schemes, but they're relatively flexible, easy to implement, minimally intrusive. It could partly be funded by imposing taxes on trade and/or currency of countries producing refugees, which would give them incentive to treat their people better and stop driving them away. This would also be a start toward a much needed system of capital transfers from rich to poor countries, and could provide a framework for equalizing labor markets -- the EU has been a pioneer in both -- but wouldn't require buy in from the start.

I should also mention that I've long been pushing the idea of a "right to exile," which would provide a safety valve for people in countries that are prone to mistreating their people. That would allow anyone who is being incarcerated or punished to appeal to go into exile, provided there is another country willing to accept that person. Again, many details need to be hashed out, and universal agreement will be take some work -- e.g., such a right would almost certainly empty Guantanamo; the US regularly complains about people it thinks are being detained unjustifiably, but also practices what it preaches against.

Nathan J Robinson:

Kenny Torrella:

Dan Weiss: [05-06] The definitive guide to hating Drake: "Enjoy the rap battle of the century, because we've never seen anything like this before." I don't doubt that he's right, but I've never ran across a rap feud I couldn't ignore before, and it saddens me should prove the exception. I am minimally aware that many critics dislike Drake (with at least some sinking into hate). I've heard most of his records, though his early ones sounded promising, his later ones not so much, but I've never heard reason to rail against him. Part of that may be because I'm pretty oblivious to popular success, and barely cognizant of celebrity gossip press -- I gather he's had quite a bit of both.

Colin Woodard: [04-06] Disordering our national myths: "The Founders, the Pioneers, the Movement, the Lost Cause -- the more driving myths one identifies, the more our true national character is obscured." Review of Richard Slotkin: A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America.

I'm midway through this book, and thus far I'm very impressed and pleased with what I've read on subjects I've read a lot on recently (as well as long ago). As for the reviewer's complaints, I'll have to withhold judgment, but for now I'm very skeptical of the notion that there is any such thing as "our true national character": these states may be united, but never without dissent, and many countercurrents run deep, mythologized or not. But intuitively, trying to understand current politics through its mythic dimensions makes a lot of sense to me.

PS: Reading further, I see that Woodard's unhappiness derives in large part from his own competing theory, which he lays out in his own book Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood, where his "different paradigm" reduces the story to "a struggle between two national myths," so between uplifting faith in liberal democracy and the dead weight of slavery, racism, and authoritarianism. (Here's a review by David W Blight.) Slotkin's "disorder" is due to his attempt to trace more mythic threads, and show how they're used by later politicians (Trump, of course, but also Obama) like a readymade toolkit.

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