Saturday, December 31, 2011

Concerts of the Year




Old 97s

Harry and the Potters

Robyn Hitchcock/Baseball Project

Roy Zimmerman

Reverb Brothers

S. Carey/Other Lives

Tucson Women's Chorus

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Top Tens for Twenty Eleven

Appended below is my Pazz and Jop ballot for 2011 - or it will be if they count it. Apparently Village Voice editors are keeping banker's hours and knocking off work at a respectable hour. Their website wouldn't let me post my vote last night at 6:30. 

Either way, most of these bands should finish well; I haven't included any left-field obscurities such as Micachu and the Shapes or Fol Chen, like I usually do. I hesitate to speculate on who may win the poll this year. There's no obvious frontrunner like Kanye was last year, though PJ Harvey is getting a lot of love out there. 

For the first time in my decade of voting in the P&J poll, I've come up with a tie for first place. The TuNe-YaRdS album was my mainstay this year, and I didn't think I'd love anything more, until I heard Strange Mercy for the first time. Both Garbus and Clark are equally committed, talented and idiosyncratic, and both speak to the disjointed, irrational and fragmented state of our country in 2011. 

All these albums - with the possible exception of Let England Shake - sound like they couldn't have been recorded in any century but this one, though most dab liberally at the palette of music styles established over the last half of the 20th. And all of this is rock music of one sort or another. I haven't voted for any americana or hip-hop as I usually do, though plenty of music from both camps moved me. What moved me most, though, was the new force of rock music these ten albums represent. Rock as a market share is weaker than ever, but artistically it's far from played out. 

Jazz music evolved through phases of exploration until it reached a dead end (of sorts) with free jazz, having gone as far out as possible. Since then, the full range of jazz styles, including free, are available on that palette. The difference is that rock music hasn't gone down any one road, and while it may have hit some dead ends, it's not clear that it's gone as far as it can. But here are ten artists who keep driving on. 

(The rules insist that music writers divide a hundred points amongst ten albums, with no one receiving more than 30 points or less than 5. The headings are Points/ Artist/ Album/ Label):

15 points: TuNe-YaRdS/ whokiill/ 4AD
      Somehow our hero finds inner serenity amongst the violence and chaos around her. What Merril takes from Afropop is the rhythmic dominance, rather than the instrumental exuberance that Peter, Paul and David found. This suits her confident stride through the mean streets of Oakland, the neighborhood you wouldn't want to move to. Above all, her chameleonic voice, whether squawking or crooning, lets you know she's got it handled.

15 points: St. VincentStrange Mercy/ 4AD
      She's seen America naked, and it's just another authority figure to her, like a coach or a surgeon. Ms. Clark tones down some of the overt dissonance of Actor, instead hanging woozy curtains of synths in the window. Occasional bursts of light shine through, whether Talking Heads keyboards or Sonic Youth guitars, describing a world of casual cruelties and emotional violence. But in contrast to Ms. Garbus, her calm in the face of it comes off as unsettling. 

10 points: Radiohead/ King of Limbs/ Self-Released
      Some have lamented the relative lack of Greenwood's guitar, but it's Selway's drumming that is the dominant voice here. Both loose and tight, like Ringo in "Tomorrow Never Knows," the drums anchor the listener through the atmospherics. While Thom moans of mortality and "routines and schedules," dreams of abduction by raptors, or blisses out on the universe, Phil keeps insisting on the moment. 

10 points: Girls/ Father, Son, Holy Ghost/ True Panther Sounds
      What a delicious blend of audacity and vulnerability. The sound of a young man with absolute confidence in the recording studio, but less certainty once he steps outside. Mr. Owens careens from new love to broken heart with one indelible melody after another. In a just world, this would be all over the radio. 

10 points: Black Keys/ El Camino/ Nonesuch
      Cranks up the neo without turning down the retro. Enough of a step up from their previous high standards that it feels like they're just getting started. And this world is just enough that it gets just enough airplay. When my iPod shuffled up to it, my middle school art students, who love only diva pop and thug rap, knew it and grooved to it. Hope for the future. 

10 points: Wilco/ The Whole Love/ dBpm
      Wilco haters gonna Wilco hate, but they deliver for their base better than Boehner or Obama ever will. Call it dad rock if you will; this old dad loves it. But most dads I know - Boomer, GenXer or Millennial - don't rock out with this much eclecticism or commitment. If the history they sample from is their own - some steel here, a migraine murder ballad there - it just shows that they've earned their place. 

8 points: Kills/ Blood Pressures/ Domino
      Harkens back to a time before the sexual revolution was won, when desire was somehow menacing. It may not seem threatening any more, because the good guys won, but it's still overpowering, and in their hands, both focused and relentless. 

8 points: Cults/ Cults/ Columbia
      Okay, it's no new trick to marry girl-group harmonies to 00s fuzz. Nor is it unique to fuse that sunny optimism with darker lyrics. Part of what makes it work are the moments of precocious wisdom in a band so young. Like all strong debuts, it begs the question of what's next - continue to mine this vein, or consolidate and move on? But for now, not a waste of time. 

7 points: PJ Harvey/ Let England Shake/ Island
      A career highlight in a career studded with them. Redolent of British folk rock to the point where it was recorded in an old church - and not coincidentally, one perched on the white cliffs of Dover. While the songs look across the channel to contemplate imperial slaughters of a century hence, it's not hard to make the connection to newer ones further south. 

7 points: Yuck/ Yuck/ Fat Possum
      If you're gonna reach back to 20th-century rock styles, that last decade is fertile ground to plow. They've got style; miles and miles. And not without substance, either - but as to whether all that style is wasted, see question for Cults, above. 

Girls/ Honey Bunny/ True Panther Sounds
Beastie Boys/ Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win/ Capitol
Hanni El Khatib/ Build. Destroy. Rebuild./ Innovative Leisure
Panda Bear/ Last Night At the Jetty/ Paw Tracks
Gang Gang Dance/ Mindkilla/ 4AD
Beyonce/ Countdown/ Sony
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi (Ft. Jack White)/Two Against One/ Capitol
Black Keys/ Lonely Boy/ Nonesuch
Wild Flag/ Glass Tambourine/ Merge
James Blake/ The Wilhelm Scream/ Universal Republic

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Random Ten - Best of 2011 Edition

As of today there are 627 songs in my "2011" folder. These are the first ten to pop up on my iPod, Aritst/Song/Album.

1. Group Doueh/ Ishadlak Ya Khey/ Zayna Jumma

2. The Sea and Cake/ Covers/ The Moonlight Butterfly

3. Wye Oak/ Plains/ Civilian

4. The Kills/ Nail in my Coffin/ Blood Pressures

5. Blitzen Trapper/ Might Find It Cheap/ American Goldwing

6. Mati Zundel/ Aero Tinku/ Cuando Yo Bailo, Tiembla La Tierra

7. Major Lazer/ Keep It Goin' Louder [So Shifty Remix]/ Mad Decent vol. 1

8. Best Coast/ Gone Again/ Adult Swim Singles Program 2011

9. Forró In the Dark, Brazilian Girls & Angelique Kidjo/ Aquele Abraço/ Red Hot + Rio 2

10. Atlas Sound/ The Shakes/ Parallax

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Random Ten #34

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Teenage Fanclub/ Star Sign / Four Thousand

2. The Pharcyde/ Passin' Me By/ Bizarre Ride II

3. Beach House/ Norway/ Teen Dream

4. Okkervill River/ Lost Coastlines/ The Stand Ins

5. The Contours/ Do You Love Me/ Motown: The Classic Years

6. Jenny Lewis (feat. Elvis Costello)/ Carpetbaggers/ Acid Tongue

7. PJ Harvey/ Grow Grow Grow/ White Chalk

8. Turin Brakes/ Monnlight Mile/ Bottled at Source

9. Bad Brains/ Pay to Cum/ Bad Brains

10. George Harrison/ Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) Live in Japan

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

That Time of Year

No, not that time. It's the time of year when music geeks everywhere are contemplating their year-end Top Ten Lists. But this year no list-making can commence until this coming Tuesday, when the Black Keys and the Roots will drop El Camino and undun, respectively.

Major releases don't often come out this late in the year; labels try to time their critical buzz, just like studios hold back their Oscar contenders. But these two discs seem to be worth waiting for. The tracks that have leaked so far are oozing awesomeness. The Keys just kicked my butt across the room with "Little Black Submarines," and the vitality of their sound is just my thermos of tea, simultaneously neo and retro. Both albums look like strong contenders for my Top Ten - though as always, there are a lot more than ten strong contenders, and the painful task is winnow them down until ten are left standing.

To my mind, some of the best albums of 2011 were by women. I've already written about Tune-Yards, and the St. Vincent album Strange Mercy is also one of my favorites. PJ Harvey's Let England Shake is one of her best in many years, and of course everybody loves Adele and Florence. I can see those last two cleaning up at Grammy time. Newcomers Cults and Wild Flag are also likely to turn up on a lot of lists.

The other new band I fell for was Yuck, a couple of British chaps with a strong '90s vibe (who have their own blog over here). The Kills also killed me, as previously mentioned. I got a big kick out of the third album by Gang Gang Dance. And then old favorites like Wilco, Stephen Malkmus, Tom Waits and TV on the Radio delivered strong sets as well.

That's sixteen names I've mentioned already, without even bringing up the Radiohead album. Or Bon Iver. Or James Blake. You can see I have my work cut out for me. But next post I'll mention a few of the also-rans that might make good stocking-stuffers for someone on your list.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Monday Random Ten #33

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. The Ventures/ Pipeline/ The Best of the Ventures

2. Matt Pond PA/ People Have a Way/ Last Light

3. Jets to Brazil/ Resistance is Futile/ Orange Rhyming Dictionary

4. Dead Kennedys/ Rawhide/ Dead Kennedys

5. The Eagles/ Take It Easy/ The Very Best of the Eagles

6. Iron & Wine/ Innocent Bones/ The Shepard's Dog

7. The Plugz/ Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)/ Repo Man Soundtrack

8. Cake/ You Turn the Screws/ Prolonging the Magic

9. Frank Black & the Stax Pistols/ Breathless/ Brace Yourself! A Tribute to Otis Blackwell

10. Totó La Momposina y sus Tambores/ Curura/ La Candela Viva

When I was a radio DJ I used to love incongruous segues, but it never occurred to me to play the DKs back-to-back with the Eagles. Thanks, iPod!

Totó La Momposina is the stage name of Colombian singer Sonia Bazanta Vides.

Otis Blackwell wrote more than a thousand songs, including "Don't Be Cruel," "Fever," "Great Balls of Fire," "Return to Sender," "Handy Man," and "All Shook Up."

Jets to Brazil was an American band that released three great albums between 1998 and 2002. The frontman Blake Schwarzenbach was previously with the punk band Jawbreaker, and now makes his living as an English professor.

Matt Pond PA is the eponymous band of prolific New York-based songwriter Matt Pond. Not sure what the PA is for.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1986: Thank You, Peter Rowan

Twenty five years ago this month I was working in a liquor store in Capitola, California. I had just earned a fine arts degree and had no practical idea of how to make a living as an artist. One night I mentioned to my fellow retail clerk that Peter Rowan was playing in a small club down the street, and maybe we'd want to go see the show after work. He said he couldn't make it, but he dared me to write a review and submit it to the features editor at the local paper, where he freelanced as a sportswriter. 

So I did. After the show, for the first of many times, I grabbed a copy of the setlist where from it had been taped to the stage floor. Then I snuck backstage and walked cautiously into the dressing room where an exhausted Peter Rowan was relaxing with his band. Despite his obvious illness, he was gracious enough to take a few questions from a novice music journalist. The next day I typed up my story and it was accepted by the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, where it ran on 11/7/86. That was the first time I'd ever gotten paid for my writing.

One review led to another, and then to a job as arts editor at the local weekly. A quarter century later, I will always be grateful to Peter Rowan for helping me set out on that path. Oh, and for the other liquor store clerk. For the life of me, I can't remember his name anymore. But if you're out there, pal, Happy Thanksgiving. 

Even a sore throat couldn't keep Peter Rowan from delivering three solid sets of his music Tuesday night.

Playing to a sellout crowd at O.T. Price's Music Hall for the third time this year, Rowan relied on a little help from his friends to keep things rolling past midnight.

The singer/songwriter, who helped evolve the bluegrass/rock style that helped beget the rockabilly revival of the 80s, just couldn't quite hit the high notes, rendering impossible the sublime yodeling and falsetto vocals he displayed earlier this year.

Instead, he dug into his acoustic guitar playing and delivered his songs with a grittier edge to his usually pure voice.

Whether it was his best-known tune "Panama Red" or more obscure gems like "Break My Heart Again," the crowd was behind him all the way.

Younger brother Lorin Rowan, with the Free Mexican Airforce backup band, chimed in with a few lead vocals in each set. Lorin, who heads the rock/reggae band The Edge, injected a Caribbean flavor into his brother's Appalachian/Celtic/Marin County fusion.

Lorin sang reggae standards like "Pressure Drop" and "I Shot the Sheriff" and his reggae version of  "Stand By Me" sounded like songwriter Ben E. King wrote it that way in the first place.

He also reeled off stinging guitar solos all night long.

The pickup rhythm section of Michael White on drums and Dave Perper on bass kept the crowd dancing, particularly during the reggae numbers (both are members of the Texas Chainsaw Band).

Additionally, a couple of guest vocalists saved Peter from overextending his already tired voice.

Local rastaman Tony Gadd sang Bob Marley's "Stir It Up," with Lorin adding a fiery slide solo. Fiddler Darcy D'Eaville sat in for several numbers, harmonizing with Rowan and leading the traditional "Cotton-Eyed Joe" at a breakneck pace.

Another performer might have cancelled the show, but Rowan apparently felt up to it, and no one who was there would dispute that decision. Although he relied on his bandmates to take up the slack, he was obviously in charge. When he turned his back on the crowd to lead the ever-quickeneing jam on "Land of the Navajo," which closed the show, the grin on his face said it was all worthwhile.

After the die-hards clamored for another encore, an obviously weary Peter Rowan sang one of his sweetest tunes, "Thirsty in the Rain," accompanied only by his guitar.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Random Ten #32

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Steve Earle/ I Am a Wanderer/ I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive

2. Common/ Come Close (featuring Mary J. Blige)/ Electric Circus

3. Bruce Springsteen/ Lucky Town/ Lucky Town

4. Burial/ Fostercare/ 5 : 5 Years of Hyperdub

5. Dolly Parton/ To Know Him is to Love Him/ Ultimate Dolly Parton

6. Poe/ Spanish Doll/ Haunted

7. Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'/ Dimanche Apres-Misi/ Roots Music: An American Journey

8. Beyonce/ Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)/ I am... Sasha Fierce

9. Les Savy Fav/ What Would Wolves Do?/ Let's Stay Friends

10. Chuck Berry/ Too Much Monkey Business/ The Great Twenty-Eight

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Random Ten #31

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Fiery Furnaces/ Even In the Rain/ I'm Going Away

2. Space Mountain/ The Bright Side/ A Drawing of a Memory

3.  Carolene/ Thee Thee/ The Rough Guide to the Music of India

4. Sugar Ray/ Fly/ The Best of Sugar Ray

5. Karen O and the Million Dollar Bashers/ Highway 61 Revisited/ I'm Not There Soundtrack

6. Radiohead/ Bodysnatchers/ In Rainbows

7. Paul McCartney/ Temporary Secretary/ McCartney II

8. Pixies/ Ain't That Pretty at All/ Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon

9. The Jayhawks/ All the Right Reasons/ Rainy Day Music

10. Los Far Fen/ Camino, No Vuelas/ Back to Peru, vol. 2

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wealthfare Wednesday: Thursday Edition

It's not Wednesday night anymore, but I woke up early from a nightmare with a giant bug, which I took to be a message from my subconscious that I should post some corporate welfare links. Here are a few:

Mother Jones chips in with a nifty report on what a trillion dollars in military procurement buys you these days. Hint: taxpayers may not have gotten their money's worth. Shocking, I know. Just for good measure, Winslow Wheeler of the invaluable Center for Defense Information helpfully lobs a few incendiaries in the direction of Leon Panetta.

Meanwhile, in nuclear subsidy news, Alternet informs us that the military has outsourced the cleanup of the notorious Hanford site to the leeches at Bechtel, who are doing a crappy job for some big paychecks.

And finally, it's amusing to note that when you Google "corporate welfare" + "banks," one of the front-page hits is an ad for Bank of America. I guess no publicity is bad publicity.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Random Ten: Halloween Edition

Plucked at random from my iPod's Halloween playlist: Artist/Title/Album....

1. Howlin' Wolf/ Evil/ His Best: Chess 50th Anniversary Edition

2. The Cranberries/ Zombie/ Stars: The Best of 1992-2002

3. Ryan Adams/ Halloween Head/ Live 2007

4. Vaughn Monroe/ Ghost Riders in the Sky/ Stampede! Western Music's Late Golden Era

5. Screamin' Jay Hawkins/ I Put a Spell on You/ Cow Fingers and Mosquito Pie

6. Ray Parker Jr./ Ghostbusters (12" Single Remix)/ Chartbusters

7. Jim Carroll/ People Who Died/ Catholic Boy

8. Dave Edmunds/ The Creature From the Black Lagoon/ The Dave Edmunds Anthology

9. The Ramones/ Howling at the Moon/ Ramones Mania

10. Reverend Gary Davis/ Death Don't Have No Mercy/ Harlem Street Singer

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don't Look Back

Your Friday Night Video, with Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger, from 1978.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Random Ten #30

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Orchestra Baobab/ Ndeleng Ndeleng/ Made in Dakar

2. Fountains of Wayne/ Hackensack/ Welcome Interstate Managers

3. Eleanor McElvoy/ Mother's Little Helper/ Love Must Be Tough

4. Loretta Lynn/ This Old House/ Van Lear Rose

5. Sinead O'Connor/ Dagger Through the Heart/ Just Because I'm a Woman: A Tribute to Dolly Parton

6. Elvis Costello/ This is Hell/ Brutal Youth

7. Destroyer/ Dark Leaves Form a Thread/ Trouble in Dreams

8. M.I.A./ Paper Planes/ Slumdog Millionaire OST

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs/ Down Boy/ IS IS EP

10. Jenny Wilson/ Anchor Made of Gold/ Hardships!

Get well soon, Loretta Lynn!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Complaint Department

Reader "aaron" writes to complain that I hadn't provided any commentary on Ocuupy Wall Street, and that no email link was provided (he added a comment to my Random Ten).

To that I replied:
Thanks for caring enough to complain. Posting links to my email has gotten me on too many robo-spam lists, where people all over the world receive viagra offers or Nigerian scam letters, with my email link as the return address! I don't want that to happen again, but you can email me anytime by starting with the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, followed by my last name, then the "at" symbol, then "cox" followed by a dot, and "net" to finish up.

That unlinked address is now affixed beneath my profile picture. As for the #OWS movement, I haven't had much to say because I've been ugly busy. But I did attend the Occupy Tucson gathering on the first day, armed with a slightly wonky protest sign:

I'll explain my list of demands in a future post. Can you spot the typo?

Algorithm Serendipity

Back in September, Kevin Drum described how Netflix streaming works for him:
Basically, I think of something I want to watch and then go look for it. Usually it turned out that my choice wasn't available on streaming, which made the service pretty worthless to me. Apparently, though, most people don't work that way. They just dive into the streaming library and browse around until they find something that looks good. If that's the way you work, then the streaming service is a pretty good deal.
And that's basically the way it works for me; I go looking for something that might work for Family Movie Night, and every once in a while the Netflix algorithms recommend something that hits that sweet spot, and works equally well for the kids and the grownups.

Well, this Saturday, we hit the jackpot.  On a chance, we tried a Belgian claymation toon entitled A Town Called Panic. And all of us laughed our butts off.

Apparently the feature grew out of a five-minute TV series, which was so damn wacky and imaginative that people couldn't get enough of it. The feature film is in French, with subtitles, and the animators' voices add to the general air of lunacy. I can't recommend this highly enough, though I don't want to give away too much, either. Just go stream it, then check out their official website.

The soundtrack is a thing of wonder, too, and turned me on to this garage-punk wacko, among others.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Random Ten #29

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1.  Swati/ I'm On Fire/ Small Gods

2. Spade Cooley & the Western Swing Dance Gang/ Shame on You/ Shame on You

3. Kaki King/ Playing With Pink Noise/ Legs to Make Us Longer

4. Muddy Waters/ I Love the Life I Live, I lIve the Life I Love/ The Chess Box

5. Tundje Oyelana/ Ifa/ World Psychedelic Classics

6. Rodney Crowell/ Til I Gain Control Again/ The Rodney Crowell Collection

7. Jeff Buckley & Gary Lucas/ Satisfied Mind/ Sings to No One

8. Dwight Yoakam/ Understand Your Man/ Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to Johnny Cash

9. Mavis Staples/ You Are Not Alone/ You Are Not Alone

10. Glen Campbell/ Witchita Lineman/ All the Best

The Yamato Drummers

As both my kids are studying Taiko drumming with the Odaiko Sonora collective, we took them last week to see a performance by the Japanese masters Yamato. Minds were blown.

 These people get up at the crack of dawn, run 10k, lift weights til lunch and then drum together all day and half the night. They're on tour 150-200 nights a year, so they're probably coming near you sometime soon. You don't want to miss it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Random Ten #28

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Ellie Greenwich/ You Don't Know/ Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found

2. Elvis Presley/ Don't Be Cruel/ The Number One Hits

3. Daniel Lanois/ Rocky World/ For the Beauty of Winona

4. Pete Johnson and his Boogie Woogie Boys/ Baby Look at You/ The Real Kansas City of the 20s, 30s & 40s

5. Franco/ Ou Est Le Serioux?/ The Rough Guide to Franco

6. Thelonious Monk/ Blue Monk/ The Composer

7. Los Mirlos/ Sonido Amazonica/ The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru

8. Bajofundo/ Pa' Bailar/ Mar Dulce

9. Natalie Merchant/ Wonder/ Tigerlily

10. Duran Duran/ The Reflex/ Seven and the Ragged Tiger

Friday, September 30, 2011

R&R HoF 2011 Nominees

 The nominations for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 were announced today:
 The nominees are:
·    Beastie Boys
·    The Cure
·    Donovan
·    Eric B. & Rakim
·    Guns 'N Roses
·    Heart
·    Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
·    Freddie King
·    Laura Nyro
·    Red Hot Chili Peppers
·    Rufus with Chaka Khan
·    The Small Faces/The Faces
·    The Spinners
·    Donna Summer
·    War

I don't envy the claque that makes these nominations.

Personally, I think the Cure are for the ages, and that the Faces are criminally overlooked, if not underrated.

If I were voting, the Cure, the Spinners and the Faces would have a lock, and Erik B would edge the Beasties, much as I love them, for the hip-hop slot.

Would they could both win, but I think it's one rap group per induction ceremony, thank you. Place your money on Adam and the Boys. 
Freddie King would be giving a heartfelt acceptance speech, after an induction by Eric Clapton.  

Instead, you can bank on Heart, G&R, and with all due respect, Joan J.

Also, if you're asking me, and you didn't: Nyro, Summer and Donovan deserve respect. 

On War and the Chilis, I'm ambivalent; i.e. the Chilis probably have a lock they deserve a few years down the line. War has a handful of hits that deserve recognition, eventually. 

As to who've been left out, don't get me started.    

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Teacher Thursday

Ran across a number of links during my early morning coffee today, so here are few you can click through:

My Education Week feed featured an article on what teachers can learn from the career trajectory of Jay-Z. Since my students love Jay-Z, I read with interest. Of note, Robert Christgau recently made the case for Mr. Z as not only one of the greatest rappers ever but one of the finest pop stars of all time. Would that this Mr. Z had the other's unflappable coolth.

Also from EdWeek comes word of the Internet marketplace Teachers Pay Teachers, where you can make money selling lesson plans for mini-payments.  There are plenty of free lesson plans available on the Net, of course, but this seems like a nice way of supporting your fellow educators.

A recent Kos diary warms the heart with the story of a New York seventh-grader who sent care package to tornado-ravaged classroom in Joplin, MO. Read it and go Awwww.

Here in AZ, our schools continue to draw national attention for all the wrong reasons. Here's the story of a court striking down the insulting "accent police" witch hunt our state government inflicted on us. Here's one about our embarrassing state superintendent of schools, who's evidently never heard of Godwin's Law.

Finally, here's a tale of a professor who smiles on as his students provide a teachable moment or two for a young Republican. Would that the older ones had similar opportunities.

Okay, gotta go teach!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

CIA Update Update

The six new chapters and the six new illustrations for the update to The CIA's Greatest Hits have been delivered; right now we're in the editing process. The new edition is due in stores early in 2012.

I've been adding in some URLs to the "Sources" section, but of course it makes much more sense to provide them as online links. So I've created a page here on this blog to host the entire section. You can find a link to it on the right, just underneath the book cover. Or right here, for that matter.

Right now it's a work in progress. I've posted all the sources from the 1994 edition, and some new links for the first five chapters - along with sources for the new Hit #45, on the 9/11 Attacks. There'll be a comments section, too, if you have any questions, hate mail, or corrections to my bonehead errors.

And now I have to get back to work on it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

So long, R.E.M.

I didn't want to kvetch about this on Wednesday, because of the other, much sadder news out of Georgia. But I hate to see these guys go. Back in the day, they were my new favorite band, and it was enthralling to watch them unpack one nearly flawless album after another during their heavyweight years. To my mind, they never made a bad album (though in latter years they seemed somewhat less magnificent). Their videos and packaging and fan club operation were always top-notch, suffused with caring. And they delivered two of the finest live shows I've ever seen, in 1989 and 1995. Here's hoping they all find fulfilling projects during their solo years. Thanks for showing how it oughtta be done.

This one was always one of my favorites:


UPDATE: Couple of things.

First is that, even if you sing it soft and slow, unlike "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "All my Loving," this song just does not make a good lullaby. The kids and I had a nice discussion of what the hell it means, though, involving just what is a "violent green" and who Dan Rather was.

Second, even if their later albums were slightly less magnificent, I stand with the consensus that Collapse Into Now was a welcome return to form. I also note that latter-day singles, like "Leaving New York" and " Living Well is the Best Revenge" can stand with the best of their work.

Third, since I know that my mom reads this blog, let me offer up a song that is not only makes a case for their greatness, not only is a lot less weird, but that is one for the ages. Either "Losing My Religion," or on second thought, this one:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Justice for Troy Davis

Despite the best efforts of thousands advocating on his behalf, the State of Georgia ended the life of Troy Davis last night. Considering the numerous evidentiary problems in the case, the standard of reasonable doubt about his guilt has long since passed. You'd think that even death penalty advocates would see it as in their interest to make sure no one is executed under such circumstances, but if you thought that, you'd be wrong.

This morning Matt Yglesias draws our attention to a 1993 opinion by Justice Scalia, whisch asserts:
There is no basis in text, tradition, or even in contemporary practice (if that were enough), for finding in the Constitution a right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction.
The rest of the opinion is rife with Scalia's characteristic snarkiness, including this gem:
If the system that has been in place for 200 years (and remains widely approved) "shocks" the dissenters' consciences, post, at 1, perhaps they should doubt the calibration of their consciences, or, better still, the usefulness of "conscience shocking" as a legal test.
Now I'm no legal scholar, but as I recall the Constitution, it seems like there's some sort of prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishment. I know that Justice Thomas, for one, makes use of that "and" to argue for allowing punishments that are cruel, but not so unusual. But this case should probably satisfy both requirements. After all, as Scalia wrote in that same opinion:
With any luck, we shall avoid ever having to face this embarrassing question again, since it is improbable that evidence of innocence as convincing as today's opinion requires would fail to produce an executive pardon.
Perhaps the justice needs to recalibrate his faculties for estimating probabilities.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday Random Ten #27

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Velvet Underground/ White Light/White Heat/ The Best of the Velvet Underground

2. David Bowie/ Cracked Actor/ Aladdin Sane  

3. George Harrison/ If Not For You/ Beware of ABKCO

4. The Knife/ The Height of Summer/ Tomorrow, In a Year

5. Goldfrapp/ Lovely Head/ Felt Mountain

6. Taj Mahal/ Leavin' Trunk/ In Progress & In Motion

7. Eileen Jewell/ You're Lookin' at Country/ Butcher Holler (A Tribute to Loretta Lynn)

8. The Softies/ Holiday in Rhode Island/ Holiday in Rhode Island

9. The Libertines/ Eight Days a Week/ Time for Heroes

10. Solomon Burke/ Just Out of Reach/ The Very Best of Solomon Burke

Blog, I Miss You

I'm sorry, blog. I've been ugly busy with the update to The CIA's Greatest Hits, along with a few other projects piled on my plate. I'd be posting if I could. Here's a little sneak preview of one of the illustrations for the new edition, which is due in the spring of 2012. Then I'll kick out a Random Ten and go to bed. Stay here for me, blog, and I'll be back, I swear it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Random Ten # 26

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. A Band of Bees/ Chicken Payback/ Free the Bees

2. The Clash/ London Calling/ London Calling

3. Charles Mingus/ Slop/ Mingus Dynasty

4. Otis Redding/ Mr. Pitiful/ Atlantic Rhythm and Blues, vol. 5

5. Dr. Strangely Strange/ When Adam Delved/ Heavy Petting

6. Viola McCoy/ I Ain't Gonna Marry, Ain't Gonna Marry/ Viola McCoy vol. 2

7. Charlie Parker/ Now's the Time/ The Essential Charlie Parker

8. The Dandy Warhols/ Get Off/ Thirteen Tales

9. Lee Dorsey/ Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley/ Yes We Can

10. Arto Lindsay/ Personagem/ Salt

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Unhappy Anniversary

If you were old enough to comprehend what was unfolding, you are now observing the anniversary of one of the worst days of your life. Perhaps appropriately, I'm spending most of the day working on the update to The CIA's Greatest Hits (which will include a chapter on the CIA's strange relationships with some of the hijackers).

Meanwhile, Arthur Naiman, my editor and publisher on the original edition of CGH, has just written 9/11: The Simple Facts: Why the Official Story Can't Possibly Be True. I'd urge everybody to pick up or download a copy, and check out the online videos and other resources he offers to help with understanding his premise.

Over the past few days, a torrent of verbiage has been posted online (I don't watch any TV, so I've mostly escaped that torrent). Here are some notable highlights:

Glenn Smith's "The Fall to Earth" at FDL is one of the most poignant pieces I've seen. Also in that league is Mona Eltahawy's "I Stayed to Fight," a love letter from a Muslim immigrant to her adopted country. Rounding out the must-reads is the lead op-ed at, "Who Really Kept Us Safe After 9/11," by Steve Chapman. Word. also links up to Robert Jensen's excellent survey "Imperial Delusions: Ignoring the Lessons of 9/11." Along those same lines, Jim Lobe's piece is spot on, and the title tells the tale: "Al-Qaeda’s Project for Ending the American Century Largely Succeeded." Remember, the plan was to get us to overreact, get bogged down in land wars in Asia, alienate Muslims across the planet, and bankrupt our treasury. This wasn't exactly a secret, either.

Arun Gupta offers complementary insights on Alternet, in his "Empire of Chaos," subtitled "The neoconservative ideas that shaped the war on terror have evaporated as the United States is battered by an economic depression that shows no end." Hard to argue with.

Also on AlterNet, economist Joseph Stiglitz's Al-Jazeera article puts some data behind those opinions. Rinku Sen gives us an optimist's take on the anniversary, "The Story I Choose To Tell: We All Belong to Each Other." Adele Stan speaks for the pessimists. And over at Salon, the redoubtable Glenn Greenwald posts about some counterintuitive polling data about 9/11, ten years on.

The HuffPo has a full page of coverage, and there you can find a link to the videos of David Letterman's and Jon Stewart's return to the airwaves. Jesse Kornbluth offers his memories of hosting an online AOL chat room in the hours following the attacks. They also link to an LA Times story about how hard it is to teach about 9/11 to schoolchildren, Believe me, it is. Oh, and Earl Ofari Hutchinson tut-tuts about how sad it is that people still believe in conspiracy theories about 9/11. Yeah, damn shame.

So what's the best thing you've read about 9/11? Any recommendations?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Definitely Friday, Definitely a Video

The Ballad of Abbott and Gus

Gil's untimely demise was a kick in the teeth for all of us, not limited to the humans among us.  In particular, his brother Gus, not previously noted for histrionics, had taken to yowling plaintively in the wee hours of the morning, lamenting the absence of his companion. Gil and Gus were brothers of the same mother, of radically different temperaments, and yet, as cohabitant cats will be, mutual cuddlers, groomers, and playmates.

During Gil's long decline, both the cat and the dog avoided him, gave him his space, and seemed to know he was a dead cat walking. much as they know an earthquake before it hits. After Gil was gone, Gus of course felt the loss more acutely than did Carter. Gus, unlike, Gil , had no relationship to speak of with the dog, and showed no predeliction for expanding same in the absence of his kin.

Given Gus' obvious distress, it was decided that what he really needed -– and not him alone – was a kitten. But as previously noted:
The problem with a kitten is that  
Eventually it becomes a cat
And selecting a cat is, basically, selecting a life companion for a good fraction of one's life - perhaps a quarter, if one and the cat are lucky, or, if not, a fifth, a sixth, or less. My cats and I, as careful readers will have noted, have not had good luck.

Of the twelve cats in my life, half of them have cashed in their chips rather on the early side. The other half lived into a ripe old age, which is, of course, what I wish for Abbott and myself. If we're both lucky, we'll be together when my children have assumed their college debts and given me my grandchildren. 

If not, either he or I - or both - will leave grand memories behind for our survivors. At present my family and I are rapidly racking up grand memories of Abbott, a singular cat if ever there was one. 

By now I think I've known enough cats to recognize the spark of intelligence in their eyes (or lack of same). Gil had it, and his sweet doofus brother, alas, does not. Abbott, on the other hand, is clearly a cat who lives by his wits.  When considering Abbott, we also considered the many alternatives. Of the key contenders, it was decided that Finn was too bold, and Wren was too shy. though both would doubtless find good homes. 

It might have been easier for Gus if we had gotten a younger kitten - Abbott is nearly five months old at this point, and has spent some considerable time starving on urban landscapes, gaining streetwise skills Gus will never know. 

So upon the arrival of the newcomer, Gus, who is easygoing to a fault, did not exactly take offense, but neither did he embrace Abbott as the answer to his despair. Eventually, it's clear, they will be fast friends, but right now, we're in the transition phase, and even a four-year-old cat has his dignity. 

Gus and Abbott spend a bit of time together, but though  Gus is the elder, Abbott is the wiser, and he runs rings around his elders, both cat and dog. Like Gil, Abbott regards the dog as a simpleton placed on this earth for his amusement, and regards Gus as, at best, an equal.

As far as I'm concerned, kittens are placed on this earth for my amusement, and Abbott is worth every penny we paid. If he's lucky, and I am, as well, we'll enjoy retirement together in our dotage, no matter the statutory eligibility for Medicare and other such benefits.

Abbott Arrives

R.I.P Gil; I miss you every day.

Welcome, Abbott. Every day you make me laugh. Kittens rule!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monday Random Ten #25

It's Monday, isn't it?

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Little Richard/ Rip It Up/ 18 Greatest Hits

2. Louis Armstrong/ Heebie Jeebies/ The Hot Fives and Sevens vol. 1

3. Matt Wilson Quartet/ Swimming in the Trees/ Humidity

4. Glen Campbell/ Witchita Lineman/ All the Best

5. The Gun Club/ My Man's Gone Now/ The Las Vegas Story

6. Don Omar/ Dile/ Da Hitman Presents

7. Badly Drawn Boy/ Magic in the Air/ Hour of the Bewilderbeast

8. Jeff Buckley and Elizabeth Fraser/ All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun/ Rarities from NYC

9. Paul McCartney/ Here Today/ Live at Amoeba Records

10. The Clientele/ The Violet Hour/ The Violet Hour

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yanking the Ads

Sometime today I had my ten thousandth visitor to this blog. Thank you so much for stopping by from time to time. To show my gratitude, I'm yanking the ads.

Maybe if I were getting ten thousand hits a day, having ads would make sense, but so far they've generated a total of 82 cents in revenue. It's not worth it to have them cluttering up the place. You get enough ads in your life, anyway.

Carry on!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gotta Song Stuck in my Head...

Have a great weekend!

I'll Pay You to Take My Money

Both Drum and Yglesias have continued to point out the singular fact that, unlike you and me, the federal government can currently borrow money at negative interest rates. This reminds me that some of my readers said that they didn't understand my previous post about negative interest rates. My response: sure you do.

Say you buy a sofa for $1000, and borrow the money to do so at 5% interest. That means buying the sofa on credit will cost you an extra fifty bucks, so you're really spending $1050.

But if you can borrow the money at negative interest rates, my friend, you've got a better deal. If that rate is negative five percent, then when you pay back the loan, you've got yourself that same sofa for $950.

In effect, the lenders are paying you to take their money! This is the situation your Uncle Sam finds himself in these days. It's a historically unique situation, but it would be bonkers not to take advantage of it, because... wait, wait. You still don't get it?

You say that nobody in their right mind would lend money at negative interest rates. Well, if you're selling a sofa, sure. Nobody's giving you that deal. But that's what kind of deal the bond market is giving Uncle Sam.

Stay with me! I know that some of you just clicked over to fluffy animal videos when I mentioned the bond market, but I know you can get this.

To borrow money, a government issues bonds, like T-bills, war bonds, savings bonds, municipal bonds, and so on. You park your money in their account, and eventually, the government will pay you back with interest.

Now, if very few people are buying bonds, then the interest rates automatically go up, to attract more buyers. So the government's cost of borrowing also goes up. But if lots of people are buying bonds, the rates go down, and so do Uncle Sam's borrowing costs. You with me so far?

Right now, so many people are buying US government bonds that the rates have gone below zero. They're negative interest rates. And people are still buying them, because they think parking their money with the US government is so safe (compared to say, the stock market) that they're willing to take a slight loss in order to do so. Maybe you don't think so, but the bond market – people who buy lots of bonds – do think so. And in a market economy, the markets set the prices.

Okay. Back to the sofa. I'm too lazy to look it up right now, but a month ago, the five-year yield on US bonds was negative 0.72 percent. The seven-year yield was negative 0.18 percent, and the ten-year yield was just barely above zero, at 0.38 percent.

What this means is that at the ten year rates, buying the sofa would cost you an extra $3.80, and at the seven-year rates, you would be saving a dollar and eighty cents. And if you borrowed money to buy the sofa at the five-year rate, you'd save seven dollars and twenty cents. So the sofa would really only cost you $992.80. And if you really really need a sofa, there is never gonna be a better time to buy, my friend.

Well right now, there are a lot of things that the government really really needs to do. There are fourteen million people out of work, and we have crumbling roads and bridges and schools and power lines, and we're killing our planet with our oil addiction. Why not borrow some money to put those people to work fixing those things?

Instead, we just spent months in a debilitating battle, inflicting considerable political damage to both sides, over how we can cut spending so we don't borrow so much and keep adding to the debt. Except that borrowing money right now adds less debt than you're borrowing! People will pay us to take their money.

Specifically, if Uncle Sam borrowed a trillion dollars to buy the world's largest sofa, he'd be saving seven point two billion dollars! That's real money, even in Washington DC! You could hire a lot of teachers with that.

So why don't we? Because our political system is completely dysfunctional, utterly broken, and batshit crazy. And everybody can understand that.

UPDATE: Edited to fix my bonehead math. 7.2 billion, not 720 billion. That's why I'm not OMB Director.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Krugman Gets Hip

I don't relish having to compete with the guy if he turns his economics blog into a music 'n' politics site. But I just love this post:
Meanwhile, my very belated discovery of Arcade Fire punctured my dour baby-boomer belief that nothing good has come out of music since I turned 30 or so. So I’m now on the lookout for post-1990 music I like (hey, I’m serious about that baby-boomer stuff), often finding it by following recommendations from videos of other music I like. As you may have noticed, my tastes run very strongly to indie bands — I don’t think I’m going to fall in love with any of the mega-commercial artists, although you never know. Also, I like live performances a lot better than highly produced videos. 
And every few weeks I discover a new band I really, really like. It’s wonderful — and it’s providing some much needed relief from the dismal stuff that is my business.
More power to him if he's gotten past that ridiculous generational prejudice that inexplicably possesses many of my fellows in the Largest Generation. It makes them sound just like their parents, lamenting how Elvis killed off the Swing Era.

There's even a ridiculous bible of sorts for clueless Boomers who think everything since the first Boston album sucks, except maybe Born in the USA (which was right around when Krugman turned 30). Dave Thompson's I Hate New Music is a cranky, cliche-ridden, poorly-argued rant against damn near anything recorded after 1978. For instance, did you know that Radiohead sounds exactly like Pink Floyd? Me neither. What a maroon, as Bugs Bunny used to say.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Admittedly, the Bar Was Set Pretty Low...

I said earlier that Ben Bernanke may have been George W. Bush's best appointment (though maybe that dubious honor should go to Sheila Bair). At the same time, it's painfully obvious that Ben Bernanke is also Barack Obama's single worst appointment. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's the Poverty, Stupid

Lots of edu-links in my history cache of late, so let's call this a Teacher Tuesday and I'll just upload a few of them on you.

We start with the ubiquitous Diane Ravitch, who, along with Harlem schoolteacher Brian Jones, was interviewed recently by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales:
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, to me, the big issue today is there’s a narrative that says teachers are the problem in American education. I have been arguing poverty is the problem. We tie right into your segment on Dr. King. Poverty is the problem. Thirty-five percent of black kids live in poverty. Twenty percent of all American kids live in poverty. That’s the problem.
There has been some lively discussion of the influence of poverty on educational outcomes over at Daily Kos this week. The diary "The Myth of Failing Schools" offers anecdotal evidence, but the comments section is full of links to supporting data. In response, diarist leftyparent offers a contrarian view; that regardless of income levels, the Critical Pedagogy movement offers a model to improve our schools on a metric independent of the debate over test scores.

Other links at the HuffPo Education Page survey some other solutions. Joe Kutchera looks at a writing program that succeeds in inspiring low-SES (sorry, edu-jargon...impoverished) students. And Gloria Bonilla Santiago reminds us of the research showing how ECE (sorry, early childhood education, AKA preschool) can help alleviate the disadvantages faced by students raised in poverty.

Smithsonian Magazine takes an in-depth look at the world's best school systems: those of Finland, where, not coincidentally, the child poverty rate is dramatically lower than in the US of A. At the same time, Michael Petrilli, in "One Size Fits Most," counsels a cautious approach in trying to replicate Finland's successes. and offers a possible compromise between competing pedagogies.

Back in these here United States, the one named Indiana has a voucher program producing predictable results: a giant sucking sound as funding and students are drained from the public schools systems.

A Missouri judge has blocked implementation of a law prohibiting Facebook contact between teachers and students. The broad language can be interpreted to ban text messages, voicemail and email contact as well, and has First Amendment advocates feeling a chill wind. Randy Turner, a teacher in the Show Me State, gives this idea the withering scorn it deserves.

A new paradigm in Nevada schools offers an alternative to the lunatic NCLB insistence on 100% proficiency by 2014: measure growth, not test scores. But it's still a testing paradigm, and offers the tempting route of blaming teachers for outcomes beyond their control. As one advocate puts it:
"It has to be used as a way to financially reward good teachers and get rid of poor teachers," he said. "You can't control if kids are poor, don't speak English or high truancy. Teacher quality is the greatest school control."
Actually, you can control if kids are poor, as LBJ's successful anti-poverty programs (largely abandoned by Nixon and Reagan) show us. We've simply given up on trying to do so. Budget deficits, doncha know.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Random Ten #24

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Camper Van Beethoven/ Colonel Enrique Adolfo Bermudez/ Take the Skinheads Bowling EP

2. Youssou N'Dour/ Fakastalu/ Africa Never Stand Still

3. Eels/ Jelly Dancers/ Dimension Mix

4. Wavves/ King of the Beach/ King of the Beach

5. Tony Harmony/ My Body/ Black Stars: Ghana's Hiplife Generation

6. Cafe Tacuba/ Tropico de Cancer/ Re

7. Basement Jaxx/ Bingo Bango/ Remedy

8. Can/ I Want More/ Flow Motion

9. Horst Jankowski and his Orchestra/ A Walk in the Black Forest/ A Walk in the Black Forest

10. Porter Wagoner/ The Cold Hard Facts of Life/ The Cold Hard Facts of Life

Wow, what a satisfying mix this week. Turns out all of this is really good music to walk the dog to. You shoulda been there.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Surplus of Obfuscation

Craig Steiner of TownHall is intent on correcting the historical record, demolishing what he calls the "Clinton surplus myth." Much of what he says is fairly straightforward, though what he leaves out is hugely instructive.

In particular, this phrase has to do a lot of heavy lifting:
While not defending the increase of the federal debt under President Bush, it's curious to see Clinton's record promoted as having generated a surplus. It never happened. There was never a surplus and the facts support that position. In fact, far from a $360 billion reduction in the national debt in FY1998-FY2000, there was an increase of $281 billion.
Steiner's argument rests on the statistics that show the total national debt continued to increase every year under President Clinton, if you account for the borrowing from the Social Security trust fund. True, that.

But applying Steiner's accounting methods across the board hardly serves as a condemnation of William J. Clinton's stewardship of the economy. Instead it highlights the fiscal recklessness of Ronald W. Reagan and George W. Bush - something Steiner takes pains to avoid discussing.

It's quite true that, starting with LBJ, the government operated under what's called a "unified budget," masking the size of the budget deficit because of borrowing from the SS trust fund (though it's more complicated than that if you follow the link). But it's also true that SS is treated as "off-budget" (which Steiner calls "twisted Washington accounting games") because its income and outlays are fixed by statute, and not subject to the annual budgetary process. Steiner himself concedes that "Social Security is legally required to use all its surpluses to buy U.S. Government securities," a process not unique to or controlled by Clinton. But he leaps from there to claiming that the trust fund therefore doesn't exist because "the money has already been spent--in part, effectively, to pay down the public debt under Clinton."

This is a bit rich coming from the same guy who doesn't wish to discuss the increase in debt under Bush the Lesser - or even mention Ronald Reagan's record. If you insist on using "total increase in debt" as the metric, then, as the chart above shows, Clinton comes out smelling like a rose compared to the competition (and Bush's the Elder's performance was made possible by the fact that Democrats in Congress forced him to accept tax hikes to help dig out from Reagan's debt burden).

What's true is that Clinton's first budget, passed over unanimous Republican opposition, made it possible to further dig out from the deep hole Reagan left us in, and allowed the Fed to loosen monetary policy enough to fuel the longest post-war stretch of GDP growth. Under Clinton's last budgets, the government was taking in more than it spent - if you don't count the trust fund borrowing. But if you do count it, Clinton still looks like the most prudent budgeter we've had. As Steiner's own stats show, the FY2000 budget resulted in a total increase in public debt of only $18 billion - a rounding error compared the mess Bush II left us in.

Clinton left office under a recession, mild compared to the previous Bush's, and insignificant compared to the subsequent Bush's. As a result the FY 2001 budget showed higher outlays and lower receipts. But conservatives can't have it both ways. If it's correct to attribute FY2001 to Clinton's policies - and it is - then it's also correct to put the disastrous FY2009 in W's column. You certainly wouldn't know that from all the right-wing websites claiming Obama has doubled (or tripled) the debt,

Finally, Steiner dismisses any critics who argue that debt as a share of GDP is a better measure of fiscal performance. But as he concedes, it's a measure of the total debt burden, not the total amount - which is precisely the point. Given GDP and employment growth under Clinton, the modest increases in total debt were less burdensome, just as the anemic growth under Bush II made his debt increases more painful by far. The accompanying chart shows why conservatives would rather we avoid looking at this particular metric.

Bottom line is that Steiner is correct to say that total indebtedness increased (modestly) under Clinton. He can take the former president and his defenders to task for rhetorical excess in claiming he reduced the debt (though he did reduce the deficit, considerably), But conservatives can't use that argument to make the case that Clinton's economic performance was any kind of a disaster. The disaster came later, when George W. Bush threw Clinton's budgeting out the window and started handing out tax cuts on the grounds that the government was "overcharging" us. Compare that to what Clinton said we should do with the alleged surpluses he was generating: "Save Social Security."