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Reviews Written by
Autonomeus (from a world ruled by fossil fuels and fossil minds)

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Price: CDN$ 21.09
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5.0 out of 5 stars tough songs for tough lives, July 10 2004
This review is from: Ashgrove (Audio CD)
Dave Alvin has produced yet another set of magnificent songs. This one's different from "Blackjack David," his 1998 collection -- it is 1/2 a singer/songwriter album, and 1/2 a blues album. In fact it sounds like it might have been two quite different albums, but Dave decided to blend them. Whether or not that speculation is on target, the alternation of heavier blues numbers (Ashgrove, Black Sky, Out of Control, Sinful Daughter, Black Haired Girl) with more contemplative folk/country songs (Rio Grande, Nine Volt Heart, Everett Ruess, The Man In the Bed, Somewhere In Time) works to great effect. Dave has clearly been working on his electric blues guitar, with some great influences -- he sounds like Son Seals on "Black Sky"! Greg Leisz plays guitar and produces, and is indispensible once again for the overall sound. One of the best albums of 2004, without a doubt.

Some Devil
Some Devil
Price: CDN$ 15.00
47 used & new from CDN$ 3.70

5.0 out of 5 stars a heartfelt personal vision in a troubled world, July 10 2004
This review is from: Some Devil (Audio CD)
I have followed the happy progress of the DMB since the beginning, but only from a distance. This is the first Dave Matthews album I have bought, because of something I read. It was an interview in Rolling Stone, and in it Dave talked about his Quaker upbringing and his anti-war views. He said that this was a major element in his new solo album. It took me awhile, but I've finally heard it, and I am floored! I can't compare it to the many DMB albums, though I gather it is quite different. (Though perhaps more similar to "Busted Stuff"?)
The major anti-war statement is "Gravedigger," and it is a great song which could have been used perfectly in "Fahrenheit 9/11." In the notes, Dave says "Dodo" has something to do with how many Americans thought Hitler was a swell guy when he first took power in Germany back in the 1930s. I wish I could decipher the song's lyrics! "Stay Or Leave" and "Too High" are two of the most powerful songs, tapping deep emotions. A great lyric from the former -- "...making plans to change the world, while the world was changing us..." (There are a couple of songs, both "Stay Or Leave" and "Oh" that make me think Dave must have been listening to Jorma Kaukonen's great album "Quah.") The musicianship is fantastic throughout -- the core band is Brady Blade on drums, Tony Hall on bass, Trey Anastasio and Tim Reynolds on guitar, and Stephen Harris on keyboards, programming and production. The Seattle Music Group's strings and horns are used to great effect on many of the 14 tracks, along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on "Dodo" and the Total Experience Gospel Choir on "Save Me".
Now that I know more about what Dave Matthews is thinking and doing (performing for John Kerry benefits, for instance), I feel even better about the fact that he has such a large enthusiastic following. Peace!

Blonde On Blonde (Rm) (5.1)
Blonde On Blonde (Rm) (5.1)
Price: CDN$ 25.24
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic and favorite, but what about the remastering?, July 10 2004
"Blonde On Blonde" is one of Dylan's three best albums, along with "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Bringing It All Back Home." This is widely agreed, and I won't write yet another review of this classic -- suffice it to say that if you have not yet heard it, you have quite an experience to look forward to. (See my "Memphis Blues Again" list of Dylan's 10 best.)
My review is for those considering an upgrade. I had it on wax for years (since 1974), and then the original CD. I was wary about the long-awaited remasters, given limited time and money and the amount of music yet unheard they are competing with -- I finally decided that if there was one Dylan album I would most like to hear with state-of-the-art sound, it was "Blonde On Blonde." Hoping to be astounded by the difference when listening to the original CD and the new remastered one back-to-back, I was disappointed. Yes, there are places where there is more detail, but on balance, my conclusion is that the slight improvement does not justify the expense. So my recommendation is, unless you have expensive enough equipment to maximize the SACD format, the old CD sounds just fine.

British Music Collection
British Music Collection
Offered by Presto.Classical
Price: CDN$ 23.00
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3.0 out of 5 stars 2-disc set of the British serialist, July 8 2004
This 2-disc collection of Birtwistle is now available in the U.S. 3 years after it was originally released in the U.K. (My copy was obtained through in 2002.) The first disc contains 4 pieces conducted by Boulez and performed by his Ensemble Intercontemporain. (This disc is still available from DG, under the title "Secret Theatre" -- see my 6/29/03 review.) The best of these is "Trageodia" from 1965, which established Birtwistle's characteristic sound and reputation. The other 3, from the mid-'80s to early-'90s, sound like products of a Serialist Assembly line, and are painfully dull.
The second disc is much better. "Panic" with saxophone was apparently a scandal at the Proms a few years back, though you'd think the scandal would be playing the same 19th century stuff over and over and over again! The highlight is the 37-minute "Earth Dances," written in 1986 and performed by Cleveland with Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting. It is powerful, dissonant and forbidding. A new recording of "Earth Dances" should be out any time in the DG 20/21 series, conducted by Boulez, and we'll see what he can do with it.
Based on this disc, I'm not overly impressed with Birtwistle. However, his reputation in the U.K. is largely based on operatic works, and I have yet to hear any of these. The electro-acoustic "Mask of Orpheus" is at the top of my list for further listening.

Fragmente/Hay Que Caminar
Fragmente/Hay Que Caminar
Price: CDN$ 18.02
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beyond heroism and tragedy, a deeper level of subversion, July 8 2004
Nono's only string quartet, "Fragments and Silence," ushered in Nono's "late period," when he moved toward a more subdued form of subversion, forcing listeners to listen intently, taking nothing for granted. As performed by the Arditti Quartet, the piece is startling -- sounds you have never heard before. Fragmented sounds regularly negated by silence, negated in turn by new sounds, reforming, turning, creating something new out of nothing, out of chaos...
In turning away from more overt politics, Nono can be seen as retreating, but he saw the works of his late period as more deeply radical, challenging the basic perceptions and assumptions of the commodified society. He effected a rapprochement with Boulez -- I wonder to what extent he realized that his '80s work moves toward the aesthetic position of his Darmstadt collaborators of the '50s who he had previously denounced for their apolitical stance?
"Hay que caminar" for two violins is also available on the recently re-released DG 20/21 Echo disc, performed by Gidon Kremer and Tatiana Gridenko. I prefer this original recording -- as I said in my review of the DG disc: "The Arditti/Alberman version has more silence, more extreme dynamics, and conveys a sense of being utterly, existentially lost. You might say it emphasizes that there is "no path," while [the Kremer/Gridenko version] emphasizes that nonetheless "we must walk."
I previously reviewed the original Montaigne release of this disc (7/21/01, and again 6/10/02), and it has exactly the same content -- all that has changed is that this is a cardboard "eco-friendly" package instead of a plastic jewel box.

The Earth Chronicles Expeditions: Journeys to the Mythical Past
The Earth Chronicles Expeditions: Journeys to the Mythical Past
by Zecharia Sitchin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.75
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sitchin, the new Von Daniken -- pseudoscience par excellence, June 22 2004
It's a shame that Amazon places Sitchin's books in its science section. Americans are ignorant enough of science as it is, and this just further blurs the boundary between solid scientific research and pseudoscientific myths. I suppose there are those who enjoy Sitchin strictly as entertainment, and I have no problem with that. I remember when I was in high school I though Van Daniken's "ancient astronauts" theory was really cool.
It really is amazing what people will believe, though. With fundamentalist creationists and new agers rampant already, it just seems sad and symptomatic of the anti-intellectualism of American society that this stuff apparently has a large following. Sitchin and other similar mavericks and cranks always complain that mainstream science doesn't take them seriously, but consider -- how much time would be wasted if real scientists had to check on the claims of every crank in the world?
Read for entertainment, sure, but if what you're interested in is the truth, read the works of reputable scholars of the ancient societies, not just cranks.

A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
by James Bamford
Edition: Hardcover
50 used & new from CDN$ 3.12

5.0 out of 5 stars INDICTED: the Bush Gang, the Neocons, the CIA and NSA, June 21 2004
Bamford's "A Pretext for War" is a solid indictment of the Bush Administration's lies. I find it hard to imagine that anyone who actually reads it would vote for Bush this November.
The title of the book is somewhat misleading in that the longest section is not on Iraq, but rather on 9/11 and the failure of the intelligence agencies. There is not a lot new here for anyone who's been paying attention, and especially with the official investigation now reaching a conclusion, but it's still invaluable documentation. Bamford's coverage of the CIA's "Alec Station," which focused exclusively on Osama bin Laden (UBL) after the Kenya bombing of 1998, is shorter than Coll's in "Ghost Wars" (see my review), and is more critical. Bamford seems to side with the FBI against the CIA, criticizing the UBL unit for focusing on paramilitary covert operations, none of which came to fruition, and not systematically gathering intelligence. This led directly to 9/11 when the CIA failed to notify the FBI when some of the future 9/11 operatives entered the U.S. Another group of 9/11 operatives lived just miles from the NSA HQ in Laurel, Maryland and used internet chat groups in Kinko's to communicate with Atta, the 9/11 plot leader!
This leads to Bamford's indictment of the intellligence agencies:
1) The NSA is no longer effective with the rise of the internet, the widespread use of encryption, and the rise of transnational networks instead of centralized governments as the enemies.
2) The CIA is no longer effective, partly because it was shaped by fighting the USSR, and has not adapted to the new threat environment, but mainly because it has no HUMINT -- human intelligence. Bamford makes the point that John Walker Lindh managed to join Al Qaeda, but the CIA has had absolutely noone inside it or any other Islamic terrorist groups.
Pages 283-381, the chapter called "War Room", is the most important part of the book, the part focusing on the systematic abuse of intelligence that created the pretext for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This story too has been told before (notably in "The Lie Factory" in Mother Jones), but is conveyed here at length in an accessible form. As Richard Clarke emphasized, Rumsfeld, Cheney & the Bush NSC focused on Iraq immediately after 9/11, despite the lack of evidence. As
Rumsfeld said (in transcribed meeting notes): "get best info fast; judge whether good enough to hit S.H. at same time. Not only UBL. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related, and not." Then unfolds the story, grounds for impeachment, of the creation of the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon, manufacturing bogus intelligence, much of it from Chalabi & the INC, to do an end run around the CIA & State Department. Douglas Feith, David Wurmser & Abram Shulsky were the operatives who ran this op, reporting to Wolfowitz & Rumsfeld at the DOD, Libby & Cheney in the White House, and Perle's neocon advisory group. This led to the creation of the WHIG (White House Iraq Group) in August 2002 which led the selling of a war on Iraq to the American people and the world. Bamford dissects and exposes every detail of the lies, from Niger uranium to aluminum tubes, etc, etc, and also reveals an interesting detail most Americans don't know -- there was a parallel disinformation effort in Israel, and in March of 2004 there was a Knesset investigation which found that as in the U.S., the pretext for the war on Iraq, WMD, was all based on speculation, and not on facts.
The final part of the book turns again to the failings of the CIA and NSA. The CIA under Tenet caved to political pressure and failed to oppose the OSP/neocon lies. The NSA shamelessly spied on Blix, the U.N. and U.S. allies in order to gain intel to sway their U.N. votes.
An important fact is noted more than once by Bamford, a fact that I doubt many Americans are aware of -- the CIA only controls 15% of the "U.S. Intelligence Community." The DOD controls the other 85%, including the NSA (National Security Agency, charge of computer SIGINT), the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office, in charge of spy satellites) and the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency). So if intelligence is going to be reformed, and heads are going to roll, it's not enough to replace Tenet, responsible for 15% of the problem -- Rumsfeld's 85% responsibility head should roll too.
Regime change this November!

Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry, and the Bush Haters
Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry, and the Bush Haters
by Bill Sammon
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Defense of a Brilliant President, May 13 2004
Sammon has delivered an incredible inside look at the Bush Presidency. Finally, the truth is revealed as we hear directly from Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld that America's primary objective is to secure control of the vast oil deposits of the Middle East and Central Asia. (Of course this has been obvious all along, but it's good to hear it directly.) We are told that the worst thing to happen in recent memory was not 9/11, but the collapse of the Soviet Union -- how will the U.S. justify its global Empire without a big, bad enemy? 9/11 provided the solution to this problem, and now we have Islam! Islam Equals Terrorism is our new Crusade Against Evil. On the basis of this Convenient Demon we can invade and occupy everything between the Mediterranean and India! With the most clever Big Lie since Goebbels, we will carry out this power grab under the banner of Freedom and Liberty for All. Thank goodness for far-sighted, visionary leaders.
We must not allow those who masquerade as sensible to prevail -- if you say this strategy creates more enemies than we can defeat, then you are Against Freedom. If you say that Christians and Muslims can and should learn to respect one another, to love one another, (who was it that said "love your enemies?"), then you must hate America. If you say that it would make far more sense to launch a crash program for solar and renewable energy than fight endless wars for Oil, then clearly you must be a member of Al-Qaeda.
God Bless America, and God Bless George W. Bush!

Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq
Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq
by Jeffrey Record
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 32.86
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5.0 out of 5 stars how can we ever win a "war on terrorism"?, May 1 2004
One of the most significant things about this book is its publisher, the U.S. Naval Institute Press -- apparently questioning the intelligence of particular military doctrines or wars is not anti-military or anti-patriotic.
Record has been a military analyst for many years, and the current analysis is a scathing critique of both the Bush Administration's military doctrine and the war on Iraq that flowed from that doctrine. Record forcefully and persuasively argues that the "Bush Doctrine" is totally open-ended and vague -- if the U.S. is really committed to a "war on terrorism" with no limits, then we are in big trouble. Record's position is that the U.S. should have "bounded" its objective and focused on Al-Qaeda. Launching the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which had no connection to either 9/11 or Al-Qaeda, has had several negative effects for U.S. national security, including: 1) it has stretched U.S. forces thin and diminished the forces available to fight Al-Qaeda or other serious threats (and Iraq posed no serious threat to the U.S. as the regime was contained), 2) it has outraged millions, leading to an increase in recruits to "Al-Qaeda-ism," 3) it has created chaos in Iraq and a prime area of operation for "Al-Qaeda-ism", and 4) it has damaged U.S. alliances that are critical to the long-term success of the appropriately limited "war on terrorism," in other words the police/military effort against "Al-Qaeda-ism."
Citizens of this country need to stop thinking in partisan terms and begin to think critically about U.S. strategy on its merits. "Dark Victory" is not part of a "liberal, Bush-bashing agenda." It does not include ad hominem attacks on individuals, but rather focuses on the dangerous consequences of current U.S. strategy. You don't have to agree with me that Bush has committed impeachable offenses in lying about the evidence and reasons for war (no WMD!) and leading us into an unnecessary war to see the need to change course. We owe it to the brave men and women sacrificing their lives for us right now to make sure their efforts are not in vain.
You can find the study that led to this book, called "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism," on the website of the U.S. Army War College.

Colossus: The Price of America's Empire
Colossus: The Price of America's Empire
by Niall Ferguson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.02
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4.0 out of 5 stars what goes up must come down, April 26 2004
Ferguson (a British academic) breaks one of the cardinal rules in the U.S. when it comes to discussing foreign policy and international relations -- he says there is a U.S. Empire. This is just not done. Talk of Great Powers, or "The American Project" is one thing, but we don't have an Empire, for goodness sake! Never mind that Rumsfeld ordered a study of the Roman Empire not too long ago in search of useful guidance for an Empire that makes the Roman one look like kid's stuff, critics like Chomsky who talk about the Empire are persona non grata.
Ferguson, however, is not a critic. He thinks the U.S. Empire could be a swell thing if it would just be more like the British Empire of the 19th Century. He has an absolutely good point -- if what the U.S. wants to do is be a maximally effective Empire, it needs to develop the capacity for colonial administration necessary to follow through with when it invades, overthrows governments, and occupies Afghanistan, Iraq, and the next countries on the neoconservatives' list. The U.S. needs to take its imperial responsibility seriously, stiff upper lip and all that. We should take pride in our civilizing role vis a vis the barbarian parts of the world, and it is nice to make all those profits as well. I'm sure Ferguson is right that the U.S. Empire will last longer if we don't try to run it on the cheap.
Ferguson considers Americans naive not to understand our imperial role, but clearly he is the one who is naive. A large percentage of Americans are quite happy thinking the U.S. is nothing but a victim and that we do nothing but good in our endless series of overseas military operations, most never called wars outright. They are quite happy to carry out bombing runs that kill lots of "bad guys," come home leaving the place in ruins, and then they love to complain bitterly about the mystery of why "everybody hates us." Peacekeeping and nation-building is for Europeans and other wimps. The American way of war involves massive firepower, destroying the village in order to save it. We're the Oil Police now, and nothing is going to stand in the way of Our Precious Oil, certainly not some British academic who says we should pay higher taxes for colonial administration. We plan to go out in a blaze of glory, dropping bombs and burning the last ounce of oil -- let the wimps clean up the planet after we've "set everybody free" just like in the Randy Newman song.

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