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therealus "therealus" (Herts, UK)
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by Anthony B. Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.89

5.0 out of 5 stars If only..., 24 Aug. 2015
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This review is from: Inequality (Hardcover)
Anthony Atkinson’s study of inequality is a worthy and accomplished piece of analysis. The book is divided into three parts, in simple terms the Why, What and How: Why it matters, What can be done and How it can be done, which includes an econometric analysis of costs and benefits of some of his proposals.

Why it matters includes, inter alia, intrinsic and instrumental reasons for concerns about inequality. On the intrinsic side is both a broad idea of justice coupled with a simple statement of economic thought from Hugh Dalton based on the idea of utility: when you transfer a pound from a poor person to a rich person, the poor person’s utility is raised, whereas the rich person’s utility is not lowered, thus raising aggregate utility for society as a whole. On the instrumental side are concerns for outcomes for society as a whole in terms of a lack of social cohesion, increased crime, ill-health and so on. Echoing Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) and Francois Bourguignon (The Globalisation of Inequality), Atkinson shows how inequality has grown since the second world war, partly because the institutions that grew out of the social solidarity that the first half of the twentieth century produced have been shrinking in more recent years, probably starting from the elections of Thatcher and Reagan.

In the second section Atkinson puts forward fifteen proposals for action, plus five ideas to pursue. These include adoption of policies aimed at boosting technological advancement, reducing unemployment and assuring workers are paid a wage commensurate with maintaining a decent standard of living. Some are radical, some look like proposals that have already been on the table. Atkinson accepts that none is straightforward and discusses some potential issue. One I think he missed, relating to his idea of providing a capital endowment to all on reaching adulthood, is how to avoid dubious practice in the financial industry, in a similar way to payday loans, whereby before coming of age a recipient may take out a loan at usurious interest rates. However, in a book for the general reader of only 300 pages it is difficult to cover all the details.

The final section discusses implementation and benefits. I found this the least well-expressed section. In the same way as Atkinson reduces each proposal to a short statement, so his refutations of the conventional “wisdom” that often acts as a brake on progressive ideas could have been stated more simply up front before entering into the detail. I suspect that here as in a few other places he lacked strong editorship, perhaps the reason why “expence” slips in a couple of times and the expression “there is no smoking gun” is used where I suspect he meant there is no silver bullet. However, on the strong side he demonstrates that implementation of just five of his proposals would, for the UK, reduce inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient. I also felt his case against certain provisions in the TTIP agreement is better made than that of Owen Jones in The Establishment, mostly that whilst it makes plenty of provisions for investors and corporations it makes none for consumers and workers.

Overall then a worthwhile read, giving substance to the case against inequality, providing strong economic principles on which to build the case, and doing some of the cost-benefit legwork needed to satisfy the bean counters. Nevertheless, as good an argument as Atkinson advances, I have little hope that the current government is about to implement any of his proposals in the next five years.

Oh, and just incidentally, one of the items Atkinson discusses is the issue of “uncompetitive” wage demands in the UK. As he points out, when housing prices, whether to buy or let, are so high, then people quite rationally will attempt to maximise their wages to pay for accommodation. Thinking about it, the premium on housing in the UK is worse than any formal tax; it is in practical terms a stealth tax imposed by the failed policy of selling off social housing and inability to keep up with growing demand. It’s a market failure; as usual the knight in shining armour, also known as the market, has not ridden in as predicted. Build more houses, bring down prices, reduce the need for spiralling wage increases. Unfortunately it gets complicated once you think of the potential for trapping more people in negative equity. Thus successive governments’ abysmal record on housing since the 1980s has painted us into a corner. As the joke goes, I wouldn’t start from here.

Herzog (Penguin Modern Classics)
Herzog (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars His second best?, 24 Aug. 2015
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Herzog, more than any other, reveals James Joyce’s influence over the novels of Saul Bellow. It is for much of its length an internal conversation conducted by Moses Herzog with himself, some of which he occasionally commits to paper as part of a series of notes to personages both dead and alive, ranging from existentialist philosophers to his former sexual partners. He remembers his hardscrabble childhood, with his family’s migration from Canada to Chicago, echoing Bellow’s own, and the struggles of his father in making a living, including his foray into bootlegging which earns him a serious beating.

Occasionally other people intrude. He spends a night with his latest girlfriend, Ramona. He rather creepily stalks his ex-wife Madeleine and her partner at her home one night, watching them through the window. He takes his daughter to the zoo carrying an antique pistol, loaded, wrapped in a blanket of czarist roubles, is involved in a minor car crash and finds himself in the police station charged with possession of an unlicensed weapon. In amongst this he travels around New York, Chicago and his country pile in the Berkshires.

For the reader there is little doubt that Herzog is a little unhinged. How else to explain his resentment at the anger displayed by Madeleine when she collects their daughter from the police station? How else to explain the capricious wanderings by train, plane and automobile? How else to explain the compulsive scribblings?

Some of Herzog’s musings reveal a streak of misogyny. It is not possible to say definitively that this reflected Bellow’s own attitudes, but some of the circumstances in the book reflect Bellow’s own at the time. His musings in particular on his treatment by Madeleine suggest it is she, not him, who is the crazy one; he twists her every action so it appears to him a part of a typical feminine conspiracy effected over a long period of time which somehow included marrying him and having his child just out of spite. In his later novel, Humboldt’s Gift, the protagonist Charlie Citrine finds himself strung along by Madeleine’s alter ego, Renata, who ends up dumping Citrine in favour of an undertaker. Ramona on the other hand ostensibly represents a different side of women, more nurturing, forgiving. But she, too, is able to dump lost causes, and it is possible to see Ramona and Renata, and therefore also Madeleine, as the same woman, just seen from different angles.

Returning to this novel after forty years – my college dissertation addressed the works of Bellow – I was struck by how much it is a novel of its time. Published in 1964, it represents a time before the collapse of the post-second world war boom; the big battles of the Civil Rights struggles of the sixties were yet to come, and the counterculture was still in the wings. It is instructive to read it to acquire a sense of what in those days were common modes of discourse, even in the context of liberal art, on a variety of subjects. More prosaically, it is shocking to find Herzog being questioned in the police station, following his road accident, with an untreated head wound. Surely, it occurred to me, a cop nowadays would ensure somebody involved in such an incident would first receive medical attention to ensure there is no concussion? Different times, different priorities, apparently.

Malcolm Bradbury, in the Introduction, suggests that this is Bellow’s best novel, but I don’t agree: Humboldt’s Gift I would say is better executed, has a more interesting worldview, and is also more amusing. Herzog has its moments, and is certainly a fine piece of literature, but four decades on I was less captivated by rereading this than I was when I reread Humboldt’s Gift a couple of years ago. But all that means is that it’s worth trying both to see if it’s me or Malcolm you agree with.

Something More Than Free
Something More Than Free
Offered by WaldieEnterprisesLTD
Price: £9.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Typical Isbell, 3 Aug. 2015
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Jason Isbell has done it again. Through five studio albums now he has consistently changed and surprised. This is, then, typical Isbell insofar as it sees him moving on once more from his previous release, Southeastern.

On that particular record there is a general sense of loneliness, isolation and alienation. Something More Than Free is less oppressive in that sense, although it still occasionally carries a sense of separation.

The opening If It Takes A Lifetime has a bluegrass feel about it, contrasting heavily with its successor, 24 Frames, which could have been produced by Phil Spector given its heavy layers of instrumentation. On Flagship and The Life You Chose Isbell’s soulful voice occasionally has a hint of Paul Simon, but it carries a much harder edge when the lyrics require it.

The continuing presence of Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires on fiddle is a real pleasure; this is particularly underlined in Hudson Commodore, which also features some excellent harmonies on the refrain, which just begs for everyone listening to join in. On Children On Children the mellotron is affective and a little reminiscent of King Crimson: is this prog country?

Palmetto Rose has some studio echo on the vocals which recall Elvis or Gene Vincent. The title is a sly reference to South Carolina, the Palmetto State; the refrain features its alternative nickname, the somewhat less attractive Iodine State.

The record concludes with a paean to a band that he loved but, it appears, nobody else did, unless they were trying to clear the building. I guess now any band featuring Isbell would be packed to the rafters. Or should be.

Oh, but by the way. What did bassist Jimbo Hart do to be excluded from the credits?

Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words
Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words
by Malka Marom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Instructive and beautifully presented, 3 Aug. 2015
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A chance encounter in a Toronto club in the mid 1960s gave Malka Marom her first taste of the music and talent of Joni Mitchell. At the time herself a high-profile singing artist as the former half of Malka & Joso, Marom was suffering from the fallout from her split from the duo prompted by her distaste for the direction she was being steered in the interests of commercialism. Thus Joni Mitchell’s own struggles with the same forces carry a heavy resonance for her. Marom found her outlet in journalism. Mitchell was able to ride out the storm, after a fashion, and has bequeathed us with a treasury of exceptional music. And although Mitchell makes it plain that she regards herself as very much a kind of renaissance figure, as a poet and painter too, it is for her music and song that (with apologies, maybe) most of us are likely to most value her.

The real value of this book is that, unlike any of the other books about Mitchell I have encountered, it is based entirely on interviews with Mitchell herself, with Marom’s own views comprised in her questions and comments which Mitchell is then able either to repudiate or elaborate upon. This was only partially true of Michelle Mercer’s Will You Take Me As I Am, and Katherine Monk’s Joni uses other people’s interviews (to name two of the other seven Mitchell-related books, all but one reviewed, now on my shelves).

Thus we can infer the disappointment Mitchell feels with people who have been close to her and with the music industry in general. The snide comments and articles in Rolling Stone clearly still rankle, and understandably so. The cynicism of some of her associates appears to have left a scar. She is ambivalent at best about people with whom she has been close, and who have been highly influential, such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. She resents the controlling attitudes of others, and seems glad to be rid of them. There is a certain sadness in the recognition that, upon meeting her soon-to-be manager Elliot Roberts, he was the first person who was proud of her, her mother in particular having been continually negative about her prospects and talents.

Yet there are many people for whom she continues to feel great affection. Mingus she found to be a kindred spirit, and not at all the monster she had been warned about. She is fulsome in her praise for the musicians form Weather Report with whom she worked extensively. Wayne Shorter in particular is singled out for his brilliance and counsel. And she has a good word to say for Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, and expresses her sadness at the death of Witney Houston.

Many of the things she has to say about music, both in general and hers in particular, are highly instructive. She expresses frustration, for example, at her inability to persuade drummers to remove the pillows from their bass drum and bassists to play unmuted; then reveals that this is due to the limitations of the vinyl LP, which was also intensely hostile to the viola. She talks at length about the choices she was forced to make in playing guitar due to weaknesses resulting from polio, and how they effectively drove her down a road to innovation, which sometimes, as in the case of her use of “sus” chords, broke the “rules” of composition. She also had frustrations initially with session musicians’ inability or refusal to follow her wishes, partly she suspects because she is a woman, partly because she has little formal training in musical technique, and partly because of their own limitations it seems; hence her move to jazz musicians, who were far more in her zone of thinking.

In between she reveals the events that inspired specific lyrics – Marom has been particularly good at inserting relevant lyrics in amongst the interviews, which sometimes gives a whole new angle on them. She reveals the way Miles Davis affected her singing and assigns blame for the general image of Billie Holliday, with whom she feels great affinity, as a victim to Diana Ross, or at least the way she was obliged to portray Holliday in the biopic. Furthermore, she hints, as Katherine Monk failed to do, that her little stunt in the seventies dressing as a black pimp would not really be acceptable now, realising also that few other people would have got away with it even then.

As for the book as an object, it is beautifully presented, with occasional photographs and pertinent deployment of a number of Mitchell’s own paintings. Oddly, however, page 255 is a reprint of page 254, and, as 254 finishes on a full stop, it’s unclear whether the interview should have ended there or if there was, in fact, some further, closing remark.

Miles Davis At Newport: 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4
Miles Davis At Newport: 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4
Price: £19.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something very special, 27 July 2015
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In reviewing the previous release in this series, I issued Columbia with the challenge of finding similar material from 1971 and 1973. I’d like to thank them for rising to that challenge, even though I admit to entertaining no illusions that the release of this collection is anything whatsoever to do with me.

Unlike the other so-called Bootlegs, this collection ranges over a number of years: three decades, in fact, from one point of view, the fifties, sixties and seventies. They are united by Miles himself and the occasion, the Newport Jazz Festival, although Newport sometimes relocates from Rhode Island to New York, Switzerland and Berlin. When I first looked at the detail of the contents I was tempted to characterise it as a bit of a grab-bag, almost scraping the bottom of the barrel, but after one listening it was quite clear that this is a special release.

It kicks off in 1955 with Duke Ellington himself introducing Thelonious Monk as “the high priest of bop”. Two of the three tunes from that year are Monk’s, one Bird’s, all three excellent. The first disc then advances us to 1958, the sextet which would shortly record Kind Of Blue, and the first, and longest, of four iterations of The Theme, which survives to 1969.

Disc two features the second “great quintet”. The 1966 concert features an All Blues that begins so fast you suspect someone has a train to catch. Its signature 3/4 (or is it 6/8?) shifts into 4/4 with Shorter’s solo, appears to go to 6/8 for few bars, then back to 4/4. In the 1967 concert Seven Steps To Heaven’s basic statement, di duh, di duh, di duh, di duh, di duh, dur dur dur, instead of staying at one level during the final dur dur dur rises through the scale, which I haven’t heard before; Hancock’s vamping is similarly deviant from the original. Round Midnight from this year is a different proposal from that of 1955.

The three tunes from 1969 on Disc three were originally released by Columbia on the Bitches Brew Live album, a fact which contributed to my initial fear that the collection as a whole was a bit of a grab-bag. However, given that overall listening to the four discs end-to-end is difficult to fit into a long afternoon (about five hours), it’s churlish to characterise this as padding. Moreover, listening to it in a different context somehow gave it a new gloss, and ultimately I was left with nothing to complain about.

Even if I had, I may have forgotten once I got into the 1971 concert on Disc four. This was part of what I was requesting, and it delivers big time (about 76 minutes!). It sees the band transitioning from the Cellar Doors set-up from the previous December to the more percussion and beat-oriented bands Miles would run up to 1975. What I Say is recognisable from Cellar Doors, but is followed by a drum and percussion-based interlude, which forms the bridge to Sanctuary. Funky Tonk begins as at the Cellar Door, with Jarrett feeling his way towards the funky core, but more quietly, with sustained notes from Miles and the guitar, the percussion in the background agitating, and then the substantive riff arriving, but again slightly less emphatically than on Cellar Door/Live Evil.

In between the ’69 and ’71 concerts, Disc three features the other part of my request, a 1973 concert, beginning with Turnaroundphrase which, whilst beginning in recognisable form, soon spins off into something new and wonderful. As a bonus, Disc three closes with about seven minutes of Mtume, from a 1975 concert, which seems to be an encore.

Given that its release fell on the week I celebrated my birthday, La Rubia, my long-suffering significant other, has yet to register that one of several generous presents that I sent myself during that time was yet another set of live Miles recordings with familiar-looking titles. This is good as, if the record company find any more material to release as Bootlegs, especially from the seventies, I may just get away with buying that too. The ’71 to ’75 period in particular, live recordings of which still remain less available than the ’69-’70 cornucopia. Over to you, Columbia.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2015 7:51 AM BST

The Globalization of Inequality
The Globalization of Inequality
by François Bourguignon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.57

5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable contribution to the debate, suffering at times for want of detail, 27 July 2015
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Inequality is real and harmful; the solution is not easy, but is not as intractable as some would have us believe.

Economist François Bourguignon here provides a complement to his countryman Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, giving an account of the recent trajectory of inequality around the world, beginning with a definition of inequality and how it may be measured, through per capita GDP, Gini Index or Theil coefficient, and using these to demonstrate how in general inequality between countries has been reducing at the same time as it has been increasing within them. A part of this is equality of opportunity, for example access to housing, education and the trappings of 21st century life. Bourguignon’s heavily qualified conclusion on this point is that inequality is not increasing, but at least on an anecdotal level I would question that: some people trying to get jobs in the UK, for which nowadays access to the internet is a must, have only limited access, as they are unable to afford it themselves and public provision is patchy. Overall I found this the least well-explained section, although it has to be admitted that the concept of inequality is quite slippery and the subject of much contention.

From there on, however, the account is well-handled and clear, with a suitable mix of economic terminology and lay terms. In considering the drivers of inequality he takes into account three key parameters, globalisation, technology and policy. He notes the deepening global interdependence of economies worldwide and the parallel reduction in transport costs, both drivers and consequences of globalisation. Whilst jobs in the “north” are increasingly either high-paid or automated, much production has shifted to the low-wage “south”. Advanced economies are deindustrialising, and productivity is higher there, but employment markets have become increasingly precarious. There is a general polarisation of salaries globally, with exceedingly large and, he contends, unjustified salaries for CEOs, their immediate colleagues and associated professionals such as lawyers, which he attributes to informational rents and contagion. High salaries are particularly disproportionately found in the financial sector, ironically the same sector which caused the Great Recession. He also focuses on welfare cut-backs, privatisation, deregulation, structural adjustment programmes associated with the “Washington Consensus” and the weakening of trades unions, some of which he finds have played an ambiguous role in inequality, some of which may have been outcomes rather than causes.

In advancing potential remedies he challenges the orthodoxy in some circles that there is a trade-off between efficiency and equality through redistribution. In fact, he points out, due to market imperfections and the potential for social instability, inequality can reduce efficiency, by channeling resources into security firms, for example. He recognises the need to optimise redistribution so as not to disincentivise actually working for a living, that is, encouraging freeriding; on the other side of the coin, where the money is coming from, he advocates higher taxation, though not punitive taxation. Studies he cites have shown rates of 60-75% are counterproductive, stimulating tax avoidance. A rate of 55%, however, according to elasticity estimates, would be closer to optimum, and would give plenty of scope in economies such as the US. Deglobalisation and protectionism he dismisses as a lose-lose approach, though he does acknowledge the potential benefits of limited “infant industries” approaches. Similarly, trade preferences have merits but also limitations due to potential barriers to trade such as TRIPS, which can look like protectionism by the back door. Foreign aid has potential but also often fails due to poor governance, perverse incentives and corruption; the solutions he offers to these on the face of it look like those already tried, but maybe something is lost in the interests of brevity.

He recognises, therefore, the difficulties involved in redressing the balance, and dismisses as utopian, for now at least, the notion of global taxes. Ultimately he believes the answer lies not in individualism or mercantilism but in global cooperation to achieve, in aggregate, a win-win. As he implies, this is not a zero-sum game.

Dawn: Live At Century Theatre, Buffalo, Ny(2cd)
Dawn: Live At Century Theatre, Buffalo, Ny(2cd)
Price: £14.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile release, 27 July 2015
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This set complements almost perfectly the other live Mahavishnu material in my collection, with only three of the eight titles, Dance Of Maya, Hope and One Word (not One World, as it is called on the jacket here), being overlaps with the Columbia live recordings I have. Its focus is largely the album Birds Of Fire, which would be released two months after this performance, with only Dance of Maya being from another album (1971’s The Inner Mounting Flame).

The sound quality is acceptable for an unofficial release (the recording is from a radio broadcast), with only the intrusion of a very loud announcement, in German, in the middle of One Word giving any real cause for complaint, and possibly being the reason for the stray ‘ell(!) on the sleeve .

Overall running time is an hour and 48 minutes, with four of the tracks approaching or exceeding twenty minutes. The extended timings on the compositions give plenty of scope for everyone to extemporise, so each tune starts off in recognisable form, then veers off into improvisation, hence justifying the bother of buying and playing this as opposed to just playing Birds Of Fire again.

The packaging is reasonably good, although apart from date and location it imparts little information aside from photographs of the individual band members, McLaughlin, Goodman, Hammer, Cobham and Laird.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics
by Richard H. Thaler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing economics closer to the real world, 6 July 2015
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Less than two decades ago, when I first studied Financial Economics, the Capital Asset Pricing Model was state of the art, Beta almost the only measure you needed to know, and the Efficient Markets Hypothesis was your basic guide to behaviour. Nowadays, CAPM is an interesting historical footnote, Beta virtually worthless and the EMH a guide to not very much at all. When I returned to economics studies about five years ago the EMH was still being taught, but alongside alternative views such as those of Richard Thaler, who points out, in this book and elsewhere, that only amongst fully rational Econs, mostly economists, does the EMH work. For the rest of us, sometimes known as Humans, anomalies are the rule.

Misbehaving is a sort of biography of Behavioural Economics or rather, as Thaler points out towards the end of the book, Behavioural Sciences, a fusion mostly of economics and psychology, the product of extensive collaboration between practitioners in both disciplines, together with inputs from people with a less discipline-specific role who have been puzzled by the results of some of their endeavours or research. Thaler begins with a few questions of his own, which he develops into The List, a record of behavioural anomalies which contradict rational expectations. He is then lucky enough to encounter the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, whose own studies complement his growing sense of discontent with conventional economic models. Together they develop a set of alternatives which seek to understand observed behaviour, and as an increasing number of people are drawn to similar conclusions, both under their influence and independently, the general idea gains traction. Among those named within the Behavioural camp along the way are such luminaries as Lawrence Summers, Robert Shiller and George Akerlof. Others encountered include Eugene Fama, Merton Miller and Michael Jensen.

Rather than being a straight economics text, Thaler presents key concepts within the context of anecdotes, often to amusing effect. Ideas such as Sunk Costs, Hindsight Bias and Confirmation Bias, Loss Aversion, Heuristics and variations on classic Game Theory are well explained, illustrated and justified (I think it would be too presumptuous to say “proven”). In a particularly amusing tale (partly because it involves the Washington Redskins, arch-rivals of my Philadelphia Eagles) he illustrates the “dumb principal problem” of Agency Theory through owner Dan Snyder’s initial enthusiasm for a more rational approach to drafting players, which subsequently founders on his reversion to the traditional approach, trading several picks the following season for an early pick which would secure him the services of quarterback Robert Griffin III. A couple of seasons later the other team involved in the trade, the St Louis Rams, made a big point of fielding the players it thereby gained, during a game in which Griffin was benched, and beating the Redskins 24-0.

On at least one occasion, when he tackles the debates over the Endowment Effect, which describes, in simple terms, the tendency of people to value things they already own more than things they do not, I found myself less than in total agreement with him, and in agreement with those who felt Transaction Costs to be at least partly explanatory. This may not work too well when experimenting with college mugs (Thaler’s starting point), but when it comes to changing gyms (a choice currently confronting me) there’s more to consider than the monetary cost of inertia compared with that of trading out. Nevertheless, the Endowment Effect is slightly less problematic as a practical guide to behaviour than is, say, a Supply and Demand curve, which nevertheless is a useful foundation for understanding; for use, as Thaler suggests for the EMH, as an extreme special case or normative benchmark to be studied before the slightly less straightforward behavioural models.

He also finds himself a hostage to fortune when he talks up survey evidence against economists who sneer at it: he here cites Nate Silver’s past success in predicting election results; unfortunately even Nate was unable to predict the result of the UK General Election in 2015.

There is little doubt, however, of the practical results achievable through application of principles of Behavioural Science. In the chapter prior to the Conclusion, Thaler recounts his meeting with Richard Reeves. Apart from being the person who reviewed Misbehaving for The Guardian (though a little late; I’d almost finished the book by the time they published the review), Reeves was also instrumental in bringing Thaler into what would eventually become the Tories’ “nudge unit”. Like Thaler, I normally distance myself from anything bearing the label conservative, (large or small c), but the nudge unit is one piece of Tory policy I can live with, though I worry that it’s also a bit of a sop to cuddliness, like hug-a-husky or hug-a-hoodie PR, for an outfit whose usual brand of nudge is delivered with a steel toecap by Ian Duncan Smith. The aim of the nudge unit was to make it easy for people to achieve outcomes they would want, rather than outcomes they were conned or forced into. Some of these are associated with pensions, an area where behavioural science has been able to achieve some measure of success. But there have also been problems, and in the case of the UK a sensible-looking approach to getting people to insulate their lofts by offering a parallel loft clearance service (all that clutter being a serious barrier to loft insulation in the first place) appears to have been abandoned.

Nevertheless, economics is marching forwards with its incorporation of behavioural science. Thaler’s account of how this has come about, and the results so far, is both informative and entertaining.

So What: The life of Miles Davis
So What: The life of Miles Davis
by John F. Szwed
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into a legend, 30 Jun. 2015
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It’s not that long since I reread Ian Carr’s “definitive” biography of Miles Davis, and I’ve also read the “autobiography” as well as a fair few books about specific stages or themes of Davis’s career, so the good news about John Szwed’s contribution to this library is that I often found myself surprised by a piece of information or story.

These often gave me a slightly greater insight into why certain things happened as they did, how recordings were put together, and so on. There are familiar, and harrowing, tales of Davis’s infamous mistreatment of some of those in his life, especially the women but, without sensationalising, Szwed is perhaps a little clearer about what happened and how bad it was. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a hagiography.

Similarly, where some authors have performed all sorts of gymnastics in order to throw a good light on the music Miles made during his final decade, Szwed is less forgiving. (I will admit here that, whilst being extremely pleased that Davis, who lived comparatively on the edge financially for most of his career, made a lot of money during that period, the only recording I feel happy listening to from the period is Aura.) Of Decoy, for example, he remarks that the record is less interesting than the live performances (without, I have to add, the corollary that that is not saying very much, in my opinion). He rightly dismisses suggestions that Davis at any point “sold out”, though, pointing out that In A Silent Way, one of the “sell out” records, comprised two pieces of eighteen minutes each, a time which in itself guaranteed it would receive no radio airtime.

Perhaps one of its greatest strengths is that it makes an attempt to get to why the best of Miles’s music was so exciting. The risks he and his other musicians were taking. The innovativeness of hard bop, post-bop and modal forms. The organised disorganisation, the melding of musical meters, the “controlled freedom”, the way in which players like Tony Williams and Coltrane were able to make the music so distinctive and dynamic, the cryptic instructions given for some pieces, and the fact that for some pieces there was no instruction at all, and the way many of Miles’s sidemen, both the experienced ones and the green ones, would engage in extended rehearsals which they would later discover were recorded and formed the basis of the next record.

There are, it has to be conceded, a few things not quite right about the book. The first is the title, which should have been the indefinite “a life” rather than the definite “the life”. Maybe Carr’s biography is closer to “the”, but even there the information imparted by Szwed himself, often using untapped sources, shows how wrong even that would have been. There is the slip-up in describing ESP as unique in not featuring pop songs or ballads. What about Kind Of Blue, just to take an example of a record that precedes ESP? Pangaea was not, as Szwed maintains, a “mythological” primordial continent: it existed in reality. But perhaps the most irritating part of the whole deal is that, whilst only towards the end does general punctuation become somewhat erratic, throughout the book the editors have deemed it fitting to incorrectly denote possessives which, in a book where there are a minimum of two Miles’ or Davis’, where Miles’s or Davis’s is correct, is a lot of errors. To compound it all we also have Jelly Roll Morton’ at one point, but also a slip of the editorial pen when, in amongst the erratic stuff at the end, we actually see a Miles’s! (I am attributing the errors to editors as Szwed’s biography of Alan Lomax – “a” biography, not “the” – uses possessives correctly.)

These are, however, cavils. Overall this is a valuable, engaging read, telling the reader new, and potentially important, things about a musician who deserves the sobriquet “legendary”.

Post Script: Since posting this review I've found that Szwed's assertion that Miles supported Laura Nyro 10 and 11 April 1970 at Fillmore West is incorrect; it was in fact the Grateful Dead.

April 11, 1970 Fillmore West
April 11, 1970 Fillmore West
Price: £12.92

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still more of the same, but different!, 22 Jun. 2015
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Three of the tracks on this record were released by Columbia last year on Volume 3 of the Bootleg series, but this release offers an additional five titles, six if The Theme is counted, presented as they should be, as a single, rolling piece. They are taken from a radio broadcast of the concert played a day after the one recorded by Columbia, and released as Black Beauty, with Miles playing support to the Grateful Dead (not, as John Szwed says, Laura Nyro) on both dates.

The sound quality on this recording, as might be expected, is slightly inferior to that on Black Beauty, but it is good enough. Despite the nine titles admitted to (for Black Beauty Columbia apparently spent years settling royalties for all the tunes referenced in passing) resembling nine of those from the previous day’s set (Masqualero is absent), in other respects there are significant differences between the two.

Miles had for some time been presenting his music not in discrete, instantly recognised tunes but instead with the composition representing a key feature of ongoing performance. He had rejected the extremes of free jazz, with its abandonment of harmonic structure, talking rather of “controlled freedom”, taking chances, living on the edge of the music and trusting his musicians to pick up on his signals, to do what he wanted them to do which, often with trepidation, they somehow did, a tribute both to them and to the leader.

As ever for this period, the opener is Directions, which runs into Miles Runs The Voodoo Down, Paraphernalia and Footprints, all with very similar times to those given the same titles on the Bootleg. I Fall In Love Too Easily is just about recognisable as it forms a two-minute bridge to Sanctuary, probably the most easily identified of all the tunes, but lasting only just over three minutes before giving way to a vibrant, dynamic track under the title It’s About That Time. The track titled Willie Nelson begins at some arbitrary point during a piano improv by Corea, before segueing into a recognisable rhythmic statement from Willie Nelson itself, which Holland’s bass takes over as Corea improvises around and through it.

Miles joins in for a short while, but largely as a prelude to terminating the performance with a single statement of the principal line of The Theme.

In all the performance clocks in at just over 66 minutes, compared with the 81 on Black Beauty’s two CDs. La Rubia, my long-suffering significant other, as usual treated the purchase of yet another 1970 live album by Miles with resigned indulgence. I have my fingers crossed that she manages the same indulgence when Volume 4 of the Bootleg series is released shortly, four CDs covering Newport performances from 1955 to 1975!
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