Monday, March 31. 2008
It's been a better week, even though I have relatively little to show for it below. I spent a lot of time last week listening to records I had previously rated, trying to come up with words for the actual Jazz CG reviews. In many cases it proved difficult to say something significant in such short space, but I managed often enough that I'm now confident enough to say that the column will be finished before the end of next week. At this point, all I have left is to go back and find some words that do justice to a few duds, plus sort out the favorable reviews into two piles: one to run this time, the other to run next time. Current album count: 43. Current word count: 2251. I manage about 30 records per column, so I'll probably have to hold back a third, leaving me half-done for next time. That's about how it usually works out.
There will be one more week of jazz prospecting in this round, not so much to find anything new for now as to catch any loose ends. Got a tentative date for publication: April 30.
Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic (2007 , Sunnyside): This took a while to sink in. The turning point may been when I flashed on the notion that Iyer is a new generation McCoy Tyner. Iyer has equivalent facility with the keyboard, although he rarely if ever lapses into Oscar Peterson swing -- he draws the line at, well, McCoy Tyner, but more often favors rhythmic repetition and variation rather than line development. Like Tyner, he generally works in a sax quartet, and like Tyner he often overshadows, indeed overpowers, the horn. One might also note that Iyer's saxophonist, Rudresh Mahanthappa, has a strong Coltrane-ish streak, but that's not so evident here. Mahanthappa has strong and weak outings, and he didn't make much of a first impression here. He only plays on 7 of 11 cuts, often making little more than a buzz around Iyer's prodigious piano. The trio cuts open up more, not least because they give Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums more room to shine. One solo cut is further dampened, but logically impeccable. A-
Lionel Loueke: Karibu (2007 , Blue Note): Guitarist, born in Benin, moved to Côte d'Ivoire, then to Paris, then to Boston (Berklee), then to California (Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz), now seems to be based in Bergen County, NJ. He's appeared in quite a few credits since 2001, including some relatively high profile ones -- Terence Blanchard, Charlie Haden (Land of the Sun), Herbie Hancock (The River: The Joni Letters). This is a trio with bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth -- mostly: he also picks up a pair of distinguished guests, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, one cut together, one more each. Mixed bag, especially when he sings, but the closer "Nonvignon" is my favorite track here, and he sings on it -- reminds me of pennywhistle jive. [B+(*)]
The Michael Pedicin Quintet: Everything Starts Now . . . (2007 , Jazz Hut): A/k/a Michael Pedicin Jr. Born 1945, plays tenor sax. Father was a musician, but he don't have any details, other than Jr. saying that father introduced him to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, etc. Most likely the father recorded as Mike Pedicin (b. 1917, Philadelphia, band leader, played alto sax): Bear Family has a 1955-57 collection by Mike Pedicin Quintet called Jive Medicin -- AMG likens it to Bill Haley. Jr. has several albums out since 1980. Lives in NJ now, but this one was recorded in Philadelphia, with Johnnie Valentino on guitar, Mick Rossi on piano, Chris Colangelo on bass, Michael Sarin on drums: a strong group that carries the album -- Valentino and Rossi have albums I've recommended in the past -- setting up the saxophonist. [B+(***)]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
John Chin: Blackout Conception (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Three trio cuts let postbop pianist Chin stretch out and show you what he's got up his sleeve. The other four cuts add tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, who predictably steals the show. Good showcase, but slightly uneven as an album. B+(**)
Josh Nelson: Let It Go (2007, Native Language): Pianist, works in some electric keyboards, but mostly stays acoustic when the Seamus Blake plays tenor sax, getting a little sharper contrast that way. The first-rate band also includes Anthony Wilson on guitar, Derek Oleskiewicz on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. Serious talent, impressive work, leans toward the side of postbop I find more artful than interesting. B+(*)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Avatar (2007 , Blue Note): It seems to me that the Cuban pianist has moved beyond the rhythmic conventions of Afro-Cuban jazz into a whole new realm of personal idiosyncrasy. His quintet has the traditional bebop/hard bop lineup, with Mike Rodriguez on trumpet, Yosvany Terry on various saxophones, Matt Brewer on bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums, but none of the traditional forms, veering between progressive postbop and points I don't know how to characterize. Choice cut: "Hip Side" (one of three Terry pieces). B+(**)
Jostein Gulbrandsen: Twelve (2006  Fresh Sound New Talent): I doubt that I would have noticed the leader's guitar had I not first fallen for Jon Irabagon's tenor saxophone. Irabagon plays in Moppa Elliot's "terrorist bebop band" Mostly Other People Do the Killing, where he has plenty of competition on trumpet. Here he has the field to himself, playing high octane avant-skewed runs that I find utterly captivating. Also a bit of clarinet, much lower keyed. The guitarist adds some licks to the high-speed stuff, but emerges more when the sax quiets down. A-
Ila Cantor: Mother Nebula (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitar-sax-bass-drums, same lineup as Jostein Gulbrandsen's record on the same label, but different players, and that makes all the difference. Cantor's guitar is rockish, funky, and the bass-drums (Tom Warburton, Joe Smith) follow suit. Tenor saxophonist Frederik Carlquist, on the other hand, lacks Jon Irabagon's avant edge nor does he try to honk his way through. Rather, he plays the straight man in the group: soft-toned, articulate, logical. I like him quite a lot. Never did track down Cantor's group, the Lascivious Biddies. B+(***)
Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (2007 , Tzadik): A little overblown, but what do you expect in a suite? Using the Nels Cline Singers, plus extra guitar, as the core of his rhythm section, Bernstein gets by with two brass and two reeds, and sounds Ellingtonian in the bargain. What confused me at first was that by styling this as a Robert Altman tribute, I figured he was aiming for Basie. A-
Raymond MacDonald/Günter Baby Sommer: Delphinius & Lyra (2005 , Clean Feed): Duo, free saxophone (mostly alto, some soprano) over drums. MacDonald is little known but worth following if you're into this sort of thing. Sommer is a veteran avant-gardist, his discography including previous duos with Cecil Taylor and Irène Schweizer -- a good partner for this sort of thing. B+(**)
Jason Kao Hwang/Edge: Stories Before Within (2007 , Innova): Dense shades of Chinese jazz fiddle, tarted up by Taylor Ho Bynum's cornet. Plus bass and drums, of course. B+(***)
Vince Seneri: The Prince's Groove (2007 , Prince V): Seneri not only plays the Hammond B3 Organ, he sells them through a company called Hammond Organ World. He puts on a good demo, too, with first rate guest stars -- Dave Valentin takes the fast latin pieces on flute, Randy Brecker splatters his trumpet on the funky ones. The only time the groove lets up is the obligatory sax ballad, which Houston Person aces. B+(***)
Anthony Braxton: Solo Willisau (2003 , Intakt): For Alto redux, 35 years to the wiser, no longer shocking, but still a contrarian puzzle. For one thing, I don't understand why he still insists on fishing sounds out of the horn that neither God nor Adolph Sax ever imagined. Most folks play alto for its smooth control at whiplash speeds, and Braxton has shown that he's second to none in that regard -- compare his Charlie Parker record to the relatively lead-footed originals. But at times he huffs and puffs here like he's playing bagpipes (which he has done, and I swear they're even uglier than For Alto). So I don't get it, but I'm way past minding. He's one of the geniuses of our age. B+(**)
Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (2006 , Atavistic): Downbeat's review mentions a second disc, included with the first 1500 copies, something called "The New York Suite: Part One's for Painters (for Willem De Kooning, Hans Hoffmann, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko), Part 2: Composers (for Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolf), Part 3: Improvisers (for Don Cherry, Steve Lacy, Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor)." Didn't get my copy until well after initial release, and when it did come it didn't include the bonus disk. Previous teaser discs were eventually rereleased as Free Jazz Classics, Vols. 1-4. Every review I've read focuses on the integration of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm into the group -- this is the second album since he replaced Jeb Bishop. I don't really hear it or understand it. The cello lacks the volume and dynamics to compete with the horns, but one reason it does emerge more here is that there are a couple of softer pieces that lead with cello, and it matches up well against Vandermark's clarinet. But most of the pieces crank up the volume, and the one thing that emerges most clearly there is how terrific Vandermark has gotten on the baritone sax. This makes 13 albums in 11 years. The only one I didn't much care for was Simpatico, back in 1998, and the last one I held short of the A-list was Burn the Incline in 2000. Nothing here to complain about. A-
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
I complained about not having the recording dates to Nik Bärtsch's Ronin's Holon, mostly because the label (ECM) is usually very dilligent about providing that information. My bad. Buried deep in the booklet is a note that says: "Recorded July 2007/Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines." ECM's publicist wrote in to point that out, more precisely that the dates were July 23-25, 2007. She also thought I should have asked before writing, which is a good idea but hard to do given the way I work. I also wondered about bass clarinet/alto sax player Sha. His name is Stefan Haslebacher. In the info on Bärtsch's 2006 album Stoa, he was described as 22 years old, an "making waves in the Swiss 'new minimal' scene." Should probably ask when his birthdate was, and what the "new minimal" scene is all about, but don't really need to know just now. I still harbor some hope of converting all these notes into some kind of reference website, at which point securing those facts will become more important.
Searching through some old mail, two notes from musicians I had recalled as offering corrections could almost be read as fan mail. Matt Lavelle wrote "you got me man, . . . i think you got my captured my sub-conscious intent. . . . your review has helped me take a closer look, and helped me get a better understanding of myself." Of course, that's not the purpose -- at best a lucky side-effect. What was the purpose was to find good records, most of all ones that weren't getting recognized. Lavelle sought me out in that record, so I should be thanking him.
Melody Breyer-Grell also said "you got me there!" but the subject was the gap in her timeline, which she explains: "as a severely depressed failed opera singer I spent 10 years looking at the ceiling . . . the truth is I was practicing and practicing till I thought I sounded and felt credible enough to make a cd." She has a credible record now (maybe two -- haven't heard her first). Those gaps aren't uncommon -- especially with female vocalists, but I've run across a bunch of others with big gaps, many not making their move until retirement age. She's younger, but I still don't know her age. Payoff line in the letter for me was: "I would like to address some things you said because they are so right on that I feel that you are in my head somehow!"
Sunday, March 30. 2008
Helena Cobban: Is This What the Current Fighting in Basra Is About?. Looks like the US is building one of its huge enduring but not exactly permanent military bases near Basra, an area they've mostly left to the British until lately (e.g., as the Brits are leaving). They will need some kind of force presence to protect vital supply lines from Kuwait, and having the whole region largely controlled by the Mehdi Army evidently doesn't give them much of a comfort level.
Late breaking news is that Sadr has pulled his fighters back in a deal that was brokered in (if not necessarily by) Iran. It looks as though Maliki, at least, has realized his miscalculation. I doubt that anyone in the US chain of command has learned much, so this is likely nowhere near the end of the story.
Saturday, March 29. 2008
I suppose we should have known we were in for big trouble last week (March 24, to be exact) when Frederick Kagan announced, "The civil war in Iraq is over." The Surgemeister has never been right yet, but even by his standards this is pretty spectacular. With Dick Cheney and John McCain touching base in Iraq recently, with General Petraeus due for a DC dog and pony show on how the Surge has brought peace and prosperity to Baghdad, with the withdrawal promised back at the start of the Surge on indefinite Pause, it looks like all the planets were aligned to tug Kagan's brain even further than usual out of orbit.
I've read a few theories about why Maliki decided to lapse from his well established habits of do-nothingism to pick a war with the Sadr faction of Iraqi Shiism that brought him to power, but I haven't read anything convincing. Most likely the orders came from Washington, given how readily everyone from Bush on down fell into line, with US air power and tanks already taking over much of the fighting. But why Washington would push for a plan like this is hard to fathom. You'd think they'd be happy just to leave well enough alone and try to play out the clock, leaving the mess for the next administration. But that line of thinking assumes they're conscious enough to realize they're fucked and there's nothing much they can do about it. Since they have done something about it, we need to focus on dumber lines of reasoning, since clearly they're not smart enoguh to stay clear of this mess.
One question is whether they think they can effectively defeat Sadr. One problem is that the military damage they do manage to inflict will be self-limiting: the more dominant they are, the more they will drive the Mahdi Army underground into a protracted guerrilla war. Their chances at a military rout of a well armed, popularly supported, and increasingly decentralized movement are vanishingly small. The far bigger problem is political: it's inconceivable that US-backed Maliki unleashing war in Shiite neighborhoods will do anything but boost the Sadr movement's legitimacy as the only credible force willing and able to stand up against the US and their Iraqi cronies.
Any way you slice it, this sure looks like a losing move. So why? Here you have two basic choices. On the one hand, you can guess that the US thinks it can win this war, because the idiots-in-chief always think they can win everything no matter how often they're proven wrong. With Bush and Cheney, it's hard to dismiss this possibility no matter how stupid it looks. On the other hand, it's doubtful that Maliki is that stupid, which raises the other option. It's possible that Sadr, working behind the scenes of his cease fire, was on his way to putting together some sort of alliance that could send the US packing and Maliki into hiding. That might make one desperate enough to wage a preemptive strike, even if the prospects of it working for long were slim -- and with the US time is especially important.
As you'll recall, the US occupation was on the ropes back in spring 2004, with the US fighting Sadr as well as the Sunnis, and losing spectacularly on both fronts, but more dangerously with Sadr backing the Sunnis. The US backed off, making deals with both sides, most of all to keep them separate. Sadr, for his part, hurt himself immensely when he sat by idly while the US punitively destroyed Fallujah after the 2004 election. His sectarian Islamism and fanatical anti-Baath stance undercut his appeal as an Iraqi nationalist, and that's kept him on the sidelines ever since. But nobody else's in a position to do what needs to be done. Right-wingers like Fred Barnes have been saying all along that sooner or later the US has to take out Sadr. For them, later is coming sooner now -- hitting Sadr later in the election may be too much, and waiting until the election's over may be too late. They may figure this is the best chance they're going to get, so caution be damned.
One side effect of the siege that we're already seeing is the shutdown of Iraq's remaining oil exports, pushing pump prices up to soon-to-be record levels. Presumably that's not the reason, but Cheney may find the synergies gratifying.
Glenn Greenwald: Fred Kagan on Monday. The Kagan quote and more, including several updates.
Fred Kaplan: Warlord vs. Warlord. An early attempt to sort out what's happening in Basra. I like the parenthetical line: "The lively blogger who calls himself Abu Muqawama speculates that Bush officials have embraced ISCI because, unlike Sadr, its leaders speak English." ISCI is the former SCIRI -- founded, trained, and armed originally by Iran, but close to the US occupation, unlike Sadr's group, which is wholly based in Iraq with no foreign entanglements. This points to the sort of shallow reasoning the US specializes in, even though it leads to all sorts of insane confusion about which bad guys Iran must be backing even though Iran's real allies in Iraq are actually our so-called good guys.
Patrick Cockburn: Iraq Implodes as Shia Fights Shia. Another report:
Cockburn notes that Sunnis seem to be supporting Maliki, seeing the Mehdi Army as little more than a death squad. This suggests Sadr hasn't made much progress in forming a united anti-US front. His short-sighted failure to do so is what allows the occupation to carry on, despite its destruction and unpopularity.
If these events prove anything, it's that the argument that the US has any sort of moral obligation to stay in Iraq to fix or at least steady things that it wrecked is completely at odds with the actual US presence in Iraq. Balancing conflicting forces and nudging them toward some sort of political compromise might be desirable, but that's not part of the skill set Bush et al. have brought to the country. They persist in picking sides, backing favorites, working out longstanding grudges. They think force works, and they see politics as just another means to extend their force. If it was ever going to work, you'd think you'd see some sign by now. As this proves, there is no such sign.
Friday, March 28. 2008
I just posted an updated recipe page on something called Eretz Israel Cake. Joan Nathan published the recipe in her cookbook, The Foods of Israel Today. I've made it three times now, and the latest was possibly the best cake I've ever made. The ingredients include marzipan, dates, and lots of oranges -- touted as the taste of the land of Israel. Of course, under a different twist of history it could just as well be Land of Palestine Cake.
I made it for a potluck dinner we had to discuss Sandy Tolan's remarkable book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. Seemed like an appropriate thing to bring.
I've long had a section on the website here with a collection of recipes, mostly cribbed from cookbooks with minor annotations. One reason is just that it gives me easy recourse to look up old favorite recipes, especially when I'm travelling and don't have access to the usual cookbooks. But I've only updated the cache occasionally, and right now it's in limbo between two designs and indexing schemes. A lot of things should be there but aren't, but if you rummage around you'll find some very good recipes -- mostly international (Spanish, Turkish, Indian, and Chinese are staples here) plus a few down home favorites (like my mother's chicken and dumplings).
I also have a website section for books -- another longterm, slow-evolving project, although I've been giving it a lot more attention lately. The link above to The Lemon Tree puts you there. I originally started collecting comments I had written on books I've read, but that soon evolved into collecting quotes (with or without annotation). Most of these have been posted at one point or another in the blog, but they're more accessible in the books section. The page on The Lemon Tree should give you a pretty broad sense of the book.
The books section currently lists 35 books on Israel. I've read two-thirds of them (plus a few others, some showing up in other categories). A couple more are on my shelf, and a few more are books that I've written something about based on a review (e.g., Dennis Ross, who is very, very low on my reading priority list). Tolan's book is especially good for how it personalizes the conflict, but also for the extreme rigor of its writing. Avi Shlaim's The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arabs is probably the best general history up to 1998 or so, but it misses the Barak-Sharon destruction of the Oslo Peace Process. Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions has a lot of insight into the politics of perpetual war in Israel, although subsequent events have overtaken him as well. I don't think anyone has taken full account of how morally corrosive the Bush administration, with W's dead certain faith in the clarifying power of force, could have been to Israel. (The news today from Iraq, along with Bush's musings on the need to confront outlaws, are one more instance of this mindset.)
At some point I should add cookbooks to the books section, and cross-reference the recipes. Nathan's cookbook is rife with Israeli propaganda, as well as Israeli glosses on mostly middle eastern recipes, plus a few specialties of Arik Sharon's wife. Still, the Eretz Israel cake is a wonder. Like Bashir and Dahlia's lemon tree, it's something we all can savor.
Thursday, March 27. 2008
Austan Goolsbee: The Next President's Plan. Finally got to Obama's brief economic agenda today, following pieces from the McCain and Clinton camps the last two days, occasioning last night's post. This one was written by Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago serving as Obama's senior economic adviser. It's relatively straightforward and sane, starting with a housing program that would help "low- and middle-income borrowers" to obtain affordable, stable 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, and moving on to a few more issues, like some kind of "infrastructure plan" that would create much needed jobs doing much needed work. Last but not least is providing some real oversight on a financial system that's run amok.
William Greider: Hillary's Economic Plan. Evidently, Clinton's solution is to appoint "an emergency working group on foreclosures" including eminences like Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan -- i.e., the people who got us into this mess. Conclusion: "There will be no surprises when she gets to the White House. Her long experience tells her to stick with her friends and make the same mistakes her husband made, all over again."
Andrew Leonard: Obama's Plan to Change the Economy. Some info from Obama's Cooper Union speech. Good line on McCain:
The link gets you to an earlier post: "John McCain's plan to ignore the economy."
Paul Krugman: The Age of the Anti-Cassandra. All of Krugman's recent columns are worth reading -- titles include "Betting the Bank," "The B Word," "Partying Like It's 1929," and "Taming the Beast." Good stuff on his blog too, but this one struck me as especially right:
Wednesday, March 26. 2008
Gene Sperling wrote a book a couple of years back, called The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy for Shared Prosperity (2005, Simon & Schuster). He was touted as one of the top gurus of Clintonomics. The book looked to be short on insight and long on bullshit, but I had some minor interest in how he might try to play it, especially given the traps that Bushonomics dropped along the way. So I thought I might wait for the book to come out in paperback, but that still hasn't happened. Now he seems to be Hillary Clinton's economics spokeswonk. The Wichita Eagle has been running a series of columns -- McCain and Clinton down, Obama to go -- on how each of the presidential candidates proposes to address the economy. Sperling wrote Clinton's piece. It is as lamebrained as McCain's (written by Douglas Holtz-Eakin) was incoherent. (Both are here, on the Washington Post's website. Sperling leads off:
He then repeatedly refers back to this "Main Street Test" (always capitalized, sometimes in quotes), as in "Sometimes the best way to meet the Main Street Test is to directly assist those who live there." He even gets witty at one point, asking "can't we afford $30 billion to prevent Main Streets from turning into mean streets?" -- the $30 billion referring back to her proposed Emergency Housing Fund and/or the Bear Stearns bailout.
As someone who literally grew up on Main Street, I can relate to this notion as well as anyone, even though I'm skeptical that the 1,000 sq. ft., $30,000 houses on my block -- my parents bought one for less than $8,000 in 1949, and lived in it until they died in 2000 -- are Clinton's idea of Main Street. The mortgages going belly up these days are more likely to be on suburban cul de sacs, because that's where the overreach is: the gap between how well we think we're living and how poorly we're actually doing. Clinton seems to think Main Street is just another word for her chosen demographic, the sanctified Middle Class -- of "American Dream" fame, now every bit as illusory as Main Street.
But where the Middle Class is a time-tested cliché, and Main Street is a hoped-for cliché, the really lame thing is the Test. She's done this before with her Commander-in-Chief Test. Indeed, this seems to be her specialty: making up bogus standards, then declaring oneself to have passed while the competition fails. Maybe she likes the pass-fail aspect, or maybe she just likes playing games. But even if you take this at better than face value and assume that by Main Street she means people with more/less median incomes, wealth, and security, and that she would really like to do something to help those people, it still makes no sense to say that the Main Street Test holds the answer to every economic problem. Preventing the entire financial house of cards from collapsing is a much bigger matter than just how it affects Main Street.
Similarly, there are many other economic problems that are not all that well viewed from the middle. In particular, the poor have a much clearer view of economic risk and lack of opportunity than median earners have -- part of this is that the poor show what can happen to the currently better off if/when misfortune strikes, but the reasons for addressing these problems shouldn't be limited to the Middle Class fear of falling. There are other cases where the rich offer a clearer view -- often times as bad examples, but not always.
One quasi-interesting thing about the Fed's actions to date is that thus far they've enjoyed pretty much across-the-board support. That's basically because no one wants to see the whole system fall to its knees, and that's about all these stopgaps can try to prevent. But there are much bigger political problems, which hardly anyone is up to raising -- least of all presidential candidates. But the problems aren't likely to be avoidable for long.
Tuesday, March 25. 2008
Garry Wills: Head and Heart: American Christianities (2007, Penguin Press)
My first encounter with Garry Wills was Nixon Agonistes, a long book that dealt so sympathetically with the great political monster of my formative years that I always figured Wills for a deep conservative. This sympathy helped Wills expose deep veins in the America that made and was exploited by Nixon, which made the book valuable as history and informative as political theory. I always imagined that Wills' book on Reagan did the same service for a younger generation, but found Reagan so transparently false that I never saw the need to dig deeper, let alone appreciate any nuances in his political culture. (Probably a mistake, given how Reagan has been canonized. The next thing I read by Wills was his book on John Wayne's America, another book that met America more than half way. Lately I've gathered that Wills' politics are on the liberal side, if not necessarily on the left. (He did write a book called Confessions of a Conservative in 1979, so I may not have been so far off.) His essay on Bush's Fringe Government is one of the basic keys for an understanding of a third generation of Republican monsters. But most of what Wills has written about recently has been religion. I have a copy of What Jesus Meant, and will get to it shortly. At least it looks agreeably short.
His latest is a history of Christianity in America, Head and Heart. I took a look at the book in the store, my first notion to look up what he had to say about Mormonism, a prime example of 19th century American protestantism's penchant for sectarian invention. But the index has no entries for Mormons, Latter Day Saints, or Joseph Smith. Wills evidently has something else in mind. Patrick Allitt, in his New York Times Book Review, explains that Head and Heart follows the gnarly threads of Enlightenment deism (head) and evangelicalism (heart) through American history, ending in a current-day political tirade. Not sure from the review whether the book is worth spending much time with, but I wanted to comment on one paragraph in Allitt's review:
Actually, I think that if you go back to the eve of World War II you'll find that America was more/less as secular as western Europe. Two things happened then that made all the difference in the world. The first is that the American and European experiences of the war were vastly different because the devastation took place in Europe (and Asia), not here, where America underwent an economic boom and an enthralling sense of solidarity. If you're inclined to attribute varying fortunes to God, you're likely to feel blessed in America and cursed in Europe. Postwar Europe was very disillusioned with the dominant civilization that had brought two such damning wars upon itself, and religion was one particularly disposable part of that. America suffered no comparable loss of faith.
The second thing was the Cold War. For various reasons, after WWII the US establishment adopted a strategy of opposing Communism all around the world, and one propaganda tactic they found useful was to build up religion as a bulwark against Marxist atheism. At the time, the US was dominated by the Democratic party, which had attracted imperialist-minded businessmen as far back as Wilson. The Republicans decided to join in, and even tried to outflank the Democrats on their right, and they were successful enough to pin the Democrats' backs to the wall. Most of the "under God" pledges and slogans date from the early Cold War period, the same stretch of time that brought us Taft-Hartley and McCarthyism. This had many effects, one being that it made religious belief mandatory for anyone with political aspirations. Without any sort of political legitimacy, atheists were forced to the sidelines, and Christian opportunists were able to press for ever more public testaments of faith. Troubled people are easily attracted to religion, especially in this self-reinforcing framework of a "nation under God," questioned by only the most marginal of characters.
I'm not saying that Wills' point about separation of religion from politics isn't valid. It certainly is true that the lack of a legally established church opens up the market for faith-based hucksters. Anyone in the market for religion can find plenty of options to choose from. By keeping religion personal, it also limits most folks' concerns about others' beliefs, letting most religions go uncontested. Wills is also right that when religious figures do push too hard they generate a backlash, and that's when people do start to publicly challenge religion. That has started to happen in response to Bush and the Republicans. But the question of America vs. Europe is pretty clearly political. We have been very slow to realize the costs of taking such an extreme anti-Communist stance following WWII -- one that put the US in league with fascists, militarists, and clerics all over the world, united primarily by their opposition to workers and peasants, a strategy that turned us into the world police for the protection of international capitalism.
Monday, March 24. 2008
John McCain's latest view of the future: "Today in Iraq, America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism." Precipice? My dictionary gives two definitions: 1) An extremely steep or overhanging mass of rock; 2) The brink of a dangerous situation. Even the less metaphorical first defintion begs a question: how many allies can you fit on a precipice? (About as many as the US has?)
In the Wichita Eagle's article on the 4000th US soldier killed in Iraq, they go on to report a few more events of the day:
Meanwhile, George W Bush concluded: "The surge is working. And as a return on our success in Iraq, we've begun bringing some of our troops home. The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around -- it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror."
It's hard to imagine what Bush could possibly mean by victory. But McCain has a point about the precipice: it's the point from which every direction heads down, most (for lack of a better word) precipitously.
Michael Schwartz: How to Disintegrate a City. The history of the Battle of Baghdad. The Bush and McCain quotes above come from Tom Engelhardt's introduction. Schwartz has a book coming out in June, based on his remarkable series of TomDispatch posts: War Without End: The Iraq War in Context.
Not a happy week. Having a lot of difficulty writing, especially on the records I should be shepherding into the finished Jazz CG. They still sound good enough, but the words aren't coming. Very frustrating. I so wish I was done with it.
Lauren White: At Last (2006 , Groove Note): Singer, from Dallas-Fort Worth area, reported to be 20 years old. Three songs look like originals, credited to "(L White, W White)"; rest are covers, mostly Gershwin-Porter era standards, but also Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou," Leon Russell's "Superstar," and Lee Ann Womack's "Why They Call It Falling." Some good musicians, including tenor saxophonist Ricky Woodward on 4 cuts, guitarist Anthony Wilson on 4, and pianist Bill Cunliffe on 3. All that suggests good taste, albeit nothing distinctive or idiosyncratic. Not much of a jazz singer, though. B-
Duke Ellington Legacy: Thank You Uncle Edward (2007 , Renma): Nine-member group, eight instruments plus vocalist Nancy Reed, at least for this record -- website shows two other lineups, the common denominators being leader-saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, trumpeter Mark McGowan, pianist Norman Simmons, drummer Paul Wells, and namesake guitarist Edward Ellington II, Mercer's son, Duke's grandson. Two guests here are Joe Temperley on bass clarinet/baritone sax and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. (If you're counting, that leaves bassist Tom DiCarlo.) Ellington songs (one from Mercer, the rest from Duke) aside from the well disguised "Toe Tickler" by Mayhew. Five vocals, mostly unexpected -- e.g., Jon Hendricks vocalese on "Cottontail." The arrangements are big and bold, and the band swings hard. Didn't much notice the guitar. B+(**)
Virginia Mayhew Septet: A Simple Thank You (2007 , Renma): Saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano here. b. 1959 San Francisco, based in New York since 1987. Sixth album. Might as well think of the Septet as a small big band: the hornplay, with two brass and two reeds, is constant and complex; the rhythm of guitar, bass and drums is inconspicuous but capable of pushing the horns hard. Best thing here is the closer, "Sandan Shuffle," for just that reason. Didn't much care for the intricate postbop until then, but going back I find more hot spots, including a rousing "Rhtyhm-A-Ning." B+(**)
David Liebman/Roberto Tarenzi/Paolo Benedettini/Tony Arco: Dream of Nite (2005 , Verve): Never got a final copy of this. I gather from the cover scan Liebman is David, not Dave, like my copy of the credits says. Also looks like it was originally released on EmArcy in Italy, then picked up by Verve here, and came out last November. Recorded in Italy, live (I think), with a local group, none of whom I recognize. Pianist Tarenzi wrote two tunes; if drummer Arco is the same as A. Arcodia, he wrote one also. Last two pieces are Liebman's, and they do one from M. Davis. Benedettini plays double bass. The band is pretty sharp, especially Tarenzi, and they keep Liebman on his postbop toes. For once, I can't even complain about the soprano. B+(*) [advance]
Bo's Art Trio: Live: Jazz Is Free and So Are We! (2007 , Icdisc): Bo is Bo van de Graaf, Dutch saxophonist (soprano, alto, tenor). Don't have much background, but he's been around since 1976, discography since 1981, mostly on BVHaast. Has some sort of relationship with film composer Nino Rota. He formed Bo's Art Trio in 1988 with pianist Michiel Braam and drummer Fred van Duijnhoven. Like much of the Dutch avant-garde, the operative concept here is humor -- most obviously on the two pieces where Simon Vinkenoog shouts poetry over Braam's jokey, crashing piano chords: D.H. Lawrence's "A Sane Revolution" from 1928 and a "Jazz and Poetry" original, in Dutch, I believe. Those pieces may limit the appeal. Van de Graaf's saxes are bright and edgy, bursting with joy. B+(**)
Maurice Horsthuis: Elastic Jargon (2007 , Data): One thing I've found is that there's usually an exception to any generalization one might make. By now, you know how much I hate the sound of massed violins, how lame I find classical string quartets, maybe even how estranged I feel from so much advanced contemporary composition (or whatever you call it -- maybe only because I get so little opportunity to follow it). Even at best I figure those things are projects, something that, given more exposure and understanding, I might some day learn to sort of like, a little bit at least. But here's an exception: all strings (4 violins, 2 violas, 3 cellos, double bass, and electric guitar), a very limited pallette with a lot of sawing back and forth, but it's really flowing, with waves of ideas, crashing and bubbling. Need to hold it back as a sanity check. Horsthuis plays viola. He's part of Amsterdam String Trio, which has at least four albums. He's also played with Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra back in the 1980s; also with Han Bennink and Maarten Altena. Group name could be Maurice Horsthuis' Jargon, in which case album name might be Elastic. [A-]
Plamen Karadonev: Crossing Lines (2007 , Mu): Pianist (also plays keyboards and accordion), from Bulgaria, where he studied at the Academy of Music and played for the National Radio Big Band. Got a scholarship to Berklee in Boston, where he's currently based. First album: in fact, a good example of what we might call First Album Syndrome, where a new artist tries to show off as many friends, connections, styles, and skills as possible. Originals, covers (Cole Porter, John Coltrane, Ivan Lins), a take on Schuman, expansive piano pieces, two guest shots for trombonist Hal Crook and two more for saxophonist George Garzone, three cuts with vocals by Elena Koleva. The individual pieces are impressive enough -- even the rather limited vocals come through. Garzone, of course, is always a treat, but the piano more than holds up, and the accordion solo on the Lins piece is lovely. B+(*)
John Ellis & Double Wide: Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (2007 , Hyena): Saxophonist, mostly tenor (also soprano and bass clarinet here), originally from rural North Carolina, now in New York, with an identity-forming stop in New Orleans along the way. Fifth album: one in 1996; another on FSNT in 2002; three now on Hyena, where he's been going for a soul-funk vibe, which he mixes up a little more than usual this time. This is a quartet, with Gary Versace on organ and accordion, Matt Perrine on sousaphone (a marching band tuba filling in for bass), and Jason Marsalis on drums. He's got a distinctive tone on tenor sax, which the deep brass only adds to. B+(**)
Lisle Ellis: Sucker Punch Requiem: An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat (2005 , Henceforth): Ellis is a bassist, also interested in electronics. Originally from Canada. Three previous albums, plus three more as part of What We Live, plus scattered credits, mostly avant-garde. I can't tell you what if anything this has to do with Basquiat, a painter and drug casualty evidently quite fond of jazz, except that Ellis pulled "sucker punch" out of a bit of Basquiat graffiti. Group here strikes me as an odd bunch. Pamela Z's electronically filtered vocals add an air of high church to the requiem, and I suppose Holly Hofmann's flute could signify angels. Mike Wofford is a first-rate pianist who works a lot with Hofmann. Susie Ibarra is an interesting percussionist formerly associated with David S. Ware and Assif Tsahar. They work hard to hold this together, but George Lewis is pretty inscrutable on trombone. On the other hand, the one thing you really do notice here is the sax, unmistakably the work of Oliver Lake. B+(*)
Jacob Garchik: Romance (2007 , Yestereve): Trombonist, originally from San Francisco, in New York since 1994. Second album. Side credits include Lee Konitz's New Nonet, John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars, and Slavic Soul Party. I recall liking Abstracts, his first album, but didn't manage to write more than a note on it -- "free jazz, sharply played." This isn't, even though it's the same trio (Jacob Sacks on piano, Dan Weiss on drums). Slow, arty, even more abstract. Judith Berkson adds her voice to two cuts. More dead weight. B-
Marc Copland: New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 1: Modinha (2006, Pirouet): Got this for background after listening to Vol. 2. Gary Peacock plays bass on both, but the drummers change: Bill Stewart here, Paul Motian there. One thing I always remember about Stewart is how he completely slam dunk aced a blindfold test a few years back (in Jazz Times, I think). That almost never happens: not only did he recognize everyone, he provided a lot of detail on why. Clearly, he knows his trade and its lore. Compared to Motian, however, he's very straightforward, which makes him hardly a factor in these fine piano trio recordings. Three covers here provide some melodic highlights -- especially lovely is the closer, "Taking a Chance on Love." B+(**)
Marian McPartland: Twilight World (2007 , Concord Jazz): A piano trio, with Gary Mazzaroppi on bass and Glenn Davis on drums -- not names I recognize, and not all that important here. A hard record for me to judge, not just because I rarely have much to say about piano trios, but also because this is so straight mainstream it's hard to discern anything that signifies this is jazz -- except her erudition and fine sense of musicality. B+(**)
Paolo Fresu/Richard Galliano/Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum (2007 , ACT): Fresu's trumpet and flugelhorn finally got an ear when Carla Bley tracked him down last year. This is a good chance to hear more. Lundgren's piano is a little short on rhythmic push, but has to do. At least he punctuates the lushness of Galliano's accordion. Not quite prepared to deal with this right now. Wouldn't be a bad idea for me to revisit Bley's record, either. [B+(***)]
Dave Douglas & Keystone: Moonshine (2007 , Greenleaf Music): I don't doubt for a moment that Douglas is brilliant, but often find that he is either over my head or beyond my ken. As near as I can tell, he does two things here: especially on the first half, he concocts postbop so tricky it puts classical music to shame; and he returns to his electronics experiments, mostly as coloring, but DJ Olive finally gets the upper hand with "Kitten." One piece in the lurch is called "Flood Plane," with a Bush sample mumbling something about terrorists as Douglas conjures the lost spirits of New Orleans over Olive's scratching. Relatively small group, with Marcus Strickland taking over the sax spot, and Adam Benjamin on Fender Rhodes. Interesting, but after four plays I'm still stumped. [B+(**)]
Delirium Blues Project: Serve or Suffer (2007 , Half Note): I suppose "What Is Hip" is intended to be delirious. It is the least blue of these nine songs, with Lil Green's "In the Dark" the most archetypal, "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirits Down" the most ordinary, and pieces by Tracy Nelson, Joni Mitchell, and Mose Allison not much one way or another. Kenny Werner is the leader, arranging the songs and playing keyboards. Never thought of him as a blues guy -- Copenhagen Calypso is one of his more memorable titles. Roseanna Vitro sings. I liked her Ray Charles record quite a lot, but these songs rarely fit. The band has some all-stars, and they deliver a couple of scorching solos -- Ray Anderson on trombone and James Carter on tenor sax are standouts, and Randy Brecker has some moments on trumpet. Recorded live at the Blue Note. B
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
João Lencastre's Communion: One! (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Recorded at the Hot Club de Portugal, with a couple of well-known Americans -- trumpeter Phil Grenadier and pianist Bill Carothers -- in the drummer's band. Covers from Ornette Coleman, Freddie Hubbard, George Gershwin, and Bjork, sandwiching group improvs. Postbop, a little slow and fussy for my taste, but full of interesting little details. B+(**)
Marc Copland: New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices (2006 , Pirouet): The change from Vol. 1 was to replace Copland's usual drummer Bill Stewart with veteran maestro Paul Motian. Motian has made a whole career out of teasing pianists, and Copland is notable enough he'll slot right into a long list that starts with Bill Evans and extends through and beyond Marilyn Crispell. Gary Peacock plays bass. He has a long history with Copland, and takes a large role here -- in addition to his solo time he wrote four songs to Copland's three (Miles Davis' "All Blues" is the only cover). B+(***)
The Willie Williams Trio: Comet Ride (2007, Miles High): Sax-bass-drums trio, nothing fancy, just hard, fast bop, swinging especially hard on the closing "Caravan." B+(**)
Adam Kolker: Flag Day (2007 , Sunnyside): Very pleasing, easily listenable sax quartet, where three notable sidemen each have something distinctive to add: John Abercrombie on guitar, John Hebert on bass, Paul Motian on drums. Mellow sax, subtle surprises. B+(***)
Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! (2007, Palmetto): Deceptively calm sax-piano duets from two musicians used to playing on the edge, but not so calm they slip into the background. Not sure what the idea behind the title was, but by removing all the tinder their spark never gets engulfed in fire. B+(**) [advance]
Omer Klein: Introducing Omer Klein (2007 , Smalls): Let me start with one more pitch for Klein's earlier Duet with bassist Haggai Cohen Milo, on Fresh Sound New Talent a couple years back. That's where I got introduced, and was impressed with his subtle melodicism. Still, this is an advance, and not just because added drums and percussion push a much more upbeat rhythm -- actually, bassist Omer Avital may have as much as anyone to do with that. B+(***)
Sunday, March 23. 2008
Evidently the number one obstacle in Israel to any sort of peace deal with Abbas isn't the opposition Likud or the rump-Sharonist party of Ehud Olmert but the new leader of the Labor Party, also Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Helena Cobban recently had this to say about Barak, and I think it's worth quoting at length:
A lot more could be said about Barak. I think his low point was after all but throwing the 2001 election to Sharon, he asked Sharon to return the favor and make him Defense Minister. Now he's finally made it, under Sharon's successor. He probably thinks of that as some form of vindication. More likely Olmert's just trying to figure out how to blow off the shotgun deal that Rice is trying to rope Olmert and Abbas into. He may figure that if anyone can sabotage a deal it is Barak. After all, Barak not only opposed Oslo from the start; he took a fall as the most incompetent Israeli Prime Minister ever just to kill Oslo in the end.
Saturday, March 22. 2008
A couple of links on Iraq. I'm sure many more would be possible.
Patrick Cockburn: Iraq is a country no more. Like much else, that was not the plan. This is the new Iraq we have wrought: a space on the map hopelessly divided into waring factions:
Fred Kaplan: Have five years of war achieved anything in Iraq? He weighs this out and concludes no. One quote on Rumsfeld's own special interest in the war plan:
Marc Lynch: Thinking Through Withdrawal. A thought piece on what would happen if the US withdraws from Iraq (assuming a 16-18 month withdrawal period, the timing less important than a clear signal of intent to completely withdraw). Lynch sees the big political split within Iraq as not between Shia and Sunni but between the "Green Zone political class," which depends the most on US support, and non-Green Zone actors, which include Sadr and the Sunni Awakenings movement. Reconciliation is of little import to the Green Zoners, not least because it would allow the US to start to withdrawal. A firm US commitment to withdrawal, on the other hand, would push the Green Zoners to find new bases of support, possibly positioning for further sectarian conflict, or to reconcilation. It largely depends on whether the Green Zoners can broaden their base to work with presently excluded forces which have strong potential to disrupt the state.
Tony Karon: Iraq, an American 'Nakbah'. Starts with a picture of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice out for a stroll, captioned "American Taliban council of war." As anyone's who's followed the Palestinians knows, nakbah is Arabic for catastrophe. Karon trots out the usual statistics, then goes back and rifles through pieces he wrote in 2002-03, before the war, to show how obvious even then the case against the war was. He talks about the lack of evidence for WMD, the spurious Al-Qaeda connection, the media manipulations, the "Feith-Based Initiative," how an invasion and occupation would play into Al-Qaeda's hands. The section on "The Liberal Hawk Fallacy" is particularly quotable:
Friday, March 21. 2008
Thought I'd do something on the 5th anniversary of Bush's Iraq invasion -- five years ago I described it as a "day of infamy," and there's no reason to reconsider those words. But it's been a very distracted day, so here's a book review piece I had ready to go. The title shows not just that war doesn't pay. It hasn't paid for a long time.
Adam Tooze: The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2007, Viking)
Big book, 802 pages, not much of a priority, but Richard J. Evans' New York Times Book Review (Dec. 20, 2007) review sums up some points worth noting:
Between 1924-35 the United States was already the wealthiest nation in the world. Some GDPs compared to the US: Great Britain 89%, France 72%, Germany 63%, Soviet Union 25% (p. 76):
One thing that seems clear is that World War II was decided primarily by economic depth and reach. Germany tried to compensate with its blitz tactics, but the largest foe they were able to defeat that way was France. Britain was sufficiently protected by its moat. Germany pushed deep into Russia, but couldn't push deep enough. Russia was able to move much of its production back to the Urals and Siberia, wear down the onslaught, and turn it back. Japan fared little better against China, even though they had little trouble with colonial regimes in southeast Asia. Neither Germany nor Japan had any chance against the US.
The economic resilience which allowed the US to defend against the Axis powers has only increased since 1945. Aside from the vulnerabilty that all nations fear from nuclear attack -- which the US is uniquely able to deter, assuming that makes a difference -- it is inconceivable that any nation or realistic alliance of nations might threaten the US. It's also increasingly unlikely that anyone would try: WWII took place in an era still drunken with imperialism, but everything since then has shown that empires are unsustainable and not very desirable. As such, the US for its own defense needs no more and probably a good deal less funding than in 1939. Yet we see the opposite: the US spends over 50% of the entire world's military budget. The very fact that no other country considers an arms race with the US shows that what the US spends is almost totally wasted.
Thursday, March 20. 2008
Andrew Leonard: The crash in Republican economics. For most of us, what happened over the weekend, not just to Bear Stearns but to capitalism as we know it, is nearly impossible to fathom. Leonard's been writing a column called "How the World Works," and he's come as close to tracking it as anyone I've found. This is a very important article, which needs (and deserves) to be read very carefully. The following quote only sets the stakes:
He then tails off by looking at what the presidential candidates have to say about all this. Not much, folks (although you won't have any trouble handicapping them). As for Bush, there's an entry in "How the World Works" that I can only quote whole (title: "George Bush's reality distortion field"):
Nicholas von Hoffman: Economic Chaos, Political Consequences. Not much optimism in the what-does-it-all-mean department:
We are in unknown territory facing situations that have never arisen before and taking measures that have never been tried. For the present we know that Bear Stearns/J.P. Morgan has been saved -- sort of. We suspect that some thousands of Bear employees will lose their jobs in the near future; we know that the news of the latest Fed actions was quickly followed by a fall in stock prices in Asia and another dip in the value of the dollar.
Of course, what makes these events newsworthy is that now we're finally talking about economic events that hurt rich people -- that in fact threaten to blow their whole financial house of cards into dust. When it was just jobs that were being lost, when it was just the private and public sector safety net that was being shredded, when the infrastructure that supports our way of life was eroding, when the spreading gap between rich and poor was undermining the notion that we live in a just society, those were all things that could blithely be swept under our carpet faith in free markets, as the media quickly moved on to report the Dow Jones numbers. For a long time now, but especially since the 2001 recession that was compounded and exacerbated by 9/11, the federal government has been stuffing money into rich people's pockets to prop up the illusion that they are the health of the economy. What we're finding is that the rot at the bottom is increasingly hard to cover up with the riot at the top.
Von Hoffman thinks that we're going to be so busy bailing out the rich that there won't be any money for aspiring politicians to fix any problems:
It isn't clear to me that these things are either/or, although they will be if it isn't recognized that the finance problems are symptomatic of more serious structural problems: in particular, the growing chasm between rich and poor. The Keynesian money pump is a way of compensating for short-term slumps in demand, but doesn't add to persistent demand unless it increases the wealth of people at the bottom end of the scale. The current vogue for stimulating the economy via tax cuts and low interest rates for the rich has remarkably little effect. The only thing that stands a chance of actually reversing the hollowing out of the US economy that we've witnessed over the last few decades is to start putting not just money but power into the lower classes, to build up the sense of worth that drives long-term demand. The Fed won't be taking the lead there. To do so requires political change. But it wouldn't be unprecedented: that's pretty much what did in fact happen in the New and Fair Deals.
Postscript: In another How the World Works column ("Easy money days are here again?"), Andrew Leonard notes that the net effect of the ultra-low interest rates that Alan Greenspan pushed from 2001 through Bush's 2004 election, against the backdrop of an otherwise stagnant economy, sent Americans off on a spending spree at the cost of accumulating $3 trillion in household debt. Now that interest rates are dropping again, will the same thing happen? Well, starting out $3 trillion deeper in debt makes it that much harder to convert newly available money into consumer demand. We already saw from 2001-04 that the low interest didn't go into new capacity. It mosty went into the pseudo-growth of asset inflation (i.e., the real estate bubble). With debt past any resemblance of sane limits, and assets deflating like crazy, it's hard to see where the money can go -- although I suppose some people will try to use it to pretend nothing disastrous is happening. Last thing anyone would think of doing with it would be to spend it on poor people, helping them live a little better and becoming more productive.
Wednesday, March 19. 2008
Hillel Cohen: Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration With Zionism, 1917-1948 (2008, University of California Press)
The Nation (Mar. 24, 2008), Neve Gordon has a long review of Cohen's book. Gordon introduces the subject by drawing on examples of Israel's targeted assassination program which has to date killed over 400 Palestinians. The following quotes are from Gordon's review.
The review also discusses a second, still untranslated, book by Cohen called Aravim Tovim (Good Arabs), which carries the stories of Palestinian collaborators into the 1948-67 period. As Gordon points out, Israeli use of collaborators continues to the present day. Gordon concludes with an example (p. 28):
Every occupation has depended on collaborators, and every insurgency
has found it necessary to dissuade collaboration, often with violence
against their own people. William Polk's Violent Politics: A History
of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, From the American Revolution
to Iraq, has numerous examples
One thing that Bush et al. certainly did not think of when they invaded Iraq was what would ultimately happen to the thousands of Iraqis they were able to recruit to try to secure the occupation. They really needn't have thought back any further than Vietnam. Tens (or maybe hundreds) of thousands of Vietnamese who had foolishly allied themselves with the US occupation sought refuge here after the war. Thus far the US has allowed no more than a few dozens of the millions of displaced Iraqis to immigrate here, but as the US presence ends, the moral pressure to provide sanctuary will only increase. Will our kneejerk nativists welcome those Iraqis with the flowers Bush expected awaited the Americans in Baghdad?
Postscript: I was wrong about Polk having a chapter on Palestine. The lineup: America (vs. England), Spain (vs. Napoleon), Philippines (vs. US), Ireland (vs. England), Yugoslavia (vs. Nazi Germany), Greece (vs. Nazi Germany, England, US), Kenya (vs. England), Algeria (vs. France), Vietnam (vs. France, US), Afghanistan (vs. England, Soviet Union), and Iraq.
Tuesday, March 18. 2008
There was a gathering in a park here in Wichita last Saturday to mark the 5th anniversary of the Bush invasion of Iraq. Laura Tillem gave a short speech, and this is what she said:
The point about collaborators is one that we've been thinking a lot about lately, partly because of Neve Gordon's review of Hillel Cohen's book, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration With Zionism, 1917-1948. Actually, collaboration is an essential concern in any counterinsurgency. No foreign occupation can stand without considerable support from the local population providing information about insurgents and assuming roles in support of the occupation. Conversely, no insurgency can possibly succeed without persuading, by force if necessary, the local population not to collaborate.
This is a constant theme throughout the dozen or so cases of insurgencies that William R. Polk surveys in his recent book, Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, From the American Revolution to Iraq. In the case of the American Revolution, Polk points out that at the start of hostilities, only about 2 in 10 Americans were against the British, 2 in 10 were loyalists, the rest were undecided or unconcerned. In that context, the insurgents fought not only the British troops and crown, but also anyone who might collaborate with the British. (If you watched HBO's John Adams series, you've seen some examples of this, including tar and feathers.) In the end, the British didn't lose the military engagement so much as they lost any chance of restoring loyalty.
So this is key: the American Revolution was from its very start, and necessarily so, a civil war between Americans against and in favor of the British crown. These same dynamics force every insurgency into civil war, and that civil war persists as long as the insurgency fights and is opposed. Polk's examples show that insurgencies only end under two cases: when the foreign occupation withdraws, or when the insurgency accepts some sort of accommodation -- possibly because the insurgency is exhausted, but even then usually with some sort of tangible gains. (The IRA in Northern Ireland is an example of the latter.)
It shouldn't be had to see how Iraq fits into all of this. Iraq was primed for an insurgency before the US invaded. There were many reasons for this which hardly need to be listed given that the insurgency (or several) actually happened. The first thing the insurgency did was to divide the country between the insurgents and those who collaborated with the occupation, and that was the start of the civil war. In other words: the occupation was met with an insurgency which in turn engendered civil war. The civil war would have happened even in a completely homogeneous population where the only difference was collaboration, but it really took off given the existing fault lines, which were readily manipulated by the occupation and the insurgents.
Of course, it's possible by now that the Iraqi civil war will take on a life of its own, following the grim cycle of atrocity and revenge. But what started it all was the US invasion and occupation, the revolt of a self-sustaining number of Iraqis against that occupation, and the struggle of both sides for the collaboration of the people. There is no chance that this will end in the submission of all Iraqi resistance to US hegemony. That leaves only one way to end the conflict, which is for the US to bow out, to give up on struggle for collaborators.
Some people will argue that the US has been making headway in recruiting collaborators, and that the more this happens, the more marginalized the "dead enders" become, the closer to "victory" we are. The levels of violence don't support any such optimism: Iraq is still far too dangerous to make any sort of reconstruction and economic recovery. The terms that the US has accepted to gain collaboration also appear to be exceptionally temporary: the Mahdi Army agreed to a truce, the Awakening to fight limited skirmishes while building up its own armed strength. For now, all sides have reasons to bide their time. This is mostly because the American people, unlike Bush and McCain, see little or no reason to cling to a thin and tattered tissue of sovereignty in Iraq. For all the talk about "staying the course," the inevitable course has always been that sooner or later the US would quit Iraq. The vast destruction that we have wrought only starts with the bombs and bullets the US has spent there. More profound is how we've deranged the country, split it into civil war camps, by coercing and/or tempting collaborators. Needless to say, the longer we stay, the more such damage we produce, and the harder it will be to heal.