Sunday, January 25. 2009
Franklin J Bruno: Jazz Is?. Book review of George E. Lewis's A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, which weighing in at 676 pages single-handedly fills a major gap in recent jazz history. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was formed in Chicago c. 1965. I've seen numerous founder claims, but early on the most recognizable figure was Muhal Richard Abrams, and before long the Association had an exemplary flagship group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Lewis is a professor at Columbia, but he is a brilliant trombonist and composer who figured significantly in the early careers of Anthony Braxton, who came out of the AACM, and David Murray, who bypassed the AACM in his move from California to the New York loft scene. He is deeply involved in this history, but still somewhat outside of it.
The AACM was unusual in managing to institutionalize support for avant-jazz, maintaining a group (as opposed to stylistic) identity over more than 40 years -- Nicole Mitchell's mother would have been a small girl when the group was founded. Lewis talks about how Abrams managed to break through the "serious music" gatekeepers to get some financial support for AACM in the 1980s, only to see Wynton Marsalis/Jazz at the Philharmonic enforce a new kind of orthodoxy:
Later in the review:
Looks like an important book, gathered together just in time. Wish I had time to delve into it; some point in the future I hope to.
Saturday, January 24. 2009
Overheard a bit of a tirade against FDR and the New Deal tonight, charging that unemployment increased during Roosevelt's first six years, and that Roosevelt had, if anything, damaged the economy. The first thing I wonder, then, is why was Roosevelt so popular: his 1936 reelection was by one of the largest margins ever, and he went on to an unprecedented four terms. Part of the reason is that the charges are basically bogus, but the more important thing is that Roosevelt's policies promoted a fairer, more equal distribution of the fruits of the economy. Even before the economy recovered, FDR improved the lot of most of the poor, and he made all of the poor feel like they were pulling together. He also set the stage for the postwar boom, not least by laying the basis for mass middle class consumption -- the new houses, cars, and appliances that characterized the growth throughout the 1950s.
When I finally walked into the TV room, I saw that the tirade was being given at the Heritage Foundation. Clearly, the more Obama invokes the New Deal, the more bitterly the right will feel the need to contest New Deal history. One thing you won't find them talking about is how the Republican policies of the 1920s and the 2000s led to depressions. They did so through increasing inequality, driving more and more Americans into marginal status while helping the rich feather their inflated profits.
David Kurtz: NRCC: The Fundamentals of Our Economy Are Strong!. Snapshot of the National Republican Congressional Committee's website as late as yesterday, featuring the timeless quote: "Thanks to Republian economic policies, the U.S. economy is robust and job creation is strong." Yes, thanks indeed.
Friday, January 23. 2009
The thing that struck me in the introduction of Obama's new special envoys is that George Mitchell's remarks staked out a search for peace, but Richard Holbrooke's remarks reiterated his lust for war. They were followed up with a couple of US rockets killing 15 or more Pakistanis today. The former will certainly be difficult, given the array of political forces lined up to keep Israel's war against its people and its neighbors going indefinitely. But the latter is going to be even harder to make work. Not that the war itself is difficult, but getting anything good out of the casual slaughter of civilians is impossible -- not to mention how severe the possibilities for blowback in Pakistan are.
Paul Woodward: Does Israel fear its friends more than its enemies? The Mitchell appointment is already drawing a lot of flack, the most common charge being that Mitchell is "too balanced." You'd think that would be a big plus, especially given the repeated failures of such unbalanced predecessors as Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams.
Tony Karon: Change Gaza Can Believe In. Tom Engelhardt's introduction sets the context:
Karon's argument is that the Gaza fiasco gives Obama an opportunity, perhaps even a mandate, to change policy in the region: "In Gaza in the last few weeks, however, the Bush approach imploded, leaving Obama no choice but to initiate a new policy of his own." Key paragraphs in the background:
Philip Weiss: Several important writers declare that Israel is committing 'suicide'. Quotes Daniel Levy saying that "the mainstream American Jewish lobby was 'driving Israel toward national suicide,'" then goes on to round up a long list of similar articles/themes. I've cited Ali Abunimah's "Why Israel Won't Survive" in a previous post. Other pieces sited are by Immanuel Wallerstein, Mark LeVine, Rolf Verleger, Normal Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, and John Mearsheimer. One irony of all this is the Two State Solution, poisoned by settlement building, was the last viable system for ensuring a strong, state-dominating Jewish majority in a substantial portion of mandatory Palestine. It was killed by greed and arrogance, reducing Israel to a pariah state. It's hard to see that even America will stand by Israel until the bitter end.
Wednesday, January 21. 2009
The article in the Wichita Eagle today is titled: "Hamas reappears, claims victory." Israel is withdrawing its forces from Gaza, claiming to have taught the Palestinians a brutal lesson. As the headline shows, the lesson learned is not the same as the lesson taught. The lesson learned is easily spun into a tale of survival and perseverance against a savage oppressor. But then, we could have told you all that three weeks ago, before all this futile death and destruction escalated. This war served no purpose other than to stroke the egos of those who perpetrated it, in particular the Olmert-Barak-Livni troika.
What follows are rather scattered links, picked up over a couple of days. Hopefully this will hold us for a while.
Paul Woodward: Olmert's "mission accomplished". At best this looks like George Aiken's Vietnam strategy: declare victory and leave. The problem is not that the declaration is phony. The real problem is that Israel isn't any good at leaving. At most they'll withdraw behind their walls and blockades and periodically shell Gaza to remind the Palestinians who is responsible for their plight.
Ilan Pappe: Israel's message. One thing Pappe makes clear is that Israel has been planning its assault on Gaza for several years -- going so far as to build a dummy Arab city in the Negev desert to practice its urban warfare scenarios.
Uri Avnery: The Boss Has Gone Mad. They key to understanding this war is that neither side can understand the logic of the other, or even acknowledge it. Hamas, for instance, think that all they have to do is withstand and survive whatever slaughter Israel directs at them; that denying Israel victory is tantamount to winning (cf. Ali Abunimah below). As such, Hamas feels little fear in provoking Israel, since Israel's kneejerk reaction is only to lash out and weaken its position. There is some truth to this logic, as should be clear from the numerous pieces I've cited (cf. Mearsheimer below) on the inevitability of Israel's failure ("defeat" is the term most used, because it contrasts more sharply with their victory talk).
Israel repeatedly falls into this trap because they can't conceive of it. This is largely because they're following their own bizarre logic (cf. Glenn Greenwald's piece on Thomas Friedman below). Avnery has a fairly good description of this logic:
Despite being dressed up like a Crazy Eddie's commercial -- a very successful discount electronics chain in New York back when I lived there; don't know if it even exists today -- this is pretty old logic. Britain built their empire on shows of outrageously gratuitous violence, an idea they no doubt picked up from Rome. More recently, Nazi Germany proclaimed their 100-to-1 policy for pacifying the Balkans. You can't say this never works, but depends on the psychology of the victims to draw the intended conclusions, and the Palestinians have largely immunized themselves. The last Palestinian standing in Gaza will still be thumbing his nose, declaring victory-by-survival. By that time the absurdity of the Israeli logic will have turned into genocide, and Israel will really have lost by winning.
John J Mearsheimer: Another War, Another Defeat. A useful general history relevant to the latest siege, but going back as far as Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Iron Wall dogma. Given those roots, the evolution of the conflict was predictable:
Stephen M Walt: The Myth of Israel's strategic genius. Reviews much of the relevant history since 1948, including the abortive 1956 Suez war and Israel's early backing of Hamas against the PLO.
On the other hand, Israel's behavior since the 1979 treaty with Egypt makes more sense if you consider the challenges of perpetuating militarism in an era where there are no longer any credible military threats. From 1948 into the 1970s, the IDF was the force that held Israeli society together, its common unity against the world. The 1967 triumph both exalted the IDF and rendered it obsolete. Rather than face a world where Israel would be accepted as a normal state, they've desperately scoured for new threats, taking matters that could easily be resolved, and blowing them up into terror threats that are only exacerbated by Israel's military doctrine.
Ali Abunimah: Why Israel won't survive. Starts with a photo of Israelis outside Gaza watching the air strikes through binoculars and dancing in celebration. The easily predictable conclusion:
Still, that doesn't explain the title, which has more to do with how Israel keeps entrenching itself as a pariah state, worse than apartheid South Africa. I'm less convinced by the conclusion than by the analogy: in at least one way Israel is far worse for having built an economy that totally dispenses with Palestinian labor, thereby making the Palestinians disposable. While Israelis would prefer to keep the land and dispose of the people, the numbers are such that Israel could easily survive just by disposing of the Occupied Territories, which are expensive, offensive, and of little real value (despite their powerful symbolism within Israeli political rhetoric).
Gershom Gorenberg: The Other Housing Crisis. Why can't Israel make peace? More specifically, why can't Israel just walk away and turn a blind eye toward Gaza, land they no longer have any real interest in or desire for ("the snake pit" is their phrase for it)? "It's the settlements, stupid." Sharon sacrificed Gaza to shore up the settlements on the West Bank. Israel wants a compliant Palestinian Authority to legitimize their West Bank land grab, and Hamas challenges that -- even if Hamas is sequestered in Gaza, they still exert influence and pressure in the West Bank.
The key thing to understand about the settlements is that they're not just an attempt to assert "facts on the ground." They are a poison pill that Israel swallowed to prevent future generations of political leaders from making peace. Thus far it's been pretty effective.
Gershom Gorenberg: The War as warm-up act for Obama. Israel has been planning its siege of Gaza ever since they pulled out in 2005, much as they had planned on punishing Lebanon in 2006 ever since they withdrew IDF forces from Lebanon in 2000. So in some sense, the war was inevitable, but the timing was something else:
My own pet theory still is that Elliott Abrams, deep within the bowels of the Bush administration, cooked this little war up as a "December Suprise" -- a mess to bedevil the incoming administration, a parting gift from the lame ducks. I haven't seen anyone else pick up on this idea. There are many angles to the timing, most obviously the pending Israeli elections. Moreover, the sudden disengagement on the eve of Obama's inauguration shows clearly they didn't want to put Obama into a corner where he might push for a ceasefire.
Glenn Greenwald: Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of "terrorism". Last Wednesday the New York Times offered not one but two op-ed pieces glorying in Israel's attack on Gaza: one by Jonathan Goldberg, the other by Thomas Friedman and his "sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader." Friedman is especially enamored of using collective punishment to "educate" Hamas -- citing 2006's war to "educate" Hezbollah as a good precedent.
As I mentioned above, the lessons learned here don't match up with the lessons taught. Moreover, it should have been obvious that this would be the case. In fact, all you need to do to see that is to be able to imagine a scenario where the roles are reversed: would Jews, in the world of 2009, accept the sort of ghettoization plus terror they've imposed on Gaza? Or for that matter, would they passively accept the ghettos their ancestors were forced to live in back in Europe? Ehud Barak pretty much answered that when he said that if he were Palestinian he'd be a terrorist.
Given the inevitability of failure in these attempts to "educate" the Palestinians, what else drives them? About the only answer I can come up with is sadism.
Tuesday, January 20. 2009
My niece Rachel Hull put out a RFC for input to a post she intends to do for our favorite food blog, Porkalicious, on choice spots to eat in Wichita. She lists her own as: Artichoke [pub food], Jack's [a burger stand across the street from North High], Saigon [Vietnamese], Beacon [don't know], Connie's [Mexican], N&J's [Lebanese], and "the Mexican popsicle guy." She lives in DC, so her list is a bit dated -- Jack's burned down a year ago, but may come back under new management -- and (shall we say?) nostalgic. She welcomes info on bakeries and shops, and suggests avoiding non-local chains (while professing love for Schlotzky's and Jason's Deli). My response, more a quick brain dump than a considered analysis:
Monday, January 19. 2009
No news on the pending Jazz Consumer Guide column. It's in the Voice's mill and presumably will come out sooner or later. I'm preoccupied with work on my house. Taking spare moments to keep from falling too far behind, but time for working on this is limited. I expect it to get far worse over the next 2-3 weeks, then start to return to normal. We've been somewhat limited as long as we were still making decisions, but the big ones are nearly all done now. In particular, there is a lot of painting to be done once we select the colors, which should be today. Meanwhile, I'll limp along with whatever jazz prospecting I can slip in. Here's some.
Brian McCree: Changes in the Wind (2005-06 , Accurate): Low profile: Google ignores my spelling and returns links to a Flint, MI stand-up commedian named Bryan McCree. Wrong guy. This one plays bass. First album, with close to 10 side credits back to 1991. Worked in Boston for a while, but moved to Hawaii in 2003. Largely a group album, with one McCree original, two covers ("Nature Boy," "The Breeze and I"), and the rest from the band: two from Salim Washington (tenor sax, flute, oboe); one each from Bill Lowe (bass trombone), Joel LaRue Smith (piano), and Ron Murphy (vocals). Murphy's deep vocals, limited to the opening "Nature Boy" and his "Cookie" at the end, frame the album with soulful gravitas -- not as impressive as Everett Greene, but in the same vein. Washington is a first-rate saxophonist, with more edge than expected in the otherwise mainstream flow, and his flute piece holds up pretty nicely. B+(**)
Matt Criscuolo: Melancholia (2008 , M): Alto saxophonist, from the Bronx, attended Manhattan School of Music. Third album, a sax-with-strings thing which comes off better than usual, something we can credit to pianist-arranger Larry Willis. Still, that means pretty at best, and at worst struggles to keep seasickness in check. Starts with two originals, then one from Willis, two each from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and the title track from Billy Eckstine. Not a title I'd aspire to. B- [Mar. 3]
Ray Bryant: In the Back Room (2004-08 , Evening Star): Veteran pianist, b. 1931, came up in the late 1950s, has worked steadily ever since, with some popular success in the 1960s, and not much credit thereafter. This one is solo, a format he uses more often than I'd advise. A mix of originals and Fats Waller songs, with a couple more -- closing songs are "Easy to Love" and "St. Louis Blues." Always had a light, elegant touch, much in evidence here. B+(**)
The Blue Note 7: Mosaic (2008 , Blue Note): Bill Charlap's superb trio with Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, plus four: Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto sax, flute), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar). Songs from landmark Blue Note albums, written by Cedar Walton, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Duke Pearson, Horace Silver. How bad can it be? Still crunching the numbers here, but it doesn't sound promising. [B-]
Donald Bailey: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3 (2008 , Talking House): Drummer, b. 1934, best known for his work with Jimmy Smith 1956-63, which pretty much covers Smith's prime period. Quite a few scattered credits follow: AMG goes into three pages, with the rate picking up after 1990, but the later listings include lots of reissues. First album, or maybe second. Drummers who don't write rarely get their name on top of albums -- Art Blakey being the rule-proving exception -- but we've seen a few exceptions lately, including Mike Clark's on this same label. Can't say as he has any particular style, but he has interesting taste in friends: he turns most of the album over to tenor sax titan Odean Pope, for a bruising, bravado performance, then closes out with Charles Tolliver on two cuts, one enhanced by the leader's harmonica. B+(***) [Mar. 17]
Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Infinity (2008, Patois): Trombonist, b. 1952 in San Francisco, studied at SF State and, committing himself to Latin jazz, La Escuela Nacional in Havana. Latin credits predominate, although he also played with the Asian-American Jazz Orchestra. Sixth album since 2000. The four I've heard have been perfunctory and underwhelming: I like the trombone quotient, don't care much for the occasional vocals (two here by Jackie Ryan, one by Orlando Torriente), and wish somone would set a fire under the percussionists. This one is typical: lots of nice moments, nothing that really stands out. B
Donald Vega: Tomorrows (2008 , Imagery): Pianist, from Los Angeles (most likely; details are fuzzy), studied at USC, Manhatton School of Music, Julliard -- the latter under Kenny Barron, who seems to be the appropriate model. Wrote six of nine pieces, with "Speak Low," "Indian Summer," and Charlie Haden's "Our Spanish Love Song" the covers. Trio, with David J. Grossman on bass, the redoubtable Lewis Nash on drums. Maria Neckam sings one Vega original -- neither the singer nor the song are very deep, but it mostly works. A subtle, erudite pianist, doing nice work. B+(*)
The Burr Johnson Band: What It Is (2008 , Lexicon): Guitarist, toured with Jack McDuff; ninth record since early 1990s, including 2 for children, several with this Band, a guitar-bass-drums trio. Favors funk licks, and puts some fancy spin on them. Three songs come with lyrics, and an uncredited singer with reason to remain anonymous. B [Feb. 5]
Liam Sillery: Outskirts (2007 , OA2): Trumpeter, from New Jersey, studied at University of South Florida and Manhattan School of Music, counting Joe Henderson as a significant influence. Third album, a quintet with Matt Blostein on alto sax, Jesse Stacken on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. Sounds almost perfectly postbop, especially when Blostein is leading. Hadn't run into Blostein before: he has one record, co-credited with Sperrazza. Wouldn't mind hearing it. B+(**)
John Ettinger/Pete Forbes: Inquatica (2007 , Ettinger Music): Ettinger is a violinist, from San Francisco; this is his third album, with him also playing a little piano and bass, as well as setting up loops. Not sure about Forbes. Most likely he is a singer-songwriter with two previous albums, but here he plays drums, percussion, banjo (2 cuts), and piano (3 cuts), but doesn't sing and may not songwrite either. Comes off mostly as an aleatory electronics album, even if most of the sounds are acoustic. One cover, a lovely, haunting "Stardust." Compelling when they pick up a beat, and intriguing when they merely wander. B+(***)
KJ Denhert: Dal Vivo a Umbria Jazz (2008, Motema Music): Singer-songwriter, also plays guitar, from New York, has seven or so albums since 1999, although her career goes back to the 1980s. AMG genrefies her as Neo-Soul; her own website refers to her as "urban folk & jazz artist." Recorded live in Italy, with electric guitar and bass, piano and keys, percussion as well as drums, and Aaron Heick on sax. Covers include "Ticket to Ride" and "Message in a Bottle." Don't see much point in either. B-
Steve Carter Group: Cosmopolis (2008, CDBaby): No indication of a label, but record is available on CDBaby -- lacking anything better I usually go with that. Promo sheet lacks any useful information, but the hype is stratospheric: "The Steve Carter Group is taking the art of the jazz piano trio into the 21st century. They are modern, fresh, edgy and dramatic. They are edgy whether they are playing an up-tempo, hi-energy groove or a beautiful ballad." Of course, they aren't. At best they are pleasantly funky, with Carter on electric piano and Dennis Smith on fretless electric bass. Most likely, not the same Steve Carter who plays guitar and has a couple of Light Fare albums, nor the Scottish composer-photographer of the same name. This one has worked with Pete Escovedo and Andy Narell; has TV, film, and video games on his resume; and was part of a Latin hip-hop group called Los Mocosos. B
Jazz Arts Trio: Tribute (2008, JRI): Piano trio: Frederick Moyer on piano, Peter Tillotson on bass, Peter Fraenkel on drums. The tribute idea is to pick out performances from their favorite piano trios and redo (or "reinterpret") them. It's safe to say their favorite is Oscar Peterson, who accounts for 6 of 11 songs here, the others good for one piece each: Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi, Herbie Hancock, and Horace Silver. Nice little exercise, of no particular importance, but anyone who can play like Peterson is entitled to do so. B+(*)
Ken Hatfield and Friends: Play the Music of Bill McCormick: To Be continued . . . (2008, M/Pub): Guitarist, also plays mandolin, has half dozen albums since 1998. AMG lists his first style as "folk-jazz" -- don't really know what that means, but he does have some folkie in his veins: sharp plucks, a little twang, maybe a hint of John Fahey or Doc Watson. Don't know much about McCormick, who presumably wrote the music -- he also wrote the liner notes, is probably pictured on the back cover, isn't credited as playing except in some fine print in the booklet, and seems to be the "M" in M/Pub. Jim Clouse plays soprano and tenor sax, more for color than anything else. With Hans Glawischnig on bass, Dan Weiss on drums, and Steve Kroon on percussion. Surprised me enough I'll have to play it again. [B+(**)]
Hendrik Meurkens: Samba to Go! (2008 , Zoho): Dutch-born (1957), German-raised, Berklee-educated, New York-based, plays vibes and harmonica, the latter now his main instrument. Has 14 albums since 1990, nearly all in a Brazilian vein -- his first was called Sambahia, and this one follows the very similar Sambatropolis. Soft tones, especially when Rodrigo Ursala brings out the flutes, and soft rhythms, bringing together the mushiness samba is prone to, spicing it so lightly one hardly notices. B-
Mike Holober & the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Quake (2008 , Sunnyside): Pianist, teaches at CCNY, has four albums, at least two with his Gotham Jazz Orchestra big band, plus a couple dozen side credits going back to 1991. I was pleasantly surprised by his Thought Trains album, and generally find him to be a handy guy wherever he shows up. For some reason, he tackles one song each from the Beatles ("Here Comes the Sun") and the Rolling Stones ("Ruby Tuesday"). I have mixed feelings, especially about the former, a song I can easily get too much of, done up with enough clever touches to be admirable, almost listenable even. B+(*)
Ray LeVier: Ray's Way (2007 , Origin): Drummer, based in New York, has worked with KJ Denhert for 10 years, but doesn't have much in the way of credits. First album. Must have worked his way around, for he came up with a name roster, having to divide the guitar slots between John Abercrombie (5 cuts, with Joe Locke on vibes) and Mike Stern (4 cuts). Dave Binney play sax on two cuts with each guitarist. François Moutin and Ned Mann split bass duties, and Federico Turreni gets one cut on soprano sax. LeVier wrote 2 of 9 songs, picking up others from the band, plus "Blues in the Closet" by Oscar Pettiford. Straightforward postbop, providing an especially good showcase for the guitarists, with Stern more than holding his own. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
I've been keeping track of incoming material in my notebook for some time now, but hadn't posted it in the blog. Thought it might be of minor interest, and this might be a good time to start.
Sunday, January 18. 2009
During the 2006 Israel/Lebanon war Condoleezza Rice went on and on about how she doesn't want a ceasefire that won't hold up over the long run. That was nonsense given that the single most important success factor in longterm ceasefires is to stop shooting now, before even more damage is done and even more revenge is due. But Israel has announced a ceasefire today that is exactly the sort of thing Rice fretted over two-and-a-half years ago: it's unilateral, so it has no corresponding commitment from Hamas; it leaves IDF troops in place in Gaza, where "militants" are almost certain to take umbrage and look for easy targets; it solves none of the problems that led Hamas to non-extend its previous 6-month truce. In other words, it is nothing but a propaganda ploy, meant to stall for time. It may also reflect the fact that next week will see a new US president, who while slavishly committed to Israel doesn't seem to share the old president's lust for violence, let alone his blind faith in the power of force to clarify things. As brash as they can with the rest of the world, Israeli leaders tend to be cautious with American leaders. They have, after all, burnt their bridges with the rest of the world (well, except for Micronesia), so they need to be extra careful about offending the US.
The other likely reason behind their thinking is that they're running out of ostensible goals and targets, milestones to justify their adventure. They did, after all, finally manage to blow up UN headquarters -- with white phosphorus, no less; how's that for adding injury to insult? -- and to knock off the Reuters office. They're maintaining a kill ratio of some 300-to-1 over the toll inflicted by Hamas's rocket barrage. They've revealed themselves to be callous thugs with no ideas, no concerns for anyone else, no qualms about their own inhumane behavior.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: Israel's leaders are not simply war criminals; they are fools. Let's quote this at some length, a speech on the floor of the UK's House of Commons, by a member of the British Parliament:
I don't agree with everything that Kaufman says here, but he makes a strong impression, precisely because he's willing to look beyond particular allegiances to general principles. You don't have to be Nazis to slough off your war kill as "militants" -- the UK did that for ages, the US too, and most likely any other occupier trying to stabilize their police state, while the Nazis did some things that are virtually without parallel, such as their use of slave labor as a path toward extermination. (The Soviet Union under Stalin came close, and several US states in the Jim Crow South ran their prison labor systems so brutally that death rates exceeded 50%.) But the structural congruence between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza is straightforward. Indeed, it's hard to think of other precedents for what Israel is doing there.
Still, the Israeli's aren't Nazis: that Kaufman falls back on those analogies just shows how close he is to Israel, where nearly every idea refracts back through the Holocaust. Israel actually modelled itself first on the British colonialists who sponsored their "homeland," then after independence adopted a couple of other unsavory models: the French in Algeria, and the Afrikaners in South Africa. They're also rather fond of the pacification of US Indians, especially when it resonates with US military support. (All that stuff about "making the desert bloom" really hit a favorable chord in the 1950s when American television was so dominated by westerns.) As such, Israel is fighting the dominant trend of the last century. That they've managed as well as they have has something to do with their tenacity and cohesiveness, but it's basically a numbers game: colonialists dominated in the US and Australia due to overwhelming demographics as well as superior technology; colonialists failed in Algeria and South Africa where numbers worked against them, despite technology and cunning. Israel is in between, still convinced they can win, still terrified they will lose, unwilling to look for a way out.
The reminder that Begin, Shamir, and Eitan Livni first made their claim to fame as terrorists might have had more resonance had Kaufman pointed out that their primary victims in the King David Hotel massacre weren't the four Jews or the more numerous Palestinians who perished with typical imprecision -- the main, intentional, victims were British. On the other hand, as the British know better than anyone, yesterday's terrorist often turns into some form of statesman -- the shreds of the British Empire are littered with such examples, going back at least as far as George Washington. Yasir Arafat was another example, or would have been had Israel been willing to follow through on the promises of Oslo. There's no reason to think that the surviving leaders of Hamas should be any different. The critical thing about them is that they represent a significant segment of the Palestinian people, and that they can credibly bring those people into a lawful political process if one can be devised that balances their rights and needs against Israel's. In this it doesn't help to call Hamas "a deeply nasty organization." Even if it were true, they would hardly be the only one; but in any case the goal should be to move beyond such nastiness, and that isn't the likely result of name-calling.
WarInContext: News & Views Roundup & Editor's Comment: January 15. Several pieces here: rather than cite them individually, this link gets you the bunch, plus Paul Woodward's invaluable comments. In particular, see his comment on the piece Turkish PM: Israel should be barred from UN:
Other articles cited:
WarInContext: News & Views Roundup & Editor's Comments: January 15. Again, I want to point out a Paul Woodward comment:
The history is that Israel always attacks the Palestinian group most credibly able to deliver a peace agreement. We saw this most graphically in 2003-03: whenever Hamas launched a suicide bomber attack, Sharon blamed Arafat and shelled his compound in Ramallah. Hamas, like the PLO before them, only became a credible political threat once they gave up terror tactics and entered the mainstream. Israeli leaders understand that insurgent violence only strengthens their stance.
Trita Parsi: Israel, Gaza and Iran: Trapping Obama in Imagined Fault Lines. Explores the angle that Israel is countering Iranian influence by attacking Iran's alleged pawns in Hamas. As Parsi has explained at length elsewhere, Israel's obsession with Iran is largely a figment of their fevered relationship with Washington: the US has an old grudge against Iran -- the result of several legitimate grudges Iran has against the US -- and Israel has discovered that their stock rises whenever they can heat up the antipathy between the US and Iran. With Obama committed to opening talks with Tehran, Israel is all the more desperate. Iran, on the other hand, is all the more cautious, especially since they've never had more than a mild rhetorical interest in the plight of the Palestinians.
Neve Gordon: How to sell 'ethical warfare'. Meanwhile, note that Israel has arrested some 700 Israelis during the course of this assault on Gaza. The reason: protesting against Israel's war. As was clear from the start, this war is above all a political one, which is to say that its main focus is to hold Israeli political opinion in check. Gordon explains:
All of these themes are repeated in the propaganda Americans receive, coming through as high moral tone on top of complete dissociation from the reality of the war.
Update: One problem with Israel's unilateral ceasefire is that two can play that game. Hamas has announced their own, with the flourish that they're insisting that Israel withdraw from Gaza within one week. Hamas doesn't realistically have the power to eject Israel if they fail to comply, but this shifts the sense of who will be responsible for the ceasefire breaking down, and it gives Hamas a credible rationale to accept Israel's ceasefire -- for a week, anyway.
Thursday, January 15. 2009
Went to a Peace Center event tonight, which is Martin Luther King's actual birthday -- as opposed to his phony governmental holiday birthday, this coming Monday. The organizers probably should have made a bigger point of the difference, since the topic was the real MLK, specifically his opposition to the war des jours: Vietnam. We played an excerpt from King's April 4, 1967 speech, A Time to Break Silence, decorated with video images from the period -- the most striking, I thought, were the aerial views of bombardment, quiet moments as the bombs tumble to earth, at which point they light up horrific explosions. Close-ups of their victims were more static and less effective. The speech itself is completely enveloped in King's sense of the gospel, reading at times like a theological tract. It strikes me that there are simpler and more compelling reasons to oppose war in general and that war in particular, but he felt pressured to make his case in terms that would be beyond mortal reproach -- e.g., among his more politically compromised colleagues and their allies among LBJ's war party. It does, nonetheless, make a powerful antiwar case. But what makes it more interesting is that the speech broadens King's political agenda beyond the conventional settlement that became the end state of the civil rights movement: a victory against certain legal discrimination while leaving every other aspect of US politics and economics undisturbed.
His antiwar stance was one step on King's path toward a true populism: one that didn't seek to "advance colored people" or any particular group, but rather sought to advance justice and equality for all people. One thing I don't know is whether King understood the profound relationship between war and inequality or whether he simply grasped that the antiwar movement was the sort of movement a movement leader like himself should take up. For instance, he still talks much about how the War on Vietnam takes resources away from the War on Poverty. A deeper insight would be that the War on Vietnam, indeed the whole exultation of the military-industrial compex, worked in favor of a right-wing political movement: defense expenses funded the right-wing and sapped resources away from social development and safety net needs -- rationalized by the cult of personal responsibility, and reinforced by a seemingly endless eagerness to punish deviants and miscreants; it subjected a large segment of the lower classes to military discipline; it expressed a worldview based on violent conflict and armed supremacy.
This point bears repeating: war cultures reinforce the current social and economic pecking order, promoting conformism, corroding democracy, reducing freedom, and discouraging cooperative efforts. King must have understood not just that war was wrong but that it was politically destructive to his movement, regardless of whether he defined it as promoting his race, advancing civil rights, or equalizing economic opportunity and justice.
On the other hand, when we look at what happened in the 40 years since King was assassinated, we see that the civil rights movement has been a qualified success -- i.e., that African-Americans who qualified could become immensely successful, while those who didn't remained stuck in more/less the same rut as poor whites, sometimes worse due to residual racism and/or the penalty of starting so far behind. We also see that King's linkage between civil rights and antiwar and economic populism has been effectively busted up, not least by his elevation to national holiday status: where each year we ritually celebrate the civil rights leader, patting ourselves on the back for progress made there, while pushing his antiwar and populist politics further into the fuzzy background. That is, after all, how holidays work: regardless of what inspired them, they turn into self-flattery, which has long been the stock-in-trade of the right. (It's not, after all, like they have anything tangible to offer most Americans.)
It was a smart idea to return to King's antiwar speech, not just to honor King by making him whole again but to try to bring the civil rights and human rights movements back into synch -- in a time when the US and its buddy Israel are stuck in wars that only promise more of the same. On the other hand, the post-speech discussion took another tack. There were two panelists: historian Gretchen Eick and NAACP-leader Kevin Miles. Eick did a good job of adding information on the historical context, but focusing more on the civil rights movement than on the antiwar movement. Miles, while no doubt strongly antiwar himself, steered even further away from today's wars -- he went so far as to dismiss current antiwar activists for talking about foreign wars while ignoring the problem of black-on-black violence in our cities. (One difference is that wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gaza are direct and simple results of superpower policy decisions, where domestic murders are not -- at best they are complicated by a wide range of policies including drug prohibition, inadequate education and insurance, cheap guns, and dead end prisons, none of which are easily remedied.) The net effect was to encourage people to talk about the current state of blacks, leading to widely divergent opinionizing.
That doesn't mean it was uninteresting; just that we missed the opportunity to expand upon an antiwar program. We could have used a panelist who could steer the discussion back to the core issue of war.
Wednesday, January 14. 2009
Paul Woodward: Olmert's bitch. The story of why Condoleezza Rice couldn't vote for her own UN resolution:
Paul Woodward: Israel's Arab political parties banned from upcoming election. More pointedly retitled for the WarInContext link: "Israel finds a spirit of unity in its righteous fury." Woodward quotes Ilan Pappe:
This gets to the core reason why any debate about what Israel is doing is so tiresome: the whole endlessly repeated party line is nothing more or less than the result of self-obsessives winding themselves up with love of their own rhetoric. It makes them blind, as could hardly be more clear here. After all, how many times have you heard Israel praising itself as the Middle East's one and only true democracy. Other governments which go through the motions of democracy, like Iran, are dismissed because they disallow any real opposition to the ruling ideology. Israel just did the same thing, without the least self-consciousness. Pro-Israel advocates often referred to Israeli Arabs as proof that Israel is a liberal, open society. That was never really true: Israeli Arabs were under military rule until 1967, at which point the military's focus shifted to the Occupied Territories; even so, Israeli Arabs have always been discriminated against. The situation only got worse when Barak refused to form a coalition government with Arab parties, preferring to undermine his political base in order to prove his dedication to purely Jewish interests. Worse still when Likud insisted that any referendum on a peace settlement should only be voted on by Jews. Worse still with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni going around urging Israeli Arabs to join their brethren in Gaza. Then there are parties even further to the right, pushing for forced transfer of Arabs both within Israel and the Occupied Territories. The logic of this progression of self-absorbed rhetoric is toward mass slaughter -- genocide.
One thing I would like to see is for whatever Palestinian authorities there are -- admittedly it's hard to be one under current circumstances -- to embrace the Law of Return and urge Jews to immigrate to Palestine, to live as free and equal citizens in a state that represents all Palestinians. That in a single stroke would cut the legs out from under Zionism.
Not much, other than to remind Palestinians and the world at large how far Israeli politicians will go to make election points. Still, as far as Olmert-Barak-Livni went, anything short of genocide will leave them open to charges that they didn't go far enough:
Letter in the Wichita Eagle today, from M.E. Skelton:
This makes a big deal out of the very limited degree of autonomy given the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in 1994 as part of the Oslo Accords -- subsequently revoked by Barak and obiterated by Sharon in 2001. Even a casual reader of the letter should then raise an eyebrow over Israel's "withdrawing the last of its citizens and soldiers from Gaza in 2005": that they still had citizens and soldiers to withdraw suggests in itself that Gazans hadn't really enjoyed self-rule since 1994. No mention that Israeli soldiers returned in 2006, not so much to re-occupy Gaza as to wreck it. Or that since then Gaza has been strangled, resulting in one of the world's worst starvation crises.
By the way, has anyone been counting the number of rockets and bombs Israel has launched in the last two weeks?
The second paragraph is a peculiar mix of gratuitous macho and ignorance. Hamas partisans should get out of the neighborhoods where they live, abandoning their families, to expose themselves in unpopulated areas (in Gaza?) where Israeli assassins can pick them off? IDF soldiers are no different: they don't abandon their women and children to go off and fight like chivalrous knights. Rather, they operate from the relative safety of aircraft and tanks, with body armor and overwhelmingly superior firepower -- neither side sounds all that cowardly to me, but the Israelis personally risk far less in such an asymetrical struggle.
I have no idea why part of the PR spin after 9/11 was to characterize the terrorists, who gave up their lives for their misbegotten ideals, as cowardly, but in Israel's case the most likely explanation is that they're desperately looking for a way to blame Palestinians for Israel's overkill. The implicit point is that Israeli slaughter of "Hamas terrorists" is some sort of law of nature -- something that just automatically happens, as opposed to the fruit of policy decisions.
The final sentence -- "All Israel wants to do is survive" -- is plainly false. Survival is a defensive posture. What Israel is doing in Gaza is pure offense. The more common mantra here is that "Israel has the right to defend itself." One can argue over that, but in this case such argument is irrelevant, since Israel is not defending itself in blockading and laying siege to Gaza. Israel is engaged in an aggressive act of war, taken with little or no concern for the destruction they cause, and little or no effort to resolve their grievances peaceably. They don't just want to survive. They want to wage war, and that is what they're doing.
Tuesday, January 13. 2009
Haven't done a Book Alert since September, before the Detroit trip. Despite some problems early on, I did wind up with a fairly large list of items there, much of which I still haven't processed. Still, no problem bagging my usual limit of 40 titles.
Jeremy Bernstein: Physicists on Wall Street and Other Essays on Science and Society (2008, Springer): Scattered essays, the title having something to do with physicists creating financial models for profit or mischief; also something on South Africa's nuclear program. One of the best writers on physicists and their science around.
Avraham Burg: The Holocaust Is Over, We Must Rise From Its Ashes (2008, Palgrave Macmillan). The former speaker of Israel's Knesset takes a hard look at what Zionism has done to Israel today.
Jonathan Cook: Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (paperback, 2008, Zed): The longer the occupation continues, the bleaker the critical books are becoming.
Richard Cook/Brian Morton: The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings: Ninth Edition (paperback, 2008, Penguin): New editions have been coming out every two years. This one caught me by surprise, probably because I haven't finished listing the changes in the Eighth Edition. This has long been the essential guide to recorded jazz; even for experts it remains invaluable for covering Europe better than any other guide, and for keeping a balance that spans trad jazz and the avant-garde. I found more good records in it than any other guide I have. Still, I've had more and more nits to pick with the last couple of editions. Not sure if that marks a change, or it just means that I'm becoming less suggestable as I listen to more and more stuff before reading the reviews. Also, note that each edition loses about as much as it gains. I keep all eight on a fat shelf, and will have to find room for one more.
George Cooper: The Origin of Financial Crises: Central Banks, Credit Bubbles, and the Efficient Market Fallacy (paperback, 2008, Vintage): Seems to lay much of the blame on central bankers. He is certainly right that the present crisis was made much worse (if not necessarily caused) by the expansion of credit the Fed used to prop up the post-9/11 economy in its desperate attempt to prop up Bush's election prospects -- not that he puts it that way.
Mike Davis/Daniel Bertrand Monk, eds: Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (paperback, 2008, New Press): Various essays, "a global guidebook to phantasmagoric but real places" -- don't have a list, but Abu Dhabi is certainly on it, as well as smaller, more discreet enclaves for the superrich.
Niall Ferguson: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (2008, Penguin): A timely history of finance, not so obviously full of shit as his last three books: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, and The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Decline of the West. Of course, having written those three books extolling the glory days of empire and lamenting their passage, he's probably still full of shit.
Raymond Fisman/Edward Miguel: Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations (2008, Princeton University Press): Economists, examine corruption as a prime reason why developing countries don't develop.
Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers: The Story of Success (2008, Little Brown): Bestselling author, known for piquant insights. Dull but presumably marketable subject.
Neve Gordon: Israel's Occupation (paperback, 2008, University of California Press): One review describes this as a "highly theoretical book" -- something of a surprise given how much empirical evidence there is on Israel's occupation regime. Gordon is a long-on-the-scene critic, should have a lot to say.
James Grant: Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond (2008, Axios): Collected from speeches and editorials by the editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer. Seems to have had a clue on the subprime crisis.
Tom Hayden: Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (paperback, 2008, City Lights): New Left activist. I'm not sure I've ever read anything by him, but he has a recent book, Ending the War in Iraq. Don't have a table of contents here, but this runs 450 pages, probably 40 years.
Christopher Howard: The Welfare State Nobody Knows: Debunking Myths About US Social Policy (paperback, 2008, Princeton University Press): Looks like a fairly informative, non-ideological investigation. Yes, there is a welfare state, a pretty big one. No, it doesn't work very well, especially in terms of redistributing wealth. On the other hand, it works better than nothing, at least in terms of preventing the middle class from getting swamped in crises. It could work better, but most people are pretty confused about it all.
Robert G Kaufman: In Defense of the Bush Doctrine (paperback, 2008, University of Kentucky Press): As Jacob Weisberg noted, there are at least five Bush Doctrines, made up on the spot to rationalize whatever insanity or inanity the Decider fell for at any given moment, not counting the last year-plus when it's not been clear that he's had any clue at all, so this book starts with its author's jackboot buried in a tub of cement. The only possible interest might be in finding out what he thinks he's defending. Given that all five-plus "doctrines" are indefensible, this is bound to be an uphill slog.
Muhammad Khudayyir: Basrayatha: The Story of a City (paperback, 2008, Verso): A short tribute to the Iraqi city of Basra, originally published in 1997.
Nikolas Kozloff: Revolution!: South America and the Rise of the New Left (2008, Palgrave Macmillan): Author of a previous book on Venezuela: Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the US. Here he broadens the picture to include more challenges to the US -- nearly a continent's worth.
Paul Krugman: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 (2008, WW Norton): New edition, updated, maybe even a rewrite, of Krugman's 1999 The Return of Depression Economics: a book that must seem more prescient now than when it originally appeared at the top of the high tech boom.
David Levering Lewis: God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (2008, WW Norton): History focuses on 8th century Muslim Spain in a somewhat broader context -- seems to have gotten very mixed notices.
Michael Lewis, ed: Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity (2008, WW Norton): A quickie collection of old and not-so-old pieces, just in time to slap some product on the latest financial disaster, and to be obsolete almost instantly.
Wynton Marsalis/Geoffrey Ward: Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (2008, Random House): Sounds like a self-help book, which doesn't sound like a very good idea. Marsalis certainly knows much about jazz history, and is a capable and entertaining educator, but he also has some blind spots and limitations -- there is a lot more to jazz than he admits, and his art suffers accordingly. Ward is a "with" credit here. He wrote the Ken Burns books, so he's dealt with Marsalis before.
Dick Meyer: Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium (2008, Crown): Not a bad idea for a book, but easy to go wrong with. Is he going for how some Americans hate other Americans? Or is he trying to make a case that Americans (in general) hate themselves? The former is relatively trivial; the latter is a stretch into psychologizing. Reviewer praise, ranging from Thomas Oliphant to Thomas Edsall, isn't reassuring.
Tom Moon: 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (paperback, 2008, Workman): Big list book, part of a series like 1,000 Places to See Before You Die that that I haven't paid any attention to, figuring I'm so short on time the effort would be hopeless, and not particularly enjoying the reminder. Actually, 1,000 recordings is relatively doable: I'd be surprised if I'm not already more than halfway there, unless the classical shit gets totally out of hand. There's also a rival 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, edited by Robert Dimery, which is older but only in hard cover, assembled by a committee of critics I've never heard of, and is much more rock-centric.
Marwan Muasher: The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation (2008, Yale University Press): Author is a Jordanian diplomat, long practiced at walking the straight and narrow line. By their very nature, moderates have a weak hand to argue. By readily going half way, they comfort the extremes without satisfying them -- the US, in particular, insists on moderation without giving moderates any heed.
Reinhold Niebuhr: The Irony of American History (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): New reprint of a 1952 book, with an introduction by Andrew Bacevich, who quoted Niebuhr extensively in his recent The Limits of Power. I've always dismissed Niebuhr as a cold war ideologue, but the quotes I've read via Bacevich are very sharp.
Anna Politkovskaya: A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia (2007, Random House): Russian journalist, a fierce critic of the Chechen War and Vladimir Putin, murdered in 2006. Diary covers 2003-05. She has several other books out, including Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy.
Ben Ratliff: The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music (2008, Times Books): New York Times jazz critic. I pretty much never read him, but not because I have a real opinion about his criticism. (His Jazz: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings has a lot of obvious picks, a few inspired ones, and none more dubious than Wynton Marsalis.) Not sure if these are verbatim interviews or just distillations. Ratliff's Coltrane: The Story of a Sound is also now out in paperback.
Jeremy Salt: The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (2008, University of California Press): A history focusing on how Britain, France, and the US have actually treated the Middle East.
Robert J Samuelson: The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence (2008, Random House): From about 1970, real wages in America began to stagnate, especially when adjusted for inflation that reached 14% by the end of the decade. In 1979 Fed chairman Paul Volcker launched his program to halt inflation by strangling the economy in high interest rates. This led to Reagan's 1980 election, open season on labor unions, and the worst recession between the 1930s and just about now. So this is an important period, little understood -- I'm not all that sure what to make of it myself. Possibly an important book. Samuelson previously wrote The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement (1997), currently out of print.
Richard Seymour: The Liberal Defense of Murder (2008, Verso): On the "pro-war left" in the post-9/11 world. I've seen mention of Kanan Makiya and Bernard Henri-Levy, but they barely scratch the subject.
Peter Sluglett: Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country (2007, Columbia University Press): A history of Britain's mandate over the Ottoman territories that became Iraq. Never underestimate how much the British empire can screw up a territory. A slightly older book on the same subject: Toby Dodge: Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied (paperback, 2005, Columbia University Press).
Norman Solomon: Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State (2007, Polipoint Press): Previously wrote War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. This one is more memoir than analysis, going back to past wars, like in the 1960s.
Jim Stanford: Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism (paperback, 2008, Pluto Press): Not so short at 360 pages, but illustrated with cartoons. Figure this to be a leftist approach.
Jonny Steinberg: Sizwe's Test: A Young Man's Journey Through Africa's AIDS Epidemic (2008, Simon & Schuster): South African journalist, gay, white, tries specifically to understand Sizwe, who has refused HIV testing, and therefore treatment; and more generally explores the South African AIDS epidemic.
Jane Stern/Michael Stern: Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More (paperback, 2008, Broadway): Don't know how many editions this book has gone through, especially if you count its alter-ego, Eat Your Way Across the USA -- my copy is three, maybe more editions back, but these joints do tend to stay in business. (Although they also often keep limited hours -- I've shown up to a number of them when they were closed.) Moreover, editions add and drop things for no apparent reason. The guides aren't extensive, and they're rather limited in range; I'm sure they're missing a lot, but I've rarely been disappointed, and there's a lot to be said for navigating to an otherwise unknowable wonder after a long stretch on the road. In fact, friends call me up and ask for directions. Haven't checked out their other books, like Chili Nation and Two for the Road: Our Love Affair With American Food. I do have a copy of Ian Jackman: Eat This!: 1,001 Things to Eat Before You Diet, which I have yet to find useful.
Steven Stoll: The Great Delusion: A Mad Inventor, Death in the Tropics, and the Utopian Origins of Economic Growth (2008, Hill and Wang): The "cautionary and instructive story" of John Adolphus Etzler, a 19th century inventor with dreams of endless growth, bringing the whole question of growth into perspective. Previous books by Stoll: The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California and Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America.
Tom Vanderbilt: Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) (2008, Knopf): Looks like a lot of trivia on the art and science of driving, a subject that hasn't been beaten to death and might be entertaining to read about, but could just as well be overgeneralized from.
Rob Walker: Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are (2008, Random House): Part marketing primer, part cultural anthropology, you are what you buy, and so forth. Evidently Walker writes a column on this stuff in the New York Times Magazine.
Rex Weyler: Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World (2004, Rodale): History of the movement, an important piece of recent world political history.
Ronald T Wilcox: Whatever Happened to Thrift?: Why Americans Don't Save and What to Do About It (2008, Yale University Press): The "what to do about it" shifts subtly from thrift to saving, which quickly wears thin. Economists like to promote savings -- right-wingers, especially, for whom it's a way to a personalize moral failure that the rich are exempt from, even though the main reason the rich save is only because they have more money than they can spend. Thrift is a relatively quaint concept, tied to the sense of having enough to get by on. Boy scouts, after all, are implored to be "thrifty, brave, and reverent" -- traits of model citizenship. What happened to that is, indeed, an interesting question.
Naomi Wolf: Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries (paperback, 2008, Simon & Schuster): Political manifesto, looks like she's trying to yoke progress to the olde American tradition of patriotic-minded revolution. Also wrote the much slimmer The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.
I have another 30 or so of these book alert notes in my backlog, plus several pages of notes I haven't written up yet. Also haven't been anywhere near as dilligent researching them as I have in the past -- same distractions I've noted previously. Could just as well have done another batch of Israel links: the atrocities continue, the problems only getting worse. Read a hysterical column in the Eagle today by someone feverishingly imaging a world run by Hamas. Nobody gets the irony that the only people obsessed with someone else running the world are the ones who think they should do it themselves. Most folks have no such illusions, which make them more willing to live in a world where all different kinds more or less get along together.
Monday, January 12. 2009
The big kitchen project is chewing up about half of my time now, and that's likely to go into overdrive this week, and stay that way through the end of the month. Don't know whether that will allow for much or any jazz prospecting -- seems like a big segment of my life has gone on hold. The way this worked this past week was that I worked on the house during the day, playing things I didn't have to pay any attention to, like Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker -- my construction partner is a blues fan -- then getting to some jazz and blogging during the evening. This will likely be the pattern, but I expect my production to drag. Picking through new stuff here, finally checking out some of the more promising 2009 releases -- including the first two A-list records of the new year, plus a possible third.
No news on Jazz CG (18). Sent the Voice a revised draft last week, and a list of possible holds. Haven't done the surplus cull yet, but all the other paperwork is in order to push onward. One thing I do notice is that the Honorable Mentions candidate list has gotten way out of hand. I may have to slash through them for the surplus post. Too bad, as they are by definition good records, most likely to be very pleasing to those who especially like the particular styles. Still, I'm listing 148 of those records, which is about 8 columns (2 years) worth of honorable mentions. Clearly, I can't get to more than a third of those. Not sure what the best way to deal with them would be, but the easiest would probably just be a blog post. Given the other time pressures right now, I can't even commit to when on that.
PS: I've compiled the vote lists for the Jazz Times Critics Poll, as well as for the Village Voice Jazz Poll. Interesting thing here is that the Voice poll is both larger and much more diverse. Don't have time to draw many conclusions from this data here, but I did point out a few things in the comments at the bottom of the Jazz Times poll. The other thing to note is that the web-posted Jazz Times results differ from the print list, in a couple of cases significantly. This subject would be worth a separate post, but again I can't promise when.
Cynthia Hilts: Second Story Breeze (2008, Blond Coyote): Pianist, singer, probably in that order. Trio, with Ron McClure on bass, Jeff Williams on drums. Mostly standards, like "My Favorite Things" and "Three Blind Mice." Played it three times today. Hard to hear clearly, and not just for the many distractions that weren't her fault. Doubt that a fourth spin would make enough of a difference to put this in play. B-
Michael Jefry Stevens Trio: For Andrew (1996 , Konnex): Pianist, b. 1951, more avant-garde, at least as an economic niche, than postbop. AMG only credits him with 8 albums, mostly because bassist Joe Fonda's name comes first in the Fonda-Stevens Group. Trio includes Jeff Siegel on drums, Peter Herbert on bass. Andrew, of course, is Hill, but this is an oblique tribute. It seems unlikely that this 12-year-old tape was cut with Hill in mind -- 7 of 9 songs are Stevens originals, neither of the others are by or particularly associated with Hill. On the other hand, Stevens can plausibly claim Hill both as influence and inspiration. He's long struck me as someone I should pay more attention to, but I often have trouble sorting out subtleties among pianists. This one pays dividends on close attention, but I'm hard pressed to explain exactly why. B+(***)
Jonathan Voltzok: More to Come (2008, Kol Yo): Trombonist, b. 1983 in Israel, moved to New York on a scholarship in 2004, currently based in Brooklyn. First album, a quartet with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Barak Mori on bass, Ali Jackson on drums, with Slide Hampton (trombone) guesting on two tracks, Antonio Hart (alto sax) on two more. Three covers check bop-era classics -- "Shaw Nuff," "Round Midnight," "Con Alma." The originals I figure for postbop, although they don't move much beyond JJ. B+(**)
Blah Blah 666: It's Only Life (2007-08 , Barnyard): Drummer Jean Martin and co-conspirators -- Justin Haynes ("b6 defretted guitar"), Ryan Driver ("street sweeper bristle bass"), Tania Gill (melodica), and Nick Fraser ("plastic blow thing") -- explore barnyard sounds all too literally, with banjo, ukulele, and glock prominent among the off instruments, and nearly everyone [dis-]credited for voice. Two pieces the formula works on are "Mexican Hat Dance" and "La Cucaracha" -- most likely the band learned them from cartoons. B
Brinsk: A Hamster Speaks (2008, Nowt): Group led by bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky: born in Winnipeg, grew up in Fargo, studied at McGill in Montreal and New England Conservatory, based in Brooklyn. Group includes trumpet (Jacob Wick), tenor sax (Evan Smith), euphonium (Adam Dotson), drums (Jason Nazary). Hype sheet says group "began as a vision of a metal/opera/cartoon with hamsters singing classical arias over metal-based rhythmic structures." At least they got rid of the vocal aspect here, and the rhythm is more free than metal. The horns chew on each other, with the euphonium an interesting contrast. I suspect it's too limited to go far, but worth another listen. William Block's comic strip illustrations are a nice touch. [B+(**)]
Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville (2007 , ECM): Bassist, one of the young Norwegian players who latched on to George Russell in the late 1960s, establishing a new postbop wave that turned into a big chunk of the ECM aesthetic -- Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal are better known, probably because they aren't bassists. Andersen contributed mightly to all that, moving on to his Masqualero group -- better known for introducing Nils Petter Molvaer -- and he has a substantial discography under his own name: ECM's Rarum XIX: Selected Recordings is an excellent introduction, one of the best entries in their sampler series. Useful here to concentrate on the bass lines, and the lovely soft intro to "Dreamhorse" which starts arco and slowly resolves into tenor sax. After all, if you don't concentrate on the bass, you'll just get overwhelmed by the saxophonist: Tommy Smith, in a muscular, mature, masterful performance. A-
Julia Hülsmann Trio: The End of a Summer (2008, ECM): Pianist, b. 1968 in Bonn, Germany. Has three previous albums on ACT, including one co-headlined by voalist Anna Lauvergnac; has also worked with vocalist Rebekka Bakken. This is straight piano trio, not exactly slow and not exactly meditative, but something along those lines. Another fine ECM piano album. B+(**)
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When (2008 , Owl Studios): Steven Bernstein's territory band is a big city concept; Ken Vandermark's is transcontinental. This, however, is the real thing: a big band that's been working out of Indianapolis since 1994. Trombonist Brent Wallarab arranges and conducts. Mark Buselli plays trumpet, in front of the usual array of 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, bass, drums, boy and girl singers -- the only anomaly is "horn," played by Celeste Holler-Seraphinoff. The songs are standards, arranged conventionally with the feel of well oiled antique wood with sparkles of brass. Few soloists emerge, but the vocalists do, especially Everett Greene -- a highlight on that Gust Spenos Swing Theory album I liked so much last year, even more so here. His deep, graceful voice is unique, lending gravity and polish even to "My Funny Valentine." Cynthia Layne offers a sharp, slightly shrill contrast. A- [Jan. 27]
Frank Senior: Listening in the Dark (2007 , Smalls): Vocalist, born blind, don't know when but "after the birth of his daughter" dates from the early 1980s; based in the Bronx. Liner notes described this as his first album, but CDBaby has another album, Let Me Be Frank, which also claims to be his debut. Starts off with a Ray Charles song which he rips straight up the middle. More standards follow: "This Can't Be Love," "On the Street Where You Live," "The Very Thought of You," "Route 66," "The Best Things in Life Are Free." Bob Mover contributes sax appeal. B+(**)
Harry Whitaker: One Who Sees All Things (1981-82 , Smalls): Pianist, b. 1942, worked with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack in the 1970s. Lightly recorded, with a 1976 avant-fusion thing called Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit, a 2001 pinao trio, a 2007 recap. This may be taken to fill in a hole, but it raises more questions than it answers. Seven tracks, five lineups with some common denominators. Starts off with a somewhat annoying vocalist doing ethereal scat to a hymn or anthem -- something taking itself way too seriously. Next few pieces alternate saxophonists Gary Bartz and Rene McLean, with Terumaso Hino on trumpet, and the last two bring a larger group together, including Steve Grossman and John Stubblefield -- and another, less annoying, voice. Bartz at the time seemed singularly determined to resurrect bebop as true radicalism, and Whitaker certainly approved of that idea. Some remarkable music when it all clicks together. B+(***)
Steve Laffont/Gino Roman/Yorgui Loeffler/Chriss Campion: Latchès (2008, Sunnyside): French group. Probably an eponymous group name/album title, but the members' names are listed on the front cover (not the spine), so I'll go with that. Roman plays bass. The other three are guitarists, modelled on Django Reinhardt, of course. Three Django songs; one more by Lulu Reinhardt (whoever that is); one original from each group member; a few other scattered covers. Nice enough, but shouldn't string jazz have a little more buzz? B
Randy Klein: Piano Improvisations: The Flowing (2008, Jazzheads): Solo piano, simple pieces with titles like "The Calm," "The Flowing," "Child Like," "Process," "Clean and Beautiful," "Always Grateful," "A World of Luxury." B. 1949, AMG lists six records; his website shows nine going back to 1986, as well as a larger number of records as producer and composer. I never quite know what to do with solo piano, but this is one of the more pleasantly listenable specimens I've heard in quite a while. B+(**)
Ran Blake: Driftwoods (2008 , Tompkins Square): Solo piano, more trouble for me. Blake has played a lot of solo piano over the years, and I've rarely been up to it. I gave his last one, All That Is Tied, a polite B+(**) and promptly forgot about it. The Penguin Guide, which has long shown an excessive fondness for solo piano, annointed it with one of their crowns. I need to dig it up and give it another shot. This one has a sticker saying: "Ran Blake salutes his favorite singers: Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole and more." Need to figure out what that's about, too -- maybe even dig up that Unmarked Van (as in Vaughan, Sarah) that I didn't much care for long ago. (I've given him one A- grade, for his legendary Short Life of Barbara Monk, a non-solo.) What I can say is that he picks his way through these songs with great skill, like a master chef deboning fish. The one that I feel closest to, "You Are My Sunshine," hasn't been done this exquisitely since Sheila Jordan sang it for George Russell. No doubt a major jazz pianist. For me, still a project. [A-]
David S. Ware: Shakti (2008 , AUM Fidelity): Ware's old Quartet, with Matthew Shipp and William Parker, ran from 1990 to 2006, spanning four drummers, each as distintly interesting as the seasons. Overlooking the drummer changes, they were the longest-running major group in jazz history. The new quartet does without Shipp, or for that matter piano; keeps Parker; brings in a new drummer, old-timer Warren Smith. The other new player, guitarist Joe Morris, isn't the threat Shipp was to steal the show -- at least not Ware's show -- but he fills in interestingly. Still, Ware is such a singular tenor saxophonist that such differences on the sidelines pale in comparison. A- [Jan. 27]
Joshua Redman: Compass (2008 , Nonesuch): Advance copy. Back cover reads, "Full album program from Nonesuch 510844-2 available January 13, 2009," which makes me wonder if this is the full album. (Length is certainly substantial enough.) No track credits, but listing two bassists (Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers) and two drummers (Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson) makes me suspect this showcases two sax trios rather than a quintet with doubled bass and drums. Straightforward, elemental, another deep excursion into the saxophonist's art. [B+(***)] [advance: Jan. 13]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Sunday, January 11. 2009
Steven Erlanger: A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery. The New York Times is practically Israel's US PR office, and this is no exception. Nonetheless, this piece, based exclusively on Israeli military reports, reveals more convincingly the methodical destruction and brutality of Israel's siege of Gaza than we get from the Arab press, whose ritual bemoaning of the atrocities has become old hat. This is possible only because everyone involved assumes agreement on Israel's justifications for this cruel act of war. The point they wish to make in the article is that it is Hamas who, by the very effectiveness of their "tricky" defensive measures.
Those tactics are bound to result in tremendous destruction everywhere Israeli troops go, which in a space as small as Gaza is likely to be everywhere. Note language: "snipers and suicide bombers dressed as civilians." This does two things: it denies that Hamas supporters are civilians, which virtually all -- even ones driven to take up arms to defend their homes, families, and countrymen -- are; and it implies that non-civilians are Israel's legitimate targets, leaping over the whole question of whether Israel has any legitimate business interfering with, much less wreaking wholesale devastation on, the people of Gaza -- who have experienced repeated Israeli assaults for 60 years now, on top of the everyday indignities of occupation.
Erlanger writes that this is "a battle both sides knew was inevitable." This is both another lame excuse: it absolves Israel of consciously plotting this episode of unrestrained war, but it also show us that Hamas had good reason to arm itself to try to defend against Israeli invasion. Every time an incident flares up in or around Israel American politicians clamor all over about Israel's "right to defend itself" -- but you never hear about anyone else having any such right. Hamas, like Hezbollah before it, is excoriated for attempting to defend themselves, their families, and their neighbors from foreign troops who prefer to make their entrance by smashing down walls.
Like all Israeli propaganda, this only works as long as you cannot imagine, or simply do not care about, reciprocity: how would you react if the actors were reversed to produce the same acts? One reason that is hard to imagine is that the two sides are so utterly unequal, especially in terms of military power. (Indeed, if they were equal, especially at Israel's level of firepower, deterrence would take over, since neither side could afford the risks of war. As it is, Israel risks little, and many in Gaza feel they have little more to lose -- the most unstable of all scenarios.) Other reasons, of course, include attributes of the colonial and militarist mentalities: racism, chauvinism, ethnocentrism, sheer bloody-mindedness.
David E Sanger: US Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site. The important news here is that Israel formally asked for help, which illustrates Israel's position subordinate to the US, and reminds us that Israel rarely acts without at least tacit consent from the US. The other piece is that evidently the US has a covert effort going on to subvert Iran -- the main effect of which, assuming it might have any success at all, will be to give Iranians further reasons to fear and hate the US, and as such to expedite the development of weapons to effectively deter US and/or Israeli attacks (which the neocons of both countries have already turned into urgent concerns).
The piece also brings out the basic point that the US has a lot more to lose from forcing a confrontation with Iran. One could say much more about that, and delve much deeper into the real political machinations behind the brouhaha over Iran. For that, see Trita Parsi's Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.
Helena Cobban: Gaza, and Israel's Wars of Forced Regime Change. Introduction and link to a historical sketch of six wars Israel launched to interfere with political processes among Palestinians and in Lebanon (1982, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2006, 2008) -- I can think of three more, if we separate the Gaza and Lebanon theatres in 2006 and include an earlier, aborted attack on Lebanon in the late-'70s and Israeli support for Jordan's expulsion of the PLO (the notorious Black September event). Israel's efforts at solving other peoples' political arrangements have always turned out dismally, partly because Israel itself is a poisonous ally, but mostly because (with the exception of Jordan vs. PLO) Israel invariably seeks to reduce the effectiveness of any and all power structures.
Cobban also cites Gareth Porter: Israel Rejected Hamas Ceasefire Offer in December -- further proof that not only was this war avoidable; it was deliberately provoked by Israel's wobbly Olmert-Barak-Livni troika -- and Mouin Rabbani: Birth Pangs of a New Palestine -- a long and very useful analysis of how Palestinian political power is evolving faced with Israel's relentless onslaught.
Saturday, January 10. 2009
Matt Taibbi: Bush Apologizes: The Farewell Interview We Wish He'd Give. Obviously Bush has lots to apologize and make amends for, but the notion that he might be conscious of his misdeeds is even more mindboggling than the fact that he was inane (not to mention insane) enough to do them in the first place. Still, Taibbi has a few things to say about the last eight years. For example:
Taibbi raises a question, and after a digression on football Bush finally gets back to it:
Some stuff on how Bush's insularity, how he "fired pretty much everybody who disagreed with you." Stuff about how much Rumsfeld and Powell hated each other. A segment where Rumsfeld and Cheney work out the details of waterboarding on one of their houseboys. Then:
Moves on to the 2004 election, and John Kerry:
On to Terry Schiavo (Karl Rove: "Mr. President, I am fully erect. This is a winner all the way"), then Hurricane Katrina and "Heckuva Job Brownie" (allegedly already on the outs following a horse-groping incident). Then to the economy:
Finally, a bit of psychologizing:
Gets teary-eyed at the end, with Bush remembering that back in 1989 he thought of buying a couple of Sizzler franchises in Lubbock, to which his father responded: "Good idea, son. It's hard to fuck up steak." Would have been more interesting, and challenging, but I'm sure he could have done it.
Friday, January 9. 2009
Todd Snider's latest album (maybe just EP) has a song that sums up Israel's latest foray into Gaza near perfectly -- well, a little short on blood and gore, but he's got the dynamic right. The song is called "Is This Thing Working?" Some lyrics:
Israel has never lost a war, but they haven't really won one since 1967 either. They could have parlayed their 1967 victory into peace. All it would have took was a little magnanimity and grace: a return to the pre-1967 borders, a token recognition of the refugee problem, some money (largely from the world powers). Until 1967, the standard Arab position was that Isreal should withdraw to the 1947 UN-proposed partition boundaries. After 1967, Israel's much-expanded armistice borders became the standard deal -- as they still are today. But more importantly, the 1967 borders (unlike the 1947 partition lines) were "facts on the ground" -- due to the expulsion of Palestinians, the wholesale destruction of Palestinian villages, and the implant of large numbers of Israeli settlers. That wasn't right, and under the newly emerging post-WWII international system wasn't legal, but it was real, and it did matter a great deal to Israelis to secure world recognition of their borders and their state. There were several possible variations on that deal, the simplest being one where a new, independent Palestinian state would be formed combining the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza -- essentially, the other shoe dropping from the 1947 UN partition plan. With Palestine free and recognizing Israel, the other Arab nations would have no grounds for continuing their hostilities against Israel.
However, Israel did not choose peace. Israel did not choose to recognize the human rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Israel did not choose to live peacefully with its neighbors. Looking back at how Israel acted from 1948-67 -- numerous border incidents, including several massacres aimed at punishing whole towns suspected of giving support to "terrorists"; acts of subversion like the Lavon Affair; a massive military build up, including development of nuclear weapons; aggressive wars in 1956 and 1967 -- it is now easy to see why. Israelis had come to believe they could get whatever they wanted by bullying their neighbors and their unwanted people. They've pretty much done that ever since, waging war after war, flounting the most powerful military in the region, the most disciplined intelligence agents, and the most effective propaganda specialists. They've wasted their carefully cultivated David-vs.-Goliath conceit and turned into Snider's bully. The Palestinians never had a chance, yet by surviving to be beaten again and again, they keep exposing Israel, undermining its foreign support, turning Israel into an international pariah.
There's an old Golda Meir quote to the effect that someday Israelis may forgive the Arabs for killing Israeli sons, but Israelis could never forgive the Arabs for turning Israeli sons into killers. It was, at the time, a typical assertion of moral superiority, but over time it has become something much more mundane: a self-loathing way of life. With memories of pogroms and the Holocaust fading, with the dreams of forging new lifestyles on kibbutzim dashed in a society increasingly given to crony capitalism and corruption, in a nation where more Jews return to exile than make aliyah, Israel has little identity left but for its wars against Arabs.
Like Israel, Snider's bully is trapped in his own attitude and performance, bereft of anything else to do with its increasingly miserable and pointless life. Snider doesn't explore what happens to the bully after he loses his girl, his posse, his self-respect, maybe even his health and sanity, but he does hint that the kid picks up aspects of the bully. We see some of this in Palestinians like Hamas, taunting Israel with homemade rockets, boasting that Gaza will be Israel's graveyard. Of course, it won't be, but that hardly matters any more. Totally self-absorbed without any real self-control, Israel has no claim to moral ground whatsoever -- to exercise morality you have to be able to recognize others like you recognize yourself, but Israel has lost that. They are the dead endlessly, mechanically revenging the loss of their souls.
Jimmy Carter: An Unnecessary War. Starts out:
The passive voice skirts the question of who is doing what to cause this starvation. The answer is Israel, backed by the US and European countries fantasizing that they can bully Palestinians into overturning the Hamas government. But Carter makes clear that the rockets are in response to the starvation tactics, and that allowing food and supplies into Gaza will stop the rockets. This is something that Carter has tried to broker, so he understands on a more detailed level than nearly anyone else how counterproductive Israel's belligerence is.
Tony Karon: The War Isn't Over, But Israel Has Lost. We've seen this before. In 2006, after removing all Israeli settlements from Gaza, Israel invaded Gaza -- ostensibly to search for a kidnapped IDF soldier -- producing enormous infrastructural damage, including destruction of the power grid. But that invasion was largely upstaged by Israel's even more dramatic fit against Lebanon. Go back further and you find more of the same: in 2001, Israel bulldozed its way into a number of Palestinian towns and refugee camps, going out of its way to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, their way of undoing the Oslo Accords. At the time, whenever Hamas committed an attack against Israel, the IDF responded by beating up Arafat's compound, because it was the PLO (not Hamas) that Israel took to be their major threat. And you can keep going back, all the way to the early 1950s atrocities when Ariel Sharon first made his name. You could even go back to the 1937-39 revolt, when the Haganah learned its craft under British colonial administration. Israel has always sought to decapitate Palestinian resistance, and it's never worked:
Needless to say, Barak did join a terror organization -- just one that is especially well-heeled and relatively secure, one that allows him to kill more and risk less than he ever could have as a Palestinian.
As Karon emphasizes, Israel's policy is the child of the US policy of reversing Hamas' political power, a base that was built precisely because religion is the last refuge people seek against repression:
Hamas's right to govern is not something that should be decided in Jerusalem or Washington, or anywhere else except by the Palestinian people. Karon quotes Avi Shlaim (no citation):
The best chance any government has to counter terrorism is to get terror groups to choose the ballot over the bullet. By precluding this way out, Israel (and the US) perpetuates its terrorist opponents.
Tim McGirk: Can Israel Survive Its Assault on Gaza?. This piece buys much of the Israeli propaganda line, yet still can't find a way out. Degrading Hamas's current military capability only increases its long-term political furor, or supersedes Hamas with a new, even more furious opposition. Backing down weakens Israel's deterrence, but that's a pretty illusory issue any way: it's not like Hamas doesn't understand that firing rockets on Sderot will cost Palestinian lives (many more than they will take from Israel), but they do it anyway, just to get a bargaining chip to trade off against mass starvation.
The link was to Charles Krauthammer. Few things have damanged Israel's moral position more than their choice of American friends: the neocons and the Armageddon freaks. Moreover, friends like that provide all the more reason why it is important to shift American opinion against Israeli militarism. The Armageddon freaks mostly cheer from the sidelines. The neocons do real damage, as we've seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East. Their real pride and joy, however, is Israel. It's their model for how a superpower should act: all stick, no carrot.
Andrew J Bacevich: The lessons of Gaza. Raises "moral issues," but doesn't talk about them. Rather, Bacevich goes into strategic failures -- rather archly explaining, e.g., "as instruments of pacification, conventional armies possess modest utility. Rather than facilitating political solutions, coercion only exacerbates the underlying problem."
Rashid Khalidi: What you don't know about Gaza. Starts off: "Nearly everything you've been led to believe about Gaza is wrong." Goes on to explain who lives in Gaza (mostly refugees from the 1948 war, especially from Ashkelon and Beersheba), what occupation is ("even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005, Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out"), the blockade, the cease-fire, the question of war crimes.
You can see from this quote why Hamas will declare their mere survival as some form of victory: it's the only way they have to deny Israel its success.
Paul Woodward: Israel (and a world that looks the other way) is in the grip of moral paralysis. Among other things, note the picture, showing Orthodox Jews in Israel protesting not just the Gaza invasion but Zionism in general -- a position that virtually all orthodox Jews shared until the Kooks came to power. One sign reads:
That's further than I would go, but it ultimately depends on what you mean by "Israel." The government currently using that name has a lot to answer for, as do the people who elected it. On the other hand, I have no doubt that the people who live there should be able to elect their own government.
Italics in original, followed by quotes from the leaders of the "so-called Leftwing Meretz party" and Peace Now supporting the war.
Probably many more pieces to cite. Throughout this affair, Philip Weiss has been my most dependable source of news and reactions.
Wednesday, January 7. 2009
Laura Tillem's letter was published in the Wichita Eagle today, under the title "Palestinians tried":
The letter elicited a couple of responses, mostly accusing Laura of justifying the Gazan missiles. Actually, we're not about to defend missiles, bombs, guns, or even rocks from either side -- not least because militants on both sides use the other's attacks to justify their own violent desires. The problem, however, is that one cannot be even-handed in condemning both sides, because the reality isn't even-handed at all. Whenever shooting breaks out, Israel unleashes many times more firepower than their would-be opponents -- horrible as that is, it is still only a fraction of the death and destruction that nuclear-armed Israel can deliver. But the disparity in power is at least as great when there is no shooting. In such "normal" times Israel is able to enforce a crippling embargo on the Gazan economy, effectively running the entire territory as an overcrowded open air prison. The "cease fire" that Israel says they want is one that would forego shooting on both sides, but keep the "normal" occupation and deprivation of Gaza unchanged.
One thing nobody talks about is why Hamas developed its crude rockets to fire at Israel. The rockets have light payloads, limited range, and no guidance, making them almost completely useless as military tools. Thousands of rockets over the years have killed few more than a dozen Israelis. Even without the backlash, that doesn't begin to constitute a means to threaten Israel's existence. But it is all the more masochistic when you consider that the backlash is inevitable -- surely Palestinians know Israelis well enough by now to figure that out. So why do it? First of all, the dominant fact for Palestinians is that they live in walled-in ghettos, resigned to squalor which their Israeli neighbors scarcely ever have to give a thought to. The key thing about rockets is that they shoot over walls. No matter how high Israel builds its walls, they can always be breached by rockets. The point is less to hurt Israel than to remind Israelis that the Palestinians who have been wronged by Israel are still waiting for justice. You might object that there are better ways for Palestinians to make that point, but it is harder to argue that there are more effective ways, given that Israel has persisted in occupying Palestinian territories and in denying the right of return, sanctioned in international law, of the Palestinian refugees of Israel's many wars. You can argue that nonviolence would be a better path. What you can't do is cite any instances of nonviolence swaying Israeli policy. The ideal victory of Zionism is the completely passive acceptance of Jewish control over all of Palestine -- death or exile are just two ways to attain such passivity. Violence doesn't work, but it's a straightforward way to deny the Zionists victory.
The Eagle's piece on Gaza yesterday quoted Barak to the effect that Israel still has things left they need to accomplish in this phase of the war. He didn't elaborate, but yesterday Israel did manage some of the things that are hallmarks of every Israeli war: several bombing runs on UN facilities; a signature massacre to remember the war by; the deaths of a few Israeli soldiers by their trigger-happy comrades, a so-called friendly fire incident.