Sunday, January 6. 2008
It's been one of those weeks where I had to focus on my own work and still managed to get disrupted. So not much collected here. In particular, nothing about the Iowa caucuses, which seem to indicate that Democrats at least are not only in a mood to take "change" as something more literal than a hoary cliché, they recognize that Clinton is a big part of what they want to change away from. I can't say that I'm much of a fan of what Obama says and does, but if change is your mantra, he's going to be tough to compete with.
Tariq Ali: My heart bleeds for Pakistan. On the succession, where Benazir Bhutto's so-called Pakistan People's Party was handed down to the dauphin (Bhutto's 19-year-old son), with crooked husband Asif Zardari acting as regent. One would think that a populist movement would have more options than a single (ethically dubious) aristocratic family.
Tariq Ali: Daughter of the West. A pre-assassination background piece on Benazir Bhutto. Ali has a book on Pakistan promised for early 2008. Events may be overwhelming the book, but such background is essential.
Dahr Jamail: Iraq Progresses to Some of Its Worst. Subtitle: "Despite all the claims of improvements, 2007 has been the worst year yet in Iraq. Jamail does covers most of the good news; e.g.:
Saturday, January 5. 2008
Went to the funeral of Zula Mae Reed yesterday, in Dodge City, KS. She died on December 30 at age 85, after an extended illness. She was my father's first cousin. He probably had more cousins, but she was the only one we were close to. They were both born near Spearville, KS in 1922-23. Their parents were brothers, Robert and James Hull, and they grew up in Hodgeman County northwest of Spearville, on a piece of high prairie their grandfather Abraham Hull homesteaded in the 1870s. (In between there was an Abraham Lincoln Hull.) My father's family moved to Wichita in the 1940s, then his parents moved to a farm northwest of McPherson, KS (near where my grandmother came from), and that's where I first recall them living. For most of the first 15-20 years of my life, we managed to see Zula Mae, her husband Melvin, and two kids Sonia and Rick, 5-10 times a year. I remember they had a dairy farm for a while, then moved into Dodge City, where Zula Mae taught elementary school. Riding with Melvin to the dairy was an eye opening event. Trudging through the fields behind my dad hunting pheasant turned me off the sport forever.
I grew up in a family that held grade school teachers in the highest esteem. I don't know how doctors or professors might have compared, since we didn't know any -- one cousin became a lawyer, but moved far away and was remembered mostly for his basketball skills. It wasn't clear to me where this reverence came from. My parents grew up on farms and had little schooling, but it turns out that my father's parents had both taught, and teaching was a Hull sideline for several generations, alongside milling wheat and raising sheep. Anyhow, we had two teachers in the family: Zula Mae Reed and Freda Brown, the widow of mother's brother Allen. I was a precociously smart kid, and they quickly became my favorite relatives.
Not that I paid much heed to relatives or anyone else back then. I retreated into my room and books as a teenager, rejecting pretty much all around me, then moved far east as soon as I got a chance. Over the last 10-20 years I've gradually reacquainted myself with many of the relatives I shunned 40 years ago, and it's been a fascinating, gratifying venture. I've even toyed with the idea of writing a book on them, like Ian Frazier did in Family, but still know far too little.
Since we moved to Wichita in 1999, I've managed to get to Dodge City a few times. I talked to Zula Mae after Melvin died, and after my dad died. After my mother died, we drove to Arizona to see her last sister. I remembered a time when Zula Mae came to Wichita and talked us into going out for Chinese food, which at the time I had only eaten once or twice. So I made Dodge the first stop on our drive. I wanted to cook Chinese for her, and recreated for her what was actually the meal I had fixed for my mother on her last birthday: Szechuan chicken, dry-fried string beans, strange flavor eggplant, fried rice. The last time I saw her we made a tour of the area, stopping at their old farmhouse north of Dodge City -- abandoned and now decrepit, only skeletally akin to the farm I remembered; the old "Hull Ranch," with rubble from a house that was already decrepit with Uncle Otho lived there in the 1960s, huddled down in a rattlesnake-infested gulley that would have served the Dalton Brothers well; the Spearville cemetery with numerous Hull family markers. Went to that cemetery again yesterday.
I gather she had a very rough 2007, in and out of the hospital with pulmonary problems, the cigarettes she still smoked a couple of years ago eventually doing her in. I heard from her a year ago, and nearly every day thought I should write or call -- skills I never much had, atrophied further with email -- but I've had a pretty lousy 2007 myself, haven't traveled, and have lost touch with many others, all of us only getting older. The drive itself was easier than I remembered it, and we've done it hundreds of times in the past. We skirted through Greensburg for the first time since it was destroyed by a tornado last spring, and the wreckage -- especially the bare tree stumps -- is still vivid.
Got to spend some time with Zula Mae's children, who I hadn't seen in 40 years. They remembered us better than I expected, and they knew more about our shared roots than I do -- probably the result of sticking closer to the homestead. They also have long life stories, including grown children of their own. It would be a shame not to make something of this reconnection. Otherwise we're just left with a void as the old ones pass.
Thursday, January 3. 2008
There were two opinion pieces in the Wichita Eagle yesterday. I don't know which was dumber, or more disgusting. The obvious frontrunner was Cal Thomas's Bhutto was a true patriot, where he waxes longingly on Benazir Bhutto's dark eyes and flawless skin, and gets all teary she knew and accepted the risks of returning to Pakistan because, he quotes her, "I love my country and my people." He then goes on to taunt another woman who falls short in the eyes and skin department: "[Bhutto's] example of [b]ravery is also a challenge to another woman, Hillary Clinton, whose true convictions are yet to be discovered." (I'm assuming here that "ravery" is a typo.)
Thomas is a craven Jesus freak, and this sort of demagoguery is his staple, although it's rare that he gets such a hard on over it. The column I found more annoying is the one by the normally sane ex-Eagle editor Davis Merritt, Norman gathering could be fresh start. This is about a gathering in Oklahoma to "focus on the real question that Americans care about: Why can't the world's richest and purest democracy solve its problems?" That's not a bad question, but the participants, for all their "high-grade political and governmental credentials and experience," are distinguished by their present or near-future unemployment: Democrats Sam Nunn, David Boren, Charles Robb; and Republicans Chuck Hagel, John Danforth, Christine Whitman. Merritt calls them moderates, but they smell more like road kill. What did them in was indeed the "uncompromising ideologies" Merritt bemoans, but he really should have stuck to the singular, because there's only one dog in that fight. The extreme right and the GOP have become one and the same, and it does no good to try to reform or moderate them from within the party or to compromise with them. We know from bitter experience that doing so is mere appeasement, which only encourages the right to get more aggressive. Given what the right has done, Boren's fellows have about as much credibility and relevance as Neville Chamberlain after the shooting started.
Michael Tomasky's latest New York Review of Books piece, They'd Rather Be Right, is a pretty level-headed survey of the state of the GOP right now, showing how their presidential candidates are imprisoned by the ideological conceits of their base -- nearly all of which have proved dysfunctional, disastrous, or worse. The result is that the candidates' rhetoric more often than not exceeds even the track record Bush has established. Merritt likes the idea of Michael Bloomberg running a third party candidacy, but the Republicans have abandoned so much middle ground that Clinton and Obama are already right of center -- only Edwards talks about anything remotely like class, even though the split there is more extreme than any time since the 1930s. The only thing that keeps Clinton from being recognized as the middle ground Merritt craves is the hateful abuse the right has heaped on her and her befuddled husband. She's certainly not ideological in any sense of the word: she sucks up to the rich, tries to accommodate anyone of influence, and straddles issues to muddle them into insignificance. I don't see how that can work, but given a choice between her and any Republican -- other than Ron Paul, who is ideological and does have a clear solution to one big problem -- she's automatic. At this point the right has to be stopped no matter what with.
Wednesday, January 2. 2008
The results of Francis Davis's second annual Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll are posted here, with Davis's analysis and list. I wrote a sidebar piece with my top ten and a bit more. Also a non-list of interesting things by Phil Freeman, and a RIP list. Don't see the individual ballots yet.
If I find some time I'll write more about this, and maybe the Jazz Times year-end list. (Due to an office snafu, my Cadence subscription has lapsed, so I'd appreciate it if anyone can forward or can point me to their year-end poll.) For now I'll just point out that I have 7 of the top 50 (Maria Schneider, Herbie Hancock, Paul Motian, Charles Tolliver, Chris Potter [Song for Anyone], Mark Murphy, John Abercrombie) at B or lower -- Murphy a lot lower. Also that I haven't heard 6 (Miles Davis, Bill Holman, Matthew Shipp, Anthony Braxton, Tyshawn Sorey, Sonore -- some folks I'm exceptionally fond of in that list), and for that matter I missed 6 of 10 reissues, but only Sorey among the ranked niche albums. (Actually, I didn't get Bridgewater either, but for better or worse was able to stream the album from Rhapsody: a good vocal jazz album, but not great Malian pop.)