June 2002 Notebook
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Sunday, June 30, 2002

Movie: The Cat's Meow. Kirsten Dunst is astonishingly good in this movie: cast as mistress to William Randolph Hearst and objet de desire of Charlie Chaplin, she takes a tall role and makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world. A-

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Today's follow-up headline in The Wichita Eagle was:

Israel, Hamas vow to fight on

Now how, exactly, is this all Arafat's fault?

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Headline in The Wichita Eagle this morning:

Palestine must lose Arafat, Bush says

The president says the taint of terrorism that clings to Yasser Arafat must remove him from consideration as leader of a Palestine state.

The story itself came from Barry Schweid of AP, and starts:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush urged the Palestinians on Monday to replace Yasser Arafat with leaders "not compromised by terror" and adopt democratic reforms that could produce an independent state within three years.

"Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born," Bush said at the White House.

The article goes on with additional quotes, none of which are remotely as baldfaced as the title. In the title, Bush is made to look like an imperious thug; in the article (and most likely the actual speech, which as I understand it nowhere mentions Arafat by name) Bush merely looks like a patsy for the Israeli right. With this latest move, Bush has managed to eliminate any chance he might have had to: a) stabilize the Palestinian issue; and b) secure any credibility with the Arab states who are critical for controlling anti-American terrorism.

There are many ways to analyze this. For instance:

  • The only way that the U.S. can function as a peacemaker is by taking a fair-minded stance independent of both sides. By parroting Sharon's line, Bush has sided with Israel against the Palestinians, forfeiting any claim to evenhandedness. Worse, this makes the U.S. complicit with Israel's occupation.

  • In attacking Arafat as tainted by terrorism, without commenting on Sharon's fifty-year reign of violence, Bush is blatantly hypocritical. Regardless of Arafat's faults, he at least can point to his past efforts at negotiating peace (including the Nobel Prize he shared with Rabin and Peres); Sharon has never sought peace except through the barrel of a gun, and worked mightily to derail the Oslo accords that marked the only peaceful and hopeful period in Israel's history. The case that Palestine needs elections to choose new leaders is if anything weaker than the case that Israel needs to "lose" Sharon.

  • Given that Bush has so clearly identified himself with Sharon, his attack on Arafat is certain to bolster Arafat's popularity, while undermining Arafat's ability to negotiate with Israel. The basic fact is that you cannot choose your opponent's leaders; you have to deal with them, like they have to deal with their people.

  • If Israel wanted peace, the most important thing they could do would be to promote Palestinian leadership, because they need Palestinian leaders to sell the deal to the Palestinian people. This is what Rabin did with Arafat, and it was working up to Rabin's assassination.

  • By waffling back and forth on Israel, Bush may wind up with even less credibility with Arab leaders than he would have had forthrightly supporting Israel. He's managed to look two-faced here, even if he's more plausibly just hopelessly confused.

  • The most disturbing angle is that Bush may have realized that in order to keep domestic support for his military adventures he has to keep anti-American terrorism coming.

  • If the U.S. wanted peace the sensible thing would be to start by putting pressure on the side that it has the most influence on. This would in turn show the other side that the U.S. could deliver a fairer deal than it could obtain on its own. The U.S. can influence Israel, both through persuasion and pursestrings; the U.S. has no similar ability to pressure the Palestinians.

One more comment, not directly triggered by this speech/article. In many of my readings, it's frequently been said that force is the only language that the Arabs understand. This argument goes back at least to Jabotinsky, but I think we can now call it Sharon's Folly: clearly, the one thing that the Arabs do not understand is force. It's time to try something else.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Big barnraising day. Yesterday we bought a ceiling fan to replace the dead one in the back room. Last night we noticed that the hot water heater was spritzing steam, so today we bought a new hot water heater. And today we got them both installed, thanks to my brother and some friends (with a pickup truck), who wound up doing most of the work.

I spammed my mail address book with a brief message announcing my email change. Bcc'ed 67 names; got 8-10 bounces, some of which are disturbing.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Two movies today. Had dinner at Cafe Istanbul, which I still recommend, even though the menu is short, the bulgur pilaf and pita bread not as good as last time, and the doner grill is still broken. It's the only Turkish restaurant in town, only open in the last month of so. Spent the rest of the day converting email addresses.

Movie: Kandahar. A slight story wrapped in an arduous travelogue into Taliban-era Afghanistan: one expatriate Afghan woman's seemingly hopeless journey to Kandahar to try to save her sister. I have to wonder whether the landscape is to be believed: like Westerns set in Monument Valley, it's never clear how such barren desert can support so many people, even if the conditions of their support are appalling. B

Movie: About a Boy. B

Friday, June 21, 2002

Finally got to cook a nice dinner. Reached for Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking:

  • Murgh Masala
  • Okra Pilaf
  • Buttered Cabbage
  • Lentils With Garlic Butter
  • Spinach Raita

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Got it working finally -- my main machine has made the leap from Red Hat 5.2 to 7.3.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Finished reading Tom Segev's One Palestine, Complete. This weighed in at 518 pages, whereas Benny Morris covered the same period in roughly 100 pages. The latter may be worth reviewing and contrasting at this time.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Movie: The Bourne Identity. If there's an Oscar-worthy performance here, let's nominate Europe for Best Performance by a Continent in a Supporting Role. Sunny Côte d'Azur, snowy Switzerland, both pre- and post-modern Paris, the verdant French countryside, all are in splendid form. The story itself is warmed over, fantasy on all counts, but the travelogue is riveting, and the action moves quick enough to be entertaining. B+

Monday, June 10, 2002

Somewhere in Robert W. Creamer's Stengel: His Life and Times there is a quote by Casey Stengel on managing. I haven't found it in three hours of perusing the book, but three minutes on the web yields:

The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.

That's pretty much it, but the one I've been looking for has more, an explanation of why some players inevitably hate the manager (they aren't playing as much as they think they should), and why others are on the fence. It's an observation on managing that's applicable many other places. In Giles Kepel's Jihad, it's a recurrent theme: the Islamist-Jihadists are always there, but it's only when they link up with the street youths and the devout middle class that they become a real political force. If you look at terrorism as a management problem, one of the most important things you can do is to keep the guys who hate you isolated and marginalized. This is precisely what the Israeli right is worst at: they assume that all Arabs hate them, act accordingly, and lo and behold are vindicated.

I did find one little quote in Creamer's book that is incidental but worth filing away:

"Bush" is the all-purpose baseball noun for second-class, minor-league, petty, unimportant, inconsequential.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Movie: Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. The hostility to this movie is hard to fathom -- I would've guessed that anyone referring to "estrogen overdose" was being ironic, but it's hard to be sure from the several contexts in which I've seen this phrase. I found it enjoyable enough, but more as a clinic in overacting (Maggie Smith wins hands-down there) than for its story line, which is at once too messy to clearly follow, yet too simplified to ring true. B

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Let's start another record list. At start point the unrated album list numbers 742.

  • Africa Raps (2002, Trikont). West African, mostly in French, rather widely varied, with some exercises formally following contemporary hip-hop practice, others built around beguiling native rhythms. The one cut in English signifies, I dig the French, and what's incomprehensible about the rest doesn't much matter. A-
  • Count Basie: Class of '54 (1954, Black Lion). The eight nonet tracks are a nice interval between the classic Basie band and its "atomic" successor. The radio shots are a more mixed bag, with the usual announcer interference. B
  • Lawrence Brown: Slide Trombone (1955, Verve). A lovely showcase for Ellington's bone man. B+
  • Bullfrog (2001, Ropeadope). I have to wonder how many of these eclectic, funky, easy-listening wonders there are out there somewhere. Kid Koala's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is mostly just sound effects, but on occasion this sounds, well, soulful. A-
  • The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man (1965, Columbia/Legacy). Sure, the hits I know, remember even, but I never listened to the albums until Gram Parsons came and left and they inevitably became something else. But now, the striking thing about their first album is how consistent it is, how lovely the pristine (nay, original) folk-rock sound is. A-
  • Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 4: The Nashville Sound (1955-73, Columbia). This series peaked with Vol. 2: Honky Tonk Heroes. The later volumes are filler, smartly sampling material that aspires to MOR. Useful if you're interested. B+
  • Chick Corea: Origin: Live at the Blue Note (1998, Stretch). Strong suit is Steve Wilson's saxophone; weak suit is Steve Wilson's flute. B
  • Guy Davis: Give in Kind (2002, Red House). A little soft around the edges, but who (besides Leo Durocher) says nice guys have to finish last? A-
  • Blossom Dearie: Blossom Dearie (1956-59, Verve). Minimal, sensitive trio sessions, which set her plain, polite voice to great advantage. Ray Brown and Jo Jones swing as expected. The previously unreleased cuts are a mixed blessing. B+
  • Ani DiFranco (1990, Righteous Babe). Back when no one had heard of her, I got a tape of this in the mail from a mutual friend. At this stage her guitar was little more than a prop. But my rule of thumb is that good songwriters will usually become good musicians, but musicians who can't write out of the gate never will. DiFranco was a writer first and foremost, and a riveting vocalist to boot. This one takes more attention than I like to pay, but it's fascinating and portentous. B+
  • Dion: King of the New York Streets (1958-99, Capitol, 3CD). He started off as the Eminem of doo-wop, distinctly white and distinctly hip. During the '60s he mutated into a folkie, if that's what you'd call a hipper, American Donovan. The first two discs here document these phases, albeit not as well as their hard-to-find predecessors. The third disc covers Dion the aging dabbler, and while it's unremarkable, it's better than you'd expect. B+
  • DJ Shadow: The Private Press (2002, MCA). A
  • Bob Dorough: Right on My Way Home (1997, Blue Note). An aging hipster; like ye olde masters of vocalese, he tends to flip and flop too much on the slippery slopes of be-bop, but the straighter material keeps his cleverness in check, and the band is superb. B+
  • Bob Dorough: Too Much Coffee Man (2000, Blue Note). Every bit as clever, not quite so awkward. A-
  • Eminem: The Eminem Show (2002, Aftermath). Having shot his concept on two LPs of amazingly over-the-top schtick, this one is a modest retrenching: most songs flow compellingly, but the persona has thinned out to one beleaguered superstar. B+
  • The Flatlanders: Now Again (2002, New West). Jimmie Dale Gilmore is such a great singer it's a shame for him to have to share vocals, even though Joe Ely (if not Butch Hancock) can more than hold his own. In theory, what would make a Flatlanders reunion more than a marketing ploy would be a passel of great new Hancock songs. But I don't think these quite hack it. B+
  • Future World Funk: Further Adventures in Afro, Funk, Dub and Future World Beats (2000, Ocho). A/k/a vol. 2, although that's nowhere stated on the cover. I haven't heard the other vols., which makes me a bit uncomfortable rating this one, but I've played it a couple dozen times: Snowboy's "Descarga Angixi" always grabs me, and almost everything else cuts an engaging groove. I guess the reggae isn't world class, but this feels like the future: a convergence of all the world's beats. A-
  • Scott Hamilton: The Scott Hamilton Quintet in Concert (1983, Concord). Average, run-of-the-mill Hamilton. B+
  • Dave Holland Quintet: Prime Directive (2000, ECM). We all know he's a great bassist, but as with all bassists (except Mingus, that is) it's the front line you hear first. This one is, well, proficient -- Chris Potter, Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson, good players all. Sounds like a recipe for a solid B/B+, but the composition sneaks up on you here, the variety of its pleasures, the ease and sureness of its execution. Great bassist, too. A-
  • Freddie Hubbard: Open Sesame (1960, Blue Note). A bit soft for hard bop, but it has much of the sheen and flow of those Herbie Hancock records where Hubbard subbed for Miles. This one loses nothing in subbing McCoy Tyner for Hancock, and gains a lot with Tina Brooks. A-
  • Adam Makowicz: The Music of Jerome Kern (1992, Concord). He has a reputation for Tatumesque excess, but the music here is so beguiling that the result is marvelously tasteful. A-
  • Adam Makowicz: My Favorite Things: The Music of Richard Rodgers (1993, Concord). More of the same, but not as clear or sharp. B
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet: Django (1953-55, Prestige OJC). Pleasant, swinging chamber jazz, led by the precise, thoughtful piano of John Lewis, accented by Milt Jackson's vibes. B+
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet at Music Inn, Volume 2: Guest Artist: Sonny Rollins (1958, Atlantic). Pretty much what you'd figure: the usual polite chamber jazz, which the guest artist towers over like the saxophone colossus he is. B+
  • Van Morrison: Down the Road (2002, Universal). One could pick on the occasional awkward turn of phrase, but this sounds like a stone classic. A
  • Orchèstre Vévé: Vintage Verckys (2001, RetroAfric). Vintage indeed, undated (circa 1970?) Zaïrean rumba, delicate rhythms with serious horns. A-
  • Ken Peplowski: Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool (1990, Concord). As nice a slice of latterday mainstream as one could hope for -- obvious material, impeccable accompaniment. I don't know Peplowski well enough to take full measure of him, so I may be erring on the side of caution here. B+
  • Roberto Rodriguez: El Danzon de Moises (2002, Tzadik). Klezmer in its violin and clarinet, Cuban in its percussion, lovely as background, engaging when you listen up. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Bhangra (2000, World Music Network). A-
  • Sarge: The Glass Intact (1998, Mud). Smart songs, sharp, rocks a little. B+
  • Matthew Shipp String Trio: Expansion Power Release (2001, Hatology). Dominated by Joe Maneri's violin, except for one or two nice interludes merely punctuated by Shipp's piano, this makes for difficult and demanding music, yet elicits attention rather than wearing it out. B+
  • Bill Withers: The Best of Bill Withers: Lean on Me (1971-84, Columbia/Legacy). Issued in 2000, this supersedes the one called Lean on Me: The Best of Bill Withers. Not hard to identify Withers' one undoubtable hit, is it? Christgau rated Withers' first three albums as { A-, A, A }, and gave his 1975 The Best of Bill Withers an A-. Once again, the post-1975 material ranges from dull to syrupy. B
  • Eric Clapton & the Yardbirds: The Yardbird Years (1963-65, Fuel). Clapton's legend in the Yardbirds was post facto: the Yardbirds first hit is the last song here. Much of what precedes it is negligible; the exceptions being three cuts from Five Live Yardbirds ("Smokestack Lightning") and three cuts with Rice Miller at the helm. B

Saturday, June 01, 2002

Movie: Insomnia. Probably more fun in the original Norwegian: at least the geography works there. (Is there really anywhere in Alaska above the Arctic Circle where halibut are fished and people actually live?) B-


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