November 2007 Notebook
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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Putz of Peace

Wichita Eagle editorial cartoonist Richard Crowson weighed in on Bush at Annapolis today:

I don't really get the "Wanted: Abominable snow monster" title, but one thing is becoming clear: Bush has entered his endgame now. He is thinking not just about how history will view him, which is a sort of vanity many public figures share, but how to lock in and make permanent the changes he has attained. He has, for instance, announced that he is working on an "enduring relationship" deal with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, even though most of the Democrat contenders likely to replace him, and a big majority of the American people, want nothing of the sort. The announced schedule for his Annapolis initiative envisions an Israeli-Palestinian pact by the end of his term -- another little present to bestow on whoever wins the opportunity to clean up his messes. He's long campaigned for making his tax cuts permanent. His numerous executive orders are often intended to outlive his administration, and we can expect many more in his waning days -- not to mention a raft of pardons for all involved in an administration that wallows in criminality.

It's been clear all along that whoever followed Bush would have to wind up reversing almost everything he's done. There's certainly never been an administration that's so consistently, so persistently, taken wrong turns into blind alleys. Still, the waning months of his administration present still more terrifying opportunities for further misadventure -- not least because Bush appears to be going down to defeat, he's likely to see this as the last chance for quite a while to make use of presidential power.

The Crowson cartoon is a propos not only in that Bush's legacy has been one of belligerence run amok but also in the sense that he only ever conceives of peace as the fruit of victory. For him, peace only occurs when your enemies submit to your overwhelming force. That may be what he intends for Annapolis, but Israel has always enjoyed overwhelming force against Palestinians and never gotten their desired measure of submission and acquiescence from it. The dominance Bush seeks may achieve a truce here or there, but it's no substitute for justice, which can only be achieved by acknowledging equal rights for all. That is the one thing the hard core right can never concede, and that is why Bush always finds himself dumbfounded, staring up blind alleys.

But the other thing about Crowson's cartoon is how puny and inept Bush looks in comparison to the mountain of belligerence he has created. Even if he manages to cut his deals with Maliki in Iraq and Olmert and Abbas in Israel/Palestine he will have bargained with people who barely represent their constituencies, who have limited flexibility in what they can agree to and most of all in what they can deliver. Bush is in no better shape: he is not only a lame duck, he has lost Congress and has the worst popular approval ratings in history. That's not enough to keep him from being dangerous, but it's a weak hand for dealing with his problems.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Music: Current count 13831 [13813] rated (+18), 809 [826] unrated (-16). Last week was almost a total wash out. Worked on the basement Monday and Tuesday, building a platform for a new washing machine. Thursday was Thanksgiving, the start of a long weekend, full of various functions. Recycled Goods is due, so what little time I had was spent on it. And there I'm trying to get the big boxes out in time for Xmas, so the body count really slipped. Also had a big chunk of website work to do for Christgau, so I've been super-bogged down, with little to show for it. Feel lousy, too. Also I got essentially none of my incoming paperwork done, so the unrated dip is temporary.

  • Bob Dylan: Dylan (1962-2006 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): Having grown up with Dylan, following his albums one by one as they appeared, watching his stock rise and fall and rise again, noting how my own interest waxed and waned, I've never had much use for his frequent compilations. His early style evolved so furiously that the 1967 Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, each song including the bait exclusive "Positively 4th Street" individually brilliant, was jarringly at odds with itself. He has a dozen or so key albums best owned whole, each coherent and richly detailed. Compilations try to compete by rescuing the better songs from the weaker albums. Dylan had a slack period, roughly from 1975-90, but even there choice pickings like "Precious Angel" rarely stand up to the competition. Still, this isn't a bad time for a career-spanning retrospective. His three latest albums, from 1997's Time Out of Mind, are as accomplished, albeit far less prophetic, as those from his 1960s prime. And we can trace his renewal back further -- I figure the icebreaker was 1988's The Traveling Wilburys, a masquerade that fooled no one. Moreover, most folks have a lot of catching up to do. I suppose they are who this is for. The three discs break out reasonably: 1962-67, 1969-85, 1986-2006. They pull 51 songs from 33 albums, including several compilations and two soundtracks. It's a fair sampling, missing much, trying to make a modest case for the slack period -- but note that when they cut the set down to a single disc they jump from 1976 to 1997. When I saw Dylan a few years ago, I noted that the crowd was evenly divided between folks more/less my age and the teenaged children they dragged with them. This is for the kids. A-
  • Bob Dylan: Dylan (1963-2006 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): This single-disc not-so-cheapie is for the little kids, or if you want to hedge your gift-giving bets; it skips everything from "Hurricane" in 1976 to "Make You Feel My Love" in 1997, and saves "Forever Young" for the closer, as if it sums anything up -- it was more like the start of several decades of confusion, but the little kids don't need to know that much yet. A [estimate based on 3-CD superset]
  • Van Morrison: The Best of Van Morrison: Volume 3 (1992-2005 [2007], Exile/Manhattan, 2CD): The first volume suffered from an embarrassment of riches (if you call that suffering), and the second one worked too hard to redeem the weaker albums at the end of Morrison's Polydor string, or perhaps didn't mind throwing some cold water on an artist who had taken his business elsewhere. This sums up a decade-plus of self-proclaimed exile. He turned out solid-plus albums -- only Down the Road stands with his greatest work, but few if any disappointed -- and he worked hard, networking with old Brit stars (Lonnie Donegan, Georgie Fame, Tom Jones), blues legends (John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, BB King), and other voices almost as singular as his own (Carl Perkins, Ray Charles, Bobby Bland). It's hard to imagine anyone else fitting in yet standing out so effortlessly. Picking obscure tracks from tributes and soundtracks, unveiling two previously unreleaseds that make you wonder how'd they been missed, and documenting each detail faithfully, this is a rare compilation that resolves any doubts about the period. A
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan & Friends: Solos, Sessions & Encores (1978-88 [2007], Epic/Legacy): I.e., the sort of thing you find at the bottom of the barrell; sessions with Marcia Ball and (especially) David Bowie, while producing good songs, seem especially pointless; more true to form are the live jousts with black bluesmen, where Vaughan tried to show he belonged and often brought down the house. B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 9)

OK, let's forget about last week. I wasn't able to work on jazz prospecting at all. I knew it was going to be bad with Thanksgiving, the long weekend, and the impending Recycled Goods deadline. On top of that, I had to spend a couple of days doing emergency carpentry, plumbing, etc., so I barely got a chance to listen. And I figure it's do-or-die time for the big Recycled box sets, so a lot of the time I did manage to spend hasn't shown up in my counts yet. The biggest by far is Allen Lowe's That Devilin' Tune, 36-CDs of vintage jazz history, replete with a 312-page book that I'm only about 1/3 of the way through. I'm having trouble getting off the fence on the Miles Davis box too. And there are other non-jazz things pending -- as I'm writing this I'm playing the Luther Vandross box. I thought about just punting this week, but don't see any point in holding the Blue Note reissues back. Next week will be better, but first I have to decide what to do with Recycled Goods. December's column will be the 50th, with more than 2100 records covered. It takes a lot of time and I'm not getting much out of it any more -- even the records have been drying up, although I really haven't had the time to put much effort into digging them up. Maybe a change of venue would help? I've thought about something more blog-like, in shorter, more frequent chunks. Also been thinking about building a reference-oriented site, which is what the consumer guiding has always been aiming at. In any case, I should get through this tight spot sooner or later next week. Not that far away from closing out this Jazz Consumer Guide. Just have to get to the beginning of the end.


Grant Green: The Latin Bit (1961 [2007], Blue Note): The latin percussion is professional enough -- Johnny Acea on piano, Willie Bobo on drums, Carlos "Patato" Valdes on congas, Garvin Masseaux on chekere -- but they can't inspire Green to break out of his usual groove. Two later cuts with Ike Quebec on tenor sax and Sonny Clark on piano work better, with the chekere gone and the congas reduced to atmosphere. B

Ike Quebec: Bossa Nova Soul Samba (1962 [2007], Blue Note): Or something sorta like that, although Soul is the only part of that title Quebec's all that conversant with; the rhythm team leans Hispanic rather than Brazilian, and may have meant the lazy riddims as satire, but the tenor saxophonist took them as an excuse for a shmoozy ballads album, which is his forté. B+(**)

Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup (1959 [2007], Blue Note): A minor hard bop pianist, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Bobby Watson, a few others. This quintet was his only album on Blue Note, or for that matter under his own name until 1977. He wrote all the pieces, but he doesn't get much piano space. The album is dominated by Byrd, with McLean present but usually laying back. B

Lee Morgan: Indeed! (1956 [2007], Blue Note): The 18-year-old trumpet whiz's first studio experience, cut one day before the Hank Mobley session that Savoy rushed into print as Introducing Lee Morgan, this is as interesting for the presence of rarely-recorded Clarence Sharpe on alto sax and the way Horace Silver's piano jumps out at you; Morgan still had a ways to go, but the excitement around him was already palpable. B+(***)

Lee Morgan: Volume 2: Sextet (1956 [2007], Blue Note): Less than a month after Indeed!, Morgan is sounding even more confident in a larger, more daunting group featuring Hank Mobley on tenor sax and little known Kenny Rodgers on alto sax, with Horace Silver again providing his inexorable bounce. B+(***)

Lee Morgan: Volume 3 (1957 [2007], Blue Note): Still 18, at the helm of a subtler, more sophisticated sextet, and even more clearly the star, despite the estimable talent around him -- saxophonists Benny Golson and Gigi Gryce, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Charlie Persip. Golson wrote the whole program, spreading out the complexity, while Kelly holds it all together. B+(**)

Lee Morgan: Candy (1957 [2007], Blue Note): Still in his teens, but at last out front alone, leading a quartet with the redoubtable Sonny Clark on piano, running through a mix of standards, including a couple he reclaims from the pop/r&b charts -- "Candy" and "Personality"; he's bursting with energy and ideas, still finding himself, but completely in control. A-

Baby Face Willette: Face to Face (1961 [2007], Blue Note): Organ man, church schooled, natch, cut two albums in 1961 with guitarist Grant Green and drummer Ben Dixon, then for all intents and purposes disappeared; this one adds Fred Jackson on tenor sax, whose skill set is summed up in the title of his one album, Hootin' 'N Tootin'; still, it's hard not to enjoy their gutbucket soul jazz. B+(***)

Paul Chambers: Bass on Top (1957 [2007], Blue Note): One of the top bassists of the era -- AMG's credits run to seven pages, all the more amazing given that he was just 33 when he died, although I figure 1/2 to 2/3 of those are dupes for compilations. Although he did a handful of albums as a leader, this is exceptional in its focus on the bass -- or at least it starts that way, as guitarist Kenny Burrell later moves to the fore. B

Lou Donaldson: Gravy Train (1961 [2007], Blue Note): An alto saxophonist, Donaldson got a reputation early in the 1950s as a Charlie Parker imitator, but it's hard to hear the influence, especially by the early 1960s when his easy-flowing blues style fit snugly into the soul jazz milieu. The temptation to put him down as derivative may be because he never showed any big ambitions. He was content to knock off dozens of clean toned, easy grooving albums, popular enough that Blue Note kept him employed from 1952 to 1974. This one makes the most of his limits. Two originals are small ideas worked out comfortably. The covers carry stronger melodies, which he renders with little elaboration but uncommon elegance. Herman Foster's piano is crisper than the usual organs, while Alec Dorsey's congas lighten and loosen the beat. A-

Count Basie: Basie at Birdland (1961 [2007], Roulette Jazz): This is about where Basie's "Second Testament" (as they put it here) band starts to slip, but they can still kick the old songbook into high orbit, the section work is atomic, a key tenor sax solo (Budd Johnson?) is much further out than expected, and Jon Hendricks mumbles his Clark Terry impression on "Whirly Bird." Nearly double the length of the original LP, the extra weight suits them. A-

Thad Jones: The Magnificent Thad Jones (1956 [2007], Blue Note): The title strikes me as a play on Jones' debut album on Debut, The Fabulous Thad Jones -- among other things it implies continued growth. The slowest great trumpet player of his generation, Jones never dazzled you with his chops, but he had an uncanny knack for finding right places for his notes, and at his moderate pace you get to savor the full beauty of the instrument. Ends with a graceful non-LP duet with guitarist Kenny Burrell. A-


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.

Unpacking:

Got some things, but didn't get them logged this week.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ira Katznelson: When Affirmative Action Was White

Ira Katznelson: When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (2005; paperback, 2006, WW Norton)

I picked out this book after reading Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal. Krugman's theme is how the New Deal, in response to the Great Depression and World War II, led to a significant degree of income equalization in the US, both lifting many working class people out of poverty and reducing the after-tax income of the very rich. Of course, it didn't always work out like that, and this is another side of the story. Katznelson details how New Deal programs were designed to exclude blacks and how those programs that built a politically significant middle class also had the effect of increasing the economic disparity between whites and blacks. The other piece of this story, which Krugman alludes to and Katznelson describes in more detail without drawing much in the way of conclusions is how white racism, starting with the strategies southern Democrats developed to preserve segregation in face of federal "affirmative action" programs, enabled the conservative Republic ascendency that has dominated Washington from Reagan to Bush, persistently eating away at New Deal and Great Society programs while restoring income inequities to levels not seen since the Gilded Ages. The key event there was the support of southern Democrats for Taft-Hartley, undermining an organized labor movement that threatened to organize low-wage southern blacks, and ultimately damaging the Democratic party by marginalizing its labor supporters. Of course, by then the white southern Democrats had mostly switched to the Republican party.


(pp. 22-23):

The South's representatives built ramparts within the policy initiatives of the New Deal and the Fair Deal to safeguard their region's social organization. They accomplished this aim by making the most of their disproportionate numbers on committees, by their close acquaintance with legislative rules and procedures, and by exploiting the gap between the intensity of their feeling and the relative indifference of their fellow members of Congress.

They used three mechanisms. First, whenever the nature of the legislation permitted, they sought to leave out as many African Americans as they could. They achieved this not by inscribing race into law but by writing provisions that, in Robert Lieberman's language, were racially laden. The most important instances concerned categories of work in which blacks were heavily overrepresented, notably farmworkers and maids. These groups -- constituting more than 60 percent of the black labor force int he 1930s and nearly 75 percent of those who were employed in the South -- were excluded from the legislation that created modern unions, from laws that set minimum wages and regulated the hours of work, and from Social Security until the 1950s.

Second, they successfully insisted that the administration of these and other laws, including assistance to the poor and support for veterans, be placed in the hands of local officials who were deeply hostile to black aspirations. Over and over, the bureaucrats who were handed authority by Congress used their capacity to shield the southern system from challenge and disruption.

Third, they prevented Congress from attaching any sort of anti-discrimination provisions to a wide array of social welfare programs such as community health services, school lunches, and hospital construction grants, indeed all the programs that distributed monies to their region.

As a consequence, at the very moment when a wide array of public policies was providing most white Americans with valuable tools to advance their social welfare -- insure their old age, get good jobs, acquire economic security, build assets, and gain middle-class status -- most black Americans were left behind or left out.

(p. 40):

The South's political leaders thus had to find a tolerable balance between two sources of tension. The region's poverty impelled them to pursue fresh and significant sources of federal help, especially because their states were unable to add much on their own. But they had to keep payments low and racially differentiated so as not to upset their low-wage economy, anger employers, or unsettle race relations. The key decision was an agreement by the southern supporters of the New Deal not to pay relief at a level higher than prevailing local standards. They also secured such accommodations as excluding agricultural workers from relief rolls at planting and harvesting times. Furthermore, they had to manage the strain that potentially might be placed on local practices by investing authority in federal bureaucracies. "With our local policies dictated by Washington," the Charleston News and Courier editorialized in 1934, "we shall not long have the civilization to which we are accustomed." To guard against this outcome, the key mechanism deployed was a separation of the source of funding from decisions about how to spend the new monies.

(p. 57):

An explicit legislative exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers from New Deal labor legislation first appeared in the National Labor Relations Act. To be sure, the original draft of the bill introduced by Senator Wagner contained no such exclusion. In the course of examining a witness in the Senate hearing, Senator David Walsh, a Massachusetts Democrat, observed that as the bill was drafted, "it would permit an organization of employees who work on a farm, and would require the farmer to actually recognize their representatives, and deal with them in the matter of collective bargaining."

This possibility triggered discussion of the issue when the bill was referred to the Committee on Education and Labor. Senators Hugo Black of Alabama, who later would change his views about race and segregation, and Park Trammell of Florida worked closely with three non-southern Democrats representing rural states to report a bill containing the exemption of agricultural and domestic labor in precisely the form that would be included in the final passage of the bill.

(p. 61):

During the Second World War, even this arrangement proved unsettling to the southern wing of the party. Pressed by wartime social change, southern Democrats shifted positions, moving to limit the effect of the labor regime they had helped install. With unemployment eliminated by wartime production, and with many blacks entering the industrial labor force at a time when many white workers were overseas, unions began to organize southern workers, including many blacks. In this context, southern representatives feared that the New Deal rules for labor and work they had helped create would undermine the region's traditional racial order. As a result, they shifted their votes from the pro-labor column to join with Republicans during and after the war to make it more difficult for workers to join unions and to limit their rights at the workplace. The country's system for regulating unions and the labor market took on an even more decidedly racial tilt. Politically, this shift by southern Democrats would radically transform American politics, as well as labor legislation, for decades to come.

(p. 69):

The tight labor market induced by wartime industrial expansion was fueled by large federal investments, by urbanization, and by the substantial development of military bases; this in turn facilitated aggressive union efforts to take advantage of the legal climate that had been created by the Wagner Act but previously had had little effect in the South. In just two years, from Pearl Harbor to late 1943, industrial employment in the South grew from 1.6 million to 2.3 million workers. And many farmers and sharecroppers who experienced military service or worked at war centers were not prepared to tolerate a return to prewar conditions (during the war, one in four farmworkers left the land).

(pp. 77-78):

The changes that the Portal to Portal Act wrought to the FLSA also diminished the ability of organized labor to utilize legal resources to protect workers' rights. The rules it fashioned are an object lesson in the considerable difference that seemingly modest procedural changes to public policy can make. The year 1947, the last before Portal to Portal regulations came into effect, stands out for the high number of enforcement suits filed in federal court (3,772) demanding compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the most in any single year before or since. This peak reflected a steady rise in such judicial interventionism in the labor market under the aegis of FLSA during the prior three years. Once Congress enacted its amendments making such proceedings more difficult, the number of enforcement actions plummeted, in 1948, by 72 percent, to 1,062. During the decade following enactment the average annual number of suits filed was 754, representing a decline of some 80 percent from the high-water mark of 1947. Further, as the overall legal climate for labor altered and FLSA enforcement declined, the cooperation offered by many states in enforcing minimum wages and maximum hours waned, especially in the South.

When the impact of more limited possibilities became clear to the leaders of organized labor, they opted to make three fateful moves, all rational in this new context and all successful in the short term. First, they reined in their once ambitious efforts, focused on the South, to make the labor movement a genuinely national force. This strategy now had become prohibitively costly. Instead, they opted to focus attention where their strength already was considerable. Second, they concentrated on making collective bargaining a settled, orderly, and productive process, trading off management prerogatives for generous, secure wage settlements indexed to inflation. In so doing, they experimented with long-term contracts (such as the UAW-General Motors five-year agreement in 1950), while limiting their scope of attention almost exclusively to the workplace. Third, rather than continue to fight for a more advanced national welfare state for all Americans, they concentrated on securing private pension and health insurance provisions for their members that would be financed mainly by employers.

Under these circumstances, the South's political, social, and economic structure remained largely unchallenged by organized labor, the one national force that had seemed best poised to do so in the 1940s. In consequence, the emerging judicial strategy and mass movement to secure black enfranchisement and challenge Jim Crow developed independently of a labor movement that looked increasingly inward and minimized its priority of incorporating black workers within its ranks. Two effects stand out. First, the incipient civil rights impulse rarely tackled the economic conundrums of southern black society directly, focusing instead mainly on civic and political, rather than economic, inclusion. Second, the unions' potential to alter the status of the majority of black working people profoundly failed to take hold.

(p. 101):

The 1940 Census had revealed that some 10 million Americans had not been schooled past the fourth grade, and that one in eight could not read or write. This, primarily, was a southern problem. A higher proportion of blacks living in the North had completed grade school than whites in the South.

(pp. 101-102):

Thus, in the midst of a war defined in large measure as an epochal battle between liberal democracy and Nazi and Fascist totalitarianism, one that distinguished between people on the basis of blood and race, the U.S. military not only engaged in sorting Americans by race but in policing the boundary separating white from black. Because the draft selected individuals to fill quotas to meet the test of a racially proportionate military and because they were assigned to units based on a simple dual racial system,the notion of selective service extended to the assignment of definitive racial tags. The Selective Service system soon found this often was not a simple task. The issue of classification proved particularly vexing in Puerto Rico, where the population was so various racially and where the island's National Guard units had been integrated. Even here, registrants were sorted by race and the National Guard was divided into two sections. The large number of mixed race individuals in the border states, the Creole population of Louisiana, and American Indians offered other challenges, as did ambiguous individual cases almost everywhere. Embarrassingly, the Selective Service fell on blood percentages, using racial guidelines not unlike the country's European enemy, Nazi Germany. Ordinarily, the rule it used was "that 25 percent Negro blood made a person a Negro." Nonetheless, Hershey made clear that it would be unwise for the local board to disrupt "the mode of life which has become so well established" when a draftee in question had been passing as white. After August 1944, the system was sufficiently overwhelmed that he took the decision, at first resisted by Secretary Stimson, to accept the classification an individual claimed for himself when a dispute over racial assignment came to pass.

(pp. 102-103):

For Jews, in particular, the Second World War produced a shift in standing that was quite radical. On its eve, "Jews were not so confident of their prospects in America." During the period of economic hardship, resurgent anti-Semitism, and grim news from Palestine and above all from the heartland of Europe in the 1930s, American Jews faced quotas on admission to leading universities, markedly to professional schools, and a more widespread restrictive system of anti-Semitic practices that impelled the creation of parallel networks of hotels, country clubs, and other social institutions. Before the First World War, most Jews had not sought to enter crowded labor markets outside their areas of economic specialization, notably in the garment trades. But in the interwar period, as the children of immigrants sought to move beyond these niches, they discovered high walls barring many types of employment, in particular in banking, insurance, and engineering. Public opinion polls revealed a great deal of skepticism and many popular myths about Jews. Anti-Jewish expression often was unguarded and unashamed. Enhanced Jewish visibility in economic and civic life often went hand in hand with heightened apprehension and nervous efforts to limits Jewish prominence, as in the case of the unsuccessful effort in 1938 by the Jewish secretary of the treasury and the Jewish publisher of the New York Times to persuade President Roosevelt not to appoint a second Jew to the Supreme Court.

In contrast, by the 1950s, Jewish Americans had achieved remarkable social mobility, high measures of participation in American life, and impressive political incorporation. Anti-Semitism had become unfashionable, at least its open expression. University barriers to entry became more permeable. Mobility from one generation to the next accelerated as access to formerly closed occupations quickened. Housing choices multiplied. Jews entered mass culture on vastly more favorable terms. The war, in short, proved a great engine of group integration and incorporation. Under arms, American Jews became citizens in a full sense at just the moment that Jews virtually everywhere in Europe were being extruded from citizenship. Jews served as officers in the U.S. military as well as enlisted men in higher proportions than their share of the population. After the First World War, they often were classified with blacks as a racial minority. By the 1940s, they were linked with predominantly Catholic groups to compose the category of white ethnics -- a grouping that signified the extension of American pluralism and tolerance.

(pp. 108-109):

The decision to take and educate these individuals with marginal education was the result primarily of immense pressures from the field for more soldiers, but it also had another source. Across the South, white leaders, including some of its most vociferous racists like Mississippi's Senator Bilbo, were insisting that black men be removed from communities from which so many white men were absent but white women were still present. "In my state," he told a Senate committee in the fall 1942, "with a population one-half Negro and one half white . . . the system that you are using has resulted in taking all the whites to meet the quota and leaving the great majority of Negroes at home." In these circumstances, he advised the Department of War: "I [am] anxious that you develop the reservoir of the illiterate class . . . so that there would be an equal distribution." Leading civil rights advocates promoted this view because they were keen to reverse the policy that had kept so many blacks who wished to serve out of the military.

The Army's response was to create a massive crash schooling program of Special Training Units. At the military reception centers, organized into segregated classrooms, two out of every three of their students were black. Once in place starting in June 1943, more than 300,000 inductees passed through this program. Half came from the Fourth Service Command that recruited in the deep South. A high proportion, 11 percent, of the new white recruits were classified as illiterate, but fully 45 percent of the black newcomers lacked basic reading skills. Schooling lasted twelve weeks. "Specially prepared textbooks, such as The Army Reader, describing in simple words a day with Private Pete, were used. Bootie Mack, a sailor, enlivened the pages of The Navy Reader" The level of training was modest (the ability tow rite letters, read signs, use a clock, deploy basic arithmetic), but remarkably the great majority, some 250,000, were lifted out of illiteracy in this brief period. Of the black members of these Special Training Units in the first six months of operation, fully 90 percent were assigned to regular units at the conclusion of their schooling, a higher proportion than the 85 percent of whites.

(p. 134):

The gap in educational attainment between blacks and whites widened rather than closed. Of veterans born between 1923 and 1928, 28 per cent of whites but only 12 percent of blacks enrolled in college-level programs. Furthermore, blacks spent fewer months than whites in GI Bill schooling. The most careful and sophisticated recent study of the impact of the bill's educational provisions demonstrated no difference in attendance or attainment that set apart southern from non-southern whites. All on average gained quite a lot. But for blacks, the analysis revealed a marked difference between the small minority in northern colleges and those students who attended educational institutions in the South. For the latter group, GI Bill higher education had little effect on their educational attainment or their life prospects. White incomes tended to increase quite a bit more than black earnings as a result of gaining an advanced education. As a result, the authors concluded, at the collegiate level, "the G.I. Bill exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between blacks and whites."

(pp. 142-143):

But most blacks were left out. The damage to racial equity caused by each program was immense. Taken together, the effects of these public laws were devastating. Social Security, from which the majority of blacks were excluded until well into the 1950s, quickly became the country's most important social legislation. The labor laws of the New Deal and Fair Deal created a framework of protection for tens of millions of workers who secured minimum wages, maximum hours, and the right to join industrial as well as craft unions. African Americans who worked on the land or as domestics, the great majority, lacked these protections. When unions made inroads in the South, where most blacks lived, moreover, Congress changed the rules of the game to make organizing much more difficult. Perhaps most surprising and most important, the treatment of veterans after the war, despite the universal eligibility for the benefits offered by the GI Bill, perpetuated the blatant racism that had marked military affairs during the war itself. At no other time in American history have so much money and so many resources been put at the service of the generation completing education, entering the workforce, and forming families. Yet comparatively little of this largesse was available to black veterans. With these policies, the Gordian knot binding race to class tightened.

(p. 145):

As part of the quest for civil rights in the Kennedy years, affirmative action did not yet connote compensatory treatment or special preferences. Rather, it simply implied positive deeds to combat racial discrimination. Yet even int he early 1960s the idiom of affirmation suggested more far-reaching possibilities. From the start of the decade, Johnson seemed to understand what he would later say aloud at Howard. Civil rights alone would not be sufficient. The growing gap between white and black Americans demanded more. When Johnson was designated in early 1961 to chair the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, he privately advised the president that the Eisenhower administration's non-discrimination clause for governmental contracts should "be revised to impose not merely the negative obligation of avoiding discrimination but the affirmative duty to employ applicants.

(p. 147):

The Nixon administration, far from opposing these new measures, expanded the policy by further applying the doctrine of "disparate impact" (rather than "disparate treatment"). Seeking to embarrass organized labor, and enlarge a growing schism between the civil rights movement and white members of unions who might be persuaded to shift their votes to the Republican Party, Nixon enforced the Philadelphia Plan first drafted by Johnson's Department of Labor in 1967, which required that minority workers in the notoriously discriminatory construction trades be hired in rough proportion to their per centage in the local labor force. Soon, one or another form of the Philadelphia Plan -- a plan Nixon called "that little extra start" -- was adopted in fifty-five cities. When the U.S. Comptroller General argued that this program violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Attorney General John Mitchell rejoined that the "obligation of nondiscrimination" entails taking into account the racial implications of "outwardly neutral criteria" that might, nonetheless, produce deeply unequal outcomes by race.

(p. 164):

The consequences proved profound. By 1984, when GI Bill mortgages had mainly matured, the median white household had a net worth of $39,135; the comparable figure for black households was only $3,397, or just 9 percent of the white holdings. Most of this difference was accounted for by the absence of homeownership. Nearly seven in ten whites owned homes worth an average of $52,000. By comparison, only four in ten blacks were homeowners, and their houses had an average value of less than $30,000. African Americans who were not homeowners possessed virtually no wealth at all.

(pp. 168-169):

Curiously, a series of forgotten early experiments in affirmative action by the military just after the Second World War can help point the way. Affirmative action for blacks began well before the term existed. With millions of soldiers coming home but security needs still pressing, the Department of War conducted a sober assessment of the campaigns in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The way race had been handled, it concluded, had diminished the fighting capability of the armed forces. Responding to the study, the military decided to raise the educational level of black troops to improve their readiness and create a deeper pool from which to recruit black officers. The Far East Command established such a program, aimed principally at blacks, to bring every soldier to a fifth-grade standard. Elsewhere, race was used more explicitly to define eligibility. At Georgia's Fort Benning, the Army initiated an educational program for members of the all-black 25th Combat Regiment who had secured less than an eighth-grade education. But the most far-reaching program took place in occupied Germany. Starting in 1947, thousands of black soldiers undergoing basic military training at the Grafenwohr Training Center received daily instruction for three months in academic subjects up to the level of the twelfth grade.

Soon, the training center moved to larger quarters at Mannheim Koafestal. By the close of the year, the results had been so positive that a larger, remarkably comprehensive program exclusively for black soldiers was launched at Germany's Kitzingen Air Base. All African American troops arriving from the United States passed through the program. Black units stationed in Europe were required to rotate through Kitzingen for refresher courses. Once this on-site instruction was completed, Army instructors traveled with the soldiers to continue their schooling in the field. The participants were required to stick with the course until they reached a high school equivalency level or demonstrated they could make no further gains. By 1950, two thirds of the 2,900 black soldiers in Europe were enrolled.

Military affirmative action worked. These men made striking advances in Army classification tests. That year, the European Command estimated that the program "was producing some of the finest trained black troops in the Army." Soon, the number of qualified black officers increased considerably. Breaking with the masked white affirmative action of the 1930s and 1940s, race counted positively and explicitly to improve the circumstances of African Americans.

(p. 170):

Beneficiaries must be targeted with clarity and care. The colorblind critique argues that race, as a group category, is morally unacceptable even when it is used to counter discrimination. But this view misses an important distinction. African American individuals have been discriminated against because they were black, and for no other reason. Obviously, this violates basic norms of fairness. Under affirmative action, they are compensated not for being black but only because they were subject to unfair treatment at an earlier moment because they were black. If, for others, the policies also were unjust, they, too, must be included in the remedies. When national policy kept out farmworkers and maids, the injury was not limited to African Americans. Nor should the remedy be.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Juan Cole: Napoleon's Egypt

Juan Cole: Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (2007, Palgrave Macmillan)

Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan, specializing in the political history of Shi'ism in the Middle East, especially Iraq. Over the last few years he has written a prolific blog called "Informed Comment" which focuses mostly on Bush's Iraq War debacle, during which time he's established himself as the single most useful source of information on the war. Given this, it might be reasonable to expect him to draw analogies between the latest Western invasion of the Middle East and the first modern (post-Crusades) one, but he shies away from doing so. Actually, the book seems designed to reinforce Cole's credentials as a serious historian. But he did draw some conclusions in a piece at TomDispatch: "This first Western invasion of the Middle East in modern times had ended in serial disasters that Bonaparte would misrepresent to the French public as a series of glorious triumphs." More:

For both Bush and Bonaparte, the genteel diction of liberation, rights, and prosperity served to obscure or justify a major invasion and occupation of a Middle Eastern land, involving the unleashing of slaughter and terror against its people. Military action would leave towns destroyed, families displaced, and countless dead. Given the ongoing carnage in Iraq, President Bush's boast that, with "new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians," now seems not just hollow but macabre. The equation of a foreign military occupation with liberty and prosperity is, in the cold light of day, no less bizarre than the promise of war with virtually no civilian casualties.

It is no accident that many of the rhetorical strategies employed by George W. Bush originated with Napoleon Bonaparte, a notorious spinmeister and confidence man. At least Bonaparte looked to the future, seeing clearly the coming breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the likelihood that European Powers would be able to colonize its provinces. Bonaparte's failure in Egypt did not forestall decades of French colonial success in Algeria and Indochina, even if that era of imperial triumph could not, in the end, be sustained in the face of the political and social awakening of the colonized. Bush's neocolonialism, on the other hand, swam against the tide of history, and its failure is all the more criminal for having been so predictable.


A selection of quotes from the book. One similarity between Napoleon in Egypt and Bush in Iraq is that the invading armies were invincible in direct military confrontations, but both were harried from the start by irregular fighters -- in Napoleon's case mostly by Bedouin. Small acts of rebellion were consistent and pervasive, took a slow toll of attrition, and were haphazardly met by brutal repression, which might seem to work but not for long. Both made flamboyant use of propaganda to sway hearts and minds, but both made stupid mistakes in doing so, their efforts ringing hollow. One difference is that the French faced a serious external threat, especially from Britain's dominant naval position. Britain's ability to blockade Egypt made the Egyptians' war of attrition all the more damaging. It also meant that Napoleon had to fend for himself in Egypt, which made his occupation much more predatory. By contrast, Bush is able to pump huge amounts of money into Iraq -- a drain which hurts public opinion in the US, but which makes the occupation much more self-sustaining.

(pp. 12-14):

The genesis of Bonaparte's plan to invade Egypt is complex. A few French intellectuals and merchants had entertained the idea of such a project over the previous century, given the indisputable centrality of Egypt to French commerce in the Mediterranean and points east. Bonaparte himself appears to have begun seriously considering it in the summer of 1797 as a result of his Italian campaign. The principalities of Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea had long had interets in Adriatic islands and in Croatia and Ottoman Albania. Venice and the Adriatic city of Ragusa provided the leading foreign element among merchant communities in the Egyptian port of Alexandria. And revolutionary France, now established as an Italian power, had more inteests in the Levant than ever before -- something of which Bonaparte, as the virtual viceroy of the Italian territories, would be well aware.

A prominent politician, revolutionary, and former priest, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, had argued just the previous summer in a speech to the National Institute that Republican France needed colonies in order to prosper. (Canada, Louisiana, and many of its Caribbean and Indian possessions had been lost to it decades before.) He rooted this demand in the revolutionary ethos of the new Republic, saying, "The necessary effect of a free Constitution is to tend without cessation to set everything in order, within itself and without, in the interest of the human species." He related that he had been struck, during his brief exile to the United States during the Terror, at how their postrevolutionary situation differed from that of France in lacking intense internal hatreds and conflicts, and he attributed this relative social peace to the way in which settling a vast continent drew the energies of restless former revolutionaries. Talleyrand recalled earlier plans for a French colony in Egypt and pointed to British sugar cultivation in Bengal, implying that such imperial commodity production strengthened this rival and that France should also seek profits through colonial possessions that would produce lucrative cash crops. He also suggested that the days of slavery were numbered, and implied that colonies that generated wealth through slave plantations should be replaced with satellite French-style republics dominated by Paris.

Throughout the 1790s, British naval superiority had confined the expansionist French to the Continent and thwarted any attempt to overthrow the British enemy. Talleyrand argued that a renewed colonialism offered "the advantage of not in any way allowing ourselves to be forestalled by a rival nation, for which every one of our lapses, every one of our delays along these lines is a triumph." The French had lost their toehold in South India at Pondicherry to the British, but were attempting to ally with local anti-British Indian rulers in hopes of expelling the British East India Company from the subcontinent. Taking Egypt would give France control over other valuable commodities, especially sugar, and might provide a means of blocking the growth of a British empire in the East. [ . . . ]

Victorious in Italy, Bonaparte began corresponding with Talleyrand and other leaders about the possibilities of a French Mediterranean policy as a means of hurting the British. On 16 August 1797, he wrote, "The time is not far away that we will feel that, in order truly to destroy England, we must take Egypt. The vast Ottoman Empire, which dies every day, lays an obligation on us to exercise some forethought about the means whereby we can protect our commerce with the Levant." The Old Regime and the early Republic had supported the Ottoman Empire as a way of denying the eastern Mediterranean to its powerful continental rivals. Bonaparte and Talleyrand, in contrast, became convinced that the Ottoman decline was accelerating, producing a dangerous impetus for Britain and Russia to attempt to usurp former Ottoman territories. If the European might soon begin capturing provinces of Sultan Selim III, then Bonaparte and Talleyrand wanted the Republic of France to be the first in line. Excluded by the British navy from the North Atlantic and lacking possessions near the Cape of Good Hope, they dreamed of making the Mediterranean a French lake and of opening a route to India via the Red Sea, and recovering Pondicherry and other French possessions on the Coromandel and Malabar coasts.

(p. 29):

The theme of the degeneration of what had once been the classical world was well established by the eighteenth century, having been elaborated early in the century by French travelers to and writers about Greece. Degeneration allowed the French to appropriate classical civilization for their own, displacing its splendor into the distant past and positioning its present heirs as unworthy, such that the mantle of those glories fell on the French instead. Still, it should be underlined that despite the racist overtones of the phrase, degeneration did not refer, for these Directory-era Frenchmen, to a hereditary condition of the blood. Rather, they believed that the climatic and social conditions of Egypt had produced tyranny and excess, which were amenable to being reversed. This attempt at restoring the Egyptians to greatness and curing their degeneracy through liberty and modernity was central to the rhetoric of the invasion.

(p. 30):

Bonaparte, having secured Alexandria, issued a proclamation setting forth to the Egyptians the reasons for the invasion and what the French government expected from them. The French Orientalist Jean Michel de Venture de Paradis, perhaps with the help of Maltese aides, translated the document into very strange and very bad Arabic. The Maltese, Catholic Christians, speak a dialect of Arabic distantly related to that of North Africa, but they were seldom schooled in writing classical Arabic, which differs with regard to grammar, vocabulary, and idiom from the various spoken forms. Venture de Paradis, who had lived in Tunis, knew Arabic grammar and vocabulary but not how to use them idiomatically. The French thus first appeared to the small elite of literate Egyptians through the filter of a barbarous accent and writing style, making them seem rather ridiculous, despite Bonaparte's imperial pretensions. It would be rather as though they had conquered England and sent forth their first proclamation in Cockney. But ungrammaticality and awkward wording were not the worst of the statement's difficulties. Much of it simply could not be understood by most Egyptians, since it sought to express concepts for which there were no Arabic equivalents.

(p. 45):

As they approached Rahmaniya, the troops finally neared the sweet water of the Nile, though for strangers in unfamiliar territory its charms were attended with danger. The grenadier François Vigo-Roussillon recalled, "The entire army -- men, horses and donkeys -- threw themselves into that sought-after river. How delicious these healthful waters seemed to us! Nevertheless, many men were mutilated or carried away by crocodiles." He said that his unit proceeded up the left bank for about a league, then bivouacked in squares (no doubt keeping as much an eye out for the crocs as for enemy soldiers).

(pp. 54-55):

In the 1600s and 1700s Egypt emerged as the center of a vast and lucrative coffee trade. Coffee trees probably came to Yemen from Ethiopia, and in the 1500s the people of Cairo first learned that brewing the beans and drinking the hot juice had become popular in Sanaa, especially among Sufi mystics seeking to stay up late for prayer and meditation. By the 1600s, the custom of coffee-drinking had spread beyond the mystics to the general public, and coffeehouses opened all over the Ottoman Empire, often to the dismay of authoritarian sultans and governors who feared them as places where sedition might brew in heated conversations as easily as a thick mocha blend. Ottoman attempts to ban coffee or coffeehouses, however, failed miserably. In the mid-to-late 1600s, a few coffeehouses began to be opened in Europe. European monarchs initially dreaded them as much as had the sultans. The first was founded in Paris in 1671. The Café Le Procope, set up in the French capital in 1689, later became a center for intellectual discussion and revolutionary ideas. Cairo was among the major entrepôts for marketing coffee in the Ottoman Empire and to Europe. It is tempting to observe in jest that, if indeed the rise of the coffeehouse had anything to do with the coming of the French Revolution, it may be that Egyptian coffee merchants inadvertently set in train the caffeinated, fevered discussions that overthrew the Old Regime and ultimately sent a French fleet on its way to Alexandria.

Some more general background on the Mamluks and Ottomans (pp. 53-56):

Egypt was a largely Arabic-speaking society, but it was at that time [1798] under the nominal rule of the Ottoman Empire, with its capital in Istanbul (which had been Constantinople under the Romans and Byzantines). When the Ottomans conquered Egyptin 1517, they displaced a ruling caste of slave soldiers called the Mamluks, most of them initially Christian youths from Circassia in the Caucasus, where they were taken as slaves when defeated on local battlegrounds. Medieval Muslim rulers often feared that if they depended too heavily on local tribal warriors or on an army recruited from a pastoral population with strong clan ties, then these kinship groups would retain their own regional interests and would set the rulers aside in a coup. Rulers had often depended on imported slave soldiers, because slavery is a form of social death in which the individual is cut off from his family and place of origin. Slaves, they thought, would lack such thick networks of kinship and so would be more loyal to the sovereign. They were converted to Islam, and most lost close contact with their families abroad. Mamluks, despite starting as slaves, were often paid very handsomely and had the opportunity to rise high in the military, the bureaucracy, or the court. On reaching adulthood, they were awarded their freedom but remained loyal to their former master. Ironically, barracks full of slave soldiers often established new networks of friendship and professional contacts that allowed them in some instances to make successful revolts against their sultans. The Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt, the most famous member of which was Saladin, the nemesis of the crusaders, maintained a large number of Mamluks. In 1250, when their Ayyubid monarch died, and as Egypt faced a potential onslaught from invading Mongol hordes, the Mamluk soldiers made a military coup and took over the country and then ruled it for themselves for two and a half centuries.

When, on 24 January 1517, Sultan Selim I of the Ottoman Empire swept into Cairo, he reduced it to an appendage of Istanbul. The Ottomans incorporated Egypt into one of the largest empires in the history of the world, a flourishing trade emporium that linked India in the east with Istanbul via Iraq and then Istanbul with Marseilles in the west across the Mediterranean. The empire at its height had thirty-two provinces, of which thirteen were Arabic-speaking, and Egypt, among the more populous and the most agriculturally productive, became its granary. The Ottomans subordinated the Circassian slave soldiers in Egypt to their own bureaucracy and their own system of military slavery. Istanbul famously established seven long-lasting regiments in Egypt. Five of them were cavalry regiments, and two were infantry. These regiments were staffed by a multicultural and polyglot elite, held together only by their loyalty to the sultan and Islam, their mastery of the Ottoman language (an aristocratic, Persian-inflected form of Turkish), and Ottoman military and bureaucratic techniques. They comprised Anatolian Turks, Bosnians, Albanians, converted Jews, Armenians, Georgians, and Circassians. Within the military, a strong divide existed between those soldiers originally recruited as slaves, who remained at the top of the hierarchy, and the free volunteers from the poor villages of Anatolia. [ . . . ]

During the 18th century, the Georgian houses of slave soldiers in Egypt grew in importance, proving able to subordinate the seven Ottoman regiments and establishing control over the lucrative coffee trade. An Ottoman-Egyptian slave soldier, Ali Bey al-Kabir, rebelled in the 1760s and 1770s, attempting to undermine the sultan's authority by asserting power in the Red Sea and opening it to European commerce, as well as by invading Syria. His rebellion ended, but after a while the beys of Cairo again ceased paying tribute to the Ottoman sultan, provoking an Ottoman invasion in 1786 that halted the province's slide toward autonomy. Although in earlier decades we historians tended to write off the eighteenth century as a time of the resurgence of Mamluk government in Egypt, as though the old state of the 1200s through the 1400s had been revived, we now know that this way of speaking is inaccurate. The Ottomans had endowed Egypt, however, independent it sometimes became, with their own institutions, including their distinctive form of slave soldiery. For this reason, it is more accurate to call the eighteenth-century ruling elite "Ottoman Egyptians." Arabic chronicles of the time often called them "ghuz," a reference to the Oghuz Turkic tribe, which also implied that they were best seen as Ottomans (a Turkic dynasty). Most gained fluency in both Ottoman Turkish and Arabic, while retaining their knowledge of Caucasian languages such as Georgian and Circassian. Not all of the emirs had a slave-soldier background, and some were Arabic-speaking Egyptians.

The eighteenth century was not kind to Egypt. Between 1740 and 1798, Egyptian society went into a tailspin, its economy generally bad; droughts were prolonged, the Nile floods low, and outbreaks of plague and other diseases frequent. The slave-soldier houses fought fierce and constant battles with one another, and consequently raised urban taxes to levels that produced misery. Now a new catastrophe had struck, in the form of Bonaparte's plans to bestow liberty on Egypt.

(pp. 93-96):

As Ibrahim Bey disappeared into the sands of the Sinai, his departure drew a curtain over nearly a quarter century of Egyptian history. He, along with his partner Murad Bey, had ruled Egypt since the mid-1770s. Now he fled east even as Murad headed south, their palatial mansions suddenly become the homes of foreign officers, their wives taxpayers to the Republic of France or mistresses to her generals, their entourages and slave soldiers scattered, killed, or suborned to new loyalties. [ . . . ]

Ibrahim Bey had been in the political wilderness before and survived to return to power. Mehmet Ebu Zahab, who had been Ibrahim's owner, died in 1775 while campaigning in Syria on behalf of the Ottoman sultan to repress a rebellious sheikh of the Galilee at Acre. In the subsequent decade, Ibrahim and Murad established themselves as the paramoutn beys in Egypt. The Georgian Mamluks retained ties to their homeland, which was increasingly in St. Petersburg's sphere of influence as Russia expanded into the Caucasus, and they began to explore a Russian alliance. Facing difficulties in recruiting enough Mamluks to replenish their ranks, the Mamluk leaders even brought in a brigade of five hundred Russian troops in 1786. In the early 1780s, the Ottoman government, or Sublime Porte, became concerned about the loyalty of the Qazdaghlis, and in a 1783 communiqué to the governor os Syria, it warned him that the dalliance of these "tumultuous beys" with Russia could prove injurious to the empire. [ . . . ]

In July 1786, the Ottoman commodore Hasan Pasha, arrived in Alexandria with a small contingent of troops. After his envoy conducted inconclusive negotiations with Ibrahim Bey, he marched on Rosetta. He sent couriers to the villages of the Delta announcing that the Ottoman sultan had decided to much reduce their taxes.

Hasan Pasha was able to take Cairo and restore Ottoman power, but only temporarily (pp. 99-100):

In August 1786, Ibrahim Bey and Murad Bey had headed to Upper Egypt, where they drew to themselves a remnant of the beys and made alliances with the local Bedouin. An expedition south by the commodore, aimed at decisively defeating them, faltered in the fall when the imperial troops lost their cannon in battle with the rebels and had to retreat to the safety of Cairo. Hasan Pasha left Egypt in 1787 as the prospect of a new Ottoman war with Russia built. Before he departed, he pardoned Ibrahim Bey and Murad Bey but stipulated that they should remain in Upper Egypt. By 1791, the attention of Istanbul had turned elsewhere. In that year, an outbreak of plague in Cairo carried off members of the ruling elite as well as their supporters among the commoners and much weakened the fabric of urban society.

Plagues are urban phenomena. They are spread in conditions of urban crowding and carried by such vectors as fleas that infest rats. The clean, harsh desert and the thin population of pastoral nomads preserve them from outbreaks. One implication of this different susceptibility to epidemics in Middle Eastern societies is that the cycle of plagues weakened cities and opened them to periodic Bedouin conquest. Ibrahim Bey, Murad Bey, and their troops and Bedouin allies in Upper Egypt were left unscathed by the epidemic, while the leading pro-Ottoman bey in charge of the country was killed. They were able to march at full strength back into Cairo, reestablishing their beylicate and returning to their old ways, taxing French and other merchants into penury and defying Sultan Selim III's demand for tribute.

(p. 112):

Among Bonaparte's chief difficulties in attempting to rule Egypt was his lack of legitimacy: he was a foreign general of European, Catholic Christian extraction. Many Egyptians feared he would constrain them to convert. The biologist Saint-hilaire wrote that August, "The women are much more afraid. They never stop weeping and crying that we will force them to change their religion." Medieval Islamic law and traditions taught Muslims that they should attempt to avoid living under the rule of non-Muslims if at all possible, even if it meant emigrating. Some jurists did allow an exception where the non-Muslim ruler was not hostile to Islam and allowed the religion freely to be practiced. This loophole was Bonaparte's one chance, and he pursued it as though he were a shyster lawyer with a make-or-break case.

(pp. 120-121):

On 9 August at 8:00 A.M. an armed crowd gathered to attack the French post [in Mansura]. The insurgents were said to number 4,000 men. The soldiers retreated to their barracks, but the crowd pursued them there. They tried to set fire to the barracks, but were driven off by French musket fire. Then the troops began running low on cartridges. They decided they would eventually be overrun if they remained in the barracks, and so they charged out, losing several men to the townsmen's musket balls. They attempted to board some boats on the Nile, but villagers on the other bank began firing at them, killing some and driving away the rest. They therefore headed south, toward Cairo, facing attrition as they weathered further sniping on the way. Reduced to a band of thirty, they had to abandon their wounded, whom the villagers immediately dispatched. Out of ammunition, they finally were set upon by their pursuers and decapitated. One survivor escaped and was given refuge in the village of Shubra, where he was later picked up by a French officer. Another, a French woman accompanying her husband, was captured and married off to an Abu Qawra Arab sheikh.

That night in Damietta, General Vial tried to send some troops southwest to Mansura on the Nile, but they found their path blocked by an armed village allied with some Bedouin, and were forced to abandon their skiffs and return by land to their Mediterranean port. They lost a man killed and six wounded, according to Capt. Pierre-François Gerbaud. Niello Sargy, who was at Rosetta, reported the Mansura rebellion as a Bedouin attack. The careful report submitted by Lieutenant Colonel Théviotte, apparently gleaned from the surviving male eyewitness, does not actually mention Bedouin, and in light of Turk's comments, it is likely that a mixture of townspeople and the Bedouin and peasants who had arrived for market day participated in the uprising.

(p. 157):

Defense of the Muslim community against attack was considered in classical Islamic law a "group obligation." That is, not every single member of the community had an individual duty to fight. When and how to fight was a decision that could not be made by vigilantes, but had to be made by the duly constituted authorities, in this case the sultan. The laws governing holy war, or jihad, required a public declaration of war, a warning to the enemy forces that they would be attacked, the provision of an opportunity for conversion to Islam by the enemy (thus obviating the need for a war), and Muslim adherence to a code of conduct that forbade the killing of noncombatants or women and children. Selim III, by declaring defensive war, said it had now become an individual duty to fight the French, and he thereby authorized guerrilla action by Egyptian subjects. Nothing could have been more dangerous to the French. He combined Islamic and international law by both invoking the duty of defensive jihad and and simultaneously citing international norms of state behavior. How little the sultan viewed the conflict as a clash of civilizations is demonstrated by his immediate alliance with Russia and Britain, Christian powers, against the secular republic he had once befriended.

(p. 172):

These officers saw no contradiction between the demands of force and the enjoyment of liberty. After all, their political achievement had come about through revolution, which is to say through violence. Otherwise the Old Regime would never have been overthrown, or it would have managed to reassert itself. Clearly, "liberty" could not be an entirely voluntary affair in late Ottoman Egypt. It had to be imposed and bolstered by a free metropole. The intertwining of reason, nation, liberty, and terror was an important discourse in the period after the execution of the king, and despite the end of the Terror, this coupling of the Enlightenment to violence continued among some Directory-era thinkers in the context of the wars against Austria, in Italy and Germany, and the need to fight the external enemies of the Revolution. Therefore, the devotees of liberty and reason in Egypt would not have disagreed substantially with Robespierre's dictum, that terror is merely an aspect of justice, delivered swiftly and inflexibly, so that it is actually a virtue, or with his instruction to "break the enemies of liberty with terror, and you will be justified as founders of the Republic." Thus, when Julien, an aide-de-camp of the general, and fifteen Frenchmen who navigated the Nile were killed in August by the inhabitants of the village of Alkam, Say remarked, "The General, severe as he was just, ordained that this village be burned. This order was executed with all possible rigor. It was necessary to prevent such crimes by the bridle of terror."

Faced with continued Egyptian resistance to the occupation, Say acknowledged the necessity of accustoming "these fanatical inhabitants" to the "domination" of "those whom they call infidels." He again admitted French domination, but he hoped that Egyptians could be taught to love it. He concluded, "We must believe that a Government that guarantees to each liberty and equality, as well as the well-being that naturally follows from it, will insensibly lead to this desirable revolution." The revolution alluded to here is not a political event but the spiritual overthrow of an Old Regime of Ottoman-Egyptian dominance and religious "fanaticism." It is this revolution of ideals that so requires the arts as its propagandists, insofar as they are held to speak to the heart as well as the mind.

(pp. 174-175):

The French employed public celebrations and spectacle both to commemorate Republican values and to instill a sense of unity with regard to revolutionary victories. Such "festivals reminded participants that they were the mythic heroes of their own revolutionary epic." The universal wearing of the cockade, the flying of the tricolor, the intricate symbology of columns and banners, the impressive military parades and cannonades, all were intended to invoke fervor for the Revolution and the remaking of society as republic. That some of the French appear seriously to have expected the conquered Egyptians to join them in these festivities demonstrates how little they could conceive of their own enterprise on the Nile as a colonial venture. The greatest use of Republican ideology appears to have been precisely to hide that fact from themselves.

A major revolt broke out in Cairo in October 1798, which the French at last put down brutally (pp. 210-211):

A cavalryman, summoned with his unit from Bilbeis, approached the capital. "The spectacle that the unfortunate city presented caused me to tremble again. Many houses had fallen prey to blazing fires," Desvernois recalled. "The repression was terrible. We killed more than 3,000 insurgents without ourselves losing more than a hundred men." The merchant Grandjean, in contrast, estimated that the revolt took the lives of 800 Frenchmen. Detroye estimated 250 French dead, including a general, the head of a brigade, some subalterns, and several engineers and medical personnel. Bonaparte put forward for propaganda purposes the incredibly small number of 21 French soldiers killed. Grandjean felt that the uprising could have been fatal to the entire enterprise in Egypt if it had been better generaled and if the Egyptians had been better armed. Most, he said, had had no more than staves of hard wood, which were effective enough, but only at close quarters. Their muskets were "bad," and in the end they simply could not overcome the advantage that artillery bestowed on the French. The zoologist Saint-Hilaire actually boasted of how repressive French governance could be, writing back to France: "An insurrection broke out on 30 Vendémiaire and lasted until yesterday evening. The miserable inhabitants of Cairo do not not know that the French are the tutors of the world in how to organize to combat insurgencies. That is what they learned to their cost." In the aftermath, Desvernois was convinced, the spirit of the Egyptians was struck with a salutary terror. The chastisement inflicted on them established that the French had some sort of celestial protection and that it was futile to resist them. It might have been comforting to him to think so.

(p. 224):

It is probably to this campaign that Bourrienne referred when he spoke of a French attack on "tribes" near Cairo who had surprised and slit the throats of "many French." The French not only killed 900 of the rural insurgents, but decapitated them. The troops who had ridden out from Cairo brought many of their severed heads back to stage a macabre public spectacle at Azbakiya Square. They gathered a crowd, and then "the sacks were opened and the heads rolled out before the assembled populace." Bourrienne was convined that the demonstration terrified the Cairenes into submission. François was equally convinced that the sacking of the twenty-three villages had quelled their rebellion. He said that word reached the surrounding villages that Bonaparte had decisively put down the revolt in Cairo, and village headmen of Sharqiya came in delegations to General Reynier at Bilbeis to ask for mercy. They said, François reported, that they had repented and "only went to Cairo to respond to the orders of Ibrahim Bey." François' further narrative makes it clear that despite this temporary victory, the garrison at Bilbeis continued to face attacks and remained under virtual siege.

Bonaparte's aide-de-camp Lavalette recalled, "The revolt of Cairo spread down the two arms of the Nile, especially that of Damietta." The key Mediterranean port fell into danger again, as did its supply lines with Cairo. The commander in chief wrote General Lanusse in alarm on 27 October that the stagecoach and wagon drivers coming from Damietta up to the capital "had had their throats slit by the villagers of Ramla and Banha al-'Asal in the province of Qalyub, and by those of Bata and Mishrif in that of Minuf. Try to seize their headmen and cut off their heads. I assure you that there will be money coming from Damietta."

The commander in chief urgently wrote General Berthier on 1 November, ordering him to send General Lannes with four hundred men to the village of al-Qata, near Rosetta, "to punish the inhabitants for having confiscated this morning two skiffs bearing artillery." He was to arrest the village headman, or, failing that, a dozen prominent villagers, and "do everything he could to restore to us the bayonets, cannons, firearms, etc., which were pillaged." Gerbaud heard that they also captured 4,000 muskets, and that a week later Bonaparte had dispatched General Murat with 1,300 men to join up with Lannes in recovering the guns. This account suggests that the Delta villagers were preparing for further resistance and knew where they could find the means for it. In late October, Bonaparte was also cut off from news of Alexandria by disturbances around Rahmaniya.

Bonaparte mounted an attack on Syria, which moved up the coast, taking El Arish, Gaza, and Jaffa, before failing at the old crusader fort at Acre. He returned to Cairo as the occupation continued to fall apart, facing attacks from within and without (pp. 243-244):

In late July, the British navy landed an Ottoman expeditionary force of 15,000 men at Abuqir, near Alexandria. General Murat's cavalry fought it off, but at the cost of several hundred French lives. The Abuqir campaign clearly pointed toward the future, in which the French, boxed up in Egypt, would face repeated attempts to dislodge them by joint British and Ottoman forces, and would suffer from steady attrition. The Army of the Orient had already lost nearly 6,000 fighting men sine the campaign began. In France that summer, however, the victory at Abuqir played as another token of military glory.

Bonaparte knew a dead end when he saw one. He secretly slipped out of the country in August, leaving behind a note for the surprised General Kléber informing him that he was henceforth in charge of Egypt. Equally surprised to be left behind was Pauline Fourès, his paramour. The Corsican arrived in France on October 9 and went straight to Paris, where he began to intrigue. In November of 1799 he came to power as First Consul through a coup. He reconciled with Josephine.

Back in Egypt, Kléber finally convinced Murad Bey to ally with the French, but soon thereafter the old Georgian died of plague. Kléber was assassinated by a disgruntled Egyptian in the summer of 1800, and succeeded by the inept and brutal Abdullah Menou. The Ottoman and British military alliance forced the Army of the Orient out of Egyptin 1801, and the remaining French troops were given safe passage back to France on British vessels. Many of our memoirists came back home in that humiliating way, including Captain Moiret (who thereby lost his Zulayma), Captain Desvernois, and the Jacobin designer of uniforms, François Bernoyer. Pauline Fourès had slipped out of Egypt in 1800 after an earlier attempt failed, and after an alleged dalliance with General Kléber. She remarried, divorced again in 1816, and then went off to Brazil to start a lumber business. Returning to France in 1837, she lived to an advanced age.

Ibrahim Bey lived to see the old beylicate in Egypt replaced by the rule of an Albanian Ottoman officer and later the sultan's viceroy, Mehmet Ali Pasha. Mehmet Ali wiped out most of the remaining Mamluks in an 1811 massacre at the Citadel and embarked on new policies of modern authoritarian rule, some of which imitated Bonaparte's. Ibrahim died in irrelevancy in 1818.

Bonaparte's Egyptian experience shaped his own subsequent policies more than European historians generally admit. In 1804, he crowned himself emperor, an office more customary in the Middle East than in revolutionary France. The habits of sexual prerogative for the great Sultan, which he first acquired in Egypt, continued to roil his marriage with Josephine, though she became his empress (until he divorced her in 1810). Through the Concordat, Napoleon sought the same sort of accord with the Catholic Church as he had had with the Muslim clerics of al-Azhar, for the sake of social peace. In creating Bonaparte as the Great Sultan, the grand emperor, over the Nile Valley, the Directory had accustomed him to a station in life that he proved unwilling to relinquish. France itself, and much of Europe, met the fate that the Directors and Talleyrand had intended for Egypt.

(pp. 245-246):

The French invasion and occupation of Egypt in 1798-1801 have served as a litmus test for sentiments about the enterprise of empire among historians and their publics. Bonaparte, having become Emperor Napoleon I, was among the first to recognize that the fiasco along the Nile had the potential for undermining his reputation, and he ordered many of the state papers for the French Republic of Egypt burned. Some military records and dispatches have survived, and a great many have been published(notably at the turn of the twentieth century by the invaluable Clément de la Jonquière), but it seems clear that Napoleon intended his own memoir of the invasion and occupation to substitute for the suppressed archive. His hope proved forlorn, inasmuch as scholars have strangely neglected Bonaparte as Orientalist. As it happened, his account has had to compete with the narratives of a cloud of other witnesses, Egyptian and French, which often have the virtue of contradicting Bonaparte's propaganda.

In the first half of the twentieth century, French historians such as François Charles-Roux read the occupation as a prologue to what they saw as the glories of French Algeria. They depicted Egyptian peasants as overjoyed at the French invasion and they downplayed its brutality and cupidity. Early twentieth-century Egyptian nationalists often, ironically enough, also viewed Bonaparte's expedition as the irruption into a traditional society of dynamic modernity, bringing with it printing, the press, modern commerce, hospitals, and science, including the archeology that eventually allowed the recovery of Egypt's Pharoanic past through the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone.

Subsequent historians pointed out that Egypt had been in intense economic and diplomatic interaction with Europe and the Greater Mediterranean in the eighteenth century and was hardly virgin wilderness to be "discovered" or introducted to modernity by Bonaparte. They argued that, moreover, most of the specific innovations imported by the Army of the Orient did not survive the French departure in 1801, and that on the ground there was little long-term impact, save perhaps for the killing of tens of thousands and the disruption of Ottoman Egyptian society. Decolonization int he 1950s and 1960s caused historians to view the incursion with greater skepticism. The earlier Egyptian romantic nationalist view of the French period gave way after the officers' coup of 1952 to a depiction of it as a mere colonial occupation.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Movies

Movie: We Own the Night. A movie about New York cops, family guilt trips, and drug dealing Russian emigré gangsters. The most striking thing about it is that there are no more than 2 or 3 scenes in the whole film where anyone appears to be having a good time. They involve drug use, but are hardly limited to it. Rather, drugs are just one part of a free and open enjoyment of life. You sure don't find any pleasure among the cops, nor are the gangsters much better, but at least they aren't as stuck up as the cops. The latter don't even appear to have a bad apple on the take, less an avoidance of a cliché than an escape from reality. Mark Wahlberg plays the most rigidly hectoring cop in memory, at least until he gets shot and starts to smell the roses. By then his club manager brother [Joaquin Phoenix] has turned around to fill the breach. We're supposed to be inspired, but we can tell he's going to be a miserable prick for the rest of his probably short life, and he deserves it. (Robert Duvall, in a thankless role, plays the father who put these two basket cases together.) Some scenes are sharply drawn and a pleasure to watch. But if I had to draw a lesson from the film, it's that the worst two groups of people to allow anywhere near the drug trade are gangsters and cops. It would be so much better just to legalize the shit, treat those who can't handle them, and let everybody else enjoy their freedom. B-

Movie: Michael Clayton. I hate guys with gambling problems, not to mention movies about them, so that's one strike against the lawyer George Clooney plays here. That's about the only one. He has a sense of place, an understanding of what he's good at and when he's in over his head, that is refreshing, and put to good use. That's a skill that the corporate lawyer played by Tilda Swinton doesn't have, and she winds up paying for it in a deeply satisfying ending. Tom Wilkinson's unbalanced litigator doesn't have that skill either, but he has occasional moments of magnificence, and will get an Oscar nomination for them. A-

Movie: Gone Baby Gone. Boston crime movie, with private detectives [Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan] called in to augment the police investigation of a child abduction. The ultimate ending strikes me as much too pat, although it raises a real question about what Affleck should do and what it costs him to do that. Meanwhile, the characters, excepting the head cop [Morgan Freeman], are finely drawn, the local color is so bright you gotta wear shades, and the pacing has a couple of interesting twists. Affleck's gumshoe is an interesting mix of soft speak and quick moves -- Monaghan explains that he only looks young. A-

Movie: The Darjeeling Limited. Wes Anderson movie, follows three well-heeled brothers on a trek across India trying to put their relationships in order after their father died, their mother ran off to a convent in the Himalayas, and the dominant, presumably elder one [Owen Wilson] cracked his face in a motorcycle accident. The other two [Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman] are reticent, outwardly submissive, inwardly fraught. It doesn't make for much of a story, but sets up various skits. Meanwhile, the scene and its people take over the movie. India is so overwhelming it's hard to tell when or if it's being satirized. A stupid scene with a snake ends smartly. A funeral turns touching, in contrast to the father's flashbacked funeral. An encounter with the mother [Anjelica Huston] is anticlimactic. B+

Movie: Into the Wild. I read Jon Krakauer's book a few years ago, so for once I have that reference point. The book is far more ambivalent about its subject than the movie is, partly due to Krakauer's own troubled identification with Alexander Supertramp, partly because he's looking backwards for clues, whereas the movie's camera always has a clear shot of the story -- after all, no matter how skeptical we are about what we read, seeing is believing. The puzzle quality is retained in interleaving the fatal Alaska venture with the mostly good fortunes that preceded it. It's hard to draw any conclusions about either: each episode strikes me as arbitrary and meaningless, which is the way real life works but unknown in fiction. Given this, it's hard to derive any satisfaction from the story, but the film is something else. It shows you things you rarely if ever see, and gives you slices of lives that rarely if ever get shown. Numerous small performances are notable, especially Catherine Keener's. A-

Movie: Lions for Lambs. Supposedly, three legs will stand without wobbling even on uneven terrain. This story is built from three such sticks, but each is so flimsy they collapse of their own weight. In one, two Special Forces soldiers -- one Afro-American, one Mexican-American -- are sent on a "forward point" mission to the top of a mountain in Afghanistan. Their helicopter is shot up, they fall or jump onto an ice field, and are finished off by Taliban while their commanding officers watch helpless from some sort of satellite feed. Mission unaccomplished, FUBAR actually. Meanwhile, a Senator in DC, played by Tom Cruise, is trying to plant a story about how this new strategy will bring victory in the GWOT, lecturing and cajoling a skeptical reporter played by Meryl Streep. Cruise gets a phone call near the end of the interview which may be news of the mission's debacle, but that's not part of the story he's leaking. Streep then goes to her editor, who's eager to be spooned whatever the government wants to feed him, but rejects Streep's suspicions as not newsworthy. Meanwhile, a Stanford poli-sci professor, played by director Robert Redford, is chewing out a cynical, smart-alecky, rich kid student for not giving a damn and making a commitment -- unlike two underprivileged students he had who were so engaged by the professor they joined the army to prove themselves, and wound up in Afghanistan, dead in the ice high on a remote mountain -- an ending presumably unknown by Redford, although he's so full of shit it's hard to be sure. There's enough in these angles to yield some powerful lessons -- the impotence of the military, the callousness of the politicians, the callowness of the media, the fatuousness of academia, the futile hopes of the lower class and the withdrawal of the upper class -- but that would take more skill and brains than fit the budget here. (Aside from the name actors, the budget must have been pretty skimpy: the Afghanistan sequence looks crappy, and the rest, aside from a cab ride, was shot in interiors, mostly in two offices.) The best critique comes from the otherwise dislikable student when he observes that the only science in politics these days is the study of manipulation, and that in turn dismissed any interest he initially had in Redford's class. The Cruise-Streep thread has some interest for that reason alone -- he handles the word "victory" like a chef's knife, eviscerating Streep's instinct to resist. But Cruise's manipulations are slicker but not far from standard issue neocon propaganda: the willingness to say whatever it takes to get whatever one wants is the ethical norm. Redford's thread is hamstrung from the start, not least because he's bought the notion that process -- commitment, engagement, etc. -- is all that's needed to balance off the right. This asymmetry is indeed a big part of what's wrong: if I'm willing to share and you want it all, even a compromise favors you. The trap that Cruise and his ilk prey on is the concession that there's any justification for war. Give them an inch and they'll slip their favorite war through it, because even a little war compounds ferociously. Redford and Cruise both share blame for getting those soldiers killed: the former by getting them committed without giving them principles, and the latter by abusing their commitment. C+


Some movies that came to Wichita that we thought about seeing but didn't make it to: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Eastern Promises; Elizabeth: The Golden Age; The Kingdom; Rendition; Things We Lost in the Fire. Curiously, we saw trailers to two after they left town. Movies still here that we might get to: American Gangster; No Country for Old Men.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Music: Current count 13813 [13787] rated (+26), 826 [829] unrated (-3). It's been a pretty inconclusive week. Did some jazz prospecting, even writing one review and a couple of honorable mentions, although the backlog has if anything grown. Took a day off and drove to Independence for Yona Julian's funeral. Got there too late for service, but was still good to see the people I saw. Washing machine died and that killed a day, plus still have work to do to get new one installed. Thanksgiving coming up this week, which will take its toll. Probably need to pay some attention to Recycled Goods next week too. I don't see much of a way to keep going like I've been.

  • PJ Harvey: White Chalk (2007, Island): She goes for ethereal here, which she doesn't do as well as Kate Bush or others I don't care enough about to recall. This doesn't rub me the wrong way like Dry or Rid of Me -- isn't hysterical, for one thing. But it also doesn't pack much weight, like the few albums I do like. B
  • Bettye LaVette: The Scene of the Crime (2007, Anti-): Strong singer -- Laura asked if it was Tina Turner. Cut in Muscle Shoals, a scene she's been in before. Patterson Hood and the Drive-By Truckers had something to do with this. Got it from the library, and it's not impossible that it could rise with more exposure. B+(***)
  • Musiq Soulchild: Luvanmusiq (2007, Atlantic): Soft soul crooner, from Philadelphia, born Taalib Johnson, first appeared as Musiq. Not bad, but nothing quite pushes over the top. B
  • Brad Paisley: 5th Gear (2007, Arista): Country singer, has the big twangy voice, works out of the neotrad form, has the sound and some zip on it. I'd like it fine if I thought "Ticks" or "I'm Still a Guy" or "Mr. Policeman" were funnier. B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 8)

Didn't listen to much but jazz this past week, at least when I was here and could focus. But I did lose a couple of days to one thing or another. Still made reasonable progress prospecting, and actually added some words to the column draft. I'd say I've turned the corner, but this coming week looks to be full of distractions, and I'm likely to have to shift to Recycled Goods by the end of the week. So I'm hard pressed to make predictions.

Among the highlights below: I finally got to the Smalls advances, and took a first bite out of some Stomp Offs I've long been begging for.


Joe Friedman: Cup O' Joe (2006, NAS Music): Guitarist, from St. Louis, now in New York. First album. Wrote two of ten pieces, claiming arrangements on a couple more, so not a big composer. Other pieces include two from Monk, one each from Horace Silver and George Benson. He's a good but unremarkable mainstream guitarist. What lifts the album above par is a band that includes George Colligan on piano and Peter Washington on bass. B+(*)

Zaid Nasser: Escape From New York (2007, Smalls): Alto saxophonist, on his first album, but evidently he's played around Smalls for quite a while. Father is bassist Jamil Nasser (né George Joyner), who played with BB King and numerous beboppers from the 1950s forward. The father provides the context for Zaid working with such old timers as Bill Doggett and Panama Francis, although I have to wonder about: "As a young saxophonist, he often spent his days with Papa Jo Jones, getting lessons in jazz and life from Father Time himself." Very young, I figure -- Jones died in 1985, when Nasser was unlikely to be more than 17. In any case, Nasser's references are bebop, which he plays with a freshness and eloquence that was rare in its heyday. The quartet, with Sacha Perry on piano, Ari Roland on bass, and Phil Stewart on drums, is more conventional, setting a pace that keeps things interesting. [B+(***)] [advance]

Charles Davis: Land of Dreams (2006 [2007], Smalls): Saxophonist, plays tenor a lot here, soprano a little, but best known for his baritone. Born 1933, Goodman MI. Early on (1954-61) played with Sun Ra, Dinah Washington, Kenny Dorham, Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor, and a fairly steady stream thereafter -- often in large groups, like Muhal Richard Abrams' Hearinga Suite, where his role isn't all that clear. Has very little under his own name -- a 1979 album is called Dedicated to Tadd, and he plays a Dameron piece here. Reminds me of Clifford Jordan with his leonine tone and foursquare phrasing. Quartet includes Tardo Hammer (piano), Lee Hudson (bass), Jimmy Wormworth (drums), but the sax is constantly front and center. Even his soprano sounds heavy, which may be why he built his career on baritone. B+(**) [advance]

Ari Roland: And So I Lived in Old New York . . . (2007, Smalls): Bassist. Can't find any bio that goes any deeper than: "Bassist Ari Roland grew up inside the New York underground bop scene." That amounts to about ten years at Smalls, starting with his first appearance on Impulse's Jazz Underground: Live at Smalls. This is his second album as a leader. Other credits include Chris Byars, Frank Hewitt, Zaid Nasser, Sacha Perry, and Nellie McKay -- the only non-Smalls artist. This is a quartet with Byars (tenor/alto sax), Perry (piano), and Phil Stewart (drums). The idea of an "underground bop scene" is worth dwelling on for a bit. Bebop has been jazz orthodoxy ever since Charlie Parker routed the dancehalls and juke joints and made heroin king. Today, minus the scag, it's respectable enough for Lincoln Center. But Parker also started an undergrounding trend that led to discovery of numerous new things far beyond his revelations -- the 1960s avant-garde and all that's flowed out of it, about as uncommercial as music can get. So "bop underground" strikes me as an oxymoron. Smalls label mogul Luke Kaven has tried to explain this to me: in technical terms way over my head, but I know that it is possible to make new music out of old forms -- for example, there are still people making brilliant new contributions to trad jazz -- and I can hear a freshness in the best of these records despite knowing that they're breaking no bounds. Underground also seems to be a self-fulfilling commercial prophecy for Kaven, but that strikes me as contingent. Whereas many avant-garde artists can never break out of their narrow commercial niche, the Smalls records should be much more broadly accessible. This is one of the better ones, in large part due to Byars, but I'm also partial to the fat bass mix that's the leader's prerogative. Still need to go back and compare it against Byars' own Photos in Black, White and Gray -- slated for the next JCG, but still unwritten, even though it's one of my favorites this year. [A-] [advance]

Gil Coggins: Better Late Than Never (2001-02 [2007], Smalls): Pianist, born 1924 in New York, died 2004. Played with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, and Ray Draper back in the 1950s. Cut an album called Gil's Mood in 1990; otherwise this is it, hence the title. Sounds like a piano trio -- two drummers are credited, probably two sessions. Nice work, but hard for me to place this. B+(**) [advance]

Harry Whitaker: Thoughts (Past and Present) (2007, Smalls): Pianist, born 1942 Pensacola FL, played in early '70s with Roy Ayers, Eugene McDaniels, Bobbi Humphrey, Roberta Flack, Alphonse Mouzon; has scattered credits since then -- Randy Crawford, Carmen Lundy, John Stubblefield. This seems to be the second album under his name, after The Sound of Harry Whitaker (2002, Blue Moon), with the possible exception of a 1976 recording Black Renaissance: Body, Mind & Spirit, issued (or reissued?) in 2002 by Luv N' Haight and given 5 stars by AMG. (Haven't heard it.) This is a piano trio with Omer Avital on bass, Dan Aran on drums. The songs are listed with dates from 1970-93, but these appear to be new recordings. Seems like a strong mainstream piano trio date; certainly doesn't live up to the hype, but nice enough. B+(*) [advance]

Sacha Perry: Not Brand X (2006 [2007], Smalls): Pianist. Don't have any bio, but he's obviously based in New York, regularly featured on Smalls albums. This is his second trio album with Ari Roland on bass and Phil Stewart on drums. Underground bop, or postbop, or something like that: thoughtful, well organized, pleasant, not all that memorable. B+(*) [advance]

The Skip Heller Trio: Mean Things Happening in This Land (2006, Ropeadope): One of those advance copies that got lost in my pile, in this case for a year or more. No big deal. Heller is a guitarist, born in Philadelphia, based in Los Angeles. Has a dozen-plus albums since 1992, drawing on blues, swing, pop, and if AMG is to be believed, Bakersfield country. The mean things include at least two obvious references to New Orleans: "Katrina, Mon Amour" and "Heckuvajob." Maybe three, given that another title is "President Nero?" There's also a song for Ani DiFranco, "The Kind of Beauty that Moves," and he follows that up with the Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl." I wish the music lived up to these titles, but it's mostly mild-mannered organ funk. Last song has a vocal, but no credit for who sang it. It's called "Aragon Mill," about the closing thereof, and is the best thing here, probably because words are sharper than guitar. B [advance]

Meinrad Kneer/Albert van Veenendaal: The Munderkingen Sessions: Part 1 (2004 [2007], Evil Rabbit): This predates Predictable Point of Impact, a trio with percussionist Yonga Sun that made my last Jazz CG column. The drums keep things moving, or at least provide a welcome distraction. Cutting back to just bass and piano inevitably slows things down, and this is no exception. Kneer is the bassist. Van Veenendaal plays more or less prepared piano, which offers some surprises, but more often than not the pair get bogged down in minute abstractions. I find this somewhat fascinating, but don't expect many others will. B+(*)

Albert van Veenendaal/Fabrizio Puglisi: Duets for Prepared, Unprepared and Toy Pianos (2004 [2007], Evil Rabbit): Van Veenendaal is a Dutch avant-garde pianist, likes to work with prepared piano, has an interesting body of work over the last decade, including one album (Predictable Point of Impact, on Evil Rabbit) that I especially like. Puglisi is an Italian pianist I've never run into before. He was born 1969, describes himself as "self-taught" but workshops with Franco D'Andrea and Enrico Rava, a course with George Russell and Mike Gibbs, and a study of Cecil Taylor. His Dutch connections include work with Ernst Reijseger and Han Bennink. I'm hard pressed to think of any piano duet albums I've liked, but this one is interesting, with its odd prepared sounds, rhythmic machinations, and the contrasting timbre of Puglisi's toy. B+(**)

Solar Fire Trio: Rise Up (2006 [2007], Foreign Frequency): English group, based in Liverpool, with two saxophones -- Ray Dickat on tenor, Dave Jackson on alto -- plus Steve Belger on drums. Website describes their "mission to combine the no-holds-barred improvisational ethos of free jazz with the exuberance and rebellious spirit of rock music." Dickaty has played in Spiritualized, and all three have more rock bands in their resumes thay jazz -- Jackson is the most likely to list an Eddie Prevost or Paul Rutherford or Lol Coxhill among his references. The saxophonist play unreconstructed '60s avant-noise, mostly on top of rock beats. It's fairly limited, and not pleasant. I'm not sure whether I've gotten immune to it, or there's something interesting buried in the mix, but it's probably not cost-effective to try to find out. B

Howard Wiley: The Angola Project (2006 [2007], CDBaby): Young tenor saxophonist. Second album, a rather ambitious one that takes its prison setting and old-time gospel graces and tries to turn them into something magnificent. I'm impressed, but can't say as I like it -- especially the vocals, which raise the rafters when they're not trying to paint the pearly gates. Many cuts also have a pair of violins, another obvious angelic effect. David Murray guests on one song, an overly complicated original called "Angola." While Murray's the superior saxophonist, Wiley holds his own. B

Bobby Gordon: Plays Joe Marsala: Lower Register (2007, Arbors): Marsala was a clarinetist from Chicago, 1907-78, with most of his recordings on two Classics volumes from 1936-46, plus appearances with Wingo Manone, Eddie Condon, Adrian Rollini, and many other trad jazz artists -- although Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker also pop up. Marsala wrote or co-wrote all of the songs in this tribute. Gordon was born in 1941, first saw Marsala when he was 5, and wound up not only playing clarinet but taking lessons from Marsala. Gordon has a dozen or so albums starting in 1963, including a similar Pee Wee Russell tribute. This one is a delight, with a first rate band including Randy Reinhart on trumpet and James Chirillo on guitar, with pianist Keith Ingham contributing arrangements. B+(***)

Ruby Braff and the Flying Pizzarellis: C'est Magnifique (2002 [2007], Arbors): Recorded June 2002. Braff took ill in August and died the following February, so this turns out to have been his final recording. Beats me why it took so long to get released, other than that Braff had so much in the pipeline the label was just pacing themselves. Title comes from a Cole Porter song, included here. The record isn't quite magnifique, and in some respects feels unfinished, but it's hard not to cut them some slack. Braff's cornet doesn't swing as hard as in days of yore, but it's clear and poignant. The guitars chug along amiably, with Bucky's rhythm a particularly nice foil for the cornet. John Pizzarelli gets credit for his trio, with Ray Kennedy on piano and brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass. John has a couple of nice guitar leads and sings two songs -- not necessary but nothing wrong with them. Ambles a bit at the end. B+(**)

John McLean: Better Angels (2004 [2007], Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago, with Berklee and University of Miami in his background, a 25-year career, three records under his own name, a couple dozen more working with others. Like many people who record infrequently, this record has a kitchen sink quality. Pop songs with vocals, original pieces with little song structure, covers that are interesting in their own right but which scarcely fit or flow, a septet that obscures the leader more often than not. That lets McLean's guitar appear multi-faceted, but also leaves you wondering why not develop it one way or another -- like the electric squawk on "Airmail Special," or completely different, the quiet, organ-backed "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)." Grazyna Auguscik's two song vocals -- Janis Ian's "Ready for the War" and you-know-who's "Blackbird" -- are OK, but her vocal texturing elsewhere is unappealing, unnecessary whitewash. B

Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters (2007, Verve): Joni Mitchell songs, plus "Solitude" and "Nefertiti" -- I'm not enough of a Mitchell scholar to explain why, but they are two of four songs done as instrumentals. The rest have vocals, a smattering of guests who get one shot each. Norah Jones leads off with "Court and Spark," affecting Joni tics and sounding like a pale imitation. Same for Corinna Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza, even Tina Turner. Mitchell sings an obscure one, allowing herself the amusement of hiding among the poseurs. Only Leonard Cohen avoids that game. One result of all these shaded stylings is to remind us that Mitchell's voice and songs were necessarily one. Tribute albums succeed or fail depending on whether they offer convincing reasons for the bother. The vocals fail that test here, and take down with them some very nice instrumental work. Hancock himself does a lovely if risk-free job tucking the melodies in. Better still is Wayne Shorter, especially his little bits on soprano. B-

Bob DeVos: Playing for Keeps (2007, Savant): Guitarist-led organ trio, with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander an added attraction on four of ten songs. Don't have much bio on DeVos: four records since 1999, three on Savant, but he looks older, and has credits Richard "Groove" Holmes albums in 1977, then very little until he pops up with Charles Earland in 1997. Dan Kostelnik plays a relatively reserved and supportive organ here, letting DeVos run his long, grooveful leads. I haven't had much nice to say about Alexander lately, but he's back in full tone here, powering through the leadoff cut, and mixing it up with DeVos in the later cuts. B+(**)

Barbara Rosene and Her New Yorkers: It Was Only a Sun Shower (2007, Stomp Off): Singer, from Ohio, specializes in pop songs from the 1920s/1930s. Has three previous albums on Stomp Off, each with 20+ songs, and one normal-sized album on Azica. She's been appearing lately with the Harry James ghost band, as well as Kevin Dorn's Traditional Jazz Collective and Mike Hashim -- both Dorn and Hashim appear here. One of the Stomp Offs was a tribute to Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw. She picks more songs from that era here, few I recognize -- one from Etting, one from Clarence Williams, one rescued from Tiny Tim. The band is superb, with old-timey banjo and tuba, cornet, and deftly deployed fiddle. Long at 76:35, but only two of the 23 songs top 4 minutes. Two are instrumentals, but they slip by rather than stand out. Rosene gets two credits for whistling, and they do stand out. [B+(***)]

Yerba Buena Stompers: Duff Campbell's Revenge (2005, Diamondstick): A little background here: Stomp Off is a modern day trad jazz label run out of a post office box in Pennsylvania by Bob Erdos. I like a little trad jazz, and the dozen or so Stomp Off albums I'd picked up over the years -- not the easiest things to find -- generally impressed me. So when I started Jazz CG, I figured it would be good to mix in some trad jazz but I never managed to make contact. Closest I came was a dealer near St. Louis who runs a website in their name but doesn't do any press publicity. On occasion, when I found out about a new release, I'd try to track the artist down. Most proved as elusive as the label, but when I wrote to the Yerba Buena Stompers, Michael Custer offered to send me everything. I keep a huge shopping list including pretty much everything recommended by the Penguin Guide, and it had all of the Stompers' Stomp Off records, so I welcomed him. So now I have a bunch of them. I'll work through them in the next few weeks. The main risk, I suspect, is that they'll all wind up sounding much the same. If so, it may be hard to pick, but also hard to go wrong. This is a live record tossed off on the side of their main line of albums on Stomp Off. It caught the band at a 90th birthday bash for Charles Campbell, an art gallery owner who was a longtime patron of the trad jazz scene in San Francisco. The title comes from a piece that Turk Murphy wrote in Campbell's honor. The Yerba Buena Stompers are an 8-piece band led by John Gill, who plays banjo and sings on occasion. Gill is a New Yorker, b. 1951, started out in dixieland bands, moved to San Francisco to play with Murphy, then on to New Orleans, back to SF, and finally back to Brooklyn. The band name invokes Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, formed in 1939 as one of the first bands to consciously attempt to revive traditional jazz up to King Oliver's Original Creole Jazz Band -- tight ensemble work, a deep brassy sound with tuba instead of bass. Watters was early enough that he was able to work with folks like Bunk Johnson who pre-dated Louis Armstrong. Murphy played in Watters' band and carried on the flame, passing it on to Gill. (Who, by the way, should not be confused with another John Gill, an English pianist who also plays old timey jazz. AMG is careful to make the distinction, then totally messes up their discographies.) The live record is probably as good a place to start as any: the intros provide some context, and the selection tends to repeat their signature tunes where they're more likely to seek out obscurities for the studio albums. A lot of classics, broken in like old leather -- "Gut Bucket Blues," "Tiger Rag," "Milenburg Joys," "Maple Leaf Rag," "Hesitating Blues." Their one concession to the postwar period is "Blue Moon of Kentucky," which they frame as a tribute to Elvis Presley, probably less of a reach for Gill's gruff voice than Bill Monroe would have been. Grades are more provisional than usual, subject to change as I sort through the pile. But if I don't start tacking them down I won't feel like I'm getting anything done. B+(***)

Yerba Buena Stompers: Dawn Club Favorites (2001, Stomp Off): This is the first of five albums John Gill's group has done on Stomp Off, and it starts off on square one, reviving and revitalizing Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band with the same spirit Watters took on King Oliver's Original Creole Jazz Band. San Francisco's Dawn Club was home base to Watters from the band's formation in 1939 until the leader got drafted in 1942. The lineup features two trumpets (Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger), trombone (Tom Bartlett), clarinet (Larry Wright), piano (Pete Clute), banjo (Gill), tuba (Ray Cadd), and drums (Clint Baker). The album is dedicated to Clute, a ragtime specialist, mainstay of Turk Murphy's bands, and a direct connection to Watters, who died at 67 a month after this was recorded. The most striking thing about the album is the tremendous uplift of the soaring trumpets and clarinet, pulling away from a rhythm that sometimes still slips into step with ancestral marches and rags. One vocal, by Bartlett, on "St. James Infirmary." A-

Yerba Buena Stompers: Barbary Coast Favorites (2001 [2002], Stomp Off): Second album, with Marty Eggers taking over the piano bench for the late Pete Clute, which means a small step away from ragtime and into the early 20th century. I expect that the whole series match up pretty evenly, so the distinctions will be marginal. The liner notes don't explain where this title came from, but Barbary Coast is a neighborhood in San Francisco, and could very well be another Lu Watters watering hole. The artwork is almost the same as Dawn Club Favorites. The songs are similar but with a few exceptions ("St. Louis Blues," "Jelly Roll Blues") a shade more obscure. Two vocals this time: one each by Tom Bartlett and John Gill, with the latter's "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee" a choice cut. Otherwise, it doesn't pick me up the way the first one did, although it goes through the same motions with comparable aplomb. B+(**)


And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.

Wallace Roney: Jazz (2007, High Note): If jazz were a popular music, this would be a hit record. The brothers, including the invaluable Antoine on saxes and bass clarinet, offer the same mix of bold moves and accessibility that the Adderleys offered back when real jazz still had the public's ear, Geri Allen's piano insinuates a subtle edge (alternatively, Robert Irving III's Fender Rhodes fattens the funk), while turntablists DJ Axum and Val Jeanty contribute something fashionably novel. On the other hand, with jazz so thoroughly consigned to margins, one wonders why work so hard to make it easy, especially when they can't heat "Stand" up much past tepid. B+(**)

Houston Person: Thinking of You (2007, High Note): Lovely, as usual. He gets a little more help this time than usual, with James Chirillo's guitar on ten of eleven tracks and Eddie Allen's trumpet on four. He certainly doesn't need the extra horn, although it does little damage. B+(**)

Josh Roseman: New Constellations: Live in Vienna (2005 [2007], Accurate): Funk bent severely enough to qualify as avant-garde, mostly generated from the Jamaican crucible of Don Drummond and "Satta Massaganna." B+(***)

Chris Potter Underground: Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (2007, Sunnyside): Adam Rogers' guitar snaking over Craig Taborn's blippy Fender Rhodes and Nate Smith's drums makes for a fresh update on the old organ trio -- especially when the pace slows, Taborn looks to be as far ahead of the field as Jimmy Smith was in 1958. Potter can play soul jazz, but he's most impressive when he kicks out the jams, raising r&b honking to a higher plane, or maybe bringing Pharoah Sanders down to the grease. A-


Unpacking:

  • Jimmy Blythe: Messin' Around Blues (Delmark)
  • Ari Brown: Live at the Green Mill (Delmark)
  • Ari Brown: Live at the Green Mill (Delmark, DVD)
  • Joe Fielder Trio: The Crab (Clean Feed)
  • Free Form Funky Freqs: Urban Mythology: Volume One (Thirsty Ear)
  • Hans Glawischnig: Panorama (Sunnyside): Jan. 15
  • Dennis González NY Quartet: At Tonic: Dance of the Soothsayer's Tongue (Clean Feed)
  • Brad Goode: Nature Boy (Delmark)
  • Jentsch Group Large: Brooklyn Suite (Fleur de Son)
  • Jon Larsen: Strange News From Mars (Zonic Entertainment)
  • Steve Lehman Quintet: On Meaning (Pi)
  • Jamie Leonhart: The Truth About Suffering (Sunnyside): Jan. 29
  • Tony Malaby: Tamarindo (Clean Feed): advance: Nov. 29
  • Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Black Unstoppable (Delmark)
  • Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Black Unstoppable: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark, DVD)
  • Yoko Miwa Trio: Canopy of Stars (P.J.L)
  • Alípio C Neto Quartet: The Perfume Comes Before the Flower (Clean Feed)
  • Mark O'Leary: On the Shore (Clean Feed)
  • Júlio Resende: Da Alma (Clean Feed)
  • Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars: Real Aberration (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  • 3 Cohens: Braid (Anzic): advance, Nov. 20
  • Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958, Blue Note): advance: Feb. 5
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan & Friends: Solos, Sessions & Encores (1978-88, Epic/Legacy)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Weekend Roundup

WarInContext: Is War Talk Just Talk?. Post cites an Financial Times article by Daniel Dombey, Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Ward, "'And then what? A strike on Iran may be one problem too many for Bush," and adds an editor's comment which among other things posits a number of questions for presidential candidates to think about. This got me to writing, so I submitted the following comment:

One thing no one talks about regarding Iran's nuclear program is whether Iran should have what they say they really want: nuclear power plants. In many ways, the scariest thing about Iranian nuclear power isn't that they could produce bombs; it's that they could create another Chernobyl. That's a tough issue for Bush to raise because he's pro-nuclear power -- wants to sell US nuclear technology abroad, e.g., to India. It probably also figures into the French position, since a self-sufficient Iranian nuclear power industry would cut into France's leading position. It's also tough for Bush because it raises the Peak Oil issue: if Iran is worried about making the transition to a world with declining petroleum output, shouldn't net oil importers like the US be worried too? Once you accept that Peak Oil is a real problem, then nuclear power has to be taken seriously because, like it or not, it's an option on people's minds -- for that matter, it also comes up in the context of Global Warming, another problematic issue for Bush. So it seems likely that to some extent the US (and France) are opposing the proliferation of nuclear power, permitted under the NPT, under the guise of opposing bombs. A more sensible, more realistic approach would be to look to extend the NPT to ensure better safety standards, but US failure to disarm under the NPT and Bush's commitment to building even more bombs are once again in the way. So add all that to your list of aspiring presidential issues.

Robert Dreyfuss: Who's the Enemy?. Subtitled: "In Iraq, It's Getting Harder to Find Any Bad Guys." This seems like a reasonable summary of the so-called good news coming out of Iraq -- the reduction in US and probably Iraqi casualties over three consecutive months. This seems to be the result of two things: US-armed Sunni tribal leaders turning on Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the truce with the Mahdi Army. Neither of these things have much to do with the Surge, which had produced markedly higher casualty rates for all sides over the past year. Indeed, I suspect that much of the improvement is the result of US forces stepping back -- i.e., that the level of violence is primarily determined by how aggressive US forces are in Iraq. The corollary is that the US could have reduced casualties at any point by acting less aggressively.

Dreyfus may be right that the lull could be used to establish a more viable political settlement, but that will only work if the Bush administration gets realistic about what it can and cannot accomplish in Iraq. Whether that can happen is something that can be debated, but there's no precedent for it: there have been times when things got so bad that Bush temporarily backed down (e.g., the first siege of Fallujah), but every time things looked up Bush escalated his ambitions back to impossible levels. Even now, we see the administration's instinct for the wild side in its escalating Iran war rhetoric. Bush's new friends among the Sunnis and Sadrists aren't likely to stick with him over the long haul. They've basically improved their position vs. Bush's old friends and bought some time, maybe until saner heads take over in Washington.

Tom Engelhardt: As the World Burns. Occasioned by the drought that is threatening to turn Atlanta dry, or is it Australia? or Albania? Actually, it's all over the map. While Peak Oil seems to me to be the most inexorable crisis that's heading down the pike, it's not inconceivable that we could run into a severe water crunch even sooner. Drought-induced water shortages are only part of the story. Increasing demand, often in locations that are poorly planned and marginally served, is another, as is depletion, whether in the form of aquifers being pumped dry, reservoirs silting up, or salinization making fresh water supplies unusable. All these things raise big and difficult questions, which as Engelhardt points out, are rarely given much recognition let alone public thought:

Honestly, I don't demand answers. Just a little investigation, some thought, and a glimpse or two over that precipice as the world turns. . . . and bakes and burns.

Jonathan Cohn: Creative Destruction. Subtitle is "The best case against universal health care," by which Cohn means the argument that private sector investment in the US leads to major innovations in health care that we'd lose if we adopted a more economical (e.g., better managed) system. Cohn works through an example, then points out that most innovation in the US is actually publicly funded before the private profiteers take over:

The single biggest source of medical research funding, not just in the United States but in the entire world, is the National Institutes of Health (NIH): Last year, it spent more than $28 billion on research, accounting for about one-third of the total dollars spent on medical research and development in this country (and half the money spent at universities). The majority of that money pays for the kind of basic research that might someday unlock cures for killer diseases like Alzheimer's, aids, and cancer. No other country has an institution that matches the NIH in scale. And that is probably the primary explanation for why so many of the intellectual breakthroughs in medical science happen here.

There's no reason why this has to change under universal health insurance. NIH has its own independent funding stream. And, during the late 1990s, thanks to bipartisan agreement between President Clinton and the Republican Congress, its funding actually increased substantially--giving a tremendous boost to research. With or without universal coverage, subsequent presidents and Congress could ramp up funding again--although, if they did so, they would be breaking with the present course. It so happens that, starting in 2003, President Bush and his congressional allies let NIH funding stagnate, even though the cost of medical research (like the cost of medicine overall) was increasing faster than inflation. The reason? They needed room in the budget for other priorities, like tax cuts for the wealthy. In this sense, the greatest threat to future medical breakthroughs may not be universal health care but the people who are trying so hard to fight it.

Cohn is the author of Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- And the People Who Pay the Price (Harper Collins).

Tony Karon: Benazir vs. Musharraf is Punch vs. Judy. Meaning they're both controlled by the same pupeteer. Seems about right, especially the part about how proxies have their own less than predictable interests. One of the letters points out that corruption is so endemic in Pakistan that even the Supreme Court is tainted. However, you got to start somewhere. Throughout most history the state has acted as a self-interested racket. The key idea to democracy is to flip the state, to turn it into a public servant. This rarely if ever happens in a single change. Indeed, even in well established democracies politics manages to attract the corrupt, and it takes a good deal more vigilance than America seems capable of to keep them at bay.

Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon: Pakinstan's Collapse, Our Problem. OK, it turns out that the real men don't just want to go to Tehran anymore. They also want to invade Islamabad. And in this case the WMD are undoubtedly real, so the stakes are far higher. So, for that matter, are the risks. The ones these geniuses concede are:

With 160 million people, Pakistan is more than five times the size of Iraq. It would take a long time to move large numbers of American forces halfway across the world. And unless we had precise information about the location of all of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and materials, we could not rely on bombing or using Special Forces to destroy them.

The task of stabilizing a collapsed Pakistan is beyond the means of the United States and its allies. Rule-of-thumb estimates suggest that a force of more than a million troops would be required for a country of this size. Thus, if we have any hope of success, we would have to act before a complete government collapse, and we would need the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces.

One possible plan would be a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan's nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands. Given the degree to which Pakistani nationalists cherish these assets, it is unlikely the United States would get permission to destroy them. Somehow, American forces would have to team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place.

They propose New Mexico, but figure their Pakistani friends will insist on keeping the WMDs in some safe redoubt, "guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up (and watched over) by crack international troops." (Maybe they can store them in Osama bin Laden's cave?) They go on to propose sending troops to help "pro-American moderates" in "the military and security forces hold the country's center -- primarily the region around the capital, Islamabad, and the populous areas like Punjab Province to its south."

This is way beyond nutty. It's like guys who have painted themselves into a corner, then deciding the only way out is to blow a hole in the wall, having no idea what's on the other side, what's likely to come down on them, or how they'll even take cover from the initial blast. It's what you get from people whose intellectual toykit only has guns and bombs. It never occurs them that the only sane option is to not get into such stupid predicaments in the first place. Indeed, why should they? If we avoided the problem, they wouldn't get to use all those guns and bombs, and how much fun would that be?

But even worse than their juvenile war fantasies is their presumption that even "pro-American moderate" Pakistanis will happily let us barge in and make a mockery of their sovereignty and wreck their country, with all the "collateral damage" we inevitably produce. Arrogance doesn't even begin to describe this sort of madness.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The following is allegedly a quote from Ronald Reagan's recently published diaries, the entry dated May 17, 1986:

A moment I've been dreading. George [Vice President George H.W. Bush] brought his ne'er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida [future Gov. Jeb Bush]. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work.

According to Snopes.com it was actually Kinsley who wrote that. He always was desperate to get his name in high places.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Funeral Day

Went to a funeral today, in Independence KS for Yona Julian, 36, the daughter of a cousin. I was especially close to her father when we were growing up. He was (still is) seven years older than me, the closest person I ever had to a role model, although it seemed like he specialized in high standards I could never live up to -- one example is that he was an Eagle Scout, whereas I topped out at Life. He's the reason I grew up as a New York Yankees fan. But he also, no doubt inadvertently, taught me to hate tennis. I recall visiting him in the first few days after he moved to Independence, fresh out of college with a job teaching political science at the local juco. I figure five people (could be a couple more, certainly fewer than ten) of the 200 or so present today knew him then. Almost everyone else came as the result of the life he built there. He married a local girl, changed his religion, raised four children, finally retiring from the same job that brought him there. I moved away from Kansas, hardly ever saw him, barely know (or knew) his kids, least of all his eldest, Yona. She was a star athlete, stayed close to home, married a local boy, was diagnosed with cancer a few months after giving birth to her fourth child. She valiantly fought the cancer for 16 months.

All this happened slightly out of sight and reach. The rich set of interfamilial relationships of my mother's generation have split into separate cocooned nodes, a nuclearization explained or perhaps just excused by pressing time and divisive space. So I've been aware of Yona's ordeal from near the start, getting regular reports about someone familiar but barely known, me keeping what seemed to be a respectful distance. I guess the funeral today at last seemed like an opportunity for respectful presence. Still, I don't think I did any good except for the tiny number of people who knew me. I didn't talk to Yona's husband, but what could a stranger say? I could have mentioned that I was about his age when my wife died after a horrible protracted illness, but it's hard to say that the two cases offer any insight or comfort for each other. For one thing, with no children I felt strangely like my life was being restarted with a clean slate, whereas with four children he must feel completely different.

I just heard that another cousin suffered a stroke over a month ago. It was severe enough that she's still in a rehab hospital, and she and her husband will be moving into an assisted living facility when she gets back -- a move from Arizona to California that is dictated by another of those nuclear family nodes. My mother had seven siblings. All together they had 23 children. When my mother died in 2000 all 23 of her children, nieces and nephews were still known to be alive, with the oldest ones up around 75, and my immediate family by far the youngest. One is known to have died since then, but with my mother's generation gone we hear little of the far-flung cousins, let alone of their progeny, by now too numerous to keep track of. (I visited an aunt ten or more years ago. She assembled her whole clan to meet the nephew from Kansas, incomprehensible dozens of people, bragging that she had five generations present.)

I can't help but feel a sense that we've lost something here. Maybe you can chalk that up to jealousy -- that having no node of my own that I can look down on, I look up and around at others. But you lose something when you slough off cousins to focus on your own nuclear family. When I think of my 20 cousins I see a wide range of options and variations that are still rooted close enough to my life that I can relate to them, and that expand my understanding of who I am and where I come from. Those options and variations narrow considerably looking down. Maybe also the skills to deal with them. Jane Jacobs, in Dark Ages Ahead, saw the decay of family relationships as one sign of losing our ability to understand the world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Paul Krugman: The Conscience of a Liberal

Paul Krugman: The Conscience of a Liberal (2007, WW Norton)

The title consciously refers to Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative, widely (although not necessarily accurately) regarded as an opening salvo in conservatism's march to political power. This is not a collection of columns. Rather, it is a narrowly focused piece of large scale economic history with a clear political agenda: to show that liberalism promotes economic equality, bringing the whole nation broader prosperity, security, and happiness, and to show that conservatism does exactly the opposite. The focus on equality may be a result of Krugman's consciousness first and foremost as an economist. He doesn't spend enough effort proving the virtues and linkages of equality, making his tract seem rather materialist. My own take is that it has to do mostly with one's sense of common purpose with the people around you, extending as far as the limits of the nation (and conceivably further). If those people seem to be only out for themselves, their greed undermines our unity. Krugman refers to how the shared sacrifices of both world wars brought about greater economic equality. In those cases policies consciously aimed at promoting unity also worked to reduce inequality; conversely, politics aimed at reducing inequality result in greater unity by giving us more in common.

Krugman also doesn't go far into why this matters. My own belief is that we are approaching, if not already sucked into, a vortex of crises occasioned largely by mankind butting up against limits in worldwide resources. Such crises can best be met by pulling us together to work cooperatively; failure to do so will make them far more intractable, as unwillingness to share sacrifices only compounds the crises.

One thing that Krugman mentions that I didn't pull a quote on is his belief that the key to the Republicans' success has been their ability to pick up white southern voters by coding issues in terms of race. It's one of those points that is obvious but rarely spoken of, especially in terms of its full ramifications, which basically involve the willingness of whites to undermine their own welfare in order to spite blacks. That conservative elites should be a party to this shouldn't surprise anyone. As long as they see any gains by the poor, either black or white, as coming at the expense of the rich, they'll stand up for the latter. Promoting the advantages of the rich what conservatism has always been about. All else is detail, subject to change to support their real purpose.


Chapter 1: The Way We Were (pp. 3-4):

I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I grew up in for granted -- in fact, like many in my generation, I railed against the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing of Cambodia, went door to door for liberal political candidates. It's only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation's history.

Postwar America was, above all, a middle-class society. The great boom in wages that began with World War II had lifted tens of millions of Americans -- my parents among them - from urban slums and rural poverty to a life of home ownership and unprecedented comfort. The rich, on the other hand, had lost ground: They were few in number and, relative to the prosperous middle, not all that rich. The poor were more numerous than the rich, but they were still a relatively small minority. As a result, there was a striking sense of economic commonality: Most people in America lived recognizably similar and remarkably decent material lives.

I was born in 1950 and can attest to much of that. My parents both came off Depression-era farms that couldn't support their families and worked during the war in aircraft factories -- my father working his whole life in that factory, my mother becoming a housewife when I was born. They worked hard and saved, buying a small house which they later built onto, a series of new Fords (one in 1949, another in 1961, a lemon in 1973). We had a fairly complete set of appliances: stove, refrigerator, freezer, washing machine, dryer, telephone, television, window air conditioner, with infrequent replacements and occasional upgrades. I had no sense of ethnic or class divisions, and had little sense of what the fact that my neighborhood and schools were all white meant. I was religious, patriotic, one of the most successful kids in my class. I had a sense of unlimited opportunity, which due to various reasons fell apart completely in the mid-'60s, shattered by uncovering many hypocrisies -- the Vietnam war above all, but also by the realization that America's middle class concept was mostly romantic delusion. I'm less harsh about it now, no doubt because it's only gotten worse. So there were many exceptions to Krugman's outline, but there was also truth to it, and that truth certainly extended to my parents, who started pretty low down on the totem pole.

Chapter 2: The Long Gilded Age -- Krugman's term for the period in US history from 1870-1930 (pp. 15-16):

Pre-New Deal America, like America in the early twenty-first century, was a land of vast inequality in wealth and power, in which a nominally democratic political system failed to represent the economic interests of the majority. Moreover the factors that let a wealthy elite dominate political life have recognizable counterparts today: the overwhelming financial disadvantage at which populist political candidates operated; the division of Americans with common economic interests along racial, ethnic, and religious lines, the uncritical acceptance of a conservative ideology that warned that any attempt to help the less fortunate would head to economic disaster.

Chapter 3: The Great Compression -- Krugman's term for the set of economic policies starting with the New Deal and the economic controls in force during World War II which led to significant narrowing of economic inequality and the formation of a middle class America (pp. 42-44):

On one side the majority of Americans were able, for the first time, to afford a decent standard of living. I know that "decent" isn't a well-defined term, but here's what I mean: In the twenties the technology to provide the major comforts and conveniences of modern life already existed. A modern American transported back to, say, the time of Abraham Lincoln would be horrified at the roughness of life, no matter how much money he had. But a modern American transported back to the late 1920s and given a high enough income would find life by and large tolerable. The problem was that most Americans in the twenties couldn't afford to live that tolerable life. To take the most basic comfort: Most rural Americans still didn't have indoor plumbing, and many urban Americans had to share facilities with other families. Washing machines existed, but weren't standard in the home. Private automobiles and private telephones existed, but most families didn't have them. In 1936 the Gallup organization predicted a landslide victory for Alf Landon, the Republican presidential candidate. How did Gallup get it so wrong? Well, the poll was based on a telephone survey, but at the time only about a third of U.S. residences had a home phone -- and those people who didn't have phones tended to be Roosevelt supporters. And so on down the line.

But by the fifties, although there were still rural Americans who relied on outhouses, and urban families living in tenements with toilets down the hall, they were a distinct minority. By 1955 a majority of American families owned a car. And 70 percent of residences had telephones.

On the other side F. Scott Fitzgerald's remark that the rich "are different from you and me" has never, before or since, been less true than it was in the generation that followed World War II. By the fifties, very few Americans were able to afford a lifestyle that put them in a different material universe from that occupied by the middle class. The rich might have had bigger houses than most people, but they could no longer afford to live in vast mansions -- in particular, they couldn't afford the servants necessary to maintain those mansions. The traditional differences in dress between the rich and everyone else had largely vanished, partly because ordinary workers could now afford to wear (and clean) good clothes, partly because the rich could no longer afford to dress in a style that required legions of servants to help them get into and out of their wardrobes. Even the traditional rich man's advantage in mobility -- to this day high-end stores are said to cater to the "carriage trade" -- had vanished now that most people had cars.

I don't think it's romanticizing to say that all this contributed to a new sense of dignity among ordinary Americans. Everything we know about America during the Long Gilded Age makes it clear that it was, despite the nation's democratic ideology, a very class-conscious society -- a place where the rich considered themselves the workers' "betters," and where workers lived in fear (and resentment) of the "bosses." But in postwar America -- and here I can speak from my personal memory of the society in which I grew up, as well as what we can learn from what people said and wrote -- much of that class consciousness was gone. Postwar American society had its poor, but the truly rich were rare and made little impact on society. A worker protected by a good union, as many were, had as secure a job and often nearly as high an income as a highly trained professional. And we all lived material lives that were no more different from one another than a Cadillac was from a Chevy: One life might be more luxurious than another, but there were no big differences in where people could go and what they could do.

(p. 48):

And one more thing: Not only did those who depended on income from capital find much of that income taxed away, they found it increasingly difficult to pass their wealth on to their children. The top estate tax rate rose from 20 percent to 45, then 60, then 70, and finally 77 percent. Partly as a result the ownership of wealth became significantly less concentrated: The richest 0.1 percent of Americans owned more than 20 percent of the nation's wealth in 1929, but only around 10 percent in the mid-1950s.

So what happened to the rich? Basically the New Deal taxed away much, perhaps most, of their income. No wonder FDR was viewed as a traitor to his class.

(pp. 55-56):

During the postwar boom the real income of the typical family roughly doubled, from about $22,000 in today's prices to $44,000. That's a growth rate of 2.7 percent per year. And incomes all through the income distribution grew at about the same rate, preserving the relatively equal distribution created by the Great Compression.

Chapter 4: The Politics of the Welfare State (pp. 61-62):

Once in power -- and less inclined to dismiss radical ideas -- FDR was faced with the task of persuading the public to reject conventional wisdom and accept radically new policies. He was able to overcome voters' natural conservatism thanks largely to accidents of history. First, the economic catastrophe of 1929-33 shattered the credibility of the old elite and its ideology, and the recovery that began in 1933, incomplete though it was, lent credibility to New Deal reforms. "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; now we know that it is bad economics," declared FDR in his second inaugural address. Second, World War II created conditions under which large-scale government intervention in the economy was clearly necessary, sweeping aside skepticism about radical measures. So by the time Eisenhower wrote that letter to his brother, the New Deal institutions were no longer considered radical innovations; they were part of the normal fabric of American life.

Of course it wouldn't have played out that way if the pre-New Deal conventional wisdom had been right -- if taxing the rich, providing Social Security and unemployment benefits, and enhancing worker bargaining power had been disastrous for the economy. But the Great Compression was, in fact, followed by the greatest sustained economic boom in U.S. history. Moreover, the Roosevelt administration demonstrated that one of the standard arguments against large-scale intervention in the economy -- that it would inevitably lead to equally large-scale corruption -- wasn't true. In retrospect it's startling just how clean the New Deal's record was. FDR presided over a huge expansion of federal spending, including highly discretionary spending by the Works Progress Administration. Yet the popular image of public relief, widely regarded as corrupt before the New Deal, actually improved markedly.

The New Deal's probity wasn't an accident. New Deal officials made almost a fetish out of policing their programs against potential corruption. In particular FDR created a powerful "division of progress investigation" to investigate complaints of malfeasance in the WPA. This division proved so effective that a later congressional investigation couldn't find a single serious irregularity it had overlooked.

This dedication to honest government wasn't a sign of Roosevelt's personal virtue; rather it reflected a political imperative. FDR's mission in office was to show that government activism works. To maintain that mission's credibility he needed to keep his administration's record clean. And he did.

This is in marked contrast to the expansion of government spending under the Reagan and second Bush administrations, where much of the rationale for spending has evidently been to create opportunities for corruption.

Chapter 5: The Sixties: A Troubled Prosperity (pp. 79-80):

It was an economy that seemingly provided jobs for everyone. What's more those abundant jobs came with wages that were higher than ever, and rising every year. At the bottom end, workers were much better off than they would ever be again: The minimum wage in 1966, at $1.25 an hour, was equivalent of more than $8.00 in today's dollars, far higher than today's minimum wage of $5.15. By 1966 the typical man in his thirties was earning as much as his modern equivalent; by the time the great boom ended, in the early seventies, men would be earning about 14 percent more than they do now. It's true that family incomes were a bit less than they are today, because fewer women worked and the gap between women's wages and men's wages was larger. And because incomes were a bit lower than they are now, middle-class families lived in smaller houses, were less likely to have two cars, and in general had a somewhat lower material standard of living than their counterparts today. Yet the standard of living felt high to most Americans, both because it was far higher than it had been for the previous generation, and because a more equal society offered fewer occasions to feel left out. As MIT economists Frank Levy and Peter Temin have pointed out, the broad-based rise in income meant that a blue-collar machine operator earned more, in real terms, than most managers had earned a generation earlier. As a result more Americans than ever before considered themselves middle class.

Economic security was also unprecedented. By 1966, 80 percent of the population had health insurance, up from only 30 percent at the end of World War II, and by 1970 the fraction of the population with health insurance surpassed today's 85 percent level. Workers who lost their jobs despite the low unemployment rate were much more likely to receive unemployment insurance than laid-off workers are today, and that insurance covered a larger fraction of their lost wages than does today's. And as Levy and Temin point out, rising wages across the board meant that even laid-off workers whose next job paid less than the one they lost found that within a few years they had recovered their previous standard of living.

Chapter 6: Movement Conservatism (pp. 101-102):

It's worth looking at early issues of the National Review, to get a sense of what movement conservatives sounded like before they learned to speak in code. Today leading figures on the American right are masters of what the British call "dog-whistle politics": They say things that appeal to certain groups in a way that only the targeted groups can hear -- and thereby avoid having the extremism of their positions become generally obvious. As we'll see later in this chapter, Ronald Reagan was able to signal sympathy for racism without ever saying anything overtly racist. As we'll see later in this book, George W. Bush consistently uses language that sounds at worst slightly stilted to most Americans, but is fraught with meaning to the most extreme, end-of-days religious extremists. But in the early days of the National Review positions were stated more openly.

This is followed by samples favoring segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks in the South and touting General Franco as "an authentic national hero."

(p. 107):

Ironically, one problem with being a superpower is that it's hard to explain to its citizens the limits of that power. Canadians don't wonder why their government is unable to impose its will on the world. Americans, however, are all too easily convinced that those who threaten the nation can simply be eliminated by force -- and that anyone who urges restraint is weak at best, treasonous at worst.

(p. 121):

It's almost impossible to overstate Nixon's impact on the way American politics is conducted. Nixon, after all, showed how you could exploit racial divisions, anxiety about social change, and paranoia about foreign threats to peel working-class whites away from the New Deal coalition. He introduced the art of media manipulation: Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, was Nixon's media consultant, and is a central figure in Joe McGinniss's 1969 book The Selling of the President. Later, Nixon pioneered the media intimidation that so successfully suppressed dissent for much of the Bush administration, as well as the tactic of blaming the news media for reporting bad news.

It was during the Nixon years that the successful execution of dirty tricks became a passport to advancement in the Republican Party. In 1970 a young Karl Rove printed fake leaflets advertising free beer on campaign stationery stolen from a Democratic candidate, disrupting a campaign rally; the next year Rove dropped out of college to become the paid executive director of the College Republican National Committee. Two years later, when Rove ran for chairman of the College Republicans, he cheated his way to victory -- with the blessing of the then chairman of the Republican National Committee, one George H.W. Bush.

Movement conservatives applauded these tactics. What they didn't like were Nixon's policies. When Rick Perlstein, the author of Before the Storm, gave a talk (to a group of conservatives) about the conservative role in the Nixon administration's dirty tricks, one of the other panelists protested that Nixon hadn't been a conservative, adding, "I didn't like Nixon until Watergate."

Chapter 7: The Great Divergence (p. 125):

Yet average income -- the total income of the nation, divided by the number of people -- has gone up substantially since 1973, the last year of the great boom. We are, after all, a much more productive nation than we were when the boom ended, and hence a richer nation as well. Think of all the technological advances in our lives since 1973: personal computers and fax machines, cell phones and bar-code scanners. Other major productivity-enhancing technologies, like freight containers that can be lifted directly from ship decks onto trucks and trains, existed in 1973 but weren't yet in widespread use. All these changes have greatly increased the amount the average worker produces in a normal working day, and correspondingly raised U.S. average income substantially.

He then follows with a lesson on the difference between average income and median. Average income is up; median isn't (pp. 125-126):

Average income has risen substantially, but that's mainly because a few people have gotten much, much richer. Median income, depending on which definition you use, has either risen modestly or actually declined.

This not just because blue collar workers have taken a hit (p. 136):

For example, the median college-educated man has seen his real income rise only 17 percent since 1973.

That's because the big gains in income have gone not to a broad group of well-paid workers but a narrow group of extremely well-paid people. In general those who receive enormous incomes are also well educated, but their gains aren't representative of the gains of educated workers as a whole. CEOs and schoolteachers both typically have master's degrees, but schoolteachers have seen only modest gains since 1973, while CEOs have seen their income rise from about thirty times that of the average worker in 1970 to more than 300 hundred times as much today.

(p. 163):

The nature of the hold movement conservatism has on the Republican Party may be summed up very simply: Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy. That is, there is an interlocking set of institutions ultimately answering to a small group of people that collectively reward loyalists and punish dissenters. These institutions provide obedient politicians with the resources to win elections, safe havens in the event of defeat, and lucrative career opportunities after they leave office. They guarantee favorable news coverage to politicians who follow the party line, while harassing and undermining opponents. And they support a large standing army of party intellectuals and activists.

Chapter 9: Weapons of Mass Distraction (p. 189):

What's more, movement conservatism and major war efforts don't mix. Any major military mobilization prompts calls for equal sacrifice, which means tax increases, a crackdown on perceived profiteering, and more. Both world wars led to a rise in union membership, an increase in tax progressivity, and a reduction in income inequality -- all anathema to conservatives. Much has been written about the disastrous lack of planning for post-invasion Iraq. What isn't emphasized enough is that the Bush administration had to believe that the war could be waged on the cheap, because a realistic assessment of the war's cost and requirements would have posed a direct challenge to the administration's tax-cutting agenda. Add to this the closed-mindedness and inflexibility that come from the bubble in which movement conservatives live, the cronyism and corruption inherent in movement conservative governance, and the Iraq venture was doomed from the start.

Chapter 10: The New Politics of Equality (pp. 205-206):

Ideally the public will conclude from the debacle that if you want to win a war, don't hire a movement conservative. Hire a liberal, or at least an Eisenhower-type Republican. Failure in Iraq may have been inevitable, but whatever slim chances of success the United States might have had were dissipated by errors that were inherent to movement conservatism. In particular the Bush administration's overoptimism and its attempt to fight a war on the cheap, with minimal numbers of ground troops, flowed naturally from its commitment to cutting taxes. A frank admission that war is a risky, expensive business would have prompted calls for shared sacrifice; remember, taxes on the rich went up and inequality declined during both world wars. But the Bush administration planned to use the war to further its inequality-enhancing domestic agenda. The script called for a blitzkrieg, a victory parade, and then another round of tax cuts. This required assuming that everything would be easy, and dismissing warnings from military experts that it probably wouldn't work out that way.

Beyond that,t he cronyism that is an essential part of movement conservatism played a key role in the failure of Iraqi reconstruction. Key jobs were given to inexperienced partisan loyalists. Shoddy work by politically connected contractors, like the construction of a new police training center in which excrement drips from the ceiling, went unpunished. And outright corruption flourished. These failures weren't accidental: The systematic use of political power to hand out favors to partisan allies is part of the glue holding movement conservatism together. To have run the Iraq War with efficiency and honesty, the way FDR ran World War II, would have meant behaving at least a little bit like the New Deal -- and that would have been anathema to the people in charge.

Chapter 11: The Health Care Imperative (p. 232):

But in the end HMOs failed to deliver sustained savings for one simple reason: People don't trust them. Patients in Britain's National Health Service are, on the whole, willing to accept some rationing of health care because they understand that the national health system has a limited budget and is run by doctors trying to make the most of that budget. American HMO members are much less willing to accept rationing because they know it's driven by accountants who are trying to maximize a corporate bottom line. Because of this distrust and dissatisfaction, HMO enrollment as a share of the total peaked in the mid-1990s, although other, milder forms of managed care continued to grow. Moreover, a public outcry and congressional hearings have forced insurers to back away from aggressive attempts to hold down costs. As a result U.S. medical costs are once again rising rapidly, and employer-based insurance is again in decline.

(pp. 242-243):

The principal reason to reform American health care is simply that it would improve the quality of life for most Americans. Under our current system tens of millions lack adequate health care, millions more have had their lives destroyed by the financial burden of medical costs, and many more who haven't yet gone without insurance or been bankrupted by health costs live in fear that they may be next. And it's all unnecessary: Every other wealthy country has universal coverage. Reducing the risks Americans face would be worth it even if it had a substantial cost -- but in this case there would be no cost at all. Universal health care would be cheaper and better than our current fragmented system.

There is, however, another important reason for health care reform. It's the same reason movement conservatives were so anxious to kill Clinton's plan. That plan's success, said Kristol, "would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy" -- by which he really meant that universal health care would give new life to the New Deal idea that society should help its less fortunate members. Indeed it would -- and that's a big argument in its favor.

Chapter 12: Confronting Inequality (p. 247):

Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School expert in bankruptcy, and Amelia Warren Tyagi, a business consultant, have studied the rise of bankruptcy in the United States. By 2005, just before a new law making it much harder for individuals to declare bankruptcy took effect, the number of families filing for bankruptcy each year was five times its level in the early 1980s. The proximate reason for this surge in bankruptcies was that families were taking on more debt -- and this led to moralistic pronouncements about people spending too much on luxuries they can't afford. What Warren and Tyagi found, however, was that middle-class families were actually spending less on luxuries than they had in the 1970s. Instead the rise in debt mainly reflected increased spending on housing, largely driven by competition to get into good school districts. Middle-class Americans have been caught up in a rat race not because they're greedy or foolish but because they're trying to give their children a chance in an increasingly unequal society. And they're right to be worried: A bad start can ruin a child's chances for life.

Chapter 13: The Conscience of a Liberal (p. 265):

One of the seeming paradoxes of America in the early twenty-first century is that those of us who call ourselves liberal are, in an important sense, conservative, while those who call themselves conservative are for the most part deeply radical. Liberals want to restore the middle-class society I grew up in; those who call themselves conservative want to take us back to the Gilded Age, undoing a century of history. Liberals defend longstanding institutions like Social Security and Medicare; those who call themselves conservative want to privatize or undermine those institutions. Liberals want to honor our democratic principles and the rule of law; those who call themselves conservative want the president to have dictatorial powers and have applauded the Bush administration as it imprisons people without charges and subjects them to torture.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Music: Current count 13787 [13753] rated (+34), 829 [812] unrated (+17). November's Recycled Goods is done and finally up. Did a lot of jazz prospecting this week, but the backlog has grown even faster. Moreover, now I'm picking up downloads from Rhapsody as well as Universal's MPE system. I'm noting both sources in these notes, not least because they don't come with complete packing info, or for that matter even booklet text (a major shortcoming, especially for MPE). The process encourages me to make snap judgments, often on only one listen. Some of these will no doubt eventually be seen as premature, but that strikes me as a necessary risk. It also eliminates any subliminal sympathy I might feel for the publicist taking the time and money to send me product, so maybe it will help me sharpen my grades. The problem, of course, is that no matter how much the resource base expands, I only have so much time -- and I'm really swamped these days.

  • Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam (2007, Domino): Rock group, have a following, get a lot of good press, but I've never managed to catch up with them before. Seemed like a good thing to stream off Rhapsody (certainly beats paying cash). The problem is that it's a tough album (and most likely group) to get a handle on. First three songs just struck me as perverse, but I started to get into the bang-bang-bang groove of the longish "For Reverend Green," then I found other appealing bits in what followed. Not a lot, and I still find them weird, unsettling, and unpleasant. It's possible that further play would kick it into place, or more likely kick it out of the house. Grade is more of a swag than a considered opinion. [Rhapsody download] B+(*)
  • Ani DiFranco: Reprieve (2006, Righteous Babe): Aside from the live double, the best album she's come up with since 1999 (Up Up Up Up Up) or maybe even 1998 (Little Plastic Castle): the music is slippery as has been the case of late but the lyrics are sharper, or should I say the politics? She's past the personal-is-political stage -- has something of a normal although certainly unusual life -- but history is goddamn political these days, and at least she's fighting back. Power to her. B+(***)
  • Stacey Kent: Let Yourself Go: Celebrating Fred Astaire (1999 [2000], Candid): The basic good taste and elegance that seems to characterize all of her work. Astaire's songs were written by Gershwins, Berlin, Kern, etc. They are utterly dependable. B+
  • Diana Krall: The Look of Love (2001, Verve): The strings of Claus Ogerman's orchestra are no more disconcerting than a warm bath -- they fluff up the background without ever taking over, rendering them harmless even if uninteresting. There are reputable jazz musicians on this album, but they are inconspicuous. Krall's piano is also insignificant. The music's effect is almost sensory deprivation, leaving all focus on Krall's vocal mannerisms. Given the right song, she's irresistible, and that happens more often than not. "Cry Me a River," of course. "S'Wonderful," "Besame Mucho," "Love Letters," etc. B+(**)
  • Van Morrison: At the Movies: Soundtrack Hits (1964-95 [2007], Exile): Staggeringly brilliant, of course, but still a useless compilation, with signs of the common best-ofs like the two canonical Them songs, but with four live shots -- the only one not available better packaged elsewhere is a Roger Waters duet on "Comfortably Numb"; lacks even the filmographies that supposedly justify the inclusions. B
  • Van Morrison: Still on Top: The Greatest Hits (1964-2005 [2007], Hip-O): Staggeringly brilliant, of course; if you really want him reduced to a single disc -- say, to start an argument over who's the greatest singer in all of rock history -- this is as good as Polydor's 1990 The Best of Van Morrison and sustained through another 15 years; nothing less than awesome until 14 tracks in, and nothing to complain about after that; of course, one could carp about dozens of tracks they missed. A+
  • Robert Plant/Alison Krauss: Raising Sand (2007, Rounder): T-Bone Burnett produced, which seems as significant as anything else -- it certainly has more to do with the musical feel as either of the name artists, who are present for the mesh of their voices. (Krauss' fiddle is rarely present, rarely typical when it is.) Odd mix of songs, only a few (e.g., "Fortune Teller") all that familiar. [Rhapsody download] B+(*)
  • Elvis Presley: The Country Side of Elvis (1954-76 [2001], RCA, 2CD): In the end, Presley was Middle America, more Las Vegas than Nashville, but hallowed on country radio, remembered less for singing black than for being a white boy. This themed collection -- slicing up and repackaging Elvis is a neverending cottage industry -- offers two surprises. The first is how spotty the early years were, where country songs were picked to rock out, just like everything else. The second is how sublime his 1970s cuts were, even with dross arrangements of crappy strings. He had turned into an interpretive singer, and Nashville gave him just the depth of substance he needed to work with. But that he could hold his own on songs as definitively owned by others as "Funny How Time Slips Away" and "She Thinks I Still Care" only proves how great a crooner he became. The repackagers would be well advised to refine the second disc here into a single. B+(***)
  • Dwight Yoakam: Dwight Sings Buck (2007, New West): Of course, you could just listen to Buck Owens, whose lighter, less pained voice gave songs like "Act Naturally" an offhandedness that Yoakam doesn't have. On the other hand, the extra muscle does do something for the ballads. In any case, this sounds too classic to nitpick. [Rhapsody download] B+(**)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 7)

On the one hand, quite a bit of jazz prospecting follows. On the other, it has made virtually no dent in the backlog. It's also the case that I haven't moved from prospecting mode to trying to wrap the next column up. That's at least another week away, given that this coming week looks like it's going to be difficult and full of distractions. I also want to make sure I get the Miles Davis and Allen Lowe boxes into December's Recycled Goods, and I still have a lot of listening to do on both.

A couple of technical things are worth noting. One is that I've disabled Flash on my computer. I've been running into viral Flash advertisements, particularly from AMG, which put my browser into a state where all I can do is kill it. Flash has rarely been antyhing but an annoyance, so I don't miss it, but unfortunately a lot of musicians have websites built with it. Those websites are going to be impossible to access, and that will make it harder to gather the information that goes into these notes. (On the other hand, there is some positive correlation between the amount of Flash and the inutility of the information buried in it, so maybe the loss won't be that great.) I've also started to listen to and in some cases review -- more cursorily than usual, I'm afraid -- download music from MPE and Rhapsody. The former is a poor substitute for the real thing, but I've used it to fill out some Recycled Goods reviews -- e.g., UMe sent me the Johnny Cash live album in this month's RG but not the Legend best-of, so I reviewed the latter from MPE. The amount of stuff Universal puts into MPE is fairly small, but Rhapsody promises to be a way to check out things I'm not getting normally. Thus far I've only streamed things for curiosity, like the recent Animal Collective. But I imagine that it will prove useful here, especially for some of those big label records that suspiciously never arrive here. I still haven't gotten into any of the download-only releases, like Ayler has been pushing. (In fact, after playing three records from Rhapsody, I haven't gotten back to it in 4-5 days, the shelves taking priority.) When I do review something from a download source, I'll note that like I do with advances.


The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 2 (2005 [2007], Origin): Drummer, sings swing tunes and jump blues in a voice that brings Louis Prima to mind, especially when he turns the microphone over to his straighter half, wife Bonnie Eisele. But the analogy held up better on Vol. 1, where he uncorked a funny story called "Bennie's From Heaven"; nothing here comes close. B+(*)

Kim Richmond Ensemble: Live at Café Metropol (2006-07 [2007], Origin): Alto/soprano saxophonist, based in Los Angeles, with eight albums since 1988, three in a group co-led by Clay Jenkins, plus several dozen side appearances, especially with Bob Florence's big band. This group is a sextet, with three horns (John Daversa trumpet, Joey Sellers trombone), piano, bass, and drums. The horns mesh very cleanly, and Daversa is consistently impressive with his leads. One thing this shows is that it's possible to do sophisticated postbop without falling into the traps that seem to snag especially those just out of college. So in many ways this is masterful -- although not quite enough to shatter my resistance. B+(**)

Ben Paterson Trio: Breathing Space (2007, OA2): Chicago pianist. Website bio provides no useful info, unless you're impressed that he recently played two months in a Taipei jazz club. Presumably his first album. Trio includes Jake Vinsel on bass, Jon Deitemyer on drums, both also unknown to me. Straight mainstream player. Wrote two of nine pieces, the others mostly bop era, none too obvious. Good touch, good taste, pleasing, respectable. B+(**)

Deep Blue Organ Trio: Folk Music (2007, Origin): Chicago group, with Chris Foreman on organ, Bobby Broom on guitar, Greg Rockingham on drums. Third album; first two on Delmark. No idea where the title comes from. Nothing here suggests anything I can recognize as folk music: most of the pieces come out of hard bop, with songs from the Beatles and Ohio Players slightly more recent. Foreman doesn't strike me as a particularly imposing organ player. He tends to pad out the groove rather than drive it, letting Broom's guitar set the pace and direction. B

Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra: Jazz, Baby! (2006 [2007], Origin): Or just Doug Beavers. Bio is very hard to parse, and I have no idea what his discography looks like -- his website has a long list of pieces and arrangements but it isn't clear how they map to records, or if they do. Has worked with or for Eddie Palmieri and Conrad Herwig -- salsa arrangements seem to be a specialty -- and maybe Rosemary Clooney and/or Mingus Big Band. Plays trombone, but employs five other trombonists, crediting himself with one solo. First album, I guess. Concept is to take old children's songs -- e.g., "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Shortnin' Bread," "Comin' Round the Mountain," "Hush Little Baby," "Workin' on the Railroad" -- and punch them up with 1950s-style big band arrangements. Matt Catingub and Linda Harmon sing. I figure it for a novelty and wonder how well it will wear, but it's a lot of fun first time through. [B+(***)]

Upper Left Trio: Three (2007, Origin): Third album. Three players: Clay Giberson on piano, Jeff Leonard on bass, Charlie Doggett on drums. All three contribute songs, with Giberson enjoying a slight plurality. Group based in Portland, I think. Giberson has three previous albums under his own name, all on Origin. An early review, posted on their website, tries to triangulate them: "Bad Plus wannabe"; "midpoint between the Oscar Peterson Trio and Medeski, Martin, and Wood"; Giberson "crosses Horace Tapscott with Tommy Flanagan." I don't hear any of that, but I'm hard pressed to peg them. B+(*)

Cyrus Chestnut: Cyrus Plays Elvis (2007, Koch): Presley, of course. Well, why not? It's not like he's been doing much of interest lately -- 1993's Revelation was the last time he showed anything to get excited about. It's certainly a lot more promising than another trip to church -- although he couldn't resist ending with "How Great Thou Art" (and it comes off nicely). Ballads like "Love Me Tender" always sound good, and the upbeat ones remind you that Chestnut could boogie when he wants to. But I have to wonder, why break the piano trio continuity by adding Mark Gross sax on two cuts? That sort of thing happens a lot when angling for a radio cut, which isn't impossible here, but I find it disruptive. B+(*)

Paul Bollenback: Invocation (2007, Elefant Dreams): Four extra names on front cover, but nothing inside provides credits. The names are Randy Brecker, Ed Howard, Victor Lewis, and Chris McNulty, which presumably means trumpet, bass, drums, and vocals, respectively. Guitarist. Originally from Illinois, but spent some eye-opening years in New Delhi as a teenager. Currently based in New York. Seven albums, starting 1995. Likes nylon strings. Don't know what he's using here, but he gets a soft, silk sound that is quite attractive. The trumpet is a nice, but somewhat rare, touch. I don't care for the scat at all, but the final cut, Coltrane's "After the Rain," holds together so nicely maybe I should give it another play. [B]

The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam: Go Between (1986 [2007], Summerfold): A/k/a Nieuwe Slagwerkgroep Amsterdam, founded in 1980 by Jan Pustjens and Niels Le Large. The roster varies somewhat among the four pieces, including: Johan Faber, Toon Oomen, Peter Prommel, Herman Rieken, Steef Van Oosterhout, and Ruud Wiener. English prog/fusion drummer Bill Bruford and Japanese marimba player Keiko Abe also appear on the cover and on one piece each. The album originally appeared on EG Records in 1987, and is now reissued on Bruford's label. It reminds me a bit of the percussion ensembles Max Roach and Art Blakey tried to put together c. 1960, but it's much more worldwise, especially cognizant of Japanese percussion. The emphasis on marimba and related instruments is also appealing. B+(***)

Todd Isler: Soul Drums (2006-07 [2007], Takadimi Tunes): Drummer, percussionist, seems to have special interests in Indian and African percussion, evidently based in New York. This is second or third album. Claims to have appeared on hundreds of albums. AMG counts 16. Has a book called You Can Ta Ka Di Mi This. Songs include various saxophonists, pianists, bassists. Sandwiched between are short percussion-only pieces. Covers two songs: Stevie Wonder's "Bird of Beauty" and Joe Zawinul's "Badia" -- the latter the closer, breaking the pattern with a guitar duo. The song pieces are very nice. The interludes break up the sweetness. B+(**)

Tim Collins: Valcour (2005 [2007], Arabesque): Plays vibes; also (not here but not unrelated) piano and drums. AMG lists four albums, starting in 2003, but his website describes this as his first album as a leader. Group includes alto sax (Matt Blostein), trumpet (Ingrid Jensen), piano (Aaron Parks), bass and drums. That's a lot of options, letting them navigate some tricky postbop. Sounds fine, but none of it sticks with me. B

Brent Jensen: One More Mile (2006 [2007], Origin): Saxophonist, plays soprano here but his main instrument is probably alto. Website banner touts LA Jazz Bands, but Jensen seems to have started in Idaho ("In 1986-87, Brent studied in New York City with jazz legend Lee Konitz on a grant from the Idaho Commission on the Arts") and wound up there ("Brent Jensen is currently Director of Jazz Studies and Woodwinds at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls"). I have relatives in Twin (as they call it), and thought a bit about moving there once -- seems like a nice place to retreat to when all hell breaks loose. The other band members get their names on the front cover: Bill Anschell (piano), Jeff Johnson (bass), John Bishop (drums). They're strictly Seattle, for all purposes the label's house band, slightly left of mainstream, first rate players all. Johnson and Anschell contribute songs, and Anschell arranges a couple of oldies; Jensen's only writing credit is shared with Johnson and Bishop. So maybe this should be viewed as a group effort, but it's Jensen's clear, measured tone that gives it voice. Jensen's previous Trios was an HM. We'll see if this one rises higher. [B+(***)]

Richard Cole: Shade (2000-07 [2007], Origin): Saxophonist, tenor first, soprano an afterthought, based in Seattle. Third album. Name reminds one of alto saxophonist d Richie Cole, but they have little in common. This album was put together with tracks from three sessions: one from 2000, three from 2005, four more from 2007. Randy Brecker gets a "featuring" credit for the first two. The oldest track, "A Shade of Joe," is by far the most impressive -- dedicated to Henderson, Cole rises to the challenge. Becker has good spots on the 2005 tracks. The 2007 tracks feature the Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop rhythm section, but Cole seems diminished, and the overall effort is rather scattered. B

The Cool Season: An Origin Records Holiday Collection, Vol. 2 (2007, Origin): I really wish publicists would just stop sending me Xmas music. I'm not interested in it. I can't resell it (or anything else; oh, for the days when this town still had record stores). I don't have space to shelve it, even on the dregs shelf in the basement. I can't remember ever liking it, even when Xmas still excited me. And my views got more jaundiced when I read that Xmas music outsells jazz, even though at least there are at least 10 times as many jazz records released each year. I suppose the flip side of that equation is that jazz labels, having to pay the bills to put out the underappreciated music they exist for, should get in on a bit of the Xmas action. That's all this really is. No artists put their names on the covers here, but the whole thing is done by the same quartet, featuring Origin's usual rhythm section -- Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop -- with Thomas Marriott on trumpet/flugelhorn. It's utterly inconsequential, and pretty close to inoffensive. If for some reason, like you own a retail business, you feel obliged to play the stuff, this is an investment that will spare a lot of people a lot of grief. B-

Mörglbl: Grötesk (1999-2006 [2007], The Laser's Edge): French fusion group, a trio consisting of Christophe Godin (guitar), Ivan Rougny (bass), Jean Pierre Frelezeau (drums). Third album, including one released in 1997 as Ze Mörglbl Trio. No idea what the name and/or title mean, but it reminds me of a French rock group from the 1970s named Magma that invented their own language to sing in. All three are credited with vocals, but they've managed to keep them discreet enough I didn't notice. One song from 1999; the rest from two sessions in 2006. Fairly innocuous fusion, dependable beat, one slow one has a sweet tone and feel. There's probably a whole minor genre/cult for what they do, especially in Europe, where instrumental rock was a common response to the English language problem (damned if you do, especially if you wind up sounding like Abba; damned if you don't). Filed them under Pop Jazz, where they kick ass. B+(*)

Poncho Sanchez: Raise Your Hand (2007, Concord Picante): Conga player, from Laredo TX, seems to have inherited Ray Barretto's lock on the percussionist category in Downbeat's Critics Poll. Long list of albums, but this is only the second I've heard. I can't see much point to it. The first and last cuts are Memphis soul with Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, and Eddie Floyd singing. Two in the middle feature Maceo Parker: "Maceo's House" and "Shotgun." The congas do little for any of those covers. Two more guest vocals go to Andy Montañez and José "Perico" Hernández. They don't stick with me either, but at least they don't have memories to compete with. B

Charlie Hunter Trio: Mistico (2007, Fantasy): Guitarist, currently plays a custom-built 7-string guitar cut down from an 8-string. Has recorded prolifically since 1993, including several albums with Bobby Previte as Groundtruther and Stanton Moore and Skerik as Garage a Trois -- including one in my replay queue. This seems about par. He is at the center of a cluster of fusion musicians that combine loping rhythms, funk, and electronics in interesting ways. [B+(**)]

Kurt Elling: Nightmoves (2007, Concord): Widely touted as the top male vocalist in jazz, a highly problematic category. I've only listened to him rarely, more often than not with much displeasure. This may reverse the ratio -- his "Undun" swings fine -- but "A New Body and Soul" brings out all the usual annoyances: the awkward forced word-fit of vocalese, the hipster posturing, the fact that his voice doesn't have a crooner's reach. Need to play it again and see which way it falls. [B]

Jane Monheit: Surrender (2007, Concord): Didn't bother asking for this, so I can't complain that they only sent me an advance with no credits or hype sheet. Three songs credit guests: two in Portuguese cite Ivan Lins and Toots Thielemans; the third, "So Many Stars," was done with Sergio Mendes. She's 30 this month, with six albums going back to 2000. This one debuted at #1 on Billboard's Jazz Chart, not that that gives her any jazz cred. She has a striking soprano voice, capable of precisely detailed innuendo. The music, on the other hand, is swathed if not drowned in strings; given how stiff the Yankee stuff is, the tinkly Brazilian percussion is almost daring. Best song is the Jobim without the guests, "Só Tinha De Ser Com Você." Runner up is "Moon River," which is buried in goop and doesn't mind. B- [advance]

Curtis Stigers: Real Emotional (2007, Concord): Singer, originally from Idaho, moved to New York before he started recording in 1991. Don't know his early work -- only heard one unremarkable album from 2005. Didn't ask for this one either, but it's good they sent it. Don't know whether he has much of a style, but this makes a case for him in the Mose Allison school, at least on Allison's "Your Mind Is on Vacation" -- tunes by other singers who, by jazz standards at least, trend in that direction, follow their models more closely (Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Stephin Merritt, Bob Dylan). Larry Goldings co-produced, plays lots of keybs -- organ and piano are most prominent -- as well as accordion and vibes. Four songs are just Stigers and Goldings, and the latter proves to be a tasteful accompanist. The band pieces are similarly loose, with John Sneider's trumpet a nice touch. B+(*)

Christian Scott: Anthem (2007, Concord): New Orleans trumpet player. Young -- don't have a birthdate, but website claims he's 22, Wikipedia says he graduated from Berklee in 2004, something doesn't add up. Nephew of alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. Second album. First one came out last year in a cluster with pianist Taylor Eigsti and singer Erin Boheme which tempted me to label them the Mod Squad. Scott had the most talent then, and he has more now, but first pass through I don't care for this record at all. Seems to me like he's invented the jazz analogue to heavy metal. Aside for "Like That" near the end, the music here is all heavy sludge: loud drums, immobile bass, keyb gumbo. The only saving grace is that it provides deadened surfaces to scratch with his trumpet or cornet or soprano trombone or flugelhorn. Part of this may be explained by his Katrina theme, which may have brought sludge and waste and decay to mind. Still, I should hold this back for another play. "Like That" lightens up and is rather pleasant. And the closing, "post diluvial" version of the title track, features a biting tirade from Brother J of X-Clan. He's reaching, and my initial distaste may not be the final word. [B-]

The Engines (2006 [2007] Okka Disk): Jeb Bishop (trombone), Dave Rempis (alto/tenor/baritone sax), Nate McBride (bass), Tim Daisy (drums); i.e., the Vandermark 5 minus Vandermark with a switch at bass -- lately, McBride has been appearing on more Vandermark albums than Kent Kessler anyway. Sounded real promising: I haven't heard most of the recent work by Rempis and Daisy, but their two Triage albums were super, and Bishop's departure from the V5 signalled an interest in developing his own work. Results are, well, mixed, with pieces from all four showing their distinct talents but not jelling into anything coherent. Daisy continues to impress -- I particularly like the spots where the band lays back and lets him work out. Rempis tends to squawk, for better and sometimes for worse. Bishop paints dark, dirty swathes of sound. I'd be more impressed if I had lower expectations. B+(**)

Territory Band-6 With Fred Anderson: Collide (2006 [2007], Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark's big band, originally formed to spend some of his MacArthur Genius Grant money. Original concept seems to have had something to do with the 1930s territory bands, but it's always been hard to hear that in the records. Now, in his liner notes Vandermark explains that his original idea was centered around Fred Anderson, and that he got distracted when he couldn't schedule Hamid Drake for the first session and wound up using Paul Lytton instead, which led to a transatlantic meeting of the avant-gardes, which led to the first five Territory Bands. This isn't far removed: Lytton is still on board, as are the usuals from Europe: Axel Doerner (trumpet), Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba), Lasse Marhaug (electronics), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), Fredrik Ljungkvist (baritone/tenor sax), and newcomer David Stackenäs (guitar). In fact, they outnumber the Chicago crew: Anderson, Vandermark, Jim Baker (piano), Dave Rempis (alto/tenor sax), Kent Kessler (bass), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello). That makes for a big, sprawling group, and it's hard to keep it all straight. In particular, I can't disentangle the saxes -- Vandermark, Rempis, and Ljungkvist compete with Anderson at tenor, although each plays a second instrument as well. And tenor sax isn't all that prominently featured here, even if it produces most of the wind in the occasional squalls. Marhaug's electronics have gotten to where they register as integral to the music, and Doerner's trumpet stands out. The five-part piece hold together nicely, and Anderson gets his props at the end. B+(***)

Baker Hunt Sandstrom Williams: Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2005 [2007], Okka Disk): Album cover just gives last names. The details are: Jim Baker (piano), Steve Hunt (drums, percussion), Brian Sandstrom (bass, electric guitar), Mars Williams (various saxes). Order is alphabetical, with all pieces jointly credited. Needless to say, Williams makes the most noise, and he makes an awful lot of it. I find that noise oddly exhilarating -- maybe I'm relieved to hear Williams back in form after all these years trying to make a living out of acid jazz? Baker emerges in the quieter spots. Over the last decade or so, he's sort of been the Chicago avant-garde's go-to pianist, but they don't go to pianists very often. Some interesting odds and ends, too. B+(*)

Mr. Groove: Little Things (2007, DiamondDisc): Contemporary jazz group: their words, I've never been sure what they mean by that, and find the practical distinctions between Billboard's Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts to be impossible to discern, probably just a branding issue. Formed sometime in the 1990s by brothers Tim Smith (electric bass) and Roddy Smith (guitars), currently at six with two keybs (Mark Stallings and Steve Willets), sax (Tim Gordon), and drums (Donnie Marshall). Also numerous guests, including original drummer Tony Creasman on the majority of tracks. Four vocal tracks: one by Willets, the other three by guests (Tim Cashion, Daryl Johnson, Ron Kimball). Record ends with two "radio edits" of vocal pieces. Band has also worked with Bonnie Bramlett and the late Boots Randolph. They groove agreeably, and have fun with "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," but the guests and programming suggests that even under their own name the can't help being a backup band. B-

Gary Foster/Putter Smith: Perfect Circularity (2006 [2007], AJI): AJI stands for American Jazz Institute. Foster is credited with woodwinds. Two booklet photos show him playing alto sax, a third a flute. Lee Konitz wrote a note also mentioning tenor sax. Foster was close to 70 when this was recorded. He came out of Kansas a little too late for the west coast cool boom of the 1950s, but he does have a connection to Warne Marsh and Konitz. He cut three albums in the 1960s, little more under his own name, but he has a substantial number of credits, including an acclaimed record in Concord's Duo Series that Alan Broadbent got top billing for. Smith is a bassist, five years younger. His credit list is much shorter, conspicuously including a half-dozen albums with Broadbent. This is a duo, with the usual limits but nicely done, with both players holding interest in their solos as well as their interplay. B+(**)

Michael Blake Sextet: Amor de Cosmos (2005 [2007], Songlines): Saxophonist, born Montreal 1964, moved to Vancouver, then to New York, where he played in the Lounge Lizards. Here he's on a Canadian label with an all-Canadian band, playing tenor and soprano, in a sextet that includes Brad Turner (trumpet), Sal Ferreras (marimba), Chris Gestrin (piano), André Lachance (bass), and Dylan van der Schyff (drums). Played this twice. Like many parts, but can't get a grip on the whole, and wonder whether it's worth trying to figure out. B+(*)

Slow Poke: At Home (1998 [2007], Palmetto): This is a 1998 album with Michael Blake (sax, keyb), David Tronzo (slide and baritone guitar), Tony Scherr (electric and acoustic bass, guitar), and Kenny Wollesen (drums and percussion). The original release label was Baby Tank. This release is remixed with two additional cuts. The press release describes this as Palmetto's "first digital only release." It's not clear what that means. Palmetto's website offers something for $10.99 and an MP3 version for $6.99, but it's not in Palmetto's normal distribution. My copy is a promo in a jewel box with one-sheet, one-sided inserts. Anyhow, we'll pretend this is a real release. The interesting point would be Tronzo's slide guitar, which manages to stay well outside any jazz guitar idiom I can think of -- sometimes even sounds Hawaiian. [B+(**)]


And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.

Mushroom With Eddie Gale: Joint Happening (2007, Hyena): It's probably misleading to start with Gale, given that any lead trumpet in a fusion context is going to evoke Miles Davis. The rhythm is different, less funk, more spaciness. My impression is that Mushroom doesn't have a single aesthetic; rather, they draw from multiple sources, definitely including Anglo prog-rock à la Gong. AMG also suggests kraut rock, but that's harder to detect; in honor of Gale most likely they did bone up on Miles Davis. It's hard to say whether the spaciness is a good idea. Other '70s fusion bands did go in that direction, usually far less successfully than here. B+(**)

Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom: Yesterday, I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers (2002-05 [2007], 4Zero): See what I mean about Mushroom: this seems like a throwback to San Francisco in the late '60s for no better reason than that Levy does a fairly decent Grace Slick impression -- except in presence, since she never really takes control of the album. That gives it a certain anonymous quality. But while the evoke Jefferson Airplane, they do so with more flexibility and wit. And their polymorphuousness continues unabated and unapologetic. Inspirational title: "Kraut Mask Replica." B+(**)


Unpacking:

  • Chris Barber: Can't Stop Now (European Tour 2007) (MVD Audio)
  • Count Basie: Basie at Birdland (1961, Roulette Jazz)
  • Sathima Bea Benjamin: A Morning in Paris (1963, Ekapa)
  • Terence Blanchard: A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note)
  • Carla Bley: The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (Watt)
  • Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (ECM)
  • Ruby Braff and the Flying Pizzarellis: C'est Magnifique! (Arbors)
  • Vashti Bunyan: Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind (1964-67, Fat Cat): advance, Nov. 13
  • Paul Chambers: Bass on Top (1957, Blue Note)
  • Vidal Colmenares: . . . Otro Llano (Cacao Musica)
  • Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup (1959, Blue Note)
  • Dion: Son of Skip James (Verve Forecast)
  • Lou Donaldson: Gravy Train (1961, Blue Note)
  • Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters: Hope Radio (Stony Plain)
  • Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans (Blue Note): advance, Jan. 15
  • Éthiopiques 23: Orchestra Ethiopia (1963-75, Buda Musique)
  • Bobby Few: Lights and Shadows (Boxholder)
  • Fond of Tigers: Release the Saviours (Drip Audio)
  • Bobby Gordon: Plays Joe Marsala: Lower Register (Arbors)
  • Grant Green: The Latin Bit (1961, Blue Note)
  • Frode Haltli: Passing Images (ECM)
  • Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Italuba II (Cacao Musica)
  • The Inhabitants: The Furniture Moves Underneath (Drip Audio)
  • The Jack and Jim Show Presents: Hearing Is Believing (Boxholder)
  • Thad Jones: The Magnificent Thad Jones (1956, Blue Note)
  • Manu Katché: Playground (ECM)
  • Bennie Maupin: The Jewel and the Lotus (1974, ECM)
  • Lee Morgan: Indeed! (1956, Blue Note)
  • Lee Morgan: Volume 2: Sextet (1956, Blue Note)
  • Lee Morgan: Volume 3 (1957, Blue Note)
  • Lee Morgan: Candy (1957, Blue Note)
  • Alfredo Naranjo: Y El Guajeo (Cacao Musica)
  • Out to Lunch: Excuse Me While I Do the Boogaloo (Accurate): Jan. 8
  • John Phillips: Jack of Diamonds (1972-73, Varèse Sarabande)
  • Ike Quebec: Bossa Nova Soul Samba (1962, Blue Note)
  • Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana: Telegrafía Sin Hilo (Cacao Musica)
  • Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues (1982, ECM)
  • Matana Roberts Quartet: The Chicago Project (Central Control): advance, no release date given
  • Santos Viejos: Pop Aut (2007, Cacao Musica)
  • Judee Sill: Live in London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973 (1972-73, Water)
  • John Surman: The Space in Between (ECM)
  • Baby Face Willette: Face to Face (1961, Blue Note)
  • Tony Wilson 6Tet: Pearls Before Swine (Drip Audio)
  • Wilson/Lee/Bentley: Escondido Dreams (Drip Audio)
  • ZMF Trio: Circle the Path (Drip Audio)

Recycled Goods #49: November 2007

Recycled Goods #49, November 2007, has been posted at Static Multimedia. Static has a new layout, and for once I rather like the way it looks. When I did the first column, they tacked on a featured album cover as an illustration. The Village Voice had long done that with Robert Christgau's Consumer Guides, so I immediately thought that the cover illustration should be the Pick Hit. Somewhere along the line I decided that two would be better, and that worked for a couple of months, until laziness or technical simplemindedness got in the way. I've never done much illustrating in my website, but started adding cover scans to my archive versions, in part to make up for the lack at Static. Then I started attaching the covers when I submitted my piece -- first to avoid a bit of possible confusion, then I found that it helped get the posts up faster. Anyhow, this is the first month where both cover scans appear with the column, and it looks good.

One thing to note is that the Pick Hits aren't necessarily the top-rated records. The Billie Holiday box is in longbox (double high) format, which wouldn't have worked for the layout -- not that I knew this layout was coming. And there are a couple more A+ records in the Briefly Noted. I think I did reach down there once for a Pick Hit, but I almost always stick with the first section. I've picked boxes a couple of times in the past -- my own pages stack the two album covers, so that works reasonably well -- but given this layout I'll try to stick with singles, at least as long as it lasts.

The cumulative album count is up to 2052.


Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #49, November 2007, is up at Static Multimedia:

  link

Sorry this notice is late. The column has been up since Monday. Static
has a nice new page layout, which makes it possible to feature two album
covers.

45 records. Index by label:

  AUM Fidelity: David S Ware
  Concord (Heads Up): Oliver Mtukudzi
  18th & Vine: Gino Sitson
  ESP-Disk: Don Cherry
  High Note: Etta Jones/Houston Person
  IASO: Puerto Plata
  Putumayo World Music/Cumbancha: World Hits, Habib Koité (2)
  Righteous Babe: Ani DiFranco
  Shout! Factory: Kinky Friedman
  Sony/BMG (Columbia): Patti Smith
  Sony/BMG (Legacy): Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, The War (5), Catch and
    Release, Isley Brothers, Trans Formers
  Sunnyside (Circular Moves): Senti Toy
  Sustain: Why the Hell Not
  Time/Life: Hightone Anthology
  Universal: Bo Diddley (3), Howlin' Wolf (4), Johnny Cash (2), Garbage (2),
    Jimi Hendrix, Isley Brothers, Elton John
  WEA (Rhino): Songs That Got Us Through WWII (2)

This is the 49th monthly column. Thus far I've covered a total of 2052
albums in Recycled Goods.

Thanks again for your support.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Weekly Roundup

Fell behind this week, so don't have much to report here. One reason is that I've been battling a Flash bug that forces me to kill off whatever I've managed to accumulate in my browser tabs, or sometimes just kills the browser on its own. I've wound up disabling Flash, which is something of an improvement -- would be even better if the browser didn't keep asking me if I'd like to install Flash so it can cripple my system again. Another reason is that I've already spun off something on Pakistan, of which there's bound to be more and more. I also haven't gotten around to following up on things I noticed. For instance, the New York Times has a big article today [Sunday] on a multi-billion-dollar satellite boondoggle -- not a big surprise, maybe not a surprise at all, but huge enough to take note of. This weekly installment has been struggling of late -- well, I've been struggling of late, taking it with me. Don't know whether it's worth continuing, but as long as it keeps coming up non-empty I guess I might as well.


Francis Davis: A Composer Ascendant. That would be Maria Schneider, whose new Sky Blue has Davis reaching not only to Gil Evans but to Duke Ellington for analogues. It's not so much that I disagree -- there's not much I do disagree with Davis on -- as that I'm so utterly unconvinced that I have trouble believing there's even reason for such a discussion. ("Offhand, no jazz composer has used the human voice so effectively as an orchestral element since Mike Westbrook utilized Norma Winstone on Love Songs, a 1970 album" -- offhand, I'm not sure that anyone has ever, but Luciana Souza?) I have the record down as a marginal dud candidate, just like the two others I have heard. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person who listens to jazz who doesn't get her. I guess I'm stuck. I like the Gerald Wilson better, but not so much as the previous one (In My Time). I have some amount of intrinsic resistance to big band records, but there are plenty of exceptions. Haven't heard the Harris Eisenstadt record. He's done interesting stuff in the past.

Patrick Cockburn: In the Kandil Mountains with the PKK. At last some reporting to provide context for Turkey's repeated threats to invade the Iraq War's one purported success, the effectively independent Kurdish region. Verifies that the PKK are based in an Iraqi haven and are able to inflict nuissance attacks on Turkey. But it is also true that Turkey has done a poor job of consolidating the gains they made in arresting PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and reconciling Kurdish resentment. It also looks like the real conflict is between the Turkish military and the moderate Islamist Erdogan government -- the former sees aggressive action as a way of rousing nationalist sentiment, while the latter depends on Kurdish support for their margins. Like most (probably all) such conflicts, the bad guys are on both sides, but the ones with the most power (in this case the Turks) are the ones most negligent in not attempting to defuse the situation -- and as usual it's their power advantage that convinces them that they can depend on force to impose their way. I don't believe that Kurds have any intrinsic rights to a nation state, but one exists in Iraq for the simple reason that Iraq's abuse of the region has discredited any claims Baghdad may have. If Ankara can't do any better, they'll wind up in the same situation. One thing Cockburn doesn't go into is what the Americans are doing about this. Nothing helpful, I suspect -- not least because Bush has set the model for resorting to force as the answer to all problems.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Welcome to the Nightmare

Back when Bush fired the opening shot in the War on Terror by taking military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, I recall arguing with a friend who supported the policy, but conceded that it could destabilize Pakistan, and admitted that doing so would be the nightmare scenario. It's taken six years, but Pakistan is starting to look pretty shaky. Just scrolling through WarInContext, I'm struck by much of what I see. For example, Gary Sick:

What is happening today in Pakistan takes me back to the time when the Iranian revolution was brewing, when I was the desk officer for Iran on the National Security Council.

The ultimate reason for the U.S. policy failure then was the fact that the U.S. had placed enormous trust and responsibility in the shah of Iran.

He -- and not the country or people of Iran -- was seen as the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the Persian Gulf. Everything relied on him. There was no Plan B.

As a consequence, the endlessly mulled-over U.S. response to Iranian instability was that we had no choice except to support the shah.

Paul Woodward comments that there is something of a plan B, Benazir Bhutto, but that Sick's point still applies:

the US government's strategy in Pakistan hinges on its reliance on a handful of personal relationships. This is hardly surprising during a presidency in which a handshake has so often served as a substitute for a genuine meeting of minds and the cultivation of mutual understanding. [ . . . ] The Bush administration has focused on General Musharraf in as much as he is perceived as being helpful to the advance of American interests. In the process his American backers have lost sight of the extent to which their friend operates to the detriment of Pakistan's interests.

Musharraf is certainly not as megalomaniacal as the Shah, but like the Shah he represents two things that in combination put him into a rather indefensible position: he offends the Islamist right through his secularism and his willingness to collude with the anti-Muslim west, and he offends the secular left with his anti-democratic stance, his militarism, and his willingness to collude with the capitalist west. The one advantage he likely still has over the Shah is his base in Pakistan's military, but that base is weaker and more fractured than Turkey's, for instance, which makes it less likely to act on its own and more likely to form an alliance which could quickly doom Musharraf.

The other difference vs. the Shah is that the US has never been all that happy with Musharraf. While he has been far more effective than the US has been at capturing or killing Al-Qaeda principals, he is routinely seen as not trying hard enough, especially in his compromises with Pashtun tribal leaders which allow the Taliban relatively safe havens on Pakistani territory. The net balance is that Musharraf is seen in Pakistan as too much under Bush's thumb but in Washington he is seen as not supplicant enough. Woodward writes:

As everyone knows, Washington can only focus its attention on one thing at a time and with all eyes now on Pakistan, opportunities for reckless maneuvers present themselves elsewhere. Yet there are compelling reasons why Pakistan now looks like the most dangerous country in the world. Washington's confidence in the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is largely invested in its confidence in one man: Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, head of the special branch of the military known as the Strategic Plans Division in charge of operations and security. Kidwai represents what one former State Department official describes a the only "safe box within Pakistan's army." Irrespective of Kidwai's close ties to U.S. military officials, the inherent vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear weapons has long been understood.

Meanwhile, Cheney and company have been trying to push confrontation with Iran. As if Iran's own response to an American or Israeli attack wouldn't be worrisome enough, such an attack would be certain to raise a tsunami of anti-American sentiment all across the Islamic world, and that could be felt most dramatically in an already unstable Pakistan.

I haven't followed the unfolding events very closely. No doubt there's a lot more being reported and analyzed. But I do know two more historical tidbits of some possible relevance. One is that the people who started the revolution against the Shah weren't the clerics who wound up on top. If anything similar happens in Pakistan, there's little reason to believe it will settle down with the first change in power, and there's every reason to think that the Islamists will gain strength through further turmoil. The other is that when Benazir Bhutto was in power last time, she wound up giving Islamists in the ISI relatively free reign in their Afghanistan shenanigans, which is exactly when Pakistan most fervently supported the Taliban.

Of course, all of this (and more) was shuffled into the deck in 2001 when the shooting started. I'm not surprised -- it seems clear that this sort of ham-fisted arrogance is what the US has long been about in the region, and the more attention we pay to it the worse it gets. (Which sounds like I'm disagreeing with the conventional wisdom that the Iraq War undermined the War on Terror directed at the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. My thinking is more along the lines that the mentality that led the US into Iraq was the same mentality that was bound to screw up the Afghanistan campaign in the first place.) I haven't checked, but imagine that my friend has come around. After all, his nightmare is now ours.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Lloyd C Gardner/Marilyn B Young: Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam

Lloyd C. Gardner/Marilyn B. Young: Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past (2007, New Press)

Found this in the library, and thought I'd at least scan through it. I wound up reading more than I thumbed past, the introduction the main thing skipped. The quote section lists all of the chapters (except the introduction). Some I didn't bother quoting from, but even those pieces are not without interest. Gardner and Young are revisionist (i.e., antiwar) historians from the Vietnam era, so this has the feel of the now-older generation confronting the new war -- not same as the old war, but all wars seem to have a lot in common. Vietnam then and Iraq now are distinct enough. America then and now differ in subtler ways, with much of the similarity mere convergence -- the warmongers still lie, because they have to lie to sell wars like these. At least one chapter is missing: the one about how the Iraq war's protagonists see themselves in the context of Vietnam. This has become increasingly weird ever since Bush invoked the analogue of the Tet Offensive as proof of current success. Supposedly Gen. Petraeus, the Great White Hope sent in to lead the last-chance-for-victory surge, is qualified for the job by his unique expertise as the one guy who faced and mastered the lessons of Vietnam. That in itself would be fodder for a whole chapter, but only if the book, like the war, is to remain an open project.

Among various profound insights below, one that stands out is how none of the counterinsurgency theorists have figured out how to win hearts and minds. I think that's because there's no way to force someone to love you. It's also because those who blunder into such wars are enamored with force -- had they not been, they wouldn't have picked the fight in the first place. And make no mistake: both Vietnam and Iraq were wars of American choice, wars that could easily have been avoided way before US political leaders dug in so deep they convinced themselves that leaving would be even worse than losing. Nowhere in the history of either war did we consider trying to satisfy the hearts and minds that actually existed. We always assumed they wanted to be like us because we never entertained any other possibility. That winds up being the tightest of all linkages between the two wars. It is the lesson we didn't learn from Vietnam, the lesson we repeated senselessly in Iraq. It is endemic to the worldview of two generations of American chauvinists: today's neocons and yesterday's paleoliberals.


1. David Elliott: Parallel Wars? Can "Lessons of Vietnam" Be Applied to Iraq" (pp. 17-18):

I teach a course on U.S. foreign policy and a course on the Vietnam War. Until 2004 I made great efforts to avoid linking Iraq and Vietnam. The "lessons of Vietnam" are numerous but often contradictory. Perhaps the most salient of these is to be very careful in applying analogies. Yuan Foong Khong, a former student at the Claremont Colleges, now at Oxford, wrote a classic book titled Analogies at War, in which he painstakingly analyzed the various ways in which analogies were misused by U.S. officials during the Vietnam War. The book appeared in 1992, just as U.S. foreign policy decision makers were grappling with the new and unfamiliar terrain of the post-Cold War world. Khong analyzed in detail how and why decision makers resort to analogies when confronted with novel problems. They serve as a cognitive filter that transforms the unfamiliar into something recognizable and reduces complexity to manageable proportions. The pitfalls of this conceptual screening process are many, however. The wrong analogy may be chosen -- perhaps Kennedy and Johnson would have been better served by cautions about the French experience in Indochina than by bracing lessons from Munich and Korea. Or a potentially useful analogy may be misinterpreted or misapplied, as in the case of the misguided application of British experience int he Malayan Emergency to Vietnam.

(p. 29):

While [Thomas] Ricks's book [Fiasco] has been justly praised for documenting the follies and blunders of the Bush administration in Iraq, it also perpetuates the myth that there could have been a smarter way to achieve the same objective.

It isn't clear why U.S. commanders seemed so flatly ignorant of how other counterinsurgencies had been conducted successfully. The main reason seems to be a repugnance, after the fall of Saigon, for dwelling on unconventional operations. But the cost of such willful ignorance was high. "Scholars are virtually unanimous in their judgment that conventional forces often lose unconventional wars because they lack a conceptual understanding of the war they are fighting," Lt. Col. Matthew Moten, chief of military history at West Point, would comment a year later.

This assertion would come as a surprise to the many scholars of the Vietnam War and other "insurgencies" who point to the underlying political issues as the factors that decided the outcome, rather than the application of refined military techniques. Indeed, the very mantra of "winning hearts and minds" -- often cited by military proponents of counterinsurgency -- is a reflection of this key point. No U.S. strategist in Vietnam ever devised a method of "winning hearts and minds" -- and none of the counterinsurgency enthusiasts lauded by Ricks seems to have a plan for winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis under conditions of military occupation. Recall Richard Cohen's statement that "the lesson of Vietnam is that once you make the initial mistake, little you do afterward is right. If the basic policy is flawed, the best tactics in the world will not salvage it."

2. Alex Danchev: "I'm with You": Tony Blair and the Obligations of Alliance: Anglo-American Relations in Historical Perspective.

3. Wilfried Mausbach: Forlorn Superpower: European Reactions to the American Wars in Vietnam and Iraq (pp. 76-77):

To Europeans, America was anything but "at war." As Reinhard Bütikofer, political director of the German Green Party, tried to explain, "In this country, you have all these emotions that make even the word 'war' very different for Americans and Germans. America has its 'wars' against drugs and illiteracy. . . . Germans associate war with the near-total destruction of their cities and homeland." Half a year after the terrorist attacks, the German ambassador in Washington confessed that he had to constantly remind his backstops in Berlin "that the United States still considers itself to be at war," whereas "most Germans don't feel they are at war, with all the terrible connotations of destruction, defeat, and occupation" that it held for them. If Germans think of war, they think of alarms driving them into cellars and air raid shelters almost every day for three years at a time; they think of the trials of organizing the most basic needs of life in bombed-out cities among broken pipes and tons of rubble. The British think of their own ordeal under the constant threat of German bombers throughout the summer of 1940. Russians think of a murderous war that raged on their soil for almost four years, leaving behind an unfathomable scene of destruction and more than 25 million dead. The Dutch think of the echo, day in and day out, of German boots on the cobbled streets of their occupied hometowns as they were cowering behind drawn curtains. No, Europeans did not believe that Americans were "at war." At the same time, their own collective memories of war made them obtuse to the profound impact that September 11 had on the American psyche.

(pp. 78-79):

Now, however, the two countries [France and Germany] ganged up against the United States, provoking much of American media to switch into full campaign mode. A doctored front-page photo in the New York Post replaced the heads of the French and German representatives to the UN with weasel faces. In the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens described Chirac as a "positive monster of conceit" and "a rat that tried to roar." Capitol Hill cafeterias had to wipe the "French" from fries and toast on their menus. A Nashville morning talk show called for "a boycott of all things French, from Perrier to champaignes to wines and French w-h-i-n-e-s, French berets, French pastries," and made an exception for French kissing only because of Valentine's Day. Shock jocks near Atlanta offered people the chance to demolish a Peugeot for ten dollars. Even those who vented their anger in less destructive ways complained in letters to the editor about France and Germany conspiring against the United States on the global stage and about their cynical enthusiasm for supporting America's enemies. As Justin Vaïsse summed up, "In unfriendly American eyes, France is a cowardly and effete nation that never met a dictator it couldn't appease. It is immoral, venal, anti-Semitic, arrogant, insignificant, and nostalgic for past glory. It is also elitist, dirty, lazy, and it is anti-American." In light of all this, it is hardly surprising that bumper stickers appeared reading "Iraq now, France next," and that the French ambassador in Washington wondered whether the media was not conveying the impression that, in fact, this order had to be reversed.

In retrospect, this was one of the most embarrassingly stupid parts of the run up to the war -- nothing more than an infantile temper tantrum. That it happened now looks like an admission of how shaky the case for war actually was.

4. Gareth Porter: Manufacturing the Threat to Justify Aggressive War in Vietnam and Iraq (pp. 88-89):

One of the most chilling parallels between Vietnam and Iraq is the way in which the war planners deliberately created threats out of whole cloth to justify going to war. They felt they had to have a serious threat, because without it, political resistance would have been too strong, whether inside the government, outside it, or both. A comparison of the two cases underlines a common characteristic of aggressive war in a democratic system.

But the comparison also reveals both a fundamental difference in the politics of Vietnam and Iraq and an enormous difference in the sophistication and skill with which deceit and manipulation were used to ensure the necessary political support for war. The neoconservatives who engineered the United States into aggressive war on Iraq faced a much tougher task in obtaining the necessary official public compliance to open the path to war than did the national security advisers to Kennedy and Johnson on Vietnam. In the early twenty-first century there was no longer an enemy perceived to be malevolent and all-powerful, and the attentive public was no longer automatically inclined to support military force when the government called for it. But the Bush war planners were much more self-conscious, systematic, and disciplined in their approach to creating the story line they needed to go to war than the war planners of the Kennedy-Johnson era.

These differences are an indication of how much the system for waging aggressive war has evolved in the more than four decades between Vietnam and Iraq. In the end, however, it is still the commonality of the two cases that stands out. Those who were pushing for aggressive war had to conjure up a threat, because nothing in the region of interest supported a case for the use of force, and they knew it. In both the 1953-65 period of the Cold War and again in the post-Cold War era (1991-2006), the United States was overwhelmingly dominant in military terms, both globally and in the regions in question. In the 1954-62 period, China was known by U.S. policy makers to be militarily weak and was on the defensive, seeking to accommodate capitalist and even feudalist regimes in the region in the hope of containing U.S. military influence in the region, especially in East Asia. The Communist movements in Southeast Asia, except for those in Vietnam and Laos, were either small and weak or supportive of the noncommunist regime. In the Persian Gulf and the Middle East in 2001, no regional state was threatening to dominate the region.

(pp. 96-97):

Just as war in Vietnam was rooted in the determination of the U.S. national security elite to maintain the dominant power position the United States held in East Asia, the roots of the war in Iraq lie in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the United States as the sole superpower in 1991. But during the first post-Cold War decade, U.S. power in the region was far less dominant than it had been during the high tide of U.S. power in East Asia. As a result of the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. military obtained a semipermanent role in Iraq by creating no-fly zones for Saddam's forces in both the north and the south patrolled by U.S. planes based in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Beginning in 1998, these zones provided a vehicle the Clinton administration could use to carry out increasingly aggressive bombing operations against military targets in Iraq.

Nevertheless, the United States lacked permanent bases, and its access to facilities in the Gulf remained politically tenuous, given Saudi sensitivities about the U.S. military presence. And all across the region Arab governments were generally unsympathetic to U.S. policy in the Middle East -- especially its close relationship with Israel. The United States had no political-military allies in the region providing major bases from which it could project power into the rest of the region. That constrained U.S. political-military influence int he Middle East.

There was thus a wide chasm between the complete U.S. military dominance globally and its relatively limited military presence int he Persian Gulf. That gap frustrated the neoconservatives and hard-line officials from past Republican administrations who had attacked détente and advocated victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. This group of former top national security officials -- led by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, and including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith -- believed the United States had both the might and the right to pursue far more ambitious political-military objectives in the Middle East and elsewhere than the Clinton administration had done in its eight years in office.

(p. 102):

The White House began intensive planning for the "Iraq rollout" in July and determined that the best time to launch a "full-scale lobbying campaign" on the coming war was the day after Labor Day when Congress reconvened. As White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. explained to the New York Times, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." A "White House Iraq Group," which included Bush's political strategist Karl Rove, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and communications adviser Karen Hughes, began meeting in August to plan in detail how the message on Iraq would be shaped in the national media.

5. John Prados: Wise Guys, Rough Business: Iraq and the Tonkin Gulf.

6. Andrew J. Bacevich: Gulliver at Bay: The Paradox of the Imperial Presidency (pp. 128-129):

As George W. Bush's more bellicose lieutenants saw it, the principal constraints on the use of American power lay within the U.S. government itself. In a speech to Defense Department employees just a day prior to 9/11, Rumsfeld had warned of "an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America." Who was this adversary? Some evil tyrant or murderous terrorist? No, announced the secretary of defense, "the adversary's closer at home. It's the Pentagon bureaucracy."

in fact, the internal threat was by no means confined to this one bureaucracy. It encompassed much of official Washington. It included the Congress and the Supreme Court, each of which could circumscribe presidential freedom of action. It extended to the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department, which the hawks viewed as obstreperous and hidebound. It even included the senior leadership of the U.S. military, especially the unimaginative and excessively risk-averse Joint Chiefs of Staff. All of these could impede the greater assertiveness that Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz had yearned for even before September 11. In order to make headway on the foreign front, each and every one of these sources of opposition on the home front had to be neutralized.

So unleashing American might abroad implied a radical reconfiguration of power relationships at home. On this score, 9/11 came as a godsend. In its wake, citing the urgent imperatives of national security, the hawks set out to concentrate authority in their own hands. September 11, 2001, inaugurated what became in essence a rolling coup.

Nominally, the object of the exercise was to empower the commander in chief to wage his Global War on Terror. Yet with George W. Bush a president in the mold of William McKinley or Warren G. Harding -- an affable man of modest talent whose rise in national politics was attributable primarily to his perceived electability -- Cheney and his collaborators were really engaged in an effort to enhance their own clout. Bush might serve as the front man, but on matters of substance, theirs would be the decisive voices. Gordon and Trainor describe the operative model this way: "The president would preside, the vice president would guide, and the defense secretary would implement," with Wolfowitz and a handful of others, it might be added, lending the enterprise some semblance of intellectual coherence.

(p. 132):

As Rumsfeld and his disciples saw it, senior military officers (especially those in the U.S. Army) were still enamored with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force. The Powell Doctrine was rooted in an appreciation of quantity -- employing lots of tanks, lots of artillery, and lots of "boots on the ground." Rumsfeld's vision of a new American way of war emphasized quality -- relying on precise intelligence, precise weapons, and smaller numbers of troops, primarily elite special operations forces.

Implicit in the Powell Doctrine was the assumption that the wars of the future would be large, uncertain, expensive, and therefore infrequent. Implicit in Rumsfeld's thinking was the expectation that future American wars would be brief and economical, all but eliminating the political risks of opting for force. The secretary of defense believed that technology was rendering obsolete old worries about fog, friction, and chance. Why bother studying Karl von Clausewitz when "shock and awe" could make a clean sweep of things?

For Rumsfeld and his coterie, here lay the appeal of having a go at Iraq. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan had proved something of a test drive for their ideas. The secretary of defense was counting on a swift victory over Saddam to fully validate his vision and to discredit once and for all the generals who were obstructing his reforms.

So Rumsfeld was intent on having the war fought his way. In the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom he exerted himself to marginalize the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The secretary of defense had little use for professional military advice and so, in planning the war, the chiefs played essentially no role. The compliant JCS chairman, General Richard Myers, so much under Rumsfeld's thumb that he was said by Senator John McCain to be "incapable of expressing an independent view," remained an onlooker. When one member of the Joint Chiefs dared to dissent -- army General Eric Shinseki suggesting that occupying Iraq might require several hundred thousand troops -- Wolfowitz retaliated with a public rebuke and Rumsfeld pushed Shinseki into instant oblivion.

Rumsfeld's chosen military interlocutor was General Tommy Franks, commander of United States Central Command. In a best-selling memoir published after his retirement, Franks portrays himself as a folksy "good old boy" from west Texas who also happens to be a military genius. More accurately, he was Rumsfeld's useful idiot -- a coarse, not especially bright, kiss-up, kick-down martinet who mistreated his subordinates but was adept at keeping his boss happy. Franks knew that he was not really in charge, but he pretended otherwise. Appreciating the "political value in being able to stand at the Pentagon podium and say that the Bush administration was implementing the military's plan," Rumsfeld was happy to play along.

So the hawks not only got their war but got it their way. The war plan that Rumsfeld bludgeoned Franks into drafting conformed to their requirements. It envisioned a relatively small force rushing toward Baghdad at breakneck speed, swiftly toppling the Baathist regime, and just as quickly extricating itself. Underlying these expectations were three key assumptions: that the regular Iraqi army wouldn't fight, that the Iraqi people would greet arriving U.S. and British troops as liberators, and that major Iraqi institutions would survive the war intact, facilitating the rapid withdrawal of all but a small contingent of occupying forces.

In the event, these assumptions proved fallacious. When the Anglo-American attack began, the anticipated mass defection of Iraqi forces did not occur. The Iraqi army fought, albeit poorly (although some U.S. troops found even this level of opposition disconcerting). Iraqi irregulars -- the Fedayeen -- offered a spirited resistance that caught allied commanders by surprise. Meanwhile, the welcome given to allied forces as they traversed southern Iraq proved to be spotty and less than wholehearted. Worse still, when Baghdad fell, Iraq's political infrastructure collapsed, creating a vacuum and giving rise to mass disorder.

7. Christian G. Appy: Class Wars (p. 149):

One contrast between our own time and the Vietnam era is that today we are significantly less committed to curbing the worst consequences of economic and social inequality. Though the burden of fighting in Vietnam was not equally shared, and our presidents acted as if domestic life could be as unencumbered as in the most prosperous peacetime, for much of the 1960s there was at least a significant national commitment to improving the lives of poor and working people. While the social and economic reforms of the Great Society have resulted in failures as well as successes, and its funding never came close to approximating the claims of its rhetoric, it was at least partially responsible for reducing the poverty rate from 22 percent to 13 percent between 1963 to 1973. Today working people not only supply the troops who die in our name but bear the lion's share of the economic sacrifices as we wage an apparently permanent "war on terror" without so much as a slight increase in the minimum wage.

8. Elizabeth L. Hillman: The Female Shape of the All-Volunteer Force.

9. Gabriel Kolko: Familiar Foreign Policy and Familiar Wars: Vietnam, Iraq . . . Before and After.

10. Lloyd C. Gardner: Mr. Rumsfeld's War (p. 178):

Hence long before 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld's worldview encompassed a central belief in the irrationality of foreign leaders who would commit nuclear suicide by launching a missile against the United States, along with the untrustworthiness of allies or "coalitions," and the doubtful accuracy of the liberal-infested Central Intelligence Agency. To those who would call this worldview the very essence of imperial unilateralism, Rumsfeld had a ready answer -- constructing a missile shield was the only way to reassure America's allies we would be there and always willing to perform our special role as guarantor of world order because we could not be held in check by a rogue state or group brandishing a nuke. The world had been enjoying great prosperity since the Cold War, he told Congress on June 21, 2001, and the free market system spread into all corners of the world. To hesitate now in building an anti-missile system was to choose "intentional vulnerability," risking everything gained thus far and putting future expansion in jeopardy.

On SOCOM (Special Operations Command), a military unit intended by Rumsfeld as an alternative to the CIA's Operations Command (p. 190):

A big aid to Rumsfeld in planning for SOCOM was the abrupt change int eh definition of the enemy. At first President Bush referred to the 9/11 attacks as crimes, not a military action. "This is not a criminal action," Rumsfeld argued to the president, "this is war." Admirer Rowan Scarborough called the episode "Rumsfeld's instant declaration of war, and it took America from the Clinton administration's view that terrorism was a criminal matter to the Bush administration's view that terrorism was a global enemy to be destroyed." Bush issued a military order in November that characterized the 9/11 attacks as being "on a scale that has created a state of armed conflict that requires the use of the United States Armed Forces." How they would be used was up to Rumsfeld.

"If Rumsfeld gets his way," asserted one of the first assessments of the future role of SOCOM, "administration hawks may soon start using special forces to attack or undermine other regimes on Washington's hit list -- without the sort of crucial public debate that preceded the war in Iraq." Pentagon officials called SOCOM the "Secret Army of Northern Virginia," falling into ranks under Donald Rumsfeld's stern gaze. Asked to describe a scenario where the Strategic Support Branch might play a role, Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O'Connell happily obliged. "A hostile country close to our borders suddenly changes leadership. . . . We would want to make sure the successor is not hostile." Within a few weeks it emerged, in a Washington Post article, that Rumsfeld wanted his special operations forces to enter a country and conduct operations without explicit concurrence from the U.S. ambassador. In the Pentagon view, the article said, the campaign against terrorism is a war and requirse similar freedom to prosecute as in Iraq. Rumsfeld's pressure on Bush to call post-9/11 activities a "war" instead of a "criminal action" was indeed "a very big thought," and a lot had already flowed from that idea. Chief of mission authority had been a pillar of the new tension between State and Defense. "When you start eroding that, it can have repercussions that are . . . risky." Colin Powell's chief aide, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, instructed his counterterrorism coordinator, J. Cofer Black, to act as point man to thwart the Pentagon's initiative. "I gave Cofer specific instructions to dismount, kill the horses and fight on foot -- this is not going to happen."

(p. 191):

To the neocons [Ahmed] Chalabi was the "George Washington of Iraq," but the arc of his career resembled the last "George Washington" America supported, Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam. Even more than the strong-willed McNamara, who thought he understood how to fight Ho Chi Minh and learned otherwise, Donald Rumsfeld knew: his intelligence sources were good -- because he had a vision of a post-Saddam Middle East welcoming American forces, as his friend Dick Cheney assured the nation, as "liberators."

The curious mix of Hobbes and Wilson that inspired such hopes for a happy outcome of war with Iraq could be seen also in Rumsfeld's embrace of "shock and awe" as the answer tot he gradualism of the Vietnam War that conservatives blamed for the defeat. It was certainly true, as Lyndon Johnson often said, that almost until the last years of the war, and whether the public thought that going into Vietnam was a mistake or not, the prevalent dissenting opinion was not to get out but to find a quick way to win.

11. Walter LaFeber: Zelig in U.S. Foreign Relations: The Roles of China in the American Post-9/11 World (pp. 204-205):

A perceptive analysis of this pre-9/11 evolution was published in the winter of 1999-2000 by Owen Harries, editor of the National Interest, often lauded as the conservatives' most influential foreign policy journal. Harries, however, dissented sharply from many conservatives and most neoconservatives.

He began with the important axiom that describes the two-century-old U.S. involvement with the Chiense: "over the years Americans have had great difficulty thinking rationally about China. They have tended to oscillate violently between romanticizing and demonizing that country and its people." Americans, Harries claimed, saw the Chinese not in accurate historical terms but through "stereotypes" such as "China as Treasure" (that is, bottomless markets), "China as Sick Patient" (thus badly needing U.S.-style democracy and Christianity), or "China as Threat -- at one time Yellow Peril, at another Red Menace, and now, in the eyes of some very vocal and not uninfluential Americans, as rival, malevolent superpower." If China did become a truly great power, Harries warned, given these long-standing stereotypes -- upon which Americans ignorant of history would depend to provide the necessary background for their foreign policies -- "the chances of a cool, sensible American reaction cannot be rated particularly high."

(p. 212):

The Chinese economic offensive, including targeting access to oil, moved well beyond Asia into regions where the country's investors had seldom been seen, regions long dominated by American dollars. In 2004, China passed Japan to become the world's second-largest oil consumer, 6.5 million barrels a day. The United States consumed 20 million barrels daily. If the acceleration of automobile sales in China continued, by 2015 it could consume an estimated 14 million barrels each day. Since world oil production and refining capacity were already running at full tilt, it was not clear where those additional 7 million of so barrels of oil would come from each day. Saudi Arabia held the globe's largest oil reserves, and since at least 1945 it had worked closely with the United States. In early 2006, the king became the first Saudi ruler to visit China, in large part because after 2002 his nation's oil shipments to the United States had declined while they so increased to the Chinese that by 2005 Saudi Arabia was their leading source of oil. In regard to Iran, China signed a $100 billion contract to import 10 million tons of liquefied natural gas over twenty-five years, and in return took a 50 percent stake in a huge Iranian oil field -- two reasons why Beijing demonstrated little interest in cooperating with Washington to sanction Iran's nuclear program.

12. Marilyn B. Young: Counterinsurgency, Now and Forever (pp. 223-224):

In October 2003, as the insurgency gained strength, then Major General Raymond Odierno ordered the 4th Infantry Division to "increase lethality." [Lieutenant Colonel Nathan] Sassaman was apparently eager to comply: "When [he] spoke of sending his soldiers into Samarra, his eyes gleamed. 'We are going to inflict extreme violence.'" As the insurgency intensified, so did Sassaman's reprisals. In November, after one of his men had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired in the vicinity of the village of Abu Hishma, Sassaman, with the permission of his immediate superior, Colonel Frederick Rudesheim, wrapped the village in barbed wire, issued ID cards (in English), and threatened to kill anyone who tried to enter or leave without permission. In his own limited way, Sassaman used U.S. firepower as it had been used in Vietnam. In response to a single mortar round, Dexter Filkins reported, he fired "28 155-millimeter artillery shells and 42 mortar rounds. He called in two air strikes, one with a 500-pound bomb and the other with a 2,000-pound bomb." When his troops were fired on from a wheat field, Sassaman "routinely retaliated by firing phosphorus shells to burn the entire field down." Elsewhere in Iraq, the use of phosphorus shells was referred to as a "shake and bake" mission.

The results of these efforts pleased Sassaman: "We just didn't get hit after that." He did not describe, and the reporter did not ask about, the effect on the human targets. Over and over again, Sassaman met resistance of any kind with massive force, and taught his men to do likewise. Like the Vietnamese, the Iraqis, according to Sassaman and the troops under his command, understood only the language of force. In any event, it was the only language any of the Americans spoke other than English. Over the course of their tour, the men under Sassaman's command became increasingly punitive toward the Iraqis around them -- any Iraqi, all Iraqis. When a shopkeeper gave passing troops the finger, they doubled back, searched his shop, drove him to a bridge over the Tigris, and threw him in. "The next time I went back, the guy is out there waving to us," a soldier told Dexter Filkins. "Everybody got a chuckle out of that."

13. Alfred W. McCoy: Torture in the Crucible of Counterinsurgency (p. 231):

Once torture begins, its perpetrators -- reaching into that remote terrain where pain and pleasure, procreation and destruction all converge -- are often swept away by frenzies of power and potency, mastery and control. Just as interrogators are often drawn in by an empowering sense of dominance over victims, so their superiors, even at the highest level, can succumb to fantasies of torture as an all-powerful weapon. Thus, modern states that sanction torture, even in a limited way, run the risk of becoming increasingly indiscriminate in its application. When U.S. leaders have used torture to fight faceless adversaries, both communist and terrorist, its practice has spread almost uncontrollably. Only four years after the CIA compiled its 1963 manual for use against a few key Soviet counterintelligence targets, its agents were operating forty interrogation centers in South Vietnam that killed more than 20,000 suspects and tortured countless thousands more. Similarly, just a few months after the CIA used its techniques on a few "high target value" al-Qaeda suspects, the practice spread to the interrogation of hundreds of Afghans and thousands of Iraqis. In both cases, moreover, not only did torture spread, but the level of abuse escalated relentlessly beyond the scientific patina of the agency's formal psychological method to become pervasively, perversely brutal.

At the deepest level, the abuse at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and Kabul are manifestations of a long history of a distinctive U.;S. covert-warfare doctrine developed since World War II, in which psychological torture has emerged as a central albeit clandestine facet of American foreign policy. From 1950 to 1962, the CIA became involved in torture through a massive mind-control effort that reached a cost of a billion dollars annually -- a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind. After experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, electric shocks, and sensory deprivation, this work then produced a new approach to torture that was psychological, not physical, perhaps best described as "no-touch torture."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Website Maintenance

One thing I do is build and maintain websites. I mention this because I spent time today updating two of them. By far the larger is Robert Christgau's. It has over 1000 pages plus a database of 13652 Consumer Guide reviews. The update added the last three Consumer Guide columns, plus dozens of reviews for Rolling Stone, a few links for his NPR appearances, and an unpublished novella by his wife, Carola Dibbell. We've been slowly assembling Carola's work, which is still spottily represented. I really wish we could do something similar for other critics, and for that matter figure out a way to cross-index them. A few years back I conceived of a Writer's Website Toolkit project, which would be the second generation of the Christgau website software. I did some strawman designs for that, but never made much progress. I did, however, get one bite, and wound up building and maintaining a website for Carol Cooper. I added a couple of pieces to that website today.

A few years back I leased a server and put together a handful of websites using two free software toolkits: drupal (a news-oriented content management system) and serendipity (blog software). Meanwhile my own website has continued to mutate and sprawl. I still figure the next step is to build a Christgau-like site for my own music writings -- quantity no longer seems to be a gating problem. But I'm finding it hard both to get traction on that and more generally to cope. I looked for my Recycled Goods column at Static Multimedia today. They have a nice new design, but it looks like they've lost their links to my column. I don't know what this means, but I don't get much out of the association either, and I'd be happy to entertain any other ideas about where such a column (possibly formatted differently; e.g., less-CG-like) might be hosted.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sandy Tolan: The Lemon Tree

The full title of Sandy Tolan's book is The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East (2006, Bloomsbury). The Arab is Bashir Khairi, who was born into a prominent Palestinian family in al-Ramla, an Arab town that was forcibly evacuated by Israeli soldiers in 1948, its residents made to march as refugees to Ramallah, a West Bank town controlled by Jordan until 1967, when it too was occupied by Israel. The Jew is Dalia Eshkenazi, born in Bulgaria, her family emigrating to Israel in 1948, where they moved into the same house that the Khairis had been forced from. The lemon tree grew in the backyard of the house, planted by Bashir's father, a familiar bond for both. In 1967, Bashir was finally able to briefly return to al-Ramla, find his family house, and find Dalia in the house. They two people provide a prism through which Tolan tells the story of the conflict. Like everything else, the pair are not true mirrors of each other. They share a common bond, but their experiences are profoundly asymmetric. Dalia comes off as a well-reasoned member of Israel's peace block. Bashir, on the other hand, finds himself allied with militants, and spends most of the post-1967 years in jail or in exile.

The quotes hardly do justice to the book, especially to the personal aspects of the story. By focusing as he does, Tolan brings the story down to human scale, but in reducing it the story becomes one arbitrary thread among many. The book does not achieve, or even suggest, a happy ending, but then neither does history. But the point is to understand the problem, not to make it easier than it is. Dalia's Einstein quote seems to be thrown out as a challenge, not achieved in the book, but out there waiting for someone to rise to it.

I started putting these quotes together shortly after reading the book, then got sidetracked and resumed much later, leaving the later quotes rather bare. Doing a fair job would entail much re-reading, and would no doubt result in many more quotes. This is one of the best books to read on the subject. Comes with extremely meticulous notes at the end.


In 1937 Britain's Peel Commission recommended partitioning Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab regions, with the separation enforced by forced transfer. The Zionist leadership embraced those recommendations. The Arab leadership rejected them, and soon launched an armed revolt, which lasted from 1937-39 until the British crushed it. Afterwards, Britain treaded more carefully, discarding the Peel Commission recommendations and instituting policies to forestall further revolt by limiting Jewish immigration -- the change of policy was detailed in the famous "White Paper." As it turned out, 1939 was a very bad time to shut down one of the few avenues open for Jews to escape from Nazi-dominated Europe. The Zionist debate in 1937 prefigured much of the ensuing history (pp. 18-19):

The Zionist leadership accepted Lord Peel's recommendations despite internal dissension. Many Jewish leaders did not want to give up the idea of a Jewish homeland across the whole of Palestine, and some leaders even considered Transjordan,t he desert kingdom across the Jordan River, as part of an eventual Jewish state. For them, acceptance of the Peel Commission's report was a major compromise, and their disagreement reflected ideological divisions that would manifest for decades. David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Mapai Party and the most influential of the Zionists in Palestine, had argued in favor of the plan. At the core of the Peel Commission plan was the idea of transferring the Arabs, a concept that had been advanced for decades by fellow Zionists. In 1895, Theodor Herzl, founder of political Zionism, had written that in purchasing land from the indigenous Arabs for a Jewish homeland, "we shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country . . . Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly."

Forty years later, during Lord Peel's investigation, Ben-Gurion had instructed Jews who met with the commission to recommend the transfer plan. After the release of the commission's report, the Zionist leader wrote: "We have to uproot from the roots of our hearts the assumption that it is not possible. Indeed it is possible. . . . We might be losing a historical chance that won't return. The transfer cause, in my view, is more important than all our demands for additional territory . . . with the evacuation of the Arab population from the valleys, we get for the first time in our history a real Jewish state." A year later, Ben-Gurion would declare, "I support compulsory transfer." Others sympathetic to the Zionist cause had warned against such measures. Albert Einstein and Martin Buber, for example, had long advocated what Einstein called "sympathetic cooperation" between "the two great Semitic peoples," who "may have a great future in common."

The Arabs were as stunned by the Peel Commission's proposal as Ben-Gurion was excited. The Arab Higher Committee, led by the mufti of Jerusalem, promptly rejected it, not only because of the transfer plan, but because of the partition itself. The Arabs would fight for a single, independent, Arab-majority state.

The note about Buber and Einstein points out a missed opportunity to forge a compromise between Jews and Arabs in favor of a state that would respect both while rejecting British colonial rule. One thing I don't know what to what extent such an understanding may have been supported by Palestinian Arabs. In some ways it was implicit in their one-state position, which at the time would have been a little less than one-third Jewish. Such a state could even have welcomed fairly large-scale Jewish immigration without becoming majority Jewish. But two things worked against any such position: continued British rule depended on keeping Jews and Arabs in opposition, and the Zionists were overwhelmingly dominated by people like Ben-Gurion who desired a Jewish-majority state on as much land as possible with as few Arabs as possible.

At the end of the 1937-39 revolt (p. 21):

In May 1939, it appeared to some Arabs that the sacrifices of their rebellion had brought a political victory. With British forces still heavily engaged with the rebels, and with the situation in Europe creating tens of thousands of Jewish refugees, the British government released its White Paper, accepting many of the demands of the Arab Rebellion. The British agreed to strictly limit Jewish immigration and to tighten restrictions on land sales in Palestine. Most important, the White Paper called for a single independent state. Many Arabs in Palestine saw in the White Paper a practical solution to their problem. But Hajj Amin al-Husseini, speaking for the Arab Higher Committee, rejected the White Paper. His word carried the day in Arab Palestine, even though it was made from exile: the ex-mufti had fled Palestine nearly two years earlier, wanted by the British at the height of the Arab rebellion. The ex-mufti's decision was unpopular with many Palestinian Arabs, who believed they had missed an opportunity.

The new British policy marked a sharp change from the Peel Commission plan of only two years earlier. The White Paper was a major concession to the Arabs. For the Jews of Palestine, it was an abandonment of British support for a Jewish national homeland promised in the Balfour Declaration, at a time when the situation for Jews in Europe was growing more perilous. Within weeks, the Jewish paramilitary squads were attacking British forces, planting explosives in Jerusalem's central post office, and carrying out attacks on civilians in Arab souks. The White Paper, it was clear, had shaken Jewish-British relations in Palestine. "Satan himself could not have created a more distressing and horrible nightmare," David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary.

By the turn of 1940, the British authorities had finally defeated the Arab Rebellion through what they called "severe countermeasures": tens of thousands jailed, thousands killed, hundreds executed, countless houses demolished, and key leaders, including the mufti, in exile. In the cities, Arab men had taken off their keffiyehs and replaced them once again with the fez. The Palestinian national movement was deeply divided and utterly unprepared for any future conflict.

But the "single independent state" was promised some ten years in the future, and in the end was not delivered. During the White Paper period, the Zionists were able to build their militias to the point where they were able to prevail in the civil war of 1948. Britain not only did nothing to stop them; Britain furthered the partition by encouraging Transjordan to occupy the West Bank, and Britain had a hand in implementing transfer by shipping Palestinians, especially from Jaffa, as refugees to Lebanon.

Britain's strategy was lose-lose, with Jews turning on them for abandoning the Zionist dream, while keeping the Arabs in opposition by denying them any political power. Yet Britain never could abandon its colonial mentality, so they kept helping the Zionists even as they were assaulted by major acts of terrorism. Britain was so committed to divide-and-conquer rule that they never considered trying to reconcile the two groups. Nor did they consider the alternative of permitting Jewish emigration to anywhere else in Britain and its empire where it would have been much less politically charged.

(pp. 45-46):

By the end of the war in 1945, Bashir had turned three and the battle for the future of Palestine had reawakened. A quarter million Jewish refugees flooded the Allied displaced persons camps in Europe, and tens of thousands of Jews were smuggled out of the DP camps to Palestine by the Mossad, predecessor of the present-day Israeli spy agency. Most of this immigration was illegal under the British rule in Palestine. The authorities began to intercept boatloads of European Jews and intern them at Cyprus, off the coast of Lebanon. With its White Paper six years earlier, the British had imposed strict immigration limits in the face of the fears, demands, and rebellion of the Palestinian Arabs.

As the details of the atrocities in Europe began to emerge, however, the image of stateless, bedraggled Holocaust survivors in the Cyprus internment camps was seared into the mind of the Western public, and Britain was pressured to loosen its policy. U.S. president Harry Truman pressed Britain to allow one hundred thousand DPs into Palestine as soon as possible, and to abandon restrictions on land scales to Jews -- measures to increase tensions with the Arabs of Palestine. Arabs argued that the Holocaust survivors could be settled elsewhere, including in the United States, which had imposed its own limits on settlement of European Jews. The Zionists, too, were intent on settling the refugees in Palestine, not anywhere else. In February 1947, when the ship Exodus arrived in Palestine's Haifa port, British authorities refused to bend their immigration limits, denying entry to the 4,500 Jewish refugees and forcing them to board other ships and return to Germany. A French newspaper called the ships a "floating Auschwitz." The incident shocked the Western world and deepened support for the Zionist movement.

(pp. 49-50):

On the recommendation of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, the UN General Assembly had voted, thirty-three states in favor, thirteen opposed, with ten abstaining, to partition Palestine into two separate states -- one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. A UN minority report, which recommended a single state for Arabs and Jews, with a constitution respecting "human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language or religions," was rejected. [ . . . ]

The Khairis were in shock. Under the UN partition plan, their hometown of al-Ramla, along with neighboring Lydda and the coastal city of Jaffa, was to become part of an Arab Palestinian state. The plan stipulated that 54.5 percent of Palestine and more than 80-percent of its cultivated citrus and grain plantations would go to a Jewish state. Jews represented about one-third of the population and owned 7 percent of the land. Most Arabs would not accept the partition.

If the partition plan went forward, al-Ramla would lie only a few kilometers from the new Jewish state. At least, Bashir's parents thought, it could have been worse; under the UN plan, the family would not be strangers on its own land. Still, what would happen tot he Arabs in what was now to be Jewish territory? The partition would place more than four hundred thousand Arabs in the new Jewish state, making them a 45 percent minority amid half a million Jews.

The Palestinians rejected the UN Partition Plan. The Zionists saluted it, but when Israel declared independence, they did so without recognizing the UN Partition Plan borders, and immediately went on the offensive to expand its territory and to drive many Arabs into exile. Israel's offensive was to include Jaffa, al-Ramla, and Lydda.

(p. 56):

After the massacre by Irgun forces in Deir Yassin, the specter of that militia penetrating al-Ramla had city leaders in a state of near panic. They sent urgent cables to King Abdullah and to the commander of his Arab Legion, John Bagot Glubb, pleading for immediate help and invoking fears of another slaughter. One voice cried, "Our wounded are breathing their last breaths, and we cannot help them."

Abdullah, however, had received similar pleas from Arabs in Jerusalem, begging him to "save us!" and warning that Jewish forces were scaling the walls of the Old City. The king wrote Glubb that "any disaster suffered by the people of the city at the hands of the Jews, whether they are killed or driven from their homes, would have the most far reaching results for us." He ordered his commander to Jerusalem. On May 19, Glubb rolled into the Holy City to confront Israeli forces with a force of three hundred men, four antitank weapons, and a squadron of armored cars. On Arab-run Radio Jerusalem, commentator Raji Sahyoun had promised "our forthcoming redemption by the hand of Transjordan" and the "scurrying" and "collapse" of the "Haganah kids."

Abdullah's secret agreement with the Jews did not envision this fighting. It was designed to accept a Jewish state within the UN partition boundaries while the king took over the West Bank and most of the state designated for the Arabs, including al-Ramla and Lydda. Now fighting on the ground made all of this uncertain. Yet Arab Legion forces did not cross into territory allotted by the UN partition resolution to the Jewish state.

Ben Shemen served as a gateway for Moshe Dayan's assault on al-Ramla (p. 61):

The battalion was coming from Ben Shemen, the Jewish settlement just to the north. For weeks the open community with access to its Arab neighbors in Lydda had been transformed into a fortress surrounded by barbed wire and concrete pillboxes. Earlier, Dr. Ziegfried Lehman, the Ben Shemen leader, had objected to the militarization of his community. The people of Ben Shemen had purchased cows and even bullets from their Arab neighbors as recently as May. But Lehman's opposition was in vain, and he had left Ben Shemen in frustration.

(pp. 64-65):

When the Arab delegation arrived, Israeli soldiers woke up the region's civilian security chief, a man named Yisrael Galili B. (The B was to distinguish him from the other Yisrael Galili, the longtime chief of the national staff of the Haganah.) Galili B greeted the men and proceeded with Palmach troops to a small meetinghouse on the kibbutz. There they ironed out the terms of surrender: The Arabs would hand over all their weapons and accept Israeli sovereignty. "Foreigners" -- Arab fighters from outside Palestine -- would be turned over to the Israelis. All residents not of army age and unable to bear arms would be allowed to leave the city, "if they want to." Implicit in the agreement was that the residents could also choose to stay.

Galili B would soon learn that other plans were in the works for the residents of al-Ramla: "The Military Governor told me," Galili B wrote, "that he had different orders from Ben-Gurion: to evacuate Ramla." Orders to expel the residents of al-Ramla and Lydda were given in the early afternoon of July 12. The Lydda order, stating, "The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly without attention to age," was given at 1:30 P.M. by Lieutenant Colonel Yitzhak Rabin.

(p. 78):

The new Soviet support for a Jewish state meant that the Bulgarian government would back emigration of those Jews wishing to leave. Georgi Dimitrov had just returned from a meeting int he Kremlin, where Stalin had reminded him, "To help the Jews emigrate to Palestine is the decision of the United Nations." Dimitrov immediately conveyed this message to Jewish Communists who saw the UN partition vote as a defeat. "The Jewish people, for the first time in their history, are fighting like men for their rights," Dimitrov told his Jewish comrades in a Politburo meeting in March 1948. "We must admire this fight. . . . We used to be against emigration. We were actually an obstacle to it. Which made us isolated from the masses."

(pp. 83-84):

Despite the conflict, many Jewish intellectuals in Palestine had argued that Israel's long-term survival depended on finding a way to coexist with the Arabs. Moshe [Eshkenazi] was part of a Zionist organization that had advocated a binational democratic state for all the people of Palestine. The binational idea had taken root in the 1920s with the formation of Brit Shalom, or Covenant for Peace, which advocated "understanding between Jews and Arabs . . . on the basis of the absolute political equality of two culturally autonomous peoples. . . ." Part of this philosophy was based on a desire to preserve "the ethical integrity of the Zionist endeavor"; part of it was practical. Arthur Ruppin, a founder of Brit Shalom, declared, "I have no doubt that Zionism will be heading toward a catastrophe if it will not find common ground with the Arabs." The spiritual father of coexistence was Martin Buber, the great religious philosopher from Vienna, who had long advocated a binational state based in part on "the love for their homeland that the two peoples share."

(p. 89):

On August 16, Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN mediator, dispatched telegrams to fifty-three countries, appealing to them "to divert to me at Beirut . . . any such stocks" of meat, fruit, grains, or butter already on the high seas. The UN considered the situation in Palestine a "large scale human disaster." By this time, the UN estimated, more than 250,000 Arabs had "fled or have been forcibly expelled from the territories occupied by the Jews in Palestine." (Later figures would be three times the early UN estimate.) "Never have I seen a more ghastly sight than that which met my eye here, at Ramallah," Bernadotte wrote in September. "The car was literally stormed by excited masses shouting with Oriental fervor that they wanted food and wanted to return to their homes. There wer plenty of frightening faces in the sea of suffering humanity. I remember not least a group of scabby and helpless old men with tangled beards who thrust their emaciated faces into the car and held out scraps of bread that would certainly have been considered uneatable by ordinary people, but was their only food.

(pp. 95-96):

Count Bernadotte continued to advocate a division of historic Palestine between Israel and Transjordan, "in view of the historical connection and common interests of Transjordan and Palestine." Under this plan, the Khairis and other refugees would go home to al-Ramla and Lydda -- not to an independent state, as many Palestinian Arabs had fought for, but to an Arab state that would fall under the rule of Abdullah and his kingdom of Jordan. (After the war, the "Trans" was dropped and Abdullah's kingdom was known simply as Jordan.) Large parts of the Negev would be returned to the Arabs; the Jews would keep the Galilee and Haifa. The Lydda airport would be "a free airport" for all; Jerusalem, as the November 1947 UN resolution had outlined, "should be treated separately and placed under effective United Nations control." As for al-Ramla and Lydda, Bernadotte's blueprint declared that the towns "should be in Arab territory."

The mediator's proposals were based on what he saw as the political realities of the day. "A Jewish State called Israel exists in Palestine," he wrote, "and there are no sound reasons for assuming that it will not continue to do so." Bernadotte also stressed another point that would have been of great interest to Ahmad, Zakia, and the tens of thousands of refugees sleeping on the ground in Ramallah: "The right of innocent people, uprooted by the present terror and ravage of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return."

The next day, Count Folke Bernadotte was killed in the Katamon quarter of Jerusalem. An assassin walked up to Bernadotte's UN vehicle, thrust an automatic pistol through the window, and shot him at close range. Six bullets penetrated, one to his heart. A statement from the extremist Jewish militia group the Stern Gang claimed responsibility, calling UN observers "members of foreign occupation forces." David Ben-Gurion, Israel's prime minister, detained two hundred members of the Stern Gang, including one of its leaders, future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, and ordered the other extremist Jewish militia, Irgun, led by another future premier, Menachem Begin, to disband and turn over its weapons to the Israeli army. The Irgun ceased to function as a separate military unit, and Ben-Gurion's fight to consolidate the militias was now virtually complete. Begin, no longer in charge of his own militia, began to convert the Irgun into a political party, the Herut, which two decades later would form the basis of the Likud Party.

(p. 126):

Throughout 1965 and 1966, Fatah, along with a new group called Abtal al-Awda (Heroes of Return), launched dozens more attacks from the West Bank and Lebanon on mostly isolated targets inside Israel. The attacks sharply raised anxieties in the Jewish state, and, as designed, sparked tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors.l By late 1966 these attacks and the Israeli reprisals, had drawn a reluctant King Hussein deeper into the conflict, and closer to the point of no return.

Before dawn on November 13, 1966, Israeli planes, tanks, and troops attacked the West Bank village of Samu, blowing up dozens of houses and kiling twenty-one Jordanian soldiers. The invasion, especially in its massive scale, shocked even some supporters of Israel. U.S. officials immediately condemned the attack. In Washington, the head of the National Security Council, Walt Rostow, in a memo to President Johnson, declared that the "3000-man raid with tanks and planes was all out of proportion to the provocation" -- in this case, a Fatah land mine that had killed three Israeli soldiers on November 11. Rostow said of the Israelis, "They've undercut Hussein. We're spending $500 million to shore him up as a stabilizing factor. . . . It makes even the moderate Arabs feel fatalistically that there is nothing they can do to get along with the Israelis no matter how hard they try. It will place heavy domestic and external political strain on King Hussein's regime. . . ."

(p. 140):

On the morning of Wednesday, June 7, Bashir and his family woke up to a city under military occupation. Israeli soldiers in jeeps were shouting through bullhorns, demanding that white flags be hung outside houses, shops, and apartment buildings; already balconies and windows fluttered with T-shirts and handkerchiefs.

Bashir was in shock from the surreal and the familiar. Another retreating Jordanian army had been replaced by another occupying Israeli force. In 1948, Bashir thought, we lost 78 percent of our land. And now all of Palestine is under occupation. The taste was bitter and humiliating. Not only did the Israelis capture and occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, they now held the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps most shocking of all was that East Jerusalem, and the Old City with its holy sites, was now in the hands of the Israelis.

(p. 161):

"Okay, Bashir, I live in your home," Dalia said finally. "And this is also my home. It is the only home I know. So, what shall we do?"

"You can go back where you came from," Bashir said calmly.

Dalia felt as if Bashir had dropped a bomb. She wanted to scream, though as his guest she knew she couldn't. She forced herself to listen.

"We believe that only those who came here before 1917" -- the year of the Balfour Declaration and the beginning of the British Mandate in Palestine -- "have a right to be here. But anyone who came after 1917," Bashir said, "cannot stay."

Dalia was astounded at the audacity of Bashir's solution. "Well, since I was born and came here after 1917, that is no solution for me!" she said with an incredulous laugh. She was struck by the total contradiction of her situation: complete disagreement across a seemingly unbridgeable gulf, combined with the establishment of a bond through a common history, in a house where she felt utterly protected and welcomed. At the base of it all, Dalia felt the depth of the Khairis' gratitude for her having simply opened the door to the house in Ramla. "And this was an amazing situation to be in," she remembered. "That everybody could feel the warmth and the reality of our people meeting, meeting the other, and it was real, it was happening, and we were admiring each other's being, so to speak. And it was so tangible. And on the other hand, we were conversing of things that seemed totally mutually exclusive. That my life here is at their expense, and if they want to realize their dream, it's at my expense.

(pp. 211-212):

Dalia, flat on her back in her hospital bed, followed the debate with her eyes. She was struck that Ghiath could not understand her people's longing for the ancient homeland.

"But they were not born here," Ghiath protested. "For example, my Jewish friend, Avraham, he and his father and his forefathers were born here. Their family is from Jaffa. He is a true Palestinian."

So that means, Dalia thought, that I'm not?

"It's a different kind of self-understanding," countered Yehezkel, the religious scholar. "What are you going to do about that? Why do you think Israelis are afraid of you? We are not as afraid of the entire Syrian army with all its weaponry as we are of you. Why do you think that is?"

Ghiath looked at Yehezkel in amazement. Nuha and Dalia remained silent as Yehezkel continued: "Because you are theonly ones who have a legitimate grievance against us. And deep down, even those who deny it know it. That makes us very uncomfortable and uneasy in dealing with you. Because our homes are your homes, you become a real threat."

"Why can't we all live in the same state, rogether in peace?" said Ghiath. "Why do we need two states?"

"Then you think you would be able to go back to your father's house?" Yehezkel asked.

Dalia shifted in her bed. "And what would happen to the people already living in those houses?" she asked.

"They will build new homes for them," Ghiath replied.

"You mean," Dalia said, "they will be evacuated for you to return to your original homes? I hope you can understand why Israelis are afraid of you. Israel will do everything to prevent the implementation of these dreams. Even under a peace plan you will not return to your original homes."

"What do we want? Only our rights and to live in peace."

"Justice for you is receiving back what you lost in 1948. But that justice will be at the expense of other people." [ . . . ]

Dalia said, "I'm not going to explain to you what the yearning for Zion means to us. I will just say that because you see us as strangers in this land, that is why we are afraid of you. You should not think that I myself am free of fear. I have a good reason to be afraid: The Palestinian people as a collective have not accepted the Jewish home in this land. Most of you still consider us a cancerous presence among you. I struggle for your rights despite my fears. But your rights have to be balanced against our needs for survival. That is why you cannot be satisfied. For you, every viable solution will always be lacking in justice. In a peace plan, everybody will have to do with less than they deserve."

(pp. 226-228):

Bashir's first days back in Ramallah were bittersweet. Arafat's embrace of Oslo, together with his pledge to control "terrorism and other forms of violence," had begun to pit the champion of Palestinian liberation against the disparate Palestinian factions that had grown increasingly unsettled about Oslo. To them, accepting Oslo represented a surrender of 78 percent of historic Palestine; even the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which represented the other 22 percent, Israel didn't seem prepared to hand over. Already the Israeli government had announced plans for thousands of new housing units in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians envisioned as their capital, and Israeli construction crews were building new "bypass" roads to better facilitate the travel of settlers from the West Bank to Israel. These plans were being undertaken within the Oslo framework, and many Palestinians worried that the new facts on the ground would permanently alter their chances for a viable, sovereign state. These fears were made more acute with the sudden surge in political violence and assassination, which had begun less than six months after the famous handshake on the White House lawn. [ . . . ]

Arafat condemned each suicide attack and, under pressure from Israel and the United States, ordered the arrest of suspected members of militant groups. Hundreds of young Palestinian men were in Palestinian jails, many by order of a secret Palestinian military court for state security established under the Oslo framework. In the first year of the court, several men died during interrogations; many Palestinians accused Arafat of doing the dirty work for Israel. The chairman responded to criticism by closing several newspapers and detaining prominent Palestinian human rights advocates. Edward Said, the Columbia University professor and leading Palestinian intellectual, wrote that "Arafat and his Palestinian Authority have become a sort of Vichy government for Palestinians."

Anger at Arafat deepened as he began granting favors to loyalists who had come with him from Tunis. The chairman himself continued to live modestly, but some of his longtime cohorts in exile built mansions in Gaza, all the more striking for their juxtapostion against the squalor of the refugee camps on one of the most crowded places on earth. One of the mansions, estimated to cost $2 million, was built for Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, who would later succeed Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians. "This is your reward for selling Palestine," a graffiti artist scrawled on the mansion stones. The poor of the refugee camps, whose young men formed the basis of the resistance to Israeli rule and whose casualties during the intifada numbered in the thousands, now chafed under the rule of the elite of Tunis. "Every revolution has its fighters, thinkers, and profiteers," one Gazan would say. "Our fighters have been killed, our thinkers assassinated, and all we have left are the profiteers."

Bashir Khairi is arrested on suspicion of being involved with George Habash's PFLP (pp. 167-168):

Bashir Khairi sat in a three-by-five-foot cell with stone walls, iron bars, and a low-watt bulb dangling from the ceiling. He slept on the cement floor, and for six nights he lay in the dark, shivering without bedcovers. Since his incarceration at Sarafand prison -- the old British lockup close to al-Ramla -- Bashir had developed a high fever and chills; on the seventh day, Bashir remembered decades later, his Israeli jailers brought him a blanket.

"In the interrogation room at Sarafand," Bashir recounted, "there was a chair and a table, and on the table was a black shabbah," a hood. "You put the hood over your head, and they beat you. They beat me on the hands, they choked me with the hood on. Other times they would chain my hands and legs, blindfold me, and unleash the dogs. The dogs would jump on me and pin me back against the wall. I could feel their breath on my neck." Bashir believed the interrogations were conducted by agents of the General Security Services, or Shin Bet. He would recall the men with a precision and seeming calm of someone remembering a trip to the store the day before. "Their faces," Bashir would say quietly. "To this day I remember exactly their faces."

After the interrogations came psychological operations. "In my cell," he said, "I would hear shots, and then someone screaming. Then the guards would arrive and bring me outside and show me a hole, and say, 'If you don't cooperate, this is where you'll end up.' Then I would be back in my cell, hearing shooting and screaming. You'd think: They're killing the people who don't confess." The Israeli interrogators wanted Bashir to admit to having played a role in the supermarket bombing and to describe the internal operations of the PFLP so they could put an end to the El Al hijackings. The young lawyer admitted nothing. He refused to confirm any association with the Popular Front. Consequently, he said, the beatings, dog attacks, and psy-ops continued.

This kind of treatment was not exceptional. In 1969, the year Bashir was arrested, little was known outside of the Shin Bet about Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners. In 1974, the Israeli human rights lawyer Felicia Langer published a memoir, With My Own Eyes, detailing her interviews with prisoners who had endured an "ordeal of beatings and humiliation." She described prisoners who showed evidence of blows to the head, hands, and legs; who told of being punched in the face while blindfolded; who arrived for jailhouse interviews in bloodstained shirts; who described hanging from a wall by handcuffs tied to iron bars; who reported interrogations with "electricity and sticks"; whose feet and hands were bound until they bled.

In one case, Langer wrote, a fifty-two-year-old man with a respiratory disease was interrogated naked, and "his hands were tied behind his back; a rope was tied on to his hands too,a nd he was lifted in the air thus. His interrogators beat him also now, and after each beating they rodered him to talk, and since he had nothing to say they went on beating him." Langer also described one prisoner, "blue from the beatings," who died, the authorities claimed, after "he had stumbled and fell down a staircase."

On one of her jailhouse visits, probably int he spring of 1969, Felicia Langer met Bashir. She would remember a pale man with large eyes who seemed "barely alive." "They beat me very badly," Langer recalls Bashir telling her, "until I was barely able to stand up."

(p. 246):

The next day, Prime Minister Sharon ordered Israeli troops back into Bethlehem, where they reoccupied the city, imposed a military lockdown, conducted house-to-house arrests, and blew up five homes, including the house where [suicide bomber] Nael Abu Hilail had lived with his parents and slblings. Sine Sharon had come to power less than two years earlier on a pledge to increase Israelis' security, bombers had struck Israel nearly sixty times; this was nearly twice the number of attacks of the previous seven years. Sharon's spokesman blamed Arafat and the Palestinian Authority for the attacks, saying that "all our efforts to hand over areas, and all the talk about a possible cease-fire, that was all window dressing because on the ground there was a continuous effort to carry out as many terrorist activities as possible."

(pp. 260-261):

Bashir believed "it's the strong who create history," but his years in prison and in exile had helped forge a longer-range view. "We are weak today," he said. "But we won't stay this way. Palestinians are stones in a riverbed. We won't be washed away. The Palestinians are not the Indians. It is the opposite: Our numbers are increasing. [ . . . ]

Dalis has long believed in Einstein's words -- that "no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." For Dalia, the key to coexistence lay in what she called "the three A's": acknowledgment of what had happened to the Palestinians in 1948, apology for it, and amends. Acknowledgment was, in part, to "see and own the pain that I or my people have inflicted on the Other." But she believed this must be mutual -- that Bashir must also see the Israeli Other -- lest "one perpetuate the righteous victim syndrome and not take responsibility for one's own part in the fray." Through this acknowledgment, she and Bashir could act "as mirrors through which our own redemption can eventually grow." As for amends: "It means that we do the best we can under the circumstances towards those we have wronged." But for Dalia this could not involve a mass return of refugees. Yes, she believed, the Palestinians have the right of return, but it is not a right that can be fully implemented, because the return of millions of Palestinians would effectively mean the end of Israel.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Music: Current count 13753 [13725] rated (+28), 812 [818] unrated (-6). Another week. They go by in a blur, and my recollection of this one seems particularly spotty. Still waiting for Recycled Goods to go through its edit/posting phase. Played some old records. Did some jazz prospecting. Spent a day playing the Jimmy Reed that turns out I had previously rated. (Came to same conclusion: A-.)

  • Sonic Youth (1981 [2006], Geffen): Their first record, a 5-track EP, expanded to hour-length with 1981 live shots; no songs to speak of, few vocals, mostly guitar, their notorious noise tunings drilled home through repetition; in retrospect this is transitional from Glenn Branca's avant no wave to the sound they wound up with, and if anything gains from its conceptual bareness. B+(***)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 6)

Despite some distractions, still worked through a fair amount of jazz prospecting this week, although I also spent some time working on Recycled Goods. The November column is still stuck in limbo, done but not posted. Next week should be more of the same, although I should start addressing the replay shelves -- they're starting to fill up -- and start winding up the cycle. It would be nice to get Jazz CG done by the end of November, and get it published by year-end. December's Recycled Goods column is filling up. By the end of the year, I expect to reach two minor milestones: 15 Jazz Consumer Guides, and 50 Recycled Goods. Don't know about 2008. I'm feeling dead tired at the moment, making pitiful progress on all other projects. I've even started getting letters wondering about the Christgau website -- currently three Consumer Guides out of date. I'll get that updated later this week, but that's a relatively easy one.


Michael Camacho: Just for You (2003-04 [2007], New Found): Vocalist. Has a distinctive voice, soft and silky, which occasionally impresses but I don't find all that appealing. First album, Don't know anything more about him. Album appears to have been originally released in 2006 on CAP, then reissued on New Found Records -- cover is changed, but songs look to be the same. Five originals, plus standards including some basic rock ballads ("Norwegian Wood," "Spanish Harlem"). B-

Champian Fulton with David Berger & the Sultans of Swing: Champian (2007, Such Sweet Thunder): Singer, plays piano on two tracks, would probably play more but not much point in front of a big band. Born 1985, grew up in Norman OK, then Le Mars IA, then back to Norman. Father plays trumpet, became director of Clark Terry Institute for Jazz Studies -- Terry was a household guest early on, a world-class education in itself. She graduated from SUNY Purchase, moved to New York, sings with Berger's big band. The Berger band always seemed better in theory than in practice, and are still little more than perfunctory here, but Fulton fits in nicely and brightens them up -- good examples are "He Ain't Got Rhythm" and "Just One of Those Things." B+(*)

Stacey Kent: Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007, Blue Note): Vocalist, originally from New Jersey, studied comparative lit at Sarah Lawrence in New York, and took her degree to England, where she married saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and stepped into what's evidently a very successful singing career. Looks like she has ten records since 1997. This is the first I've heard, and it's sent me up and down. She has an attractive voice, thin, clear, with nary a hint of the mannerisms so many jazz singers cultivate. The settings are spare, mostly keyed off the guitar, with Tomlinson's sax mostly limited to breaks. Two covers -- "Hard-Hearted Hannah" and "What a Wonderful World" -- are exceptionally reserved. Four songs have lyrics by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. Three songs are in French -- the first two especially beguiling. Penguin Guide: "Problem is, the singer has simply repeated the formula across each subsequent record, and given her temperate approach they've taken on a soundalike quality." SFFR. [B+(**)]

The Very Best of Diana Krall (1995-2006 [2007], Verve): The most successful jazz vocalist of her generation, her precise, practiced control of nuance is evident in every note, sometimes so conspicuously that she stretches slow songs out to imponderable lengths. Still, she has no hit parade, no canon -- the selection here seems arbitrary, favoring her least graceful albums making the songs seem unnecessarily difficult. I imagine that other selections are equally viable -- had I started from scratch to make up my own mix tape, I doubt I would have picked as many as two of these songs. B+(**)

New York Voices: A Day Like This (2007, MCG Jazz): Vocal group, obviously. They formed in 1987 with original members Darmon Meader, Peter Eldridge, and Kim Nazarian still together, and Lauren Kinhan since 1992. Meader also plays tenor sax, and Eldridge piano. This is their tenth album, including featured appearances with the Basie Orchestra, Paquito D'Rivera, and something involving chants. It is the first I've heard, and hopefully the last. Dynamically they borrow from vocalese, but they lay it on much thicker, with nothing that suggests humor. C-

Stanley Clarke: The Toys of Men (2007, Heads Up): Bassist, mostly electric although he plays a good deal of acoustic here, as well as variants like piccolo bass and tenor bass. From Philadelphia. Made a big splash in the early 1970s (his own early 20s) with Return to Forever and on his own, but his crossover never carried much critical weight -- one result being that this is the first of his 30-some records I've heard. (Of course, I have heard other records he's played on -- AMG's list runs to four pages.) This one is an odd mix of things. The six-part title suite would be overblown arena jazz if such a thing existed. But there are also solo bass pieces (acoustic, no less), funk drums duos, keyb and guitar trios, a vocal piece with Esperanza Spalding writing and singing. Most of it is quite listenable, but I don't quite see how it adds up. B

The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Guys and Dolls (2007, Arbors): Francis Davis beat me to this in the Voice -- it seems to have slipped through the random post office filter, so I had to request a copy. For once, Davis likes an Allen album better than I do. The reason almost certainly is Frank Loesser, whose "Guys and Dolls" I've never felt any connection to. I do have a 1992 RCA CD of a Broadway revival, dutifully purchased following Robert Christgau's recommendation. Played it once or twice, got nothing, shelved it. I should probably dig it out for reference here. The quartet is often wonderful here, with Cohn's light guitar enjoying the rhythm more than Allen's luscious tenor sax. But most cuts come with vocals, with Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson in the key roles. Neither are as sharp or shrill as I recall the musical, which may be an improvement but if so is one that calls the whole project into question. No urgency on this. [B+(**)]

Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (2006 [2007], Arbors): Clarinetist, b. 1974 Long Beach CA, headed for New Orleans, stopping for a three-year stretch in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Previous albums include two volumes of Clarinet Road: The Road to New Orleans; The Ragpickers -- half Tony Parenti in 1949, half Christopher in 2002; a Jazz Traditions Project Live at the Meridien. He dedicates this album to Lorenzo Tio Jr. (1893-1933) -- "the father of the New Orleans clarinet style and the early teacher of many of the greatest clarinetists who came from New Orleans" -- but he works the broader tradition, starting with a Parenti piece, adding originals, and checking out New Orleans nods from Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. Quartet, with Dick Hyman on piano, although he's far less interesting than the clarinet. [B+(***)]

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck: The Enchantment (2007, Concord): Duets, about half from each artist's catalog. The banjo often merges into the piano, producing something like a harpsichord sound, and giving the whole affair a baroque cast -- not as rigid rhythmically, of course. B- [advance]

Jamie Fox: When I Get Home (2006 [2007], Rare Cat): Guitarist, from California. First album. Doesn't look to be all that young. Brief bio on website suggests a checkered career: "played lead guitar and served as Musical Director for the Joan Baez World Tour (1989-1991), . . . was lead guitarist for Blood, Sweat, & Tears (1998-2000), touring the USA and Canada." Not being much of a guitar buff, I could go up or down on his attractive mainstream guitar, but he put together a pretty good band -- four (out of five) names I recognize, the best known being pianist Kenny Werner, the most impressive saxophonist Dan Willis. His work here reminds me that I still owe Willis an honorable mention for Velvet Gentlemen. B+(*)

Bernie Kenerson: Just You & Me (2007, Bernup): Subtitled "The Art of the EWI" -- promised as the first of a number of volumes exploring the Akai EWI 4000s electronic wind instrument; i.e., a synthesizer you control by blowing into. EWI's show up on some smooth jazz records, but not often otherwise. (Sanity check: fgrep through my notebook produces: Michael Brecker, Felipe LaMoglia [w/Ignacio Berroa], Bob Mintzer, Jørgen Munkeby [Shining], Steve Tavaglione [Jing Chi], Andre Ward. That strikes me as short on the smooth side, but my note-taking isn't always up to snuff there.) Problem is that Kenerson doesn't push the instrument very far. He describes himself as "a child of funk and fusion," cites Brecker as his favorite musician, and picks Mintzer's Yellowjackets as his favorite band. Backed with keybs, bass and percussion, Kenerson mostly sticks with harmless funk and a bit of space atmosphere here. The EWI ranges from flute to sanitized alto sax tones -- it's not the problem, but not the solution either. B

Daniel Smith: The Swingin' Bassoon (2004 [2007], Zah Zah): Plays bassoon, obviously. Born 1939, has a reputation in classical music, including a 6-CD set of 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos. Over the years he's tried a lot of unconventional things with bassoon -- English folk songs, Scott Joplin rags, a Jazz Suite for Bassoon -- and now bebop, with this record the follow-up to last year's Bebop Bassoon (also Zah Zah). Listening to things like "Scrapple From the Apple" and "St. Thomas" makes it pretty clear why jazz musicians favor saxophones over bassoon: it just doesn't have the speed, clarity, nuance, and power that we're used to. The band's a quartet, and Martin Bejerano's piano sounds like the real thing. B-

Josh Nelson: Let It Go (2007, Native Language): Young (28?) pianist, born in Long Beach, attended Berklee, now based in Los Angeles. Cites Bill Cunliffe and Alan Pasqua as mentors. Looks like his second album, after Anticipation (2004). Seems to me that the label specializes in pop-jazz -- I don't normally get their records -- but this is thoughtful, smartly composed and arranged postbop. (Nelson's lists Rhodes and Hammond C3 among his credits, but acoustic piano dominates.) Much of the credit goes to a first-rate band: Seamus Blake on tenor sax, Anthony Wilson on guitar, Derek Oleskiewicz on bass, Matt Wilson on drums. Two cuts add a string quartet -- one also pitching singer Sara Gazarek. She's unnecessary here, but not unfortunate. (Evidently Nelson also runs a promo company, and she's a client, as well as a label-mate.) [B+(***)]

Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra: Invitation (2007, Pacific Coast Jazz): Listed in the credits as Dr. Bruce Eskovitz. Got his Ph.D. at University of Southern California. Don't know how old he is, but he's got some grey in the beard and a discography that goes back to 1992, or maybe to 1983. Plays saxophone, mostly tenor, some soprano, some alto flute. AMG describes his early records as "crossover," but he turned around and did a Rollins tribute (One for Newk) in 1993. This is a 10-piece big band -- not huge in terms of numbers, but they play loud -- one of several things I like about them. Another is a choice cut called "Latin Fever" which Eskovitz wrote as a classroom salsa intro but kept in the book because it's "always a crowd pleaser." Reminds me of Gillespie's big band. Finally, I like it when the saxophonist takes center stage and cuts loose. Not a lot of finesse here. Maybe the academy isn't so stuffy after all. B+(**)

Sean Jones: Kaleidoscope (2007, Mack Avenue): Trumpet player, b. 1978 in Warren OH. Fourth album, quite a few side dates, mostly with labelmates but he can also point to some notable big band work (Brad Leali, Gerald Wilson). Never got a final copy of this; for that matter, got an advance but no final of his previous Roots, which I never got to (but may be around here somewhere). This one is meant to showcase vocalists. Don't know who sings what, but the vocalists are: Kim Burrell, Gretchen Parlato, Carolyn Perteete, Sachal Vasandani, JD Walter. Most have a gospel vibe, and none strike me as the least bit interesting. But the trumpet does shine behind them, and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III breaks loose some tough runs. Maybe I should find the old promo? C+ [advance]

Sean Jones: Roots (2006, Mack Avenue): This one was released in Sept. 2006. Again, all I have is the advance. On the back it says: "Sean Jones and Roots take you from the church, to the dance hall, and through the night clubs of New Orleans." Actually, they start with "Children's Hymn" and end with "John 3:16" and "I Need Thee," stopping at "Come Sunday" and "Lift Every Voice" and similar fare along the way -- maybe Brad Leali's "Puddin' Time" counts as a change of pace? (Sounds like it.) Jones is a bright, energetic trumpet player, but he rarely picks the music to show that off. The saxophonist has some good moments; evidently that's Tia Fuller. B

Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits: In Case You Missed It (2006 [2007], Jazzheads): Drummer, percussionist, originally from Venezuela, moving to US in 1987, studying in Philadelphia, then New York. Brother of pianist Edward Simon and trumpeter Michael Simon, both present here. No idea what the band name signifies, but the music has a deep Afro-Cuban vibe, with bata drums on several cuts, Roberto Quintero's congas on more. Three cuts add a string quartet, more for color than anything else. The horns are lively, with Alex Norris playing trumpet, Peter Brainin sax, mostly tenor. B+(*)

Steve Kuhn/Steve Swallow: Two by Two (1995 [2007], Owl/Sunnyside): Piano/electric bass, two longtime masters, trading songbooks as well as lines. Played it with pleasure three times and have no idea of how to write about it: intimate, understated, seductive, but too respectful to shake much of anything loose. B+(*)

Linda Sharrock/Eric Watson: Listen to the Night (1994 [2007], Owl/Sunnyside): Singer, married to guitarist Sonny Sharrock, who featured her on his 1969 album Black Woman -- as I recall, she appeared as something of a banshee, a limited role on a good album with some tremendous avant power riffing. They did two more albums together -- haven't heard either -- then divorced in 1978. She moved to Austria, popping up on the occasional Wolfgang Pushnig album; also appeared with the Korean group Samul Nori. On the other hand, this is a quite conventional jazz vocal album, with Watson's attentive piano the only backing, and Sharrock's rich, dusky voice fit securely in a line that extends from Sarah Vaughan to Cassandra Wilson. Three originals are hit and miss, but the lead-off "Lover Man" is especially striking, a choice cut. B+(**)

Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven (1978 [2007], Uptown): Two of the better bebop trombonists to follow in JJ Johnson's wake. Both came up in big band, notably playing with Stan Kenton at different points. The group here includes Elmer Gill on piano, Torban Oxbol on bass, and George Ursan on drums. It was recorded live in Vancouver a few months before Rosolino's tragic death -- he shot his two young sons, killing one, blinding the other, then killed himself. Fontana recorded less frequently as a leader, but has if anything the stronger reputation. The two trombone leads are delightful on a mixed bag of swing and bop standards. B+(**)

Jay Azzolina: Local Dialect (2007, Garagista): Guitarist, b. 1952, studied at Berklee, got an MFA at Conservatory of Music at Purchase NY. Played with Spyro Gyra, John Patitucci (present here), Tim Ries (also here) Rolling Stones Project, plus various popstars and mainstream jazzers. Third album, with Ries' sax and flute, Scott Wendholt's trumpet, Mike Davis' trombone, Larry Goldings' organ, Patitucci's bass, Greg Hutchinson's drums, a few others scattered abouts. Regarded as a fusion guitarist. I'm not so sure, but he does force the rhythm in uninteresting directions, and nothing else appeals enough to sort out. B-

François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Kathmandu (2006 [2007], FMR): Alto saxophonist and drummer, respectively, both from Quebec. They've played in a trio for much of the decade, but here, recording live in Nepal, it's just the two of them. Carrier's become one of my favorite players -- clear, liquid, almost always on edge. Lambert plays free and can mix it up. Basically what I expected, but I'll have to give it a closer listen later. [B+(***)]

Gebhard Ullman: New Basement Research (2005-06 [2007], Soul Note): German, b. 1957, plays tenor sax and bass clarinet here, soprano sax and various flutes elsewhere. Claims 40 albums as leader/co-leader going back to 1985. This is the fifth I've heard, all in the last 2-3 years. The title refers back to a 1995 two-horn album he did with Ellery Eskelin. This time he's escalated to three horns, with Julian Argüelles on soprano and baritone sax and Steve Swell on trombone. The sound is loud, discordant, boisterous. I found it to be fun, but Laura made a point of how much she hated it, and I have to admit that it's unlikely to travel well, or to convince anyone lacking commitment to old-fashioned free jazz. B+(*)


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.


Unpacking:

  • Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the World (Palmetto): advance, Jan. 22
  • Marcos Ariel: 4 Friends (Tenure)
  • Bachata Roja: Acoustic Bachata From the Cabaret Era (IASO)
  • Richard Cole: Shade (Origin)
  • The Cool Season: An Origin Records Holiday Collection, Vol. 2 (Origin)
  • Brent Jensen: One More Mile (Origin)
  • Mörglbl: Grötesk (The Laser's Edge)
  • Louise Rogers: Come Ready and See Me (Rilo): Feb. 1
  • Barbara Rosene and Her New Yorkers: It Was Only a Sun Shower (Stomp Off)
  • Ken Serio: Live . . . in the Moment (Tripping Tree Music, 2CD): Jan. 22
  • Yerba Buena Stompers: Dawn Club Favorites (2001, Stomp Off)
  • Yerba Buena Stompers: Barbary Coast Favorites (2001, Stomp Off)
  • Yerba Buena Stompers: New Orleans Favorites (2002, Stomp Off)
  • Yerba Buena Stompers: San Diego Favorites 2002-2003 (Diamondstack)
  • Yerba Buena Stompers: San Francisco Bay Blues (2005, Stomp Off)
  • Yerba Buena Stompers: Duff Campbell's Revenge (2005, Diamondstack)
  • Yerba Buena Stompers: The Yama-Yama Man (2007, Stomp Off)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Weekend Roundup

Tom Engelhardt: Thoughts on Getting to the March. One of the differences between the Vietnam and Iraq wars is the declining trajectory of antiwar protests today. Engelhardt reflects on this, but by the time he gets to the point I had already gotten there. Protests against the Vietnam war increased because people on both sides of the issue saw them as a legitimate democratic process. Engelhardt writes:

By and large, the demonstrators of that moment not only believed that Washington should listen, but when, for instance, they chanted angrily, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?", that President Lyndon Baines Johnson would be lisening. (And, in fact, he was. He called it "that horrible song.")

Now, that such demonstrations seem pointless is as much as anything a loss of faith not just in the current leadership but in the democratic process as a whole. This has occurred at several levels, starting with the inordinate focus on money in influencing political decision-making. There's also an ideological prophylactic which roughly translates as "war's too important to let the people have any say about it." Iraq is a whole textbook on that theme, designed as it was to marginalize and forget the 500,000 antiwar citizens who marched on Feb. 15, 2003 in New York plus millions elsewhere -- a standard which if innefectual left the movement nowhere to go.

Michael Schwartz: Iraq Policy Floating on a Sea of Oil. In rehearsing the history of America's oil diplomacy, Schwartz misses one thing that I think is key: the extent to which America's expertise in world affairs before WWII was limited to business interests. For every US government employee abroad there must have been at least 10 businessfolk (and probably 2-3 missionaries). One consequence of this is that business interests were able to lead state (presumably public) interests -- in fact, it took little more than a red scare to push the state's buttons. That oil is considered a "national interest" is a residue of this confusion, a good part of the problem the difficulty officials have in distinguishing the interests of consumers and oil companies -- rather incredible given how cleanly they break on the question of price, don't you think? The upshot of this is that the Iraq war was incredibly stupid for US consumers, who are paying at least twice as much now as they would with Saddam's Iraq free to sell to the market. On the other hand, for the oil companies the war was a win-win proposition: either they capture much needed new resources or at least they squeeze the market and profit from the price rise. The odd thing is that it's never clear who's leading whom around: do the oil companies want the war? or is oil just an angle for the warmongers to get their way (in which case the oil companies are just going along for the ride, hoping to keep in good grace)? Same thing can be said for Israel's relationship to the Iraq war: most likely they didn't need or or even particularly want it, but they went along with it, figuring it kept their alliances intact.

Tony Karon: Give Fareed Zakaria a Medal! You know, the much threatened war with Iran is boring. That's mostly because it's locked in the jaws of interminable contradiction: on the one hand, it's clear that launching such a war would be an act not just of political stupidity but of outright insanity; on the other hand, the people with their fingers on the triggers are certainly stupid and quite possibly insane. So it's impossible to dismiss their threats as mere bluster or taunting, but it's exhausting to have to deal with them afresh each time. At least, I'm not the sort of person who suffers idiots kindly. So it's good that Zakaria has put himself into this debate. That he went along with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may cut him some cred in Washington that people who were right all along don't seem to have.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Studs Terkel: "The Good War"

I picked up Studs Terkel's "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II (1984; paperback, New Press) after watching Ken Burns' The War, although I had bought a copy a year or so earlier. I felt like I wanted to get some sense of what the war felt like to those who lived through it. In particular, I felt that coming out of discussions with my aunt, Freda Bureman. Her husband, my uncle Allen, died in a car wreck when I was a small child, but he had served in the navy for much of the war, seeing considerable action in the Pacific. Allen was only one of many in my family involved in that war: my father and two of his brothers were in the army, one shot and partially disabled in Italy; several cousins on my mother's side were also involved, one in particular winding up as a guard at the Tokyo war crimes trials. Of course, others in the family lived through the war -- my mother and one of her sisters worked in airplane factories here in Wichita. I was born in 1950, so for me the war was fresh history, but not experience. Vietnam was experience for me, and that recast everything.

The more I learn and think about World War II, the more clear it becomes what a profound shock the war was to the path of American history. It changed how we thought of ourselves and how we thought of the world, and while victory in the war was certainly better than defeat would have been, the changes it wrought weren't necessarily for the better. With victory came an extraordinary arrogance which we still suffer from -- and for that matter make the world suffer with us. It led to a romance of war that we haven't shook off even though none of the many wars the US has engaged in have been anywhere near as satisfying. The quotes I pulled from Terkel's book reflect my concerns. It's a long book, 589 pages, and fascinating. It even goes beyond the Americans-only approach Burns is limited to, although only on occasion.


In the book, short intros by Terkel are in italics. Anything not in italics is a quote from the interview, listed at the start of each quote.

John Garcia, a dock worker at Pearl Harbor (p. 20):

There was so much excitement and confusion. Some of our sailors were shooting five-inch guns at the Japanese planes. You just cannot down a plane with a five-inch shell. They were landing in Honolulu, the unexploding naval shells. They have a ten-mile range. They hurt and killed a lot of people in the city.

When I came back after the third day, they told me that a shell had hit the house of my girl. We had been going together for, oh, about three years. Her house was a few blocks from my place. At the time, they said it was a Japanese bomb. Later we learned it was an American shell. She was killed. She was preparing for church at the time.

Robert Rasmus (p. 47):

We were aware that the Russians had taken enormous losses on the eastern front, that they really had broken the back of the German army. We would have been in for infinitely worse casualties and misery had it not been for them. We were well disposed toward them. I remember saying if we happen to link up with 'em, I wouldn't hesitate to kiss 'em.

Robert Lekachman (pp. 67-68):

Unlike Vietnam, it wasn't just working-class kids doing the fighting. You go to college faculty clubs today and on the walls are long lists of graduates who died in the Second World War. It was the last time that most Americans thought they were innocent and good, without qualifications.

There were black marketeers on the home front, people who were, as usual, hustling for themselves. But most Americans at home did observe price controls and rationing. Soldiers who came home on leave were treated with respect by the folks, unlike the Vietnam veterans. They bought war bonds: Buy yourself a tank. It was an idealistic war. People still believed.

The boys came home, eager to make up for lost time. Newly married, and Levittown selling homes for six or seven thousand dollars, four percent mortgages, no down payment. A postwar boom that lasted until 1969. Eisenhower was the perfect symbol of the period. It was as though a massive dose of Sominex were administered to the whole population. There was now less concern for those beyond your immediate family. Making it yourself was what it was all about in the fifties.

The GI Bill produced an educational explosion. If you wanted to educate yourself, you got a good deal. Like millions of others, I went back to school. I got full tuition at Columbia.

Peggy Terry (p. 111):

My husband was a paratrooper in the war, in the 101st Airborne Division. He made twenty-six drops in France, North Africa, and Germany. I look back at the war with sadness. I wasn't smart enough to think too deeply then. We had a lotta good times and we had money and we had food on the table and the rent was paid. Which had never happened to us before. But when I look back and think of him . . .

Until the war he never drank. He never even smoked. When he came back he was an absolute drunkard. And he used to have the most awful nightmares. He'd get up in the middle of the night and start screaming. I'd just sit for hours and hold him while he just shook. We'd go to the movies, and if they'd have films with a lot of shooting in it, he'd just start to shake and have to get up and leave. He started slapping me around and slapped the kids around. He became a brute.

Betty Basye Hutchinson (p. 134):

When I think of the kind of person I was, a little hayseed from Oroville, with all this altruism in me and all this patriotism that sent me into the war! Oh, the war marked me, but I put it behind me. I didn't do much except march against Vietnam. And my oldest son, I'm happy to say, was a conscientious objector.

Paul Pisicano (pp. 142-143):

Suddenly we looked up, we owned property. Italians could buy. The GI Bill, the American Dream. Guys my age had really become Americanized. They moved to the suburbs. I think American suburbs are bound by their antiblack sentiments. That's the common denominator. They're into it very easily, it seems. They feel they've achieved.

But they're worse off than they were before. That's the part they don't understand. They really haven't been assimilated. They're just the entrepreneurial rough-riders. They'll still take a tougher tack than most guys, getting what they want. Not one of my friends has taken an intellectual direction. The war bred the culture out of us. The opera, all the good things. My father could whistle every damn opera I ever heard. Of course, every house had Caruso records. There wasn't a family that didn't have a lift-up phonograph. Opera was like cars for us. What the automobile is to Americans, opera was for us. My friends in the suburbs know nothing about opera, nothing about jazz. Just making money.

Jack Short (pp. 144-145):

In a way, World War Two had a positive impact on me as an individual. I can say I matured in those three years. I certainly did want to obtain an education. I wanted to better myself rather than, say, hitting a local factory. I didn't want to be a blue-collar worker. This was basically all we had in our area. Fortunately, I was educated on the GI Bill. I obtained a nice position in the company, have a nice family. Everything in my lifetime sine the war has been positive. I don't mean that war is positive. They're all negative as far as I'm concerned.

The war changed our whole idea of how we wanted to live when we came back. We set our sights pretty high. If we didn't have the war, in Poughkeepsie, the furthest you'd travel would be maybe New York or Albany. But once people started to travel -- People wanted better levels of living, all people.

I come from a working-class family. All my relatives worked in factories. They didn't own any business. They worked with their hands. High school was about as far as they went. I went to college, studied accounting, and that's all I've been doing for thirty-two years.

Admiral Gene Larocque (pp. 190-191):

After the war, we were the most powerful nation in the world. Our breadbasket was full. We enjoyed being the big shots. We were running the world. We were the only major country that wasn't devastated. France, Britain, Italy, Germany had all felt it. The Soviet Union, our big ally, was on its knees. Twenty million dead.

We are unique in the world, a nation of thirty million war veterans. We're theonly country in the world that's been fighting a war since 1940. Count the wars -- Korea, Vietnam -- count the years. We have built up in our body politic a group of old men who look upon military service as a noble adventure. It was the big excitement of their lives and they'd like to see young people come along and share that excitement. We are unique.

We've always gone somewhere else to fight our wars, so we've not really learned about its horror. Seventy percent of our military budget is to fight somewhere else. [ . . . ]

Our military runs our foreign policy. The State Department simply goes around and tidies up the messes the military makes. The State Department has become the lackey of the Pentagon. Before World War Two, this never happened. You had a War Department, you had a Navy Department. Only if there was a war did they step up front. The ultimate control was civilian. World War Two changed all this. [ . . . ]

Nuclear weapons have become the conventional weapons.We seriously considered using them in Vietnam. I was in the Pentagon myself trying to decide what targets we could use. We explored every way we could to win that war, believe me. We just couldn't find a good enough target. We were not concerned about the opprobrium attached to the use of nuclear weapons.

I was in Vietnam. I saw the senseless waste of human beings. I saw this bunch of marines come off this air-conditioned ship. Nothing was too good for our sailors, soldiers, and marines. We send 'em ashore as gung ho young nineteen-year-old husky nice-looking kids and bring 'em back in black rubber body bags. They are a few little pieces left over, some entrails and limbs that don't fit in the bags. Then you take a fire hose and you hose down the deck and push that stuff over the side.

John Kenneth Galbraith, who participated with George Ball and Paul Nitze in a 1945 study of the effectiveness of aerial bombing in the war (pp. 208-210):

The results were not in doubt. The bombing of Germany both by the British and ourselves had far less effect than was thought at the time. The German arms industry continued to expand its output until the autumn of 1944, in spite of the heaviest air attacks. Some of the best-publicized attacks, including those on German ball-bearing plants, practically grounded the Eighth Air Force for months. Its losses were that heavy. At the end of the war, the Germans had ball bearings for export again. Our attacks on their air-frame plants were a total failure. In the months after the great spring raids of 1944, their production increased by big amounts. [ . . . ]

The [atomic] bomb did not end the Japanese war. This was something that was carefully studied by our bombing survey. Paul Nitze headed it in Japan, so there was hardly any bias in this matter. It's ironic that he has sine become fascinated with the whole culture of destruction. The conclusion of the monograph called Japan's Struggle to End the War was that it was a difference, at most, of two or three weeks. The decision had already been taken to get out of the war, to seek a peace negotiation.

The Japanese government, at that time, was heavily bureaucratic. The decision took some time to translate into action. There was also a fear that some of the army units might go in for a kind of Kamikaze resistance. The decision was not known in Washington. While the bomb did not bring an end to the war, one cannot say Washington ordered the attacks in the knowledge that the war was coming to an end.

Would not millions have been lost, American and Japanese, in the projected attack on the mainland, had it not been for the bomb?

That is not true. There would have been negotiations for surrender within days or a few weeks under any circumstances. Before the A-bombs were dropped, Japan was a defeated nation. This was realized.

This experience, as a member of the commission, had an enormous effect on my attitudes. You had to see these German cities, city after city, in 1945 and then to on to the utter horror of Japanese cities to see how frightful modern air warfare is. There is nothing nice about ground warfare: twenty thousand men were killed on the first day in the Battle of the Somme in World War One. But this didn't have the high visibility of Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Mainz. And to see Tokyo leveled to the ground. I was left with an image which has stayed with me all my life.

Elliott Johnson (pp. 259-260):

We were so mixed up, Americans and Germans. People were shooting at my dear friend Ed Bostick, our forward observer. This was on the second day or third. He jumped into a ditch on the side of the road. The only thing that saved him was a dead Germany boy who he pulled on top of him. He lay there for hours until he felt safe to move. When he came back, he fell in my arms. Imagine what he'd been through, using a dead boy as a shield.

I went back to my foxhole and I was suddenly drained. It was about one-thirty in the morning. I had to stay on duty until two. Ed was to come and relieve me. I couldn't stay awake. I was just plain exhausted. We never turned the crank or rang the bell on the telephone. When you are an officer -- and this included the top noncoms -- you went to sleep with your headset at your head. Instead of ringing the bell or speaking, we'd just go (whistles softly), and that would waken you from a sound sleep. This voice came on and said, "Yes, El?" I said, "Can you relieve me? I'm just bushed." He said "I'll be right over." He came walking over to where I was and for some reason he began to whistle. I"ll never know why. A young artillery man, one of ours, I'm sure had dozed off. The whistle wakened him. He saw a figure and fired.

I was out and running, and I caught Ed as he fell. He was dead in my arms. Call it foolish, call it irrational, I loaded Ed in a jeep. I had to take him in for proper care. Now! I went to our battalion headquarters, and I was directed to this drunken colonel. He came out and said, "Get that goddamn hunk of rotten meat out of here." You have no idea of my feeling toward him. It's remained with me for a long time, hard to get rid of.

Dr. Alex Shulman (p. 287):

I got to Buchenwald, too. Did you know that Buchenwald was a zoo? On the gate, engraved: Buchenwald Zoological Gardens. The ultimate humiliation. They didn't let us in, but we could look in. The smell and the bodies all were still there. So nobody can tell me it didn't happen. (Laughs.)

Americans have never know what war really is. No matter how much they saw it on television or pictures or magazines. Because there is one feature they never appreciated: the smell. When you go through a village and you suddenly get this horrible smell. Everybody's walking around with masks on their faces, 'cause it's just intolerable. You look out and see those bloated bodies. You no longer see humans, because they've been pretty well cleaned up by now. You see bloated horses and cows and the smell of death. It's not discriminating, they all smell the same. Maybe if Americans had known even that, they'd be more concerned about peace.

Lee Oremont (p. 315):

The Depression ended with the war in Europe. The market business at once ceased to be competitive. The problem of making money disappeared. It became automatic. The immediate concern was how to avoid taxes. All of a sudden, there was an excess-profits tax. It was avoided by increasing officers' salaries, inflating expense accounts, and handing out large bonuses. I remember salesmen coming in to sell you gadgets or systems. Their first selling point was: "It doesn't matter. Uncle Sam pays most of it anyway." You could spend money very freely. It was the government's money.

When we started out, our net worth was $65,000. I told my partner, with all the problems coming up -- rationing, shortages, labor scarcity -- if we could hold on to this at the end of the war, we'd have done a good job. Instead, business jumped crazily. You could sell anything you got, it just walked off the shelves.

It was hard to get certain merchandise. Bags, for instance, were in short supply. You did without. Customers brought their own shopping bags. Every shortage became an added profit. If you were short of help, you did with less. You couldn't get new equipment, you used old stuff. The net result was substantial profits. During our first year, we made $100,000 out of a net worth of $65,000. [ . . . ]

It didn't take a genius to make money during the war. I know a number of people who still think it was their brilliance that made them so successful. They get pontifical and tell you how efficient they were, how hard-working and smart. Bullshit. They happened to be in the right place at the right time. All you had to do was to open a store and not get dead drunk. You had customers ready and willing and able to buy all you could get. It didn't take any brains or hard work. If it was true of smaller firms, imagine how it worked for the big ones.

We were offered a chance to invest in a housing development. Our stores were in the heart of the aircraft industry. We put in $15,000. In six months, we got double. We were just small investors. The builders were getting financing from the government. They built tracts in ninety days. They started out selling the houses for $4,000. By the time they were ready, they were getting $6,000. That extra money was just clear profit. Right now, those houses are easily $60,000.

I'm really pissed off by people who have such horror of price controls. Price controls really saved us from a devastating inflation. I don't think they went up more than five percent. In spite of being violated in a chickenshit way by black marketeers. Overall, prices didn't go up. Interest rates were down. [ . . . ]

I think the war was an unreal period for us here at home. Those of us who lost nobody at the front had a pretty good time. The war was not really in our consciousness as a war. In spite of the fact that I think I'm politically aware, I never had the personal worry of somebody in real danger. We suddenly found ourselves relatively prosperous. We really didn't suffer.

John Kenneth Galbraith, who was put in charge of price controls in 1941 (p. 323):

There is with World War Two no memory of inflation. Unlike World War One and Vietnam. It was partly due to our coming out of the Depression. There was an enormous opportunity for expanding output as distinct from raising prices. In the war years, consumption of consumer goods doubled. Never in the history of human conflict has there been so much talk of sacrifice and so little sacrifice. Another thing was the mood of the country. The war, unlike Vietnam, had almost unanimous support from the people. There was a strong objection to people who tried to circumvent controls. There was a black market, but it was small. There were troublesome moments in the case of meat, but there was a great deal of obloquy attached to illegal behavior.

We greatly feared we'd hold the prices and see a decline in quality. It didn't materialize. Manufacturers, protecting their trademarks, were unwilling to risk reducing quality. There was a certain flow of shoddy goods, but it was unimportant.

John Houseman, worked for the Office of War Information (OWI), which did propaganda, ran Voice of America (p. 352):

We were all civil service, so everyone was investigated. Sometimes it took up to six months. One of our best writers was fired because he'd been with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain. Among the investigators were many who had owrked for Henry Ford as union busters. They invented the term "premature anti-fascists," PAF. It was used in adverse reports that we received on people.

Erich Lüth, of Hamburg, Germany (p. 433):

We were afraid at home, with every chime of the clock. All the time. I was afraid they'd find out my real opinions. One of my brothers was already in a concentration camp. He had been a bookseller. You know, before the millions of Jews were thrown into the camps, there were hundreds of thousands of German democrats, poets, ministers, students, labor people, thrown into the camps.

Vitaly Korotich (pp. 434-435):

I was seven years old when I see my first terrible war poster. Jews of Kiev, you must be on Lvov Circle. Those who will not be there will be killed. It was September 1941. Kiev was a multinational city. We have up to two hundred thousand Jews. The German army invaded Russia June 22, and on September 19 they were in Kiev.

They kill people from the third day of their occupation. It was Yom Kippur, Jewish holidays. They throw them in Babi Yar. It is an abyss, a very, very deep hole in the ground.

Nobody believed this would be done. It was done so easy. I ask those who came from Babi Yar. They say they believe these people are quite normal and they take you somewhere to nice places. Some people believe they will go to Palestine. Nobody believed a tfirst they will be killed. [ . . . ]

In 1943, nobody can believe it. When we start to open documents. The prisoners from other camps, who burned these bodies, they were killed too after two weeks of their work. Each evening, they were kept in old house standing near to Babi Yar. They dream about escaping. They looked in the pockets of those dead bodies for keys. The people who were killed in Babi Yar, they take keys with themselves. They think they are going back. For me, this is the metaphor! Keys for freedom in the pockets of the dead.

More than three hundred war prisoners run away. Only fifteen escaped. SS men killed all the others. Six of them still alive. I know five Jews who survived Babi Yar.

They tell me the story and I filmed it. They speak about such details: two or three trucks with children's shoes, which Germans take from Babi Yar in two weeks. How many children must be killed to fill one truck with shoes? They speak of looking for gold teeth, those who try to smash bones. Fascists do this in very practical way. They are very orderly. [ . . . ]

After the war, all German documentary film come to Soviet archives. In every German battalion, there will be one movie operator, who'll take miles and miles of these films. Sometimes, they never opened them. When we start to open them, it was terrible for me. It all came back to me. We work more than two years with those movies. I became crazy looking through it and looking. Sometimes it looks like the world after the neutron bomb. Because there are only things, no people Everybody dead. Like Babi Yar.

Telford Taylor, chief prosecutor at 11 of 12 Nuremberg trials (p. 459-465):

For most people my age, the war and its aftermath were the most intense experiences of our lives. So many crises that overtook me were directly due to the war. I was in no way a military person when I went into the army. I don't think I'd ever seen an American officer in uniform -- except on the Fourth of July -- until shortly before the war. After Pearl Harbor, all officers in Washington were required to wear uniforms. It became a common sight. There could have been none more unmilitary than my generation. The military seemed a world apart.

Through all those years -- the normality of Harding, the boom, the bust -- the army was less than a hundred thousand. It just wasn't part of a normal person's experience. The Pentagon had not yet come into existence. The military budget was, of course, much smaller, The war ballooned the whole thing and it became a major part of everybody's life. The voice of the military, after World War Two, became very strong. [ . . . ]

Why did they do these things? Because it had become the thing to do. People most of them were followers. Moral standards are easily obliterated. Take Eichmann: a minor electrician in Vienna. He joins the SS and he becomes an officer and a gentleman. He likes that. He gets promoted. He never got beyond lieutenant colonel, but that was pretty good for a Viennese electrician. They so very easily fall into the pattern that their superiors set up for them, because that's the safe way. They may be loving husbands, nice to their children, fond of music. They have been accustomed to moral standards prescribed from above by an authoritarian regime. The safe way to be comfortable in life is that way: following orders.

After I came back, I was quite often asked to talk about Nuremberg. Early in 1950, I addressed the membership of a Jewish synagogue in Brooklyn. I said, The idea that these Nazis of the Holocaust were all a bunch of abnormal sadists is not so. Most of them are very ordinary people just like you and me. You should have heard the uproar that went up from that audience. The same thing happened to me last spring. I told the rabbi that my views are a bit clinical and might not be the right thing for his congregation. He said it's a very sophisticated group. Exactly the same thing happened.

If our general population were subjected to the same trends and pressures that the Germans were, a great many of us would do the same. Maybe not as many, because we're not quite as authoritarian as the Germans. But a lot of us would. I think we do still have some built-in political safeguards, but they're not ironclad. If the depression gets worse -- things are already getting more bitter than they were a few years ago -- I can see some of the same things developing.

Arno Mayer, born in Luxemburg, came to US in 1940, future historian, worked in Army intelligence (pp. 465-467):

At Post Office Box 1142, I became the morale officer for German generals who had been captured and flown to Washington. They were from the regular Wehrmacht and from the Waffen SS. They all had one thing in common: they had fought on the eastern front. I was to get as much information as I could with regard to only one thing: the battle order of the Red Army. About Germany, not one blessed thing. Even at that time, a few months after D-Day, the thoughts of the American government were already on the next phase of the confrontation.

I was not to do any interrogation. I was to keep these fellows happy, to put them in a good mood so they would readily talk about stuff. With liquor, with newspapers. One day I was misguided enough to bring them The Nation and a copy of PM. I thought it was perfectly legitimate fare in a free country. When my officers found out that I was handing them literature of that nature, I was told in no uncertain terms that I could give them Life magazine and the New York Times, and Reader's Digest, but for God's sake, not any of that other stuff. [ . . . ]

I also became the morale officer for Wernher von Braun and three other big scientists that were brought here. Of course, by then we were in a dead-heat competition with the Soviets for the personnel that had worked at Peenemünde, the installation where the German rockets were developed. The Soviets, of course, got their own Germans. Everybody had his own Germans, getting ready for the next big bang.

This is followed by a story about Mayer taking the Germans shopping for presents to sent back home (pp. 467-468):

I had the fiendish thought that it would be nice to take them to a Jewish department store. So I took them to Landsberg Brothers. We started on the main floor and bought the usual stuff: cocoa, sugar, coffee, all the stuff that was in very short supply in Germany. Where next? "We'd like to send our families some underwear." They wanted panties for their wives. I was all of nineteen years old and had never gone to buy panties. We went to the lingerie department. Imagine these four odd characters, with long leather coats and green Tyrolese hats, at the panties counter. Accompanied by ein kleine Judenbube [the Germans' nickname for Mayer].

The saleswoman said, "What size?" Almost by reflex, out came their slide rules. Centimeters into inches. She came back and held up a panty made of nylon. My four charges, as if it had been orchestrated, threw up their hands: "Aber nein, Unterhosen aus Wolle und mit langen Beinen." Woollies with long legs, 'cause it's going to be very cold. We didn't get out panties. What next? They would like to get some brassieres. The lady was rather puzzled with the four odd men moving up to her. Again, the slide rules came out. At that moment the military police came and took the five of us to jail. The powers that be finally cleared us and we got back to Post Office Box 1142. All of this was in service to the nation.

The Germans considered me a pretty stupid fellow, which I was supposed to be. I remember their trying to convince me that the only reason they mucked around with these rockets is that they wanted to improve the airmail service between Berlin and London. They wanted to get it down to eight minutes. (Laughs.) At that moment, I cracked up, which I wasn't supposed to do.

They tried to give the impression that they never really approved of the Nazi regime. They worked exclusively as scientists in the interest of advancing the cause of science and research. And one fine day we'd get to the moon. They pleaded complete political ignorance. They knew very well when they scrambled away from Peenemünde they'd be a hell of a lot better off being captured by the Western armies than they would be by the Red Army.

Hans Massaquoi, currently an editor of Ebony magazine in Chicago, but born 1926 and raised in Hamburg, his mother German, his father Liberian; his is as interesting as any story in the book, especially as he tries to fit in with the Nazis and gets rejected (pp. 498-499):

In that same year, '36, Max Schmeling went to the United States to do battle with Joe Louis. I was rooting for Schmeling. In '38, when Louis beat him, I was crushed. That's how much I identified with the Germans. It was not a matter of Hans Massaquoi, black. I was a Hamburger and Schmeling was my man.

It's clear to me that had the Nazi leadership known of my existence, I would have ended in a gas oven or at Auschwitz. What saved me was there was no black population in Germany. There was no apparatus set up to catch blacks. The apparatus that was set up to apprehend Jews entailed questionnaires that were mailed to all German households. The question was: Jewish or non-Jewish? I could always, without perjuring myself, write: non-Jewish.

My mother was now reduced to day work. She was so popular in the hospital where she had worked that doctors were kind enough to employ her as a cleaning lady. That's what she had to do in order to survive.

My scholastic records entitled me to go to the Gynmansium, the secondary school. A sympathetic teacher called me aside and said, "You have to be a member of the Hitler Youth movement to qualify. You're not accepted as a Hitler youth. So . . . I'm sorry." [ . . . ]

Many of the German youth that followed the call to arms weren't moved by any political considerations to kill Jews or Poles or Russians. It's the old quest for adventure. Hitler made it very attractive. He put the fancy uniforms on his troops. Had I not been constantly rejected, there's no telling how enthusiastic a volunteer I might have been.

Eventually this rejection becomes an identity for Massaquoi, as he moves into an anti-nazi "swing boy" counterculture (pp. 499-500):

Their affinity was for English and American records. Jazz especially. If they caught you playing these records, they'd confiscate them or take you to jail and keep you overnight. They'd give you a lecture or a beating. I became part of that group. We were just seventeen, eighteen, We'd meet at certain nightclubs. You could look at us and know we were anti-Nazi.

The Nazis hated our guts. Any chance they had, they would kick us in the pants or make life miserable for us. There was nothing ideological about us. We were nonpolitical, just anti Nazi regimentation. It was a total turnoff. We didn't want to be bothered by this nonsense.

Then the war came home (pp. 500-501):

The first bombings of Hamburg started in 1942. The raids increased. In 1943, Hamburg was practically demolished. In three nights, forty-one thousand people were killed. My mother and I were right in the middle of it. On the street where we lived, there was a public air-raid shelter. Every street had to have a shelter, which you could reach in five minutes.

I remember one night, about nine o'clock, the siren started wailing. We grabbed our suitcases and made it down. We'd been in this same shelter many, many, many, many nights before. The shelter was packed. There must have been two hundred, most of them neighbors we knew. There was not a moment when there was no Allied aircraft over Hamburg. It was an around-the-clock affair. The British would attack us at night and the U.S. air force in the daytime.

That night, about midnight, we heard the bombs dropping. It lasted about an hour. When it was over, we tried to get out, but we couldn't. The building over us was hit by an incendiary bomb and was on fire. The outside walls had collapsed and had blocked the exits. People were running around, getting hysterical. Nobody gets out, they were shouting.

About eight the next morning, we heard digging outside. They were removing the walls. We were half suffocated. We couldn't breathe. When we reached the street, that part of Hamburg where I lived was totally burned down. My mother and I made it to an overpass of an el train. All the survivors went there. We were picked up by trucks and taken out of the city. In those days, refugees -- and we were all refugees now -- could use the trains without paying.

Massaquoi moved for a while to the Harz Mountains, near Peenemünde, where the V-1 and V-2 rockets were made. He later returned to Hamburg. When the British occupied Hamburg, his black skin turned into an advantage, as nobody expected there were any black Germans. One more comment (pp. 503-504):

My biggest disappointment, for those who've really suffered under the Nazis, is the benign treatment of those Nazis by the Allies. We had assumed a housecleaning would follow the occupation. That the British and Americans would come in -- as the Russians did -- and, first of all, round up the Nazi suspects. And make sure that those who had been in power would not get back in power. Quite to the contrary, within a very short time we saw these same people who terrorized the neighborhoods in charge again. The wardens, the block leaders, all these Gruppenführer, all the ex-functionaries, were back in the saddle. A lot of my friends were so disillusioned they left Germany. One particularly brutal Nazi I worked for at a rubber plant. This went on everywhere.

Another phenomenon occurred: the disappearance of Nazis. You saw pictures of thousands of them screaming and hollering "Heil Hitler." If you asked anyone, Were you ever a Nazi? Oh no, not me. Just about all these former functionaries appeared in their old positions.

I think Americans were the worst in this respect. They fraternized so readily. The American brass that came over, in an ostensible effort to have things run smoothly, immediately became pals with these old Nazis.

I think it filtered down from Washington. We'd rather deal with the Nazis and have them on our side. Let's not be too serious about this denazification. Go through the motions, but don't step on too many toes. We ultimately will need them.

Victor Tolley, a marine in the first group to occupy Nagasaki (pp. 544-545):

I may be carrying a touch of radiation myself. If a person picks up one rem it can linger in your cells all your life. It may lay dormant and nothing may happen to me. But when I die and I'm cremated and my ashes are scattered out over some forest, that radiation is still alive. Twenty-seven thousands from now, somebody might pick up that rem of radiation from those ashes of mine and come down sick.

I believed in my government. Whatever Roosevelt said, by god -- and he was God -- we believed it. When I was in the Marine Corps, I was totally dedicated. They gave me a rifle and when they said go forward and kill that enemy or be killed, you did it. You didn't question it, 'cause you're doing it for your country. Now I'm sixty-eight years of age and I've had a chance to reflect back on my life. I've had a chance to sit down and do a lot of reading and a lot of studying. Now, I question. I question my government and I think every American should. I don't think that any individual can say Mom, apple pie, and the President of the United States is it and stop thinking. Whatever the government says is not always right.

Caspar Weinberger and I went to high school together. I sat right next to him for four years. We were friends and we've corresponded. But I can no longer believe in Cap Weinberger and what he stands for. I don't give a damn what Cap or the President or what anybody says, I have to think for myself. And I saw what I saw.

We didn't drop those two [atomic bombs] on military installations. We dropped them on women and children. The very minute I was jumping up and down and hugging my buddy and was so elated, there was a little baby layin' out in the street charred and burned and didn't have a chance to live. There was seventy-five thousand human beings that lived and breathed and ate and wanted to live that were in an instant charred. I think that is something this country is going to have to live with for eternity.

Paul Edwards, who worked with UNRRA on relief and refugees after the war (p. 573):

While the rest of the world came out bruised and scarred and nearly destroyed, we came out with the most unbelievable machinery, tools, manpower, money. The war was fun for America -- if you'll pardon my bitterness. I'm not talking about the poor souls who lost sons and daughters in the war. But for the rest of us, the war was a hell of a good time. Farmers in South Dakota that I administered relief to, and gave 'em bully beef and four dollars a week to feed their families, when I came home were worth a quarter-million dollars, right? What was true ther was true all over America. New gratifications they'd never known in their lives. Mass travel, mass vacations, everything else came out of it. And the rest of the world was bleeding and in pain. But it's forgotten now.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Superartist dropped over this afternoon. It occurred to me that I had enough ingredients left over unused in recent dinners that I could throw together a pizza without shopping. Figured I should also offer something for desert too. I had recently bought a copy of The New Best Recipe and recalled that they had claimed to have the best recipe ever for brownies. I looked it up, found that I had a 6 oz. box of bittersweet chocolate in the pantry that would do the trick, so whipped up a batch. It turned out a little sugar-grainy, but rich as fudge and more tempting. As for the pizza, beyond the crust, which I have a fairly generic recipe for, everything else was pure improv. Aside from leaving it in the 500F oven a bit too long -- the crust was browned to the point of toasty, making me think the 15 minutes I gave it should have been pared down to 12-13 minutes. I can't give you anything like a measured recipe, but before I forget, the method and makings were something like this:

I made a tomato sauce, which came together roughly in this order (quantities are very rough guesses):

  • Heated 2 tbs. olive oil. Sauteed 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped, until it started to brown.
  • Added 1/2 red bell pepper, diced, and 4-5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped. Cooked a few more minutes.
  • Added all the fresh tomatoes I had leftover: 4 small yellow ones plus 2 small red ones, roughly chopped. Cooked a few more minutes.
  • Decided that wasn't enough, so added a whole can (28 oz.?) of organic Italian peeled tomatoes with most of the juice, chopping them up pretty much to mush.
  • Added a handful of chopped Italian parsley, about 1/4 cup. Added about 1/2 tsp. each Spanish paprika and Turkish oregano. Stirred it all up, and kept cooking.
  • Tasted it and found it kind of sweet and sour but not all that interesting. Then I started chopping up and mixing in various odds and ends: 6-8 large, pitted Spanish olives; a little more than 1 tbs. capers; leftover garum (less than 1 tbs., made from garlic, oil cured olives, anchovies, and capers); leftover escalivada (less than 2 tbs., made from roasted eggplant, red bell pepper, tomato); a few small unlabeled red peppers -- don't remember what they were, but they tasted sweet and hot (maybe 1 tbs.); 3-4 pieces of sun-dried tomato, chopped fine. Added a few turns of black pepper. Overall cooking time was more than 1 hour. Sauce was thick, not uniformly red. Tasted interesting.

Meanwhile, I sliced a fairly large eggplant into thin discs. Heated up a teflon-coated round, flat grill pan. Brushed a few discs with olive oil, grilled them, brushing other side, turning a couple of times until done. Moved them aside on paper towel and did more, until done.

Heated up another pan. Added 3/4 lb. extra-lean frozen hamburger (3 patties). Broke them up as they browned. Could have used more fat, and wound up adding a little (less than 1 tbs.) duck fat. Cut about 1/4 red onion into thin quarter-rounds and added to hamburger. Had two slices of carriage bacon (about 2x3-inch slabs, a little more than 1/8-inch thick, about 10-15% visible fat); cut them into fine dice and added them. Had about a 4-inch chunk of rather tough Spanish chorizo, which I cut into thin discs then tried to chop in food processor (which had a rough time so I had to finish by hand; I'm thinking I need a new one). Kept cooking until it was all well browned, somewhat crisp and crunchy.

Finally, I rolled and stretched the pizza dough out into two of Uncle Clagge's pans (one round, one oblong; Clagge was a blacksmith, and these are old family heirlooms). Slathered sauce on, which at this point was rather chunky. Covered with eggplant slices in a single layer. Topped with meats, evenly scattered. Then I added cheeses: what was left of a bag of shredded commercial mozzarella; a fist-sized chunk of fresh mozzarella hacked into rough shreds; about 6 oz. crumbled feta; a scattered sprinkling of grated parmesan. All the cheeses were white-ish; the mozzarella melted down, the feta browned, the parmesan held its own.

Baked for 15 minutes at 500F, which was a couple minutes too long. The bottom (round) pan turned out toastier, probably because the other (oblong) was deeper. Result was a thickly topped pizza with a lot of complex tastes, not conspicuously cheesy or meaty or tomatoey -- the eggplant sort of held it all together.


Paul Kriwaczek: Yiddish Civilisation

Paul Kriwaczek's Yiddish Civilisation: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation (2005; paperback, 2006, Vintage Books) is a useful history of Yiddish-speaking Jews in Europe, starting with the migrations of Roman and Greek Jews into central and eastern Europe, ending (more or less) with the Holocaust.


(pp. 16-17):

Perhaps, I thought, the missing millennium was a response to the trauma of the Holocaust. Until Nazi times, the Yiddish speakers of Britain could still have regarded themselves as expatriates and escapees from their eastern European homeland, and many maintained links with their relatives still in the old country -- our rabbi, for example, had studied in the seminaries of pre-war Poland -- just as South Asian Britons still see themselves as part of the Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi diaspora and often return to holiday and even marry in their district of origin. But the annihilation of Continental Jewry had left the Yiddish speakers adrift, like lost and orphaned children, with no links to their past, the grotesque horror of the end of the Yiddish heym inducing what psychologists would call a state of denial, pretending that the heym had never existed, as if by wiping out the memory of what had been, the pain of its loss could be eased.

Now I have come to believe that in the 1950s a kind of deep shame at Yiddish-speaking Jewry's terrible fate played an important role in British Jews' self-imposed amnesia. Instead, after 1948, they lifted their eyes to a more distant time horizon, and recognised in the new State of Israel the land that two thousand years of daily prayer had assured them was their true ancestral home.

Needless to add, the Zionists had their own ideological reasons for wiping memory clean of the Yiddish heym -- while not responsible for the Holocaust, it appeared much as the realization of their prophecy, a point they belabored endlessly.

(p. 20):

Fifty years previously, clarinet players like Mezz Mezzrow (Milton Mezirow), Artie Shaw (Arthur Jacob Arshawsky) and Benny Goodman had abandoned klezmer for jazz and swing. Now, in an unexpected reversal of history, young Jewish musicians were returning to the old, previously derided, music. Many Jews who hadn't stepped inside a synagogue since their bar-mitzvah, and even some marrying outside the faith, now wanted a klezmer band to play at their wedding. Even non-Jews could take part. Klezmer ensembles have sprung up in the most unexpected places, even Japan.

(pp. 25-26):

The story of the Yiddish civilisation that I favour rejects a black-and-white clash between gentiles and Jews, between oppression and survival, and embraces a far more nuanced contest conducted within the Yiddish-speaking people themselves: a game of tension and conflict, a tug-of-war-and-peace between East and West, between German speakers and Slav speakers, between intellect and emotion, between orthodoxy and syncretism, between those who identified themselves as "Jews," members of the Jewish people,a nd those who thought of themselves as "Jewish," nations of Jewish faith, a tussle in which first one side celebrated victory over the other, then roles were reversed while former winners lost to erstwhile losers, until finally the contending teams were separated by the umpire of history -- a long struggle which called up a new interpretation of what it means to be a Jew.

The Jews of Rome (pp. 32-33):

These were not all immigrant settlers from Judaea. Contemporary sources make it clear that many, perhaps even most, of the subjects of Rome who followed the Torah were not of pure Hebraic origin. Dio Cassius, a Roman historian of the second century, was clear that "all those who observe the Jewish law may be called Jews, from whatever ethnic group they derive."

The expansion of Judaism to include converts from other nations had already begun in the last two centuries before Christ's birth, when the Hasmonean rulers of Israel had vigorously spread the Jewish religion among the surrounding peoples by the sword -- and by the izmel, the circumcision knife. Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites or Idumaeans, Herod's nation, were progressively incorporated into the Israelite, Jewish, domain. Later conversions, however, were not imposed by force. While today's orthodox rabbis are reluctant to encourage conversion, gentiles throughout the classical world saw Judaism as an attractive and welcoming religion. As the centuries progressed and fewer and fewer intelligent pagans found themselves convinced by the barbaric old gods with their sensual appetites and violent tempers, belief in the prophethood of Moses and reverence for the Torah attracted ever more popular support from the many who, as the historian Suetonius records, "without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews."

The remaking of western Europe (pp. 58-59):

Between the beginning of the fifth century and the end of the sixth, a mere two hundred years, the time of the barbarian remaking of western Europe, the population crashed. From an estimated forty million citizens in the year 400, it halved to not much over twenty million, the greatest population slump known to western history, such was the catastrophic effect of the collapse of Rome's empire, the ruin of its productive and economic systems, the disintegration of its communications networks.

Those who still remembered their ancestral rural origins returned to the countryside, where the Roman great estates, the latifundia, forgot cash-crop production for a market that no longer existed and reverted to self-sufficient subsistence farming, reducing their horizons and shrinking their bounds to become small, self-contained communities, protected from internal crime and external attack by local warlords, who often gave little more than nominal allegiance to a distant royal court, and were fed, clothed and otherwise supported by the estate's produce. Cash money almost ceased to circulate. [ . . . ]

Among the Jews, those who were able, particularly the Greek speakers, trekked to the coast and took ship for the East, as like as not on Jewish-captained vessels, no doubt hoping for a safer voyage than the one survived in the fourth century by Synesius -- then a pagan writer but later a Christian bishop -- who described in a letter to a friend how he feared that all was lost when the captain stopped commanding the vessel in the middle of a storm th say prayers for the onset of the Sabbath. The Jewish population of the lands of the former western empire diminished in even greater proportion than that of the gentiles. Military attack, economic collapse, disease and starvation hit the Hebraic middle and working classes disproportionately hard. The teeming Jewish quarters o the cities of Italy emptied. Many must have fled with their families to the self-sufficient country estates, giving up their freedom, their religion and their Jewish identity to avoid starving to death.

(p. 63):

Indeed, Arians were often accused by Catholics of Judaising, perverting Christianity in a Jewish direction. In addition, Arianism promoted a much more tolerant attitude to religious belief than Roman orthodoxy. An Arian bishop reproved the staunchly Catholic Bishop Gregory of Tours thus: "Blaspheme not a doctrine which is not thine. We on our part, although we do not believe what ye believe, nevertheless do not curse it. For we do not consider it a crime to think either thus or so," an attitude summed up in King Theodoric the Great's definitive statement: "Religionem imperare non possumus, quia nemo cogitur ut credat inuitus." (We cannot command religion, for no man can be compelled to believe anything against his will.)

(p. 107):

To keep the record straight, it must be emphasised that, despite the ever-present risk of attack and irrational outbursts of aggression against them, early medieval Jews were not especially singled out for particularly barbaric treatment. There were plenty of other targets too. If it were not the Jews, it might just as well have been foreigners, lepers, heretics or anyone else who attracted the evil eye of the mob, like the sad and strange old women burned alive as witches in their thousands to popular applause. Thirty-five London-resident Flemish merchants and weavers were, for no particular reason, savagely hacked to pieces by the insurgents of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381 -- by then there were no Jews left in England for popular fury to vent itself on.

Enter Martin Luther (p. 173):

His last sermon, "An Admonition Against the Jews," delivered three days before he died in 1546, was hideously predictive of Nazi policy, prefiguring passages in Goebbels's infamous propaganda film The Eternal Jew. Luther proposed to dispatch all the Yiddish speakers back to the Middle East. "Who prevents the Jews from returning to Judaea? Nobody. We shall provide them with all the supplies for the journey, only in order to get rid of that disgusting vermin. They are for us a heavy burden, the calamity of our being; they are a plague in our midst."

Then there was John Calvin (p. 179):

The Geneva reformer's promotion of Old Testament law, particularly the Ten Commandments, his loathing of images, his acceptance of financial trading, perhaps even his belief in predestination -- which absolves the sinner of total responsibility for the sin -- turned Christianity in a new direction. The consequences have been incalculable. Scholars with persuasive arguments have ascribed much of what we prize about our modern world to Calvin's legacy: the separation of Church and state, the Enlightenment, liberal humanism, religious tolerance, capitalism. We owe the existence of the State of Israel and today's wealthy and influential Atlantic diaspora at least in part to the man who write, "If we compare the Jews with other nations, surely their impiety, ingratitude and rebelliousness exceeds the crimes of all other peoples." The Encyclopaedia Judaica compares Calvin with the biblical soothsayer Balaam, who was called upon by the king of Moab to curse Israel, but who blessed her instead. "The Geneva reformer, too, set out to curse the Jews, but in the end turned out to have blessed them."

The Yiddish renaissance (p. 181):

While the Protestant Reformation was beginning to build up its irresistible head of steam back in the 1530s, the European economy was again careering towards hell in a handcart. Economic historians have argued convincingly that this was not by chance, that the two were closely connected, that if you chart the uprisings, wars, civil disturbances and expulsions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, all usually attributed to religious enthusiasm, you will find that the peaks and troughs coincide with a graph of the value of money and the prices of commodities like food and fuel. Not that the religious divisions played no part, but that those with little or nothing to lose were more likely to risk their all in a dangerous cause.

Across Europe what we today would call stagflation took hold. The contrast between rich and poor became ever more grotesque. Landowners grew fat, while peasants starved. Rising prices persuaded lords to convert their tenants' rents to labour obligations, opening up new lands to the plough and forcing their peasants to work on them unpaid.

Kriwaczek doesn't bring this up, but this was when the Spanish were flooding Europe with gold looted from the Americas, and were bringing slavery back into fashion as a system for dominating labor.

Of fortunes rising and falling in Poland (p. 236):

It was not just nepotism, however, but also the Yiddish entrepreneurs' expertise in management and administration that led to their dominance. In places where Jewish leasing of customs was not allowed, Jews were still in demand as silent and invisible, but executive, partners to nominal Christian leaseholders, foreshadowing the dishonourable practice of the early Nazi years.

The alliance between ruthless Polish nobles and insecure Yiddish frontiersmen proved dangerous and destructive. The Jews now held a position that nothing in their background or religious law had properly prepared them for. They had been placed in authority over another people, of another social order, another culture and another religion, a people whom the magnates, the Jews' masters, regard as racially inferior and fair game for callous exploitation. Tragically, shaking off the restraining influence of wiser counsels of the West, the repeated warnings of the rabbis of metropolitan Cracow, Posen and Lublin, the Yiddish businessmen who flocked to the colony came to regard the peasantry in a similar contemptuous light.

I first ran across the second paragraph above when Tony Karon quoted it in his blog. It raises some echoes for Israel/Palestine. It also sets up the context for the specific form anti-semitism was to take in eastern Europe.

On the Cossack revolt of 1648-49 (pp. 241-242):

In itself the Cossack revolt was nothing new. This was far from the first uprising of the Ukrainian hosts. But the revolt coincided with the peak of the economic disaster that had finally spread to these furthermost reaches of the Polish commonwealth. The Baltic grain trade, on which the Polish nobility's profits depended, had collapsed; customs duties had dwindled away; the wool and textiles business had shrunk to nearly nothing. As their incomes diminished, the Polish magnates put ever more financial pressure on the Jews and the Jews in turn attempted to squeeze ever more from the Ukrainian serfs. This was the final straw to lay on the peasants' backs. They rose in unrestrained fury against their oppressors, into an explosion of savagery that nobody, not even the Polish army, could withstand. In 1648 and 1649 rebel bands spread carnage throughout Poland, as far west from the Ukraine as Posen and as far north as Vilna and Minsk. [ . . . ]

Whatever the real truth, whether the martyrs numbered 50,000, 100,000, or 500,000, Professor Shmuel Ettinger of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem points out that "Jews began to return to their localities in Volhynia at the end of 1648, and a short while later were again living throughout the territory up to the Dnieper. Despite the memory of the holocaust of 1648-49, this region was one of the most densely populated by Jews during the 18th and 19th centuries." The Jews suffered monstrously, but they returned. On their return, however, they lived in very reduced circumstances compared with their previous generations. The Ukrainian massacres signalled the end of Yiddish prosperity in the East. After Chmiel the Wicked, the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was no longer the goldene medine, the golden land, that it once had seemed.

(pp. 268-269):

The opposition was fierce and at times brutal, beginning in 1772, when the Vilna Kehile closed down the local Chassidic prayer rooms, arrested the Chassidic leaders, publicly burned their books and pronounced their followers excommunicated. A letter was sent out, over the Gaon's name, to other communities exhorting them to campaign against the "godless sect." When the first works of Chassidic literature began to appear, particularly the so-called Testament of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Elijah ben Solomon [the Gaon] chaired a rabbinical council of war, which issued circulars ordering the communities to expel all the pietists, to burn their works, to regard them as being "of another faith" and therefore not to intermarry with them, not to eat their food, nor to bury their dead: "It is the duty of every believing Jew to repudiate and pursue them with all manner of afflictions and subdue them, because they have sin in their hearts and are like a sore on the body of Israel."

The progroms following the assassination of Russian Czar Alexander II in 1881 (pp. 292-293):

Now a Jewish woman, Gesia Gelfman, was found among those held responsible for the czar's assassination. (She was condemned to death, but being pregnant her sentence was commuted -- she died of peritonitis soon after giving birth to a daughter.)

The naming of a single Jew was enough to break the dam holding back the enmity of so many of the Russians. A tidal wave of progroms crashed across the Pale of Settlement. Perhaps the government saw anti-Jewish violence as a useful diversion, for where it did not actively promote the outrages, it did nothing to stop them. Jews were assaulted and killed, and their property destroyed, in cities and towns over all the provinces of the empire: Elizavetgrad, Kiev, Konotop, Nizhniy-Novgorod, Nyezhin, Pereyaslav, Odessa, Smyela and Warsaw in 1881, Blata in 1882, Ekaterinoslav and Rostov-on-Don in 1883, Nizhniy-Novgorod again in 1884.

To bring the disturbances under control, the czar established a commission to investigate the cause. This body reported that the disorders had been the result of "Jewish exploitation" and, "now that the government has firmly suppressed the riots and lawlessness in order to protect the Jews, justice demands that it immediately impose severe regulations which will alter the unfair relations between the general inhabitants and the Jews and protect the former from the harmful activity of the latter."

The government responded by enacting the harshly repressive May Laws, restricting Jews' rights of residence yet further, severely limiting their ability to become shareholders, take out leases or sign contracts, and banning them outright from holding office in joint stock companies. The aim of these measures was succinctly put in a statement attributed to the then head of the Russian Orthodox Church: "One-third of the Jews will die, one-third will flee the country, and the last third will be completely assimilated within the Russian people." Russians were making it clear that they were no longer prepared to allow any room at all for the nation with whom the Slavs had shared their land for more than a thousand years.

On the founding of the Bund (p. 295):

In October 1897 a group of workers, artisans and intellectuals met in Vilna, ever since the Gaon's time the centre of Yiddish intellectual life, to establish the General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia (Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland). The new body grew rapidly, organising strikes and boycotts, and successfully helping to improve the conditions of the Jewish working class. In contrast to Zionism, which they felt to be a petit-bourgeois movement, guilty of abandoning a thousand years of heritage, members of the Bund emphasised the importance of stubborn doykeyt (being here) and saw itself as part of the great international labour movement.

(pp. 295-296):

The last-ditch struggle for the recognition of eastern European Jews as a nation, with Yiddish as their language, now became a war on two fronts: against the imperial authorities of Austria and Russia on the one side, and on the other against the promoters of Zionism, emigration to the Holy Land and the revival of Hebrew -- a movement whose polemics refused to accept the validity of a Yiddish-speaking identity. "Those miserable stunted jargons, those ghetto languages which we now employ, are the stealthy tongues of prisoners," wrote Zionist leader Theodor Herzl dismissively in 1896. "He who knows no Hebrew may be an ignoramus," riposted supporters of the Bund, "but he who knows no Yiddish is a gentile."

(p. 300):

For most the gain was worth the loss. As Professor John Klier of University College London points out in a recent book review, contrary to the common myth it was not just anti-Semitism that emigrants wanted to leave behind -- they had no guarantee that tolerance would be greater elsewhere -- but more the claustrophobia of shtetl existence, its class and clan divisions, its ruthless dominance by reactionary Tsaddikim or ultra-conservative rabbinical oligarchies, its self-imposed limitations on living a full, rich and successful life.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Karen Armstrong: A Short History of Myth

I plan on making a big push this month on the book notes, so I'll be slipping a lot of these in, especially on days I don't have anything more immediate to write about. For me this is background research. I've been reading pretty steadily, making little marks in the books to flag memorable passages. Retyping them, sometimes with comments but often just with page numbers, helps me keep track of this stuff. And hopefully is of interest to some readers. The notes are ultimately archived in the books section.


I've read a couple of Karen Armstrong's books about religion, and found her to be a reasonably fair-minded and even-tempered historian. So I thought her short book on myth might help fill in some questions I have about the origins of religion. The early parts of the book turned out not all that useful, perhaps because the history itself is so buried in myth. So most of the quotes I marked wound up in the later, more historically sound period. There her strong belief that mythos and logos are diametrically opposed modes of thought, each valuable in its own way, assumes prominence. She believes that they should be able to coexist in meaningless contradiction, and finds their opposition (e.g., in the minds of fundamentalists) is proof of our modern inability to experience myth with the same immediate sensibility as existed before the rise of science.


(pp. 70-71):

As we know, a creation story never provided people with factual information about the origins of life. In the ancient world, a cosmogony was usually recited in a liturgical setting, and during a period of extremity when people felt they needed an infusion of divine energy: when they were looking into the unknown at the start of a new venture -- at New Year, at a wedding or a coronation. Its purpose was not to inform but was primarily therapeutic. People would listen to the recitation of a cosmological myth when they faced impending disaster, when they wanted to bring a conflict to an end, or to heal the sick. The idea was to tap into the timeless energies that supported human existence. The myth and its accompanying rituals were a reminder that often things had to get worse before they could get better, and that survival and creativity required a dedicated struggle.

(p. 86):

Some of the old myths had pointed out that creativity was based upon self-sacrifice, but the Axial Sages made the ethical consequences of this insight more explicit. This self-immolation had to be practised in daily life by everyone who wished to perfect his humanity. Confucius infused the old Chinese ethos with the Axial virtue of compassion. He promoted the ideal of ren ('humaneness'), which required people to 'love others'. He was the first to promulgate the Golden Rule: 'Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you.' The Axial spirit demanded inner reflection and self-scrutiny, a deliberate analysis of the deeper recesses of the self. You could not behave rightly to others unless you had first examined your own needs, motivation and inclinations; proper respect for others required a process of shu ('likening to oneself').

(pp. 116-118):

Theology was only valid if pursued together with prayer and liturgy. Muslims and Jews eventually reached the same conclusion. By the eleventh century, Muslims had decided that philosophy must be wedded with spirituality, ritual and prayer, and the mythical, mystical religion of the Sufis became the normative form of Islam until the end of the nineteenth century. Similarly, Jews discovered that when they were afflicted by such tragedies as their expulsion from Spain, the rational religion of their philosophers could not help them, and they turned instead to the myths of the Kabbalah, which reached through the cerebral level of the mind and touched the inner source of their anguish and yearning. They had all returned to the old view of the complementarity of mythology and reason. Logos was indispensable in the realm of medicine, mathematics and natural science -- in which Muslims in particular excelled. But when they wanted to find ultimate meaning and significance in their lives, when they sought to alleviate their despair, or wished to explore the inner regions of their personality, they had entered the domain of myth.

But in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Christians in Western Europe rediscovered the works of Plato and Aristotle that had been lost tot hem during the Dark Age that had followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. Just at the moment when Jews and Muslims were beginning to retreat from the attempt to rationalise their mythology, Western Christians seized on the project with an enthusiasm that they would never entirely lose. They had started to lose touch with the meaning of myth. Perhaps it was not surprising, therefore, that the next great transformation in human history, which would make it very difficult for people to think mythically, had its origins in Western Europe.

(pp. 125-126):

The first scientist wholly to absorb this empirical ethos was probably Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who synthesised the findings of his predecessors by a rigorous use of the evolving scientific disciplines of experiment and deduction. He believed that he was bringing his fellow human beings unprecedented and certain information about the world, that the cosmic system he had discovered coincided completely with the facts, and that it proved the existence of God, the great 'Mechanick' who had brought the intricate machine of the universe into being.

But this total immersion in logos made it impossible for Newton to appreciate the more intuitive forms of perception. For him, mythology and mysticism were primitive modes of thought. He felt that he had a mission to purge Christianity of such doctrines as the Trinity, which defied the laws of logic. He was quite unable to see that this doctrine had been devised by the Greek theologians of the fourth century precisely as a myth, similar to that of the Jewish Kabbalists. As Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (335-395), had explained, Father, Son and Spirit were not objective, ontological facts but simply 'terms that we use' to express the way in which the 'unnameable and unspeakable' divine nature adapts itself to the limitations of our human minds. You could not prove the existence of the Trinity by rational means. It was no more demonstrable than the elusive meaning of music or poetry. But Newton could only approach the Trinity rationally. If something could not be explained logically, it was false.

(pp. 130-131):

This was the scientific age, and people wanted to believe that their traditions were in line with the new era, but this was impossible if you thought that these myths should be understood literally. Hence the furore occasioned by The Origin of Species (1858), published by Charles Darwin (1809-82). The book was not intended as an attack on religion, but was a sober exploration of a scientific hypothesis. But because by this time people were reading the cosmogonies of Genesis as though they were factual, many Christians felt -- and still feel -- that the whole edifice of faith was in jeopardy. Creation stories had never been regarded as historically accurate; their purpose was therapeutic. But once you start reading Genesis as scientifically valid, you have bad science and bad religion.


Oct 2007 Dec 2007