||This old house was only a few blocks from the state Capitol in Madison,
Wisconsin. All the neighborhood cats lived in the basement during the
winter. The house has long since been torn down, but in 1972 there were
AR2ax speakers in the front room, and a lot of good music was heard there.
| || || ||1||2||3||4|
In the 21st century I am just as opinionated as ever,
and I now have an outlet. I shall pontificate here about anything
that catches my fancy; I hope I will not make too great a fool
of myself. You may comment yea or nay about anything on the
site; I may quote you here, or I may not. Send brickbats etc.
February 6, 2013The New Republic
One of my favorite magazines, where I first got published over 40 years ago, has been redesigned, and in general I like it very much. The editors seem to have given up publishing insanely long articles on obscure subjects in the back of the book, but I hope they won't be afraid to be serious, as opposed to merely journalistic.
David Thompson's review of Zero Dark 30 in a recent issue was wrong-headed, I thought, castigating the director for not making a different movie, but in the current issue "A tour of the gun-owner's mind" by Walter Kirn, himself a gun-owner, is the most intelligent thing I have seen on that subject. And Noreen Malone has written the first thing I have seen in the press about one of my pet peeves: "Grow the economy":
Who is to blame for the habit, so common in Washington these days, of referring to the nation's net worth as something akin to a Chia Pet in need of watering?...Bill Clinton popularized the phrase on the campaign trail, irking both grammatical strict-constructionists (who claim that "grow", at least in this sense, is an intransitive verb, and so oughtn't take a direct object) and small-government afficianados who were bugged by the implication that the economy's health was at the mercy of federal intervention.
You can put me in both camps. This irritates me almost as much as young people who say "like" every third word. The economy is not a carrot, and this usage is simply ugly and illiterate, but as Malone points out, it was used 45 times in the New York Times last year, as opposed to eight times in 1992. And it follows that if our economy is not a carrot, it is so huge, so rich and so various that we cannot make it grow just by pouring water on it anyway. It needs a combination of careful regulation to prevent the most egregious abuses, and then getting out of the way. And there has been something wrong for a long time with the idea that we need "growth". Growth in what? Traffic? Shopping malls?
The healthiest kind of growth could be encouraged by immigration, by the way. More people means more building, more commerce, more of everything. If that's what we want.
February 6, 2013Butch Morris
Butch Morris has died, a cornet player who developed a new way to play big band jazz. He called it conduction. You can read about it and him here, but his method was a way for the composer/ leader to improvise, using various signals and pointing at the musicians. Morris did a lot of interesting stuff and ended up influential, but sometimes had trouble getting jazz musicians to do what he wanted, especially those of the "free" persuasion, because they thought their whole thing was not being conducted. But when he talked them into it they usually saw the point and appreciated what he was doing. He was actually following the footsteps of people like Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton in advancing the art of improvisation.
One of my colleagues on a music chat list had something interesting to say about Morris's occasional struggle to teach his method:
Kind of reminds me of Obama and others, just trying to play the role and get something done, and running into a bunch of rooster egos dead set on pecking themselves and each other to death before cooperating with anything, however humbly suggested...
"Rooster egos" made me laugh out loud. Of course it reminded me of Congress, and it reminded Ethne of her office.
February 6, 2013A laugh-out-loud moment
In the paper this morning, Thomas Fleming, a former president of the Society of American Historians, writing about his youth in Jersey City:
My grandmother Mary Dolan died in 1940. But she voted Democratic for the next ten years.
February 6, 2013NYRB
Back to the Wall Street Journal. Joseph Epstein is a polymath who has written books about snobbery, gossip, envy and friendship, as well as a delicious collection of stories called Fabulous Small Jews. Today in the WSJ he has written "Radical Unchic and the New York Review of Books". As an American intellectual he had of course subscribed to the New York Review of Books since its founding in 1962, but has now stopped, because it "had become dishwater dull, without so much as a hint of its old glorious, infuriating self."
I agree with him. I looked at it whenever I had a chance many years ago, and always found something to read in it, but now I see it at Barnes & Noble and don't even take the opportunity to read it for free. Epstein's list of the wonderful people who used to write for NYRB included Edmund Wilson and Igor Stravinsky, and he points out that the menu allowed for no substitution: you wanted the Nabokov, you had to take Noam Chomsky. Edmund Wilson is a hero of mine; I have a shelf full of his books, and I would remind the conservative Epstein that when Wilson was a young man he thought that only socialism would cure the world's ills, and furthermore that whatever appeared in the paper under Stravinsky's name was probably written by somebody else. Plus ça change, I want to say, but the mystery remains: why are the people who write for NYRB nowadays so deadly dull? Epstein points out that the game has changed since 9/11. After that horrendous event I was struck by the fact that even Chomsky was quiet for a week or two.
February 6, 2013The Baffler
The last issue of The Baffler irritated me, taking poor Jon Stewart to task for merely making us laugh without going on to save the world, but the current issue, no. 21, is back on form. Thomas Frank on Occupy Wall Street's failure to change the world was typically revealing. Rick Perlstein's "The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism" made me laugh as well as swoon. Subscriber lists are all for sale; subscribe to a liberal publication and you start getting junk mail from other liberal publications; subscribe to a conservative publication and you get junk mail for get-rich-quick or save-your-soul scams. Interesting, that.
Dubravka Ugrešic has written several articles, about the men of the Yugozone, the citizens of the former Yugoslavia, as well as other things: "The Dream Of Dorian Gray" is about lookism, the homogenization of our society by media-enforced standards of beauty. But she goes too far:
Let's be straight with one another now: ever since beauty stopped lying in the eye of the beholder and the marketplace began enforcing its own standards, the world has become a boring place ... Gone are the men who stink of cigarettes, garlic, and sweat; hairy chests, beer bellies, and black vodka bags under the eyes have gone the same way.
If she thinks there are no more fat slobs, male and female, weirdly dressed (or undressed), she hasn't been to the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, or for that matter to any Walmart's. But The Baffler is great fun. Come to think of it, The Baffler would make a good substitute for the NYRB of old. Go here to have a look.
January 31, 2013Amusing clippings on my desk
I haven't heard so much lately about the "mainstream liberal press" dominating everything, since the rise of talk radio, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and the rest. But then maybe this is because my newspaper of choice is the Wall Street Journal, because it's a very good paper if you want the news, and the editorial stuff is well-written and amusing as well. Reading all these knee-jerk self-defined conservatives is at least a laugh a day, keeping the doctor away.
The Shah of Iran was a nasty little ignoramus who, like all dictators, tortured and murdered his perceived enemies, shining the way to an inevitable revolution that has been betrayed, becoming yet another dictatorship. Ten days or so ago, Bret Stephens thought it was all Jimmy Carter's fault. Yesterday Holman W. Jenkins Jr. thought that it was okay for everybody to suck down huge tubs of carbonated industrial chemicals as long as the stuff doesn't have real sugar in it. Today John Yoo, who was George W. Bush's stooge at Justice, used the words "civilized warfare". But best of all today was Daniel Henninger. After refusing to negotiate about anything during Obama's first term, the Republicans, Henninger thinks, having lost again, should adopt one word to shape their new role: Dissent.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry, so I choose laughter.
January 28, 2013I'm just a dirty old man, I guess
Nicholas Eberstadt (American Enterprise Institute, yada yada) wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal on 25 January titled "Yes, Mr. President, We Are a Nation of Takers". Since 1960, he wrote, "entitlement tranfers--government payments of cash, goods and services to citizens--have been growing twice as fast as overall personal income", and "social welfare spending is generating severe and mounting hazards for the nation."
This may very well be true. I don't know what he's counting; does he include food stamps? And what should be done with the excess food generated by our creaking agricultural policy? Does he include medical care for returning veterans? There are lots of questions, but I had to stop reading, because he also wrote that "These hazards are not only fiscal but moral."
Oh, right. If I'm getting a reduced Social Security from a scheme to which I paid in for many years, if I'm a kid from a hopeless background getting a free lunch at school, if I'm a handicapped person who needs a ramp up to his front porch, I'm a taker, a leech, sucking on the government teat, and that's bad for me, and bad for the country. And if Eberstadt is measuring the growth in the W-2 income of ordinary folks, is he asking why it's not growing very fast? Is he including the billions, probably trillions, spent on lobbying at every level of government? Is he calculating corporate welfare? The telephone numbers in benefits that fat cats pay themselves?
Pardon me while I wipe my crocodile tears.
January 28, 2013Congress has a death wish.
Most people probably still think that filibusters are about senators talking for days with bottles taped to their legs to pee in, to keep legislation from being voted on. Hasn't been like that for a long time. Today's filibuster is as simple as any senator calling in from the nearest bar-and-grill to say "I object" to this or that, and a nomination or a piece of legislation is stopped dead. It can be a Democrat or a Republican, and we do not even know who it is, and he does not have to tell us why he objects. This is a perversion of the what the founders intended. The Senate does not debate anything. It does not even meet.
A few days ago there was an attempt to reform the filibuster, but it was a fizzle. Incredibly, Majority Leader Harry Reid did a deal with the absurd Mitch McConnell for a watered-down and almost worthless compromise, even though he had a majority of votes in the Senate.
So if the Congress cannot do its job, how is the nation to be governed? Every president has to nominate dozens, maybe hundreds of people to important posts, and the Senate never brings up the nominations. (Don't be fooled by a few high-profile hearings, such as Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defence, and so on. Most of the nominations are simply never taken up. Nobody's minding the store.) How to get around this? Every president for 90 years has made "interim" appointments, when Congress is not in session. The legislative branch is so dysfunctional that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had to make more and more interim appointments. Now, on 25 January, a federal appeals court ruled that President Obama had violated the Constitution in filling vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board. If this ruling holds, then the board will not have had a quorum and could not conduct most of its business at all.
So we have to laugh when Peggy Noonan, in the WSJ on 19 January, wrote that President Obama's presidential style is "strange and new". Of course it is. There are supposed to be three branches of the government, and now there are only two. The president is like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, but trying to ride a bicycle at the same time. Now, on 26 January, Noonan wrote about the Republicans on the Hill:
They're all in business for themselves. They make their speech, ask their question, and it's not connected to anyone else's speech or question. They aren't part of something that moves and makes progress.
Minority parties can't act like this, in such a slobby, un-unified way....They don't understand how they look, which is like ants on a sugar cube.
Noonan was talking about the Republicans questioning Hillary Clinton about Benghazi, and asking how they can ever expect to win the Senate or the White House. But her point applies equally well to the whole Congress, and to both parties. I especially like the image of the "ants on a sugar cube". The sugar is their salaries and their lifetime benefits, and the lucrative lobbying work that awaits them when they stop pretending to do their legislative jobs. What the lobbyists want, after all, is nothing. No legislation. No oversight. Nobody in charge.
January 18, 2013I LIKE JAZZ! (Columbia JZ 1)
In 1955 there appeared at the cash-desks of the record shops, like an impulse purchase at a supermarket checkout, one of the first 'samplers' we had ever seen, a 12" LP called I LIKE JAZZ! selling for 98 cents (if I recall correctly) at a time when a 12" pop LP was $3.98. It sold so well it reached the top 5 of the Billboard album chart in July. It is an interesting artifact for a number of reasons. I recently came across a copy in very good condition, so here is my transfer of it. I'm surprised how good these nearly 60-year-old vinyl tracks sound! There are 12 AIFF files, a JPG of the cover, and my précis of the contents. Download it here.
January 17, 2013And another anniversary
And today is the 75th anniversary of the first recording session for MIlt Gabler's new Commodore label. He had asked Benny Goodman to let the band have the day off after the Carnegie Hall concert so that Jess Stacy could record. Two of the tunes recorded were "Carnegie Drag" and "Carnegie Jump", with Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, George Brunies on trombone, Artie Shapiro and George Wettling on bass and drums, and the ever-present Eddie Condon on guitar. A trio of Freeman, Stacy and Wettling went on to record more tunes the same day. Look 'em all up in my encyclopedia!
January 16, 2013Benny Goodman - 1938
Today is the 75th anniversary of Benny Goodman's historic Carnegie Hall concert. When they asked him how much intermission he wanted he said, "I dunno. How much does Toscanini get?" Unbeknownst to anybody, the concert was recorded, and everybody forgot about it for a decade; then the recording was issued on Columbia Records, and was a huge hit in the Billboard album chart in 1950, and has never been out of print since.
The edition now on Jasmine sounds incredibly good, the cleanest ever, tranfers made in Scandinavia, on a British label, the CDs manufactured in the Czech Republic or somewhere... It's fun to listen to, but the highlights include more than a minute of Lester Young's solo in the jam session on "Honeysuckle Rose", and Jess Stacy's unscheduled piano solo on "Sing Sing Sing". That such a piece of magic as Stacy's solo happened ro be recorded to enter the memory of the 20th century and the history of American music is one of those things that can't be explained.
January 15, 2013Civility? You must be joking
Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, published a piece in the Wall Street Journal on January 9 called "Persuasion as the Cure for Incivility". Though sympathetic, in corresponding with a friend about it I was obliged to say that I thought that Rash Limburg or whatever his name is, and the kind of people who listen to him, would be incapable of carrying on a conversation, the first step in persuading or being persuaded.
I was reminded of Dick Sudhalter, the cornettist and journalist who died a couple of years ago, who was also the author of Lost Chords, a masterpiece of scholarship on early jazz. I had met Dick in London, where he was gigging in the basement of a pizza parlor, after he had moved back to the USA. When I wrote to him in 1998 that we were returning to the USA, he advised me not to, saying that he regretted it. "You can't have a conversation here," he wrote. "Everything is a hot-button issue."
Now in today's Journal a gentleman from Los Angeles responds to Father Jenkins:
...the majority of Americans are unable to engage in the "deep and candid dialogue" he is promoting...They cannot frame a decent, reasoned argument because they have neither the verbal skills nor a daily educational stimulus to do so.
The Journal reader goes on to suggest that Father Jenkins watch some "Buckwild", "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" and "Moonshiners" to find a reflection of "the bluntness and coarseness [that] have permeated all levels of American society. These elements have forever supplanted the civility he is seeking." I presume these are examples of "reality TV", which I have never seen.
January 15, 2013We have seen the enemy, and we elected them
I long for the day when the biggest threat to the American economy is no longer the American Congress.
--Alan S. Blinder, Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at
Princeton, and former Vice-Chairman of the Federal Reserve
January 14, 2013Christie
Big cover article in Time this week about the governor of New Jersey, who bothers me. He bothers me because I like a guy who doesn't take any crap and doesn't suffer fools, and I'm not supposed to like Republicans.
January 14, 2013The Devil In History
The stream of books about the horrors of the last century shows no sign of letting up. I wish I had time to read some of these hefty scholarly works. A new one is The Devil In History, by Vladimir Tismaneanu, reviewed in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, and in the Times Literary Supplement for 4 January. The Journal review was okay, though I didn't read it very closely because I had already seen the one in the TLS, which of course was better, telling me more about the book. It had a significant flaw however, from my point of view.
The book is about the points of similarity between the twin horrors of Fascism and Communism. One could point out that Communism "emerged from Enlightenment universalism," and Fascism "from Counter-Enlightenment ideas of racial purity", as the reviewer, John Gray, puts it. But from the point of view of the populations all over Europe who were murdered in the name of political theory, the similarities are more important. Both regarded certain parts of the population as "former people" (an official phrase from Russia in 1918), and expendable: if you do not agree with my solution to the world's problems, or even if I am aftraid that you might not agree, it is my right and in fact my duty to kill you. It's no good arguing that Communism meant well and was perverted by Stalin's paranoia; there is abundant evidence that the murderous intent was there from the beginning: Lenin was not a hero, but a monster. Religions have always been bloody, as the Islamofascists are struggling for power today, and Communism and Fascism were nothing but secular religions.
So far so good. Gray quotes the author on "the still amazing infatuation of important intellectuals with the communist Utopia". Perhaps Tismaneanu means the likes of Eric Hobsbawm, the historian who was an unrepentent Marxist and Stalinist and was celebrated in his recent obituaries as "the most celebrated British historian of the 20th century". Again, so far good. Then Gray goes on paraphrasing the book under review: "Lenin showed no signs of psychopathology...by their own account, Lenin and his followers acted on the basis of the belief that some human groups had to be destroyed in order to realize the potential of humanity...These facts continue to be ignored by many who consider themselves liberals, and it is worth asking why." And we have come to the problem.
In bringing up "liberals" Gray is not quoting the author of the book. He does this several times in his long and otherwise interesting review, and it is nothing but name-calling of the sort of that is paralysing politics in democracies today. I consider myself to be a classic liberal, that is, one who would struggle against an autocratic government. If Americans have public schools, unemployment compensation, Social Security and other such "socialist" trinkets, they have voted for them, and that is how a democracy works. No doubt there are many tax-and-spenders, academic historians, and even nice elderly working-class men nursing pints in the pub (I knew a few of those) who still think that Fascism was worse than Communism, even though Stalin killed far more people than Hitler, and who might call themselves "liberals", just as there are "conservatives" who think that the government should tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies and our minds. None of this is any excuse for name-calling.