Friday, September 30, 2005
This essay on Daily Kos from Senator Barack Obama is really quite extraordinary. Go read it.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Elbow-deep in the worst week yet, but I wanted to pass along this infuriating Brad Delong post discussing the odd tendency of the modern press to congratulate themselves on their own ignorance and obsession with trivia:
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New Republic Edition)
Kevin Drum's jaw drops as he contemplates The New Republic's Michael Crowley. Bill Clinton, you see, likes public policy and likes to talk about it. Michael Crowley doesn't like public policy--which makes one wonder why he doesn't go and write about things that do interest him. Crowley is, I think, one example of a larger trend:
The New Republic Online: Second Coming: Bill Clinton was briefing Elvis Costello on the future of New Orleans.... Clinton was really enjoying himself.... Clinton talked on.... Costello had looked starstruck himself. But now, his enthusiasm seemed to be waning.... [T]he Bill Clinton show--a chance for the ex-president to talk an endless number of hapless (though often rich and famous) souls like Costello blue in the face.
Clinton's pathological need for adulation is well-documented. (When a friend of mine--who is not famous and had never spoken with Clinton before--ran into the ex-president at a hotel gym recently, he had to fabricate an excuse to escape his long-winded ruminations.).... The conference's specific topics were suitably grandiose: poverty, climate change, religious strife, and Third World governance.... Poverty, of course, was an unfamiliar condition to those present, many of whom had paid a $15,000 registration fee to attend. At one point, one attendee whispered to an associate, "She has her own helicopter."
A little cognitive dissonance didn't preclude some genuinely noble results.... The pledges, written documents that Clinton required donors literally to sign "on the dotted line," ranged from $1 million (to improve the justice systems of Bolivia and Peru) to a promise by Michael Jordan's mother (for a hospital in Nairobi) to $1.5 million for "cheap sustainable mobility"--translation: free bicycles--for Sri Lankan tsunami survivors....
[O]ne reporter to call her editor in a mild panic. "It's just, like, so incredibly boring...."
And--as seems to be typical among our elite media--Crowley sneers most at Clinton's concern for the developing world:
For Clinton, it was just the opposite. Partly, it was a chance to show off his astounding grasp of global affairs, whether it was the 15,000 job losses in "the little mountain kingdom of Lesotho" due to an expired trade pact; or grain production in Argentina and Brazil ("because they have topsoil, in some places as deep as 22 feet"); or the promise of solar energy ("There are a million homes in Latin America today where the light and cooking heat come from solar generators ... at a cost of about a month's worth of candles"). This, in sum, was a man who wanted to demonstrate total understanding of the planet Earth....
We've seen this before, last year. People who wanted to trash Clinton's book did so by complaining that it talked about details of policy.
The second example is the Weston Kosova and Michael Isikoff review of Bill Clinton's My Life. Kosova and Isikoff lament how Clinton "forces [them] on a joyless march through... arid policy debate[s]" that they must slog through before finding a "raw, confessional moment that almost makes the book seem worth the $35 price of admission." But to politicians like Clinton (and to those who have ever worked for one, whether full-time, part-time, or volunteering just out of citizenship) the "arid policy debates" are of the essence: one runs for office--one works for or supports people who run for office--because one has strong beliefs about what policies will make America a better place. It is only to a reporter like Isikoff that debates about policies are "arid". To ask Isikoff to review Clinton is like asking someone tone-deaf to review a performance of Beethoven's "Eroica". The element of self-parody--unintentional self-parody--is there, especially as Isikoff and his editors repeatedly fail to grasp that they are tone-deaf, and are thus not hearing and incompetent to review the symphony. Where others see the real business of government--real policies with complicated and uncertain effects on millions of real people's lives--they see only the Gedrosian Desert.
The third example is another review of Clinton's My Life: Michiko Kakutani's. She sneers at Clinton's "messy pastiche of everything that [he] ever remembered and wanted to set down in print; he even describes the time he got up at 4 a.m. to watch the inaugural ceremonies for Nigeria's new president on TV." That, to her, is the low point: Clinton actually interested in a place like Nigeria! And--Kakutani is clearly thinking--could there be anything more a total boring and uninteresting waste of time than getting up at 4 A.M. to watch a broadcast from Lagos?
Well, here's the sum total of what Clinton has to say about Nigeria (that I could find, at least) in his book. It's two paragraphs:
p. 856: I got up at four in the morning to watch the inaugural ceremonies for Nigeria's new president, former general Olusegun Obasanjo, on TV. Ever since gaining independence, Nigeria had been riddled by corruption, regional and religious strife, and deteriorating social conditions. Despite its large oil production, the country suffered periodic power outages and fuel shortages. Obasanjo had taken power briefly in a military coup in the 1970s, then had kept his promise to step aside as soon as new elections could be held. Later, he had been imprisoned for his political views and, while incarcerated, had become a devout Christian and had written books about his faith. It was hard to imagine a bright future for sub-Saharan Africa wihtout a more successful Nigeria, by far its most populous nation. After listening to his compelling inaugural address, I hoped Obasanjo would be able to succeed where others had failed.
pp. 920-921: I flew to Nigeria to see President Olusegun Obasanjo. I wanted to support his efforts to curb AIDS before Nigeria's infection rate reached the levels of southern African nations, and to highlight the recent passage of the African trade bill, which I hoped would help Africa's struggling economy. Obasanjo and I attended a gathering on AIDS at which a young girl spoke of her efforts to educate her schoolmates about the disease, and a man named John Ibekwe told the gripping story of his marriage to a woman who was HIV-positive, his becoming infected, and his frantic search to get the medicine for his wife that would enable their child to be born without the virus. Eventually John succeeded, and little Maria was born HIV-free. President Obasanjo asked Mrs. Ibekwe to come up onstage, where he embraced her. It was a touching gesture and sent a clear signal that Nigeria would not fall into the trap of denial that had contributed so much to the spread of AIDS in other countries.
Plague, coups, famine, revolution, and--we hope--steps toward development and democracy. For Nigerians, the stuff of life and death. For President Clinton, the potentially most important country in Africa that he needs to know about as he tries to use his policy levers to make a better world. For an elite journalist like Michiko Kakutani, it's boring--and it is a gross violation of etiquette for Clinton to use two paragraphs in his book to try to teach Americans a little about Nigeria and give them a President's eye view of this piece of Africa.
Kakutani, Kosova and Isikoff, and Crowley. Their complaints that an ex-president is interested in governance and issues--and is actually curious about places like Lesotho and Nigeria--are self-parody. "How dare an ex-president bore me!" they say. "I know nothing about global development or foreign affairs. How dare he find them interesting!"
I have not yet figured out why so much of our elite press--the Crowleys, the Kakutanis, the Isikoffs, and the Kosovas--is so... what should I call it? Feckless. Corrupt (in the sense of well-rotted). Decadent. Why does William Saletan find it funny that Kerry tries hard to give nuanced, reasonably-complete answers to questions about issues with nuances? Why do Weston Kosova and Michael Isikoff cover the government--rather than, say, cover something like advances in bartending--if they find debates over policy the equivalent of crossing the Gedrosian Desert? Why does Michiko Kakutani think it pointless and boring to wake up early to watch the inauguration of the first democratically-elected president in sixteen years in a country of 130 million people?
It is a mystery to me.
It is, however, one reason that we are saddled with an incompetent president like George W. Bush. As David Frum writes, it has long been clear to insiders that Bush is not a "diligent manager of the office of the presidency, [or] a close student of public policy, [or] a careful balancer of risks and benefits"--that, in short, George W. Bush is totally unqualified to be president, totally unprepared to make the decisions a president has to make. But by and large the elite press has simply not cared about the necessary qualifications to be a good president, and fears a president who is qualified to be president. For, after all, strikes them as bizarre and weird for somebody to actually know where Lesotho is.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Fascinating blog entry from WWOZ manager David Freedman, describing his journey into New Orleans last week to check on the WWOZ transmitter facilities, and his efforts to get the station up and running.
Taking a cue from Norbizness, I present the musical self-audit, wherein I set the ipod to shuffle, and rate the first twenty songs that come out of it, skipping nothing. Let the gaze be unflinching.
1. Tin Roof/Back O'Town Blues - Rebirth Brass Band, Rebirth Kickin' It Live
Nice start! Slow swing dirge with a sweet vocal by Kermit Ruffins. Short of the massive skullcrackin' horn fireworks that come along with the faster songs, but nice off-beat drums and percussion, and a fat trombone solo. 8/10.
2. Satellite of Love - The Velvet Underground, Loaded (bonus track)
Yeah, I didn't really like this song as a Lou Reed solo track. This version is a bit better, a little more loping and less stilted, but even at 3 minutes, it seems to go on a bit. Ehhhh….5/10.
3. Life Worth Living - Uncle Tupelo, No Depression
A pretty song, but one of the ones that forces me to admit that Jay Farrar's lyrics can be a bit too world-weary for their own good, if clever: "a beer in each hand, and a smile in between . . . Everyone has they're ups and downs, its been mostly down around here . . . we're all lookin' for life worth livin - that's why we drink ourselves to sleep…one man's broken will to care…" et cetera. The brief outro with the mandolin is nice, and there is drama, but it's just…maybe one lonely desperate whiskey in the company of the working men in Farrar's head too many. 5.5/10.
4. Ages of You - R.E.M., Dead Letter Office
I do like the early REM stuff - cheerful, droning, incomprehensible. This is a representative sample, if not a big standout. Dead Letter Office has it's charms - I like the Aerosmith cover, anyway. 6/10.
5. Step Right Up - Tom Waits, Step Right Up
"Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets / that's right / And it entertains visiting relatives / it turns a sandwich into a banquet / Tired of being the life of the party? / Change your shorts / change your life / change your life / Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy / get rid of your wife." 10/10.
6. The Viceroys - Yaho, Respect To Studio One [compilation]
This is nice. A reggae sea chantey, with the requisite late sixties three part harmonies floating behind, and that quickly pulsing organ. 7/10
7. Bold As Love - Jimi Hendrix, Axis Bold As Love
I have been in six or so bands that cover this song, and I've heard it about a thousand times, but man - that 6/4 strumming on the chorus, and Mitch Mitchell dropping the off-time back beats, that unexpected outro. Minus .5 points because I have heard it so many times I can actually sing along to the the bass comping behind the guitar solo. 9.5/10.
8. Appearance of the Three Enchanted Princesses - Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms
Incidental music for a ballet, nothing too interesting, just flute and clarinet curlicues leading in some desultory string swells, which don't really go anywhere. No doubt more interesting with actual dancers, but I don't like watching ballet, so… 3/10.
9. The Lantern - Rolling Stones, Singles Collection, The London Years
Kind of a rolling, starting-stopping, semi-hymn, with tons of piano, nice slide work, and some echoing spacy chords. Never really builds any momentum, though. Interesting but ultimately disappointing. Originally from "Satanic Majesties," of course. 5.5/10
10. Skylark - Art Blakey & Jazz Messengers, Caravan
A nice, if a bit conventional, reading of this ballad. Freddie Hubbard has a nice tone, but...well, I'll just admit it, I'm the last guy who should rate jazz ballads. As a drummer, the *pshhh, chick! pshh, chick!* just wears on me. I tend to be easily bored even by the undeniable classics in the genre, and this...probably can't be considered one of those. 5/10.
11. The Well - Salem 66, Homestead Records Wailing Ultimate [compilation]
Ahhh, the early 90's! Where girl groups wearing 1930's party dresses roamed the earth, pounding out thudding dirges in basements across this great land. Riding on the floor tom! Relentless 4/4 chugging! Babes in Toyland, L7, and Salem 66! Excellent background singing, and a shade of R.E.M. jangle add some flavor. Not bad. 5.5/10.
12. Bang Bang - Nancy Sinatra, Kill Bill Vol. 1 Soundtrack
If you saw the movie, you know this song. 7/10.
13. Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era - Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted
I was wondering when these guys would show up. Probably the fullest sounding song on that record, including pianos, echoplexed drums, odd, scratchy background vocal howls, and the repeated (and only) lyric: "I've got one holy life to live, I've got one holy life to give." What does it mean? No idea. How does it sound? Fucking awesome. 9.5/10.
14. Something's Got To Give - Beastie Boys, Check Your Head
Jeez, the college years have arrived with a vengeance. Who am I kidding, I do love this record. In the right mood, this song is a great head-nodder, a strong, slow groove, and the processed vocals hovering dramatically back in the mix. I am not in the right mood right now, however, and the whole thing just feels a little forced. "This one's called 'rectify'!!!" Please. 6/10.
15. Plumbline - Archers of Loaf, Icky Mettle
Bears no real description - it's indie rock, man, played well, with a good singer. As Pitchfork said about a later album: "You like the Loaf? You buy the Loaf! You don't like the Loaf? No soup for you!" 6.5/10.
16. Blues by Five - Miles Davis Quintet, Cookin'
One of many "classic" Miles Davis groups (Davis, Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones), this session is really early; Coltrane takes a solo that stays mostly earthbound, there is a smooth piano run by Garland, some nice clattering fours by Jones. It's all very straight ahead. Definitely swings, though. 7/10.
17. The Travel Jam - Brand Nubian, In God We Trust
Nice loop, but the real payoff is the call and response outro - "New york!" "BANG!" Rock the house! "POW!" "Come on, and help me turn it out!" "D.C." "BANG!" Rock the house! "POW!" "Come on and help me turn it out!" Sheboygan! 8/10.
18. Liberation Frequency - Refused, The Shape of Punk to Come
Goddamn this is a loud song. Starts quiet, with an insistent rimclick driving a choppy undistorted guitar strumming, then all hell breaks loose. Min gud så att bullrig. 7.5/10.
19. The Cheat Is Not Dead - Strong Bad, Strong Bad Sings And Other Type Hits
Ahhh, ahem. Well. A bit jarring after the Brand Nubian and the Refused, but it works. The full gospel choir outro (not present in the original) is inspiring. 7/10.
20. Real Cool Time - The Stooges, The Stooges
Ahhhhh. I feel stupider just listening to this. In a good way. 8.5/10.
So, a solid average of 6.75. Not too bad. Shuffle happily shied away from the hundreds of Captain & Tennile B-Sides I have stowed away in there. Just the claps! Just the claps.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Jazzfest 2006 is on. Or, at least, so says Randy Phillips, whoever that might be:
New Orleans' premiere music event, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest), will return next year, according to Randy Phillips of AEG Live, co-producers of Jazz Fest with Festival Productions Inc. (FPI).
"We are going to do a Jazz Fest in '06," Phillips tells Billboard.com. "Where, how, with what infrastructure, will all be worked out." Phillips says the event may take place in New Orleans, depending on the progress of recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, or in a nearby market such as Baton Rouge.
Or perhaps Lafayette, if long-time Fest competitor Festival Internationale Louisiane would agree to a huge combined superfestival to bring all the tribes together. Whatever, wherever. We're going.
As for all the FEMA/Blanco/Nagin stuff, I don't know. There seems to be so much blame to go around that apportioning it on one side of the seesaw or the other is just pointless. It is undeniable that catastrophic incompetence occurred at every level of our country's disaster response system, and that should fucking terrify everyone who does not believe that there will be no further catastrophic events, ever.
But oh, lord, the lying. Must we always have the lying?
Friday, September 02, 2005
St. James Infirmary
I went down to St. James Infirmary
To see my baby there,
She was laid out on a long white table,
She was so sweet, she was so cool, she was so fair.
Went up to see the doctor,
"She's very low," he said;
Went back to see my baby
Oh God! I knew that she was dead.
I went down to old Joe's barroom,
On the corner by the square
They were serving the drinks as usual,
And the usual crowd was there.
On my left stood old Joe McKennedy,
And his eyes were bloodshot red;
He turned to the crowd around him,
These are the words he said:
Let her go, let her go, God bless her;
Wherever she may be
She may search the wide world over
And never find a better man than me
Oh, when I die, please bury me
In my ten dollar Stetson hat;
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So my friends'll know I died standin' pat.
Get six gamblers to carry my coffin
Six chorus girls to sing me a song
Put a twenty-piece jazz band on my tail gate
To raise Hell as we go along
Now that's the end of my story
Let's have another round of booze
And if anyone should ask you just tell them
I've got the St. James Infirmary blues.