Friday, May 30, 2008

Don't say you weren't warned


Here is the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. If you look carefully, you will notice some differences from the standard picture postcard view.

According to the Daily Mail, "This is the apocalyptic scene terrorists hope to create if they ever get their hands on a nuclear bomb. The computer-generated image below was posted on an Islamic extremists' website yesterday."

There are of course reasons not to take it seriously, if you don't want to.

It's journalistic sensationalism, intended to stoke readership. True. It would be very hard to transport, assemble, and detonate a nuke that could do this. True again. It's a madman's fantasy. Yes, the Muslim jihadist's version of a skin-magazine centerfold. And so on.
The FBI was quick to point out that it had not issued any warning and that the video was not an official Al Qaeda release through its media arm, Al Sahab, but simply an ' amateur' collection of old footage spliced together and posted on the Internet. U.S. analysts said a lot of effort had been put into the video - entitled Nuclear Jihad, The Ultimate Terror - with graphics, music, and clips of different leaders and groups.

The same expertise seems to have gone into creating this image of a devastated Washington.

Al Sahab puts out more than 80 'officially sanctioned' videos a year to keep up the propaganda on the West. And the Internet shows how easy it is to stir up militancy. One message with the Washington picture said: 'The next strike's in the heart of America. When? When? When? And How?'
Despite the relative ease of computer graphics, someone spent considerable time and effort to create this imaginary scene of a devastated Washington. (To see the picture in all its loving detail, click to enlarge it on the Daily Mail site.) Without a doubt, there are people (very likely in the United States) who relish the idea. And who would love to make it happen.

So what's the point? We've known this for seven years, come September.

The point is this. I've made it before, but I think it bears repeating.

The United States government says, "
Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States today. According to one recent survey, there are 1,209 mosques in America, well over half founded in the last 20 years." The New York Times reports, "In 2005, more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent U.S. residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades. More than 40,000 of them were admitted last year, the highest annual number since the terrorist attacks, according to data on 22 countries provided by the Department of Homeland Security."

Right, so we're bringing in 100,000 Muslims a year, in round figures. The great majority of them would have nothing to do with nuking Washington or anything similar. They are perfectly willing to wait 30 or 40 years for their high birth rate and demographics to bring the Caliphate and shari'a law in peacefully. Let's be generous and say that no more than 1 percent of Muslims admitted permanently to the United States are violent jihadists. Only 1,000 a year, ready to use all their ingenuity and fanaticism to produce something like the scene pictured above.

So we have basically two choices. We can trust to luck — yes, luck — and hope that those 1,000 a year all get frustrated and give up, or are all detected in time and prevented from carrying out their mission, or fail at it.

The other option is to allow no Muslim immigration. Zero. Not even allow Muslims to
visit the United States except for a handful who have been vetted six ways from Sunday.

That's unfair to the other 99 percent of Muslim would-be immigrants? Yes, if you don't mind the country eventually being under shari'a law, like Britain in a few more years. Yes, if you believe that anyone on earth has a "right" to colonize the United States.

If that is what you believe, then damn you, and I hope you are standing at Ground Zero if the kind of people who created the vision of a skeletal Washington pull it off.


According to another report, the image of a blasted Washington was taken from a computer game (which strikes me as a rather sick production). If true, you can strike from the above posting the picture of a jihadweasel toiling away in a dark room to paint with pixels his dream of the Great Satan humbled. The Daily Mail has not changed its story about the webcasting of the image on a militant Muslim site.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Your privacy is important to us. We'll take all we can."

Reels of world's heaviest conveyor belt.

I got a card in the mail from a company I'd done business with, one time.

On the front it says: "Your right to privacy is not a matter we take lightly." But do they ever take it.

On the other side it says (emphasis added):

"We collect nonpublic personal information about you from the following sources:

"(a) information we receive from you on applications or other forms; (b) information
about your transactions with us; (c) information we receive from consumer reporting agencies.

"We may disclose all the information we collect to companies that perform marketing services on our behalf or to other financial institutions with whom we have joint marketing agreements. … Otherwise, we do not disclose any nonpublic personal information about you (or about any current or former customer) to anyone, except as permitted by law. We restrict access to nonpublic, personal information about you to those employees who need to know that information to provide products or services to you. We maintain physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards that comply with federal regulations to guard your nonpublic personal information."

In plain English: "We give every mite of your personal information in our possession to anyone and everyone we have a marketing agreement with. Your personal information is restricted to people who want to know as much as they can about you so they can sell you things. Unfortunately, there are certain federal regulations that we are forced to comply with so we don't get into trouble."

Thanks for reassuring me.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

The New New Mexico


The "old" New Mexico is still there. It's just a little harder to find.

I've returned from a week in Santa Fe, Taos, and points along the way. Most of the trip was uplifting, in a way that is peculiarly New Mexican. If you live there, or have spent some time there, you know what I mean. If not, you shouldn't deny yourself the experience.

The mystique remains, but things change, even in New Mexico.


It's no secret that the streets around the Plaza in Santa Fe have become a shopping mall and theme park; that was true even when I lived in the city, from 1982 to 1991. This is high-class shopping, for the most part, an exotic bazaar. Lots of designer fashion and handmade jewelry, less coyote and Kokopelli "art" than there used to be, for which God be thanked. What took me aback was how much outdoor space has now been tarted up with sculpture.

There seems hardly a public area downtown that doesn't have a carved or molded totem -- from noble Indian to Rube Goldberg contraption. I'll admit I'm less keen on sculpture than painting, so take this with a dash of salt if you want, but a lot of the aesthetic building boom strikes me as detracting from, not adding to, a genuinely old and atmospheric city.

Part of the beauty of the traditional architecture, especially the Pueblo Revival style, is the purity of its form: spare, curvilinear, almost Zen-like in its self-contained grace. Plopping sculptures in front of it or in its courtyards adds a jarring element, an aggressive over-the-top gesture.


It isn't a spontaneous outpouring of creativity, but a tourism-industry pitch, screeching at you (in case -- very unlikely -- you forget) that you are in the epicenter of art. "Art!" "Art!" "Art!" Buy!

When you enter Archbishop Lamy's cathedral, the silence and religious iconography come as a relief, almost as much as the neo-Gothic church at 5th Avenue and 53rd Street lifts you out of the crowded and noisy hell of Manhattan. Mammon has not triumphed. Not completely.


There have been improvements in Santa Fe as well. The restaurants are better, and you have more choices than "red or green?" (That is, which color chile pepper do you want on your enchiladas?) The unstoppable expansion of the city on the south side is marked by pretty good traditional architecture. Even the despised Cerrillos Road, the main commercial drag, is no longer the eyesore it once was.

Looks aside, the spirit hasn't been driven out of Santa Fe. It's an easygoing place. My old acquaintance Bill Hearne is still playing wonderful country and bluegrass with his trio in the lounge at La Fonda, and couples artfully dance the two-step to his music. Hank Williams is not forgotten in these parts.

My wife and I drove out to Abiquiu and Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch. I liked the landscape a lot better than her paintings of it. There is a mesa you can see off in the distance, one of her frequent subjects, where it is said that the Kachinas appear during lightning storms. I believe it.


Taos seems to me in every way a better environment than when I last visited more than 20 years ago. The formerly dreary highway strip leading into the old town has been, like Cerrillos Road, drastically upgraded. Taos is arty, too, but the pretentiousness has yet to reach Santa Fe proportions. The city seems, for the moment, to have struck a good balance: welcoming to visitors, a reasonably sophisticated gallery scene, not overgrown, and set amid spectacular scenery.


The only sour note in both Santa Fe and Taos was the political correctness I sensed constantly. Santa Fe has been a leftist burg for as long as I've known it, full of spoiled trust-fund babies acting out their guilt trips. The latest trendy cause is Tibet. (Oppressed Latin Americans are still in vogue, but just a bit passé; blacks -- oh, my dear, so 1968.) When we arrived at the Plaza an awful rock band was playing at a rally to support Tibet against China. For a change I agree with the Beautiful People; Tibet has been cruelly violated by China since it was invaded almost 60 years ago. But it was hard to escape the feeling that the pervasive Tibetitude was less about human rights than joy at finding a new Victim Group to celebrate.

In Taos the artistes and especially the young drive around with their bumper sticker virtue, including that "COEXIST" thing with the symbols of the world religions implying that they're all just different varieties of spirit -- you're a bigot if you question why a certain religion feels the need to convert the rest of humankind through bombs and jihad -- and, of course, OBAMA '08. I used to look forward to when my "sixties" generation would be dead, imagining that young minds who hadn't been nurtured on Chairman Mao's Little Red Book would kiss off the reflexive leftist ideologies of their elders. Instead they are imitating them. Yet another generation lost to the indoctrination of the media and the Marxist-soaked academics.


The guidebooks like to talk about the multi-culturalism of New Mexico, the creative mixing of Indian, Spanish, and Anglo heritage. The only thing missing today is the Anglo. To judge from the arts and crafts galleries and the culture establishment, you'd think Ind -- excuse me, Native Americans and Spanish were the only ones that counted, practically the only people who ever existed in New Mexico. And how the Native Americans are in tune with the Earth, guardians of the Land, humble before the Great Spirit.

Give me a flipping break. These peaceful worshipers of Nature have scarred the landscape far and wide with Las Vegas-style casinos, their billboards and huge animated electronic signs by the highways luring the suckers. However it may have been in the past, today's reality is that the Anglos are almost obsessively respectful of the environment, while the Indians crucify it.

And in this Reign of Political Correctness, all we learn about is how the Spanish built lovely missions and made colorful furniture. Well, it's true, they did. They also did some not very nice things, but we don't talk about those.

There is one acceptable, nay, sainted Anglo, the aforementioned Georgia O'Keeffe. Her shrine, the museum in Santa Fe, is the no. 1 tourist draw.

But whatever people make of it, the land is big and the sky is bigger in New Mexico. They belong to the gods of the ancient ones. The Kachinas drew down the lightning, the sun turned the rocks gold in the day and violet at dusk, the stars pierced the onyx bowl of midnight. They still do.


"Ever afterward the Bishop remembered his first ride to Ácoma as his introduction to the mesa country. One thing which struck him at once was that every mesa was duplicated by a cloud mesa, like a reflection, which lay motionless above it or moved slowly up from behind it. These cloud formations seemed to be always there, however hot and blue the sky. Sometimes they were flat terraces, ledges of vapor; sometimes they were dome-shaped, or fantastic, like the tops of silvery pagodas, rising one above another, as if an oriental city lay directly behind the rock. The great tables of granite set down in an empty plain were inconceivable without their attendant clouds, which were a part of them, as the smoke is part of the censer, or the foam of the wave.

"Coming along the Santa Fé trail, in the vast plains of Kansas, Father Latour had found the sky more a desert than the land; a hard, empty blue, very monotonous to the eyes of a Frenchman. But west of the Pecos all that changed; here there was always activity overhead, clouds forming and moving all day long. Whether they were dark and full of violence, or soft and white with luxurious idleness, they powerfully affected the world beneath them. The desert, the mountains and mesas, were continually re-formed and re-colored by the cloud shadows. The whole country seemed fluid to the eye under this constant change of accent, this ever-varying distribution of light."

-- Willa Cather
Death Comes for the Archbishop


Friday, May 16, 2008


I am going on vacation and will probably not be posting until after May 24. For one thing, I do not have a laptop, and unless one falls off a truck while I am on the way to the airport, I will not be taking one along. For another thing, I am a lazy sod.

Then again, lots of hotels have internet access for their honored guests, and even for their regular guests like me, so I might put up an entry or two just to keep my hand in. You never know.

Meanwhile, as always, I recommend checking out the links in the blogroll to the right.


Marriage à la various modes

Hoo ha. The California Supreme Court has set the cat among the pigeons by cutting down the state's ban on gay marriage. Traditionalist conservative blogs like Vanishing American are talking about whether this means legalizing polygamy is next.

Not so many years ago the very idea would have been absurd. But "anything goes" tolerance rolls on. In the U.K. the welfare state now recognizes multiple wives of Muslims.

After polygamy … no, I don't even want to think about it. There are endless possibilities.

Until the 19th century, the ruling Doges of Venice symbolically married the sea that had brought their city-state so much wealth through trade. Once a year they had a ceremony when the top dog, er, Doge was rowed out to the middle of the lagoon and he cast a large ring into the water.

Voltaire complained that the marriage was invalid because it lacked the consent of the bride.

That, however, doesn't seem to be an impediment to some Muslim marriages.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

They came, they saw, they issued a press release

A certified Obama-free posting™ !
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According to the French Ministry of Culture, this bust — recently found by archaeologists in the Rhône River in France — is the oldest surviving portrait of Julius Caesar, dating from 46 BC. (Tip of the hat: rogueclassicism.)

If true, that is a pretty remarkable discovery. There are almost no portrait busts of the consul who became dictator dating from his own lifetime. (46 BC was two years before his assassination.) The sculptures of Caesar that have survived are idealized figures from the Empire period.

Discoveries like this often leave me a fraction dubious, though. The official statement from the French culture ministry says, "il date sans doute de la création de la ville d’Arles en 46 avant Jésus-Christ" (it undoubtedly dates from the creation of the town of Arles in 46 BC).


Okay, from its location and surroundings, it might be possible to surmise that this sculpture dates from that year. But what reason is there to state, with such assurance, that this is a likeness of Caesar?

The culture ministry's statement says only that it is "typical of the realistic portraits of the Republican era." I do not understand the parenthetical phrase "(calvitie, traits dus à l'âge...)" that follows; help, anyone who knows French better than I?


But Arles long predates 46 B.C. It was a Greek colony for centuries earlier. It was Roman as early as 123 B.C. After the Civil War, in which Arles was canny enough to side with Caesar against Pompey, Caesar made Arles into a colony for settlement by veterans of his Sixth Legion. Rewarding his veterans with money and land was a key part of Caesar's political policy for retaining their loyalty, something that no Roman could count on in the very unsettled times of the late Republic. (I happen to remember this because I am reading a biography of Julius Caesar, by Adrian Goldsworthy.)

Caesar, I believe, was involved in the African campaign in 46 BC, or in any case not in Arles. The town would have been ruled by a local magistrate, probably under the proconsul in charge of Transalpine Gaul. My point is this: it is certainly possible that a bust of Caesar was created in Arles in 46 BC, but could have been of many other people as well, maybe even a rich private citizen.


Are archaeologists, or culture ministers, publicity hounds? Have they identified this portrait as being Caesar simply because they know that will attract the most interest … and help them get more funding for their digs?

Mind you, I'm all for archaeology. Digging up remnants of the past is fascinating, and should be funded much better than it is. (I understand that there is a treasure trove of stuff still unexcavated at Herculaneum, in danger of imminent destruction by pollution, and the archaeologists there are beside themselves with frustration because there's no money for the work to bring the artifacts to light and preserve them.)

Still, there is such a thing as intellectual honesty. Or humility in the face of what can't be known for sure. Even government culture ministries — no; especially government culture ministries — ought to keep to the straight and narrow and leave sensationalism to the tabloids.


Here is an interesting article about the archaeological finds as Rome builds a third Metro line. One problem is that they dig up so many ancient artifacts that there is no place to put them all! Incredibly, it seems that some are just being recorded and destroyed. What a waste. Surely there could be some kind of "you come take it away, it's yours" system. I'd be glad to do my bit by accepting an interesting piece of the ancient world, even if it wasn't of any great historic or artistic importance.


Monday, May 12, 2008

'Ere, 'ere, wot's all this then?

Muslim bobbies for sharia law and order

I haven't made many entries lately in the "Britain self-destructs" category. No novelty value. Dog bites man. Small earthquake in Chile. Politician denies wrongdoing, says photo of him accepting bribe taken out of context. Yawn.

Still, for old times' sake, let's remind ourselves what happens when a nation convinces itself it must adapt to its heterogeneous colonists. Here's a four-year-old BBC news article, picked up by Dhimmi Watch last Friday:
Chief inspector Richard Varley of the Association of Muslim Police said he hoped staff would be able to pool ideas and experiences at the seminars. Mr Varley said his own force, the Metropolitan Police, had addressed a number of the needs of Muslim staff, but he would like to see that extended across all forces.

"I hope the seminars will result in more improvements in the working conditions and environment for Muslim staff. For example, I'd like to see prayer facilities at work being pretty more universal as they are at the Met where there's a prayer room at New Scotland Yard," he said.

It is not known exactly how many Muslims work for the police service, as no religious monitoring is carried out. However, after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report in 1999, all forces across England and Wales were set a 10-year target for ethnic minority recruitment. Each force was set individual recruitment targets, which reflect the cultural diversity of the community it serves.

But earlier this year the Metropolitan force admitted it was highly improbable it would meet its target of 25% ethnic minority staff by 2009.
The Met does not need to be bothered about Muslim recruitment targets. Once King Charles the Dhimmi acknowledges sharia law for al-Britannia, it won't be a donkey's age before the police force will be 100 percent Muslim "to reflect community values." I do not believe that there will be a drive to recruit ethnic minorities such as indigenous British.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Do conservatives "rationalize" inequality?

A study funded by the National Science Foundation says conservatives are happier than liberals — because they "rationalize" social and economic inequalities.
Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person's tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities. The rationalization measure included statements such as: "It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others," and "This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are."

"Our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives," the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science, "apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light."

The article's, or study's, ill-concealed antagonism toward conservatives (or as the reporter puts it, "individuals with conservative ideologies") might be summed up: conservatives are selfish, irrational people who pretend to believe in meritocracy ("in which people supposedly move up their economic status in society based on hard work and good performance") to justify their good luck or privilege. Liberals, however, look around, see inequality and weep for the sheer unfairness of it all, which gashes their hearts and makes them unhappy.


That is how individuals with liberal ideologies view the world. Conservatives, if asked to explain their ideas rather than given prefabricated answers (e.g., "It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others") might say something like the following.

Conservatives start from observing the world's realities, rather than demanding that the world live up to an impossible, Utopian vision. They recognize that all people are equal in God's sight, or should be under the law, but not in abilities or any number of other characteristics. A good society tries to maximize the possibilities for people to succeed in their chosen endeavors and to create equal opportunities for all — but that's as far as any society can and should go.


Once past that point, a pseudo-equality can only be enforced by artifice and favoritism. It requires devaluing accomplishment and justifying its lack. Every inequality of outcome must be attributed to prejudice or unfairness. Under this system, everyone has a "right" to whatever they they think is their due,
and an endless round of grievance ensues.

Since by this definition all inequality is victimization, it follows that the full weight of the state must be brought to bear so the issue
comes out "right." Its authority must level out achievement, overlook incompetence and lower standards. As Melanie Phillips titled one of her books, "everyone must have prizes."

In the real world, not that of egalitarian fantasies, this parody of equality is never the real item. There are always those who rise to the top through some combination of ability, determination, luck, and ruthlessness. They may be called "comrade" or "Director of the Office of Racial and Gender Equality," but they are still the ones who have power over others' lives.


It is a big deal if some people have more of a chance in life than others. But it is self-defeating, and opens the way to tyrannical control, to obsess over the fact of nature that not everyone will end up with equal wealth or power. Maybe that is not what we are on earth for and our souls have quite other purposes for being incarnated. Maybe conservatives tend to understand this to one degree or another. If they are happier, could that be a reason?


Monday, May 05, 2008

Japan celebrates non-diversity

In case you missed it, I recommend Takuan Seiyo's fascinating "Astarte and Amaterasu — The Diverging Destinies of Europe and Japan" at Brussels Journal. (Part One here; Part Two here.)

Seiyo tries to answer the question of why these two civilizations have responded so differently to aspects of the modern world, especially mass migration and the pressure to dissolve the indigenous culture in a multi-national soup.
Inconveniences and differences notwithstanding, there is one overwhelming blessing that makes me glad to be in Japan. It's the daily experience of living in a country that, unlike Western Europe, and increasingly the United States, does not actively pursue it's own extinction.

I am a European. Ich kann nicht anders. Europe had left my parents long before they left it almost 50 years ago, so now I am a Euro-American and I take this distinction seriously. Still, I don't feel the religious impulse except in a church that's at least 300 years old; and it's only European music that penetrates to my soul, and only European languages in which I can express what I hold dearest, and only European artifacts that satisfy my love of beauty and craftsmanship. Well, not quite – Japanese artifacts do that too.

But Europe is my Beatrice: a pure vision of the past with little resemblance to what she is now. The real, contemporary Beatrice does presume to tread the path, like Dante Alighieri's muse, from Purgatory to Heaven, but the Compass of Reality shows that the path in fact leads in the opposite direction: back to Virgil's guided tour of Hell. This is a Beatrice with a bipolar personality disorder, self-inflicted cicatrices, labial and nasal rings and tattooed breasts, sporting combat boots and a black leather suit with a Palestinian terrorist's kaffiyeh wrapped around her studded dog collar, with a book of onanistic gibberish by an Althusser or Bataille or Foucault in one hand, and a Quranic whip for self-flagellation in the other.

Japan, he argues, has its own social ills, but they don't include inviting non-Japanese populations to come in and take over like the bikers did to the town in The Wild Ones. Nor are they going to dilute their national sovereignty because borders are so 19th century, so un-progressive.

I've read several blog postings and comments lately trying to diagnose why European nations, or at least their rulers and intelligentsia, are culturally suicidal. One popular explanation is the trauma that settled in following two horrendous world wars, or as some historians say, one with a 20-year intermission. The psychological damage is easy to understand, especially for Germany, France, and Britain, which lost huge numbers of people and suffered devastation from air raids and combat.


According to this theory, there was a tendency to blame nationalism for the disaster, and see the cure in erasing boundaries and growing a multi-national Great Brain to replace petty squabbling governments. And a lingering guilt for the atrocities committed during the war, particularly in Germany of course, but even in Britain for bombing non-military targets like Dresden or inflicting dreadful civilian casualties such as in Hamburg.

But it's too glib an explanation. The Soviet Union lost some 10 million soldiers killed, along with 14 to 17 million civilians, about 14 percent of the pre-war population (equivalent to a loss of 42 million in today's U.S.) — simply staggering, beyond conception for most of us. Yet the Soviet Union, needless to say, remained fiercely patriotic or nationalistic (take your pick) during the Cold War, and its constituent nations and the newly independent nations that devolved from it remain completely uninterested in being absorbed in an international, multi-cultural blob.

The same for Japan. While not as much of the homeland was trashed as in Europe, raids in 1945 on Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki attracted some notice. The Japanese armed forces were shredded, the country experienced an unquestionable defeat, and it was ruled by American occupation forces for several years after the war.


Yet, according to Seiyo and other sources, that has not made the Japanese ashamed to be Japanese, although they have every right to feel as guilty as Germans for their conduct in the '30s and '40s. For that matter, Russians have as much reason to loathe the memory of their leaders in the Stalinist era.

Every country, like every person, has events in its past that should cause remorse. But a continuous history is one of the ways that the mistakes of the past can contribute to avoiding them in the future. Respect for human rights and property, the rule of law, and many other benefits of a civilized society didn't spring up spontaneously. They are the fruit of bitter experience.


When you cut the mystic chords of memory you cut out the roots of a civilization. And you can't just replace them with a cultural mish-mash and a Universal Declaration of Rights or sententious propositions. When the local and particular is replaced by a centralized bureaucratic state, it doesn't change the facts of human nature or insure that oil and water will mix. Just because different cultures mingle within the former boundaries of nations can't make them live harmoniously together. Apparently the Japanese understand as much.

Seiyo writes:
Japan … has been preparing for a future with a smaller and older population. Instead of importing Asian nurses, Japan has developed robots that care for hospital patients, or it exports its old and infirm to the countries where the nurses are. Instead of importing window and wall washers, it has developed nano-polymers that repel dust and dirt. Instead of importing street sweepers, it has mobilized retired volunteers to maintain the cleanliness of their own neighborhoods. Instead of opening its doors to primitives who happen to be refugees, Japan donates huge sums of money to refugee organizations.
So that's how. But why do they feel no apparent need to apologize for what the bien-pensants of the Western world would call xenophobia? Whatever it is, I wish we could import some, and Europe needs a transfusion.


Friday, May 02, 2008

It's academic

A certified Obama-free posting™ !
No artificial ingredients

From The Valve — A Literary Organ:

Some Uneducated Speculations on "The African Novel" in Tanzania, by Aaron Bady:
Which leads me back to continuing fascination with the ways the “Africa novel” is conceptualized through reference to states of immaturity (which I’ve been going on about here and here). In the case of Oyono and Abrahams, the “boy” of the title is a member of the first generation to leave the traditional home, the first to learn to read, and the first to have a conception of the outside world. This plot, in which the (inevitably male) protagonist becomes modern and literate at the same time as he becomes alienated from the “traditional” world, is a common plot structure among the writers of the late colonial and early independence era. Yet it’s also a very common way that African writers conceptualized their status as writers. In Achebe’s own uber-canonized Things Fall Apart, for example, the novel’s thematic center is the decision by Okonkwo’s oldest son to reject his father, convert to Christianity, and go to school. Yet this decision is also, in a very direct way, a formative event in Achebe’s own family history, which he was loosely fictionalizing: in the trilogy as he originally imagined it (he changed his plans soon after) the first novel would be about his grandfather’s time, the second about his father’s, and the third about his own. In other words, Things Fall Apart is not only a story about colonialism and traditional Igbo life, but it narrates the first branch in the genealogy of Achebe as writer, an originary moment defined by the rejection of the “traditionalism” that Okonkwo is taken to represent.
Things fall apart, all right. Like the ability to write good English. Especially after a few years in academia.

First they came for the language, but because I was not an English major, I said nothing. Then they came for popular culture, but because I was a PBS viewer, I said nothing. Then they came for me, and who was left to speak for me?


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Erroll Garner on DVD

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No artificial ingredients


One thing I try to call attention to every so often is how much good music is on DVDs. Many music enthusiasts, I am convinced, think DVDs are strictly for movies, and miss out on music performances on video.

This disc, which I rented from Netflix, is said to be the only filmed performance of Garner available on DVD. It's from two episodes (obviously shot at the same session) of a British TV program broadcast in 1964.

I gather Garner isn't quite held in the highest esteem by some alleged jazz connoisseurs. In his time he was very popular among audiences across the board, not just jazz specialists. That counts against him. If he belonged to any stylistic category, it was probably swing, with (on this recording) an occasional touch of stride piano.
Yes, he was old-fashioned: he seems not to have been influenced in the slightest by bebop, and played the kind of straight-ahead, melodic jazz that he and his audience loved.

Well, I do too, and more than ever after hearing and seeing him on this DVD. His playing is brilliantly imaginative, if never quite taking flight at the altitude of Art Tatum. One characteristic that sets him apart is the sheer joyousness of his music making. It sparkles. It uplifts. Right from the get-go, on Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things," the performance is happy — not in a corny, emotionally manipulative way, but naturally and infectiously.

Those who are used to modern jazz concerts might be a little disconcerted by the short songs and the lack of solos by his able bassist and drummer. I feel pretty sure this was not Garner's choice, but was determined by the director. Each show was only half an hour, and the director probably felt that the mass TV audience wouldn't relate to long solos.

Thank goodness someone cared enough to digitize these old films so they could be preserved on DVD. The mono sound is fine, and the video quality isn't bad, considering the vintage and the TV provenance (it's black and white, of course). The film stock had degraded a bit with age, but not enough to interfere with your pleasure at watching this great artist.

quite decent direction includes a variety of close-ups and camera angles. The close-ups of Garner's face as he was playing are unfortunate, though, designed as they were for over-the-air broadcast and small screens; with DVD resolution and a large screen, it's only too apparent that he was perspiring under the hot lighting needed for the cameras.

How I wish I could have heard Erroll Garner at a live concert, except that if I had, I'd be very old now.


What was I thinking of? " … I'd be very old now." I was in college in 1964! I could have heard Garner in concert and be exactly the same age I am.

I guess I am old now. But I don't feel old. Either that, or I am losing my marbles from age-related dementia.


The new look

Notice something different? Yes, I thought you would.

The beautiful new banner above was designed by Fresh Display Studio. I wholeheartedly recommend them for Web design — they are imaginative, technically proficient, reasonably priced, and very good at client relationship (the last is something I found sorely lacking among many talented designers when I requested bids for the job).

Expect further changes from time to time. One of my aims is for Reflecting Light to be one of the best-looking blogs around.