Torrential, Gut-Bucket Jazz

Ornette-coleman_jpg_600x630_q85Geoff Dyer at the New York Review of Books:

It happened that on the day the great saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman died I was watching a preview of a recently salvaged film by Sydney Pollack of the making of Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace. The album was recorded live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, the city where, in the late 1950s, Ornette and his collaborators, Charlie Haden (bass), Don Cherry (trumpet), and Ed Blackwell or Billy Higgins (drums) had formed the quartet that would soon declare the shape of jazz to come. The idea for Amazing Grace was that Aretha would record an album of the gospel music she’d grown up hearing and singing in her father’s church in Detroit. This was in 1972. John Coltrane had died in 1967, Albert Ayler—the tenor saxophonist who, along with Ornette, had played at Coltrane’s funeral—in 1970. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been dead for four years. The unifying grace of the civil rights era had given way to the fractured militancy of Black Power and revolutionary struggle.

The Southern California Community Choir march into the church with the quasi-military precision associated with the Panthers or the Nation of Islam. They’re dressed in the kind of silver, intergalactic costumes that locate the promised land in an Afro-futurist vision of outer space. But once the singing starts they reach far back into history, to the foundational elements of black American music: spirituals and gospel.

more here.

The Pope, the Saint, and the Climate

FrancisAssisiWebE.J. Dionne at Commonweal:

All of the pope’s trademark qualms about modern capitalism and his rejection of “a magical conception of the market” are sounded here, and there is a biting comment aimed at those who use the word “freedom” to offer blanket defenses of a system that leaves many behind: “To claim economic freedom,” he writes, “while real conditions bar many people from real access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practice a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.”

Yet any who claim that Francis is ignoring the Catholic past and inventing radical new doctrines will have to reckon with the care he takes in paying homage to his predecessors, particularly Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II. He cites them over and over on the limits of markets and the urgency of environmental stewardship. Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be”) is thus thoroughly consistent with over a century of modern Catholic social teaching, and if it breaks new ground, it does so within the context of a long tradition — going back to St. Francis himself.

Pope Francis poses a challenge to those of us in the wealthy nations, and he speaks specifically about how “opinion makers, communications media and centres of power are far removed from the poor.” Ouch! He demands payment of an “ecological debt” between “north and south.” Again and again, he returns to the twin ideas that the world’s poor face the largest threat from climate change and that the world’s rich have a special obligation to deal with it. The pope who immersed himself in the most marginalized neighborhoods of Buenos Aires has not forgotten where he came from.

more here.

Why Are So Many Mass Shootings Committed by Young White Men?

Josiah M. Hesse in Vice:

Why-are-so-many-mass-shootings-committed-by-young-white-men-623-body-image-1435081891When Dylann Storm Roof ended Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina and unleashed a hurricane of bullets, he secured himself a place in the dark history of young, white American males who kill strangers indiscriminately. Of course, we've known for some time that most violent crimes are committed by young people, and that men are more violence-prone than women, but in recent cases like Roof's, Sandy Hook's Adam Lanza, and the Aurora Theater's James Holmes, it seems like this newer breed of psychopath is more dangerous than its predecessors. When trying to decipher gun violence, it's tempting to focus on impoverished minority neighborhoods defined by structural woes like mass incarceration, poverty, lack of education, and so on. But research shows that mass shootings are primarily committed by white males—the most privileged class in society. So why are they the ones who snap? And is calling them “mentally ill” a way to avoid talking about race? “If you look at how the James Holmes case has played out, it's amazing how the themes [of other shootings] line up,” true-crime author Stephen Singular, who collaborated with his wife, Joyce, on the new book The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth, tells VICE. “Most of these young white shooters—they're not underprivileged, they have so many advantages, particularly in the Holmes case. He was dealing with an inner reality that he didn't know how to contend with.”

…”There's a feeling of entitlement that white men have that black men don't,” Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University and co-author of Extreme Killing, told the Washington Post in a 2012 interview. “They often complain that their job was taken by blacks or Mexicans or Jews. They feel that a well-paid job is their birthright. It's a blow to their psyche when they lose that.” Roof was reportedly unemployed at the time of the shooting, having previously worked in landscaping.

More here.

Confessions of a Seduction Addict

Elizabeth Gilbert in The New York Times:

SeduceIt started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband. In between, I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances. You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it. I can’t say that I was always looking for a better man. I often traded good men for bad ones; character didn’t much matter to me. I wasn’t exactly seeking love, either, regardless of what I might have claimed. I can’t even say it was the sex. Sex was just the gateway drug for me, a portal to the much higher high I was really after, which was seduction.

Seduction is the art of coercing somebody to desire you, of orchestrating somebody else’s longings to suit your own hungry agenda. Seduction was never a casual sport for me; it was more like a heist, adrenalizing and urgent. I would plan the heist for months, scouting out the target, looking for unguarded entries. Then I would break into his deepest vault, steal all his emotional currency and spend it on myself. If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different. (The novel doesn’t always win out over the familiar, mind you, but it often does.) The trick was to study the other woman and to become her opposite, thereby positioning myself to this man as a sparkling alternative to his regular life.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Ten Acres of Small Factories

Count from one to ten, from ten to a hundred, from a hundred to a thousand.
A thousand peach blossoms.
A thousand peonies.
A thousand winter plums.
They all look really beautiful.

A thousand buds opened from the country to the factories.
A thousand subtle scents delivered to the same verb.

Count from a second to a minute, from a minute to an hour.
From January to February, February to March.
From Spring’s Beginning to Mid-Autumn, from Mid-Autumn to Frost-Fall.
Be ready to count until the very first day
the flowers wither.

Night. Two kinds of light appear in the factory.
One is lighting for overtime work, the other is
a wicked wildfire from the corner of the Boss’s eye.
Oh, may neither dirty the girls’ green dresses.

On the employee cards there are two perfumes.
One is the sweet age of all the girls,
the other the sweat from the labor.

Payday, 10 acres of small factories, 10 acres of sesame fields in bloom.
10 acres of scent,
carried away by whom?

by Guo Jinniu
translation: Brian Holton
first published on Poetry International, 2015

How the Talmud Became a Best-Seller in South Korea

Arbes-Talmud-in-Korea-690Ross Arbes at The New Yorker:

About an hour’s drive north of Seoul, in the Gwangju Mountains, nearly fifty South Korean children pore over a book. The text is an unlikely choice: the Talmud, the fifteen-hundred-year-old book of Jewish laws. The students are not Jewish, nor are their teachers, and they have no interest in converting. Most have never met a Jew before. But, according to the founder of their school, the students enrolled with the goal of receiving a “Jewish education” in addition to a Korean one.

When I toured the boarding school last year, the students, who ranged in age from four to nineteen, were seated cross-legged on the floor of a small tentlike auditorium. Standing in front of a whiteboard, their teacher, Park Hyunjun, was explaining that Jews pray wearing two small black boxes, known as tefillin, to help them remember God’s word. He used the Hebrew words shel rosh (“on the head”) and shel yad (“on the arm”) to describe where the boxes are worn. Inside these boxes, he said, was parchment that contained verses from one of the holiest Jewish prayers, the Shema, which Jews recite daily. As the room filled with murmurings of the Shema in Korean, the dean of the school leaned over to me and said that the students recited the prayer daily, too, “with the goal of memorizing it.”

more here.

punk rock: giving ‘the saints’ their due

Screen-shot-2015-06-19-at-1-48-50-pmTim Sommer at The Observer:

Almost indisputably, three bands laid the foundations for English-speaking punk rock: the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Saints. Completely ignorant of each other and working more-or-less simultaneously on three different continents, these groups arrived at remarkably similar sounds. The Ramones began performing in the summer of 1974, and commercially released music in February of 1976; the Sex Pistols began performing in November of 1975, and released music in November of ’76; and the Saints began playing in Brisbane, Australia, in late 1973, and released their first music in September of 1976.

Now, the Saints aren’t as well known as the other two (at least in the States—it’s a different story in Australia and Britain), which is a damn shame, because the Saints’ second album, Eternally Yours, is not only one of the best albums to come out of the whole first wave of punk, it’s also one of the best albums of the decade.

There had been hints of greatness—well, more than hints—on the band’s first album, I’m Stranded (recorded in late ’76, released in early ’77). That landmark LP featured some first-rate material wrapped in a blubbering, charging, cavernous roar. The Saints hinted at an awareness of r&b vernacular, but wedded it to a quadruple-timed fanaticism and buzz-saw guitars.

more here.

Finding Our Bearings with Art

NigredoJohn Lysaker at nonsite:

We have come some way from the days when a stone torso fixed a poet and lead him to speak of its gaze, one that saw, even read him head to toe. For many if not most, it is now the reader or viewer or listener that sets the terms of such encounters, attenuated as they are. That is, it is no longer simply beauty that is in the eye of the beholder, but everything there is to say about a work and whatever might be found there. Not that “reader response criticism,” whether based in affect, cultural identity, and/or the neuro-Kantian turn, is the principal variable in this turn away from the sensibility that enabled Rainer Maria Rilke to write “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” But even without exploring the art market and museum culture, one has a firm sense that the basics of aesthetic engagement have changed in our age of digital reproduction.

Permit me an anecdote. I asked my “What is Art?” class: “How often do you listen to music?” “All the time,” I was told, each reporting that he or she listened for at least an hour a day. “But what do you mean by listen,” I asked. “Do you play the music just to listen to it, to follow it, to see where it goes and where it takes you? And then again, maybe a day or two later, listen again, armed with a few anticipations that, if you’re lucky, will cede to more intriguing discoveries? And might all that then ask of you something, something dear?” No. Music accompanied some other activity: studying, working-out, walking to class. For these students, and I do not believe they are unique, though they certainly were talented and a pleasure to engage, music had become ambient, what Brian Eno glosses as “an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint.”

more here.

A Heritage of Hate: Why it’s the duty of every white American to burn a Confederate flag

Erik Bryan in The Morning News:

Confederate_flag_story_1260_945_80What honor do we owe Confederate soldiers? They fought on the losing side of one of the most inhumane causes in human history, perhaps second only to that of the Nazis. I don’t believe this is an exaggeration. The Civil War—begun in earnest with a Confederate siege and bombardment of the US Army in Fort Sumter—claimed over half a million lives and destroyed numerous American cities, all so a minority group could be kept in chains. (Ever notice how proudly neo-Nazis in America display the Confederate flag? Does that not in itself put to rest any notion of “heritage, not hate”?) Why in the name of anything holy should the Confederate cause be memorialized at all? Why should we continue to esteem their hatred for and oppression of blacks by flying the battle flag of their soldiers? Especially considering how widespread their toxic and violent ideologies remain in America to this day.

…This whole discussion and the events leading up to it are shameful, and let’s be perfectly clear: This is white people’s fault. This is white people’s shame, and we have to do something about it. How do we meaningfully honor the victims in Charleston? How can we discourage support for white supremacy? How do we honor the millions of victims of white supremacy going back to the Civil War and before? We probably can’t do anything to ever atone for so many generations of suffering and hardship, but we can do something small and expedient. We can rid our public spaces of support for the Confederacy. We can demand our legislators and representatives—by any means necessary—to strip every public building and stretch of land of any recognition of those who rebelled against our United States and who brought death and destruction to our nation rather than recognize the liberty of a portion of its citizens. We can metaphorically spit in the eyes of our hateful ancestors who believed that their fellow human beings belonged in bondage. We can do this now, in our time. There are no excuses. There can be no delays. There’s simply no heritage of the Confederacy worth preserving. The Confederacy was trash. My ancestors, like yours, were wrong to do what they did, and I’d think after 150 years we can own up to that.

More here.

How gravity kills Schrödinger’s cat


Elizabeth Gibney in Nature:

If the cat in Erwin Schrödinger's famous thought-experiment behaved according to quantum theory, it would be able to exist in multiple states at once: both dead and alive. Physicists' common explanation for why we don’t see such quantum superpositions — in cats or any other aspect of the everyday world — is interference from the environment. As soon as a quantum object interacts with a stray particle or a passing field, it picks just one state, collapsing into our classical, everyday view.

But even if physicists could completely isolate a large object in a quantum superposition, according to researchers at the University of Vienna, it would still collapse into one state — on Earth's surface, at least. “Somewhere in interstellar space it could be that the cat has a chance to preserve quantum coherence, but on Earth, or near any planet, there's little hope of that,” says Igor Pikovski. The reason, he asserts, is gravity.

Pikovski and his colleagues’ idea, laid out in a paper published in Nature Physics on 15 June, is at present only a mathematical argument. But experimenters hope to test whether gravity really does collapse quantum superpositions, says Hendrik Ulbricht, an experimental physicist at the University of Southampton, UK. “This is a cool, new idea, and I’m up for trying to see it in experiments,” he says. Assembling the technology to do so, however, may take as long as a decade, he says.

More here.

No Jokes for You: Jerry Seinfeld targets politically correct campus culture

Harry Stein in City Journal:

JerrySeinfeld described how an innocuous comic observation he made at a recent performance—that, when scrolling through names on their cell phones, people assume the imperious air of “a gay French king”; illustrating with an insouciant flick of an outstretched finger—he instantly felt the room go tense, as the audience silently responded: “What are you talking about ‘gay’? What are you doing? What do you mean?’ And I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’” He added that he “could imagine a time when people would say that it is offensive to suggest that a gay person moves their hands in a flourishing motion and you now need to apologize.” Imagine it? That time is here and has been for quite a while. Like most of America, Seinfeld simply hadn’t been paying attention.

While this is obviously a fight on principle, it is just as obviously intensely personal. As Blazing Saddles marked its 40th anniversary in 2014, Mel Brooks, himself a liberal, bemoaned that racial sensitivities would preclude the film being made today—and it’s a real question whether some of Seinfeld’s most memorable episodes would pass muster in what conservative pundit Guy Benson aptly terms today’s culture of shut-up. Just off the top of my head, as a fan of the show, there were the following:

George, desperate to prove his racial bona fides by producing a black friend, seeks to befriend any black guy he can find, including a random guy on the street.

Kramer, refusing to wear a red ribbon on the AIDS walk, is set upon by a pair of gay bullies.

At the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Kramer accidentally sets fire to the Puerto Rican flag, and is attacked by a mob, including the same pair.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Memories of Wolodymyr Serotiuk's Birthday

Sometimes, riding on a train
I think of you in the thirties
and can hardly keep from crying.

We were a carousel
governed by an out of whack calliope
from Toronto to Geraldton
to Fort Francis
to Timmins
to Kenora
to Port Arthur-Fort William
to Sudbury
to Coniston
to Rouyn, Noranda
than back to Toronto.

Always back to Toronto
where we had to leave the baby Mama had.

Standing six four
a stately hussar
wearing spats, watch chain and fedora
you held my skinny six-year-old hand.
We were a pair
riding the rails.

Mama died in thirty seven
left me wit you.
“Poison in the born parts,” you told me.
The Catholic Children's Aid
said a man couldn't look after a little girl
but we fooled them
didn't we
and ran away together.

They got Ronnie though.
He was only two days old.
“Some good family
will adopt the baby,” Miss jeffrey pronounced.

“Vee Ukrainians
no let people adopt our babies.
Vee no sign avay cheeldren,” you said.

And we never did.

by Sonja Dunn
from Uncivilizing
Insomniac Press, 1997.

Complicating the History of the Left


Murtaza Vali in Blouin Artinfo (image “Der Weisse Engel,” 2011. Video, photographs, and text):

For many who followed developments at and around Zuccotti Park last fall through Naeem Mohaiemen’s prolific Facebook posts, his occasional asides — excerpted dialogue from the cult-hit 1990s teen drama “My So-Called Life”; the box-office performance of the latest installment of the “Harold & Kumar” franchise; a negative review of Steven Spielberg’s recently released film “The Adventures of Tintin” — may have seemed out of character. But anyone acquainted with Mohaiemen or his work knows that he is a keen but somewhat perverse polymath, whose possible subjects of analysis run the gamut from newsworthy events of historical record to the sorts of minor cultural artifacts that constitute what the literary theorist Lauren Berlant has dubbed the “silly archive.” Employing photography, video, and text — formats commonly used by the traditional news media — Mohaiemen, an artist, activist, and writer dually based in New York and Dhaka, Bangladesh, embeds painstaking archival research into a web of richly observed personal anecdotes and pop-culture references, presenting an idiosyncratically annotated narrative that enriches, complicates, and challenges dominant historical accounts.

Take Mohaiemen’s contribution to last year’s Sharjah Biennial: “The Young Man Was (Part 1: United Red Army),” a 67-minute video about the September 28, 1977, hijacking of Japan Airlines Flight 472, en route from Paris to Tokyo to Dhaka, by a unit of the Japanese Red Army. The film is anchored and bracketed by Mohaiemen’s personal memory of himself as a frustrated eight-year-old whose favorite TV show, “The Zoo Gang,” was superseded by a live broadcast of the hijacking-and-hostage crisis. An unprecedented media event for the young nation of Bangladesh, whose broadcast capabilities at the time were rudimentary at best, the airplane drama dragged on for days, a seeming eternity for the little boy awaiting the return of his beloved show.

While researching the project, Mohaiemen stumbled upon archival audio-recordings of the marathon radio negotiations between the hijackers’ representative, code-named Dankesu, and the Bangladeshi hostage negotiator, Air Vice Marshall A. G. Mahmud, operating from the control tower. As might be expected, in the film, Mohaiemen intersperses excerpts from these recordings with snippets of archival video — blurry bits of the original black-and-white broadcast; Japanese, American, and local news coverage of the standoff; the wonderfully dated opening credits of “The Zoo Gang”; and a sequence from a film starring one of the airplane hostages, the actress Carole Wells — all held together by his measured voice-over, which fills in the broader historical and political context.

More here.

Why things happen


Mathias Frisch in Aeon:

{i}magine a video clip of the spreading waves played backwards. What we would see are concentrically converging waves. For some reason this second process, which is the time-reverse of the first, does not seem to occur in nature. The process of waves spreading from a source looks irreversible. And yet the underlying physical law describing the behaviour of waves – the wave equation – is as time-symmetric as any law in physics. It allows for both diverging and converging waves. So, given that the physical laws equally allow phenomena of both types, why do we frequently observe organised waves diverging from a source but never coherently converging waves?

Physicists and philosophers disagree on the correct answer to this question – which might be fine if it applied only to stones in ponds. But the problem also crops up with electromagnetic waves and the emission of light or radio waves: anywhere, in fact, that we find radiating waves. What to say about it?

On the one hand, many physicists (and some philosophers) invoke a causal principle to explain the asymmetry. Consider an antenna transmitting a radio signal. Since the source causes the signal, and since causes precede their effects, the radio waves diverge from the antenna after it is switched on simply because they are the repercussions of an initial disturbance, namely the switching on of the antenna. Imagine the time-reverse process: a radio wave steadily collapses into an antenna before the latter has been turned on. On the face of it, this conflicts with the idea of causality, because the wave would be present before its cause (the antenna) had done anything. David Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Reed College in Oregon and the author of a widely used textbook on classical electrodynamics, favours this explanation, going so far as to call a time-asymmetric principle of causality ‘the most sacred tenet in all of physics’.

On the other hand, some physicists (and many philosophers) reject appeals to causal notions and maintain that the asymmetry ought to be explained statistically.

More here.

The Great Divide


William Dalrymple in The New Yorker:

In August, 1947, when, after three hundred years in India, the British finally left, the subcontinent was partitioned into two independent nation states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Immediately, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan (the latter now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Many hundreds of thousands never made it.

Across the Indian subcontinent, communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium attacked each other in a terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other—a mutual genocide as unexpected as it was unprecedented. In Punjab and Bengal—provinces abutting India’s borders with West and East Pakistan, respectively—the carnage was especially intense, with massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered.

Nisid Hajari, in “Midnight’s Furies” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), his fast-paced new narrative history of Partition and its aftermath, writes, “Gangs of killers set whole villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits.”

By 1948, as the great migration drew to a close, more than fifteen million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead. The comparison with the death camps is not so far-fetched as it may seem. Partition is central to modern identity in the Indian subcontinent, as the Holocaust is to identity among Jews, branded painfully onto the regional consciousness by memories of almost unimaginable violence.

More here.

Looking at the world through the eyes of Barbara Hepworth

Barbara_hepworth_working_on_curved_form_bryher_ii_1961_courtesy_bowness_hepworth_estateAli Smith at The New Statesman:

She is known for these holes, and for strings – at a certain point she began using strings over the hollows and holes of some of her abstract works, as if gesturing towards some mythical Orphean instrument, or conjuring a reminder of gut membrane. “The strings were the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind and the hills,” she wrote, both matter of fact and ­romantic. Henry Moore was dismissive, “a matter of ingenuity rather than a fundamental human experience”, he said of the stringing – as if ingenuity weren’t pretty fundamental to the human experience. “If every artist could truly, and with dedication, pull the string with which he was born – to the end – then a new concept could evolve,” Hepworth said in 1966, recalling her friendship with Piet Mondrian in a London full of cross-fertilisation between artists living and working together in the 1930s, London vibrant with pople who had left Europe in the rise of totalitarianism, all working in the face of the oncoming war. Those strings are somehow about such connecting, and also about stamina.

It is hard not to quote Hepworth’s own words about her art. She was an elegant articulator of her own and others’ work (keen in any case to represent herself: she usually took the official photographs of her work, and work by her second husband, Ben Nicholson, too, when they were together, for publicity and showing purposes; she happens also to have been a very good photographer).

more here.