Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Reservoir views, Halloween morning. The sharp-eyed may notice a passing bird or two in some of the images below.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic:
Ordinarily, a politician cannot be held responsible for the actions of a deranged follower. But ordinarily, politicians don’t praise supporters who have mercilessly beaten a Latino man as “very passionate.” Ordinarily, they don’t offer to pay supporters’ legal bills if they assault protesters on the other side. They don’t praise acts of violence against the media. They don’t defend neo-Nazi rioters as “fine people.” They don’t justify sending bombs to their critics by blaming the media for airing criticism. Ordinarily, there is no historic surge in anti-Semitism, much of it targeted at Jewish critics, coinciding with a politician’s rise. And ordinarily, presidents do not blatantly exploit their authority in an effort to terrify white Americans into voting for their party. For the past few decades, most American politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, have been careful not to urge their supporters to take matters into their own hands. Trump did everything he could to fan the flames, and nothing to restrain those who might take him at his word.
"Trump's Caravan Hysteria Led to This," October 28, 2018

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Enough is Enough

Image credit: The Dallas Holocaust Museum, via the website of Syracuse Cultural Workers, which notes, "This powerful artwork is a signature image of the DHM which hosts thousands of school children each year."

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Monk's Mood

What to listen to when you're out driving before dawn, and the streetlights are lit up because it's never really dark anymore, and the traffic lights aren't working right and already the cars are starting to fill the streets and people are on their way to do things that give them no joy but there's another day to get through, and to hell with the ones getting into their limos who will be rolling the dice for all of us today, because it's Monk, dammit, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, 1957, and open your ears and show a little respect for once for the things that really matter.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

"What Is Jazz?"

The poem below was printed in a local newspaper in 1966. As the name of the poet would mean nothing to anyone who didn't know her personally I choose to keep it private.
What Is Jazz

jazz is America's song
it's freedom
it's bebop and blues
it's bourbon street and harlem
jazz has a pulse
not a beat
(jazz is a live beast
not a metronome)
it skids and slides
it laughs and sobs
jazz can talk
it talks about yesterday and tomorrow
but mostly about today
about right now
about steamy cellars, hot coffee
and that guy sitting next to you
his troubles
his blues
and that girl he loves
jazz is young
it's always the new thing
it's always out
it wanders
it's tough; it's gutsy
jazz is brave
it does what it feels
not what's right
not what's good
jazz is people who are out
people who walk the streets
it doesn't hide
lice on rats
cold-water flats
jazz gets in
it's real
it's dirty
but jazz never lies to you
it tells you when it hates
it tells you when things are rotten
then it throws back its head
and laughs
it says
man, don't let things get you down
relax baby
enjoy yourself
like this, man
then it bops off
and lets off with a good earthy roar
and ya smile and say
hi bud can I buy you a beer?
what is jazz?
jazz is life, fella
jazz is life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Black Wall of Certainty

Amar, a Moroccan adolescent, hides out on the roof while the house he has been staying in is raided by the French, who are looking for members of the Istiqlal, an underground independence movement:
He listened: they were going back down the stairs, back along the galleries, back through the house, and away. They had parked their jeeps somewhere far out in the fields, for he waited an interminable time before he heard the faint sound of doors being shut and motors starting up. When they were gone he turned over and sobbed a few times, whether with relief or loneliness he did not know. Lying up here on the cold concrete roof he felt supremely deserted, exquisitely conscious of his own weakness and insignificance. His gift meant nothing; he was not even sure that he had any gift, or ever had had one. The world was something different from what he had thought it. It had come nearer, but in coming nearer it had grown smaller. As if an enormous piece of the great puzzle had fallen unexpectedly into place, blocking the view of distant, beautiful countrysides which had been there until now, dimly he was aware that when everything had been understood, there would be only the solved puzzle before him, a black wall of certainty. He would know, but nothing would have meaning, because the knowing was itself the meaning; beyond that there was nothing to know.
Probably my favorite of Paul Bowles's novels, The Spider's House, which was published in 1955, represents its author's most sustained attempt to depict the interior lives of Moroccans, even if the passage above seems to borrow as much from twentieth-century existentialism as it does from cultural anthropology. Other sections of the book deal, more conventionally, with an expatriate American novelist named John Stenham and a wayward young American woman named Lee Veyron. As the narratives converge, the mutual failure of understanding across cultures comes to the fore. The French colonizers, in the meantime, are depicted as cloddish torturers, while the members of the Istiqlal, who drink alcohol and sport Western clothing, are regarded by Amar (and presumably by Bowles) as corrupt and un-Islamic. Stenham, who speaks Maghrebi Arabic, deplores the encroachments of the modern world into traditional Morocco; Veyron welcomes them.

All of this no doubt reads very differently now than it did when the book was first published; the attempt of an outsider to depict (and thereby define) the consciousness of an inhabitant of a third-world country would probably be regarded as presumptuous if not downright offensive, and Bowles's pessimism about decolonization, like Naipaul's, would be seen as serving the interests of imperialism. But though Stenham seems, on the surface, an obvious stand-in and mouthpiece for Bowles, the writing of fiction exacts its toll on the characters. Stenham is a nostalgist for the primitive, but he is also an insensitive boor who ends by availing himself of his privilege as a Westerner to flee a situation that Amar has no escape from. Bowles the novelist is already a step ahead of his potential critics.