Monday, March 31, 2008

Castro’s daughter: “…at the end of the day, it’s true that power transforms people”

In 1993, Alina Fernández, the estranged daughter of Fidel Castro, left Cuba. She has become a critic of the regime her father built and offers some insight on her uncle Raúl Castro and the state of the Cuban people in this interview in Foreign Policy magazine:
Foreign Policy: Who is Raúl Castro?

Alina Fernández: Raúl Castro has always been the second main character of Cuban politics, of this process called the Cuban Revolution. He has great administrative talent, which he demonstrated clearly in managing the armed forces, the most efficient—and the only—institution in Cuba. He’s not a liberal or democratic person; he’s a communist of the old orthodox school. He’s a man who, for the first time in his life, has the right to make decisions as a first, and not second, in command. He has a very pragmatic attitude. He’s going to make all kinds of economic changes except those that could affect the political system in any way, as evidenced by the fact that he appointed personalities of the oldest guard.

FP: As you said, it’s the first time in his life that Raúl is going to have the chance to decide alone. Is this going to affect his personality and choices?

AF: I know that power changes people. I know because I saw it. There’s almost a physical effect. With power, you can see the person suffering from a dramatic change of personality. But what I can tell you is that the Raúl Castro I know doesn’t suffer from any form of messianic delirium. He’s a very rational, organized, and caring person ... more than anybody else in the family. But at the end of the day, it’s true that power transforms people.

FP: When did you see Raúl last?

AF: In 1989, I started having contact with Cuban dissidents. Obviously, when you are in contact with political opponents to the regime someone built, you automatically become his enemy. I saw him last at that time, and I haven’t seen him since.

FP: Is it hard for you to criticize your own family?

AF: It’s been so long since I made my choice and started speaking this way that I’m now kind of used to it. It’s hard, sure, but there are many hard things in life and I know I’ve got to do this for my country. I want to make up for at least a bit of the great mess my family made in my country. Castro is the reason why 3 million Cubans have to live abroad, to escape on boats. And he’s why I had to run away from my country with my daughter.

FP: Why did things go so wrong? At the beginning, they said the revolution was meant to help the Cuban people.

AF: Everybody keeps on talking about revolution as something ideal, but they simply forget that this was 50 years ago. And now, today, people in Cuba are living in barely passable conditions. They can’t find anything in the market because no clothes, no goods are coming from outside. And the few things you can find are so expensive that no Cuban can afford them. Cubans have been eating, sleeping, and breathing ideology for the last 50 years, but you can’t live off ideology, and Raúl Castro knows it.

[As a critic of the Cuban regime,] you don’t have to speak about freedom or all the other big words. The only thing you should focus on is the total poverty in which Cubans have to live. In Cuba nowadays, there’s a double currency system in which those who only have Cuban pesos have to survive on five or 10 dollars a month. Basically, in Cuba there’s nothing for those who don’t have convertible pesos. Ironically, in the land of revolution, there’s a dramatic social inequality between those who can count on foreigners’ help and money, or work in tourism, and normal Cubans.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thelonious Monk: “Round Midnight” (1966)

This is the Thelonious Monk Quartet playing “Round Midnight” in Norway in 1966.

Thelonious Monk is on the piano, Charlie Rouse tenor sax, Larry Gales bass, and Ben Riley drums.

Monk (1917 – 1982) was a jazz pianist and composer regarded as one of the founders of bebop although his playing style evolved in different directions. His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are impossible to separate from Monk's unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations.

Round Midnight” is a 1944 jazz standard by Monk. It has been recorded with greater frequency than any other standard composed by a jazz musician.

You can see Monk perform “Epistrophy” here and “Blue Monk” here.

Senator Clinton and her Bosnia remarks

Here is the whole story of Senator Clinton’s Bosnia remarks flap from start to finish. Make up your own mind.


Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in today’s New York Times on this week’s fighting in Basra:

Fighting is now occurring in southern Iraq and parts of Baghdad between the Mahdi Army, which is under the control of the populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and a coalition of forces led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a powerful party led by a Maliki ally, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. This latter coalition has de facto control of much of the Iraqi security forces, and Mr. Hakim’s group has its own militia, called the Badr Organization.

Much of the reporting on this fighting in Basra and Baghdad — which was initiated by the Iraqi government — assumes that Mr. Sadr and his militia are the bad guys who are out to spoil the peace, and that the government forces are the legitimate side trying to bring order. This is a dangerous oversimplification, and one that the United States needs to be far more careful about endorsing.

There is no question that many elements of the Mahdi Army have been guilty of sectarian cleansing, that the Sadr movement is hostile to the United States, that some of its extremists have continued acts of violence in spite of the cease-fire Mr. Sadr declared last summer, and that some of these rogue elements have ties to Iran. No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents or ignore the violent radicals in the Mahdi Army.

But it is equally important not to romanticize Mr. Maliki, the Dawa Party or the Islamic Supreme Council. The current fighting, which the government portrays as a crackdown on criminality, is better seen as a power grab, an effort by Mr. Maliki and the most powerful Shiite political parties to establish their authority over Basra and the parts of Baghdad that have eluded their grasp.

Moreover, Mr. Maliki’s gamble has already dragged American forces part-way into the fight, including airstrikes in Basra. Striking at violent, rogue elements in the Mahdi Army is one thing, but engaging the entire Sadr movement is quite another. The official cease-fire that has kept the mainstream Mahdi Army from engaging government and United States forces may well be rescinded if the government’s assault continues.

This looming power struggle was all too clear when I was in Iraq last month. The Supreme Council was the power behind the Shiite governorates in the south and was steadily expanding its influence over the Iraqi police. It was clearly positioning itself to counter Mr. Sadr’s popular support and preparing for the provincial elections scheduled for Oct. 1.

American military and civilian officials were candid in telling me that the governors and other local officials installed by the central government in Basra and elsewhere in southern Iraq had no popular base. If open local and provincial elections were held, they said, Dawa and the Islamic Supreme Council were likely to be routed because they were seen as having failed to bring development and government services.


There are good reasons for the central government to reassert control of Basra. It is not peaceful. It is the key to Iraq’s oil exports. Gang rule is no substitute for legitimate government. But given the timing and tactics, it is far from clear that this offensive is meant to serve the nation’s interest as opposed to those of the Islamic Supreme Council and Dawa.

How will it affect America? If the fighting sets off a broad, lasting, violent power struggle between Shiite factions, most of the security gains of the last year could be lost and our military role broadened. There is also no guarantee that a victory by Dawa and the Islamic Supreme Council will serve the cause of political accommodation or lead to fair elections and the creation of legitimate local and provincial governments. Such an outcome, in fact, might favor a Dawa and Islamic Supreme Council “Iraqracy,” not democracy.

You can read the entire piece here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fight for Basra: Decisive and final battle…or ongoing stalemate?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says Basra is a "decisive and final battle.'' He is vowing to remain there overseeing operations against the Shiite Mahdi Army until security by the central government in the city is restored. However, the escalating civil war is making the political situation more muddled than before and the fighting in Basra and Baghdad seem anything but final. So far, Maliki’s offensive has only exposed the weaknesses of his government. According to the London Times:
Maliki had flown to Basra to take personal control of the military operation. But instead of sweeping to a decisive victory with American guns at his side, he was stumbling into something that looked dangerously like stalemate yesterday.

Having originally imposed a 72-hour deadline for rebels to hand in their weapons, he was forced to extend it until April 8. Yesterday he vowed to remain in Basra until the resistance was crushed. “This is a decisive and final battle,” he said.

Sadr issued an equally robust directive, ordering his fighters to ignore Maliki’s ultimatum.

At stake in Basra was not just the prime minister’s reputation, his prospects for provincial elections this autumn and control of the Iraqi oil fields, but also an entire coalition strategy of reduced troop levels, steady withdrawal and the turning over of Iraqi security to local troops.

If Maliki’s crackdown fails, both London and Washington may have to reassess Iraqi army capabilities and the risk of future disaster if coalition forces continue to withdraw. “This is a precarious situation,” one US official said yesterday. “There’s a lot to be gained and a lot to lose.”

Already this weekend there were reports that police officers and soldiers had left their posts, changed their uniforms and joined the Mahdi Army.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Basra conflict: The enemy of my enemy is…who?

Here is a convenient little cheat sheet from Kevin Drum on who is who in the fighting in southern Iraq:

· ISCI = SIIC = new name for SCIRI = Badr Corps = "aristocratic" Hakim family = exiles during Saddam Hussein's reign = pro-Iran = generally in control of army and security forces = pro-U.S. = ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Dawa Party.

· Mahdi Army = JAM = "firebrand cleric" Muqtada al-Sadr = Iraqi nationalists = originally part of Maliki's governing coalition but no longer = anti-U.S. = populist/working class orientation = controls much of the oil sector in Basra.

· "Special groups" = rogue elements of the Mahdi Army = maybe Sadr is just as happy to have Maliki take these guys out for him, but who knows for sure?

· Fadhila = ex-allies of Sadr = won some elections in Basra in 2005 = smallest of the three Shiite factions in the south.

Perhaps someone should forward this to the White House.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sarah Vaughn: “Perdido” (1955)

This is Sarah Vaughn (1924 – 1990) singing Perdido in 1955 at the Rhythm and Blues Revue, a musical variety show filmed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

She entered a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in 1942 at age 18, sang "Body and Soul," and won. She was spotted by singer Billy Eckstine, who recommended her to Earl Hines, a bandleader with a remarkable ear for talent, who hired her as his band's relief pianist as well as singer. She sang "Misty," "Tenderly," "All of Me," and made dozens of other classic jazz recordings with Count Basie, Cannonball Adderly, Lester Young, and Oscar Peterson. Her hits include "It's Magic," "Send in the Clowns," and "I Cried for You."

Today (March 27) is the birthday of Sarah Vaughan.

"Perdido" is Spanish and simply means "lost". The song refers to the resort town of Perdido in the Florida keys. The jazz-song has become a standard for many performers.

Fighting in Basra: It's not a case of good vs. evil

The alleged purpose of the “surge” was to buy time for the Iraqi government to do the political work necessary to stabilize the country. That political work was not done and lo’ and behold one of Iraq’s overlapping civil wars has been rekindled. Fighting has broken out in the Basra region of the country with scattered incidents occurring further north in Baghdad. (And we have yet to hear what action the unhappy Sunni Awakening Councils will take.)

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies points out that the Maliki government is carrying out as much or more of a power grab on behalf of the Al Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) against Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi army as it does with the assertion of sovereignty of the central government in Baghdad.

The administration has been presenting the whole conflict in Iraq in black and white terms of good guys and bad guys or, more specifically, Al Qaeda and freedom loving Iraqis. Unfortunately, it is a lot more complicated than that. Since it is hard for most Americans to tell the players without a scorecard, here is Fred Kaplan’s explanation in Slate of the recent fighting:

The wars in Iraq (the plural is no typo) are about to expand and possibly explode, so it might be useful to have some notion of what we're in for.

Here is President George W. Bush, speaking this morning in Dayton, Ohio, and revealing once again that he has no notion:

[A]s we speak, Iraqi security forces are waging a tough battle against militia fighters and criminals in Basra—many of whom have received arms and training and funding from Iran. … This offensive builds on the security gains of the surge and demonstrates to the Iraqi people that their government is committed to protecting them. … [T]he enemy will try to fill the TV screens with violence. But the ultimate result will be this: Terrorists and extremists in Iraq will know they have no place in a free and democratic society.

The reality, alas, is less stark. The fighting in Basra, which has spread to parts of Baghdad, is not a clash between good and evil or between a legitimate government and an outlaw insurgency. Rather, as Anthony Cordesman, military analyst for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes, it is "a power struggle" between rival "Shiite party mafias" for control of the oil-rich south and other Shiite sections of the country.

Both sides in this struggle are essentially militias. Both sides have ties to Iran. And as for protecting "the Iraqi people," the side backed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (and by U.S. air power) has, ironically, less support—at least in many Shiite areas, including Basra—than the side that he (and we) are attacking.

In other words, as with most things about Iraq, it's a more complex case than Bush makes it out to be.

The two Shiite parties—the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi army—have been bitter rivals since the early days of post-Saddam Iraq. And Maliki, from the beginning of his rule, has had delicate relations with both.

Sadr, who may be Iraq's most popular Shiite militant and who controls several seats in parliament, gave Maliki the crucial backing he needed to become prime minister. However, largely under U.S. pressure, Maliki has since backed away from Sadr, who has always fiercely opposed the occupation and whose militiamen have killed many American soldiers (until last year, when he declared a cease-fire).

Maliki has since struck a close alliance with ISCI, which has its own militia, the Badr Organization, and whose members also hold much sway within Iraq's official security forces (though more with the police than with the national army). This alliance has the blessing of U.S. officials, even though ISCI—which was originally called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq—has much deeper ties with Iran than Sadr does. (ISCI's leaders went into exile in Iran during the decades of Saddam's reign, while Sadr and his family stayed in Iraq—one reason for his popular support. As Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations has noted, SICRI was created by Iran, and the Badr brigades were trained and supplied by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.)

Sadr's Mahdi army and ISCI's Badr Organization came to blows last August in the holy city of Karbala. This fighting—and his growing inability to control criminal elements within the Mahdi army—spurred Sadr to order a six-month moratorium on violence, which he renewed last month, against the wishes of some of his followers. (This moratorium is a major reason for the decline in casualties in Iraq, perhaps as significant as the U.S. troop surge and the Sunni Awakening.)

The fighting this week in Basra may be a prelude to the moratorium's collapse and, with it, the resumption of wide-scale sectarian violence—Shiite vs. Sunni and Shiite vs. Shiite.

Many Shiites believe—not unreasonably—that Maliki ordered the offensive in Basra now in order to destroy Sadr's base of support and thus keep his party from beating ISCI in the upcoming provincial elections.

Late last month, Iraq's three-man presidential council vetoed a bill calling for provincial elections, in large part because ISCI's leaders feared that Sadr's party would win in Basra. The Bush administration, which has (correctly) regarded provincial elections as key to Iraqi reconciliation, pressured Maliki to reverse his stance and let the bill go through. He did—at which point (was this just a coincidence?) planning began for the offensive that's raging now.

Maliki's official reason for the offensive, simply to bring order, has some plausibility, because BasraIraq's second-largest city, a major port, and a huge supplier of oil—is teetering on the edge of anarchy. At the start of the occupation, British forces were put in charge of Basra, but they viewed their operation as passive peacekeeping, not counterinsurgency, so militias moved in and gradually took the place over. By the time the British withdrew to the outskirts, the city was already taken over by fractious warlords.

The current fighting in Basra is a struggle for power and resources between those warlords. It's hard to say which faction is more alluring or less likely to fall under Iranian sway. Neither seems the sort of ally in freedom and democracy that our president conjures in his daydreams. (The lively blogger who calls himself Abu Muqawama speculates that Bush officials have embraced ISCI because, unlike Sadr, its leaders speak English.)

It's not a case of good vs. evil. It's just another crevice in the widening earthquake called Iraq.

Leaving a church is never a simple transaction

Following the recent controversy over Barack Obama’s former pastor critics on the right, as well as the Clinton campaign, suggested the Illinois Senator should have abandoned his church. The idea that membership in a church or synagogue is similar to membership to a gym or club that one can drop in and out of overlooks the importance of community and continuity of community religious institutions can provide. Whether one agrees or not with the religion or the particular words spoken from the pulpit, the member relationship to the religious institution and the community that surrounds it is complex and not easily tossed aside. (Nor, necessarily, should it be.)

Martin Peretz has some interesting thoughts on the issue in this week’s New Republic:
The power of the preacher is an unmeasured force in American life. Of course, now that it has become an issue in a political campaign, we are focusing on the one minister and the one candidate whose lives at church have been intertwined both in fact and in the public eye. The two men are each charismatic in their own ways, different ways, as anyone who has seen them speak (if even just on television or on syncopated and, thus, distorted YouTube clips) can attest.

We are all linked to the places from which we came, though some of us have moved very far from them. My relationship to the different rabbis whose sermons I have not just heard, but heard intently over more than 50 years, would make a very difficult narrative--not quite as difficult as a narrative about my father and me, but up there. I now attend a synagogue in New York with my children and my grandson. I love the synagogue; I do not love the rabbis for I do not really know them personally. More to the point, I do not love their sermons. Two years ago, Yom Kippur, the rabbi parsed a banal speech by Bella Abzug, the old and (if truth be told) faithful red mama, as if it were a sacred text. Feh. One of this congregation's ingenuous innovations to the routine confessional of sins ("We lie. We cheat ...") in the prayer book is the following: "We rush towards war and crawl to peace." This is a lie! Why do I still pray with this assembly? Because, aside from the offending "hip" politics of the rabbis, there is an all-embracing warmth that suffuses the fold. There is beautiful music. The service is almost all in Hebrew. Still, my then-not-quite-four year-old grandson said to me on the way out, "I have never felt closer to God." Dayenu, as we say on Passover: "It is sufficient." Or, as one of the songs of the tradition known to almost every Jew puts it, Hinay ma tov ... : "How good it is for brothers to sit together ...".

The fact is that many of us were
astonished by the rhythm of the English language as it is practiced in Wright's church. Forget for the moment the content. Take a look at a service in what is now Otis Moss's church. This is a Christianity that seems to outsiders to have as much to do with break dancing as it does with the New Testament, and the culture of this one church is very much like the culture of thousands all over America. You may puzzle as to how Barack Obama, of the quiet demeanor and the Holmesian logic, can relate to this pattern of religiosity. But, if I may jog your oversensitized memory, there was more of Chicago's Trinity United Church in Martin Luther King's perorations than there was Reinhold Niebuhr. The typical black church service is not a Unitarian prayer meeting or Catholic devotions. It is something "other" that many of us have not experienced and do not know. It is not ours but theirs. And what's wrong with that?

You object: You were not caught out by Wright's rhythm or his vestments, by the congregation's hallelujahs or its songs of praise and prayer. What bothered you was his, their words. Mostly his, that is, Pastor Wright's words. You were concerned by the content. And so, at least in part, was I. Wright's content is not intellectually nuanced, and his words are in large measure crude. His content is often foul.

Of course, while one can assume that there is something in the style of Trinity's Christianity that attracts Obama, no one has even suggested that Obama agrees with any of Wright's controversial words. In fact, one knows from the senator's own words past and present that his love of country is unsurpassed--and unsurpassed in a way that will attract younger people who had lapsed into an unthinking and unrealistic internationalism.

Leaving a church is never a simple transaction. Episcopalians in America (and Anglicans elsewhere) have had all kinds of provocations. A gay bishop in New Hampshire has virtually split the communion. Some are secessionists because of Gene Robinson's elevation. Some want to stay and fight it. Others want to put the oppositionists to the fire. Some on the outs want to put themselves under the discipline of a religiously conservative African diocese. Mostly, they stay and grumble, one way or another. A similar process is underway in England, where suddenly the archbishop of Canterbury wants British Muslims to be permitted to live under Sharia law and forgo the liberties of British law. A church with leaders like that is bound to have troubles. But the church, big and small, national and local, will remain.

While pondering Obama's tribulations about his pastor, I also reflected about the far more laden crisis for Roman Catholic politicians who are for a woman's legal right to an abortion. Every so often, church authorities threaten to excommunicate them--a drastic act by a bishop or archbishop in his diocese. But it goes higher than that. On his trip to Latin America last year, for example, Pope Benedict approved a statement pronouncing that "legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist," and politicians who vote that way should "exclude themselves from communion." In 2004, Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said pro-choice politicians like John Kerry "shouldn't dare come to Communion." In any case, the position of the church is that such politicians have already excommunicated themselves. This is a far more urgent situation than the one in which Obama finds himself.
You can read his entire essay here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Horace Silver Quintet: “Cool Eyes” (1958)

This is the Horace Silver Quintet playing their signature tune, "Cool Eyes" during a 1958 broadcast for the Dutch KRO Company.

Pianist Horace Silver together with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Tailor and drummer Louis Hayes play their new style of hard bop with great flair and skill. The instrumentation of his quintet (trumpet, tenor sax, piano, double bass, and drums) served as a model for small jazz groups from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s.

You can see Horace Silver Quintet play “Senor Blues” here.

The cultural annihilation of Tibet

The image of young Tibetans during the recent revolt assaulting Chinese people, attacking Chinese buildings and burning Chinese automobiles from video clips that leaked out the news blackout around Tibet represents a very real resentment against all things Chinese. It is just not that China rules Tibet but that all things Tibetan are slowly but steadily being destroyed.

The Chinese have exported into Tibet not only their goods and materials but people. The majority of those living in Lhasa are not longer Tibetan but Chinese. Chinese has become the official language replacing the Tibetan dialects. Only in the rural areas of Tibet do the natives maintain a majority but, as Ian Buruma points out, Tibetan culture and language in rural areas is no more likely to survive Chinese modernization than that of the Apaches in the U.S.

Ian Buruma examines the cultural annihilation of Tibet in the L.A. Times:
Are the Tibetans doomed to go the way of the American Indians? Will they be reduced to being little more than a tourist attraction, peddling cheap mementos of what was once a great culture? In Tibet itself, that sad fate is looking more and more likely. And the Olympic year is already soured by the way the Chinese government is trying to suppress resistance to just that fate.

The Chinese have much to answer for, but the end of Tibet is not just a matter of semi-colonial oppression. It is often forgotten that many Tibetans, especially educated people in the larger towns, were so keen to modernize their society in the mid-20th century that they saw the Chinese communists as allies against rule by monks and serf-owning landlords. The Dalai Lama himself, in the early 1950s, was impressed by Chinese reforms and wrote poems praising Chairman Mao.

Alas, instead of reforming Tibetan society and culture, the Chinese communists wrecked it. Religion was crushed in the name of Marxist secularism. Monasteries and temples were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (often with the help of Tibetan Red Guards). Nomads were forced into concrete settlements. Tibetan arts were frozen into folkloric emblems of an officially promoted "minority culture." And the Dalai Lama and his entourage were forced to flee to India.

Such destruction was not peculiar to Tibet. The wrecking of tradition and forced cultural regimentation took place everywhere in China. In some respects, the Tibetans were treated less ruthlessly than the majority of Chinese. Nor was the challenge to Tibetan uniqueness only typical of the communists. Gen. Chiang Kai-shek declared in 1946 that the Tibetans were Chinese, and he certainly would not have granted them independence if his Nationalists had won the civil war.

If Tibetan Buddhism has been severely damaged, Chinese communism has barely survived the ravages of the 20th century. But capitalist development in China has been even more devastating to Tibetan tradition. Like many modern imperialist powers, China claims legitimacy for its policies by pointing to the material benefits. After decades of destruction and neglect, Tibet has benefited from enormous amounts of Chinese money and energy to modernize the country. The Tibetans cannot complain that they have been left behind in China's transformation from a Third World wreck to a marvel of supercharged urban development.

Along the way, regional identity, cultural diversity and traditional arts and customs have been buried under concrete, steel and glass all over China. And all Chinese are gasping in the same polluted air. But at least the Han Chinese can feel pride in the revival of their national fortunes. They can bask in the resurgence of Chinese power and material wealth. The Tibetans can share this feeling only to the extent that they become fully Chinese. If not, they can only lament the loss of their identity.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said that he does not seek independence for his homeland. However, as long as Tibet remains part of China, it is hard to see how its distinct cultural identity can survive. The human and material forces against it are overwhelming. There are too few Tibetans and too many Chinese.

Outside Tibet, however, it is a different story. If the Chinese are responsible for extinguishing the old way of life inside Tibet, they may have been unintentionally responsible for keeping it alive outside. By forcing the Dalai Lama into exile, they have ensured the establishment of a highly traditional Tibetan diaspora society that might well survive at a level that would have been unlikely even in an independent Tibet. Diaspora cultures thrive on nostalgic dreams of return. Traditions are jealously guarded, like precious heirlooms, to be passed on as long as those dreams persist. Who is to say that they will never come true? The Jews managed to hang on to theirs for more than 2,000 years.

You can read the entire piece here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The other election: Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe was a stable economy with a promising future as a post-colonial democracy in 1980 surrounded by countries with compromised prospects. Now the country is a wreck. The population of what was once the “bread-basket” of Africa is starving with a third of Zimbabweans suffering from malnutrition. The economy has been totally mismanaged. The population now suffers from one of the highest morality rates in the world. The promising democracy has turned into a tyranny of one-man-rule.

Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years and is up for re-election as President this coming Saturday. Mugabe, a leader in the Rhodesian liberation movement in the 1960's and 1970's, was elected Prime Minister of the country in its first majority-rule election in 1980. Mugabe abolished the office of Prime Minister in 1987 and assumed the new office of President with additional powers. He was re-elected in 1990 and 1996, and in 2002 amid claims of widespread vote-rigging and intimidation.

Peter Godwin in today’s L.A. Times has these thoughts on his home country:

The country's free-fall into failed statehood began in earnest in 2000. That was when the electorate tired of him and his increasingly imperious one-party rule and voted down his attempt to do away with term limits so that he could continue as president. Mugabe, the onetime guerrilla leader who now saw himself as liberator of the country, reacted with astonishing venom. He turned on the newly emboldened black opposition, harassing, imprisoning and torturing their supporters. And those white commercial farmers he'd invited to remain in 1980 he threw off the land, distributing their farms among his cronies, which helped precipitate the economic catastrophe because few of them had the inclination or technical know-how to farm.

Mugabe became an African Ahab, Melville's "monomaniacal commander," marinating in a toxic brew of hate and denial as he plunged his ship of state down into the dark vortex, railing all the while from the quarterdeck against the great white whale. He blamed Zimbabwe's plunge on the largely symbolic sanctions imposed by the West. And he refused to negotiate with his own, overwhelmingly black, opposition, dismissing them as lackeys of Britain, the former colonial power.

Why do Zimbabweans continue to put up with Mugabe? In large numbers, they don't. Since 2000, most have tried to vote against him in presidential elections, but these were blatantly rigged. Now, as many as 70% of those between 18 and 60 have left the country to live and work elsewhere. It's an exodus on a par with the flood of Irish immigrants into America after the potato famine. And it's also the key to how the shattered Zimbabwe state survives -- remittances from its diaspora. People like me sending hard currency back to family and friends. By doing so, we inadvertently assist Mugabe to survive too.

Now a sprightly 84 years old, Mugabe has recently moved into a $26-million palace, with 25 bedroom suites, furnished with Sun King flourishes. He rules as a dictator through a network of army officers.

It is on them that he will rely once more to mastermind the presidential election Saturday. It is an election in name only, with no hope of being "free and fair." Mugabe has already rejected various constitutional reforms backed by South Africa. Electoral rolls are a joke, stuffed with fictitious voters. Police officers are to be allowed into voting booths "to assist illiterate voters." And votes are to be counted not at individual polling stations but at a single "national command center" staffed by senior army officers, which is where the rigging will likely take place.

Mugabe has banned most independent observers, instead inviting teams from China, Russia, Iran and Angola -- nations with no modern history of free and fair democracy. And finally, the more than 4 million in the Zimbabwe diaspora are not allowed postal votes.

None of this bodes well for Mugabe's two main opponents. Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change, is a veteran of several rigged poll defeats and seems unlikely to fare any better this time, despite the enthusiastic crowds he draws to his rallies. Mugabe's other threat is Simba Makoni, a member of Mugabe's own politburo until he was expelled recently for daring to compete for the presidency.

The only real hope is that the men responsible for carrying out the rigging -- Mugabe's secret police, his senior government apparatchiks and the army leadership -- may have lost faith in their longtime leader. Perhaps they will refuse to fiddle the vote, especially because Makoni, the former Cabinet minister, is running as a "reformist" candidate, presenting the prospect of change with continuity.

It is a very slim prospect.

You can read the entire piece here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

President Obama’s foreign policy: America's re-acquaintance with its best traditions

Spencer Ackerman on the “Obama Doctrine” in The American Prospect:

Obama is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we've heard from a serious presidential contender in decades. It cuts to the heart of traditional Democratic timidity. "It's time to reject the counsel that says the American people would rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right," Obama said in a January speech. "It's time to say that we are the party that is going to be strong and right." …


"There is a popular notion that Democrats have to try to appear like Republicans to pass some test on national security. The fact that that's still the case after Iraq is absurd," says one of Obama's closest advisers. "So you break from that orthodoxy and say 'I don't care if the Republicans attack me because I'm willing to meet with the leadership in Iran. We haven't for 25 years, and it's not gotten us anywhere.'"

Most of the members of Obama's foreign-policy team expressed frustration that they had taken a well-considered and seemingly anodyne position on Iraq and suffered for it. Obama had something similar happen to him in the spring and summer of 2007. He was attacked from the left and the right for saying three things that should not have been controversial: that if he had actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan but no cooperation from the Pakistani government, he would take out the jihadists; that he wouldn't use nuclear weapons on terrorist training camps; and that he would be willing to meet with leaders of rogue states in his first year as president. "No one [of Obama's critics] had thought through the policy because that was the quote-unquote naïve and weak position, so they said it was a bad position to take," recalls Ben Rhodes, the adviser who writes Obama's foreign-policy speeches. "And it was a seminal moment, because Obama himself said, 'No, I'm right about this!'"

Instead of backing down, Obama asked his foreign-policy team to double down. Rhodes wrote a speech that Obama delivered at DePaul University on Oct. 2, which criticized the boundaries of acceptable discourse set by the same establishment that backed the war. "This election is about ending the Iraq War, but even more it's about moving beyond it. And we're not going to be safe in a world of unconventional threats with the same old conventional thinking that got us into Iraq," Obama said. One of his advisers, recalling the fallout from Obama's comments about pursuing al-Qaeda in Pakistan, says, "He takes policy positions that are a break from both rigid orthodoxy and the Bush administration. And everyone says it's a gaffe! That just encapsulates everything that's wrong about the foreign-policy debate in Washington and in Democratic politics."

The Obama foreign-policy team describes it as "the politics of fear," a phrase most advisers used unprompted in our conversations. "For a long time we've not seen much creative thinking from Dems on national security, because, out of fear, we want to be a little different from the Republicans but not too different, out of fear of being labeled weak or indecisive," another top adviser says. Identifying that fear as the accelerant of the Iraq War mind-set is the first step to a new and innovative foreign policy. John Kerry was not able to argue for fundamental change in foreign policy because he was consumed by that very political fear. Obama's admonition to Democrats is much like Pope John Paul II's to the Gdansk shipyard strikers -- first, be not afraid.


This ability to see the world from different perspectives informs what the Obama team hopes will replace the Iraq War mind-set: something they call dignity promotion. "I don't think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does," says Samantha Power, a former key aide and author of the groundbreaking study of U.S. foreign policy and genocide, A Problem From Hell. "Dignity is a way to unite a lot of different strands [of foreign-policy thinking]," she says. "If you start with that, it explains why it's not enough to spend $3 billion on refugee camps in Darfur, because the way those people are living is not the way they want to live. It's not a human way to live. It's graceless -- an affront to your sense of dignity."

During Bush's second term, a strange disconnect has arisen in liberal foreign-policy circles in response to the president's so-called "freedom agenda." Some liberals, like Matthew Yglesias in his book Heads In The Sand, note the insincerity of the administration's stated goal of exporting democracy. Bush, they observe, only targets for democratization countries that challenge American hegemony. Other liberal foreign-policy types, such as Thomas Carothers and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, insist the administration is sincere but too focused on elections without supporting the civil-society institutions that sustain democracy. Still others, like Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, contend that a focus on democracy in the developing world without privileging the protection of civil and political rights is a recipe for a dangerous illiberalism.

What's typically neglected in these arguments is the simple insight that democracy does not fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen. Democracy, in other words, is valuable to people insofar as it allows them first to meet their basic needs. It is much harder to provide that sense of dignity than to hold an election in Baghdad or Gaza and declare oneself shocked when illiberal forces triumph. "Look at why the baddies win these elections," Power says. "It's because [populations are] living in climates of fear." U.S. policy, she continues, should be "about meeting people where they're at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That's the swamp that needs draining. If we're to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we're not [providing]."

This is why, Obama's advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise -- because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. "It's about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe," Gration says. "Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I'm concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years."

Obama sees this as more than a global charity program; it is the anvil against which he can bring down the hammer on al-Qaeda. "He took many of the [counterinsurgency] principles -- the paradoxes, like how sometimes you're less secure the more force is used -- and looked at it from a more strategic perspective," Sewall says. "His policies deal with root causes but do not misconstrue root causes as a simple fix. He recognizes that you need to pursue a parallel anti-terrorism [course] in its traditional form along with this transformed approach to foreign policy." …


"He goes back to Roosevelt," Power says. "Freedom from fear and freedom from want. What if we actually offered that? What if we delivered that in the developing world? That would be a transformative agenda for us." The end of the Iraq War mind-set, it turns out, may be the beginning of America's re-acquaintance with its best traditions.

You can read the entire piece here.

Surely there must be a better way to select a candidate

As argued before on this blog, the absurd Rube Goldberg system of selecting major party nominees is extremely wasteful in time and resources and does nothing to carry forward democracy or the best interests of the country.

Iowa, with its caucus system in which just a miniscule number of people participate, and tiny little New Hampshire with its must-be-first-no-matter-what primary have basically defined the campaign for the rest of the country by knocking out a number of candidates (at least on the Democratic side). They frame the nomination process by giving fundraising advantages to the frontrunners and this year was no different. This was well in advance of most American voters getting a chance to consider the candidates.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this year primaries and caucuses were pushed up to start in early January – almost a year before the election and over a year before the eventual winner takes office. This is a process that used to start in mid-March and end in June followed by a July convention. This year the process started in early January and ends in June with an August convention. When you take into consideration the election is in November and the inauguration isn’t until January 20th, you have to wonder if the process of democracy is pushing aside the substance of democracy. In some, if not all, parliamentary systems the campaign, election and taking of office takes weeks, not months.

I had worried about “buyer’s remorse” assuming the conventional wisdom of a knock-out blow by one candidate on Super Tuesday (February 5th) but instead we are getting a never-ending nightmare splitting the party and sapping Democrats everywhere of money as resources are poured into the unresolved Presidential nomination race.

As Walter Shapiro points out today in Salon that the buyer’s remorse that is setting in isn’t with the candidates but with the process itself. So many states rushed to front-load the system trying to be relevant in the process that they are now mere observers in the heated campaign.

Forget buyer's remorse -- the real malady likely to be triggered by the never-ending Democratic presidential race is buyer's confusion. It has already been seven weeks since a majority of Democrats cast their votes in the Woozy Tuesday Feb. 5 primaries, and even longer in fast-forward states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Those voters picked their candidates back in the innocent days when Bear Stearns was regarded as a pillar of Wall Street and Eliot Spitzer a pillar of rectitude.

Sixteen years ago, the last time the Democrats won back the White House, fewer than half the delegates had been selected by the end of March, with big-state primaries in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California still on the docket. This campaign year the Democrats are already down to seeds and stems with 82 percent of the delegates having been chosen by March 11. This simple arithmetical fact -- combined with the scheduling of the 2008 Democratic Convention six weeks later than in 1992 -- is what gives such an air of unreality to the final installments of the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton soap opera.

With the chances to rerun the outlaw Michigan and Florida primaries now at the vanishing point, it may be time to inquire about a do-over for the rest of America. This is not an argument for Clinton, who otherwise probably has too far to go and too few remaining primaries to get there. But after a week punctuated by Obama's right-stuff response to wrong-way Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Clinton's document dump of today-tea-was-served White House schedules, Democrats are being barraged with new information about the candidates long after most of them have made a binding decision on a nominee. It is akin to being given a subscription to Consumer Reports the day after you bought a new car.

The marketing of the Democratic race is made to order for this era of narrow-casting and the long tail on the bell curve. Unless you live in one of the eight states left to vote (Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, South Dakota, Montana and Oregon) or are among the more than 300 or so undeclared superdelegates, your views no longer matter.


With more than five months to the Denver Convention, the problem for the Democrats remains the crazy-quilt schedule that caused far too many to vote too soon. That is the real buyer's remorse -- a front-loaded political calendar that has turned most partisan Democrats into now-irrelevant bystanders just when a real decision is needed.

Add to the confusion 794 unelected superdelegates that push the total number of delegates needed for a majority out of reach for candidates in a close race. The superdelegates include current members of Congress which makes all the sense in the world since they will be running on the same ticket as the nominee and working in Washington with the winner. Then there are Democratic governors which the same case can sort of be made. But then the delegation of “supers” includes members of the Democratic National Committee and former Congressional leaders. There is no reason why these people can’t run for a delegate position like everyone else. At least current elected officials are answerable to the voters directly.

(And don’t blame the proportional allocation of delegates for the dilemma either. According to Mr. Super, if the Democrats had a winner takes-all system, Obama’s 1,620 pledged delegates and Clinton’s 1,499 would turn into 1,700 for Obama and 1,628 for Clinton.)

Surely there must be a better way to select a candidate.

You can read Shapiro’s entire piece here.

One journalist’s assessment of Iraq

Bill Maher interviews Michael Ware on Real Time. Ware reports from Baghdad for CNN. He is one of the only mainstream reporters to have lived in Baghdad near-continuously since before the American invasion and has gained early acclaim as one of the few reporters to establish contacts with the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi insurgency. He is known for his stark assessments of conditions on the ground and his repudiation of the overly-optimistic assessments sometimes made by politicians.

Whether or not you agree with all his conclusions his comments about his on-the-ground observations are worth listening to.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

McCoy Tyner: “Giant Steps” (1996)

This is a solo piano performance of John Coltrane's Giant Steps, by McCoy Tyner, 1996, in Hamburg, Germany.

Alfred McCoy Tyner, born in 1938, is a jazz pianist known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet as well as a long solo career.

Tyner's career began with Benny Golson being the first pianist in Golson's and Art Farmer's legendary Jazztet (1960). After departing the Jazztet, Tyner joined Coltrane's group in 1960.

While in Coltrane's group, he recorded a series of relatively conservative albums (primarily in the piano trio format) for Impulse. After leaving Coltrane's group, Tyner began a series of post-bop albums released on the Blue Note label, in the 1967–1970 time frame. Soon thereafter he moved to the Milestone label and recorded many influential albums. His music for Blue Note and Milestone often took the Coltrane quartet's music as a point of departure and also incorporated African and East Asian musical elements. These albums are often cited as examples of vital, innovative jazz from the 1970s that was neither fusion nor free jazz. Often cited as a major influence on younger jazz musicians, Tyner still records and tours regularly and played from the 1980s through '90s with a trio that included Avery Sharpe on bass and Aaron Scott on drums. Today Tyner records for the Telarc label and has been playing with different trios, the most recent of which includes Charnett Moffett on bass and Eric Harland on drums.

You see him here playing with George Benson.

The importance of understanding the roots of anger

Shadi Hamid of Democracy Arsenal had a piece in Saturday’s Washington Post contemplating the possibilities of Barack Obama’s speech last week on race relations applied to Americans’ relationship with Arabs and Muslims abroad:

Obama declared that "the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding." He was speaking, of course, about the legacy of slavery and segregation. But he might as well have been talking about the burgeoning anger toward America felt by millions of frustrated Muslims around the world. And the conversation Obama tried to initiate -- contextualizing radicalism and seeking its source rather than merely denouncing it -- is the sort of conversation that could also lay the groundwork for a long-overdue reassessment of our approach to the Middle East.

Thus far, the national discourse on the question of Muslim anti-Americanism, and particularly the violence and terror perpetrated in the name of Islam, has been dominated by condemnation and denunciation. As it must be. Targeting innocents -- whether they are Israeli children on their way to school or the nearly 3,000 Americans who showed up to work one day and found it would be their last -- can never be excused. And we must unapologetically wage war on those who seek to destroy us.

At the same time, we can't simply wish future violence and terrorism away by relegating it to the domain of irrational, crazed fanaticism. We cannot say that "they hate us for who we are" and leave it at that.

Beyond the small hardcore of terrorists who slaughter innocents are tens of millions of Arabs and Muslims who sympathize with the terrorists' anger but disagree with their means of expressing it. This is not some nebulous group. It's people like my relatives in Egypt, who repeatedly tell me that we deserved Sept. 11. People like my friends in Egypt and Jordan, who feel that in my Americanness I have betrayed my brethren, the oppressed, and the humiliated.

We can call these people enemies and say they are lost to us. It would be easy, because these views are indeed reprehensible. Or we can articulate a new strategy, one which, without condoning violence, acknowledges their grievances and their very real sense of being wronged by history. …

Understanding is no cure-all but it is a necessary first step to improving troubled relationships both at home and abroad.

You can read his entire column here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Is the U.S. at risk of losing control of the Awakening movement in Iraq?

An investigation carried out by GuardianFilms, uncovers how thousands of Iraqis employed at $10 a day by the US to take on al-Qaida are threatening to go on strike because they say they have been used by the 'Americans to do their dirty work' and haven't been paid. These men make up the Awakening Councils or Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) in Diyala Province and elsewhere. These councils have been a major factor in the “surge” strategy. Their complaints include not only the absence of pay but their subjection to the Shiite government. The risk of these groups has always been that they become autonomous militias outside the control of the government.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Senator Obama on the differences between himself and Senator Clinton

Senator Barack Obama took questions from the crowd in Salem, Oregon on March 21, 2008 offering bullet points on the differences between him and Senator Hillary Clinton in the race for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Fancy Free: “Undecided” (1959)

This is Clark Terry on trumpet and flugelhorn, Phil Woods on alto sax, Sahib Shihab baritone sax, Quentin Jackson trombone, Patty Bown piano, Buddy Catlett bass, and Joe Harris drums. They came together as part of a Quincy Jones' tour of jazz musicians in Europe in 1959. Here they play “Undecided” in the Netherlands.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning

Well, someone has finally come out and said it: according to the Politico, the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination is basically over. Because of the Democratic Party rules for proportionate allocation of delegates, the lead for elected delegates to the Democratic Convention in August remains with Senator Obama unless Senator Clinton can win every single outstanding primary by at least 60% including Michigan and Florida revotes. Otherwise, she must convince superdelegates they should favor her over the candidate who won the most delegates, the most state contests and the most votes in the lead up to the convention. The possibility of either of those scenarios is close to zero even before factoring in that the Clinton campaign is seriously in debt.

Here is Jim Vanehei and Mike Allen in the Politico:

One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.

Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.

As it happens, many people inside Clinton’s campaign live right here on Earth. One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.

In other words: The notion of the Democratic contest being a dramatic cliffhanger is a game of make-believe.

The continuation of Senator Clinton’s campaign is eating up resources that should be directed at securing not only the White House for the Democrats in November but also for governable majorities in Congress. Given the closeness the two are on most issues, her continued campaign is not for the promotion of principle or for the best interest of the party or the country.

You can read the entire Politico piece here.

Are Tibet’s villages at risk of Chinese retaliation?

The Chinese government is doing what it can to impose a complete blackout of news out of Tibet. Many Tibetans have been in open rebellion against Chinese rule. March is the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese annexation of their country. The 1959 rebellion was brutally suppressed.

Despite their efforts, stories, pictures and video clips have leaked out but these are primarily from urban areas. Out of sight is the countryside and small villages that may feel the full brunt of retaliation by the Chinese armed forces out of sight of the world. This from today’s Guardian:
The Dalai Lama said yesterday that he feared villagers in remote parts of Tibet were "facing death" from Chinese troops intent on seeking retribution for last week's protests, but emphasised that he was prepared to meet Chinese leaders to resolve the crisis.

Speaking to journalists in the office of his long yellow bungalow in the north Indian town of Dharamsala, the Buddhist religious leader warned that columns of army trucks were being sent across the Tibetan plateau, with troops deployed in many villages as unrest flared in far-flung corners of the country.

"There are many remote places cut off from the world where the only sign is Chinese troop movement. I am really worried that a lot of casualties may happen. Then [there are] no medical facilities. So I am appealing to the international community, please think about these helpless unarmed innocent people who simply love Tibetan culture and are not willing to accept others' bullying. These are now facing death."

There is no doubt the fallout from last Friday's deadly riots has been bloody. The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile puts the number of dead at "about 100". China says 16 people were killed.

The reincarnation of the "compassionate Buddha" denied allegations by the Communist party in Beijing that he had masterminded the protests from his home in northern India, where he has lived since he was forced to flee during a failed uprising in 1959.

The demonstrations, he said, had been spontaneous and "frustration had burst out" in Tibet. "People know they will suffer more. More Chinese soldiers, more arrest, more torture. In spite of that people are expressing loudly."

A speech to think to, not clap to

Peggy Noonan knows a thing or two about speeches – she served as speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. Here is Ms. Noonan’s take on Senator Obama’s speech on March 18th in Philadelphia:
I thought Barack Obama's speech was strong, thoughtful and important. Rather beautifully, it was a speech to think to, not clap to. It was clear that's what he wanted, and this is rare.

It seemed to me as honest a speech as one in his position could give within the limits imposed by politics. As such it was a contribution. We'll see if it was a success. The blowhard guild, proud member since 2000, praised it, and, in the biggest compliment, cable news shows came out of the speech not with jokes or jaded insiderism, but with thought. They started talking, pundits left and right, black and white, about what they'd experienced of race in America. It was kind of wonderful. I thought, Go, America, go, go.

You know what Mr. Obama said. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was wrong. His sermons were "incendiary," and they "denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation." Mr. Obama admitted that if all he knew of Mr. Wright were what he saw on the "endless loop . . . of YouTube," he wouldn't like him either. But he's known him 20 years as a man who taught him Christian faith, helped the poor, served as a Marine, and leads a community helping the homeless, needy and sick. "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me." He would not renounce their friendship.

Most significantly, Mr. Obama asserted that race in America has become a generational story. The original sin of slavery is a fact, but the progress we have lived through the past 50 years means each generation experiences race differently. Older blacks, like Mr. Wright, remember Jim Crow and were left misshapen by it. Some rose anyway, some did not; of the latter, a "legacy of defeat" went on to misshape another generation. The result: destructive anger that is at times "exploited by politicians" and that can keep African-Americans "from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition." But "a similar anger exists within segments of the white community." He speaks of working- and middle-class whites whose "experience is the immigrant experience," who started with nothing. "As far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they've built it from scratch." "So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town," when they hear of someone receiving preferences they never received, and "when they're told their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced," they feel anger too.

This is all, simply, true. And we are not used to political figures being frank, in this way, in public. For this Mr. Obama deserves deep credit. It is also true the particular whites Obama chose to paint -- ethnic, middle class -- are precisely the voters he needs to draw in Pennsylvania. It was strategically clever. But as one who witnessed busing in Boston first hand, and whose memories of those days can still bring tears, I was glad for his admission that busing was experienced as an injustice by the white working class. Next step: admitting it was an injustice, period.

The primary rhetorical virtue of the speech can be found in two words, endemic and Faulkner. Endemic is the kind of word political consultants don't let politicians use because 72% of Americans don't understand it. This lowest-common-denominator thinking, based on dizzy polling, has long degraded American discourse. When Obama said Mr. Wright wrongly encouraged "a view that sees white racism as endemic," everyone understood. Because they're not, actually, stupid. As for Faulkner -- well, this was an American politician quoting William Faulkner: "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." This is a thought, an interesting one, which means most current politicians would never share it.

The speech assumed the audience was intelligent. This was a compliment, and I suspect was received as a gift. It also assumed many in the audience were educated. I was grateful for this, as the educated are not much addressed in American politics.

Here I point out an aspect of the speech that may have a beneficial impact on current rhetoric. It is assumed now that a candidate must say a silly, boring line -- "And families in Michigan matter!" or "What I stand for is affordable quality health care!" -- and the audience will clap. The line and the applause make, together, the eight-second soundbite that will be used tonight on the news, and seen by the people. This has been standard politico-journalistic procedure for 20 years.

Mr. Obama subverted this in his speech. He didn't have applause lines. He didn't give you eight seconds of a line followed by clapping. He spoke in full and longish paragraphs that didn't summon applause. This left TV producers having to use longer-than-usual soundbites in order to capture his meaning. And so the cuts of the speech you heard on the news were more substantial and interesting than usual, which made the coverage of the speech better. People who didn't hear it but only saw parts on the news got a real sense of what he'd said.

If Hillary or John McCain said something interesting, they'd get more than an eight-second cut too. But it works only if you don't write an applause-line speech. It works only if you write a thinking speech.

They should try it.
You can read the entire piece here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lennie Tristano (1965)

This is Lennie Tristano performing at a Jazz Piano Workshop in Berlin in 1965.

Leonard Joseph Tristano (1919-1978) was a jazz pianist and composer. He was born in Chicago to an Italian immigrant family. He was blind from infancy. He studied piano and music theory from his pre-teen years and graduated from Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music in 1943.

Tristano's interest in jazz inspired a move to New York City in 1946. His advanced grasp of harmony pushed his music beyond even the complexities of the contemporary bebop movement, though Tristano was always explicit about acknowledging his enormous debt to Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. Though he and his followers remained at something of a slant to mainstream bebop, Tristano did on occasion play and record with bebop's preeminent figures such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Often the "Tristano school" has been contrasted with bebop by being labeled "cool jazz.”