Miscellaneous links to end the year

There are a bunch of links I’ve been meaning to post here; so, as a sort of year-end housecleaning, here they are.

Artist and friend of the blog Liza Cowan on the world’s largest photograph, as of 1904.

The Paranoid Center: How the panic over right-wing violence is being used to marginalize peaceful dissent,” from Reason magazine. 

A much-discussed article from The Independent about how to keep young Muslims from turning into terrorists.

Osama bin Laden probably died years ago, but Americans and others go on marching to their deaths in the name of a campaign against him.  

Repentance is knowing that I am loved,” according to a certain “Father Gregory” of the Orthodox Church in America.   

Imagine yourself as a contestant in a beauty pageant.  A judge asks you a question about an explosively controversial topic.  You had no reason to expect the question, and have not prepared an answer.  What do you do?  Friend of the blog Ellie is a former beauty pageant contestant who has some pointers for you.   

The thank-you key (thanks to Cymast for pointing that one out to me.)

The world’s least comfortable chairs.

Taschen book catalog entry for Insects of Surinam, by Maria Sibylla Merian, edited by Katharina Schmidt-Loske. 

Do you like the Periodic Table of the Elements?  Then you’ll love the Periodic Dessert Tray of the Elements!

Some characteristic symptoms of phony science.

Curved yellow fruit.

Get out your red and green 3D glasses to view these Italian postage stamps.

Charlie Parker

Some posts with embedded jazz videos were lost from this blog a while back; one featured the first clip below.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play “Hot House

All the Things You Are

With Miles Davis, “A Night in Tunisia



The ultimate pesky bugs.

Regina Carter, Jazz Violinist

Regina Carter, with the Ray Brown Trio, “Lady Be Good

With the Lewis Nash Quintet, playing “Tico Tico

Georgia on My Mind


Matt Wilson

A while ago I posted a couple of videos features jazz drummer Matt Wilson.  I took that post down for various reasons, but here’s another.

The Matt Wilson Quartet plays “Arts & Crafts

Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts plays “The Scenic Route

Matt Wilson’s Carl Sandburg Project plays “Soup

Funny Times, January 2010

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” this month collects quotes on the theme of Washington, DC.  Ada Louise Huxtable’s line, “Washington is an endless series of mock palaces clearly built for clerks” catches a point I’ve often wanted to make.  The official part of Washington isn’t really a city at all, but something more like a theme park.  “Governmentland,” you might call it.  It isn’t particularly dignified for a country like the USA to have such an inherently silly place as its capital city.  I’ve often thought they should have left the capital in New York.  That way the federal government would be just one of many big enterprises in town, not the dominant thing as it is in DC.  Officials would be reminded that their doings are not in fact the center of the uiniverse.  Another quote in the column, Richard Goodwin’s remark that “People come to Washington believing it’s the center of power.  I know I did.  It was only much later that I learned that Washington is a steering wheel that’s not connected to the engine,” can’t have applied to New York when George Washington was sworn in as president there, or to Philadelphia earlier.  There was too much else going on for the political classes to delude themselves into a grossly exaggerated idea of their own importance.   

Many of the quotes Winokur collects are surprising.  For example, I would never have guessed that the remark “Washington isn’t a city, it’s an abstraction” came from Dylan Thomas.  It’s a good line, Thomas just isn’t someone I think of as a commentator on the US political scene.  Nor would I have thought of Peggy Noonan if you’d asked me to guess who came up with the line “The voters think Washington is a whorehouse and every four years they get a chance to elect a new piano player.”  It sounds like something Clare Booth Luce would have said when memories of this photo were still fresh in the public’s mind.  Elliott Richardson was sufficiently full of himself that he couldn’t come up with an effective response when Massachusetts State Senate president Billy Bulger mocked his campaign for governor with the line “Vote for Elliott Richardson.  He’s better than you.”  Still, it did take me aback to see that he had such a superior attitude that he would allow himself to say that “Washington is a city of cocker spaniels.  It’s a city of people who are more interested in being petted and admired, loved, than rendering the exercise of power.”  Personally, I’d choose love over “rendering the exercise of power” any day, but I guess that just shows that I’m not up to Elliott Richardson’s standards.  One line that I would have been able to identify is from Gore Vidal: “I date the end of the old republic and the birth of the empire to the invention, in the late 1930s, of air conditioning.  Before air conditioning, Washington was deserted from mid-June to September.  But after air conditioning and the Second World War arrived, more or less at the same time, Congress sits and sits while the presidents- or at least their staffs- never stop making mischief.”    

Elsewhere in the issue, there is a column of excerpts from Aaron Karo’s Ruminations.com; my favorite of these is “No, Microsoft Word, my name is not spelled wrong.”  There are a couple of good cartoons about the health care debate, including this one from Tom Tomorrow and this one from Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown.

Roberta Gambarini

Italian-born jazz vocalist Roberta Gambarini is up for a Grammy in 2010; here’s her MySpace page, and here’s her record label’s page for her.  And here are some YouTube samples of her work:

The Sunny Side of the Street,” with the Willy Ketzer Quartet, from German TV:


Take the A Train

What is dignity?

The moderns

Industrialization means mass society, bureaucracy, high technology, political ideology; each of these things reduces the likelihood that a modern person will turn to another person as a particular living being and increases the likelihood that moderns will see each other as abstractions.  Analyzing this tendency, sociologist Max Weber said that the rise of bureaucracy locked moderns in an “iron cage of rationality”; characterizing modernity in general, Weber spoke of a “world grown cold.”  For centuries now, there have been those who have rebelled against modernity in the name of a lost human connection, and have harked back to premodern times.  This anti-modern tradition has found an American voice in Chronicles  magazine

In his column in the December 2009 issue editor Thomas Fleming informs us that “Reactionaries, alas, almost always ruin whatever good remains in a tradition.”  The rest of the issue is full of evidence for this view, I’m sorry to say.  Members of various Christian denominations take turns bewailing the rising support for gay rights among their coreligionists; persons of various nationalities denounce immigration in general and immigration to their countries by Muslims in particular; Paul Craig Roberts complains that because some parking spaces are reserved for the handicapped, the rest of us “are second-class citizens”; etc etc etc. 

There are some diamonds in the rough, however.  In the course of a denunciation of the liberal-minded leadership of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, we read that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori chose as the slogan for 2009’s triennial Episcopalian convention “Ubuntu,” “which is supposed to be an African word for sharing and caring.”  Jefferts Schori’s opening address noted that “Ubuntu doesn’t have any ‘i’s in it,” and went on to claim that individuality is found only in our dealings with each other:

The “I” only emerges as we connect- and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relation with others.  There is no “I” without “you,” and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the One who created us.  

That sounds like fairly orthodox Christianity to me, and the suggestion that non-industrialized or lightly industrialized parts of Africa may have preserved a clearer understanding of the relationship between the individual and the community is certainly in line with the anti-modernist tradition from which Chronicles magazine springs.  But that isn’t the reaction this writer gives.  He seems to interpret it, not as an appeal to premodernity and a world without the coldness that comes with industrialization, but to the coldness of political ideology in its collectivist forms.  

The writer points out that Episcopalianism, the American branch of the Anglican Communion, has long been in decline, while Anglicanism has been growing in Africa.  However, the African converts to Anglicanism could not be further from Bishop Jefferts Schori’s liberal Anglo-Catholicism; they tend to be fierce defenders of traditional gender roles, so that a female Presiding Bishop who is a staunch advocate of gay rights would not be very popular among them.  Perhaps, the writer speculates, “Africans may need to send missionaries to convert American Episcopalians, Methodists, and other mainline Protestants to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When the African missionaries arrive, Katharine Jefferts Schori will no doubt remind them that there is no ‘i’ in ‘Ubuntu.'”   

Fleming’s own column, mentioned above, has one good passage.  Having visited a monastery, he wonders what his late father, a committed atheist, would have said about it.  He supposes he would have declared that the monks’ greatest accomplishment was “the mindless repetition of things that have been done over and over for two thousand years.”  Fleming’s reply to this imaginary attack is:

Excepting the “mindless” bit, I should say, “Yes, it is a great (if not the greatest) accomplishment to have gone through the same motions so many times for so many centuries.  We do not always know what or why we are doing.  Indeed, most of what we think we know we take on trust from a higher authority, like the television weatherman or an ill-educated high school teacher who once told us something about Galileo.  Jefferson, in a letter to a young nephew, described politeness as artificial good humor (a word that meant something like temperament or character): ‘it covers the natural want of it, and ends by rendering habitual a substitute nearly equivalent to the real virtue.'”  That observation, elevated to the spiritual level, suggests that if we go through the same motions and repeat the same words our distant ancestors did, we may someday possess something of their Christian virtues.          

Most notable of the good bits is Chilton Williamson’s column.  Williamson is interested in the word “dignity.”  Williamson turns to a Latin dictionary for definitions of the root word dignitas.  Each definition he finds there “applies to some distinguishing quality, to something earned, or to something peculiarly inherited.  There is nothing universal about it.  All human beings are alike in having been made in the image of God, but that is not the same thing as saying that they share equally in the divine dignity, any more than they share in the divine goodness.” 

I wonder how seriously Williamson means these sentences to be taken.  If there is truly “nothing universal about” dignity, then one would think that it could not be shared at all.  The gulf between God’s dignity and any human being’s dignity would be absolute, and so would the gulf between one human being’s dignity and another’s.  As God alone would have divine dignity, so Williamson alone would have Williamsonian dignity and Acilius alone would have Acilian dignity.  Surely it wouldn’t stop there; isn’t a name a universal concept inasmuch as it suggests that the person who exists in one place at one time is the same as the person who exists in another place or at another time?  So that not only would one person’s dignity be a profoundly different thing from anyone else’s, but in every moment that compose the parts of a person’s life a new dignity would come into being and pass away, existing independently of the dignity of any other moment.  So even if my life (for example) were nothing but an exhibition of buffoonery and degradation for all but one instant, if I were to compose myself in that one instant I would, for its duration, be cloaked in dignity.  That does not seem to accord very well with the idea  of “something earned, or… something peculiarly inherited.” 

For all that, I hail Williamson’s concern for the particular as against the general.  That concern is the great strength of Chronicles magazine, and of the tradition that lingers on in its pages.  The desire to see a person as a particular being, not in any sense as an abstraction, is surely a healthy one, and where the Chronicles crowd has failed to achieve that desire I wish them better success next time.

Wes Montgomery

Here’s a reminder of one of the all-time great jazz guitarists, Wes Montgomery. 

Willow Weep for Me


Round Midnight

I’m not usually a fan of Lennon-McCartney jazz covers; Montgomery’s version of A Day in the Life is almost the only one I do like.