Saturday Night Tunes: My Favorite Things

It occurs to me, as I’m already very late in writing this, that one of the great things about John Coltrane is that you don’t need to write a lot about his albums, because the music says everything that needs to be said. My Favorite Things, recorded in 1960 and released the following year for Atlantic Records, didn’t break dramatic new musical ground like Giant Steps or A Love Supreme (and in fact it contains not a single original Coltrane composition), but it’s such a beautiful album that it ranks up there with the best jazz recordings you’ll ever find.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t also have some interesting historical elements to it. This was the first album where Coltrane was recorded on soprano sax, and with all due respect to Steve Lacy, Coltrane did probably as much to revive interest in the soprano as Lacy did. Also, although the album is all covers of standards, you can hear the influence of Miles Davis’s modal jazz pretty clearly throughout the album (Coltrane had just left Davis’s band in the spring of 1960), and in Coltrane’s approach to modal jazz you can also hear the early-ish developments of his own unique style of avant garde jazz, the style that would eventually come to really characterize his work in the mid to late 1960s.

Coltrane plays both soprano and tenor, and he’s joined by McCoy Tyner on piano, Steve Davis on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums.

Coltrane takes the title track, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic from The Sound of Music, and makes it entirely his, a 13+ minute-long exploration of what essentially turns into a long modal vamp after the melody. Tyner takes the first solo, then Coltrane just tears into it, getting nearly every conceivable sound out of that soprano. It’s justifiably considered a masterpiece and even made for that rarest of jazz triumphs, a successful commercial single:

“Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” is a Cole Porter ballad that showcases Coltrane’s effortless mastery of the soprano (he’d only just started playing it right before he left Davis):

“Summertime,” from the George Gershwin-composed opera Porgy and Bess, has been played by almost everybody, but Coltrane’s uptempo, “sheets of sound” version stands out:

The last track, “But Not for Me,” is another Gershwin, written for a 1930 musical called Girl Crazy. Gershwin seemed to specialize in writing show tunes that would eventually become jazz standards, and this is another one that’s been done countless times. Here Coltrane runs the tune through his “Coltrane changes,” the chord substitution pattern he invented for Giant Steps:

From the “you probably shouldn’t have said that” file

When you’re the defense minister of a country that has nuclear weapons but won’t admit to having them, citing Hiroshima and Nagasaki as models for dealing with the professed greatest threat to your country’s existence is, um, an interesting rhetorical choice. Yet here we have Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, last week at a conference in Jerusalem, according to Ali Gharib at LobeLog:

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem nearly two weeks ago, the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon invoked the American decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in World War II in response to a question about “dealing with a threat like Iran.”

At the conference, organized by the right-wing Israeli legal activism group Shurat HaDin, Yaalon defended Israel’s decisions in several of its recent wars that critics have said showed a disregard for civilian life.

Here are Yaalon’s own words:

I can imagine some other steps that should be taken. Of course, we should be sure that we can look at the mirror after the decision or the operation. Of course, we should be sure it is a military necessity. We should consider cost and benefit, of course. But, at the end, we might take certain steps.

I do remember the story of President Truman was asked, How do feel after deciding to launch the nuclear bombs [at] Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000 casualties? And he said, When I heard from my officers that the alternative is a long war with Japan, with potential fatalities of a couple of millions, I saw it was a moral decision.

We are not there yet. But that [is] what I’m talking about. Certain steps in cases in which we feel like we don’t have the answer by surgical operations or something like that.

Cool story, am I right? Welp, the Iranians certainly thought so; in fact, they thought it was so cool that they wanted to share it with the whole UN:

Iran’s envoy to the United Nations sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as the Security Council, protesting recent remarks made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who invoked the United States’ dropping of atomic bombs on Japan during World War II when responding to a question of how to deal with Iran at a conference in Tel Aviv this month.

The Iranian letter, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency, said Yaalon’s comments showed “the [Israeli] regime’s aggressive nature” and was an indication of Israel’s own extensive, covert nuclear arsenal, whose existence remains an open secret.

Now, I’ll grant you that Iran is doing a little nutpicking here, but when the nut in question happens to be Israel’s Minister of Defense, it’s a pretty big deal. Not only did Yaalon kind of spill the beans on the nukes that Israel has but doesn’t have, the oblique reference to nuking Iran sure doesn’t do much for the “Iran aggressor, Israel victim” narrative that he and Benjamin Netanyahu like to push so much. I wonder if Yaalon is going to be allowed to speak in public without a prepared script anymore.

Moshe, buddy, you might want to sit the next couple of plays out.

Moshe, buddy, you might want to sit the next couple of plays out.

About that “Shiʿa Crescent”…

Way back in 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan told Chris Matthews, for some reason, that Sunni governments in the Middle East were askeert about the growing power of Iranian-backed Shiʿa movements in the region, despite the fact that Sunnis constitute about 60% of all Muslims in the Middle East and 90% of all Muslims around the world. This was right after Saddam had been ousted by the Iraq invasion, and while all the Sunni monarchies hated Saddam and his anti-monarchy Baʿathist ideology, he at least represented revolutionary Sunnism, unlike Tehran and its revolutionary Shiʿism which threatened to now spread into Iraq. So it’s long been a basic doctrine of Sunni autocrats and their right-wing bros in the West that there’s some kind of creeping Shiʿa bogeyman coming to get them while they’re sleeping, or whatever. They sometimes refer to the menace as the “Shiʿa Crescent,” for its vaguely crescent shape from Lebanon (Hezbollah), through Syria (the Assad regime), Iraq (majority Shiʿa), and Iran, and winding up in Bahrain (also majority Shiʿa) and even eastern Saudi Arabia (which has a large local Shiʿa population). Bahrain is, of course, governed by Sunnis, so maybe you’re already noticing a problem here, but now that Yemen is nominally controlled by a group of Zaydis, who are nominally Shiʿa and have some nominal ties to Iran, there’s a lot of concern, founded or not, about the crescent turning into a circle, which would obviously be bad for, uh, certain reasons.

The thing is, if you take a little stroll around the “Shiʿa Crescent,” and the region at large, who’s really the aggressor here? Sunni militias now control most of Syria (ISIS alone controls an estimated 50% of the country territorially) and are building momentum toward defeating and removing the Assad regime (part of the crescent!) entirely. ISIS just captured another major Iraqi city, consolidating its control over one entire Iraqi province. The real winners of the battle to dislodge the Houthis in Yemen have been Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, two Sunni extremist organizations. And, let’s remember, Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni monarch who likes to violate his Shiʿa subjects’ human rights as frequently as possible. Is it just me, or are Sunnis actually the ones in control of all of these situations right now? And it’s not just at the macro-level that you see this; yes, you see Shiʿa militias in Iraq committing atrocities against Iraqi Sunnis and the Alawite Assad regime dropping barrel bombs on Sunni civilians in Syria, but these days it’s far more common to find ISIS blowing up Shiʿa mosques, like in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and crowds of Shiʿa pilgrims, like in Baghdad, or to find Pakistani Sunnis, either affiliated with or inspired by ISIS, shooting up busloads of Shiʿa in Karachi.

Now, stipulating that the vast majority of Sunnis are peaceful folks who historically have co-existed quite peacefully with their Shiʿa neighbors, of the two largest branches of Islam, which one has more to fear from the other these days?

Refugee updates and charity links

Not much good news, I’m afraid. First, there’s been an outbreak of cholera among the Burundian refugees in Tanzania:

About 3,000 refugees fleeing political turmoil in Burundi have been infected in a cholera epidemic in neighboring Tanzania, the United Nations said on Friday, stoking fears of a growing humanitarian crisis in Africa’s Great Lakes.

Up to 400 new cases of the deadly disease were emerging every day, the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR said, mainly in Tanzania’s Kagunga peninsula where tens of thousands of Burundians have taken refuge, often in squalid conditions.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has started an emergency fund for aiding Burundian refugees.

Second, the Burmese navy rescued a boat containing about 200 Rohingya refugees that was stranded in the Bay of Bengal. Obviously it’s good news that these people were rescued, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared with the number of refugees still stuck on the high seas, essentially held hostage by the smugglers they paid to put them on those boats in the first place:

In the Bay of Bengal, the UNHCR believes up to 2,000 migrants are still stuck on vessels controlled by people smugglers who have been unwilling to begin the journey south because of the crackdown.

A trickle of would-be migrants have recently returned to Myanmar after relatives raised funds to buy them back from smugglers.

Also, the fact is that these 200 would-be refugees are going to be sent right back to Myanmar, which was the place they were trying to flee in the first place. They’re going back to Myanmar’s open-air Rohingya prison camps and back to the constant risk of attack from Buddhist mobs. I assume it beats being stranded at sea in an overcrowded boat, but maybe not by much. On the plus side, Turkey announced that it’s donating $1 million to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR specifically earmarked for aid to Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants still trapped at sea.

There aren’t many charities that do any work with the Rohingya, I suspect because the Burmese government makes it difficult. After they’d been banned by the government from working in Myanmar’s Rakhine State (where most of the Rohingya are) last February, Doctors Without Borders was allowed to resume its work there in January, so that’s one place to consider donating. Islamic Relief USA has good Charity Navigator ratings and has a “Myanmar Humanitarian Fund,” so that seems like another option. They’ve had accusations of ties to terrorism (Hamas, mostly) leveled at them in the past, so take that into consideration, but a UK audit in December found no evidence of any terrorist ties between their parent organization, Islamic Relief Worldwide, and any terrorist organizations or activities. UNHCR is another option (see link above), but I would steer clear of IOM, which has some concerns associated with it.

Also, the ongoing conflict in Yemen continues to displace Yemenis, tens of thousands of them still inside Yemen and thousands in nearby Djibouti. Again, the UNHCR is one place to consider, but you might also think about Save the Children or UNICEF as well.

A couple of reasons why Camp David didn’t end with any major agreements

Last week’s US/GCC “summit” (I’m not sure it counts as a real summit when 4 of the 6 GCC leaders didn’t bother showing up) ended so expectedly that, well, I just plain forgot to blog about it. What I wrote before the “summit”:

As I said on the program on Saturday, one possible outcome of this week’s summit is some kind of very broad, very vague framework document that codifies existing verbal defense arrangements without creating a formal treaty obligation. Alongside that, you may see some formal agreement to sell advanced weaponry to the GCC countries, like the F-35, as well as the announcement of some detailed collaborative efforts on specific issues, like cybersecurity and maybe missile defense, where US and GCC interests (and their assessment of the threat from Iran) are more or less on the same page. That will allow everybody to declare victory and wax positively about the strong relationship between America and her Gulf allies, even though nobody will really be getting what they want.

is pretty much what happened, except they didn’t even produce a vague written security framework or, as far as I can tell, cut any new arms deals (there was instead some mention of “expediting” arms transfers, whatever that means). Instead, President Obama offered his “ironclad commitment” to protecting America’s Gulf allies from “external aggression,” and the parties concluded some actual deals on piecemeal things:

Obama on Thursday pledged to take their partnership to another level with greater cooperation on everything from ballistic missile defense, maritime security and cybersecurity to joint military exercises and training. Counterterrorism coordination will tighten to stem the flow of foreign fighters to terrorist groups, protect vulnerable infrastructure and halt terror financing, he said. In a joint statement, the countries vowed to address regional challenges including Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

Predictably, you then saw both the Obama administration and the GCC giving the whole two-day session a positive spin, with one GCC official saying that it “exceeded expectations,” despite the fact that GCC members didn’t get the security pact they wanted and the US seemingly got nowhere on the socio-political reforms that it wanted to talk about. In short, everybody got together and agreed to iron out their differences by restating current policy and sticking with the status quo that supposedly has everybody so pissed at each other. Continue reading

The power of the correction, or why Jonathan Chait’s “point” doesn’t “stand”

Jonathan Chait is mad at Harper’s because the Putin-loving (?) lefties over there aren’t making any damn sense:

Bromwich explains that the campaign to defame Putin reached its nadir when Obama’s minions descended upon Putin’s own country to arm his enemies with cookies:

When Nuland appeared in Kiev to hand out cookies to the anti-Russian protesters, it was as if a Russian operative had arrived to cheer a mass of anti-American protesters in Baja California.

Right, it’s exactly as if Russian operatives had come to greet anti-American protesters in California. Except there aren’t anti-American protesters in California, largely because California is part of the United States of America. Kiev, on the other hand, is not part of Russia. It is part of Ukraine, which is a sovereign state.

It’s possible you’ve already spotted where Chait would later have to correct himself, but if not, here’s his correction:

*Update: I completely skipped over the “Baja” part of the sentence, which obviously changes the meaning, since Baja is part of Mexico, not the United States. Still, the point stands that there are not anti-American protests in Baja because the U.S. is not threatening to invade and annex it, whereas Russia is threatening to invade and annex more of Ukraine. Apologies for the hasty error.

Oops. This is kind of a big “hasty error,” no? The whole thrust of Chait’s heavy snarking up there was that “LOL, California is part of the US, moran!” when, in fact, the article he’s trying to snark wasn’t talking about “California,” but about “Baja California,” which is, you know, not part of the US. I’m not sure a defiant “the point stands” was the best way to approach things here.

The thing is that Chait is technically correct in one respect, that there are no major anti-American protests currently going on in Baja California (and kudos to him for getting that one narrow point right), but the whole thing has been totally lost in the online chortling over his inexplicable “Baja” gaffe. Lesson: be more careful before you go full snark on somebody else’s supposed errors!

On the other hand, though, Chait is also kind of full of crap, for a couple of reasons. First, at the time when Victoria Nuland showed up with boxes of Chips Ahoy for the crowds in Kiev, Ukraine was in the midst of the Euromaidan uprising, and Russia was not “threatening to invade and annex more of Ukraine.” The threats (and the eventual annexation of Crimea) didn’t come until after Euromaidan had overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych and replaced him with a government led by Victoria Nuland’s close neoliberal pal Arseniy Yatseniuk. Second, if we’re talking hypothetically, as Harper’s writer David Bromwich clearly seems to have been doing, then I think it’s fair to say that we’d be pretty put-out if a Russian official showed up at an anti-American protest in Baja California and handed out cookies to the protesters, don’t you? That seems a wee bit unnecessarily provocative to me.

Now, for all I know the rest of Bromwich’s piece is a laughably dumb apologia in defense of Vladimir Putin or something (though the piece is on Obama’s legacy, so I don’t see how that could be possible). Harper’s makes you pay for their stuff, and I’m not particularly interested in shelling out money I don’t have just to see where this one piece goes. What I do know, though, is that Chait’s attempt to point and laugh at Bromwich on this particular point has been pretty hilariously misguided.

The loss of Palmyra is terrible in so many ways

After it briefly looked, earlier in the week, like their advance might peter out, ISIS appears to have taken control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra as well as its modern companion city of Tadmur yesterday. As bad as ISIS’s capture of Ramadi was in Iraq, I’m going to argue that this is worse, though for a whole host of reasons. I’m not minimizing what happened in Ramadi, don’t get me wrong. Ramadi was important because taking it allows ISIS some time and space to consolidate their position in Anbar, though it appears likely that a major counter-attack to retake the city will be made soon by Iraqi military and militia forces (a counter-attack that will perversely exacerbate the sectarian tensions in Iraq that have been so important to ISIS’s long-term success). Ramadi is also strategically situated near Baghdad (though ISIS has been closer to Baghdad, in Fallujah, for a while now), and the battle saw another sizable Iraqi army unit routed by a comparatively few jihadi fighters (a psychological blow), who were then able to seize the retreating army’s weapons and equipment. Also, equally important, there’s the human cost that comes whenever ISIS moves into a new place and forces a new population under its repressive and often violent governance (a human cost that will, again, be exacerbated if the city is retaken by vindictive Shiʿa militias, as Tikrit was).

Now take Palmyra/Tadmur. Continue reading