King Tut’s unfortunate shave

Originally posted on World Heritage Alert:

So, um, it was kind of a rough week for the Egyptian Museum, eh? Several news outlets reported that King Tutankhamun’s burial mask, arguably the most famous archeological item in the world and certainly the pride and joy of the Egyptian Museum, had its beard taken off last year, either because it was damaged during a cleaning (the popular suspicion) or because it was already falling off and needed to be restored (the museum’s official story).

King Tut, presumably in happier, pre-catastrophe times (via)

King Tut, presumably in happier, pre-catastrophe times ( via )

OK, so Tut’s beard got broke. It’s a shame, but stuff happens, right? This kind of thing is exactly why museums pay people to care for and restore artifacts, right? Well, yeah, except unfortunately the effort to repair the damage in this case went terribly wrong. Either out of haste to get the mask back into the exhibit (the popular suspicion) or plain old…

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Saturday Night Tunes: Django Reinhardt

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: I’m not a big fan of jazz guitar. I don’t dislike it, really, but if you look through my disturbingly large collection of jazz CDs you’ll find only a perfunctory few that are headlined by a guitarist. But that said, Django Reinhardt was such a huge influence not just on jazz, but on guitar playing in general, that I couldn’t let his birthday (yesterday) pass without some mention.

Jean Reinhardt, nicknamed “Django,” was born to a French-Romani family in Belgium in 1910, and by 1923 he was playing the six-string banjo (the “banjo-guitar”) professionally after having received virtually no actual instruction on the instrument or in music. He was a prodigy if there ever was one, having also taught himself the violin and the guitar as a child. In 1928, when he was just 18, Reinhardt’s house caught on fire and he was grievously injured; among other ailments, the ring and pinky fingers on his left hand were partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. Amazingly, Reinhardt relearned how to play guitar given his new physical limitations, and then he discovered Louis Armstrong and a career was born. He spent most of the next two decades touring Europe, including a harrowing period during World War II when he was unable to leave Occupied France. Given the Nazis’ official position on both Romani and jazz music, Reinhardt must have frequently feared for his and his wife’s lives, but he survived thanks in part to the fact that plenty of Nazi officers loved jazz and particularly loved Reinhardt’s music.

In 1934, Reinhardt formed his longest-lasting musical partnership, with violinist Stéphane Grappelli, when they co-founded the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” maybe Europe’s most famous jazz ensemble in the 1930s. It has the distinction of being one of the few jazz groups made up entirely of strings; Grappelli’s violin and Reinhardt’s guitar were joined by two other guitarists (one of whom was Reinhardt’s brother Joseph) and a bassist. The two worked together on and off until a 1949 tour of Italy, which would be the last time they recorded together before Reinhardt died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1953 when he was only 43 years old. He’s credited with founding an entire sub-genre called “Gypsy Jazz,” but his guitar technique was such that rock guitarists will still cite Django Reinhardt as an influence.

Part of the reason this series has focused so much on albums from the 1950s and 1960s is because the earlier you get the more primitive the recording equipment gets, so don’t expect any of these to sound particularly good. There’s also the problem of finding intact albums on YouTube, which gets harder the further back you go. So that’s why we’re breaking somewhat with the normal format here and covering the artist instead of one of his or her albums. I’m picking 6 tracks that are among Reinhardt’s most famous tunes and that sound halfway decent in the versions that have been uploaded to YouTube.

“Minor Swing” is one of the Reinhardt/Grappelli partnership’s most famous tunes, and if you’re looking for the perfect example of “Gypsy Jazz,” this is probably it:

“Nuages” is another of Reinhardt’s best known tunes. I think this version was recorded in 1940, after Grappelli had fled the war to England (actually it would be more accurate to say that Reinhardt went back to France after the war started; he and Grappelli had already been on tour in Britain when war broke out), and the Quintette incorporated a clarinetist in his place:

Here’s another Reinhardt classic, “Belleville,” probably recorded around the same time as evidenced by the clarinet:

“Djangology,” recorded I think by the original Quintette, including Grappelli:

Our fifth Reinhardt original is “Swing ’42,” which like the others is today considered a standard:

Finally let’s have a cover; this is Reinhardt and Grappelli playing the pop classic “Beyond the Sea,” made famous by Bobby Darin in 1959. I’m including this one because I happen to like the song, and also because I think this version comes from that 1949 Italian tour so the recording quality is about as good as a Django Reinhardt recording is going to get. It also highlights his amazing guitar work outside of the Gypsy Jazz style:

Almost beyond ridicule

Boko Haram is riding pretty high right now. In the aftermath of its horrific massacre of the village of Baga, which consolidated its control over Nigeria’s northeastern Borno Province, the group has started threatening to take its campaign into neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, potentially bringing those nations into a region-wide war. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is probably getting tired of people asking why the army of a country with a ~$520 billion GDP keeps getting walloped by a paramilitary gang, and he’s certainly tired of being criticized for his bizarre lack of attention to the problem. So it was probably with that in mind that, on Thursday, Jonathan’s National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, blamed the army’s inability to do anything about Boko Haram on “cowards” in its ranks. No, really, that’s his story. There’s just one small problem with the way he went about articulating00 it:

“Unfortunately we have a lot of cowards. We have people who use every excuse in this world not to fight,” Sambo Dasuki, the top security adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, told an audience at the Chatham House think-tank in London on Thursday.

But, he stressed, “there is no high-level conspiracy within the army not to end the insurgency.”

Dasuki denied the army was under-equipped, as critics have asserted, calling this an “excuse.”

Yes, nothing says “why won’t you freaking cowards stand and fight your mortal enemy” like running off to London and whining to the nice folks at Chatham House. Maybe Jonathan and his advisers should spend less time and money rending their garments before Western audiences and more time actually, I don’t know, building a credible fighting force that can stand up to Boko Haram. Just a thought.


The curious case of Alberto Nisman

The government of Argentina is accusing unnamed “rogue agents” from within its own intelligence community of murdering federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Normally you wouldn’t find this blog dealing with an alleged murder in a South American country, but this particular one involves Iran, so I figure I should at least be keeping tabs on what’s happening.

Nisman was found dead in his apartment on Monday, with a handgun lying near his body. The apartment was apparently locked from the inside, and by outward appearances it looked like a suicide. One problem with that theory, though, is that Nisman didn’t appear to anyone who knew him as though he were suicidal, and he didn’t leave a note (I don’t think they’ve determined whether or not he fired the gun yet). What Nisman did leave behind was an unfinished criminal investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, in Buenos Aires. Argentine prosecutors formally charged the Iranian government and Hezbollah with perpetrating the bombing in 2006, though IPS News’s Gareth Porter later found that in making that charge, the prosecutors relied on evidence provided by the wholly unreliable Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), so keep that in mind.

Nisman’s investigation had apparently uncovered evidence that the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had cut a deal with Tehran to bury evidence of Iran’s involvement in the attack, thereby obstructing Nisman’s work, in exchange for favorable trade considerations. Assuming Nisman was really on to something, the obvious suspects in his murder, also assuming it was a murder, would be someone working for Fernandez de Kirchner, or even the Iranians. But with elections coming up in October, Fernandez de Kirchner is under considerable pressure to keep Nisman’s murder from blowing up into a huge scandal that will squash any chance of her party holding on to the presidency. So she’s apparently floating this theory that Nisman was being used as a tool of these “recently fired” rogue agents, who were trying to frame and discredit her for a crime she didn’t commit, obviously, and recently decided that Nisman would be more useful to their efforts dead than alive.

Is there any evidence to support what Fernandez de Kirchner is saying? Heck, they haven’t even determined what actually happened to Nisman yet, let alone who might have been behind it if he was murdered. But unfortunately this man’s death is now a hand grenade in Argentine politics, so expect this story to get weirder and more offensive in the coming days.

The reformer who didn’t really reform anything

There seems to be a theme in the early eulogizing of the recently departed Saudi King Abdullah. See if you can pick out what it is:

abdullah reuters abdullah reformer GM abdullah cnn

Yes, Abdullah was a reformer, which may come as a surprise to some of you at home, but not nearly as big a surprise as it probably comes to the bloggers he’s had lashed or the many, many prisoners who were beheaded on his watch. NPR was on the “reformer” bandwagon last night:

abdullah npr 2

before going in a totally new direction a few hours later:

abdullah npr 3

Yes, it’s the complex legacy of a man who said the word “reform” a few times without actually doing anything to bring it about. Continue reading

Well, he had a nice run

They say only the good die young…and on an unrelated note Saudi King Abdullah b. Abd al-Aziz died earlier today at age 90 (or so; his exact birthdate appears to be up for debate). Rest in Peace.

He’s succeeded by his middle-aged brother Salman (79), and the new heir apparent is the positively youthful Prince Muqrin (69). Meanwhile a whole lot of Saudi sons and nephews, brothers and cousins, started thinking of new ways to stab each other in the back. Muqrin, you see, is the last of Abd al-Aziz b. Saud’s sons who is likely to succeed to the throne, so after him the crown probably goes to somebody in the next generation, and it’s not really clear who that will be or how smoothly his succession will go.

I may have more to say about this tomorrow.

Time to reset the “Days since a Republican said something offensive about rape” counter

They’ll figure out how to stop stepping on those rakes someday!

Ah, Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina senator who says he’s thinking about running for president no doubt thought he was helping the GOP get beyond its meltdown over its 20-week abortion ban bill, which leadership dropped unexpectedly when some GOP congresswomen balked, by asking antiabortion zealots attending the “March for Life” to help him “find a way out of this definitional problem with rape.”

One major issue with the bill was the way it defined rape: a women would have to have made a police report in order to get an abortion under the bill’s rape exception. (Katie McDonough has the details here.) Most rape victims don’t report the crime.

So Graham went to the “March for Life” today and came clean with the group, which is seething over its betrayal by GOP leadership. There’s going to be some kind of rape exception in the bill, and he needs their input to shape it.

“I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape,” Graham told the marchers, according to Dave Weigel.  “We need to find a consensus position on the rape exception. The rape exception will be part of the bill. We just need to find a way definitionally to not get us into a spot where we’re debating what legitimate is. That’s not the cause. We’re not here debating legitimate rape. We’re talking about saving babies at 20 weeks.”

It’s not that Republicans don’t want to be sympathetic to rape victims, it’s just that nobody’s ever explained to them what “rape” actually is. How’s that outreach to women going, guys?

"I'll be honest, definitionally we're not 100% clear on what a 'woman' actually is"

“To be honest, definitionally we’re not 100% clear on what a ‘woman’ actually is”