Saturday Night Tunes: Soul Burnin’

Red Garland is probably known more for his work as a sideman; I mean, he was the pianist for Miles Davis’s “First Great Quintet,” which would be a career peak for just about anybody, and also worked with John Coltrane on several recordings in the 1960s. But he recorded plenty of times as a band leader as well. 1961’s Soul Burnin’ isn’t the best known of his albums as a leader (in fact it’s a mash of tracks recorded on three different sessions with three different sets of personnel, although we’ll only hear two of them in this post), but it is the one that jumped off the shelf at me just now and so it’s the one you’re getting. As always, feel free to drop a line to our complaints department.

As I say, the personnel changes on this album because its a mix of sessions. For these first two tracks, Garland was joined by Richard Williams on trumpet, Oliver Nelson on saxophones, Peck Morrison on bass, and Charlie Persip on drums:

“On Green Dolphin Street,” written in 1947 by Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington, is almost the definition of a jazz standard. Garland states the melody and takes a long first solo, followed by Nelson on tenor and a muted Williams:

Tadd Dameron’s classic “If You Could See Me Now” comes next, and follows a similar format: Garland takes the melody before moving into a nifty double-time solo, then giving way first to Williams and then Nelson (this time on alto):

Now the personnel switches to a trio: Garland with Sam Jones on bass and Arthur Taylor on drums.

“Rocks in My Bed” was written by Duke Ellington in 1941 and this is a really great version of it. Jones’s bass is particularly killer:

Garland himself wrote “Soul Burnin’,” a medium-fast swing number that, as you might expect, really lets Garland shine:

“Blues in the Night” is another standard, written by Harold Allen and Johnny Mercer in 1941 for the film of the same name. It features Garland all the way through:

The CD reissue includes a bonus track, “A Little Bit of Basie,” written by Garland and featuring a third ensemble. You’ll have to track that one down for yourselves.

The anniversary of Egypt’s revolution went about as you’d expect

One of the things that got lost in my week of light blogging was that, on Sunday, Egyptians marked the fourth anniversary of the start of the Tahrir Square protests (I realize how misleading that is, since there were protests all over the country) that ultimately forced Hosni Mubarak from office. For a couple of years January 25, “Revolution Day,” was a holiday, but since Egypt returned to military dictatorship um, had its democracy saved by submission to the rule er, the great beneficence and eventual free election of Hosni Mubarak, Jr. Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the past two Revolution Days have really been more about protest than celebration. The whole exercise has to be a little difficult for Sisi, whose rise from general to president likely wouldn’t have been possible had Mubarak not been forced out of office, but who most definitely does not want to be encouraging the same movement that tried to replace the last dictator with a democratically-elected government.

If you can discern a pattern based on two points of data, then it looks like Sisi is planning on honoring Revolution Day by killing a few dozen protesters on that date every year. Last year around 50 activists, those who support the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and those who are just, for whatever reason, a little squeamish about the fact that their “democracy” is now run by an ex-general who rigged his own election despite the fact that he was, for all intents and purposes, the only guy running, were killed in clashes with regime security forces. This year, Sisi actually tried to cancel Revolution Day, ostensibly in mourning for the death of Saudi King Abdullah, but when that failed it was back to killing protesters (go with what you know, I guess).

The death toll this time was lighter than last year, as only 20 protesters were killed (be warned: there’s a graphic photo at that link), but one in particular, 32 year old Shaimaa el-Sabbagh (it’s her death that’s shown in that graphic photo I warned you about), seems to have struck a chord both in Egypt and around the world. The image of a young woman shot dead by her government for the crime of peacefully protesting that government (which is to say, for no crime at all), while another security officer watches it happen, is horrific and powerful. It’s spurred additional protests in Egypt and nearby Tunisia, which has gone through its own, fortunately much less violent, experimentation with democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood of late.

Sabbagh’s death even generated an angry op-ed (that’s the English translation) in the state run newspaper Al-Ahram, though as Joshua Keating points out, Sisi’s willingness to allow his media mouthpieces to criticize his government on this one thing probably speaks to how secure he feels his hold on power is right now rather than to some splintering within the ruling elite:

Al-Ahram’s editorial is being read by some as a sign of emerging splits in the Egyptian establishment, but it could also be read as a signal that the government is secure enough to allow a certain amount of criticism through approved channels. And Sisi has reason to feel secure. The retired general is believed to be firmly in control of his regime, with a growing personality cult to match. The opposition is demoralized and divided. Support for the Muslim Brotherhood is thought to be low following Mohamed Morsi’s deeply unpopular presidency. And the anti-Sisi forces are split between Brotherhood supporters and liberals, strange bedfellows to begin with. (That split has emerged again in the wake of Sabbagh’s killing, with some Islamists complaining that the secular socialist’s death provoked much more public outrage than the killing of another female protester, a 17-year-old Brotherhood supporter, in a rally several days earlier.

More good news for Sisi: Given the post-revolutionary turmoil in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, it seems unlikely that the U.S. will put too much pressure on him beyond some cursory statements on the importance of human rights. Last summer the U.S. resumed the military aid that had been frozen after Morsi’s ouster. Other Western governments followed suit: Even as Canada has pushed for the release of the Canadian-Egyptian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy, it’s also signed on to a new program to train Egyptian police.

"Ah, yes, it's good to be the king freely and fairly elected president who is definitely abiding by the rule of law"

“Ah, yes, it’s good to be the king freely and fairly elected democratic president who is definitely abiding by the rule of law and protecting basic human rights”

The one blemish on Sisi’s record right now (aside from the massive human rights abuses and anti-democratic behavior, since he doesn’t give a damn about that stuff) is the ongoing, really escalating, Islamist violence in the Sinai. The Sinai has always been hard for Cairo to control, seeing as how most of it is desert inhabited by Bedouin tribes that naturally don’t stay in one place too long, but the chaos that’s attended Egypt’s government since Mubarak was ousted in 2011 has allowed some very radical movements to take hold in the area. They’ve been able to grow stronger due to resentment over the ouster of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government as well as the Sisi regime’s response to fighting in Gaza. The largest of the groups fighting in the Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (“Supporters of the Holy House,” i.e. Jerusalem), has allegedly pledged itself to ISIS, though there is believed to be another faction of the group based in the Nile valley that is loyal to Al-Qaeda (which, let’s remember, is currently led by a major figure in the history of the Egyptian jihad scene, so it’s got strong Egyptian roots). Look for Sisi to get more support from the US as the situation in the Sinai continues to get more dangerous.

“American Sniper” and being “anti-war”

Spoilers for the film American Sniper are going to be in here somewhere, I guess, I don’t really know what qualifies as a “spoiler.” Anyway, you were warned.

There’s a sequence maybe halfway through American Sniper where Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) is leading his men on a stakeout of a restaurant where a top Al-Qaeda in Iraq figure called “The Butcher” (loosely based on, from what I can tell, two different men: AQI’s “Butcher of Fallujah,” Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi, and Abu Deraa, a Shiʿa warlord known for using a power drill to torture and murder his enemies) is meeting with his men. The Americans burst in and take over the home of a family across the street from the restaurant, and despite this terrifying intrusion they are invited to join the family for their Eid al-Adha meal.

As everyone is at the table — eating, joking, doing homework — Kyle (because he is essentially a superhero with superpowers as far as this film is concerned) realizes, based on the tiniest of clues, that the father of this family is in cahoots with AQI. Then, after only the briefest of searches, Kyle (again with the superpowers) manages to find this man’s massive weapons cache, and then threatens him with arrest unless he leads the Americans across the street and helps them gain entry into the restaurant. The man knocks on the door and convinces his fellow AQI fighter to open it, at which point the guy who opened the door is gunned down by the Americans. The father then grabs the fallen man’s weapon and begins firing at the Americans, before he too is dispatched, almost as an afterthought.

I’m not a film critic, plus I was predisposed to dislike this movie before I saw it, based on what I had read about the way it “whitewashes” the Iraq War. So you’re not going to get a quality movie review here. But bear with me for a few minutes, please. Continue reading

Trouble on the horizon

Regular readers will know that I have kind of a soft spot for Oman, so despite my, let’s say, general bad attitude when it comes to absolutist monarchies, it makes me sorry to read things like this:

The prolonged absence of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, who has not returned since travelling overseas for medical tests six months ago for suspected cancer, has stirred fears over stability in his Gulf country.

The 74-year-old absolute ruler is not only sultan, but also prime minister, as well as holding the foreign affairs, finance, defence and interior portfolios.

But without children, or even brothers, he has no direct heir, and his absence is raising questions over who will succeed him.

Oman was for quite a while a pretty stable country, and in my admittedly limited experience there it was hard to find anyone who would say a bad word about Qaboos. But that was years ago. Oman experienced its own Arab Spring protests in 2011-2012, with protesters angry at low salaries, high unemployment, and government corruption, and Qaboos’s response really failed to satisfy their demands. The country has a very young population that doesn’t remember what things were like before Qaboos overthrew his father, that sees (correctly) that Qaboos has failed to fully modernize the country, and that is probably on the verge of another protest movement given how hard Oman is being hit by low oil prices.

Sultan Qaboos (via)

Sultan Qaboos (via)

Now Qaboos is probably dying of cancer in Germany, and since he has no sons the succession is up for grabs to some extent. It’s likely that one of his cousins will wind up on the throne, but the royal family has to either decide on one of them or turn to Qaboos’s choice, which he’s apparently left in an unopened letter for some reason. The best thing for the country would be to transition to some kind of parliamentary monarchy and give people a real voice in their government, but this being the Gulf, that’s probably not too likely. Oman just isn’t wealthy enough to buy off dissent the way some of the other Gulf countries have been able to do, though, so the country may be heading towards a problem.

Tentative good news from the Central African Republic

By one measure, the Central African Republic has been tearing itself apart for well over two years now. In August 2012 a faction of the country’s largest Islamic militia, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, joined forces with a number of other Islamic rebel groups, and the combined group, calling itself the Séléka (“coalition” in Sango), began a campaign against the forces of the CAR army and the other faction of the CPJP. Despite the involvement on the government’s side of troops from neighboring Chad (though Chadian paramilitary groups likely aided the rebels) and two multinational groups (the Multinational Force for Central Africa and the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic), and despite an attempted ceasefire/power-sharing agreement between the government and the rebels that came together and fell apart in January 2013, in March the Séléka forces captured CAR’s capital, Bangui, and forced President François Bozizé into exile in first the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then Benin.

The rebels installed their leader, Michel Djotodia, as the new president of the country, but his stint in the big chair was doomed pretty much from the start. Because he came to power in a coup, most of CAR’s neighbors refused to recognize him as anything more than the leader of a transitional administration that would shepherd the country through quick elections. But Djotodia, having come to power at the head of an armed Islamic uprising that had committed multiple atrocities in the process, in a nation that’s about 4/5 Christian and ~10% animist, wasn’t going to win those elections, so he declared that the “transitional period” would take three years. As a gesture of good faith, I guess, he declared that the Séléka militia would disband.

Welp, it turns out that this satisfied nobody. Continue reading

Still waiting for the crisis

I suppose I’m not their target audience and so I just don’t get it, but does it ever occur to hate groups that say America is in “crisis” because THE GAYS are getting married that, you know, there’s not actually a crisis? Maybe the gays getting married is itself the crisis, but the argument always seems to me to be that America is going to suffer some horrible societal collapse as a result of marriage equality, and, uh, I’m not seeing it?

This is how Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns for re-election?

Yoav Galant is a Major General in the IDF and formerly the head of its Southern Command, the unit that oversees operations in and around Gaza. He’s also a recent recruit to run for Knesset on the slate of the Kulanu Party, the new and maybe centrist-ish party that was founded by former Likud cabinet minister Moshe Kahlon. So he’s not a kook, at least not on paper. Galant is openly saying that the Israeli attack on Syria that killed several Hezbollah leaders and an Iranian general a couple of weeks ago was timed to maximize its impact on the upcoming Israeli election. That seems like a pretty serious charge, doesn’t it? Galant is citing a 2012 IDF missile strike that killed a top Hamas leader, Ahmed Jabari as his basis for the claim. Jabari’s assassination sparked a days-long conflict between the IDF and Hamas that boosted Netanyahu’s political fortunes a scant 2 months before January 2013 Knesset election. Galant contends that Jabari could have been taken out many times prior to the November 2012 strike, which makes the decision to kill him at that particular time…curious.

Well, here we are 2 months before the next Knesset election, and the Israelis have launched another attack that has sparked retaliation:

Fighting between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has left two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper dead, officials said Wednesday.

Separately, in Gaza, the United Nations said it was “outraged” when Palestinian protesters climbed the perimeter of a U.N. compound and damaged it. U.N. officials took Hamas to task for not preventing the incident.

The Hamas incident may not be related to the Quneitra attack, but it may wind up helping Bibi anyway.

If recent polling is any indication, Likud is in real danger of winding up a couple of Knesset seats short of the Labor Party when the votes are counted. It may be that the corruption scandal currently surrounding Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party will still shake out in a way that benefits Netanyahu, but it’s worth noting that Yisrael Beitenu’s constituency consists of right-wing voters who have already obviously rejected Likud, Israel’s preeminent right-wing party, for whatever reason. It can’t simply be assumed that they’ll migrate to Netanyahu now.

On that note, it’s beginning to look like Netanyahu’s decision to take John Boehner up on his offer to stick a thumb in Barack Obama’s eye come address Congress on the spooky dangers of negotiating with Iran could go down in political annals as a serious miscalculation. For one thing, you could you make a serious case that the negative attention the speech has drawn has contributed to the shocking turnaround on the Kirk-Menendez sanctions package, which looked like it was on the verge of passing with maybe a veto-proof majority a couple of weeks ago but that now won’t even get its co-author’s support until at least March 24.

More crucially for Netanyahu, though, is that the upcoming speech has generated major blowback for him in Israel, and in ways that chip at his two biggest electoral strengths, his serious statesmanship and his security credentials. Part of Netanyahu’s continued appeal despite personally low poll numbers is that he’s the only really heavyweight figure in Israeli politics right now, but the amateur hour fiasco that this speech has become erodes his ability to point at the rest of the field and say to voters, “come on, can you seriously imagine any of these people as PM?” Meanwhile, Netanyahu can look tough by standing up to American complaints to a point, but most Israelis are savvy enough to know that really provoking American anger is the last thing Israel needs.