Saturday Night Tunes: Bird at St. Nick’s

You may have noticed that I tend to stick to albums from the late 1950s through the 1960s in this series. That’s partly a personal preference, but not entirely. I’d love to throw in some big band and bebop more often, but the problem is that the earlier you go the more challenging it is to find good albums to write about. You either get albums that are cobbled together from a bunch of different recording sessions, so they’re really more like a “greatest hits” collection than a cohesive album, or you can’t find enough tracks off of any one particular album online, and always you’ve got to worry about the quality of the recording, whether you’re talking about a live album or a studio one.

This week I decided to try anyway, and I saw my copy of Bird at St. Nick’s on the shelf and figured that was as good a bebop album as any. That’s not a cop-out, it’s literally true; this 1950 live recording is some of the best bebop you’ll find anywhere. It is, however, a live recording from 1950, and it’s got all the bugs you’d expect to find in a live recording from 1950: you can hear a lot of crowd noise, plenty of audio imperfections, and you’ll strain to hear all the performers at times. But if you can look past those issues, it’s a wonderful album, and even if you can’t it’s still a neat relic of the times and a sign of how far the technology has come. I’ll see if I can get some Parker studio work on the agenda for next week.

The good news is that I found an entire YouTube playlist that includes all 13 tracks from the album. The bad news is that I don’t know how to divvy these up into individual tracks, if that’s even possible, so I had to embed the entire playlist. Rather than talk about the individual tunes and delay getting to the music, I’ll just note the highlights, which for me are the Parker originals (especially his real classics like “Ornithology,” “Scrapple from the Apple,” and “Now’s the Time”), Tadd Dameron’s excellent “Hot House,” and the standard “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” which showcases how great Parker’s sound was even when he wasn’t blazing through a tune at his usual pace.

Along with Parker you’ll hear Red Rodney on trumpet, Al Haig on piano, Tommy Potter on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums.

Always assume the worst and you’ll never be disappointed

I suppose it was easy to see where this Dennis Hastert story was going, but actually watching it get there was still disturbing. I don’t know how Illinois law works but it’s entirely possible that we’re now past the statute of limitations to prosecute Hastert for any crime he may have committed back in the 1970s, and if that’s the case then whatever punishment he receives for these charges will have to count as “justice.” It feels wrong to say any more than that absent the details of the case, and those details should be between Dennis Hastert, the authorities, and the people whose lives Hastert affected.

Today in Islamic history: the Ottoman coup of 1807 (oh, and Constantinople fell in 1453)

First of all, Happy Fall of Constantinople Day; it’s been 562 years since the city fell to the Ottomans and the Roman Empire more or less ceased to exist. Second, if you’re wondering why I’m writing about some obscure coup instead of one of the most important military victories in Islamic or European history, it’s because I already wrote about Constantinople on May 29 of last year. The May 29, 1807 coup that overthrew Ottoman Sultan Selim III (d. 1808) and replaced him with his cousin, Mustafa IV (also d. 1808, so you can see where this is going to wind up), isn’t a major event in Ottoman history, certainly not on par with what happened in 1453. But it does highlight one of the big levers in the 17th-18th century decline of the Ottoman state, a decline that would briefly be arrested in the early 19th century for reasons I’ll mention at the end.

I’m talking here about the corruption and degradation of the Janissary Corps, which had once been the most capable and therefore most feared army in Europe. It’s not clear when exactly the Janissary Corps was formed, but we know it was established as early as the reign of Murad I (1362-1389), who expanded the empire deeper into the Balkans (building on the beachhead his father, Orhan, had established) and was the first Ottoman ruler to take the title “Sultan.” The Janissaries were “recruited” via the devşirme (“devshirmeh”), a “draft” imposed mostly (there were a few exceptions) on Christian families living under Ottoman rule in the Balkans. Pre-adolescent boys were taken from these families, converted to Islam, taught the Turkish language, and put to work as what were technically slaves, or kul (though they were generally better treated than, say, the average household slave). You can imagine that the devşirme was not especially popular among those Balkan Christian families, though there was an upside to the arrangement in that a very successful product of the devşirme could rise through the Ottoman bureaucracy and even potentially become Grand Vizier, the second-most powerful figure in the empire (arguably the most powerful, at least during the reigns of ineffectual sultans). Continue reading

The FIFA indictments: already too late for too many

I hope something good comes out of the FIFA indictments, I really do. It’s a very powerful and by all appearances very corrupt institution, and the people who run those kinds of institutions should be brought to justice. Dan Drezner contends this is the best foreign policy move the US has made this year, and while that’s not setting the bar very high, it may very well be true. Plus, it pissed Vladimir Putin off, and anything that pisses Vladimir Putin off without creating a body count is probably worth doing in my opinion.

I especially hope that something comes from the emerging Swiss investigation into the process by which the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. Unfortunately, even if the most drastic step — stripping Qatar of the 2022 World Cup and awarding it to another country — were to be taken, it would already been too late for the more than 1200 migrant workers who have already died in Qatar in the course of building new facilities for the Cup. To put that into some context:

qatar fifa

Yeah, that’s a lot of unnecessary deaths, and it’s a real injustice that FIFA head Sepp Blatter can’t be charged with manslaughter (at a minimum) for each one of them. It’s still far less than half of the 4000 workers it’s estimated will die in order to ensure that the Qataris can put on a real fancy soccer tournament, though, so pulling the plug on the whole thing, right now, would still be best for everybody.

Is Qassem Soleimani forming his own Tea Party chapter?

For a long time now we’ve been hearing about how Barack Obama pals around with terrorists, am I right fellow US Americans? The brethren have been so convinced of this one immutable fact that they’ve convinced themselves that Obama is in cahoots with every terrorist group or potential terrorist sponsor under the sun, despite the fact that this would make no sense even if Obama were some kind of terrorist sympathizer Manchurian Candidate president or whatever. Thirty seconds with our friends at Google makes this clear: you’ve got Michael Ledeen at PJ Media complaining last August that Obama is only bombing ISIS because that makes Iran happy, Diana West at WorldNutDaily arguing back in 2012 that Obama did Benghazi because he was working with Al-Qaeda in Libya, and there’s this Walid Moonbat Shoebat gem from last June where he argues that Obama is supporting ISIS in Syria and opposing it in Iraq because ultimately he wants Turkey to take over Syria and Iran to take over Iraq.

Well you can apparently welcome the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force, Maj. General Qassem Soleinmani, to the club. He’s accusing Obama of being an “accomplice” in ISIS’s “plot” in Iraq, because the US didn’t do more to prevent ISIS from conquering Ramadi (the word I caught, sharik, means “partner,” which sounds to me like Soleimani is saying that Obama is actively choosing to assist ISIS and not just that he’s failing to aid Iraq). Now, by that same logic it could be argued that Soleimani, as head of the Qods Force and thus the primary Iranian military figure responsible for supporting Tehran’s allies in Iraq, is also an accomplice in ISIS’s plot since, you know, I didn’t see the Qods Force or any of its client militias stepping in to save Ramadi until the city had already fallen. But why get hung up on trivial things like “internal consistency” or “basic logic” when there’s a cool rhetorical argument to be made? Obummer is the problem here, he’s the one causing all the problems with his terrorist palling ways! Thanks, Obama!

Anyway, congratulations to Qassem Soleimani, founder and president of the new Tehran Chapter of the Tea Party. Don’t tread on them!

"Thank you! Now, about this Obamacare business..."

“Thank you! Now, let us talk about the ways in which this Obamacare is oppressing the creators of jobs.”

Nusra’s Julani: “I get so scared in case I fall off my chair”

"Well I don't know why I came here tonight, I got the feeling that something ain't right"

“Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain’t right”

Jabhat al-Nusra’s emir, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, gave an interview to Al Jazeera yesterday that seems to have been intended to put the best possible face on his Al-Qaeda franchise for a secular/Western audience. Most of it was transparently bullshit though, and by digging through the bullshit you can see the clear reasons why nobody — not the US or the West, not the Islamic world, not the rest of the Arab nations, and certainly not most Syrians — wants Nusra anywhere near the levers of power in a post-Assad Syria.

Julani was keen to stress above all that he’s got no plans to attack the West:

“We are only here to accomplish one mission, to fight the regime and its agents on the ground, including Hezbollah and others,” Abu Mohammed al-Golani said in an exclusive interview aired on Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

“Nusra Front doesn’t have any plans or directives to target the West. We received clear orders not to use Syria as a launching pad to attack the US or Europe in order to not sabotage the true mission against the regime. Maybe al-Qaeda does that but not here in Syria,” he said.

I mean, maybe Al-Qaeda is into that kind of thing, but not Syria’s Al-Qaeda, you know? They’ve been ordered not to attack the West by, well, guys who keep trying to attack the West, but, ah, wheels within wheels or whatever.

Now, obviously Nusra reserves the right to attack the West in self-defense (NOTE: definition of “self-defense” to be determined): Continue reading

Islamic History, part 28: Islamic legal terms

Islamic History Series

If I listed all the caveats I should list about this episode of our series, this post would be nothing but caveats. Suffice it to say that there are lots of people who spend their entire lives pursuing a study of Law, and lots of people who spend their entire lives pursuing a study of Islamic Law in particular, and I am not either of those kinds of people. I can’t give you a detailed explanation of the inner workings of Shariʿah and fiqh, and what’s more, I wouldn’t want to try, and what’s even more, you wouldn’t want to read it because I’m not remotely qualified to write it. But it is nearly impossible to understand Islam or Islamic history without at least being familiar with the basics of the law. So we have a conundrum.

I’m proposing to try something a little different here, by starting off with a bit of a primer in the form of a few key terms that will come up over and over again, and then to follow that in the next post with a relatively brief look at the early historical development of Islamic Law, chiefly through biographical sketches of the founders of the four main surviving legal schools within Sunni Islam. Note that this will primarily be a Sunni discussion, because it was in Sunnism that the idea of the Law became separate from the person who was leading the community. For Shiʿa, at least in this period, the Law was disseminated by the Imam, whomever you believed that to be, but as much as the Sunni Caliphs might have liked to have that kind of authority, and as much as they might have tried to assume that authority for themselves, in the end they really never got it.

So, then, let’s get started with some key legal terms: Continue reading