Monthly Archives: June 2008

Damn That Grammar!

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It looks like it all comes down to an interpretation of some shady grammar, of commas, of prefatory, operative, and ablative clauses. And something about Latin.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

If the founding fathers only had better grammar, Christians wouldn’t need guns and the death penalty to keep black kids from having abortions and life saving condoms out of Africa.

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Spain and Ahab’s Wife at a Crossroads

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I am about half way through (around page 300 of 600) Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-gazer. The novel, one of my mother’s favorites, had been lying dormant for years on my book shelf until a week or so ago when I decided to open her up and give some air to pages. After a slow start, I am finally fully involved in its development.

Then right when Una, the story’s main character, was at last about to touch land after a dramatic voyage at sea, Spain convincingly beat Russia 3-0 in the European Cup semi-finals. This victory marks a major change in the Spanish national soccer team’s history of disappointing performances in major international competitions.

The moment the match ended, the spontaneous festivities broke out in the streets of Madrid. Outside my window, it sounded like a mix between a war zone (firecrackers and car alarms), San Fermines, and a fascist pep rally. Although I am not the biggest fan of patriotic boasting, reaching the finals of the European Cup is a major ego booster to a (soccer-loving) nation and source of pride and future bragging rights.

But amidst all of the cheering and chanting (“que viva España” and “a por ellos, oé”) and celebrations, I kept wondering how people could so openly rejoice after everything that Ahab’s wife, Una, had just been through and everything that awaits her ashore. It just goes to show that we live in little bubbles isolated from our own immediate surroundings, like a raft alone in the open sea.

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Filed under Digressions, Football/Soccer, Literature, Living la vida española

Justice Scalia, the Judicial Activist

To no one’s surprise, Justice Scalia and his Republican appointee brothers on the Court have shown a fine example of judicial activism. Personally, I think that from a historical and even a literal reading of the Constitution, it is a real stretch to find an absolute right to bear arms in the Second Amendment. And regardless of how you feel about the issue, it takes a great feat of judicial activism to overturn the will of the D.C. electorate who have been firmly against firearms possession since 1976. I wonder whether John McCain thinks this particular instance of judicial activism is one of the best or worst decisions in the Court’s history.

In referring to Scalia’s flip flop, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes,

In his intemperate dissent in the court’s recent Guantanamo decision, Scalia said the defense of constitutional rights embodied in that ruling meant it ‘will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.’ That consideration apparently does not apply to a law whose precise purpose was to reduce the number of murders in the District of Columbia.

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Wynton Kelly’s Piano and Some Great Horns

One problem I have with music is that I simply don’t have enough time for all of it. Of course that doesn’t keep me from exploring, finding, and adding new music to my collection. One thing I do to make sure I am consistently listening to a wide variety of my iTunes library is to create large playlists and then listen to them on the shuffle function.

In doing so, I recently came across successive pieces featuring Wynton Kelly on piano with a dual horn section. And these two pieces happen to be my Kelly favorites. Ironically, they were both recorded in the same year and come from albums of the same name. I have made each into very simply videos.

The first is song is “Wrinkles” from Wynton Kelly’s 1961 trio album Someday My Prince Will Come. This song is the album’s only exception to the trio format and features trumpeter Lee Morgan and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

The second song is “Someday My Prince Will Come” from Miles Davis’ album of the same name, recorded months earlier in 1961. Wynton Kelly first appeared with Miles on his groundbreaking Kind of Blue, but only played on one piece — “Freddie Freeloader” — the rest of the album featured Bill Evans. Kind of Blue also marked the end of John Coltrane’s association with Miles, with the sole exception of Coltrane’s cameo on “Oleo” and the title tack of Someday My Prince Will Come. The song also features Jimmy Cobb (drums) and Paul Chambers (bass) with whom Kelly would later record “Wrinkles”. So with this song, you have great examples of Mile’s lyrical trumpet, Coltrane’s explorations, and Kelly’s swinging blues.

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Kenny Drew Jr. Playing Mingus

Almost two years ago, I went to see/hear Kenny Drew Jr. live, and I was blown away by the breadth and versatility of his piano. The last couple of days I have been listening to his Portrait of Mingus & Monk, and my favorite is the Mingus composition “Farewell Farewell” with bassist Lynn Seaton’s bowed solos. I decided to replicate it here with this very simple video. I hope you enjoy it!

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Slavery by Another Name

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The Journal does it again! Yesterday I watched the video podcast of the most recent edition of the Bill Moyers Journal. The topic was race in America and the history and legacy of slavery, featuring three parts: Patterson and Loury on Race in America (featuring Orlando Patterson and Glenn C. Loury), Documentary Preview: Traces of the Trade (about an upcoming documentary on Rhode Island’s slave trading heritage), and Douglas Blackmon on Slavery by Another Name (about Blackmon’s new book Slavery by Another Name).

The Slavery By Another Name segment was by far the most impacting of the three segments. Blackmon, in introducing his book, explains how slavery essentially continued in the South long after the Emancipation Proclamation up into the 1940s through forced labor, discriminatory laws and a justice system tailored around African Americans serving the South’s economic dependency on free labor.

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What is amazing is how this painfully disturbing history has been hidden away, at least from White memory, so that Americans do not have to confront such a shameful and uncomfortable past. It’s ironic when putting this book into perspective — especially with everything that has been said recently about Jeremiah Wright, so-called “anti-American Black preachers”, and Black victimization — how we still prefer to think of ourselves as an innocent nation and label anger or frustration with the past as being essentially anti-patriotic or subversive. As Blackman says,

Well, there’s no way that anybody can read this book and come away still wondering why there is a sort of fundamental cultural suspicion among African-Americans of the judicial system, for instance. I mean, that suspicion is incredibly well-founded. The judicial system, the law enforcement system of the South became primarily an instrument of coercing people into labor and intimidating blacks away from their civil rights. That was its primary purpose, not the punishment of lawbreakers. And so, yes, these events build an unavoidable and irrefutable case for the kind of anger that still percolates among many, many African-Americans today.

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Summer in Spain

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I just got back to Madrid from seven days in Paris. When I left Madrid, it was in the 70ºs F (low 20ºs C) in the Spanish capital, but when I got back yesterday, the temperature had already reached 90ºF (32ºC). Here in Madrid, you almost have no real transition from Spring to Summer. You’re still wearing a sweater, a light jacket, and sleeping with the Winter sheets, and then one day you wake up, it’s 90º and there is no turning back.

Just now I opened my inbox and found an email invitation to a beginning of Summer party being thrown by my friends Juan Pablo, Jacobo (A.K.A. Hysidro) and Iurgi (A.K.A. Dorothy). I wanted to share what Iurgi wrote in the invitation because I think it is interesting to see how Spaniards (yes, even one from Bilbao) define Summer. As a matter of fact, it perfectly captures what Summer is in Spain.

It looks like Summer has arrived: good weather, tan skin, cleavage, cold beer on terrace bars, weekend getaways, Summer romances, ripe tomatoes, Gernika and Padrón peppers, pirate pants and flip flops, cairpirinhas, sangria, winter in Argentina, Sundays without football, the song of the Summer, the dance of the Summer, gossip on the news, unsafe sex, draught and forest fires, miniskirts without panties, nights without sleeping because of the heat, nights without sleeping because you’re partying, your plants have dried out, bike rides, the mountains, the beach and girls topless, the scarce hash supply, ice cream, sleeping naked, getting drunk in the open air, gazpacho, local festivities, soap operas, the grand prix, convertibles, Summer storms, pink sunsets, … and much more!

And for those of you who prefer to read the untranslated original in Spanish: Continue reading

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Rewarding the War Mongers and Oil Companies

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I was just watching yesterday’s post Tim Russert Meet the Press with guests Senators (D-DE) Joe Biden and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and yesterday I read an excellent piece about Bush’s energy policy by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times. Both got me to thinking — and I can’t remember whether it is postive or negative reinforcement — that the Bush Administration and now John McCain want us to reward them for their remarkable ineptitude.

I don’t need to spell it out for you in detail because the facts are pretty clear. We have a war in Iraq that is lasting longer than World War II and John McCain thinks we need to stay the course because the war has benefitted Iran. We need to stay because there are terrorists that we cannot properly fight in Afghanistan because we are overcommitted in Iraq, and we cannot leave because we have installed a democratic government that is pro-Iran.

The war has also helped in the demise of the U.S. economy and has furthered revealed our fossil fuel dependency and vulnerability. While we all suffer $4.00 a gallon gas, Exxon Mobile has earned record profits. Instead of diversifying our energy sources and preparing for the future — that would be bad for the oil companies — Bush and McCain want us to reward oil companies yet again with the contracts. Let’s drill up the American coastline and give the American oil addicted population what it needs — some domestic grown petrol dope. The pushers will profit and the people can eazy ride their way into oblivion.

McCain even appears to have changed his mind on torture, Guantanamo, an independent judicial branch and a political system of checks, balances and separation of powers, calling the Supreme Court’s recent (obvious and foreseeable) decision one of its worst ever. Why would someone who has been tortured in a foreign military prison want to reinforce a legal climate that leaves the door open to similar practices? Even conservative pundit George Will (who I believe to be a closet Obamamaniac) was surprised by McCain’s “Contempt of Courts“, wondering whether McCain thought the Court’s decision ranked as poorly as Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson or Korematsu. Go George! Continue reading

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Surviving the Hits

I am in Paris where I had job interview yesterday and will have another one on Monday. When I have a chance, I will write a little bit about job interviews and my reflections on siting on the other side of the table after years of asking the questions.

In any event, I just had the luxury of taking a long nap. When I woke up, I opened up the New York Times to find an article called “Surviving the Hits” by Suzanne Vega about the creation and success of “Luka“. Although Vega did attribute the song’s tone and musicality as contributing factors (and of course that all of the pieces fell into place), the song’s storyline about child abuse was key to its success.

Last year or so, when searching to compile my favorite 80s hits for my iPod, Vega’s songs “Left of Center“, “Tom’s Diner” (the same diner from Seinfeld), and “Luka” were top on my list — and yet I had never consciously been much of a Vega fan or had associated those three songs with her. As a matter of fact, until reading her article today, I had never even thought of “Luka” about child abuse. I suppose I always knew it was about abuse — probably about a girlfriend or wife being abused, but “abuse” per se is not what I believe gave the song its impact.

I think that what makes those three songs so memorable is that they are all about human loniless and alienation. Thinking of one’s self as “left of center” or as a mere observer as in “Tom’s Diner” are themes prevalent to the 80s and are what made the John Hughes movies so popular and emblematic for the time period. Afterall, Luka was like a John Hughes character, not popular or a protagonist, but like every other kid trying to get by and find their way — the one who feels like he is seen but not heard. That is what I believe rang so true about the song. Heck, I now recall that even my heavy metal college roommate Julio had Vega’s greatest hits.

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Trying to Keep It Close

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During the primaries, I repeatedly denounced the press’ stretching of the facts to keep the Hillary v. Obama contest going as long as possible. The press needed a good story to tell — a battle of the titans — and it also knew that McCain was simply too boring for primetime.

Depending on how things proceed over the next few months, whether there is some unforeseen scandal or political crisis, the general election in November may be a blow out in Obama’s favor. Nevertheless, the press is at it again, trying its very best to cover up the obvious — McCain is less interesting than Bob Dole’s E.D.

In attempting to tune people in, we are made to believe that this race is both too close to call (so keep watching) and that there is a real demographics war going on, with Hillary voters turning to McCain. What a load of excrement! On Sunday, Frank Rich wrote an excellent op-ed in the New York Times about how the press is ignoring the data. Check it out: Continue reading

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