Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Eliot Was Wrong

Talking through his hat?
T.S. Eliot was wrong: April isn't the cruelest month. February is. Spring is still a ways off, on average there are fewer paydays, sometimes they change the number of days, and even though there is a holiday, all it's good for is selling cars.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Thawing

The snow don't stay pretty too long in the city

With the thawing
comes the revelation of the filth:
the juice boxes and the butts,
the lotto tickets and the plastic cups,
and the crime scene evidence
of tail pipe residue.

Which means it’s time
for that nasty steel-bristled broom,
the one that stands up to the grit.
We will sweep, and we’ll recycle
what can be recycled; but understand:
we’ll be ruthless with the rest.

M. Bogen
February 2017

Friday, February 24, 2017

Yes, You Like Jazz, #4: Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning"


One of the coolest things about Monk is that even though he composed only about 70 or 80 songs, 30 or 40 (OK, maybe "just" 20 to 30) of them are jazz standards. What a batting average! I would guess that the only jazz performer who composed more standards is Duke Ellington (often collaborating with Billy Strayhorn). In third place we might find Wayne Shorter. In Monk's songs, as in his playing, rhythm and melody are completely fused. They are unitary, like elegantly carved sculptures. The tunes are hummable, but they are just weird enough to inspire creative improvisation. And the figures that make up the components of each song are ripe for variations. Musicians love to solo on Monk tunes, no doubt. Indeed, the melodies function as launching pads.

I chose this version in part because of the great illustrated portrait. I like how the shirt and jacket are just bare outlines, while the head is realistic. After choosing it, I then noticed that "Rhythm" is misspelled in the title, but that's OK. First of all, I can't spell it without having to look -- every single time. Also Monk's aesthetic features things being just a bit "off." A popular apocryphal jazz-world story about Monk tells us that there was a picture hanging crooked on Monk's wall, and that every time Monk's wife straightened it, Monk would go over and make it crooked again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This Week's Trump Dump

Everyone is excited about the choice of H. R. McMaster to replace the disastrous Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. Sure it's good to have a smart, pragmatic, and accomplished person in that role instead of the corrupt, conspiracy-mongering Flynn. But before we get too excited, let's ask why Trump didn't just appoint McMaster in the first place. Answer: Because his instincts are horrible and he doesn't really know what he is doing. How else to explain that McMaster's main competition for the position was John Bolton. Yes, the belligerent, absurdly mustachioed ideologue John Bolton. In terms of fitness for the position, this is like saying you are casting a complex and intense family drama for film and your two top candidates for lead actor are Daniel Day-Lewis and Keanu Reeves. What?

UPDATE: 2-23-17
The most frightening thing I've heard from a US President in my lifetime is Trump's assertion that the press is the enemy of the American people. Apologists are saying, hey, it's just talk, settle down. Wrong. The worst mistake you can make when faced with a leader with dictatorial and autocratic ambitions is to not take them at their word. Trump is very consciously trying to destroy faith in journalism, the intelligence community, the judiciary, and the electoral system* (and for the most part, Republicans are just fine with this). This leaves him as the sole authority. So, for example, if or when the truth about Trump's compromised relationship with Russia ever comes out, his supporters will have been well primed to deny any indicting facts and clear constitutional violations. Informed skepticism is always in order, but that is not Trump's objective.

* Oh, and let's not forget science!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What is Emptiness?

From RZA's The Tao of Wu
UPDATED: 2-21-17

Well, the Buddha didn't say "all is illusion," but I still like this! The Buddha said everything is impermanent and the belief in solidity or fixity is an illusion -- and the cause of suffering. The notion of the world as illusion is more of a Hindu thing, associated with Advaita Vedanta. The idea is that the physical world obscures the ultimate reality, and the ground of all being, Brahman.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Poor Visibility

If we accept the premise that where there is smoke there is fire, then the atmospheric conditions around the Trump administration's relationships with Russia would seem to indicate a 30,000 acre Rocky Mountain conflagration. Yet Congressional Republicans tell us that there's nothing of concern there and that we should all just move along -- like good subservient commoners.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Caravaggio . . . and Confucius

Conversion on the Way to Damascus, 1601
As promised in “my resolution,” I have been learning about the compelling oil paintings of the baroque master Caravaggio. The first thing a viewer will notice is the extreme employment of chiaroscuro, the aesthetic of contrasting light and dark elements in a work. Caravaggio’s backgrounds are so dark it appears that the figures are on stage. Renaissance paintings tended to feature detailed backgrounds, often to show off the painter’s facility with perspective, and just as often to show hosts of angels gathering around the sacred event being depicted. The scenes were idealized.

In his book on Caravaggio, the art historian Troy Thomas says that the artist “viewed existence from a resolutely human perspective, candidly depicting the difficulty his mortals had in recognizing divinity,” and “he articulated his black backgrounds to stand symbolically for humanity’s incomprehension of things beyond immediate earthly experience.” This not to say that Caravaggio was atheistic or irreligious. He most certainly was religious, but he sought to portray the realm of the divine or the supernatural only through the means of depicting human drama and experience.

As I pondered Thomas’ argument, I recalled the insight of Confucius, who said that we cannot even understand life, so how are we to understand death? That makes sense. We have many accounts of the heavens, but these amount to secondhand information. In Caravaggio’s work, the figures of the great Biblical dramas struggle to comprehend what is happening, and are no closer to heaven than you and I.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Not Today

My plan today was to post something counterintuitive. I've got the counter part thanks to the (cough) president, but the intuitive part, not so much. There's always tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Yes, You Like Jazz, #3: "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"


I would estimate that the jazz canon is half to two thirds made up of titles from what is called The Great American Songbook, with the rest being standards composed by jazz musicians for performance with their groups. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" by Charles Mingus falls in the latter category. One of the great melodies in any genre of 20th century music, the piece is an elegy for the great tenor sax innovator Lester Young, whose signature sartorial item was the hat of the song's title. This performance is at once limpid and, on occasion, slightly dissonant. The opening of the sax solo has never failed to move me. Perfection. Incidentally, the cover by S. Neil Fujita is one of my very favorites.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

About Those Foreign Entanglements

Republicans in Congress know this to be true, but have chosen to look the other way. They know Trump is in violation of the Constitution, and have decided their agenda is more important than the integrity and legitimacy of our system of government. David Cole writes at the NYRB that:
The president of the United States is supposed to serve the American people, not himself, and certainly not the interests of foreign states. President Trump chose to seek this office, and this responsibility. He is trying to have it both ways, serving himself, his family, and his far-flung business interests while simultaneously making foreign and domestic policy decisions that will inevitably have direct effects on his personal holdings. That way lies scandal, corruption, and illegitimacy. Unfortunately, our forty-fifth president has deliberately chosen to undermine the interests of the people he represents in order to further the interests of the one person he cares about most.
I should add that when Trump commits our troops to war his decision will inevitably be colored by his allegiances to his overseas business interests, allegiances that remain secret. To say nothing of his troubling loyalty to Putin.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Robert Creeley As Antidote

Judith Trepp, egg tempera and oil on paper, 2015, 9.5" x 13.25"
What's the opposite of Trumpian expression and discourse, i.e., the Trumpian aesthetic? How about elegance, insight, subtlety, balance, and mystery? All things one can encounter in the minimalist poems of Robert Creeley.

Love Comes Quietly (1962)

Love comes quietly,
finally, drops
about me, on me,
in the old ways.


What did I know
thinking myself
able to go
alone all the way.


There's an excellent essay at The New York Review of Books by Masha Gessen exploring Trumpian aesthetics. It's called "The Styrofoam Presidency."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No, Not Legitimate

I can save everyone the trouble of holding hearings on the Republican's nomination to fill the stolen Supreme Court seat. Quite simply, anyone other than Merrick Garland who would even accept the nomination is by definition utterly lacking in integrity and unfit for the job, "qualifications" be damned. That's my litmus test.