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MONK’estra Big Band—“Oska T”

John Beasley Conductor/Arranger, definitely takes his time to get to the melody, but once he does the sound makes the wait worth while. Here’s the line-up:

SAX: Bob Sheppard, Jeff Driskill, Justo Almario, Tom Luer, Tommy Peterson

TRUMPET: Bijon Watson, Willie Murillo, Ray Monterio, Brian Swartz, Gabe Johnson

TROMBONE: Francisco Torres, Wendell Kelly, Steve Hughes, Ryan Dragon

BASS: Rickey Minor, DRUMS: Gary Novak, KEYBOARDS/MELODICA: John Beasley

Other musicians: Dwight Trible, Nayanna Holley, Andy Martin, Tony Austin, Jamie Hovorka, Rashawn Ross

Posted by John Beasley

All jazz videos here

The dormition of the theocons*

I recently stumbled across a piece by Damon Linker—one not related to the burning question “Would you like your daughter to be a whore?”†—that intrigued me to the point of tracking down and reading his little book The Theocons, published back in 2006, telling the tale of Richard John Neuhaus and the First Things gang, with a fair amount of attention given to Michael Novak and George Wiegel, both linked, though not exclusively, to the National Review. Linker describes the efforts of a handful of religious enthusiasts to reshape the American political scene relying on concepts explicitly drawn from traditional Catholic theology, and if you have half my appetite for political backstory, you’ll probably like Linker’s book.

When Linker wrote his book, the influence of the theocons had reached its peak under George Bush and in fact was starting to decline, tied as they were to the Bush Administration, which was entering what was to be one of the most spectacular declines in recent history. Linker subtitled his book “Secular America under siege,” which, even in the salad days immediately following Bush’s re-election, was a bit of a stretch. Eight years later, we secular types are entitled to a snigger or two, and I won’t hesitate to indulge myself.

The sheer/mere existence of a theocon “movement” was due almost entirely to the limitless energy of Neuhaus, but I was never impressed by his arguments. First Things struck me as what happens when people have too much time on their hands. I recall reading a piece by Neuhaus struggling to say something positive about Mormonism. If Neuhaus had been the orthodox Catholic he pretended to be, he would have said that Mormonism was a ludicrous and damnable heresy and nothing more. But of course he couldn’t say that. And so he hemmed and he hawed until I stopped reading.

I saw Michael Novak speak when I was a student at Oberlin College in the late sixties. The first thing that anyone who met Novak would notice, and the last thing that they would mention, was that he was strikingly effeminate. He had the highest pitched voice I have ever heard on a man. Back in the Dub-ya years, manliness was very much the fashion on the right, and to read Novak’s lush effusions on such two-fisted topics as the Super Bowl was always good for a snicker or two. The last thing I read by Novak was a passionate defense of disgraced Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. He seems to have lapsed into silence since then, or else I’m just not bothering to pay attention.

Unrepentant secular humanists like me can only chuckle at the plight of the theocons since Linker published his little book. The theocon dream of Catholicizing America has gone about as well as the neocon dream of Americanizing the Middle East. Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, the theocon pope, who in fact was very closely linked to the theocons, was basically forced out of office. His replacement, Pope Francis, is very much the opposite of a theocon, downplaying the Church’s brief enthusiasm for capitalism, aggressively pushed by Novak in particular, in favor of the Church’s traditional emphasis on charity.

In the U.S., the Catholic Church has stumbled from one sex scandal to the next. I strongly suspect that in a generation or two the Catholic Church in the U.S. will become entirely Hispanic. European ethnics will discover they have more in common culturally with their secularized Protestant and Jewish neighbors than they do with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

*Unless you’re Orthodox, you’re probably not getting this. The Dormition of the Theotokos, literally “the Sleep of the Mother of God,” refers to the Death and Salvation of Mary, what the Catholics call the Assumption (of Mary into heaven). The feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos occurs on August 15.

†Netiquette requires that I link to this, but, frankly, I just don’t give a damn.

James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide, Part 23


This is the 23rd episode of “James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide,” a rambling consideration of Thurber’s works, examining his life and work in some detail. Generally, these appear every Friday. The links to the first part and the most recent part are given below. Part 23 continues the discussion of Thurber’s 1942 collection, My World and Welcome to It.



In a mood precisely the opposite of “The Whip-poor-will” is absolutely my favorite Thurber casual “Backwards and Downwards with Mr. Punch.” (The title is a parody of a New Yorker “Department,” “Upward and Onward with the Arts.”)

Some readers these days may not even be familiar with Punch, the once legendary comic British weekly that flourished throughout the long reign of Queen Victoria and, remarkably enough, almost managed to make it into the third millennium, not expiring until 1992, despite being repeatedly outflanked during the series of cultural revolutions that have occurred since the “Sixties.”1 On vacation in Bermuda, which had become a favorite haunt for him and his second wife, Thurber stumbled across “two dozen immense bound volumes” of the magazine, running from 1841 through 1891, an incredible treasure trove for a bookish lad. Fifty years of ephemera on which to float! Thurber enjoyed himself immensely, savoring the frequent put-downs of American gaucheries and, most of all, the endless old gags. Early Punch cartoons were essentially illustrated jokes with several lines of dialogue below the drawing, and Thurber provides several classics.

The Curate: O dear! O dear! Drunk again, Jones! Drunk again! And in broad daylight, too!

Jones: Lorsh (hic) Whatsh the oddsh? Sho—Sh—Sho am I!

Ticket Collector: Now then, make haste! Where’s your ticket?

Bandsman (refreshed): Aw’ve lost it!

Ticket Collector: Nonsense! Feel in your pockets. Ye cannot hev lost it.

Bandsman: Aw cannot? Why, man, Aw’ve lost the big drum!

To which I will add an Edwardian cartoon that showed two grinning working class lads surrounded by a crowd of aloof toffs in a first-class railway carriage.

Tom: Lor, Bill, we’re in a first-class carriage!

Bill: And me with me odd socks on!

About a third of My World and Welcome to It is given over to a collection of Thurber’s casuals set in France, a salute to that country now overrun by Nazis, a source of great horror to all Francophiles like Thurber. To my mind, these are “typical” New Yorker casuals, well written but trivial. Harold Ross desired these to be like “dinner conversation,” and they are.

Thurber followed My World and Welcome to It with Many Moons, the first of his children’s books, which were quite successful, though I’ve never liked them. Writing for children, Thurber allows the Walter Mittys of the world to win—the exact opposite of his “adult” humor. The fantasy and word play, not always held in check in his “real world” work, tend to be over-indulged, and, often, both sadism and despair seem to be waiting in the wings, to consume the actors once the play is over.

Much better was Men, Women, and Dogs (1943), a cartoon collection that contained many of his most brilliant cartoons, and including both “The War Between Men and Women” and “The Masculine Approach,” a rare (for him) look at the absurdities that women must suffer at the hands of men.

For a variety of reason—Thurber’s increasing fame, the passage of time, and his decreased output as a result of his frequent illnesses—a Thurber compendium made sense, and A Thurber Carnival (1945) surpassed all expectations, selling over 500,000 copies and allowing Thurber to enjoy “real” financial success. The book contained only six new pieces, including one of his most famous comic stories, “The Catbird Seat,” enshrining the country boy metaphors of the once legendary “Red” Barber, who did the radio coverage of the Brooklyn Dodgers, as an insect is preserved in amber.2 Another of the six, “The Cane in the Corridor,” is quite interesting and autobiographical, a concealed attack on Wolcott Gibbs, whose terror of hospitals caused him to not visit Thurber during any of his stays, which unsurprisingly infuriated Thurber.

Gibbs was an almost sacred figure to Thurber, scarcely second to Ross and E.B. White in his affection. In fact, Gibbs was easier for Thurber to like, because Gibbs did not represent authority, as Ross did, or competition, as White did. But those who are helpless with pain find it difficult, if not impossible, to forgive the healthy for not sharing their burden. Because Gibbs did not even attempt to do so, Thurber felt, or at least showed, no compunction in taking his revenge.

  1. Punch’s advantage in its early days was that it was much more “respectable” than most of the satirical publications of the time, which still had the unbuttoned flavor of the eighteenth century. 

  2. I don’t know if Thurber found Barber irritating in real life. Like many humorists in the twenties and thirties he was envious of the enormous success of another country boy, Will Rogers, the “Cowboy Philosopher.” Rogers did know how to sell himself, but he was a genuine talent as well, his career cut short when he was killed in a plane crash with once legendary aviator Wiley Post. (The further back you go, the more the once legendarys pile up.) 

Here come the blimps! Rinse, and repeat every ten years

Way back in the day, so far back that Ronald Reagan still had a functioning short-term memory, I worked for a very smart woman who had an odd passion for blimps. Not dirigibles, mind you. Dee was totally not a rigid frame gal. I don’t know why she insisted on the distinction so, you know, rigidly, but she was the one with a Ph.D. from Columbia in French literature, not me.

Anyway, I developed the odd habit of keeping my eye out for odd articles about blimps, since Dee found them so fascinating, and it’s remarkable that, as I’ve discovered, the blimps are coming back! They are! Every ten years! Except this time, they’ll be, you know, advanced!

Last Monday, the New York Times delivered with absolutely the best “blimps are back” story I’ve ever read, including the fabulous “blimp o’ the future” artist’s rendition that I’ve pilfered for this post. According to the report of the suitably breathless Joshua A. Krisch, “engineers are designing sleek new airships that could streak past layers of cloud and chart a course through the thin, icy air of the stratosphere, 65,000 feet above the ground — twice the usual altitude of a jetliner. Steered by scientists below, these aerodynamic balloons might be equipped with onboard telescopes that peer into distant galaxies or gather oceanic data along a coastline.”

There’s also a photo of an actual “new blimp,” circa 2005, that actually got off the ground, but not very far. But this time it’s different! Know hope!

Maybe this blimp will actually fly. I hope so. It would be cool!

Pseudo New Yorker

Legal humor here. All cartoons here. and here

“So, we’ve got lots of bird feed, right?”

“The great thing is they shit green.”

“Yeah, that’s why they call it ‘Super-Gro’!”

“OK, now we know where an 800-pound sparrow eats. Where do they sleep?”

“What would be really cool is if you could hypnotize them.”

“I think it’s time we paid the Audubon Society a visit.”

“Roger and Sylvia are going to be green with envy.”

“The best thing is, our squirrel problem has simply vanished!”

“Yeah, they’re pretty tame, but, you know, no sudden movements.”

“Once these things go viral, ‘Shark Week’ will be but a memory.”

How much does foreign policy rhetoric matter? Not enough, and too much

Over at the American Conservative, Daniel Larison riffs on a column by Dan Drezner, who claims that we shouldn’t worry about foreign policy statements like those recently dished out by Hillary Clinton that seem more interested in striking poses than solving problems. Says Drezner, “The most important fact about American foreign policy and public opinion is that Americans just don’t care all that much about the rest of the world. Sure, they’ll express less interventionist preferences when asked, but most of the time they don’t think about it. It’s precisely this lack of interest that gives presidents and foreign policymakers such leeway in crafting foreign policy.”

Drezner follows this with a conclusion that’s something of a non sequitur: “Statements about how one would do things better on the foreign policy front are among the best examples of cheap talk you’ll find in Washington. Why? Because the world will look different in January 2017 than it does today. So of course these proto-candidates can say they’d do things differently. No one will hold them to these claims if they’re elected, because the problems will have evolved.”

But if the people just don’t listen on those rare occasions when candidates do talk about foreign policy (and frequently they don’t), how likely is it that they’ll be aware of the “problems” at all, must less how they’ve “evolved”?

The real problem with foreign policy rhetoric is that the public doesn’t pay attention, but the multisided foreign policy “iron polygon”—consisting of foreign policy professionals in and out of government, the military, military contractors, and the intelligence “community” (also rife with contractors), along with “influential” foreign nations like Saudi Arabia and Israel—does pay attention, and, to a large extent, these people want to be told that they will have careers. During the Clinton years, the general public cared little for Iraq, but the Clinton Administration pursued an “anti-Hussein” policy that affirmed all the fraudulent claims of the Right—that, among other things, “weapons of mass destruction” were actually weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein was an “existential” threat to someone other than his own people. Clinton could have changed that policy, but, since the public didn’t care, he didn’t care. The last thing he wanted was a fight with guys wearing gold braid. Just let sleeping dogs lie, dude! Let ’em lie!

Sadly, sleeping dogs, when they waken, have a tendency to bite you on the ass. After 9/11, the Bush Administration dusted off all the anti-Hussein clichés that the Clinton Administration had left unrefuted and turned them into a casus belli that the American people swallowed with barely a tremor. Once Bush started beating the war drums, it was too late to point out that Saddam’s chemical weapons, though morally repulsive, had proved less than decisive in the Iran-Iraq war that Hussein in fact lost, that Hussein had not dared use chemical weapons in the first U.S.-Iraqi war, that Hussein had never given them to terrorist groups, that no Mid-Eastern terrorist group had ever used chemical weapons, etc., etc., etc. It was too late for logic, not after a decade of deliberate dissimulation, disinformation, and deceit. Lies unrefuted live a life of their own.

Now both President Obama and SecDef Hagel have publicly denounced ISIL as the “worst since Hitler” de jour, a meme that the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party must surely regard as manna from heaven. And the military is saying that if we want to take out ISIS, well, we’ve got to go into Syria—something that, obviously, they’ve been itching to do for a long time. Because if one invasion doesn’t work out, try another!

Obviously, ISIL is pretty awful, but they aren’t nearly as dangerous as the Soviet Bloc, which we managed to co-exist with for decades. Our friends the Saudis engage in beheading on a regular basis, which somehow rarely gets in the press. According to Amnesty International, “On Monday 19 August, four men – two sets of brothers Hadi bin Saleh Abdullah al-Mutlaq and Awad bin Saleh Abdullah al-Mutlaq along with Mufrih bin Jaber Zayd al-Yami and Ali bin Jaber Zayd al-Yami – were beheaded.” The men were convicted on the basis of false confessions extracted by means of torture, according to Amnesty International. But since the Saudis sell us oil at reasonable prices, we somehow don’t find this behavior all that outrageous.

James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide, Part 22


This is the 22th episode of “James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide,” a rambling consideration of Thurber’s works, examining his life and work in some detail. Generally, these appear every Friday. The links to the first part and the most recent part are given below. Part 22 continues the discussion of Thurber’s 1942 collection, My World and Welcome to It.


PART 21 

My World and Welcome to It has two of Thurber’s darkest stories, “A Friend to Alexander” and “The Whip-poor-will,” which especially reflect the agony he endured during his eye operations. Both stories deal with dream worlds, dreams that grow darker and darker and ultimately invade the real one. “A Friend to Alexander” reflects Thurber’s wide reading in American history—getting “behind” the textbook tales of American greatness that his generation grew up on. It’s a long, carefully wrought story about “Andrews,” a man who finds himself dreaming obsessively about Aaron Burr. He associates the story of Burr and Alexander Hamilton with his own life, with the death of his brother, killed by a “drunkard,” a story that makes him so angry that his wife has never been able to understand what actually happened. In his dreams, Andrews sees Burr kill Hamilton in their famous duel, but the dreams don’t end there. Burr insults him in his dreams, and Andrews begins to prepare himself for a final confrontation. He seizes on opportunities for pistol practice, and his bizarre behavior when he has his hands on a gun naturally frightens those around him.

Thurber adds curious touches linking himself with Andrews. When Andrews is happy he sings Thurber’s favorite song “Bye Bye, Blackbird,” also sung by “Kirk” in “One Is a Wanderer.” Andrews mentions a grave in one of the cemeteries in lower Manhattan that Thurber wrote about in a New Yorker casual a decade before. Beyond that, the story doesn’t do much more than assert the power of the irrational over the rational. Andrews will die, of course, “mysteriously,” as though shot through the heart, the forefinger of his right hand crooked as though pulling a trigger. If this wasn’t an episode from The Twilight Zone, it should have been.

“The Whip-poor-will” ups the ante considerably, pushing almost into EC Comics territory, although Thurber is chaste in his description of the carnage he delivers us. “The Whip-poor-will” is the story of Mr. Kinstrey and his wife Madge, previously known to us as Mr. and Mrs. Monroe, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, and others. For Mr. Kinstrey, like so many Thurber men, the onset of night and darkness brings not sleep but, strange, soft, mysterious noises, noises that never cease, sounds that seem to speak, that send the mind chasing down corridors in search of a meaning that always eludes their grasp, lost in a darkness where words themselves, instead of separating and defining reality, run together and destroy it. Mr. Kinstrey lies awake listening to the call of the whip-poor-will, chanting its call over and over. “Its lungs must be built like a pelican’s pouch, or a puffin or a penguin or a pemmican or a paladin.”

All of his life, it seems, Thurber would lie awake at night stringing long lists of words together in an aimless yet compulsive manner, searching for a meaning that would not emerge from the chatter, a search that inevitably led him further and further away from meaning, and from sanity, the longer he pursued it. Kinstrey shares this problem, and so did Mr. Mitty himself, who struggles to recall the shopping list his wife gave him: “Toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, carborundum, initiative, and referendum?”

Mrs. Kinstrey, of course, is never troubled in her sleep.1 She sleeps alone in her “canopied four-poster” in perfect ease while Mr. Kinstrey twists in sweated, sleepless sheets. He complains bitterly about the whip-poor-will who, of course, bothers no one but him, not his wife and not the two black servants, who of course inform him that the sound of the whip-poor-will means death.2

Kinstrey is a typical Thurber man, flinching and agonizing over noises that only he can hear. Unlike everyone else, he can’t put things out of his mind. Everyone else is stolidly and absolutely “normal.” He alone is prey to the bizarre mysteries of the night, mysteries that, every night, grow fiercer and more implacable, mysteries that amount to nothing more than the mating call of a tiny bird.

“Who do you do first?” asks Kinstrey, holding a carving knife in the middle of the night. He begins with the servants, proceeds to his wife, and finishes with himself. Thurber naturally spares us all the bloodshed, but it all still seems a bit overwhelming, the leap from insomnia to slaughter too large, perhaps, for the compass of a short story. We, or at least I, feel that Thurber has forced his ending, wanting to give vent to helpless rage he apparently often felt, but failing to grasp the correct objective correlative.

The whip-poor-will’s3 cry obviously had meaning for Thurber, fascinated as he was by words and by dreams—a night bird’s call that almost seems to be the night itself speaking to us, but in a word that takes us away from the rationality and order that language ought to impose on life instead of towards it, taking us, ultimately and irresistibly, to madness, to the bitter recognition that life is without meaning, without order, and, in particular, without moral order, which to Thurber, cursed not only with “the Thurbs,” but with constant pain and impending blindness, seemed in his dark moments to be both the ugliest and most necessary truth that could be known.

  1. And surely the same is true of Mrs. Mitty as well. 

  2. As Jim explained to Huck, why would you need an omen of good fortune? To ward it off? 

  3. Thurber might have been even more intrigued by the whip-poor-will’s close relative, the “chuck-will’s-widow.” But the whip-poor-will has a greater literary lineage. 

Hillary Clinton, Warrior Princess

By now, you may have read that Hillary Clinton’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg was not quite the unadulterated love-fest that Goldberg described in his intro to the rap session. It was only 99 percent unadulterated. At the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky wants us to believe that Hillary isn’t really a neocon. She’s just a “muscular internationalist”: As proof, Mike offers us this “money quote”:

“I think we’ve learned about the limits of our power to spread freedom and democracy. That’s one of the big lessons out of Iraq. But we’ve also learned about the importance of our power, our influence, and our values appropriately deployed and explained. If you’re looking at what we could have done that would have been more effective, would have been more accepted by the Egyptians on the political front, what could we have done that would have been more effective in Libya, where they did their elections really well under incredibly difficult circumstances but they looked around and they had no levers to pull because they had these militias out there. My passion is, let’s do some after-action reviews, let’s learn these lessons, let’s figure out how we’re going to have different and better responses going forward.”

Well, if that’s a money quote, I want my money back. Hillary isn’t saying that we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq, or that we shouldn’t have invaded Libya. No, our problem was that we didn’t do it effectively! Yeah, that’s the problem!

Any time I hear someone talking about their “passion,” I start to gag. And when their “passion” is doing a whole shitload of “after-action reviews” of the Iraqi invasion so we can learn how to do it “better” the next time around, well, I start to get more than a little afraid.

I’d like to believe that Hillary was triangulatin’ with Jeff when she pitched all this neocon jive, but the more I read, the less optimistic I became. Hillary is well-known for her lack of bullshitting skills. She’s so convinced of her own virtuousness that when she tries to finesse an issue she ends up stepping on her own message, with the unmistakable subtext of “Goddamn it, how dare you ask me questions I don’t want to answer! I’m the good guy, goddamn it! I’m the good guy!

There’s none of that in this interview, or at least too damn little. Hillary speaks with confidence because she believes in what she says, she believes the double-dome foreign policy buro-babble false dichotomies and false equivalencies about leadership versus “hunkering down” and about how the lessons of the Cold War are supposed to shape our response to 10,000 “terrorists” whose main skill at this point appears to be the ability to pick up weapons that other people have dropped.

As many people have noted, Clinton’s “hard line” on Iran—her argument being that they somehow have no “right” to do anything that we don’t want them to do—is particularly disappointing. The U.S. spent more than a decade, under George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush, backing Saddam Hussein into a corner, relentlessly harassing him until he stepped over the line (which in fact he didn’t, but never mind). So, basically, we had to do invade Iraq! He put us on the spot! It was his fault!

Clinton seems to want to play exactly the same game with Iran—a long series of false, contrived crises leading up to a final showdown. Like her self-professed brother in arms, Bibi Netanyahu, she appears to be pursuing a new Cold War as an end in itself, a self-perpetuating crisis machine that will generate endless tension and “purpose.” That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that the Republicans will almost surely be driven to be “tougher than Hillary.”

Again, it would be nice to believe that that is Hillary’s “long game”: “They won’t be able to get to the right of me without falling off a cliff, which means that foreign affairs will be a big fat zero all the way to the election. And on domestic matters I can’t lose.” It would be nice to believe that, but I don’t.

Mark Lynch and Fareed Zakaria1 both demonstrate that Hillary is totally talking out of her ass when she suggests (she does not claim definitively) that arming the Syrian rebels would have been a good idea. (Kudos to the Washington Post for running both pieces, which directly contradict the neocon “wisdom” ladled out on the Post’s editorial page.) Peter Beinart demonstrates how grossly inaccurate—not to say explicitly and disgracefully deceitful—was Clinton’s account of recent Israeli history.

  1. Fareed or, you know, someone