Darcy Argue on Max Roach

Darcy James Argue on Max Roach:


Drummers aren’t supposed to be intellectuals. The instrument is so direct and intense that it purportedly attracts only your more, ah… physical types. We all know the jokes — Q. How can you tell if the stage is level? A. The drummer is drooling out of both sides of his mouth. And so on.

Max Roach was an intellectual — the best kind of intellectual. He was constantly pushing against the boundaries of what was expected of him as a drummer, as a jazz musician, as an African-American artist. He started his career by creating the template for modern jazz drumming, taking Kenny Clarke’s proto-bebop style and making it more conversational and interactive. His playing propelled Bird and Diz to new heights — their best moments all came with Max behind the kit. He was just as concerned about color and timbre as he was about timekeeping, and his playing is shot through with intricate details and subtle shadings. He is legendary for coming up with truly oddball choices and making them work, somehow. (See Ethan’s post for a few great examples of this.) His solos are models of rigorous, methodical development.

Travels with Herodotus

Rajiv Chandrasekaran in The Wilson Quarterly:

Book_2 Foreign correspondents often haul around something that reminds them of home and serves as a talisman in chaotic places. Long before the days of iPods, a colleague at the Washington Post lugged a separate attaché case containing a phonograph and speakers so that, wherever he went, he could listen to opera while he wrote. A friend at the New York Times packs a Scrabble board in his bag. When I was reporting from overseas, I carried a bottle of wine from my native California. It was thoroughly impractical to do so as I trekked through Borneo or arrived in Pakistan, where my libations were smashed by customs inspectors, but my Napa Valley cabernet comforted me on long journeys.

Ryszard Kapuściński, the indomitable Polish correspondent and author who died in January at age 74, traveled the world with a copy of Herodotus’s Histories, a grand and sprawling account of the first great war between East and West. Herodotus (484–425 B.C.), the Greek historian who became known as the Father of History, wore out his shoe leather traveling throughout the Middle East to produce his account of the fifth-century B.C. conflict between the Greeks and the Persians.

More here.

Stellar streak tells of 30,000 years of history

From Nature:

Star Astronomers have found an unexpected treat on a star first described more than 400 years ago – the streak of a 13-light-year-long tail. The tail, the first seen of its kind, could provide clues about how celestial bodies are formed from the material spat out by such ageing stars.

The streak was spied by the NASA space telescope Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) as part of a survey of the ultraviolet spectrum of the sky that the telescope began in 2003 and is expected to complete later this year. According to Mark Seibert, a co-author on the paper in Nature1 this week and an astronomer with the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Pasadena, California, other telescopes missed the special feature of the star — called Mira — because they were either looking in the wrong wavelength of light, or simply peering too closely.
“Mira has been studied in every conceivable wavelength by the Hubble Space Telescope,” Seibert says. “But Hubble didn’t see the tail because it only looks at a very small area of the sky, so it missed all the stuff around the star itself.”

More here.

Edgar Allan Poe fan takes credit for graveyard legend

Wiley Hall in USA Today:

PoefanxBALTIMORE — The legend was almost too good to be true. For decades, a mysterious figure dressed in black, his features cloaked by a wide-brimmed hat and scarf, crept into a churchyard to lay three roses and a bottle of cognac at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. Now, a 92-year-old man who led the fight to preserve the historic site says the visitor was his creation.

“We did it, myself and my tour guides,” said Sam Porpora. “It was a promotional idea. We made it up, never dreaming it would go worldwide.”

Porpora is an energetic, dapper fellow in a newsboy cap and a checked suit with a bolo tie. He’s got a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous smile, and he tells his tale in the rhythms of a natural-born storyteller.

No one has ever claimed ownership of the legend. So why is Porpora coming forward now?

“I really can’t tell you,” Porpora answered. “I love Poe. I love talking about Poe. I had a lot to do with making Poe a universal figure. I’m doing it because of my love for the story.”

More here.

The genesis of the International Geophysical Year

Fae L. Korsmo in Physics Today:

Screenhunter_02_aug_16_1830In his essay “Six Cautionary Tales for Scientists,” Freeman Dyson warns against “the game of status seeking, organized around committees. It is not that committees are the root of evil, he writes, but that when presented with a choice between incremental, practical solutions and grand schemes that attract attention, committees have every incentive to choose the latter—even if the choice has a high probability of failure. Often the committees present the grand scheme as the only choice, an all-or-nothing proposition.

It is tempting to look back on the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58 as an audacious plan launched by a small committee of prominent scientists—an organized campaign that would involve planes, ships, and rockets. Walter Sullivan’s thorough account of the IGY is called, appropriately, Assault on the Unknown (McGraw-Hill, 1961). Visible legacies of the IGY include the launch of the first artificial Earth-orbiting satellites, the Antarctic Treaty, the World Data Center system, the discovery of the Van Allen belts, and the monitoring of atmospheric carbon dioxide and glacial dynamics. The IGY also led to the establishment of Earth sciences programs in many developing countries. Surely this was a grand scheme in a world that was still recovering from a devastating world war.

Yes and no. The IGY represents the largest set of coordinated experiments and field expeditions to be undertaken during the cold war. East met West, North met South, and all the physical sciences concerned with the atmosphere, continents, and oceans were represented.

More here.

Max Roach, 1924-2007

Max Roach, someone whom I’ve had the good fortune of hearing live many times, is dead. In the NYT:


Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940’s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners’ expectations, died Wednesday night at his home in New York. He was 83.

His death was announced today by a spokesman for Blue Note records, on which he frequently appeared. No cause was given. Mr. Roach had been known to be ill for several years.

As a young man, Mr. Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was among a small circle of adventurous musicians who brought about wholesale changes in jazz. He remained adventurous to the end.

Darcy of Secret Society, who regularly teaches me a lot about jazz, has promised more on Roach; so look for it.

On a borrowed dime

Jonathan Shaw in Harvard Magazine:

Screenhunter_01_aug_16_1246“When a country gets a capital inflow [such as the United States has now], generally speaking things are pretty good,” observes Jeffry Frieden, Stanfield professor of international peace. “It allows you to invest more than you save, and consume more than you produce. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that,” he notes. Firms do it all the time, and so do households. They borrow on the expectation that they will be more productive and better able to pay the money back in the future. The United States, for example, was “the world’s biggest debtor for a hundred years,” Frieden notes, “but the money was used to build the railroads and the canals and the factories and to improve the ports and to build our cities. It was used productively, and it worked. The question to ask now is not, ‘Is the country living beyond its means?’ The question is, ‘Is the money going to increase the productive capacity of the economy?’ Because if it just goes to getting everybody another iPod,” he warns, “then unless iPods make people more productive, there is going to be trouble down the road when the debt has to be serviced.”

More here.

Another side of the story

Kamila Shamsie in The Guardian:

Hamid256 The story of the Pakistani novel in English starts with tragedy and unrealised potential. In 1948, within a year of partition, 36-year-old Mumtaz Shahnawaz was killed in a plane crash, leaving behind the first draft of her partition novel, A Heart Divided. Her family published it in the 1950s, but the question of what the novel might have been had she worked on it further remains unanswered.

As with any nation, but particularly a new one, Pakistani literature’s story cannot be told without the backdrop of history. In 1947 the English language itself was a vexed and contradictory space: on one hand the language of colonialism; on the other hand the language in which undivided India’s politicians (Jinnah, Nehru, Gandhi, Liaquat et al) presented their demands for independence to the British. In the newly created state of Pakistan it was also the official language, while Urdu was the national language. However you look at it, English represented power and privilege. The corollary of this was to create a division, still in place, between English language writers and those who work in Pakistan’s other languages. The combination of English’s close links to officialdom and the ‘nation-building’ mindset of a newly independent people for whom patriotism was all-important did the English language novel few favours. While Urdu writers such as Saadat Manto, Intezar Hussein and Abdullah Hussain were producing dynamic, challenging work, the English-language novel was, in the 1950s, all but moribund.

Picture: Mohsin Hamid: Booker longlisted novelist and at the forefront of the new wave of Pakistani writing.

More here.

under the control of a clearly crazy author


But Dick has also become for our time what Edgar Allan Poe was for Gilded Age America: the doomed genius who supplies a style of horrors and frissons. (In both cases, it took the French to see it; the first good critical writing on Dick, as on Poe, came from Europe, and particularly from Paris.) Like Poe’s, Dick’s last big book was a work of cosmic explanation in which lightning bolts of brilliance flash over salty oceans of insanity. Poe’s explanation of everything was called “Eureka.” Dick’s was “VALIS.” The second, literary Dick is now in the Library of America ($35), under the excellent editorial care of Jonathan Lethem, a passionate devotee, who also provides an abbreviated chronology of Dick’s tormented life. Four of the sixties novels are neatly packed together in the handsome black covers: “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (the original of “Blade Runner”), and his masterpiece, “Ubik.”

Dick’s fans are not modest in their claims. Nor are they especially precise: Borges, Calvino, Kafka, Robertson Davies are cited, in the blurbs and introductions, as his peers. A note of inconsistency inflects these claims—Calvino and Robertson Davies?—but they are sincerely made and, despite all those movies and all that praise, have a slight, useful tang of hyperbolic defensiveness.

more from The New Yorker here.

HIV triggers the ‘opposite of cancer’ in the brain

From Nature:

Brain A study showing how HIV could prevent the brain from making new neurons offers an explanation for why some AIDS patients get dementia — and suggests a possible treatment. Researchers aren’t sure what causes the condition, which afflicts 10-30% of people with HIV and causes symptoms including forgetfulness and leg weakness. If untreated with antiretroviral drugs, sufferers can turn comatose. Biologists have two theories to explain AIDS-related dementia. It could be that when HIV infects a type of white blood cell called a macrophage, the cell pumps out inflammatory chemicals to battle the infection that also, unfortunately, wipe out neurons.

Or HIV could inflict its damage more directly. One previous study showed that a protein in the virus’s shell — called gp120 — can stop brain stem cells from dividing. Such new stem cells are needed to make new neurons. Neural stem cells in the transgenic mice also contained more of a protein called p38 than normal mice. In healthy cells, p38 guards against cancer by halting cell division when DNA strands get broken. If HIV prompts so much p38 that it stops normal cells from dividing, “it’s the opposite of cancer”, says Lipton. The researchers also found other proteins linked to p38 in the neural stem cells of the gp120-expressing mice.

More here.

This is nevertheless true: I am a savage


Paul Gauguin’s Polynesian paintings are beautiful, mysterious things. In the 1890s, they suggested to the French men who saw them in Paris that traveling to Tahiti might include sex with gorgeous women, and maybe even men. What a Parisian woman felt looking at these paintings, I could only guess. Did she look over her shoulder to see if she’d been caught looking too closely? How did she respond to the question, not rhetorical I think, that Gauguin asks in the title of one painting, “What! Are you jealous?” In his own writings Gauguin tends to drastically synthesize the complexity of his artistic production into self-promotional statements such as, “I am beginning to think simply, to feel only a very little hatred for my neighbor – rather, to love him.” For me, it was a visceral-aesthetic response to Gauguin’s paintings, to their uncanny erotic beauty, that drew me in and sent me on a transformative journey of my own.

more from The Smart Set here.

new john ashbery poem

A Pact With Sudden Death

Clearly the song will have to wait
Until the time when everything is serious.
Martyrs of fixed eye, with a special sigh,
Set down their goads. The skies have endured

Too long to be blasted into perdition this way,
And they fall, awash with blood and flowers.
In the dream next door they are still changing,
And the wakening changes too, into life.

“Is this life?” Yes, the last minute was, too –
And the joy of informing takes over
Like the crackle of artillery fire in the outer suburbs
And I was going to wish that you too were the “I”

more from the TLS here.

Nussbaum on Indian Education and Its Future

In Outlook India:

How, then, is education in India doing, 60 years after Nehru spoke of putting an end to “ignorance”—as well as “poverty”, “disease”, and “inequality of opportunity”? No honest assessment could be favourable. The staggeringly high rates of illiteracy, particularly among women and girls, the well-known problem of teacher absenteeism (in many areas it reaches the figure of 20 per cent), the scourge of “private tuition”—all these make the promise of educational opportunity utterly meaningless for large segments of India’s population. At one end we have the shiny success of the IITs, at the other the dismal daily reality of government schools in many urban and most rural areas. Kerala has shown that it is possible to produce virtually universal male and female literacy through an ideal-driven combination of intelligent planning and determined administration; the rest of the nation, however, has been slow to follow the slender southern state’s lead.

These well-known problems, however, are not India’s only—or even her greatest—dangers where education for democratic citizenship is concerned. With the ascendancy of the IITs has arisen a dominant conception of education that is technical, indeed mechanistic, given to force-feeding and regurgitation and suspicious of critical independence of mind. Education, in this picture, is about the implanting of useful skills that will ultimately lead to both personal and national enrichment. It should, therefore, focus on these technical skills and on the rote learning of whatever historical and political information is strictly necessary to deploy them in profitable ways. As Rabindranath Tagore once wrote of schools he knew, “Achievement comes to denote the sort of thing that a well-planned machine can do better than a human being can.” He already saw that the globalisation of the economy was leading to an educational imbalance, “obscuring (our) human side under the shadow of soul-less organisation”.

Genetics and the Shape of Dogs

Elaine A. Ostrander in American Scientist:

Screenhunter_07_aug_15_1519A pekingese weighs only a couple of pounds; a St. Bernard can weigh over 180. Both dogs, though vastly different in appearance, are members of the same genus and species, Canis familiaris. How dog breeds can exhibit such an enormous level of variation between breeds, and yet show strong conformity within a breed, is a question of interest to breeders and everyday dog lovers alike. In the past few years, it has also become a compelling question for mammalian geneticists.

The “dog genome project” was launched in the early 1990s, motivated by scientists’ desire to find the genes that contributed to many of the ills suffered by purebred dogs. Most dog breeds have only been in existence for a few hundred years. Many exhibit limited genetic diversity, as dog breeds are typically descended from a small number of founders, created by crossing closely related individuals. Further, breeds often experience population bottlenecks as the popularity of the breed waxes and wanes. As a result of this population structure, genetic diseases are more common in purebred dogs than in mixed-breed dogs. Scientists have been motivated to use dog populations to find genes for diseases that affect both humans and dogs, including cancer, deafness, epilepsy, diabetes, cataracts and heart disease. In doing so we can simultaneously help man and man’s best friend.

More here.

Not Like the Rest of Us

Linda Colley looks at two books about Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the London Review of Books:

Hillary_clintonHillary Clinton is manifestly a beneficiary and exemplar of a massive, historically recent and still ongoing transformation. ‘I represented a fundamental change in the way women functioned in our society,’ she wrote in Living History (2003); and, at one level, her life has indeed been a succession of hard-won firsts, and of admirable striving against prejudice, condescension and limited expectations. Yet some of her responses, and some of the circumstances of her career, have been traditional and backward-looking.

She was born in 1947 in Chicago. Her father, Hugh Rodham, was a dour, mean and staunchly Republican small businessman. Her mother, Dorothy, was mildly a Democrat and a suppressed, efficient housewife. Hillary’s upbringing in the suburb of Park Ridge seems to have been almost as close, insular and parsimonious as the future Margaret Thatcher’s in Grantham. Both girls, though, were afforded similar avenues of escape. Like Thatcher, Hillary Clinton was brought up in Methodism, with its stress on action, seriousness and good works. She was also – again like Thatcher – permitted a first-class education.

More here.