Thursday, November 30, 2023

How to write a headline about the death of Henry Kissinger (1923-2023)

"Sometimes controversial" (BBC) "Former US Secretary of State" (NBC News) Henry Kissinger (1923-2023) may indeed have been "America's most famous diplomat" (Politico) and a "Nobel winner" (Reuters), he can be said to have "shaped Cold War history" (New York Times) and "helped forge US Policy" (Wall Street Journal), and he may even have been "a dominating and polarizing force" (CNN) who "shaped world affairs under two presidents" (Washington Post). But those news organizations are being mealy-mouthed. This is a headline that puts his major achievement front and center: "Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies" (Rolling Stone). Or this: "Henry Kissinger, America’s Most Notorious War Criminal" (HuffPost). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 30 November 2023)

Note: Credit to this post for collecting the phrases used in headlines:

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Delving into Tom Waits again

For the last couple of days, I've been delving into my Tom Waits collection (which is complete). I began with "Franks Wild Years", the first Waits album I bought, and also the one I saw the tour for in San Francisco on 5 November 1987 (with Marc Ribot, Ralph Carney, Greg Cohen, and Michael Blair – my first Ribot concert). Now I'm listening in alphabetical order – "Alice", "Bad as Me", and "The Black Rider", and now "Blood Money". The arrangements are like nothing else, the ballads are as good as any ballads in the world, and the voice is inimitable – or at least when I try to imitate it, my throat hurts. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 29 November 2023) 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The poor journalism of recent newspaper attacks on the University of Basel

Today, after Rico Bandle's Basler Zeitung article Sunday about the supposed "Ideologisierung" at the University of Basel, Naomi Reichlin published another article critical of the University in the BZ. Neither journalist did any in-depth research on the issue. Bandle referred to a course on border policy in Switzerland from Spring Semester 2021 but did not interview the lecturer who taught the course. Reichlin, a member of the FDP Switzerland, made broad generalizations about how the University's scholars are supposedly unwilling to challenge their own ideology, but since she did not interview anyone from the University who might have disagreed with her, she ended up not challenging her own "liberal" ideology either. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 28 November 2023)

Monday, November 27, 2023

Borders between countries as instruments of discrimination

In an article in the Sonntagszeitung this weekend criticizing the University of Basel's Urban Studies program for its supposed "Ideologisierung", Rico Bandle discussed the "problem" that an instructor teaching a course on "Die Schweizer Grenzregime" also works with sans-papiers immigrants: "Überwachte Grenzen, so der Grundtenor, seien ein Unterdrückungsinstrument der rassistischen westlichen Staaten, inklusive der Schweiz." The reported speech implies that Bandle disagrees and perhaps even finds the idea patently absurd from his own ideological perspective. But the borders between countries, no matter how guarded they are, are tools of discrimination between insiders and outsiders, and that discrimination is often based on race and racial profiling, especially in "Western countries", including Switzerland. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 27 November 2023)


Sunday, November 26, 2023

Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” as recollection, not staggering

While I was grading essays this afternoon, shuffle sent me to a Steely Dan collection, "Show Biz Kids", and I started singing happily along with "Do It Again" and "Dirty Work", the first two songs. Then came "Reelin' in the Years", with its fantastic guitar playing, and while I sang along with its chorus, I realized I have always misunderstood "reeling" here: "Are you reelin' in the years, / stowin' away the time, / are you gatherin' up the tears, / have you had any of mine?" It's not "reeling" as in "staggering", as I long thought, but "reeling in" with a figurative fishing pole. This chorus is about re-collecting recollections. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 26 November 2023)

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The “first people” in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948)

In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (1948), the box for the lottery is not the original: "There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here." The villagers see their settler ancestors as "the first people", but the Hutchinsons and Warners, the Delacroixs and the Martins, the Dunbars and the Zaninis, were not the landscape's original occupants. The actual "first people" were displaced and erased by the settlers and their descendants' stories, and the lottery's violence continues their violence against the land's indigenous people. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 25 November 2023) 

Friday, November 24, 2023

Lionel Loueke and his seven-string electric guitar at the Bird’s Eye in Basel

Lionel Loueke plays a seven-string electric guitar whose extra string is a low B below the low E on a standard guitar. This opens up his playing for funky bass lines over which he riffs on chords or plays melodies. At his solo concert at the Bird's Eye in Basel tonight, he used a pedal board to create live loops to play along to with long, winding lines of high notes. But he actually didn't use the loops that often; he could keep up driving rhythms without them, while playing and singing fragmentary bursts of melody and alternating between Herbie Hancock compositions (from his solo album "HH") and his own tunes. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 24 November 2023)

Thursday, November 23, 2023

A series of Basel concerts with musicians from Senegal, Cameroon, Mali, and Benin

Last weekend, I heard Mory Samb from Senegal play ngoni at the Bird's Eye in Basel. On Tuesday, I heard Étienne Mbappé from Cameroon play bass there with Thomas Dobler on vibes and Nicolas Viccaro on drums. Last night at the Kaserne in Basel, I saw the Malian husband-and-wife duo of Bassekou Kouyate on ngoni and Amy Sacko on vocals. Samb's ngoni looked like a kora with a large, gourd-shaped resonator, while Kouyate said that his much smaller ngoni is an ancestor of the banjo. Tomorrow and Saturday, I'll continue listening to musicians from West Africa: guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin will be playing two solo concerts at the Bird's Eye. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 23 November 2023) 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The politics of needs and the politics of stories in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948)

In Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (1948), the old black box the villagers draw lots from is a problem for Mr. Summers, who runs the yearly lottery: "Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box." Mr. Summers identifies a problem and proposes a way to solve it. This politics of needs is about rights and justice. But for the villagers, the old box cannot be replaced because it is an essential metonymy of the coherent story they tell themselves about themselves. This politics of stories is about origins and authenticity. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 November 2023)

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Seeing Marc Rothenmund’s “Wochenendrebellen” (2023) in a cinema full of children

In Marc Rothenmund's "Wochenendrebellen" (2023), Jason (Cecilio Andresen), a ten-year-old autistic boy, is asked by classmates what his favorite football team is, but he doesn't have one. He then gets his father Mirco (Florian David Fitz) to agree that they will go to all 56 German professional football stadiums (from all three Bundesligen) to determine his favorite. I saw the movie at the Kult Kino Camera in Basel on Sunday afternoon, and the cinema was full of children around ten years old. I wondered if this moving and powerful film that includes quite intense scenes of Jason being unable to cope with his surroundings is what they and their parents expected.  (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 November 2023)

Monday, November 20, 2023

Dancing alone to Mory Samb and Djam Rek at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 17-18 November 2023

On Friday and Saturday, 17 and 18 November, I went to the Bird's Eye in Basel to hear Senegalese ngoni player Mory Samb and his band Djam Rek (with two horns, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, and a singer). The first night, I sat in my chair during the first set and wondered how anyone could listen to this music and not dance, but for the second set, I found a spot to dance that didn't block anyone's view. Still, nobody else danced, and when I spent the whole second night dancing, nobody else danced either. I could see so many people moving in their chairs, but they left me dancing alone. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 November 2023) 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

A baby sucks on the collar of his tie-dye jacket

When my son Miles was a baby, I made him a some tie-dye baby clothes. One of them was a jacket with a collar he would get into his mouth. Much to our surprise and concern, the dye stained his mouth. We'd never seen anything like that with our home-made tie-dyes before, so we contacted the dye company, Jacquard Products in California, and asked them if we should be worried. They said it was no problem, their Procion MX dyes are non-toxic (and, I would add, very long-lasting). They added that they'd never heard of this problem before, but maybe nobody had ever tie-dyed baby clothes that the baby sucked before! (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 November 2023)

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Vanessa Droz’s “Octubre”, T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, and the joy of reading a great poem for the first time

In our seminar on "La Poesía de Puerto Rico" today, we discussed a poem by Vanessa Droz, "Octubre", which quotes T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land": "Una vez recordaste: 'April is the cruelest month.' / Y era octubre." We'd asked the students to read "The Waste Land" as well, and one student told us not only that she had read it for the first time yesterday, but also that it had blown her away. I often tell students who admit they haven't read some classic text that they "have something to look forward to"; today, I enjoyed the student's smile when she talked about reading Eliot's poem for the first time. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 November 2023)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The postponement of the Israeli men’s national football teams matches from October

After Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October 2023, two matches the Israeli men's national football team were scheduled to play the following week in the qualification for the 2024 men's European championship (against Switzerland and Kosovo) were postponed until November. Usually, national teams play two matches during a break for their competitions, but now Israel is playing four between Sunday, 12 November, and Tuesday, 21 November. The second one was tonight against Switzerland, who have to play three matches in seven days due to the postponement. Although Switzerland controlled the match, they weren't able to score a second goal, and Israel managed a draw with a goal in the 88th minute. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 15 November 2023)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler, vermin & Ungeziefer, and Franz Kafka & Gregor Samsa

When Donald Trump referred to "Communists" and others as "vermin", journalists and historians pointed out that the term was used by Adolf Hitler to refer to the Jews of Germany. The German term Hitler used was "Ungeziefer", which is also what Gregor Samsa turns into at the beginning of Franz Kafka's "Die Verwandlung". All three of Kafka's sisters died in the Holocaust: Elli and Valli in Chelmno in 1942, and Ottla in Auschwitz in 1943. The problem for Trump supporters who cheer his call to "root out" the "vermin" is that, in an authoritarian society, anyone can wake up one morning to find themselves, like Gregor Samsa, transformed into an "Ungeziefer". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 November 2023)

Monday, November 13, 2023

Andreas Schärer, Kalle Kalima, and Tim Lefebvre in Strasbourg and Bern

At the two concerts by the trio of vocalist Andreas Schärer, guitarist Kalle Kalima, and bassist Tim Lefebvre that I attended in Strasbourg and Bern on Saturday and Sunday, the trio played material from their recent album "Evolution" (ACT Music). But the Saturday show was part of a double bill at the Jazzdor Festival in Strasbourg, so they had to keep track of time, with Kalima even pulling out his phone several times to see how much time they had left. As a result, the songs were brisk and tight. In Bern, they were the only band on the bill, and the songs were looser and more extended as a result. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 November 2023)

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan, and Rudy Royston at the Jazzdor Festival in Strasbourg, 10 November 2023

The trio of guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Rudy Royston performed at Cité de la Musique et de la Danse in Strasbourg as part of the Jazzdor Festival last night. While they did play a series of specific tunes, they never stopped between tunes during their seventy-five-minute set. Again and again, Frisell would wrap up tunes with a coda built around loops, and the coda would turn into a segue. I think the tunes were (almost?) all Frisell's own compositions: I could name "Lonesome", "Strange Meeting", and the encore, "Poem for Eva", a simple and beautiful melody Frisell first recorded for his 1999 album "Good Dog, Happy Man". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 November 2023)

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Bill Frisell and “What the World Needs Now Is Love”

A highlight of guitarist Bill Frisell's duo concert on 23 April 2023 with bassist Thomas Morgan at the Stadtcasino in Basel was Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 1965 song "What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love". The song appears on "Valentine", Frisell's 2020 album with Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston. That trio is performing tomorrow at Cité de la Musique et de la Danse in Strasbourg as part of the Jazzdor Festival. Knowing Frisell's performances, I don't expect them to play any of the tunes from "Valentine", but if they do, I hope to hear Frisell's "Keep Your Eyes Open", which was originally released on his "Nashville" in 1997. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 November 2023) 

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Reading Denise Levertov for three-and-a-half years

On 25 May 2020, I posted a quote from Denise Levertov's poem "Listening to Distant Guns", the first of the "early and uncollected poems" in "The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov": "That low pulsation in the east is war." As I'd previously done with Paul Celan and John Ashbery, I've since quoted one Levertov poem a day. and today I posted this from the last poem in her posthumous collection "This Great Unknowing": "When I opened the door / I found the vine leaves / speaking among themselves in abundant / whispers." It's been a joy to follow Levertov's attention to the world's "abundant whispers", whether natural, social, religious, or political. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 November 2023)

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

“Leave my children alone”: Trump, his children, and New York vs. Trump

When Donald Trump, Jr. (b. 1977), Ivanka Trump (b. 1981), and Eric Trump (b. January 1984) were called to testify in the New York v. Trump, the ongoing civil fraud trial in New York, former United States President Donald Trump complained online about Judge Arthur Engoron: "Leave my children alone, Engoron". As his sons and daughter, they are his children, of course, but they are also adults aged between 39 and 45. Even lawyer Alina Habba (b. March 1984) has played that card: "And now these children are being brought in, away from their families [...]." But laughably, Habba herself is two months younger than the youngest of those children, Eric. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 7 November 2023)

Note: I got the quotes from around six minutes into this Seth Meyers clip.

Monday, November 06, 2023

The private stories and language that could not be copied by deep-fake audio

The other day on the Late Show, Stephen Colbert talked about deep-fake audio that could be used for scams. While he was saying he wouldn't be fooled by such audio, his phone rang, and it was President Joe Biden, trying to scam him, but Stephen thought it was really him. – It made me wonder how I could tell if my family members on the phone were real or deep-audio fakes. For each of them, there are stories, as well as words and phrases, that are part of our private world together. This evening, my daughter Sara had a fun conversation about various private things we could use to identify each other. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 November 2023)

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Where were your great-grandparents born?

Recently, I saw a Mastodon post asking people about their ancestors: "Where were your great-grandparents from?" My first thought was Holland, Michigan, and Illinois, but then I thought I should take the question to mean something more specific: Where were they born? I checked with my mother, my sisters, my brother, and my cousin, and we ended up not being sure about whether my paternal great-grandparents who lived in Illinois were actually born there. But my mother's mother's mother was born in Dinxperlo, Holland (her parents migrated to Ohio while she was still a child). And the rest of her great-grandparents were indeed born in Michigan. Where were your great-grandparents born? (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 5 November 2023)

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Avoiding Jim Jordan and the Supreme Court to read about Simonides

Reading the latest issue of "The New Yorker", I turned the page to an article about United States Republican Congressman from Ohio Jim Jordan. Not wanting to read that, I picked up the 5 October issue of "The New York Review of Books" to an article about the conservative United States Supreme Court. Not wanting to read that, I turned the page and smiled to see A. E. Stallings's review of David Sider's "Simonides: Epigrams and Elegies". But then I read about Simonides on Danaë and infant Perseus at sea: "There are still women and babies fleeing war who try to cross the Aegean in boats little better than wooden coffins." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 4 November 2023)