Misdirected Fire

In the wake of the Hillary Clinton’s shocking defeat in the presidential election, two Democratic operatives, Stanley B. Greenberg and Anna Greenberg, turn their attention to President Obama and ask the question “Was Obama Bad for the Democrats” (NY Times, Op Ed, December 23).  Their answer is a qualified yes.  Before I bear down on the Greenbergs for their insinuation that the Democrats went down to defeat on the presidential and congressional levels because of Obama, let me lay out their argument with editorial interruption.

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Max Raphael: A Creative Life in Struggle

Some fight because they hate what confronts them, others because they have taken the measure of their lives and wish to give meaning to their existence. The latter are likely to struggle more persistently.  Max Raphael was a very pure example of the second type.

That’s the opening passage of John Berger’s tribute to Raphael whose Marxist scholarship and theories on the practice of art made him, in Berger’s estimation, the “greatest mind yet applied to the subject.”

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Survival Pending Revolution

In a rare moment of stranger-than-fiction levity during jury selection in the 1970 conspiracy trial of Black Panther Party leaders Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, defense attorney Charles Garry asked a prospective juror, “Can you take the judge’s instruction that my defendants here, Ms. Huggins and Mr. Seale, are innocent until proven guilty?”

The prospective juror replied, “I can.”

“So you know they are members of the Black Panther Party?”

“Yes, I do.”

“So what do you think of that? Do you think you can be a fair and impartial juror?”

“Well, I guess they are no different from any other motorcycle gang.”

As the courtroom erupted in laughter, the frustrated judge shouted, “Just get him out of here!”

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Tale of the Tapes

My father, Reginald W. Major, died just over three years ago. While his passing has left me, his baby girl, with a tremendous void, l recently discovered a collection of audio tapes that we recorded over a period of years. I have found myself able to listen to him once again, getting his wisdom on political struggle, his honesty about his own shortcomings, on how he grew character and understanding, on his long view of history from the 1930’s to 2011.

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Draining the Swamp

Remarks of Walter M. Shaub, Jr., Director, U.S. Office of Government Ethics, as prepared for delivery at 4:00 p.m. on January 11, 2017, at the Brookings Institution.

I wish circumstances were different and I didn’t feel the need to make public remarks today. You don’t hear about ethics when things are going well. You’ve been hearing a lot about ethics lately.

I need to talk about ethics today because the plan the President-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that his nominees are meeting and that every President in the past four decades has met.

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Strategy Memo

OK, Meryl Streep is a wonderful actress, a very smart and eloquent lady. But I think her Golden Globes statement, while striking and eloquent, was a strategic mistake. And here’s why – because it puts style over substance, and not everybody agrees with putting down Trump’s style.

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Bibliotherapy

Angry Young Men—today the concept in its simplicity seems quaint, almost charming. Among millennials, there’s an underground subset of young males wrecked amidst the storms of self-creation and signification. The internet is now nearly the exclusive domain of social and cultural life. For many born without memory of life before the web, there burn weird heart-fires of grievance and resentment, imbued with the alien green hue of nocturnal computer monitors. How to forge an identity out of an endless succession of ironic poses?

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Merry Christmas from Kevin Durant and Draymond Green

The monetary and the military
They get together
Whenever it’s necessary
They’re making the planet into a cemetery.
—Gil Scott-Heron

Christmas Day, and did I need a gift!  Feeling—ever since Elektion Day as if I am living somewhere between under a dark cloud and in a ratcheting-up concentration camp, I thought maybe I could still derive some pleasure—if not solace—from the long-anticipated NBA Finals “re-match” between Cleveland and Golden State.

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Continental Drift 2.0

Russell Banks responds to questions about the election put to him by a regular interlocutor from Nouvel Observateur.

1. Did anger and hatred against Obama contribute to Trump’s success?

Until now, on the eve of the winter solstice, at the start of a new astronomical year, I’ve put off trying to answer questions about the election of Donald Trump.  I went to Ecuador and climbed in the Andes, cut myself off from radio and TV, the Internet and newspapers.  I remained mostly silent, except to utter quiet moans and groans of despair or the low worried whimpering that follows a sudden fall from a great height after you’ve checked for broken bones and found none, but haven’t yet determined the extent of internal injuries.  Since returning to the US, I’ve read most of the explanations for Trump’s victory by the pundits and commentators of the left, right, and center, and listened mainly in silence to my friends and colleagues as they try to explain how and why this mentally deranged ignoramus became the most powerful human being in the known universe. 

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Boss Tenor

Out Christmas shopping yesterday, your editor lucked into Gene Ammons’s Boss Tenor for $6. Bet you’ll get gone if you go here and listen to the first track, “Hittin’ the Jug.”  And here’s the rest of the gift: Amiri Baraka’s spontaneously lovely liner notes.

I suppose Gene Ammons is what you could call a real hybrid. His playing is a perfect (albeit weird) assimilation of two widely opposed ideas of playing the tenor saxophone. Gene somehow manages to sound like he comes right out of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, the two farthest poles in the business of playing the tenor saxophone.  

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Jug Eyes

Originally posted at First in 2012.

The Boss is Back! The album was on the Prestige label, the first Gene Ammons made after being released in 1969 from Stateville Penitentiary following a seven-year term for heroin possession. With Junior Mance on piano and Buster Williams on bass. Bernard Purdie on drums, Candido on conga, it’s a hell of a record. Ammons’s tenor holler breaks loose over the hard funk backing, out of the horn something like a contagious fire catching on the fills and slides and the stuttering beats.

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Stubborn Leaves

On the stairs up the deck,
Or walking through piles of curling leaves
Still waiting for spunky Japanese red maple compadres
To drop and join them in flat bouquets

The racket above is like an old school, non-green,
New York City traffic jam where cabbies blast
exhausted horns and Yiddish-bang their steering wheels—not too hard—
not to get anywhere, just on a Racing Form stage for their passengers’ tips

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Tease

Molly Klein is working on a piece for First that links Trump’s spectacles to “a war on rationality that began in Baltimore in 1966 with the Johns Hopkins conference on structuralism/post-structuralism, which introduced the mountebanks Lacan and Derrida to US academia.” In the meantime, here’s a taste from her recent demolition of Slavoj Žižek, “The Protocols of the Learned Lacanian of Slovitzie,” published this year in a Belgrade academic journal. Klein’s clarity about “ecstasy of the bullying” makes her a national resource for Americans in our time of the Don. 

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