Friday, May 14, 2021

800 Words #4: Us, Then You

Two good Israeli friends were in touch last night. Both old school Labor, left-of-center zionists like me. Both told me the same thing: everybody in Israel knows Netanyahu did it. Why? Because if he leaves office, he goes to jail just like his predecessor. Remember when Bibi had one? In November Netanyahu was indicted for breach of trust, accepting bribes, and fraud.
One told me it would be over in a week. The other told me this is an orchestrated coup ending with a military dictatorship. I obviously have a hard time believing either, but two things are clear:
1. Everybody knows Bibi provoked this: Israel, Palestine, the world, his own cabinet.... He knew if he could be provocative for long enough, hell would break. East Jerusalem saw nightly crossfires since the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April! He closed the famous Damascus Gate, the Old City's main entrance, knowing Muslims would respond violently, and let police raid Al-Aqsa Mosque, again and again, during Ramadan! Using teargas and shock grenades! Bibi's willing to let his country burn rather than spend eighteen months playing poker in minimum security with cronies.
2. Hamas and Hezbollah were waiting for this provocation for fifteen years. They are so prepared. If Hamas already fired this many rockets they have more than Mossad even knows about. We haven't even encountered Hezbollah yet, who stores at least 10,000 rockets in Southern Lebanon.
Hamas's strategy is twofold:
A. It's the same as any general with the will to win - get as many of your people killed as you can to gain ground.
B. The ground is moral, not territorial. Since genocide is in their charter, since they ban abortions and honor the killing of women, they have to convince the world that Israel is the more violent side... put weapons depots inside schools, use children as human shields, lie to civilians about where's safe and where's dangerous... This is Hamas...
I do believe Netanyahu wants something approaching a military coup, resulting in an unlimited premiership until he appoints a successor guaranteed to pardon him. He's willing to kill thousands of Israelis to do it. Provoking war was his last resort, but it's done, and he knew Hamas was game whenever - war is literally in their mission statement. There's no return now. If this war becomes bad as it threatens, he goes to the Hague, Israel loses its economic connections through boycott, and if war becomes total, there may be no two state solution.
I also believe that the outcome's still unknown, and that fills me both with horror and a bizarre hope. Perhaps it will take the death of 50,000 to realize peace's necessity. It may not be critical mass, but after war, peace is what people want.
Mark Twain said that Jews are like everybody else, only moreso. Israel's not experiencing anything which any country isn't. It's only experiencing more.
If we're The Chosen People, it's not because we're a better nation, it's because God chose us for his laboratory. We're an unending scroll through which is inscribed the whole world's history. Every new century and country is a new chapter but the lesson of Jewish history is that everything Jews undergo, the world undergoes next. By enslaving us, Egypt eventually enslaved themselves. By crucifying us, Romans eventually crucified themselves. By massacring us, Crusaders eventually got massacred. By putting us in a religious torture chamber, the Spanish put themselves in too. By imprisoning us in a ghetto, Russians eventually imprisoned themselves. By burning us, Germans eventually burned too. When Jews are accepted, others get accepted next. When Jews are rejected, others get rejected next. When Jews are killed, you get the point....
We've been everywhere and seen everything in the Western World and some East besides, we're the eternal canary of the world's coalmines; our history the story of stories. We've brought favor to every country we encountered, yet we're always thrown out at the first sign that we haven't brought enough; and the moment after we're thrown out, the host country suffers nearly as much as we do. Is it God or an accident of history? Is it because of the inborn Jewish character or Israel's geographical position between continents? Who cares? It just is.
In an era when everybody lives on the internet and television, we have a state when having one doesn't mean as much, but in the dimensions of the internet, we're still Jews. Everybody thinks about us disproportionately, everybody focuses on our crimes to the exclusion of everybody else's, we're constantly accused of murders of which we were victims much more than perpetrators.
I don't know what will happen in Israel, but whatever happens, I'm positive something like it will happen to us next.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

800 Words #3: Blame Bibi, Not Israel

Look, we get it. We're Zionists, we were used to distaste long before there was Israel. It's only natural. Every group with demands gets mistrust. A lot of groups are stupid, and so are some of us.
But demands are demands, and we'll only give you our backing, our money, our connections, our prestige, when you include us in your fight. Not just Jews, but Israel. We're the same thing.
Israel is everything to us. Whether you know it, we know it's the difference between life and death. Whether we like Israel, it's worth dying for, it's worth killing for. We've seen what it means to live in other houses. We know you'll eventually kill us for staying.
You kill us when you're pagans because we're monotheists. You kill us when you're Christians because we won't let Jesus save us. You kill us when you're Muslims because we won't submit to Mohammed. You kill us when you're fascists because we're communists. You kill us when you're communists because we're capitalists. You even kill us when you're atheists because we fathered Christianity and Islam.
We get it. When your house gets tough to live in, you get mad like we all do, and you lash out at the easiest person: an accountant or a lawyer or some middleman contractor.... but the best scapegoat is a guest who can't go home.
You get us killed when you're imperialists because we're natives. Now you'll get us killed when you're anti-imperialists because we claim a strip of land the size of New Jersey after we were killed in our 'temporary' homeland of a millenium: 1/3rd of the world's Jews. 2/3rds of European Jews. 6/7ths of Jews in Nazi Europe. Stalin would finish the job had he lived another year. We're called perpetrators of genocide by grandchildren of our executioners, the world's most imperialist nation by great-grandchildren of our landlords.
But we get it. You don't like neoconservatism, and neither do those of us without a death wish. Your beef isn't with us, it's with Netanyahu, with Likud, with all the frummies and Republicans who prop him up; holding a knife to our throats and telling us it's someone else's hand.
From Bar Kochba, to Shabbetai Zevi, to Menachem Begin, antiliberal Jewish nationalism gets Jews killed. A Jewish state is one thing, a Jewish dictatorship another. We have limitations other people don't. Gentiles don't like when Jews are conspicuously powerful.
But what can we do? Bibi wants to rule us like a king, but he's not killing us. Hamas knows that Bibi's the best publicity they'll ever get, so they fire rockets at Bibi's weakest moment, knowing Israel has to respond. If Israel keeps winning, the refugee crisis continues and Israel keeps sliding from democracy. If Israel loses, millions die.
The zeitgeist talks about listening to marginalized voices. Ok, so listen to them, because every day they say 'We are going to kill you.' Not 'we're going to displace you', not 'our claim's legitimate too': 'We are going to kill you.' But our side's the provocateurs...
Israel's whole existence is a miracle, but we know Bibi's signed a death warrant. Not tomorrow, not in ten years, but eventual, and inevitable without yet another miracle, and God provides those reluctantly. Bibi's broken us from the Democratic party and made Israel a partisan American issue. This is Hamas's moment; they timed it perfectly. The Palestinian cause is red meat to American culture wars. If this lasts more than a week, pressure on Biden to ditch us will be overwhelming. If Biden doesn't, 'Goodbye Left.' Bipartisan American Zionism keeps Jews alive, other lives matter every bit as much, but ours apparently don't. So one threat at a time please. Bibi can't last forever.
Israel means 'he who wrestles with God.' Every moment of Jewish History's a struggle. God only keeps Jews around to make our lives difficult. Jewish History is the history of history's cracks. Jews show the greenlines of every ideology. So what do anti-racists/anti-imperialists do with a white people who've suffered from white people two thousand years before they knew what a white person was?
What is Likudism? What is Revisionist Zionism? It's Jewish identity politics. It's the peculiar radicalism of a minority so abnormal even other minorities don't acknowledge them, and therefore sentenced to be an ideology of the Right rather than Left.
No ideology knows what to do with us because our existence defies rationality; so when Jews make necessity into ideology, we get killed because ideology and Judaism are enemies.
Judaism is not about belief, it's a code of laws and customs that exist as practical accommodation to realities. The reality is this: Israel exists to keep us alive, not because God promised it. So when necessity turns into ideology, Jews get killed.

800 Words #2: Pikesville's Decline Part 1 of ∞

Pikesville used to have two bagel shops, now it has one. It used to have five delis, four closed and only one new. The five synagogues within a square half-mile of each other with sanctuary capacity of well over a thousand haven't been more than half-full in twenty-five years. Sure. Pikesville has other bagel shops, other delis, other synagogues, but no others have the officiaity of a ‘name.’
When you said you were going to ‘Joan & Gary’s’, everybody knew you're getting bagels. When you said Suburban House, everybody knew you're getting deli. When you said you were going to ‘Beth Tfiloh’, everybody knew how to drive to the tucked away shul where Old Court Road makes a sudden hard turn and becoes simple farm land which all Pikesville used to be until we Jews moved there - a land without people for a people without land.
For deli we have the Essen Room, opened four years ago; enough of a deli that nobody complains about missing Suburban House - Emperor of Delis on the property of the Suburban Club, where rich Jews belonged who wanted to hide their wealth - unlike he Woodholme Club, where rich Jews went to display their wealth.
Everybody complained about Suburban House when it was open… the Suburban House was a ticket to a non-stop show of middle class Jews yelling at each other, yelling about food, yelling at kids, yelling at waiters, yelling about the bill. But it was Suburban House... where you went to celebrate events and for the best Tuna Sandwich in Baltimore, usually served with a free side of local Utz potato chips and a pickle spear sour enough to pull you through a wormhole. It was Suburban House, why would anyone stop going?
One day ten years ago it burned to a cinder, and h Pikesville as anyone understood it burned down with it. It re-opened six blocks up Reisterstown Road nearer the Beltway in Pomona Square, where rival Attman's had its county location, but Suburban House was never the same.... It closed the very week the Essen Room opened, and the Essen Room has an ersatz vibe of Jews now too old for deli. Only Lenny's is still there on Pikesville's northern border with Owings Mills, and Attman’s only has the downtown location where it's been since 1915. Pikesville Attman's went out of business 30 years ago, so did Kaplan's in westerly nextdoor Randallstown, which became a goysiher outfit near Catonsville for corporate deli trays. A few years ago closed Miller's, the low class deli where sandwiches gave instant diarrhea and the floor had the same grease as the hot dogs; and Snyder’s, the upper-middle class deli in the 'Pink Mall,' a mini-mall painted pink, where teenagers went before seeing a movie at Loewe's, and families went after shopping for bar-mitzvah suits at Cohen's.
For kosher supermarkets, dear Shapiro's is a memory so distant nobody remembers. All comers since like Miracle Market and Seasons never lasted. Now it's Market Maven's turn to get stoned, but all that's left is Seven Mile Market; an edifice so Herodian it no longer fits on Seven Mile Lane. It requires store-space large enough to accommodate an historic monument of modern Judaism meant to last as long as the Methusaleh: the single largest kosher supermarket in the world. Parking in the lot you hear it crow "I am Seven Mile, kashrus of kashrus, look upon my varnishkes, ye mashgiachs, and despair."; a kosher market as big as a Walmart and like Walmart, of quality somewhere between meh and feh.
For bagels, Joan and Gary's is also a 20th century memory, but there’s still ‘Goldberg’s, so successful it franchised to the DC suburbs.
Goldberg's is as extraordinary a place as the last living link with the old Pikesville should be. All the megashuls still stand, even if you have to explain now how to get there. The only thriving food business is the caterers; old mainstays like O'Fishel's and the Knish Shop because every Shiva House needs food.

But Goldberg’s is the ‘shtetl square’ baruch hashem... The owner’s a virulent asshole, and one should not excuse the behavior of great geniuses, but dear god does the pandemic made us all miss that place: old frummies haggling Talmud, orthodox mothers shushing their children, old ladies with platinum perms playing bridge while they complain about middle aged children while gossiping about everybody else’s. The gorgeous bubbly frummette in her 20s they force to take the orders so that we’re put off from yelling at the staff from the moment we enter. The mentally challenged guy always wiping down the coffee station. The guys behind the take home counter always yelling at each other. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is Bagels. 

Underrated Classical Music: Scriabin's Mysterium

 DH had a Scriabin video today, and it jogged the memory....

I just don't understand how Rachmaninov occupies every classical program like an imperial power and Scriabin languishes more every decade in obscurity. We're supposed to get more progressive through time, not less. Circa fifty years ago, Scriabin was an immortal master, now his stock is not just behind Rachmaninov but every major progressive master of his era: Mahler, Debussy, Strauss, Sibelius, Ravel, Ives, Stravinsky, even Nielsen.
Rachmaninov was one of the great musicians of the century, but his compositions are by and large predictable. Most of his pieces honor every trope of romanticism like an Ikea model. Scriabin on the other hand is genius - even Tolstoy bowed to Scriabin's genius and Tolstoy had unkind words for nearly every artist.
Scriabin was insane in all sorts of ways I'm not gonna get into, most famous of which is the poem he wrote in the preface to the Poem of Ecstasy in which he claimed he was God. Poem of Ecstasy is the obious piece to link to, which Henry Miller described as like taking a bath in heroin, but the Divine Poem is just as good when it gets a wild performance, and probably a more substantial piece of music. Another obvious one is Vers la flamme (toward the flame) I'll link to them all below. This is all the music of a lunatic, but a lunatic of genius.
But let's face it, the looniest of them is the little performed Mysterium. Why little performed? I'll just let wikipedia take over....
'Mysterium is an unfinished musical work by composer Alexander Scriabin. He started working on the composition in 1903, but left it incomplete when he died in 1915. Scriabin planned that the work would be synesthetic, exploiting the senses of smell and touch as well as hearing. He wrote that
"There will not be a single spectator. All will be participants. The work requires special people, special artists and a completely new culture. The cast of performers includes an orchestra, a large mixed choir, an instrument with visual effects, dancers, a procession, incense, and rhythmic textural articulation. The cathedral in which it will take place will not be of one single type of stone but will continually change with the atmosphere and motion of the Mysterium. This will be done with the aid of mists and lights, which will modify the architectural contours."
Scriabin intended the performance to be in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, a week-long event that would be followed by the end of the world and the replacement of the human race with "nobler beings".'
Is a guy this insane really a transcendent genius? Well, it's some kind of genius, some kind of transcendence, but the thrill of Scriabin is almost comic and saying to yourself 'Is this guy for real?' Well, he obviously was.... So much of 19th century music's appeal is laughing at the pretensions of the composers who took themselves this seriously. An 'on the level' composer like Mozart Scriabin wasn't, and he wasn't even winking at us the way Berlioz or Richard Strauss were, so perhaps Scriabin and Rachmaninov were ultimately equals - put them together and you have a transcendent composer (who might be named Prokofiev); but as a sometime trip, this beats the shit out of Pink Floyd or King Crimson.

800 Words A Day #1: I Hope You Have Gas

Come on, you know it too. Of course it's Putin. This is just attack #1 and Vladimir Putin has twenty surprise attacks planned - each more surprising than the next(!).

War may come, but for now, it doesn't mean bombs, it means IT. Somewhere out there is a dimension we stare at eight hours a day, and in there, we're at war. Friends go to war with us online, why wouldn't enemies declare war too?

We came online before we understood the internet. Now the internet understands us better than we do. We've put everything online: power grids, banking, missile defense, private lives... All it takes is a team of hackers and everything we are becomes a weapon against us.

Biden has a 63% approval rating, the highest after 100 days since Reagan. Just enough time for a stratospheric rise before oil makes him plummet. No oil? Blame Biden. No cybersecurity? Blame Biden. It's Russia's fault? Blame Biden. "Why did we get rid of Trump? Trump can reason with the Russians!"

Russia is standing Obama's 'talk to your enemies' philosophy on its head. Obama's philosophy presupposes that enemies came to conclusions in good faith; but if enemies did, they'd let us know: Mitch McConnell didn't, Donald Trump didn't, Vladimir Putin REALLY didn't.

If Russia grinds recovery to a halt, Trump claims he can reason with Russia; and he certainly can because he's the candidate Russia picks.

Why Trump? Because Trump's stupid. Every decade a dumber Republican has an agenda more radical than the last, and once Democrats get power back they spend presidencies undoing the damage, damage made worse by the next Republican President; but there's no time for new Democratic policies, so a progressive generation grows up believing Democrats and Republicans are the same.

Democratic policies only work when they're applied with the same realism Republicans apply to everything. Republicans win because they know human beings: humans are gullible, scared, and lazy - everything about the Republican party plays to that.

But the best Presidents: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, knew that about human beings too, but they knew that in spite of it, humans deserve better than they get, and through superhuman effort and bloody struggle, humans might get better.

Good faith is not blind faith, and in history, leaps of faith are always exploited. A President may believe the right things, but if his faith in humans is too pure, it's as if he has no faith at all.

Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson were considered acmes of Progressivism for their time, but what looks like progress always changes. Why? Because we don't dictate progress to reality, reality dictates it to us.

Thomas Jefferson doubled America's size. At the time the Louisiana Purchase seemed a historic alliance between two powers who'd thrown off monarchy. To who's benefit? Native Americans? Slaves in new slave states? A country so large it had a civil war with a million casualties?

Woodrow Wilson negotiated peace after World War I, broke empires up, bound the world together in a league of nations, 'made the world safe for democracy'. To who's benefit? People of color he thought unworthy of democracy? Small nations invaded by Nazi Germany? 85 million casualties? Jews?
Obama's faith was nowhere near that blind, but eight years after Iraq he did nothing for or against Arab Spring democracy's potential chaos. When Putin helped Assad stop it in Syria, Obama folded his arms again. It's wrong to influence foreign nations.... Putin annexes Crimea, carves up the Ukraine, and Obama shrugs. It's Russia's sphere of influence...

It's suspected Putin ordered 14 assassinations in the UK, neither Obama nor Cameron budged. A movement arose for Britain to leave the EU... similar movements pop up in every European country... no reporter knows where their money's coming from. What does Obama do? Sanctions that hurt the European economy much more than Russia's...

And then 2016...

Putin was testing Obama the whole time: what would it take for Obama to respond? What would it take for him to arm allies? The answer was... he never would. Interfering in other countries is morally wrong... it causes wars... and even if they interfere with us, people will eventually see that we're the good guys.... The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice....

In spite of being his opposite in so many ways, Obama was a Teddy Roosevelt, not a Franklin: mostly good, sometimes great, but he believed what he believed a little too much. Biden's now tested on a level beyond Obama, and he has a choice: an FDR who arms allies and fights covert wars which risk bringing us in, or a Wilson, who makes policies by ideals in the faith that people are better than they are, and thereby causes wars.

Monday, May 10, 2021

A Brief Note on Today...

This'll be a brutal week for Jews, maybe a brutal month or much more, and there's a small-to-medium chance this could be the final divorce between progressives and Jews.

For all we know, Bibi Netanyahu deliberately provoked something to keep his power, but Bibi, horrible as he is, has done nothing to shake that ultimate commitment. Whatever happens, I know that Israel did what it could with arguably the shittiest hand ever dealt a nation, and a hundred times over it's a miracle it still exists. I have no qualms supporting a state lead by a quasi-authoritarian to keep something much deadlier at bay.

Insofar as I have a religion, totalitarianism is the devil itself - a cult that longs for death and murder. People who preach absolutes of freedom and equality but lend their support to regimes like Hamas or even the PA are hypocrites at the highest level. I know where I stand on totalitarianism, zionism, fundamentalism, and deliberate provocations in bad faith. And I know exactly where most of you stand too.

Just because you criticize Israel does not mean you are uncomfortable with Jews, and in that sense, most of you are not antisemites - though believing Israel is genocidal or shouldn't exist skirts the line. And if microaggressions are an indication of racism, then singling Israel out for criticism is most definitely racist; fortunately for you, I don't believe microaggressions exist and you can believe whatever you want no matter how stupid, so long as you don't mind me being aggressive back at you.

However, most who go after zionism or Israel's alleged imperialism rather than detailed critiques of policy are uncomfortable with Judaism. There is no daylight between Zionism and Judaism, so many of you are deeply anti-Judaism. There is no planet on which that is any more forgivable.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Underrated Classical Musicians - Vincent Persichetti

 What the hell, let's do one more.

Vincent Persichetti deserves a huge revival. This is such a fascinating work, clearly owing a huge debt to Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and Honegger's Second Symphony, but also owing much to much more conservative composers from Vaughan Williams to Barber, I don't think it's exaggerating to say that there is a bit of Bernard Herrmann's Psycho in there too. It's done complete justice by the Philly O strings and Riccardo Muti on his best behavior, doing a too rare outing in contemporary music.
On the one hand, Persichetti clearly sounds related to Copland, William Schuman, and Piston, on the other hand, polytonality everywhere, bitonality, 'pandiatonicism', here it is: the mythic composer who could combine American populism with European modernism.
Persichetti was known better as a legendary composition teacher at Juilliard, and taught everyone from Philip Glass to Einojuhani Rautavaara to PDQ Bach.
As a composer, Persichetti's uniquest contribution is for concert band. Like Karel Husa, it is amazing how so many college and high school bands went in for music that is so dark, but apparently they relished the challenge.
It's easy to rag on the American modernists, they can sound music composed by the Rand Corp or a board room, but they were the World War II generation and clearly had dark experiences to process. We of a freer world (at least temporarily) cannot understand how the experiences formed them. This is anything but anonymous modern drudgery. This is music that takes European pessimism upon itself, but simultaneously lets in mid-century American optimism. What a work.

Underrated Classical Music - Thompson's Last Words of David (really)

This is about Randall Thompson, not Koussevitzky. This is Thompson's Last Words of David. Along with Thompson's Alleluia, this is literally the foundational piece of American choral music - the absolute heart of the repertoire. There is not a single American choral singer who has never sung this work. American choral music is not anybody's idea of the eighth wonder of the world, but Thompson touches on something of the old WASP American spirit of Victorian porches, church hymnals, pancake breakfasts and temperance societies. It's nearly disappeared by now, but go around New England or the towns of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, you see its remnants everywhere. In my early teens I went to summer music camp in Maine, and the disappearing WASP class was in every town - polo shirts, black shoes with khaki shorts and socks pulled up to the knees, frozen expressions, terrible teeth, men and women looking vaguely indistinguishable and rarely talking to each other. It looked as though they had passed on some large, terrible truth about the founding of this country which we would rather not hear.
So here is The Last Words of David as you've never, ever heard it before. Oh to have been in Tanglewood in those years. The idealism and optimism about music and America and the world was something never seen again.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Why I Want to Leave (CW: ET walks into a buzzsaw like old times)

Face it Charlap, you're never getting out of Baltimore alive, the neuro shit is going to keep you here for the rest of your life and if you leave, you'll be dead in less than six months....

But that doesn't change that you're desperate to get out by any means necessary, and who're you kidding, you've been desperate since you were 15; but facts are facts, and your fact is you're stuck, trapped, entrapped, cornered, confined, snared, webbed, netted, noosed, shut in, penned off. The only way you're leaving Baltimore is a two way ticket with a hearse booked to take you back.

So few things are simple and so many things are complicated, but there are two binary states in political life for which there's no ambiguity at all. Here's the first:

1. A person is alive.
2. A person is dead.

So long as a person's still alive, there's still a chance to rewrite a life-story. But when a person's dead, that's it. Their story's only further written in the minds of people who knew them because there is no bringing them back.

Many people in Baltimore were up in arms about Bloomberg's 'stop and frisk' policy. I was never ever a supporter of stop and frisk, but long as I'm being honest, I'm not such a saint that my objections were moral. So before I write anything else, this is my objection to policies like it: It's obviously a temporary solution and a generation later causes an inevitable counterreaction, the one we're having now, which could lead to things so very much worse than stop and frisk.

My moral objections are to the deplorable lack of urban education funding. The other binary of political life that is that a functional society needs two basic elements; neither more than the other -

1. Rule of Law
2. Educational Opportunities.

Education, not activism, is the solution. And we have to face another uncomfortable fact, the defunded money from police departments won't go to education, it's going to retraining social workers to go out with police forces, and now we'll worry that our social worker friends will get shot.

I don't know if the 'abolish police' meme started with Russian or Chinese operatives, but I'd put the likelihood at about 1-in-3. And even if they didn't come up with something so disastrous to the prospects of anyone but Donald Trump, hostile world powers employed thousands of twitter handles to amplify it.

If people didn't think you were out of your goddamn minds before now, 'abolish police' can be the final straw that delivers Americans to Republicans for yet another fucking generation. The solution may have to do with banning police departments from certain types of weapons, but to abolish the police or even to significantly defund them is literally inviting a failed state, mass murder, and genocide. You can lighten their load with social work, but there's no substitute for policing.

The obvious solution is to create institutions alongside law enforcement: community colleges, mandatory after school programs, mass scholarships for four-year universities and graduate programs, programs to learn trades, a national service volunteer corps alongside the army that helps pay for student loans, a non-profit civic sector as large as the public and private sectors to which both government and business contribute huge amounts of money, and, of course, taxes that go through the fucking roof to pay for it all. We're all in this together or we're all going to die.

Global warming will put a giant, unprecedented wave of immigration on America's doorstep, and the number of poor in America will be exponentially larger than now - the only solution is to say to the poor: 'there's nothing fair about how we treat you, but we will help you if and only if you get an education.' And we have to mean it, because the rest of the USA has its own behavioral carrots and sticks - if we do not solve the problems of our cities, we will all die along with them.

Before the pandemic, murders in Baltimore were up 45% over the same time the year before, which was already the second deadliest year on record. So if you haven't heard that statistic yet, you need to let that figure sink in before you wag your finger at anyone who would dare defend policies like stop-and-frisk. That meant that Baltimore was at a trajectory to roughly 450 murders in 2020. The people who could argue most eloquently for 'stop and frisk' are all dead, and there may be tens of thousands whose protests from beyond the grave are silent.

Of its efficacy, there's little doubt, the statistics in New York speak for themselves and anyone can look up raw numbers more easily than they can a woke thinkpiece explanation of why all statistics are structural lies - and there are hundreds of those. You could at least make an argument that Roe v. Wade and access to abortion caused the decline at least as much as brutal policing - but be honest with yourself, which argument is more insulting to the dignity of disadvantaged demographics?

So no, my primary objections to stop-and-frisk and zero tolerance are practical, not moral. It was a deal with the devil and the ultimate beneficiaries of it is the people who are most against the policy: relatively affluent, progressive urbanites who only flocked to cities because streets were safe, and now protest the policing responsible for their prosperity. They may cause crime take its place alongside global warming as the great problem of our children's generation, but they don't care. Just like Baby Boomers didn't care that debt and Republican authoritarianism existed and made them our generation's biggest problems. The sins of the parents are visited on the children; there is no democracy without rule of law first, and are no civil liberties when you're already dead.

There are better reasons to write someone like me off as morally lacking, but if you dare to do it because people like me feel at least momentarily tempted to defend the policy, you have to consider one thing: until Baltimore's murder rate is cut in half, WE HAVE NO FUTURE. NONE. NO GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS ARE COMING TO SAVE US. NO ONE WILL DO BUSINESS WITH US. NO NON-PROFIT EITHER HAS A SOLUTION FOR US OR THE MEANS TO ENACT A SOLUTION IF THEY DID. AND $1.8 BILLION FROM MICHAEL BLOOMBERG IS ALL THAT MIGHT CHANGE ANYTHING ABOUT THAT SO A FULL HALF WHAT'S HOLDING BACK A SOLUTION IS YOUR BULLSHIT.

There, I feel better now...

I surely have friends who experience violent police harassment, and believe it or not, the DC police put me up against the back of a car with a threat of violence made VERY clear. I was pretty sure I'd do a couple months in prison for someone else's weed (and it was my birthday btw...) and a knightstick to the ribs was't out of the question. I wouldn't for a moment think I've had it nearly as bad as all kinds of friends from every demographic minority except American Jews, but the problem of policing is so large that it does affect us all. On the other hand, I also know what it's like to have large numbers of your family murdered. There is nothing in life more harrowing than death.

Every time I hear about authoritarian law enforcement happening to another friend, I'm aghast at their ordeal as any friend would be, and whether you believe it or not, my heart really does break for them, but it breaks as a friend who resigned himself to the fact that life is tragic, not as an activist. Just as real friends want to be protective of you, they also have to do their best to not shield you from the sobering realities. And reality is this:
We all would much rather have a hundred friends get bruised with their emotional peace of mind disturbed than bury another dead friend. At least when their peace of mind is disturbed, there might be a 1% chance we can help them, but the living can't help the dead. That is your reality as well as mine.

So to all the intersectionalists, socialists, anarchists, Bernie-bros, lib-cons and lib-socs and ingsocs, I hope there's a hell to which your shit is all going, and if there's a hell, I'm sure as hell I'll see you there. Until stop-and-frisk and zero tolerance, you had as much blood on your hands as any Republican, and it looks like it may happen again. If I've been at all tolerant so far of this intellectual newspeak, I fear whatever infinitesimal tolerance I have left for either online or in person is disappearing.


What were the sixties for?

This was a movement from children who grew up in the first affluent society in all of human history, and it wasn't enough, so in the midst of the biggest revolutions of civil rights and civil programs ever made, a whole generation of youth rose up to declare 'we need more progress.'

And then came '68 riots, advanced in part by Vietnam and the assassination of MLK and RFK, but also advanced by a whole generation of youth who threw red meat to the poor with the message: 'if you rise up, we will stand with you, we will defend you, we will give you what you need!'

And did they? Did all those Baby Boomers who stood up to Nixon and the draft not vote Reagan, Bush, Trump, all of whom gutted LBJ's social programs and kowtowed to all the social conservatives the sixties fought against? Maybe some stuck to their principles, but even the principled ones promised that their generation would be the one to stand behind social justice and social change when a hundred generations before them failed just as spectacularly.

Because of the sixties rebellions, America embraced the conservative ideology which created Trump. Spiro Agnew and Milton Friedman already claimed that Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was a failure when it had barely been tried. And now, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and company, the very urban activists who should be focusing 99% of their efforts on education, are dismissing education as just a c-list tool while the Robin DeAngelos claim education itself is just a structural tool of the privileged overclass meant to keep minorities in squalor. These are not liberals, and they're insulted when we call them that - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Judith Butler are our Reagans and Arthur Laffers, a whole new generation of snake-oil salespeople, 'equalitarians' who simplify in as much bad faith as the reactionary libertarians of our grandparents' generation, and all they'll do is cause violent right-wing insurrections - and people of the right still have most of our country's guns, though that may soon change... We saw the beginnings of the new reality on January 6th, and they'll only get more real from here on out.

So yes, I really, really, REALLY want to leave Baltimore, I really want to leave the US. I don't know if there will be a full decline and fall, but if there is, I don't want to be here for it, and even if it never threatens me, I don't want to watch it threaten people I love up close and helplessly; and yet I can't leave, because I have lifelong neurological conditions on which formal education is absolutely wasted, and meanwhile, there are tens of millions on whom education is no waste at all, and every minute you spend on issues other than education denies them the one tool guaranteed to improve their lives.

Underrated Classical Music: Doktor Faustus - Unfinished like Busoni's (he got further...)

Busoni's opera, Doktor Faust, is not necessarily the greatest musical rendering of Faust - surely that has to be Berlioz who puts all the fun into the music that one might accuse Goethe of lacking (though not for lack of trying...), but Busoni's is surely the closest to Goethe in spirit, and as consequential to understanding the music of the 20th century as Elektra or Wozzeck, and yet it is no more an opera than Goethe's Faust is a play. I do not expect to see Doktor Faust in the opera house more than once, if I ever see it at all. I suspect that Doktor Faust works best on recording, in the opera house of the imagination. To dramatize the ideas of Faust, you need to be a true man of the theater which neither Busoni nor Goethe were. I could listen to Berlioz's Faust on repeat every day for a month with nothing but delight, and Gounod's Faust is of course one of the most effective works of opera ever created - a trashy period piece that takes only three good singers to feel like one of the towering art works of all time, and Boito's Mefistofele is it's own bizarre kind of personal masterpiece - the metaphysics of Wagner and Germany externalized into Italian opera much as Russians composers externalized great works of their own literature. I highly doubt that seeing Busoni's Faust on a stage with scenery and live music would add anything to the experience which contemplation in front of a speaker system can't provide better, and I'm not even sure it's a good idea to listen to all of Busoni's Faust at one sitting... 

Busoni's Faust has no true drama, no coloristic effects, it is one of the few works of opera that truly rises to philosophy. Perhaps it would work better in concert performance, but it is a beguiling mystery of a piece, opera for a post-operatic age when it's easier to contemplate its musical mysteries one scene at a time rather than be held captive in a theater which inevitably has no idea how stage it. Perhaps, at least in that sense, its closest operatic relative is Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. 

Goethe's Faust is a slog to read. Every slightly bigoted German stereotype that instinctually crosses any of our minds is provoked by Faust - hours and hours of reading about soul-states with a depiction of humor and wit that seems entirely divorced from laughter. And yet memory plays tricks - like so many long musical works, so many books that seem a torture to sit through have delayed rewards in infinite quantities, and I would not take back my 'Summer of Goethe' in 2017 for all the world even as I have no plans to repeat it. Goethe is as much a fact of world literature (a term he coined) as Homer or Shakespeare or The Bible or Pushkin and Tolstoy. To understand human beings, to understand the world, to understand how to live a fulfilling life, you have to get your head around some of Goethe. He is the final poet of nature before the Industrial Revolution began to tame it and officially put human beings at the center of the terrestrial landscape. He is the great poet of metaphysics - not quite science, not quite religion, but that neither region in which the noumenal and phenomenal worlds seem fused. He that 'great link' between modern German philosophers. One generation to the past lies the scientific positivism of Kant, believing that spiritual and physical can be united, one generation later lies the almost religious-seeming Hegel, who believed that the spiritual world was animating history itself, evolving us to become ever higher states of being. And among the great writers, he is easily life's best guide to fulfillment and third in wisdom only to the Old Testament and Shakespeare.  

Goethe's world of thought is neither scientific nor spiritual, neither rigorous nor chaotic, it's pure metaphysics, and can only be expressed through the infinite ambiguity of poetry. There is no system in Goethe, he is pure thought existing in the wild of his infinite brain and his thoughts ranged through literally every topic on earth and invented some besides. Even his poetry and theater expresses the infinite diversity of places to which his brain would lead him. To Goethe, the systemless thinker, the world is incapable of being understood, it is something which you can only experience one tiny piece at a time, and even if you accumulate millions of pieces, the world still defies explanation. Other poets of the sacred like Dante and Milton (and Wagner) predigest their answers, Goethe provides no answers except to tell us that life is an ever shifting process of pure motion. One can never understand the world, but to ever cease in the quest to understand it is living death. There are surely greater models for how to be a writer, but as a reader, as a listener, as a human, there is no greater model among the art of the world. 

And it is therefore in Goethe that all these mysterious small fragments of the world are both menacing and delightful. Spooky could have been coined to describe Goethe at his best; mysterious and yet always inviting. All the many moods of human beings are just small, manageable manifestations of another small fragment of the incomprehensible world. I don't know the exact number of characters in Goethe's Faust, but it would not surprise me if there were more than a thousand. Goethe anticipates the archetypes of Freud and Jung by over a hundred years and in Faust gives voice to literally hundreds of human archetypes, all of which are true manifestations of the human spirit and together create a composite out of which later, more realistic writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky can create their plausibly living humans. And yet none of Goethe's characters is a composite human being, each just a mask, any one of which possessing no more claim to sophistication than the pageantry of a pagan festival. 


I've learned through the painful experience of decades that I am nowhere near as intelligent as I pretend to think I am, but I'm not going to pretend that I think most people involved in the arts are particularly smart people - surely truly smart people choose less difficult professions... but intelligence is not a matter of native acumen. Just as native artistic talent can only be discovered by practice,  intelligence can only be discovered through curiosity, reading the books, 'doing the homework' and 'showing your work.' The world's smartest people are usually dedicated white collar professionals who apply their intelligence to practical problems that improve people's lives. Experience has shown me that they usually have more trenchant insights into the arts than most artists and writers because they've lived an actual life in the world rather than a life in which art is all of which you know. 

The result of that in the arts is unfortunate. There is surely a large place in music for naive talent that practices its craft with no recourse to anything but music, but there must be an equal place to what Schiller termed 'sentimental' talent. Not sentimental of course in the sense of sentimentality, but in the sense that one fits music to a pre-existing conception by composers who are not musical geniuses, but rather, geniuses who chose music - Berlioz, Schumann, Wagner, Smetana, Janacek, Ives... Busoni... It's amazing to think that such a naturally talented musician who played piano better than any musician of his generation was a sentimental composer rather than a naive one like the equally talented keyboardists Saint-Saens, Bruckner, Liszt (who surely tried to be sentimental), Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach but...


Busoni was clearly not a naive composer. Just listen to that fascinating beginning, which is clearly the ringing of churchbells, but it is orchestrated as though transcribed from the piano. Horns and strings in open fifths while Mussorgsky simply used bells. But it is perfect to set the scene for one of the world's most contemplative, and yes, spooky masterworks.

To be worthy of his source, Busoni had to create a completely different world of music. He clearly knew both his Verdi and Wagner, and as Faust continually pours his agonized heart out, you can hear Tristan, you hear Otello, Amfortas, King Philip, Wotan... but at the same time, operating on a deeper philosophical level than either Verdi or Wagner. Goethe's Faust is not about worldly pleasures, it's about an old intellectual's rejection of the rational, embracing the belief that there is surely something out there more transcendent than the creed of erudition and practical use upon which Faust lived his life, but since the only path available to medieval intellectuals was through the Church, Faust had been waiting for God to reveal that transcendence his whole life with no revelation. 

What Goethe's Faust seeks from Mephistopheles is not delight or temptation, what he seeks is definitive answers in a world where nothing is definitive, and an answer to the question 'is there something transcendent to the world?' But the very nature of transcendence means that to answer that question would be a rational, factual answer, and is therefore impossible. 

The only places where true evidence of transcendence seem present are in music, sex, science, and family. And the only place in art where transcendence can truly be conveyed is in music - no one can explain music, no one can explain its impact, and that is why 'transcendent' works of literature lend themselves so well to music and are set time and again: Faust, The Tempest, Orpheus, Macb*th, Moses, Midsummer Night's Dream, Pelleas and Melisande, keep being set. And this is why sacred music is a constant over hundreds of years. 


The greatest glory of Doktor Faustus is its offstage choruses: Boris Godunov and Aida carried to the quantum level. Nothing in the libretto generally tells us what these choruses are: are they humans? Are they angels declaiming eternal praise? Are they demons mocking us? Are they the cry of human beings throughout history? Are they all of them combined or nothing yet conceived? 

(listen, don't watch...)