Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye to 2014

I can see this year is ending like last year - the idiot cat is stretched out on the desk, making it very difficult to type. But I am not really here to write a whole lot - just a bit of a roundup, a farewell to 2014.

I can't say I'll miss it. Nothing particularly bad happened to me or anyone close to me - I can't complain about that. But it's just been an odd disappointment, across the board. This blog has suffered, especially in the second half of the year - Gran't Overland campaign and the World Cup provided some mid-year fodder, but otherwise, man, have I been lazy about posting. I can't offer much for excuses - work has been a bear; I took a rather demanding class in the fall - but mostly, I have just been lazy. I might as well take the opportunity to pretend to make a resolution about that - back up over 100 a year! I will do it! I can! I should also try to write some movie posts - though I've been shockingly lazy about seeing movies this year too. Never mind writing about them. I need to get that up over 200 again - a reasonable, makable goal, that I can't seem to manage these days...

That's me. Out in the world - it's been a strange year. The country is not in the worse shape ever - the economy is better than it has been; we are managing to creep our way out of out bad wars. The government continues to spy on us; the revelations about the horrors perpetrated by our government during the 00s - torture, war crimes - seem to make no difference. No one is locking Dick Cheney away - or even pardoning him, which at least would let us put on record, maybe, that he needs to be pardoned, because he is a war criminal. Not just Cheney, but start with him. It's a strange world. It is very strange - the old adage, "it's the economy, stupid" didn't quite work this year - the Republicans won big in the elections, even with gas prices low, the economy keeping up, even a greater sense that the country ought to move left to fix its problems - raise minimum wages, reduce debt... It's really a simple lesson of course - people need to vote. There were protesters out today, again, protesting the Eric Garner and Michael Brown non-indictments - I heard some young fools complaining about them, and about the Occupy movement, saying they were just a bunch of pot-heads who got nothing done. Which - might not be totally fair: pot is legal in four states now, all in the last year or two. Minimum wages have been raised in a number of states and cities in the last couple years - not enough, and not nationally - but there has been movement. Occupy didn't do anything directly, but it's hard to dismiss the fact that it made economic reform a subject for discussion.

Though that is probably my point here: that political change has to happen at the ballot box. Protests are fine, but they are not going to change anything themselves - they have to be transformed into votes, votes into laws - or regulations - though laws are better. Unfortunately, this is a point that the Republicans seem to grasp more than the Democrats - the right more than the left. The fact is - the right comes out to vote, all the time, every time - so you get 40% turnout and you get Republican controlled congresses. When we get 60% turnout, we get Democrats. If we got 70% turnouts, we might get Democratic supermajorities. The Republican party gets it, I have to say - they vote; they know that they have to keep other people from voting - so they pursue policies to limit voting, pretty consistently... They work to make people think voting is irrelevant - though not their own people, who seem to show up anyway. I could go on about that a while.

But it creates a situation that is kind of depressing and hopeful at the same time. The GOP won this year - but they won a lot of very close races - despite being very successful at voter suppression, despite during horrifying amounts of money into the election... They did win in the face of economic recovery - though it's hard to get too excited about the recovery. People still don't have enough money - the whole thing seems very fragile, and very vulnerable, as long as wages stay low, corporate taxes and the higher tax brackets stay low, debt keeps rising (especially student debt.) Those things require the federal government and the federal government isn't going to do anything controlled by Republicans... But still: the numbers are against them. there are more Democratic voters than Republicans - the GOP is more and more converting itself explicitly into the party of racist white people - which is to say, older white people - so - they might just fade away.

All right. Politics. I should stop - though - there is more. The Garner and Brown stories (and other similar stories) have galvanized the country - made people pay attention to the continuing racism in American society. It's pulled the cover off things - the NY Police Department has managed to squander more good will in the last two weeks than you would imagine they could have. I don't know where that will go - they are very powerful, capable of making great trouble - but they are also demonstrating rather clearly the need to get police under control. Police need to be controlled by the civil authority. we have been lucky in this country - or,put another way, blessed, in having a military that has, for the most part, taken seriously the fact that they are under civilian control. They answer to the government - and while they might whine now and then, they generally do their duty. That has not always been the case for police - it hasn't been in the last couple weeks in New York. That has to stop. I don't know where this is going, to be honest - maybe we have started to wear off the deference to armed law that we have held since 9/11 - one has to hope. But it is going to take some votes to do it...

Votes. Comes down to votes.

All right: look at this - just like last year, this year end roundup degenerated into a political rant. Sad. I will leave you then with a film still - Walter and Hildy in His Girl Friday, getting ready to bring down the ward-heelers. My New Year's Eve movie marathon this year was The Front Page x2 - Milestone and Hawks. The 1931 film is an interesting one - more of the newspaper stuff, less of Walter/Hildy - and showing its age in odd ways. The sound (at least on the cheap DVD I have) is pretty bad; the camera work is quite remarkable. Milestone liked to move the camera around, and it spins and swoops around the room throughout the play - sometimes rather dizzyingly. It's also interesting for coming pretty close to the same rapid fire overlapping patter the Hawks films features - not quite so fast, but getting there. It's a neat film in itself. Though the Hawks is one of the great ones. The comedy of remarriage stuff picks the plot up another notch; the performers are as good as they come; and the improved production values make the whole thing crisp looking and sounding, which it needs. Great fun - a great way to ring out the old year.

And finally - the cat, claiming another kitchen appliance before I could even get it home. Horrible beast!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sherman's March to the Sea

I have been neglecting my Civil War posts - but I can't ignore Sherman's March to the Sea. This week is the end - he reached Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864.


The story - after taking Atlanta, Sherman stayed there; Confederate General John B. Hood took his army west, after a while, hoping to cut Sherman's lines, renew the war in the west (the Confederacy was being sliced up by this time, but that still left big chunks of land under their control - geography was their friend), and generally - find something useful to do. Sherman chased him around for a while, but not long - he gave it up, figuring that the Union forces in the west were more than adequate for the task. Instead, Sherman would take his army and head for the Atlantic - cutting the Confederacy into smaller pieces; wrecking their means of supporting the war; and teaching them what it meant to lose a war. So off they went, and they made gruesome work of it.

Behind him, John Schofield and George Thomas handled Hood easily enough. At the end of November, Hood wrecked his army with direct attacks on Schofield's entrenchments at the Franklin. Hood didn’t have much left after that, but Thomas took a couple weeks to finish him off - but on December 15 and 16, at the Battle of Nashville, he attacked, and didn’t leave much doubt about it. Hood’s army was ruined, taken out of the war, and the Union got on with the job of finishing the Rebels off.

Sherman’s army was already well on their way by then, though no one knew it. When he headed east from Atlanta, he cut off all ties with the rest of the United States. No communications, only the supplies he could carry - but his armies lived off the land, while wrecking it for the Confederacy. They tore Georgia apart - destroying everything of use to the enemy - the food supplies (still producing in this part of the country), industry, transportation, everything. By this time in the war, the places that had seen fighting - Virginia (especially the north), big chunks of Tennessee, Mississippi and such - had been ravaged for years; they could not support what was left of the Confederate armies. But the deep south had been spared - it still could supply Lee and the other armies still in the field - but not when Sherman was done with them. He destroyed that resource base, destroyed the transportation need to get supplies to Virginia. And on top of that, a big part of his goal was to show them the war was over except for the formalities - that Union armies could come and go as they pleased and do as they pleased...

It's hard to argue with the results. Sherman certainly demonstrated that the confederacy was beaten, and had best give up. He wrecked Georgia, and even if Lee and Johnston hadn't been finally beaten in the field in early 1865, they would probably have had no means of carrying on much longer. They were running out of room anyway; and by the end of Sherman's march, he'd reached the southern border of Virginia. At the same time, though the march wrought havoc on the south, there wasn't a lot of direct violence - property was ruined; lives were generally spared.

Still. A thing that works in one context might not be right for another; a thing that seems just and effective in one place, might not be so in another. You can detect the ghost of Sherman and his marchers in many of the wars we've fought since. It was immediately applied to the plains Indians - Sherman and Sheridan (who did the same thing to the Shenandoah) were in charge of those campaigns, and adopted a similar scorched earth policy. You can see its legacy in World War II's strategic bombing campaigns - hoping to destroy the enemies' ability to make war; and to demonstrate to the civilians that they were losing, and should surrender now. But whatever you think of what Sherman did - those later campaigns were a different sort of affair. Starting with the fact that the campaigns against the Sioux and Cheyenne and such were aimed as much against people as resources - they were genocidal, or at least willing to be genocidal - and the talk was certainly genocidal. And in WWII, there was no pretense at sparing the lives of civilians - bombing campaigns were meant to kill people, as much as to destroy war resources. No one pretended otherwise.

They were terrorism. And so was Sherman,strictly speaking. He certainly thought so - whatever he might have called it, his goal was to teach he south that they had lost, and break their will to continue fighting. That is what terrorism is - attacking not military targets in an effort to break the will of the population to fight. And - it might have worked in 1864 - though the history of the south after the Civil War tends to undermine that theory. It certainly didn't work in WWI or WWII - Zeppelin bombings didn't break the English in the Great War; the Blitz didn't break them in the second war; neither Germany or Japan broke, on the home front, in WWII, for all the devastation raised on them from the sky. Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have convinced the Emperor to intervene to force his more suicidal officers to surrender - but that is all. Even on the plains - the US did destroy the power of the plains tribes, but they did it by sheer force of numbers, and by obliterating their food supply. Which is what really worked against Georgia and the Shenandoah in 1864 (and worked against the Japanese in 1945) - destroying resources made it impossible for the CSA or Imperial Japan to resist. (Germany was beaten by main force: they maintained their war production fairly well to the end. In WWI, they were beaten largely by the blockade, which also ruined their resources, and starved the people to the point where they did turn against their government. That, in fact, might come closer to a parallel with Sherman - the British blockade starved them, without killing people openly; as did Sherman. Maybe economic warfare does work, when not coupled with (too much) open violence - bombs made people fight harder; hunger convinces them that getting rid of the Tsar or the Kaiser can save them. A thought anyway.)

So in the end - you have an event that in itself was very effective - not all that excessive - and, well - the Confederacy deserved what they got, and a good deal more. But - but - the precedents were bad; and in the back of my mind, it's hard to avoid the thought that what really won the war (in this part of the South) was the combination of John Hood heading of for nowhere and Schofield and Thomas blasting his army to shreds. Once the southern armies were gone - the war was won. Sherman gets the press - but Thomas and Schofield (and Grant and Sheridan) did the work.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Songs Ranked

The year is getting gone in a hurry - less than a week to Christmas, 2 weeks to the new year - things are getting away from me. well - last week should have been a Band of the Month week - but no Band of the Month was forthcoming! and now I am sorry to say, nothing is coming this week, either. Instead - let us celebrate the season! or something like that. A simple enough pair of lists: first - my favorite Christmas carols, because - why not? who doesn't love Christmas carols? And second - my favorite performances of Christmas songs - because - again - why not? They have to be different though because these are different sets of things. Christmas carols are there to be sung - best in a group - in the cold maybe, but anywhere - in the living room, in church, on the sidewalk, in a bar, in your car - who cares? Christmas carols, I admit, are the one thing that make me like going to church - to hear them, better to sing them - they are something I enjoy without reserve. And so - let's do this:

Christmas Carols, judged as much by the fun of singing them as by the song:

1. Silent Night - simple, clean and precise, sentimental, but honest, if you are going to sing about christmas, you can't do better
2. O Come All Ye Faithful - rousing lovely old fashioned Christmas song, a joy to hear and sing.
3. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus - with the Rowland Pritchard tune, it is a very beautiful and enjoyable song
4. Joy to the World - the finale to every christmas pageant ever, and so it should be: a rousing exuberant triumph. Handel! And such fun to bellow out before you get your presents and candy!
5. What Child is This (Greensleeves) - this song tends to baffle the amateur singers, probably because the words put to it are something of a tangle - but it is such a beautiful and classic melody, that I can't resist it.
6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - lots of these songs are in moonier keys, at least part of the way through - why is that? This one is fun to sing, and when I was a wean, it was fun to play on the trumpet, the only instrument I ever managed to fight to a draw. I have great nostalgia for that, and sometimes even now have been known to give it a shot again...
7. Hark the Herald Angels Sing - another very happy one, fun to bellow out in groups, in the cold; and of course there is Linus...
8. Angels We Have Heard on High - lovely French Carol, with those great glorias, though they are not quite singable by those of us who are not exactly singers. But they are fun to try, and this is such a pretty song...
9. We Three Kings - cool melody; see below.
10. Away in a Manger - you have to sing it every Christmas; it is schmaltzy where Silent Night is sentimental - never quite convincing, but it's still something you have to do around Christmas; and it is a fine song for singing. Hard to make it sound bad.

And now, five christmas songs, performed. You will note that these are not carols - they are mostly secular. There are reasons - mostly that this depends on recordings, and recordings are new... But also because Carols are experienced mainly by being sung - these are more about listening.

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland: another melancholy christmas song - one of the most melancholy of them all. A beautiful song, from a beautiful movie - one of those movies where the date of release probably tells you more about it than the story or the setting. Gets 1944 better than a lot of songs explicitly about the war... we'll have to muddle through somehow...

2. We Free Kings - Rahsaan Roland Kirk - this is just thrilling.

3. Silver Bells - Der Bingle (with Carol Richards) - I grew up on this LP, Bing's Merry Christmas LP - like every other household in America (or 14,999,999 other households, anyway.) There are many good songs on that record, which we listen to every Christmas, and I listened to every Christmas on my own when I appropriated the thing from my mother (since I still had a record player in my living room, and they did not.) And still do on old iTunes, and would on LP if I had the energy to hook up the turntable again. Yes. well. All those great songs - and Der Bingle's voice - but this, I think, might be the prettiest, the nicest arrangement.

4. The Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby and David Bowie - might have started as one of those attempts at bridging the old and new, making some old timer hip, some youngster serious - but the results... It is a lovely song, Bowie's part countering the Little Drummer Boy - but part of the joy of it is the surprise in seeing one of the things come so right.

5. The Christmas Song - Jack Teagarden - I had this on some compilation - still do, actually - but of all the versions of this song (a hell of a song, too), this is my favorite. Jack's cool, drawling delivery just kills it.

That will do. Happy Holidays, people.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday 10 - 2014 Songs Sampled

Yikes - it is a Friday, isn't it. I have become really bad about this stuff - bad enough that I barely post anything outside of these Friday music things, but here I am mostly missing this one. And blowing off a Band of the Month post (since this is, theoretically, the week for that.) I will continue to blame World War I - and hope I can use some of it to provide posts in the future. Plenty of anniversaries coming over the next four years... Right now, though, I am obsessed with a paper that is due - maybe next week we can work in something more substantial.

Not today though: let's just do last week's trip again - 10 random songs from 2014....

1. Mogwai - Deesh
2. Melvins - Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit
3. Boris - Vanilla
4. Liars - Darkside
5. Pixies - Greens and Blues
6. Prince & 3rdeyegirl - Plectrum Electrum
7. Scott Walker & Sunn O)))) - Lullaby
8. Pere Ubu - Road to Utah
9. Jad Fair & Danielson - Ready Steady
10. Earth - From the Zodiacal Light

That kind of worked out better than last week. Still no TV on the Radio - come on iTunes! Here's a couple videos to hold you until I get more energetic...

Here's Boris, looking and sounding very 80s - though there's still a good deal of noise in there somewhere....

How about some drony Mogwai?

And maybe a drone or two here too - Earth, live. What beautiful sounds electric guitars can make.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Friday Music - 2014 Random Ten

We are getting late into this year - I think it's rime to take a couple random runs through stuff I bought this year. Another lean year, in terms of music purchasing - and every single record by an old favorite or two. What can you do? Worse than that - I haven't listened to nearly enough of it, even by these old favorites. Sad state of affairs, isn't it?

Anyway, here you go:

1. Pixies - Magdelena 318
2. Liars - Boyzone
3. Mogwai - Blues Hour
4. Boris - Taiyo no Baka
5. Interpol - My Desire
6. Bill Frisell - Messin' with the Kid
7. Beck - Unforgiven
8. Earth - Even Hell has its Heroes
9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Surreal Teenagers (live)
10. Thurston Moore - The Best Day

Well? the two CDs I have tried to listen to didn't come up. Scott Walker and Sunn O)))) - which is all it should be, really:

And brand new, TV on the Radio, live on Letterman:

Ands - how about the Pixies?

And why not Bill Frisell?