The president wants a parade


It’s been a helluva week. The government briefly shut down (again) overnight before a final spending deal was reached. A top White House aide resigned (reluctantly) in the face of accusations that he was a serial wife abuser. The stock market plunged. A giant rocket lifted an electric car into space.

il_douche_site-1And President Trump wants a North Korea-style military parade. This isn’t the first time. He wanted one as part of his inaugural, but those dreams were dashed.

But now he’s directed the Pentagon to start planning one for him. It’s the sort of order from the commander-in-chief that brings out the visually clever Trump-as-tinpot-dictator memes.

**Editor’s Note — In fact, you could rightly surmise that the entire point of this post is to use as many of those as I could squeeze in.**

More precisely, the president wants a French-style military parade, having seen the annual Bastille Day spectacle in Paris last year, by all accounts thoroughly enjoying it, and with childlike enthusiasm, wanting one of his own:

Trump was awestruck by the tableau of uniformed French troops marching down Avenue des Champs-Elysees with military tanks, armored vehicles, gun trucks and carriers — complete with fighter jets flying over the Arc de Triomphe and painting the sky with streaks of blue, white and red smoke for the colors of the French flag.

Aboard Air Force One en route home from Paris in July, aides said Trump told them that he was dazzled by the French display and that he wanted one at home.

While the idea does have its defenders, not everyone shares the president’s enthusiasm for the idea of rolling American military hardware down Pennsylvania Avenue. And by not everyone, I mean a wide spectrum of Democrats, Republicans, veterans, and even his Fox News cheering section:

If the military community’s rejection of the parade isn’t enough to dissuade Trump, well, even “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade said the parade “seems like a waste of money.” And Fox News anchor Shepard Smith separately mocked the idea of a parade.

“He could go see the tanks at a military base if he wanted to,” Smith said. “Or they could give him replicas. Little mini replicas. I mean, he wants to see what he has. I had some of those when I was a kid.”

I disagree though. I think President Trump should have his parade. As long as it looks this:


Tribute: Hugh Masekela

(Photo credit: BBC)
(Photo credit: BBC)


South African jazz legend and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela has died at the age of 78 after a long battle with prostate cancer.

I first encountered his music in 1987 at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia when he performed alongside Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo as part of Paul Simon’s Graceland tour. Until then my exposure to South African music had been limited to a single album of “township jive” and kwela that I’d found in the discount bin of the used record store near the offices of the newspaper where I worked.

That concert was a moment of musical awakening for me, leading me to explore and fall in love with the richness and diversity of African music, from the Zulu choral tradition embodied by Ladysmith, to the dance music of Senegal and artists like Youssou N’dour, to Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, and beyond.

The video below features a performance from the Graceland concert staged in Zimbabwe in 1987. Masekela is featured starting at the 1:50 mark. The video quality isn’t very good, but the sound is great. Below it is a video of one of Masekela’s most famous songs, “Coal Train,” recorded live at a festival in England in 1986.

Don’t watch this on your phone


Watch this remarkable short film on the biggest monitor you can find. In 1080p high definition. With the sound turned all the way up.

This awe-inspiring compilation of image and sound is the work of filmmaker Dustin Farrell. Here is some of what he says about the project:

“Transient” is a compilation of the best shots from my storm chasing adventures of summer 2017. Most of the lightning footage was captured in uncompressed raw at 1000 frames per second with our Phantom Flex4K. This summer I chased for over 30 days and traveled 20K miles. My respect and admiration for storm chasers became even stronger this year. This is one of the most difficult projects I have ever attempted in my career. …

Lightning is like a snowflake. Every bolt is different.

Unrelated personal note — The blog has been more sporadically written this fall than I would have liked and more sporadically written than those of you who have been kind enough to subscribe deserve. I chalk it up to two key factors.

1) I have a day job teaching International Relations that has been far more demanding this semester than I had anticipated. This has cut into my writing time, both in terms of research and here at the blog.

2) The pace of the news, and the seemingly daily series of never-seen-before unprecedented outrageousness has been largely beyond my capacity to keep up with or respond to intelligently.

I’m hope to get back in the swing by the turn of the new year. If you’re still reading, thanks for your patience.


“I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard …”


I’ve never been a Bob Dylan fan. I always thought he got more credit than he deserved early in his career, making his name by stealing and performing other people’s work. (Fans may differ in their assessment of Dylan’s early years.)

His close association with the Baby Boomers – he’s been labeled the spokesman for their generation for as long as he’s been around – leaves a sour taste in my mouth given how readily that already privileged group traded their youthful idealism for selfish comfort and materialism.

Dylan’s own career arc, from leftie-folkie protest singer to corporate shill, licensing his music to the likes of Apple, Pepsi, Google, Kohl’s, Chrysler and other carmakers, and Victoria’s Secret, to name but a handful, perfectly mirrors his generation’s transformation.

And I cannot stand the man’s singing voice.

But … Dylan could write songs. Transcendent songs. That’s why he was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, in recognition of the beauty, power, and artistry behind his lyricism. As the Nobel Committee put it, the prize is “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Yesterday, Dylan’s Nobel Lecture was released. It provides fascinating insight into how he understands his influences and his acceptance of the idea that his lyrics in fact constitute literature after all. It also shows off the poetic expression for which he is rightly honored.

Here’s a bit of it:

By listening to all the early folk artists and singing the songs yourself, you pick up the vernacular. You internalize it. You sing it in the ragtime blues, work songs, Georgia sea shanties, Appalachian ballads and cowboy songs. You hear all the finer points, and you learn the details.

You know what it’s all about. Takin’ the pistol out and puttin’ it back in your pocket. Whippin’ your way through traffic, talkin’ in the dark. You know that Stagger Lee was a bad man and that Frankie was a good girl. You know that Washington is a bourgeois town and you’ve heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek. And you’re pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy. You heard the muffled drums and the fifes that played lowly. You’ve seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen.

I had all the vernacular all down. I knew the rhetoric. None of it went over my head – the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries – and I knew all the deserted roads that it traveled on, too. I could make it all connect and move with the current of the day. When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it.

But I had something else as well. I had principals and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental.

The entire lecture is worth reading. Or better yet, listen to Dylan read it himself.