“Funny,” he intoned funereally, “how just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse it suddenly does.”

Thanks to all who came out see the group with Tom Harrell, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson. We recorded three nights, we’ll have to see but probably something will be released. At any rate Tom played like an absolute angel.

Next week I’ll be part of Blue Note at Sea with the Bad Plus. My wife and mother-in-law will be along for the cruise as well. Anchors aweigh!

However, in general, the news is too much. I have stuff to blog about but it can wait until there’s more clarity about the trajectory of Trump and Bannon in the White House.

This photo by Nuccio Dinuzzo has gone viral on my Twitter feed, with good reason:


W.G. Sebald’s four precious novels are essential reading, especially for those curious about how post-war Germany reckoned with its Nazi past. At this moment we live in fear of a kind of Reichstag Fire  in our country pushing us all the way into fascism. (It’s hard not to imagine Bannon plotting a false flag terrorist attack at this very moment.)

Sebald died in a car crash shortly after 9/11, otherwise he would have had a finer send-off from our American press. It’s just so hard to pay proper attention to the arts in times of stress.

Sarah just reminded me of a relevant quote from Sebald’s Austerlitz that she copied out a few years ago. The narrator first meets the title character in the massive Antwerp train station, which is the jumping off point for a tour de force historical analysis of the rise and fall of Belgium.

Belgium eventually became the butt of a joke by Douglas Adams, the man behind Marvin the Paranoid Android’s quote at the top of this post. One wonders what jokes may eventually be made at America’s expense, assuming there is a future, or at least a future with jokes.

At any rate, Austerlitz’s comment on fortifications (“the more you entrench yourself the more you must remain on the defensive”) seems terribly relevant to our blind and arrogant leaders alienating the rest of the world:

Yet, he said, it is often our mightiest projects that most obviously betray the degree of our insecurity. The construction of fortifications, for instance – and Antwerp was an outstanding example of that craft – clearly showed how we feel obliged to keep surrounding ourselves with defenses, built in successive phases as a precaution against any incursion by enemy powers, until the idea of concentric rings making their way steadily outward comes up against its natural limits. If we study the development of fortifications from Floriani, da Capri, and Sanmicheli, by way of Rusenstein, Burgsdorff, Coehoorn, and Klengel, and so to Vauban and Montalembert, it is amazing, said Austerlitz, the persistence with which generations of masters of the art of military architecture, for all their undoubtedly outstanding gifts, clung to what we can easily see today was a fundamentally wrong-headed idea: the notion that by designing an ideal tracé with blunt bastions and ravelins projecting well beyond it, allowing the cannon of the fortress to cover the entire operational area outside the walls, you could make a city as secure as anything in the world can ever be. No one today, said Austerlitz, has the faintest idea of the boundless amount of theoretical writings on the building of fortifications, of the fantastic nature of the geometric, trigonometric, and logistical calculations they record, of the inflated excesses of the professional vocabulary of fortification and seigecraft, no one now understands its simplest terms, escarpe and courtine, faussebraie, reduit, and glacis, yet even from our present standpoint we can see that towards the end of the seventeenth century the star-shaped dodecagon behind trenches had finally crystallized, out of the various available systems, as the preferred ground plan:

Star castle

a kind of ideal typical pattern derived from the Golden Section, which indeed, as study of the intricately sketched plans of such fortified complexes as those of Coevorden, Neuf-Brisach, and Saarlouis will show, immediately strikes the layman as an emblem of both absolute power and of the ingenuity the engineers put to the service of that power. In the practice of warfare, however, the star-shaped fortresses which were being built and improved everywhere during the eighteenth century did not answer their purpose, for intent as everyone was on that pattern, it had been forgotten that the largest fortifications will naturally attract the largest enemy forces, and that the more you entrench yourself the more you must remain on the defensive, so that in the end you might find yourself in a place fortified in every possible way, watching helplessly while enemy troops, moving on to their own choice of terrain elsewhere, simply ignored their adversaries’ fortresses, which had become positive arsenals of weaponry, bristling with cannon and overcrowded with men. The frequent result, said Austerlitz, of resorting to measures of fortification marked in general by a tendency towards paranoid elaboration was that you drew attention to your weakest point, practically inviting the enemy to attack it, not to mention the fact that as architectural plans for fortifications became increasingly complex, the time it took to build them increased as well, and with it the probability that as soon as they were finished, if not before, they would have been overtaken by further developments, both in artillery and in strategic planning, which took account of the growing realization that everything was decided in movement, not in a state of rest.

(translation by Anthea Bell)