PARRA-YAGNAM

Musings + Book and Music Reviews

Bill Evans during rehearsal for BBC Television's _Jazz 625_ series, London, 1965. David Redfern.

Check out my Spotify playlist of (most of) Evans' music ordered chronologically (+1100 songs, 101 hours worth of music): The Quiet Genius – Bill Evans

“I believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a 'universal musical mind'.” – Bill Evans

I've been reading “Bill Evans: How my heart sings”, by Peter Pettinger (Yale University Press) Considered one of the finest jazz pianists in history, Evans' story is breathtaking. From his humble origins in Plainfield, NJ to his career in New York at the Village Vanguard and his European concerts (Paris, London and Switzerland being very prolific for him).

Bill's story shows us a quiet genius, a white kid in a predominantly Black setting. The one who made it not because he was the best performers or the most charming with the audiences but because of his musical intelligence and particular style. In fact, his compositions have become standards (e.g. Waltz for Debby to name one and Blue in Green to name another) and his playing style has been immortalized in the most successful jazz record of all time, Kind of Blue.

Most of all, for me, Evans' career is a reminder that life isn't perfect. A souvenir that life takes, sometimes, sharp unexpected turns both for good and bad. His musical life was tainted by heroin addiction – something that he learnt while on Miles Davis' band and later shared with his favorite jazz drummer Philly Joe Jones – and sore losses, like the passing of bass player Scott LaFaro whom he adored. However, he counted with great partners that helped him throughout hardship: Orrin Keepnews, producer for Riverside Records, and Helen Keane his manager and producer during his later years. In fact, one can see that Evans was someone who appreciated people in his life for he wrote several tunes for them. For example, “Re: Person I Know” for Orrin Keepnews (an anagram of his name); “Waltz for Debby” (for his niece); “Peri's Scope” (for one of his girlfriends); “One for Helen” (for his manager).

He was a virtuoso. Anecdotes of him recall Evans playing entire sets without using one of his hands because of some heroin shot gone wrong. But most interestingly, he thought critically and was interested in a varied range of subjects, from humor to philosophy. In fact, Evans even compared jazz improvisation to Japanese visual art on his sleeve note for Kind of Blue. However, when he played, he was the opposite of cerebral: he really hunched over the piano (he said his head had a special position in which it connected better with the instrument) and let his whole body play his harmonically melodious lines.

Over his career Bill worked with some of the most famous names in jazz. George Russell, Chet Baker, Julian ' Cannonball' Adderley, Charles Mingus and Art Farmer. He was praised for having changed the way trios functioned and credited with consistently leaving out notes on the low end of chords to make space for a more melodic functioning (instead of mainly time-keeping) of bass.

Beyond all critical acclaim, Bill Evans has allowed me to get closer to one of my favorite styles of music: jazz. I've been an aficionado for a long while, first because of my mother (she's the one that got me into jazz as a kid) but then because of my incursion into playing the Saxophone. However, I was one of these people that felt didn't fit anywhere. I wasn't knowledgeable enough to keep up with hardcore jazz fanatics: they made me feel stupid for not knowing all the theory behind it. And I wasn't a proper jazz musician either because my Saxophone skills were never that good. It is only now, a couple of decades later that I found acceptance and peace in enjoying jazz from the perspective of feeling and intuition thanks to one of Bill's quotes:

“It bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not. It's feeling.” – Bill Evans

His music made him the recipient of seven Grammy Awards and 31 nominations.

Bill, the quiet genius of jazz, I salute you.

See you in another adventure,

W.

#music

Mondo Grosso, big world in Italian, Shinichi Osawa's other stage name is a band that I have cherished for the longest while in my obsession with Acid Jazz / Rare Grooves (or to everything related to Soul, Funk and R&B, really). Famous for his DJing skills, Osawa embarked on a musical adventure with Mondo Grosso – my interpretation is that the band's name hints to the fact they would be exploring sounds outside of Japan – that lead him to publish under his own record label and to collaborate with people like Monday Michiru, N'Dea Davenport (who has also sung for The Brand New Heavies) and Tania Maria. They produced some of the most iconic acid jazz, indebted to its roots in Funk, R&B, American Disco and, Brazilian Samba.

Here's my Mondo Grosso Spotify playlist and below you will find some of my comments on ten of my favorite Mondo Grosso songs.

(1) Spirit of Voyage with its mystical, almost eery, piano introduction sets the stage of what's to come. Percussion and bass come in and then you realize you are in the world of 90s acid jazz. When the horns and the vibraphone come in you feel you're in Young Disciple's, Galliano, Corduroy or even Brand New Heavies territory. From Japan comes out a very European acid jazz sound that makes you vibe.

(2) Closer, the homonym song to the 2004 album, a collaboration with the vocalist Monday Michiru, drags you in on a more R&B vibe with some Virtual Insanity type lyrics:

People don't really communicate with each other anymore ... the world is getting so virtual and people don't feel the pain anymore. We need to be touched to ease the pain, this is why the title of the album is called closer.

(3) A reinterpretation of Paulinho da Costa's Carnival of Colors is clearly a different jam. Borrowing from MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), Samba and Bossa Nova colors, we hear a lively tune that might be perfect for a cocktail evening with some friends. Maybe even a hint to the Japanese diaspora in Brazil or even their fascination with their culture. To be thoroughly enjoyed with an Aperol at hand. The mastery of Shinichi Osawa as a great sampler – a music library – shines through with the choice of cover.

(4) 100% Woman Overtime from the Closer album follows the same R&B/Soul vibes as its homonym. The rhythm is moved forward by a thick bassline and accentuated in the off-beats of the percussion. The vocals are sweet but they contrast with lyrics that speak of the hardships of being a woman in the modern world: having to balance all aspects of life plus the expectations of society. 'Working hard to be a 100% woman overtime'.

(5) From 1995's 'Born Free', 'Move into the night' is a decade early to show some of the motives that we see in 'Closer'. The drums, bassline and vocal combo appears clearly here too. A different, move up-beat, less R&B like tune sounds refreshing within the mix.

(6) 'I can't go for that' from 'Closer' is one of the best re-interpretations that I've heard from this Hall & Oates classic. A stripped down version of the hook and a completely different more down-tempo vibe, this is another one that might go down easy to unwind after a hard day at work. It somehow still preserves the spirit of the original, in spite of only relying on the keyboards and sampled drums to drag you along.

(7) 'Invisible Man', from the 2004 single album, in its Mellow Yellow version sound to me like an instant 90s Acid Jazz classic. The elements of hip hop plus the horn section make up for an absolute jam. The type that you want to listen to when you are walking down the street at night. The original 'Invisible Man' seems flat in comparison to this version which, in ways, is simpler but more essential.

(8) The 'Invisible Man' album also includes a great tune called 'TREE, AIR, AND RAIN ON THE EARTH' that first appeared on their MARBLE album. In this version reminds me of Jamiroquai's 'Emergency on Planet Earth' – maybe because of the title (?) or maybe because of the bass, backup vocals and flute solo in Revolution 1993. The Brazilian style of 'TREE, AIR AND ...' bridge that sounds like a Pagode and the incorporation of a flute and a keyboard (Rhodes?) solo creates a great jazz ambiance.

(9) 'YELLOW NOTE (LIVE VERSION)' from their European Expedition Album is the most hard core acid jazz that you will find in this list. Sax, samples, percussion, keyboard and bassline all working tight to create a feel for the classic cadence and syncopation that you would expect from the most 'jazz' within a genre that borrows of soul/funk/hip-hop.

(10) We close with 'STAR SUITE (Shelter Album Mix). This is essentially music that tells bildungsroman story of a girl who rebels against her original culture only to find who she truly is again in the middle of the madness of the modern world. A beauty to listen intently to, for its over 10 minutes of duration.

See all of you in another adventure,

W.

#music

Longer article with some ideas about police reform. It speaks about defunding and disarming the police, crowd control and, use of excessive force. It lays out an alternative approximation to a problem that seems to be hostage to ready made rhetorics. Pick up a coffee and enjoy.

For the longest while I've been thinking about police reform in the light of what is going on in Chile, my country, and three common rhetorics that have been found across countries with social upheavals in the past year or so.

On the one side, we have the more conservative, right-wing if you will, that calls for 'law and order' and use of force (to the extremes of me having actually heard people say that protestors and looters should be dealt with el paredón a.k.a. firing squad). These people are also completely oblivious to the realities of marginalized communities and neighborhoods – they are blinded by their own realities, which they use as benchmark.

And, on the other, people on the left, incited by what some characterize as anarchist, who use the slogan ACAB ('All Cops Are Bastards') who make an apology of violence against the police ('the first line defenders') and equate awful societal conditions to physical violence. These people have been seen to call to defund the police and are completely desensitised to the consequences of their violent behavior.

In between, there's a bunch of well intentioned citizens who tend to sway one way or another depending on the news, their experiences and the opinion of their closest circles. I would add academics and other politicians to this mix by the mere common ground of the fact that they will “condemn violence across the board” and also “defend the right to protest” as republican values.

In short, all of these rhetorics are expressions of a main underlying problem. A problem which in its own way undermines the possibilities of a State that owns the monopoly of legitimate violence (as opposed to narcos, organized crime, violent groups, etc.) and that there's value in having a strong, respected police organization fiercely controlled by civilian powers (congress, citizens, justice departments).

As Vitale mentions in his book 'The End of Policing', police reform, which is without a doubt needed at this point, 'must address the use of excessive force, overpricing and disrespect to the public'. I would add a couple of things that Vitale dismisses as being more accessory but that I believe in the case of Chile need to be urgently tackled: (1) the impartial application or treatment in front of the law and; (2) civilian accountability at the highest and most organic levels. More training, diversifying the police (or its force) and community policing have proven to be absolute failures at addressing the key problems outlined above. We need to find leadership that solves a problem that can only be characterized as: “The problem of policing is policing itself”.

A big part of that problem, is that we build police corps doctrine (maybe even informally) around the mentality that are out there to protect themselves and 'fight the protestors'. This mentality is exacerbated by the fact that Special Forces Units (GOPE) – who were originally designed to deal with hostage situations, barricaded subjects, etc. – are deployed to do crowd control. Institutionally and politically, the government has validated this idea of 'us versus them' by naming special forces in La Araucania region, 'Jungle Commando' (Comando Jungla) as if they were in Vietnam and they had to deal with the Viet Cong in a declared war. Instead of this belligerent approach, we need Carabineros to go back to the doctrine that made it the most trustworthy institution for over a decade: un amigo siempre (“a friend, always”). The rhetoric used in 2018 'más cerca de ti' ('closer to you') seems farfetched and empty when policy brutality is on the rise but, mostly, it removes the original friend which was the expected behavior of a policeman: someone who is out there to serve the citizens of the republic and not 'to fight' or 'go to war against powerful enemies' (as the President uttered during the social uprising of late 2019). For as long as the government insists on pushing the police to become more brutal, because of their fear of losing the support of the extreme-right, the problem with policing in Chile will persist. Because, this is not 'a few rotten apples' problem, this is doctrine, symbolism and aesthetics. All of those things matter when people who are supposed to be at the service of their citizens suddenly become their enemies, creating societal fractures and the potential loss of the monopoly of violence to third-parties who, in turn, benefit from making the conflict worse.

Police reform is futile without transparency, openness and appropriate data. For example, in the US researchers have had to rely on renowned news outlets to get statistics to understand variance in police violence. These numbers, provided by the police themselves and audited by third-parties (independent journalists and NGOs or even the public ministry) would help gauge how dire the situation really is and it would allow for further civilian control of the police. Police should stop being secretive and a black-box in terms of the punishments they give people that fall out of rank. Structural oversight of the police – instead of having the police audit the police – is also required to stop mishandling of public funds, ensure correct prioritization of budgets and investments and overall health of doctrine and measures of success.

So, what about defunding the police? While this might be a real problem in places like the US where there's access to billions of dollars in funds to buy spillover military-grade material from the DoD, we might argue that this is a good idea. In countries like Chile, where the police needs to cover vast portions of territory without necessarily being properly equipped the problems have more to do with: (1) budgeting, investments and priorities and; (2) not defunding the police but rather 'disarming the police' (Smithsimon: 2015) – making sure that low impact situations like traffic control becomes less deadly because less weapons circulating means less possible escalations.

On point one, we need to avoid situations where, for example, the police increasingly invests money in sophisticated crowd control equipment (new armored water spitting trucks) instead of revising the strategies and doctrines or even supplying folks in remote areas. In other words, not all problems are big city problems. On point two, you might be wondering whether disarming the police would render them less effective? Maybe yes but we are weighing the cost of some criminals escaping application of the law for preserving the officers and by-passers' lives and, an enhanced police image that would probably mean long term reduction in crime rates. In other words, having police carry weapons all the time is always carrying a jackhammer as a carpenter.

I believe that one of the key points made by Vitale is that we need to re-think the role of the police. We might be asking a lot out of a single entity: intelligence, border crowd and traffic control, etc. We need to start thinking outside this idea of the police being part of a flawed punishment and mass criminalization system. SENAME and detention centers unfairly hold low-income people and offer almost zero chance of rehabilitation. Police corps are also tired of having to go and get the same people over and over again. Who does think that catching the same criminal 30 times is a good use of police's time? But it might also be time to make sure that the 'Prussian constabulary' background of the police is actually defused.

Most of all, police issues are sometimes expressions of bigger, more structural issues. The fact that we live under rampant inequality both in access to (public) goods, (public) services and urban planning definitely doesn't help the situation. In fact, homelessness, inadequate access to education (or even the school to jail/SENAME pipelines), lack of strong local communities (centers, activities, etc.) and others are clear areas where strong investments are required. Police alone will never fix juvenile violence, gangs or even looting acts in protest context without strong State investment and commitment. This is what most of the people call 'systemic violence' – being forgotten by a State that has precarious means to actually provide the necessary public goods and services. However, violently attacking the police and undermining their legitimacy might even play against their own wellbeing – further opening spaces for other uses of force to be the norm. I'm thinking about not only gangs, drug cartels and organized crime, but also social justice which seems to be more and more common. In fact, police reform is a small but critical component of a bigger plan. This key piece will have to ensure unbiased action, strong community ties, presence in forgotten places and servant, exemplar behavior for their fellow citizens.

One last point that I would love to tackle is this idea that we should continue to give more power to municipal inspectors in lieu of the Police. This is problematic. First of all, not all municipalities are funded equally – this might create a scenario where we institutionalize inequality even further (yes, ironically there's less Police in low-income areas than in high income ones). Second, there are several complications from the perspective of collaboration and jurisdictions. How do this bodies share intelligence or investigative proof? Third, ensuring accountability across several bodies might be a double edged sword. While being closer to the communities might make citizen control easier, it might also make State and Congress control harder. This is without even considering that municipalities have been regarded as the most corrupt layer of government across the board.

I personally have had enough of these discourses and acts devoid of any substance. It's time that we start really thinking and leading by debating ideas and positions openly and by having empathy. This is a problem of the Republic and it touches the citizens the government and political parties. As such, it needs to be treated seriously and with the outmost care. Long term public policies and funds need to be allocated to tackle this problem from different angles. The current constitutional process might be one foundational step to rethink the organic and prerogatives of the Carabineros and other forces of order. However, it will fall short if we're not able to find a common goal of ensuring equitable opportunities and developing these forgotten communities.

I, of course, accept that my view is partial and flawed but I absolutely believe that as a citizen of the Republic there's more that should be done. We need to, at least, try to apply political political solutions to political problems instead of falling pray to populist measures that live in the realm of mere declarations.

See all of you in another adventure,

W.

#thoughts

[Scroll down for Spotify Playlist]

'How is it possible that these guys are not ultra famous?' was the first thing that came to mind on a cold winter morning of 2020. I was listening to 'AM Waves' – Young Gun Silver Fox's album released in 2018 – a mixture of new sounds made old, with a West Coast aesthetic that reminisces 70s pop, rock & soul.

AOR or Yacht Rock is what this is, a genre that in it's purest form evoques the sights of sandy beaches, cliffs, blue oceans, convertible cars on an open highway with a cold breeze that combs your hair. This is the place, paradise if you will, where both Young Gun Silver Fox and Mamas Gun have taken me as we sheltered in place for months.

Less than a million reproductions on Spotify was the number I found on some of the AM Waves tracks when I discovered them. Chronicle of having me in the top 0.05% of listeners foretold, of course. The album hits all the right spots, from more dance oriented tunes like Kingston Boogie, passing through sweet soft-rock ballads like Mojo Rising. The sound is enveloping, the engineering work sublime and the craftsmanship of the songs shines through. Thoughtful lyrics is the cherry on top. It will make you want to hit repeat, repeat and repeat, again.

But this shouldn't come as a surprise since Platts played on Corinne Bailey Rae's first release and his associates in Mamas Gun include the musical director for Lisa Stansfield and a guitarist that has played with legends like Leon Ware. Mamas Gun has also supported amazing R&B/Soul acts like Ben L'Oncle Soul (magical Motown like French soul sing-songwriter), Raphael Saadiq and Beverley Knight. This musical pedigree – based on soul, rock and R&B – shines through in their compositions that I can only describe as 'jamais vûs' or 'timeless classics that sound awfully familiar but have never heard before'.

As with everything, artistry and fame have an odd relationship. Talent doesn't have a linear causal relationship with it – although maybe it should. Mamas Gun hit big in Japan – where AOR has still a considerable following – but we, in the west have been passing on the opportunity in spite of glowing reviews in newspapers and music magazines.

In short, a gem, to be treasured by all of us who enjoy the likes of Hall and Oates, Boz Scaggs, Joey Dosik, Steely Dan and, iconically, Robbie Dupree's hit Steal Away.

“When he poured that sweet, sweet wine. We were golden for the night. And every day was a time to celebrate.” – Kingston Boogie

Listen to my selection on Spotify: 'Andy Platts for when times are rough'

Follow them on social media, specially @younggunsilverfox and @mamasgun_uk

See you in another adventure,

W.

#music

September 18, 2020

I'm going to start by declaring that the more I read his books, I have found a certain personality/academic affinty with Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I tend to attribute this “closeness” to the fact that he is one of the few people that I have read recently who have written non-fiction in a way where the personality and style of the author really shines through. [I wonder how many fights he must have had with his editors...] The fact that he is also an avid humanities, philosophy and classics reader (yes, please!) shines through his book. However, I can see how people would be bored by that and would deem those references as pretentious or even pernicious to his core argument. I've heard many people say that in order for your argument to be effective with a wide audience, you need to make it as easy as possible (I don't think you always want/need to appeal to a wide audience). I'm pretty sure that Taleb wrote it in such a way where the book would find its audience and not à l'envers. After all, appeal and fame is not everything, according to him. Moreover, it would seem that he derived much more pleasure from writing it his way rather than conforming with editorial directions. In spite of the possible critiques that one could make to his style or the extensive usage of references to epistemology, philosophy or greek classics; if you are into those things (as I am), you will like it.

In a way, Taleb approaches the subject of randomness and probability in a very elegant way. He also really does take utter care in not giving you the slightest clue as to how he actually applies these principles to his work (as a “no-nonsense trader”) or in life (as a “part literary essayist”) besides some very broad ideas like “benefiting from black swan events or taking a trading approach that is deviced against our own psychological reward system. The above means that this is not a book for people looking for a direct formula that will make their lives (or their wallet) richer. This book, I'm sure, is for people interested in a stoic, skeptic way of thinking/living that want to hear how some of the Popperian, Solonian & Wittgensteinian arguments would apply to their systems of thought. However, these same people should not expect an in-depth analysis of these author's thoughts. Taleb uses them practically but also in a very familiar way – as if he was quoting ideas shared by these philosopher friends over dinner. Because of this, I'm happy he included a section called “a trip to the library” where notes and further readings are recommended. The teasers and philosophical punchlines serve to excite the reader enough for them to go into this section to profit from the wealth of titles quoted throughout the ~250 pages.

Taleb's ideas are really strong and well argumented but again the style employed means that the reader needs to be “okay” with following the author's train of thought (digressions and all) through the book. Don't expect this to be a fully linear, logically argumented disclosure of the arguments. And even though he derives some of his most interesting parallels and examples from classics and philosophy most of his arguments are rooted in behavioural economics, psychology and a strong understanding of statistics (read here Daniel Kahneman, Herbert Simon among other illustrious authors).

If anything, and I do not pretend to make a reduction of Taleb's arguments, I'd consider the following phrase as a summary of his thought: “We favor the visible, the embedded, the personal, the narrated, and the tangible; we scorn the abstract. Everything good (aesthetics, ethics) and wrong (randomness) with us seems to flow from it.” It is this idea that human psyche is inherently lacking in adaptation to understand an increasingly complex world where noise (a.k.a. randomness) is impossible to distinguish from causality. In fact, as I studied Political Economy and Public Policy, one of the paradigms that stuck with me is how it is most of the time it is impossible to device a way of measuring performance/causality for public policies or people. It is impossible for us to distinguish between one subject/project A that is inherently better but had bad luck versus one subject/project B that is inherently worse but had good luck; because we lack the methods to discount noise/luck/randomness. In this example, choosing strategy A is optimal every time but given noise (and our anchoring/narrative biases) we might end up believing B was better overall, generating a positive-feedback loop that transforms itself into a vicious cycle. Some wisdom mentioned by Taleb on these points: don't be married to your positions (e.g. if you bought a home for a 100 and now it's worth a 1000 and you wouldn't buy it for the current price, you are married to your position) and every day is a clean slate to make decisions.

Expanding on the issues above, one of the things that I like the most in life is out-growing ideas – or what other people would like to call “contradicting myself”. I don't believe we can successfully grow if we don't have our own internal battles and we allow ourselves the freedom to switch positions after we've evaluated new evidence (in spite of society looking at us as lunatics). In fact, Walt Whitman is from the same school as Taleb and I:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes”.

And so is Nietzsche:

“Only idiots fail to contradict themselves three times a day”.

By and large this means that we are slightly less biased, we are more Popperian/Lakathonian (aka. more scientific; we are willing to change paradigms if proven wrong) but, most of all, we are freer to live how we want.

Taleb's book is an ode to knowing our own limits, the limits of science, economics and, the understanding that randomness plays a much bigger part in our lives than we care to accept or understand. But, every now and then it is also a life-manual based on the inverse idea that uncertainty and heuristics can prove very much useful to make day-to-day decisions: “we are meant made to live like fireman with downtime for lounging and meditating between calls under the protection of protective uncertainty”. As with everything Taleb, given his French education, he manages to strike nuance in a way that is palatable and not a contradictio in termini. We need to learn to live with the fact that most things, including randomness and uncertainty, cannot be fully prescriptive and linear. But remember, we are not wired to be okay with this.

See you on the next adventure,

W.

#books

April 19, 2020

This mammoth of a book came into my hands highly recommended – not only by the wise internet crowds and professional book reviewers at prestigious news papers – but also by trusted friends: the very few that were brave enough and had the discipline to read through the sometimes immensely emotionally taxing 1288 pages of this book (well, that's the count on the edition I was able to procure from my favourite bookshop before it closed down because of COVID-19).

As with all accounts of historical events there's no 'absolute truth' and in 1200 pages you are most certainly going to find inaccuracies and mistakes. However those faults do not take any merit away from the point that Fisk was trying to make in his 'opus magna'. In fact and, if anything, the central motivation of this book was summarised by him quoting Amira Hass: “There is a misconception that journalists can be objective ... What journalism is really about is to monitor power and the centres of power.” This is his account of Middle Eastern history and a very personal one at that.

Robert Fisk spent the best part of 30 years living and reporting – mostly as a war correspondent – some of the most crucial events of modern Middle Eastern history: The Iran-Iraq War, The Gulf War, The Iranian Revolution, The Afghanistan Wars (both the Soviet and the American one), The Iraq War by the US, The Palestinian Intifada ... Based out of Beirut he was able to spend time and see, with his own eyes, the truths that lie behind “war as politics by other means” to quote Carl von Clausewitz.

His book – which, let's be honest here, could have been separated into volumes or even into separate books – portrays the crude consequences of war to the point of nausea: pages on end of torture, war crimes, tragedies, death, hypocrisy by Western Powers and the permanent grievances on the Arab people created by them. In all fairness, this is a real account of what war really does to people: a non romantiziced version of it that couldn't be further away from the heroism that what we see in the movies or even on TV, reinforced by the deliberately sneaky discourses of the politicians who sent people to die in the first place.

However, he also did make some space for topics that, I believe, underly all of the chapters and essentially could be considered as the fundamentals of his view: the lack of responsibility assumed by western powers and weapons-dealers, the misery instilled into Arab people by draconian treaties, the faulty logic used to wage war (including committing horrifying war crimes) in the Middle East, etc.

For me, this book is essentially about: (1) the hypocrisy that permeates international politics; (2) and more importantly, this a treaty on understanding the need for bravery and plurality of visions and empathy towards others. Robert Fisk challenges the accepted monolithic and manichean discourse that fuels the conflicts in the Middle East: “if you are not in favor of US/Israeli Policies you are in favor of terrorism”. For once we get to see a clear account on what that means and on the consequences of ensuring that a dehumanising logic like that one is dominant.

I consider this to be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the Middle East and International Security / Politics. The only thing that I wished is that we had a more accesible version of it so that more people would be exposed to Fisk's magnificently crude and dark vision of events.

See you on the next adventure,

W.

#books

'What made you decide to operate in our country?' 'Can't you see the state in which the peasants live?' Che asked. 'They are almost like savages, living in a state of poverty that depresses the heart, having only one room in which to sleep and cook and no clothing to wear, abandoned like animals ...' 'But the same thing happens in Cuba', Selich retorted. 'No, that's not true,' Che said. 'I don't deny that in Cuba poverty still exists, but the peasants there have an illusion of progress, whereas the Bolivians live without hope. Just as he is born, he dies, without ever seeing improvements in his human condition.'

This biography achieves what I thought was inconceivable when dealing with a figure like Ernesto “Che” Guevara: being relatively objective.

Jon Lee Anderson's depiction of this complex figure starts with an overview of the Guevara household – a bourgeois family that fell into disgrace. Ernestito had a complicated childhood tainted mostly by his fight against asthma, a disease that would surface during the most tense moments of his life (e.g. the Sierra Maestra campaign, his Congo Expedition and his final moments in Bolivia). “Che”, however, made up for his physical shortcomings by exerting ferocious self-discipline, a trait that would frighten both his enemies and his revolutionary camaradas in the future.

Ernesto was certainly influenced by Socialist literature and ideals that grew in his fertile mind. As per Anderson's tale, it seemes that he was the real ideologue of the Cuban Revolution and the influence he had over Fidel (who bestowed the first comandante title of the Cuban Revolution on Che) can be seen throughout Cuba's political decisions.

Because of these ideals, Che's ruthlessness is one of the points that sticks out. Both the extrajudicial killings in the Sierra Maestra and the use of forced labour camps for civil servants that didn't perform according to expectations were some of the uses of violence by Che. However, this violence was only a means to an end in his mind. Che's ultimate ambition was to forge a society made up of real socialist men and women – people that would have a supreme collective ideal – and the only way to do so, in Che's mind, was through armed struggle. Interestingly, most, if not all, of Che's guerrilla incursions were accompanied by both a sense of doom and a sense of absolute duty to the revolution (“consider yourselves dead men” is what Che would say when sending people into battlefield).

As a means to justify this violence, Che was, in a way, the best embodiment of a socialist and political commissar: he refused extra privileges, kept everyone else around him in check, despised the Soviet Union leaders for living lush lives and he was always thinking about the collective. However, these ideals didn't always translate well into real life: part of Cuba's failed economic transformation into socialism, was due to Che's work in Government.

Che was the eternal foreigner motivated by the belief of a better way of life (in his late writings, he even critiqued the Soviet Union's economic paradigms of planned economy, which were also dogma in Cuba). In a way, his death in Bolivia seems to serve as a symbolic representation of his life: your own personal image and your view of the world might not be accurate reflections of reality. In fact, in spite of his beliefs, he wasn't the great strategic guerrilla commander he thought he was (as proven by his failures in Africa, Argentina and Bolivia) and in the places where he tried to export his struggle people were not so interested in the revolution as he estimated. His strategic principles worked in Cuba because of the Castro brothers' leadership. In short, it seemed like he was able to see the grand strategy but not the small human elements that make up the bigger picture.

Che's final words allegedly were:

“shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man.”

In that moment of final clarity, he knew he represented more than just himself even though he had failed to prove to himself that he would be able to export the Revolution.

Jon Lee Anderson's Che is absolutely recommended if you are interested in Che and in early modern Cuban history as both are one and the same.

See you in the next adventure,

W.

#books

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