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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seasonality in Syria

Look for mass demonstrations in Syria to skyrocket with the beginning of Ramadan on sundown, July 31. In the Arab world, there’s no more sustained networking opportunity —Facebook and Twitter included—than Islam’s holiest month with its daily gatherings in houses of worship. In spite of the Assad regime’s brutality, 100,000+ Syrians have demonstrated every Friday—Islam’s Sabbath—over the past four months. Ramadan is an entire month of Fridays.

The current maelstrom in Syria, notes The Economist, is no peasant revolt, but a resilient, growing coalition of university graduates, day laborers, students, and seasoned dissidents. Unlike the Assad regime, which has behaved erratically—alternating brutal crackdowns with vacuous concessions—the protestors, says the magazine, have shown remarkable unity of purpose in their insistence on democratic elections, freedom of speech and assembly, and protection for minorities.

The movement has the support of large parts of the Sunni clergy and increasingly the business community (business is down 50% this year). Syria is 75% Sunni. Assad and his fellow Shia Alawite brethren are what investors might call highly leveraged—they’re 10% of Syria’s population. So is Syria nearing a tipping point?

Perhaps a second question—this one for bloodsugarologists—will shed some light. Will 28 days of sunup-to-sundown fasting during the year’s hottest month make the demonstrators and their minions meaningfully crankier toward Mr. Assad and his cronies?

This salaam's for you!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In the Gods We Trust: Bootsy Collins in Worcester

Photo by Ariel Wigdor
On June 29, funk deity Bootsy Collins, who will be 60 in October, brought his flamboyant musical retinue to the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts. In a previous life, the Palladium, a block down Main Street from elegant Mechanics Hall, was the Plymouth Theatre, a deteriorating movie palace frequented by this blogger in the 1960s. Today, the once seedy Mechanics Hall is an acoustic marvel, venerated in the world of chamber music. And the once squalid Plymouth? Well, it’s morphed into the consummately ratty Palladium. For Bootsy and his spirited audience, though, that may have been just what the witch doctor ordered.

In spite of volume that could have opened an East Coast branch of the San Andreas Fault, Boostsy and his funkful amigos, which included the great Bernie Worrell and ten or so other singers and instrumentalists, played with nonstop mastery and fervor. Of course, with such inspired song stand-bys as Cosmic Slop, Flashlight, Roto-Rooter, and,  Dr. Funkenstein, inspiration was never far from center stage. Nor was Bootsy, whose propulsive yet sinuous bass relentlessly devoured all resistance like an anaconda on steroids.

“He’s Hendrix on the bass,” commented my son, looking the part in his Axis Bold as Love t-shirt. The vestment, which depicts Hendrix and his two Brit sidemen from the Experience at the head of a chevron of Hindu deities, had sparked kudos an hour before the concert at an Indian restaurant on Shrewsbury Street. Our teenage Indian waitress, no doubt new to these shores, took one look at the shirt and praised my son’s sartorial taste, unaware that Hendrix had no part in the original Hindu line-up. When I tried to set matters straight, she nodded politely, approvingly. Perhaps the customer is always right. Without question, a god is a god is a god.