Photo by Joe Carducci
A Prop-man's Centenary – John and Francis Ford in Early Hollywood
John Ford literature grows every year as if the old man resents mightily the scale of John Wayne studies. No slouch, he might also burn in his Irish heaven over the burdened shelves of Welles and Hitchcock tomes, or even the endless “noir” volumes which may someday subsume all of film studies if not the Humanities in toto.
But one hundred years ago this August a real boy named John Feeney just out of a Maine high school arrived in Hollywood. He wasn’t running away from home, but the older brother he joined there, Francis Feeney, was the black sheep of the family and had run off after a shotgun marriage to enlist for the Spanish-American War. Being too young Francis settled for the circus, then the theater in New York where he took the name Ford and married an actress. John had been three when Francis bolted and so barely remembered him. As fate had it, by 1914 Francis had become one of the first real movie stars and he was running his own production unit at Universal – a dream come true for John who’d ushered at both the movie theater and the legit stage in Portland to study drama, thinking he might want to be a writer. But if becoming prop-man for his brother was less hazardous than running away from home, it would do.
At the turn of the century in New York Francis was too often just another out-of-work actor so he drifted into the new art of moving pictures. In his unpublished memoir he wrote of taking “back screen talking jobs” where an actor and actress would stand behind the screen and provide spoken dialogue in voices tailored to the characters on the screen. He wrote of it as good training in improvisation and acting.
There had already been several boom-busts for the novelty of living pictures projected onto silver screens in converted storefronts. Francis entered pictures in the final early boom, the one that established story-telling cinema as the norm over earlier contenders (travelogues, newsreels, re-stagings of fights and theatrical attractions). It was the breakthrough success of The Great Train Robbery (1903) that reoriented picturemaking and brought in new producers. Ford found work with Centaur Films of Bayonne, New Jersey. In his 1933 manuscript Francis claimed he was up a ladder cleaning a gas-lamp on a New York street when the Centaur production company happened by and offered him $2 to fall off for their camera. This was probably in late 1907 or into the next year. In 1908 Edison and his licensed film producers formed a Trust and Centaur was not admitted and became the first of the aggressive independents who filmed on the sly to avoid the Trust’s toughs out searching for evidence of unlicensed use of the Edison camera.
In 1908 the one-reel format (10-14 minutes) for drama and comedy was becoming the standard. D.W. Griffith began elaborating on the conventions of dramatic story-telling for pictures that year at Biograph. Mack Sennett was also there doing the same for comedies, while Centaur and others, especially Selig Polyscope in Chicago, began to produce Westerns. Characters named Frank begin to appear in Centaur productions according to early trade publications notices and ads (there were no credits and virtually none of these early films survive). These shorts were essentially improvised and actors doubled as crew. After the filming, a story-line could easily be changed by rewriting title cards and rearranging scene order; outside Biograph, the cameraman was still more important than the director in determining the look of a picture.
In 1909, after working on an unknown number of Centaur films, Frank Ford joined the new American branch of Georges Melies’ Star Film Co., which was run by his brother Gaston. Star Film responded to the demand for more realistic Westerns that the Selig and Essanay companies were stimulating with their Colorado-set productions, by moving the unit to San Antonio, Texas. Here Ford continued to learn filmmaking under company director William Haddock. According to author Frank Thompson, Ford in addition to playing leads or heavies was also the location scout and property-man (The Star Film Ranch: Texas’ First Picture Show). Like Selig and Essanay, Star hired local ranch-hands and cowboys to ride, stunt and act in their now more authentic-looking pictures.
In Spring 1911 the Star company moved again, this time to Santa Barbara, California. And by the end of that year Ford himself moved and was making films for the then leading independent producer, the New York Motion Picture Co. (NYMPCo), whose Western unit, Bison Life, changed its name in Los Angeles to Bison, then to “101” Bison, and finally Broncho. Here under the supervision of Thomas Ince, Francis Ford became the director of significant Westerns and historical subjects (he specialized in portraying Lincoln). The new film standard was the two-reeler (22-28 minutes). The best surviving of the “101” Bisons is The Invaders (1912), a three-reel “special” available as a DVD add-on to The Sundown Trail (1934) from oldies.com. Scott Simmons spends a chapter of his book The Invention of the Western on this film which is some of the scarce literature available on the elder Ford.
The leading independent producers merged to form Universal Pictures in April 1912 in expectation of a final showdown with the Edison Trust. This brought independent pioneer producers Carl Laemmle, Charles Baumann, Adam Kessel, Pat Powers, Centaur’s David Horsley and others together. Laemmle strong-armed the others out but Ford stayed with Universal where he escaped Ince’s credit-stealing oversight and was able to write his own ticket.
Records and memories as parsed by John Ford’s biographers aren’t conclusive but Hollywood historian Robert Birchard puts John’s arrival in the new movie capitol at August 1914. By then Frank was running his own unit, producing, directing and starring opposite Grace Cunard who was also his screenwriter and girlfriend. Ford and Cunard were the first power-couple of Hollywood in the years before Mary Pickford met Douglas Fairbanks in 1918. They were making shorts and the new chapter-play serials which had become huge successes in 1913. Francis Ford was known for action. Birchard in a two-part 1993 essay, “The Adventures of Francis Ford and Grace Cunard,” describes their chapter-plays:
“While all the early serials favored action over plot, the Ford-Cunard offerings had a wacky, even surreal quality that caught the imagination of the audience. And, while many chapter plays of the time presented more or less self-contained episodes, Ford and Cunard delighted in developing true cliffhangers to end each chapter.” (American Cinematographer)
He goes on to describe the hoked up ballyhoo they and their newspaper partner, The Chicago Herald, used, inferring that the serial, Lucille Love – The Girl of Mystery (1914), was written secretly by some famous author who required he be credited as “The Master Pen.”
Birchard goes on to quote a 1916 issue of Photoplay:
“…Ford freely admits that Miss Cunard provides most of the ideas for their stories. Then they work them out together in scenario form and stage them. ‘It takes us about two hours to make a two reel scenario,’ said Ford. ‘If we both agree on the plan for the story, we make the scenario together; if we disagree, each writes a scenario and then we either take the best one or combine the two.’ …(Ford and Cunard) always have two cameras,’ the reporter continued, ‘and about half the time Ford is off in one corner of the Universal ‘lot’ taking scenes in which he appears while Miss Cunard is off on location with the other camera taking scenes in which she, and not Ford, appear(s).” (Ibid.)
There are a number of episodes from these serials that survive in archives and collections but Francis Ford may not be a priority for scarce restoration dollars. It’s been noted that Francis was often left unmentioned in trade magazine write-ups of his films, and even the standard early history of cinema to 1920, A Million and One Nights by Terry Ramsaye, mentions him only in a chronology of these early serials. He was a busy, inspired man and in the doing he likely neglected self-promotion and wound up used. What can be found easily on DVD are Frank’s later serials, The Power God (1925; 15 chapters) and Officer 444 (1926; 10 chapters), where his stars were Ben Wilson and Neva Gerber. By then though the serial was no longer a prestige format and the budgets and perhaps the inspiration too suffers, though these have their sci-fi gothic action charms.
The Edison Trust was ended by a federal court in October 1915, but those producers (Edison, Biograph, Vitagraph, Selig, etc.) ultimately failed because their joint distribution deal kept them tied to two-reeler production while the independents innovated. Griffith had left Biograph to make longer films and that year his independently produced 12-reel special, The Birth of a Nation (1915), was a game-changer for the ages and by the twenties the feature was the standard and serials and shorts were second-class peripherals. The large independents bought out the old Trust members. Ford’s own studio, Fordart-Francis Ford Productions, was short-lived. It failed in 1922 and though his features in this period were often quite good the independent producers he worked for were also failing as the modern major studios took shape. These new studios and their production bureaucracies often judged the earliest filmmakers with their independent spirit as more trouble than they were worth.
John Ford, however, began to flourish. Property-man was a good position from which to train for bigger things. Back in 1914 the Southern California studios did not yet feature warehouses cataloguing every historical era’s dress, furniture, transportation, etc. Units built around stars and directors lived off the land and a prop-man had to develop a sense of where he could find exteriors, cars, dress, firearms, interiors, etc. for whatever script was lined-up for next week. He might have to go door-to-door hoping to lease furniture or wall-hangings from a nearby home, or if money was tight charm folks out use of a piano in exchange for a part in the picture. Jack also filled in as stuntman when Frank couldn’t shame an actor into doing a gag. And Frank used Jack as a whipping boy, a prop so-to-speak, to keep the unit – its actors, cameramen, lighting techs, stuntmen, cowboys, musicians, cook, etc. – on its toes, ready to shoot and then move on to the next shot quickly. Jack learned this too from Frank, but later when he used some innocent crew-member or new actor as whipping boy he was showing some sadistic edge all his own.
Jack’s apprenticeship with Frank ended in 1917 after working on about fifty two-reelers and four serials and a feature or two. John became one of Harry Carey’s directors at Universal. The initial run of their “Cheyenne Harry” two-reelers are lost, but their first feature survives. Straight Shooting (1917), made without authorization after Carey and Ford conspired to husband film-stock and shooting days, angered their supervisor but won the approval of studio head Carl Laemmle. They now continued making features. Three survive. The two I’ve seen are pictorially quite sophisticated, Straight Shooting (see below) is even overdone a bit as if Jack, only 22, was throwing everything he could think of into it. Bucking Broadway (1917) is a bonus feature on the Criterion edition of Stagecoach (1939), and a print of Hell Bent (1918) apparently survives in a Czech film archive.
Joseph MacBride in his book, Searching for John Ford, sketches out the early 1920s in detail. Carey was dropped by Universal in 1921 while John Ford stayed another couple years before moving over to Fox where he directed two Tom Mix features. Carey continued to make good films but these were harder to mount and his productivity fell. MacBride has one of Carey’s unit, actor Joe Harris, expressing the unit’s bitterness over their young wunderkind moving up and away. Harris apparently joked that Jack’s new preference for the flashier Mix indicated he might be gay. As Jack was so young and naïve this hit its target harder than intended. They were all a rough crew and most of them lived at Carey’s Newhall ranch as if it was still the 19th century.
They were all tough. The early Western-makers were in thrall to the frontier cowhand and the Indian, and the artists among them hoped they might manage to create a picture version of what Jack London was doing in literature. Jack Ford was no pansy, his high school football nickname was “Bull” Feeney, after all. But when Carey himself indulged Harris’ jokes MacBride has it that Ford banished Carey. They did work again together so I’m not convinced about that. And Harry’s wife and co-star Olive Golden, who had introduced them, was there to advise the young man and chide his antagonists. More likely Harry Carey reflexively asserted control on the set of The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) just as Ford did later to John Wayne’s panicked discomfort when he visited the set of Wayne’s The Alamo (1960), and Ford couldn’t have that.
But John was an unusually sensitive young artist. This was what he brought to everything he had learned from his brother. He had a way of working with his actors, especially in close-ups where they did nothing but think that lets us feel we read their minds. He’d dismiss the rest of the company, set the lights, camera, have musicians play something, and then talk the actor through the shot for as long as it might take to get the duration of the look he knew would work. This was Griffith’s method with his actresses. These silent passages are pure cinema and more eloquent than any dialogue could be. Given a decent script, bad acting and wrong performance notes are a director’s fault, even when he simply lets actors do what they want. But to know what he wants from an actor a director must know human beings as they are and love them enough to idealize them a bit, even the villain, even as he ruthlessly manipulates them on the set, trusting all might be forgiven if the picture works.
John Ford weathered the treacherous transition to sound in the late 1920s; studios used the coming of sound to purge less nimble high-priced directorial and writing talent and their voices had nothing to do with it. He directed many fine talkies through the 1930s, building toward his astonishing run of pre-WWII masterpieces which ran from Stagecoach (1939) through How Green Was My Valley (1941) after which he was the consensus best filmmaker in Hollywood. Frank drifted down the cast credits and he stopped directing in 1928. Jack cast his brother in small, usually uncredited parts; Frank often played silent backwoods reprobates one catches being called Fen, Frank, or Feeney.. He did many bits and supporting roles in other films too, notably The Arizonian (1935), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Driftwood (1947), and two Monte Hale Westerns directed by his son Phil Ford: The Timber Trail (1948), San Antone Ambush (1949).
Jack continued the m.o. Frank had developed, only now Frank acting in Jack’s pictures could find himself the safety, the whipping boy. Later it was John Wayne, John Ford’s former prop-man, the nation’s number-one movie star after the war but one who could still find himself the butt of any back-of-the-camera “scene” Ford felt necessary to keep the now even larger film companies on point. In Francis’ day the small units on location operated with camaraderie enforced by their isolation; they memorialized their pictures by having an assistant cameraman take a portrait of the cast and crew. This practice ended when the business got serious and centralized on backlots and soundstages. Jack could handle the studios and still knock out great pictures; Frank could not. John had a fortuitous appetite for the struggle with studio bureaucrats. Francis had once had complete freedom back in the heady days of inventing moving pictures, back when only his reputation as a pioneer filmmaker was denied him. As I write in the next issue of Film International magazine:
“What D.W. Griffith did for the woman’s picture, Francis Ford did for the action picture. John, then, essentially put the two together against significant market – not to say idiomorphic – forces of repulsion.” (Film Int.)
Andrew McLaglen was about the last of the extended Ford company family working in Hollywood and though he made features, his best work was directing over a hundred early episodes of “Gunsmoke” and “Have Gun – Will Travel”, the half-hour episodes, a format for drama now extinct but which recapitulated the two-reeler of the 1910s. McLaglen stressed to Scott Eyman how nice Francis was, “I won’t say, ‘unlike his brother,’ but he was different from Jack.” (Print the Legend) Of course when McLaglen knew Francis he had long ago ceded the fight to his younger brother and according to MacBride would pace the floor when the bits and small parts were scarce toward the end of his life.
The struggle to make a heartful action picture that has ambition to be true to art, history, people and this particular country… to make that film consistently in the face of movie studio provisos and star demands has proved beyond just about everyone except a touchy Irishman born John Feeney who claimed to have been born Sean O’Fearna, was called “Bull” in high school but took his brother’s stage name Ford on arrival in Hollywood. He was scrupulous about what was true, loved people and their blarney, had an landscape artist’s eye for composition and a portrait painter’s sense of light, an editor’s sense of what to leave out of a story and a 19th-century novelist’s feel for cutting along the moving parts of a plot to disguise the mechanics of this most mechanical art and conjure a kind of gravitational pull on the audience toward the resolution that when it comes both surprises and seems inevitable. And also I think he was mortified at how easily he cried at the movies.
(Illustration credits: •Broken Coin unit 1915, Francis Ford & Grace Cunard center top, John Ford third from left - Wisconsin Historical Society/Wikipedia; •Centaur Film Co., Bayonne NJ; •Francis Ford & Edith Storey on a Texas set, Star Film – Frank Thompson collection; •Lucille Love, mediahistoryproject.org; •The Invaders theater display 1912: David Lee Guss; •Straight Shooting trade ad 1917: Wikipedia)
Francis Ford stars with Edith Storey in this Star Film one-reel production shot near San Antonio. As one of the later Texas productions it is possible Ford directed all or part of it though William Haddock was the company’s director of record; author Frank Thompson (The Star Film Ranch) tells me the Texas troop had a farmhouse lab “so they could strike a single print of each film. They'd watch it and if it was okay, they'd ship the neg to New York so distribution prints could be made.” In that day “okay” was often a simple technical judgment on the quality of the shots, but once in a film-a-week production groove this first look might also encourage experimentation:
"Billy and His Pal" (1911 15m., Star Film)
Francis Ford directed himself in this three-reel special for producer Ince in Santa Ynez Canyon. It was written by C. Gardner Sullivan who became one of the top screenwriters of the silent era and wrote many William S. Hart pictures. This also features Ethel Grandin, Ann Little, Luther Standing Bear, and Art Acord:
"The Invaders" (1912 41m., “101” Bison)
A print of When Lincoln Paid (1913 30m., Kay-Bee) was found in a New Hampshire barn in 2006 and it’s restoration premiered in 2010. Francis Ford directs himself as Abraham Lincoln and the two-reeler was written by William Clifford and features Ethel Grandin, Jack Conway, and Grace Cunard:
Action sequence: "Clip 1",
Ford as Lincoln: "Clip 2".
--for comparison, here’s D.W. Griffith’s "The Female of the Species" (1912 14m., Biograph), a one-reeler he made in San Fernando during his second winter production trip to California. Here he brought his actress-centered melodrama whole to the desert setting the Western-makers had popularized. The stars are Claire MacDowell, Dorothy Bernard, and Mary Pickford. More of Griffith’s early work survives than anyone else’s and the collections available on DVD are well worth searching out and feature excellent commentary tracks.
Two years after long lost brother Frank was seen on screen in Portland Maine, Jack joined him in Hollywood. He was Frank’s prop-man for three years before Harry Carey made him one of his unit’s directors. They made five two-reelers together until this, Jack’s first feature, which was filmed in Santa Clarita and Newhall and starred Carey, Duke Lee, Ted Brooks, Hoot Gibson, Molly Malone, and Vester Pegg:
"Straight Shooting" (1917 57m., Universal)
Here is one surviving reel of a Pete Morrison two-reeler. Pete had been a Colorado cowboy picked up by the Selig Polyscope Co. in 1909 for stunts and acting and he followed films to Hollywood. Jack Ford directed Morrison in five two-reelers in 1919, this one features Morrison, Duke Lee, Hoot Gibson, Magda Lane, and Otto Meyer who came to Hollywood with the Star Film unit:
"By Indian Post" (1919 20m., Universal)
Film International magazine, now a quarterly, is publishing a version of my next book’s first chapter; at over 10,000 words it won’t likely be posted at the site so look for this year’s No. 2 issue soon. It’s probably worth the price; here’s a bit from it:
The Ford Brothers and the Men Who Shot Westerns – G.M. Anderson, Francis Boggs, William Haddock, James Young Deer, Allan Dwan, Tom Mix, Romaine Fielding… by Joe Carducci in "Film International" 68, vol. 12, no. 2 (August 2014)
“Teacup dramas made on stages in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago were technically motion pictures, but since they proceeded from some assumption that an audience of strivers or nouveau riche wanted nothing more than to see the latest dinner wear modeled in parlors and ballrooms those pictures stopped moving. These new Westerns though were living pictures. The pre-cinema Living Picture was a staged live tableaux of models dressed to reenact historical events, preferably risqué ones…. That Living Picture was stage-bound and referenced great paintings and sculpture; the new living picture framed life across landscape. Producers cast actors to be sure, although the pantomime or posing as it was often called was already removed from theatrical styles. But the non-actors they found in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and California – the cowboys and the Indians – who could invent and perform the action required moved film style further down its own naturalistic path. This untheatrical acting for the camera worked in a new way with audiences, and initially it worked with a shock. Frank Thompson quotes an interview with Star’s William Haddock claiming their standard distribution print order for New York productions of 1909 had been 25 to 30 and that orders went up to nearly 100 for these Texas productions the next year. The Moving Picture World’s regular column, ‘With the Western Producers,’ came to be titled, ‘Doings in Los Angeles.’ An April 22 1911 announcement of Star Film’s departing San Antonio for Santa Barbara refers to Francis Ford as Gaston Méliès’ assistant manager. A Mrs Ford moves with them as do a number of the Texas cowboys who are now fully Western motion picture specialists. Thompson numbers the American pictures made by Star Film as follows: 15 from their New Jersey base; 71 in and around San Antonio; 89 in the Santa Barbara-Santa Paula area. Ford was involved in perhaps the last ten of the NJ pictures, all of the Texas productions, and perhaps all of the California ones.”
(adapted from the Fall 2015 book, Stone Male – Requiem for The Living Picture)
Stone Male proposed film stills and illustrations assemblage for my book is shaping up; been collecting for it since by first book came out in 1991. Cover art is by James Fotopoulos.
"Brother Feeney – Francis Ford" by Tag Gallagher at Sensesofcinema.
“Meanwhile, back in Portland, Maine, no one had heard a word of Frank until one day Jack and his mother ran home all excited: they had found Frank – on the Greeley Theater’s screen, in a Melies western! Through a New York agent, the prodigal was located and in the summer of 1914 came home in cashmere and a Stutz Bearcat and with Grace Cunard…. Awestruck, Jack went out to California by train in July, in time to work on the last episodes of Lucille Love as “assistant, handyman, everything,” for $12 a week, and for three years shadowed Frank. He could not have had a more expert teacher in every aspect of the craft. He appeared as an actor in more than a dozen of Frank’s pictures through 1916, all of them lost films today. Often he performed stunts. Frank liked his action grit-real, so injuries, including at least one death, were frequent, but he paid bonuses for injuries and would goad them to it: ‘Now boys, remember you are not in a drawing room; don’t bow to each other or apologise if you should happen to take a piece of skin away from the man you are fighting. This is to be the real thing – go to it. Who will roll down that bank? Who will fall off a horse? I don’t believe one of you dare – huh! You will? – and you will? Good! I thought there might be one or two of you who did not want a cushion to fall on – no, I don’t want any more. Listen, boys, a dollar for a bloody nose and two for a black eye.’ That last line would be echoed twenty-five years later in How Green Was My Valley (John Ford, 1941). Frank took especial care of Jack. He blew up a dynamite-wired desk where Jack was sitting by firing a cannonball through the tent. He had him jump seventy-five feet from a freight car rolling along a trestle; had him blown up in a car by mining the road; had him dodging shells on a Confederate battlefield before bouncing a powder grenade off his head (for a close shot) – it exploded just beneath his chin. ‘That was a close thing,’ Frank told him in the hospital. ‘Another second and audiences would have realized I was using a double.’”
Charles Glass in Spectator on Scott Eyman’s book, "John Wayne – The Life and Legend.
“Something that emerges in this biography, as well as in the more critical John Wayne’s America by Garry Wills, is that, in addition to being a fine actor, Wayne was a very nice guy. Eyman quotes a college friend: ‘He could have been a great football player, but he never wanted to hurt anybody.’ Tom Kane, story editor at Wayne’s production company, Batjac, told me that he and Wayne saw the actor Alan Ladd, who stood only 5’ 6” to Wayne’s 6’ 3¾”, walking towards them. Wayne hid to avoid embarrassing Ladd in front of his fans. I witnessed a similar occasion at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1972, when Cesar Romero was signing autographs. The fans looked at Wayne and forgot all about Romero. Romero, deprived of his audience, said without enthusiasm, ‘Hi, Duke.’ Wayne praised Romero and made sure the ladies knew the old Latin lover was still a big star. Eyman relates an encounter between Carl Foreman, director of High Noon, whom Wayne and other right-wingers had helped to blacklist in the 1950s, and Wayne in a Los Angeles restaurant years afterwards: ‘The two men looked at each other, then quickly embraced as if they were old friends.’ Foreman explained to his mystified English wife, ‘He was a patriot. I was a patriot. He didn’t do it to hurt me.’ I checked this story with Foreman’s son, Jonathan, who swears it’s true. He’s another Wayne fan. Whenever I was walking to the car with Wayne in some part of Los Angeles, people would stop him for autographs. He was happy to sign. Older men would say, ‘Mr Wayne, I joined the marines because of you.’ He would lean back as if a punch were about to follow, and the veterans would laugh.”
by Michael J. Safran
From Steve Beeho at the London Desk…
Kristoffer Smemo at SOCIETY FOR U.S. INTELLECTUAL HISTORY on "Black Flag and the Political Economy of Hardcore".
“The avant-garde commitments cultivated by Ginn and Flag in Hermosa Beach, rested on an almost Toquevillean notion of independence and self-reliance. Mass culture provided a wealth of material from which to draw from and distort, but it also signified the crushing conformity and exploitation of a mass society, governed by an expansive set of interlocking corporations and government agencies. Black Flag looked backward, to an era of small producers hewing and building what they needed for themselves and their tight knit communities. Thus, Black Flag booked its own shows and created its own record label, SST, pioneering the ‘DIY’ ethos so central to punk’s bona fides as a true counterculture. In this sense Black Flag could relate to the hippies’ desire for authentic communitarianism and even the participatory democracy of the Students for a Democratic Society. But Black Flag’s alternative to corporate and neoliberal marginalization found expression not in a New Left revolutionary posture, but in a decidedly petit-bourgeois entrepreneurship. Black Flag’s work ethic became legendary. Incessant touring, marathon rehearsals, and ’round-the-clock sweat and black coffee kept the SST label afloat – and burned out one band member after another.”
Kristoffer Smemo at S-USIH on "Black Flag’s Electric Church, or, How Working Men Rock".
“Carducci does present a quite radical critique of popular music that puts a class analysis of cultural work at its center. Though rock might be most easily identified within the electric church’s triumvirate of guitar, bass, and drums, Carducci leaves open the possibility that rock as an aesthetic form cannot be reduced to the basic elements of its composition. Though pop usually wins in a capitalist mode of cultural production, those who succumb nevertheless still provide the grist necessary for future generations to remake rock. Just because the once rockin’ ZZ Top of ‘La Grange’ became pop when they added synthesizers and made cheesy videos to promote ‘Eliminator’ on MTV, this by no means precluded the dudes in Black Flag from playing that tape to death in the van.”
Kristoffer Smemo at S-USIH on "Black Flag and the Cinema of Transgression".
“Like his highly influential drawings, Pettibon’s forays into filmmaking in the late ’80s explore in great detail a cynical and conservative vision of the ’60s as decadent, ludicrous, and above all exceptional moment in American history. Shot on camcorders and peopled with various SST artists and hangers-on, these purposefully amateurish, homemade movies illustrate an era out of step with an almost Hartzian notion of consensus. Pettibon’s suggests that the broadly collectivist ethos of ’60s antiauthoritarianism stood awkwardly apart from a stoic individualism at the core of American political culture.”
Hank Shteamer at pitchfork.com on Black Flag - "What The...".
“As baffling as the record's aesthetic is, it yields a handful of really good songs. These make up roughly a third of the album's 22 tracks; issued as an EP, they would've made a much stronger impression than the precariously bloated package that is ‘What The...’. The crowning jewel is ‘The Chase,’ an uptempo two-minute rager propelled by a series of lean, vicious Ginn riffs, each crisper and more catchy than the last. The guitarist's instrumental expression once seemed like the work of an antisocial sadist, but here, as is often the case on ‘What The…’ it registers more as the expression of an unflappable stuntman – closer to Dick Dale than Sonny Sharrock. Ginn is similarly incendiary on ‘Down in the Dirt,’ where he combines spiky eccentricity with no-nonsense rhythmic drive, illustrating anew his wizardly ability to propel a band while at the same time indulging his twisted imagination. Here, his lines act as a kind of shadow lead vocal, augmenting and enhancing Ron Reyes's squalid narrative.”
…and Shteamer at his darkforces blog on the infinitely superior Good For You recordings.
“My main problem with the new Black Flag record is its rushed, tossed-off quality – the sense of a flood of indistinguishable songs arriving at a merciless pace, as though the band only had one day in the studio not only to track a new record, but to compose it as well. ‘Full Serving,’ on the other hand, feels deeply lived in. The tempos are varied, the music has room to breathe; Ginn and vocalist Mike Vallely (mainly known prior to this venture as a pro skateboarder) consistently sound like they're challenging each other and themselves. Whereas ‘What The…’ homes in on a kind of relentless, vapid drive, a seemingly willful obnoxiousness, ‘Full Serving’ takes its time, plays with dynamic tension, coils up and reserves its energy, wallows in its own gross churn, practically dares the listener to tune out or cry foul at some perceived betrayal of a stock ‘punk’ aesthetic, much in the way that my favorite Black Flag lineup of Ginn, Rollins, Roessler and Stevenson learned to. The rhythm-section shortcomings of ‘What The…’ are still somewhat in evidence here; Ginn's still handling bass himself (as Dale Nixon). But there's a different drummer on board (Matthew Cortez rather than Gregory Moore), and there's generally more of a live-band feel to the bass/drums on this record, rather than the sense of rudimentary backing tracks laid down with haste.”
Mike Watt at thequietus.com on his 13 favourite albums.
“The Who - Live At Leeds
Now, D. Boon went all trebly for Minutemen, but actually he was the biggest fan of Townsend's playing style. He loved Townsend's slashing rhythm guitar. And also that record had that bass/guitar interplay that we always tried to replicate in Minutemen. George Hurley learnt how to drum from listening The Who's ‘A Quick One’; and the first song I wrote before Minutemen I wrote after listening ‘A Quick One.’ It was terrible.”
The selected journalism of Peter Laughner at handsomeproductions.com.
“Lou Reed – Rock 'n' Roll Heart (Arista) ::
Dear Lou, Honest to god, I played this album at least 46 times ALL THE WAY THROUGH, listened to it in every possible condition I could put myself into, went to see the ‘show’ with the 40-odd video screens wanking behind you got a bottle lofted at me from the balcony there, too, so had to be taking some chances), have only been drunk twice and filled my Valium script once since it came out, quit seeing my shrink, got a steady job...blah blah blah. All I can say is: your LP IS LESS TEDIOUS than Stevie Wonder's latest, but that's like saying Novocaine is more effective than Procaine... I don't feel anything. I find it as painless and boring as modern dentistry. Two questions: 1) Where did you hide the guitars? 2) What in the name of modern science is a ‘Rock 'n' Roll Heart’?
Robin Hall and Randy Cohen of "Jack Ruby" interviewed at thequietus.com by Charlie Frame.
“Randy Cohen: I do feel we were ahead of our time, which is as much a guarantee of failure as being behind your time. ‘The readiness is all,’ as Shakespeare said, or maybe it was Phil Spector – two guys who really knew the tone of their own times. When the punk scene started gaining an audience, I was an enthusiastic fan – these were some terrific bands – which did not inhibit my being bitter and resentful and jealous.”
Jon Savage's sleeve notes for the phenomenal "X_X" compilation released in Finland (where else?).
An interview with "The Consumers" which originally ran in Razorcake.
Ernie Brooks at vice.com recounts to Legs McNeill his time in "The Modern Lovers".
“So Jonathan was into poetry – but he was also into the first Stooges album, which had just come out. So I talked with Jonathan about what a great rhythm section the Stooges had, and he was really into that, and he was really funny. He also loved the Velvet Underground, but he was very conflicted about them, because of the darkness they presented. I always had this theory that our sound was almost the opposite of the Velvets, that basically we were playing into the light as opposed to the darkness. But you could argue that about anybody – any art that expresses pain is also suggesting a way out of the pain.”
Julie Burchill in SPECTATOR, "Meet the New Faces of Nepotism".
“It’s no secret that social mobility – which just a few years back we all presumed would rock on regardless – has reversed, doing over the already vulnerable working class with the force of a steamroller. Yes, you chirpy Cockneys and you stoic Northerners, not only have the jobs your parents did – making things – disappeared, but the cushy jobs that a blessed few of you once might have escaped the surly bonds of the proletariat by nabbing – modelling, acting, writing for newspapers – have now been colonised by the children of the rich/famous/well-connected, too.”
Philip Hensher at SPECTATOR on Ben MacIntyre's biography, "Kim Philby – A Spy Among Friends".
“Why did [MI6] stand by him? Insanely, the head of MI6, even after very serious doubts had been raised about Philby’s loyalty, wrote in a memo that ‘it is entirely contrary to the English tradition for a man to have to prove his innocence.’ In a court of law, perhaps, but surely not in the case of such an important figure in the security services? Hilariously, one of Philby’s main concerns at the height of his treachery was to get his sons into as expensive a school as he could. ‘Eton and Westminster were beyond his budget, but Elliott came up with the solution.’ It might be that Philby was maintaining a useful front, but it is hard to see from his biography that this devoted communist ever spent a voluntary moment with a single horny-handed son of toil.”
Flower and 5th street, looking south, downtown Los Angeles
Photo by Chris Collins
Notes on Lana Del Rey’s “Ultraviolence” [Interscope-Universal/Polydor]
I haven’t paid attention to Interscope Records since its first year in operation when it had a few good bands and Ray Farrell told me they were the one major affiliate that was trying to cut a profile with interesting bands. Before then I mostly read references to the company in the Chicago papers and Wall Street Journal as it was launched by Ted Field who had forced the sale of Marshall Field including the Sun-Times to become a film producer, then label owner too. This sale (to Murdoch) was the first of many blows that major metropolitan daily has absorbed. Field was cursed by old Chicagoans who read newspapers and he’s made little difference in Hollywood, but who does? These days he is gone from the label and most press the label gets is centered on Jimmy Iovine, usually accompanied by that ridiculous photo of him as a young greaseball-ponce at the board with John Lennon in 1974 working on a record the figures only in the Iovine legend as People magazine understands it.
I vaguely remembered some noise about some singer who’d been unmasked over the “indie” principles all of Williamsburg hold dear and then had botched a Saturday Night performance but I knew none of Del Rey’s music ’til I caught a video on Vevo, which pushes its new golden downloads at you whatever old mersh rock you’re looking at (I was pulling links for my Cheese-metal essay for NV111). I ignore pop-thing trending but it was there so I checked it to clarify my vague sense of who she might be.
I liked the "Born to Die" video, especially as the images seemed to posit a better, lost America, even a lost Western civilization as she and her roughneck boyfriend race to a crash against an artfully enervated hip hop beat. The icons pass by stately: American flag; Black Flag “bars” tattoo; Detroit muscle car; Roman cathedral; Greek wreath headdress; African court tigers… while she in gown alone or in cut-offs with boyf wander free and unworthy. Not your typical pop thrush sensibility. So I bought the CD of the same name and liked most of it. I only ever heard a remix of “Summertime Sadness” on the radio itself out here; the remix put her vocal atop a sequencer dance-beat. She’s a much better singer than need be these days but she makes some of the left turns and anti-classical song-smithing decisions that show D.I.Y. for better and worse no matter how heavy the management hand. The second tune on that first album, “Off to the Races,” is particularly nutty and effective; hard to imagine another female vocalist conceiving it then attempting it and having it work inside a song structure.
The music on most tunes includes a guitar, bass and drums according to credits but the arrangements on “Born to Die” really just suspend her lux voice in slack hip hop aspic: synthetic percussion, keyboards, strings, mostly just space…. Between albums (she’s really a singles artist) a tune called "Ride" was released with an extended film-like video. It’s produced the same but her ideas about the world and our culture are spelled out more directly in words (“I believe in the country America used to be.”) and images (the west, the road, bikers, fireworks, campfires, Indian headdress, guns, truck-stop, smoking, Jack Daniels, and older men in this one – probable Laurel Nakadate video-art influence). She struck me as the female sensibility that Camille Paglia regretted that Feminism had come to preclude in its hopelessly literal and jealous critique of what it once took to be the world of men. And as reductive and reflexive as that politik is, it’s been no help providing aesthetic structure most female singers need from outside. The pop tarts get it imposed from the music industry machine, but the sophistas of “indie” don’t get it unless they ground themselves in music history; few have. In this LGBT cultural moment we’ve been in since the greatest generation passed and the waning of the 9-11 period, Del Rey hasn’t valorized a single gayish hipster fop.
So I thought there might be a move toward a straighter rock presentation of her songs when I heard that Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys had produced her new album, “Ultraviolence.” Hard to imagine what his take would be as there are far subtler and warmer-toned guitarists to better suit her voice, and sure enough it’s a good record but largely on the strength of her vocals, her lyrics, her phrasing experiments, and the pros around her – including the songwriters, Auerbach, the other guitarists, engineers, A&R, management – their determination to stay out of the way of that voice. But there’s very little improvement in the placing of her voice into a musical arrangement as opposed to some musique concrete sculpture. It’s mostly just appropriate enough wallpaper backing. I like "Brooklyn Baby" best of the tunes, and “Fucked My Way Up to the Top” is good. And even the musical dud, “The Other Woman,” like “Born to Die”’s musically weak closer “This Is What Makes Us Girls,” is still a decent lyric of hers, and these aren’t conventional pop notions so much as they are time-honored but now discarded American sentiments, some bohemian, some traditional.
Pop is now so internationalized that the industry likely assumes Del Rey’s sound, a cool art song, must require some sort of non-dance hip hop setting, what else is there? They forget that the contemporary studio approach also allows for any group of session players one can dream up. Players who might never be available to tour can do any studio date. But there’s barely one guitar hook on the whole gatefold-less double album. So I suspect Dan Auerbach is one of those vicarious ex-pats I wrote about in R&TPN. Forming his own band without a bass-player hardly argues against that no matter how popular or necessary economically it seemed back before he became a collector of antique motorcycles.
At the risk of trying to teach the ineducable, my corrective for Lana Del Rey’s misconceived, unambitious sound:
Listen first to how Bobby Troup, a pianist, places his wife Julie London into a stark guitar-bass-only arrangement on their classic, "Cry Me a River", and you hear what was possible in an earlier live music jazz trio nightclub pop framework. There are more practical versions that can apply in this still semi-rock era that make a contemporary use of blues and/or psychedelic guitar approaches. And guitar masters generally do need vocalists.
I like what the Toiling Midgets have been doing on youtube, posting old song sketches put to public domain films. These pieces (at cgmidget), are usually just the two guitars of Craig Gray and Paul Hood. "Spawn", "In C#", and "Two Memories" might have been backings for the late great fuck-up genius vocalist Ricky Williams but instead they sit on the web, soundtracks to lost films.
Another applicable guitarist, Michael Belfer, also wrote for Williams in their band The Sleepers. In between lineups they sometimes did demo duets together with a click track. My favorite is the version of “B-Side” from the Mediumistic 45, but that isn’t online. It shows how Belfer can play off even a machine and careen back and forth around that perfect time with his own internal expressive rhythm; precisely what one needs in the modern studio and never gets. Belfer is another member of music’s lost generation in good standing, meaning he’s still breathing. Here’s something similar to “B-Side”: The Sleepers "Mirror".
A more blues-based but also psychedelic approach is Robin Trower’s. It isn’t generally recognized that he’s still alive, much less that he’s better and subtler than he ever was in “the freedomland of the seventies” as Del Rey terms it in “Brooklyn Baby.” He’s been doing great albums with different lineups and singers since 2000. Here’s a ballad called "This Blue Love" that Robin sings himself on the album “Another Day’s Blues,” though I think this may be his regular vocalist’s version which was bumped for his own demo. My favorite psych workout is on his “Go My Way” album which isn’t up but this one from “Living Out of Time” is "I Want to Take You With Me". An even cooler psychedelic guitarist with jazz and classical ambitions is Terje Rypdal; he too doesn’t often sing but this is his 1968 tune, "Dead Man’s Tale", from before he got onto the ECM label.
The last player I’d suggest as capable of supplying a musical backing more appropriate to Lana Del Rey’s voice than Dan Auerbach or the other five guitarists on the album is Scott Weinrich. That’d be putting this most female vocal artist together with about the most male guitarist still alive. There were two musicians I remember one always heard enter the room, Wino and Ted Falconi, and it wasn’t that they were talking, it was that, in Townes Van Zandt’s words, they wore their skin like iron. Yet Weinrich has a unique slow heavy psychedelic touch on the strings and unlike most guitarists he is his own best singer but he has done some acoustic and duo recordings recently, here’s the acoustic instrumental "Suzanne’s Song", and one of his nicest electric tunes and vocals, "Lost Sun Dance", from a Spirit Caravan album but which I believe was first released on the Shine 45.
“Ultraviolence” instead finds her making do with six guitarists, of which only one gets to do anything as expressive as a solo; the rest are just functional when audible. Maybe some are fine writing partners but this is like putting carefully honed vocals on top of instrumental demos. Might as well go back to hip hop style bells and whistles. There seems never a shortage of people reminding us of pop’s omnivorous subversive creativity here in late capitalism, but they and the industry they’ve run interference for can’t as easily remember what-all that once made possible.
The Sound of Two Eyes Opening – Southern California Life: Skate Beach Punk 1969-1982 by Spot (Sinecure Books; Sept. 30)
“Spot landed in Hermosa Beach, CA in the mid-1970s. A serious musician, he helped build Media Art Recording Studio and stumbled into photojournalism via Easy Reader, the local news weekly. Hermosa proved to be a crossroads abounding with oddball roller skaters who were mostly overshadowed by Venice disco rollers and the Dogtown-inspired leaps into professional skateboarding (never mind that the first skateboard competition ever was in Hermosa in 1963). Then, in the late 70s, a cultural shift hit, fueled largely by music. This time the South Bay was in the vanguard.”
ONO live performance and interview with travis and P. Michael on, "Brian Turner’s show", WFMU FM.
The Delirious Insomniac travis interview, excerpts:
--As a kid, very early on, my great grandmother established this church, and this little community, called Carter's chapel. She and her Native American husband, and I was a child, 3, 4, 5 years old. And in Carter's Chapel what I did was sing in that church and I played any kind of sounds I wanted in the church and because it was a small church, a small community, now it feels as if I had my run of the place. But in doing all these things, it turns out that they liked the way I recited and so my school teachers would have me recite. At Christmas time I'd do The Night Before Christmas in it's entirety at the church and at the school and that was on one side of the family in Amory, Mississippi. The other side of the family was up in Itawamba County, which is much much smaller, not even 200 people there, even now.
--Then aboard ship, it gets strange because, you're completely removed from the world that you knew for nine months at a time. Well, I was a great supervisor, and it turns out all the people that I supervised loved me, and so what wound up happening, is that yes, Arvo, we went, me and all my crew would go ashore and fuck together! We would go to French ports and have these French prostitutes who would wager about who could last longest with them. That's another life, another part that, who knows how it was happening, but I was in it, and so it wasn't as if I was being male or even queer or even bi or anything like that, I was in the moment. That was for me. I was doing some very very bad things with these sailors, in every port around the world ... Let’s just say I was a sailor in the traditional sense of the word, baby!
--If you're in an ordinary city like Chicago or Cleveland and you're back from 6 years of military responsibility in places like the South China Seas or the Middle East, what do you do? What do you do to make your life interesting? There really isn't that much reason to live in an environment unless you give it a reason. And what kind of reasoning do you give? I wasn't thinking of it at the time, but I went back to Akron University and discovered that jeez, I'm very very bored here. Off I went to Cleveland, Ohio. Then between Akron and Cleveland, all of these things, these 1960s people are now transforming themselves. I run into this music community and these INSANE people in Cleveland who are doing all of the things that people talked about years ago. Peter and Crocus and Billy Bass and all those folks are in the neighborhood. And on the weekends, you're going down to Mayfield Road and designing new costuming to dance in.
--Every morning I do art stuff. Now my work is exhibiting in Tokyo. My Tokyo solo show just came down last week, and another one man show will go up in Tokyo next April, that's fun. I have another show in Europe at the end of this summer. My interest in art has much to do with concepts that I grew up with in Mississippi. There, art is decadent. Art for art's sake really has no bearing on life to a Mississippian, a black Mississippian. That's how I grew up. Any art work that you find from Mississippi black artists are functional items. But that work became known as Art outside of Mississippi. In Mississippi they're functional objects.
Tuesday, Nov. 4, 6pm: ONO at Museum of Contemporary Art
Travis at tumblr
Near Tie Siding, Wyoming
Photo by Nunzio Carducci
From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…
Barry Mazor in WSJ on The Hank Williams Reader, ed. by Patrick Huber, Steve Goodson, David Anderson.
“From the late 1940s into the early '50s, when Williams was rising from obscurity to country stardom as a charismatic, hit-producing, singing songwriter, there were essentially no national pop reporters or critics covering his like. The stories collected from the period include glowing local features about Montgomery's favorite son, puff pieces from fanzines such as National Hillbilly News and then, as the hits started to roll out, sometimes-startled reports from the trades chronicling his financial success and his crossover appeal as he placed songs with mainstream acts such as Tony Bennett and Jo Stafford. Billboard would note in October 1951: ‘Hank Williams . . . has blossomed out as a full-fledged pop writer. . . . Not only is Williams the first h.b. [i.e., ‘hillbilly’] writer to score big as a writer of country ditties that hit later in the pop field, but the majority of his 22 hits to make the pop charts were songs which he either wrote or co-authored.’”
Eddie Dean in WSJ on Do Not Sell at Any Price by Amanda Petrusich, and "Pioneers of the Blues Revival by Steve Cushing".
“The book is a timely reminder of an era when this music was largely reviled, which made it easy for early collectors to get started on the cheap. ‘No one wanted blues records,’ says Bob Koester, who as a college kid in the Midwest had amassed several thousand 78s by the early 1950s. ‘You could pick them up. They were left behind by the collectors in secondhand stores. I remember going to one. It was a funny little store, a secondhand store a guy had, but he had apparently bought a jukebox stock. . . . He said, 'Oh you don't want to hear those. Those are nigger records!'’ Soon after, Mr. Koester started the renowned music emporium Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, where he still runs the seminal independent label Delmark. For six decades the label has recorded postwar blues luminaries from Otis Rush to Magic Sam, as well as traditional and avant-garde jazz. The respect and affection that Mr. Koester has for the artists he has produced are echoed in the comments of other ‘pioneers’ when they talk about the music they love and the musicians they have met.”
David Kipen in WSJ on "The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff, and Frog Music by Emma Donoghue".
“San Francisco in the 1860s counted more newspapers per capita than any other American city, and more professional writers too. At its apex, Harte’s literary magazine, the Overland Monthly – the name a bumptious variation on stuffy Boston’s pre-eminent periodical – had at least as many readers out east as in California. Its emblem was a California grizzly bear crossing a railroad track, and the publication itself carried off a similar, reckless insouciance.”
Caleb Crain in NYTBR on "White Savage – William Johnson and the Invention of America by Fintan O’Toole".
“Balanced between two worlds, Johnson shone with glamour. From one vantage he seemed free of conventions, and from another, heedful of two or three sets of them. But it would be naïve to be too star-struck by him, because what he accomplished with his glamour is ambiguous. O'Toole, a drama critic for The Irish Times, is hard-nosed about the realpolitik. When Johnson arrived, the Mohawks were not as powerful or rich as they had once been. By linking themselves with the English, they hoped to recoup their status. Meanwhile, by linking himself with the Mohawks, Johnson made himself invaluable to the authorities back in London. As the price of his support, he asked the Mohawks to persuade the Iroquois confederacy to take Britain's side in its wars with France. He got his wish. In 1746, during King George's War, a couple of dozen Iroquois agreed to ‘go a Scalping’ on England's behalf. A few years before the start of the French and Indian War, Johnson told his superiors that he could bring 1,000 Iroquois into battle. In the event he led far fewer, but they scored a public relations coup by capturing a French general near Lake George.”
Gerard Helferich in WSJ on "West of the Revolution by Claudio Saunt".
“Though native peoples generally suffered from the white man’s machinations, a few managed to benefit from the redrawn map, at least for a time. One such group was the Osages, who lived between the Missouri and Arkansas rivers west of the Mississippi. Before the Treaty of Paris, the tribe had only the French to barter with. But afterward they found themselves within trading distance of both the Spanish and the British. In the coming decades, the Osages neatly played one group against the other. By 1800 they had added 100,000 square miles to their domain – ‘a rate of expansion equal to that of the thirteen colonies and United States over the same period,’ Mr. Saunt writes.”
WSJ Weekend Interview: "Mark Watte by Allysia Finley".
“By 2009, Ms. Feinstein’s views had reversed: She backed the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act, whose goal was to restore fish to what had been a dry river bed. But not just any fish – specifically, cold-water salmon that hadn’t been documented at the site since the 1940s. Cold-water salmon require ‘huge volumes of water’ to thrive, Mr. Watte notes, and he thinks that was exactly the point. The environmentalists ‘don’t care about fish,’ he says, ‘The fish are just a prop, a vehicle to get our water.’ That may sound paranoid, but consider that about 400,000 acre-feet of water over the past two years have been diverted from farm use merely to conduct salmon test-runs on the dry river.”
WSJ: "Cheese Whizzes".
“The FDA’s problem is with the common practice of aging cheese on wooden boards, which is how humans have been making the stuff since cuisine advanced beyond hunting and gathering. In a January regulatory ‘clarification’ latter, the low-level chief of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Dairy and Egg Branch let it be known that for the first time that ‘wooden shelves and boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized.’ The new interpretation only recently leaked…. Naturally, cheeseheads were thunderous under the Twitter hashtag #saveourcheese, while even many liberals in Congress found an instance of overregulation they could oppose. The FDA brass scrambled to walk back the letter, first claiming last week to be ‘always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes.’ The next day, the FDA surrendered, said it wouldn’t ban wood boards and the original rule ‘may have appeared more definitive than it should have.’”
Lizette Alvarez in NYT, "After 150 Years of Rolling Them, Tampa Is Close to No Cigars".
“In Ybor City, a neighborhood in Tampa, history is cloaked in the woody, earthen notes of a cigar, the product that helped define this once-quiet town and propel it well into the 20th century. Today, the 150 cigar factory sites that dotted this historic neighborhood once redolent with the aroma of tobacco have faded away, one by one, done in by cigarettes, health concerns, the trade embargo on Cuba and competition from abroad. Many were torn down; others stand there empty or recycled for more profitable ventures. There is one exception: On the northern side of Ybor City sits the J. C. Newman Cigar Company factory, a family-owned business tucked inside a classic brick building nicknamed El Reloj, a nod to its clock tower. Both have defied the maw of modernity to outlive a century. But now J. C. Newman faces its biggest threat: the possibility that the Food and Drug Administration may introduce strict, expensive regulations on cigars that the Newman brothers, who operate the company, say could close the last working cigar factory in town.”
Rachel Feintzeig in WSJ, "U.S. Government Struggles to Draw Young, Savvy Staff".
“The percentage of its employees under the age of 30 hit an eight-year low of 7% in 2013, government statistics show, compared with about 25% for the private-sector workforce. Back in 1975, more than 20% of the federal workforce was under 30. Without a pipeline of young talent, the government risks falling behind in an increasingly digital world, current and former government officials say. Meanwhile, critics say that government hiring is confusing, opaque and lengthy, deterring even those who want to devote their lives to public service.”
Michael Boskin in WSJ, "How Washington Whittles Away Property Rights".
“The unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare are now several times the national debt; the unfunded liabilities of state and local governments for pensions and other benefits are in the trillions of dollars and mounting. The panoply of other government programs nonetheless continues to expand. The result, according to Congressional Budget Office projections, is that federal spending will reach 36% of GDP in a generation. This implies that taxes will have to double from the current, near-historic average, 18% of GDP. All federal taxes will increase – on income, capital gains, dividends, corporate earnings, employer and employee payrolls. Left unchecked, many middle-income earners eventually will face marginal tax rates of 70% or higher – reducing them to minority partners in their own additional work and sundering the value of the investments in their own education.”
Alan Ryan in CRITICAL REVIEW, "The Planners and the Planned".
“There is an obvious tension between a belief in historical inevitability and in the necessity of planning, but most enthusiasts for a planned economy, at least most of those whom Hayek went after in The Road to Serfdom and The Counter-Revolution of Science, were historicists in his and Popper’s sense of the term. History had, so to speak, brought us to the point where we had to take conscious control of our productive powers as a society. This was not the banality that individuals should use forethought and common sense to plan their individual futures, but the claim that society as a whole should use its collective intelligence to plan its future. What The Counter-Revolution of Science argued, and what The Road to Serfdom depended on, was the claim – multiple claims really – that there was no such entity as society as a whole. There were patterns of interaction between individuals, but these had to be understood from the inside as the unintended outcomes of intended actions. There were genuine patterns, otherwise the discipline of economics would have been impossible. But these were not ‘natural’ in the sense in which the patterned interactions of physical and chemical phenomena are natural.”
Morris Kleiner in NYT, "Why License a Florist? ".
“These regulations are not just unusual cases of state laws run amok but deliberate policies from one of the fastest growing labor market institutions in the United States: government licensing of jobs. This form of regulation — largely established by state governments and implemented through their licensing boards — is often referred to as ‘the right to practice.’ Under these laws, working in a licensed occupation is illegal without first meeting government standards. In the 1970s, about 10 percent of individuals who worked had to have licenses, but by 2008, almost 30 percent of the work force needed them. With this explosion of licensing laws has come a national patchwork of stealth regulation that has, among other things, restricted labor markets, innovation and worker mobility.”
James Huffman in WSJ on "A Climate of Crisis by Patrick Allitt".
“The environmental lobby seldom acknowledged its failures – or even its successes. Since 1990, there has been a 90% reduction in automobile emissions (and a 99% reduction since 1960), yet the car remains public enemy No. 1. Despite widespread recognition that ethanol has few if any environmental benefits, subsidies and mandated use persist – and food prices have been driven higher by the diversion of corn from food to fuel production. Environmentalism has grown into an industry of interest groups, lobbyists, litigators, impact assessors and bureaucrats who rely on warnings of impending disaster to sustain and expand their enterprises. It is much the same with their opponents, for whom the wolf is always at the door – notwithstanding numerous examples of their somehow surviving what they had vehemently insisted were business-killing regulations. Both sides reacted in predictable ways when climate change reared its political head in the early 1990s.”
Ira Stoll at reason.com, "The Compliance Boom".
“Indeed, if there is a single fact that sums up the state of American political economy at the present moment, it is this: the Boston office building once home to Inc. Magazine and Fast Company, which chronicled and celebrated small and fast-growing businesses, is now the headquarters of a publication called Compliance Week. The Wall Street Journal, which used to advertise itself as ‘The Daily Diary of the American Dream,’ this month launched its own Risk & Compliance Journal. And The New York Times, which usually devotes its ‘30-Minute Interview’ feature to a real estate developer, last week featured the co-founder of SiteCompli, Jason Griffith. Founded in 2009, the company has 20 employees and plans to double that by the end of the year. Its business, the Times reports, is helping building owners ‘comply with the myriad rules and regulations within various New York City agencies.’ ‘We are growing very fast,’ Griffith told the Times. ‘Our revenues have been up 1,200 percent.’”
WSJ: "Obama’s Corinthian Kill".
“For five years the White House has been tightening the screws on for-profit colleges. So it's curious that the Obama Administration is now denying that it deliberately drove Corinthian Colleges out of business, all evidence to the contrary. Shouldn't it be declaring mission accomplished? Last month the Department of Education triggered a liquidity crisis at the Santa Ana-based Corinthian by cutting off federal student aid. Regulators then coerced the for-profit into an agreement to wind down 12 of its U.S. campuses and sell 85 others over the next six months. Last week, DOE appointed Chicago lawyer Patrick Fitzgerald, notorious for prosecutorial bullying, to oversee the liquidation. Corinthian's 72,000 students will be allowed to transfer, finish their degrees or withdraw with a full refund, but 12,000 jobs are in jeopardy. The White House is putatively trying to avert a chaotic Chapter 7 bankruptcy like the one that transpired in 2001 after regulators abruptly yanked federal aid from the for-profit Computer Learning Centers. Congress lashed department officials for their heavy-handed response that threw 10,000 students out of school. Yet the drive-by shooting of Corinthian may be even more vicious. California Attorney General Kamala Harris during a news conference in 2013 in San Francisco announcing the filing of a lawsuit against the for-profit Corinthian Colleges. Getty Images Department officials claimed on a call with reporters this month that ‘we did not know their cash situation’ when they blocked federal aid and ‘had no foreknowledge that this would be the reaction.’”
Doug Sosnik at politico.com, "Blue Crush – How the Left Took Over the Democratic Party".
“The victory of cultural liberalism has not been accompanied by a desire for a more active federal government. If anything, the country’s diminishing faith in its institutions has translated into a desire for less government, not more. It is difficult to overstate the depth of the anger and alienation that a majority of all Americans feel toward the federal government. A June 30, 2014, Gallup poll found that Americans’ level of confidence has dropped to near record lows for all three branches—the presidency (30 percent), Congress (7 percent) and the U.S. Supreme Court (29 percent).”
Ira Stoll at reason.com, "Big Government and the Campus Rape Controversy".
“Later this month, Valerie Simons will start a $150,000-a-year job as Title IX coordinator at the University of Colorado. The Boulder Daily Camera reports that Simons ‘served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Education Section, where she was the lead attorney in charge of enforcing Title IX and other civil rights laws around the U.S.’ In her new position, she will report directly to the university’s chancellor. In May of this year, Stanford announced that Catherine Criswell would join that university as its Title IX coordinator after a 19-year career at the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Harvard last year hired as its Title IX coordinator Mia Karvonides, another Department of Education Office of Civil Rights lawyer; a Harvard memo at the time reported by the Boston Globe reported that her ‘duties at the Office of Civil Rights included investigating post-secondary and elementary/ secondary institutions for compliance with Title IX.’ More such hires are on the way. The University of Missouri announced last month that it will add a full-time Title IX coordinator and an investigator to deal with sexual assault cases. And Harvard will hire what a New York Times article described as an in-house, on-campus ‘team of investigators’ to follow-up on complaints of sexual assault or harassment.”
WSJ Weekend Interview: "Camille Paglia by Bari Weiss".
“Ms. Paglia observes this phenomenon up close with her 11-year-old son, Lucien, whom she is raising with her ex-partner, Alison Maddex, an artist and public-school teacher who lives 2 miles away. She sees the tacit elevation of ‘female values’ – such as sensitivity, socialization and cooperation – as the main aim of teachers, rather than fostering creative energy and teaching hard geographical and historical facts. By her lights, things only get worse in higher education. ‘This PC gender politics thing – the way gender is being taught in the universities – in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness.’”
Ryan Wallerson in WSJ, "Team Sports Don’t Make the Cut with American Kids".
“Social networking, videogames and other technology may be drawing children away from sports. As many as 140 kids used to try out for 45 slots on the baseball team at Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, Kan. Today, fewer than 45 kids try out, says George Sallas, the school’s athletic director. ‘Kids are more trained now to stay at home and play videogames,’ he says. ‘Sports don’t intrigue them.’”
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz in NYT, "How Many American Men Are Gay? ".
“Searches questioning a husband’s sexuality are far more common in the least tolerant states. The states with the highest percentage of women asking this question are South Carolina and Louisiana. In fact, in 21 of the 25 states where this question is most frequently asked, support for gay marriage is lower than the national average. Craigslist lets us look at this from a different angle. I analyzed ads for males looking for ‘casual encounters.’ The percentage of these ads that are seeking casual encounters with men tends to be larger in less tolerant states. Among the states with the highest percentages are Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama.”
Joel Millman in WSJ, "If You’re Seeking Asylum, It Helps to Be Gay".
“The report notes that ‘NGOs reported 24 violent deaths of LGBT individuals’ through last September. Such official assessments have fueled a surge of successful asylum petitions from gays and lesbians in the Americas. Arguing that they suffer persecution because of their sexual orientation, hundreds if not thousands have managed to find safe haven, and a potential path to U.S. citizenship, in recent years. Fellow Latin Americans lodging asylum claims based on generalized violence, meanwhile, are routinely denied.”
Roni Rabin in NYT, "Ban on Medicare Coverage of Sex-Change Surgery Is Lifted".
“It said the current exclusion was ‘no longer reasonable’ because the surgery is safe and effective and can no longer be considered experimental. The decision, handed down Friday by a Department of Health and Human Services appeals board, reverses a Medicare policy in place since 1981. It comes as a small but growing number of university health plans and large companies — including some Fortune 500 companies like Shell Oil and Campbell Soup — have started covering gender transition services, and could signal further changes since many health plans follow Medicare’s lead on coverage.”
Donald McNeil Jr in NYT, "Are We Ready for H.I.V.’s Sexual Revolution? ".
“Some of the dire predictions of moralists did come true: Gonorrhea rates among women rose. Side effects like blood clots emerged. But the revolution stuck. For gay men — not to mention millions of Africans, drug users and others at risk for contracting H.I.V. — the world is again at such a moment. The F.D.A. has taken a drug — Truvada — that was approved for H.I.V. treatment in 2004, and approved it for prevention, a use called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. On May 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed PrEP, saying it could benefit up to 500,000 Americans. Predictably, a backlash has arisen. Some men who use it instead of condoms are called ‘Truvada whores.’ Some complain of being ‘slut-shamed’ by their own doctors, who are reluctant to write prescriptions. Opponents said that syphilis and gonorrhea rates, already high among gay men, would worsen.”
Camille Paglia at chronicle.com, "Scholars in Bondage".
“For all their putative leftism, gender theorists routinely mimic and flatter academic power with the unctuous obsequiousness of flunkies in the Vatican Curia. First of all, every gender studies curriculum must build biology into its program; without knowledge of biology, gender studies slides into propaganda. Second, the study of ancient tribal and agrarian cultures is crucial to end the present narrow focus on modern capitalist society. Third, the cynical disdain for religion that permeates high-level academe must end. (I am speaking as an atheist.) It is precisely the blindness to spiritual quest patterns that has most disabled the three books under review. The exhausted poststructuralism pervading American universities is abject philistinism masquerading as advanced thought.”
Christina Hoff Sommers at "ravishly.com".
“The Millennials have been cheated out of a serious education by their Baby Boomer teachers. Call it a generational swindle. Even the best and brightest among the 20-somethings have been shortchanged. Instead of great books, they wasted a lot of time with third-rate political tracts and courses with titles like ‘Women Writers of the Oklahoma Panhandle.’ Instead of spending their college years debating and challenging received ideas, they had to cope with speech codes and identity politics. College educated young women in the U.S. are arguably the most fortunate people in history; yet many of them have drunk deeply from the gender feminist Kool-Aid. Girls at Yale, Haverford and Swarthmore see themselves as oppressed. That is madness. And madness can only last so long.”
Janan Ganesh in FT, "Bad Luck, Not Policy, Is the Scourge of the Young".
“They are a generation of unique good fortune, preceded by parents who never knew Keynesian full employment and followed by heirs who have not been cocooned from global wage competition. To think of their experience as something replicable with the right mix of government policies and good intentions is a superbly efficient way of bankrupting a country. Surveys of social attitudes suggest that the young know this better than those who simper and protest on their behalf. People born after 1979 are more hostile to higher taxes to pay for welfare benefits than the baby-boomers or the generation before them. They are also more supportive of fiscal deficit-reduction, less enamoured of the National Health Service and generally questioning of the state – as you would be if you were about to spend your working life paying down a public debt accrued by other people.”
James Grant in WSJ on "The Reckoning by Jacob Soll".
“Early and late, Mr. Soll teaches the lesson of how hard it is to see with one’s eyes closed. Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France were divinely seated sovereigns who were, perhaps, even less welcoming of accountants bearing bad financial news than are today’s popularly elected governors and presidents. Nor did the institution of enlightened accounting always protect a republic against disorder and violence. Johan de Witt, a mathematically learned member of the 17th-century Dutch ruling elite, was a stickler for rigorous financial management. He ended his days in the hands of a mob that expressed its displeasure by cutting off his fingers and toes and eating his internal organs. One thinks, a little, in this context of the dispute between Standard & Poor’s and Timothy Geithner. In 2011, S&P demoted the credit of the U.S. Treasury, which Mr. Geithner then led. News of the downgrade, to double-A-plus from triple-A, did not amuse the Obama administration, which may or may not have expressed its pique by singling out S&P in a lawsuit for the crime of bungling the ratings of mortgage-backed securities during the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. The matter is before the courts, so far sans mob.”
Delphine Strauss in FT on "The Power of Currencies and Currencies of Power ed. by Alan Wheatley".
“Wheatley poses two overarching questions. How has the US used the ‘exorbitant privilege’ conferred by the dollar’s reserve currency ranking to project its power? And will China ultimately want to bid for similar status for the renminbi, given the loss of control over exchange rate policy this would require? Several writers argue here that the privilege for the US is far from unalloyed. Yes, the US earns seignorage – profits made by the issuer of a currency when people hold cash without earning interest – and demand for the dollar means it can issue debt and print money freely. Consequences include the US’s ability to sustain defence spending, which in turn reinforces the dollar’s appeal as a haven. But Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president, points out in a critique of the monetary system that there are two big costs to the dollar’s international role: the fact that other countries can hold down their exchange rates by buying dollars, which damages US trade and jobs; and the moral hazard that comes when there is no pressure to adjust economic and fiscal policy as imbalances increase.”
Jeremy Hammond in BARRON’S on "Crony Capitalism in America: 2008-2012".
“The corruption has numerous manifestations apart from the familiar one of politicians showering their private benefactors with special privileges. There is also the revolving door of Washington, where the public servants ‘regulating’ corporate behavior are drawn from the very same corporate world they are charged with overseeing. Then, after passing regulations favorable to their own industry, they go right back to work in the ‘private’ sector, making profits from the policies they helped enact. Whatever the means, the purpose is to circumvent or eliminate the free market. While government bailouts are an obvious example, sleight of hand is often involved. Thus, for example, the public may be deceived into thinking that regulations are aimed at limiting corporate abuses when their effect is just opposite. The legal complexities of dense regulations alone benefit big businesses, since they ‘discourage new competitors, especially small companies, which have not grown big enough to afford an army of accountants lawyers, and political advisors.’”
Daniel Ben-Ami at spiked-online.com, "Liberals Against Liberalism".
“For Siegel, a defining feature of modern liberalism is its attachment to what he calls the clerisy – a technocratic elite which he identifies with academia, Hollywood, the prestige press, Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Despite its professed attachment to equality of opportunity, this elite holds the mass of the American public, what Siegel refers to as ‘the middle class’, in contempt. The clerisy sees itself as superior to the rest of the population on meritocratic grounds. As the reach of the state has burgeoned, the clerisy has taken on an increasingly important social role. Over the years, American government has grown vastly, commanding more resources and employing more people, than ever before. As Joel Kotkin, one of the sharpest observers of contemporary American politics, has pointed out: ‘Since 1990, the number of government workers has expanded by some five million to some 20 million. That’s four times the number who were employed by the government at the end of the Second World War, a growth rate roughly twice that of the population as a whole.’ Members of the technocratic elite present themselves as impartial experts, but their interests are closely tied to the fortunes of this vast state apparatus.”
Barton Swaim in WSJ on "The Revolt Against the Masses by Fred Siegel".
“Mr. Siegel's chronicle begins with the breach that occurred between progressives and liberals during the Woodrow Wilson administration. When the administration began repressing dissent and ‘disloyal’ expressions even after World War I ended, intellectuals like Mencken and Croly, editor of the New Republic, were rightly outraged. Their outrage didn't, however, spring from a principled stance against the concentration of governmental power. Liberal intellectuals held fast to their belief that middle-class Americans were too stupid and spiritually impoverished to lead their own lives; indeed, the next time they got their hands on federal power – the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt – they used it for all it was worth. Liberal dislike for middle America, Mr. Siegel shows, is rooted in aesthetics rather than political principle, taste rather than empirical argument. Randolph Bourne, for instance, the Columbia-educated writer associated with the New Republic, wrote of ‘the downward undertow of our [that is, American] civilization with its leering cheapness and falseness of taste and spiritual outlook, the absence of mind and sincere feeling which we see in our slovenly towns, our vapid moving pictures, our popular novels, and in the vacuous faces of crowds on the city street.’”
William Deresiewicz in NEW REPUBLIC, "Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League".
“So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error.”
Jonathan Rose in LITERARY REVIEW on "Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age by James Secord".
“Around 1830, revolutionary information technology – steam-powered presses and paper-making machines – made possible the dissemination of 'useful knowledge' to a mass public. At that point professional scientists scarcely existed as a class, but there were genteel amateur researchers who, with literary panache, wrote for a fascinated lay audience. The term 'scientist' was invented only in 1833, by the polymath William Whewell, who gave it a faintly pejorative odour, drawing analogies to 'journalist', 'sciolist', 'atheist', and 'tobacconist'. 'Better die ... than bestialise our tongue by such barbarisms,' scowled the geologist Adam Sedgwick. 'To anyone who respects the English language,' said T.H. Huxley, 'I think "Scientist" must be about as pleasing a word as "Electrocution".' These men preferred to call themselves 'natural philosophers' and there was a real distinction. Scientists were narrowly focused utilitarian data-grubbers; natural philosophers thought deeply and wrote elegantly about the moral, cosmological and metaphysical implications of their work.”
Ollie Cussen in PROSPECT, "The Trouble with the Enlightenment".
“Pagden’s story begins with the world that the Enlightenment saw itself as replacing. The great thinkers of the 17th century – Newton, Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke – destroyed the scholasticism of the universities, which held that the human mind is hardwired with innate, God-given ideas, and replaced it with an account of human nature that relied instead on empirical experience and self-interest. The 18th century therefore inherited a worldview with rational man, not God, at its centre. But with Christianity no longer pulling the intellectual strings, what was to stop humanity from lapsing into self-centredness, cruelty and conflict? The Enlightenment’s great achievement, Pagden argues, was to repair the bonds of mankind. Its distinctive feature was not that it held history, nature, theology and political authority to the scrutiny of reason, as most of its critics and many of its champions claim, but instead that it recognised our common humanity – our ability to place ourselves in another’s situation and, ultimately, to sympathise with them.”
John Kaag at chronicle.com, "The Fathers of Philosophy".
“Our own lives are defined by anguish, despair, and existential crises – so obviously any offspring would face similar hardships. Why be complicit in that sort of suffering? Schopenhauer, who never raised kids, couldn’t think of a reason: ‘If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?’ That sounded reasonable to me.”
Tom Shippey in WSJ on "Philology by James Turner".
“All but one of our modern disciplines have philology in their ancestry – all except philosophy, which, he declares, ‘arrives at universally valid generalizations’ rather than scrutinizing individual cases. One may quibble with him here about how much philological influence persists. In the English-speaking world, the last century has seen a determined war of extermination fought against comparative philologists by their deadly enemies, the literary critics. J.R.R. Tolkien in particular, who said of himself ‘I am a pure philologist,’ fought all his career to promote and then to save a remnant of philology within the Oxford syllabus. The critics won within academia, only to find their aces trumped by Tolkien's success in the wider world. Tolkien nevertheless used his 1959 Oxford ‘Valedictory Lecture’ to lambaste the colleagues he called ‘misologists.’ Philology played little part in the 20th-century rise of New Criticism, now very old, with its emphasis on context-free close reading, and even less in the craze for literary theory, which has wandered off in the direction of philosophical speculation.”
Jed Perl in NEW REPUBLIC, "Liberals Are Killing Art".
“The problem is by no means a new one. Writing about Yeats’s poetry in the magazine Horizon in 1943, Orwell was abundant in his praise of Yeats’s art, rightly troubled by his authoritarian and perhaps even fascist politics, but could not resist, in closing, observing that ‘a writer’s political and religious beliefs are not excrescences to be laughed away, but something that will leave their mark even on the smallest detail of his work.’ Here we have what I would call the classic example of the liberal attack on the freestanding value of art. For while avatars of the left and the right are glad to impose upon the arts a relatively crude ideological test – are the characters the sort of people we regard as good? are the opinions stated ones with which we agree? – the liberal wants to tease out of the very texture of the work of art some ideological stance. The liberal imagination all too often yearns for an art that is logical, responsible, well-behaved. And so formal values – ‘the smallest detail of the work,’ as Orwell puts it – are dissected to see if they accord with some social or political stance.”
Thomas Fleming in CHRONICLES, "The Wasted Century".
“Our civilization, as Pound knew better than Eliot, was already botched before the Great War put the finishing touch to the collapse: The war was the high wind that demolished the tottering antiquities of post-Christian civility. Throughout the century that followed, leftists would try to dynamite the ruins into which frightened conservatives had moved as squatters and scavengers. Like an extermination squad, the leftists have gone from block to block, from generation to generation, chivvying the squatters from ruined churches and blowing up every little bit of shelter, from classical studies to marriage to the very nature and identity of the human race. Eliot drew a sort of weary strength from the bits of Latin, Italian, and Sanskrit he inserted into The Waste Land: ‘These fragments I have shored against my ruins,’ but nearly a century later our schools and universities have dumped those fragments into the trash. It is not an easy truth to face. It drove Eliot, before his conversion, to despair, and the unrepentant Pound into madness.”
Steven Lee Myers in NYT, "For a New Russia, New Relics".
“At first, the Bolsheviks struggled mightily to eradicate the church's traditional rites of burial; later, they embraced similar rites, in a way, in their quest to establish the eternal sainthood of their own heroes. ‘Soviet power, which sought in so many ways to deny the power of death, turned the heart of its capital, the ceremonial core of its government, into a grave,’ Catherine Merridale, a historian, wrote in Night of Stone: Death and Memory in 20th-Century Russia, published in 2000, describing Lenin's tomb. Those who had forced open the coffins of the Orthodox saints during the Bolshevik Revolution, she wrote, ‘now jealously preserved a relic of their own.’ Almost certainly not by accident, the rites for General Denikin and Mr. Ilyin coincided with a new debate over what to do with Lenin himself, whose waxy remains have been on display in Red Square, intermittently, since he died in 1924. Stalin was once embalmed and entombed on display there, as well, from his death in 1953 until 1961. His corpse had to be removed after his place in Soviet mythology was rewritten under Nikita S. Khrushchev. He now lies beneath the Kremlin wall behind Lenin's tomb.”
Pierre Souchon in LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE, "Back to the Land in Romania".
“A little further on, a kestrel eyed an old peasant farmer sitting in long grass, his scythe by his side. He was reading a book, glancing up to keep an eye on his one cow. ‘He is cultivating his mind,’ said Garban, reminding us of the words of the Romanian philosopher Lucian Blaga: ‘Eternity was born in the village.’ When we reached Sercaia in the centre of the country, eternity had put its foot on the accelerator. ‘The National Rural Development Programme (NRDP) is coming to your village,’ announced a poster on the door of the town hall. In a tent at the football stadium six uniformed Europeanisation agents were giving a PowerPoint presentation on financing a dairy farm.”
Scott Sayare in NYT, "As Wolves Return to French Alps, a Way of Life Is Threatened".
“Mr. Bruno’s lonely, pastoral approach – one still practiced by 60,000 French herders, though their numbers have fallen drastically in recent decades – is indeed supported by environmentalists, the government and the European Union as a model of sustainable agriculture. It is just the sort of communion of tradition and progressivism that appeals to European notions of modernity, and it is heavily subsidized as a result. Nonetheless, the average shepherd finishes the year with earnings that approximate the minimum wage, according to government figures. It is a hard living made harder by the wolf. ‘If you ask me, when they talk about ˈenvironmentalismˈ today, it’s meant for city people,’ Mr. Bruno said. ‘You go talk about the bear, the wolf, about nature that’s a bit wild, and you send them all off dreaming. ˈCome ask us, the shepherds, about putting sharks in the Mediterranean,ˈ he added wryly. ‘You’ll get 99 percent in favor. I don’t go swimming, I don’t give a damn!’”
Gaspard Koenig in FT, "France Is Run for the Benefit of the Old".
“It is a story common to other countries. On one side, we have the baby boomers born shortly after the second world war who control most of the country’s structures; the average age of a French MP is 60. They had it all: sexual revolution, complacent neo-Marxist ideology, easy employment, rising property prices, generous social transfers, free and high-quality health services and a generous retirement. They are designing a society that looks like them: fearful, risk-averse and inward-looking, Nationalism is also on the rise, echoed by politicians from all stripes, from industry minister Arnaud Montebourg to the leader of the far-right National Front Marine Le Pen. On the other side of the argument is the ‘deficit generation’, or Generation D. Given that the last time the French government passed a balanced budget was in 1974, anyone born after that point should qualify.”
Simon Kuper in FT, "The French Elite: How It Went Wrong".
“Whereas an American CEO and novelist will never meet, the French political, business and cultural elites have practically fused. They meet at breakfasts, exhibition openings and dinner parties. They become friends or spouses. They give each other jobs, cover up each other’s transgressions, write rave reviews of each other’s books. (Contrast the euphoria that greets Bernard-Henri Lévy’s books in France with his reception abroad.) The elite is the only French class that displays class solidarity, says Pinçon-Charlot. It’s tied together by shared secrets: for instance, many elite members knew about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s peculiar bedroom practices, but they were willing to let him run for president rather than inform the peasants beyond the Parisian ring road. To paraphrase the English writer E.M. Forster, these people would rather betray their country than betray a friend. Elite members justify these mutual favours in the name of friendship. In fact (as noted by the journalist Serge Halimi and others), it’s corruption.”
Gideon Rachman in FT, "Watch Out for the Rise of a European Tea Party".
“Europe’s rebel parties are very far from forming a coherent bloc. They range from proto-fascists such as Hungary’s Jobbik to the far-left Syriza in Greece – and from conservative nationalists such as Poland’s Law and Justice party to semi-anarchists such as the Five Star Movement in Italy. Some of the anti-establishment parties, such as France’s National Front, are trying to make the journey from the far right towards political respectability. A few, such as Ukip and parts of the Italian right, share the tax-cutting, small-government agenda of the Tea Party. Other rebel parties in Europe, including the Dutch Freedom party, have cast themselves as defenders of the traditional welfare state. What almost all Europe’s anti-establishment parties share with the Tea Party, however, is an anti-elitist rhetoric that casts mainstream politicians as the servants of a remote, globalised elite.”
Charlotte Allen in WSJ, "Christian Martyrs to Islam, Past and Present".
“The Cordoban emirate of that era, called Al-Andalus, has been lavishly praised by modern historians as a model of tolerant coexistence, in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived peacefully while the arts and letters flourished. This even though the Christians, the vast majority of the population, had seen their churches destroyed, were required to pay an annual poll tax as infidels, and as non-Muslim djimmis were treated (along with Jews) as second-class citizens under Shariah law. A tapestry featuring the portrait of the Ontranto martyrs is draped from the balcony overlooking St. Peter Square in Vatican City, Vatican, on May 12th. In Cordoba, Christians were under relentless social pressure to change religions, or at the very least to accommodate quietly to reality. So most historians these days describe the Cordoban martyrs either as secular nationalist revolutionaries or as suicide-seekers who deliberately insulted the Prophet Muhammad in their personal quests for heavenly glory or expiation for their sins. In truth, the crimes for which the Cordoban martyrs were executed – typically they were accused of blasphemy and apostasy for converting to Christianity – bear a striking resemblance to the ‘crimes’ against Shariah for which Christians are becoming martyrs or near-martyrs today in Muslim lands.”
Paul Berman in NEW REPUBLIC, "What Camus Understood About the Middle East".
“The revolutionary parties in the mid-twentieth century dreamed of purifying society by eliminating entire social classes, either through expulsion or extermination, and this was precisely a Soviet concept, even a Soviet invention, although widely adaptable. Nasser in Egypt was keen on expulsions. Under his nationalist revolution, the city of Alexandria gradually lost its Europeans as well as, by decree, its Jews – ancient populations in Egypt, who did not owe their existence to the European empires of the previous century or two. Arabist doctrine deemed the non-Arab populations to be nonetheless incompatible with the revolutionary goal. Camus observed that, by the 1950s, the Jews of Algeria were likewise beginning to flee. The gigantic exodus of the French Algerians, the pieds-noirs, took place only later, after his death. But the logic of expulsion was already evident. It goes without saying that during the last few years we have been witnessing still another phase of mass expulsions, namely, the flight of Arab Christians from many places across the region – in their case, fleeing not from the nationalist wing of the ‘Islamic Empire’ that Camus feared but from its overtly religious wing, the fanatical Islamists.”
Peter Hitchens in AMERICAN SPECTATOR, "The Arab Spasm".
“Democracy is not what made the Anglosphere nations great. In fact they greatly distrusted it – or else why was Washington D.C. built miles from anywhere, and provided by Pierre L’Enfant with wide avenues, which could easily be swept clear of mobs with a whiff of grapeshot? I might add that the U.S. Senate itself was originally protected from what Edmund Randolph called ‘the fury of democracy’ and until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913 (opposed by several honorable people including Elihu Root) was not elected by popular vote. The real heritage of liberty comes from other sources – the rule of law over power that began with Magna Carta, habeas corpus, separation of powers, jury trial, freedom of the press, and the independent judiciary. These safeguards, as it happens, have been weakened or belittled just as the powers of the West have conducted their noisy love affair with democracy at home and abroad. It is democracy, egged on by a gullible fourth estate, that has given us Homeland Security and its arbitrary powers, and liberal interventionism. It is the same democracy, aided by atrocity propaganda, that has been used to override old concerns for national sovereignty. Yet it is only in sovereign nations, which make their own laws, that liberty can be successfully sustained.”
Sudarsan Raghavan in WP, "Slavery in Mali".
“Her light-skinned master no longer beats her with a camel whip. He no longer makes her work from dawn to night without pay. He fled with his family four months ago, along with the Islamists who briefly ruled this historic city. ‘I am free,’ said Aminaya Traore, a 50-year-old woman who was born into slavery. ‘I can do whatever I want.’ Across this sand-swept city, hundreds of modern-day slaves are experiencing a sense of liberation, many for the first time. Nearly all the lighter-skinned Tuaregs and Arab Moors who for generations exploited them have fled the city, fearing reprisal attacks for supporting supporting the Islamists or the Tuareg separatists whose rebellion helped ignite the Islamist takeover of Mali’s north last year. ‘Under the Islamists, blacks were exploited even more by the pink-skinned people,’ said Roukiatou Cisse, a social worker with Temedt, a human rights group, referring to the Tuaregs and Arab Moors. ‘They told them, ˈWe are with the Islamists. We are in power. We are the masters and you are our slaves. We will do what we want.ˈ”
Mujib Mashal in WSJ, "Taliban Silence Pakistani Musicians".
“For centuries, Pashto musicians such as Mr. Alam were based in Dabgari Bazaar in Peshawar's ancient, walled inner city. Music shops lined the top floors of old two-story buildings with wooden balconies. The ground floors housed merchants who sold household material such as woven beds and embroidered cushions for newlyweds. ‘The place was full of music shops – it was like a packed train,’ said 72-year-old Ustad Ahmad Gul. A musical prodigy who recorded his first tracks for Radio Pakistan when he was 8 years old, Mr. Gul had a shop in Dabgari for 18 years. But amid the new climate of intolerance, the neighborhood's residents took the initiative to start expelling the musicians from Dabgari in 2004, said Mohamaed Ershad, an elderly shopkeeper there who sells cotton. The musicians ‘had changed – they were no longer the old respected artists,’ complained Mr. Ershad, who at the time had rented his top floor to a musician. ‘There was dancing here.’ When the musicians resisted leaving Dabgari, shops were set on fire and musical instruments flung to the streets. Police also barged into Nishtar Hall, the city's premium space for performing arts, during a concert and kicked the microphones as a live audience watched.”
Dominic Berger at qantara.de, "Indonesia’s New Anarchists".
“Another sign that insurrectionary anarchism is growing in Indonesia is the appearance of entirely new groups. Between June and September 2013, the internationally active Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claimed responsibility for attacks on a car and shop belonging to the vice secretary of the Democratic Party in South Sumatra, arson attacks against ATMs in Makassar, sabotage of electricity stations in Jakarta, and setting fire to a factory in Bandung producing bullet proof vests. The communiqué states that ‘police must be attacked, as hard as possible.’ Like the FAI, the ELF subscribes to an ‘anti-civilisation’ form of insurrectionary anarchism. On 20 August 2013, the ELF claimed responsibility for placing an incendiary device that burned out the third floor of the Institute Kesenian (Arts Institute) in the upscale central Jakarta suburb of Cikini, stating that artists are ‘the puppets of civilisation’.”
Simon Winchester in WSJ on "Indonesia Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani".
“Why is there no Indonesian diaspora? Filipinos and Vietnamese and Indians and Chinese are sprinkled liberally around the planet. But Javans, Sumatrans, Ambonese, Kalimantanese, Papuans – there are relatively few outside Indonesia, even in the great melting pots, like the outer boroughs of New York City. Ms. Pisani explains: ‘Even Indonesians who are less contented with their lot... don't need to go overseas to look for a better life. Why bother, when there are plenty of places within your own country that provide opportunities almost as foreign? By drifting to another island, you can unlace the stays of place and clan.’ As does Mr. Pisani herself, unlacing and drifting, across the months, across thousands of miles, always delightfully up for an adventure. She seems never to have met a motorcycle she didn't get on, a ship she didn't board, an offer she wished to refuse. Though we sometimes fear for her – will she emerge safe and sound? – she always does, with another story to be told. ‘I resolved to go Haloban to talk to the Crocodile Whisperer,’ she writes engagingly from one remote islet, ‘hitching a lift on a boat . . . from a turtle monitoring station. The weather was filthy, but that didn't deter the boat boys. They emptied the water out... plugged the hole with a bit of an old flip-flop... It took nearly two hours, plenty of time to wonder how many weeks it would be before anyone noticed if I drowned out here.’ The impressionistic portrait of Indonesia that emerges – occasionally confusing, like her subject – is truly memorable. Memorable, and perhaps reassuring too.”
Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "China Removes Crosses From Two More Churches in Crackdown".
“Church leaders and analysts say the battle in Zhejiang, one of China’s wealthiest provinces, highlights the Chinese leadership’s discomfort with the growing allure of Christianity, whose adherents are said to rival in number the 86 million members of the Communist Party. The crackdown on Christianity in Zhejiang also coincides with a nationwide campaign that has been directed at legal rights defenders, pro-democracy advocates and liberal online commentators. Although the government has cited zoning rules in its fight against the churches, a provincial policy paper suggests that there may be other reasons, advising officials to use the zoning language in an effort to avoid international scrutiny. ‘This is crucial to investigate and prosecute from the perspective of laws and regulations to avoid inviting heavy criticism,’ according to the paper, called a Working Document Concerning the Realization of Handling of Illegal Religious Buildings, which began circulating last summer.”
Ian Johnson in NYT, "A Toppled Spire Points to a Church-State Clash in China".
“While churches in China are mainly privately financed – Sanjiang was built with $5.5 million in donations – traditional religious sites have expanded with strong government support. The government has also made a U-turn on how it treats indigenous religious practices. Just a decade ago, the Communist Party condemned fortunetelling, feng shui and many traditional funerary rites as ‘feudal superstition.’ Now, these are protected under government programs to support ‘intangible cultural heritage.’ Christianity, however, is seen by some in the government as a colonial vestige at odds with the party’s control of political and social life. ‘There’s also uneasiness that some of these Christian religions are getting infusions of logistical and financial and doctrinal support from abroad,’ Professor Yang said. Protestantism is also linked to a national debate about ‘universal values.’ Some Chinese Protestants argue that rights such as freedom of expression are God-given, and thus cannot be taken away by the state. These beliefs have led many Protestants to take up human rights work. A disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent political cases, for example, are Protestant.”
Ian Johnson at nybooks.com on Living Shrines of Uyghur China by Lisa Ross.
“One of China’s most turbulent areas, the huge autonomous region in the country’s northwest was brought under permanent Chinese control only in the mid-twentieth century. Officially, it is populated mostly by non-ethnic Chinese – Turkic peoples like Uighurs (also spelled Uyghurs), Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz, as well as Mongolians and even Russians – and its population has long had difficult relations with Beijing. In 2008, 2009, and 2012, Xinjiang was the site of bloody protests. Instead of representing these political conflicts, however, Ross’s photographs are unassuming and quiet; people are never present and the objects she captures – stone on sand, cloth on stone, the skeleton of a dried animal – have an incandescent glow, as if lit by another sun. In fact, these images reveal a little-known religious tradition in Xinjiang – its desert shrines to Sufi saints.”
Mark Kitto in PROSPECT, "Phantom Enemies".
“In the evening I wandered the town, hoping to find familiar sites, such as the sports ground where we’d danced and the parade ground where the imams had blessed our camels. Of course everything had changed. I would like to say it had ‘developed.’ But development in China means razing and rebuilding. There was no trace of the original Uighur architecture. The Han Chinese template for a modern town had been imposed on the flattened mud-brick houses: a large square dominated by an ‘artistic’ sculpture, white-tiled government offices, broad streets laid out in a grid, all signage in the same colour and font, residential areas of apartment blocks behind gates and walls, an ‘industrial development zone’ on one edge of town, empty, unused. Even the outlying villages had been unified, or ‘harmonised,’ to use the phrase of Chinese internet users mocking the government’s jargon. On the road we had passed brand new hamlets of identikit one-storey brick buildings with yards, and beside them large posters explaining which Chinese city, county or state had donated the funds for construction. The Makit officials told me that every Uighur rural household was given about 24,000 yuan (£2,500) with which to build a new house. Of the compounds we saw, perhaps half were inhabited.”
Obituary of the Issue.
Ed "The Claw" Sprinkle (1923-2014).
"Mr. Sprinkle always contended his style of play was rough but legal. His techniques, according to the Collier's article, included tripping and spinning his opponents. 'As far as anybody from the Bears or Green Bay trying to hurt somebody or play dirty, it wasn't in the cards as far as I'm concerned,' Mr. Sprinkle told the authors of the 1997 book on the Bears-Packers rivalry, Mudbaths and Bloodbaths: The Inside Story of the Bears-Packers Rivalry. 'But if you got a chance to kill a guy, you killed 'im.' Mr. Sprinkle, who played in four Pro Bowls, worked during the off-season for Inland Steel as an engineer. He retired from the Bears after the 1955 season but remained a frequent presence in town.... Sprinkle owned a tile and carpeting store in Chicago's Mt. Greenwood neighborhood and later moved his family and his store to Palos Park. He also owned a bowling alley in Chicago Ridge for a time, his daughter said."
Thanks to Mike Vann Gray, Mark Carducci, Mike Carducci, Don Fausett, Nick Lindsay, Andy Schwartz, Steve Beeho.
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