a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Issue #17 (October 28, 2009)

Los Angeles State Historic Park, Chinatown

Photo by Chris Collins

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the desk of Joe Carducci...

Ernie Terrell leaves Roseland.

The boxing sidebar to this story of Terrell giving up and moving out of his southside neighborhood due to building teenage gang violence hints at a reappraisal of Muhammad Ali to come sometime after his death. Ali's Parkinson's has functioned almost as the assassination of JFK did for his reputation -- putting all questions beyond the pale. But the pale of Camelot enlarged and so will the pale of Cassius. Any story about Terrell, Joe Frazier or other boxers of that era that one sees indicates that Ali's strange welding of black nationalism, black radicalism, the white hipster elite, and the new counter-culture fails to hold under inspection and the reappraisal has begun in black sports fandom.

Ali was a version of Staggerlee loose in the roiling pop culture of then, when many a psychotic trod their pathologies while disguised as communitarians of one sort or another. Nick Tosches wrote up his investigation into whether the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight(s) which launched Ali’s fame was a mob fix. Tosches judges Yes and wrote it up for Vanity Fair and as a book, The Devil and Sonny Liston.

Clay didn't know it according to Tosches, but then that makes him appear even more the fool as he verbally trashes his opponents. And his current condition leaves the stories told today coming from those who survived those titanic battles intact.


Ex-Chicago Tribune writer on the NYT hires for the coming Chicago edition.

They'd be hiring Sun-Times cast-offs if they really intended to cover the city. Meanwhile the new figures show only the WSJ gains circulation.


Crib-notes for the NYT on Chicago Personality Disorder by precinct.


In Wyoming news: Pete Williams on rancher-pol Cliff Hansen's death.


"The Muslim World Needs Reform"

Whatever Islam's doctrinal shortcomings, the faith is often used as cover for ancient cultural practices it was meant to supplant. It failed in this because its metaphysics seem conceived first to address sectarian concerns vis-a-vis Christendom and Judasim, and secondly to answer administrative problems on earth with the one-size-fits-all command: Submit. This can only work a short while.

Christ's story is more socially useful in today's world of economic and cultural dynamism -- its metaphysics are rooted in nature and man’s struggle to temper nature, rather than merely the political realm. Judaism has no evangelical aspect, but Islam might have been the faith growing in the new China -- it is one of the officially recognized religions. That that is inconceivable and there are now almost a hundred million Christians in China are of a piece. A dynamic China feels it needs something to temper the new business culture; they've tried the purely civic metaphysics of socialism and barely survived. Islam today is roiled not so much over Jews and Christians which it knows, but by the rising of Buddhist and Hindu nations above the Islamic world. These aren't even people of the Book, and that's a crisis.


Lightbourne turned me onto the book, Wittgenstein's Vienna, by Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, and though it’s full of high-flyin’ stuff I barely got through, it also is the book that sent me on to more other books and subjects I didn't know I was interested in than anything I've read since Mark Lilla's The Reckless Mind. The first thing I looked for was an anthology in translation of the work of Karl Kraus, who may have been the first modern newspaper columnist and media critic. Too expensive the last I looked but there is The Anti-Journalist by Paul Reitter (Chicago).

I haven't finished it but I will get back to it soon. I earlier hadn't finished Robert Musil's novel of that Vienna, The Man Without Qualities, which Chris had called to my attention a couple years ago. What is striking is how much of the modernist project centered in Vienna, rather than Berlin or Paris or London. The names include Freud, Schoenberg, Klimt, Wittgenstein, Loos and others. Kraus was unknown to me so I started with him. But Vienna itself -- Kraus called it "the proving ground for world destruction" -- where Islam was stopped, and the twin-crowned Austro-Hungarian Empire what did the stopping and whose heir to the throne's murder set The Great War in motion is on my radar now. Here's a nice appreciation of Vienna's Golden Ringstrasse, "great landmark of human freedom and urban design."


Mayor Antonio Ledezma of Caracas won office by defeating the Chavista candidate after which President Chavez created the jurisdiction of the Capitol Caracas District and transferred virtually all Mayoral authority to this new office, thus leaving Ledezma with plenty of time on his hands to try to reconstitute the opposition. It seems the nations of the former New Spain, and greater Kingdom of Portugal are only now, into their second century of independence, beginning to manifest their own unique syndromes. In the past it seemed the class divisions inherited from Iberia were about the same and the national borders down there were needless fictions. Now it seems that even neighboring countries like Colombia and Venezuela, and Argentina and Brazil are moving along completely different trajectories, perhaps determined by subtle differences in history and immigration patterns over the last four centuries, as well as topography. And then there's Mexico. God is still as far from Mexico as ever, but the United States' success in promoting free trade seems to have about dissolved that border. Certainly guns and drugs and laborers move back and forth with citizenship and legal formalities seeming mere administrative bottlenecks. Mexicans come north and if lucky have children who as American citizens join La Raza on campus and demand a Reconquista of the southwest -- figuring I guess that their kids can in turn escape the spread of Mexico to Canada, where I think the cuisine is just beginning to arrive. Argentina is another long-running basket-case of increasingly unique design. It was settled with a mix that included more Italians and Germans than usual down south and seemed to get stuck in the political culture of the 1930s when populism took the scientific edge off of socialism in the west. Argentina has better land and climate than most of Latin America but Argentines manage with their votes to parlay that into being forever in hock to the IMF. The International Monetary Fund was founded in 1944 and though it has changed and can be critiqued as a sugar-trap that doesn't encourage growth very efficiently, Argentina's problems began much earlier. The Kirchners, another power couple in the old thirties Perón-style only now as tag-team, may run out the string on these games, especially as Brazil has begun to lift itself out of the third world. Former Kirchner apparat Alberto Fernandez has broken his silence recently.

[Image: Spain-Portugal treaty]


And speaking of that Iberian weight upon LatAm: "The terror of Spanish painting" is at the National Gallery in London, and will move to the National Gallery of Art in DC.


And speaking of blood: The Modern Period.


Delete, the book, runs counter to conventional wisdom, but not so much about what the web is doing to memory. Instead, author Viktor Mayer-Schönberger stresses the importance of retaining the ability to forget. And in this interview with novelist Jonathan Lethem he recalls being advised culturally by the late Paul Nelson in the days before films could be easily accessed.


Fred Halliday’s answer to his own query, "What was communism?" is interesting, but his phrase “the great global civil war of 1914-91” in the first paragraph tips off his sympathy’s limitations. Elsewhere, Timothy Garton Ash reviews the books just out at the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall. He notes that the deaths on Tiananmen Square in China, which occurred in June 1989, helped turn European Communist opinion away from that live option later in that year. And Open Democracy also reprints a Russian analysis of that country’s difficulty with its 20th Century past. WWII as a world-historical event becomes a block to comprehension in a culture’s “historical memory”. In this country too, though mostly on domestic policy. In Russia it runs deeper as Stalin himself hid behind Mother Russia’s skirts to fight the Great Patriotic War. Remembering the four-year fight against the Germans is easy but, as Arseny Roginsky writes of the rest of the Soviet decades, “we mainly killed our own people, and our consciousness refuses to accept this fact.”


Jack Shafer veers near the subject of the scale of damage FDR did to this country and its political culture over his three-plus terms in order to put a gloss on President Obama's war on Fox News. And again, WWII as historical backstop disguises all everywhere. No danger we'll prosecute this war that way though. Standards have changed, returned to the pre-FDR norm, and risen just slightly from there perhaps.


[Ink painting by Joe Carducci, 1977]

Martin Shaw on the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, "to call it 'fighting' would be to dignify what are mainly atrocities against civilians."


Here is a classic example of NYT politicized editing:
"Ten months after the Israeli military said it invaded this Palestinian coastal strip to stop the daily rocket fire of its Islamist rulers, there are many ways to measure the misery of Gaza."

The words "said it" dropped in do whatever it is the editors think needs doing to prove the Times is a neutral arbiter of the coming middle east peace of their dreams. They want to think of themselves as a player and it messes with the job they do. There used to be a guy here in Naperville who read the NY Times at the library and he would copy-edit with a ballpoint all the articles on the middle east what he surely saw as exhibiting the creeping anti-semitism of the New York Times. That was over a decade ago, and if it isn't that, it is worse whatever it is.

(Thanks: Roger Trilling, Andy Schwartz)

Wednesday, October 21, Along the DuPage River, Naperville, Illinois

Photo by Joe Carducci

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer


  1. Joe, have you got a collection of your drawings/paintings? Anywhere I could see em in a higher res?

  2. You ask, we deliver. Joe's drawing above now clicks to a higher res version. As for the rest of his collection...