a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Issue #30 (January 27, 2010)

Chicago, From the Former Sears Tower Skydeck

Photo by Chris Collins

Milton L. Rakove - Machine Dreams (Cadenza)

by Rebecca Pavlatos

"This will probably be the last class I teach… Pretty soon I’ll be going to that BIG University in the sky." It was the first day of class and Professor Milton Rakove just told us he was going to die. When he said “BIG University in the sky” he pointed upwards. His lips were parched as he spoke, probably from the cancer treatment he was undergoing. Through his thick black glasses you could see his eyes were slightly squinted with gentleness and reassurance. He had a smile on his face with a hint of mischief. There were about 100 of us, all undergrad students at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle campus. There was no response in the room. It was silent. We all just looked at him. It was the spring of 1983; Rakove died 8 months later at the age of 65.

I don’t remember that many details from the class. I didn’t want to be there. I had to stop pursuing a degree in music theory and transfer over to Circle because my dad was out of work and it was less expensive than where I was at. It was the “great” recession. I went from analyzing Bach Fugues to this concrete ugly place with lecture halls that had no windows, too many students and a professor who just told us he was going to die. What did I get myself into? I was in a daze.

At the start of the class, I didn’t know that Rakove had analyzed and chronicled Chicago Machine Politics, written two books about it, and that it was his life’s work. The name of the class was “International Relations”. The text book he chose for us was The Theory of International Relations by Hans Morgenthau -- Rakove’s mentor at the University of Chicago. Morgenthau was interested in the study of power on an International Level (that’s the short of it). Rakove kept hammering away at Morgenthau’s definition of “the balance of power”. He wanted us to understand that.

What I remember the most about “the balance of power” though, was not what it meant, but that it became the pivot point in his lectures that took us from power as it applied to International Relations; to the type of power he loved to talk about the most: the Chicago Daley Machine.

He couldn’t help himself and he did it with that same smile that he had when he told us he was going to die -- only more animated and more mischievous. He was onto it all. He was telling a story and that’s what it felt like every time he talked about the machine. It was a story he loved telling.

The classes continued in the same fashion for a while. We’d crack open the Morgenthau; the phrase came up “balance of power” and bam -- next thing you know, right into Chicago Machine Politics.

As time went by, the pivot occurred in shorter and shorter intervals until one day he surrendered and said something like “I know some of you really did want to learn about International Relations.” He shrugged his shoulders apologetically and with that same smile he said something like, “I’m sorry” or “Oh well” or “what are they going to do fire me?" And then he let it rip. For the rest of the semester he was like a soloist delivering a cadenza in a concerto; virtuosic and ornate. He talked about what he loved full-on, and in that deliverance he emanated love. Even though it was so long ago, and I was in a daze, I remember that with absolute clarity.

He believed that the Chicago Machine preceded Daley and would survive after Daley. I don’t think he’d be surprised that Daley Jr. took back the throne. I wonder what he thought of the University’s plans and how they partnered with Daley Jr. to level Maxwell Street, at one time one of the largest open air markets in the world. The ground work was being laid for that maneuver right around the 80’s. I’m sure he knew about it. What about the leveling of Meigs Field. The X’s carved into the runway. The parking meters. Barack Obama. The beauty of his analysis is that it continues to provide a framework to understand these events and those to come in the City of Big Shoulders.

I never made it over the hump with Circle Campus. I eventually took out as many student loans as I had to to get myself back to my music theory degree. I left all of that concrete and was reunited with beauty. I was happy to see all of the pianos in the building that I had come to know. Having encountered Professor Milton Rakove though, was a different kind of beauty that I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience.

[Milton L. Rakove photo courtesy UIC]

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Kroehler Desk of Joe Carducci…

Gordon Chang in the CSM believes “China is now reaching the peak of a bubble.” He notes that its stimulus spending was double the announced figure of $586billion but figures this “sugar high” has only reinforced the state economy and stalled the needed development of a domestic consumer economy necessary for China to mature beyond its export-dependent first stage. But the FT has been full of evaluations of “lower-tier” urban infrastructure spending. James Kynge’s column is cautious about whether this state spending is prelude to the development of a continental economy within or is just more functionary to functionary corruption, but Geoff Dyer visits Wuhan, “one of the giant cities in the centre of China barely known outside the country…. That vies for the title of ‘China’s Chicago’, a hinterland centre for logistics, services and industry.” Of course Chicago had to not only connect the product of the Great and lesser plains from Fargo to Galveston to the urban Northeast and Europe, it was also the new jumping off point to reach the west coast. The PRC has no “west coast” facing the future development of Asia and a final tying together of a world economy. China has no Great Lakes and it peters out in contested inland high deserts or mountain ranges, so it will have no Chicago but many Pittsburghs and Clevelands, some the size of Mexico City may God have mercy on their souls.


The Google move to leave China contains a deeper threat than at first was visible. The urban elite prefer Google to the more popular but more provincial Baidu and so while there is predictable semi-official anger expressed as summarized here in the FT, there is also a strange lack of a definitive response from the government. Meanwhile Google.cn has now been open to unfiltered searches for close to two weeks. Currently most searches of taboo subjects are filled, but some censoring seems intermittently to occur bringing this response: 据当地法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。("Due to local regulations, some results have not been included.") What must this mean? The Tuesday NYT has this roundup of the US military’s search for a cyberspace strategy and this puts me in mind of the equation, Google.cn = 9-11, which has a poetic resonance to it because it was 9-11 that interrupted what seemed a duel shaping up between China and the US. Before Al Qaeda tossed their crisis onto our plate it was the bringing down of the spy plane by a Chinese fighter ace over Hainan Island that seemed to represent the most urgent concern. And like the 9-11 attack and further the Bali bombings in Indonesia (which forced that government to acknowledge and fight an Islamic extremism that was already incubating in Sulawesi and might have spread wider and deeper throughout Indo), Google’s decision that the hacking that followed the tightening of censorship was too much to take dramatized the low-level early stage danger to the West’s benefit. The ex-citizen of the USSR Sergei Brin now won the argument he’d been losing to the other two owners of Google, and this cyber-threat is out of the tech-blogs and defense blogs and into the news media. In that NYT piece: “In the final years, the Bush administration started a highly classified effort, led by Melissa Hathaway, to build the foundations of a national cyberdeterrence strategy. ‘We didn’t even come close,’ she said in a recent interview…. Ms. Hathaway was asked to stay on to run Mr. Obama’s early review. Yet when an unclassified version of its report was published in the spring, there was little mention of deterrence. She left the administration when she was not chosen as the White House cybersecurity coordinator.” The post was just filled after seven months vacant so hopefully Hillary Clinton’s challenge asking China to investigate the hacking of Google indicates this is all back on the state’s plate. And China’s heated response to the Clinton speech marks it as a very deft challenge. For all their bluster, the lack of action against Google in this period indicates the PRC is actually knocked speechless, at least until those in the PLA military-intelligence loop are forced to confess what they’ve been doing to a Party leadership that is likely only quasi-computer literate. But as Tuesday’s CSM editorial summarizes China-based hacking of American energy companies, “For all the shock and spectacle of an al-Qaeda terrorist attack, the Monitor investigation makes clear that a largely silent war is going on via the Internet and deep within the databases of international companies. The stakes in the global cyber-war are at least as high as those in the global war on terror.”


The Quants, by Scott Patterson, excerpt in WSJ:

“Oddly, the Bizarro World of quant trading largely masked the losses to the outside world at first. Since the stocks they’d shorted were rising rapidly, leading to the appearance of gains on the broader market, that balanced out the diving stocks the quants had expected to rise. Monday (Aug. 6, 2007), the Dow industrials actually gained 287 points. It gained 36 more points Tuesday, and another 154 points Wednesday…. The huge gains in those shorted stocks created an optical illusion: the market seemed to be rising, even as its pillars were crumbling beneath it.”


The Relentless Revolution by Joyce Appleby, reviewed for the NYTBR by Stephen Mihm. Karl Marx was notably unromantic about feudal economic patterns, but when his Communist Manifesto popularized the term Capitalism to describe the evolving network of market structures, his readers naturally presumed it might be easy to choose something other than capitalism. This many still believe though they have nothing to go on but their imaginations. According to the reviewer Appleby begins noting “the rise of the economic system we call capitalism was in many ways improbable.” It is striking how soft-headed the left becomes once the new left relaunches Rousseau and radicals begin to give up on economics and scientific progress and focus on the dream of living in the manner of pre-industrial societies. Soon after the sixties the use of the word controversial migrated to apply to populist, traditional, or conservative ideas rather than as a virtual marketing term during the dashing late sixties phase of the cultural revolution. And then right after that the left began complaining about the transformative energy unleashed by freer market structures -- capitalism was so damn revolutionary! As Mihm and Appleby stress government involvement in postwar era capitalism they seek to discredit capitalism but reassign credit for its pitiless transformations to legislatures and bureaucrats, and presumably the guiding hands of experts such as themselves. This sort of writer prefers an economy dead on its back so as to allow their slow-moving minds the time to get it more fully in focus; as intellects they are professionally hostile to living systems.


What’s interesting about this M.D.’s book review of another M.D.’s book The Trauma Myth in Tuesday’s NYT Health pages is that she, and apparently her, don’t feel NAMBLA’s self-interested literature on this bizarre leavening of the what - alleged? - damage to children’s psyches by sexual abuse, is worth mentioning. Camille Paglia is another, somewhat more visible and disinterested dissenter from what she thought of as the infantilization of rape victims, though she referred more to older girls and women.


Francis Beckett on the British boomers.


Greece is testing the eurozone’s relative forces of attraction-repulsion as one knew it would, with a line forming behind it consisting of Portugal… Italy... The FT is best on this one while it’s still on the margins. Martin Wolf on Wed has it as “The Greek tragedy deserves a global audience”, and Wolfgang Munchau on the weekend has it as “Spartan solutions from Brussels will be fought by Athens”. Wolf traces the resultant lengthening of resultant EU-wide recessions, while Munchau sorts through the four options: Default with bail-out, Default without bailout, Greece makes the budget cuts and tax increases necessary to get itself into compliance, and lastly, what he believes most likely and most dangerous to the eurozone itself, fudging it. Greece’s emergency bond-sale likely buys time for what’s behind door number four.


Samuel Brittan in the FT reviews three books on liberalisms.


Simon Shuster on the trail of the Kazakstan immaculate arms delivery.


Islam criticism: the German feuilleton debate.


The New Republic is the most successful of the old-line political magazines, not that any of them are profitable. But its politics are grounded in philosophy, art, and literature to insure that it’s off the liberal reservation enough to know what the world outside looks like. And every few months it presents a long essay on art or media or politics that prompts a quick decision to buy the issue. That’s not enough so save TNR so it’s just launched “the Book, An Online Review at The New Republic,” and it's loaded with interesting essays:

Damon Linker on Michael Kimmage’s book The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism, writes that “Kimmage traces in considerable detail the circuitous paths that led Chambers and Trilling into and out of the communist orbit. But he is equally interested in the contribution of each man’s anti-communism to the development -- and more important, the moderation -- of political ideology in postwar America.”

Adam Kirsch on Zeev Sternhell’s The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition, notes that “ordinarily, when historians of ideas talk about conservative and nationalist thinkers such as Burke and Herder -- eighteenth-century figures who opposed the rationalist and universalist ideas of their age -- they speak of the ‘counter-Enlightenment.’ The term was popularized by Isaiah Berlin, a rationalist who explored deeply the works of the Enlightenment’s critics and suggested that the ‘counter-Enlightenment’ was a useful corrective to some of the excesses of the tradition of Voltaire and Rousseau, or at least a potential resource for combating the Enlightenment’s hubris.” Kirsch scores Sternhell for meaning by his construction ‘anti-Enlightenment’ an abject dismissal of the critique: “Yet it was not just these thinkers who felt that the advance of science and liberalism was making the world less happy. The same intuition can be found in almost all the literature of the nineteenth century, from Wordsworth to Dostoevsky, and sometimes even in Mill, the greatest liberal of all.”

John Summers on the 1962 Dwight Macdonald collection, Against the American Grain, writes “It was not wealth (he had little) or Yale (from which he was nearly expelled) or bad politics (he was a democrat, and a friend to radical youth) or exotic taste (Poe was his favorite writer) that led Macdonald to locate creativity in small, self-selected communities. It was his experience in magazines. Masscult was unimprovable. Midcult was pernicious.” It’s useful to revisit all the cranks of the last century as the media evolution in America was so fast that it will take this century to trace all that happened that century and diagnose what caused what. Lightbourne’s old paperback fell apart recently but he saved the first essay and after restapling it together at Kinko’s I reread “Masscult and Midcult“, and Macdonald’s onto something even when he’s wrong or more often simply uninterested in what’s new, like say rock and roll. Things in 1962 were far from boring.

Still, stepping back I’ve begun to think that what has played out was something the Vatican called during the Renaissance: Turn man’s attention from God and he will again be mere animal. Music had its high period and then sure enough its thrilling, interesting collapse until there isn’t a drop of high in low, and humans will only lift a finger to trigger a machine that rocks out like an engineer. That may mean we don’t even make decent animals these days.

And in the TNR itself Gabriel Sherman notes the peculiar Washington Post-flavor of newspaper blues. They were uniquely dominant in D.C. and lazy about certain things and their web-side gets no respect, but that’s true of many if not all still surviving dailies. What I had noticed about the Post in the past was that it was the ugliest daily still surviving from the hot lead-typesetting lay-out days, before it finally went to computers and color.


Svetlana Kunin’s episode 5 of her “Perspectives of a Russian Immigrant” in the IBD starts, “Visitors to national parks are warned not to feed the wildlife because this interferes with the natural survival ability of the animals. Progressives do not make the same connection with human nature.”


The NYT noted Saturday that a majority of union members are now “Employees of the Government.”

Steven Greenhouse quotes Fred Siegel of the Manhattan Institute, “In four big states -- New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California -- the public-sector unions have largely been untouched by the economic downturn. In those states, you have an impeding clash between the public-sector unions and the public at large.” The WSJ columnist Steven Greenhut writes about California’s public employee unions, “Approximately 85% of the state’s 235,000 employees (not including higher education employees) are unionized. As the governor noted during his $83 billion budget roll-out, over the past decade pension costs for public employees increased 2,000%. State revenues increased only 24% over the same period.” When former Speaker of the Calif legislature (1981 - 1995) stuck his little toe outside the Democratic Party reservation in a single item of his SFC imitation-Herb Caen column, the unfortunately named Dick Meister, former labor editor of that paper went off half-cocked. Willie Brown really owes California at least an 800-word column length mea culpa, but as he said and his secretary took down:

“Talking about this is politically unpopular and potentially even career suicide for most officeholders. But at some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact that 80 percent of the state, county and city budget deficits are due to employee costs. Either we do something about it at the ballot box, or a judge will do something about in Bankruptcy Court. And if you think I'm kidding, just look at Vallejo.”

There will be no sidling from the coming showdown; the thirties are over. Remember Vallejo.


This is the kind of idiot who doles out Ford Foundation money decades after the family loses control of Henry’s fortune, which unlike say the Kennedy’s was not stolen by gaming the stock markets in ways illegal even then. The Kennedy School of Government! Naturally…


Philip Stephens in the FT channels the European id after French minister Alain Joyandet complained the US was occupying rather than helping Haiti, “The US must act as the world’s policeman and, when necessary, as its white knight. But it must never presume to be in charge.” France, the U.N., the U.K., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Turkey, Poland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Tibet, the Philippines, Vietnam (again now), and many others have sought to collar American military power for their security or profit. And in truth it could be hard to tell when it was in our interest as well during the cold war, and maybe it’s only become more difficult to tell now. But the UN fetishists keep finding out that when American soldiers are in battle we are best in charge if only for the good safekeeping of their own political careers.


Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph once led reasonable people to expect the heavens to vaporize into the… well somewhere higher up I guess. He was part of that email conjob cooking up the next number string to send us over the tipping point into truly funding their genius which is stratospheric to say the least. Mann’s job is saved by stimulus grant for now according to the WSJ. But will a mere $541,184.00 plus an additional grant of $1.9million get his jobs done?

Meanwhile the IBD recounts a NASA data problem which could easily require many multiples of those dollar figures given this is the NASA bureaucracy that will have to unjigger and then rejigger the numbers, including the inconvenient ones left out. And more: the London Times: UN to Earth: Mistakes were made. Drop dead anyway.


Ueli Bernays, music writer for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, on falsetto through the genres. He doesn’t stress the gospel context of certain country and soul falsetto manoeuvres which helped rich-up the resultant ecstatic vocalizations. And I think it was the comic Franklyn Ajaye who used to do a very funny stand-up routine where black dude is caught between his woman on one side and some punk on the other; dude turns to his woman and in deep, low-pitched tones tells her to back off and let him take care of it, then turns to the guy and assumes a high-pitched voice to recite an inventory of injury he promises he will deliver to him. He has to turn back and forth between his woman and the man and each time he switches from baritone to falsetto. Saw it on TV in the seventies; couldn’t find it on youtube.


Mike Watt follows up his radio show with Jack Brewer with the Joe Baiza episode, includes some interesting Watt-Baiza / Pedro-Wilmas seventies prehistory.


Craig Gray interviewed on the Toiling Midgets and by extension the Sleepers, and Negative Trend.


N.Y. Rocker cover art.


Chicago replaces “rock” promoter Jam Productions (and their $147million contract!) to run the Maxwell Street market which by all accounts was once fine in its own state of anarchy.


John Kass on the Trib’s Michael Madigan investigation begins by imagining Madigan’s eyes as he reads the two-parter “The Madigan Rules” which paints as good a portrait of local politics as there’s been put to canvas lately. Madigan is the Daley of the state of Illinois legislature -- that is, he’s saved from the venal temptations those who aspire to higher office often succumb to in their nervous fear of missing an opportunity. Thus freed to take a significant job, Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, he applies all his focus and skills on making it work to his, and his family, and maybe on occasion the public’s benefit. Unfortunately for the state, the Speakership is not as visible as a Mayor and much of Madigan’s culpability for Illinois’ woes over the decades since 1983, with a two year interruption, stick to all the sundry Governors who pass along much more quickly into history, muttering about Michael Madigan as they go.

One more interesting Chicago-related bit: All five members of "The McLaughlin Group" on Friday agreed that Rahm Emanuel would be out as the President’s Chief of Staff by the end of the year.

(thanks to Mike Watt, Steve Beeho, Andy Schwartz, Julie 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 comment:

  1. "as intellects they are professionally hostile to living systems."
    Zinger! YES!!!!