a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Issue #54 (July 14, 2010)

Off Highway 130, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Four More From Wyoming

Photos by Joe Carducci

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the desk of Joe Carducci…

Lee Harris at AEI’s american.com on Libertarians.

“But some with a taste for power recognize there exists no better way of acquiring it than by making other people codependent on them. The nineteenth-century German politician Otto von Bismarck was hardly anyone’s idea of a nanny, but he constructed the world’s first nanny state for the sole purpose of making German citizens so codependent on the German Reich that they would never think of rebelling against it. By offering Germans a prototype of the modern welfare state, Bismarck’s goal was not improving the common man’s lot—it was his way of inducing the common man, when faced with personal difficulties, to expect the state to look after him, instead of relying on himself to deal with his own problems.

Ironically, Bismarck launched the first welfare state because he feared the influence of Karl Marx on the German working class. Marx opposed the welfare state precisely because he recognized that it would create a population codependent on the ruling elite in charge of the German Reich. It would tend to make them more docile and helpless, less self-reliant and rebellious. Today’s European socialists, along with America’s welfare statists, are not the descendants of Marx; they are the great-grandchildren of Bismarck.”


Angelo Codevilla in The American Spectator, "America’s Ruling Class". That’s the title inside, the cover reads "America’s Regime Class", which may be better. The site doesn’t have the article up yet but the issue itself is a good one. Codevilla’s piece is too long but it is worth following thru on.

“As their number and sense of importance grew, so did their distaste for common Americans. Believing itself ‘scientific,’ this Progressive class sought to explain its differences from its neighbors in ‘scientific‘ terms. The most elaborate of these attempts was Theodor Adorno’s widely acclaimed The Authoritarian Personality (1948). It invented a set of criteria by which to define personality traits, ranked these traits and their intensity in any given person on what it called the ‘F scale‘ (F for fascist), interviewed hundreds of Americans, and concluded that most who were not liberal Democrats were latent fascists. This way of thinking about non-Progressives filtered down to college curricula. In 1963-64 for example, I was assigned Herbert McCloskey‘s Conservatism and Personality (1958) at Rutger’s Eagleton Institute of Politics as a paradigm of methodological correctness… that proved ‘scientifically’ that conservatives were maladjusted ne’er-do-well ignoramuses.

The point is this: though not one in a thousand of today’s bipartisan ruling class ever heard of Adorno or McCloskey, much less can explain the Feuerbachian-Marxist notion that human judgments are ‘epiphenomenal’ products of spiritual or material alienations, the notion that the common people’s words are, like grunts, mere signs of pain, pleasure, and frustration, is now axiomatic among our ruling class…. Truly, after Barack Obama described his opponents’ clinging to “God and guns‘ as a characteristic of inferior Americans, he justified himself by pointing out he had said ‘what everybody knows is true.’”

In the issue Codevilla is followed by a series of conservative guesses as to whether Republicans have learned their lesson, which like the current cover story essays in Reason mag, "Where Do Libertarians Belong?", is up to speed on the base issue of the next elections.

The Right’s challenge has been how to contain the latent utopianism of the American premise within the bounds of the Constitution, when the promise of that America fulfilled yields a new class of know-it-alls fooled by their own manifest glory into presuming that their default judgments are superior to any past summary of mankind’s limitations whether by the Founders or the Apostles. The earnest expert from Politico.com just complained on National Public Radio about the impossibility of debate when the Right tilts populist, thus demonstrating the Left continues to hold the commanding heights of media. These populists are after all struggling in the dark with such foreign concepts as that Constitution, balanced budgets, voting out those pols on watch -- the dark that is that Politico expert’s and the rest of the news media establishment’s gift to “debate”. Let’s have a conversation about race too while we’re at it…

A very proscribed ankle-bite in this general impuning of the American meritocracy comes from the Left by Thomas Frank in the WSJ courtesy the Russian spies. Frank seems to believe all of our private economy is a decadent financial swindle with a cut going to the Republicans to look the other way, something like what Doctors and manufacturers believe tort law is for Democrats. Frank notes that a few of these spies went undercover “deep into business culture, mastering the peculiar and esoteric language spoken in American motivational seminars, company retreats, and business TV programs”, what Frank sums up as “buncombe”. He goes on to joke, “Maybe next year’s hot best seller will be called ‘I was a Six Sigma Coach for Putin’, and concludes (in the WSJ no less) “that much of what we regard as economic genius is nothing but pretense, a matter of posture and assertion, a grand confidence game with awful consequences.” He’s a bit nation-bound here, as American business culture fundamentals were studied seriously in one successful foreign startup after another across Europe and Asia. However there’s no question that the finance tail has been wagging the economic dog for decades now and that fits the definition of decadence. Unfortunately for Frank and the Left generally now, is that as the public economy grows and supplants the private as it did in home-loans and will do in medicine, its own perverse top-line socio-political incentives, rather than bottom-line concerns, will insure annual bail-outs and, in terms of policy debate, will end their ability to blame greed for any problems which may arise. (The administration just got a pushback from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on its home-energy improvements policy directive which is good news but still scary in its own way.)

The populists understand like Frank that there is some group or class out there skating by on an inside game. But unlike Frank they don’t presume that public monies are cleaner than private capital and many of them have tried to run a business bigger than a fanzine. They’ve been ridiculed recently by David Brooks in his column and on PBS’s “News Hour”, but in Tuesday’s NYT column, An Economy of Grinds, he rounds back in line with Tea Party sentiment whether he understands that or not. He describes as Princes the cultured executive vice presidents of corporations, and as Grinds the self-made men of business and markets who are less-cultured. Brooks writes:

“The princes can thrive while the government intervenes in the private sector. They’ve got the lobbyists and the connections. The grinds, needless to say, don’t. Over the past decade, professionals — lawyers, regulators and legislators — have inserted themselves into more and more economic realms. The princes are perfectly at home amid these tax breaks, low-interest loans and public-private partnerships. They went to the same schools as the professionals and speak the same language. The grinds try to stay far away and regard the interlocking network of corporate-government schmoozing with undisguised contempt.”

He regrets that today the Princes are thriving and the Grinds not. But he’d do well to read Lee Harris above and last week, and then Codevilla’s piece and try to think his way further beyond his personal culture; I think he can do it. Not sure Frank can because he believes he already did that back in college.


Harold Fromm in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Vegans and the Quest for Purity".

“We're compromised from the start. Evolution favored meat-eating primates, enlarging their brains and enabling them to live in more and more complex and survivalist societies that today extend our life spans, provide genteel habitats, and produce philosophers who have the wherewithal to object to the very components of their own existence. Death is the only form of purification. Alive, we have no choice but to accept our complicity, because life is a product of death. Do as much as you can to minimize the damage, because the ‘environment’ is us. But as long as we are among the living, we should stop pretending to virtues possible only for the dead.”


Nick Bunker in The New Republic on David Wallace-Wells’ book Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World.

“Bunker’s book is haphazard history, and among its many diverting asides is an engaging disquisition on the political science of early modern Europe, which owed perhaps less to the political thought of pragmatists such as Machiavelli than to the ‘science’ of esotericists such as Burton, and Paracelsians such as Joseph du Chesne of France and the Swiss-born English physician Theodore Turqet de Mayerne, whose role at court involved advising their monarchs as much on the body politic as on the body itself. Their Paracelsian worldview—which emphasized the harmony between the individual and his natural environment, and the balance within him of the ‘essences’ salt, sulfur, and mercury—prospered in the early modern court, in which monarchy was understood to be a form of natural order extending from the body of the king.”


Roger Sandall in The New Criterion, "Aboriginal Sin", on Keith Windschuttle’s book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History.

“Back in 1980, a historian named Peter Read had written something attacking the removal of part-Aboriginal children from risky homes to give them a better life. He claimed that instead of benefiting from this removal, they had all suffered grievous loss. He called his pamphlet ‘The Lost Generations.’ But that wasn’t dramatic enough, so his wife suggested ‘The Stolen Generations’ instead. This small but momentous change insinuated that all such removals were forcible, resisted, and illegal, and that Australia’s indigenous communities had been the unacknowledged victims of malign ‘genocidal’ theft. That certainly got attention—enough to produce a government enquiry in 1997 and a national apology by the prime minister in 2008.

First, let us concede at the outset that the frontier between civilization and tribal society is a miserable place. Terrible things have happened there, and in some countries they still do. But was the removal of young part-Aboriginals from the misery of outback camps one of those terrible things? Keith Windschuttle certainly didn’t think so, yet the charges would not be easy to refute.”

Keith Windschuttle on the film Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), which took the purported lie of alleged theft world-wide.


Dwight Garner in the NYT on John Carey’s biography of William Golding.

“‘I have always understood the Nazis,’ Golding said, ‘because I am of that sort by nature.’ It was ‘partly out of that sad self-knowledge,’ he added, that he wrote Lord of the Flies, about a group of British schoolboys stuck on a deserted island and about how culture and reason fail them. ‘We’re not savages,’ one of the boys declares. ‘We’re English.’ The sound you hear, emerging from behind that line, is Golding’s demented laughter.”


Ben Downing in the NYTBReview on Daisy Hay’s book, Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation.

“Since 1998, the New York Public Library has housed a manuscript so blistering that researchers are probably required to don oven mitts before handling it. Consisting of a long-overlooked autobiographical fragment by Claire Clairmont, who was Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Lord Byron’s lover and the inspiration for Henry James’s ‘Aspern Papers,’ it has the declared intention of showing what ‘evil passion’ sprang from the pursuit of free love by Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. ‘Under the influence of the doctrine and belief of free love,’ Clairmont states, ‘I saw the two first poets of England . . . become monsters of lying, meanness, cruelty and treachery — under the influence of free love Lord B became a human tyger slaking his thirst for inflicting pain upon defenceless women.’ Her indictment, which Daisy Hay says is now being published for the first time, comes only at the end of Young Romantics yet sends a blast of scorching fury back across the entire book. For Clairmont’s charges, however hyperbolic, have about them a degree of truth. Not just for her but for Mary Shelley and other women, participating in the communal, proto-1960s life of ‘English poetry’s greatest generation,’ as Hay’s subtitle puts it, was ultimately less thrilling than damaging.”


Robert Worth in the NYTMag on Yemen.

NYT’s Yemen slideshow; photographs by Simon Norfolk.

“A narcotic haze descends on Yemen every afternoon, as men stuff their mouths with glossy khat leaves until their cheeks bulge and their eyes glaze over. Police officers sit down and ignore their posts, a green dribble running down their chins. Taxi drivers get lost and drive in circles, babbling into their cellphones. But if not for the opiate of khat, some say, all of Yemen - not just those areas of the south and north already smoldering with discontent - would explode into rebellion.

One morning in Sana, I discovered a crowd of people protesting in the stone courtyard outside the cabinet building. Many had shackle scars on their wrists and ankles. They came from an area called Jaashin, about 100 miles south of the capital. But some of them, I found, did not even know that Jaashin was in the Republic of Yemen. Their only real ruler was the local sheik, Muhammad Ahmed Mansour, who is, it turns out, a kind of latter-day Marquis de Sade. Mansour is also a poet, who earns extra license for his cruelties by writing florid odes to Yemen's president. Some pilgrims from Jaashin said they were imprisoned, shackled and beaten by the sheik - who maintains his own army and several prisons - after refusing to relinquish their property to him.”


Paul Berman in the WSJ, "What You Can’t Say About Islamism".

“You are not supposed to point out that Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists, notably in regard to the demonic nature of Jewish conspiracies and the virtues of genocide. And you are not supposed to mention that, by inducing a variety of journalists and intellectuals to maintain a discreet and respectful silence on these awkward matters, the Islamist preachers and ideologues have succeeded in imposing on the rest of us their own categories of analysis.

Or so I have argued in my recent book, The Flight of the Intellectuals. But am I right? I glance with pleasure at some harsh reviews, convinced that here, in the worst of them, is my best confirmation…. The New Yorker is the only one of these magazines to reflect even briefly on anti-Semitism. But it does so by glancing away from my own book and, instead, chastising Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch champion of liberal values. In the New Yorker's estimation, Hirsi Ali's admiration of the philosopher Voltaire displays an ignorant failure on her part to recognize that, hundreds of years ago, even the greatest of liberals thought poorly of the Jews. And Ms. Hirsi Ali's denunciations of women's oppression in the Muslim immigrant districts of present-day London displays a failure to recognize that, long ago, immigrant Jews suffered oppression in those same districts.”


The Hidden Imam has once again scheduled his return, but you know him...


Dorothy Rabinowitz in the WSJ on PBS’ three-part George Schultz doc.

“There would be crucial conversations, including something on the order of a seminar that Mr. Shultz, an economist by training, delivered to Soviet leaders desperate over the economic conditions confronting them at home. Mr. LaFeber reports: ‘Shultz brought in some pie charts and put them in front and delivered a lecture as a business-school dean to the leader of the Soviet Union.’ Mr. Shultz had in fact been dean of a business school. As he recalls, he had told the Soviets that a new age had come—the age of information—a kind in which they could never thrive if they continued as ‘a closed and compartmented society.'

Mr. Gorbachev was a willing listener, and, it would appear, a grateful one. Of the film's commentators—an exceptionally enthusiastic lot even by the prevailing standards for testimonials of this sort—no one exudes more intensity of feeling than this former head of the Soviet Union describing his regard for Mr. Shultz.”


Andrew Jacobs in the NYT reports, "Chinese Factories Now Compete to Woo Laborers", which is the latest note-made that the thirty-year process of Chinese labor entering the world economy has turned a corner. That this labor’s price is now being bid up relieves labor pressure in the west, but opens a door to any high population/low cost nation that can get their act together -- India, Indonesia, and all the would-be tiger-cubs of Asia, Africa, but probably not Egypt.

“In recent months, as the country’s export-driven juggernaut has been revived and many migrants have found jobs closer to home, the balance of power in places like Zhongshan has shifted, forcing employers to compete for new workers — and to prevent seasoned ones from defecting to sweeter prospects.

The shortage has emboldened workers and inspired a spate of strikes in and around Zhongshan that paralyzed Honda’s Chinese operations last month. The unrest then spread to the northern city of Tianjin, where strikers briefly paralyzed production at a Toyota car plant and a Japanese-owned electronics factory.

Although the walkouts were quelled with higher salaries, factory owners and labor experts said that the strikes have driven home a looming reality that had been predicted by demographers: the supply of workers 16 to 24 years old has peaked and will drop by a third in the next 12 years, thanks to stringent family-planning policies that have sharply reduced China’s population growth.”


Mary Pilon in the WSJ on Ryan Carlson, the last speaker of an ancient Chicago tongue, Open Outcry, one more casualty of the computer revolution.


Barry Newman in the WSJ on the lost art of wildlife license stamps.



Matej Hruska at euobserver.com, on Europe’s lost silent cinema.

“Only Latvia and Denmark have so far developed film digitisation strategies covering the whole national heritage. Hungary has decided to digitise only a hundred of its movies. Less then a third of member states currently collect digital material in the way they do analogue material, the report shows.

‘The loss of 80 percent is an estimate based on the holdings archives we have of the silent period. Notwithstanding the small chance of some films surfacing over time in other countries and hidden caches, we believe it to be correct,’ Martin Koerber, curator at Deutsche Kinemathek Museum of Film and Television in Berlin, told EUobserver.

All early films by Fritz Lang, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau or Georg Wilhelm Pabst are believed to be lost, along with hundreds of others from the end of the 19th century.”


Kevin Avery has announced that Continuum will publish his second book on the subject of Paul Nelson, music writer and founder of The Little Sandy Review. This book reflects Nelson’s drift from music to film and genre literature in his later years; he worked at a video shop rather than a record shop in the years before his death. The book is called, Conversations with Clint – 1979 to 1983: Paul Nelson’s Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood.

“Operating largely beneath the critical radar (he took the critics even less seriously than they took him), he made his movies swiftly and inexpensively. Few of his critics then could have predicted—nor would they most likely have gone on record if they had—that Eastwood the actor and director would ever be taken as seriously as he is today.

But Paul Nelson did. 

Unfortunately, for reasons explored in the chapter of Everything Is an Afterthought that is devoted to his relationship with Eastwood, Paul—despite the almost twenty-two hours he'd recorded with Eastwood and another ten with his friends and associates—was unable to get beyond page four of the article he'd set out to write.”


Ethan Smith in the WSJ on Fred Goodman’s book, Fortune’s Fool, is like Goodman limited by journalism when they grapple with the end of the record business -- here it is the story of the adventures of Edgar Bronfman Jr in the record industry. And when Smith has it that album sales are down merely 52% from the peak in 2000 you doubt even those skills. That must be a gross revenue number. Where would even that many CDs be sold? There are far more than half the record stores gone, and Amazon.com, WalMart, Barnes & Noble, and Best Buy aren’t emphasizing those departments anymore. Perhaps the number includes all the self-issued pressings plus all blanks sold to illegal downloaders.

If these music journalists wish to add something like critic to their job description they might revisit the programming and editing decisions that were made in the middle seventies to defend MOR soft rock album sales from an aesthetic challenge which shall be nameless here. (I want to keep this short.) Because perhaps there was a problem with the software as well.


Too Many Journalists? From mondaynote.com via mediabistro.com.


Blagojevich and his mouth in the CT via poynter.org.


Obituary of the Week: Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010)


Thanks to Alan Licht, Steve Beeho.

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1 comment:

  1. There's a review of Windschuttle's book in The Monthly magazine (http://www.themonthly.com.au/nation-reviewed-robert-manne-comment-keith-windschuttle-2256). Interestingly, anything else I've read regarding these books and the author follows the argument contained there: Windschuttle fabricates facts and his research shows signs of gross ineptitude that challenges the status of his title as a historian of Australia. I've not read his book, and know little of the subject, but thought it may be worth offering a couple of leads to people who *think* they do from Australia.