a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Issue #55 (July 21, 2010)

Wilshire Blvd, Westlake, Los Angeles

Photo by Chris Collins

Another Four From Wyoming

Photos by Joe Carducci

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Niall Ferguson in the FT, "Today’s Keynesians have learnt nothing".

“And so the argument goes round and around, to the great delight of the financial media as the dog days of summer set in. In some ways, of course, this is not an argument about economics at all. It is an argument about history. When Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, the deficit was already running at 4.7 per cent of GDP. It rose to a peak of 5.6 per cent in 1934. The federal deficit burden rose only slightly -- from 40 to 45 per cent of GDP -- prior to the outbreak of the second world war. It was the war that saw the US (and all the other combatants) embark on fiscal expansions of the sort we have seen since 2007. So what we are witnessing today has less to do with the 1930s than with the 1940s: it is world war finance without the war.”


George Irvin at euobserver.com, "The Eurozone and the USA".

“Let us assume… that the contemporary USA were like the Eurozone, that there was little labour mobility, no Federal Treasury, that Congress was weak and that power lay almost entirely with the individual states (as indeed it did in the late 18th century). Let us further assume that because there was no Treasury but only a Central Bank, there was no federal borrowing and that individual states had to finance themselves through taxation and state bond issues. In such a world, the ‘rating agencies’ would look at the trade statistics of the various US states. Suppose that most US state-level trade was with other states (which it is) and that Michigan and Ohio (which produced mainly manufactures) had enormous trade surpluses while the relatively poor states of Louisiana and Mississippi (which produced mainly fish) ran persistent trade deficits. (Remember, this story is allegorical.)

Ohio and Louisiana might initially both have AAA+ ratings, but because Louisiana was dirt poor and suddenly was struck by a hurricane causing coastal devastation, its economy became a basket case and its tax receipts collapsed. In consequence, the rating agencies downgraded Louisiana’s dollar bonds, making it nearly impossible for the state to borrow. Nor could Louisiana export its way out of trouble because, as part of the dollar zone, it could not devalue. Drastic cuts (internal depreciation) would make it even poorer and more likely to default….

I leave the reader to finish the story.”


Leigh Phillips at euobserver.com, "EU to hold atheist and freemason summit".

“‘I find it rather odd,’ David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation, told EUobserver. ‘Some of the Grand Lodges are secularist organisations, and strongly for separation of church and state, but they also retain all sorts of gobbledygook and myths such as the Great Architect of the Universe.’ Emerging in the late 16th century in England and subsequently spread throughout the world, the Freemasons split in 1877 between the English-speaking lodges and their continental counterparts over the question of god. Anglophone Freemasons require that their members believe in a deity, while continental freemasons do not.”


Norman Geras at his blog, "Naming a strange new tolerance".


Greg Walden in The Guardian on Sean McMeekin’s book, The Berlin-Baghdad Express.

“It was Wilhelm who persuaded Turkey into joining the first world war with a mixture of gold, blandishments and promises. These included not just the recovery of territory and the championing of Constantinople against its religious rival, Mecca, but a jihad to liberate all Muslims under British domination. The result would be a world where Islamism and a German empire would peaceably blend.

‘A half-mad imperial enterprise of fin-de-siècle Europe,’ is McMeekin's description. The Rasputin of the piece was Baron von Oppenheim, a man of protean hatreds, not only towards the entente powers (the British, French and Russians), but most notably towards himself. A self-loathing Jew of pathological proportions, every word of his title was a lie: he was neither a baron, a ‘von’, nor in the dynastic or religious sense an Oppenheim. The wealthy grandson of Salomon Oppenheim, founder of the great bank, he lived as a harem-keeping Arab and filled the emperor's ear with anti-British and antisemitic bile, and chaotic dreams of empire.”


Roberto Foa at euobserver.com, "Democratic Deficit or Surfeit?"

“Does Europe need more democracy or less? In the late-18th to mid-19th century, the grand intellectuals of the era, such as Voltaire and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, also felt that Europe needed to overhaul its creaking system of governance. However, they were afraid of strengthening the role of parliament, fearful that this might further entrench the noble and clerical elites who most opposed liberal reform.

Instead, their favoured solution was despotisme éclairé: enlightened despots whose absolute power could push through progressive changes by decree. Napoleon Bonaparte may be the most famous such figure, but other examples included Prussia’s Frederick the Great, who eliminated use of torture and capital punishment, Joseph II of Austria, who eased the oppression of the Jews, and Catherine the Great of Russia, who reduced many of the taxes and tariffs preventing free trade and enterprise.

Fast forward to today, and I wonder whether anything has changed. Europe urgently needs to reform its economy, protect the rights of migrants, and open to foreign trade and investment, yet the scale of these tasks exceeds the petty provincialism of Europe’s peoples and their Lilliputian politicians.”


Anne Applebaum in The Spectator on David Caute’s book, Politics and the Novel in the Cold War.

“In 1948, Poland’s new communist government was badly in need of legitimacy and desperate for international recognition. So they did what any self-respecting left-wing government would do, back in those days, in order to win a bit of respect; they held a cultural Congress. They invited Picasso, A. J. P. Taylor, Aldous Huxley, a host of prominent Soviet literary bureaucrats and whichever left-leaning writers they could dredge up from anywhere else. They put them all up in the best hotel in the war-damaged city of Wroclaw (Picasso got the suite Hitler had recently used).”


George Yeo in the CSM, "How China will - and won’t - change the world".

“China’s sense of itself is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because it gives Chinese civilization its self-confidence and its tenacity. Chinese leaders often say that while China should learn from the rest of the world, China would have to find its own way to the future. But it is also a conceit, and this conceit makes it difficult for Chinese ideas and institutions to become global in a diverse world. To be sure, the Chinese have no wish to convert non-Chinese into Chinese-ness. In contrast, the US as a young country, believing its own conception to be novel and exceptional, wants everyone to be American. And, indeed, the software of globalization today, including standards and pop culture, is basically American. And therein lies a profound difference between China and the US.

If you look at cultures as human operating systems, it is US culture which has hyper-linked so many different cultures together, in a kind of higher HTML or XML language. And even though that software needs some fixing today, it will remain essentially American. I doubt that the Chinese software will ever be able to unify the world the way it has been because it has a very different characteristic all of its own – even when China becomes the biggest economy in the world as it almost certainly will within a few decades.”

[Bikes Photograph by Chris Carlsen]


Dai Ruyue at qantara.de, "A Challenge for Beijing’s Foreign Policy".

“At a recent conference on China and the Gulf region held by the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, Emile Hokayem from the Middle East office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain said, ‘by 2030, Chinese oil imports from the Mid-East will grow by the factor of 5, and its gas imports by the factor of 4. By then China will have overtaken Japan and India. According to McKinsey, by 2020, China-GCC trade will reach $350 billion, and that's the low number.’

China meanwhile defines the region as China's ‘Greater Neighboring Area’, which means a higher position for the Middle East in China's foreign policy, said Wu Bingbing, professor of Arabic Studies at Beijing University. Although the region is of strategic significance to China, the Beijing government has been implementing pragmatic policies there and playing on both sides of the fence, criticizes Wu.

China wants to maintain positive relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, but this is proving a challenge, given that the two countries are competing for the leadership of the Islamic world."


Khaled Hroub at qantara.de, "Unholy Alliances".

Hroub writes, The lack of democracy in the Arab world results from an unholy alliance between Western interests and local autocrats, justified by what both sides claim to be the region's ‘cultural specificity’. In a nutshell, it has been much easier for the West to do business in the post-colonial Middle East with un-democratic regimes, which have found Western support and recognition useful in marginalising local liberal and democratic forces, even as it paved the way for the rise of Islamist radicalisation. Hroub doesn’t include a little thing called The Invasion of Iraq! in Bush’s democratization program, which allows him to dismiss $29 million dollars budget for The Middle East Partnership Initiative for Democratization, despite implying he’s calling on the West for something that includes destabilizing regime after regime. He obviously considers it within the power of the West to do something about the Middle East. In the real world, which begins apparently at the bloody borders of Islam, democracy is earned by peoples when they find the moment to stand up in numbers strong enough to take it. They are always disappointed, but they are also better off in some long run. In Egypt, the mass has let a small number of brave persons rot in jail. They missed their moments. No problem, there’s another one coming up any month now. But if they miss it again, the West, the East and the rest of the South and North will work with Mubarak’s son as they must due to the failure of Egyptians.

The chronic problems of Islam is what leads one to the culture. Here is Ghazal Tipu at opendemocracy.net, pretending that the burqa is not an aggressive threat to un-covered females that rests on the feudal assumption that they are family- and clan-property to be wedded off profitably. As if it could pass as simple choice, expression of free will for muslim women. That could be true of a Britney Spears is she begins to wear one! But where it exists it is the most visible expression of the mechanism of Islam’s ratchet of submission. And as with Hroub, Tipu leaves the heavy lifting to moments when some part of the umma rises to the West’s number one problem for anything to be addressed from outside. These complaints, addressed to the West as they are, perhaps reveal why they insist on missing their moments.

Raymond Ibrahim has an interesting piece on the how of Egyptian “governance” and it begs the question, Why does this woman, Nagla Imam, convert to Christianity? In India the Untouchables try to convert out of their doormat caste status and Brahmins get all bent out of shape demanding they remain in their Hindu place, in a democracy! What hope does chattel have in Islam-based national socialism?

And the Jews! David Harris in The Jerusalem Post, Israel and conversion: oy vey, here we go again!


Daniel Pipes in The Washington Times, "Turkey in Cyprus vs Israel in Gaza".


Claudia Kramatschek at qantara.de on Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s book, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, which she likes for its knowing portrait of the Zamindars, the feudal landowners. Sabrina Tavernise in the NYT, has a good piece on that elite’s control of policy which leaves taxes to be paid by the new, productive sectors; being the NYT, her editor has warped it with domestic political terminology which is sad or laughable -- not sure which. Perhaps the Global Edition has a better edit.

Vikas Bajaj also in the NYT, lucks out in the Business section or his editor might have taken this story about Bangladesh beginning to snake some textile jobs from China, into a call for the WTO to penalize Bangladesh and reward China, or the reverse, but you know… Do something.


Chuck Leddy in the CSM on Sam Miller’s book, Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity.

“Miller makes it clear that, despite India’s reputation as a spiritual place, materialism is running rampant in booming Delhi. Miller chalks it up to globalization: ‘Delhi is a city on the make. The wealthy fear only the taxman. There is no shame in acquisitiveness; and no vulgarity in broadcasting the cost of acquisition.’ Miller pokes lighthearted fun at the Westerners who make pilgrimages to ‘spiritual’ India only to find locals who would love nothing more than to live Western-style lives of aggressive consumerism.

Miller concludes his journey at Delhi’s burgeoning garbage dump, where hundreds of ragpickers have built homes. He finds himself again in peril from the local wildlife: ‘[T]wo pigs kept coming toward me ... I picked up my speed. And so did they. I had never realized that pigs could run so fast.’ The chase ends when Miller jumps over a wall. What Miller learns at the dump is how desperate Indians are to live in Delhi: ‘[N]ew migrants would rather live on the banks of an open sewer in a big booming city than return to the poverty of their more picturesque homes elsewhere in India.’”


William Voegeli in the Claremont Review of Books, "The Meaning of the Tea Party".

“Cult and Anti-Cult

The Tea Party movement caught fire one month after Barack Obama's inauguration. It is, in part, a reaction to the Obama presidential campaign and its accompanying cult of personality. It is also a reaction to the Obama Administration's effort to keep the financial crisis from going to waste by using it to enact an agenda of ‘shock and awe statism,’ to borrow a phrase from Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

There are clear signs, though, that the Tea Party movement cannot be summed up by its relation to the dawning of the Age of Obama. It emerged at the culmination of the long project to supplant a ruling class based on social position and wealth with one based on brains. The new meritocrats who direct our government, economy, and national discourse are being disparaged at Tea Party meetings and blogs by the people whom they govern. This is an important, unexpected development—the democratic repudiation of the consequences that have followed from the successful effort to democratize entrée to the nation's highest circles of power.”


Ross Douthat in the NYT, "The Roots of White Anxiety".

“This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications….

Nieli highlights one of the study’s more remarkable findings: while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or ‘Red America’….

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike. Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited — that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third world immigrants, and so forth. Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what’s being plotted in the heartland.”


John Kass in the CT having an ill-advised conversation on race, my favorite kind. It may not be fair of him to bring up Rev. Jackson’s past. At least he doesn’t bring up how he and Jr. went right to work raising the money to buy that golden Senate seat that Blagojevich is on trial for trying to sell, or maybe just for swearing -- it’s unclear… Or that the entire subprime home-loan debacle has origins in the Reverend’s seventies battle against bankers’ red-lining the neighborhoods that burned in the sixties. That would be unfair too. And, who knows because nobody from J-school can crunch numbers, we don’t know for a fact that more home-ownership and wealth was destroyed in this bust than was created in that boom. We’re not buying apples from white men in suits yet so maybe Jackson is due some credit -- so to speak -- for inadvertent gentrification of the south and west sides. There are yuppies now living around the United Center; I seen ’em.


Christopher Willcox in the WSJ on Nicholas von Hoffman’s book, Radical.

“The book's chief delights are its sense of place—Chicago from the 1930s through the 1960s—and the cast of characters who share the stage with the main player as he struts and frets so colorfully. Born in 1909 into an Orthodox Jewish family, Alinsky grew up in the shadow of Chicago's Maxwell Street pushcart market. His parents divorced when he was 13. His father soon left town; Alinsky adored his mother, though she was less popular with others, who regarded her as a ‘termagant.’ She had a least three husbands, possibly more.

Hardscrabble though his youth had been, Alinsky managed to get into the University of Chicago, where his major was archaeology. When the Depression dried up money for digs, he wangled a fellowship to study criminology and began hanging out with gangsters as part of his study, including Al Capone's ‘enforcer,’ Frank Nitti.

Mr. von Hoffman tells us that one of Alinsky's favorite stories involved a meeting between Nitti and Anton Cermak just after Cermak had been elected Chicago's mayor in 1931. The meeting's purpose was to negotiate the money that Capone would pay the city to keep its speakeasies stocked with beer and liquor: ‘As Saul told the story,’ Mr. von Hoffman writes, ‘Cermak explained to Nitti, 'You know I was elected as a reform candidate.' To which Nitti replied, 'What the hell does that mean, Tony?' and waited for an answer. 'It means,' the mayor said after a suitable pause, 'that the price is double.'“


Glenn Reynolds in the WSJ on Stephan Pyne’s book, Voyager.

“A couple of decades ago, as a fresh new academic, I attended a Smithsonian Institution workshop on civilization in outer space. I made the mistake of using the term "space colonization," and the discussion was then hijacked for nearly half an hour as participants felt obliged to weigh in on the evils of colonialism. My objection that the atrocities aimed at the inhabitants of the Belgian Congo were unlikely to be re-enacted on Mars, which has no inhabitants, fell on deaf ears. The discussion, with its hairshirt attitude toward Western civilization, was odd for a conference about expanding horizons, something that Western civilization has done better than any other.

I was reminded of the Smithsonian workshop while reading Stephen J. Pyne's ‘Voyager.’ The book offers 200 terrific pages on the two unmanned Voyager space probes launched in 1977, their accomplishments—which, astonishingly, continue—and the immense difficulties they overcame. Alas, those pages are buried inside the more than 400-page book that Mr. Pyne has actually published. It is a work that dilutes the tremendous accomplishments of the Voyager project—of which the author clearly approves—with wordy and tendentious efforts to place Voyager in ‘perspective’ by discussing the great age of exploration on this planet, regarding which Mr. Pyne is not nearly so enthusiastic.”


Oliver Stone promises to keep exposing the “white man”, at mercopress.com. Not our secret plan, you idiot!


Michael Getler at pbs.org wrestles at leeeeength with the Left over PBS’s three part George Schultz doc, which does play as corrupt in at least three ways. What struck me in this Monday’s episode was the narrator’s dulcet description of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy as “isolationist”! That’s a good one, so that makes the Cold War what, exactly?


Clint Eastwood three weeks in a row: Cinema Retro special issue on the Dollars trilogy.

“Director Richard C. Sarafian (Vanishing Point, Man in the Wildnerness) knew Leone and relates that the great director once told him he had been inspired in part by episodes of Western TV series that Sarafian had directed early in his career. Sarafian said of the tribute issue, ‘It's brilliant. I devoured every single page.’ We then heard from David V. Picker, who was head of production at United Artists and is the man who put together the deal to release the trilogy in America. Picker said, ‘This issue is an astonishing tribute...the photos are literally jaw-dropping. It's a major achievement on every level.’”


Harvey Araton in the NYT on David Lee, who claims he wanted to remain a Knick. At least it’s been well observed that he was one worth keeping.


Ron Reyes interview on the early LA punk scene and his move to Vancouver. And his immanent 50th birthday bash info-vid.


Skip Groff of Yesterday & Today Records in Washington D.C., interviewed.


The Big Takeover’s 30th anniversary redone website and Brooklyn two-day festival.


Obituary of the Week: Hank Cochran (1935-2010)


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Mike Braun, Steve Beeho.

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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. Your blog is interesting. The newest Portland music post is wonderful. I know that El Carducci is an accomplished person. Blah blah blah (blah blah). For all that, I cannot get a bead on your politics, or the meaning of some of the newsprint-derived excerpts. Aren't the pronouncements of 'economists' not unlike that of court astrologers? How can Niall Ferguson/FT write "without the war"? Can he not find a US occupied war zone to do his economisting from? I...ugh.

    The artwork and photography is, as always, really nice.