a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Issue #62 (September 8, 2010)

Sunset Junction, Los Angeles

Photo by Chris Collins

Photo Essay
by Joe Carducci

Last Winter was a good one with a lot of snowfall, and the Summer was cool and so the last patches of that snow are still around the flats in places where the wind pushes it especially deep. This late melt is still filling ponds and streams in those places. The grasses between Centennial and Laramie stayed green for all the snow and cool slow Summer melt until just this week. Today I noticed the grass in the afternoon sun was fully brown, though still not approaching the bleached straw color its been for most of the last ten years of Augusts.

Sometime in August in this part of Wyoming you feel that the Earth has abruptly settled into its winter tilt away from the Sun. This year that day was last Thursday. You can tell when the clouds move quickly over the Snowy Range peaks bringing down air which though not freezing is noticeably closer to it and on a day when the clouds mass and obscure the peaks the drops that fall remind you how close they are to snow. Because of the mountains you can get all manner of snow flake or gropple falling down or sideways or whipping at your face.

I normally drive up to the 10,000 feet elevation areas east or west of the peaks to do my hiking. Its best to stay out of the trees; you can keep the peaks in view and keep an eye out for other meat-eaters. The wind is the reason they don’t keep the highway over the Snowy Range open year-round. On Libby Flats things can get interesting with the wind, the low clouds, and the sun. The photographs are always silent though.

I think this is Lost Lake. It’s high ground here too and usually windy and the hike to it from Hwy 130 is full of good terrain and standing dead trees. It has no road to it or any facilities at all, though the Lost Lake Trail passes it on its way wherever it goes; I don’t hike trails so don’t know but most of them go in circles.

The first true snow this year, over Sunday night made a nice surprise Monday morning. I wasn’t sure it would cover as much as it did for a first snow. It came hard and stuck to the west sides of trees and rocks but was largely gone by Tuesday morning.

The real snow to come will close the road sometime in early November. Any hiking thereafter is done along the 8 miles between Centennial and the closure. But for now its still easy to shut the computer at 7:30am (when “Lawman” is over) and drive up for a some cross-country mountain photography.

FYF Fest 2010 Review
by Chris Collins

This year's "indie"-centric rock festival FYF in Los Angeles just so happened to fall on the last hot day of summer, temps hitting 100°F. The reporter believes the stout ox-goring, subsistence-farming southeast Asian peasant genes which constitute some half of his genetic inheritance held him in good stead under such conditions. And not the dust and blistering sun, I mean the droning overheard small talk, the processions of ironic t-shirts (best: Toby Keith, Pat Benatar), full beards (premiered about '02 but doggedly clinging on), and lithe Asian girlfriends (order of desirability: Jap, Taiwanese-Chinese, Korean, Viet, Malay, Filip -- corresponds to fashion design aptitude). The day boasted three stages of bands playing sets of about 30 minutes, extending to as much as an hour after evening fell and the name bands hit stages. Amidst the fest's ballast of watery ill-constructed mush pop and dire hipster approximations of dance music, three bands stuck in the mind.

I only caught the last song of Thee Oh Sees' set, but their crisp percussive dynamism, song structure and formal precision made an impression. They know what they want and make a beeline for it. That 'it' is the casual lunacy of 60s garage rock. But they do all the other garage mechanics one better by pulling it into a perfect tension, exhibited by their song "Block of Ice". The tune owes a thing or two to the Monks' "We Do Wie Du", but there's nary a slack element in the mix.

Lyric: "I don't want to be destroyed / All I want is to be left on a block of ice."

As the late afternoon shadows encroached, the reporter listened in on hardcore punk statesmen-by-attrition 7 Seconds largely for mid-90s-teen-sortapunk-about-15-years-after-the-fact nostalgia's sake and to see whether any of their late-80s stabs at college rock found their way into the current set list. Alas, no.

The Mountain Goats' acoustic guitar based rock had more rhythmic punch than I'd anticipated in a live setting. I'd previously heard just one example of their music, which features frontman John Darnielle's adenoidal nerd-inflection spouting some hilarious L.A. Inland Empire specificity: "Even if I have to go to Claremont, well I guess I'll just have to go to Claremont." Their songwriting is meat-and-potatoes vocal melody with backing chords and their lyrics have some of old line folk-rock's conversationality, rare in a contemporary music world that alternately esteems arty opacity or she-done-me-wrong spleen.

Near the end of the set Darnielle expressed his sincerest appreciation of the audience's appreciation, apologized for the hoariness of the sentiment, confessed to his narcissism, but insisted his love-for-one's-audience was sweeter than most. And the circle was complete.

Sleep (a semi-mythic 90s band recently reconstituted) are as metal as advertised. That's metal as in car chassis being rent by cranes, skyscrapers extruded through narrow vents, all associations conjured by the screaming-agonies-of-the-earth guitar of Matt Pike (also of High on Fire). Occasionally they summoned those moments in Black Sabbath when everything would drop away but the bass and a clatter of ride cymbal. But rather than silence, Sleep filled those spaces with ten or twenty minute feedback spells that left you praying for the next drumbeat.

The beats when they came were ground out at near geological pace, and the riffs were sparse and bone simple. One and two and three and four and unfffff-unfffff. The set may well have -- who knows? -- consisted of a single song -- their signature album length opus "Dopesmoker", aka "Jerusalem" perhaps? I'm not sure it matters, because Sleep is all about generating that sound which at this point in rock history feels as elemental as backwoods country twang. And you are compelled to move to it.

Behind the stage where the band played into the 10 o'clock hour, from the reporter's position in the unoccupied field about 150-200 yards from the stage, one beheld a strange spectacle. There were the lights of a night game at Dodger Stadium glowing atop the hill, and the slow line of cars leaving. To the north along the same hill, the red beacon of a radio tower was pulsing like the heartbeat of Leviathan to the strains of Sleep. And above the field a pigeon was seen fleeing this high-decibel event, but veering in midflight as though its spatial sense had been disrupted by the waves of ungodly electric torment being emitted. Such is metal, such is life.

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

Greg Kot in the CT interviews Michael Rother of Neu! for Wednesday’s Hallogallo show. The first Neu! album was released by a Chicago label called Billingsgate Records a year after its German release on the Brain label in 1972. Surely whoever Billingsgate were, they had no business plan but they released a number of albums from Germany (Epitaph, Scorpions, Lucifer’s Friend) at a time of enormous rock riches and before FM radio programming was centralized and formatted. This doesn’t mean they sold well.

I heard Neu! and dozens of other bands that fell through the cracks of even underground FM radio on a nightly program called “Triad” on WXFM. The principal DJ-programmer was Saul Smaizys. He was paying for time at nights on a large FM station that during the day sold time to various ethnic and specialty programmers, and also publishing a free magazine that included a program guide that told you when during the month one might catch a half-hour of some band called Magma, or some special on Hungarian rock; they also played what now would be called mainstream rock, folk, and soul, but back then people into music were still open about new things. Selling ads for both the radio program and the monthly must’ve been murder. They probably produced the ads themselves since they’re often very clever and funny. Saul obviously had a significant size crew. If I’d have stayed in Chicago I may have tried to weasel my way in there.

In high school during the early seventies I used to stay up and listen to the Wayne Juhlin overnight program on WDAI FM. He mostly played comedy records between doing imitations of Mayor Daley or having various Second City performers come on in character who would then take calls from listeners. Also heard Sherman Skolnik one night convince me that Nixon really was a murderous dictator who was getting away with sabotaging airplanes so they’d crash and kill various witnesses he needed to silence. Also heard Captain Beefheart for the first time on Juhlin’s show talking about his career and how suddenly he was getting no airplay anywhere; he was promoting his 1972 “Clear Spot” album.

But I really found out about bands and records by listening to “Triad”. I also found out about Archie Patterson’s Eurock fanzine which at the time came out of Fresno. Archie thinks Saul had something to do with the Billingsgate label. Probably. The label was on the south-west side of the city and even though Chicago never really punched its weight in rock terms it did always have very advanced individuals doing great work. (“Triad” programs are archived here.) I found the Neu! album at Rolling Stone Records when it was in the west Loop. It was a cut-out and they had about five feet of them in a rack going for $1.97. I bought one. I really loved that track “Negativland” though the audible tape editing bothered my ear; these Germans were obviously not the players most bands I liked were. But what a guitar sound! Triad also played the “Tone Float” album by Organisation, an early proto-Kraftwerk album when they were still hippies; it had an eastern raga-rock flavor. And I also got into a great long workout by a violin-led Romanian band called Phoenix. I used to tape certain shows so I got to hear some obscure stuff a lot, even if I couldn’t find the album for sale or couldn’t afford to buy it. (35 years later my NV partner Chris fished a copy of that Romanian album off the web; nice to hear that weird gypsy-prog again!)

I spent most of 1974 in Denver going to college where one of the FM rock stations, KLZ or KBPI, would play German psychedelia at 7pm every night. On Monday it would be an Ash Ra Tempel album, Tuesday a Klaus Schultz album, Wednesday Tangerine Dream. FM radio was pretty cool in those days and what anger there was in soon-come punk rock was mostly over the end of such radio and the resultant changes in what got released on record labels.

Back in Chicago I picked back up with “Triad”. Interestingly, just as the startup label Billingsgate saw an opportunity to have some kind of impact with the unexpected new sounds from Germany, the Chicago International Film Festival also followed what was suddenly going on in German cinema. The New York Film Festival was historically French-obsessed, so Neue Deutsche Filme became the Chicago Fest’s reason to exist. I saw Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) on Northwestern’s campus and saw Wim Wenders’ The Wrong Move (1975) at the Granada theater as part of the Film Festival; Wenders talked about his film in front of a dozen of us on the second floor of the lobby -- part of a Kraftwerk was on its soundtrack.

I moved to California in August, 1976. Radio in Los Angeles wasn’t as interesting in terms of psychedelia and prog. There seemed in general to be too much Bowie and too much Ted Nugent in the air. But KROQ was free-form and playing punk rock like the Dictators and the Ramones, and KWST had a good import show on Wednesday nights and they found a way to wedge the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” in between late period prog like Brand X, or Solution. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland in August 1977 that I really got involved in any punk rock business. Ten years later I was back in Chicago and doing barter radio with Jack Hammond on the same station “Triad” had been on (now WVVX); they lasted until 1979. But their old primetime hours were now filled with bad metal and sponsored by Jam Productions the concert monopoly and so immoveable. Our program, “Radio.d.” didn’t even come on the air until 1am. Radio had been fully dumbed down, which I knew full well from my years with small labels. Those labels never had the resources to do much, but thanks to the destruction of FM (and AM) radio we had all the genius bands we could handle.

In the late 80s I got involved with a few bands in Chicago and produced some records including the Repulse Kava album that Ajax released. Their guitarist Craig White was great and full of strange musical impulses, though he was an unassuming black kid always pushing his glasses back up his nose. I asked him once what he grew up listening to and he told me his older brother had all kinds of German records like Guru Guru, and Neu! I should’ve known, “Triad” strikes again! Lee Abrams, now greasing the skids for the Chicago Tribune, take your multi-media expertise and go die that art might live once again. I think Kot’s piece was not in the paper itself; all the cool stuff is dumped into online blogs these days; and they claim they’re trying to save newspapers…


More Chicago radio. I used to hear “Chickenman” episodes on Ron Britain’s show on WCFL. It was exactly what I wanted to hear when I was a wise-ass fifth-grader shoplifting Mad magazines and garage rock 45s. I used to make my own comedy bits on a little Sun reel-to-reel tape recorder with friends, brothers and cousins. Did a search for Chickenman and sure enough some of them are showing up online. They were a response to the “Batman” tv show.

“Chickenman - The Origin”, WCFL AM, 1966.


Greg Ginn visits Nardwuar in Vancouver, with Ron Reyes.


Mike Watt update in LAT.


Brian Walsby interview at strangereaction.com.


Christopher Shea at chronicle.com on Sean Wilentz’s book, Bob Dylan in America, deals mostly with Wilentz the historian, and the section on Wilentz’s view that scholars easily let their contempt for politics color their work (stressing Lincoln the orator, removing him from politics) is great. But it does get to his Dylan book and here again you see the class problem of rock and roll reigns. I haven’t read any book on Dylan and have barely listened to anything other than his hit 45s which I liked when I heard them on AM radio. But I did listen when the late David Lightbourne would talk out his otherwise unwritten Dylan book, and that puts me well ahead of anyone else, no matter how many cockamamie Dylan books they’ve read. And that’s because Dave saw the revelation that was rock and roll circa 1956. (see his essay, “Elvis Up North”). At 14 he didn’t understand the sources of its power but he spent the rest of his life tracing its tributaries. He followed folk and blues from WFMT’s “Midnight Special” and Studs Terkel programs, to the blues and folk clubs in Chicago, to The Little Sandy Review (see that essay too), but primarily he collected music backwards from the last contemporary southern practitioners to the music released in the twenties and thirties which he explained in an interview included on the recent David Lightbourne “Tribute” album, actually documented southern music styles going back to the 1880s depending on the age of the artist recorded circa 1930.

David knew that Bob Zimmerman was another Northern rock and roll fan who as a budding musician first had to figure out whether you might not have to be Southern, if not all the way black, to play this music -- Bob also had to figure out whether you had to be Christian too since the church figured so prominently in any Southern white or black musicians’ development. In the late fifties Northern rock and roll tended to be instrumental because singing was often the real barrier. Most Northerners went to church or synagogue but the services were nothing like down South. The mix of black and white in the south is right there in the accent and it's in the singing of any cracker as well. And let's not forget that’s true for blacks as well -- there is white in their music and voices -- though one might have to be fully Afro-African to hear it that.

David also knew that Dylan could really sing at first. Bob just had to figure out what to sing, and since he didn’t grow up in a rock and roll church he’d have to fake it. Dylan was busy thinking his way to this fakery using his prodigious intellect, borrowing/stealing from Koerner Ray & Glover, Paul Nelson, Woody Guthrie, and Jack Elliott. Elliott was the obvious model, but Guthrie meant more in New York so he’d stretch his truth in that direction -- he didn’t want to wind up on Prestige or Folkways.

Shea writes, “Wilentz adopts a fly-on-the-wall perspective as he listens in on tapes of the recording sessions for the double album Blonde on Blonde, in which Dylan's create-on-the-run approach collides with the stoic professionalism of Nashville studio pros.” This is Shea, not Wilentz writing, but its his book Shea is summarizing. Neither apparently understands that Dylan is recapitulating rock and roll’s impact on Nashville ten years earlier. Dylan’s “create-on-the-run approach”?! Those Memphis thugs did destabilize Nashville’s company town game. But Nashville is a writer's music town and as we are seeing today writers/publishers are the last men standing in the music game. Dylan understood Nashville was the way out and back, once again, but he sure wanted to bring along some of the fire that lit in Memphis.

Separating Dylan from rock and roll (and America!), here done by the scholar who can discern and object when that’s being done to Lincoln. Craziness! Crazy class-blind automatic writing!

The folkie lens is still preventing American rock and roll from being discovered, for all the books and monographs. The middle class sophistos didn’t want to know those Memphis cretins, but they were suckers for the British Invasion. They thought they learned about black music from Britain. What was Dylan to do? He was banking on this ignorance because it implied he was self-authored, certainly he wishes he was, and yet that’s his nightmare as well. Dylan wanted his songs to resonate through American culture as if they were authorless for all anyone could tell. Ingmar Bergman (the auteur!) also indulged in this fantasy; for him he suggested he wished to be as the artisans who built the landmark cathedrals of old Sweden, old Europe, and are unknown.

Dylan’s celebrated run-on/turned-on period embarrasses him. He wasn’t affected so much by The Beatles in 1963 as by The Holy Modal Rounders album (on Prestige). These two guys knew everything he knew but they didn’t have to fake or pretend anything. They understood it was rock and roll even just fiddle and guitar.

Wilentz prefers to fantasize that Dylan was studying 19th Century newspapers on microfilm at the NY Public Library. The fan is a killer and the more pretentious he is the more deadly. Wilentz will write no book about the Rounders. He is the Dylanologist he requests not to be described as. Dylanology is the aggressive misunderstanding of a musician so as to not risk the accidental learning of anything cold or unforgiving about oneself or by extension one’s generation.


Burning Ambulance 2


Terry Teachout in the WSJ, "Please Omit Music (or Else)".

“But enough with the multicultural self-flagellation! Whatever its flaws, the West today is unashamedly pluralistic, with religion is a matter of private conviction. You may choose to attend a church where the singing is a cappella, but you can't make anybody else do so, and if you take an ax to your neighbor's Steinway in order to keep him from going to hell, you'll be thrown in jail instead of receiving a good-conduct medal from the president. Needless to say, there are plenty of things about America that need fixing, and it's conceivable that there might even be one or two things about Iran that we'd do well to emulate. I know they make pretty good movies there, and I'm told that Iranian caviar is hard to beat—but if you want to fire up your iPod without getting molten lead poured in your ears, there's no place like home.”


AP: "FIBA dancers agree not to perform at Turkey games".


Michael Miner at The Reader on the Tribune’s new FiveStar.

“Sunday is the day when newspapers make whatever money they're still able to make; but the Tribune reported in April that over a six-month measuring period its Sunday circulation had dropped 7.5 percent from the year before. Meanwhile the Sunday circulation of the New York Times had dropped just 5.2 percent. And circulation of the Times's Chicago edition had actually increased a little—or so I was told in May by the Times editor in New York who oversees the two pages of Chicago news prepared every Friday and Sunday for the Times by the Chicago News Cooperative.

Those two pages on Sunday don't sound like much, but they could be nudging some readers to the tipping point. This is the point where they decide that Sunday isn't Sunday without the $6 New York Times but the Tribune is one paper too many. Five Star looks to me like the Tribune's ambitious attempt to hold its ground…..

Another project in the hopper at the Tribune is Chicago Live!, which will find the Trib and Second City teaming up for a ‘lively weekly stage and radio show bringing the hottest stories, newsmakers and entertainers in Chicago to the stage.’ I'm quoting a draft of a Tribune Media Group flyer here. Chicago Live! is supposed to be up and running sometime this fall. The idea is to monetize news by sending it up across platforms—a 90-minute stage show before a paying audience that's recycled on radio and the Internet.”


Jonathan Mirsky in Literary Review, on Frank Diktter’s book, Mao’s Great Famine

“Until recently, Dikötter states, most accounts of the famine have been based on central government sources that are often incomplete or untrue. What he found during his years rummaging in archives throughout China was that such central documents were transmitted in fuller, less censored versions to the provinces and below…. For example, in 1960 in the ‘model province’ of Henan, in Xinyang alone ‘over a million people died ... Of these victims 67,000 were clubbed to death with sticks’. When this came to Mao ‘he blamed the trouble on class enemies’. On another occasion, when the Chairman learned that there had been terrible deaths in one town he had hitherto admired, ‘Mao simply switched his allegiance to the next county down the road willing to outdo others in extravagant production claims.’ Mao and his cronies insisted, as one of them put it as reports of deaths rolled in, that ‘This is the price we have to pay; it's nothing to be afraid of. Who knows how many people have been sacrificed on the battlefields and in the prisons [for the revolutionary cause]? Now we have a few cases of illness and death; it's nothing!’ Every detail was locally recorded and explained - or obscured. Take this report from 25 February 1960 in Yaohejia village: ‘Name of culprit: Yang Zhongsheng ... Name of victim: Yang Ecshun. Relationship with Culprit: Younger Brother ... Manner of Crime: Killed and Eaten. Reason: Livelihood Issues.’”


Evan Ramstad in the WSJ, "From North Korea, Word of Shortages, Grudges".

“Mr. Kim, the defector, said oppressed North Koreans ‘harbor a grudge deep inside’ against those in the ruling class. The regime has crushed revolts in the past, and there is no indication more are in the offing. But Mr. Kim said many in the country would welcome conflict with the outside world—not out of the nationalistic fervor the country's bellicose leaders have sought to instill, but as a pretext for uprising. ‘North Koreans say in unison they want a war. … I think if that happens, North Koreans will fight more between themselves than with South Koreans,’ Mr. Kim said. ‘Families say, 'OK, when a war breaks out, I will shoot this, this and this person to death.’’”


Mats Perrson at euobserver.com, An exceptionally poor attempt at spinning unfavorable poll results.

“Respondents to the Eurobarometer survey were only asked whether or not ‘a stronger coordination of economic and financial policies among all EU member states’ would be effective to combat the ongoing crisis. The question doesn’t even mention the role of the EU or the term ‘European economic governance’. Creatively, the Commission then adds up the respondents who think that stronger coordination would be ‘very effective’ (26 percent) and those who only find it ‘fairly effective’ (49 percent) to reach the 75 percent figure.

Seriously, how stupid do they think we are? By no stretch of the imagination is this the same as 75 percent of Europeans being in favour of giving the EU more powers to monitor national economies, which the Commission is trying to make us believe in its press release.”


BBC via mercopress.com, "Ascension Island conceals Darwin’s best kept secret".


Farhat Taj in The Daily Times, A gender-blind ‘neo-miratha’.

“Miratha is a Pashto word that refers to the now obsolete practice of killing all males, adult and minors, in a family so that there are no male heirs left to inherit the family property, which is taken over by the executer of the miratha along with the female members of the family, who are considered as part of the property in the patriarchal Pakhtun society. One may find people in FATA who have know-how of the notion of miratha, whereas people in the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) abandoned miratha so many decades back that many today do not even know what the notion implies. Thus, for the Pakhtun, whether in KP or FATA, miratha is a thing from their past and irrelevant to their lives today.

But lo and behold! Miratha is back in the Pakhtun land in the form of targeted killings of anti-Taliban families all across FATA and KP. All over FATA, anti-Taliban people have been target-killed along with their male heirs. Recently, Mian Rashid Hussain, the one and only son and male heir of Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of KP, has been killed. The ANP circles express the fear that next in line might be the only male heirs of the top party leaders Asfandyar Khan and Afrasiab Khattak, who both have one son each.

The neo-miratha is more robust and all encompassing than the traditional Pakhtun one. The latter excludes women, but the former entangles them.”


Benjamin Acosta in Middle East Quarterly, "The Suicide Bomber as Sunni-Shi’i Hybrid".

“One major trajectory for martyrdom's importance within the Muslim tradition derives from the Shi'i narrative that developed following the death of Muhammad's grandson Hussein in 680 CE. Hussein and his followers did not choose martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala in the manner of most other Islamic martyrs in successive generations. Nevertheless, Shi'i tradition embellishes his death with prophetic foreknowledge of the outcome. It also embodies the model of a woefully small force of true believers arrayed against an overwhelming army of ‘evil-doers.’ As a result of his death, the role of martyrdom would forever serve as a basis for the distinction of Shi'ism from Sunni orthodoxy. Hussein's death has since demonstrated the extent to which martyrdom proves one's commitment to an Islamic cause. This gives it a capability like none other in political Islam: the power to affect ideological change from within….

A second, significant trajectory is that of the dominant, Sunni perspective on jihad and the Sunni understanding of martyrdom. While always present, Sunni martyrdom within the framework of jihad remained mostly stagnant for hundreds of years as Sunnis largely enjoyed the power of the majority. This began to change in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Western dominance over territory formally under Islamic control (Dar al-Islam) and most significantly with the influx of mainly European Jews into Palestine. Their arrival was often perceived as a challenge to Muslim hegemony by local Sunni leaders.”


Matthias Drobinski at qantara.de, on Thilo Sarrazin’s book, Germany Is Abolishing Itself.

“Now and again someone comes up with an idea. And sometimes that idea isn't all that bad, and often at least worthy of debate. Then, however, something rather strange happens. The idea takes control of its creator; it becomes independent and increasingly radical, the creator becoming the slave of his own creation. Take the case of Necla Kelek, for example, the sociologist who first made people aware of the plight of many Muslim women in Germany and who now would like nothing better than to abolish Islam.

Something similar has happened with Thilo Sarrazin, the one-time SPD Berlin finance senator and current board member of the German Federal Bank. He began, rightly, by calling for more personal responsibility and commitment from those on social welfare and from immigrants. But this has now become the foundation for a social philosophy whose aim is nothing less than the preservation of the German fatherland. Sarrazin, the captive of his own idea, has now turned his philosophy into a book, one which has attracted a great deal of publicity, been given advance publication, and will doubtless sell like hot cakes.”

signandsight.com’s rundown of Germany press responses to the book.


Barry Bearak in the NYT, "Dead Join the Living in a Family Celebration".

“‘It is good to thank the ancestors in person because we owe them everything,’ said Rakotonarivo Henri, 52, an out-of-breath farmer who had just set down his dead grandfather and was moving toward the remains of his aunt. ‘We do not come from mud; we come from these bodies.’

Every society has its own customs regarding the deceased, an interplay between those who are and those who were. In many countries, a visit to the cemetery commonly satisfies an urge to be near a buried loved one. Flowers may be placed on the grave. Words may be whispered. Here in the central highlands of Madagascar, that practice is taken much further. Ancestors are periodically taken from their tombs, and once the dancing stops and the bundled corpses are put on the ground, family members lovingly run their fingers across the skeletal outline protruding through the shrouds. Bones and dust are moved about in an effort to sustain a human shape. Elders tell children about the importance of those lying before them.”


David Patterson in Barron’s, "The Roads to Fiscal Ruin".

“Weimar Germany, with its progressive constitution, was the darling of democrats. It had many problems–including war damage, reparations, deep disunity–but the direct agents of its failure were fiscal. The rampant printing of money was the least-resistance way to meet huge budget deficits. The resulting hyperinflation destroyed the foundations of democracy.

There followed a bitter struggle over German social-welfare policies. To pay for them, German taxes had risen sharply from their prewar levels. The beginning of the end of democracy came in 1930. The last coalition government failed over the issue of tax increases to save the state's unemployment fund, buckling under the 1929-30 economic collapse. Power was thereafter exercised by presidential decree, and passed from hand to hand in the back room to its final destination in the hands of Adolf Hitler. History is littered with bad ends to fiscal irresponsibility. Juan Peron in Argentina, Salvador Allende in Chile and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe are among the most familiar names who brought their countries to ruin.”


Gillian Tett in the FT. "The perils of saying sayonara to stimulus".

“As the policy debate intensifies, investors might spare a thought for Takahashi Korekiyo, Bank of Japan governor from 1911 to 1913. He also served as finance minister and prime minister in the 1920s and 1930s…. The experience of 1930s Japan is thought-provoking. Not only does it help explain the decisions that Tokyo leaders took during the lost decade; it offers a cautionary tale about exit strategies. In the early years of the last century, Japan boomed after it opened its doors and set about catching up with the industrial might of the west. The US crash of 1929 brought the boom to an end. As trade slowed, Japan went into recession amid bank collapses and a credit crunch that was exacerbated by the country’s link to the gold standard.

However, in December 1931, Takahashi returned to the job of finance minister…. A Keynesian before the word was coined, Takahashi fought recession with stimulus: he abandoned the gold standard, loosened credit conditions and raised public spending, financed with new debt. In some ways, it worked. As the yen lost 40 per cent of its value, exports boomed. Then, as annual public spending rose above 50 per cent of GDP, or almost double the 1929 level, Japan’s economy stabilised, even as the US continued to ail. But Takahashi encountered two problems.

First, the stimulus did not stop Japan from becoming marked by social fracture, political unrest and nationalism. On the contrary, tensions continued to rise, partly as the large conglomerates, or zaibatsu, were the biggest winners from stimulus….

Second, and unsurprisingly, the spending bonanza undermined confidence in Japan’s government debt and its currency, creating fragility. So in 1936, Takahashi embarked on an exit strategy, cutting public spending and tightening monetary policy. From a macroeconomic perspective, it made sense. But it cost Takahashi his life. As political tensions exploded, he was assassinated by rogue army officers who were furious at - among other things - the military spending cuts. That triggered a slide towards militarism, wild public spending and hyperinflation.”


Sebastian Mallaby in the FT, "Capitalism and its divided critics."

“Each school of criticism advances solution that the other ridicules, though neither side appears to notice this fact. Financial commentators who are skeptical of markets tend to wish that risk could be absorbed instead by companies -- precisely the entities that management commentators despise. In place of securitised credit, the critics want loans to be originated by financial companies and retained on their books, on the theory that the risk-management department of a bank or auto-finance outfit will assess risk better than market traders…. Meanwhile sceptics of the company advance the opposite critique. Unimpressed by bureaucratic managers, they wish that capital could be allocated in a more market-driven fashion.”


This just in...

John Kass in the CT on Richard M. Daley’s abdication.

“The first thing I thought when I heard the news was that somebody better ask a federal judge for an injunction, or else we'll be hearing the sounds of paper shredders going nonstop at City Hall, eating documents from now until Inauguration Day.”


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock, Mark 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. Funny to hear Chickenman again. Armed Forces Radio, Europe syndicated that show. Probably the best feature they had. Well, that and: "It's 10:00 in Central EUROPE. Do you know where YOUR children are?".

  2. The definition of "Dylanology" (the last sentence describing the book review) is the single greatest, aptest, description of this cult of authors who worship their era. Brilliant article.