a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Issue #66 (October 5, 2010)

Frost at Libby Flats, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Anthus Trivialis, by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Peter Orszag in the NYT, "Health Care’s Lost Weekend".

You have to wonder what job this pencil-neck is angling for with an Op-Ed like this. Orszag’s actually The Alpha-pencil-neck. His point here seems to be, Doctors don’t work weekends so don’t get sick on a weekend, and then what else, fix health-care again?! I thought he left the administration riding into the sunset busy getting married and impregnating all comers… Next we’ll find out he’s enlisted in the Geo-Green movement sweeping the NYT editorial pages. According to the FT (he went to the London School of Econ) he was sick of the Keynesianism of the rest of the Obama apparats. Really, maybe he’s just using this attack on an already fixed health-care system as a two-fer. He must really hate the President in such case.

Anyway for the record, there won’t even be half the doctors there are today in the brave new future-care, given what the clean-fingernail crowd has done to medicine. Still, Medicine remains successful at its principal task. More and more successful, which can’t be said for the legal profession, or politicians, or Office of Budget and Management directors; all you can say about them is the more of them and the more they do the worse things get. Whereas so many Americans live so far past the age of retirement now that it’s become a problem, several problems. And success is always punished in a bureaucracy.

Orszag begins, “Doctors, like most people, don’t love to work weekends, and they probably don’t enjoy being evaluated against their peers.” “Against”?! Teachers and Lawyers are evaluated by their peers. Sweet deal! Judges are former lawyers so why would they throw anything out of court? That’s taking food from the plate of their own profession. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath seriously which is why Orszag-Hillary-Obama-care will not use them. It’ll be something like the old Soviet medical system, run by glorified nurses on salary who will gladly submit to the budgeting guidelines for who gets what treatment. The elimination of the Physician’s prerogative without any corresponding liability relief was the last straw. Obama-care is only contemplating being slightly better on this than Hillary-care planned to be. The political class will soon be shouting at the remaining Doctors at the selfishness of the missing Doctors they expected would continue to trundle through the expensive hell of Medical school for such continuing abuse on the other end. But these remaining Doctors won’t speak English so they easily suffer mere verbal abuse.

Some of my first memories are of sitting alone in the car at night on streets I didn’t recognize while my dad ran into people’s homes on a series of house-calls. He’d take me so mom could focus on my little brothers. I’d watch these neighborhoods full of small houses with their windows lit, or I’d fiddle with the dashboard, or I’d look at the stars, or I’d fall asleep -- Naperville was a town of 7,000 then. Dad was building a practice there in the late fifties. Doctors relationships with their patients were and are envied by the other professions. But they have succeeded in destroying much of that. House-calls date from an informal practice of medicine that the courts and legislatures via insurance rates made impossible to sustain. And now the youngest of them, oblivious to their own professions’ handiwork, seek to paint this as the laziness of malpracticing mountebanks. One of my brothers (the baby then), a non-practicing physician, is predicting violence.


The NYT often allows its columnists to write up fictional semi-comic “interviews” or “letters” where some public figure is held up to a particularly useless form of ridicule. This sort of unfiction is really a sign of bankruptcy of the commentariat. But this bit of unfiction by Nicholas Kristof, "Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold", might be forgivable. In it he anticipates a Rwanda-like -- hell, a Darfur-like -- or actually a simple resumption of the suspended war of the Sudan regime of the Islamic north against the black Christian south. Kristof congratulates the administration’s efforts but worries there’s no stick, just “juicy and smart” carrots. Well yeah, Khartoum loves carrots but they want oil and further the souls of those black folks. Omar Hassan al-Bashir vs. Barack Obama is the next bout on the card. Obama will not be able to spar by Marquis of Queensberry rules and win the bout and prevent the slaughter.


Richard Dowden in Prospect, "Good Luck Nigeria".

“Today, there is still no agreement on how the vast natural wealth should be shared. Nigerians are united by little but the football team, and when they failed to win the World Cup this year, the president banned the footballers from playing for two years. How does such a country continue to exist?

The answer is a frantic, often brutal and dirty scramble for education, work, money and power between 120m—or is it 140m?—people. It’s a vast cauldron that seems to produce hotter, sharper, more creative and energetic human beings than anywhere else in Africa. Those who succeed indulge in stupendous exhibitions of power and wealth.

Most Nigerians welcomed the return of elections and a civilian presidency in 1999, but politicians have awarded themselves some of the highest salaries in the world. In May, they put in for a pay rise that would have given them each £82,700 a month. (More than half of Nigerians live on less than £1 a day.) At the last election vote rigging was not only organised by government and state officials—everyone was at it. This is the way Nigeria works. It’s a system too strong for one person to change; progress will require a whole new generation committed to cleaning things up.”


Jeremy Page in the WSJ in "China’s Army Extends Sway" includes an interesting side-bar of recent People’s Liberation Army actions and statements. These and certain Party actions seem to indicate China’s growing confidence might soon change its behavior in the three disputed island groups, not to mention Taiwan or better yet, North Korea (South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun is in Germany as it observes / celebrates twenty years of reunification). And if certain analysts are correct about the Chinese economy’s rocky road ahead, this premature outing of some perhaps deeply disguised strategy -- one now nationalized and racialized to replace whatever the Party may believe the strategic intentions of Maoism once were -- will succeed primarily in uniting Northeast-, Southeast- and South-Asia against it.


Ethan Devine in Foreign Policy has a sharp examination in "The Japan Syndrome" of what happened to the Japan-that-was-going-to-eat-the-West, and then he turns to China which he sees as an even more perverse export-growth model whose size makes it unlikely to calmly zombie-out as Japan has for the last fifteen years. Given what China’s problems once were, the new hazards have been worth the price. It seemed to me the first order of business was for the Chinese economy to birth new centers of power outside of the Communist Party. One can see the effect of this in many places but most clearly in the new entertainment industry as formerly PLA-owned Party-connected CD and DVD plants which once had no fear in their rampant bootlegging of anything, now are no longer PLA-owned if not exactly privatized. But they now must fear enforcement of copyrights as a national policy as not only the Hong Kong film industry has been repatriated, there is suddenly a large Mandarin-language mainland film industry that Beijing values for both its propaganda and revenue-earning value.

Here are excerpts from Devine:

“Post-World War II Japan pioneered Asia's export-driven growth model, sextupling GDP from 1950 to 1970 and pulling more people out of poverty more quickly than any country except modern China. Japan achieved this remarkable growth with a weak yen -- which supported exports and discouraged imports -- and high savings rates, which funded massive investments in infrastructure and manufacturing capacity.

An unfortunate side effect of export- and investment-driven growth is that it strangles the consumer. But that's kind of the point: The entire exercise depends on suppressing consumers as their cheap labor fuels exports. In Japan's case, the same undervalued yen that supported exports sapped consumers' purchasing power while yields on their savings were kept artificially low to fund cheap loans to corporations and government. And the shrunken share of economic spoils that did end up in the hands of consumers had no outlet but the heavily protected domestic market with its hopelessly inefficient and shockingly overpriced goods and services….

Belatedly, Tokyo realized that a balanced economy must also have consumption and that coating the country with factories and infrastructure wouldn't do the trick. Japan tried to rebalance slowly through the 1970s and early 1980s: The yen was allowed to strengthen a bit each year, and consumption ticked up to 54 percent of GDP, while investment shrank to 28 percent by 1985...

China's economic growth has shattered all records, and so have its imbalances. China is far more dependent on exports and investment than Japan ever was, and the numbers are still moving in the wrong direction. Investment accounts for half of China's economy while consumption is only 36 percent of GDP -- the lowest in the world, drastically lower than even other emerging economies such as India and Brazil.”

Devine, an investment manager specializing in Asian markets, believes China has the Japan Syndrome in mind and intends to bypass it, but after sketching out the demographic differences caused by China’s one-child policy he seems to fear something worse if they do not: “The harsh reality is this: Japan got rich before it grew old, and China will grow old before it gets rich.”


Gerard Lyons in the FT rightly challenges the news-cycle motif of the collapsed footbridge in India’s race to build facilities to host the Commonwealth Games now underway. But he even underplays his hand:

“The real lesson from the Commonwealth Games is that infrastructure is India’s big challenge. India’s growth rate is rising. A decade ago, few believed it could exceed 6 per cent. Now annual growth is at 8-9 per cent, but still below its potential, seen as 12-13 per cent.…

India’s is a domestically driven economy, somewhat protected from the global turmoil. While many western countries grapple with ageing populations and rising dependency ratios, India’s population is young and growing. It has 17 per cent of the world’s population. Half its people are under 25. This demographic dividend means India could add more than 200m new workers in the next two decades. Yet to generate the jobs needed, India may need large-scale manufacturing. This is possible only if infrastructure improves….

As China’s economy boomed, it helped to transform east Asia and the region’s supply chains. India could do likewise by boosting trade ties in south Asia and with the Middle East and east Africa. The Institute for International Finance is soon to host the great debate: India versus China. Perhaps the clever bet is to believe in both. China has shown its potential, but do not underestimate India.”

While China has not topped out as an economy, it has demographically and so rather than posit India’s demographic strength against the West, Lyons should rather have stacked it up against China’s coming weakness. A full ten years ago the Hoover Institute’s television program, “Uncommon Knowledge”, asked three Asia economics specialists a simple summary question, India or China? They all answered India even with far less evidence then, and their main reason was that very democratic polity that the common news media can’t help but see as impediment.


Sadanand Dhume in the WSJ, "Bangladesh, ‘Basket Case’ No More".

“Bangladesh ought to be held up as a role model, especially for the subcontinent's other Muslim-majority state. Arguably no two countries in the region share as much in common as Pakistan and Bangladesh, two wings of the same country between 1947 and 1971... Both have alternated between civilian and military rule. In terms of culture, both layer Islam over an older Indic base. Yet when it comes to government policies and national identity, the two countries diverge sharply. As a percentage of gross domestic product, Islamabad spends more on its soldiers than on its school teachers; Dhaka does the opposite…

Perhaps most importantly, Bangladesh appears comfortable in its own skin: politically secular, religiously Muslim and culturally Bengali. Bangladeshis celebrate the poetry, film and literature of Hindus and Muslims equally. With Pakistanis it's more complicated. The man on the street displays the same cultural openness as his Bangladeshi counterpart, but Pakistan also houses a vast religious and military establishment that seeks to hold the country together by using triple-distilled Islam and hatred toward India as glue….

Nearly 40 years ago, only the most reckless optimist would have bet on flood-prone, war-ravaged Bangladesh over relatively stable and prosperous Pakistan. But with a higher growth rate, a lower birth rate, and a more internationally competitive economy, yesterday's basket case may have the last laugh.”


Isaac Chotiner in the NYTBR, "Midnight’s Other Children".

“Now, Granta has assembled another well-timed issue devoted to the subcontinent, but this time the subject is Pakistan, partition’s other child. In the past few years, several Pakistani writers have been praised for their fiction… But there is no exclamation point on this colorfully designed Granta cover (inspired by Pakistan’s painted buses and trucks), and the collection lacks the whimsy that Americans simplistically identify with India. Granta’s Pakistan is a country of jihadists, anti-Americanism and increasingly misogynistic and brutal forms of Islam. Mohsin Hamid’s terse short story, for example, is a first-person tale of being beheaded; it ends with the narrator describing ‘the sound of my blood rushing out.’”


mercopress.com on Beef, the caviar of the future.


Andrew Willis at euobserver.com reports on the EU back-down on labeling Canada’s tar sands oil production as prohibitively inefficient to import. Greenpeace objects but perhaps the EU climate commissioner didn’t wish Canada’s energy commissioner to ask, “Compared to what, wind? Ethanol? Hydroelectric? Nuclear? Hamster wheels?” Oil, Natural Gas, and especially coal, are the most efficient fuels to locate transport and burn; one would think that all these costly supports for the rolling out of premature technologies would be better spent in research -- both for the real new energies (solar, fusion) and for the cleaning of the exhaust of the old.


Sindya Bhanoo reports in the NYT on "Neanderthals’ Big Loss in Battle of the Elements", summarizes the issue and then quotes University of Texas-Arlington anthropologist Naomi Cleghorn: “Based on what scientists currently know, a weather-related demise is more likely than a loss in a battle of the wits between Neanderthals and humans, she said. ‘It’s really difficult to argue that they weren’t as good as acquiring resources as early modern humans,’ she said.”

This is a short piece but I can hear that suspiciously religious-like humanism of science as it struggles to survive postmodern academe. It was also “really difficult” to argue that the peaceful vegan commune-of-our-dreams at Chaco Canyon was actually determined by Mesoamerican refugees from some prehistoric social catastrophe during the early stages of the formation of Aztec civilization, and that they were engaged in a cannibal-culture death-spiral three centuries before Columbus landed. Progressives do not believe in human nature, though oddly they often believe we are animals.


signandsight.com translates a summary of an essay by Alain Finkielkraut, from Sinn und Form.

“‘Must we be modern?’ asks the title of an essay from Alain Finkielkraut's book Nous autres, modernes. Roland Barthes wrote in his diary on 13 August 1977: ‘Suddenly I am no longer worried about not being modern.’ This sentence, Finkielkraut says, was only possible because Barthes was in love with someone who was dying. ‘A heartache, not love sickness but terrible pain – yet one so deeply buried in the order of things that you almost want to make excuses for it - caught Barthes off his guard and broke his conformism. Why? Because this grief turned him into a survivor and it is impossible to be a survivor and entirely modern at the same time. Because in the simple fact that you have survived the person you love lies a denial of the concept of time which is one of the mainstays of the idea of modernity. For modern man, the past is a burden; the survivor feels only its absence. .... Modern man is glad to leave the past behind but the survivor is inconsolable when it comes to the past. Because for him, the past is not deadly, but mortal, not oppressive, but precarious.’”


mercopress.com reports that Germany has just made its final WWI reparation payment (Hitler had suspended payments and East Germany never kicked in a pfennig). France may now have to work in August.


Andrew Rettman at euobserver.com, "Unloved ‘eurocrats’ look on at Brussels protest".

“Member states last year refused to honour a contractually-stipulated pay increase for EU officials, prompting an ongoing court battle in Luxembourg. EU countries' recent proposals for the 2011 budget for EU institutions also call for a €165 million cut vis-a-vis the European Commission's request. There is to be €13 million less for the international schools which teach EU civil servants' children, €22 million less for pensions and a moratorium on creating new posts. The communique proposing the budget cutbacks said they are ‘in line with the approach followed by the member states for their national civil service.’”


Stu Woo in the WSJ, "There’s No Budget, but California Is All Over the Foreign-Cow Issue".

“On the brink of insolvency, California may have to pay its bills with IOUs soon. A budget was due three months ago, and the legislature hasn't passed one. The lawmakers can, however, point to a list of other achievements this year. Awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature, for example, is a bill that would bar the state from filming cows in New Zealand. It's the fruit of five committee votes and eight legislative analyses. California lawmakers also voted to form a lobster commission. They created ‘Motorcycle Awareness Month,’ not to mention a ‘Cuss Free Week.’ And they kept the California state rock safe.”


Daniel Henninger in the WSJ, "The Only Policy Left: Growth".

“The United States doesn't have Eurosclerosis yet, but the Democratic Party does. That's because the party has welded itself forever to the public-sector unions, as the social-democratic parties have in Europe (see the current wave of national strikes in Spain and France). Strong growth has no meaning to the public sector, so its political foot soldiers don't waste time pushing it. Exhibit A is the Obama administration's abandonment of trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. The growth issue has defaulted to the Republican Party. That's the pity.”


Gordon Crovitz in the WSJ, "From Wikinomics to the Tea Party".

“The rate of technological change is exhilarating for some and nerve-racking for others, but it should be most terrifying to the political class. The disconnect between the frenetic pace of creative destruction in the private sector and the calcified, operating-as-always approach in government helps account for disaffected young Obama supporters on one side and fed-up tea party members on the other.”


Tony Price and Lars Tragardh at opendemocracy.net, "The idea of the nation and the surge in Sweden’s xenophobic right".

“Does the rise of the Sweden Democrats and the consolidation of the center right imply the end of a certain idea of social democracy in Sweden? No, argues Professor Tagardth, except to the extent that both the Social Democrats and the Alliance have abandoned the idea of the nation. And there are those who need it.”


Daniel Pipes in the Washington Times, "Dueling Fatwas".

“The topic opens with ‘South Park,’ an iconoclastic adult cartoon program on Comedy Central, which in April mocked the prohibition on depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. An obscure website, RevolutionMuslim.com (whose proprietor subsequently was arrested on terrorism-related charges) responded by threatening the show's writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Panicked, Comedy Central censored further mention of Muhammad.

Enter Molly Norris, a cartoonist at the Seattle Weekly, who showed solidarity with Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone by posting a facetious ‘Everyone Draw Muhammad Day’ appeal on Facebook, hoping that host of caricaturists would ‘counter Comedy Central's message about feeling afraid.’ To Ms. Norris' surprise, dismay and confusion, others took her idea seriously, prompting Facebook campaigns for and against her ‘day’ and causing the Pakistani government temporarily to block Facebook. Ms. Norris disowned her initiative, apologized for it and even befriended the local Council on American-Islamic Relations representative, to little avail.

Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist leader in Yemen, responded in July by issuing a death sentence on Ms. Norris, inaccurately but pungently called a fatwa. On consulting with the police, Ms. Norris in September not only went underground but ‘went ghost’ and disappeared entirely, including her name and her profession. Mr. Awlaki's ‘fatwa’ on Ms. Norris, however, is only half the story. The other half concerns a U.S. government ‘fatwa’ on Mr. Awlaki.”


Robert Worth in the NYT, "Syrian Actress Who Bared All Tests Boundaries Again".

“‘I felt like a suicide bomber when I was making this scene,’ she recalled. ‘To do such a scene in Syria — I knew there would be criticism.’ There was criticism, but the film was a hit. People traveled in packed buses from remote towns to the movie theaters in Damascus and Aleppo. Igraa was defiant about her role, and when she was asked to blame the director and producer, she refused, saying they had done the scene with her full consent.

She went on to make dozens of other films, many of them tawdry affairs with a lot of bikini scenes and not much plot. But she also wrote 25 screenplays, and she casts her work as an effort to break down patriarchal attitudes toward women. ‘My films criticized the double standard of the Eastern man,’ she said. ‘He studies in Europe, but he comes back East and returns to his old attitudes. If he could lock his wife and sister up, he would.’”


Jim Fusilli in the WSJ, "The Godfather of Go-Go".

‘We used to do R&B before go-go,’ he said. ‘We'd do 15, 20 songs a night.’ The audience didn't mind when the band took breaks between sets. ‘But with go-go, nobody wanted us to stop. We'd just keep jumping into another tune. It's go-go because it don't stop… I had a drummer, Ricky Wellman was his name, and he didn't like it. 'I feel so empty,' he used to tell me. Empty? Look at the dance floor!’ Mr. Wellman stayed with Mr. Brown for another decade before leaving to join Miles Davis's group. ‘Before go-go,’ Mr. Brown added, ‘people used to come out in mink coats. But pretty soon they were coming out to dance. They'd push all the tables to the side. The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger. No more mink coats.’”


Ethan Smith in the WSJ, "Live Nation’s Diller Resigns As Chairman Amid Turmoil".

“The resignation follows a disastrous investor conference in July, during which the company's shares plunged even as company executives sought to assure investors that their strategy was sound. After the meeting, according to people familiar with the matter, Mr. Diller chastised Mr. Rapino for the presentation, which included claims that were considered by many in the music industry to be exaggerated… For instance, one slide in a Powerpoint presentation implied that with the help of Live Nation it would take a contemporary recording artist just three months to vault from obscurity to selling out concert arenas. Most in the music business believe a more realistic timeline to be on the order of two years. Also during the same presentation, Mr. Azoff criticized investors selling the company's stock—during the meeting—as ‘shortsighted.’”


Alex Pham in the LAT on Amoeba Records’ Marc Weinstein.


Allen Ravenstine of Pere Ubu interviewed by Jason Gross in the new issue of perfectsoundforever.


Kevan Harris at dustedmagazine.com on the Touch and Go compendium.


Eddie Dean in the WSJ on Dave Thompson’s book, Bayou Underground.


•November 3-5, 2010
Theoretical Music: No Wave, New Music, and the New York Art Scene, 1978-1983

An event organized by Branden W. Joseph and David Grubbs for ISSUE Project Room.


Noel Gardner on The Groundhogs box-set at thequietus.com.


American Hardcore Library Conversations with Steven Blush
•October 7 - Portsmouth, NH Public Library, 7pm
•October 8 - Worcester, MA Public Library, 3pm
•October 9 - Portland, ME Public Library, 2pm

American Hardcore and the Rise of Modern Rock
•October 19 - NYU Kimmel Center 4th floor #406, 2pm

“overview: A panel discussion on the early-80s American Hardcore scene's impact on modern rock, particularly today's indie label and touring networks. We look at the challenges and rewards of DIY music, and how long-departed bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat continue to shape our musical landscape.

moderator: Steven Blush (American Hardcore).
panelists: Vic Bondi (Articles of Faith), Jack Rabid (The Big Takeover), Matt Sweeney (Chavez/Zwan), Michelle Dakshys, Jason Jordan (Hollywood Records).”


Tony Rettman interviews Tesco Vee at viceland.com.


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the health-care article in response to Orszag. A close family friend from the U.K. visits often to undergo chemo that she's unqualified for back in England under their equitable health-care system. I also really liked your response to the "Rigoberta Manchu" revisited article last week. It catalyzed me to go off on Fanon and Freire's contributions to nearly every academic field today, sans-the advocacy of FLN torture of course. I just happened to be writing a paper and noticed some familiar revolutionary names cited in the textbook, amidst heartwarming pictures of multi-cultural social groups eating ice cream together, laughing. They really do get more and more whitewashed every year that I'm scared to see what textbooks will look like in a few years.
    Keep up the great work on this blog, Joe!