a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Issue #69 (October 27, 2010)

DuPage Island Channel

Photo by Joe Carducci

California unter Alles
by Joe Carducci

What with all the sharpening of fundamental issues to do with spending, taxing, economics, and the U.S. Constitution in these mid-term elections its like the man in the street is talking metaphysics, or plate tectonics, when the news media and the two Parties expected to go again at guns or abortion or race. The Founders Top 10 are in motion due to issues involving the Fed, and Hayek and Bastiat readers are pushing Strauss and Schmitt readers away from the Republican Party table. It’s like Letterman’s Dumb Guy understands something about Pension liabilities and wealth creation and how moral hazard finds better disguise with each step up the government ladder, that the Wise Guys do not. There were many missteps the decentered ad hoc Tea Party might have made. Mistakes along the lines Ross Perot made, or talking conspiracies or race. To some extent what mistakes have been made were made so locally they did little damage. The smartest commentator on American politics down to the county level, Michael Barone, recently pondered the Tea Party’s outfoxing of the pros of both parties -- they beat many Republican organizations in the primaries and look to beat the Democratic organizations next. I was driving through Nebraska last Wednesday when Rush Limbaugh was chiding Barone for his surprise that his own readers, who also overlap the viewers of Fox News, the readers of the Wall Street Journal, and listeners of Limbaugh himself, would be up to speed by now. (Barone responds to Rush here.) Also recently, I saw a letter warning Tea Party folks that money coming into races via something called the Tea Party Express is old-line Republican money trying to co-opt them. They seem ready to resume a struggle with the Republican Party on Wednesday as they form leadership before January’s next Congress brings them back up against the Democrats.

And then there’s California…

There the elections seem unsharpened by the Tea Party lexicon so evident elsewhere around the country. This despite California’s clear lead in the fundamental unsustainability sweepstakes. The Milken Institute’s new study, "Addressing California’s Pension Shortfalls" (pdf file) by Perry Wong and I-Ling Shen, offers no magic answers, just two obvious ones: “The first involves implementing feasible adjustments to the current defined benefit plans, such as increasing contributions, lowering pension benefits, and raising the retirement age. The second solution set is more fundamental: an overhaul of the current pension plan so that investment risks are not entirely borne by the employer but shared with state employees.” But the Report’s real drama is in its laying out the case that things are far worse than the Governor or the Assembly or editorial boards have admitted. The recent budget dance indicates that reality is still to be resisted in Cali. One of the study’s charts, “Actuarial unfunded accrued liabilities” for the three state pension funds reveals that these grew outsized even in the teeth of the boom/bubble beginning in 2003 when money was still pouring into their coffers. These boom revenues went somewhere else. And now the boom is over; nothing was banked.

The uniquely California problem has to do with the Cali Dream within the American Dream. It’s America yes, only ideologized in that boomer manner of the pretentious soft-sciences and debased Humanities. The entire game’s been floated by the heavy industry in and around Los Angeles, and the mechanized agriculture of the San Joaquin Valley which operates on a scale hitherto unknown (Soviet agriculture don’t count), with significant contributions from home construction. All of this earthy wealth creation put the gold in the Golden State, but is hidden away from the soft-headed culturati tracts. Industry is well south of Los Angeles’s west-side, and agriculture due east of I-5 (the vineyards are west). The smaller inland economies of Northeast California or the deserts, which in other states might carry real clout, in California are jerked around helplessly by these large interests and the great population centers which give these Nevada-like, Utah-like, Oregon-like regions not a single thought.

But it's in those isolated high rent tracts where the terms of discourse are approved and disseminated. Here, where everyone wants to live: the Westside, the beach, the canyons, San Francisco, coastal small town California -- not to be confused with small town America. This is where they dream of taxing legalized marijuana or taxing the revenues of foreign corporations’ overseas earnings or taxing the Ports to within an inch of making Seattle the gateway to America…. Their conventional wisdom is that its all Howard Jarvis’s fault (his Proposition 13 of 1978 capped property taxes until sale); I guess they believe they could keep their own fancy digs were these beach houses and canyon cabins and cliffside manses and corner flats and high-rise condos taxed at their true merciless Golden State dreamy market value. Everything from Manhattan Beach to North Beach might easily look like Merced or Riverside, to an accountant anyway, were it not for Saint Howard. And surely Nevada and Utah would have filled up two decades quicker if that Cal Assembly had been able to tax away at people’s homes.

No doubt the referendum system is a problem with its atomizing of issues to an anti-philosophical, even anti-political level. But the referenda system was caused by an earlier breakdown of the political system. This election its Prop 20 which seeks to banish the gerrymandering of safe districts in the Assembly that bears watching. But somehow the scale of California insures a critical mass of terminally disaffected voters/tax payers/consumers/citizens no matter what the issue and these must be bought off with matching funds thus doubling/tripling/quadrupling proposed expenditures as many times over as there are contending groups. The economy is so large and invisible that the politicians and Parties have given up any discipline. Now they’ve hit a wall they did not know existed.

The California indulgence is largely about releasing the inner being/true self, not thinking hard about actuarial or constitutional issues. There’s plenty of vote-buying using state revenues and spending. More in fact than you’d find in other states with similarly intractable budgetary problems. But in Illinois, New York, and New Jersey these purchases are grubby and smelly like corruption ought to be; they are the brokering of ethnic and class and business power. But in California all corruption is cleaned by the sunlight of pretension. Mass higher education does that to a culture. It’s claimed that Cali’s systems of universities and community colleges is the jewel of its postwar development; well, that depends. That the size of the system is supposed to be one of former Speaker Willie Brown’s high achievements makes one suspicious. Certainly there’s heavy duty work going on in the labs and affiliated research facilities of the hard science colleges, but even that is quite easily squandered when its the Humanities schools’ sensibility ordering them around on greenish wild goose chases. The pretense knows no bounds and so while the budget won’t add up, all kinds of micro-legislation continue to authorize the creation of new boards to oversee pets, or plants, or motorcycles or air. Utterly unproductive indulgences displaying a contempt for wealth created by the hidden productive sectors.

Truckers used to tank up at the border to California to use as little of the special Cali blend of fuel as possible. They were just trying to save their engines from the damaging effects of California’s mandated additives and didn’t want to pay a premium for that corrosion on top of it. Lucky for them those additives soon proved carcinogenic and were removed. Never mind, call it hamster-wheel work-fare for citizens or not. The state mandarins believe their make-work is better than real naturally occurring jobs. They now control a tangled mass of puppet strings whereby what economic actors want to do is frustrated while they are enticed to do what they do not want to do.

The next Silicon Valley may be unable to develop in California no matter its resources and creativity. In any case it's already been decided in Sacramento what that next Silicon Valley will be.

Socially conscious government spending further crowds out naturally occurring folk patterns in a society and the trouble this causes then seems addressable only by more government intervention. This was the new class’s magic formula for amassing power through government growth. And it why now the right is radical and the left reactionary.

California is only just recently a net loser with regard to federal taxes taken and spending given. The older industrial states of the Midwest and Northeast have been losers since Pearl Harbor as the Feds used their wealth creation to fund development of the west for defensive purposes. The nation’s air force research, development and construction were moved to the west coast. Such spending was more wind in California’s sails. But all that and more came to be leveraged so far out beyond the ledge that even the return of economic growth will not fill the sails enough to move the state government toward fiscal equilibrium. And this election, which in California appears merely administrative in its concerns, may not change much. Except that things cannot go on as before.

The trigger for Cali’s “dysfunction” as its called, occurred neatly in 1980 when Republicans supplied the votes necessary to make Willie Brown Speaker of the Assembly (while two other Democrats fought a scorched-earth battle over the post). Brown, a born pol from east Texas was no utopian and hardly issue-driven even when it came to black issues, but in a sense he’s the one who channeled the remaining eastern-like political battles into an everybody-wins game of utopian roulette paid for by round after round of increased taxes and fees. This couldn’t last but it did because Brown was so free a pol -- he moved in and around the corrupt and the idealists, swindling each out of what together they might oppose like a maestro. He shafted the Republicans over redistricting and so the one-time Republican-trending state of Reagan became a Democratic lock. Republican Governors could do nothing at best against the Assembly majority under Brown, more often he set up face-saving mechanisms that seemed to forestall tax increases while lining them up to be triggered by some next budgetary shortfall his deal making would insure. Even when Willie stumbled there were Republican Speakers he could rule through, he seems that nice a guy. Only a term limits referendum donnybrook got rid of Brown in 1995 and he left in such a way that he further poisoned the well. Contrasting him with the colorless Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan, one would say Madigan is likely escaping culpability once again (under Governor-cover: the old Republicans in prison and Blagojevich circling) even though he is still in the damn office! Here's the Tribune's John Kass doing what he can to turn focus to Boss Madigan.

Jerry Brown may be the one Democrat who could conceivably call the Tea Party’s bluff on spending, but its not as if Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t try. Perhaps in the state there will be some change in the makeup of the legislature, but change enough? There won’t even be half the difference there will be in Washington. Why? Because they’re all Californians! But Jerry Brown was already Governor and his father was a Governor too. Jerry was even a Jesuit seminarian for a year in the fifties. In the seventies as Governor he was another utopian Californian but though he opposed the Jarvis Prop he adjusted to it and the state was in surplus. But he ran for President in 1976 and 1980, and for the Senate in 1982 so he seemed pretty anxious to get the hell out back then. The seventies were more boom for California but by the time Brown left the Governor’s office the state had a then-unprecedentedly large budget deficit. Since then he’s done real work as Mayor of Oakland and one hopes he reads the state’s problems better than his opponent Meg Whitman, an older type of Republican candidate without even Schwarzenegger’s capacity to throw a curve. Brown hasn’t campaigned to indicate such however.

The WSJ just reported on baby steps in Pennsylvania and Kentucky to eliminate one chamber of their legislature. Nebraska went unicameral in 1937. Only Maine seems poised to follow; their House passed it but the Senate whistled suspiciously as it died there. Which reminds me that even the Chicago city council once had two Aldermen in each of the fifty wards. How did they ever dispatch half the grifters in city haul?! A Chicago Tribune editorial Monday called, "Somebody Nobody Sent" touts the city’s Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s cost-cutting proposals which are a challenge to a council which according to the Trib “is warming up to rubber stamp Mayor Richard Daley's I'm-outta-here budget.”

This week Britain and France provided an interesting contrast as they made motion to address their own recession/corruption crises. Alan Cowell wrote from Paris in the New York Times: “Faced with the prospect of a longer working life until a minimum retirement age of 62 (up from the current 60), a million French citizens took to the streets…. But, confronting government measures promising not only a longer working life but 19 percent cuts in public spending… the British barely seemed to blink.” And in the Financial Times John Thornhill writes: “Whereas the French seem to regard austerity as an affront to their national identity, the British appear readier to embrace the challenge….” He also quotes Charles de Gaulle, “France cannot be France without grandeur.”

These differing notes sounding from Europe, perhaps create harmonic pairs with the different sounding elections of California on one hand, and those in the rest of the country. Don’t have to tell you which one harmonizes with France’s.

Jerry Brown addendum

Doug Moe in Brava Magazine, "Lost and Found Francis Ford Coppola", on Brown’s last ditch 1980 Presidential primary campaign’s live half-hour television special from Madison, Wisconsin that Coppola botched horribly, sending up Brown’s one time technocratic pretense and cinching Mike Royko’s appellation, Governor Moonbeam in the electorate’s mind. I remember that the live video images were overlayed and the images frayed badly and you could see through holes in Brown’s face as he rambled on against the largest video screen of the day. Why isn’t this on youtube?

[Illustrations: Dead Kennedys "California Uber Alles" p/s inside plate; Gouache by Grace Krilanovich; Photograph by Chris Collins; Jerry Brown 1992 campaign photo; Photograph by Mike Watt]

The Smarter New York Times
by Joe Carducci

While I was at my parents in Naperville after leaving SST and L.A., and before I bought my building in east Wicker Park, Chicago, I used to read the New York Times at Nichols Library. There was often this older Jewish guy who’d get to the paper before me and make little critical annotations or corrections along the margins of stories, mostly the Times’ middle-east reporting. So I took up doing that to the music reviews. No, actually I’m kidding about that; they were way more wrong about music than they could ever have been about Israel, so I hardly read their music coverage at all then except to collect ammo for the book I was writing.

Ten years later Ira Stoll’s old smartertimes.com site was something like that guy’s solo kvetching and it was a useful review of usually a single story each day. It went derelict when Stoll was hired to run the then resurrected New York Sun. Now I’ve seen his byline at the Wall Street Journal I think. Anyway, these three recent stories brought to mind Stoll’s old task shouldered:

This editorial, "Jimmying the Tax Code for Votes", sounds like it may promise the possibility the editorial board might evolve and get behind the Tea Party on its anti-earmark quest to stop actual vote-buying. Only it’s really just them chasing down “shady” political donations leaking around all the last best-laid plans of mice-like men to run our elections like we’re Sweden.

John Schwartz’s column, "Name That Freedom", in the Weakened Review section goes at Christine O’Donnell for her possibly weak comprehension back in Civics class when the Iron Curtain was erected between God and Government. (They forgot He can walk through walls.) Schwartz is so certain of his trouncing of the ditz that he leaves a tell-tale warp-age in relief showing through his text that tells you he is possibly wrong, certainly hiding something. In treating the First Amendment as inviolate, something the Times often does (except see above), he makes a creaky humorous aside which “casually” drops mentions of the Fourth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments. But John what’s that big lump behind the curtain over there? Why look it’s our old friend the Second Amendment. You know, the one that accounts for me stockpiling all this firepower out here in the mountains. (Come by any time, but really I mean it: Call first.) The Second Amendment is the one all the smart folks make a cottage-industry out of shooting it full of holes, as in “Hey I’m sorry you gun-happy Neanderthal, it’s the old subordinate clause switcheroo, can’t you read?” You can’t keep shredding one amendment and keep the others standing. You can’t push the state into every room of the house and then keep it out of the bedroom. I could go on… as you know.

Nicholas Bakalar piece, "Birth Control Pills, 1957", may be a web-only featurelet. It purports to describe the “First Mention” of what came to be called The Pill. As you might guess the Times can hardly be trusted to tell the whole story about such a hot topic, so its kind of interesting but less so if you know more about it. I happened to see one of Raymond Pettibon’s junkshop scores lying around his parents house a few years ago and took the time to Xerox it. It was the October 1957 issue of Pageant, a small format magazine with a weird fifties-style suppressed sexual thread running through it, though you’d never call it a girly mag much less a porn rag. The cover story was, “How A Girl Becomes A Woman - an intimate picture story.” Hubba-hubba, I know. Actually one of those shots I recognize as the basis for one of Raymond’s drawings, the one where a woman kisses the hand of a policeman saying something like, “I love policemen, but only because they are so very handsome.”

I did copy that story too but it was the story, “Birth Control Pills - How Safe? How Sure?” that I really wanted so I could ascertain what was the debate like back then. Sure enough it's way more interesting than Bakalar’s piece. I used this ringer in my Naomi book, “While scientists remain cautious, a new contraceptive pill seems to answer all the objections on physical, psychological and moral grounds.” Strike three!

The author, Thomas Conway, relates that a test detailed in Science journal was conducted on fifty married women between the ages of 22 and 39; there is no apparent conception that anyone but married couples would ever be prescribed such a pill. After all no unmarried couple could check into a hotel without subterfuge. Conway also notes the involvement of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in funding 21 research projects “to break any one link in the chain which leads to new life. But no one is seeking to prohibit the final passage of the fertilized egg to the uterus. Administration of female sex hormones probably could slow or speed up the eight-day journey, thus preventing the egg from clinging to the uterine wall. But, since at this stage life has begun, PPFA condemns this on moral grounds as abortion.” I’m just sayin’…

[Las Vegas billboard photo by Mark Carducci]

Doings at National Speech Impediment Radio
by Joe Carducci

At first I thought Vivian Schiller couldn’t possibly have anything to do with NPR, never mind be CEO waving the big stick firing Juan Williams, because she only has two names. Everybody knows all the women there have three names and what about Barbara Bradley-Haggerty-Sarhaddi-Nelson; she must be a real handful.

Anyway, the news of Juan Williams’ firing shook me because it was only last spring in these very virtual pages that I suggested that it was only Juan Williams that was holding this damn country together! No other political commentator-writer moves back and forth from liberal and conservative organs as easily or as seemingly well-liked. I wrote that for a link to his weekend WSJ column calling for the Tea Party to be taken seriously rather than dismissed as some crypto-racist reanimated Klan-militia. Now we can guess that that WSJ column was duly noted in the chart of sins Ms Schiller was keeping on Williams. Probably Murdoch himself wrote Juan’s byline: “Mr. Williams, a political analyst for National Public Radio and Fox News.” -- a juxtaposition simply diabolical.

Schiller apologizes for her initial gratuitous tirade here but it's hard to look good out in the real world when you live in a public radio bubble. James Rainey in the LAT recounts that the good times are rolling at NPR so naturally she’s a bit powermad. It’s interesting that radio turned out to be the news medium that could become the analogue to the New York Times’s newspaper of record. NPR can’t be that really, but it needn’t be accomplished or serious-minded to pass as such on radio. Talking allows acting skills to carry some of the load that writing and reporting must otherwise carry in total. CNN tried to become that Times analogue but couldn’t due to the expenses of video camera crews and also the limitations of the visual presentation. People watch TV and respond to personality and visage in a way that undercuts seriousness, especially if you are unsure of what you are doing as CNN has been since FoxNews showed up certain of its task.

Non-commercial radio is especially copasetic with the culturati, who try to keep the TV off and live a consistently designed bohemian lifestyle. Still it’s taken NPR a long time to settle into this groove. Not only did hippie have to become yuppie, but punk had to turn indie for there to be a non-denominationally semi-hip NPR “voice” that enough people tolerate. Currently the old speech impediments are being crowded by Mehicano sign-offs, BBC pronunciations of words, and the flat modern toss-off style coming from “This American Life”. If they start pronouncing Chinese names Xinhua-style I may begin to question which nation’s radio network this is anyway.

The decades-long march to power by NPR had always confused me somewhat because for me in Chicago and then the west coast, non-commercial radio meant WFMT, KBOO, KPFA, and KPFK, and they were pitching Studs Terkel, and the mixed nuts of Pacifica programming. I assumed the NPR reporters and announcers must be drafted from those Pacifica stations and then had the communism scrubbed from behind their ears by radio professionals. But I was wrong about that. They were their own kind of sub-newspaper, not quite-TV correspondents and through the real magic of radio’s Theater of the Mind-effect it kind of works. Nobody romanticizes radio reporters so its quite possible they get more truth into their microphones as they go around solo, than the old three-man network news crews ever did.

I liked the older NPR allergy to culture; they seemed to leave it to Terry Gross back then and she focused on legacy acts, not new stuff where she wouldn’t know her ass from a hole in the ground. Her interview with Carl Perkins is one of the best things I’ve ever heard on radio. But now after the music industry implosion NPR is getting into the business. Bad enough with all that indie garbage and granola soul but now the old AOR warhorses are stopping by -- Robert Plant… Heart… what, Bon Jovi? Oh for a punk or a hippie... Maybe Juan could record some tunes and sneak back on.

Sittellee Kabyle, by James Fotopoulos

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

J.T. Young in the WSJ, "Democrats And the Politics of Recession."

“Three generations ago, Democrats rode the Depression to congressional gains in four straight elections. They more than doubled their House and Senate totals between 1929 and 1937. If current polls are accurate, today's Democrats are about to see their winning streak end at two elections. Why?”


James Quinn at zerohedge.com, "Depression Within a Depression".

“The 1920s marked the beginning of mass production and the emergence of consumerism in America, with automobiles a prominent symbol of the latter. In 1919, there were just 6.7 million cars on American roads. By 1929, the number had grown to more than 27 million cars, or nearly one car for every household. During this period banks offered the country’s first home mortgages and manufacturers of everything – from cars to irons – allowed consumers to pay “on time.” Installment credit soared during the 1920s. About 60% of all furniture and 75% of all radios were purchased on installment plans. Thrift and saving were replaced in the new consumer society by spending and borrowing.

Encouraging the spending, the three Republican administrations of the 1920s practiced laissez-faire economics, starting by cutting top tax rates from 77% to 25% by 1925. Non-intervention into business and banking became government policy. These policies led to overconfidence on the part of investors and a classic credit-induced speculative boom….

Between 1929 and 1932, the market fell 89% from its high. The Keynesian storyline is that Herbert Hoover’s administration did nothing to try and revive the economy. It took Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal Keynesian policies to save the country. It’s a nice story, but completely false. Between 1929 and 1933, when Roosevelt came to power, the Hoover administration increased real per-capita federal expenditures by 88%, not exactly austere.”


Paul Springer at traderdaily.com, "Gee, It’s the G20 in Action."

"The I.M.F. comes off like a World Wrestling Entertainment referee busy tying his shoes while one opponent bludgeons another with a folding chair. But the I.M.F.’s job is a lot tougher — the ring is bigger, the number of contestants is in the double digits, and there are no rules in currency conflicts. Not much happened immediately after the weekend meeting concluded. The Nikkei average was up slightly, but nothing cataclysmic happened. Given the threat of global currency value distortions brought on by sovereign action, nothing happening is actually a pretty good deal.”


Jason Zweig in the WSJ, "Manias and Meddlers: Secret Past of Chinese Stock Market."

“This week, the People's Bank of China jolted stock markets around the world with a surprise interest-rate rise, and the leaders of China's Communist Party called for ‘accelerating the transformation of the nation's economic-development pattern.’ This drive to manage growth harks back to a declaration on April 22 that ‘of the many government functions, the most important is to facilitate commerce and help industries.’

The odd thing is, the Chinese government made that statement on April 22, 1903.
Amid the almost irresistible excitement over China's explosive growth, it is important to understand that the Asian giant has run this exact race before—several times—and the results weren't pretty.”


Thorbjorn Jagland of the Nobel Committee in the NYT, "Why We Gave Lui Xiaobo a Nobel."

“The authorities assert that no one has the right to interfere in China’s internal affairs. But they are wrong: international human rights law and standards are above the nation-state, and the world community has a duty to ensure they are respected. The modern state system evolved from the idea of national sovereignty established by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. At the time, sovereignty was assumed to be embodied in an autocratic ruler. But ideas about sovereignty have changed over time. The American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen replaced the control of the autocrat with the sovereignty of the people as the source of national power and legitimacy….

Today, universal human rights provide a check on arbitrary majorities around the world, whether they are democracies or not. A majority in a parliament cannot decide to harm the rights of a minority, nor vote for laws that undermine human rights. And even though China is not a constitutional democracy, it is a member of the United Nations, and it has amended its Constitution to comply with the Declaration of Human Rights.”


Slavoj Žižek in the London Review of Books on Richard McGregor’s book, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.

“How is Party hegemony combined with the modern state apparatus needed to regulate an exploding market economy? What institutional reality sustains the official slogan that good stock-market performance is the way to fight for socialism? What we have in China isn’t simply a combination of a private capitalist economy and Communist political power. In one way or another, state and Party own the majority of China’s companies, especially the large ones: it is the Party itself which demands that they perform well in the market. To resolve this apparent contradiction, Deng concocted a unique dual system. ‘As an organisation, the Party sits outside, and above the law,’ He Weifang, a law professor from Beijing, tells McGregor: ‘It should have a legal identity, in other words, a person to sue, but it is not even registered as an organisation. The Party exists outside the legal system altogether.’ ‘It would seem difficult,’ McGregor writes, ‘to hide an organisation as large as the Chinese Communist Party, but it cultivates its backstage role with care.’”


Kathrin Hille in the FT, "China tightens grip on the net with map site to rival Google."

“While Google Maps allows users to zoom in on an air force base at Shahe just north of Beijing until individual aircraft are clearly distinguishable, Mapworld goes blank over Shahe at beyond a resolution of 1:36,000. The same happens at the Jiuquan site of China’s largest space vehicle launch facility.”


Geoff Dyer in the FT, "The people’s princeling".

“In recent years Chinese politics has been dominated by two rival groups, with the ‘Shanghai gang’ linked to former president Jiang Zemin facing off against Mr Hu’s allies, many of whom came up through the party‘s youth league. Many analysts believe Mr Xi only won out over Mr Hu’s favored candidate because he appealed to both groups, without being closely aligned to either.”


Jason Motlagh at digitaljournalist.org, "War in the heart of India."

“We were somewhere in the wilds of Chhattisgarh state's Bastar region, the remotest heart of tribal India where Maoist insurgents prowl the mountain jungle. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called them the country's biggest long-term threat. I decided to try and photograph them when repeated attempts to learn more about the movement on the Internet, from Indian friends and the Delhi-based foreign press corps yielded next to nothing. After a maddening week chasing leads in the nearest garrison town, a contact directed us to a safe house on the edge of rebel territory and told us to wait.

Bow-and-arrow-wielding member of the Naxalites' village militia, known as Sangam, that tries to protect the Maoist insurgency in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh state, India. Three bow-and-arrow-wielding members of the Maoists' village militia known as Sangam showed up a day later to escort us in. From dawn to dusk we followed an old hunting trail past waterfalls, wild bears and scared villagers, some of whom fled or froze.”

Fakir Mohan Pradhan in the South Asia Intelligence Review, "Maoists: Women in the Camp":

“Women cadres have long had a significant role in Maoist attacks. In 2004, several woman cadres were spotted in the gang that looted the armoury at Koraput in Orissa. In 2008, woman cadres again prominently featured in the killing of Policemen during the looting of the armoury at Nayagarh (Orissa). An unnamed senior leader of the CPI-Maoist, questioned by a reporter about the position of women in their ranks, declared, ‘We treat women on par even in our military struggle. Our women cadres are provided training just like their men counterparts. There is no discrimination in their diet or exercises.’ It is mandatory for all new recruits to the outfit to take a nine-point oath that declares, inter alia, that he or she would not discriminate on the basis of religion, caste, gender, race, or ethnicity.

While women have played a crucial role in Maoist operations and organisation, however, the reality is far from the declared ideal of equality and equity. The story of Shobha Mandi alias Uma (23), the Jhargram ‘area commander’, illustrates a reality that is far off from the ‘solemn pledges’ of gender justice taken by the Maoists. After being sexually exploited by some senior leaders of the outfit, Shobha, who commanded a squad of 25 to 30 armed Maoists, eventually mustered courage and deserted her command post on the plea of seeing a doctor. She remained a fugitive for nearly four months and then surrendered before the Superintendent of Police (West Midnapore District) Manoj Kumar Verma in Midnapore town on August 27.”


Harvard Business Review special, "Leadership Lessons From the Military."

“Conventional wisdom says that military experience is an asset in the corporate world, but new research gives a more nuanced picture. The military is not a monolithic entity: Veterans from different branches demonstrate different strengths. The Navy and the Air Force engender a process orientation; the Army and the Marine Corps emphasize flexibility.”


Diane Mazur in the NYT, "The R.O.T.C. Myth."

“Everyone knows that Ivy League universities banned the Reserve Officer Training Corps from their campuses during the Vietnam War. Forty years later, the bans continue, though the reason has shifted from war protest to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on gay men and women in the military. That’s what everyone thinks. But it’s not true. Instead, the bans are a convenient fiction, one that lets the military (and to some extent, universities) off the hook when it comes to the growing distance between civil and military America.”


Bruno Waterfield at euobserver.com, "EU-the Unrepresentative Union".

“It is something of a paradox that the European Parliament, despite being directly elected, is often the most unrepresentative institution in an Unrepresentative Union.

The decision by MEPs on Wednesday to increase the EU’s budget by six per cent on 2010, or by three per cent on Council’s July budget is a sign of an institution that is independent of politics as it is currently being played out across Europe.

Statements by Jerzy Buzek, the parliament’s president, that cuts are ‘populist’ and that the increased budget was needed ‘in order to meet the ambitions set out in the Lisbon Treaty’ add insult to injury by reinforcing the impression that MEPs live in a different world to the rest of us.”


Bruno Waterfield at euobserver.com, Prohibido prohibir.

“What could be more European than the bars, pubs and cafes where we meet and socialise? But over the last six or seven years there has been growing state intolerance of these precious public spaces. The first public smoking ban was introduced in Ireland in 2004, Norway joined in the same year, Italy and Sweden in 2005, Britain in 2006, Estonia and Finland in 2007, and France, Germany, Holland and Portugal in 2008.

Last month French officialdom moved to ban patio-heaters by next year because the Gitanes infused café-clope ambiance of Paris had spilt from the bars into the streets.

Last year Nuit Vive, a group of musicians, DJs and nightclub owners warned that new anti-noise regulations were turning Paris, the City of Light, into ‘the European capital city of sleep’.”


Andrew Willis at euobserver.com, "Commission breaks taboo on ‘own resources’".

“A separate EU-wide value added tax (VAT) is among the ideas contained in the commission's ‘budget review’ published on Tuesday (19 October), a document which stems from a Franco-British spat in December 2005 over EU payments…. In a bid to head off member state opposition to the funding proposals, the commission was quick to stress that the new mechanisms would not result in extra revenue for the EU institutions, but would instead relieve pressure on national coffers at a time of economic difficulty.

The formerly taboo subject of a European tax is likely to provoke strong reactions in the coming days, with the UK among wary member states who fear self-funding powers could lead to an overly-independent set of EU institutions.”


Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the LAT, "Reform must, and will, come to Russia".

“We staked our claim on efficiency. We reduced costs and competed aggressively. In place of the monster we inherited, one that engaged in everything from beer production to construction, we created a professional oil production company. We spun off all of Yukos' noncore businesses into independent firms, helping employees become owners….

We emerged from the crisis as the best oil company in Russia, with good public support. It felt as if Russia was irreversibly moving in the direction of a modern democracy and European values. Along with operating businesses, I began to get actively involved in socio-political projects such as education. I established a foundation to support nonprofits and human rights groups, and I also provided funding to opposition parties. Now, I am in my seventh year in jail.”


Rebecca Gould in Guernica on Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze, modernist, revolutionary, shot by KGB in 1937.

“Georgian literary modernity was liquidated by the Soviet state from the nineteen thirties onwards. The first casualty was Titsian’s close friend Paolo Iashvili. Knowing he was doomed to be executed, Paolo brought a hunting gun with him to a meeting in the Writer’s Union in downtown Tbilisi and shot himself. Even more than Esenin’s, Paolo’s suicide was a statement. If he had to die, Paolo decided, let it not be silently, in forced labor camps or prison, cursed by the state.

Those who survived Stalin’s regime, like Titsian’s cousin Galaktion Tabidze, were no less wracked by despair; Galaktion ended his life at the age of sixty-nine by jumping out the window of a Tbilisi psychiatric hospital. Only one Georgian fully escaped the despair that enveloped the times: novelist Konstantin Gamsakhurdia, Titsian’s one-time rival for the love of his wife Nina. Gamsakhurdia, however, had to write novels glorifying Stalin, never producing poetry comparable to the other modernists.”


Mavis Gallant interview at eurozine.com on her book, Paris Notebooks.

“Well, you mustn't forget that we are talking about France, a country very unlike any other, particularly in the political sense. For instance, in the introduction to Paris Notebooks I mention Occident, a far-right movement that existed at the time, in essence a fascist movement. A group of them gathered outside Nanterre, one of Paris universities, and clashed with some leftwing students there. The leftists were mostly Trotskyites – the Communists were keeping out of it, waiting for a real, big revolution; besides, they probably sensed some kind of competition. Then the police came and started to beat up the students. Amazingly, the rightwingers turned against the police, joining their opponents. It was an astonishing thing, but it didn't last – they only stayed together for that one fight.”


Ian Morris in HistoryToday, "Latitudes not Attitudes: How Geography Explains History".

“The glories of medieval China seem, on the face of it, to disprove any geographical explanation for why the West now rules. After all, geography has not changed very much in the last 500 years. Or maybe it has. Geography shapes history, but not in straightforward ways. Geography does determine why societies in some parts of the world develop so much faster than others; but, at the same time, the level to which societies have developed determines what geography means.

Take, once again, the example of Britain, sticking out from Eurasia into the cold Atlantic Ocean. Four thousand years ago, Britain was far from the centres of action in the Nile, Indus and Yellow River valleys, where farming had been established for millennia, great cities had grown up and labourers by the thousand broke their backs to immortalise divine kings with pyramids and palaces…. Geography made Britain backward. But, if we fast-forward to 400 years ago, the same geography that had once made Britain backward now gave the island nation wealth and power…. Sticking out into the Atlantic, such a huge disadvantage 4,000 years ago, became a huge plus from the 17th century.”


Edward Rothstein in the NYT, "Abraham’s Progeny, and Their Texts".

“The Abrahamic religions share other characteristics as well. Each believes that God has made himself known to his prophets through acts of revelation. And such revelations shape groups of believers by being incorporated in canonical written texts: the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Gospels, the Islamic Koran.

Though the exhibition does not point this out, the connection between monotheism and such texts is no accident. Once multiple divinities are discarded, along with their rivalries and conflicting powers, religion is concerned with just two poles: the human and the divine. Religious events take place not on Mount Olympus or in some imagined godly castle, but in the earthly realm. Religious history becomes fully part of human history. And the telling of that history, along with commentary and reinterpretation, becomes an aspect of the religion itself. These faiths are historical faiths.”


Susanne Klingenstein in the Weekly Standard on the unpublished correspondence between Nahum Norbert Glatzer and Leo Strauss.

“Nahum Glatzer and Leo Strauss met at Franz Rosenzweig’s Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus in Frankfurt, an adult education institute Rosenzweig had created to rattle the Jewish nerves of happily assimilated, complacent German Jews. Strauss ran seminars there on Hermann Cohen and Baruch Spinoza. He, the son of orthodox but uneducated rural Jews, had already gotten his doctorate at Hamburg in 1921 (at age 22) with a thesis directed by Ernst Cassirer….

In July 1938 he finished his essay on Maimonides’s esoteric technique of writing that finally turned Strauss into a Straussian—and, as he could see during his conversation with Glatzer, would mean departing from the Jews. In his brilliant February 8 letter to Glatzer, Strauss indicated that he knew what he was doing. It’s a letter that recapitulates their history together and marks Glatzer as a sane Akiva and Strauss as the infamous heretic Elisha ben Abuyah, who went mad when he entered the ‘paradise’ of full knowledge….

When it became clear, after the end of World War II, that no return to prewar German-Jewish intensity was possible, the two moved full speed along the trajectories they had embarked on in the 1920s. Glatzer became a professor of Jewish studies at Brandeis. An unfettered Strauss was propelled forward by his discovery of esotericism, reinvigorating the study of political philosophy from Herodotus to Hobbes and beyond at the University of Chicago—and as conspiracy theorists would have us believe, directing American foreign policy from his quiet grave.”


Rod Liddle in The Spectator, "Orange Alert".

“Be careful if you are planning to attack a Jew in Amsterdam. What you see is not always what you get. Throw a rock or spit at some bloke with long curly sidelocks and a yarmulke and before you know it you might end up handcuffed in the back of a police van. What you attacked, then, was not a Jew, but a Decoy Jew. Decoy Jews are policemen pretending be Jews, a cunning initiative dreamed up by the city authorities to prevent anti-Semitic behaviour.”


Sarah Topol in The Atlantic, "Gaza’s Surfer Girls".

“A lifeguard’s daughter, Rawand grew up watching her male relatives ride Gaza’s waves; recently, she remembers, ‘I thought, Okay, everybody’s surfing, why shouldn’t I?

But in a place where few women even swim, Rawand’s adolescent reasoning carries complicated consequences. Since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007, the militant group has been working to inculcate conservative Islam in an already traditional society. As a result, the daughters of the strip’s male surf community must navigate ever more treacherous waters.

‘Our society is different than others, there’s no way the girls can surf on a crowded day,’ says their surfing teacher, Al-Hindi Ashour. ‘To their parents they are still kids, but some people here look at them like adult females already … They may say things about them in the future.’”


Conrad Black in The National Interest reviews books on The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

“This is the problem with so much of this writing; it aggrandizes the downright-uninteresting power brokers of a dying genre that—most damningly—is slowly collapsing under the weight of its own substandards. Talese opens with an astonishing double-narcissism-mirror trick: The Times gives large play to a story that President John F. Kennedy regretted that the paper did not give more attention to an intelligence piece they had published which accurately predicted the sort of Cuban-exile amphibious action that was about to take place at the Bay of Pigs. Its own managing editor, Clifton Daniel, said JFK believed that if the New York Times had played the story more strongly, the administration might have abandoned the operation. As retold by the Times, the president lamented that the patriotic faction of the paper, which wanted to play down its advance scoop for national-security reasons, prevailed over those who wanted to magnify a great reporting coup. The Times was to protect the administration from itself, and cause the president to change military and strategic policy. This has to be the supreme coruscation of the collective institutional megalomania of an overmighty press.”


Will Friedwald in the WSJ, "When Italians Ruled the Airwaves", reviews two books, Amore, about the entire range of Italian singers in American popular song, and That Old Black Magic about Louis Prima. Bill Stevenson told me once that on a family trip to Las Vegas in 1964 they took in Prima’s performance and four-year old Bill started singing along to his theme song which he recognized from his parents’ records. Prima, in full Vegas improv show-style stopped what he was doing and brought Bill up on stage with him to finish it as a duet. Bill isn’t Italian to my knowledge.

“In the 1940s and '50s—the era between the big bands and the Beatles—Italians dominated the charts during the transition from what we now call ‘traditional pop’ to rock and roll. Crooners like Vic Damone, Dean Martin, Frankie Laine, and Tony Bennett were all sons of Italy, but so were early rockers like Dion (DiMucci) and Frankie Valli. Other singers such as Bobby Darin and Louis Prima were less limited by stylistic boundaries. They could be crooning one moment and rocking the next.

Mark Rotella's Amore is the first book to take a look at the entire phenomenon of Italian-American song….

During an era when many immigrant parents didn't even want their kids to speak Italian, Prima trumpeted his ethnicity. Proudly New Orleans Sicilian, Prima was the first to swing the tarantella and sing of lust and linguini. Prima was also older than Sinatra and the others, having made his initial breakthrough in the 1930s, after being ‘discovered’ by another New World Italian star, bandleader Guy Lombardo. Leading his seven-piece ‘New Orleans Gang,’ Prima was originally a trumpeter-singer with more stylistic allegiance to Louis Armstrong than Enrico Caruso…..

Prima's longtime saxophonist… Sam Butera's raucous good nature was a big reason why Prima picked him as the bandleader when he and fourth wife, Keely Smith, launched a Las Vegas lounge act…. These fun-loving swingers soon became one of the Strip's first big hits. Sinatra's Rat Pack, Tony Bennett once told me, was actually formed in imitation.

Tom Calvin’s ‘That Old Black Magic’ concentrates intensely on this period in Prima and Smith's lives, tracking them almost day-by-day from 1954, when they first opened in Vegas, to their divorce in 1961. Though the author provides little new information, his book is nevertheless fun—a testimony to its two colorful main characters. Still, I gleaned more novel insight into Louis Prima from ‘Amore,’ when Mr. Rotella asked Mr. DiMucci where his music came from. ‘That was all Louis Prima, man!’ Mr. DiMucci says. ‘He was rock and roll, man. Prima would have been the first guy inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if he didn't sing in Italian.’”


John Gapper in the FT on the economics of Photography as Art, and why Annie Leibovitz is a failure.


Byron Coley and Thurston Moore just posted their latest "Bull Tongue" column at Arthur, featuring much information on Beefheart, Kupferberg, Shernoff and more.


Brian Walsby has a new blog for the posting of his art.


“DJ SSTONE (TRUST Fanzine, Bremen) and DJ SCHIPPY (Köln) are doing two SST Records Theme-DJ evenings in Germany in 2010:

•Fri. Nov. 12 - Düsseldorf, Slowboy Galery, local DJ is Jonny Bauer.

•Sat. Nov. 13 - Duisburg, DJÄZZ, local DJ is Tillomat.

They will play rather unknown but great SST Bands (Tar Babies, Opal, Trotzky Icepick, Henry Kaiser, Zoogz Rift etc) and also the classics a la Descendents, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü and Minutemen etc.

More infos concerning this SST DJ Party and reports on past SST evenings (Bremen (2x), Köln, Hamburg, Berlin).”


“Title TK performing in-store

•Fri. Nov. 5, 8pm

Other Music, 15 East 4th Street NYC 

There is not much that we can tell you about this new band, featuring the digital artist Cory Arcangel, curator/New Human Howie Chen, and author/guitar mauler Alan Licht, except that we're pretty sure this rare live performance will be something special. The store will NOT be closed for business during this special event, so please join us for a little shopping, and something else.”


Secret Cinema presents The Texas Rangers (King Vidor/Fred MacMurray, Jack Oakie, Lloyd Nolan. 1936)
Chestnut Hill Film Group screening.

•Tues. Nov. 16, 7:30 pm

Admission: FREE (donations accepted)

Chestnut Hill Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia

8711 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia



Thanks to Andy Schwartz, Mike Carducci.

From the London Desk of Steve Beeho…

Ari Up tributes from Jon Savage and Jason Gross.

The early Slits home recordings and Peel Sessions still sound great today but diminishing returns steadily set in as their sound took a slicker turn. Even Greil Marcus couldn’t deny the righteous wild glee unleashed on the rough early versions of “Number One Enemy” and “A Boring Life” – pure untamed life-force erupting from the speakers.

In truth though The Slits were never quite the same after Palmolive left and although I can – in theory – respect their tenacity in following their own path, the soporific worthiness of “Return of the Giant Slits” is almost heroically dull. I’d love to have seen the faces at CBS when they handed over that.

Although Ari Up was inevitably the focal point for The Slits she credited Palmolive with being the original instigator and prime mover (Palmolive had already written “Number 1 Enemy”, “New Town” and “Shoplifting”). Palmolive then joined The Raincoats and it’s striking how they followed an uncannily similar degeneration into earnest stodginess as The Slits after their bracing debut, once Palmolive left. She then quit music and became a born again Christian. She declined to be interviewed for the recent “Cut” reissue but luckily she was more forthcoming about those days when 3AM interviewed her in 2005.

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