a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Issue #76 (December 15, 2010)

Crestline Transmitters, Verdugo Mountains, Burbank California

Photo by Chris Collins

Paris Sous la Neige
Photoessay by Alexandre Cohen

Les amants des bancs publiques

Le dernier métro

Storm Sacré Coeur

Tenue de soirée

Chevalier de la barre

Funiculaire bleu blanc rouge

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Spengler at Atimes.com, "Longevity gives life to Tea Party".

“Young families with small children borrow money from older people who have finished raising families. Most Americans begin adulthood heavily in debt and become lenders as they approach retirement. The changing proportions of young and old Americans has enormous bearing on political outcomes. Two facts stand out in the table above showing the proportion of child vs elderly dependents in the United States. Elderly dependents have remained fairly static as a percentage of total population during the past 40 years. But the proportion will jump from 19% today to 32% in 2030. This seismic change in American demographics explains a great deal.”


Balancing the Books, ed. By Gene Epstein in Barron’s.

James Grant on Joseph Stiglitz’s book, Freefall:

“‘Free’ is, of course, a relative term, and Stiglitz asserts without reference to history that America's financial markets were free on the eve of the Great Recession. Such a claim would startle the ghost of John M. ‘100%’ Nichols, president of the First National Bank of Englewood, Ill., who in the early New Deal years, refused to join the newly organized Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and who wrote down to one dime from $24,000 the value of the stock in the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago that he was obliged to own. Nichols called federal deposit insurance ‘a damnable piece of political trickery’ and a pretext to engineer the socialization of the banking industry. (Admirers of Franklin Delano Roosevelt might be interested to know that he opposed deposit insurance, forecasting presciently that ‘it would lead to laxity in bank management and carelessness on the part of both banker and depositor.’…

Nor would Stiglitz's characterization of American finance as an example of unbridled individualism seem persuasive in 21st century Brazil, where a bank's senior officers are held personally accountable for the solvency of the institution they manage. As for the United States, as recently as the 1940s, shareholders got a capital call if the bank in which they invested went broke. It was, after all, their bank, not the government's. Gradually, the very kinds of reforms on which Stiglitz is so keen have shifted responsibility from individuals to the state. No accident, therefore, that in the just-concluded cycles, so many banks became wards of the state.”


Floyd Norris in the NYT, "Accounting For Public Pensions".

“A generation ago, when Ronald Reagan was president, the accounting rule makers forced American companies to come clean on the cost of the pension plans they were promising to employees. That decision, perhaps more than any other, heralded the eventual demise of defined-benefit pensions for employees of American companies. Now something very similar may be in store for public sector employees, thanks in part to the Republican victories in last month’s Congressional elections.

Today, not nearly as many companies offer defined-benefit plans to new employees. It is far more common to see a company that has stopped allowing workers to accumulate new benefits, even though companies are still liable for benefits earned before plans were changed or closed. The accountants forced companies to confront the risks they were taking — in effect guaranteeing that pension fund investments would grow — and the companies decided the risks were too great. As a result, a part of the safety net that previous generations took for granted became far less secure. Workers now tend to have defined-contribution plans, like 401(k)’s, to which they and their employers contribute. The worker chooses the investments, and bears the consequences when they go up or down in value.”


Jeffrey Collins in the WSJ on Stephen Bown’s book, Merchant Kings.

“Robert Clive and Cecil Rhodes are iconic figures in the annals of imperial history. Few did more to keep the sun from setting on the British Empire. It is thus remarkable to remember that neither man commanded royal troops or acted as an official of the British Government. Both, in fact, owed their power to private companies. They were ardent British patriots, but it was nonetheless the interests of the East India Co. and the British South Africa Co. respectively that they served. History tends to portray the European empires as the creations of kings and nation-states. But as Stephen Bown's ‘Merchant Kings’ reminds us, private economic interests did as much as statesmen to colonize the globe on behalf of Europe. Particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, when European states struggled to modernize themselves while burdened by the costs of war, monarchs regularly privatized the business of empire. They chartered national trading companies, granting them valuable monopoly rights to do business in far-flung locales—and to outfit private armies, conduct diplomacy and negotiate treaties.”


Stephen Graubard in the FT on Amanda Foreman’s book, A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided.

“The great revelation of this extraordinary book… is what it tells us about how Abraham Lincoln and those who served him managed to cope with many in England whose sympathies lay with the south, often for very good economic reasons. Foreman’s treatment of Lincoln is imaginative, showing his suppleness in understanding the risks he ran, but is no less interesting for what she tells us of a host of other Americans, many now scarcely known or recalled. Her understanding of the role of major British figures, including the Liberal politician, the first Earl Russell, and William Howard Russell, one of the first of England’s war correspondents, gives Britain’s role in America’s civil war an importance that few historians have recognized.”


James Ledbetter in the NYT is running the old line on the one thing any smart boy remembers Eisenhower for in his "What Ike Got Right". He belabors thusly:

“Eisenhower was concerned about more than just the military’s size; he also worried about its relationship to the American economy and society, and that the economy risked becoming a subsidiary of the military. His alarm was understandable: at the time the military represented over half of all government spending and more than 10 percent of America’s gross domestic product. Today those figures are not quite as troubling. While military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product has been going up as a result of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the overall trend since 1961 is substantially down, thanks to the tremendous growth in America’s nonmilitary economy and the shift in government spending to nonmilitary expenditures. Yet spending numbers do not tell the whole story.”

The new new right has moved beyond such weak tea and when this becomes clear I’d expect such Democrats to join with Realist Republicans -- yea, neo-libs will lie down with neo-cons to defend that military industrial complex. For they understand that each military crisis in our past was a prime deliverer of what unconstitutional centralizations and expansions they have achieved -- their prime directive would have wasted away with no Cold War or Pax Americana to make demands for socialism in the name of capitalism. As Ledbetter fears no other spiritual effect of the enlarged state’s demands his serious concern cannot be taken at face value.


Joel Millman in the WSJ, "Global Hot Spot: Hoops Stars Make a Fast Break for the Mideast".

“The Middle East is the Wild West of professional basketball, catching a global wave that has former U.S. college stars playing everywhere from Venezuela to the Philippines. Reasons for this emerging hoops hot spot include a global downturn, which has salaries in Europe way down from years past, and oil-rich emirs, who use basketball to compete for social status. ‘Definitely no recession in the Middle East,’ says former Cleveland State star Omari Westley, playing his second pro season in Kuwait. Americans also are headed this winter to Syria, Oman, Qatar and Iran, which players say pays the region's best salaries. Nine U.S. athletes played for Iranian pro teams last season.”


John Reed in the WSJ on Kevin Mitchell’s book, Jacobs Beach: The Mob, the Fights, the Fifties.

“At the end of the 19th century, the bluebloods took over the bare-knuckle prize ring, put gloves on the contestants and laid claim to the fights. It was the best and worst thing that had ever happened to boxing: Now civilized, the sport grew in popularity but compromised its savage soul. In the 1950s, televisions arrived in American living rooms and fans tuned in to watch the Friday-night fights. It was the best and worst thing that had ever happened to the sport: Though immensely profitable, boxing lost a primal connection with its most avid fans, the spectators in the arena. Between these eras, during the so-called golden years, the best and worst thing that happened to boxing was the mob.”


Vanessa Grigoriadis in New York with her "Waking Up From the Pill" gives evidence of still being half asleep. I went over an earlier Grigoriadis’ piece in Rolling Stone for the old Arthur blog at Yahoo (still up here.) Her principle take here again passes for brave and disinterested: “Suddenly, one anxiety—Am I pregnant?—is replaced by another: Can I get pregnant?” And she absconds with the requisite anti-NOW cool for just that, which tells you how much touch with nature and reality has been insisted lost all along. “Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect. And ironically, this most basic of women’s issues is one that traditional feminism has a very hard time processing—the notion that this freedom might have a cost is thought to be so dangerous it shouldn’t be mentioned.” Very brave within reason. She insists the Pill is “remarkably” safe never minding the early years or the harsher material doled out to third world women which if anything doubles down on the erring on the side of hammering down when it comes to securing the affect sought in the mysterious dimly understood realms of female biology. Infertility is only the “primary side effect” in those women whose early and prolonged use of the Pill doesn’t trigger breast cancer or worse. Nothing wards off cancer like childbirth before twenty. Who but Darwin might have believed such an equation possible. No feminist certainly openly.


Robert Elder in the NYT, "Execution of Dakota Indian Nearly 150 Years Ago Spurs Calls for Pardon".

“‘It seemed that the purpose of the singing and dancing was only to sustain each other in their last ordeal,’ a witness observed. ‘As the last moment rapidly approached, they each called out their name and shouted in their native language: ‘I’m here! I’m here!’’ Thirty-seven of the men were among the ‘most ferocious’ followers of the Dakota leader Little Crow, according to the federal government. They stood accused of killing approximately 490 settlers, including women and children, in raids along the Minnesota frontier. But one man, historians say, did not belong there. A captured Dakota named We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee, often called Chaska, had had his sentence commuted by President Abraham Lincoln days earlier. Yet on the day after Christmas 1862, Chaska died with the others.”


Ivaylo Ditchev & Tomas Kavaliauskas at Eurozine.com, Territory, identity, transformation: A Baltic-Balkan comparison.

“TK: 1989 in Poland is inconceivable without Solidarnosc, which began in the 1980s. Solidarnosc went hand in hand with the Polish Catholic church. In Lithuania the situation was the same: the Catholic Church was an island of independence. After 1989, the Catholic Church played a key role in establishing independent statehood in Lithuania. In Bulgaria, however, the Orthodox Church played no such role. Perhaps it was not even necessary? Had the Orthodox Church had stepped in as a spiritual leader in Bulgaria, promoting independence and democracy, would the transitional period have been any smoother?
ID: The Orthodox Church has always collaborated with the state – this is the theory of ‘symphonia’ between spiritual and worldly power. Many priests worked for the State Security; even now they do not see a problem with that, saying they served the national interest. Catholic or Protestant priests received much more persecution from the regime. The Orthodox Church is in very bad shape, especially in Bulgaria. It has merely a sort of ethnographic function, to mark ‘our’ space or to nationalize events or tourist sites. The patriarch might come to the opening of new offices, for example, to chase away devils with incense. In general, Bulgarians are not very religious (unlike Russians or Romanians). The ethnographic – if not pagan – role of the Orthodox church appeared to satisfy the population and did not disturb the communist authorities. Under communism, superstition and pagan beliefs were rife: fortune-tellers, an old blind lady called Baba Vanga, a clairvoyant whom even Brezhnev is said to have consulted.”


Syed Shahzad at Atimes.com, "Broadside fired at al-Qaeda leaders".

“Three of the top al-Qaeda decision-makers who opposed the 9/11 attacks plotted by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad were Egyptian Saiful Adil (Saif al-Adel), an important military planner; Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, once the chief of al-Qaeda's religious committee that reviews all decisions; Suleman Abu al-Gaith, who was al-Qaeda's chief spokesperson. All three moved to Iran where they lived under limited restrictions until being released along with more than a dozen others earlier this year. They then settled in the rugged Pakistani tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan that is home to the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda and related militant groups. On November 15, some members of this group released Twenty Guidelines for Jihad on the Internet site www.mafa.asia. The author is cited as Suleman, saying he was "al-Qaeda's official spokesperson in 2001," indicating a distancing from al-Qaeda's organizational structure.”


Andrew Jacobs in the NYT, "Ethnic Mongolian Dissident Released by China Is Missing".

“The dissident, Hada, 55, who like many Mongolians uses a single name, is an influential advocate for Mongolian culture and one of China’s longest serving political prisoners. A writer and former bookstore owner, he has long sought greater autonomy for ethnic Mongolians, most of whom live in Inner Mongolia, a vast province of grassland and desert that stretches more than halfway across the northern reaches of China. Although Inner Mongolia is now 80 percent Han Chinese, the result of 60 years of migration that has essentially flipped its ethnic composition, the province’s four million Mongolians have struggled to maintain their linguistic and cultural identity, one shared by those living in Mongolia, the independent nation to the north.”


Philip Stephens in the FT, "A risen China reaches for power".

“My exchanges on this latest trip surprised me. I had become accustomed to being told that China had studied carefully the lessons of history. Foreign affairs experts in the Chinese capital seemed to know more about Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany than most Europeans. Collisions between rising and existing powers had been the stuff of too many wars. China’s ‘peaceful rise’ would avoid such a calamity. As far as I can tell, such phrases have been quietly dropped from the lexicon.”


Henny Sender at the FT, "China’s listed banks are still at the behest of the state ".

“Ag Bank’s offer memo shows the extent to which China’s banks remain an instrument of state policy despite being publicly traded. In 2007, there was no return on equity because the bank had a capital deficit. Non-performing loans accounted for 23.5 per cent of total loans, far higher than the average for the banks as a whole. That high level was the reason the Ministry of Finance recapitalized Ag Bank before listing, a manoeuvre that the offer memo describes in bewildering fashion…. Faced with such confusing flows from one quasi governmental entity to another, some analysts have suggested that some listed banks in China look like an enormous Ponzi scheme. Red Capitalism, a soon to be published book by Carl Walter and Fraser Howie, two veteran China watchers suggests as much. Why, the authors wonder, would anyone invest in a bank when the proceeds go largely to the finance ministry?”


Lauren Schuker in the WSJ, "Movies at Home, for $20,000".

“Prima plans to charge customers a one-time fee of about $20,000 for a digital-delivery system and an additional $500 per film. The Los Angeles-based company has around $5 million in backing from the venture arm of #Best Buy Co. and #General Electric Co.'s Universal Pictures, and hopes to start delivering movies to customers as soon as a year from now. The steep price has been met with mixed reactions in Hollywood. Some executives question whether it will be possible to build a market beyond a few thousand users. (Prima says it plans to install its systems in 250,000 homes within five years.) Others say the high price would create an exclusive, super-premium niche market without cutting into existing sources of revenue….

A handful of entertainment-industry power brokers and other wealthy individuals, known as ‘the Bel-Air circuit,’ for years have received free prints of first-run movies from studios to show in their home screening rooms. Prima would make first-run movies available to a larger audience—those willing to pay—and would generate revenue for studios.”


Mitch Dudek in the CST, ‘Great day for surfing in Chicago’.

Brian Jackson photos from the 57th St. Beach.


•Saturday, Dec. 18, Free
Cafe 322
322 W. Sierra Madre Blvd, Sierra Madre, Cal.
4pm until closing

Carnage Asada starts at 4pm
Atomic Sherpas
Double Naught Spycar
The Black Widows
The Mecolodiacs
The Sylvia Juncosa Band
The Freda Rente Band
The Amadans
Fatso Jetson
AutoMowdown Folks

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