a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Issue #77 (December 22, 2010)

North of Centennial Ridge, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci


















Chicago Mayoral Race: On Your Mark, Get Set, Stop
by Joe Carducci





The loyal subjects of royal Chicago had at Rahm Emanuel in a Court of Flaw where Emanuel insisted he, like any King, is possessed of two bodies, one which resides as needed in the temporal space it finds Itself in as it sallies forth to smite subject or neighbor alike as it might, and the other which remains on Throne, farting away into the finest antique silk-encased down pillows, each hand-sewn by virgins long since sacrificed in marriage to various Daleys. When Rahm, under such amateur questioning, couldn’t remember all manner of detail said subject decided to loft one question his highness might more likely have retained an answer to, so as to reach a baseline measure proving the putative new short-guy Mr. Mayor does have a memory: “Are you the Butcher of Waco?”, he asked. Rahm remembered to laugh at that one and being under oath said “No.” And laughed again at this later question from some other reluctant subject: “Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” That President Obama’s ex-Chief of Staff can remain alive to laugh at this question tells you how far we as a nation have come, and may explain why the Administration just signed onto the Bush II tax-cuts: Not only is there no Third Way, there ain’t even a Second Way crawling around begging to be put out of its misery -- unless you count the news media.

What looked like competition for the Mayor’s chair evaporated, and I don’t mean Roland Burris’ withdrawal. This leaves the once-famous West-side Alderman Danny Davis, now an obscure U.S. Congressman known mostly to C-SPAN-loving insomniacs. I always liked Davis’ even-toned basso not-so-profundo back in the Council Wars days, but somehow the Arkansas Anglophile always seems to under-achieve. He really should’ve had a better shot at succeeding Mayor Harold Washington than Alderman Eugene Sawyer, or Alderman Tim Evans, but the southside rules the Westside and Davis beat them out only in his unfailing politesse. Maybe if black Chicagoans get to thinking though, his campaign might catch fire. After all what does Rahm Emanuel really have to offer? He wouldn’t have gone to D.C. in the first place if he had any real focus on Chicago.

Abdon Pallasch in the CST interviews candidate U.S. Congressman Danny Davis:

“Q. So you were born in Arkansas?

A. In Parkdale, the Southeast corner of the state, 10 miles from Louisiana. Bill Clinton and I used to kid each other that the state motto is ‘The Land of Opportunity’ — the first opportunity we got, we left.

Q. You, John Stroger, Bill Clinton.

A. Scottie Pippin grew up 12 miles from there. Bob Love was from 35 miles away. Half the black politicians in Chicago: Tim Evans is from Hot Springs. The Shaw brothers are from Hope. My parents were share-croppers in Arkansas. They had very little formal education, but they were two of the smartest people I ever encountered. There were 10 of us. We grew up in what some people called “poverty.” We were never poor. We were positive thinkers. We were people who knew that life could be different than what it was.

Q. You were how old when you came here?

A. I was 19, just graduated from college. My father borrowed $50 and let me borrow it from him. That’s how I got here. The first paycheck I got I sent him his $50, because that was part of the values system we were taught.”

Q. Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

A. Yes and I will kill for the Revolution if asked.


I made up that last exchange after I seen them do that in the New York Times. The other interesting black candidate for Mayor, since Burris dropped out and Carol Moseley Braun stayed in, is State Senator Reverend James Meeks. He recently rightly told WVON listeners that job set-asides should be just for black folks. Subject came up because Chicago’s unemployment rate for blacks is about 80% while all kind of White women and Hispanic Asian whatnots are sipping cream from evvy civic fountain and trough in the grate City of Chicago. For his trouble here’s the spanking administered in the oblivious wizard’s Voice of the Sun-Times:

“Mayoral race can be teachable moment."

"Meeks was out of line, of course. He’s right to be frustrated by the small cut of city business going to African Americans, but dealing out other minorities, whom Meeks said haven’t suffered discrimination, won’t boost those numbers. It’s also pretty offensive. Feeling the heat, Meeks later backpedaled, saying ‘all minority and women-owned businesses deserve their fair share of city contract opportunities.’”


There are no “teachable moments” with such a knowitall. Folks just don’t remember that affirmative-action set-asides &c., were designed only for those who did not come to this country by choice, meaning those brought in chains and kept enslaved once here by fault of a compromised Republic and a bunch of supposedly small-government crackers down south, with perhaps a few crumbs left to go to Native Americans who were innocent stone-age bystanders when we all came barging into this cannibals’ Arcadia. These set-asides are not for mere “minorities” -- that’s just a mathematical dodge by which the political class can buy any color vote. So Rev. Meeks was right until he corrected himself and accepted as justice the political log-rolling that got the set-asides set aside and by which 90% of them could go to other folks with no claim to them but a vote at bid.

Fran Spielman puts the boot in again for the CST, "Meeks races to clarify clarifications."

It could be her own job is a set-aside and she wouldn’t want to be called a sell-out or a buy-in for that matter. In the end, Rahm-and-evvy-good-part-time-Chicagoan’s friend and lord, Richard II has probably leveraged out any and all city revenue for the rest of this Asian Century, such that no black man in his right mind will want to be up there on the fifth floor holding that bag when the bankruptcy court officers show up. Here’s that punch line to this race story by Bob Secter & Hal Dardick in the CT, "Election winner could get stuck holding the bag".

Don’t forget to vote for your least favorite candidate. Writing in “Richard M. Daley” might well be justified. I expect a decade’s worth of gentrified council skirmishes until Patrick Daley (pictured), ex-Army Airborne, Afghanistan theater, deigns enter another race.


















North of Centennial Ridge, Wyoming, Continued
Photos by Joe Carducci

















































Tauraco Erythrolophus by James Fotopoulos


















From the Midwest Desk of Joe Carducci…


Sandra Guy in the CST, "Where Your Tax Dollars Go".

“As the government expands spending, cuts revenue and frets over the nation’s debt, you may wonder where your federal tax dollars are going. Do you want a detailed receipt?

The centrist, nonprofit think tank Third Way thinks you should get one. It developed an itemized taxpayer receipt in hopes that Congress will pass a law to give each taxpayer an easy-to-understand list of how his money is spent, said David Kendall, senior fellow for health and fiscal policy at Third Way, based in Washington, D.C. No one is sponsoring such a bill, but efforts are under way to recruit a sponsor.

The biggest portions of income and payroll taxes fund the big three social and entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Third Way sought to list items that taxpayers could easily identify, so rather than listing, say, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the group figured out how much money the department spends on national parks. The receipt lists 50 top spending items and then lumps more than 100 smaller items into a category labeled “other” because the group deemed those smaller items too voluminous to list individually.”



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Robert McDowell in the WSJ, "The FCC’s Threat to Internet Freedom."

“Tomorrow morning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will mark the winter solstice by taking an unprecedented step to expand government's reach into the Internet by attempting to regulate its inner workings. In doing so, the agency will circumvent Congress and disregard a recent court ruling. How did the FCC get here?…

It wasn't long ago that bipartisan and international consensus centered on insulating the Internet from regulation. This policy was a bright hallmark of the Clinton administration, which oversaw the Internet's privatization. Over time, however, the call for more Internet regulation became imbedded into a 2008 presidential campaign promise by then-Sen. Barack Obama. So here we are. Last year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski started to fulfill this promise by proposing rules using a legal theory from an earlier commission decision (from which I had dissented in 2008) that was under court review. So confident were they in their case, FCC lawyers told the federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., that their theory gave the agency the authority to regulate broadband rates, even though Congress has never given the FCC the power to regulate the Internet. FCC leaders seemed caught off guard by the extent of the court's April 6 rebuke of the commission's regulatory overreach.

In May, the FCC leadership floated the idea of deeming complex and dynamic Internet services equivalent to old-fashioned monopoly phone services, thereby triggering price-and-terms regulations that originated in the 1880s. The announcement produced what has become a rare event in Washington: A large, bipartisan majority of Congress agreeing on something….”



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Walter Russell Mead at the-american-interest.com, "The Crisis of the American Intellectual."

“Too many of the very people who should be leading the country into a process of renewal that would allow us to harness the full power of the technological revolution and make the average person incomparably better off and more in control of his or her own destiny than ever before are devoting their considerable talent and energy to fighting the future. I’m overgeneralizing wildly, of course, but there seem to be three big reasons why so many intellectuals today are so backward looking and reactionary.

First, there’s ideology. Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state. The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day. An ever more powerful state would play an ever larger role in achieving ever greater degrees of affluence and stability for the population at large, redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor. The social mission of intellectuals was to build political support for the development of the new order, to provide enlightened guidance based on rational and scientific thought to policymakers, to administer the state through a merit based civil service, and to train new generations of managers and administrators. The modern corporation was supposed to evolve in a similar way, with business becoming more stable, more predictable and more bureaucratic. Most American intellectuals today are still shaped by this worldview and genuinely cannot imagine an alternative vision of progress.”



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Harold James in the FT on Ian Morris’ book, Why the West Rules - For Now

“Morris‘s story is focused around a thesis of challenge and response. Societies develop and populations move as a response to climatic change that shapes the yield of crops and the nature of disease. Regular crisis, driven by disease and famine as well as war, constitute a cyclical mechanism, in which human advance stalls and prosperous societies and complex political regimes simply collapse. Such crises form the ‘patterns of history’ and they have so far occurred at repeated intervals: 2200BC, 1750BC, 1200BC, 800BC, 540AD, 1250AD, or 1645AD. Every 400 years or so, climate change and drought set off migrations and state failure.

For Morris, the breakthroughs of the first millennium BC -- Confucianism, Buddhism, the Hebrew Bible, Greek philosophy -- were simply a response to greater prosperity, more long-distance trade and the stronger states that regulated it. Society, in Morris’s formulation, gets the culture it needs.”



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James Grant in the WSJ on Bernard Harcourt’s book, The Illusion of Free Markets

“The tissue connecting unfree enterprise with filled-to-overflowing prisons is the ‘illusion’ of free enterprise, Mr. Harcourt says. Though markets must be—always have been—regulated, he argues, we Americans have swallowed the Rotary Club chestnut to the contrary. No fewer than 71% of American respondents to a pollster's question assert that the free-market economy is the best economic system under the sun. Yet, Mr. Harcourt marvels, these same people ‘live in a place that operates the world's biggest, most expensive, government-run, interventionist prison system that incarcerates more than one out of every hundred adults in the country.’ Which is to say, in the author's own words: ‘Neoliberal penality and its earlier iterations have fertilized the carceral sphere.’ Mr. Harcourt writes in two languages. The first you have already recognized as a servicable kind of American. The second, just quoted, is the tongue indigenous to the race of college professors who inhabit Planet Tenure. One can tease out some meaning from this tribal patois, but only with application.

And after you have finished the transliteration, what have you got? For one thing, an introduction to the school of legal thought that holds that crime is an economic affront—‘a class of inefficient acts.’ Thus rape is a crime, the theorists hold, because it bypasses the ‘market’ for marriage and the ‘market’ for dating. On Planet Tenure, the Ten Commandments seem to have not made much of an inroad. Nor has the price mechanism, that wonderful contrivance—not invented but somehow evolved—with which buyers and sellers determine how much is produced, where it is sold and what price it should fetch.”



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John Miller in the WSJ, "Brink’s Retreat in Belgium Backfires."

“‘We have a strong belief in the Belgian market,’ said Willem-Jan Candel, Brink's senior regional commercial director. ‘But 65% of our costs were labor costs. We were no longer competitive.’ In the first nine months of 2010, Brink's of Belgium lost $7 million on $32 million of sales. A big part of the problem, according to Brink's officials, was that their staff of 466 who drove and serviced the cash trucks were classified as ‘white collar’ instead of ‘blue collar.’ The blue-collar designation dates from the late 19th century and is particularly favorable to employers. ‘It was written when Belgium was the China of Europe,’ said Jean Puissant, a historian at the Free University of Brussels. ‘Low labor costs were what made Belgium competitive.’

Blue-collar workers are paid per hour, earn less for overtime and can be more easily dismissed. Unions in Belgium are currently fighting to eliminate the category altogether. The prevalence of white-collar workers was costing Brink's €3.4 million ($4.5 million) a year, and preventing it from outbidding its main competitor, U.K.-based G4S PLC., said Mr. Candel.”



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Bret Stephens in the WSJ, "China and the Next American Century".

“‘Our time’ is supposed to be one of China's unstoppable rise and America's inevitable decline. Don't believe it. History is littered with the wreckage of regimes that thought they could create ‘consensus’ by suffocating dissent and steal the intellectual innovation they could not generate on their own. China's bid to do just that merely compounds political error with historical ignorance. By contrast, in 2010 the U.S. did what free societies always do best: It blundered royally, it came to grips with the scale of the blunder, and now it's getting round to fixing it. That's business in America, and that's politics. For every Arnold Schwarzenegger there's a Chris Christie; for every Rick Wagoner there's an Alan Mulally; for every runaway Congress there's a tea party. (And for every tea party there's a Chris Coons and Lisa Murkowski.) In a trial-and-error system, the self-correcting mechanisms are built in.

This is not an incidental point. In the contest between free and authoritarian societies, the claims of the former typically rest on a moral foundation: Free societies are respecters of ordinary human decencies; they do not put cruelty in the service of efficiency and ambition. All true. But the claims of decency would not last long if they consistently yielded mediocre results, just as the rigors of a cruel system would not be long refused if they yielded outstanding ones. Nations, like people, will suffer for greatness. But greatness is not what cruel systems mainly yield. Stupidity is. Both to the right and to the left, among those who admire the Chinese system and those who fear it, a habit has developed of treating the rulers in Beijing as philosopher kings whose time horizons span decades while ours span days.”



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WSJ: "The Wind Subsidy Bubble."

“Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, had warned that without last week's extension of the federal 1603 investment credit, the outlook for the wind industry would be ‘flatline or down.’ Some 20,000 wind energy jobs, about one-quarter of the industry's total, could have been lost, the wind lobby concedes. For most industries that would be an admission of failure, but in Washington this kind of forecast is used to justify more subsidies. But what have these subsidies bought taxpayers? According to AWEA, in the first half of 2010 wind power installations ‘dropped by 57% and 71% from 2008 and 2009 levels.’ In the third quarter, the industry says it ‘added just 395 megawatts (MW) of wind-powered electric generating capacity,’ making it the lowest quarter since 2007. New wind installations are down 72% from last year to their lowest level since 2006. And this is supposed to be the miracle electricity source of the future?

The coal industry, which Mr. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department have done everything possible to curtail, added almost three times more to the nation's electric power capacity in the first nine months of 2010 (39%) than did wind (14%), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.”



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Manuel Hinds in the WSJ, "The Case Against Floating Currencies".

“In pursuance of the illusion that money can remove hard budget constraints, we moved from order to disorder. After demonetizing gold in the 1970s, now we are demonetizing money by debasing and politicizing it. Mentioning the gold standard that prevailed all over the world during the Industrial Revolution brings about derisory comments, some of them suggesting that the value of gold was based on fetishism. This is a mistake. The gold standard was a highly rational system. It kept prices constant through centuries and provided an automatic mechanism to remove international imbalances, such as those that are creating today's currency wars, without the help of any international bureaucracy. The gold standard achieved this not because of any mystical property of gold itself but because it was an impersonal system. Central banks or governments could not tamper with monetary creation. This is what we need today.”



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James Areddy in the WSJ, "Rare-Earth Miner in U.S. Tackles China, Its Own Past".

“The Mountain Pass mine was at one time the world's dominant rare-earth supplier. But mining was suspended in 2002 amid environmental complaints, including that its wastewater had damaged the desert's delicate ecosystem. In the years that followed, China achieved world dominance in the production of rare-earth metals, in part by shunning costly environmental controls….

The Mountain Pass deposit was discovered in the 1950s, and the mine became the world’s primary producer of rare earths in the 1980s and 1990s. But each year from 1990 to 1998, Mountain Pass was also among California’s top 15 industrial emitters of toxic chemicals, the TPA found. (A Molycorp spokesman said miners often place high on the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory rankings because they displace large amounts of material during digging, not necessarily because of air or water pollution.)… As U.S. dominance ended, China increased its low-cost output. But rare-earth mining was a stodgy industry in those days, selling mostly to petroleum producers. There were few signs that green technology or miniaturized electronics would soon boost demand for items like magnets that use the rare earth neodymium.”



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Mark Lilla in the New Republic, "China’s Strange Interest In Leo Strauss And Other Western Philosophers".

“A few years ago, when I was still teaching at the University of Chicago, I had my first Chinese graduate students, a couple of earnest Beijingers who had come to the Committee on Social Thought hoping to bump into the ghost of Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish political philosopher who established his career at the university. Given the mute deference they were accustomed to giving their professors, it was hard to make out just what these young men were looking for, in Chicago or Strauss. They attended courses and worked diligently, but otherwise kept to themselves. They were in but not of Hyde Park.

At the end of their first year, I called one of them into my office to offer a little advice. He was obviously thoughtful and serious, and was already well known in Beijing intellectual circles for his writings and his translations of Western books in sociology and philosophy into Chinese. But his inability to express himself in written or spoken English had frustrated us both in a course of mine he had just taken. I began asking about his summer plans, eventually steering the conversation to the subject of English immersion programs, which I suggested he look into. ‘Why?’ he asked. A little flummoxed, I said the obvious thing: that mastering English would allow him to engage with foreign scholars and advance his career at home. He smiled in a slightly patronizing way and said, ‘I am not so sure.’ Now fully flummoxed, I asked what he would be doing instead. ‘Oh, I will do language, but Latin, not English.’ It was my turn to ask why. ‘I think it very important we study Romans, not just Greeks. Romans built an empire over many centuries. We must learn from them.’ When he left, it was clear that I was being dismissed, not him.”



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Tian Lipu in the WSJ, "China Is Serious About Intellectual Property".

“Before the end of the 1970s, the Chinese people's knowledge about intellectual property was all but nonexistent—there was no concept of linking knowledge to property. It took over a decade, beginning in the 1980s, to enact some core IP-protection laws, including trademarks, patents and copyrights. It was only at the end of the last century that the term ‘intellectual property’ was formally included in the Xinhua Dictionary, which is used by hundreds of millions of Chinese students. The implementation of the intellectual property system in China is bringing tangible benefits to Western countries and their multinational corporations. Western corporations earn hundreds of billions of dollars from China by directly collecting patent, trademark and copyright fees. They also obtain additional brand benefits and technical gains by producing products in China and then selling them to their home countries. For example, in 2009 U.S. researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Irvine found that of the global retail price of Apple's 2005 Video iPod, ($299), Apple receives $114 as creative, brand, design and patent income. The enterprise in China that assembles the components receives only $4. I'll be honest. Since the intellectual property system has not been in place for a long period of time in China, intellectual-property infringement is still relatively serious in some regions and with some products. The Chinese government has never denied these problems.”



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Andrew Batson in the WSJ, "Not Really ‘Made in China’."

“Trade statistics in both countries consider the iPhone a Chinese export to the U.S., even though it is entirely designed and owned by a U.S. company, and is made largely of parts produced in several Asian and European countries. China's contribution is the last step—assembling and shipping the phones. So the entire $178.96 estimated wholesale cost of the shipped phone is credited to China, even though the value of the work performed by the Chinese workers at #Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. accounts for just 3.6%, or $6.50, of the total, the researchers calculated in a report published this month. A spokeswoman for Apple said the company declined to comment on the research. Two academic researchers have found that Apple's iPhone actually added $1.9 billion to the U.S. trade deficit with China last year. The result is that according to official statistics, ‘even high-tech products invented by U.S. companies will not increase U.S. exports,’ write Yuqing Xing and Neal Detert, two researchers at the Asian Development Bank Institute, a think tank in Tokyo, in their report.”



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Keith Bradsher in the NYT, "Beijing Turbine two-part."

“Nearly all the components that Gamesa assembles into million-dollar turbines here, for example, are made by local suppliers — companies Gamesa trained to meet onerous local content requirements. And these same suppliers undermine Gamesa by selling parts to its Chinese competitors — wind turbine makers that barely existed in 2005, when Gamesa controlled more than a third of the Chinese market. But in the five years since, the upstarts have grabbed more than 85 percent of the wind turbine market, aided by low-interest loans and cheap land from the government, as well as preferential contracts from the state-owned power companies that are the main buyers of the equipment. Gamesa’s market share now is only 3 percent. With their government-bestowed blessings, Chinese companies have flourished and now control almost half of the $45 billion global market for wind turbines. The biggest of those players are now taking aim at foreign markets, particularly the United States, where General Electric has long been the leader.”



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Fraser Nelson in The Spectator, "China’s Spy Network".

“British businesses, however, can point to a pattern. ‘As soon as you strike a deal with China, your computer systems come under attack,’ says one chief executive. ‘The Australians will tell you the same thing. The Chinese try to insert Trojans in your computer systems, to send information back to Beijing.’ The aim might be to find out how much a British buyer is willing to pay, or simply if the designs for a product can be downloaded rather than bought.”



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David Pilling in the FT, "Seven notches on the Chinese doorpost":

“Frown diplomacy: This was the year China’s regional ‘smile diplomacy’ turned into a frown….

Google: China was prepared to call Google’s bluff when the US company threatened to withdraw from the country….

Trains: China did not only grow this year. It also shrank. Thanks to rapid investment, China’s high-speed rail network is already more extensive than the rest of the world’s combined….

Renminbi: Beijing continued to resist pressure to revalue the renminbi. In 2010, the Chinese currency appreciated all of 2.5 per cent against the dollar. Far more important were the measures China took to speed up internationalisation of its currency. Most significant was a change that allowed offshore banks and central banks to invest in China’s interbank bond market, giving them a reason to hold renminbi in the first place. The amounts of offshore renminbi are small, but exploding….

Liu Xiaobo: If China is a teenager – in some ways an unhelpful metaphor for one of the world’s oldest civilisations – then its reaction to this year’s Nobel Peace prize was its door-slamming moment….

Rare Earths: This year, the world woke up to the fact that China controls 97 per cent of rare earths, an important input in the electronics, automotive and arms industries…. Foxconn: The deepest notch of all. A spate of suicides at a Foxconn site employing 300,000 in southern China not only triggered wage rises of 20-25 per cent across parts of the Chinese labour force, it also raised questions about the cheap migrant-labour model that has turbocharged growth for 30 years. Other countries from Bangladesh to Indonesia are seeing a pick-up in manufacturing – and manufacturing wages – as a result.…

Recently, it has become fashionable to talk about a risen China. This is premature. China is only now recovering from the torpor of the past 200 years. When China has truly risen, there will be no need to make notches on the doorpost. You will know all about it.”



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Andrew Ward in the FT, "Nokia escalates patent war with Apple".

“Nokia claimed Apple was ‘a decade late’ to the mobile phone market and pillaged the Finnish group’s extensive patent portfolio to catch up. In response, Apple accused Nokia of using litigation to gain access to technology that has given the iPhone its edge.”




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Mark McDonald in the NYT, "Failed North Korean Assassin Assimilates in the South".

“Mr. Kim recalls certain smells as he and his comrades slipped through minefields along the border and into the mountains above Seoul. He remembers being surprised at seeing so many cars in the capital, how big the houses were in comparison to back home and how the lights of the city twinkled so brightly in the night. ‘We had been taught that South Korea was living in the dark ages,’ he said. ‘But when we looked through our binoculars and saw all the cars, we began to sense a discrepancy.’

He can still demonstrate the tongue-severing technique for a blood-letting suicide that all special forces troopers were taught in the North. He also remembers his fearful retreat from Seoul after the mission fell apart — burying his TT-33 pistol, which he said he never fired, along with his knife and the 14 hand grenades that each commando had been issued. And he certainly remembers surrendering, with his hands above his head, after being surrounded: ‘I was single, a young man. I wanted to save myself.’”



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Joshua Yaff in the WSJ on Ilyas Akmadov & Miriam Lanskoy’s book, The Chechen Struggle.

“The author is Ilyas Akhmadov, a former Chechen separatist who was a government minister during Chechnya's short-lived autonomy from Moscow. His book, written with Miriam Lanskoy, is an on-the-ground account of how Russia's indiscriminate violence and infighting within the rebel movement destroyed any hope for a negotiated end to the long-simmering conflict. It is a bitter irony for Mr. Akhmadov that Chechnya today has managed partly to divorce itself from Russia, though not in the way that the separatists once envisioned. President Kadyrov, guided by his own garbled vision of Chechen tradition and Islamic code, has turned the republic into his personal fiefdom. In an attempt to outflank the region's growing Islamic militancy and to present himself as a protector of religious observance, Mr. Kadyrov has introduced an Islamic tinge to his governance. He has demanded, for example, that women wear headscarves in government buildings and has instituted periodic bans on alcohol. He has allowed many aspects of family law to be decided by shariah, or Islamic law.

An unofficial amnesty policy has brought into the Chechen security forces thousands of former rebels, known as the kadyrovsty, who are loyal not to the Kremlin but to Mr. Kadyrov. Perhaps even more worrying for Moscow, Mr. Kadyrov runs his own foreign policy. He visits Persian Gulf countries with all the fanfare of a head of state, and his regime has been linked to assassinations in Austria, Dubai and Turkey.”



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John Lloyd in the FT on Thomas de Waal’s book, The Caucasus.

“It is a common perception of the region -- allied to the observation that only an external iron fist can bring a terrorized peace. That fist has usually been Russian, in imperial, Soviet or (now) Russian republican guise. It has been seen, by different groups at different times, as an oppressor or a liberator…. Why does this confusing, heterogeneous, endlessly demanding area of some 15m people matter? De Waal, for the past 20 years among its best interpreters, tells us in this lucid and scrupulous account: because these are the ‘lands in between… between the Black and Caspain seas, Europe and Asia, Russia and the Middle East and, more recently, democracy and dictatorship’. And being in between, they draw in or cannot keep out the powers around them.”



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Jane Perlez in the NYT writes about the art scene in Pakistan with its "Palette of Blood and Tears", and if the New York Times doesn’t know it these elite Pakistani artists with their sophisticated intimations that it is America has caused their violence ought know that specialists free to think in India consider the arrival-on-horseback of Islam to the Indian subcontinent to have been the bloodiest single invasion in all of history. Only the size and malleable nature of its Hindu culture allowed it to survive, repair and prevail. Not all muslims moved from India to Pakistan at partition. Some left Pakistan for India with a mind to leave behind the bloody-minded jihadist rump-state still obsessed with the high pagan civilization it failed to digest.


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Raymond Ibrahim at Hudson-ny.org, "Swedish Jihad Revelations".

“Back in 2004, in one of his most recognized messages to America, Osama bin Laden, in response to then President George Bush Jr.'s position that Al Qaeda hates freedom, rhetorically asked, ‘If so, let him explain to us why we have not attacked Sweden, for example.’”



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Farnaz Fassihi in the WSJ, "Bombs Kill 39 in Iran" .

“The terrorist group Jundallah, a band of Sunni separatist rebels with ties to Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack in city of Chabahar, in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, near the border with Pakistan. The area is volatile, with Sunni tribal leaders and drug lords often battling Iranian security forces. Jundallah has carried out several terrorist attacks, targeting civilians as well as members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, in previous attacks in the same province. Ali Larijani, speaker of the parliament, blamed the U.S. and Israel, saying ‘they are the only ones capable of such terrorist attacks.’”



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Lewis Gropp at Qantara.de, "Contemporary Witness or Imposter?"

“By his own account, during his travels Batutta repeatedly served in the role of qadi, or judge ruling in accordance with Islamic law. Batutta claims to have performed this function in the Maldives – an Indian Ocean archipelago where Islam is the official religion to this day. In his report he portrays himself as someone who was not squeamish in the face of his duty: ‘The islands' inhabitants are pious, righteous and peace-loving. They only eat permitted things and their prayers are heard. Their bodies are weak. They have no sense of the war, their weapon is prayer. When I was qadi there, I once issued the order to cut off the hand of a thief. Some of those present at the court then fainted,’ writes Ibn Battuta dismissively.

An especially striking leitmotif in Ibn Battuta's account is his encounters with respective rulers and the particular goodwill that these people show to the strange traveller. Batutta is honoured with treasures by every sultan and emir he meets: pieces of gold, treasures, horses, slaves and women. Ibn Battuta comments on the generosity of the monarchs in laconic fashion, as though it were perfectly natural and wholly to be expected…. Most notable are however the striking resemblances to various writings of his era, primarily to a pilgrimage account written by a certain Ahmad Ibn Jubayr…. In this context, Elger also has a plausible explanation for why Ibn Battuta repeatedly mentions the generosity he was shown by all the rulers he encountered. ‘If you appreciate Ibn Battuta's account as an implicit demand for a sumptuous gift, then it is very easy to explain many of the passages,’ says Elger. ‘The reader may well have wondered how it could have been possible for an unknown traveller from Morocco to gain access to the world's leaders and be honoured as such by them. The correct answer is probably that these contacts were invented for this very purpose, to proffer himself to the Sultan of Fez.’ The descriptions of his work as qadi can also be interpreted in this light: If I have served as a judge throughout the entire Islamic world, reads the message to the Sultan of Fez, then all the more at your behest in my homeland Morocco.”




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Josh Kron in the NYT, "Islamic Sudan Envisioned if South Secedes".

“President Omar Hassan al-Bashir promised Sunday to turn Sudan into a state governed by Islamic law if the south chooses to secede in a referendum next month. ‘We’ll change the Constitution,’ he said in a televised speech. ‘Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the Constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.’ The comments were some of Mr. Bashir’s strongest words to date seeming to acknowledge the likelihood of an independent southern Sudanese state and outlining his vision for the northern half, which would stay under his control.

While northern Sudan is already largely governed by Islamic law, or Shariah, an interim constitution adopted as part of a 2005 peace agreement recognized the country’s ethnic and religious diversity. That agreement ended generations of civil war between the predominantly Arab and Muslim north and the mainly Christian and animist south.
The interim constitution expires next year, and with it the constraints and obligations of the peace agreement. ‘If South Sudan secedes, we will change the Constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity,’ Mr. Bashir said.”



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Nikolaj Nielsen at opendemocracy.net, "On the frontline - Western Sahara."

“Thirty-five years in and the Western Sahara remains occupied by an irredentist Moroccan authority that, supported by the European Union’s Advanced Status trade agreement, exploits the disputed region at the expense of the Sahrawis. European taxpayers give the Moroccan government EUR 144 million a year so that French, Portuguese and Spanish fishing fleets may trawl off a coast to which - according to the International Court of Justice - Morocco has no legal claim. The trade agreement expires in February 2011. ‘Spanish fisherman need to work,’ replied the Spanish MEP Iraxte Garcia Perez at a chance encounter at the Madrid-Barajas airport in 2007 when asked to comment on the pact. Ms Perez is a staunch supporter of Sahrawi human rights. But everyone has their limits and politicians have their constituency.”



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MercoPress.com: "“Too much secrecy, too many lies” have taken the revolution to a critical situation."

“The country and its leaders must rectify the errors they have committed because otherwise ‘our time skirting the cliff will be over and we will destroy the efforts of entire generations’ emphasized Castro as the deadline for leaving redundant half a million government employees approached generating a feeling of panic in the streets of the island. Raul Casrtro said that the ‘excessive secrecy and lies among the country’s leaders’ must come to an end and once and for all ‘we must remove and not temporarily from their posts all those involved in this kind of little gossip and conspiration’. They must also be expelled from the Communist Party, he added.”



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James Marson & Richard Boudreaux in the WSJ, "Belarus Leader Rejects Outcry After Election."

“President Alexander Lukashenko declared Monday that his former Soviet republic needed ‘no more hare-brained democracy’ after rivals at home and governments in the West accused him of using fraud and violence to secure re-election. The ruler's comment, coupled with Sunday's disputed election, signaled the end of his tentative diplomatic outreach to the U.S. and European Union, leaving Belarus fewer options to ease its longstanding economic dependence on Russia. Mr. Lukashenko was officially declared the winner with 79.7% of the vote after hundreds of riot police stormed Independence Square in central Minsk late Sunday, dispersing an estimated 20,000 protesters outside the main government building. Many were beaten and at least four of the nine rival presidential candidates were arrested, their aides said.”



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Christopher Caldwell in the FT, "Why Italy still has Berlusconi."

“Voters who had tolerated corruption and bribery decided, when the Berlin Wall fell, there was no excuse for it. The ‘Clean Hands‘ investigations, after 1992, left Italy, in theory, with a political system purged of its worst faults. In practice, it left Italy with no political system at all… When organized political power is destroyed what remains? Fear, for one thing…. Another thing that remains when partisan politics dies is media power. Mr Berlusconi has more of this than anyone, owning Italy‘s three private television stations, publishing houses and its biggest advertising group…. As a politician , Mr Berlusconi planted himself like a boulder just a bit to the right of the country’s ideological centre. Once he did that, Italy‘s politics ceased to make sense without him.”



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Alessandra Galloni in the WSJ, "Italian Firebrand Gains Votes in Crisis."

“Umberto Bossi has raised his middle finger during the Italian national anthem and described immigrants as ‘bingo-bongos.’ He has called for Italy's northern regions to secede. And here, in this nation of Catholics, he once said that the Catholic Church will go down the ‘toilet bowl’ of history. Mr. Bossi is also one of the most influential politicians in the land. He is a government minister and one of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's closest allies, and he leads Italy's third-largest party, the Northern League…. While his rhetoric may sound extreme, Mr. Bossi's current vogue—after 30 years in politics—speaks to how the European economic crisis is hardening the divide within Italy, exacerbating age-old divisions between its richer north and poorer south. The sentiment threatens the EU as a whole. As Europe is being forced into billion-dollar bailouts of poorer countries, some people in the wealthier nations of Germany, France and the U.K. complain that they are unfairly footing the bill. And voters' fears about the future have spawned anti-immigrant fervor that is sweeping the continent.

‘We are true believers, and true believers have an edge on everyone else,’ said the 69-year-old Mr. Bossi, scraping a half-cigar with blackened fingernails. He spoke while picking up a shot of cherry liqueur at midnight with friends at a roadside canteen, a nightcap following a political rally that drew hundreds to the remote town of Pecorara in late October.”



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Andrew Rittman & Ekrem Krasiqi at euobserver.com, "Thaci camp hits back at organ trafficking allegations."

“Kadri Veseli, the former head of the Kosovo Intelligence Service, has told EUobserver that the Dick Marty report on organ harvesting is an attempt to sabotage the peace process in the Western Balkans. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci plans to take Mr Marty to court. ‘I'm convinced that the report as such, based on no facts, no proof and without the back-up of any real legal investigation ... has been made directly against the efforts of Kosovars and of our international partners to bring peace and tolerance to the Western Balkan nations after a long period of conflict and suffering,’ Mr Veseli told this website in his second only statement to media since the end of the war in 1999. ‘The report doesn't help the upcoming talks between Kosovo and Serbia,’ he added on the upcoming EU-mediated negotiations about problematic issues such as the governance of ethnic Serb enclaves in northern Kosovo.

Mr Veseli ran the Kosovo Intelligence Service (Shik) until 2008 after helping to create the special branch in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the 1990s. He is one of six people named along with PM Thaci in Mr Marty's recent report for the Council of Europe as being responsible for organ harvesting from Serb prisoners and heroin smuggling in a criminal outfit which operated for years under the cover of the KLA.”



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Dominic Sandbrook in the Daily Mail, "Why don’t Britain’s rich give to charity like wealthy Americans?"

“At the end of the Victorian era, wealth came hand in hand with deep social obligations. The facts today, however, make sobering reading. Far from the rich leading the way, they now lag behind: extraordinarily, the ­richest third of donors in Britain actually give less to charity, as a proportion of their earnings, than the poorest third. The contrast with the situation across the Atlantic, meanwhile, is painful to contemplate. In America, ‘cultural giving’ per head works out at £37 a month; in Britain it is just £6. And once again, the gap is most notable at the top. Americans who earn more than £150,000 a year give a staggering eight times as much to charity as do their British counterparts. The usual explanation is that we in Britain pay a far higher percentage of our income to the state. And there is plenty of truth in that: the average American pays just under 30 per cent of his income in tax, whereas the typical British taxpayer pays about 40 per cent.”



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Kevin Helliker in the WSJ, "Rodeo Drive: Rich Urban Cowboys On Fine Horses Best Ranch Hands".

“Traditionally the pastime of ranch hands, cutting is luring a growing number of urbanites, many of them former captains of finance and industry, who are debunking the notion that real cowboys exist only on the range. ‘These business leaders are showing that if they work hard, they can succeed at a cowboy sport,’ says Glory Ann Kurtz, a cowgirl journalist who writes a blog called All About Cutting. Many old timers find all this troubling. A common complaint is that technology has created a super breed of cutting horse so talented that cowboy skills matter less than the money needed to purchase such an animal. ‘The average cowboy can't afford to play no more, horse prices rising so high,’ says Pat Jacobs, a 73-year-old Texas rancher and legend of the sport. ‘Pedigree, I wonder if it hasn't taken the cowboy almost out of it.’”



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Markha Valenta at opendemocracy.net, "Saint Nicholas: the hard politics of soft myths".

“Folk rituals have a curious way of being saturated in the social and political conditions all about them, yet somehow also having a life of their own. They strengthen social bonds, but may just as easily disrupt political orthodoxy. The story here is that of Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop born in Asia Minor but now living in Spain, the patron saint of seamen, children and prostitutes. Every year he comes by steamboat to the Netherlands, accompanied by a large group of black helpers dressed like sixteenth-century Moorish pages, to hand out presents for all whose names and deeds are listed in his Great Book. The tradition is experienced as deeply Dutch, but is constituted out of a mix of Orthodox practices from the Middle East (who were the first to worship Saint Nicholas), Germanic divinities from the time of the great folk migrations in Europe, medieval carnivalesque, early modern South European aesthetic representations of North African servants, late nineteenth century Orientalism, Indonesian (spice) and Aztecan (chocolate) culinary influences, American minstrel traditions, and the spreading industrial revolution. Most of all, for my purposes here, it is at once an enduring testimony to the Dutch colonial imagination and one of the most promising sites of its potential disruption.

The yearly visit of Saint Nicholas to the Netherlands binds together not only the public nation but families and friends deep in the heart of their homes. Though child-focused, it draws all ages into its orb. It is a moment of truth-telling as no other, when the jokes made through secretly-written letters publicly name the desires and failures of all those present, ritually heightened by the use of poetic forms. This yearly eruption of ‘Catholic’ poetry in a land of pragmatic post-Calvinists punctures for a moment the banal everyday cover that lets us tuck away our yearnings, our weaknesses and our conflicts, and through this moment of exposure enfolds all those who are gathered to listen.”



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Ross Douthat in the NYT, "A Tough Season for Believers".

“Happily, for those who need a last-minute gift for the anxious Christian in their life, the year just past featured two thick, impressive books that wrestle with exactly these complexities. The first is American Grace , co-written by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of Bowling Alone fame) and Notre Dame’s David Campbell, which examines the role that religion plays in binding up the nation’s social fabric. Over all, they argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides. Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities….

Their argument is complemented by the University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World, an often withering account of recent Christian attempts to influence American politics and society. Having popularized the term ‘culture war’ two decades ago, Hunter now argues that the ‘war’ footing has led American Christians into a cul-de-sac. It has encouraged both conservative and liberal believers to frame their mission primarily in terms of conflict, and to express themselves almost exclusively in the ‘language of loss, disappointment, anger, antipathy, resentment and desire for conquest.’ Thanks in part to this bunker mentality, American Christianity has become what Hunter calls a ‘weak culture’ — one that mobilizes but doesn’t convert, alienates rather than seduces, and looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future….

The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé. Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.”



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With all the dancing around their remake of John Wayne’s True Grit (1969) Geoff Boucher finally got the sons-of-academics Coen brothers to admit to the LAT that they’d seen the earlier film. As it was directed by Henry Hathaway, one of Hollywood’s prime architects of the so-called “Film Noir” with his 1945-48 run of realist-expressionist crime and spy dramas (The House on 92nd Street, The Dark Corner, 13 Rue Madeleine, Kiss of Death, Call Northside 777) that the Coens made their bones sending up, I didn’t believe their original line that they hadn’t for a second. Of course as sons of academics they would read all the novels first before watching the films which Hollywood subsequently produced from them. All smart people do that and the smartest probably dispense with the movies entirely and neglect to pursue a career directing them; their loss...

I trust I’ll enjoy the new True Grit because it stars Jeff Bridges and because it’s a studio property that the Coens did not initiate but had to conform to, and sell-out their usual schtick to win the assignment from Paramount. Cindy Pearlman interviewed them and got good stuff from Bridges in the CST.

“‘We did a reshoot for Tron after finishing True Grit. Going from Rooster Cogburn with all the grime and grit and dirty teeth to Tron was startling in the best way. With Tron, it was motion-capture work, so I went from cowboy boots to someone putting hundreds of black dots on my face. It’s a bizarre way to make a living. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, ‘This is our life?’ he says with a laugh. ‘But that’s the gig. That’s the fun of it.’

Bridges had a lot of fun in spurs. ‘You want to know why I love movie Westerns?’ Bridges asks. ‘I remember when my father [screen great Lloyd Bridges] would come home after doing a Western. Dad would be all dirty with mud under his nails. He’d come home in the jeans and boots smelling of horses. It was such a thrill.

‘I really did believe that my dad was a cowboy,’ he says with a hint of nostalgia coating his voice.’”



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John Hasse in the WSJ, "A Cultural Conversation with Gunther Schuller".

“As principal hornist with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, he lived in New York City from 1945 to 1959. ‘This is one of the great periods of jazz. So I would finish with 'Tristan und Isolde,' let's say, at 11:30 or something like that. My wife would meet me at the door and we'd walk up Broadway. Well, there were seven great jazz clubs on Broadway, and there would be this feast of jazz and you had trouble deciding where to go. Anyway, there's this incredible richness—and, I swear to you, Margie and I never slept. I'd finish the opera, and clubs in those days stopped at 4 a.m. And you know, by 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. I had a rehearsal already at the Met. Can you imagine what a fantastic life? Here I'm playing 'Tristan,' and Mozart's operas and Verdi's operas and Puccini and then I'm hearing Ellington and Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. I mean I get goose pimples just recalling this.’”



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Eddie Dean in the WSJ on Albin Zak’s book, I Don’t Sound Like Nobody: Remaking Music in 1950s America, and Ray Allen’s book, Gone to the Country: The New Lost City Ramblers and the Folk Music Revival.

“Focusing on the 1950s, Mr. Zak explores the decade when the music industry was in constant upheaval as the new technology took hold and public taste shifted to embrace new sounds, disparaged by the old guard as ‘musical junk.’ It is Elvis Presley's proclamation that gives the book its title, yet he spoke for countless unknowns who suddenly had a chance to make their unschooled voices heard. Tiny independent labels flooded the market with records of all types made on the cheap and selling by the gazillion. A one-hit wonder could make a huge impact, like R&B vocal group the Penguins, produced in the ultimate DIY-style in 1954 by Los Angeles record man Dootsie Williams in a garage studio. ‘We muffled the drums with pillows because we didn't want the lower register to drown out the voices,’ Mr. Williams recalled. ‘Every time the dog barked next door, I'd have to go out and shut him up and then we'd do another take’….

Ray Allen, a professor of American studies at Brooklyn College, chronicles the Ramblers' rocky career all too exhaustively, including song-by-song accounts of most every album and seemingly every festival workshop and coffeehouse gig they reached in their VW bug. Unlike the fawning reviewers of the revival era, Mr. Allen is unsparing as a critic, and he gives full airing of the group's internal feuding. He is mostly sympathetic to their cause, though, maybe too much so. ‘Gone to the Country’ gives the impression that the Ramblers were lone crusaders; there is no mention of fellow folk-revival rebels like the Holy Modal Rounders, whose unhinged anarchic approach was as true to the spirit (if not the letter of) old-time music as anybody's. It's a serious omission, like ignoring the Rolling Stones in a bio of the Beatles.”



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From back when the record business and music on radio and TV was wide open before Lee Abrams and Jan Wenner came of age, June 18, 1966, the late Captain Beefheart introduces his new single doing an ‘American Bandstand’ phoner with Dick Clark and a 17 year-old would be fan, brought to you by Dentyne.


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Obituary of the Week

Robert J. Smith Sr. (1915-2010)

“Back when he graduated from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in 1943, some Chicagoans were still holding wakes in their homes. ‘A couple of times they had to hire riggers to go on the roof because the stairwells were too narrow,’ said his son, Robert J. Smith Jr., ‘and the casket went through a window.’ The Smith family started the business in 1912 at 2500 N. Cicero in the St. Genevieve parish, catering to the Germans, Italians and Irish then in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood. They buried the victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. They handled arrangements for some of the victims of the 1915 Eastland disaster, when 844 people died after their picnic steamer overturned in the Chicago River. It remains the city’s single biggest loss of life.”



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Thanks to Ray Farrell, Steve Beeho, Mike Vann Gray, Jay Babcock, Andy Schwartz.
























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