a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Issue #78 (December 29, 2010)

Moisture on the Land (Southern California High Desert)

Photo by Stephanie Smith

Pirates - Yankees Game 7, Oct. 1960
by Joe Carducci

Dad is 83 and his Alzheimer’s on occasion makes you wonder, Is this the real person with all the past and politesse stripped away? Or is the real person, born Delio Pacifico Carducci in Sarnano Italy in 1927, largely gone? It’s not entirely either way, but you do wonder. Its interesting what Dad does remember. He remembers most of his kids most of the time, and he seems to know that the youngest ones running around the house on occasion are his Grandkids, but other than Mom, every relationship seems tenuous. As the eldest son of an immigrant he had it tough in that unique American way. My Grandfather Secundo thought sports were wasted energy that might be spent in the mines or landscaping, or around the house. He did his own handiwork, made his own wine and beer. He was sure everything was fixed in American sports the way it all was in Italy. As a soldier in the Trieste area in WWI he found himself and others’ lives treated so cavalierly by Italy that he began to plan to leave. Once in America the culture shock let him to put in Dad’s mind that being Italian was going to be used against him his entire life here. Secundo never quite learned English, but though Dad entered first grade without English, the Nuns changed Delio to Donald and he picked it up quickly.

Dad still does seem to remember certain burned-in experiences, both positive and negative. Secundo worked first in America for several years before returning to Sarnano to bring his wife and son to America. Dad still remembers his earliest memory -- the porpoises following alongside the boat, he was close to four years old. Secundo worked with his older brother in the mines until Primo was killed in an accident. The family then left coal country in eastern Pennsylvania for Bradford, north of Pittsburgh, and came to include three boys and a girl. Dad can usually tell the story of getting into a fight out front of his new house with a neighbor kid who was Irish. He searches for words now but still tells it well. Basically the Irish kid was picking on the new Italian kid and both mothers came out on their porches. Dad remembers his Mother calling out, “Dalio, don’ta you fight,” while the Irish kid’s Mother was yelling “Tommy, you whip that little dago!” Dad also tells the story of making the basketball team at St. Bernard’s High School in Bradford, Pa., and having the star player, the coach’s son, a white kid, exclaim at Dad’s “blinding speed.” Clearly a first validation that meant a lot to him.

When I spent six months in Naperville last year to see if we could avoid the use of caretakers for him, he told me these stories often. I’d try to tease out a few new details each time: On the boat over they were in common steerage; from the porch his Mother was using her rough English in the futile hope of taming the Irish.

Dad had to quit the basketball team when winter came and he had to wake pre-dawn to shovel snow for his father. Secundo was then a groundskeeper for wealthy families in Bradford, mostly from local oil strikes or from the Zippo lighter company. This was not something he did for spending money. He was soon working his way through college at St. Bonaventure and Pitt, then through medical school at Loyola, and then interning at Oak Park Hospital where he met Mom who was a nurse, and residency at Merced County Hospital in California where I was born. We moved back to the Chicago area in 1956 and settled in Naperville the next year where Dad looked around at all the Germans and wondered if they’d allow an Italian to touch them. But it worked out great; they had nine kids, and Dad is well remembered and often out at a restaurant he is approached by former patients, so many he often couldn’t remember their names even before he developed Alzheimer’s. Mom worked at the office often enough in later years as my brother took over the practice to remember many of them though. Sometimes Mom or my sisters have to reassure him that he has no worries financially because that immigrant kid’s fearful drive can still surface. That and Alzheimer’s paranoia made caretakers and an anti-depressant necessary, so I moved back to Wyoming last spring.

In November I linked to an interesting story about the discovery of a complete 16mm kinescope of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series when the Pirates beat the Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s 9th inning home run -- the only time a World Series ended that way. Bing Crosby was part owner of the team which played at Forbes Field in those years. Crosby, the article related was too nervous to watch the game. The series was tied and the Yankees had crushed the Pirates three times while Pittsburgh had barely won three close games. Just before he stepped on a plane to Paris Crosby decided to have an assistant film the game just in case the unimaginable happened. The game is one of the only full baseball games filmed before the 1965 introduction of videotape.

My Dad would’ve understand Crosby’s anxiety. He often listened to Bob Prince call the Pirates games on KDKA-AM in the car at night, or up in his room when reception permitted once games got important late in the season. My brothers and I followed the Cubs on WGN-AM and TV with the much friendlier Jack Brickhouse announcing. Hearing Bob Prince announce strike-outs, base-hits, double-plays and home-runs like they were nothing in that even, tobacco-cured voice made it seem to us like the Pirates were a grown-ups’ team that played late at night and the Cubs were for kids playing in daylight -- even the pitch of the crowd-noise was higher at Wrigley. Prince would drone on over the ionosphere’s interference while Dad would groan or shout at each development like he was suffering the torments of the damned.

Home for Christmas I checked the MLB channel at my parents and found the Game 7 special on and got Dad to watch. My Mom and sister were in too. The spectacle of the game itself on a flawlessly filmed print was interesting enough. Mom marveled at how thin the players looked and how well-dressed the fans were. Forbes Field looked great with its outfield ivy, the see-through fencing behind home plate, and the box seats jutting out in short right and left field. The telecast standards of that day were interesting too. Very few close-ups, no replays that I recall, and only the names of players put on the screen, and it was “Bob Clemente”. I didn’t hear Prince say it that way, he called the first half of the game, but I did hear Mel Allen call him “Bob” during the second half. There was no second color man, each announcer -- Prince the Pirates man and Allen the Yankees man -- called half the game by himself.

Dad was riveted to the game as he watched the 1960 Pirates line-up of excellent but far less famous players. For the Pirates it was Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, Vern Law, Rocky Nelson…, for the Yankees Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Bill Skowron…. Dad answered our questions in the affirmative when we asked if he remembered this game, that player, Bob Prince, etc., but he wouldn’t be distracted. He would have been just four years into building his medical practice as a doctor in Naperville, then a small town at the end of the southwest suburban commuter line. He would have made some time to see that game even if only checking a small set at the hospital or office. He said he remembered seeing the game and I tend to believe him. You don’t beat the Yankees in the World Series everyday, though the Pirates did make a habit of winning the World Series in the late sixties and early seventies, amazing for a team with limited resources. They had the first scouts combing the Caribbean for great Latin players of which Clemente was paramount. While I was in Berkeley in the early 1980s I was able to report back to Dad that based on the number of Pirates caps in Oakland they had become the national team of black America.

But that one game, the one that promised to be too excruciating to watch for even a Bing Crosby and ended with a home-run by Bill Mazeroski to break the tie in the 9th, proved a memory stronger than Alzheimer’s. Nice to know that something is.

(illustrations: Roberto Clemente from the telecast kinescope; Delio Carducci passport image; Secundo and Olivia Carducci; Forbes Field; Dad and I in Breckenridge March 2009)

West of War Axe, Nebraska

Quarry Pond, Naperville, IL

Photos by Joe Carducci

Centropus Grillii by James Fotopoulos

From the Midwest Desk of Joe Carducci…

Dave Kehr in the NYT on Bing Crosby in film.

“The postwar Crosby is a fascinating figure; in a way he’s the upbeat, gently sentimental antidote to the doomed heroes of the films noirs then filling American screens. Like those noir heroes Crosby’s character is frequently a returning veteran experiencing problems settling down. The drifter’s nonchalance, once a central element of his charm, has mutated into a lonely detachment; he has seen too much to drop effortlessly back into civilian life. But unlike the doomed noir figures who allow themselves to fall off the edge, Crosby’s characters are saved by an innate musicality that eventually allows them to reconnect with the community they left behind. Such is the subtext of White Christmas, the 1954 film that proved to be Crosby’s biggest box-office success. The first film made in Paramount’s revolutionary widescreen process VistaVision, it has just been given an eye-popping release on Blu-ray by Paramount Home Entertainment based on the original VistaVision material.”


Annie Proulx wrote in the New York Times about her move from Centennial to Saratoga over on the other side of the Snowy Range Mountains in a piece titled, probably not by her, ‘My Own Private Wyoming’. I used to see her occasionally at the post office, which since they don’t deliver mail in town, is where one sees everyone sooner or later. She colors up her description of Centennial a bit but is basically on the money, though I’m not aware of there ever having been five bars in town, unless she’s counting Tony’s house, and maybe Nathan’s though I suspect you better bring your own there. There’s no drinking like there was before the Feds made the states go to 21 for drinking though. Back then I’m told Centennial special events would close the highway for the four bars could not contain it all.

I’ve liked Proulx’s short fiction in the New Yorker though I wouldn’t say there’s much true Wyoming style in her Wyoming stories. But that’s literary fiction for you. She doesn’t say but she lived in Aspen Commons and it was “the commons” in the development south of Centennial proper, so-to-speak, that drove her out. Dave Lightbourne was in her house once doing maintenance on her wood stove. Dave said she was the most negative person he’d ever met, and there’s no small contingent who might claim that of him! No doubt he tried to engage her in conversation while he worked but only succeeded in alarming her that the Goddamned duct-man might possibly be smarter and more worldly than she.

I think the acreage she describes almost buying near Centennial with the view of Sheep Mountain (which NV readers know well) is land my brother is currently eyeing. Proulx moved instead to the Saratoga-side, which in winter is a good two hours from Laramie and civilization as it exists in this corner of this state. That side has hot springs, hence the name, and big media wealth, most notably John Malone. It’s a place that high-rolling hunters have gathered at for a century, and on holiday weekends in the summer Lear jets stream into and out of the small town’s airport all weekend.

In Wyoming most ranches are named for the family but some have fanciful names. I’m sure Annie is where she belongs, a place you can give a name to your property even if it doesn’t produce an ounce of beef or venison. Sounds like her land was off-limits to hunters already so she won’t make any new enemies by banishing them the way the big collector of ranchlands north of Saratoga near Elk Mountain is doing. But still, I think its too bad Dave won’t be bumming her new high over there in Bird Cloud too.


Sing Out!’s current Nov./Dec./Jan. issue features an obituary of that very David Lightbourne -- musician, scholar, itinerant boheme and part-time wood-stove chimney sweep. He wrote some fine pieces for this, the finest virtual weekly around, plus after his death last April he became the subject of some of our greatest pieces, in particular NV No. 56. If I can get my hands on the Sing Out! I’ll excerpt the piece next week.


Terry Teachout in the WSJ, "Lovely Sounds of Sorrow".

“Century-old records are the closest thing we have to a time machine. To listen to the voice of Theodore Roosevelt or the piano playing of Claude Debussy is to feel the years falling away like autumn leaves from a maple tree. Rarely, though, have I been so engrossed by an album remastered from antique 78s as I was by ‘There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916,’ an anthology released by Archeophone Records. This two-CD set, which also includes a profusely illustrated 100-page booklet, contains 43 of the first recordings of black spirituals. It is the most important historical reissue of 2010—and one that tells a story about turn-of-the-century black culture that may make some listeners squirm with retrospective discomfort.

Nashville's Fisk University, which opened its doors in 1866, is one of America's oldest historically black colleges. It is also known to scholars of American music as the home of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an ensemble founded in 1871 that introduced concertgoers around the world to such deathless songs of sorrow and hope as ‘There Is a Balm in Gilead’ and ‘Roll Jordan Roll,’ in the process raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the inadequately funded school. The original Fisk Jubilee Singers disbanded before the invention of the phonograph, but in 1899 John Work II, a teacher at Fisk, reorganized the group, and a male quartet drawn from the chorus started making recordings for Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1909.”


Jake Austen in the Reader, 'Now Playing: The Jackson Find'.

“Their paths would soon sharply diverge, but in 1967 and '68 Larry Blasingaine and the Jacksons were on parallel courses. The Jackson Five and Blasingaine's group the Young Folks (they'd later record as Larry & the Hippies) shared a manager, gigged at the same Chicago nightclubs, like the Green Bunny and the High Chaparral, and sometimes shared equipment and rehearsal space when they had to prepare for one of Spann's showcases. But Blasingaine's interests and aptitudes destined him for a career behind the scenes.

He'd dutifully studied music theory in grammar school and started his first band through a west-side youth-arts program called Teens With Talent, and his seriousness inspired adults to reach out and mentor him. Early on he picked up what he calls ‘tricks of the trade’—mostly tips about how to conduct oneself onstage—from members of the Red Saunders Orchestra. Saxophonist Eddie Silvers, the musical director at One-derful, taught him chord charts; One-derful producer Otis Hayes demystified engineering; and nightclub singer Hi-Fi White helped him understand Broadway-style arranging. Though Blasingaine's own singles were never hits, in 1968 he became the bandleader for popular sister act the Emotions. A year and half later—still in his teens—he started working as a sideman for R&B great Jackie Wilson. He quickly graduated to musical director, a role he held until Wilson's career-ending onstage heart attack in 1975. His most intimate encounter with the Jacksons was on July 13, 1967, when he entered the One-derful studio—by then his home away from home—and saw the Jackson brothers preparing for a session.”


Bradley J. Furnish letter to WSJ on Richard Schickel’s geriatric drive-by on the ass of the NYT’s filmcritic of the 50s and 60s, Bosley Crowther:

“In his review of Tino Balio's ‘The Foreign Film Renaissance on American Screens, 1946-1973’ ("Seduced by Subtitles," Bookshelf, Dec. 17), Richard Schickel calls longtime (and long-dead) New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther an ‘incompetent’ who denied his readers a proper appreciation of foreign and avant garde cinema. Dozens of Crowther's reviews are contained in Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made, a collection of movie reviews appearing in the New York Times between 1927 and 1998. These include 50 (!) favorable reviews by Crowther of foreign films between 1946 and 1973 (excluding British films). Among these are such classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Bicycle Thief, Black Orpheus, Diabolique, La Dolce Vita, 8 ½, Divorce - Italian Style, Les Enfants du Paradis, The 400 Blows, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, Open City, Pather Panchali, Rashomon, Rififi, Seven Samurai, The Seventh Seal, Umberto D. and The Wages of Fear.

Crowther reviewed five films unfavorably and gave three others mixed reviews. Even while unfavorably reviewing films by Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Buñuel and Ingmar Bergman, he praised their talents and other successes. Crowther may have been his era's foremost drumbeater for foreign film. Crowther's criticism of Godard's Breathless is historically important. He found its narrative—lovers engaged in lethal criminality—‘sordid…unrestrainedly vicious, completely devoid of moral tone.’ Crowther echoed these objections in later rejecting Bonnie and Clyde, a review that probably led to his forced retirement. Looking back on 43 years' worth of escalating movie violence, one wishes that his view had prevailed.

Bradley J. Furnish
Kansas City, Mo.”


Toby Young in the WSJ on Tom Payne’s book, Fame.

“Mr. Payne is a classics master at one of England's snootiest private schools, and his bright idea is to examine fame through the lens of the ancient world, exploring what light the Greeks and Romans can shine on our modern obsession with celebrities.

Mr. Payne's interest in contemporary fame is understandably quite limited…. The limitation does not prove to be much of a handicap because when Mr. Payne turns to modern fame, his primary concern is the often short life-span of today's celebrities. He's interested in stardom's parabolic trajectory, the tendency of the mass media to elevate certain individuals to the dizzy heights of fame and fortune, only to bring them crashing down to earth at the slightest sign of hubris…. His answer is that the brutal treatment meted out to errant starlets like Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse is a form of human sacrifice. Just as the Greeks and Romans would slaughter animals to propitiate the gods—a substitute for more primitive forms of sacrifice, according to the author—so the citizens of modern, democratic societies have an almost insatiable thirst for seeing celebrities devoured by the tabloid wolves.

To advance this analysis, the author relies heavily on the work of Walter Burkert, a classicist and the author of Homo Necans (1972), an account of sacrificial rituals in the ancient world. Mr. Burkert believes that the human psyche is irredeemably twisted and sadistic and that without a ceremonial outlet for its bloodlust, such as the pagan rituals of Greece and Rome, the appetite will inevitably find expression elsewhere. ‘The modern world, whose pride is in the full emancipation of the individual, has gradually allowed the ritual tradition to break down,’ says Mr. Burkert, cited in the book. ‘As the idealistic tradition deteriorates, however, secret societies, ecstatic behavior, love of violence and death spring up all the more wildly and destructively amid seemingly rational orders. . . . In the end, societal forms in which man's archaic psyche will be granted its rights will presumably assert themselves.’”


CT Editorial: "Hizzoner & Son".

"‘I began the research on this book three years ago, a few months before Richard J. Daley died … in his sixth term as mayor of Chicago. It was clear that an era in Chicago's history was coming to an end, a period of almost a quarter of a century in which one man, Richard J. Daley, had dominated the city. No one had ever done so before, nor was it likely anyone would ever do so again.’

—Milton L. Rakove, We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent, 1979.

But someone did.

Richard M. Daley first ran for mayor of Chicago in 1983. To uncharitable eyes, he was a creation of his father's cronies — former Cook County Board President George Dunne, County Assessor Tom Hynes, U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, former Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan. The usual suspects. In the Democratic primary, Daley finished third, behind ultimate victor Harold Washington and then-Mayor Jane Byrne.”


Joann Lublin in the WSJ, "Calpers, Apple at Odds on Governance".

“Apple's directors can currently hang on to their seats with a single ‘yes’ vote in uncontested elections. The California Public Employees' Retirement System wants Apple and other U.S. companies it invests in to adopt rules requiring directors to win a majority of the vote, saying that will make board members more accountable to shareholders.

Calpers said Apple resisted its request, so the pension fund submitted an advisory shareholder resolution to force the issue. The measure is set to come up for a vote at the iPhone maker's annual meeting in February.”


Yu Yongding in China Daily, "A Different Road Forward".

“China's progress over the past three decades is a successful variation on the East Asian growth model that stems from the initial conditions created by a planned socialist economy. That growth pattern has now almost exhausted its potential. So China has reached a crucial juncture: without painful structural adjustments, the momentum of its economic growth could suddenly be lost. China's rapid growth has been achieved at an extremely high cost. Only future generations will know the true price. The country's investment rate now stands at more than 50 percent - a clear reflection of China's low capital efficiency. There are two worrying aspects of this high rate. First, local governments influence a large proportion of investment decisions. Second, investment in real estate development accounts for nearly a quarter of the total. Some local governments are literally digging holes and then filling them in to ratchet up the GDP.”


Andrew Batson in the WSJ, "Farm Wages Trip Beijing’s March Against Inflation".

“Most of China's farmers supplement the income from their family plots by working at urban factories or large farms like Mr. Zhang's. With the job market bouncing back strongly from last year's downturn, the wages earned by rural households are up 18.7% so far this year on a per capita basis, according to official data. Those rising wages are a ‘double-edged sword’ because they affect both the supply and demand for food, said Scott Rozelle, a specialist on Chinese agriculture at Stanford University. Farmers who can earn more off the farm might abandon their fields for other jobs, or demand more for their produce. At the same time, workers whose paychecks are rising can spend more on groceries and wedding banquets, increasing the consumption of food. Those effects will add up in coming years, as continued strong economic growth combines with a decrease in the number of young people entering the work force to keep pushing up wages in China.”


Paul Springer at Traderdaily.com, "Lost in Translation: China Stock Fraud".

“Sudden growth and sketchy disclosure establish a perfect breeding ground for fraud, and claims about China Education Alliance (CEU) add up to a perfect storm of uncertainty for investors in the U.S. Kerrisdale Capital has published a detailed set of claims alleging systematic fraud on the part of China. Be mindful that it is still unclear whether the allegations, which Kerrisdale posted a few weeks ago, are true. That’s the frightening reality – because of the distance and costs involved, weeks have passed, and it remains unclear whether the company is legit or just some empty rooms representing no value to shareholders. Some points from Kerridale’s investigation:

We hired an investigator to visit the company’s training center in Harbin and found it to be barren of desks and teaching equipment.

In terms of value, Kerrisdale alleges, China Education is a smoking crater:

Today, CEU trades at a market capitalization of $150 million and its shares are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In actuality, the stock is worth little more than the $20 million of cash it raised in its 2009 secondary offering, if indeed that cash still resides in the company’s bank account.

We will provide evidence throughout this report that CEU is fabricating its SEC financial statements. Its actual revenue and net income is a small percentage of what it reports in its SEC filings.

The company is mostly a hoax.

Since the end of November, the company’s market cap has fallen to around $70 million as China Education has assured investors that its business is solid. Clearly, investors are not entirely reassured.”


Alan Abelson in Barron’s, "Insolvency Stalks China’s Banks".

“We found especially interesting Harald [Malmgren]'s take on China. He notes that while investors everywhere have been uneasily eyeing the rise of the inflation dragon in that nation and have anticipated that Beijing would hike interest rates to contain the beast, it hasn't. And the reason why it hasn't, he posits, is that profit margins for many Sino businesses are razor thin, and an abrupt rate boost would mean appreciably higher debt-service costs, really putting the kibosh on profits. Despite all the global focus on inflation, Harald contends, the big challenge confronting China can be found in the nonperforming loan portfolios of its banks and kindred financial institutions. That enormous pile of deadbeat loans is the legacy of late 2008-2009, when exports dried up and the spooked rulers of the command economy ordered the banks to seriously step up their lending -- no ifs, ands or buts. The banks dutifully complied with an awesome $1 trillion in fresh lending. Much of that huge mountain of loans has fallen into the nonperforming category, which translates from the polite banking parlance into delinquency, big time. To avoid a financial meltdown, Harald expects, Beijing will raise capital-adequacy requirements substantially during the first few months of 2011, conceivably in incremental steps to cushion the pain. Since he anticipates Chinese banks will have trouble raising capital, he expects a large-scale shrinkage in lending. Chinese banks, he emphasizes, aren't suffering from insufficient liquidity. Rather, he warns, the danger to the country's banking system is insolvency.

In the current lineup of problem banks around the world, he would rank Chinese banks as the most troubled, with European banks next, followed by U.S. banks and Japanese banks probably holding down fourth place.”


Mercopress from BBC: "China defends soaring economic and trade relations with Africa".

“China needs more natural resources such as oil, gas, and minerals for its rapidly growing economy, while Africa needs more investment in basic infrastructure to develop its potential. China plans to expand the relationship to ‘a larger scale, broader scope and higher level’, according to the policy paper released by the state information office. However, the growing Chinese presence on the African continent has attracted a mixed reaction. While some Africans welcome the Chinese practice of separating politics from economics, others have expressed concern that Beijing's deepening involvement in the continent's development may worsen the level of corruption and the human rights and environmental issues there. The key question for many African countries is whether they should adopt the Chinese model of growing the economy at the expense of political reform, rather than developing their own model.”


James Hookway & Alison Tudor in the WSJ, "Behind Firm’s Default: Vietnam’s Growth Mania".

“Over the past decade, the country's economy has expanded from crater-pocked rice paddies to erect gleaming new factories and towering skyscrapers, prompting development economists to extol the country as a model for other frontier markets. On the narrow streets of Hanoi, Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars now compete for space with rickshaws and motor-scooters. In the past few weeks, the cost of Vietnam's poorly policed transformation has become alarmingly clear, offering food for thought for investors seeking rising returns elsewhere on the frontier-markets map. Economists say the country's worsening problems, and the impact they could have on its dwindling currency, might also worry textile and agricultural producers in countries like Thailand and Indonesia which compete with Vietnam in those sectors.

Inflation is soaring, reaching 11.75% year-to-year in December, while Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings have all downgraded Vietnam's credit ratings because of its relentless focus on pumping up growth in the past six months. The government, meanwhile, appears set to continue its rolling devaluations of Vietnam's dong currency while ordinary people scramble to stock up on U.S. dollars or gold. Since mid-2008, the dong has lost around a fifth of its value as Vietnam floods the banking system with money.”


Adam Ellick in the NYT, "Necessity Pushes Pakistani Women Into Jobs and Jeopardy".

“Female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent in the past five years.

Several chains like McDonald’s and the supermarket behemoth Makro, where the number of women has quadrupled since 2006, have introduced free transit services for female employees to protect them from harassment and to help persuade them take jobs where they may face hostility. ‘We’re a society in transition,’ said Zeenat Hisam, a senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research. ‘Men in Pakistan haven’t changed, and they’re not changing as fast as our women. Men want to keep their power in their hand. The majority of the people here believe in the traditional interpretation of Islam, and they get very upset because religious leaders tell them it’s not proper for women to go out and to work and to serve strange men.’ More than 100 young women who recently entered service jobs told of continual harassment. At work, some women spend more time deflecting abuse from customers than serving them. On the way home, they are heckled in buses and condemned by neighbors. It is so common for brothers to confiscate their uniforms that McDonald’s provides women with three sets.”


John Leland in the NYT, "Iraq’s Wild Ones Are Mainly Looking to Impress (But where are the women?)"

“In the United States these tricks would barely turn an eye, but in Iraq the bravado looks like the baby steps of a nascent youth culture, modeled largely — and imperfectly — on a vision from abroad. ‘I feel I am a rebel,’ Mr. Hamra said, displaying a forearm tattooed with the logo of the rapper 50 Cent. ‘We took this as an American style. It’s like the idea of being warriors. Motorcycle people listen to rap or rock — they have their own warrior style.’ He added: ‘In America the rebels have their own streets and coffee shops. So we are following them.’

…And for all the riders’ wistful thoughts of The Wild One or Easy Rider, one essential element was missing from the scene. Because the sexes in Iraq do not mingle in public for religious reasons, the shows have been a strictly male affair. Riders who have girlfriends say they cannot ride together on the men’s motorcycles. ‘It’s a babe magnet,’ said Messar al-Saffar, 33, speaking English, ‘but in Iraq, it’s hard to get your girlfriend on the back.’”


Brian Knowlton in the NYT, "Life in U.S. Brings Success and Visibility For Muslim Women".

"'What we’re seeing now in America is what has been sort of a quiet or informal empowerment of women,' said Shireen Zaman, executive director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a nonprofit research institute founded after the 2001 attacks to provide research on American Muslims. 'In many of our home countries, socially or politically it would’ve been harder for Muslim women to take a leadership role. It’s actually quite empowering to be Muslim in America.' As Najah Bazzy, a American-born nurse and founder of several charities in Michigan, put it: 'Yeah I’m Arab, yeah I’m very American, and yeah I’m very Islamic, but you put those things in the blender and I’m no longer just a thing. I’m a new thing.' It is not always easy. Several of the Muslim women interviewed for this article said they had been the object of abusive letters, e-mails or blog posts. Yet in their quest to break stereotypes, America’s Muslim women have advantages. They are better educated than counterparts in Western Europe, and also than the average American, according to a Gallup survey in March 2009. In contrast to their sisters in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, they are just as likely as their menfolk to attend religious services, which equates to greater influence. And Gallup found that Muslim American women, often entrepreneurial, come closer than women of any other faith to earning what their menfolk do."


Benny Morris in The National Interest, "Qutb and the Jews".

“Never mind the nightlife of New York or the mores of Los Angeles. Even a church social he attended in Greeley, Colorado, was execrated:

‘The dance hall was illuminated with red, blue and a few white lights. It convulsed to the tunes of the gramophone and was full of bounding feet and seductive legs. Arms circled waists, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of passion.’

American women in general he described as having ‘thirsty lips . . . bulging breasts . . . smooth legs,’ all topped off by ‘the calling eye . . . [and] the provocative laugh.’ Indeed, after returning to his homeland, he had nothing good to say of the United States—whether it be about the climate, American sloth or the unattainability of a good haircut. Qutb saw it all as shallow and obsessed with vile concepts of materialism and brute strength. American civilization was so deformed that, ‘when the wheel of life has turned and the file of history has closed, America will have contributed nothing to the world heritage of values.’ But western sinfulness was not restricted to their own lands. America was busy spreading its values eastward, polluting (and thus enfeebling) the Muslim world. In addition to neutering its males by denying them power, the West was subverting the traditional (inferior) role of women; exporting the notion of feminine equality, which was leading to ‘discord’ (fitna) in Muslim societies. Women were suitable only for domestic, not public, responsibilities, thought Qutb. Moreover, unchecked, now-liberated feminine sexuality was tempting men into sin, corrupting the social order.”


The Economist: "Suitably Dressed".

“‘Suit’ was the chosen insult of hippies to describe a dull establishment man. The garment has been ostentatiously rejected by Silicon Valley titans like Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sergey Brin of Google. Yet the business suit has an exciting and mysterious history that should give wearers a tingle of pleasure every time they put one on. It is a garment born out of revolution, warfare and pestilence. The suit still bears the marks of this turbulent past as well as the influence of Enlightenment thinking, sporting pursuits and a Regency dandy. In the year that may well mark the 150th anniversary of the suit it seems a shame that no celebrations were held in its honour.

The pattern was cut in the middle of the 17th century. To maintain an image of what is now called ‘austerity Britain’ after a plague outbreak in 1665 and the Great Fire of London a year later, Charles II ordered his courtiers to dress in simple tunics, shirts and breeches. This was a profound reversal. Monarchs had long imposed sumptuary laws preventing hoi polloi from dressing too grandly. Forcing the elite to dress modestly suggested that power and place were no longer to be marked by yards of lace and frills.

Even as court fashion took another turn towards flamboyance, the sombre three-piece look endured in smart society. The emerging mercantile class adopted it, as did landed aristocrats, who spent much of their time on their country estates rather than at court. Sobriety of colour gained further ground after the French and American revolutions.”


Victor Sperandeo in Barron’s, "When governments cannot borrow, hyperinflation is frequently the result."

“The first occurrence of hyperinflation was in France between 1789 and 1796, when the revolutionary government paid its bills with paper and forced its creditors to accept payment or be guillotined. Since 1920, there have been 29 more hyperinflation events around the world, the most recent being in Zimbabwe beginning in 2007. From Robespierre to Mugabe, government profligacy and the printing of money were the chief causes….

Look at the federal budget for fiscal 2009. That year, the budget deficit was $1.55 trillion, with total expenditures of $3.52 trillion. If the government borrows the entire amount of the deficit, it would have a borrowing rate of 44% of total expenditures. In 2010, the figure also has exceeded 40%. Can this imbalance continue without triggering a hyperinflationary spiral? The Congressional Budget Office projects this borrowing rate will be coming down substantially by 2014. If this fairy tale came true, Armageddon will be postponed.”


Edin Mujagic at euobserver.com, "Stop blaming the Germans".

“Troubles in Ireland? Due to the German wish that investors share a part of the bail-out burden. Euro-crisis? We wouldn’t have that crisis if Germans did not keep their wage costs low over the previous years. If only they would spend more on Greek cheese, Italian olive oil, Portuguese and Spanish wine and Irish beef. By doing so, they would pull the weak euro countries out of their doldrums. Germans refuse to increase their deficit and/or raise their wages or demand investors share the bail-out costs with the cash-stripped European governments not in order to make enemies in Europe. They have a different reason I do not feel is really acknowledged by other European capitals. Many battles have been lost because the generals only minded the front and forgot to secure the area behind the lines as well. German politicians are doing nothing more and nothing less than securing the area behind the lines while almost all other European leaders are channeling their efforts to the front lines.”


John Rathbone in the FT, "Eurozone can learn grim Latin lessons".

“In 1982, loans to developing countries -- mostly Latin American -- accounted for more than twice the capital base of US banks, according to the IMF. Early debt write-offs would therefore have been impossible. They would have produced a systemic US financial crisis. That is true of the Euro zone today. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows why. European bank stocks are trading around the book value of their equity. As the combined market capitalisation of European banks is 903bn, that suggests total bank capital is about the same. As for exposure, a rough figure can be gleaned from the Bank for International Settlements. The total claim of foreign European banks on Greek, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian debt is almost 1,800bn. Europeans banks’ exposure to potentially trouble Euro zone debt may therefore be around twice their capital -- comparable to US banks’ in the Latin American crisis.”


Philip Tetlock in The National Interest, "Experts All the Way Down".

“I am often pigeonholed as an ‘expert on experts’ because I have a long-standing interest in the (rather large) gaps between the confidence of political pundits and their forecasting accuracy. In reviewing these books by experts on experts, one could say I have morphed into an even-higher life form: an expert on ‘experts on experts.’ Before ascending further on the Great Ladder of Being (all it would take is for a blogger to review this review—and for me to reply—to move up to Rung Number Five), I had better stop the infinite regress. Why not start by asking: How much traction can we get from heeding these authors’ advice in coping with that recurring challenge of modern existence—separating the wheat from the chaff?”


Obituaries of the Week

Jimmy Jack (1928 - 2010)

“Mr. Jack was barely into his teens when he got into his next notable scrape: assuming his older brother’s identity so that he could join the Merchant Marines at 15. He served during World War II and distinguished himself as a boxer, winning three Golden Gloves tournaments and acting as an alternate on the 1948 U.S. Olympics team, before enlisting with the Marines and serving during the Korean War. But it was in the Chicago Police Department, which he joined in 1955, that he found his true calling. Within a year he made detective — one of the youngest in the city. His first partner as a detective, Phil Tolomeo, was a mob insider on the Outfit’s payroll. Mr. Jack quickly demanded — and got — a new partner after he spotted F.B.I. agents snapping photos outside Meo’s, a notorious Outfit haunt where Tolomeo would meet with cronies. Much of his career would be spent fighting those mob bosses — many of whom grew up in the same neighborhood as him.”

Frank Bessac (1922 - 2010)

“In 1949, as the Chinese revolution extended its gains to the steppes in the western part of the country, Frank Bessac escaped via a nearly 2,000-mile journey through deserts and mountains to Tibet. He became one of the last westerners to meet the Dalai Lama in his summer palace in Lhasa. During the epic trek, shrouded in secrecy and Cold War high jinks, the trek's leader, Douglas MacKiernan, became the first Central Intelligence Agency officer killed in the line of duty.

Mr. Bessac, who died Dec. 6 at age 88, was by turns an agent in China with the Office of Strategic Services, a U.S. wartime intelligence agency, a relief worker in Mongolia, and a cultural anthropologist with a special interest in nomadic tribes of the Asian steppes. A college student in California when World War II began, Mr. Bessac was drafted into the Army in 1943. He was sent to learn Mandarin at Cornell University, where he was recruited by the OSS. He was parachuted toward the end of the war into China, where he ‘executed daring missions,’ he wrote in a memoir, and helped keep tabs on the emerging conflict between Nationalist and Communist factions. (He also headed a relief effort on behalf of the U.S. State Department, delivering food aid to Mongolian pastoralists who were the victims of drought.)”


Thanks to Arthur Krim, Jay Babcock.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

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.”


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….”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.’”


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.”


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.”


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.


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.’”


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.’”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.’”


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.”


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.”


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.’”


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.’”


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.”


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.


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.”


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

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