a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Issue #79 (January 5, 2011)

First Sunrise of 2011, San Pedro CA

Photo by Mike Watt

The Metaphysics of Boomer Materialism: Death Panel redux
by Joe Carducci

Several threads in the news are being left unknit together by editors for the probable purpose of avoiding the conclusion that Sarah Palin’s coinage was insightful and as loaded a term as what is coming will require. Or maybe the editors being boomers just remain unwilling to face facts on a deeper non-tactical level as well. I’ve written before that all the hipster young, lighting each others cigarettes or bongs or buying beer for even younger friends as they do, have been voting to make themselves criminals, because once healthcare was nationalized every citizen’s health is everyone else’s business -- ‘everyone else’ as in the Feds, the Narcs, the Man. As it happens apparently the Man himself still smokes. That’s a special crime in my book, like a member of the tax-writing committee not paying his taxes. Perhaps President Obama and Congressman Rangel together with ex-Governor Palin and the Tea Party will help unravel this looming granola tyranny.

Here’s how the WSJ editorial, ‘Death Panels Revisited’ describes what happened accidentally on purpose through no fault of Big Tobacco:

“On Sunday, Robert Pear reported in the New York Times that Medicare will now pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling as part of seniors' annual physicals. A similar provision was originally included in ObamaCare, but Democrats stripped it out amid the death panel furor. Now Medicare will enact the same policy through regulation. We hadn't heard about this development until Mr. Pear's story, but evidently Medicare tried to prevent the change from becoming public knowledge. The provision is buried in thousands of Federal Register pages setting Medicare's hospital and physician price controls for 2011 and concludes that such consultations count as a form of preventative care. The office of Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, the author of the original rider who then lobbied Medicare to cover the service, sent an email to supporters cheering this ‘victory’ but asked that they not tell anyone for fear of perpetuating ‘the Death Panel myth.’”

What that all means is not that somebody finally read those thousands of pages of the ObamaCare rules and regs -- no those reams still sit around DC insulting the murdered and mulched trees that died to produce all that paper by not being read at all by anybody. The New York Times reporter simply got his hands on Blumenauer’s e-mail! The Times’ follow-up editorial very carefully parsed their own news so’s they can’t be accused of concurring with a Palinism they already wrote reams of coverage denouncing, which were read by me at least. Didn’t work though, here’s MediaMatters’ hysterical charge:

“The Times never indicates that ‘death panels’ was a lie -- PolitiFact's 2009 lie of the year, in fact. The closest it comes is a passage deep inside the article that refers to claims by Sarah Palin and John Boehner that the proposal would ‘encourage euthanasia’ as ‘unsubstantiated.’ Printing a politician's lie without making clear that it is a lie simply encourages politicians to lie.”

Jamison Foser might be all of 22 thinking that way. But let’s hear it for the plywood or whatever that wall separating the Times’ editorial board romper-room from the reporters’ cubicles is made of; those trees died for a purpose.

Out in California the LAT takes the 700+ laws that kicked in on New Years at face value thus making each and every one good news! ‘New laws aim to make Californians healthier and safer’. As a result folks that might’ve died naturally at seventy-five in the recent benighted past will soon be reaching triple digits and practically unable to die without state help.

Another loose thread elsewhere in the papers comes from a visitor to that romper-room. Susan Jacoby an “unsparing chronicler of unreason” has been stamping out religion her whole professional life, and she wrote a personal-political op-ed column in the NYT last week called ‘Real Life Among the Old Old’, in which she abuses her own familial emotions for political effect thusly:

“I can see that the ‘90 is the new 50’ crowd might object to my thinking more about worst-case scenarios than best-case ones. But if the best-case scenario emerges and I become one of those exceptional ‘ageless’ old people so lauded by the media, I won’t have a problem. I can also take it if fate hands me a passionate late-in-life love affair, a financial bonanza or the energy to write more books in the next 25 years than I have in the past 25. What I expect, though — if I do live as long as the other women in my family — is nothing less than an unremitting struggle, ideally laced with moments of grace. On that day by the riverbank — the last time we saw each other — Gran cast a lingering glance over the water and said, ‘It’s good to know that the beauty of the world will go on without me.’ If I can say that, in full knowledge of my rapidly approaching extinction, I will consider my life a success — even though I will have failed, as everyone ultimately does, to defy old age.”

By all means, let’s counsel Gran on her range of end-of-life options, because now that the government is on the hook for healthcare it is death that must be sold. Jacoby clearly looks forward to strapping her Ahab ass to her own personal white whale, but a moral hazard is a moral hazard even laundered by big-D Democrats and delivered by unbelieving bureaucrats. I wonder whether there might be a civic form of last rites described in those unread pages where an old old citizen might be forced to confess, say, cigarette-smoking, etc., and whether some sub-clause in those unread reams might demand in such case a timely end, or happy release, or even the coveted mercy killing coup de grace flambeau. Or maybe its up to, you know, some panel of experts or something.

Two double-domes, philosphers, Hubert Dreyfus from Berkeley and Sean Dorrance Kelly from Harvard, have gotten good notices for their new book, All Things Shining. (Evidently fans of Flipper) To me as the book’s described it brings to mind another of these unknit yarn threads I’m talking about, although here its more the general boomer generation’s vague not-quite-metaphysics of existence, if not of life itself. David Brooks’ column, ‘The Arena Culture’, compliments the book as it ranges outside the heretofore unsuspectedly narrow confines of philosophy and writes:

“[T]heir book is important for the way it illuminates life today and for the controversial advice it offers on how to live. Dreyfus and Kelly start with Vico’s old idea that each age has its own lens through which people see the world. In the Middle Ages, for example, ‘people could not help but experience themselves as determined or created by God.’ They assumed that God’s plans encompassed their lives the way we assume the laws of physics do. For the past hundred years or so, we have lived in a secular age. That does not mean that people aren’t religious. It means there is no shared set of values we all absorb as preconscious assumptions. In our world, individuals have to find or create their own meaning. This, Dreyfus and Kelly argue, has led to a pervasive sadness. Individuals are usually not capable of creating their own lives from the ground up. So modern life is marked by frequent feelings of indecision and anxiety. People often lack the foundations upon which to make the most important choices.”

Unusually for academics, their big idea seems to be that sports are filling in for this void of meaning and providing mucho shining. That might explain how sports ain’t no gym-rats tawdry diversion coming from some sour-smelling stadium into your home on some snowy barely powered UHF channel any more. Back in the overly political years in the sixties-seventies, boomerdom seemed to drop sports after growing up in thrall to Mickey Mantle and such. They later sort of backed into sports interest again, first with basketball in solidarity with Dr. J’s afro if not UNLV’s Running Rebels. I think the Detroit Pistons were the first NBA team to start five black players at the end of the seventies; such cultural racism was still a live issue. Then they got back into baseball as a way of saying, “Sorry about the NVA flag, our cockamamie political ideas are as American as apple pie after all.” After that it was the NFL and everything.

But here too, anomie, meaninglessness, the void, the Western Conference quarterfinals, etc., are all of interest to members of the old Youthquake as they try to fob off the costs of their more likely endless endcare on everyone else, i.e., the Federal government, just before they face facts. They likely want us to think they want to be free to plan their own living will, or death, but they have no such plan. They show complete confidence generally in their ability to manipulate matters and micromanage even the government that can’t say no to itself. They expect to wind up planning everyone else’s death. I imagine they’ll be bring up gun control again at some point. Probably have to.

Mount Athos, Greece

Photo by Don Fausett

Caprimulgus Fossil by James Fotopoulos

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

Behzad Yaghmaian in Le Monde Diplo, "The Migrant’s Long March".

“Yu Xinhong did not close her eyes for almost a day. She sat by the window, stared at the villages and farms along the way and the people boarding and departing. For the first time, she was encountering Chinese from other parts of her vast country. ‘I thought our villages were the only villages in China, and we were the only poor people. I learned this was not true when I took the train to Shenzhen,’ she told me in the summer of 2007, four years after that train ride. When she arrived in the brand new Luohu Station in the heart of Shenzhen, she was surrounded by tall glass buildings, five-star hotels, malls, bars, restaurants, massage parlours, hair salons, and branches of McDonald’s. (Back home, nothing was taller than four storeys, and always in brick.) And there were all these people, young men and women from all over China, speaking dialects she could not understand. There were girls over six foot tall, girls with light skin, girls in tight jeans or miniskirts. Yu Xinhong was short, and she considered her skin dark. She admired and envied the ‘beauties’ who came from a China she and her village friends did not know about. She could not control her excitement.”


Evan Osnos in the NYer, "Letter from China: Meet Dr. Freud".

“I started coming to China fifteen years ago, and, until recently, I never heard anyone mention a therapist. The concept of discussing private troubles and emotions with a stranger runs counter to some powerful Chinese beliefs about the virtues of ‘eating bitterness’ and the perils of ‘disasters that come from the mouth.’ For most of Chinese history, mental illness carried a stigma of weakness so intense that the siblings of a disturbed person could have trouble finding a spouse. Mental health was left largely to herbalists, who tried to rebalance the seven emotions -- happiness, anger, sadness, fear, love, hatred, and desire -- and to witch doctors, who sought to calm the unhappy spirits of ancestors or encourage patients to adjust to life’s setbacks.”


Anand Giridharadas in the NYT Mag, "India’s New Generation of Caste Busters".

“Personality development was very alien to the traditional Indian world. Hinduism had always cultivated a sublimation of the self, aimed at realizing moksha, or liberation, through transcendence and renunciation of the material world, which Hindus saw as illusion. But more than that, it was the social fixedness of Indian life that had limited the usefulness of a compelling personality. Your station in life was said to be determined by karma. Your position in the family was determined by your sex and birth order, not by your skills or manners. Your early peer relationships were with cousins more than friends. Your marriage was organized by others, based on family reputation, not on your charm. Misal, like the students he taught, was in revolt against the old fixedness. But once that revolt was complete, a person could find himself utterly alone. Under the traditional system, a person at least had a domain of certainties. He knew which foods were his foods. He knew which things his people considered to be polluting. He had a way of gesturing and an accent. And so when he chose to strike out as a self-made man, he would need — even before a job and a house and a car — the rudiments of selfhood. He would need to develop a personality.”


Diana Marcum in the LAT, "In the Facebook era Hmong stick to traditional courting."

“Brenda Lee, 30, a financial advisor who met her boyfriend last year playing pov pob, said modern forms of matchmaking make Hmong singles all the more eager for face-to-face relating. ‘Facebook isn't real. It makes you hungry for the old traditions. This is a chance to see the person, see if he laughs when he drops the ball. All year, people wait for the new year. They come here from the world over to play pov pob and hope for love.’ In the Laos and Thailand of old, the balls were made of colorful material and boys and girls courted one another by singing traditional love songs. The words to those songs are now largely forgotten, banter is favored over warbling and woven cloth has been replaced by fluorescent felt stamped ‘Wilson.’ But for the most part, the tradition made it intact through the Vietnam War, out of Thailand refugee camps and here to these fairgrounds.

The Hmong have been in the United States about 35 years. The CIA recruited the isolated tribe, which lived in the mountains of Laos, to fight communists during the Vietnam War. In 1975, the U.S. retreated, leaving Laos under communist control and the Hmong hunted and on the run. An estimated 120,000 Hmong died. Beginning in 1975, the American government resettled some Hmong in the United States. More than 150,000 Hmong have emigrated since then, including about 30,000 in California's Central Valley. This history is made tangible during the colorful whirl of the weeklong festival which ends New Year's Day. Leathery old men wearing Vietnam-era U.S. Army uniforms walk past young Hmong breakdancers with swooped, choppy and multi-colored hairstyles.”


Ruth Sherlock in the CSM, "Palestinian women race car drivers leave gender barriers in the dust".

“The Speed Sisters have in the past year competed against the toughest male drivers in the expanding car racing scene here. The women have gone from being novelty racers to contenders. ‘You should laugh at the boys – they said that we couldn’t beat them,’ says Mona Ennab, who races a souped-up 2006 Opel Astra. ‘But at the Bethlehem race this year the Speed Sisters came first in their category.’ Ms. Ennab is one of the first Palestinian women drivers, with seven years’ racing experience. She was invited to Palestinian Motorsport Federation races after she was spotted tearing around the West Bank city of Ramallah. ‘It was tough at first; people said that it wasn’t right for women to compete against men,’ she says. But that hasn’t stopped them. This month the team is for the first time competing in professional races in Jordan. The ladies can often be found at dusk practicing on a dusty stretch in ‘Area C,’ the part of the West Bank controlled by the Israeli army. Traffic regulations don’t apply here.”


Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post, "Column One: The Wars of 2011".

“UN General Assembly passed a resolution to hold a Durban III conference on September 21. The first conference, held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001, is mainly remembered as a diplomatic pogrom against Israel and Jews which complemented the shooting war in Israel…. They used the UN’s anti-racism banner to assert that it is not racist to kill and incite the murder of Jews. Jews were singled out and condemned as the only nation in the world whose national liberation movement – Zionism – is racist. But even more important than its service in glorifying suicide bombers and their political commissars just three days before the September 11 jihadist assault on the US, the Durban conference was the place where the blueprint for the political war against Israel was authored….

The Durban II conference last year in Geneva was supposed to reinvigorate the political war that was launched in 2001. But it was a bust. The only head of state to address the proceedings was Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He used the occasion to again call for the eradication of the Jewish state. To prevent another flop, last month the Palestinians and their supporters agreed that the 10th anniversary conference will be held in New York during the opening of UN General Assembly. Their goal is to piggyback on that conference to get heads of state that are in New York already to join in their anti-Israel political war.”


Bat Ye’or in the Middle East Quarterly, "Delegitimizing the Jewish State".

“Established in September 1969 as the ‘collective voice of the Muslim world,’ the OIC has evolved into the second largest intergovernmental organization after the U.N., bringing together fifty-six Muslim and other states, as well as the Palestinian Authority. Though boasting a global range of objectives from the ‘promotion of tolerance and moderation, modernization, [and] extensive reforms in all spheres of activities,’ to the cultivation of ‘good governance and promotion of human rights in the Muslim world,’ this body has constantly and disproportionately focused on Israel and its supposed misdeeds….

The Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), an OIC organ mandated ‘to strengthen cooperation among member states in the field of education, science, and culture,’ has occupied pride of place in the campaign to delegitimize Israel. Since its inception in 1982, it has run dozens of programs and symposia on the Jewish state's supposed desecration of Islamic and Christian holy sites and the attendant need to wrest them from the Israelis' control.”


Bret Stephens in the WSJ, "Egypt’s Prison of Hate".

“Following the New Year's Eve massacre of a score of Coptic Christian worshippers outside a church in Alexandria, Egyptians are wasting no time fingering the likely culprit.

‘With careful consideration,’ observes commentator Ammar Ali Hassan in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, ‘the incident could lead to other interpretations, especially the application of the Zionist conspiracy against national unity in Egypt.’

Going one better, Essam El-Irian, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, says that while he believes ‘the Israeli Mossad was behind the incident,’ he won't rule out the possibility that al Qaeda itself may now be under Israeli operational control….

In a 1962 lecture, the philosopher Leo Strauss noted that ‘The fact that anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools is an argument not against, but for, anti-Semitism; given the fact that there is such an abundance of fools, why should one not steal that very profitable thunder?’ …But Strauss was also quick to point out that the success of anti-Semitism as a political strategy depended on the leadership not becoming, as the Nazis were, true believers in the hatreds they so freely sowed. Just imagine how history might have turned out if Hitler hadn't sent the cream of European science—Jüdische Physik—packing for the labs at Los Alamos. Egypt's current leaders don't partake in their subjects' obsessions: They're too smart, and Israel is too valuable a partner against common enemies in Gaza, Tehran and the Bekaa Valley.”


Nick Cohen at Spectator.co.uk, "‘Far-left’ and ‘far-right’".

“The common ideology is that democratic countries are the source of all the evils of the world, which is where Wikileaks fits in, and that democracy and human rights are shams. As is traditional, all parties to the compact spew out the Jewish conspiracy theory. The second reason for my discomfort with the old labels is that I know too many people who will, rightly, condemn the Tories for allying with nationalist and xenophobic movements in Eastern Europe while staying silent about the liberal-left’s alliances with the misogynists, homophobes and racists of radical Islam.”


This piece by the Univ. of Munich sociology lecturer Armin Nassehi at Qantara.de, ‘Even Without Immigrants, We Are Already Multicultural’, uses a pretty perverse Pollyanna argument:

“A liberal society depends on the citizen's privilege to be left in peace. Only thus is it possible not to find the foreignness of other people threatening. And only thus is it possible that ethnic, sexual or cultural minorities can profit from the foreignness and indifference of our ways of dealing with each other. The future of our ways of living will depend on whether it turns out to be possible to maintain this citizen's privilege of foreignness.”

It reads like a defense of an Islamist incubationist strategy that Europe is trying to combat, and which Al-Qaeda interfered with and perhaps inoculated against with its premature paroxysms. In America it’s mainly second or third generation Mexican-American grad-students who talk about the Reconquista and pretend to wish to bring Mexico north. No Norteo wants to bring the Mexico he left with him to the United States no matter how traditional his cooking or how often he travels back. Germany and Europe generally have a deeper dilemma with immigration, legal or illegal, and perverse sociologists -- there may be no other kind -- don’t help matters. Demanding that immigrants live unalloyed in ghettos on welfare is certainly a nihilist’s prayer for the end of Europe. The Professor continues:

“The litmus test is how much social inequality it can cope with and how much pluralism it can offer. In the final analysis, a liberal society depends on invisibility – not in the sense that one doesn't see its pluralism, but in the sense that the foreign, the unfamiliar, the different milieu doesn't stand out because daily life does not depend on cultural integration.”

How many Jews are left living “foreign” in the increasingly uniform Arab world? How many Christians? And are Arab migrants themselves leaving the failing middle east, or are they spreading it?


Hiroko Tabuchi in the NYT, "Japan Keeps a High Wall for Foreign Labor".

“Despite facing an imminent labor shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact, as Ms. Fransiska and many others have discovered, the government is doing the opposite, actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups — in the case of Ms. Fransiska, a local nursing association afraid that an influx of foreign nurses would lower industry salaries. In 2009, the number of registered foreigners here fell for the first time since the government started to track annual records almost a half-century ago, shrinking 1.4 percent from a year earlier to 2.19 million people — or just 1.71 percent of Japan’s overall population of 127.5 million. Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan’s two decades of lethargic economic growth. But instead of accepting young workers, however — and along with them, fresh ideas — Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country’s economic growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system.”


Julia Preston in the NYT, "Political Battle on Illegal Immigration Shifts to States".

“Republicans gained more than 690 seats in state legislatures nationwide in the November midterms, winning their strongest representation at the state level in more than 80 years. Few people expect movement on immigration issues when Congress reconvenes next week in a divided Washington. Republicans, who will control the House of Representatives, do not support an overhaul of immigration laws that President Obama has promised to continue to push. State lawmakers say it has fallen to them to act.

‘The federal government’s failure to enforce our border has functionally turned every state into a border state,’ said Randy Terrill, a Republican representative in Oklahoma who has led the drive for anti-illegal immigration laws there. ‘This is federalism in action,’ he said. ‘The states are stepping in and filling the void left by the federal government.’

But the proposals have already drawn opposition from some business groups. And they are forcing strategic soul-searching within the Republican Party nationwide, with a rising populist base on one side demanding tough immigration measures, and, on the other side, traditional Republican supporters in business and a fast-growing Latino electorate strongly opposing those measures.”


Mecca-as-Vegas slideshow in NYT.


Loay Mudhoon at Qantara.de, "The Turkish AKP as Role Model for the Arab World?"

“In contrast to these Arab states the Turkish republic already has a democratic tradition. This includes not only respect for the political system and its institutions, which has generally been a characteristic of the political set-up and its participants throughout the history of the republic, but also a liberal and critical public discourse, which the Arab states do not have in anything like the same degree, and which is of essential importance for a democratic political culture. Moreover, it was the Turkish democracy that made the emergence of the AKP possible in the first place – and in so doing gave the (post) Islamists the opportunity to politically express themselves and to mature into a more responsible and predictable government party.

It is also the case that the political military elite in Turkey has generally tended to be tolerant of the Islamic forces in their own country, they have permitted them to express their own internal discourse even if they have always put a stop to their supposed attempts to seize power. This sort of freedom to develop and express themselves is thus far unknown to the Arab Islamists.”


Steve Lohr in the NYT, "When Innovation Too Is Made in China".

“In the 1980s, the Japanese government was widely viewed as the master practitioner of industrial policy, and Japan Inc. seemed poised to overrun one American industry after another, including computers. As we know, it didn’t turn out that way, partly because of steps taken by the American government and industry…. More important, however, Japan never became a force in a particularly unruly, imaginative side of computing: writing software. Generalizations are risky, but it seems that Japan, as a society, has not produced enough of that kind of innovative skill, despite being a formidable patent generator. (In that area, Japan is still slightly ahead of the United States by some measures, though Japan’s patent filing pace is slowing.)…

The Chinese patent strategy document is filled with metrics, right down to goals for patents owned per million people. It speaks of an innovation-by-the-numbers mentality, much like a student who equates knowledge with scores on standardized tests.

‘It is a brute-force approach at this stage, emphasizing the quantity of innovation assets more than the quality,’ said John Kao, an innovation consultant to governments and corporations. But it would be a mistake, Mr. Kao said, to assume that China will necessarily follow a path similar to Japan’s. China, he says, is not only much bigger than Japan, but it also has a more individualistic entrepreneurial society, despite its Communist government.”


Wayne Arnold in the NYT, "As China Rises, So Does Vietnam".

“After following China down the path toward communism after World War II, therefore, Vietnam finds itself back in China’s ideological slipstream. This time, Hanoi is driving toward what its calls a ‘socialist-oriented market economy,’ largely to keep from being run over by China’s economic juggernaut. ‘If China had not been there,’ said Jonathan Anderson, an economist at UBS in Hong Kong, ‘Vietnam may not have opened up.’ Vietnam officially reopened its doors to foreign investors in 1986. But it did not really become part of the Asian economic boom until it won back its former enemy, the United States, which lifted a trade embargo in 1994 and normalized trade with Vietnam in 2000.”


Sanjeev Pargal in the Daily Excelsior, "Kashmiri militants-Naxalites nexus exposed".

“A senior police officer said they have deliberately not disallowed the visits of some known sympathizers of Maoists to the Kashmir valley but wanted to follow them and observe their movement. An HR [human rights] activist has also undertaken a couple of visits to the Valley after appearing on television shows championing the cause of separatists. The HR activist is reported to have met a couple of separatists and was in touch with them telephonically. The henchmen of the HR activist have also established a direct contact with Pakistan backed militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen outfits in the Kashmir valley. Sources said the so-called human rights activist and other sympathizers of Naxalites wanted some of their cadre to be trained by the militants of LeT and HM in handling of sophisticated weapons and explosive devices. In turn, the militant outfits like the LeT and HM have been conveyed support of the Naxalites in giving shelter to their cadre in Maoist dominated States like Chatisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa etc.”


Chase Madar in Le Monde Diplo, "Nichi Vendola, the Italian Obama".

“Silvio Berlusconi’s gift for the battuta – wisecrack – has been a great help to his political career. But there are limits. He tried to bounce back from the revelation that he intervened to secure the release from prison of a 17-year old Moroccan bellydancer, ‘Ruby Heartstealer’, who had been at his private parties, by saying ‘it’s better to go crazy over beautiful girls than be gay’…. The crack was aimed at the Italian left’s new star, Nichi Vendola. Nichi Vendola is the governor of Apulia, heel of the peninsular boot, one of Italy’s poorest and most socially conservative regions. That it should elect (and re-elect) a governor with a background in the Rifondazione Comunista (RC, Communist Refoundation party) which he helped found in 1991, but is also openly gay, is counterintuitive, even if Vendola is a professed Catholic. He is now one of Italy’s most popular politicians and may lead a coalition of left and centre-left parties in the national elections of 2013. He is a charismatic scrapper, and has the Italian right worried.

Vendola can use the battuta, too. In November he enraged the rightwing governor of prosperous, northern Lombardy by declaring it the most ‘mobbed-up’ region in Italy. (That a southerner would criticise the north for its failure to control the ’Ndrangheta and Camorra is a novelty.) Reversing decades of anti-communist Stalin-baiting, Vendola condemns Berlusconi for embracing Vladimir Putin and the ‘business is business’ approach to buying energy from authoritarian states like Russia and Libya. When asked if he might become the first gay prime minister, Vendola confides that there has already been one, whose identity he has sworn never to tell. He easily quotes the 19th century poet Giacomo Leopardi, and the poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini – another gay Catholic leftist and subject of Vendola’s undergraduate thesis in literature – and also the New Testament and his former bishop, Don Tonino Bello, who in is the process of being beatified.”


Parag Khanna in the FT, "Welcome to the new Middle Ages".

“You have to go back a thousand years to find a time when the world was genuinely western and eastern at the same time. Then, China’s Song dynasty presided over the world’s largest cities, mastered gunpowder and printed paper money. At around the same time India’s Chola empire ruled the seas to Indonesia, and the Abbasid caliphate dominated from Africa to Persia. Byzantium swayed and lulled in weakness both due to and despite its vastness. Only in Europe is this medieval landscape viewed negatively….

The only missing piece, of course, is America. The Middle Ages was pre-Atlantic. Yet today we have the legacy superpower of the US, located in the new world. If the European Union oday plays the part of the Holy Roman Empire, then the US is the new Byzantium, facing both east and west while in a relative decline. The Byzantines lasted for many centuries beyond their material capability, through shrewd diplomacy and deception rather than by force.”


Sewell Chan in the NYT, "Academic Economics to Consider Ethics Code".

“Academic economists, particularly those active in policy debates in Washington and Wall Street, are facing greater scrutiny of their outside activities these days. Faced with a run of criticism, including a popular movie, leaders of the American Economic Association, the world’s largest professional society for economists, founded in 1885, are considering a step that most other professions took a long time ago -- adopting a code of ethical standards.”


Here is my brother Mark’s letter to Barron’s responding to Jonathan Laing’s column, ‘Why the Fed Should Shop Till It Drops - Goldman Sachs’ chief economist says the central bank should buy still more bonds’.

I’m not sure it’ll be published but others have been:

“Dear Jonathan Laing / Barron's Editors,

How could one, as a financial journalist, allow such reckless comments to spew forth without rebuttal? Contrary to [Goldman Sachs’] Hatzius' thoughts that the recent criticism of the Fed's money printing to facilitate QE2 [quantitative easing] are ridiculous, he is ridiculous thinking that QE2 or additional QE will lead to a sustainable recovery. No self sustaining recovery will occur until significant NPL [non-performing loans]'s are off banks' books (Iceland circumvented the delay associated with resolving NPL's by allowing the banks to fail and extinguish the NPL's quickly), the consumer is further deleveraged with an attendant higher stable savings rate, the banks have rebuilt capital asset ratios toward 8% (Basel II) to 10% (Basel III), and some demand, organic in nature, has been accumulated, rather than borrowed again from the future.

Hatzius does NOT neatly skewer the arguments against QE in any reports I've seen, including his Bloomberg New Years Eve weekend interview, and certainly he fails miserably in the Jonathan Laing interview of 12/20/10's issue. He does succeed in displaying his excitement anticipating the next financially built bubble and it's expected financial profits for firms like Goldman Sachs. In fact, let's put dollar printing and debasement of a currency in terms Mr. Hatzius can understand. Dollars printed are dilutive to the savings accounts of dollars held by retirees, employees' pay... just as share issuance dilutes and debases or devalues existing shares held. This is immoral when done secretly and without a request by those holding the currency or shares. Additionally, not all taxpayers and Americans in general support all measures, reckless or not, to rebuild another bubble on demand drawn forward from the future.

As to inflation, it is true that general price inflation is in the future, after 75% capacity utilization rises closer to 81-85%, and imported labor deflation slows from China, and elsewhere, and when the newly printed money is coupled with an acceleration in Velocity (number of dollar transactions per dollar unit per unit of time), however, commodity inflation has been seen for the last few years in metals, softs, and grains, after teasing out supply demand factors. As to Okun's Law, obviously it requires a large percentage gain in GDP, (domestic production by employees), to increase the need for said employees and drop the unemployment rate a given amount, but as Frederic Bastiat would likely ask, do you extinguish the sun to help the candle-maker employees, or, in our case print paper money to bring up spending on employee made products and services?

As any medication has side effects, and Mr. Hatzius admits the bluntness of quantitative easing, one would expect significant negative effects from a powerful, yet blunt tool. It is also a sloppy unfounded assumption, to state that as for longer dated treasury yield hikes, that it is ‘of course because of the recent improvement in the economic outlook…’ but rather it would be expected, at least in part, to be due to the increased default risk on our treasuries, just as has been seen in the EU countries with similar debt (and interest on that debt). I would respectfully hope that Barron's writers would unburden the reader a tad by doing some reading in well researched economics such as Austrian Business Cycle Theory, prior to interviewing individuals with clear vested, and conflicted interests. Reliable content would be appreciated.

Sincerely, Dr. Mark Carducci”


Roger Lowenstein in the WSJ on Emily Lambert’s book, The Futures.

“The exchanges she describes—mostly in Chicago—evolved from the physical markets, and they retained the whiff of tangible trade well into the 20th century. The neighborhood of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ‘represented a large proportion of the nation's food hub. . . . Eggs, butter and poultry came through Fulton Street. Men in bloodstained aprons stood on loading docks. The whole neighborhood reeked.’ The exchange building ‘was surrounded by a sea of animals.’ On one side stood ‘Hog Alley’; on another, ‘Cattle Alley.’ Trading developed because of the inherent delay in some of these commodities' coming to market—eggs could be stored, corn had to be harvested and beef had to be butchered. The time-lag involved in each introduced an element of risk. Ms. Lambert thus portrays the Chicago Board of Trade, founded in 1851, and the Merc, begun in 1874, as organic extensions of their various industries, providing, in effect, insurance to protect the growers and other producers. Thankfully Ms. Lambert, a writer for Forbes magazine, does not portray these markets as Hallmark incarnations of perfect capitalism. She lavishes attention on a rogues' gallery of traders who routinely tried to corner (that is, monopolize) the supply. The futures business, she notes, ‘was quickly corrupted.’ In the 1870s, members of the Board of Trade ‘worked creatively’ to cheat merchants and farmers by fixing grain prices. With the help of government officials, the exchange was cleaned up.”


A perfect example of the public sector reaching critical mass: the hiring of a new municipal staff to aid private prospective restauranteurs in dealing with the rest of the goddamn city staff what’s in their way. Diane Cardwell reporting for the NYT seems to cheer the meltdown: ‘A New Team Helps Steer Restaurateurs Through a Thicket of Red Tape’.


Dennis Berman in the WSJ, "When States Default: 2011, Meet 1841".

“There were differences between today and 19th century. Then, expensive state programs weren't for government pensions or Medicaid. They were for roads and canals. And in today's slow-growth economy, raising taxes won't solve all of the states' fiscal woes. Any real solution will require wholesale cuts in government programs and spending, too.

When the defaults began in January 1841, investors dumped state bonds, pushing yields above 12% in early 1841, and to nearly 30% by 1842. The consequences of those defaults would last for decades: Among historians, the rule of thumb is that U.S. states would pay interest rates one percentage point higher than Canadian issuers the rest of the 19th century. To this day, Mississippi hasn't paid back some of those bonds, even after a 100-year English bid to collect.”


Simon Griffiths at Opendemocracy.net, "The Left’s two paths to a good society: grow and redistribute (stealth) or win the arguments".

“The importance of growth to social democracy was stressed by Tony Crosland as far back as 1956. Whilst not being as explicitly redistributionist as Crosland, it was this technocratic approach that New Labour tended to adopt after it arrived in office, when tax receipts from a booming economy – including a lightly regulated financial sector – were ploughed back into schools, hospitals, the welfare system, and so on. The result is that British public institutions now no longer appear the shabby, outdated places they had become by the mid-1990s. Yet relying solely on the first path leaves social democracy vulnerable when the economy falters or the left is out of office. This is the position in which the left now finds itself. New Labour tended to be reluctant to make the case that the state could enable a more successful private sector and a richer civil society. This meant that a government coming in with a very different view of what the state should do is now faced with no real coherent ideological opposition as they attempt to roll it back.

The second path to social democracy is less travelled. It involves painting a picture of what a good and fair society looks like and making the case for it. Ed Miliband seems more comfortable on this path than his predecessor.”


Dominic Sandbrook in the New Statesman, "Cromwell: The man who wouldn’t be king".

“The head of the most controversial figure in British history, severed from his dead body almost 350 years ago today, remained one of London's more grotesque attractions for several decades. Some time in the late 17th century it was recovered by a soldier, became a bizarre collector's item, and was finally buried in Cromwell's old college, Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, in 1960. For a man who had been Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, victor of Naseby, Worcester and Marston Moor, one of the architects of British sea power and the only commoner in history to serve as our head of state, it was a demeaning end. And yet, in some ways, the strange story of Cromwell's head - which may not even be his, as some still think that his body was switched for another before the gruesome ritual at Tyburn - is an appropriate epilogue to an extraordinarily ambiguous career. The king-killer who toyed with wearing the crown, the hero of liberty who shot down the Levellers, the champion of religious toleration who loathed Catholicism, the practical joker who became a symbol of joyless Puritanism, he remains one of the most bewildering figures in British history. By any standards, the former yeoman farmer from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire is one of the most notable - perhaps the outstanding - figure in our national story.”


Mary O’Grady in the WSJ, "Argentina’s Forgotten Terror Victims".

“The politically correct know that those who were brutalized by the guerrillas that Juan Perón once called ‘marvelous youth’ are supposed to be erased from the national memory. Thirty-five-year-old Argentine lawyer and human-rights advocate Victoria Villarruel is refusing to cooperate. She has founded Argentina's Center for the Legal Study of Terrorism and its Victims with a mission of documenting the thousands of terrorist crimes committed from 1969 to 1979. She believes that shedding light on this dark decade can help secure a more just future for all Argentines.

Everyone knows the story of how the Argentine military took over the government in 1976 and proceeded to crush subversive movements ruthlessly. Its abuses of power are legion, and in 1983 it finally stepped aside in the midst of hyperinflation and economic chaos. But Argentina lived another tragedy prior to, and for some time after, the military seized power. It was a wave of carnage and destruction brought on by bands of Castro-inspired guerrillas who sought to take power by terrorizing the nation. Their actions provoked chaos on a national scale that led to the military coup. Yet because of the military government's ignominious demise, terrorists and their sympathizers have succeeded in rewriting this history, describing only the crimes of their uniformed enemy.”


John McWhorter takes an interesting slant on the arguments for legalizing drugs in ‘Getting Darnell off the corners’ in the New Republic, arguing:

“It comes down to this: If there were no way to sell drugs on the street at a markup, then young black men who drift into this route would instead have to get legal work. They would. Those insisting that they would not have about as much faith in human persistence and ingenuity as those who thought women past their five-year welfare cap would wind up freezing on sidewalk grates. There would be a new black community in which all able-bodied men had legal work even in less well-off communities—i.e. what even poor black America was like before the '70s; this is no fantasy.”

Like other arguments though it fails to recognize that as with alcohol and even tobacco these drugs will remain illegal for anyone under the age of 21. That reduction in trade might not sustain the street corner culture as it is however.


Ben Joravsky of the Reader on Chicago’s Mayoral election on Ken Davis’ “Chicago Newsroom” CANTV19.


In the LAT “Company Town: True Grit almost gallops past Little Fockers.” Perhaps other filmmaking geniuses might follow the Coens and sell out, bag self-expression for story-telling. It’s a better deal all around. They might have worked on the ending a bit more though.


This Jon Pareles piece in the NYT, ‘Want a Hit? Keep It Simple’, is shaped like a major pop-zeitgeist autopsy, but then Jon can’t really pronounce Pop dead because this is largely the world the pop-crit establishment wanted or excused, as they battled the rockist rabble by ignoring anything to the right of The Smithereens. Nothing wrong with them, in fact we won’t hear even their likes again, probably because music so proscribed has proved not enough to sustain music as music. It would be as if the pre-Rockcrit, pre-AOR music industry and radio stations had said in 1966, “We don’t need Jimi Hendrix Experience because we have The Remains,” and the American music culture had been lobotomized a decade earlier.


Mike Watt + the Missingmen just released Mike’s best album since “Double Nickels” or so. It’s called “Hyphenated-Man” (Clenchedwrench Records); the North-American tour runs from March 10 - April 30.


Sing Out!, Vol. 54 No. 1, Dec. 2010, “Last Chorus”:

“David Lightbourne, a Laramie, Wyo.-based musician, writer and folk music afficionado whose passions included blues and jug band music in particular. He died on April 30. A native of the Midwest, David hung out with The Holy Modal Rounders in Portland before starting his own Portland-based group, The Metropolitan Jug Band, in the late 1970s. After relocating to Laramie in the ’90s, he founded David Lightbourne’s Stop & Listen Boys. Along with his friend Joe Carducci, David staged the Upland Breakdown, an annual roots music mini-festival usually held in Centennial, Wyo.”


Jeff Klein in the NYT, "Hockey Has Deep Roots in Pittsburgh".

“Hockey runs deep in Pittsburgh. It is where the game was first played regularly indoors on artificial ice, at the luxurious Schenley Park Casino from 1895 until it burned down in late 1896. It was home to the first professional hockey league anywhere in the world, the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League, which by 1902 was luring players from Canada, where professionalism was prohibited. The future Hall of Famers Riley Hern, Alf Smith, Bruce Stuart and Hod Stuart played for pay in Pittsburgh, eventually forcing the Canadian leagues to go pro in 1907 — a development that led directly to the formation of the N.H.L. in 1917. And it is where the United States Olympic hockey team was born in 1920, when Roy Schooley, a Canadian who stayed in Pittsburgh, put together an 11-player squad that won silver at the Antwerp Games, in the sport’s Olympic debut.

The Western Pennsylvania league, the Olympic team and the Pittsburgh Pirates, a Roaring Twenties N.H.L. club briefly owned by the New York bootlegger Bill Dwyer, were housed at the Duquesne Gardens, a trolley car barn in the Oakland neighborhood that was converted to a civic auditorium and ice rink in 1899.”


The Brenda Starr story as it ends in the CT photogallery.


MercoPress: "Mars Base in Chile".

“The Moon-Mars Research Center, a scientific, technological and tourist complex, is to be located in an area recognised by the international scientific community as one of the spots on Earth with the most Mars-like conditions, including extreme solar radiation and temperatures, low humidity and strong winds, the El Mercurio newspaper said.

The base will be erected in the Chajnantor plains, located 55 km east of the town of San Pedro de Atacama, at an altitude of 5,150 meters and some 1,650 km northeast of Santiago. The European Southern Observatory, or ESO, is building - along with its international partners - the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, a top-of-the-line telescope, at the site to study the light from some of the coldest objects in the universe.”


Dennis Overbye in the NYT, "Quest for Dark Energy May Fade to Black".

“The discovery a decade ago that the universe is speeding up, in defiance of common sense or cosmic gravity, has thrown into doubt notions about the fate of the universe and of life within it, not to mention gravity and even the nature of the laws of physics. It is as if, when you dropped your car keys, they shot up to the ceiling. Physicists have one ready-made explanation for this behavior, but it is a cure that many of them think is worse than the disease: a fudge factor invented by Einstein in 1917 called the cosmological constant. He suggested, and quantum theory has subsequently confirmed, that empty space could exert a repulsive force, blowing things apart. But the best calculations predict an effect 10 to the exponent of 120 times greater than what astronomers have measured, causing physicists to metaphorically tear their hair out and mutter about multiple universes.”


A trip down Market St., San Francisco in 1906, 4 days before the quake in actuality.


Freeman House at Arthurmag.com, "Afterlife".

“Besides being anadromous—reproducing in fresh water, but spending most of their lives in the nutrient-rich ocean—Pacific salmon have evolved to a condition called semelparity, which means that every salmon dies after reproducing once. In the past, before salmon stocks on the North Pacific Rim began to disappear one by one, there were seasons when you could smell a salmon river before you could see it, so thickly were spent spawners piled on the banks. Pragmatic humans tend to find this condition counter-intuitive. It seems as if nature has made a mistake. All those thousands of miles of ocean journey to gain the size and flavor that makes salmon such a grand food—and then only one chance to reproduce? The life cycle of the salmon has been anthropomorphized and romanticized beyond the bounds of decency. I’ve been guilty of it myself. Humans, especially those who live around the North Pacific or its tributaries, associate the qualities of courage, strength, passion, and devotion to salmon’s upstream migration. Sexual references abound. Such romances might be mitigated, or at least balanced, by watching salmon die. The gradual weakening of spawned-out salmon may take days or weeks. The fish lacks purpose and strength; it drifts listlessly, with an occasional weak effort to remain close to the nest, assumedly to protect the newly fertilized eggs from predators. It becomes more and more difficult to stay upright. Fish float on their sides and eventually on their backs. Bears or raccoons or otters wade in and put a compassionate end to the slow decline and the river becomes an assisted death facility. But once the end has come, what a spectacle unfolds!”


Obituaries of the Week

Dennis Dutton (1944 - 2010), by Tony Curzon Price.

“What is remarkable in Dutton is his persistent desire to marry the causal account of Darwinism with the meaning-based accounts of phenomenologists. He is unusual amongst evolutionists in steering clear of the thought that all there is to a question of aesthetics, morality or political philosophy is its genealogy. Its origins are interesting in their own right and sometimes even provide insights that add to our appreciation; but the phenonmenon is not its causes. It is the clarity of this distinction, I believe, that always made Dutton’s Arts and Letters Daily such a surprise and pleasure to read; it is the distinction that allowed him to filter the good material from such a breadth of sources.”

Roger Milliken (1915 - 2010), by Pat Buchanan.

“In 1985, Roger had come to the White House to persuade me to convince the president to sign a bill to slow the flood of textiles into the country. No way, I told Mr. Milliken. I’m the biggest free-trader in the building, except for the fellow down the hall, who was Ronald Reagan. Roger went away disappointed. Reagan vetoed the bill. And I supervised the writing of the veto message. Within half a decade, however, some of us had seen the light and enlisted in Roger’s crusade to preserve the manufacturing core of the country that he rightly saw as inextricably tied to the prosperity and the pre-eminence of the United States….

Intellectuals deride ‘paternalistic capitalism,’ the idea that men who begin and build companies know better than investors, unions and markets what is best for them and their workers. Roger Milliken exemplified the best of that dying breed. When his carpet plant in La Grange, Ga., burned down on Jan. 31, 1995, Roger could have collected the insurance money, taken advantage of NAFTA, built a new plant in Mexico, employing the same low-wage labor some of his rivals were using, and pocketed the difference as profits for his company. Instead, he arrived in La Grange the morning after the fire, gathered the stunned workers, told them he would find temporary jobs for them, then pledged to have the most modern carpet factory in the world built on that same site in six months.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Michael Hurley, Steve Beeho, Arthur Krim.

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