a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Issue #81 (January 19, 2011)

North of Centennial, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci



















The American Alloy - Model, Export, Ideal…
By Joe Carducci




Ivory Coast joins Zimbabwe and Cambodia as nations presided over by the losers of their elections. Perhaps Iran belongs here too, Russia not quite as Putin is violating only the spirit of its election law. With his FSB-KGB bonafides he was uniquely able to step down and provide a Washington-like new model for how to leave power in semi-democratic Russia. The leaving of power orderly is the most important technical lesson a polity must learn, which is why it is so destructive to allow idealists or mere opponents to prosecute an ex-president anywhere. They don’t need to be above the law literally but it is certainly best in the long run that they be so in practice or any leader is foolish to leave willingly. The electorate itself is often imperfect and drifting into fealty, strapping in for long-term subject-like relationships with Presidents-for-life. And there are often short-term reasons to choose a security-based tyranny.

Fully stolen elections are a different category but often related to a poverty culture’s lack of interest in risk. Still the machinery of fixed elections can often not survive what are called wave elections here. This was People Power in the Philippines; Marcos had fixed elections fair and square but when it was clear the election machinery made him vulnerable he seized power militarily but then lost it ordering the shooting of one man. Something like this happened in Ukraine as well with the so-called Orange Revolution that vaulted the “loser” Viktor Yushchenko over the “winner” Viktor Yanukovych, but then it unhappened under the pressure from neighboring Russia whose patience is an improvement over the original assassination attempt on Yushchenko that had in part triggered that wave election.

Elsewhere traditional, pre-feudal clan-based gerontocratic patterns survive and lend legitimacy to Egypt’s Mubarak or Belarus’ Lukashenko, or Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev, or Uzbekistan’s Karimov. Then there’s Thailand where a watershed populist election-winner was deposed constitutionally, then put back in power more emphatically by the electorate before finally (?) being unseated by the King via the Army, or Venezuela where a static class structure led its rural majority to elect a failed ex-military coup-leader, or Nepal where Prachanda’s Maoists came out of the hills to strong-arm the nominal ruling party after a wayward Prince erased the Royal line with a machine-gun. It can be hard to generalize, not so much about the desirability of encouraging democracy but about how it might be received here or there, wherever the Americans or the EU or UN or the Vatican or some NGO or union are pushing it. How could they know, when many indigenous constituencies calling for democracy do not themselves know what may come of it? Often these constituencies are frustrated elite groups with one foot in Europe or North America already via education. In any case, even the most advanced, largely single race nations of Europe only truly settled into mundane democratic means after the two world wars nearly decimated population and place. America’s ongoing loose, de-centered and unsettled reshuffling of power and people lets off steam constantly -- the injustices and tragedies and crimes are smaller and more localized and have been more quickly addressed, however inadequately -- this is all relative. (I’m no idealist.)

Often troubled polities are caught between feudal patterns whereby wealth is held as land in the form of fincas or plantations or ranches which keep a one extended family wealthy but depend on peonage if not slavery. (Industrial wealth creation and the movement of rural population to cities for work in factories broke up that residual pattern in America too, though literature and Hollywood kept the romance of the old South alive for a century or more.) What development is possible in a fuedal mode moves along clan lines, rather than open to applicants on a meritocratic basis and so classes can become separate cultures and even races. A big question as America industrialized, modernized, developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was, How can a working class whose wages are depressed by the stream of new factory laborers from the farms, and then depressed again by new arrivals from Ireland, Italy, and Poland, and then further depressed by the exodus of blacks from the South, how can this increasingly impoverished proletariat afford to buy the products they produce? The people who asked that question had an answer in mind, of course, and they mentored graduates who today still counsel despair and centralization. It is a mark of American history that these brainy folks remain frustrated. In many other countries those ideas are not frustrated. Feudal patterns gave way to centralizations that were red or brown or green but which merely allowed their great question-asking answer-knowing class to starve and murder more people than purple ever imagined could be desirable.

The wrecked west European powers in 1946 were open to new ideas and the American model began to be identified as an improved variant of the old models. But what Americans had developed by accident of economic and technological dynamism was not just a bunch of stuff, but a new polity. Many immigrants had actually come to America to purify old world beliefs. But here they found a liquid base of Natives and those early Anglos, Franks and Spaniards who had gone native. The United States of America is the real dream of Mexico whereas the Estados Unidos Mexicanos, though full of mestizos has never allowed industrialization to modernize feudal Spanish land grant patterns and forge a Mexican alloy. The lords survived the revolution in Mexico, and the classes stayed racial and simply made room for Mestizos between the Indios and the Euros.

Given the old European Protestant paranoia regarding the Vatican and its Catholics, it was an enormous risk taken by America to allow millions of Irish, Italians, German and Polish Catholics into the country. In terms of race relations with the newly freed blacks these Catholics, coming in blind to the issue of slavery surely set back race relations even in 19th century terms. And not deporting blacks en masse back to Africa or to the Caribbean was another fateful choice too little appreciated. There is a lot of talk of various and sundry American genocides on campuses but that talk never actually accounts for the reality that eliminationist policies might well have been pursued had white Americans still been merely their unaltered European selves. No, America was simply not going to be as France or Germany. And the settling and industrialization of the country meant that its human mix wouldn’t be merely the multi-cultural Great Britain either. Rather it made this new populace alloy into a new people creating a new culture and polity.

Obviously America remains the model. Many poor countries can learn a lot from China just as they could learn from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. But none of those countries can model for a country that is multi-racial and full of immigrants and different faiths and is looking to live together and become one people. The Chinese are prosecuting a demographic culture war on their conquered peoples in Tibet and Turkestan in the bald way that only a culture with none of America’s experiential knowhow might. The Han may think they are settling their west as America settled its, but Americans went more and more native as they went west. The Han have virtually zero interest or respect for the culture of their peripheral neighbors. There was always obsessive American interest in native tribes. The same is true with regard to blacks.

Just last week in Tunisia the self-immolation of an unemployed college graduate who was not allowed to sell vegetables and fruit on the street for lack of a license or the cash to pay the bribe to get one triggered the government’s fall. His un-muslim, rather Buddhist gesture tells us this was not Islamist act. But on top of the Wikileaks cables of 2008 and 2009 where American diplomats expressed shock and detailed the decadent corruption of the ruling family it unleashed a peoples revolt. There are reports of similar self-immolations across Arab countries in the days since. These static fixed economies filled with clan-based property owners and rent-seekers have no need for young people with or without skills.

The temptation for proud peoples, especially their western educated elites is to obsess not on whether Tunisia can really become democratic, but rather on impuning America (or France) for “backing” the Ben Ali regime. Mohammed Hussainy, called “director of the Identity Center in Amman, Jordan” focuses bitterly on this in a short piece at openDemocracy called “Messages from Tunisia”, which starts out calling the uprising a popular revolt and looking optimistically for its replication across the Arab region, but then settles into his first concern, the maintenance of his personal legend, disguising his lust for the West by berating it:

“Tunisia has also highlighted the double-standards adopted by most democratic states, particularly the Europeans and the United States. Having been involved in occupying Iraq under the pretext that they wanted to help the Iraqi people against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the US and many European nations refrained from advancing democracy and maintained a foggy attitude vis-à-vis what has been taking place in Tunisia. They have failed to justify their support for Bin Ali’s regime -- which is but one example that those democratic states are supporting non-democratic regimes in order to preserve their own vested interests.”

I understand its easy to become a target in that part of the world, but post-Edward Said it may also be that he’s bucking for a chair at Columbia. These pro-democracy anti-Western postures are very common there too.

On Tuesday Francis Fukuyama, once somewhat in favor of the Iraq war, now certainly at least that bit of history is over, writes in an op-ed in the Financial Times called ‘US democracy has little to teach China’:

“Democracy’s strengths are often most evident in times of adversity. However, if the democratic, market-oriented model is to prevail, Americans need to own up to their own mistakes and misconceptions. Washington’s foreign policy during the past decade was too militarised and unilateral, succeeding only in generating a self-defeating anti-Americanism. In economic policy, Reaganism long outlived its initial successes, producing only budget deficits, thoughtless tax-cutting and inadequate financial regulation. These problems are to some extent being acknowledged and addressed. But there is a deeper problem with the American model that is nowhere close to being solved. China adapts quickly, making difficult decisions and implementing them effectively. Americans pride themselves on constitutional checks and balances, based on a political culture that distrusts centralised government. This system has ensured individual liberty and a vibrant private sector, but it has now become polarised and ideologically rigid. At present it shows little appetite for dealing with the long-term fiscal challenges the US faces. Democracy in America may have an inherent legitimacy that the Chinese system lacks, but it will not be much of a model to anyone if the government is divided against itself and cannot govern.”


Now its likely he did not write his own headline and I doubt even “Reaganism” is a term he would use, but notice his oddly disguised reference to the Ron Paul/Tea Party push to cut spending and retract military commitments to our borders. His points exactly! Though he is apparently ashamed to see them in action out in the real world of the American polity and after all he wants his piece published somewhere, you know, legit.

Fukuyama is a smart man and took needless grief over being correct that the Hegelian-Marxoid End of History was upon us with the collapse of communism. Perhaps he should have called it the End of Historicity, but then he has to live on campus, albeit Stanford. In truth it was long clear that communism was failing but it was a measure of Academe’s compromise to it that their eyes were averted as much as possible. Francis is a slight polite Japanese-American, whereas Christopher Hitchens is a boozy, chain-smoking ex-leftist English-Jewish-American. Hitchens’ cancer battle hasn’t slowed him much. His latest column, which I excerpt below, concludes with his own non-revisionist take on the Iraq war, the real one that he still supports with conviction rooted in his formerly leftist solidarity with the Kurds, eternally trapped between Iraq Iran Syria and Turkey. At Slate Hitchens writes:

“Go back to the first days of the coalition presence in Baghdad. The Iraqi people had not been directly consulted about anything for several decades. But the new authorities promised a constitution and elections, and they unshackled the press and television. Might it not have been interesting to see what happened? To test this promise and, where it was wanting, to demonstrate against it and petition for the redress of grievance? The population never had a chance to try this novelty. It was a matter of days before experienced killers and bombers were hard at work, without so much as a leaflet being distributed. And our own willingness to rationalize such behavior on the part of Muslims allowed us to call professional assassins by the name of insurgent and to write that they were defending ‘Muslim soil.’”


There were months of underground Baathist provocations against the Shi’a until with the arrival of jihadis all hell did break loose, but the actual overturning of the Saddam regime went quickly. The Mohammed Hussainy-types refer to these authoritarian regimes as Western-backed and presume we have some magic power to isolate them out of existence after which the naturally-occurring democracy and industry of the people will simply be manifest. They don’t approve of what America and its allies did in Iraq, or what the CIA did in Iran in the fifties. They cannot approve, no matter how fervently they wish for some cavalry to arrive. There were all manner of isolating embargos applied to Saddam’s Iraq and the Ayatolluhs’ Iran, after all, to little affect.

Of course none of this is America’s job per se. We all left all them old worlds. But it was thought to have been learned that we should not have left Afghanistan, and before that it was thought to have been learned that democracy could be transplanted into ruined Japan and Germany and South Korea and Taiwan and Eastern Europe and Latin America and Indonesia… But back in our uni-polar heyday when all right-thinking people (including France) worried about American power, what was left unstated is that the fear was not about neo-colonialism or an American tyranny, but rather about the chaos our model entails, unleashes inside of any society that opens itself to the market, immigration, democratic rules of order, and transparent governance. America since WWII has seemed a Goliath, and as Wilt Chamberlain famously said, “Nobody loves Goliath,” though lets remember the rest of Wilt’s story -- he laid ten thousand women!

America has been more Tasmanian devil than Goliath which is why all these Davids keep missing the point and get scratched to bits in the whirlwind that follows the following of its model. This was the premise of Amy Chua’s book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, which toured the world trolling for hot spots made hotter by capitalism and democracy. That’s counseling despair in my book, and akin to saying that all the blood, sweat, tears, and injustice of early America just wasn’t worth it. No passage is possible, when in fact its in all that ignored untheoretical practical American experience where the secret to our special providence lies (incidentally that special providence, reputedly a Bismarck coinage, is the secret to why we’re alleged to be hated by that burning world). Chua is safely on the mommy beat now but judging by reviews she might have called her new book ‘Mommy on Fire’. That book as noted in a review excerpted below, seems to indicate that like most liberals she publicly advocates a soft touch for outsiders yet follows every time-honored tyrannical drill to get her own up to speed to rule over the indulged.

But even Europe seems it may fail to master our model. Europeans are living for themselves and living for today, and with plummeting populations they are making up the difference with immigrants from north Africa, these apparently expected to be content emptying the bedpans of their elder betters even when they manage to gain full citizenship. And further, Europeans don’t seem to remember the bloody battle their ancestors waged to drive the Vatican from governance. They treat the Islam of these immigrants as if it has less not more designs on power.

The New York Times referred Monday to Tunisia as a putative “first Arab democracy”, and this is paper with a bureau in Baghdad dutifully reporting the machinations of a crazy quilt of representatives in a tri-confessional republic. The Times does this out of undue concern for Washington politics; they needed Al Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia, as they term it, to make the cost high enough for the US to not repeat what first seemed easy enough in Iraq, in Iran or North Korea. That’s a legit position, it’s hardly our job to do these things. But nobody knows nothing, after all, which qualifies anyone’s confidence in their best guess whether they know it or not, especially the New York Times.

Still, there’s no honor in not doing them either. Kurt Vonnegut once said of the men who dropped the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima that they might have become in essence the father of all those people had they just flown past and let them all live. Allowing the House of Kim or the Ayatollahs to do their worst when a button-push could erase their asses is also an indirect culpability in their crimes. This is what Hussainy is saying despite himself. And despite our noblest intentions and selfishest motives nobody doesn’t understand why America plays for time with these worst of nations, the ones that believe that exposing one’s culture to the modernizing dynamic is surrendering to America, and appear to believe that nuclear weapons are required to defend their 19th and 8th century ideals. But if these dramas play out as worst-case scenarios more than just conventional Iraq War opinion will change.

Sculpture: 'Guardianes' by Xavier Muscaro, Madrid, photo by Dan Burbach.


















La Tuna Canyon Stream, Verdugo Mountains, California

Photo by Chris Collins



















Macrodiptryx Vexillarius by James Fotopoulos


















From the Wyoming desk of Joe Carducci...


Daniel Pipes in Washington Times, "Turmoil in Tunisia".

“During the first era of independence, until about 1970, governments in Arabic-speaking countries were frequently overthrown as troops under the control of a discontented colonel streamed into the capital, seized the presidential quarters and the radio station, then announced a new regime. Syrians endured three coups d'état in 1949 alone. Over time, regimes learned to protect themselves through overlapping intelligence services, reliance on family and tribal members, repression, and other mechanisms. Four decades of sclerotic, sterile stability followed. With only rare exceptions (Iraq in 2003, Gaza in 2007), did regimes get ousted; even more rarely (Sudan in 1985) did civilian dissent have a significant role.

Enter first Al-Jazeera, which focuses Arab-wide attention on topics of its choosing, and then the internet. Beyond its inexpensive, detailed, and timely information, the internet also provides unprecedented secrets (e.g., the recent WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables) even as it connects the likeminded via Facebook and Twitter. These new forces converged in Tunisia in December to create an intifada and quickly ousted an entrenched tyrant. If one exalts in the power of the disenfranchised to overthrow their dull, cruel, and greedy master, one also looks ahead with trepidation to the Islamist implications of this upheaval.”



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The Economist’s Arab press roundup on the fall of Tunisia’s regime:

In the Lebanese opposition newspaper, al-Akhbar, John Aziz suggests some lessons to be learned from the uprising in Tunisia:

"All the blood, sweat and bullet-torn flesh have demonstrated how the neo-conservative model was wrong, how democracy can come about without foreign fleets, without the imposition of the star-spangled banner, without the smiling faces of Jay Garner and David Petraeus. Second, democracy can grow out of cultures of military repression without resorting to Islamic radicalism and without devolving into a situation of "one man, one vote…one time!" Third, not only has America failed to promote democracy in this region, it has actually propped up regimes which stifled its flowering."



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Peter Wonacott in WSJ, "A Continent of New Consumers Beckons".

“Some analysts believe a billion-person continental market already has arrived. Consultancy McKinsey & Co. says the number of middle-income consumers—those who can spend for more than just the necessities—in Africa has exceeded the figure for India. The firm predicts consumer spending will reach $1.4 trillion in 2020, from about $860 billion in 2008. While Africa's resource wealth continues to lure the bulk of foreign investment, the rise of that new consumer class is beginning to shift the balance. From 2000 to 2009, foreign direct investment to Africa increased sixfold to $58.56 billion, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. And that includes a sharp drop during the global financial crisis, from $72.18 billion in 2008.

A growing percentage of foreign direct investment has been going to sectors such as manufacturing and services, with the value of mergers and acquisitions in the manufacturing sector hitting a record $16 billion in 2008.”



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Ghanaian Chronicle: "What to Do With African Dictators?"

“The protracted dispute over who rules La Cote D’Ivoire, following the refusal of defeated Laurent Gbagbo to cede power, should inform the various African countries to reform their political systems. Africa is a nation where rulers never want to end their reign. From Cairo to the Cape, African leaders have tended to behave as if the political entities entrusted in their care are their properties. They are either forced out or rule until their death. The God Father of African nationalism, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown after nine years as the leader of the newly-independent Ghana. By then, he had declared himself as a Life President.”



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Yaakov Lappin in Jerusalem Post, "Saudi Arabia’s war against al-Qaida".

“In the Middle East, one of the regimes most targeted by al-Qaida is Saudi Arabia. It is a confrontation that often pits Saudis against Saudis, and it is likely to continue for years to come. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s government is in the midst of a massive building project in the heart of Mecca, Islam's holiest site. The project, being built by the Bin Laden Group construction corporation (run by relatives of al-Qaida’s figurehead leader) features seven enormous skyscrapers and an array of commercial centers, being built for wealthier pilgrims who flood the city annually for the Haj. The project includes a hotel intended as a kind of replica of London’s Big Ben, which soars many times taller than the original clock tower, and which will house 30,000 guests. It will be the second tallest structure on the planet, according to reports. The complex is surely viewed by Bin Laden and his followers as a towering example of Saudi Arabia’s decadence.”




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Michael Bluhm in Daily Star, "Cabinet collapse part of bigger campaign".

“After toppling the government, March 8 occupies a ‘precarious political position,’ in which Hizbullah remains the strongest domestic political actor but also feels acute stress over the tribunal’s looming indictment, which Hizbullah leaders have said will name party members in connection with the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father. Hizbullah has also said the court is a tool wielded by the US and Israel to weaken the group. The Shiite movement still desires a speedy settlement of differences over the S.T.L., because it fears the potential damage the tribunal could do to Hizbullah, Khashan said. ‘They have been frantic, trying to get Saad Hariri to denounce the tribunal, to attenuate the effects [of the indictment],’ Khashan added. ‘Hizbullah wants a quick resolution, because they feel the indictment will come very soon. The opposition is escalating.’


Linking Hizbullah cadres to Rafik Hariri’s killing would thoroughly sully the group’s image in the Middle East as the vanguard of resistance against Israel and the U.S., Khashan said. ‘The indictment will vilify Hizbullah, and this is their concern,’ he said. ‘They are worried about their reputation in the Arab-Islamic world.’ Hizbullah is also apprehensive that being implicated would offer a credible international justification for Israel or the U.S. in any future conflict against the group, Salem said. ‘They fear that the U.S. will use this, as it were, against them in the next war,’ he added.”



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Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com, "Reflections on Political Violence".

“The best political speech I ever heard was delivered by the late Paul Foot, scion of one of England's great radical and socialist families, at the Oxford Union in the late 1960s. The motion before the house was in favor of the African National Congress and its decision to renew ‘armed struggle’ against the white supremacist regime in South Africa…. What impressed me about this masterly speech was not so much the case itself, with which I already agreed, but the "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" that it exemplified. A decision to resort to violence was not something to be undertaken without great care—and stated in terms that were addressed to reasonable people. From his prison cell, Nelson Mandela had joined the great tradition of the French philosophes, of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, of Marx and Engels in 1848, and of Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1930s—of men and women who felt the historic obligation to make a stand and to define it. This is occasionally done by governments, as well, though usually in less lapidary prose: The Atlantic Charter of 1941 showed that Churchill and Roosevelt needed a credible and honorable statement of war aims (including the outline of a future United Nations)….

Now look at the grinning face of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who last week destroyed a great human being. He did not explain. He boasted. As ‘a slave of the Prophet,’ he had the natural right to murder Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, not even for committing ‘blasphemy’ but for criticizing a law that forbade it for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And this sweeping new extension of the divine right to murder not only was not condemned by the country's spiritual authorities; it was largely approved by them.”



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Amira El Ahl at Qantara.de, "The Dome Dispute".

“The events last November in Omraniya, an informal area in the south of the city, were a turning point for the Coptic community. ‘Something happened there that has never happened before,’ says Bahey al-Din Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. ‘For the first time, thousands of furious Christians took to the streets with the intention of attacking government institutions. In the past they always demonstrated in churches or in front of their cathedrals.’ …The angry demonstrations in Omraniya began after riot police used force to stop the construction of a church in the early hours of the morning of 23 November. The building is situated directly adjacent to the main ring road that encircles the metropolis of 18 million people…. Work on the building had been going on for months, but it was only in November that the authorities in charge noticed that the building was crowned with a dome….

‘I admit that the Copts had built in contravention of the planning permission,’ says Yousef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic weekly newspaper Watani. ‘The question is why they did it.’ He states that it is virtually impossible for Christians to build churches in Egypt. A decree issued in 1934 established ten preconditions for the building of a church. Among other restrictions, a church may not be built alongside or in the vicinity of a mosque. Furthermore, there cannot be any train stations, post offices or electricity stations nearby. ‘These restrictions were intended to prevent the building of churches in the city centre,’ says the journalist.”





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Nisrin Elamin at Pambazuka.org, "Sudan: The Price of Separation".

“A vote for secession will give the South control of about 80 per cent of Sudan's current oil production of 490,000 barrels a day. This will represent a drastic shift from the 50-50 share between the Sudanese government and the Government of Southern Sudan set for the interim period, following the signing of the CPA. Meanwhile, the burden of these potential losses, are likely to be carried by those already marginalised in Northern Sudan. In the days leading up to this referendum for instance, the Sudanese government raised the price of fuel and sugar in preparation for the nearly 70 per cent oil revenue losses, which are expected once the South secedes….

Sudan is currently sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer, behind Nigeria and Angola, providing China with 30 per cent of the oil that fuels its factories. And yet very little of Sudan's oil profits have benefited its people. Instead, oil companies, primarily from China and Malaysia, have been providing the technology to explore the oil, while sharing the profits with the elites in power. Khartoum's regime is said to have siphoned off as much as 40 per cent of total oil revenue, lining its own pockets through various forms of mis-pricing, instead of taking on the task of developing vast regions of the country that have been neglected for decades.”



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John Eibner & Charles Jacobs in WSJ, "Will Freedom Come for Sudan’s Slaves?"

“Since 1998, Achol was a slave serving her master in the North and was only liberated just before the voting began. The war booty of a man named Adhaly Osman, Achol was threatened with death, gang-raped, genitally mutilated, forced to convert to Islam, renamed ‘Mariam,’ and racially and religiously insulted. She lost the sight in one eye when her master thrashed her face with a camel whip for failing to perform Islamic rituals correctly. This mother of four saw two of her children beaten to death for minor misdemeanors. She also lost the use of one arm when her master took a machete to it in response to her failure to grind grain properly. Achol is one of 397 slaves whose liberation was facilitated and documented by Christian Solidarity International and the American Anti-Slavery Group in the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal as voting commenced.

The British suppressed black slavery in Sudan in the first half of the 20th century. But the practice was rekindled in the 1980s as part of the surge in Islamism in the region. In 1983, when Khartoum's radical leaders declared strict enforcement of Shariah law throughout the country, the Christian and tribalist South resisted. Shariah-sanctioned slave raids were used as a weapon to break Southern resistance.”



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Nikki Whaites at Genderlinks.org, "Rape. Re-Rape. Gang Rape. But Really, Who Cares?"

“While in DRC [Congo] I had heard that a major TV journalist from an American news channel was in the East of the country filing stories. I was excited; too few media outlets are covering this epidemic. And it is an epidemic. The world needs to wake up and he, I thought at the time, was the man to do it. As details emerged, however, I learned that this journalist was not there to report on the situation of women; his story was on gorillas. In a region of the world where a nine-year-old girl can tell you the story of the second time she was raped and the fourth surgery she underwent to repair the resulting damage, this journalist's focus was on gorillas. Sadly, I can't blame him. Gorillas make great television; they're cute, endangered, exotic and genuinely do need help. Who wouldn't want to watch them on the six o'clock news? What makes the gorilla story even better is that we can easily help - give money now to save them and their habitat. We can sleep well at night knowing we've made a difference. Conversely the story of a nine-year-old watching her father murdered while she and her mother were gang raped and her brothers abducted to be ‘soldiers’ is not comfortably watched.”



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Bret Stephens in WSJ, "Haiti, Sudan, Cte d’Ivoire: Who Cares?"

“Haiti is no longer a colony of the West, but it has long been a ward of it. Even before the earthquake, remittances and foreign aid accounted for nearly 30% of its GDP. The country is known as the ‘Republic of NGOs,’ since some 3,000 operate in it. What good they‘ve done, considering the state the country has been in for decades, is an open question. Security, to the extent there is any, is provided by some 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers. Should more responsibility be handed over to the Haitians themselves? I used to think so, and debate on this subject rages among development experts…. But last year‘s fraudulent elections are a reminder that Haitians have been as ill-served by their democracy as by their periodic dictatorships. When ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier was overthrown in 1986, per capita GDP was $768. In 2009, on the eve of the quake, it was $519.… Put simply, Haiti has run out of excuses for its failures at the very moment the ‘international community’ has run out of ideas about how to help….

The West professes to ‘care’ about countries like Haiti, Cte d’Ivoire, and -- at least for as long as George Clooney is in the area -- south Sudan. But ‘care’ at the level of simple emotion is little more than a cheap vanity. The colonialists of yore may often have been bigots, but they were also, just as often, doers. Their colonies were better places than the shipwrecked countries we have today.”



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Marc Lynch’s Middle East blog at Foreignpolicy.com.

“An interesting discussion has already broken out over whether Tunisia should be considered a ‘Twitter Revolution’ -- a far more interesting and relevant discussion than whether it was a ‘Wikileaks Revolution’ (it wasn't). I've seen some great points already by Ethan Zuckerman, Evgeny Morozov, Luke Allnut, Jillian York, and others. I'm looking forward to being one of the social scientists digging into the data, where I suspect that both enthusiasts and skeptics will find support for their arguments. For now, I would just argue that it would be more productive to focus more broadly on the evolution of the Arab media over the last decade, in which new media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, forums and blogs work together with satellite television stations such as al-Jazeera to collectively transform the Arab information environment and shatter the ability of authoritarian regimes to control the flow of information, images, ideas and opinions. That feels like a sentence which I've written a hundred times over the last decade.... and one which has never felt more true than the last month in Tunisia.”



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Gundula M. Tegtmeyer at Qantara.de on "The Story of Iran and the Jews" exhibit.

“During the reigns of Shah Reza Pahlavi and his son and successor Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, minorities attained social equality for the first time since the Islamisation of Iran. From then on, Jews were permitted to leave their ‘Mahale’ (Jews only) neighbourhoods.

The Jewish communities experienced an economic boom, and with the ‘White Revolution’ of 1963, a golden age began for the Jews of Iran. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi maintained close contacts with the new state of Israel. A photograph in the exhibition shows the Israeli general Moshe Dayan at the entrance to a mosque during a visit to Iran in 1960. One of the glass display cases is dedicated to the popular weekly magazine Tehran-e Mosavar, with the issue of 16 June 1967 sporting a front page photo of Dayan.


The upheavals of the ‘White Revolution’ brought opposition from sections of the population, however, and ultimately paved the way for the Islamic Revolution. A series of photos in this part of the exhibition documents the enormous solidarity shown by the Iranian Jews with the rest of the population. On the eve of the Islamic Revolution, Jews marched in a demonstration against the Shah in Tehran. In one of their photos they are holding a banner bearing the words ‘our ties with the Iranian people are unbreakable’.”



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Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Chinese Driver Sentenced to Life in Prison for Evading Road Tolls".

“There seems to be little dispute that Mr. Shi, who had turned to hauling sand and gravel to make a living, behaved egregiously. He purchased two fake military license plates and other documentation that allowed him and his hired drivers to escape paying tolls on his two trucks during 2,300 trips between May 2008 and January 2009. In announcing the verdict this week, The Dahe Daily suggested that the defendant had accepted his guilt because he declined to appeal. He also did not have a lawyer. But the financial details of the violations for which Mr. Shi was convicted only served to feed suspicions that he had been railroaded. The toll per truck trip averages more than $200 — a high figure, though truck tolls can go by weight. But many people noted that his profit during those toll-free days amounted to $30,000. If he had truly evaded $556,000 in road fees, as the police charge, he would have lost more than $520,000 from his trucking business. The local judiciary was so unnerved by the uproar that it took the unusual step of holding a news conference this week to explain Mr. Shi’s transgressions in detail.”



***


Peter Tasker in the FT, "Rising wages will burst China’s bubble."

“Who has survived the global credit crisis in the best shape? As Zhou Enlai is reputed to have said about the impact of the French Revolution, it is still too early to judge. The snap verdict that China is the big winner and the US and rest of the old Group of Seven big losers is already looking questionable. True, China has continued to register turbo-charged growth while many of the debt-laden economies of the west have struggled. No surprise, then, that a tsunami of financial capital has surged eastwards, or that European politicians are scrabbling for trade deals, despite China’s extraordinarily aggressive posture over the Nobel peace prize and other diplomatic issues. The financial markets, however, have taken a rather different view. The Shanghai market is at less than half its all-time high, significantly underperforming the other three members of the Bric group. More surprising, since the start of the US subprime crisis in August 2007, Shanghai’s total return in dollars has been beaten by the American S&P500, the UK’s FTSE 100, and even the Japanese Topix. The message is clear. The China story that has been sold so skilfully all over the world is simply another version of the ‘new era’ thinking that has characterised every investment mania from the South Sea bubble to the dotcom frenzy.”



***


Paul Springer at Traderdaily.com, "China to World: Yuan a Rumble?"

“President Hu Jintao has been said to dismiss criticism of his nation’s yuan policies in his recently publicized responses to questions from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal…. The more direct statement came over the weekend from other parties such as He Keng, the deputy director of the financial and economic-affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, according to Dow Jones:

‘China should keep the yuan stable, and the yuan shouldn’t appreciate,” He Keng, deputy director of the financial and economic-affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, told a forum in Beijing. He also said it isn’t bad for a country to hold a large amount of foreign-exchange reserves. His comments are in stark contrast to the universal opinion held by economists and U.S. politicians that a fast rise in the yuan will help China to curb the country’s burgeoning inflation.’

So who in China really calls the shots when it comes to explaining China’s currency? It’s not necessarily Hu. The New York Times advances the argument that Hu has internal problems of his own that weaken his regime and make it difficult for him to respond to U.S. concerns over issues like currency, human rights violations, and copying of other nations’ technology:

‘American officials… have felt at times that Mr. Hu agreed to address their concerns. But those problems have festered, and after first wondering if the Chinese leader was simply deflecting them or deceiving them, President [Barack] Obama’s top advisers have concluded that Mr. Hu is often at the mercy of a diffuse ruling party in which generals, ministers and big corporate interests have more clout, and less deference, than they did in the days of Mao or Deng Xiaoping.’”



***


Jim Yardley in the NYT, "The Eye of the Indian Hurricane".

“It was last Sunday, and like almost every other day during the last two decades, Ms. Banerjee, 56, continued her unswerving pursuit of toppling one of the most entrenched political machines in the world. The Communist-led Left Front government has won seven consecutive elections and dominated the state of West Bengal for more than 30 years even as the state, once an intellectual and economic capital of India, has suffered a gradual decline. Now, with new elections expected to be called no later than May, the Left Front appears on the verge of being beaten by a woman who, quite against convention and expectation, is emerging as one of the most powerful and unpredictable politicians in India. If Ms. Banerjee wins, she will join a group of regional leaders whose successes are reshaping the Indian political map.

‘We have been fighting this battle for a long time, since my student days,’ she said as the small black car sped through the streets of Calcutta. ‘We have been the only and lonely people who have opposed them.’ There are 90 million people in West Bengal, more than in Germany, and for many of them Ms. Banerjee is the blunt instrument knocking down their own Berlin Wall. Her admirers regard her as an elemental force as much as a politician. She is unmarried, and when asked what she does for entertainment, or whether she likes to travel, she seemed incredulous. ‘Entertainment?’ she said, repeating the word. ‘In my life?’”



***


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "New Year message: ‘Geriatric’ Europe needs ‘vigorous’ Turkey."

“‘Turkey-EU relations are fast approaching a turning point,’ he added. ‘We are no more a country that would wait at the EU's door like a docile supplicant.’ Ankara believes that the Cypriot problem is being exploited for strategic reasons by anti-Turkish-accession governments in Germany and France. But two US cables published by WikiLeaks on Monday give an insight into EU fears at the popular level of what Turkish enlargement could mean. A cable from the US embassy in the Hague dated September 2004, in the run-up to the formal launch of EU-Turkey accession negotiations in 2005, voiced worries by mainstream Dutch parties that anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders will easily ‘arouse difficult-to-manage populist sentiments based on deeply held fears and prejudices.’ The mainstream Dutch parties themselves expressed ‘central worries, such as how the EU will share structural, agricultural and solidarity benefits with Turkey, assuming these programs will look the same then as they do now.’”



***


Peter Gordon in New Republic on Matthew Specter’s new book, Habermas: An Intellectual Biography.

“For pragmatic conservatives who were ready to embrace Germany’s subordinate role in the Cold War alongside the United States, the thought that the FRG could simply acquire its democratic ideology from abroad presented little cause for concern. If one could successfully import Woolworth’s five-and-dime convenience stores, one could also import an ideology to unleash the fullest energies of market capitalism. For hard conservatives such as Carl Schmitt and Ernst Jünger, the importation of the Anglo-American model was seen as tragic, and it provoked a stream of resentful (and sometimes anti-Semitic) diatribes lamenting the rise of ‘technological’ liberalism while mourning the loss of ‘the political.’ But earnest young intellectuals on the left found themselves in a more serious quandary. Rejecting West Germany’s official policy of uncritical alliance with the United States, they also stood apart from the postwar consensus that celebrated Anglo-American style bourgeois capitalism as the only valid model for the future. Were there in fact no native resources in the canons of German philosophy to which the younger generation might appeal?”



***


If I remember right Paul Krugman was hired by the New York Times towards the end of the Clinton administration. The thinking was to use an economist to rewrite the Democrats as the party of prosperity. But then there was a recession and he began to prepare to advise-by-column President Albert Gore Jr as he was expected to struggle to avoid looking like Bill’s fool left holding the bag. Only George Bush Jr got in there instead and so Professor Krugman instead went berserk, hardly ever using his expertise to inform his ad hominem political attacks. Sunday in the NYT Magazine he showed what he might have contributed for the last decade in his article, "Can Europe Be Saved?"

In part its that he has no dog in that hunt over there, plus neither Bush nor Palin are involved at all so he can think in peace. Since he is wrapping up his column he managed in the same week to cough up both a new personal low with his "Climate of Hate" column and his best article.


***


Andrew Willis at EUobserver.com, "Liberals suggest scrapping some EU institutions".

“The measures are contained in a list of revenue-saving measures outlined in a Liberal position paper published on Tuesday (11 January), relating to the EU's future multi-annual financial framework (MFF), post 2013. Possible savings can be made by ‘fundamentally restructuring certain parts of the EU administration, such as the Committee of Regions ... [and] abolishing the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and others,’ says the document. The group also calls for the European Parliament's shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg to come to an end through the creation of just one fixed seat, together with spending cuts for EU programmes whose aims have already been achieved or whose goals are ‘dubious’, such as support for tobacco production….

Leaders from Britain, France, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands sent an open letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso last December, calling for any rise in the size of the post-2013 multi-annual framework to remain below inflation.

Parliament's Liberals on the other hand want a redirecting of current funding, away from areas such as agriculture and towards the EU's 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.”



***


WSJ: "The Congressional Accountability Act".

“The basic problem is that Congress delegates far too much power to regulators, passing ambiguous laws that convert the agencies into quasi-legislative bodies that aren't politically accountable. Even if President Obama is exploiting this trend like never before, it is hardly new, nor unique to either party. Most politicians support the status quo because, being politicians, they can take credit for popular goals and then blame the bureaucracy for the costs and problems they create. Yet the Constitution vested Congress with the duty to make laws, not to make vague suggestions about what it might be good for the law to be…. The last two years have offered an especially instructive lesson in regulatory excess. ‘Major’ regulations are defined as those with annual effect on the economy exceeding $100 million, and over the past quarter-century both Democratic and Republican Administrations have averaged between 30 and 40 such rules a year. The Obama Administration promulgated 59 major regulations in 2009 and 62 in 2010. Another 191 are in the works, many of them based on little more than a vague Congressional order.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform is a tabula rasa that the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell estimates requires no fewer than 243 new rules by 11 agencies over a dozen years. In the mere 10 months since ObamaCare passed, HHS has engineered rules that impose both a ceiling on insurance industry profits and de facto price controls on private premiums. The EPA is abusing the clean-air laws of the 1970s to raise carbon energy prices as a cap-and-tax surrogate. Only last month, the Federal Communications Commission imposed ‘net neutrality’ despite a federal court ruling that the action was outside its purview. There are many other examples.”



***


Monica Davey in NYT, "Budget Gaps Push Governors to Same Mind-set".

“Some states seem better off (North Dakota) and others worse (California), but the shared, essential problem in many states is simple: not enough money coming in to pay for all that is going out. While state revenues — shrunken as a result of the recession — are finally starting to improve somewhat, federal stimulus money that had propped up state budgets is vanishing and costs are rising, all of which has left state leaders bracing for what is next. For now, states have budget gaps of $26 billion, by some estimates, and foresee shortfalls of at least $82 billion as they look to next year’s budgets.”



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The NYT editors go on record with "Illinois Wakes Up", out there alone with their public sector union friends in celebrating Illinois’s tax increase as if that stabilizes the state’s finances, rather than relieves pressure on politicians. They might have sunset the tax increases after two years, giving them a near term emergency rationale in fact rather than fancy. The Times is using Illinois’ sleepwalking to chide their own new Governor who like the other forty-eight are focused on spending and pension obligations.


***


It can be hard to understand what different publications are doing with their websites. The internet digest version of the cover story in The Economist, "The Battle Ahead - Confronting the public-sector unions", completely neuters what is quite a useful Briefing on comparative budgetary crises that various governments have with public-sector unions. What is online actually white-washes matters, which is something not uncommon in the British business press. Therefore I must quote extensively from the print edition:

“The private sector is dominated by competition and turbulence. Performance-related pay is the norm, and redundancy commonplace. The public sector, by contrast, is a haven of security and stability. Many people have jobs for life and performance measures are rare. The result is a paradox: the typical public worker is better off than the people he is supposed to serve, and the gap has widened significantly over the past decade. In America, pay and benefits have grown twice as fast in the public sector as they have in the private sector….

Public-sector unions enjoy advantages that their private-sector rivals only dream of. As providers of vital monopoly services, they can close down entire cities. And as powerful political machines, they can help to pick the people who sit on the other side of the bargaining table…. Private-sector bosses are accustomed to playing hardball with unions because they know they can go bankrupt if they don‘t. Politicians have no such discipline: they can always raise taxes or borrow from future generations….

Wage differentials are relatively small in the public sector. Lower-level workers, such as secretaries, are usually better paid than their private-sector equivalents, whereas higher-level workers are worse paid. This not only makes it difficult to attract high-flyers into the public sector, but also makes it hard to raise standards by, for instance, putting the best head teachers in charge of groups of schools.”



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WSJ: "Detroit and Decay".

“Another emblem of civic decline is a plan to desert nearly half of Detroit's public schools so that it can afford to fulfill its teachers union contract. The school district is facing a $327 million deficit and has already closed 59 schools over the last two years to avoid paying maintenance, utility and operating costs. Under a worst-case scenario released this week by Robert Bobb, an emergency financial manager appointed by the state to resolve the Detroit education fisc, the district will close another 70 of its remaining 142 schools to save $31.3 million through 2013. ‘Additional savings of approximately $12.4 million can be achieved from school closures if the District simply abandons the closed buildings,’ the proposal explains, purging costs like boarding up buildings, storage and security patrols. Steven Wasko, a spokesman for Mr. Bobb, said that urban property sales have been difficult, in part because until recently the state board of education banned transactions with ‘competing educational institutions’ like charter schools. Once buildings are deserted, even if the doors and windows are welded shut with protective metal covers, scavengers break in and dismantle them for copper wire, pipes and so on.”



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Steve Lopez in LAT, "Dissident L.A. teachers want more from their union".

“‘I think there is a silent majority of teachers who are very frustrated with the status quo,’ Mike Stryer said in opening remarks at the Jan. 8 meeting, held at Mercado La Paloma south of downtown and attended by 21 NewTLA members. Stryer, a Fairfax High teacher and former school board candidate, helped establish NewTLA last fall with his friend Jordan Henry, a Santee Education Complex teacher. Henry had been considering a campaign to succeed outgoing UTLA president A.J. Duffy but pulled out in November after the UTLA board of directors moved up the self-nomination deadline, making it harder for him to officially declare his candidacy. ‘As the call for reform in public education has mounted locally and nationally, UTLA leadership has emphatically chosen to double down on existing positions rather than ante up to new conversations,’ Henry wrote to supporters on Nov. 16 in a letter mapping out a different strategy for change.

‘I have conceded,’ he wrote, ‘that there is more to be gained aggressively building a base than there is steadily chipping away at a machine.’ Henry and Stryer recruited like-minded reform-starved teachers to volunteer to fill vacancies in UTLA's House, and they now occupy about 20% of the House seats. Henry called the uprising ‘an unprecedented event in our union's history.’”



***


Clare McHugh in WSJ on Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

“There's nothing like parenting for uncovering our most deeply held beliefs. In general conversation with friends, plenty of us exercise a certain liberal-mindedness, a flexibility of perspective that eases social intercourse. Why alienate pals by lecturing them on the need to be more detail-oriented, or frugal, or neat? At work it's rarely smart to tell colleagues that their thinking is sloppy or dull, even if it is. But this self-restraint goes out the window when we are confronted with our own teenage offspring. With them we do not hesitate to pontificate on everyday virtues, every day. We extol the benefits of doing homework and studying for tests. We pass on our hard-won nuggets of wisdom to the people we most love in the world.”



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Louis Menand in the NYer, "Why the women’s movement needed The Feminine Mystique".

“‘The Feminine Mystique’ came out in the middle of a four-month newspaper strike in New York City, and it had to get the public’s attention at first without the benefits of newspaper advertisements or reviews. (Eventually, the Times ran a three-paragraph, rather skeptical assessment.) But the book was excerpted in McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal, magazines whose combined readership was a staggering thirty-six million, and its publisher, W. W. Norton, was astute enough to sense that it might have a blockbuster on its hands. It hired a publicist who arranged a book tour, then an unusual promotional tool, and it gave the book a dust jacket that was the color of a fire truck. ‘The Feminine Mystique’ ended up spending six weeks on the Times best-seller list. The first paperback printing sold 1.4 million copies.

For many women, and not a few men, the publication of Friedan’s book was one of those events which seem, in retrospect, to have divided the sixties from the fifties as the day from the night…. By all accounts, Friedan was not a person inclined to share the credit. (Some men have been known to be this way as well.) The implication that she had diagnosed a condition no one else had even managed to identify—that the problem she wrote about had no name until she named it—was a pretty open invitation to revisionism. Thirty years later, the revisionists arrived. In 1993, Joanne Meyerowitz, a historian who is now at Yale, showed that Friedan’s claim that mass-circulation magazines in the nineteen-fifties represented women in submissive and domestic roles was oversimplified. The record was mixed: there were also many depictions of women as active and independent.”



***


In the Guardian, "Revealed: Second undercover police officer who posed as activist".

“The controversy over a police surveillance network embedded in the environmental protest movement has deepened dramatically after the Guardian identified a second undercover officer who spent years living a double life as an activist. The woman's name has been known to a group of six activists since Mark Kennedy – the police infiltrator identified by the Guardian on Monday as having spent seven years inside the movement – claimed she was also a police officer when confronted by them about his own identity last October…. Meanwhile politicians across Europe demanded information about the activities of Kennedy, the first undercover operative identified, who was on Tuesday accused of having had several sexual relationships with activists while undercover. Senior police sources have described these relationships as ‘unacceptable’. His UK-based handlers have flown to the US in an attempt to find an agent now accepted to have ‘gone rogue’.”



***


Nicholas Carr in New Republic on Douglas Coupland’s new book, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!

“One of my favorite YouTube videos is a clip from a Canadian television show in 1968 featuring a debate between Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan. The two men, both heroes of the ’60s, could hardly be more different. Leaning forward in his chair, Mailer is pugnacious, animated, engaged. McLuhan, abstracted and smiling wanly, seems to be on autopilot…. Watching McLuhan, you can’t quite decide whether he was a genius or just had a screw loose. Both impressions, it turns out, are valid. As Douglas Coupland argues in his pithy new biography, McLuhan’s mind was probably situated at the mild end of the autism spectrum. He also suffered from a couple of major cerebral traumas. In 1960, he had a stroke so severe that he was given his last rites. In 1967, just a few months before the Mailer debate, surgeons removed a tumor the size of an apple from the base of his brain. A later procedure revealed that McLuhan had an extra artery pumping blood into his cranium….

His books read like accounts of acid trips written by a bureaucrat. That kaleidoscopic, almost psychedelic style made him a darling of the counterculture—the bearded and the Birkenstocked embraced him as a guru—but it alienated him from his colleagues in academia. To them, McLuhan was a celebrity-seeking charlatan. Neither his fans nor his foes saw him clearly. The central fact of McLuhan's life, as Coupland makes clear, was his conversion, at the age of twenty-five, to Catholicism, and his subsequent devotion to the religion’s rituals and tenets. Though he never discussed it, his faith forms the moral and intellectual backdrop to all his mature work. What lay in store, McLuhan believed, was the timelessness of eternity. The earthly conceptions of past, present, and future were, by comparison, of little consequence.”



***


Ex-Trib editor Charles Madigan in the Columbia Journalism Review with an open letter full of double talk as if he or anyone else since the sixties have had any respect for Col. McCormick’s institution to the next CEO of the company, "Welcome to Tribune Company".

“Dear Sir or Madam: Your most important responsibility before you settle in as CEO is to make certain everyone knows you respect the institution, not just what its stately gothic tower represents, but also the mission of its embattled employees. It is likely that you are not from the world of news, but from the world of finance. I suspect your objective will be to make Tribune, once the gold standard for journalism in Chicago, a viable, respected company again. A significant anniversary that nearly coincides with your arrival should not be allowed to pass without notice. Robert R. McCormick took control of the Chicago Tribune in 1911 after its owners had decided to shut it down as a lost cause. He would not allow that and spent much of his troubling, controversial life building a strong Chicago institution. Your challenge is just as great as his was.”

“Spent much of his troubling, controversial life”?! McCormick was a rich Scots-Irish scion of grandfathers Tribune founder Joseph Medill and International Harvestor inventor-founder Cyrus McCormick; the Daleys were low-born Irish Chicagoans, but these latter day Tribune Irish were go-along get-along j-school corporate types who missed one bet after another, now one of them starts making demands like he was part of the golden age of the Chicago Tribune or Chicago itself.



***


John Lloyd in FT is a little mixed up with his column, "The shock jocks at the gate", for one thing “shock jocks” are a different breed than the politically engaged talk-show hosts he means. Only Bob Grant maybe was both. Lloyd writes as Brit afraid of the importation of American style, when in fact our news coverage here has been heavily influenced by both the cold-blooded Fleet Street sensibility, and the arrogant myopia of the BBC’s political coverage.


***


The Economist, "The crucible of print"

“As online commentators and rivals have gleefully pointed out, News Corporation’s paywalls have led to a drastic drop in traffic. A survey by Mark Oliver, a consultant, finds that only 14% of regular Times readers and just 1% of non-regular ones subscribe to the website in some form: upon hitting the paywall, most head for the BBC’s free website instead. That does not worry News Corporation. It sees online advertising as an unreliable source of revenue. Online ad spending is growing, but the number of ad slots available is rising much faster; as a result, prices are so low that a reader who visits a website once or twice a month is hardly worth having. The firm would rather extract more money from dedicated readers directly. Thus the pages of the Times and Sunday Times are thick with in-house ads offering entertainments to readers, from iPad applications to theatre tickets and Italian holidays. Some 250,000 people buy from the Times wine club. These things tend to make money, but the main goal is to hook readers on a bundle of services. Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief marketing officer for News Corporation’s British papers, wants to get to the point where a newspaper subscription is like its pay-television or mobile-phone equivalents: something it hurts to cancel. Rivals fear the firm will bundle newspapers with BSkyB, a hugely successful satellite broadcaster that it controls and wants to take over completely.

Britain’s second great innovator takes the opposite view. The Daily Mail contends that online advertising works fine—if you are huge. The paper has been one of the most consistent sellers in print over the past few years, crushing its nearest competitor, the Daily Express. But it is even mightier online. With 35m unique visitors each month, it is now the world’s second-biggest newspaper website, according to comScore, which measures online traffic. It may take the top spot when the New York Times goes behind a paywall this year.”


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Chicago Reader 40th Anniv. post: "Inside the Challenge, 1972" by Steve Sewall & Olimpia Guerriero.

“We speak of the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1969 and 1970 where Wayne won a double victory: a seat representing his native Hanover, and his wife. Then we settle on the Illinois Challenge. Our main question to him: what should Chicago know about the Challenge and its long range effects? He gives three responses.

--‘First, Daley's delegate composition was a clear articulation that the Daley machine is racist and discriminatory. We got Daley on precisely the same grounds that Julian Bond had removed Lester Maddox in 1968. As I see it, Daley and Lester Maddox are in the same boat; on this score, there's no difference whatsoever between them.’

--Second, the public saw the extent to which Daley, when confronted with a political problem, responds with force and violence. It was curious, the Daley people actually believed there was no violence. Even when we brought down the photographs to the Credentials Committee in Washington they would say, ‘What violence? There was no violence.’ But, of course, the didn't fool anybody.’

--Then, last and most important, the response of the Daley machine to the legalities of the Challenge demonstrated the intellectual bankruptcy of the machine hierarchy and its decision-making process. From Chicago, to Washington and the Credentials committee and the Supreme Court, all the way to Miami, they made 25 or 30 major mistakes. With 17 or 18 lawyers working for them, the Organization seemed unable to make a right decision. The Challenge showed that Daley, confronted with a political problem such as this, can no longer bring the necessary intellectual forces to bear on it. They no longer know how to work with the rules, let alone within them. The conduct of this group of people in responding to the challenge demonstrated they are not fit to govern.’

…What about the Daley machine in five or ten years?

‘It will become increasingly weak and more conservative.’”



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Dennis Byrne in CT, "Mayoral script: Wallowing in niceness."

“Allow me to interrupt all this comity by suggesting that banging some heads together may be what Chicago needs to end its spoils system. Daley, as powerful as he has been, pushing through whatever he wanted (e.g. the destruction of Meigs Field), has been unable (or unwilling) to rein in the spoils system. It took a federal jury to stop what Daley should have — a practice of awarding jobs and promotions to the politically connected. Daley's patronage chief, Robert Sorich, and three other cogs in the Democratic machine were convicted of mail fraud in connection with the practice. Daley would have everyone believe that he knew nothing about the practice because, if he did, he would have been accountable. But, to borrow a phrase from the mayor, ‘everyone knows’ that the spoils system exists, and that it is costly and unfair. How can the mayor not know? Because Daley had neither the will nor the ability to confront the spoils system…. Certain folks in this town have had it their way for far too long — the insiders, the connected and the public employees unions whose outrageous benefits and work rules have put the city in hock. Telling them that the ride is over will take more than passion. It will take a bruiser of exceptional determination and skill.

This city operates on the principle that everyone better know someone someone sent. That the way to get ahead is to ‘know a guy.’ Making nice is for losers. That's not my code; it's the way of the Chicago spoils system. Pretty pleases won't get the job done.

So, if we elect a tough mayor, then the next question is: What will he or she be tough about? Every candidate pledges to be for the middle class, the disadvantaged and the voiceless. And against the corrupt and greedy. We know who's tough, but who's going to do the right thing?”



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"The Assassination of Carlo Tresca", Jan. 11, 1943 at Onthisdeity.com.

“As an editor and journalist for several underground anarchist papers including his own publication, Il Martello (The Hammer), Tresca wrote uncompromising and scathing attacks on labour agents, bankers, consular officials, and priests. In the 1930s, he turned his pen against the Communists – condemning Stalin’s repressive tactics and, particularly, the ‘liquidation’ of anarchists and other non-Communist Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. But his most damning vitriol was reserved for Italy’s Fascist regime, the greatest crusade of Tresca’s life. His relentless written war against the Fascisti in Italy and the United States eventually prompted the Italian ambassador to request that Tresca be deported or ‘silenced’. Deportation attempts failed, and the indefatigable Tresca would not be silenced; when one of his papers was closed down, he’d start another…. But Tresca’s list of enemies, however, was growing rapidly. Besieged as always from the right, Tresca found himself attacked on the left by Communists riding the wave of wartime popularity. And he was embroiled in an ongoing battle with the powerful Fascist newspaper publisher, Generoso Pope, who had even more powerful Mafia allies. And so, when a short, heavy-set man emerged from the shadows and fired four shots at Tresca as he and an associate crossed 15th St and 5th Ave on the night of 11th January 1943, the assailant could have been any number of foes. When the District Attorney’s office took a look at the long list of possible suspects, they didn’t even bother pursuing the investigation.”



***


Leon Aron in WSJ on Lev Loseff’s biography, Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life.

“Though Brodsky's poems were circulated in samizdat he was not a ‘dissident’ and did not write ‘anti-Soviet’ verses. Yet, with unerring instinct, the Soviet state sensed that this high-school dropout supporting himself by menial jobs was an enemy of a higher, more dangerous order: someone who denied it moral authority over its subjects—its right to mold their souls, not just own their economic and political selves. In February 1964, Brodsky was arrested on charges of ‘parasitism,’ that is, not working in any of the branches of ‘socialist economy.’ A handful of Brodsky's supporters managed to infiltrate the tightly guarded courtroom, packed with snitches and ‘worker activists’ from Leningrad plants and factories, during his trial. They were struck by how calm, indeed serene, the defendant was. A key part of the charges was that he called himself a ‘poet’ without having been accepted into the Writers' Union:

‘And what is your profession?’ the judge barked at him in a celebrated exchange.

‘Poet,’ Brodsky answered.

‘And who told you you were a poet? Who assigned you that rank?’

‘No one. Who assigned me to the human race?‘

Brodsky had resolved to see the trial as no more than an annoying distraction from his life's work. In jail, he wrote love poems in which there is no hint of the ordeal. Brodsky titled the cycle ‘Songs of a Happy Winter.’ In his final statement, he said: ‘I am no parasite. I am a poet who will bring honor and glory to this country.’ Laughter reportedly broke out in the courtroom.”


(ed: Joseph Brodsky interview and poem, 1988)


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American knowhow defeats all comers.


***


Dan Steinberg at Washingtonpost.com, "DC team owners on the media".

“One of the great things about having all the D.C. sports owners in The Post's auditorium for Tuesday's Business of Sports symposium thing was that they could all take shots at the media and we had to just sit there and smile and take it since we invited them there. On the other hand, we could console ourselves with slices of banana bread, while they had to sit on stage. It started early, when moderator Mary Jordan asked about the particular challenges of owning a sports team in this market.

‘You,’ Ted Leonsis said, meaning ‘You, The Post.’

‘I agree with him,’ Dan Snyder chimed in, to much laughter….

‘I'm an extrovert, and I get my energy and my input from fans,’ Leonsis said. ‘I think this new media is like oxygen. Get used to it. I think that there is no more steering wheel in the hand of The Washington Post. I used to live in mortal fear about what you would write. Now, I don't care.’

More laughter.

‘I think it's something that you need to internalize: that we're our own media company,’ Leonsis said, again addressing The Post. ‘I announce things on my blog. I get 40 to 90,000 people coming to my blog, depending on the subject. I have a direct, unfiltered way to reach our audience now, and I think that harnessing that is what you have to do as ownership, because we are media brands. We're in the subscription business. We call them season-ticket holders. We're in the sponsorship business. We're in the same business.’”



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Mike Tanier in NYT, "Bears After Luckman: Monsters of the Middling."

“The Bears revolutionized professional football when they drafted Columbia quarterback Sid Luckman in 1939: they modified the T-formation to suit Luckman’s talents, all but inventing the modern passing game. They should not have bothered. Luckman became a Hall of Famer, but the Bears have not had a good quarterback since…. The Bears abandoned the passing game in 1969 by drafting Bobby Douglass, an Age of Aquarius proto-Tebow with matinee-idol looks, a fullback’s physique, a powerful arm and the accuracy of a Farmers’ Almanac. A typical Douglass passing season: 5 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 30 sacks and a 40.4 percent completion rate. Coach Jim Dooley moved in with Douglass to teach him the finer points (or even the coarser points) of quarterbacking. Douglass, in turn, married a Playboy Playmate. Though not while Dooley bunked with him. That would have been awkward.”



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WSJ: Daily Wonders From NASA’s Photo Album


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Museum of the Moving Image upcoming rediscovered and restored:



The Big Combo
1955 (Joseph H. Lewis / Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace) Jan. 21, 22

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
1970 (Jaromil Jires / Jaroslava Schallerova) Jan. 28



The Salvation Hunters
1925 (Josef von Sternberg / Georgia Hale) Jan. 29

• Upstream
1927 (John Ford / Grant Withers) Jan. 30


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Obituary of the Week

David Nelson (1936 - 2011)


“‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ began on radio in 1944, focusing on the home life of bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his vocalist wife, Harriet Hilliard. In 1949, the popular show became a true family affair when 12-year-old David and 8-year-old Ricky replaced the child actors who had been portraying them on radio. ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ moved to television three years later, debuting on ABC in October 1952.… In the process of playing fictionalized versions of themselves on television each week for 14 years, David and Rick Nelson literally grew up in front of millions of Americans. Indeed, after David and Rick were married in the early '60s, their wives — first David's wife, actress June Blair, and then Rick's wife, the former Kris Harmon — became their TV wives. The blurring of what was real and what was not real caused confusion in some viewers' minds. When David enrolled at USC and joined a fraternity after graduating from Hollywood High School in 1954, his TV character started college and joined a fraternity. But unlike his TV character, who became a lawyer on the show, David did not go into law. Instead, he launched his career as a director by taking the reins from his director-father for about a dozen episodes of the show in the early '60s. He spent the next several decades directing commercials and occasional TV series and movies.”





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V.A. - “Who Knows What Tomorrow Might Bring”

New 16-track compilation/mixtape from Arthurmag.com, featuring Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps, Jim Dickinson, Marnie Stern and more.


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Thanks to Jay Babcock, Matt Carducci, Steve Beeho.






















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

  1. Just finished the American Alloy piece. Good, good stuff.

    ReplyDelete