a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Issue #88 (March 9, 2011)

Centennial, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Noir, c’est (film) noir

by Carolyn Heinze

It’s been a slow couple of months here in Paris. For foreign – and thus, not American – film.

First there was that little traditional-annual-it-happens-every-year little strike-thing back in October and then in November and then in December when everyone went on strike, even the unemployed people and even the Pariscope, too (well actually, it was the distribution warehouse) and there was no way to access movie listings. And before you say: “Why didn’t you just buy l’Officiel du spectacle ?” Because I happen to hate their font. And they were on strike, anyway. At least their distribution warehouse was.

And before you say: “Why didn’t you just go online?” Ahem. I’m not that kind of girl. And besides, have you ever not read Descartes and still tried to navigate a French Web site? Sans connaître Descartes ?

And before you say: “Well, why didn’t you just go see something from Hollywood? They advertise those movies everywhere.” Ahem . . . helllooooo? Not that type of girl? Like, do you know how many boycotts I would have to lift? The boycotts I’ve blasted upon all the Hollywood movie people I boast about banning and blasting and boycotting? Think of all the red tape! Think of the neighbors! I mean, if they saw me – moi – trotting off to a Hollywood film – especially a contemporary, new, just-came-out-this-week Hollywood film . . . well, just what would they think of me next? I have a reputation to uphold, you know. C’est très compliqué.

I was beginning to get desperate. (It was, rassurez-vous, one of the only times I got desperate.) And then – voilà ! – I got an idea. (I always, rassurez-vous, get ideas.) I could always watch foreign films chez moi. (There are always, je vous assure, foreign films chez moi.) French ones, and ones watched by the French, and old ones and young ones and ones somewhere in between. Ones that – if you’ve seen them – make you sound cool at French parties (or parties attended by the French). So if you’re in Paris? And it’s feeble fare in foreign film-land? And you wanna look cool at French-or-attended-by-the-French parties? Consider this your Get Out Of (Watching) Hollywood Films For Free Card…

• La haine (1995)

Directly translated, it means “hate,” but in America they call it La Haine. The best thing that Mathieu Kassovitz has done (he directed it), with the exception of Amélie (he played the love interest). The best thing that Vincent Cassel has ever done, ever. (It was his first major role.) The best thing that Vincent Cassel will probably ever do. (Although he was pretty good in those Mésrine movies, but still.) (I’ve got a boycott on Natalie Portman, so I don’t know how he did in Black Swan.)

Rumor has it that La haine was actually a student film, but I don’t buy it because the budget came to 2,59 million euros. (Although maybe I’m just sheltered . . . I’ve never seen 2,59 million euros because I can never seem to bag trust-fund baby bourgeois boyfriends from the bourgeois trust-funded 16th.) (Sixteenth arrondissement of Paree, that is.) I don’t know if Kassovitz is a trust-fund baby, or if he’s from the 16th, and frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn. Because this film kicks ass. Literally and figuratively and everything-ively in between.

Rumor also has it that Alain Juppé – the then Prime Minister and the now newly-named Minister of Foreign Affairs – organized a screening for a bunch of French cops: They “watched” the film with their backs turned. In protest of how they were portrayed. It’s the same method they seemingly apply to so many of their duties.

If the story is true, Juppé was actually pretty hip: Anyone who actually wants to know anything about the politics of Paris’s infamous cités stands to learn a lot from La haine. (And the suburban verlan slang rocks!) Basically, it’s a day in the lives of three racailles. (What? Don’t know what racailles are? Scum, mes amis.) (It’s what Sarko called suburban youth during the last election campaign.) (That’s cailles-ra en verlan.)

I won’t spoil it by supplying a spoiler, but I will tell you that it ends bad. You know – Chekhov-bad. His thing about when there’s a gun in the first act? How you know damn well what’s going to happen in the third? Yeah, that.

• C’est arrivé près de chez vous (1992)
(Means: It Happened Close To Your Home)
(American Title: Man Bites Dog)

O.K., so it’s Belgian, so you know it’s gonna be fucked up. So. So basically, it’s a faux documentary on a few days in the life of a serial killer-cum-philosopher-cum-poet, with a little Striptease and This Is Spinal Tap thrown in. This one actually did start out as a student film, and it’s the best thing Benoît Poelvoorde has ever done. (It was his first of many roles.) If nothing else, watch it for the love poem dedicated to pigeons. You’ll feel fucked up for laughing but you’ll laugh away anyway. I told you – it’s Belgian. C’est la vie.

• La merditude des choses (2008)
(Original Title: De Helaasheid der Dingen)
(What It Might Be Called in America: The Shittiness Of Things)

Tee-totaling? Trying to stay on the wagon? Well, this one’s for you! It’s Belgian, too – Flemish-Belgian – which means it’s still gonna be fucked up. Think of it as a Belgian Beerfest, only the alcoholic part isn’t as fun. But you’ll still laugh away anyway because, well . . . Anyone? . . . anyone?

• La grande bouffe (1973)
(Original Title: La grande abbuffata, but the film’s actually in French)
(American Title: La Grande Bouffe)
(What it Means: The Big Eat)

Dieting? Whittling down to a willowy waistline in time for swimsuit season? Well, this one’s for you!

O.K. … O.K. … Here goes: Four guys walk into a French country house – a judge, a TV exec, a pilot and a chef. Their goal? To commit suicide. Their modus operandi? Eating themselves to death. So it’s a good thing that there’s a chef – much classier than death by McDonald’s. (Or Death by Quick, the French equivalent.) (Which, by the way, was just found responsible for the hamburger-related death of a customer.) (‘Quick’ and painless? I can’t say.) (And besides, don’t be so rude!)

Between all those plentiful meals, there are prostitutes and sex a-plenty, only all the food and fucking – and fucking with food – can’t be compared with that refrigerator scene in Nine 1/2 Weeks. (Mainly because Nine 1/2 Weeks was kinda sexy and mainly because La grande bouffe is kinda gross.) Worth watching just because it pissed so many people off. (People get so prickly about critiques of consumer societies!) And then there’s the hot Marcello Mastroianni . . . and Marcello Mastroianni’s hot car! (Brand? Model? Oh, please – like I know.) En plus, if you are stressed about slithering into that slinky swimsuit, this really is the film pour vous. Because after La grande bouffe? You won’t eat for at least a week.

• Anything Starring Patrick Dewaere (1947-1982)
(Means: Watch Anything Starring Patrick Dewaere)
(What That Means: I Mean It!)

This guy made 37 films in his 35 years on this planet, and while I haven’t seen all of them, I’ll bet he’s great in them all. Ever witnessed someone who’s doing something he was obviously meant to do? Yeah . . . that.

A ponderous Parisian recently (while lighting a Lucky) pondered: “You know what the French say about Dewaere? They say that if he was still alive, he would have surpassed Depardieu, largement.” Ponderous pull on the Lucky. Exhale. “I think that every time Gérard Depardieu takes himself for a god of cinéma, he thinks of Dewaere, and he calms down.”

Now. Now take Depardieu for what you want, but if you don’t get that he’s pretty good, you don’t get much. Dewaere, however? Much, much better. Forget Depardieu and DeNiro and Hoffman and all of their bullshit-overdone-hyperbolic-hyper-hyped Hollywood musings on their Methods . . . (Though it’s ironic that Dewaere did the French voice-over for Hoffman’s Ben Braddock in the French sortie of The Graduate . . . ) This guy’s the Real Thing. Or was the Real Thing: During lunch break, during the filming of Lelouch’s Édith et Marcel (the story of Édith Piaf and her lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan . . . Dewaere was playing Cerdan . . . ) Dewaere shot himself with a gun given supposedly-generously by his (ex-best friend and his) wife’s lover, the cacophonous comic Coluche. Le résultat ? La merde. But his films certainly weren’t. My favorites? Les valseuses (Going Places) (1974), Adieu poulet (The French Detective) (1975), Préparez vos mouchoirs (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs) (1978) and Série noire (no American title) (1979). Sad there’s no American title, because this last one has him opposite the sexy-sultry-super-sexy Marie Trintingnant (she herself the victim of a violent death – though not self-imposed . . . she was killed by the heavy hands of her rock star/Jim Morrison wannabe/Noir Désir lead-singer lover . . .) (. . . but that’s another story . . . )

Un peu noir ? Un peu glauque ? Bah…oui, mes amis, bah…oui. What did you think, that love stories and film stories and cinéma stories ended happily? That’s the stuff of hyper-hype-hyped Hollywood. And I just told you how to get out of (watching) Hollywood for free, n’est-ce pas ?

The Discreet Charm of Lori Berenson

by Joe Carducci

Luis Bunuel termed it “the discreet charm” when trying to get at that soft indulgence the bourgeoisie displays or expects to be able to display. When a bourgeois comes up against a hard reality that won’t allow her to simply opt out, or change the channel on some aggressive radical “justice” they’ve dared set in motion, their drama becomes a kind of pornography for their class, especially when they are Lori Berenson, child of Manhattan professors, now paroled after fifteen years in a Peruvian jail. The readership shares so much with her in terms of background and sympathies that the identification turns the news feature into a group-diddle. Jonathan Pollard, the American naval intelligence analyst who spied on America for Israel, now in prison 25 years is often the subject of articles pleading for his release. The current issue of Commentary does a better job eliding the porno aspect, admittedly easier when you don’t use photographs. The photograph of Lori is as close to one of those big sad-eyed Keane portraits as the Times mag or Lori’s lawyer could manage, and cradling her son by some righteous Peruvian caps the effect.

As I recall, the ex-pat Sandalistas she met hanging around El Salvador and Nicaragua remembered her as contemptuous of them and those countries’ revolutionary wind-down, and looking for real revolutionary action, i.e., violence, and that was how she wound up in Peru with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. You get no flavor of that Lori Berenson in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine feature, “The Liberation of Lori Berenson”. Jennifer Egan does note that dry impersonal tone of her personality as if it’s a mere curiosity. That tone is actually quite common among the kind of leftists who are happy to bury all of that messy human interior life under Marxist cant and Leninist action. Such repression must be a comfort when you intend to get a bunch of people killed. Egan does characterize the MRTA as having been in a competition of sorts with the Shining Path, then on a Khmer Rouge-like rampage through the Indian highlands. Peruvian opinion is portrayed as just more strident fallout from that era and the media obsession Britney-like:

“Berenson insisted we wait until dark to go out; since her parole, she has been hounded by strangers who scream obscenities or call her ‘assassin’ and ‘murderer.’ Just that day, on her way back from the playground with her mother and Salvador, ‘this woman said: ‘You’re under house arrest! You should be in your house!’ She was with a cellphone, taking pictures. I don’t like going to the park, because people stare at you and make you feel as though you’re not welcome.’ Berenson wasn’t under house arrest, but she might as well have been; the media frenzy surrounding her release on May 27 meant that during her first 10 days of freedom, she never went outside. A horde of photographers stormed the car in which she was driven away from the prison — three cameramen thrust themselves into the backseat; more jumped onto the roof, leaving dents; a TV van crashed into the back.”

It was only their country she was volunteering to help destroy, after being inspired by joining an interfaith religious delegation to El Salvador on freshman year spring-break! Egan refers to Berenson’s arrest as occurring during a period when President Alberto Fujimori “had achieved a hyper-efficiency at shutting terrorism down.” The odd circumlocution “hyper-efficiency” apparently to foreshadow the charges brought against Fujimori and his flight into exile, as if being the enemy of even the most unhinged left is not tantamount to being an enemy of the people. As if being a national hero means one will be celebrated rather than charged.

Spizocorys Starki by James Fotopoulos

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

Andrew England in FT, "Benghazi - Thousands enlist for rebel cause".

“‘It’s still chaos but we are very pleased with what we have achieved until now. We started two weeks ago from zero,’ says Iman Bugaighis, a committee volunteer who normally teaches at a dental faculty. She notes with irony that the opposition has created people’s committees that could easily have leapt from the pages of Col Gaddafi’s Green Book, which outlines his model of Jamahiriya, or ‘the rule of the masses’. ‘This is what [Gaddafi] wanted, okay, it’s happened.’ Ms Bugaighis says, ‘It’s very shocking for him.’”


David Gauthier-Villars in WSJ, "Tunisians Struggle With New Freedoms".

“All day Wednesday, a motley crowd of several hundred high-school and university students, factory workers and job-seekers camp assembled on the Dakar square to call for better pay and conditions for private- and public-sector workers and an end to government corruption. ‘Tunisia is still governed by Mr. Ben Ali's former allies,’ said first-year medical student Mohammed Yassine Guermani, 19, who protested in his white lab coat and stethoscope. But in the afternoon, a rival group of people—calling themselves ‘the silent majority,’ took to the streets as well, urging their fellow Tunisians to go back to work or to class. Like the protesting youths, the counter-protesters had used text messages and social networks to organize the meeting. ‘My business is going to go bust if they keep striking and protesting for any reason,’ said Imen Taktak, who runs a trading company, Soppec, and joined the counter-protest group this week. ‘If this mess goes on, I am going to have to make redundant 10 of my 12 employees.’


Karim Sadjadpour in NYT, "Arabs Rise, Tehran Trembles".

“The Islamist victors of the 1979 Iranian revolution intended to change things, to replace the shah’s haughty Persian nationalism with an Arab-friendly, pan-Islamic ideology. Yet Tehran’s official reaction to the 2011 Arab awakening shows that, at the heart of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Middle East strategy, there is a veiled contempt for Arab intelligence, autonomy and prosperity. What many young Iranians see as a familiar struggle for justice, economic dignity and freedom from dictatorial rule, Iranian officialdom has struggled to spin as a belated Arab attempt to emulate the Islamic revolution and join Tehran in its battle against America and Israel. The delusions of the Iranian regime are partly attributable to a generation gap. Tehran’s ruling elite continue to cling to the antiquated ideology of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose worldview was formed by decades of imperial transgressions in Iran. The demographic boom in the Middle East, however, has brought a wave of young Arabs and Iranians who associate subjugation and injustice not with colonial or imperial powers, but with their own governments.”


Arshin Adib-Moghaddam at Opendemocracy.net in his "Postmodern Islam and the Arab revolts", illustrates that the “muslim rage” he ridicules has its own ex-pat adjunct in unbelieving Arab intellectuals. Maybe the imperial motor of the Caliphate, which threw young males out against its border infidels and away from the gerontocratic court in Baghdad or Cairo or Ankara, was the secret true mundane purpose of the faith just as Communism was in the end an improved rationale for Russian Imperialism that won it a fifth column in every nation of the world. Mr Adib-Moghaddam makes some interesting points, but his obsession with the many western false notions about Islam as his job-one is pretty damn Russian, except that this near-east inadequacy-burden has outlived being stopped at Vienna and Andalusia, being thrown over by Ataturk, being colonized by Christian powers, even being ruled by good muslims. Hard to take, I’d agree, and now they must entertain true infidels, people of no Book, Buddhists and Hindus bearing foreign direct investment and cheap consumer goods out the ying-yang:

“The Islamists’ credo was Islam din wa dawla (Islam is religion and state), a version of the faith that encompassed both the conception of an independent, self-sufficient state and a comprehensive religious system that could satisfy the individual’s spiritual needs.

This imagined Islam - modelled on a modern version of the salaf, the pious compatriots of the Prophet Mohammed - was pitted against an equally imagined west, reduced to a materialistic, invasive and largely evil construct. Occidentalism versus Orientalism; a homogenous alien force counterposed to an elusive, longed-for homo islamicus; a minimalistic, dense and total ‘Islam’ seen against a similarly distorted, monolithic ‘west’.

This discourse was to win in Iran in 1979, a revolutionary event that (along with the struggle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s) helped open the great, politicised retrieval of history that followed. Today, the context in which Islams reveal themselves is radically different. In the political arenas of Egypt, Iran, Tunisia and Bahrain, they do not function as revolutionary programmes. There is no Khomeini at their head; no Islamist manifesto driving people’s actions; no headquarters topped by a green flag coordinating things. Postmodern Islam is diffuse, networked, differentiated, multi-institutional and (in the sense that it is neither paternalistic, nor primarily feminist) ‘transsexual’. Postmodern Islam floats freely on the world-wide-web, and links up with the universal move towards democracy, social equality and resistance to political tyranny. It has put a new face to the book, one that is far less angry and more empathetic to the demands of society and other political actors than was ‘Qutbian Islam’.”

Illustration: Caliphate coin


Thomas Friedman in NYT, "Not-so-obvious force #3".

“ISRAEL The Arab TV network Al Jazeera has a big team covering Israel today. Here are some of the stories they have been beaming into the Arab world: Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had to resign because he was accused of illicitly taking envelopes stuffed with money from a Jewish-American backer. An Israeli court recently convicted Israel’s former president Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, based on accusations by former employees. And just a few weeks ago, Israel, at the last second, rescinded the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the army’s new chief of staff after Israeli environmentalists spurred a government investigation that concluded General Galant had seized public land near his home. (You can see his house on Google Maps!) This surely got a few laughs in Egypt where land sales to fat cats and cronies of the regime that have resulted in huge overnight profits have been the talk of Cairo this past year. When you live right next to a country that is bringing to justice its top leaders for corruption and you live in a country where many of the top leaders are corrupt, well, you notice.”


Dani Rodrik in FT, "A sledgehammer blow to Turkish democracy".

“Signs of repression are increasingly abundant. On Thursday police launched a wave of raids, detaining 10 journalists and authors -- including an award-winning reporter who had investigated official negligence in the 2007 assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Last month three journalists from a website critical of the government, OdaTV, which specialises in exposing prosecutorial and police misdeeds, were also jailed. Not even the obscure escapes scrutiny. Following a complaint from Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, prosecutors recently charged a 22-year-old student with insulting a public official. The student had turned Mr Edrogan’s words against him in an entry on a blog.”


Nick Cohen in Guardian, "The Pakistan killings are not about blasphemy".

“The Rushdie controversy was the Dreyfus affair of the late 20th century. It established today's dividing lines between the secular and the authoritarian, between those who were willing to defend freedom of thought and inquiry and those who wanted to censor and self-censor to keep fanatics happy. We can gauge how low we have sunk by remembering that at the start of the battle 23 years ago there was a tiny regard for the forms of legality, even among those who were otherwise happy to condemn free thinkers to death. However brutal they were, they respected their version of due process. The Islamist murders first of Salmaan Taseer and then of Shahbaz Bhatti show that what tiny scruples blood-soaked men possessed vanished long ago. The best way to describe the terror which is reducing Pakistani liberals to silence is to enumerate what the assassins did not allege.”


Gideon Rachman in FT reminds us,"Fiction is a route to political truth" , though without really getting at the reason that underlies this. It isn’t merely that these novels can give “voice to the voiceless”, but that the reason the rules of drama obtain in storytelling is that they obtain in life.

“A novel that made me rethink some of my assumptions about modern India was Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. Like many foreign journalists I was attached to a few clichés about the country: booming economy, world’s largest democracy, fine tradition of the rule of law. Mr Adiga’s book reveals the brutality, lawlessness and exploitation of the poor than often lie behind these glossy slogans. It does what fiction can often do much more effectively than journalism – dramatise the stories of the powerless. Fiction’s ability to give a voice to the voiceless explains why it sometimes needs a novel to convey why Egypt and Libya were on the point of revolution, or to help explain why India is still afflicted by Maoist rebellions, in spite of growth rates of 8-9 per cent a year. Knowing this, I sometimes ask friends overseas what decent novels have recently been published in their part of the world. A Russian colleague recently informed me that the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov is no longer producing great literature. Putin’s Russia is, apparently, stronger on crime thrillers. Colleagues in China have told me to watch out for A Civil Servant’s Notebook by Wang Xiaofang, which will be published in English later this year. Mr Wang is a former civil servant whose racy potboilers chronicling official corruption have proved hugely popular at home. The issues raised are also relevant to the many foreign businessmen who have to work in a Chinese system they barely understand – but that demands moral compromises that can be avoided at home. That is a story whose moral extends beyond China. One hopes that some of the naive professors and not-so-naive businessmen who rushed to do business with Col Gaddafi would have hesitated if they had first read In The Country of Men. Sometimes fiction can be the best route to the facts.”


Lydia Polgreen in NYT, "Bangladesh Confronting 40-Year-Old War Atrocities".

“Many of those accused of atrocities are not only still alive, but are also among the leading members of two of the main opposition political parties and have enjoyed long stints in power. Six men have been arrested in connection with various crimes of the era, all of them major political figures. The government hopes to try them in a tribunal of its own creation in the coming months. The Bangladesh tribunal is being closely watched, and its outcome could have wide implications. Developing countries whose governments have been accused of atrocities, from Sudan to Sri Lanka, have argued that international tribunals are selectively applied to poor nations and represent a new form of imperialism. A successful, fair and transparent trial in Bangladesh could be an important model, international justice experts say. But it will not be easy. Indeed, the whole concept of international justice rests in part on the reality that in the aftermath of a horrendous conflict, national courts are likely to be too politicized to deliver impartial justice.”


WSJ: "Obama Ratifies Bush".

“On a conference call yesterday, senior Administration officials tried to sell their military commissions process as more ‘credible’ than Mr. Bush's, but their policy changes are de minimis. In 2009, Congress made technical reforms for handling testimony and classified information. By executive order, a new panel will now also conduct a ‘periodic review’ of detentions. But the bipartisan Military Commissions Act of 2006, or MCA, had already included ‘administrative review boards’ dedicated to the same goal. The White House yesterday also stressed its commitment to civilian terror prosecutions going forward, but that also doesn't mean much. Last year the Democratic Congress barred funding for transferring enemy combatants from Gitmo to the U.S., and that won't change with a Republican House. The real news here is the final repudiation of Attorney General Eric Holder's attempt to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 plotters as criminal defendants on U.S. soil.”


James Kynge in FT, "The China Syndrome".

“A sense of this dynamic is evident in the cables. In one, a warning comes from executives at Vale, the Brazilian mining giant. At a May 2007 meeting with the US ambassador to Brazil, they said America ‘would need to pay great attention to where its raw materials would come from as China hoped to lock up both South America and Africa as its suppliers.’ Washington has tried to translate Brasilia’s annoyance over unfair Chinese competition into a joint position pushing for the faster appreciation of the renminbi. So far, however, Brasilia has maintained an even hand.”


Geoff Dyer in FT, "Who will be China’s next leaders?"

“The holiday is a time to pay respects to family elders and mentors. I know people in their forties and fifties who still visit their favourite schoolteacher over the break and among the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist party, respected older comrades are given their due. The flurry of activity was outside the family home of Hu Yaobang, a former leader of the Chinese Communist party who died in 1989. Among the dutiful visitors were Xi Jinping, the man tipped to be the next president of China, and Li Keqiang, the likely next premier. Calling on the widow of a former leader might seem run-of-the-mill but Hu Yaobang is far from a run-of-the-mill figure in communist party history. During the 1980s, the party split over whether its economic reforms should be combined with political opening. After pushing a liberal line, Hu was dramatically ousted from office in 1987 by more conservative members of the leadership. It was news of his death in April 1989, by then a broken man, that sparked the Tiananmen Square protests. In official celebrations of the party’s history, his name is never mentioned.”


Glenn Anthony May in Asia Sentinel, "Confucius on the Campus".

“The institutes are ‘nonprofit’ joint ventures – contractual arrangements between colleges (and other institutions) around the world and Hanban, an agency based in the PRC that oversees the entire operation. Hanban is staffed with Chinese government bureaucrats. In an effort to project China's soft power worldwide via culture and education, Beijing reportedly put up US$10 billion to establish the first 100 institutes. Xinhua, the Chinese state wire service, reported last July that 316 Confucius Institutes have now been established in 94 countries. Their official function is to promote Mandarin language study and an appreciation of Chinese culture. Hanban provides seed money to get the institutes running (the initial amount is generally in the US$150,000- $250,000 range), ongoing financial support and a variety of perks.”


June Tsai at Taiwantoday.tw, "Linguist urges preservation of Taiwan’s Austronesian languages".

“It is estimated that today more than 250 million people speak around 1,000 varieties of Austronesian—including Malay, Filipino, and Indonesian. It is spoken in such far apart places as Madagascar in the west and Easter Island in the east, from New Zealand in the south to Taiwan in the north. Scholars believe that in the distant past, Austronesian speakers must have spread out from some common point of origin, and more and more of them now assert that it is in Taiwan. One piece of evidence comes from a theory first proposed by the German-American anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir, who posited that a language family will have its source wherever it has the greatest internal linguistic variety. Following Sapir’s insight, the American historical linguist Robert Blust proposed that Austronesian derives ultimately from Taiwan, according to Li. ‘Formosan languages are generally believed to be the most diverse in the entire Austronesian language family,’ Li said, noting that decades of research by international scholars has led to this conclusion. ‘Drawing on evidence from linguistic studies, leading scholars from around the world are convinced that the Austronesian-speaking peoples dispersed from Taiwan around 5,000 to 4,000 years ago, and that the island is the closest thing to an Austronesian homeland,’ he said.”


Alicia Albinia in WSJ on Colin Thubron’s book, To a Mountain in Tibet.

“The religions that converge on Kailash, though, mitigate death through reincarnation. Pilgrimage is, in turn, a way of ameliorating that uncertain fate. Mr. Thubron admits that ‘some long-surrendered faith’ in him recoils at such beliefs and rituals: ‘In my childhood, Anglicanism had offered no Mass for the dead, no intercession. The dead were beyond reach or comfort.’ Inevitably, however—and travel writing is predicated on this fact—there is something fascinating about the alien. Mr. Thubron describes a Tibetan sky burial in lavish detail: ‘The corpse's back is broken and it is folded into a foetal bundle. . . . They remove the organs, amputate the limbs and cut the flesh into small pieces. . . . Finally the skull too is smashed and becomes a morsel with its brains . . . the vultures crowd in.’ Seeing some human arm bones— ‘dried blood and flesh still on them’— he feels ‘a wrenching revulsion, and a shamed excitement at the forbidden.’ Reading this description, I thought of the man I met 15 years ago in Nepal, whose photo album of a trip to England showed picture after picture of graveyards—those perverse places where Christians trap their dead. For a change our culture had been rendered exotic and outlandish by the gaze of a voyeuristic stranger.”


Augusto Come at Opendemocracy.net, "On Putin, Berlusconi and chimpanzees".

“Putin’s virility is quite different from Berlusconi’s because it is based on other grounds than sexism. Of course, women are part of the mosaic composing his image of the virile man. He enjoys high popularity among Russian women. Indeed, in the beginning of 2002, a sociological survey found 3500 of 5000 women considered the then-President to be the ‘new sex-symbol of Russia’. Putin does not, however, personally promote this image. It is rather through the initiative of others that his sexual virility is highlighted. This was the case of the erotic Happy Birthday calendar named ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich, we love you’, which contained 12 journalist students in lingerie, with provocative messages, such as ‘you put out forest fires, but I'm still burning’. It is of interest to note that one of the rare times Putin embraced the lover strategy, saying ‘I love all Russian women, (…) the only ones who may compete with them are Italians’, was in response to an embarrassing question, during a joint press conference with Berlusconi in Italy. On that occasion, there was an amazing role switch with Putin playing the Casanova and Berlusconi the silovik, pretending to shoot down the annoying journalist with a machine gun.”


Tony Barber in FT, "Cosi fan tutte?"

“At the time it might have seemed a plausible forecast. During Italy’s ‘golden age of capitalism’, stretching from roughly 1950 to 1973, rapid economic growth and social modernisation produced a mass national market in which increasing numbers of Italians drove the same cars (Fiats), rode the same scooters (Vespas), watched the same television programmes (Carosello - a show that popularized TV commercial messages), drank the same coffee (Paulista) and ate the same pasta (Barilla). It was as if centuries of difference were disappearing in the solvent of a standardized prosperity. Today, as Italy marks its 150th anniversary as a nation-state, [Giorgio] Bocca’s fears appear much exaggerated. In their political outlook and economic status, their cultural preferences and regional loyalties, even their local food and dialects, Italians remain as diverse as ever.”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Cablegate: France bullied Poland over Georgia war".

“The November 2008 dispatch from the US embassy in Stockholm reports that Johan Frisell, a Swedish diplomat, told US charge d'affairs Robert Silverman that France pressured Poland and Sweden into lifting the Union's only post-war sanction on Russia.

‘France threatened to stall the Eastern Partnership initiative if the Swedes and others opposed to 'business as usual' with Moscow refused to resume EU-Russia talks, according to Frisell,’ Mr Silverman wrote. ‘Once the decision on talks on the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement [with Russia] was made, Sweden and Poland, co-drafters of the [Eastern Partnership] initiative, were given a green light to 'move ahead'.’ The French support for Russia came at a time when Russian troops were still parked in Georgia proper in violation of a French-brokered peace agreement.”


Timothy Snyder in New Republic, Slavenka Drakulic’s book, A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism: Fables from a Mouse, a Parrot, a Bear, a Cat, a Mole, a Pig, a Dog, and a Raven.

“Drakulić is one of the cleverest and most subtle of East European writers, and her moralism is impossible to reduce to maxims. When we listen to the recollections of Tito’s parrot, we understand that leaders can be several things at once. The mouse leading us through the ‘museum of communism’ in Prague explains that, according to Havel, the line between victim and oppressor in late communism runs through each person. ‘In the museum,’ the mouse instructs a German tourist, ‘you won’t see the shades of gray.’ A bear liberated from its trainer in Bulgaria explains to an animal rights activist how oppression is internalized: ‘a hot metal training plate’ which burns bears’ hind paws so that they learn to dance, ‘had been installed in my brain forever.’”


Pat Buchanan at Humanevents.com, "Robert Gates, Neo-Isolationist?"

“‘(A)ny future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it,’ Robert Gates has just told the cadets at West Point. America would be nuts, Gates is saying, to fight a new land war like the two he inherited. It follows that the ‘neo-isolationists’ who opposed invading Iraq and a ‘long war’ in Afghanistan were right, in Gates' eyes. Quite an admission from a defense secretary who presided over the surge in Iraq and the surge in Afghanistan. Yet, do not the balance sheets of both wars bear Gates out? Nearly 10 years after 9/11, at a cost of $100 billion a year, we are still bleeding in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, however, is long gone, but embedded today in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and North Africa. Eight years after Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the butcher's bill is in: 4,400 U.S. dead, 37,000 wounded, 100,000 Iraqi dead, half a million widows and orphans, half of Iraq's Christian population in exile, the other half terrorized and a Shia Iraq drifting toward Tehran. For what? Al-Qaida was not in Iraq in 2003, but it is there now. Pushed by neoconservatives to institute a no-fly zone over Libya, Gates retorted: ‘Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya.’ To sustain it would require at least two aircraft carriers. Why is Libya's civil war our problem? Gates is now singing in tune with his country. Yet his position implies a new foreign policy.”


Richard McGregor in FT, "US loses its appetite for job as the world’s policeman".

“For Republicans, the protests over benefit cuts in Madison, Wisconsin, are more important than the rebels in Benghazi, Libya. While the Middle East protests may have gripped public attention in the US, Mr Haass says ‘they have not really galvanized public opinion’. Following Mr Gates’s West Point speech, both he and his spokesman have been quick to clarify that the defence secretary’s real intent was to force the army to focus on how to fight new kinds of wars. Whatever message he wanted to send, Mr Gates probably knows better than anyone that the US is not just less able to be the world’s policeman. The country and its people have, for the moment, lost all appetite for the job as well.”


Richard McGregor in FT, "Fiscal future hangs on state disputes".

“With Washington bogged down in glacial budget talks, America’s fiscal future is being played out in the states, in a series of bitter and melodramatic clashes between Republican governors and public sector unions. The struggles between the newly elected governors in Wisconsin and Ohio with unions are already feeding into calculations for the 2012 presidential poll, also likely be fought over who best can handle swelling budget deficits.”


WSJ: Paul Johnson interviewed by Brian Carney.

“‘The big change in principle came under Kennedy,’ Mr. Johnson writes. ‘In the autumn of 1962 the Administration committed itself to a new and radical principle of creating budgetary deficits even when there was no economic emergency.’ Removing this constraint on government spending allowed Kennedy to introduce ‘a new concept of 'big government': the 'problem-eliminator.' Every area of human misery could be classified as a 'problem'; then the Federal government could be armed to 'eliminate' it.’ Twenty-eight years after ‘Modern Times’ first appeared, Mr. Johnson is perhaps the most eminent living British historian, and big government as problem-eliminator is back with a vengeance—along with trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. I visited the 82-year-old Mr. Johnson in his West London home this week to ask him whether America has once again set off down the path to self-destruction. Is he worried about America's future? ‘Of course I worry about America,’ he says. ‘The whole world depends on America ultimately, particularly Britain. And also, I love America—a marvelous country. But in a sense I don't worry about America because I think America has such huge strengths—particularly its freedom of thought and expression—that it's going to survive as a top nation for the foreseeable future. And therefore take care of the world.’ Pessimists, he points out, have been predicting America's decline ‘since the 18th century.’ But whenever things are looking bad, America ‘suddenly produces these wonderful things—like the tea party movement. That's cheered me up no end.’”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, on the new film, Atlas Shrugged.

“All the critiques of the Ayn Rand novels — the characters are wooden, it's black and white without shades of gray, the celebration of industry (steel! trains! engines!) seems anachronistic in an age of silicon and microchips and nanotechnology — can be applied to the movie. But so what? Producer John Aglialoro acquired the film rights to Atlas Shrugged more than 18 years ago and started filming June 13, just two days before the rights were set to expire. In a way it's a good thing he waited so long, because, with the surge of government regulation and ownership intertwined with the financial crisis, the story is more relevant than ever. To judge by what I saw last night, it was worth the wait.”


George Will in Newsweek, "High Speed to Insolvency".

“So why is America’s ‘win the future’ administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior. Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism. To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.”


Tyler Cowen in NYT, "It’s Time To Face The Fiscal Illusion".

“James M. Buchanan, a Nobel laureate in economics — and my former colleague and now professor emeritus at George Mason University — argued that deficit spending would evolve into a permanent disconnect between spending and revenue, precisely because it brings short-term gains. We end up institutionalizing irresponsibility in the federal government, the largest and most central institution in our society. As we fail to make progress on entitlement reform with each passing year, Professor Buchanan’s essentially moral critique of deficit spending looks more prophetic. We are fooling ourselves most of all. United States government debt in public hands is now more than $9 trillion, but most people still don’t realize what it will take to pay that off. Here’s an example: Say that you have $20,000 in Treasury bills. You probably believe that you own $20,000 in wealth. This will encourage you to spend and come up with ambitious plans. Yet someone — quite possibly you — will be taxed in the future to pay off the government debt. The $20,000 may be needed in order to do that.”


The Daleys of Chicago are famous for their malaprops. Often the old man would come up with fantastic and useful linguistic breakthroughs. I used one to open my book, R&TPN: “We should be nostalgic about the future.” Richard II wasn’t quite as productive in a usable sense. One of his markers was laid down in the racially sensitive days during the 1989 campaign against Mayor Eugene Sawyer that finally put him into office. He tried to say from the stage at an excited campaign event, “What you want is a Mayor who…”, instead he garbled: “You want a what Mayor…” and stopped. What was funny was that the good Lakefront liberals had set up a high-minded board to monitor the elections and sanction any use of racially charged language. They were flummoxed to find themselves sanctioning one black preacher after another but not a single white ethnic cracker! So they sanctioned Richard II, alleging that he had said, “What you want is a white Mayor!” Not that their crocodile fears didn’t help him win the election…. Anyway, all by way of introduction to a column written by the one Daley heretofore suspected of being able to speak the language. But here’s Bill Daley, former Clinton Secretary of Commerce, and current Obama Chief of Staff, disproving said suspicion with this column in the Financial Times, "Why Obama is a pro-business president".

Translation, anyone?


Gillian Tett in FT, "The return of cov-lites hints at more caution not madness".

“Are the markets going mad -- again? That is the question now hanging in the air, following news that so-called ‘cov-lites’ are staging a return. After all, when this catchy name first cropped up, some five years ago, it seemed to epitomise a financial system spinning out of control. For what cov-lite loans essentially do is remove the usual clauses (covenants) which allow lenders to monitor how a borrower is behaving -- and clamp down if a company breaches certain rules. Cov-lites are thus the financial equivalent of bungee jumping without a second safety harness; you get thrills (ie higher returns), but have no protection if something goes wrong. But now cov-lites are back. Between the summer of 2007 and late 2010 almost no cov-lites wer sold, as investors became more risk averse.”


Jennifer Berry in Military History Quarterly, "John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 Disaster".

“With virtually no warning, a Japanese destroyer emerged from the black night and smashed into PT-109, slicing it in two and igniting its fuel tanks. The collision was part of a wild night of blunders by 109 and other boats that one historian later described as ‘the most screwed up PT boat action of World War II.’ Yet American newspapers and magazines reported the PT-109 mishap as a triumph. Eleven of the 13 men aboard survived, and their tale, declared the Boston Globe, ‘was one of the great stories of heroism in this war.’ Crew members who were initially ashamed of the accident found themselves depicted as patriots of the first order, their behavior a model of valor….

By chance, Kennedy met up for drinks one night at a New York nightclub with writer John Hersey, an acquaintance who had married one of Jack's former girlfriends. Hersey proposed doing a PT-109 story for Life magazine. Kennedy consulted his father the next day. Joe Kennedy, who hoped to secure his son a Medal of Honor, loved the idea. The 29-year-old Hersey was an accomplished journalist and writer. His first novel, A Bell for Adano, was published the same week he met Kennedy at the nightclub; it would win a Pulitzer in 1945. Hersey had big ambitions for the PT-109 article; he wanted to use devices from fiction in a true-life story. Among the tricks to try out: telling the story from the perspective of the people involved and lingering on their feelings and emotions—something frowned upon in journalism of the day. In his retelling of the PT-109 disaster, the crew members would be like characters in a novel…. Life turned down Hersey's literary experiment—probably because of its length and novelistic touches—but the New Yorker published the story in June. Hersey was pleased—it was his first piece for the heralded magazine—but it left Joe Kennedy in a black mood. He regarded the relatively small-circulation New Yorker as a sideshow in journalism. Pulling strings, Joe persuaded the magazine to let Reader's Digest publish a condensation, which the tony New Yorker never did. This shorter version, which focused almost exclusively on Jack, reached millions of readers. The story helped launch Kennedy's political career. Two years later, when he ran for Congress from Boston, his father paid to send 100,000 copies to voters. Kennedy won handily.”


Evan Ratliff in National Geographic, "Taming the Wild".

“Lyudmila Trut's first job as a grad student, in 1958, was to travel around to Soviet fur farms and select the calmest foxes she could find, to serve as the base population for Belyaev's experiment. The prohibition on genetic studies had thawed since Stalin's death in 1953, and Belyaev set up shop in Siberia at the newly minted Institute of Cytology and Genetics. Still, he was careful to frame the study only in terms of physiology, leaving out any mention of genes. Trut recalls that when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev arrived to inspect the institute, he was overheard to say, ‘What, are those geneticists still around? Were they not destroyed?’ Protected by the careful politics of Belyaev's boss and favorable articles on genetics written by Khrushchev's journalist daughter, the fox-farm experiment quietly began. By 1964 the fourth generation was already beginning to live up to the researchers' hopes. Trut can still remember the moment when she first saw a fox wag its tail at her approach. Before long, the most tame among them were so doglike that they would leap into researchers' arms and lick their faces. At times the extent of the animals' tameness surprised even the researchers. Once, in the 1970s, a worker took one of the foxes home temporarily as a pet. When Trut visited him, she found the owner taking his fox for walks, unleashed, ‘just like a dog. I said 'Don't do that, we'll lose it, and it belongs to the institute!'’ she recalls. ‘He said 'just wait,' then he whistled and said, 'Coca!' It came right back.’ Simultaneously, more of the foxes began to show signs of the domestication phenotype: floppy ears retained longer in development and characteristic white spots on their coats. ‘At the beginning of the 1980s, we observed a kind of explosion-like change of the external appearance,’ says Trut.”


Evgeny Morozov in New Republic on Kevin Kelly's book, What Technology Wants.

"For much of the nineteenth century, the English word 'technology,' just like the French and German 'technologie,' denoted a branch of knowledge—a science—that studied industrial arts and crafts; 'technology' did not refer to those arts and crafts themselves, as it does today. Technology was much like chemistry: it was a field of study, not its object. It was in nineteenth-century Germany, which was undergoing massive industrialization, that intellectuals and engineers alike began using another term—Technik—to describe all the arts of material production, conceived now as a coherent whole. Technik was increasingly invoked in opposition to Kultur, with many German humanist intellectuals of the time being highly critical of the growing mechanization and dehumanization that pervaded the industrialized society. In the early years of the twentieth century, the German debate about Technik made its way into America, when Thorstein Veblen discovered some of the key German texts and incorporated them into his own thought. But Veblen chose to translate the German Technik as 'technology,' most likely because by that time the English word 'technique,' the more obvious rendering, had already acquired its modern meaning. To his credit, Veblen’s 'technology' preserved most of the critical dimensions of Technik as used by German thinkers; and he masterfully located it within contemporary debates about capitalism and technocracy. Other American intellectuals, while following Veblen in using 'technology' to mean Technik, soon dropped this critical dimension, settling on a more politically correct and progress-friendly meaning of 'technology.' When, in 1926, Charles Beard famously proclaimed that 'technology marches in seven-league boots from one ruthless, revolutionary conquest to another,' he gave the term 'technology' its modern meaning, severing Veblen’s connection to the critical theories of Georg Simmel and Werner Sombart."


Freeman House at Arthurmag.com, "Watershed Work in a Changing World".

“In all, we act as if the distribution of species and communities and weather patterns—either in the present or in our idealized reference ecosystem — is the once and always way that nature has manifested itself. Sooner or later, we discover the weaknesses in such an idea. If only by paying attention long enough, we discover that nature over the long term is as fluid and fickle as running water. Recently, researching the prehistory of my region, I discovered something that changed the way I thought of the systems in which I’d been working for more than 20 years. I found that only five to six thousand years ago, the entire bioregion had been a few degrees warmer than it has been since and those few degrees determined a very different distribution of species than those we have been striving to maintain for so long. Most relevant for me was the discovery that in that warmer time that followed the last period of glaciation, there had been few if any salmon using the waters of California. (I found this discovery to be slightly embarrassing, having made public statements which confused the history of salmon speciation with the time that salmon had been using my home river. I would tell people salmon had been using my river for 60,000 years rather than the more accurate 6,000.) More fascinating, though, is the archaeological evidence of Karuk and Tsnungwe ancestral peoples in the mountains above the Trinity River more than eight thousand years ago. Peoples living today in the Klamath River systems are direct descendants of people who lived through climate changes similar in magnitude to the ones we anticipate now…. The scope of change we face is quite different; it’s getting warmer rather than cooler and the rate of change is likely to be much quicker. We may be able to draw no more instruction from the Karuk model than that we adopt similar goals—to change our ways of life in the direction of sustainability and survival. Even James Lovelock, that most gloomy of prognosticators, ends a recent interview that predicts the human species pushed back into the Artic zones with the cheery observation that we are all survivors of humans who have endured half a dozen climate changes of equal magnitude within human time.”


Mark Lilla in New York Review of Books on Sarah Bakewell’s book, How to Live, or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.

“By refusing to recognize the grandeur in our desire for transcendence, our urge to understand what is, to experience rapture, to face and overcome danger, to create something bold and lasting, Montaigne offered no guidance for coping with it, let alone directing it to good ends. And his silence had consequences. The Essays not only inspired a skeptical Enlightenment that aimed to make modern life softer, freer, and more humane, with some success; they also, through Rousseau, helped inspire a Romantic cult of the self that beatified the individual genius and worshiped his occult powers -- also with some success. The easy inner reconciliation Montaigne offered his readers has proved as impossible for them to attain as sainthood was for his Christian contemporaries. Suggesting, perhaps, that the most we can ever hope to achieve is reconciliation to the fact that we will never be reconciled.”


Farhad Manjoo at Slate.com, “We Listen to NPR Precisely To Avoid This Sort of Stupidity”.

“I'm an NPR groupie. I listen to public radio for several hours a day—more often than I watch TV, more often than I do actual work. There's only one thing I hate about my daily companion: my fellow listeners. Not all of them—just the ones who write in to complain whenever anything related to pop music, celebrities, technology, or other subjects that appeal to people under 40 comes across their precious wireless. For proof that NPR letter-writers are the stodgiest, whiniest, most self-importantly insufferable snobs of all time, just search through the network's archives, which records the letters that All Things Considered and other NPR shows read on-air once or twice a week. Among the many, many topics that listeners have deemed off-limits for NPR, you'll find blogging ("another example of the slow decline of our once-educated society"); Tiger Woods ("what a waste of my time"); the National Enquirer (NPR's citing it as a source "shook me to the core"); adulterous Gov. Mark Sanford ("Can't NPR reporters find more important events going on in the world?"); comedians Adam Carolla and Mo Rocca; the rapper Waka Flocka Flame ("For this, I donate part of my precious pension?"); Twitter ("the CB radio of our era—just as much hype, just as much lasting impact")…; heavy metal legend Dio ("You didn't have to do it just because he died recently"); e-books (they can't compare to "the smell of new paper"); the iPad ("a foolish waste of time"); …and, perennially, sports. "You can't mention sports without someone saying, 'Why are you covering sports—it's just a bunch of Neanderthals, it's just a bunch of fascists!' " says NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca.”


Andrew Ferguson in Commentary, "All the Self-Congratulation That’s Fit to Print".

“The editor of the Times, Bill Keller, and the editor of the British Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, have both since composed narratives describing their entanglements with Assange and WikiLeaks…. Each editor reflects the journalistic culture at whose highest levels he is happily perched. Of the two, Rusbridger is the more frankly ideological. In his essay, the Times’s Keller notes that Rusbridger’s Guardian ‘is an openly left-leaning newspaper,’ distinguishing it from other papers, like the Times, that are left-leaning but not openly. Rusbridger is breezy and allusive in his efforts to explain why his newspaper published state secrets that his government pleaded with him not to publish. Though he at last realized that Assange was hypocritical and paranoid, Rusbridger views him with less distaste than does Keller…. The essays confirm the popular perception of the two approaches to journalism: the Brits are more charming than the Yanks, but less conscientious and probably less reliable. Conscientious doesn’t begin to describe Bill Keller; by his own account, he is damn near tormented by his need to do right.”


LAT: "Stanley Ann Dunham biography announcement", though this book does not sound like the book I was waiting for. After all, the President’s mother was dedicated to living down her white skin-privilege ten years before the Black Panthers inspired the Weathermen to racialize their own self-destruction -- some trick. They musta thought Dylan had said we need a weatherman to tell us which way the wind’s blowing.


Walter Olson in Commentary, "Law School and Leftist Orthodoxy".

“On many campuses, a running campaign against the Supreme Court nominations of the institution’s own alumni would have been considered an unthinkable lapse of school spirit. Not in New Haven, though. You might even say that by leading the charge against ideological turncoats and traitors, the professors were embodying Yale’s own special kind of school spirit. The U.S. Senate, in any event, proceeded to ignore the profs’ efforts, confirming Alito by a 58-42 margin, as it had earlier confirmed Thomas 52-48. One moment in the affair did occasion a bit of eye-brow-raising, however. It came when renowned liberal professor Owen Fiss explained to the New York Times the link between the two nomination battles: ‘The one lesson for the law school [of the earlier fight] was that we didn’t work hard enough to oppose [Thomas].’ ‘We’? A lesson ‘for the law school’? After some confusion, the Yale administration altered its website to distance itself a bit from the Alito Project and to clarify that Professor Fiss had not actually been speaking for the faculty as a whole; on the question of whether its alumnus should be confirmed to the Court, the school instead preserved a studied neutrality.”


Carolyn Heinze at Runninginhheels.co.uk, "France’s New Lovey-Dovey Dictatorship".

“In preparation for my role as Dictatrix de France, I’ve done a bit of homework, and here’s what I’ve discovered: Not one chapter of The Prince covers fashion. Not a single, solitary one! Not even a lousy paragraph!! And Machiavelli wonders why he spent the last years of his life mooning around in crummy peasant robes. Niccolò? Hellooooo? You’re from Italy and you’re Machiavellian. You could have written a line or two about the clothes. I haven’t quite completed my own dictator ensemble, but rest assured there will be plenty of feather boas. And leopard print à la Mobutu. If I were inclined toward consistency, I’d lean to Castro for inspiration, but he’s too unchanging and army-like à la Anna Wintour for my taste. Moi – I’m more of a Gaddafi girl myself; he’s so bold and adventurous and fashion-forward and unafraid to mix and match. And, like every forward-forging fashionista, dictator or designer, he’s branched out into camping gear. (He’s so camp!)(Remember that last – only? – time he was invited to France and he pitched that funky tent in the middle of the Élysée lawn? Très avant-garde !)”


Rhonda Garelick in NYT, "High Fascism".

During the Occupation, the Nazis and their French allies recognized the power and national prestige of the French fashion industry and sought to harness it. When the collaborationist Vichy government took over direction of the French lifestyle magazine Paris Soir, it announced in its pages a ‘summer of couture ... and shopping.’ The Nazis were so enamored with fashion’s place in French culture that in their plans for postwar Europe, they stipulated that, unlike other industries, the fashion sector would remain in France. Many in fashion were eager to play along. Lucien Lelong, a designer who supported Vichy and whose house stayed open during the war, saw couture as a political force: ‘Our role is to give France the face of serenity. The more elegant Frenchwomen are, the more our country will show the world that we are not afraid.’ French fashion publications advocated a deep connection between the cultural splendor of couture and Frenchwomen’s national, even genetic identity.”


Julian Baggini in WSJ on Brian Christian’s book, The Most Human Human.

“Mr. Christian covers all the major advances in the history of artificial intelligence in a similar way, drawing lessons for how human intelligence works. One recurring theme is how computers must simplify, by converting information to digital bits and then compressing data. Our brains do this too, of course, converting experience into neural patterns and retaining only what is salient. But for all the power of the analogy between the mind and computer software, machines struggle with the incredibly subtle connections we make through richness of context, allusion and ambiguity. Computers prefer information that depends minimally on the precise context in which it is communicated. Thus one way that Mr. Christian found to seem ‘more human’ during the competition was to provide answers with an excess of context. Mr. Christian covers a great deal of ground with admirable clarity but with a lightness of touch, and he never tries too hard. He also has a real knack for summing up key ideas by applying them to real-life situations: ‘If we really want to start fathoming someone,’ he suggests, ‘we need to get them speaking in sentences we can't finish.’”


Jack Shafer at Slate.com, "What’s not hot? Newsweek".

“The problem with Jon Meacham's Newsweek, somebody said to me last week, was that he didn't like the news and he didn't like the week. Tina Brown's redesigned Newsweek suffers a similar Meacham-esque avoidance of newsiness and the week. One would think that with the Arab world spinning apart, political insurrection visiting Capitol Hill and the state houses, and the NFL going on sabbatical, the week would be so hot that Brown could stir-fry its ingredients for a sizzling meal. Instead, Brown puts the queen of cold, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the cover and fills the corresponding article with hagiography. Also on the cover, she leans on the oldest trick in the magazine playbook—a list—which she runs over the nameplate (‘150 Women Who Shake the World’). She continues the women theme inside. Several new big-name columnists appear in the front of the book—Kathleen Parker, Niall Ferguson, Leslie H. Gelb, and Joanne Lipman—but none of them turns a phrase or casts a thought you haven't heard a million times before.”


Jack Healy in NYT, "Baghdad Neighborhood Celebrates as a Wall Is Taken Away".

“Iraq’s government has been removing blast walls little by little since late 2008, trying to restore a semblance of normalcy to this bunker city of six million people. The tentative approach of the Arab League’s annual meeting — postponed from this month until May because of the region’s instability — has prompted Iraq to increase its efforts as it prepares to play host. The government has uprooted many walls inside the heavily protected Green Zone and torn down sniper netting from highway overpasses, hoping to present a less martial capital for visiting leaders. The walls are coming down along the eclectic Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad, with plans being developed to tear down others in Shiite neighborhoods in the city’s north.”


Ellen Barry in NYT, "‘Decadent’ Russian Art, Still Under the Boot’s Shadow".

“And over the last year Ms. Babanazarova’s staff members have undergone 15 government audits, in which they have repeatedly been asked to explain their travels overseas and the nature of their contacts with foreigners, she said. ‘We have to prove that we are doing something good for the country, that we are not a gang of bandits,’ said Ms. Babanazarova, 55, who has run the museum since Mr. Savitsky’s death in 1984. ‘It’s a great satisfaction that we are getting international recognition. On the other hand, it complicates our lives, to be honest.’ Officials from the Foreign Ministry and Culture Ministry in Uzbekistan did not respond to written questions submitted last month by The New York Times. In the 1990s, when Western journalists and diplomats first happened upon the museum, it seemed like the beginning of an art-world fairy tale. Hanging in crude frames were vivid, saturated works that ran the gamut of early-20th-century styles, from Fauvism and Expressionism to Futurism and Constructivism. The Savitsky collection promised to fill in a missing chapter of art history, chronicling mostly forgotten Soviet artists who were exploring new directions before the early 1930s, when the Stalin regime condemned ‘decadent bourgeois art’ in favor of idealized paintings of factory and farmworkers. Some of the artists complied; some were locked up as dissidents; their work wound up in attics and storerooms. It might have remained there except for Mr. Savitsky, who persuaded their families to entrust him with the canvases and carried them back in massive rolls to Nukus, the city he made his home after visiting it as part of an archaeological expedition. ‘It’s an extraordinary collection because it really does tell the story of the twilight zone of the Russian avant-garde,’ said John E. Bowlt, director of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. ‘It’s a kind of diary, and a very sad one.’”


Jacqueline Trescott in Washington Post, "National Gallery gets Thomas Moran's 'Green River Cliffs, Wyoming' 1881 painting".

“The National Gallery of Art has acquired a key painting of the untamed American West, its third painting by celebrated 19th-century artist Thomas Moran. ‘Green River Cliffs, Wyoming,’ painted in 1881 and one of the artist's most famous paintings, has been added to the collection, the gallery announced. The painting, a dramatic sweeping view of the West's natural wonders, was installed Thursday outside the American galleries in the museum's West Building. ‘Green River,’ which was featured in a Moran retrospective at the gallery in 1997, is a gift of Vern Milligan, a long-time collector of Western art, and his two children. Milligan purchased ‘Green River’ at auction in 1994 for $2.7 million and has kept it in his private collection, according to the gallery. ‘For us this is a very important addition,’ said Nancy Anderson, head of the gallery's American and British paintings department. ‘We have never had one of these panoramic views of the American West. When we did the Moran show, it became very apparent that this was so important. The lender knew we admired it.’”


Jessica Gelt in LAT on Larry Edmunds Bookstore.

“[Robert] Birchard has been visiting the shop since 1963 when he was a kid. His favorite Larry Edmunds-procured item is a letter written in 1912 by New York-based Kalem Co. President Frank J. Marion to the director Sidney Olcott proclaiming that Hollywood was no longer a good place to shoot films. ‘Everyone in the business now has one or two companies out there,’ reads the letter, ‘and the suburbs of the city are fuller of picture takers than the woods of Coytesville [New Jersey].’ Birchard can rattle off with ease the many bookstores that used to line Hollywood Boulevard. There was Stanley Rose where the Vogue Theater now stands, Cherokee, Pickwick and Book City, to name a few. ‘There were still a lot of picture people in the area leading up to the 1960s and there was a lot of production in Hollywood proper,’ says Birchard, so the stores naturally attracted industry types. However Larry Edmunds was the first shop that began specializing exclusively in movie books. According to Birchard it was the wife of the shop's second owner, Milt Luboviski, who hit on the idea in the 1950s.”


Nat Hentoff in WSJ, "The Duke, Before My Time".

“After I became New York editor of Down Beat in 1953, I talked quite often with Duke, and was instructed not only in music (‘Don't listen by category, but to individuals’) but also in his deep interest in the history of his people in this land, which became part of his music. In 1957, I was very surprised and honored when the RCA Records label asked me, with Duke's approval, to select and write the notes for a compilation, later titled ‘In A Mellotone,’ of 1940-42 sides—previously unreleased on album—by what was then regarded internationally as his especially nonpareil orchestra. I felt I had been knighted.

Having treasured his music of that period, I knew little of his earlier recordings on other labels until now, with the release of the invaluably illuminating ‘The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra’ (Mosaic), produced by Scott Wenzel and Steven Lasker. The latter also wrote the deeply researched and absorbing liner notes that are of permanent value to global listeners, including jazz historians of the Ellington phenomenon.”


Arthur magazine suspended hard copy publishing in Oct. 2008 but its been hanging around on-line posting material and issuing digital download compilations while publisher-editor Jay Babcock has put his house in order after the 30-plus issue first run and searched for a partner or partners to re-launch. That he hasn’t found them is in my book another strike against the kids in their fairly lax efforts to prove they are alright, while refusing to have their sub literate contact with pseudo-friends via cell-phone interrupted for more than it takes to smoke a joint. And so Jay is set to end new posts at Arthurmag.com next Tuesday, March 15, 2011. He writes, “The extensive Arthur online archive and Store will remain operational for as long as makes sense. Thank you kindly, and love to all.” The run of issues look pretty good and will quickly take their place in the great gallery of old media, museums and memory. Some issues are sold out but #1 which features the title essay of my forthcoming book, Life Against Dementia, is still available and for just $3.

In better news, Russ Forster has gotten it into his head to publish a new issue of 8-Track Mind this coming May 16 or thereabouts. Russ asked me if I’d write something about blogging and since its been on my mind I had a good time writing out what amounts to how it is I came to be involved in this here New Vulgate. Look for a copy; it may be hard to find.


Andy Nystrom’s Black Flag gig-flyer notes at There’s Something Hard In There blog.


Trust Fanzine # 133, Dec. 2008 - Jan. 2009 issue.

“Um was es hier geht, stand schon mal im Newsletter von Joe Carducci im Oktober 2008: „Ich hörte es gerade von dem TRUST-Fanzine aus Deutschland: Sie sind die einzigen, die den dreißig jährigen Geburtstag von SST Records im Jahr 2008 bemerkten. Jan schrieb, dass es ihnen auffiel, weil jede große Musikzeitschrift in Deutschland dermaßen viel über das 20-jährige Jubiläum von SubPop-Records berichtete. Es scheint, dass das TRUST gute Zeitzeugenberichte von damaligen Label-Mitarbeitern und Bands bekommt. 
Aus Gregs SST Electronics wurde im Januar 1978 SST Records, als er entschied, dass Black Flag (die damals noch Panic hießen) bereit waren, die „Nervous Breakdown“-EP aufzunehmen. Ein Jahr, nachdem ich SST verlassen hatte, das war 1986, schrieb ich Greg und schlug vor, dass man für das zehnjährige Jubiläum 1988 doch verschiedene Kompilation-Platten machen könnte, die jeweils exklusiv von einem anderen Vertrieb und mit verschiedenem Zusatz-Material und jeweils anderen Linernotes vertrieben werden. Der Markt würde dann über die Zukunft von SST entscheiden… Ah, die 80er… Reagan, Wanniski, Hayek, Derrida, Foucault, Stallone… Greg entschied sich dagegen, er war schon in den 90ern.”


Scarcity Of Tanks upcoming March gigs:

• 11th - Psychotropa, Brooklyn: SOT, Tall Firs, Man Forever Duo, Chris Grier/Gibby Haynes Duo.
• 12th - The Shop, Pittsburgh: SOT, Sic Alps, Magik Markers, Kim Phuc.
• 19th - Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland: SOT, Pere Ubu.


An In-Person Tribute to Bertrand Tavernier, March 2 - 23 at the Aero Theatre, Santa Monica:

• 9th - The Princess of Montpensier (2010)
• 16th - Life and Nothing But (1989)
• 23rd - 'Round Midnight (1986)


The Bulls Sunday afternoon network victory over the Miami Heat was a squeaker they might easily have lost, but it was an odds-changing game nonetheless as far as the Chicago Bulls being taken seriously for finishing the season at top seed in the East, and even making the finals and winning it all for the first time since Jordan days.

The Sun-Times dubbed it "The Crying Game", and ESPN followed along after Miami coach Eric Spoelstra in a clumsy attempt to convince that his superstar troika cares about losing admitted that some two unnamed were crying real tears afterward. But all the unsolicited advice and chastisement of Miami’s resort heroes still failed to understand what a solution might look like for the “team”. Harvey Araton in the NYT sure refigured out problem again though:

“After James’s lefty layup attempt over the spidery Joakim Noah nearly cracked the backboard and the Heat lost a 1-point game to Chicago on Sunday, he stood up and promised his teammates he would not continue failing them at the finish. Implicit in the vow was that he would continue getting the ball in those make-or-break moments.

So who will notify him when the time comes (if not now) to try someone or something else with the game on the line? Who will tell him to go be the league’s richest decoy and crash the offensive boards? In his eight seasons, James has not had a coach with more clout than him. A month into his time with the Heat, when the team stumbled out of the gate and Spoelstra reportedly scolded him for wasting time at practice with long trick shots, James “accidentally” bumped the coach on the way to the bench.”

These post-Jordan superstars always neglect to learn the initial lesson that he learned as he attempted to seal the first NBA championship against the Lakers in game five by going one on five over and over while the clock ran down with the not-so-hot Lakers of 1991 ahead. Phil Jackson, then skinny and with a voice rather than a death-croak, famously called timeout and asked Michael over and over again one question that Michael did not want to answer. “Who’s open?” Eventually Jordan gave up trying to tell Jackson all about his great one-on-five plans and answered, “John”, as in Paxson who for the rest of that game/series/season “went crazy on us” in the post-game/series/season words of Magic Johnson. Michael had a readymade slot in which to file this lesson learned, and that was what Isaiah Thomas had done in Detroit to win championships rather than scoring titles. And Michael had been dissed as well by various Celtics after scoring 63 points against them in a 1986 playoff game while his team was swept in that first round series.

What makes the Heat’s situation so enjoyable outside Miami is that that very game, in the two offensive sequences before that very failed LeBron shot and Wade rebound attempt, their teammate, one Mario Chalmers, had taken advantage of the double-team triggered by his super-teammates by hitting a wide-open three, followed by an easy left side drive to a lay-up from the three line -- five points as good as any. As far as I know nobody on the “team” or in the media has so much as mentioned the name of Chalmers in relation to the game-winning-shot-that-wasn’t. Hubie should have used the telestrator to show us where the hell Chalmers was. Spoelstra should have filled the blackboard with giant letters spelling out: “The Chalmers Factor!”

But the good news is the Chicago Bulls, though they still routinely lose to lesser teams and they still have a final ratchet or two to go before they can win a championship. But they have time this year yet. In that Sun-Times piece, Rick Morrissey writes:

“Rose has something Wade doesn’t have — Chicago — and the guess here is that their rivalry is going to get nastier as time goes on. According to Slam magazine, when Rose hit a big shot over Wade at the United Center last month, he screamed, ‘This is my [house]!’ What did he actually say in that parenthetical? Let’s put it this way: If the house had an address, it would be No. 2. Wade and James couldn’t coax a victory when it counted Sunday. Wade had said beforehand that the two of them needed to do a better job of finishing off games. He was right, of course, but just because he knew that didn’t mean he’d be able to do it against the best defensive team in the NBA.”

Araton seems to think that only Heat GM Pat Riley can break it down to LeBron that he can’t take the shot at the end of games. That seems to imply that LeBron’s last killshot should be to get coach Spoelstra fired. That would be a shame but coaches are rarely treated fairly in the NBA. Can you imagine how Vinny Del Negro and Scott Skiles feel when they see the Bulls arriving?


Bulls GM John Paxson talks to Lacy Banks in CST.

“It was 20 years ago that Paxson helped lead the Bulls to their first title. So he knows all about the importance of a solid foundation. When Michael Jordan joined the Bulls as the NBA’s No. 3 pick in 1984, he quickly was disenchanted with a roster he called ‘the Looney Tunes.’ While that team was the most physically talented Jordan had played with up to that point, it also featured players who used cocaine, others who drank and partied too much, and also some slackers interested more in how much they got paid rather than how well they played. That’s why when Jerry Reinsdorf purchased the Bulls in March 1985 and hired general manager Jerry Krause to build a championship team around Jordan, Krause already knew the first acquisition he would make seven months later. It would be a 6-2, free-agent shooting guard. ‘I wanted to get John Paxson as the first player to team with Jordan,’ Krause said. ‘John was a graduate of Notre Dame, a tough competitor and a smart team player with an outstanding work ethic. While we had a team of characters, John was a man of outstanding character. I knew he would play well with Michael.’ Forward Sidney Green, another player on that team, applauded the addition of Paxson. ‘Drug use was pretty rampant at that time, and there was a lot wrong with the Bulls,’ Green said. ‘But Krause fixed it.’”


Obituary of the Week

Wally Kaname Yonamine (1925 - 2011)

“He was an outfielder known as the ‘Nisei Jackie Robinson’ for breaking into Japanese baseball and building ties between the countries in a highly sensitive period after World War II. Facing a language barrier, he was sometimes met with hostility, including rock throwing, for being an American and for his aggressive style of play. Yonamine, who was born in Maui, is considered one of the greatest athletes to come out of Hawaii. He played pro football for the 49ers in their second season in 1947, three years before the team joined the National Football League. Yonamine, who signed a two-year deal worth $14,000, is believed to be the first player of Japanese ancestry to play pro football. But he was released after one season after an injury. ‘He was an outsider with the 49ers and he moved to Japan and became an outsider for the opposite reason — because he was American as opposed to being Asian,’ said Robert K. Fitts, who wrote the 2008 biography Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball. He returned to baseball and played in the Pacific Coast League before heading to Japan at the age of 26 in 1951. Yonamine played for the Yomiuri Giants and the Chunichi Dragons, helping transform how the game was played in Japan. ‘Wally is credited with introducing American-style baseball, a hard-nosed Pete Rose-style of baseball to Japan,’ Fitts said. ‘The change wasn't overnight. He was very unpopular at first. He was really booed and had rocks thrown at him. A lot of that was his play and not because he was an American. But the players saw quickly that was the way to win.’”


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock.

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