a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Issue #89 (March 16, 2011)

Centennial, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

American Culture From and Against the Rest

by Joe Carducci

Americans are among the last people to understand the depth of their own culture. Most of American audiences took it for granted that they’d hear Bing Crosby or Louis Armstrong or Hank Williams or Elvis Presley when they turned on the radio, and they’d expect to see Mary Pickford or William S. Hart or Jimmy Cagney or Jean Arthur or John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe when they went to the movies. Popular lit they’d pick up from the drugstore rack might be Cornell Woolrich or Dashiell Hammett or Luke Short…. Specialists from the Humanities generally overlooked these artists in their moments, preferring developments in Europe or what they call literary fiction, some of which is good, most of which is unread. They’d prefer American artists which directly reference European work whether German expressionism, or British theatrical convention, or French new wave, or even Italian spaghetti westerns. Without such markers -- normally laid on thick -- the elite audiences are simply at a loss. They live in America as vicarious ex-pats so cannot admit to being at a loss and take this out on the American artist generally.

There have been exceptions such as Vachel Lindsay, Manny Farber, and others, but precious few. In one of the nuttier books I’ve read recently, The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American, 1900 - 1910, Francophile professor of English at Drake Richard Abel proves that the Western was invented to drive the French film giant Pathé from American screens. It’s a handsome book full of interesting factoids and illustrations but it forges causality and just last night I watched an Edmund Cobb western, The Courage of Collins (1927), which is a Pathé production, though by then the company was run by Joseph P. Kennedy.

America does not have a high culture, though it participates in Europe’s. Europe, Asia, and Africa have rich but often dying folk arts, but they have deeply flawed pop cultures. Their cultures interface with modernity via the necessary local media and marketing environments that are debilitating of those arts. American arts are acclimated to the media environment since the country was still becoming itself as the arts and media environments grew, and with no high art the best minds were more often to be found grinding out all manner of pulp or pop. African pop is better than European or Asian pop as you might expect, though it suffers relative to black American pop for its not having centuries of deep accommodation to European balladry and hymnals as well as coming late to a modern media environment. Latin America has its own better pop environment but its cultures often left blacks to their own African devices and so the rude world-historical interjacency whereby Anglo-Scots-Irish balladry and West African ritual musics finished each other off yielding blues, jazz, country, and rock and roll. There’s been too much going on in it all for the audiences to do anything but enjoy, and the intellectuals to do anything but ignore.

For these and other reasons it’s great to find out that one of the less retarded academics, Stanley Fish, has written a book about the ABC television program, “The Fugitive” (1963 - 1967), and more importantly that it originates in Fish’s liking the show. Jenny Diski reviews The Fugitive in Flight: Faith, Liberalism and Law in a Classic TV Show in the London Review of Books and knowing nothing about Diski I’d assume the book might be better than the average LRB reviewer might understand; she does fault him for fan-like faux pas. Its also true that if she’s British she’d not likely suffer the kind of Anglophilia that would preclude interest in watching great TV-size actors driving primo Ford Galaxies and Falcons around on the gravel roads of a lost small town America. My guess, anyway. She writes:

“Kimble, unencumbered by houses, wives and lawns, can become his almost zen-like essential self, a vacuum that is the essence of his personhood and which must be protected from all interference and attachment. He becomes a wandering monk, or given the homilies he’s inclined to dish out, true though they might be, more like a peripatetic life coach. His humanity can’t say no when asked for help, even if it puts him in danger of discovery. But although his medical expertise means he can fix the odd broken leg when necessary, his help consists, for the most part, of showing and explaining to the strangers who ask for his help that the solution to their troubles is within themselves, in their capacity as individual, rational humans – at which point their eyes shine, and, having proved they don’t really need him, he runs once again for his life…. This is the fugitive’s freedom, and also his condition of isolation: the dark side of liberalism, Fish calls it.”

I’m inclined to forgive a large amount of double-domeage when it comes to “The Fugitive” because it was obviously some kind of telepathic mid-sixties harbinger of the late sixties. The final episode, a two-parter in August 1967, set and held the record for audience-size for years, and when it was over America promptly went berserk.

Ed Robertson’s fan book, The Fugitive Recaptured, is full of interesting information about the series. Roy Huggins created it after producing “Cheyenne”, “Maverick”, and “77 Sunset Strip”. He tells Robertson, “Although I was tired of producing westerns, I loved the freedom of the western hero. I wanted to transfer that total freedom of the western protagonist… onto a character in a contemporary setting.” His problem was how to keep the lead from looking “like a bum”. Richard Kimble being a fugitive MD falsely accused of murdering his wife was the answer. Huggins was thinking “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” or “The Wrong Man” which Robertson considers a noir theme and locates it in late fifties-early sixties television programs like “M Squad”, “Naked City”, and “The Untouchables”. Quinn Martin produced the series with a version of “Dragnet”-style realism, only we’re riding with the wanted man who is innocent and therefore low-key and paranoid, even as he searches for the one-armed man who did the crime. The show also was an adaptation of the old fifties anthology programs, with just David Janssen common to every episode (his co-star Barry Morse playing Lieutenant Gerard showed up every few episodes still chasing him). The setting, the cast of characters, his job and his name all changed every week. Apparently Huggins had some trouble selling the idea.

We lived a block from school in the sixties so we walked home for lunch and reruns of “The Fugitive” ran at noon. (Because it had such a famous closed ending it hasn’t been such a desirable property for syndication/rerun.) So while my younger brothers and sisters were watching “Bozo” every day I got to watch the first three Acts of “The Fugitive” but never got to see Act IV, never mind the Epilog! I only knew Kimble got away because he was in Salinas one day and the next day he’d made it to Decatur. While I was watching it as some kind of fantasy of autonomy, living as I was in a house full of kids, parents, grandmother, and various parakeets and hamsters, I found out that Dave Lightbourne had been watching it at Grinnell with all his proto-American Studies hipster friends. One day in Chicago in the mid-nineties he quoted from memory one of the narrator’s Epilog dispensations: “A city with 10 million lights casts a hundred million shadows, each one only a passing refuge for a man on the run -- a man like the Fugitive.” That one ran in an episode written by George Eckstein, “See Hollywood and Die”, which aired November 5, 1963. Undoubtedly that generation of college lit student saw “The Fugitive” as related to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Twain’s Adventures of Huck Finn.

Some time in the seventies American culture began to wind down as all the high/low, black/white, old world/new world contention resolved themselves in our now fully middle class, aestheticized, politicized world of product. Rather than capitalizing on this cultural down-time by grounding students in this past of new world Classics, the schools just throw more dirt on American music, film, and literature. And then still the look overseas for answers, when we know that even when of interest foreign responses to modernity are really missing a dimension, and as such are basically responses to American culture itself. World music doesn’t rock; at best it lilts.

You don’t expect culture reporters to understand this when culture critics don’t. Still its disappointing to read in the Wall Street Journal how the latest thing in television programming is borrowing and translating Israeli and British shows. Amy Chozik and Joshua Mitnick write in “Coming to America”:

“[A]s the world gets smaller, and original ideas harder to come by, Hollywood producers and agents are looking elsewhere, and they say they've found signs of a Promised Land. Israel, though faraway, isolated and war-weary, is culturally more aligned to American TV tastes than almost any other country. The nation's small, but highly educated, technologically advanced work force largely speaks English and has grown up on U.S. shows and movies, even if their own shows are in Hebrew. ‘It feels very much like a 51st state,’ says Ben Silverman, former co-chairman of NBC Universal….”

Actually we’ve been watching recycled British and Japanese forms since the seventies and ideas are not hard to come by. But Hollywood’s businessmen are now college educated and the cult of Twain, Jack London, Hemingway, is long gone from the place. There’s a bit of Warhol to it though.

Highway 11, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Occidental Orientalism

by Joe Carducci

The New York Times dutifully runs opposing views on whether to do something or nothing in Libya. Ross Douthat’s column “Iraq Then, Libya Now” seems the neo-Realist position now juiced with general Tea Party mistrust of federal projects foreign or domestic:

“Advocates of a Libyan intervention… have rallied around a no-flight zone as their Plan A for toppling Qaddafi, but most military analysts seem to think that it will fail to do the job, and there’s no consensus on Plan B. Would we escalate to air strikes? Arm the rebels? Sit back and let Qaddafi claim to have outlasted us? If we did supply the rebels, who exactly would be receiving our money and munitions? Libya’s internal politics are opaque, to put it mildly. But here’s one disquieting data point, courtesy of the Center for a New American Security’s : Eastern Libya, the locus of the rebellion, sent more foreign fighters per capita to join the Iraqi insurgency than any other region in the Arab world.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s guest column, "Fiddling While Libya Burns", seems from the more permanent public-private internationalist voice:

“If the Security Council fails to act, then we should recognize the opposition Libyan National Council as the legitimate government, as France has done, and work with the Arab League to give the council any assistance it requests. Any use of force must be carefully and fully debated, but that debate has now been had. It’s been raging for a week, during which almost every Arab country has come on board calling for a no-flight zone and Colonel Qaddafi continues to gain ground. It is time to act.”

One hopes someone in the government understands that there are far more options to act than anyone here guesses. Reagan almost took care of Kadaffi with two planes back in 1986 over the Berlin Disco bombing which killed American soldiers, and we don’t even need planes to do that now. Libya is uniquely a one-man operation so you wonder why this precedent isn’t even broached. But a half-revolution, splitting Libya was bound to create a civil war in a way the occupation of public squares in Egyptian cities did not. Erica Chenoweth’s guest column, “"Give Peaceful Resistance a Chance”, in the Times chiding the Libyans for defending the cities they’ve freed with the weapons they captured is well beside any real relevance here. The NYT editorial, “Washington’s Options in Libya,” chastises the Obama administration for being unprepared and “weakening American credibility”, and then lays down the new laws:

“The United States must not act on its own.”
“A credible endorsement from the Arab world seems absolutely essential.”

Bush 1 got that credible endorsement from all these same Arab dictatorships to invade Iraq and kick Saddam out of Kuwait, but all of that Powell doctrine mobilization could not be utilized beyond a point allowed by such legitimizers as Assad of Syria, Mubarak of Egypt, et. al. Hence the second battle of Iraq under Bush 2. That might have gone much better had Saddam & sons been captured immediately and our administrative state not decided to adopt Iraq thereafter under that other Powell doctrine, You break it, you own it. It’s actually Rwanda that haunts the Democrats and the New York Times, they offloaded Iraq culpability long ago onto three or four individuals in the Bush 2 administration. The Times has an ongoing problem trying to maintain these indictments-by-assertion as President Obama, their anti-Bush, finds one Bush-crime after another useful or necessary to continue: War in Iraq, War in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, military trials of unlawful combatants, and most recently alleged mistreatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the WikiLeaks cables source. These offenses are each duly noted and argued against, but thankfully they no longer rank as war crimes.

On cable news, “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN is the foreign affairs show-of-record now, and it had a less-than-riveting five-way discussion of the Mideast and Libya on Sunday. The transcript is available. Rami Khouri (“a Jordanian who directs the Public Policy Institute at the American University of Beriut ”) seems to indicate that things will have to get far more bloody for the Arab intelligentsia to turn their attention away from vicious American orientalism. At the top of the interview when asked specifically whether Arabs “want the United States to help the Libyan people,” Khouri gives evidence he hasn’t kept up with the news which has been relaying pleas for American, UN, European, anyone’s help for weeks:

“It's a difficult question that doesn't have a straight answer. I think people want the outside world to help, including the United States, if the Libyans ask for it. Clearly there, is a legitimate way for the U.S. to do this, but they don't want it to be unilaterally done by the United States.”

Makes you wonder about the American University. He goes on to respond with a rambling imprecise dance upon the surface of a question about peaceful Syria, before homing in on his default comfort perch, turning the subject to America, impuning the rambling imprecise response of the “white people” in Europe and North America and calling for “absolute clarity”:

“Zakaria: Rami, the final thought from you on the puzzle for me which is perhaps the most repressive… regime here that has many of these pressures is Syria, a country right next to you. Why does it seem to be stable? Is it just the brutality of the system and the repression?

Khouri: I think it's a puzzle that many of us are still trying to figure out. But in the end, Syria has the same pressures as all these other countries. People under severe social and economic stress without very democratic systems and, therefore, the pressure is there. But what's very obvious is that the demands, the nature of grievances, many of the grievances and the demands of citizenries that are agitating for their rights are almost identical across the region. They want to live in countries where power is exercised according to the rule of law that is defined by the consent of the governed. They're saying that we actually believe what the Americans said in their founding documents. That all human beings, not just white people, not just Europeans and North Americans, not just males, all people are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. And we feel that all Arabs have those same rights. And if one thing that Obama can do or any foreign leader can say, is just come out forcefully without hesitation, without linking it to Israel or Iran with anybody else with absolute clarity. We support the rights of every human being for liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness and rule of law and justice. But we still haven't got that. We've got this hesitant, western reaction. They don't know how to deal with freedom-loving Arabs. They talk about it, but they just don't know how to do it and it's about time that they learn.”

This too might be Islamophobia. (Edward Said has a lot to answer for.) I just hope nobody starts calling for leadership from America, because I don’t like the sound of a Jeb Bush presidency.

Eremopterix Verticalis by James Fotopoulos

From the 8,000 Foot High Desk of Joe Carducci…

WSJ: "A Nation’s Vigil of Hope and Loss".

“Speaking at the middle-school evacuation center in Arahama, the 61-year-old said he had been outside at around 2:30 p.m. Friday, getting his land ready for planting, when the quake hit. Though he said it was the biggest of the many tremors he has felt over his lifetime, he stayed in his field, some two miles inland. Then came the fire trucks, the helicopters, the orders to evacuate. ‘They were saying we had to flee, because a tsunami was coming,’ he said. ‘I didn't think the water could possibly come in that far.’ As he was trying to finish up his work, he says he heard a great noise—‘Crack! Crack! Crack,’ is how he describes it. He looked to see water and wood flying into the air in the distance. He jumped into his car. Tracing a diagram of his evacuation path on the dust of the floor, he described driving down a narrow road between the rice paddies. ‘One wrong turn and my wheel would get stuck, and it would be over,’ he said. At a corner where the road turned left, away from the ocean, he said he could see the water rising. ‘It was there right in front of me,’ he said. Mr. Matsumoto said he has returned to his home and found that the earthquake damaged it beyond repair. His land, he presumes, lies under muck. With many roads impassable to cars, he has salvaged a bicycle and has been helping a friend clean out his home in an area where residents have been permitted to return…. Mr. Matsumoto—who says he turned to farming after a life as a salaryman in a job he declined to name—says he wants to farm again. His resolve is tempered by thoughts of a friend's disappeared daughter and of the wall of water he just outran. Lowering his voice, he considers the thousands the government says are likely to have died. ‘I think it is tens of thousands,’ he said.”


Amy Davidson at Newyorker.com, "Six Reactors, Fifty Workers".

“The subject was the Fukushima Daishi nuclear plant. There are six reactors there, and there have been hydrogen explosions in the structures housing three of them—reactors No. 1, 2, and 3—and, for a short time Tuesday morning…—a fire at reactor No. 4, which released radiation. And there are eight hundred workers at the Fukushima Daichi plant. Which news, in the last hours, had the greatest force: the first reports that they had all been withdrawn, which would mean that the reactors were pretty much doomed; or the news that, actually, fifty of them were still on the job, despite what staying might do to them? Among other things, they were trying to keep the reactors cool by using fire-fighting equipment to spray seawater into the cores. Radiation levels in the immediate area rose sharply for several hours—‘Now we are talking about levels that can impact human health,’ the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yukio Edano, said. Then, after hours of knock-down, drag-out fighting to control the reactors, the levels thankfully fell, though they are still above normal.”


Nicholas Wade in NYT, "New View of How Humans Moved Away From Apes ".

“The finding corroborates an influential new view of early human origins advanced by Bernard Chapais, a primatologist at the University of Montreal, in his book Primeval Kinship (2008). Dr. Chapais showed how a simple development, the emergence of a pair bond between male and female, would have allowed people to recognize their relatives, something chimps can do only to a limited extent. When family members dispersed to other bands, they would be recognized and neighboring bands would cooperate instead of fighting to the death as chimp groups do. In chimpanzee societies, males stay where they are born and females disperse at puberty to neighboring groups, thus avoiding incest. The males, with many male relatives in their group, have a strong interest in cooperating within the group because they are defending both their own children and those of their brothers and other relatives. Human hunter-gatherer societies have been assumed to follow much the same pattern, with female dispersal being the general, though not universal, rule and with members of bands therefore being closely related to one another. But Dr. Hill and Dr. Walker find that though it is the daughters who move in many hunter-gatherer societies, the sons leave the home community in many others. In fact, the human pattern of residency is so variable that it counts as a pattern in itself, one that the researchers say is not known for any species of ape or monkey.”


John Cornwell in FT on Frank Schaeffer’s book, Patience with God.

“His argument becomes manifest in a discursive reflection around the public spat between Christopher Hitchens (atheist), and his brother Peter Hitchens (Christian). The brothers are, in Schaeffer’s view two peas from the same pod. Western Christianity and militant atheism, he argues, are both characterized by logic, rationality, dogma. The Christianity of the East, which separated from Rome and western thinking a thousand years back, is marked by imagination, mystery and non-judgmental love. Eastern thinking does not seek to combat militant atheism with knock-down proofs, but rather with what Pascal calls ‘the reasons of the heart’. Schaeffer insists, moreover, that the eastern church is a religion of Easter, the Resurrection, forgiveness; whereas the western churches are religions of Good Friday, sacrifice, punishment.”


Judith Herrin in WSJ, "The Glories of Byzantium".

“So why has this remarkable empire for so long been perceived as abhorrent and rebarbative, when not being dismissed? The neglect of Byzantium by historians may be traced to the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by members of the Fourth Crusade. The crusaders justified their plunder and desecration of churches and monasteries by projecting onto the city and its civilization all their own worst faults: The eastern Christians were condemned as schismatics or even heretics; their wealth was therefore ill-gained and undeserved. In this way, an enormous pile of booty ‘transformed the crusading paupers into the richest citizens,’ as one Western monk put it.”


Michael Beran in CSM, "Compassion turns to coercion".

“In his book The Liberal Imagination, published in 1950, Trilling pointed to the ‘dangers which lie in our most generous wishes.’ Progressives, Trilling observed, believe that through the ‘rational direction of human life’ they can alleviate misery. But the reformers, Trilling showed, are too often oblivious of the truth of their own motives.

In his 1947 novel The Middle of the Journey, Trilling probes this hidden impulse in his portrayal of Gifford Maxim, a character modeled on his Columbia schoolmate and legendary Soviet spy-turned-anti-Communist Whittaker Chambers. ‘And in the most secret heart of every intellectual ... there lies hidden ... the hope of power, the desire to bring his ideas to reality by imposing them on his fellow man,’ Maxim says. This hope tempts the progressive to embrace coercive policies in the name of social equity. ‘The more we talk of welfare, the crueler we become,’ Maxim says. ‘How can we possibly be guilty when we have in mind the welfare of others, and of so many others?’

Trilling shared Maxim's skepticism about progressive motives. ‘Some paradox of our nature leads us,’ Trilling wrote in The Liberal Imagination, ‘when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.’”


Martin Hutchinson & Lisa Lee in NYT, "A Possible Lesson from the Luddites".

“The economic conditions facing the Luddites bear consideration today. Britain had been off the gold standard since 1797 and consequently suffered considerable inflation, with prices double in 1813 compared with 1793. Real interest rates were historically low. The yield on long-term British government Consols, the nearest equivalent of today’s long-dated Treasury bonds, averaged below 5 percent, only 1 percent above the inflation rate. The Bullion Report of 1810, whose drafters included the economist David Ricardo and the monetarist Henry Thornton, specifically blamed excessive credit for inflation. Much of this credit was absorbed by the government, which ran a deficit of about 12 percent of the gross domestic product because of spending on the concurrent Napoleonic wars.

Of course, there were some large differences from today. A wartime trade embargo had cut off many European markets for British textiles. Nevertheless, the overall picture was one of cheap money leading to labor-saving capital investment, while inflation eroded wages and restrictions and excessive government deficits dampened economic activity.

The Luddites have been mocked for attacking the productivity-enhancing machinery that led to unprecedented improvements in living standards. But given the economic policies of the time — which bear an uncomfortable resemblance to some of our own — the Luddites were justified in believing that only higher unemployment, with no discernible improvement in conditions on the horizon, was their fate.”


Bjorn Lomborg at Project-syndicate.org, "A Race to Hunger".

“Spectators at February’s Daytona 500 in Florida were handed green flags to wave in celebration of the news that the race’s stock cars now use gasoline with 15% corn-based ethanol. It was the start of a season-long television marketing campaign to sell the merits of biofuel to Americans. On the surface, the self-proclaimed ‘greening of NASCAR’ (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) is merely a transparent (and, one suspects, ill-fated) exercise in an environmental form of whitewashing for the sport – call it ‘greenwashing.’ But the partnership between a beloved American pastime and the biofuel lobby also marks the latest attempt to sway public opinion in favor of a truly irresponsible policy. The United States spends about $6 billion a year on federal support for ethanol production through tax credits, tariffs, and other programs. Thanks to this financial assistance, one-sixth of the world’s corn supply is burned in American cars. That is enough corn to feed 350 million people for an entire year. Government support of rapid growth in biofuel production has contributed to disarray in food production.”


Economist: Oil - The price of fear.

“When oil markets tighten, another set of problems emerges. Saudi oil is generally more dense and sulphurous than the Libyan crude it will replace. Europe’s creaky old refineries will not be able to process the heavier Saudi crude, and fuel regulations there are less tolerant of sulphur content than elsewhere in the world. So the Gulf oil will have to be shipped to Asia’s newer refineries, which are designed to deal with a wide variety of grades of oil. West African oil, a close substitute for Libya’s output which usually goes to Asia, will be sent to Europe instead. If the supply situation worsens, opportunities for this type of substitution will be fewer, creating supply bottlenecks, shortages of petrol and spikes within price spikes for different crudes and products, even when spare capacity remains. The price differential of about $15 a barrel that has built up between Brent crude, which more closely reflects global trade, and West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for oil prices in America, is a good example of how oil markets can become distorted by local patterns of supply and demand. If supply gets even more stretched, oil could fetch a far higher price in some parts of the world than others. If supply problems become really grave, oil companies may even declare force majeure, raising the prospect that, as in 1978, oil markets fail altogether.”


Book excerpt in NYT, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin, by Jamie Doran & Piers Bizony.

“Komarov’s launch was supposed to be followed a day later by another Soyuz with three more crewmen aboard. It seems likely that the Brezhnev administration wanted the docking to take place on or around May Day. The year 1967 had a special significance in the Communist calendar; it was the 50th anniversary of the 1917 revolution…. But as the deadline for the mission drew near, technicians knew of 203 separate faults in the spacecraft that still required attention. Yuri Gagarin was closely involved in this assessment. By March 9, 1967, he and his closest cosmonaut colleagues had produced a formal 10-page document, with the help of the engineers, in which all the problems were outlined in detail. The trouble was, no one knew what to do with it. Within Soviet society, bad news always reflected badly on the messenger…. The cosmonauts and bureaucrats eventually adopted an age-old technique. They recruited a nonpartisan messenger from outside the Soyuz program to deliver the document for them: Yuri Gagarin’s K.G.B. friend Venyamin Russayev. ‘Komarov invited me and my wife to visit his family,’ says Russayev. ‘Afterward, as he was seeing us off, ‘Komarov said straight out, ‘I’m not going to make it back from this flight.’ As I knew the state of affairs, I asked him, ‘If you’re so convinced you’re going to die, then why don’t you refuse the mission?’ He answered, ‘If I don’t make this flight, they’ll send the backup pilot instead. That’s Yura, and he’ll die instead of me. We’ve got to take care of him.’ . . . Komarov said he knew what he was talking about, and he burst into such bitter tears.’ …Rumors about the dialogue between Komarov and ground control have circulated for many years, based on reports from the National Security Agency staff monitoring the radio signals from an Air Force facility near Istanbul. In August 1972 a former NSA analyst, interviewed under the name Winslow Peck (real name Perry Fellwock), gave a very moving account of the interception: ‘[The Soviet premier Alexei] Kosygin called Komarov personally. They had a videophone conversation, and Kosygin was crying. He told him he was a hero. . . . The guy’s wife got on too. He told her how to handle their affairs and what to do with the kids.’ As he began his descent into the atmosphere, Komarov knew he was in terrible trouble. The radio outposts in Turkey picked up his cries of rage as he plunged to his death, cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.”


Henry Shukman in Outside, "Chernobyl, My Primeval, Teeming, Irradiated Eden".

“For 17 years, biologist Igor Chizhevsky has been studying how animals metabolize cesium and strontium. He works with the Chernobyl Radio-Ecological Center and is a friendly, serious, broad-faced man. He has made Chernobyl his career. When he comes to talk with us in the guesthouse, he sits stolidly in an armchair, barely moving at all for an hour, while telling us in a doleful Slavic voice about how things are really going down here for the animals. When humans abandoned the zone, he says, it wasn't just they and their domestic animals—including 135,000 cattle—that left. The ‘lycanthropic’ species that live around humans—pigeons, swallows, rats, and the like—also left the territory in large numbers, leaving it free for a wild ecosystem to reestablish itself. ‘Structure of entire fauna system change,’ Igor says. House mice, which thrived on grains no longer grown here, have been replaced by forest and field mice. Likewise with the bird species. But it's the larger mammals we're interested in. On the surface, Igor says, the wildlife seems to be thriving, but under the fur and hide, the DNA of most species has become unstable. They've eaten a lot of food contaminated with cesium and strontium. Even though the animals look fine, there are differences at the chromosomal level in every generation, as yet mostly invisible. But some have started to show: there are bird populations with freakishly high levels of albinism, with 20 percent higher levels of asymmetry in their feathers, and higher cancer rates. There are strains of mice with resistance to radioactivity—meaning they've developed heritable systems to repair damaged cells. Covered in radioactive particles after the disaster, one large pine forest turned from green to red: seedlings from this Red Forest placed in their own plantation have grown up with various genetic abnormalities. They have unusually long needles, and some grow not as trees but as bushes. The same has happened with some birch trees, which have grown in the shape of large, bushy feathers, without a recognizable trunk at all. ‘Genomes, er, unpredictable,’ says Igor. ‘Genome not exactly same from generation to generation. They change.’ This is not good for a species. Genomes are supposed to stay the same. That's what holds a species together. No one knows what these changes could result in.”


Hugh Raffles in WSJ on John Himmelman’s book, Cricket Radio: Tuning in the Night-Singing Insects.

“Nature is a struggle for existence, and insects—like birds and many other animals—call to attract the best mate, to sound the alarm against predators and to claim their territory. Singing is functional behavior in the service of reproduction and species survival, Mr. Himmelman says: ‘It's what they do.’ Nonetheless, he hears beauty and even philosophy in insect song—but he recognizes that the melancholy or joy he detects is a reflection of his own emotional state, not the animals'. We project our own yearnings and sensibilities because this is how humans are hardwired, he writes, programmed to ‘be stimulated by things not undertaken for our own edification.’ …Mr. Himmelman's enchantment with the entomological soundscape is so complete that he can turn the most unpromising site—his Connecticut backyard, for example—into an insect lover's terra incognita, shimmering with possibility. Mr. Himmelman is keen to help us experience the intimate companionship of singing insects, a pleasure familiar to people in many parts of the world but less known in North America. ‘Cricket Radio’ includes easy-to-follow instructions on how to locate, capture and keep many species at home. But if you fear suffering the fate of Jean-Henri Fabre, you might prefer to visit the author's website (cricketradiobroadcast.com), where you can listen to Mr. Himmelman's recordings of 52 species of North American insects singing their hearts out—until you click them off and go to sleep.”


Hubert Kilian at Taiwantoday.tw, "Taiwanese cuisine reflects nation’s historical odyssey".

“Open to historical influences, enriched by waves of immigration, but with a strong insular character, Taiwan's cuisine defies definition. To understand this rich and stunning mixture of tastes, one must first look at the paths Taiwan's people have travelled on.

Aboriginal groups, in the plains as well as in the mountains, already had a well-rooted culinary tradition, rustic and hearty, a reflection of their ancient lifestyle based on hunting, fishing, gathering and basic agriculture. The arrival of the Japanese in 1895 brought an array of ingredients ranging from seaweed and raw fish to tempura and miso, all of which happily blended with the simple cooking styles of immigrants from mainland China's southern provinces. They had started to cross the Taiwan Strait in considerable numbers in the 17th century. Then, when the ROC moved over from mainland China in 1949, bringing along 2 million continentals—soldiers, public servants and businesspeople -- cuisines from every mainland Chinese region made their way onto Taiwanese tables.”


MercoPress: "China admits “labour surplus” of 32 million, 14 million of which are college graduates."

“Of the 32 million, 8 are in rural areas and the rest of jobless are in urban areas. Among those in urban areas what is particularly concerning is that of the 24 million, 14 million are college graduates with some kind of tertiary education. The Chinese does not publish ‘labour surplus’ figures fearing social unrest and only admits that the unemployment rate in Chinese cities (where less than the half the population lives) currently stands at 4.6%.

Last Saturday on enumerating the government’s objectives for the next five years, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao underlined the creation of nine million jobs in Chinese cities during 2011, and 45 million by 2015.”


Edward Chancellor in WSJ on Carl Walter & Frasier Howie’s book, Red Capitalism: The Fragile Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.

“The reform-minded premier Zhu Rhongi brought in Western financial institutions as partners for the beleaguered Chinese banks. Wall Street was hired to introduce modern risk-management techniques to China. More important, the banks were relieved of their bad loans by what Messrs. Howie and Walter accurately describe as ‘accounting legerdemain.’ In 1998, the People's Bank of China—the state's central bank—reduced the Big Four's reserve requirement. This freed up reserves for the banks to acquire a special-purpose treasury bond issued by the Ministry of Finance. The loan proceeds were then used to recapitalize the banks. Beijing also created asset-management companies to buy the nonperforming loans from the banks at face value. In exchange, these repositories of toxic credit issued notes to the banks. (When these notes became due in 2009, they were extended for another decade.) For the financial magicians' next trick, in 2005, other nonperforming loans were put into a ‘co-managed account’ with the Ministry of Finance, which in return issued IOUs to the banks that were to be repaid through a combination of loan recoveries, bank dividends, sale of bank shares and tax receipts from the banks. To make matters even more convoluted, in 2009 the banks started acquiring large stakes in the asset-management companies that were still sitting on nonperforming loans from the previous decade. By such accounting boot-strapping, China's banks have so far escaped the consequence of their reckless lending at no apparent cost to society. Since Beijing fixes a wide spread between their borrowing costs and what they charge for lending, the banks even appear highly profitable. Yet the true cost has been borne by the Chinese people, who receive artificially low rates on their deposits. The technical name for this policy is ‘financial repression,’ which in China is estimated at around 4% of gross domestic product.”


Leigh Phillips at EUobserver.com, "Greece wins Euro zone concessions, Ireland rebuffed".

"Referring to an angry confrontation between Kenny and French President Nicolas Sarkozy over corporate taxes, he said: ‘France has had very strong views on corporate tax rates for quite some time, but then so do I.’ He said that Ireland unlike Greece had not asked for a loan extension. He insisted: ‘This country wants to pay its way. We seek no evasion of our responsibilities.’ ‘It will be difficult’ to continue the discussions, he added, ‘but I am convinced we can find a way.’ Sarkozy for his part noted that the issue is ‘very sensitive for our Irish friends.’ ‘There is a discussion that is progressing in one way or another ... but there is no certainty,’ he continued, asking for ‘at least a gesture.’ In return for Greece's concessions, Athens has committed to a detailed fire-sale privatisation programme worth some €50 billion. The country had been pushing for a reduction of two percent on the interest it pays, but the request fell on deaf ears in Berlin, Paris, the Hague and Helsinki. A similar 100-basis-point reduction on the rates Ireland pays on its €85 billion loan was also dangled in front of Prime Minister Enda Kenny, but the quid pro quo demanded by core eurozone countries was that Dublin agree to a common tax base for the single-currency area, a move that the taoiseach has described as ‘tax harmonisation through the back door.’”


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala & Dilip Ratha at NYT, "Homeward Bond".

“Here’s a statistic you may not be aware of: about 50 percent of the world’s uncultivated, arable land is in Africa. This abundance of potential farmland offers Africa the opportunity to feed itself and to help feed the rest of the globe. But consider another statistic: because of poor roads and a lack of storage, African farmers can lose up to 50 percent of their crop just trying to get it to market. In other words, Africa needs not only greater investment in agriculture, but also in roads, ports and other facilities that are vital to moving the land’s products to consumers. Fortunately, part of the solution could lie with the almost 23 million African migrants around the globe, who together have an annual savings of more than $30 billion. Tapping into this money with so-called diaspora bonds could help provide Africa with the equipment and services it needs for long-term growth and poverty reduction.”


Rachel Donadio & Suzanne Daley in NYT, "Revolts Raise Fear of Migration in Italy".

“Unable to build the kind of border fence that the United States has erected to keep Mexicans at home, countries like Spain and Italy have spent years forging close relationships with North African leaders, persuading them to prevent migrants from trying to sail the rough seas of the Mediterranean. In return, Morocco, Tunisia and particularly Libya sometimes used brutal tactics to keep immigrants from ever getting near European shores, human rights activists say. Italy’s agreement with Libya, signed in 2008, was considered especially effective. Italy pledged $5 billion over 20 years in exchange for Libya’s blocking would-be immigrants from leaving. Almost overnight immigrants stopped arriving in Lampedusa. According to the Italian Interior Ministry, in 2008, more than 36,000 immigrants came ashore in Italy — not only from North Africa, but from the Horn of Africa, Niger and Nigeria. After the treaty, that number dropped to 9,500 in 2009 and slowed to a relative trickle in Lampedusa.”


Economist: "China’s rescue mission to Libya".

“In a blog on the website of Caijing, a Beijing magazine, a Chinese journalist suggested that it was time for China to give up the non-interference policy. The article was boldly titled ‘Support the dispatch of American troops to Libya’ and it argued that ‘human rights come before sovereignty’. It said that when ‘a tyrant enslaves his country and tyrannises and massacres his citizens’ talk of non-interference is so many ‘dog farts’. The party might not put it quite like that. Meanwhile, Chinese leaders have noted lumbering attempts by India, the region’s other rising power, to rescue its citizens trapped in Libya.”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Kosovo negotiator: Serbia is stuck in the past".

“‘We didn't see much change in the position of the Serbian government vis-a-vis the new reality in Kosovo and the Balkans. It seems they came with the previous views when in fact the situation has changed,’ Kosovo's deputy prime minister Edita Tahiri told EUobserver in Brussels on Wednesday (9 March) after wrapping up the first-ever round of talks in the new format. ‘Kosovo has been recognised as a state by 75 different countries, the International Court of Justice has recognised the legality of the declaration of independence, Kosovo is a member of the World Bank, the IMF - this is the new reality.’ She described her Serbian counterpart, Borko Stefanovic, a senior official in the Serbian foreign ministry, as being ‘respectful’ and said the very fact the meeting took place is a success given the ‘tragic history’ of the war. Ms Tahiri recalled that the choice of vocabulary was from time to time a problem. Mr Bogdanovic used words that implied Kosovo is a province of Serbia while she used the language of statehood.”


Qantara.de: Walid Jumblatt interview.

How would you describe the Lebanese state?

Jumblatt: Lebanon is a democracy based on an archaic sectarian system, corruption and money-laundering, it is most definitely not a meritocracy. And that is a major problem. 

Can Lebanon be secularized?

Jumblatt: My father tried to secularize the country, but didn't succeed. Maybe one day there will be a revolution that will sweep away the whole corrupt political class. But at the moment, Lebanon is bound by its sectarian system and that is impossible to secularise without some big upheaval. It is tragic, but I think modernity is just not possible within this sectarian state.”


Nader Hashemi in WSJ, "The New Mideast Will Still Mix Mosque and State".

“Westerners recoil from the thought of religion intersecting with government. Our backdrops are the Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, abuses by the Catholic Church, and intense intellectual, political and social battles over religious toleration. By contrast, Muslim societies have been shaped by different experiences. For them, religion was often not a source of conflict but a tool to limit political tyranny by forcing sultans and caliphs to recognize certain limits demarcated by religious texts and scholars, who had a virtual monopoly on legal affairs. Rulers, meanwhile, won political legitimacy by respecting religious authorities. In some cases that meant bowing completely to those authorities: In May 1807, for example, the Ottoman Sultan Selim III was deposed after the chief mufti ruled that his modernization policies had violated Islamic principles. Significant segments of the Muslim world today believe that religion is not the natural ally of despotism but a possible agent of stability, predictability and limited government. In many cases, modern Arab societies associate secularism with postcolonial authoritarian regimes that repressed their people in the name of secular Arab nationalism. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak's Egypt embodied this state of affairs. Thus for a generation of Arabs, secularism is linked to dictatorship, corruption and nepotism.”


Economist: Pakistan - "Things fall apart".

“The Punjabi Taliban poses a greater threat to the Pakistani state than does the Pushtun Taliban. Three-fifths of Pakistanis live in Punjab. The province is the army’s main recruiting ground. It could not carry out the sort of operation there that it mounted in Swat and South Waziristan. Foreigners looking nervously at this nuclear-armed state wonder whether militants who murder ministers might one day take over the government. That seems highly unlikely. The country’s political system may be weak, but its bureaucracy and armed forces are strong, and they would not allow it. However, although Pakistan’s state is not going to be overthrown, the country’s nature is changing. Until recently, Pakistan was a joyfully argumentative and outspoken place. Now Pakistanis are falling silent. Only one among a group of academics and students at the University of Punjab discussing the fundamentalists’ control of the campus was prepared to be named. When asked why the university had organised no ceremony to mourn Mr Taseer, who was its chancellor, Samee Uzair Khan, an assistant law professor, said: ‘If somebody as big as Salman Taseer can be killed, how can we be safe?’”


Qantara.de: Dan Diner interview.

“Dan Diner: The secularism in which we live is a Christian form of secularisation. Our entire canon of knowledge, based on the institutions, the political theory, the law and so on, is a product of secularisation, but of Christian secularisation. The people who come here have a different canon, with different knowledge, with a different understanding of the law. And the transformation that they will have to go through will also change the way in which we see ourselves. At the same time, they will also have to change in view of the fact that the canon of beliefs within the Islamic religion – which, rather than just a faith, is a system which imposes order and regulates society in Islamic countries – is undergoing confessionalisation. That is the operative word. ‘Confessionalisation’ in this context means that here in the West, the individual confessions or denominations are all that remain of a once all-embracing religion. Just as a Protestant or a Catholic goes to church, or a Jew to the synagogue, but then afterwards goes back to just being a ‘person’ on the street – German, French, Swiss or whatever. Muslims will also go through this process. But because they come from a non-European, i.e. non-Western and non-Christian context, we will be forced to think about the process of change they are going through and at the same time to re-examine and question this change, which we ourselves have gone through over a period of more than 400 years.”


Akbar Ahmed in NYT, "Fair to Muslims?"

“The topic is urgent, and the hearings overdue. It is undeniable that the phenomenon of homegrown terrorists appears to be increasing in frequency. A successful attack would set back relations between Muslims and non-Muslims for many years. The backlash would effectively sweep away the slow but steady progress in interfaith dialogue that has been achieved since 9/11. Muslim leaders must acknowledge that many Americans are fearful of religiously motivated terrorism. Simply to protest the hearings and call for them to be canceled, as some have done, strikes many non-Muslims as uncooperative, or as intended to conceal dark secrets or un-American behavior. Instead, Muslims should embrace the chance to explain their beliefs fully and clearly. We have nothing to hide.”


Valentina Pop at EUobserver.com, "Europeans say they are tolerant, but oppose immigration".

“In addition to the fear of immigrants, lack of trust in current governments and concerns about jobs and the future of the economy are prevalent in all countries. On average, only 6 percent of the surveyed Europeans say they trust the government, while 46 percent say they do not have very much confidence in it and 32 percent have none at all. Only 9 percent of Europeans think politicians in general act with honesty and integrity.”


Janet Maslin in NYT on Del Wilber’s book, Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan.

Rawhide Down is a fast-paced book that captures many points of view. Nurses and medical technicians have especially candid memories of the pressure they faced, the uncertainty about how to deal with such an important patient and the ad-hoc solutions they devised. They decided to call him Mr. Reagan rather than Mr. President; the situation would be less frightening that way. They were amazed by his joking, his courtesy and his general lack of V.I.P. attitude. They were also impressed by his bravery. Throughout the incident the president had no clear idea of what had happened to him or what to expect. He struggled to breathe, brightened at any mention of the first lady and was canny enough to take his cues from technicians, who would be candid with him about what the doctors really meant. As he got ready to undergo chest surgery, one worker assured him that being taken from the E.R. to the operating room was a good thing. If he were really in peril, she said, doctors would never allow him to be moved.

As for the doctors, their recollections are filled with both professionalism and awe. One of them could not believe he was inserting a chest tap into the leader of the free world. Another marveled at holding the president’s beating heart in his hands. And Dr. Benjamin Aaron describes the process of deducing that the small slit was a bullet hole after all.”


Judith Flanders in Spectator on Douglas Starr’s book, The Killer of Little Shepherds: The Case of the French Ripper and the Birth of Forensic Science.

“It was he who discovered that bullets show markings that identify the weapons that fired them; he who set out the stages at which bodies putrefy; he who demonstrated how bruising showed that a body had been moved after death. The only man who challenged his pre-eminence in his day (and who was ultimately proved to be the lesser scientist) was the Italian, Cesare Lombroso. [Alexandre-Eugène] Lacassagne first came to public recognition in France in 1889, when he managed to identify a body that had been found in a sack four months previously. He taught his students — and the public — that autopsies were unmistakable records of crime, provided one knew how to read the bodies. He did, and the newspapers and the penny-press of the day, reaching mass audiences for the first time, were enthralled.”


Frank Rich’s NYT farewell column. He’s moving 47 blocks to New York mag.

“I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice. I found myself hungering to write with more reflection, at greater length at times, in a wider and perhaps experimental variety of forms (whether in print or online), and without feeling at the mercy of the often hysterical exigencies of the 24/7 modern news cycle. While some columnists are adept at keeping their literary bearings over long careers — George Will is a particularly elegant survivor among the generation of columnists ahead of mine — those who stay too long risk turning bland or shrill. I wanted to quit before I succumbed….”


David Carr in NYT, "Gains for NPR Are Clouded".

“In terms of audience, television networks slipped 3.4 percent, newspapers were down 5 percent, radio fell 6 percent and magazines were down almost 9 percent. Amid all that creative destruction, there was a one large traditional news organization that added audience, reporters and revenue. That unlikely juggernaut was NPR. According to the State of the Media report, NPR’s overall audience grew 3 percent in 2010, to 27.2 million weekly listeners, up 58 percent overall since 2000. In the last year, total staff grew 8 percent, and its Web site, npr.org, drew an average of 15.7 million unique monthly visitors, up more than five million visitors. Its foreign bureaus and global footprint continue to grow while other broadcasters slink home.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Our modern-day muckraking does free speech a disservice".

“If Mr O’Keefe sees himself as a crusader against political correctness, he is wrong. His ‘stings‘ will leave the scope of the sayable even narrower than it is now. If Mr Schiller had been any more accommodating of his interlocutors, he would have been accused of coddling extremists. If he had been any less accommodating -- or if he had refused to meet with the group in the first place -- he would have been vulnerable to accusations of ‘Islamophobia’. Once a camera is turned on in a private meeting, only a hardened bore is capable of saying things that will not get him fired on the spot. That is why hardened bores make up an ever larger proportion of our political leaders.”


Ted Gregory in CT, "Kaskaskia comeback a precarious distinction".

“The French settlement named for a Native American tribe had been a busy river port of flour mills and grain exporters. Incorporated in 1725, the village was so beloved by French King Louis XV that in 1741 he sent a 650-pound bronze bell to Kaskaskia as a gift. The bell remains enshrined in a red brick building here. When Illinois became a territory in 1809, leaders set Kaskaskia as the territory capital, a designation that remained when Illinois became a state in 1818. About that time, Kaskaskia's population swelled to 7,267, according to a historical booklet Lyons wrote. But the community frequently was overrun by floodwaters, and local legend is that the trouble with water began with a French-American father who was angry that his daughter eloped with a young Native American. He tracked down the couple, lashed his son-in-law to a canoe and set it adrift down the Mississippi, according to the story. The scorned husband cast a curse on the settlement. One of those floods, in 1881, started to shift the course of the Mississippi River to the east — flowing with the Kaskaskia River, instead of the Mississippi's original route to the west. Concerned town leaders moved the village toward the center of the 14,000-acre land mass. About 50 years later, the Mississippi had gouged completely through the east side of the thumbnail-shaped stub that was Kaskaskia, transforming it into an island. The western course of the river that had separated Kaskaskia from Missouri became a bayou. Population continued to drop, and by 1990, Kaskaskia had 32 residents. Then came the catastrophic flood of 1993, when the Mississippi River swept over the entire island.”


J. Thomas Johnson in CT, Illinois as a blank slate.

“If Illinois were today a blank slate, would we draw 102 counties, so that every man could reach his county seat in a day's carriage ride? Would we draw in 1,000 separate police departments? Or a state government medical system for 2.5 million residents where the expensive emergency room is too often the primary port of call when one feels sick?
Gov. Pat Quinn recently presented a budget that takes full advantage of $7 billion in hefty tax increases — and yet is still at least $1.5 billion short of matching revenues to expenditures. Simply to reduce spending on what we do at present will not be enough. We need to rethink whether in 2011 we need to do all that we have been doing, and then re-engineer how we do what we need to do. Some examples:

-We have 7,000 units of local government, more than any other state. And by separating so many services into independent city, park, recreation, township, etc. local governments, we create independent government fiefdoms that are free from healthy competition with other services for limited tax dollars….”


Steven Greenhut in WSJ, "Jerry Brown’s Good Deed Gets Punished".

“The roots of this story go back to 1945, when the California legislature allowed cities and counties to form these redevelopment agencies. Their purpose, at least in theory, was to fight urban blight. Once public officials deem an area blighted, redevelopment agencies can use eminent domain to clear old properties and sell bonds to pay for improvements.

To pay off the bonds, the agencies gobble up any subsequent increase in tax revenue—what the state calls the ‘tax increment.’ In addition, a portion of the sales taxes generated by the new retail and commercial centers go into city, not state, coffers. That's the main reason redevelopment agencies are popular among local politicians, Republican and Democratic alike. (Plus, they allow pols to reward favored corporations and developers.) But in the last 60-some years, redevelopment agencies have become fiefdoms that run up enormous debt and abuse eminent domain by transferring private property to large developers promising to build tax-generating bonanzas. Today, there are 749 such projects. In the late 1950s, there were only nine.”


Marc Lifsher & Stuart Pfeifer in LAT, "Scathing report alleges corruption at CalPERS".

“A 17-month investigation also found that Federico Buenrostro Jr. — along with former pension fund board members Charles Valdes and Kurato Shimada — strong-armed a benefits firm to pay more than $4 million in fees to consultant Alfred J.R. Villalobos, who later hired Buenrostro. The report, prepared for the California Public Employees' Retirement System by Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson, comes amid widening attacks on public employee pension funds in California, Wisconsin, Iowa and other states for providing lavish benefits that cash-strapped governments can no longer afford. The findings of insider dealings at CalPERS could provide fresh ammunition to Republican lawmakers here who want Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to convert traditional pensions with guaranteed payments for life into 401(k)-type plans that rely heavily on employees' own contributions.”


Daniel Hannan in WSJ, "A European’s Warning to America".

“Human nature being what it is, few European leaders attributed their success to the fact that they were recovering from an artificial low. They convinced themselves, rather, that they were responsible for their countries' growth rates. Their genius, they thought, lay in having hit upon a European ‘third way’ between the excesses of American capitalism and the totalitarianism of Soviet communism. We can now see where that road leads: to burgeoning bureaucracy, more spending, higher taxes, slower growth and rising unemployment. But an entire political class has grown up believing not just in the economic superiority of euro-corporatism but in its moral superiority. After all, if the American system were better—if people could thrive without government supervision—there would be less need for politicians. As Upton Sinclair once observed, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.’”


Economist on Tyler Cowen’s book, The Great Stagnation.

“The book explores the puzzling stagnation in the typical American wage since the 1970s. The prevailing view has been that soggy median wages can be explained by widening income inequality. But Mr Cowen blames lagging pay on a shortfall in growth itself. Output data have been overstated, he reckons, thanks to rising contributions from hard-to-value industries. Worse, economic engines in the rich world are running ever slower as countries exhaust easy sources of rapid growth. The numbers do not appear to support Mr Cowen’s story. Growth and productivity performed badly in the years after the oil shock of the 1970s, but by the 1990s a turnaround was under way. Productivity rose by 2.8% a year from 1996 to 2000, and faster still in the next five years. Real output growth topped 4% a year from 1997 to 2000. This is stagnation? But Mr Cowen says these figures are illusory. Rising output in the health-care or government sectors may not correspond to real improvements: expensive surgery may become more common without improving health. Finance enjoyed impressive productivity gains before the crisis but produced many goods of questionable value. If America’s past was not as impressive as it seemed, its future is even more troubled. Mr Cowen argues that there is a dwindling supply of ‘low-hanging fruit’: opportunities for fast development that cannot easily be repeated. The plentiful supply of land once available to settlers moving west is one example. Educational gains are another.”


Harvey Mansfield in NYT on Eric Posner & Adrian Vermeule’s book, The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic.

“According to Posner and Vermeule, we now live under an administrative state providing welfare and national security through a gradual accretion of power in executive agencies to the point of dominance. This has happened regardless of the separation of powers. The Constitution, they insist, no longer corresponds to ‘reality.’ Congress has assumed a secondary role to the executive, and the Supreme Court is ‘a marginal player.’ In all ‘constitutional showdowns,’ as they put it, the powers that make and judge law have to defer to the power that administers the law. Carl Schmitt enters as the one who best understood the inevitability of unchecked executive power in the modern administrative state. He saw that law, which always looks to the past, had lost out to the executive decree, which looks to resolve present crises and ignores or circumvents legal constraints…. Posner and Vermeule rest their argument on necessity, on what could not be otherwise. History and social science, they say, prove that under modern conditions the administrative state is the only way for the nation to meet the challenges it faces. But their analysis also shows that informal checks remain necessary: the calculations and political maneuvering presidents engage in to retain their credibility replace the formal checks Madison described. Thus the Constitution is false but works anyway. But what about those benighted people — the Tea Partiers, for example — who oppose the administrative state, who believe that the cost of increased executive power may lead to crises brought on by defaulted debt? And is not the administrative state of the New Deal and its successors a fairly recent event, hardly inevitable but chosen by the American people? Once chosen, it is hard to change, but is change impossible? Is it not arguable that over time the administrative state, with its inexorable expansion, makes itself unfeasible because of the costs it incurs and the opposition it engenders?”


Arthur RIP.

Here’s the official announcement by illustrated poem of Arthur magazine’s expiration which occurred Tuesday. Before that, much good stuff was being posted in the last few weeks, the kind of rich cyber-death discharge you’d expect Jay Babcock might pull off. “Life Against Dementia”, my most recent major statement was among the effluvia. I had been working on it for no known reason back in 2002 when Jay told me that he was going to launch a new publication, thus sparing editors like Martin Peretz, David Remnick, Michael Kelly and others the embarrassment of trying to decipher my message from another dimension. Things don’t generally fall together like that for either my poetry or my prose so it seemed like magic, and it was great to have something in Arthur No. 1 (Oct. 2002). I like the piece and am updating and expanding it for the essay collection I’ve named for it; that book should be out this September on Redoubt Press. Arthur’s farewell notice promises an archive up at some point in the future. For now back issues are available, but only the short memorial note is up.


David Mermelstein in WSJ on the DVD set, “3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg”.

“Sternberg's first success as a director came in 1925, with The Salvation Hunters, a depiction of underclass life that was novel enough to attract acclaim from Charlie Chaplin and investment from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Though the picture did not perform well at the box office, Sternberg's talent for mise-en-scène was widely recognized. No one else in Hollywood could match his relentless perfectionism in setting or lighting scenes. The Criterion box picks up the story two years later, when Paramount entrusted Sternberg with a Ben Hecht scenario titled Underworld (1927). Though often referred to as the first gangster picture, it is more accurately the film that sparked the genre's mass appeal. And it's easy to see why. Underworld centers on a love triangle involving a gangland boss, Bull Weed (George Bancroft); his aloof moll, Feathers (Evelyn Brent); and Rolls Royce (Clive Brook), a drunk whom Bull rehabilitates. But though the melodrama is earnest and at times moving, and the performances are first-rate, the film's allure lies in its pacing and atmosphere—especially the scenes in the Dreamland club, where rival criminals congregate uneasily; the prison sequence; and the elaborate final shootout, a prototype for what would devolve into cinematic boilerplate in the 1930s. In The Last Command (1928), starring the celebrated German actor Emil Jannings, Sternberg tells the story of a Russian general whose fall after the revolution is so complete that he's reduced to working as a Hollywood extra.”


Tonight Only Boone & Jocko.

“Have Moicy!” - Michael Hurley and The Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones LP reissue coming soon from Light in the Attic.


KC Johnson in CT, "1st Championship of 1st 3-peat always will be special to Bulls".

“‘For me, it was four years of hell,’ Scottie Pippen said of vanquishing the Pistons. ‘That was a huge relief, a guy who had suffered a migraine in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals the year before. It was a lot of joy, that breakthrough of finally beating your nemesis. And then winning that first championship was the most fun. It was new, so the celebration felt lasting.’ The celebration begins again Saturday night during an extended halftime ceremony with former broadcaster Jim Durham serving as master of ceremonies. All 12 players, save for Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright, are scheduled to attend. Phil Jackson and some of his same staff members are chasing title No. 12 with the Lakers. General manager Jerry Krause is busy scouting baseball…. ‘I can't believe it has been 20 years,’ Horace Grant said. ‘It seems like it was just yesterday myself, Scottie, Bill, MJ, John Paxson and all of us were running up and down the court. But it has been 20 years. Overall, it was just the growing of togetherness of a group of guys who depended on each other on the court. Just the camaraderie, the respect, the learning process that we had is my memory. Specifically, getting over that hump called the Detroit Pistons. And then that championship, there's nothing like that first.’ So many defining moments occurred during the Bulls' 61-21 regular season and 15-2 steamroll through the postseason. But most players pointed to the growing trust Michael Jordan displayed in his teammates and the triangle offense as a catalyst for such success.”


Herb Gould in CST, "‘One of a kind’ Bulls star Luol Deng".

“Deng, the eighth of nine children, and his family fled to Egypt when he was 5, eventually settling in London when his father, who had been a Sudanese government official, was granted asylum in Britain. When two decades of violence wound down around 2005, Deng’s family was able to make return visits to Southern Sudan. Now that the largely black Christian south will be separating from the Muslim Arab north, Deng’s family plans to spend more time in Juba, the capital city that once was home. ‘My dad and mom are in south Sudan right now,’ Deng said, adding that some of his siblings also are there. ‘I have some other family there. We just go back and forth….’ Assistant coach Adrian Griffin was a Bulls veteran when Deng joined the team in 2004-05, drafted seventh overall after one season at Duke. A member of the Dinka tribe ‘that produces many of the tallest people in the world,’ as the Bulls media guide put it, Deng came to Chicago as a 19-year-old string bean. ‘I was just in awe of the kid,’ Griffin said…. What bowled over Griffin were Deng’s tales of Sudan and Egypt and the way he developed his game as he moved up the ladder from London to Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., to Duke. ‘Just listening to him tell the stories about how he had to persevere growing up in the situation in Africa,’ Griffin said, ‘I’d tell him, ‘Lu, you’re meant to be here. There’s only a small percentage of people from where you come from who could ever do that. God put you here for a reason.’”


Obituary of the Week

D.L. Cox (1936 - 2011)

“The occasion was a fund-raiser for the legal defense of the New York Panther 21 — 19 men and 2 women who had been indicted on charges of plotting to kill police officers and blow up several sites, including Midtown stores, police precinct houses and the New York Botanical Garden. ‘Some people think that we are racist, because the news media find it useful to create that impression in order to support the power structure,’ Mr. Cox told Mr. Bernstein’s guests. ‘They like for the Black Panther Party to be made to look like a racist organization, because that camouflages the true class nature of the struggle.’ The fund-raiser was notable for its clash of cultures. As Charlotte Curtis of The New York Times reported, ‘There they were, the Black Panthers from the ghetto and the black and white liberals from the middle, upper-middle and upper classes studying one another cautiously over the expensive furnishings, the elaborate flower arrangements, the cocktails and the silver trays of canapés.’ Among the conversations Ms. Curtis noted was an exchange between Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Cox. Mr. Bernstein: ‘Now about your goals. I’m not sure I understand how you’re going to achieve them. I mean, what are your tactics?’ Mr. Cox: ‘If business won’t give us full employment, then we must take the means of production and put them in the hands of the people.’ Mr. Bernstein: ‘I dig absolutely.’ The event raised nearly $10,000, Ms. Curtis reported. In May 1971 all 21 of the accused Panthers were acquitted. In June 1970 Mr. Wolfe’s article, ‘Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,’ was published in New York magazine. A skewering of Mr. Bernstein and his guests, it advanced Mr. Wolfe’s career as a leading proponent of the so-called new journalism. But it was reviled by Mr. Cox. The guests that night, he told Roz Payne, who documented the history of the Panthers in a series of films, ‘were really a concerned bunch of people.’ He added that ‘it was those media freaks and that bloodsucking Tom Wolfe’ who exploited the cause of black liberation to make money from it and ‘to be part of the machinery that tried to ridiculize it.’”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Andy Schwartz, Mark Carducci.

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