a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Issue #90 (March 23, 2011)

Big Hollow Road, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

2012: A French Odyssey

Le temps des primaires
(Or, France’s Sexiest Socialiste)

By Carolyn Heinze

The elections are coming! The elections are coming! They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere, all over, partout . . . At least they’re everywhere en France. Or, at least, they will be: Cue the theme for 2001: A Space Odyssey but pretend it’s 2012 and you’ll maybe kind of catch my drift. (Yeah, I know: Your American elections are in 2012, too, but can’t you just let someone else grab the spotlight for once?)

Poor Nicolas Sarkozy. (No really – this time I mean it, I swear.) (Merde !) (See?) You just know that he’s cursing Chirac. Back in the day, back when he was President – back there over there right there at l’Élysée – one of the first things that Jacques Chirac did was get rid of the septennat. (That’s where you get to be President for seven years.) (For two consecutive terms.) (It’s why it seemed like François Mitterrand was the French President forever.) (Like some dictators and some emperors and some dear leaders and some rois.) I don’t know why, but one of the first things Chirac did was ditch the septennat and replace it with the quinquennat. (Where you only get to be President for five years . . . for two consecutive terms, tops.) I’m guessing it was because unlike other presidents and dictators and emperors and kings, Chirac was going for that all-important work/life balance. You know – that savoir-vivre à la française.

So you just know that Sarko’s sitting there in his big presidential bureau, blustering away about that bastard Chirac. His last election slogan was travailler plus pour gagner plus (work more to earn more), after all – he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about work and life or work or life or, more specifically, work/life balance . . . and he certainly couldn’t give a crap about savoir-vivre or even savoir-faire. I mean, did you see how unabashedly eager he was to hoist his tiny little French derrière up into the biggest chair in the biggest office in the whole entire pays ? Sarko’s not going anywhere – or at least he’ll bluster and fluster and blather away trying to stay. This whole bit about having to campaign after just getting settled in has got to be a pain in the, well…derrière. Or at least a bit of one. (Hey – it’s not easy for such a little guy to clamber up into such a big chair!)

En plus : Sarko’s shaking in his elevator-heels. And no, not because the earth is quaking and non, not because the sea is tsunami-ing . . . and it’s not even because of reactionarily reactive reactors or ferociously fashionable dictators gunning for la guerre. Sarko’s problem? Acronyms. And in France, of those there are a few. (WTF?) (Wait – I’ll explain…ASAP…)

(Weird, isn’t it? That the French – a peuple so predominantly ponderous and partial to the extended, expansive, elongated, elaborately eloquent enunciation of words – would be so obsessed with les acronymes ? I think it has something to do with that all-important word/letter balance. You know, just to keep things équilibrés . . . à la française.)

Sarko’s biggest acronymic affliction? In short: DSK. (That’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn.) DSK represents the PS. (That’s Parti socialiste.) (Which, in the interest of maintaining that all-important word count/letter count balance, we’ll describe as ‘left of center.’) (And for those of you who get nervous when you read the word ‘socialiste,’ don’t worry – I’m not talking about les communistes… I’ll get to them some other time.) Nicolas Sarkozy represents the UMP. (That’s Union pour un mouvement populaire, which, in an effort to maintain that all-important, et caetera, et caetera, we’ll deem ‘right of center.’) (There’s a lot more in between, like in between themselves and their friends and their supporters and their naysayers and their enemies and lovers and wives . . . and mistresses . . . and that’s not counting all of the denominations of all of the other French political parties, Communist and otherwise, of which there are so many I’ve lost count.) So you get it, right? DSK and Sarko? They’re rivals. À la française.

(Don’t you find it strange that Sarkozy has never been assigned an acronym of his own? Just a nickname: ‘Sarko?’ Or is it because when you’re French President, you get to have monikers with more letters that make up a whole word?)

DSK hasn’t announced his intentions for the PS candidature. He can’t, not quite, not yet; he’s currently heading up the FMI. (That’s Fonds monétaire international.) Or IMF. (International Monetary Fund.) But his term there is quickly coming to a close (don’t think it was a quinquennat or a septennat or whatever) and his wife recently went public to proclaim that she didn’t want hubby in New York for another round. (I think I read something about it being because of American beef being stuffed with hormones, but I’m not sure.) (Though hormone-infused beef could explain the whole sexy-scandalous sexy FMI/IMF scandal surrounding DSK and some sexy secretarial subordinate, but that’s another story…) So you get the point: It’s probably pretty probable that for the PS presidential candidature, DSK’s gonna give it a go. For Sarko? C’est la merde.

Because: Dominique Strauss-Kahn is sexy. Not in the American hormone-infused beef-eating kind of way. Not even in the American Obama hubba-hubba-hot kind of way. (I’ve never gotten over that magazine cover of him running around, shirtless, in his swimming trunks.) (You Americans always have to upstage everyone.) DSK is sexy in that sexy kind of way. You know – that sexy kind of way that screams of sex.

Oh sure, he’s a little . . . portly . . . But I can overlook that. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a girl. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but us girls can overlook pretty much anything. Like potbellies and portly bellies and bald spots . . . and extensively extended, elongatedly elaborate egos . . . and everything and anything else. Especially if the belly’s/bald spot’s/ego’s owner can speak – elaborately, extensively, elongatedly – about ideas. Dominique Strauss-Kahn? He can speak . . . about ideas and beef and bellies and everything. (And he has such a sexy voice!) Nicolas Sarkozy? Well, he can twitch. You gotta give him that.

Sarko hasn’t announced his presidential candidature either, but comme on a établi, you just know he will. D’abord, it’s la tradition for a French President to run for a second term, and secondo . . . Well, we’re talking about Sarko. And while DSK is no sure thing – there are already a bunch of socialistes that have announced they’re running, including the super-cute Manuel Valls and the super un-cute, super un-super, super-she-screwed-it-up-superbly-the-last-time-round Ségolène Royal (who – superbly – doesn’t know when to get out of the way and shut the fuck up) – I happen to know a lot of French Socialist voters that would love to see DSK get in there and get it done. Well done – like the way some people prefer their hormone-infused beef.

Me? I’m a nerd: I love presidential debates. Un débat pitching Sarko contre DSK? I’d throw a presidential party. (I’d serve steack tartare.) The very thought of it, at l’Élysée? Well, when it comes to the media, Sarko’s street gang is already on Red Alert. (HA! Get it? Socialists? Red?) As for what’s going on in that big chair in France’s biggest office down there at l’Élysée? I can already hear the elevator heels nervously clicking away all the way up here in the 18th arrondissement.

Boot on the Ground
Joe Carducci

I guess when your name is Max Boot you’ve got to deliver ass-kickings right and left. But just as his long slog of an ass-kicking of Donald Rumsfeld in New Republic on the occasion of the publication of his memoir hits the mailboxes of national policymakers all over town his every last ungenerous and personalized blaming of the former Secretary of Defense for events in many places besides treacherous Washington D.C. itself threatens to send that max boot right up his own ass. Not that the same isn’t close to happening to a lot of former members of the we-were-lied-to peace caucus… But Max has also been in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as well in the past week. Isn’t there some honest work like plumbing or caulking needs doing at his day job at the Council on Foreign Relations? He really let himself go on old Rummy’s ass beginning with the book’s paternity:

“If Rumsfeld has any pride of authorship, he hides it well. His acknowledgements suggest that no fewer than three people contributed to the writing while eleven more checked facts, transcribed dictation, and acquired documents and illustrations. The result reads, not surprisingly, more like a memo written by a team of clever if unprincipled publicists — ‘The Case for Donald Rumsfeld’ — than a genuinely reflective memoir that tries to delve into the author’s inner life and come to grips with the decisions he made and their consequences.”

I think Oprah also passed on a Rumsfeld interview because he refused to delve into his inner life and weep like a penitent. I haven’t read the book but I remember the debates and contending rationales and the votes over all of it going back to the first battle against Iraq and little or none of that is brought to bear in any of these Boot pieces. And that would be because everything in Washington is about jobs, jobs, jobs. The big jobs in the big chairs of which there are never enough to go around when the presidential campaign music stops.

President Obama felt he had to keep Robert Gates on as SecDef for war-fighting credibility so to speak. Now, you don’t have to be no genius to imagine what the various Democratic-multilateralists-Republican-Internationalist-Thirdway-Independents geniuses made of that! One less chair -- One extra Booty! Max’s review is titled “The Worst” whereas he refers to Gates as “hardly superhuman, but he has been widely acclaimed for having a far more successful tenure”. Translation: Far more successful than the worst, but certain to replaced in a second Obama term. For when Gates, the Republican interloper, tried to head off this Third Way humanitarian intervention in Libya he gave cheer to none more than the Tea Party or Pat Buchanan. Back then in the olden days of last week Max wrote his “It’s Not Too Late to Save Libya” in the WSJ, where he argued:

“By itself, a no-fly zone might not be enough to topple Gadhafi. At the very least, however, it would dishearten Gadhafi's supporters and buy time for the rebels. We could further tilt the balance in their favor by bombing Gadhafi's installations and troops.

It may also be necessary to send arms and Special Forces trainers to support the rebels. Without committing any combat troops of our own, we could deliver the same kind of potent combined-arms punch that drove the Serbs out of Kosovo when NATO aircraft supported ground operations by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The Libyan opposition movement, led by Gadhafi's former justice minister, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has been desperately asking for international aid in the form of a no-fly zone. If we finally delivered, you can bet that he and other Libyans would be grateful. Kosovo's capital, Pristina, today has a major thoroughfare named Bill Clinton Boulevard crowned with a 10-foot statue of their savior. It is not far-fetched to imagine a Barack Obama Boulevard in Tripoli if the president finally finds the courage to act.”

I’m not sure Max remembers, but it was also reported that there’s a statue of Elvis on Mars. No word on the level of gratefulness of Martians. But I don’t recall those actions in Bosnia and Kosovo being handled any less hit-or-miss clumsy than operations in Iraq or Afghanistan even at their reduced scale. I guess elasticity in judgment is a good quality in our next presumptive Secretary of Defense.

And then right on cue, the President sided with his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (his and hers statues coming up) and the International Community over Gates and Pat Buchanan and the ghost of Colonel McCormick without even a nod in the direction of the U.S. Congress. There are no boots on the ground so its not a war per se. Still, stiffing Congress for the imprimaturs of the UN, EU, and Arab League, there’s what I call your vicarious ex-pat American elite in action. So Boot, now sweating bullets, saves the New York Times for his now-you-tell-us throat clearing fine print in “Planning for a Post-Qaddafi Libya”:

“For weeks, I’ve argued that the United States and our allies should impose a no-fly zone over Libya and mount airstrikes to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s advance against the embattled rebels. Last week, the United Nations Security Council authorized precisely those actions. Over the weekend, missile strikes began. I should be elated, right? Instead, I can’t stop worrying about everything that could go wrong…. Like such other post-conflict states as Kosovo and East Timor, post-Qaddafi Libya will most likely need an international peacekeeping force. This should be organized under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO and the Arab League — a step that will require amending the Security Council resolution, which forbids a ‘foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.’ None of this is meant to imply that I have suddenly changed my mind and decided that we should have stayed out of Libya.”

That’s nice to know; he hasn’t changed his mind yet. Neither is there any indication that Secretary Clinton has yet changed her mind. No indication either way from the President. I think Boot should calm down. A Secretary of Defense who will kick his own ass just might be the ideal replacement for Bob Gates the neo-isolationist who may even harbor doubts about the New Deal.

Its nice to see how the Times as a public service makes itself available to our next Secretary of Defense to preemptively defend himself against any career blowback so as to secure that big chair. But personalized political hostility especially such ungenerous stuff often makes me wonder whether people ever really talk about anybody but themselves.

PS, Also in the Times was a sad little orphan photograph of Daniel Ellsberg at a DC demonstration that was captioned, “Vietnam-era Protester in the Age of Iraq”. It made me wonder about both the New York Times and those protesters. Don’t they read the papers?! Its no longer the Age of Iraq.

Petrochelidon Ruflgula by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Phred Dvorak & Andrew Morse in WSJ, "Plant Workers Recall Moment Quake Struck".

“For Mr. Tada, a 29-year-old employee in the Fukushima branch of Tokyo-based Tokai Toso Co., the first hint of the quake was a gentle rocking. At the time, he was shrouded in a white protective suit and mask, deep in the bowels of the plant's No. 4 reactor. The reactor had been shut down for a major overhaul, and Mr. Tada had been scanning the surface of the suppression chamber, which lies below the container surrounding the fuel rods, for signs of corrosion. When the swaying started, then grew more violent, Mr. Tada grabbed at some hanging pipes to hold himself upright. Then came the terrible boom, magnified in the doughnut-shaped chamber. The earthquake knocked out the plant's regular power, but Mr. Tada and his three companions in the chamber made their way out by the emergency lighting—the tsunami that destroyed the plant's backup generators was still an hour away. Mr. Tada emerged into a crowd of several hundred other workers, all heading toward a handful of exits from the reactor building. But he said there was no panic. Managers from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. had shown up, and were directing workers into lines to file out. ‘I thought it was amazing,’ Mr. Tada said, referring to the orderliness of the departure.”


Tyler Brûlé in FT, "Tokyo with the dimmer switch on".

“The only difference was that most companies I visited were operating with more lights off, fewer staff and a more relaxed schedule. Nevertheless, there was a strong sense of purpose that business needed to be done and very little time spent discussing the disaster. The one exception, however, was a chief executive and founder of a large Japanese retail group who told me that nearly a dozen of his factories had been hit in and around Miyagi. ‘Some of them are fine but some are destroyed. I work with a very small company with just a few tailors and they make the most wonderful suits with the most perfect shoulder shape. They’re so skilled,’ he said. ‘But no one answers the phone.’ He said there were many talented, small craft-based firms in the region and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do if he’d lost some of them. Indeed, the complete deletion of some niche manufacturers will only come to light as their headquarters in Tokyo resume normal operations and find essential craftsmen and artisans in their supply chains have vanished - for ever.”


Economist: "Japan and the uses of adversity".

“Chinese and Indian websites were agog at the orderliness of the Japanese, even those now homeless and even as the nuclear panic mounted. They noted the lack of looting. Some drew unfavourable comparisons with their own people and governments. An article on one Chinese site, Caixin, referred both to the earthquake in China’s Sichuan province in 2008, when some 70,000 people died, and to the way schools in Japan have been used as shelters. In the Sichuan earthquake many schools collapsed. Parents blamed corruption and shoddy construction. This popular response was matched by official warmth. Like China’s during the relief effort that followed the Sichuan earthquake, Japan’s foreign relations have improved. It has been on bad terms with China since a row last September over the Senkaku islands. But China has donated aid and, at his annual press conference on March 14th, Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, made a point of giving a message of support for Japan, recalling its help to China in 2008. Similarly, the disasters have led to a rapprochement with Russia, with which relations have also been fraught over a territorial dispute. Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, has offered aid in the form of energy and ordered officials to speed up an oil-and-gas project on the island of Sakhalin to meet future Japanese demand. Russia’s offer may be based on the assumption that Japan will have to pare back its reliance on nuclear energy. And that is another lesson that Asian observers of Japan’s crisis have taken home: if even Japan — so well-organised and disciplined, so well prepared for disaster and so experienced in nuclear power — can come so close to catastrophe, what nuclear risks are their own countries running?”


Loro Horta at Yaleglobal, "Asians March Into Africa".

“With the exception of the US Navy, the Indian Navy is by far the dominant force in the Indian Ocean. India has grown apprehensive over China’s expanding presence in East Africa. In 2007 the Indian military established an electronic listening center in Madagascar, just off the coast of Mozambique and near Mauritius, the home of one of China’s SEZs, as described by an Indian defense report. In 2006 at the request of the Mozambican government, Indian warships patrolled the capital’s coast during the Summit of Heads of State of the African Union. Chinese military officials and academics have called for military bases in East Africa and the Indian Ocean. As navies expand, interest and conflicts in the Indian Ocean and East Africa are likely to increase. As ports and security boost trade, China has emerged as Mozambique’s second largest trading partner.”


Graham Ong-Webb at Opendemocracy.net, "How far will China’s navy reach?"

“History tells us that a country's naval power tends to be directly linked with its economic strength, and China, in recent times, is no exception. To be sure, China has been slow to shift away from its deeply entrenched continental mindset. After all, 14 land powers share territorial frontiers with China, while only six maritime countries surround the Chinese coast. However, now that China has settled 12 out of 14 land border disputes with its neighbors, the sea is the final frontier that Beijing feels compelled to secure. There is some urgency in this quest. The bulk of global trade is only possible by sea-borne freight. Beijing feels it must protect the sea lanes that make both the movement of goods (about 90 percent of its import and exports) and the importation of resources and energy possible, without which China's economy would come to a standstill. The Chinese leadership also feels that it must protect what they perceive to be its maritime territorial sovereignty. As a matter of ‘coastal defense’, the Chinese Navy is compelled to secure its 18,000-kilometer shoreline. Now, the Chinese Navy is attempting to secure the country's claim to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles from the country's continental shelf.”


MercoPress: "Fearing social unrest, Beijing bans “hedonistic, high-end” lifestyle advertising".

“Newly forbidden words include ‘supreme‘, ‘royal’, ‘luxury’ or ‘high class’, which are widely used in Chinese promotions for houses, vehicles and wines, it said. Authorities in the south-western mega-city of Chongqing last week issued similar rules that barred real estate advertisements from using phrases including ‘best’, ‘unique’ or ‘irreplaceable’.”


Economist: "Indonesia - Power to the people! No, wait…"

“After Suharto was toppled in 1998, the central government offered block grants and tax-raising powers to the provinces and local districts, providing them with the means to run their own affairs. Local leaders were to be directly elected every five years. Anyone was allowed to petition the central government to create new units of local government. Unsurprisingly, given the money on offer, this has led to what Indonesians refer to as a ‘blossoming’ of devolved authorities. In 1999 there were 292 districts in 26 provinces. Today that has grown to over 500 districts in 33 provinces. In some ways, it has been a success. The country has held together. Devolution’s boosters claim that ‘unity in diversity’ is a reality. True, tensions remain between Jakarta and Papua, which is virtually a sealed state run by the army. But places like East Kalimantan are now proudly local and proudly Indonesian.”


Bryan Appleyard in Literary Review on Edward Glaeser’s book, Triumph of the City.

Triumph of the City is a thrilling and very readable hymn of praise to an invention so vast and so effective that it is generally taken for granted. More than half the global population already live in urban areas and, every month, five million more flood into the cities of the developing world. The crowds and poverty of Mumbai and São Paulo horrify Western eyes. They shouldn't, says Glaeser: they are signs of growth, energy and aspiration. Cities are our best and brightest hope. The idea runs into more than 200 years of resistance. Not long after the Industrial Revolution took hold, the Romantics turned away from smoke and dirt to celebrate the air and light of untouched nature. In America, Henry David Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond to live the solitary, simple life, and convinced generations of Americans that cities were bad and nature was good.”


WSJ: "Arabs Love the Pax Americana".

“Propelled by a strong domestic economy, the Turks have built their recent regional standing through trade and a political shift from its longstanding alliance with the West. Tellingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposes a no-fly zone. ‘We see NATO military intervention in another country as extremely unbeneficial,’ he said. Turkey had no such qualms when NATO came to the rescue of Europe's besieged Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, but in the 1990s Ankara saw America as an ally, not a potential competitor. The Sunni Arab states fear the nuclear ambitions of Shiite Iran as much as Israel does. It's not lost on them that while democratic uprisings toppled two Arab regimes friendly to the U.S. and threaten several others, Tehran has squelched the opposition Green Movement without inhibitions. The nuclear program, meanwhile, is Iran's secret weapon to become the dominant regional power.”


Arnold Hottinger interview at Qantara.de.

“Europeans think they have a political understanding of the Muslim Brothers. That's nonsense, because the Muslim Brothers are in the process of splitting. There are those who want democracy – the others want democracy too, but in an Islamic form. In addition there are breakaway groups like ‘Wassat’, who aren't Muslim Brothers at all any more, and they also stand for basic democratic ideals. This fear of the Muslim Brothers is laughable. They are no longer the bogeymen which they were perhaps in 1949.”


Bruce Maddy-Weitzman at Meforum.org, "Morocco’s Berbers and Israel".

“The Berber component of Moroccan identity has already been given official recognition by the state as it seeks to address at least some of the movement's symbolic and material grievances in order to maintain a balance of forces within the Moroccan political fabric. Islamists and pan-Arabists have repeatedly clashed with Berber activists in recent months, mainly through polemical exchanges in a variety of media outlets. The specifics have varied, but they have had a common theme: Jews and Israel. From the Islamist and pan-Arab perspective, this should come as no surprise. Hostility to Zionism, which all too often has morphed into anti-Semitism and Holocaust belittlement and even denial, has long been instrumental for many opposition groups and Arab regimes seeking to mobilize public opinion. The Berber engagement in the debate, by contrast, is far less self-evident given their past evasion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Initial indications of these changing attitudes were afforded by the 2007 announcements of plans to create two complementary Berber-Jewish friendship associations in the Souss region of southwestern Morocco, the region where, according to tradition, Jews first settled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. Their purpose, said one of the founders, was to promote the various aspects of Morocco's cultural heritage—Berber, Jewish, African, and Arab; disseminate the culture of coexistence and respect of the ‘other’ while rejecting violence and intolerance toward others; give real standing to the Berber and Hebrew languages inside Morocco, in order to make it a homeland for all, and to build bridges with Moroccan Jews, both inside the country (approximately 3,000) and overseas, particularly ‘Amazigh Jews in various countries.’”


Jeffrey Gettleman in NYT, "Libyan Oil Buys Loyal African Allies for Qaddafi".

“From Liberia to South Africa to the island of Madagascar, Libya’s holdings are like a giant venture capital fund, geared to make friends and win influence in the poorest region in the world. This may help explain how Colonel Qaddafi has been able to summon sub-Saharan African soldiers to fight for him in his time of need — Libyans have spoken of ‘African mercenaries’ killing protesters and helping him rout rebel fighters — and why so many African leaders have been so slow to criticize him, even as his forces slaughter his own people. ‘So many of these presidents at one time or another have gotten something directly from him,’ said Manny Ansar, a prominent Malian intellectual who organizes one of West Africa’s most celebrated cultural happenings, Mali’s Festival in the Desert. ‘So what are they going to say now?’ While the Arab League was quick to suspend Libya last month and has even asked the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-flight zone to stop Colonel Qaddafi’s attacks on his people, the African Union has taken a more cautious stance, deciding only on Friday to send negotiators who will meet with both sides. Seen as eccentric and unpredictable, Colonel Qaddafi never got far as a leader in the Arab world. But in sub-Saharan Africa, many have been inspired by his vision of a ‘United States of Africa’ and appreciate his anti-Western tirades. The Libyan government, which is, in essence, Colonel Qaddafi, also pays 15 percent of the African Union dues. He even succeeded in getting some traditional African leaders to call him ‘King of Kings,’ and in Mali, from the streets to the president’s office, there seems to be near unanimous respect.”


WSJ: "Europe Pressure, Arab Support Helped Turn U.S".

“Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's leader, himself helped, unifying the U.N. powers with a relentless military campaign that threatened to snuff out a pro-democracy rebellion and set off a bloodbath among rebels and civilians. That prospect alarmed Obama advisors including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Council staffer Samantha Power. Both had made their names in part by arguing the West's inaction during the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s made it morally complicit. ‘Susan Rice didn't want a Rwanda on her hands,’ said a senior Arab diplomat deeply involved in the negotiations.”


Bret Stephens in WSJ, "We’re (Almost) All Neocons Now".

“In a 2009 column, I wrote that the reason neoconservatism refused to die after the Bush years was that the world's tyrants refused to go away. Now it is positively in vogue. There you have the Arab League, calling for Western intervention in the domestic affairs of an Arab state. There you have David Cameron, who once promised to ‘think through much more carefully’ whether to send British troops to war, pushing for war. There you have the president of France — France! — eager to fire the first Western shot over Libya. And there you have Anne-Marie Slaughter, until last month Hillary Clinton's director for policy planning, reproving her former colleagues in a March 13 New York Times op-ed for ‘fiddling while Libya burns.’ This is the same Ms. Slaughter who in 2008 explained that her ‘biggest difference’ with neocons ‘concerns the willingness to use military force,’ adding that she was ‘far more humble about how pro-active a role the United States can really play.’ Then again, Ms. Slaughter was an initial (if equivocal) supporter of the invasion of Iraq, so perhaps she's just returning to form. ‘Even without such evidence [that Saddam has WMD],’ she wrote in March 2003, ‘the United States and its allies can justify their intervention if the Iraqi people welcome their coming and if they turn immediately back to the United Nations to help rebuild their country.’ Which is exactly what happened. It's easy to forget that Iraq was a war many liberals — Joe Biden, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton among them — once supported, when they could bring themselves to hate Saddam more than they did the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal. The latter passion overwhelmed the former for a few years, but eventually the initial logic of their position was bound to reassert itself in some similar scenario.”


Yaroslav Trofimov & Charles Levinson in WSJ, "Libya’s Rebels Embrace West".

“Islamist and secular alike, Libyan rebels express their gratitude for the Western airstrikes, drawing a sharp distinction between the aircampaign against Col. Gadhafi and the American entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. A handful of today's Libyan revolutionaries fought American troops in those conflicts. ‘When America occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, it spread corruption and killed innocents,’ said Rafat Bakar, a thick-beardedrevolutionary activist in the city of Baida. ‘A Western intervention in Libya would help us get rid of the tyrant and of injustice.’”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "A war to die for but not control".

“The diffident US that confronted Libya is the US that Europe‘s leaders professed to want seven or eight years ago. There is no pleasing them…. Isolationism tends to be the preferred foreign policy of the American public. It is the foreign policy that allows the country to take maximum advantage of its great strategic asset -- its intervocalic isolation. The emergency of September 11 2001, and the incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq that followed from it, obscured a growing impatience with military adventurism. There had been no call for President Clinton‘s ‘humanitarian‘ attack on Haiti or the Nato strikes on Bosnia. The Nato air war on Serbia (1999) was unpopular from the outset, with a resolution to support the war suffering an unprecedented failure in the House of Representatives.”


Jim Yardley in NYT, "Mullah in Debate of Tradition vs. Modern Schooling".

“Founded in 1866, Darul Uloom has trained thousands of imams who, in turn, have founded madrasas throughout South Asia and Africa as part of the Deobandi Islamic Movement. Deobandis advocate a conservative form of Islam, and some Deobandi mosques in Pakistan and Afghanistan became radicalized in recent decades. Many members of the Taliban call themselves Deobandis, even though the Indian leaders of Darul Uloom have strongly condemned them, rejected extremism and organized meetings of Islamic teachers to denounce terrorism. During India’s independence movement, Deobandis supported Gandhi and later rejected joining a partitioned Pakistan. Today, Darul Uloom is better known in India for issuing so many provocative fatwas, or religious opinions, that it is often derided in the Indian news media as a ‘fatwa factory.’ These opinions, often ignored by mainstream Indian Muslims, have included edicts against women wearing blue jeans; against women and men working together in offices; and against the practice of collecting interest on bank deposits.”


Daniel Mahoney in WSJ on Olivier Roy’s book, Holy Ignorance.

“By fanaticism, Mr. Roy does not mean merely extreme fundamentalist belief. He argues that all faith, in its isolated, separatist form, gives rise to a disdain for ‘profane culture’ — everything that is not derived from religion—and to a preference for ‘pure religion,’ a form of religious belief that is unmediated, unstructured and unconnected to the larger society. Pure religion, in Mr. Roy's view, not only tends to fanaticism but lacks any grounding in a common world. Such religion loses touch, he says, with ‘religious knowledge itself.’ It fails to acknowledge its dependence on a dynamic cultural tradition. He sees the spread of Pentecostalism, the world's fastest growing religion, as evidence of the rise of ‘holy ignorance.’ Its adherents ‘speak in tongues,’ in a language that is understood only by those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Roy's category of ‘holy ignorance,’ though illuminating, can be too broad and indiscriminate. He never explains why one form of holy ignorance, such as Pentecostalism, avoids political extremism while other forms do not: Many adherents of Salafist Islam, for instance, endorse violence in the name of fidelity to the Prophet. Mr. Roy's holy-ignorance category includes even Pope Benedict's call for the enhanced use of Latin in the Catholic liturgy, part of the church's effort to restore a sense of the sacred to the Mass. Yet for Mr. Roy even a partial return to a Latin liturgy is the ‘use of a new mantra’ aimed at ‘magical’ effects; it is, for him, an instrument for isolating religion instead of bringing it into contact with contemporary culture. But surely Latin is not so esoteric that it cannot speak to at least some believers today. And a pope who repeatedly argues for the ‘acculturation’ of faith in the civilization of the West—who argues for joining faith to reason, without which religion becomes mere superstition—makes a poor proponent of holy ignorance.”


Shirin Ebadi interview at Opendemocracy.net.

“When I was in Egypt three years ago I was astonished by the number of young women wearing the hijab. They were saying that their parents were not respecting their national identity, that they had found their national identity. They were against the Mubarak regime. There were also communist and secular movements in opposition but they were easily harassed and couldn’t carry on with their activities. But they couldn’t prevent the Islamists from organizing- you can’t close down the mosques. As a result the non-Islamist opposition grew weaker, and the Muslim Brotherhood is now the most powerful opposition group in Egypt. But the example of Iran is frightening to the women of Egypt and they do not want to share the same fate. To alleviate such fears the Muslim Brotherhood said that the Egyptian uprising was not an Islamic uprising, but one in which Muslims and Christians have fought alongside one another. It promised to support and to participate in a non-Islamist government. Are they going to stand by their promises? Or will they change their stance if they consolidate their power? It is too early to judge. Egyptian women are lucky in one way - they have witnessed the predicament of Iranian women and seen how the Islamic state has hijacked the Iranian revolution, changed the laws and reversed women’s gains. Therefore they will stand up and fight for their rights. I believe that Iran was a lesson for the women in the entire region…. If it had taken one day, people like me wouldn’t be here. Where would I come from? The law changed because they had political power. But society didn’t accept it. For that reason, people took their lives into their own hands and fought against it. At the beginning we were not a very large number for two reasons. One was a political reason. The left and some secular parties were saying that this was no time for discussing these matters, that these were marginal issues that would distract us from our main objectives. The biggest left wing party in Iran, the Tudeh party, told women to wear the hijab. You may be surprised but initially hijab was not compulsory in Iran, only women who worked in government bodies had to wear it, but in the street we could be unveiled.”


Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, "What I Don’t See at the Revolution".

“In Eastern Europe by the end of the 1980s, one knew not only what the people wanted but also how they would get it. Not to diminish the grandeur of those revolutions, the citizens essentially desired to live in Western European conditions, of greater prosperity and greater liberty. It took one concerted shove to ‘the Wall’ and they were living in Western Europe, or anyway Central Europe…. For centuries, Egypt’s rulers have been able to depend on the sheer crushing weight of torpor and inertia to maintain ‘stability.’ I am writing this in the first week of February, and I won’t be surprised if the machine—with or without Mubarak—is able to rely again on this dead hand while the exemplary courage and initiative of the citizens of Tahrir Square slowly ebb away. Still, and for many of the same reasons, it is unlikely in the highest degree that the tremors will produce a ghastly negation: a Khomeini or a Mugabe who turns the initial revolution into a vicious counterrevolution. Egypt’s tenuous economy is hugely dependent on hospitality to Western tourists. Perhaps one in 10 Egyptians is a Christian. To the nation’s immediate south, in Sudan, millions of Africans have just voted to secede from a state that imposes Shari’a, and have taken most of the country’s oil fields along with them.”


CSM: "Yemen will be the big test for democracy vs. Al Qaeda".

“Is democracy the best repellent against Al Qaeda in Muslim countries? That question, which Americans have debated since the invasion of Iraq, may finally get its ultimate test in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. Yemen’s longtime ruler, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is losing power quickly. Thousands of young people have kept peaceful street vigils for democracy since Feb. 21, inspired by Egypt’s ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Last Friday, Mr. Saleh’s legitimacy fell dramatically after security forces killed nearly 50 protesters near Sanaa University and Taghyir (Change) Square. That slaughter of civilians has now triggered high-level defections of top generals and tribal leaders, who finally recognize the ideals of the disaffected youth and the hollow promises of reform by Saleh. It may also have ended President Obama’s strong support of Saleh, who has received millions in US aid for his fight against Islamic militants. Unlike Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya, Yemen is home to a branch of Al Qaeda that American officials say is ‘probably the most significant risk to the US homeland’ – even more dangerous than Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Both the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 and the discovery of parcel bombs on an aircraft bound for the US last year originated from the group, which is known as Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In addition, the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood was linked to a radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar Aulaqi, who operates from the country.”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "Liberals on Libya".

“Michael Walzer and Philip Gourevitch both have skeptical pieces newly out about President Obama's bombing of Libya. Mr. Gourevitch's article is in the New Yorker, Mr. Walzer's article is in The New Republic. Mr. Gourevitch observes that one of the leaders of the rebellion in Libya ‘is a man who served, until a few weeks ago, as Qaddafi's own Minister of Justice’ and asks, ‘speaking of democracy, what about American public opinion? What about Congress? Is the Security Council the only place where this should be deliberated? What about some attempt by our Commander-in-Chief to advise and seek the consent of the electorate before we march into battle overseas?’ Jeffrey Goldberg, blogging at the Atlantic, is also skeptical: ‘I've been wondering just exactly why armed intervention in Libya is so urgently sought by the West, and why armed intervention in other places that are suffering from similar man-made disasters (Yemen, the Ivory Coast, and the big enchilada, Iran, to name three) is not.’ I mention these three not because I always agree with them or even because I necessarily agree with them on Libya (which in any case is rather far afield from our usual subject matter here), but just because I think it's newsworthy that Obama has handled this in such a way that hasn't won over these folks, who aren't knee-jerk pacifists.”


Christopher Caldwell in Weekly Standard, "Le Pen Is Mightier".

“She lacks her father’s electoral baggage. She has explicitly repudiated the anti-Semitism in which the party stewed throughout his tenure. And she has gifts that her father never possessed. The elder Le Pen had only two oratorical registers—indignation and buffoonery. Marine Le Pen can give a moving speech. The one she gave at Tours on the day she was elected party leader was hailed as a triumph. What is more, she has a platform that a lot of French voters like and no other party will touch: Ms. Le Pen considers globalization a mistake, lock, stock, and barrel. Just as Nazism and communism were the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, Islamism and globalism are the totalitarianisms of the twenty-first, Ms. Le Pen believes. France needs to reexamine its membership in the European Union (which has robbed great nations of their sovereignty and saddled them with an unworkable currency) and in NATO (which has subordinated the country’s foreign policy interests to those of the United States), and it should not make a dogma of free trade. ‘This identity-killing globalization,’ she said at Tours, ‘has turned into an economic horror, a social tsunami, a moral Chernobyl.’ Then she led into more familiar FN themes—the International Monetary Fund, the ‘demographic submersion’ of France, self-appointed elites, and the need for French citizens to ‘pick up the flag.’ Ms. Le Pen is a candidate in next year’s presidential election, and a poll released in October showed her hovering at a stunning 19 percent in the polls, which put her just a couple of points behind Sarkozy and Socialist hopeful Martine Aubry, the mayor of Lille. (Dominique Strauss-Kahn, president of the IMF and a former Socialist finance minister, was at 30 percent, but he has not yet decided whether to run.)”


Rachel Donadio in NYT, "An Aria for Italy’s Unity Also Sounds Like an Elegy".

“Beyond the political theater, the polemics reflect a profound reality: as Italy prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary it is more fractured than ever before — politically, geographically and economically. The country has always been more a patchwork of regions with strong local identities rather than a strong nation-state. And the celebrations have only highlighted the seams. ‘Italy has never been this divided,’ Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, a musicologist and the son of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, whose 1958 novel, The Leopard, is among the most trenchant depictions of Italian unification, said recently in an interview in Palermo. Nearby, in an unkempt city park, stood a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi on horseback, his hand held aloft toward the Italian mainland. It was Garibaldi’s landing in Sicily in 1860, and riots for independence in central Italy, that led to unification — a merging of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the south, the Savoy dynasty in the north and Sardinia, some Papal States, and other feudal powers.”


Stephen Goldsmith in WSJ, "Progressive Government Is Obsolete".

“A hundred years ago, progressives envisioned a highly professional public-sector work force reining in exploitative corporate interests. They saw those on the margin being victimized both by corrupt government and business interests. They believed that the worst abuses of capitalism — think Upton Sinclair's The Jungle — would be reined in by government regulation. Ironically, today we find that in many cases special interests are working in the bureaucracy, using Progressive Era rules to protect the status quo and themselves. Recent efforts to trim approximately 150 laborers, carpenters and electricians from city hospitals, for example, were halted by a lawsuit brought by the unions. In a city facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, every nonessential dollar spent is a dollar less available for hospital care — or shelter for the homeless, or police for troubled neighborhoods. In a word, these special- interest interventions ultimately lead to socially regressive results.”


James Grant in WSJ on Douglas Irwin’s book, Peddling Protectionism.

“As every schoolboy used to know, the tariff was the workhorse of the U.S. Treasury before the 20th-century income tax. But it did more than finance the government. It also fattened the profits of the manufacturers who succeeded in lobbying for tariff rates high enough to keep out foreign competition. Interestingly, Mr. Irwin reminds us, Smoot-Hawley was no Depression measure. Enacted in June 1930, it was conceived as a political gambit intended to win struggling farmers over to the Republican Party in the elections of 1928. While the GOP wanted no part of overtly subsidizing agricultural prices, it was only too happy to legislate a rise in the duties on imported farm products (of which there were actually precious few), as well as a broad-based upward revision in tariffs on manufactured goods. ‘Equality for agriculture’ was the unpersuasive slogan. Most of us, though not Mr. Irwin, forget that the Republican Party was once the citadel of protectionism. High tariffs, the party of Lincoln had claimed from its founding, were the basis of American prosperity. ‘Free trade’ was then the political epithet that ‘protectionist’ has now become. Today low-cost foreign merchandise crowds the aisles of Wal-Mart, while dollars reciprocally accumulate on the balance sheets of America's Asian creditors. U.S. tariffs these days are nothing compared with the towering levies of yesteryear—less than 5% on dutiable imports versus 45% in 1930. Which is not to say that goods and services and money flit freely across the face of the earth. Exchange-rate manipulation is the preferred modern method for managing one's balance of payments.”


Economist: John Micklethwait, "Taming Leviathan".

“‘We are in a transition from a big state to a small state, and from a small society to a big society.’ A Republican presidential candidate in America? David Cameron rallying Britain’s Tories? Neither: the speaker is supposedly China’s most highly regarded bureaucrat. Last year Ma Hong won the country’s national award for government innovation—a great coup for her department, which is trying to get more non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to take over parts of welfare, health and education services in the city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. The award partly reflects the whirl of activity that is Ms Ma. She has dismantled most of the controls on local NGOs: rather than be sponsored by some government department, all they have to do is register with her. She began in 2004 with industrial associations, but has extended the net to include independent charities. Almost 4,000 ‘social groups’ are now registered — nearly double the number in 2002, when they were all tied to the state…. Indeed, the fiery argument about capitalism prompted by the credit crunch has obscured a nascent, and much broader, debate about the nature of government. The future of the state is likely to dominate politics for the next decade at least. How can government be made more efficient? What should it do and not do? To whom should it answer? Ms Ma is one voice in this, but so are the anti-tax tea-party activists in America, French workers protesting against later retirement and British parents trying to set up independent schools with state money.”


Charles Krauthammer in CT, "It bears repeating: The lockbox is empty".

“Lew acknowledges that the Social Security surpluses of the last decades were siphoned off to the Treasury Department and spent. He also agrees that Treasury then deposited corresponding IOUs — called ‘special issue’ bonds — in the Social Security trust fund. These have real value, claims Lew. After all, ‘these Treasury bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government in the same way that all other U.S. Treasury bonds are.’ Really? If these trust fund bonds represent anything real, why is it that in calculating national indebtedness they are not even included? We measure national solvency by debt/gross domestic product ratio. As calculated by everyone from the Office of Management and Budget to the CIA, from the Simpson-Bowles to the Domenici-Rivlin commissions, the debt/GDP ratio counts only publicly held debt. This means bonds held by China, Saudi Arabia, you and me. The debt ratio completely ignores the kind of intragovernmental bonds that Lew insists are the equivalent of publicly held bonds. Why? Because the intragovernmental bond is nothing more than a bookkeeping device that records how much one part of the U.S. government (Treasury) owes another part of the government (Social Security Administration). In judging the creditworthiness of the United States, the world doesn't care what the left hand owes the right. It's all one entity. It cares only what that one entity owes the world. That's why publicly held bonds are so radically different from intragovernmental bonds. If we default on Chinese-held debt, decades of AAA creditworthiness is destroyed, the world stops lending to us, the dollar collapses, the economy goes into a spiral and we become Argentina. That's why such a default is inconceivable. On the other hand, what would happen to financial markets if the Treasury stopped honoring the ‘special issue’ bonds in the Social Security trust fund? A lot of angry grumbling at home for sure. But externally? Nothing.”


Michael Corkery in WSJ, "Illinois Pension Crisis Eludes Easy Solutions".

“Whatever approach is embraced, it remains unclear whether such strategies would fix the Illinois system, which is 45% funded. That makes it the most under-funded state plan in the U.S., according to Moody's Investor's Service. The proposals come as Illinois focuses on home-grown solutions to its pension difficulties after Gov. Pat Quinn created a stir when he said in his budget proposal last month that the state may need a ‘federal guarantee’ of its pension funds—a reference his office now says was a mistake. ‘It should have been edited out,’ David Vaught, the governor's budget director, said in an interview. ‘We don't think we need a bailout.’ The warning contained in the 472-page budget document raised fears that the state could go hat in hand to Washington, a scenario that some U.S. lawmakers have feared could spur other states to do the same. Now in Illinois, talk of state-centered pension fixes has drowned out any whispers of a federal bailout.”


William McGurn in WSJ, "Michigan’s War on the Middle Class".

“Michigan today is not a struggling state like California or New Jersey or even Wisconsin. It is a basket case, with worse to come if things do not change quickly—especially in the relation of the public to the private sector. ‘Many of the protesters seem to think the war is between rich and poor,’ says Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center. ‘But the real class war today is between government and the people who pay for it. And the government's been winning.’ Here's a telling anecdote from Monday's Detroit Free Press: An article on Michigan-bred Red Robin restaurants quoted its owner as saying he could not see expanding in Michigan, given its tax climate. An accompanying photograph drove home the point. It features the company accountant holding up its tax returns for Ohio and Michigan: While the former is five pages long, the latter clocks in at 270.”


Robert Shiller in NYT, "Share The Risk And Share The Harvest" .

“How did our forebears manage their risks, which were as significant for them as the booms and busts of our 21st-century economy are to us? In good times, all three generations consumed a lot. In bad times, all three consumed less. The risks were spread among the extended family. This is risk management at its most basic level. It is called sharing. The farmers worked hard, and when they grew old, they were supported by the next generations. The elderly weren’t treated differently. Everyone shared in the good and the bad, with adjustments for health and special needs. Let’s apply modern financial thinking to the old-time farm. Rather than sharing, families could set up traditional pension plans like the ones now established for state government employees. In this situation, the extended family would guarantee some of their working adults a fixed income when they retired. If farming families followed our thinking, they would pledge some set percentage of what people had consumed during their last three working years — say, 60 percent. These ‘payments’ would be indexed to inflation, assuming that inflation was a concern in those days. Down on the farm, however, they would probably laugh at this notion. That’s because, when hard times come — as they always do — the children and working adults would have to cut back in order to pay the full ‘pensions’ of the old. Younger generations would be hit with a double-whammy, having to make do with less themselves while having to sacrifice more to meet their contractual obligations to their elders.”


John McGinnis in WSJ on Walter Olson’s book, Schools for Misrule.

“In Schools for Misrule, Walter Olson offers a fine dissection of these strangely powerful institutions. One of his themes is that law professors serve the interests of the legal profession above all else; they seek to enlarge the scope of the law, creating more work for lawyers even as the changes themselves impose more costs on society. By keeping legal rules in a state of endless churning, lawyers undermine a stable rule of law and make legal outcomes less predictable; the result is more litigation and, not incidentally, more billable hours for lawyers, who must now be consulted about the most routine matters of business practice and social life. Mr. Olson reminds us that the mere presence of law schools on college campuses was deeply controversial at the turn of the last century. Thorstein Veblen said that law schools belonged in the academy no more than schools of dancing or fencing, because their practical, vocational training detracted from the enterprise of intellectual discovery. Thus if law teachers wanted to become members of the professoriate, they had to do more than merely impart the content of legal doctrine. They had to find arguments implicit in academic trends and critique the law's very architecture. To meet the need for intellectual respectability, Mr. Olson implies, professors became engineers of reform.”


Peter Brown in New York Review of Books on Alan Cameron’s book, The Last Pagans of Rome.

“Altogether, Cameron‘s book is a myth-buster. For he gives no quarter. From one end to the other -- a full eight hundred pages -- he tracks down and demolishes every strand in the current image of a heroic last stand of noble pagans locked in deadly conflict with their Christian rivals. There is no malice in this awesome detonation of odium philologicum. Rather, Cameron moves from topic to topic in the relaxed, even benign manner of a past master of his field…. It is not for nothing that the scenario of a desperate last stand of paganism was propounded with especial fervor in the years that immediately followed the end of World War II. Such an account echoed the fears of a postwar world. For scholars in Europe and America who had recently emerged from thirty years of violence and ideological intolerance, only to confront the new, spreading shadow of the cold war, the conflcit between a liberal paganism and an intolerant Christianity seemed like a foreshadowing of the nightmares of their own times.”


Simon Romero & Sara Shahriari in NYT, "A Food’s Global Success Creates a Quandary at Home".

“When NASA scientists were searching decades ago for an ideal food for long-term human space missions, they came across an Andean plant called quinoa. With an exceptional balance of amino acids, quinoa, they declared, is virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients…. Now demand for quinoa (pronounced KEE-no-ah) is soaring in rich countries, as American and European consumers discover the ‘lost crop’ of the Incas. The surge has helped raise farmers’ incomes here in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. But there has been a notable trade-off: Fewer Bolivians can now afford it, hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it. The shift offers a glimpse into the consequences of rising global food prices and changing eating habits in both prosperous and developing nations. While quinoa prices have almost tripled over the past five years, Bolivia’s consumption of the staple fell 34 percent over the same period, according to the country’s agricultural ministry. The resulting quandary — local farmers earn more, but fewer Bolivians reap quinoa’s nutritional rewards — has nutritionists and public officials grasping for solutions.”


Susan Freinkel in NYT, "Plastic: Too Good to Throw Away".

“Shunning plastic may seem key to the ethic of living lightly, but the environmental reality is more complex. Originally, plastic was hailed for its potential to reduce humankind’s heavy environmental footprint. The earliest plastics were invented as substitutes for dwindling supplies of natural materials like ivory or tortoiseshell. When the American John Wesley Hyatt patented celluloid in 1869, his company pledged that the new manmade material, used in jewelry, combs, buttons and other items, would bring ‘respite’ to the elephant and tortoise because it would ‘no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer.’ Bakelite, the first true synthetic plastic, was developed a few decades later to replace shellac, then in high demand as an electrical insulator. The lac bugs that produced the sticky resin couldn’t keep up with the country’s rapid electrification. Today, plastic is perceived as nature’s nemesis. But a generic distaste for plastic can muddy our thinking about the trade-offs involved when we replace plastic with other materials.”


Tamar Lewin in NYT, "Study Undercuts View of College as a Place of Same-Sex Experimentation".

“In 2003, a New York magazine article, ‘Bi for Now,’ suggested that women’s involvement in their college’s gay scene exposed them to a different culture, like junior year abroad in Gay World. But according to the new study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on 13,500 responses, almost 10 percent of women ages 22 to 44 with a bachelor’s degree said they had had a same-sex experience, compared with 15 percent of those with no high school diploma. Women with a high school diploma or some college, but no degree, fell in between.”


Lawrence Downes in NYT in one of those editorial page culture notes, this on Dorothy Day, briefly describes who St. Brigid of Ireland was -- a typically crazed Catholic martyr’s story, and then contrasts Day’s days in Greenwich Village:

“The Roman Catholic calendar is thick with feasts of saints, each one a story. Pick a day — say, Feb. 1. That’s St. Brigid of Ireland, a nun of the early church and the patroness of dairy maids. She was a great beauty, until she lost an eye and her face became disfigured. She rejoiced, for now she could repel suitors. It’s hard to picture St. Brigid writing a letter like this: ‘I miss you so much. I was very cold last night. Not because there wasn’t enough covers but because I didn’t have you. Please write me, sweetheart, and I won’t tear the letter up as I did the last one (but I saved the pieces) because I was mad at you. I love you muchly.’ That’s Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who is not yet canonized but is definitely in the running. She was by wide acclaim a saintly woman who gave her life to peace and to the poor. Though not as a cliché: she was a cranky bohemian by way of Staten Island, Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, and lived far closer to the here and now than anyone in ‘Lives of the Saints.’”

I mean no disrespect to Dorothy Day as I have enjoyed some of her books back in my post-high school, pre-musicbiz political readings, but if Downes believes that hanging in the Village as a “cranky bohemian” is the opposite of a cliché, then Arthur Sulzberger has a tougher job ahead of him than he knows.


Leon Neyfakh in Boston Globe, "The power of lonely".

“Burum placed two individuals in a room and had them spend a few minutes getting to know each other. They then sat back to back, each facing a computer screen the other could not see. In some cases they were told they’d both be doing the same task, in other cases they were told they’d be doing different things. The computer screen scrolled through a set of drawings of common objects, such as a guitar, a clock, and a log. A few days later the participants returned and were asked to recall which drawings they’d been shown. Burum found that the participants who had been told the person behind them was doing a different task — namely, identifying sounds rather than looking at pictures — did a better job of remembering the pictures. In other words, they formed more solid memories when they believed they were the only ones doing the task. The results, which Burum cautions are preliminary, are now part of a paper on ‘the coexperiencing mind’ that was recently presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference. In the paper, Burum offers two possible theories to explain what she and Gilbert found in the study. The first invokes a well-known concept from social psychology called ‘social loafing,’ which says that people tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on others to pick up their slack…. Burum leans toward a different explanation, which is that sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it. ‘People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,’ Burum said in an interview…. Perhaps this explains why seeing a movie alone feels so radically different than seeing it with friends: Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen.”


Ann Marlowe at Thedaily.com, Hip replacement.

“What makes the hip deficit in conservative politics more of a mystery is that today’s hipster culture isn’t our parents’. It’s not so clear what it’s oppositional to. It’s not popular to be anti-military today, even among the cool kids, and as The Social Network shows, entrepreneurship can also be cool, as long as you keep your hoodie. And, oddly enough, hipster culture today isn’t opposed to older people. Many people I know in the 18-to-24 age group consider their parents their friends and genuinely enjoy spending time with them. Of course, more radical hipster culture — represented by, say, the more political devotees of the Burning Man festival — attacks ‘the patriarchy,’ racism and capitalism in far more extreme terms. But this is a fringe group in the United States, and I wouldn’t expect to find even the furthest-left Democrat embracing Burning-Man-style shamanistic imagery or trance music. Two years after the election of our first hipster president, whom I didn’t vote for and won’t, I’m still puzzling over these facts. So far I can do little but lament that we Republicans seem to be boxed into being the tepid, sedate party: the party that’s no party. What about the Tea Party? I went to one of its first rallies in the early months of 2009, and it didn’t look like a group I wanted to hang out with, worthy though I found its ideas. I understand that they are populists and all. But still, they were so badly dressed. Hoping some answers, or even a solution, might emerge from solidarity, I’ve discussed my worries with other Republicans whom I suspect of being boho-cons. This is a furtive matter, for if New York is the place where gays are out and Republicans are in the closet, within the N.Y.-D.C. right-wing-media world, it’s the bohos who are closeted.”


There’s something really wrong with Larry Rohter writing about movies now in the New York Times. He was one of the paper’s South American reporters for years. So again, a classic vicarious ex-pat, I guess. His Sunday piece, “Hollywood Ignores East-West Exchange” is nominally about the lack of whatever fill-in-the-blank in Hollywood:

“But why isn’t the United States also part of that same emerging global cinematic conversation? Why isn’t Hollywood also making movies that grapple with the issues that are provoking filmmakers elsewhere? And when Arab and Muslim characters do appear on screen, why are they presented in such simplistic and stereotyped ways? It’s not that Hollywood hasn’t made films set in the Islamic world. The Hurt Locker even won the Oscar for best picture last year, and Syriana, which won George Clooney an Oscar, and Three Kings, also featuring Mr. Clooney, along with Brian de Palma’s Redacted, also take place in the contemporary Middle East. But in such films the focus is on the Americans characters, whether soldiers, C.I.A. operatives or businessmen, rather than the society itself or the interaction of Americans with local people and their customs. ‘We see everything through American eyes, without context or a representation of community’ on the Islamic side, said Matthew Bernstein, an editor of the book Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film and chairman of the film and media studies department at Emory University in Atlanta.”

What are “American eyes”? Are American films so popular around the world they must be restricted by quota because of advertising or marketing muscle or car crashes? No, they are popular because American eyes are as close to being universal eyes as is possible. America isn’t just another race-nation stuck in a history that is a thousand years of voiceless swallowed injustice. You’d think someone who’d been in Latin America which has had so much trouble escaping its Iberian weight might appreciate that. Stephen Holden’s recent review of Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light falls for it as does Rohter in his feature on the Guzman retropective going on in Brooklyn. Nobody wallows in the fake metaphysics like a old materialist. The millions killed by Stalin or crushed by Castro thrill him, but let a Pinochet stop the march of inevitability and the 3,000 materialists killed become martyrs to beat blood from a rock. Maybe Holden and Rohter had a good cry, but more foreigners probably find the Saw films more culturally relevant to the intractability of their situations. Charles McGrath writes about the two Australian knuckleheads who came up with the franchise elsewhere in the Times. Those films have deeper materialism and deeper metaphysics than any film attempt at an Allende blues. Marxists use emotions like they used bourgeois democracy. They used to admit it but they’re in their decadent phase now.

Elsewhere in his Sunday piece Rohter claims that stories are harder to come by. He must not quite be back in-country because America, the United States in particular, is nothing but stories! We’re still a nation of immigrants. What are immigrants? They are walking talking stories. If there’s a relative increase in stories overseas its only because the old feudal stases are melting as those cultures dare to incorporate what they’ve learned from us here, and I don’t mean film grammar. There was one such story just today in his same paper by more of his colleagues, Kirk Semple and Jeffrey Singer, “Bus Crash in the Bronx Ends a Man’s Fight for His Family”, though perhaps he’d credit Mao with it:

“Mr. Wang struggled not only with work but also with love. As his friends successfully found mates, married and started families, Mr. Wang, a thin man with close-set eyes and a crop of thick black hair, met failure. His sister blamed the family’s economic straits.

‘Nobody wanted to pick him,’ she said. ‘Which girl would want to marry into poverty?’

When he was about 30 — old to be a bachelor by the standards of his village — he married Lin Yaofang and they had a baby, a girl. When Ms. Lin became pregnant again, in violation of the country’s one-child policy, the authorities made her get an abortion, relatives and friends said. When word of her third pregnancy reached the government, he later told friends, officials went to their house to take Ms. Lin away, leading to Mr. Wang’s detention and beating. The account could not be verified with the Chinese authorities. His decision to try his luck in New York came quietly and suddenly.”

Read the whole thing if you have time. He was just one of the passengers on the bus crash. Superior storytelling from two continents.


Dave Kehr in NYT, "A Master’s Baby Steps".

“With time Naruse became a great poet of stoicism and quiet despair. His discreet pessimism is probably best summed up by a quotation frequently ascribed to him: ‘From the youngest age I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought still remains with me.’ His protagonists, almost always women, are trapped by their emotions and, because of the love they feel for less-worthy partners, confined to lives of self-sacrifice and unending disappointment. The repeated image of the bar hostess Keiko (Hideko Takamine) climbing the stairs to her tiny establishment in the Ginza district of Tokyo in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs becomes a devastating representation of courage and determination operating only on the fumes of feelings long since betrayed.

These sentiments are present in his early films, but in latent form. What’s most striking about Flunky, Work Hard (1931), Naruse’s earliest surviving film, is how brash and jaunty much of it feels and how freewheeling its camerawork is. With some adjustments in costuming, it could pass for one of the Charley Chase two-reel comedies that Hal Roach was producing in America around the same time (a sense perhaps exaggerated by the accelerated pacing of the only available print, a 28-minute version, edited down for the home market from an original that was probably twice as long).”


Richard Brody on Stars In My Crown (1950, Jacques Tourneur / Joel McCrea)

“In his book on Tourneur, a French-born director who made his career in Hollywood, Chris Fujiwara relates a remarkable anecdote about the film:

His involvement in the project began when his friend Joel McCrea, who had been cast in the film, gave him the novel (by Joe David Brown) on which it was based. Tourneur ‘fell in love’ with the book and set about trying to get the assignment to direct it.

Studio executives told him that it was a B-movie and that it would be directed by a low-salaried director. Tourneur volunteered to do it for free. He ended up getting paid scale, and found himself bumped down to a lower salary bracket for the rest of his feature-film career. Tourneur was an ace of many genres, including Westerns and films noirs. He began his career in France in 1931; went to Hollywood in the mid-thirties, where he made twenty-four features between 1942 and 1959; and got started with television in the mid-fifties, directing episodes for many series, including ‘Bonanza’ and ‘The Twilight Zone.’ His most heralded early work was the pair of films he made for Val Lewton’s remarkable little studio, The Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, and it is the latter film in particular, with its metaphysical dimension and its look at race relations, that foreshadows this great 1950 drama.”


“5 Japanese Divas” at Film Forum April 1 - 21

“In the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema, even as male stars like Toshiro Mifune flourished, its greatest strength was in an astonishing array of female icons, great actresses as well as superstars: in a career that spanned over 40 years, Kinuyo Tanaka (1909-1977) suffered for Mizoguchi 15 times, gun-molled for Ozu early and got laughs for him late, eventually becoming everyone’s favorite aunt; Isuzu Yamada (born 1917) vaulted to stardom in her teens before playing a series of powerful, dominant parts, topped by her legendary ‘Lady Macbeth’; former dancer Machiko Kyo (born 1924) became internationally famous in Rashomon, then was glorified in LIFE, co-starred with Brando, and grew in screen sexiness into her 50s; Setsuko Hara (born 1920), the beloved ‘Virgin Star,’ personified Miss Japan as the perfect daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, even mother for Ozu, while displaying Dostoyevskian range for Kurosawa; while Hideko Takamine (1924-2010), who died this past December 28, graduated from being Japan’s Shirley Temple into the tightly wound, unconquered Naruse heroine, even attaining the ultimate: a full-blown New Yorker profile. The series features films by Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Akira Kurosawa – directors with whom these actresses were most associated.”


“Janus Series”, Walter Reade

• Thu. Mar 31:
Ivan the Terrible Part I (1944, Sergei Eisenstein / Nikolai Cherkasov)
Ivan the Terrible Part II (1958)

• Fri. Apr 1:
Cria Cuervos (1976, Carlos Saura / Geraldine Chaplin, Ana Torent)
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973, Victor Erice / Ana Torent)

Image: The Spirit of the Beehive


Loophole (1954, Harold Shuster / Barry Sullivan, Charles McGraw, Dorothy Malone)
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950, Gordon Douglas / James Cagney, Barbara Payton)
• Sat. Apr. 9, American Cinematheque, Hollywood.


When Movies Mattered, by Dave Kehr (Univ. of Chicago)

Finally his Chicago Reader film writing from 1970s is anthologized.

Film series at Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria


Steven Zeitchik at latimes.com, "Is the great auteur-superhero experiment grinding to a halt?"


Jay Babcock interview in Portland Mercury.

“Mercury: What do you plan on doing next?

Jay: I'm finishing work on a book on the San Francisco Diggers, which my literary agent will be shopping to publishers shortly. My girlfriend and I are putting in an enclosed vegetable garden today at our home in Joshua Tree, California, near our outdoor shower and compost toilet. And, I am at work on a new magazine/app concept that is appropriate to the time and place that we live in — one that I can't believe nobody else is doing. This time, I'll get the business set up correctly, right from the start. I've learned my lesson(s)!”


Saint Vitus first American tour since the pleistocene.
March - April dates.


Meat Puppets at SxSW
Four tunes and an interview; go directly to the 11 minute “Lake of Fire”.


Toiling Midgets, Ants and Orchids
• Sat. March 26
OmniCircus, San Francisco


“Please Kill Me”, the play.
• March 26, Theatre de la bastille, Paris.

I don’t think Bono is involved with this one.


Ana Campoy in WSJ, "Houston’s Rodeo Cowboys Are Ridin’, Ropin’ and Wine Sippin’".

“The most contentious update: For its grand finale on Sunday , the Houston rodeo is scrapping several events that make some city slickers queasy, such as calf roping and steer wrestling. That was the last straw for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which for the first time in more than 50 years refused to put its name behind the Houston show. That means points earned by participating cowboys won't count toward qualification for the national final.”


Harvey Araton in NYT, "Fantasy Fanfare For the Common Man".

“These post-trade records are bound to even out some, but the Nuggets wasted little time in crowing about ‘playing the right way’ and being rid of ‘sticky fingers’ and making a full-blown ‘commitment to defense.’ Meanwhile, after a 119-117 loss to Indiana on Tuesday, Anthony sniped at his teammate Jared Jeffries and questioned Coach Mike D’Antoni’s defensive schemes. During a defeat to the Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich., Friday night, Anthony shot miserably, 2 for 12, looked distracted and annoyed with teammates and fans and blew off the news media afterward. Fourteen games into his instantly acclaimed Knicks career, these were disturbing signs if not yet a trend. Conversely, has there ever been a team as joyful as Denver has been in the aftermath of being stripped of its leading man? Impressive, the consensus voice of N.B.A. wisdom would argue. But in this league, those who command the maximum salaries — in this case Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire — inevitably have the last laugh.”


Jared Diamond in WSJ, "Using Math to Determine the Ballhogs".

“Even the casual fan knows the NBA is full of chuckers—those frustrating players who hoist up fade-away jumpers in the face of a double-team. But with the help of advanced math, we can finally pinpoint the greatest offenders. Matt Goldman, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, and Justin Rao, a research scientist at Yahoo Labs, have identified the three biggest ‘overshooters’ in the NBA: the Thunder's Russell Westbrook, the Bobcats' Tyrus Thomas and the Lakers' Lamar Odom. Conversely, they named the Hornets' Chris Paul the biggest ‘undershooter.’”


Blair Kamen in CT, "The mystery of the clock that never was at Carsons".

“What we do know is that the sketches bear the stamp of the Winslow Bros. Co., which typically fabricated Sullivan’s ornamental ironwork. And they are dated June 5, 1906, indicating that the proposed clock might have been a weapon in a turn-of-the-century version of ‘Store Wars’ — Carsons versus Marshall Field’s. In 1897, Field’s erected an immense clock at the corner of its building at Washington and State streets. The clock projected several feet clear of the building and was lit from within, drawing further attention to the timepiece and its store. By 1906, when the sketches were made, Field's was well on its way to completing its palatial, D.H. Burnham & Co.-designed State Street store. The present pair of Marshall Field’s clocks were designed in 1906 and were installed at the store, now a Macy’s, in 1907. Miller’s take: Carsons didn’t want to get out-clocked by Field’s. ‘You can’t help but feel that there was the desire to have a landmark clock of equal beauty in front of Carson Pirie Scott,’ he said. But Sullivan also could have initiated the clock design, Miller speculates. The architect had designed the store for its original owners, Schlesinger and Mayer, but the rival Burnham firm had finished an addition in 1906. The clock could have been Sullivan’s way of nudging Burnham aside and winning the favor of the new owner. We’ll likely never know.”


Gerry Smith in CT, Who speaks for the dead at O’Hare cemetery?

“The process of relocating the dead is causing anguish as members of extended families who don't always know one another find themselves laying claim to the same ancestors in the 161-year-old cemetery. In some cases, relatives say, the city is withholding from them the identities of family members who make the relocation plans. Critics say this can spark confusion as well as fear that they will never learn the new location of their ancestors' final resting place. City officials say they have worked with family members and the church to locate next of kin and made every effort to do genealogical searches, including hiring a board-certified genealogist to analyze original German church baptism, marriage and death records dating to the mid-1800s. Complicating matters further is the fact that relatives must also get approval from another agency — the Illinois Department of Public Health issues permits for disinterments, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Eve Rodriguez said.”


Obituaries of the Week

Pinetop Perkins (1913 - 2011)

“‘I don't read music; it looks like dog droppings to me,’ he told the Tribune in 1998. But Perkins learned about blues in the best — and the toughest — way possible: Immersed in the culture that produced it. Having taught himself guitar at age 10 and the piano a few years later, Joe Willie Perkins had plenty of musical inspiration to draw upon: He absorbed field hollers picking cotton and learned blues licks playing the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta, the mythic birthplace of the art form. The tragedy — and turning point — in his musical life occurred in 1942, when an angry woman mistakenly blamed him for an offense her husband had committed and swung a blade at him. ‘It was a freak accident,’ Perkins told the Tribune. ‘When she did that, I just said, 'Well, you just cut me out of my career, that's all I can say.' It was hard to start over. It was kind of rough, but I just figured out playing the piano the best way I could.’ Indeed, he played piano with harmonica master Sonny Boy Williamson on the iconic ‘King Biscuit Time’ radio show and with B.B. King in Memphis. His caliber of keyboard brilliance had not often been encountered in blues, his early 1950s recording of Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith's showpiece ‘Pinetop's Boogie Woogie’ establishing his reputation and giving him his famous nickname. By then he had moved to the South Side of Chicago, part of a Great Migration of blues artists such as Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples and David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards who re-imagined and electrified the art form for an urban audience. Generations of musicians learned and modeled their art on Perkins, including no less than Ike Turner. ‘Pinetop would be the birth of rock 'n' roll, because he taught me what I played,’ Turner told the Tribune in 2004. For all of Perkins' influence and experience, he didn't cut his first recordings under his own name until the late 1980s, including a contribution to ‘Living Chicago Blues, Vol. 2’ (Alligator).”

Ralph Mooney (1928 - 2011)

“Mooney was part of the studio band that played on most of Buck Owens' earliest hits. He came up with the sharp, snappy opening notes of "Under Your Spell Again," "Above and Beyond," "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)" "Foolin' Around" and other hits that helped put Owens repeatedly into the Top 10 of the country singles chart in the late '50s and early '60s. Once Owens had formed his band, the Buckaroos, which would back him live and in the studio for most of his career, Mooney contributed key melodic ideas and support on hits for Merle Haggard, including "Swinging Doors," "Sing Me Back Home" and "The Bottle Let Me Down," as well as other California-based country stars such as [Wynn] Stewart, Rose Maddox and Bonnie Owens. He wasn't limited to West Coast country community, and also played behind Wanda Jackson, Donna Fargo and Jessi Colter, Jennings' wife. "He played with a real bright, animated sound with lots of picking, but he could take off into blues licks at the same time," Michael McCall, writer-editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville said Monday. "Nobody ever played quite like he did, and after that it became known as 'the Mooney sound.' When anyone brought up what he did with Buck and Merle, Ralph would say 'I always call myself Wynn Stewart's steel player, because he was first.'" Mooney was born Sept. 16, 1928, in Duncan, Okla., and moved west as a boy to live with one of his sisters in California. He learned to play guitar, mandolin, fiddle and a flat-top guitar using a knife for a slide. Later, he built his own steel guitar with a design that influenced the instruments that came out of electric-guitar innovator Leo Fender's factory in Fullerton.”

Daniel Bell (1919 - 2011), by Mark Lilla.

“Dan once developed this idea in a masterful essay on the Marxist writer Georg Lukacs, one of the best things he ever wrote. For him, Lukacs was an exemplary twentieth-century figure: a well-off Budapest Jew and Nietzchean aesthete who joined the Communist Party in 1918.… he never lost his faith in communism, telling an interviewer just before his death… that ‘even the worst socialism is better than the best capitalism.’ this was in 1971, when the New Left was just discovering Lukacs‘s works and elevating him to the office of prophet. Dan found nothing surprising in that turn. ‘The secret of Lukacs‘s appeal to the Western intelligentsia,’ he wrote ‘is the concealed history of heresy, the repudiation of common sense and conventional morality, and the creation of an esoteric doctrine and a Gnostic faith for an inner elite.’ Besides, ‘what mystagogue is not also a military commander in his dreams?’ It‘s impossible for me to calculate how much I owe Dan, but these particular lessons stand out. I learned that what converts seek in faith is warmth, not light, and that when scales fall from eyes, harder, more opaque ones grow back in. I learned that an epiphany is not an argument, it is a license, usually to destroy.”


Thanks to Jane Schuman, Ben Hanna, Steve Beeho.

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

  1. Boot's review of K & U is interestingly contrasted with VD Hanson's. China and the Indian Ocean and S.C. Sea is vastly explained in Rob. Kaplans newest book. I've never even seen an issue of Arthur magazine, but I'd look at a mag with a column by T model ford for sure! I wonder if Red Steagall will address the PRCA's decision on Cowboy Corner? And finally, how often does Diamond write about sports for the WSJ? That's like t model ford writing anything at all.